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Breaking Point

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Rodney stared at the box and wondered just how much Teyla hated him at the moment for going through her possessions at the behest of Sergeant Bates of all people. He hadn't wanted to do it, had told Bates in no uncertain terms just what he thought of his suspicions, but in the end, he had done as Bates asked. Worse, he'd proven the man's hypothesis correct. He'd tried to mitigate his actions by telling Sheppard instead of Bates, but he knew Teyla had every right to be angry. He just hoped she wouldn't hit him with her fighting sticks. He scrubbed a hand over his face and stood. No sense stalling any longer; maybe he'd get lucky and she wouldn't be back from the mainland yet.

He grabbed the box off his work table and headed back up to the section of the city used for crew quarters and stopped outside Teyla's room. He glanced up and down the corridor and gave the door a gentle tap. If she didn't answer, he told himself, he'd just leave the box. He looked around the sparse corridor looking for a safe spot to leave it, unfortunately, it was just a long hallway with doors every seven meters or so. Where was a handy alcove when you needed it? He'd do his best to leave the box somewhere safe and beat a hasty retreat, he told himself. Before he could find a suitable hiding place, however, the door slid open and Teyla, still wearing the stitched duster and other Athosian clothing from her trip to the mainland, looked up at him.

"Oh, umm," Rodney mumbled and looked down at his feet. "I wanted to return your …" He held out the box, still not looking at her.

She took the box and Rodney stepped back. "I'm, umm, sorry," he said and turned to leave before she could yell at him.

"Doctor McKay?" Teyla said softly.

Rodney hung his head and slowly turned around. He deserved whatever she had to say to him he knew, he'd just hoped to avoid it. He glanced at her, hunched his shoulders, and waited.

"Thank you," she said simply with a small smile and set the box in her quarters.

"You're welcome?" he replied automatically and stood a little straighter, slightly confused. "I know you're mad at me for …" He waved at the box sitting on the table near the door. "I want you to know it really wasn't my idea."

She laid a hand on his arm and he flinched slightly, still expecting an angry rebuke. "Thank you," she said again. "I know you were coerced into Sergeant Bates' … investigation." She smiled a bit wider at him. "I also know, of anyone he could have chosen for such a task, you treated my belongings with respect."

He nodded once and with a hesitant smile and a wave, turned once again to leave.

"Doctor McKay?" she called again.

"Oh, what?" He turned, exasperated now that she'd stopped him twice from making a quick getaway, to find her still smiling at him.

"I was going to find supper," she said as she stepped out of her quarters and the door whispered shut behind her. "Would you like to join me?"

"Oh." His surprise only lasted a moment before he said, "Now that you mention it, I guess I could eat something," he said and fell into step next to her.

Once seated at their usual table in the mess hall with their trays, Rodney was at a loss. He'd never been good at small talk, and outside missions and their training sessions, he hadn't spent much time with Teyla one-on-one. "So, umm, how's the mainland?" he asked as he started to eat. He hoped if she started talking all he would have to do is make a few encouraging sounds every now and then to keep the conversation going.

"My people are adjusting quickly," she replied. "It has been difficult for some of them these last months, being in the city. While Atlantis is a safe haven, they had nothing to really do here. They are farmers and hunters and not used to being confined. The mainland offers a compromise I think will work out well for them and for Atlantis."

Rodney nodded absently as he chewed. So much for letting her do all the talking. Where was Sheppard when he needed him? He was casting about for another topic of conversation when Elizabeth entered the mess hall and came over to their table. She nodded to Rodney and spoke to Teyla, "I got your message," she said. "Do you really think your friend Laren would have enough grain for trade?"

"What's this?" Rodney asked.

"Doctor Weir mentioned to me that Doctor Beckett is concerned about the food here in Atlantis," Teyla answered.

Rodney looked down at his reconstituted meal. "What's wrong with MREs?" he asked. "I like MREs."

"A little variety wouldn't hurt, Rodney," Elizabeth said with a smile. "Most of what we were able to trade from Kalani and his people is gone."

Rodney shrugged and went back to his dinner.

"Come by my office in the morning and we can discuss a possible mission."

