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."
Elizabeth stared at Carson, not sure she heard him right. "They were poisoned? None of them seemed ill during the debrief."
Carson scooted out of the way and offered her a chance to see what was under magnification. "Trust me, they will be. And Elizabeth, this could be very serious." She could see the worry plain in his expression as well as hear it in the thickening of his accent.
She peered at the slide under the microscope for a moment, but she had no idea what she was looking at. She looked back at Carson instead. "All right, walk me through it."
He waved at the microscope. "That is a culture from Rodney's blood sample taken after he returned from that planet. What you're seeing is an infection."
She looked through the microscope again. "What sort of infection?" she asked as Beckett stood and started to pace.
Beckett stopped in the doorway separating the lab from the main infirmary. "You said they were going there to trade for grain, correct?"
"That's right," she replied and looked over at him. "Teyla said she had traded with Laren in the past. She thought he would be a good contact for us."
"Was this grain anything like wheat or rye?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Teyla said it was very similar to rye. Why? Carson, what's going on?"
"I think they're all suffering from a kind of ergot poisoning."
"I've never heard of it."
Carson smiled. "These days most people haven't, but it used to be fairly common on Earth a few hundred years ago. On Earth, it was caused by a fungus growing on the rye and then that fungus was ingested by people or animals. The people affected were very sick, including such symptoms as hallucinations and convulsions." He gave her a sad look. "No one at the time really knew what was happening and many people died." He pointed to the sample under the microscope. "This is different, however, it's not a fungus. From what I've been able to discover so far it seems to be more like a kind of bacteria."
"Is this contagious?" she asked as worst-case scenarios of a city-wide epidemic played in her head.
"Thankfully, no. The only way to get ergot poisoning is by ingesting the fungus."
Elizabeth started to breathe again. "And you think this is close enough to ergot that we don't have to worry about a city-wide epidemic?" she asked, needing to hear the confirmation.
"Correct. Even though it appears to be more like a bacteria, which by the way, could make it easier to treat, assuming we have an antibiotic that will work, I still think a person would have to physically swallow it in order to become infected."
Elizabeth thought back to the way John had acted during the debriefing and considered his behavior in this new light. "Could this ergot poisoning affect a person's mood or temper?"
Carson gave her a penetrating look. "Aye, very possibly." He walked over to her. "You've seen something already, haven't you?"
She nodded. "John nearly took Rodney's head off during the debriefing." She saw Carson start to smile and she shook her head, letting her worry show on her face. "No, this was different. He was cold, hard, angry. He wanted to cause pain. Honestly, I've never seen him like that."
"And of course it would be Rodney he focuses on," Carson mumbled then looked up at Elizabeth. "We need them back here, now. As I said, ergot poisoning is very serious."
"But you said this wasn't the same thing."
"Aye, which means I don't know how exactly how to treat it, and time could be a factor," Carson replied.
"Well let's try the easiest way first," she said and tapped her earpiece. "Major Sheppard? This is Weir, come in please." She waited several seconds and was about to give up when she heard John reply.
"What now," he asked, the anger clear in his voice. "I thought we had the day off."
Elizabeth did her best to remain calm. "You do, Major, but there is something you need to see in the infirmary."
"What? Did McKay succeed in blowing himself up or something?" he asked snidely and Elizabeth noted the shift back to using Rodney's last name.
Beckett winced at the disdain in Sheppard's voice.
"No, nothing like that," she replied and traded a worried look with Beckett. "Just something Carson wanted to run by you. It shouldn't take very long." She knew her tone was more pleading than authoritative but hoped John wouldn't notice.
"Fine. Whatever. Give me a couple of minutes."
Elizabeth signed off the radio and asked Carson, "Why is he fixated on Rodney?"
Beckett sighed. "Who knows. It could be the Major's natural concern for Rodney has morphed into anger. It could be something that happened on the planet right before he started getting sick and it's affected him mentally."
"Teyla mentioned Rodney was missing for a short time while they were dealing with a lone Wraith. Could that have something to do with it?"
"Aye, very possibly." Beckett shook his head. "And Rodney's reactions will be extreme as well. Remember he's infected, too. As are Teyla and Lieutenant Ford. Elizabeth, we need to get them all in here as soon as possible, before they get worse or …"
"Or do something they'll regret later," she finished with a nod. She reached for her earpiece again. "Well, it worked once, let's try it again," Elizabeth said and keyed her radio. "Lieutenant Ford, this is Doctor Weir."
This time the wait was even longer before he answered. "Whatever Major Sheppard said about me is wrong, Doctor Weir," Ford said without any preamble, his tone clearly defensive. "Don't you believe him! I stood right next to Teyla as we fought that Wraith on the planet."
Elizabeth and Carson exchanged puzzled looks. "Lieutenant?"
"He can't charge me with anything," Ford insisted. "Teyla was there. She'll tell you I shot that Wraith several times."
"I see," Weir said hesitantly. "Why don't you meet me and we can discuss it? I'm in the infirmary with Doctor Beckett if you'd like to come down now."
"No, ma'am, no way. You're in league with him. I know you are. You'll just get Beckett to give me something so I can't defend myself. I'll prove it to you, I did my job. Major Sheppard is trying to cashier me out of the military."
She heard the distinctive click as he closed the channel. "That wasn't anger," she said to Beckett as she clicked off her radio.
"No, that sounded more like paranoia," Beckett agreed. "It appears this wee beastie manifests itself in different ways depending on the person."
"Okay, I'm here, what's so damn important it couldn't wait until tomorrow?" Sheppard said loudly from the main infirmary.
"Get him talking and I'll get a sedative ready," Beckett whispered as Elizabeth left the lab.
Elizabeth nodded and walked out into the main room. She tried to smile as she led John over to one side of the infirmary and stood next to him with her hands behind her back. "Thank you for coming, John. I know your team has had a bit of a hard day."
John grunted but said nothing as he rubbed wearily at his forehead.
Elizabeth could see pain lines around his eyes and wondered just how bad the headache was. "Carson wanted me to know there could be a problem with the grain and I wanted to get your opinion before we went ahead with the trade." She'd learned from years of diplomatic training that a little flattery went a long way with angry leaders.
John crossed his arms. "How should I know if there's a problem with their grain?" he asked harshly. "You should ask Teyla she did most of the talking."
Elizabeth nodded as Carson came up beside her, dropped a syringe into her hand, and casually stepped over to John. "I will, but I wanted to get your impressions of Laren's people. Did you notice anything strange in the village or --"
Before she could finish, she saw John's expression shift from flat disinterest to angry suspicion when Carson tried to take his arm and gently lead him to a bed. John snaked out of his hold and turned on Beckett, his hands clenched and his expression hard. Carson instinctively tried to get a second, stronger hold on John, and Elizabeth realised immediately it was the wrong thing to do; while Carson was stronger than he looked, he was no match for Sheppard with a full mad on. She watched in shock as John twisted out of Beckett's second, tighter, hold, and had Carson face down on the diagnostic bed with one arm wrenched painfully behind his back in a matter of seconds. John wasn't even breathing hard.
She saw Beckett's face screwed up in pain as he tried to get himself loose. John responded by pulling Beckett's arm further up his spine.
"Major," Beckett said and winced as John wrenched his shoulder higher.
Elizabeth couldn't wait any longer and quickly jabbed the needle into John's arm and pressed down on the plunger.
"What the hell," he demanded as he released Carson and turned on her.
She took a hurried step back and prayed the sedative would kick in quickly as she dropped the empty syringe and held her hands out away from her body. "John, you're sick," she tried to explain, her voice calm even as she realised he could seriously hurt her without trying. "You've been infected by something on the planet. We only want to help."
"Help?" Sheppard growled in a low, angry tone as he stalked toward her. "You call him," he jerked a thumb over his shoulder, "attacking me helping?"
She glanced at Carson still behind Sheppard, carefully holding his shoulder as he closed in on John again.
"You need to calm down, Major," Beckett said and John spun around to face him.
"Don't tell me to calm down," Sheppard ground out and grabbed the edge of the bed as he started to tilt to one side. "What did you do to me?" he demanded, but his voice along with the rest of his body faltered and he started to fall.
Beckett caught him before he hit the floor and Elizabeth saw his face pale as John's weight pulled at his sore shoulder. "Help me get him on the bed," Beckett grunted, his voice slightly strained.
"Are you all right?" she asked once John was on the bed, and much to Elizabeth's dismay, restrained.
"Aye," Beckett replied and rubbed at the sore shoulder joint. "I don't think he did any permanent damage."
"That wasn't the safest plan," she admonished with a tiny smile. "Weren't you the one telling Rodney last month to not pick fights with the military?"
"It worked, and that's the important part." Carson shrugged and started checking John's vitals. "I'll see what I can do to treat the infection," he said a few minutes later. "You need to find Teyla, Ford, and Rodney and get them down here as quickly as possible."
She gave John one last look and noticed he twitched on the bed even with the sedative still in his system, nodded to Beckett, and left.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Teyla stood in the ready position, her left arm low to block any attack to her body, her right arm raised at chin level ready to attack. When Sergeant Stephens asked about their lesson, she was embarrassed to admit she had completely forgotten about the promised session but gamely agreed to meet him in the sparring room. In truth, she was feeling anything but interested in stick fighting lessons. Even though the mission to trade with Laren had been successful, Teyla still couldn't shake her feelings of guilt over what had happened to five planets simply because they … she … had visited them.
She watched Sergeant Stephens as he slowly circled her looking for an opening in her defense, even in her current distracted state of mind, she made sure he wouldn't find one. She waited patiently and saw the moment he dropped his guard arm, again, and closed in, a blur of movement, as she attacked first his open right flank, then the ribs on his left side, and finally the back of his right knee. Stephens dropped to the mat with a grunt.
"It has been several months now, Sergeant," she said in a tired voice as she watched him, "and you still have not learnt to keep your blocking arm in the correct position." She stepped back and looked down at him, still panting on the mat. "Have you practised at all since our last session?"
Stephens slowly got back to his feet. "Yes, ma'am," he said and readied himself again. "You just caught me by surprise."
Teyla sniffed and rubbed at her temple with one hand. "This time you will know I am coming," she replied and set herself again.
Once again they carefully circled each other. Stephens tried a feign that she easily blocked, then she attacked him with the same right-left-right combination. Stephens dropped back to the mat with another grunt and Teyla stepped back, shaking her head.
She paced around him as he caught his breath and got back to his feet. "I think I've had enough for today, Teyla," he said and dropped his sticks on the bench near the window and sank down beside them.
She glanced in the large wall mirror in front of her and saw him watching her as she went to the other bench. She also caught a glimpse of her own reflection before she looked away, not wanting to see the slumped shoulders or guilt-ridden look in her eyes.
"Everything all right?" he asked. "You seem, I don't know, different today."
Teyla sighed. "I am no different today than I was yesterday or last week." She kept her back to him as she patted at her face with a towel.
Stephens shrugged. "If you say so, ma'am." She watched in the mirror as he picked up his gear and at the door, he stopped, turned around, started to say something, but instead, just shook his head and left.
Teyla stuffed her sticks in her bag and left the sparring room. She had hoped a workout would help her mood, but it had had the opposite effect. Now, on top of feeling guilty for the attacks by the Wraith on those planets, she had the added disappointment of a student that she apparently could not properly teach.
She made her way back to her quarters, ignoring the people around her. She wondered how many of them blamed her for what happened to the people taken by the Wraith. How many now felt they could not trust her? Sergeant Bates had certainly tried everything he could to make her out as a traitor. How many of the people in Atlantis believed him?