"I will be there, Doctor Weir," Teyla said and Rodney glanced up and watched as Weir stopped in the mess line long enough to grab a cup of coffee and a sandwich.

"When did you have time to talk about groceries?" Rodney asked once Weir was gone.

Teyla sighed. "Several days ago. Before … the latest crisis with the Wraith." She reached up to touch her neck where the necklace had been. "I am glad we discovered the truth before I led them to another world to cull."

Rodney looked up at her, feeling uncomfortable. If he was bad at small talk, he was terrible at comforting someone. "You didn't know it was the necklace that called the Wraith," he told her. "It wasn't your fault."

She smiled at him sadly and toyed with her food. "Yet it still feels as though I am to blame." She looked out the window at the night sky. "There are five worlds that were culled because I was there." She looked over at Rodney. "How many people were taken because of me?"

He had no answer for her and he wasn't sure she wanted him to say anything. "You didn't do anything wrong," he tried again. "If you think about it, you could blame Sheppard, he's the one that used his super-charged Ancient gene and turned the transmitter on in the first place."

"I am not sure blaming Major Sheppard is any better, Doctor McKay."

"We just won't tell him," Rodney replied and felt a little thrill as she smiled at him. Maybe he could do this comfort thing after all.

"Won't tell me what?" Sheppard asked from behind Rodney before he sat next to him.

"Oh, umm, nothing. Really, nothing important," Rodney mumbled and glared at Teyla. "You could have told me he was behind me."

Teyla laughed and Rodney felt another little spark of happiness that he'd been able to help her feel better.

"It was nothing, Major. Doctor McKay was just trying to make me feel better about my necklace and what happened."

"And you went to Rodney?" John asked with mock horror.

"Oh, shut up," Rodney muttered and Sheppard grinned before strolling off to find his own dinner.

"Where did you disappear to, anyway?" Rodney asked curiously once Sheppard returned.

"Oh, I was down talking to our guest," John replied nonchalantly as he started to eat.

"Our guest … You mean the Wraith?" Rodney couldn't hide the surprise or the fear in his voice.

"Yeah, him." Sheppard nodded. "Do you think they have names? Maybe we should give this one a name. How does Steve sound?"

"Ridiculous," Rodney replied. "And you think Ford comes up with bad names."

"I'm kinda liking Steve," Sheppard persisted.

"Whatever. Did he have anything interesting to say?"

"Just the usual, that he was going to feed on me. It would hurt. He really isn't the best conversationalist."

"Do not make jokes, Major," Teyla said seriously. "He is hoping you will become overconfident and make a mistake he can exploit."

"He's going to get awfully hungry before I get overconfident," Sheppard replied, his expression suddenly serious.

"Still, I recommend caution when dealing with him."

"I'll keep that in mind."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

The next morning John was on his way to the lower decks for his morning run when he met Elizabeth. "John, I'm glad I found you," she said as she stopped in front of him. "I have a meeting with Teyla this morning about one of her contacts and trading for food. If it sounds like a good opportunity, I'd like to send your team this afternoon."

Sheppard nodded. "I don't think that will be a problem," he replied with a smile.

"Good. Let's plan on meeting at eleven hundred hours in the conference room."

"Eleven hundred it is."

Elizabeth smiled as she left and John continued on with his run. While the exercise was certainly a benefit, running also gave him a chance to think and plan. In this case, think about how to repair ties between Teyla and certain members of the military force. Intellectually, he knew Bates had a tough job, and for the most part, a thankless one. But that was no excuse for his continued hounding of Sheppard's team. The 'training session' with Rodney a few weeks ago and now his blatant actions with Teyla made him realise it wasn't so much the makeup of his team that had the Sergeant bent out of shape but their team leader. Bates had been Sumner's right-hand man, the colonel's feelings about Sheppard had to be coloring Bates' actions as much as his disregard for scientists or the Athosians.

He made another circuit around the section as he pondered the issue. The fact Teyla wanted to help the city and had offered one of her close contacts as a potential source for trade hopefully meant she held no ill will for the expedition members. He knew Rodney had been vocal in his displeasure at being drawn into Bates' witch hunt, only to then feel guilty when he discovered the truth about her necklace. It had been a bit of a relief to find the two of them at dinner smiling and even sharing a joke, even if it was at his expense, at least she still trusted the team. He could figure out the rest as he went along.

He finished his run, informed Rodney and Ford about the meeting, and went in search of a shower and food.

He walked into the conference room at eleven hundred precisely to find everyone else already there. Even Rodney had managed to beat him for once, though he was seated on one side of the triangular table typing away on his custom combo computer and oblivious to everyone else in the room. He sat next to McKay and tapped at his arm to get his attention.

Rodney looked up from the computer, finished typing one last thing, and set the machine aside.

"Teyla," Elizabeth said once everyone else found seats, "why don't you tell the others about Laren and your proposal."

Teyla smiled and nodded. "Certainly." She looked around the room for a moment then said, "While the mainland offers us a chance to be more self-sufficient, we are not to that point, yet. Halling and the rest of my people are in need of seed for crops and Atlantis could always use another source for trade. Laren and his people are fair traders and their planet is well suited for crops as well as wild fruit, he would make a good friend for Atlantis. I have known Laren for many years and traded with his people often."

"What do they grow?" Ford asked, looking up from the file in front of him.

"Their main crop is a grain," she replied. "Doctor Weir believes it is very similar to your rye on Earth. This is the time of year for the harvest on Laren's planet and I believe we will be able to trade, not only for milled grain, but for seed as well."

"I hope we can trade for enough of the grain to last for several weeks at least," Elizabeth said. "Carson is concerned there aren't enough grains in our diet at the moment."

"There's something else rye is really good for," Sheppard drawled with a glance at Elizabeth as Ford grinned.

"Major, I don't want to know anything about that," Elizabeth said with a small smile.

"Is there any potential for other, say more technological, resources?" Rodney asked.

"Possibly," Teyla replied. "There are a few ruins that predate Laren's people. They tell stories of the 'Old Ones' which may be the same people as those you call the Ancients. There are also several very deep caves in the area used by the people to store grain and hide from the Wraith."

John felt Rodney shudder slightly at the mention of caves.

"What are we offering in trade for the rye?" Sheppard asked.

"Laren's people are always in need of medical supplies," Teyla said. "Or it is possible we might be able to trade labor for the grain; help with clearing fields or building new structures."

"Either of those options is workable," Elizabeth noted with a smile. "Since Teyla knows the planet and the people, we aren't sending a MALP through first. You have a go for this afternoon. I suggest you eat lunch and get ready to leave in two hours."

Two hours later they exited the 'gate and found a planet at the height of autumn. The trees lining the wide clearing were changing color and there was a bit of a crisp, cool bite to the air, but it was also eerily quiet. There were no birds singing or insects humming, even the slight breeze through the limbs of the trees seemed muted.

"Anyone else getting a bad feeling?" Ford asked as they left the 'gate platform and stepped down onto a path leading away into the trees.

"Something is not right," Teyla agreed.

"There are life signs in that direction," Rodney added and looked up from the handheld scanner as he pointed off in the direction the path led. "They seem to be concentrated in one area, say a village or maybe a small town."

"That would be Laren's village," Teyla confirmed and John thought she sounded relieved at the news there were life signs.

"Okay, Teyla, lead the way, Rodney and I will go next. Ford, you have our six. Hopefully, there's nothing to the weird vibe, but play it safe until we find this Laren and see what he has to say."

As John walked behind Rodney he couldn't help feeling a little exposed in the open area. The 'gate itself sat on a raised stone plinth and the area around it was kept clear of trees. It would be easy to bring a jumper through or even, he realised, a dart. Why did the residents keep the area clear instead of letting the trees grow closer to the 'gate? Basic defense would dictate making it as hard as possible for the Wraith to feed.

"Can someone tell me why we didn't bring a jumper?" Rodney asked, echoing Sheppard's thoughts. "Why are these villages always so far away from the 'gate anyway?"

"Distance gives you more time to hide, Doctor McKay," Teyla said as she glanced behind her. "People in the Pegasus galaxy learned a long time ago not build near the stargates."