She showered and disregarded the Earth-centric uniform as she dressed in one of her very best Athosian dresses and leggings; something with color and texture instead of the institutional grey worn by the expedition members might make her feel better. She nodded disinterestedly at her reflection and headed out the door in search of dinner. Doctor Weir had told her once one of the things she missed most about Earth were comfort foods, those simple favorites that made you feel better simply by tasting them. Now she knew what Weir meant; oh, what she wouldn't give for some of Charon's tuttle-root soup!
She walked into the mess hall and was momentarily startled by the noise in the room. The lighting also seemed overly bright and she squinted slightly as she made her way through the line selecting little more than watery vegetable soup and a small sandwich as her stomach suddenly rebelled. She forced herself to keep the nausea under control as she made her way to a table in the corner and away from accusing eyes.
She was still slowly nibbling at the sandwich when Lieutenant Ford came into the room, giving everyone a suspicious look as he slunk around the room before he spotted her. "I need to talk to you," he said in a low voice with another wary look around and added, "in private."
She sighed and looked at him tiredly, then glanced down at the soup bowl and half-eaten sandwich. She could see there was something wrong with the Lieutenant and thought for a moment of brushing him aside before reluctantly standing and leaving the half-eaten meal on the table as she left the room with Ford.
Ford led her out onto a balcony around the corner from the mess hall and shut the door behind him. "He's gonna put me on report," Ford said angrily once they were alone.
Teyla gave him a confused look. "Who is reporting you and for what offence?"
Ford glanced through the glass door, then took a step toward her. "Sheppard," he spat out the name in a whisper. "He's had it in for me ever since we got here, thinks I'm Sumner's man."
The image of the arrogant Colonel rose in her memory. He'd had no time or patience for her people when the Atlantis expedition first came to her planet. And then they'd been captured and the Colonel taken from their cell and killed to save her own people. She shuddered at the memory of being trapped in the hive ship, knowing there was no escape and what would happen to them.
Someone tried to open the door to the balcony and Ford glared back at the faceless person until he or she got the message and left.
"Major Sheppard is putting you on report?" Teyla wasn't sure if her question was truly for more information or a way for her to hide her total lack of interest in Ford's supposed problem. Didn't she have enough to deal with without taking on his problems as well, she thought to herself, then felt another stab of guilt that she would dismiss the needs of a friend so easily. She forced herself to focus on him as he spoke.
"Yes," Ford hissed and rubbed at his forehead. "You have to help me. You know I didn't run when that Wraith attacked the village. He's going to tell Weir I tried to desert."
Teyla just looked at him. She had no idea what he was talking about but gamely tried to assist. "I am not sure what you think I can do to help," Teyla said, still confused.
"You can talk to Weir," Ford explained. "She'll listen to you. Make her see that Major Sheppard is only out to end my career because he hates me. You need to convince her to take my side instead of his. Once you do that, I can explain to her what really happened."
Teyla had to admit Ford was correct, she did have a good relationship with the head of the expedition. They were both women of the world and understood the rigours of leadership. Leadership. Was she still her people's leader now that they were on the mainland and she had chosen to stay in Atlantis? Had she failed them as well? True, part of their recent mission was to obtain seed grain for Halling and the others, but was she doing enough to help her people?
She studied Ford's face intently. His gaze constantly roamed, never focusing on her for more than a few seconds. She also saw one of his hands shaking slightly as he rubbed his head again. She could tell something had affected Lieutenant Ford, either his current issues with Major Sheppard or something else she was unaware of. He was jumpy and nervous, not traits she was used to seeing in the normally calm Marine. When he looked at her again, she nodded her assent and he nodded back. Maybe this would help break her out of whatever funk she'd found herself in that afternoon, she thought as she headed back to the door.
"I need to lay low," Ford said with another glance through the glass door. "If Sheppard sees me, he could have me arrested for dereliction of duty. I'll find you later and you can tell me what Doctor Weir said." Ford opened to the balcony door, looked around, then disappeared down the corridor.
Teyla sighed and went back inside, heading for the control room. She tapped her earpiece as she walked and said, "Doctor Weir, this is Teyla."
"Teyla?" Weir replied and Teyla wondered why she sounded surprised. "Is there something wrong?"
Teyla thought the question odd, but let it pass. "No, Doctor Weir. There is something I'd like to discuss with you."
"I see," Weir replied after a short hesitation and Teyla stopped walking.
"Doctor Weir, is this a bad time? We do not need to meet right away, the matter is not urgent."
"No, Teyla, we can meet now if you like. I'm on my way to the infirmary to check with Doctor Beckett regarding one of the other teams. Can you meet me there?"
Teyla frowned at the request. "The matter is of some delicacy, I would prefer to discuss it in your office."
There was another brief silence over the radio before Doctor Weir replied, "All right. I'll tell Carson I'll talk to him later."
"Thank you, Doctor Weir," Teyla said. "I will be there in a few minutes." She tapped the radio off and set out for the control room and Doctor Weir's office.
She stood outside the control room and took a couple of deep breaths. Her head was pounding and the soup had done little to settle her stomach, but she had told Lieutenant Ford she would try to assist him, so she mustered a fake smile and walked past Grodin at the control console and tapped the door of Doctor Weir's office. Elizabeth looked up and gave her a nod and a wave and she took another deep breath and entered. "I am here to discuss Major Sheppard's report concerning Lieutenant Ford," she said as she stood at the end of Doctor Weir's desk.
Elizabeth carefully set down the stylus for her computer and folded her hands on the desk. "I see," she said and motioned to one of the chairs. "Maybe you should sit and we can talk about it."
Teyla gave her a tired smile, then sat in one of the chairs. "You have read Major Sheppard's report?" she asked.
Elizabeth shook her head. "Unfortunately, no. Major Sheppard became ill after you all returned and is down in the infirmary."
"I see," Teyla replied slowly. "In that case, this would appear to be the time to tell you …" She looked up as two Marines entered the office and stood at her side.
"What is going on?" Teyla asked and stood as she glanced from the Marines to Weir as the two Marines flanked her and took her arms in a light grip.