"While I can see the logic," he replied as they climbed a small hill, "I'd think it would also make trading with others more difficult."

Teyla shrugged. "It is normal here."

"And that still doesn't explain why we didn't come in a jumper," Rodney continued. "Were we planning on stuffing the grain in our packs and carrying it back to Atlantis?"

"Laren will lend us carts to bring the grain to the 'gate," she explained patiently. She glanced back at Rodney. "A jumper would have unnecessarily startled Laren's people. They are not used to seeing flying machines unless it is the Wraith."

They hiked for another twenty minutes before Teyla suddenly stopped at the top of another rise. "Oh no," she whispered and turned a stricken gaze on Sheppard.

"What?" he asked as he moved around Rodney to stand next to her.

"Wraith," she replied, her tone a mixture of sadness and anger as Rodney and Ford joined them.

John looked out on acres of scorched fields. He glanced around looking for signs Wraith were still in the area, then turned to Teyla. "Do you sense them now?" he asked as Ford turned to survey the area behind them, his P-90 at the ready.

Teyla closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment. "It is strange," she said a moment later. "There is … something, a feeling. Maybe it is just a residual impression. This was very recent."

"Didn't you say there were life signs?" Ford asked Rodney.

Rodney rechecked the Ancient device and nodded. "Still there, maybe close to a hundred. Still in the same area."

"And you're sure they aren't Wraith just waiting for us to walk in and say 'hi, what's for dinner'?" Ford asked still watching their back trail.

Rodney looked up from the scanner with a scowl. "It's not that specific. You asked if there were life signs. Yes, there are about one hundred little dots off that direction." He pointed to a cluster of trees where a thin stream of smoke rising into the late afternoon sky could be seen.

"Wraith have no need of fires, Major," Teyla said. "What I am feeling is more like a faint whisper. If there were close to one hundred Wraith waiting for us, the feeling would be much different."

"So there were survivors." Sheppard nodded. "All right. We'll keep going." He looked at Teyla then back at Ford. "But stay alert. We don't want any nasty surprises."

"Yes, sir," Ford said as Teyla started off in the direction of the smoke.

They walked into the remains of the village fifteen minutes later to find even more destruction. John saw few buildings still standing, and of those few, most had at least some damage. Several groups of people worked clearing away rubble, piling up the stone to be reused, or sweeping clean areas already free of debris. He watched another group carefully laying out the foundation for a new building.

"Maybe we should just go," Rodney mumbled as he looked around. "These people are going to need anything they still have."

John was inclined to agree but before he could say anything, a tall, young man with hair so blonde it was almost white left one of the work groups and walked over to them. "Teyla!" he exclaimed and came forward to hug her.

"Laren," she replied with a tight smile as she disengaged from the hug. "I am happy to see you." She looked around the village with a concerned expression.

"Wraith. A few days ago," Laren said in answer to the unspoken question. "We were lucky, most of us were up in the caves storing the harvest. Otherwise …" A sad look crossed his face before it cleared just as quickly. He smiled again and asked. "What can we do for you?"

John was taken a bit by surprise at his reaction. For all of the destruction, Laren seemed weirdly calm. He looked around at some of the other villagers and found similar expressions. They were shaken, certainly, but by no means were they defeated as they worked to repair the damage and move on with their lives.

"Maybe we should be asking you that," Sheppard said as he took in all of the activity.

"I don't know you, friend," Laren replied, the question plain in his tone, though the smile remained on his face.

"I am sorry, Laren," Teyla said and turned to face the others. "This is Major John Sheppard, Lieutenant Aiden Ford, and Doctor Rodney McKay. They are friends of mine. From Atlantis. We came to trade for grain but now …"

Laren's face lit up at the news. "The old city!" he exclaimed. "There had been rumors it was inhabited again. I am honored to meet any friend of Teyla's." Laren stepped forward and before John could stop him, gave him the same sort of hug as when he'd greeted Teyla. Ford was next, but Rodney somehow managed to deftly avoid the contact. Laren didn't seem offended and turned back to Teyla. "You wish to trade?"

"Yes. We were hoping for a sizable quantity of milled grain as well as possibly seed. But, Laren, we do not want you to sacrifice what remains of your harvest."

"Nonsense!" Laren replied. "As I said, most of us were up in the caves when the Wraith came, the harvest was nearly finished and we have plenty to spare. It was a good year. Come, come. We were about to have our meal. Join us and we can discuss the terms of the trade."

Laren led them to a cleared space behind one of the still standing buildings. Several dozen people milled around the area, setting out baskets of crusty, dark brown bread, plates of fruit that resembled apples, pears, and grapes, and another platter with some sort of meat on the open-air tables.

"The bread is made with our grain," Laren said as he helped to serve his guests.

Rodney looked slightly uncomfortable as he looked around at the other tables near them and John could understand why. Even if Laren claimed they had survived the culling with few losses, it still felt strange to be eating and laughing mere days after who knew how many people had been lost.

"Eat, eat!" Laren said as the team hesitated.

John watched the rest of the villagers talking and telling stories as they ate. After another moment's hesitation, he shrugged, and with a can't beat 'em, join 'em mindset, started on his own meal. He had to admit, the food was very good; the fruit was juicy and sweet, the meat, some sort of domesticated beast he decided to think of as a cow, was tender and full of flavor, the bread was almost made for sopping up the juices. He glanced over at the rest of the team and saw they were enjoying the food as well. Even Rodney could find little to complain about, though he did avoid most of the fruit.

Once the meal ended, Teyla and Laren discussed a trade of grain and seed for help from Atlantis rebuilding the village. John listened as he watched Rodney and Ford roam around the village in the late afternoon light. Ford was quickly drafted to help with clearing another building site while Rodney stood off to one side playing with the Ancient scanner.

"We have an agreement!" Laren said cheerfully as he slapped a hand down on the table with another wide smile after about twenty minutes of talk.

"Major," Teyla said drawing John's attention from the village and back to the negotiation. "I believe we have reached an agreement. Laren is willing to provide a quarter of his harvest in exchange for help rebuilding the village."

"Great," Sheppard replied and said to Laren, "We'll get in touch --"

"Major!" Teyla yelped suddenly as she stood, her eyes wide as she searched the area and her P-90 at the ready. "There is Wraith nearby."

"What?" Sheppard said as he jumped to his feet and scanned the surrounding area. "Can you tell how many?"

Teyla had her eyes closed and her head cocked to one side. "There appears to be only one, but he is very close." She opened her eyes again and looked off to her right. "He is in that direction."

John looked around the village again. Ford, alerted by his movement, was already striding back over to the tables. Rodney was nowhere to be seen.

"Laren, get your people to safety, we'll take care of the Wraith," Sheppard ordered as he continued to look for Rodney.

Laren nodded and started herding people through the village and into the hills.

"Where's Rodney?" Sheppard asked even as Ford and Teyla shook their heads and he keyed his radio. "McKay? Where are you?" He paused for a moment and when he didn't get an answer tried again, "Rodney, so help me, you better not have your radio off. Answer me."

"He was over there last time I saw him," Ford said and pointed off toward another destroyed building below the village to their left.

"Remind me to have a talk with Doctor McKay about proper field awareness when we get back," Sheppard growled and led Teyla and Ford off into the woods to the right in search of the Wraith.

With Teyla's ability, it was easy to find the Wraith lurking in the woods, watching the villagers. Sheppard motioned them to close in on it from one side. The Wraith noticed them just before they opened fire, but it was far too late for it to do anything or attack. Once it stopped moving, Sheppard closed in and warily jostled it in the side a few times with one foot, before firing three more rounds into its skull just to be sure.

"You sense anymore?" he asked Teyla as he scanned the woods, senses alert for another attack.

"No, Major," Teyla replied, "the faint whisper I noted earlier in the day is gone as well. He was alone."

"Huh. Did Laren mention anything about darts when the Wraith attacked them?" Sheppard asked and looked between Teyla and Ford.

"He did not say," Teyla answered. "You suspect this one crash landed and was left behind?"

"It makes sense," Sheppard replied as they started back to the village. They re-entered the village just in time to see Rodney run in from the direction of the hills, his eyes slightly wild and his Beretta in his hand.