She easily shrugged out of their hold and gave Weir a hurt look.
"Teyla …" Weir started to say.
"Do you still not trust me, Doctor Weir? Even after Doctor McKay proved I had no involvement with the Wraith attacking those worlds?" Teyla asked her voice flat. "The attack on Laren's world occurred days before we even arrived. I thought I had earned your trust."
"Of course we trust you, Teyla," Weir tried to say. "This has nothing to do with your necklace. Something happened while you and the rest of your team were in Laren's village. You're sick, Teyla, we just want to help you."
Teyla gave her a defeated look. Maybe Ford was right, and Major Sheppard no longer trusted her either, he must have said something to Doctor Weir about her part on the death of the Wraith as well. No matter what he said to her face, this was Sheppard's way of removing her from his team. A tiny corner of her mind knew the Major would never act in such a manner, but the larger, guilt-ridden part, could easily believe it.
"Please take her down to the infirmary. Doctor Beckett is waiting," Weir said firmly to the two Marines.
"Yes, ma'am," one said and nodded to the other. They took Teyla's arms again, this time in a tighter grip.
Teyla left the office with her head down, not wanting to see the accusation and distrust in the eyes of the people around her as the Marines escorted her from the control room.
"Teyla," Weir tried again as she followed them down the corridor, "please try to understand. You and the rest of your team may have been poisoned while visiting Laren's planet. We're trying to help you."
She stopped and turned back to Weir. "Do you distrust Lieutenant Ford as well? Is that why he was afraid to come to you himself regarding Major Sheppard's claim against him?"
"Do you know where Lieutenant Ford is, Teyla?" Elizabeth asked and Teyla heard an urgency in her tone. "He is very sick, you both are. We need to find him as soon as possible."
Teyla shook her head. "He only said he could not be seen or Major Sheppard would have him arrested." She glanced at the Marines on either side of her. "Perhaps he was correct."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney sat in his lab trying to finish his report on the ruins from the planet as he munched on a power bar; he would need to find some real dinner soon, he told himself. There wasn't much in or around the ruins they could use, though he had been getting some odd mineral readings before all the shooting started. He had his suspicions the 'Old Ones' weren't even the same people as the Ancients. On reflection, he knew he shouldn't be that surprised. There had to be more than one advanced society in the universe at any one time. Had the Asgard ever made it to Pegasus? he wondered. He knew SG1 had met a few of the aliens over the years and Rodney couldn't help thinking how much he'd like to meet one himself someday. The things he could learn!
He sat back from the computer and rubbed at his temples. The headache was only getting worse, even after he'd taken several ibuprofen, but he didn't want to go back to the infirmary. Beckett would just give him a long-suffering look and tell him to rest. He dug the bottle of pills out from under a pile of papers and popped a few more of the pain pills then looked over his notes again.
His eye caught the faded 'tattoo' on his arm which gave his active mind something else to chew on. The tattoos had been a seven day's wonder on the base after the mission to Kalani's planet. Several people, military and scientists alike, had asked the team singly or when they were together for meals about the drawings and what they meant. He always got an extra thrill when John proudly pointed out Rodney's tattoo was the same as his and Teyla's, and Ford's. He traced a finger over the design and wondered if John would ever look at him like that again.
Why was Sheppard so angry with him? What had he done to deserve the venom dished in his direction of late? He hadn't felt that level of hate aimed at him since he'd left home. Was that it? he asked himself. Had John finally tired of him being around as much as his blood family? "Next time, I'll just leave you to be Wraith food," Sheppard had told him and Rodney was sure he hadn't been kidding.
Something flickered at the edge of his vision and he whipped around on the stool only to see the closed door to the lab.
"Great, now I'm seeing things," he muttered to himself.
He turned back to the computer and tried to work on the detailed report of the structure of the ruins and the symbols he'd discovered in one of the buildings. The writing didn't look like any form of Ancient he'd seen in Atlantis, but he was a physicist, not a linguist. He'd learned just enough of the language to be able to decipher a few sections of the Ancient database and figure out how systems in the city functioned. For all he knew it was the 'Old One's' equivalent of 'Kilroy was here' and it didn't mean anything.
He saw another shadow flit across the room from the corner of his eye and froze. Shadows that weren't really there, he thought as his mind whirled. He gulped and slowly turned to face the door again. There still wasn't anyone there but he'd hadn't imagined the shadow, either. It had been right there. He'd seen it. Hadn't he?
The shadow flickered past again and he got to his feet with a jerk, letting the stool roll across the lab until it crashed against his desk. Shadows that weren't really there meant Wraith, he thought in sudden panic. Was there a Wraith in Atlantis and no one knew it? If there was a Wraith, he needed to tell someone. He keyed his radio, "Elizabeth, this is McKay."
Nothing happened; no answer from Elizabeth, not even static. He pulled the earpiece out of his ear and quickly checked over the device. It should be working, he thought frantically. Why wasn't it working?
He surveyed the lab again even as he felt his heart start to race. Sheppard had accused him of turning his radio off when they'd discovered the Wraith near the village. His radio wasn't working again. The Wraith must have some way to jam their radio signals, he realised with a start as he backed away from the work table.
He dropped the earpiece and shuddered as a new thought occurred to him. There was a Wraith in Atlantis. They had him in one of the containment rooms the Ancients had apparently set up to house Wraith prisoners. He'd checked that system thoroughly when they brought the Wraith back with them, it should have been more than capable of containing one Wraith. Had he missed something? It was ten thousand year old technology, something they frequently forgot since it was still far advanced of what was on Earth. Had the Wraith figured out a way to beat the system in the intervening years? He wasn't sure. What he did know was the Wraith had somehow got itself freed from the containment box and was now nearby. He had to get out of the lab before the Wraith trapped him in the small room.