"Where were you guys?" he asked, slightly breathless, as he holstered the gun and came over to them. "I heard the gunfire and couldn't find you. Are you all right?"

John could see the mix of fear and anxiety on Rodney's face but at the moment he didn't care. He grabbed Rodney by one of his vest straps and started him moving out of the village and back toward the 'gate. "Teyla, tell Laren we'll be back with the manpower to help rebuild the village," he said, his voice tightly controlled.

Teyla hurried off to pass the message along then came back.

"Move out," Sheppard ordered, still not letting go of Rodney's vest.

Ford silently took point and led the way back to the 'gate.

"Would you let go?" Rodney said heatedly after they'd been walking for several minutes.

"Apparently, I need to keep you on a leash," John growled, letting go of the vest strap.

"What? What's that supposed to mean? And why are you mad?" Rodney asked, confusion plain in his expression.

"It means you wandered off without telling anyone where you were going and you deliberating switched off your radio," Sheppard snapped and glared at Rodney.

"No, I didn't," Rodney said and glanced down at the radio in his vest pocket. He pulled it out and showed Sheppard. "See, it's on," he tapped the mic a couple of times, "and it's working."

"Not interested, McKay," Sheppard growled. "Next time, I'll just leave you to be Wraith food." He brushed past Rodney, his mood sour, and caught up to Ford several feet in front of them. He never saw the confused and hurt look on Rodney's face at the mention of being left behind.

The rest of the hike back to the stargate was made in a strained, uncomfortable silence. John could feel his temper simmering just below the surface and a part of him wondered why he was so angry. Yes, Rodney had wandered off, but he'd done that before. He wasn't sure what to make of the radio, there was no reason for him to lie about having it off. He knew part of his reaction came from fear; they'd been under attack and he had no idea where Rodney was at the time or if he was still in one piece. He would have understood feeling frustration with McKay over all of that, but this was raw anger. Several times on the walk back to the 'gate he'd wanted to turn around and yell at Rodney for no real reason but he managed to control the urge. It scared him a bit feeling like this.

He glanced over at Rodney as he dialled the 'gate and read his hunched shoulders, and closed off body language clearly and was shocked to realise Rodney actually seemed afraid of him. Maybe he hadn't concealed his mounting anger as well as he thought.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

"We have incoming travellers," Grodin announced as the stargate began to light up. Elizabeth came out of her office in time to see the Marines on guard duty form in front of the 'gate, weapons at the ready.

"It's Doctor McKay's IDC," Grodin said and looked up at Weir.

"Lower the shield," she said and went down the stairs to meet Sheppard's returning team.

"Welcome back," she said as Ford and Teyla came through the 'gate followed a few seconds later by Rodney and John. "How did it go, Major?" she asked as they stopped in front of her. She frowned slightly as she realised something was off with the team.

John glared at Rodney before turning to Elizabeth. "Teyla and Laren worked out a deal," he said shortly.

Elizabeth gave him an odd look at his stiff, formal delivery.

"Teyla?" Weir asked, trying to keep the mood pleasant.

"Laren has agreed to offer one-quarter of his total harvest in exchange for assistance rebuilding his village," Teyla told her with a small smile.

"Rebuilding?" Weir asked, then held up her hand. "Never mind, this sounds like it could be a long story. Major, get your team checked out and cleaned up. We'll debrief in an hour."

"Yes, ma'am," John said in that same flat voice and waved the rest of the team out of the gate room ahead of him.

"Major?" Elizabeth called, and when John turned around, she asked, "Is everything all right? You seem rather tense for a successful trade meeting."

John quirked a sarcastic smile. "Like you said, it's a long story."

"Then I'll be waiting to hear it."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Elizabeth glanced up from her computer as John walked into the conference room, the last to arrive. She was surprised when John deliberately sat as far away from Rodney as he could get, shooting a poisonous look across the table as he lounged back in his chair. What concerned her even more was she wasn't the only one to notice the change in John's behavior. She glimpsed a moment of hurt and confusion on Rodney's face before his mask of indifference fell back into place. Teyla and Ford simply looked worried.

Elizabeth glanced around the room before saying, "Teyla, why don't you start."