"Next time, I'll just leave you to be Wraith food." Rodney swallowed and ran from the lab. He'd have to figure out a way to re-capture the Wraith without John and hope that would be enough to cool the Major's anger at his incompetence certifying the containment room in the first place.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Carson finished setting up the latest antibiotic test in the simulator and leant back in his chair as the test started to run. His stomach rumbled, reminding him he'd missed dinner even as the infirmary door opened and he heard several voices outside the lab.
He came around the corner to find Teyla staring at him resignedly in the grip of two Marines while Elizabeth moved around them and stopped in front of him. "She came to my office," Weir explained as Carson directed the Marines to take Teyla to the bed across from Sheppard's. "She wanted to talk to me about Lieutenant Ford. It seems he told her the same story he told me, something about Major Sheppard planning to report him."
Carson glanced at the bed as Sharon Peterson came over to assist. "She appears listless more than anything," he said sadly to Elizabeth.
Weir nodded. "She thinks I brought her here as a result of what happened with the Wraith tracking her necklace. She thinks we don't trust her." She looked over at Teyla's bed as Sharon drew a privacy curtain around it. "I think she's also feeling incredibly guilty about what happened to those planets." She turned back to him. "John is angry, Ford paranoid, and Teyla feels guilty. And it all seems to stem from that encounter with the Wraith near the village."
Beckett nodded. "The Wraith showed up at just the wrong time, not that there's ever a good time, but you know what I mean." Beckett tried to smile. "They were all already infected with the bacteria and that encounter was at the forefront of all of their minds as they became more and more affected by the toxin." He shook his head as he walked over to the sleeping Sheppard and checked over the monitors next to his bed. "I'm almost afraid of how Rodney is reacting," Beckett admitted softly. "He's more than a little high-strung on a normal day. I fear his reaction is going to be extreme as well."
"How is John?" Elizabeth asked, looking at the sleeping man.
Beckett sighed. "I've had to keep him sedated, unfortunately. I was afraid he'd do himself serious harm fighting the restraints."
Elizabeth stopped at the end of John's bed and studied him as Beckett made a few notes. Carson watched as she glanced from Sheppard to Teyla, now dressed in white scrubs and lying facing away from them in the other bed. The two Marines stationed themselves nearby. He jerked his head in the direction of the lab and led Elizabeth into the other room.
"That's two," Elizabeth said in a quiet voice.
"Aye, but they may have been the two easiest to find," Carson said. "Ford's paranoia is not going to let him trust anyone and he will probably fight anyone who comes near him, expecting to be arrested for shirking his duty," he said as he watched as the latest antibiotic test ran through the simulator.
"Rodney has very little training, he should be easier to bring in," Elizabeth said hesitantly and Carson wondered if she was trying to convince him or herself.
"True, but he knows this city better than anyone else," Carson reminded her. "He could hide for weeks and we wouldn't be able to find him." He sighed and glanced over at Elizabeth. "Of the two, he's the one I'm the most worried about, he could hide himself so well, we wouldn't find him until it's too late."
Elizabeth nodded sadly. "Yesterday I would have said John was the only one who could find him and that Rodney would trust. Now … I'm not so sure."
The computer beeped and Carson read through the latest results and turned to her with a smile.
"Tell me that's good news," Weir said and stepped closer to the computer.
"It is that," Beckett said and held out the results. "No single antibiotic we have seemed to work in the simulations, so I started looking at combinations." He tapped the computer. "I think I've found the correct synergistic combination to knock back this wee beastie."
"Excellent work," Elizabeth said with a tired smile.
"I should have Major Sheppard and Teyla feeling more like their usual selves in a few days."
"That long?" Weir said with a frown.
"I'm afraid so," Beckett said. "The Ancient equipment I have here can help speed up the diagnostic and testing process, but the medicine itself can only do so much so quickly." He hesitated then said, "I need to send a medical team to the village they were in as well. Even if the villagers have a higher tolerance for the bacteria, those people need treatment, too."
Elizabeth studied him for a moment then nodded. "Once we find Lieutenant Ford and Rodney, I'll see about sending a team back to the planet."
Beckett smiled his thanks. "I'll see about finding a simple way to test their grain as well. It sounds terrible, I know, but the Wraith burning their fields may have been a blessing. The fires would have killed any of the bacteria living in the soil."
Elizabeth headed for the door to the lab. "Then I will let you get on with things here while I put together teams to look for Lieutenant Ford and Rodney."
She was almost to the door when she suddenly stopped and whirled around to face Carson. "Rodney? Where are you?" She pointed to her ear as Beckett walked over to her. "Rodney? Can you hear me?" She frowned and tapped at her ear again. "Peter, this is Elizabeth."
Beckett tapped his radio into the conversation.
"Go ahead," Grodin replied.
"I think Rodney was trying to reach me through the radio, but he's not responding. Can you locate him?"
"Give me a moment to ping his receiver," Grodin replied. There was silence over the comm for several seconds then, "I have him! He's in his lab."
"Send a team of Marines, but tell them to wait until I get there. We don't need Rodney more spooked than he already is."
"Yes, ma'am." Peter clicked off the radio.
"Hopefully, I will have a third patient for you in a few minutes," she said to Beckett and hurried out of the infirmary.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Ford watched from a distance as Markham's team stowed the last of their gear in the armoury and trooped up the hall for their post-mission medicals. There was a lot of good-natured ribbing of Corporal Davis as they walked; it seemed Davis had unwittingly entered himself in some sort of competition on the planet and surprisingly had won. It had taken all of Markham's negotiating skills to graciously decline the prize, from what Ford could gather a large animal of some sort, and still keep open the possibility of trading with the planet.
The laughter faded as the group turned the corner and Ford stealthily made his way into the armoury. He found his tac-vest and sidearm easily. He loaded up a backpack with water, a few MREs, and extra radio gear, then took a P-90 and additional ammunition for the rifle as well as his Beretta. He also stuffed a few other survival essentials in the pack and headed out the door. A part of his mind screamed at him that this wasn't the way to deal with Sheppard's report, but he ignored it and made his way back out of the armoury and down the nearest corridor to a transporter.
He had to give Teyla time to talk to Weir and convince her to listen to his side of the story, which meant he had to get out of the well-travelled areas of the city. He entered the transporter and tapped a location in the lower section underneath the main tower. Hopefully, that would be close enough for him to communicate with Teyla, but out-of-the-way enough that Sheppard and his cronies wouldn't find him.
He turned on the small barrel light for the P-90 as the transporter doors slid shut behind him and he carefully scouted the immediate area for threats. He walked to the end of the corridor and scanned the next hallway looking for the engine room he remembered from a trip to the lower areas with one of the science teams the week before.
The two scientists with him at the time had been very excited about the find and pored over the dark equipment - neither of them had the ATA gene to make it work - and gabbled back-and-forth while Ford had watched. He knew it was possible they'd already passed the information on to McKay, and thus to Weir, but the room offered enough cover as well as several exits that it made for a good spot to hide for the short-term anyway. He'd wait there for a few hours, then try to contact Teyla and find out what Weir had said.
He set up a couple of the radio repeaters as he walked and checked the signal strength by listening to the chatter over the open communication frequencies. He almost smiled as he listened to Doctor Zelenka order someone to go find Doctor Kavanagh as one of his many experiments had just exploded. A few minutes later a call went out for a maintenance team to meet in Kavanagh's lab to help clean up the mess. He turned another corner and found the door to the engine room.
He quickly cleared the room, and once settled in his hiding place, he listened to the various conversations on the comms. Several people discussed the state of dinner. Apparently, he wasn't missing anything special in the mess hall tonight. Doctor Kusanagi was still in awe of Doctor McKay even as she grumbled about how he ignored her contributions to a friend. Someone was trying to get a game of some sort together, Ford couldn't tell if it was poker or something else. He rolled his eyes as Kavanagh berated some poor assistant without realising his comm was open and the entire base could hear him.
His ears perked up when he heard Doctor Weir and Grodin discuss Doctor McKay and her order to send a team of Marines to the lab. He was still wondering what could cause Weir to send Marines after McKay when the radio chirped again.
"Peter, this is Elizabeth."
"Go ahead," Grodin replied.
"He's not here. It looks like he left the lab in a hurry, however. The computer is still open on a program; it looks like he stopped in the middle of a report. His radio was left on his work table. Do we have any other way to trace him?"
Ford listened carefully as he opened one of the MREs and dug out the chemical heater to warm up his dinner.
After a long pause over the radio, Grodin finally said, "Sorry, Elizabeth. We don't have any sort of internal biometric scanner for Atlantis. We can track the radio signals, but that's about it. We could try the life signs detectors, but they won't specify a person, only that there is a living force nearby."
"I was afraid of that," she replied. "Have you tried searching for Lieutenant Ford's radio signal? Maybe we will get lucky and find him at least."
Ford didn't wait to hear anything else as he quickly turned off the radio and smashed the earpiece under his foot for good measure. It had been a stupid risk to keep the radio, he now realised. He didn't think the repeaters could be traced, but he'd have to disable them as well, just to be sure.
After finishing his dinner, he carefully cleaned up all traces of the meal and went back out into the corridor. He had a quick check of the area, then found the two repeaters he'd set up and shut them down, disconnecting the battery packs just to be sure they couldn't transmit a signal. Then he set several booby-traps to alert him if anyone should come near his hiding place during the night, and curled up under an emergency blanket and tried to sleep. He told himself the slight stomach ache was probably due to the MRE and he ignored it as he listened to the creaks and groans of the underbelly of Atlantis at night.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney made his way down to the containment facility as quickly and quietly as he could. If he was going to recapture their resident Wraith, then he had to know exactly how he? it? he pondered. Sheppard had insisted on calling the Wraith Steve, so go with him, he decided. He needed to know how Steve had escaped in the first place. He rubbed at his temples trying to fend off the increasing headache and stopped just short of the next corridor when he heard voices.
"Everything under control down here?" he heard Sergeant Bates ask.
Rodney snuck a peek around the corner and saw Bates with a tall Marine beside him talking to two others standing guard outside the containment room. Bates had one of the large stun rifles they'd confiscated on the same planet where they acquired their current Wraith guest.
"Everything's quiet, sir," one of the Marines standing guard replied. "No one's been through here for the last two hours since we came on duty."
"What about the prisoner?" the tall Marine with Bates asked and Rodney realised with a start the man was Sergeant Thompson.
"Collins checked on him twenty minutes ago, sir. He seemed to be sleeping or meditating or something."
Rodney let out a huff of relief and stepped away from the corner. Steve was still in the containment box which meant he hadn't screwed up and Sheppard wouldn't be mad at him for something else.
That thought carried him to the end of the hall until he remembered the shadows in his office. If Steve was still where Sheppard had left him, then that meant … that meant there was another Wraith loose somewhere in the city! he concluded. He looked up and down the corridor, his eyes wide with fear and felt his heart start to pound again as if expecting the new Wraith to attack. Was it here on a rescue mission? he wondered. Did Wraith even do that?
He turned to go back and warn the Marines about the possibility of a Wraith rescue attempt and stopped near the corner again as he heard Bates talking on his radio to someone.
"Still no sign of them, ma'am," Bates reported and waited a few moments. "I'll report back once I hear from the last teams out. We may have to suspend the search until morning. My men are tired and need sleep." Another, even longer, pause followed that statement. "Yes, ma'am," he replied and sighed. "Bates out."
Rodney peeked around the corner again.
Bates tapped his ear, nodded to the two Marines on guard duty, and motioned for Thompson to follow him. As they left the corridor heading away from him, Rodney heard Bates say, "Sheppard and Teyla are both in the infirmary. Weir wants us to find the other two as fast as possible. We'll pick up the search …"
Rodney covered his mouth to hold in his distressed moan and staggered off in the other direction. John had been hurt, hurt enough to end up in the infirmary along with Teyla. They must have run into the other Wraith, he realised. There was some sort of invasion of the city after all. He'd been right.