She listened as Teyla laid out the details of the trade agreement and tried not to be distracted by the continued unspoken battle going on between John and Rodney.

"You said he was willing to trade a quarter of his harvest," Elizabeth said once Teyla was finished speaking. "How much grain is that, exactly?"

"In your measurements, it would be close to two hundred pounds."

"That much," Weir said elatedly. That would be enough to last several months at least. "That is much better than I'd expected." She glanced down at her notes. "You mentioned our side of the trade would be in manpower to help Laren and his people rebuild their village. They can afford to give up that much of their harvest?"

Teyla nodded. "I believe so. Laren mentioned it had been a very good year. He is also willing to provide several bushels of seed grain as well for Halling and the others on the mainland to start growing our own crop."

Elizabeth turned to John confused. "I'm not seeing the problem here, Major. The trade agreement seems more than generous. You said it was a long story …"

John sat forward in his chair and clenched his hands on the table in front of him. "Oh, it has nothing to do with the trade agreement," he said with deceptive calm and another glare across the table. "It has to do with a certain member of my team wandering off while we were under attack by a Wraith!"

"Hey!" Rodney exclaimed, immediately on the defensive. "I already explained that. The radio was never off! I was down in the ruins looking for any technology or research we could use. I thought that was my job, Major."

"There were still Wraith on the planet?" Elizabeth tried to ask, but John ignored her.

"Your job, McKay, is to go where I tell you, when I tell you," John replied, his voice rising as he spoke.

"I don't need this," Rodney said, his own temper rising as he stood up. "I don't know what your problem is, Major, but I'm not going to sit here and take this." He stalked to the door and barely gave the panel a chance to twist open before he stormed through it.

"Major Sheppard!" Elizabeth barked out as John started to leave as well. "What is this about Wraith still on the planet?" she asked once she had his attention.

John glared a moment longer at Rodney's retreating back then stiffly turned to Elizabeth. "Probably a straggler," he finally said. "There was only one. My guess is he either crashed his dart or wasn't fast enough to get back through the 'gate with the rest."

"And Rodney was missing during this attack? That doesn't sound like him," Elizabeth said with a puzzled frown.

"Major Sheppard did try to contact Doctor McKay through the radio, but he did not respond," Teyla said. "We were left with no choice but to try to find the Wraith without him."

"I see." She looked at the rest of the team in front of her. "It sounds like this mission was more than any of us bargained for. I suggest you all get something to eat and call it a day. Things may look different in the morning."

No sooner had she stopped talking and John was out the door, thankfully headed in a different direction than the one Rodney had used a few minutes before.

"Teyla," Weir said as she was about the leave the room. "Can you think of anything that would cause John to be acting the way he is?"

Teyla shook her head. "Nothing. We were all together for most of the afternoon. Maybe Major Sheppard is still dealing with some residual anger over Doctor McKay being missing. Rather like a parent will hug a child after finding him and then yell at him for disappearing in the first place."

Elizabeth smiled slightly at that image in her head as she headed back to her office. It did make a sort of sense, John was very protective of his people, and Rodney in particular. She just wondered if he had bothered with the concern before moving onto the anger part of the equation.

She was busy going through the reports from Sergeant Stackhouse's team regarding their latest planet survey a few hours later when Beckett's voice came over the radio. "Elizabeth, can you come down to the infirmary right away?" he asked.

"Carson? What's the problem?" she replied, still reading through the last report.

"I need you to see something," he said. "It's important."

She caught the sound of barely contained worry in his voice and put down the report. "I'll be right there."

She walked into the infirmary a few minutes later and looked around for Beckett. "Carson?" she called as she walked toward his office.

"Back here," he said and stuck his head out of the medical lab behind the infirmary.

"What's the problem?" she asked as she came in the room.

Carson sat on a stool in front of a microscope, his face a mask of worry. "Where is Major Sheppard and the rest of his team?"

Elizabeth frowned. "I told them to get something to eat and take it easy the rest of the day. Carson, what's happened?"

Beckett sighed and rubbed his hands through his hair. "We need to find them. Quickly. I think they've all been poisoned by something on that planet."