He forgot all about John's anger and threats to leave him alone in the face of the realisation he'd been injured fighting a Wraith invasion. Now the problem earlier with his radio made sense as well. He hadn't been able to contact Elizabeth because the signal was being jammed. That had to be why no one ever alerted him to the attack in the first place. He swallowed hard and wondered if John had been injured while looking for him, thinking he'd ignored the radio again.
Rodney felt his heart trip-hammering in his chest as he moved back down the hallway. If John wasn't able to deal with the Wraith, there was no way he could, unarmed and alone. He stumbled to an access shaft and headed lower into the bowels of the city. The Wraith attacked from above, he reasoned. So the safest place to be was the lower sections of the city. He could hide there until he figured out how to save the others or until the Wraith left.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Sheppard's return to the waking world was slow and painful. For a long time, he just let the sounds around him wash over without paying much attention. His head hurt, his stomach felt like it had been turned inside out, he couldn't move his arms for some reason, and he had this nagging feeling something terrible had happened while he'd laid around in bed.
He sensed someone near his bed and slit an eye open to see Beckett injecting something into his IV port.
"Good afternoon, Major," Beckett said in a low voice. "How are you feeling?"
John took a moment to take stock. "Head hurts, stomach too." He closed his eye for a moment, then cracked them open again as something Beckett said penetrated. "Did you say afternoon?" he asked and tried to piece together how he'd lost a night. "What happened?"
Carson pulled up a stool and sat beside the bed. "Why don't you tell me what you remember first."
He glanced around the room and saw he was in one of the far corners, a privacy curtain completely surrounded his bed and, he realised, Teyla's as he spotted her in the bed across from him. "Teyla?" he called softly.
Beckett put a hand on John's arm. "Let her be, Major. She's resting."
Sheppard felt something inside himself starting to boil. "What's going on, Doc?" he asked and mustered a glare as he noticed the restraints holding him down.
"Major, I need you to stay calm and answer my question," Beckett said and John noted his serious expression. "What do you remember from your last mission?"
John glared at him then forced the spurt of anger back down and stared up at the ceiling trying to remember. "Teyla had a friend … Laren … we wanted to trade for grain, I think."
"That's right," Beckett encouraged. "What else?"
"There was food, pretty good spread, too," John mumbled.
With a jolt, he tried to sit up as he remembered the Wraith and frantically looked around the infirmary again. No Ford. No Rodney. Was that it? He'd lost two of his people? He turned to Beckett, almost afraid to hear what he'd say. "There was a Wraith near the village." he looked around the infirmary again and tugged at the restraints. "Where's Rodney and Ford?" he demanded and tried to sit up again.
Beckett jumped to his feet and held Sheppard down. "They aren't here," he said and John saw the sadness in his eyes.
"No." He wanted to shout, but all that came out was a plaintive whisper. He looked up at Carson. "They're …"
"No, Major," Beckett reassured quickly as he resettled Sheppard on the bed, "they both made it back from the planet alive, I promise you."
"Then what's wrong? You're acting like they're dead. Scared the hell out of me."
Beckett sat back on the stool and scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Something happened while you were all on the planet. I think you were all exposed to a toxin of sorts."
"What?" John yelped, the headache and stomach ache long forgotten. "How?"
"Looking at your blood tests, I think you were all exposed to something similar to ergot poisoning. And it's affected all of you very differently."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Beckett sighed. "Do you remember anything regarding say, Rodney on your last mission?"
John frowned and tried to think around the ache in his head. "Nothing in particular," he started to say, then gasped as he felt the blood drain from his face.
"Major? What's wrong?"
He looked over at Beckett. "He went missing right before the Wraith attacked Laren's village. I told him … oh hell, Carson, I told him the next time he did that I'd leave him behind to fend for himself."
"Oh dear," Beckett said. "That explains a few things."
John glanced over at him. "What sort of things?"
Beckett clasped his hands in front of him. "The toxin seems to have triggered a different emotional reaction in each of you, Major." He glanced at Teyla. "Teyla seems to be feeling a combination of guilt with some added depression. Lieutenant Ford, from what we've been able to deduce, is exhibiting all the signs of classic paranoia." Beckett stopped as he glanced at Sheppard.
"And me?" John asked, his gaze steady.
"Intense anger," Beckett replied sadly. "Mostly focused at Rodney, though the rest of us have felt the rough side of your tongue this last day and a half as well."
John glanced down at the restraints.
"Aye, lad," Beckett said and stood. "You've been a bit of a handful." He studied Sheppard's face for a moment and seemed to find what he was looking for as he smiled and started to undo the buckles for the leather cuffs. "I think we're done needing these now, at least."
Once his arms were free, John rubbed at his wrists for a moment then covered his eyes with the arm not attached to the IV. What had he been thinking saying something like that to Rodney? he wondered.
He remembered his talk with Rodney after the mishap with the jumper getting stuck in the gate. He'd mentioned how most of his childhood and teen years had been filled with nothing but anger and fighting by his parents, how they thought he was to blame for their marital issues. Rodney hadn't said anything about it at the time, but John had the sneaking suspicion that any time the McKay's weren't fighting with each other, they were actively ignoring their son. And he'd gone and done the same thing, yelled at him then threatened to abandon him. Great job, Sheppard, he berated himself. Treating him just like he's come to expect from family.
Now he knew what the gnawing feeling in his gut was all about.
"How did Rodney react to the toxin?" he asked softly and moved his arm enough to look at Beckett.
Carson looked away. "I don't know, lad," he replied in a whisper. "We can't find him."
John squeezed his eyes shut. Damn, that's what he'd been afraid of, of course Rodney's reaction would be to retreat and hide himself away while he dealt with the emotional pain alone. He stared back up at the ceiling and heard Beckett stand and start to move away. "Hang on," he said suddenly, "You said I've been here for a day and a half?"
"Aye, you and Teyla have been here since the evening you got back."
John looked at the IV. "And you figured out how to get rid of the toxin?"
Beckett came back to the end of the bed. "Aye, an antibiotic cocktail of sorts. You and Teyla have had several doses already and it appears to be working. You haven't tried to bite my head off or injure my staff since yesterday afternoon."
Another memory surfaced of him wrenching Beckett's arm behind his back and John gave Carson a guilty look. "Carson --"
"None of that, lad," Beckett said, seemingly reading his mind. "You didn't know what you were doing."
"I could've really hurt you."
"Aye, but you didn't. It was nothing some ice and pain meds couldn't fix. I've had worse over the years, believe me."
Sheppard accepted that for the moment. "You said you haven't found Rodney, what about Ford? You said he was acting paranoid?"
Beckett nodded. "He's missing as well, I'm afraid." He gave Sheppard an odd look then continued, "He seems to be under the impression you plan to report him for dereliction of duty."
"What?" John demanded and regretted it as his head throbbed. "What would give him that idea?"
"He said you planned to report him for running away when the Wraith attacked us, Major," Teyla said softly from behind Beckett.
Beckett turned to her. "Teyla, I'm sorry we woke you, lass."
Teyla smiled slightly. "You did not wake me, Doctor Beckett, I was not asleep." She sat up and looked over at Sheppard. "It is good to see you awake, Major."
John gave her a crooked smile. "You, too."
Teyla looked at Beckett. "You said the Major and I have had several doses of your … cocktail? and are much improved," she said as she touched the IV in her arm. "Lieutenant Ford and Doctor McKay have not received any of these treatments?"
Beckett shook his head. "They have not and time may be running out for them."
John gave him a startled look. "What do you mean time's running out? I thought you said this just messed with our heads."
"That's the emotional side," Beckett explained. "Physically, the headaches and stomach cramps are just the first signs."
"And what comes next?" Sheppard asked.
Beckett sighed. "Hallucinations, possibly convulsions." He stopped.
"And death?" John finished and Beckett nodded.
"Aye," he whispered.
"Then we must find them quickly," Teyla replied decisively.
"I'm as worried about them as you are," Beckett said. "Elizabeth and Sergeant Bates have been looking for them, ever since we realised what had happened. I'm sure they will find Rodney and Lieutenant Ford soon."
"Doctor Beckett?" a nurse said as he stepped up to Beckett's side. "We have another one. Same sort of injuries as the others."
"What has happened?" Teyla asked as Beckett moved to follow the nurse.
Beckett sighed. "I suspect Lieutenant Ford has started setting booby-traps in the lower areas of the city under the control tower."
Teyla and Sheppard exchanged a look. "Why would he do that?" she asked him.
"You said you thought Ford was acting paranoid?" John asked Beckett.
"Aye, mostly about you, Major. He thinks you want him thrown out of the military."
"That's why," Sheppard said to Teyla. "Standard procedure when under threat of attack, secure your current location and take out as many of the opposition as you can."
"Except he's injuring our people," Beckett reminded him. "Thankfully nothing more serious than twisted ankles, a few chemical burns, and the like." He glanced from Sheppard to Teyla. "You two just rest. Elizabeth will get this sorted out." He gave them one more admonishing look then followed the nurse.
"I need to find them," John said to Teyla as soon as Beckett left and got to work. He carefully removed the IV needle from his arm and grimaced as he grabbed a couple of tissues and pressed them to the puncture site to stop the bleeding. He glanced over at the closed curtain as he threw back the bed covers and got up. He wasn't attached to any monitoring equipment so no need to worry about alarms going off and blowing his escape.
"What?" he demanded in a low growl and took a deep breath when he saw the frown on her face. "Sorry," he said and came over to her bed. "Bates has had at least a day to find them and has come up empty. I know how Ford and Rodney think. I'll find them and get them back here before …" He closed his eyes for a moment. "I'll get them back here," he finished and moved back to the curtain.
He peeked around the privacy curtain and watched as Beckett and the male nurse wheeled Ford's latest casualty to another corner of the room. Two other Marines were asleep in nearby beds, one had his foot wrapped and resting on a couple of pillows, while the other had both hands bandaged from fingertips to wrists. He heard a sound behind him and turned to find Teyla beside him, tissues pressed to her arm as well.
"I was only going to say, that we should look for Lieutenant Ford and Doctor McKay together," she said and looked up at him expectantly. "And that we might want to find other clothing," she added as she looked down at the white set of scrubs she was wearing.
"Right," he said with a sheepish grin. He glanced back out into the infirmary. No one was paying much attention to their corner so he turned back to Teyla. "Okay, it looks clear. Get to your quarters, change, and meet me in Rodney's lab. I'm sure it was one of the first places they checked for him so no one should be there now."
She nodded and started to move around the curtain.
Sheppard watched until she cleared the infirmary door, then followed her. He'd get Ford and Rodney safely into Beckett's hands and then and try to fix the mess he'd created with his temper.
John made his way to Rodney's lab as quickly as he could through back corridors and access passages. He'd stopped in his quarters only long enough to change into a clean uniform and then snuck into the armoury for his sidearm and tac-vest. He noted Ford's gear was also gone, but Rodney's was still there, and that several of their recently acquired Wraith stun weapons were missing as well. While he was happy the security teams would have a non-lethal option for bringing in Ford and Rodney, he wasn't at all happy with the idea of Bates shooting his teammates. He suspected the Sergeant would enjoy it too much. As he left, his mind sarcastically considered that he really should revise the duty rosters when this was all over, as getting into the armoury had proved to be pathetically easy.
He reached the quiet corridor with Rodney's lab without being spotted and was relieved to find the hallway deserted and the door to Zelenka's lab further down the hall was closed. He stopped in front of the door to Rodney's lab and wasn't surprised to find it locked. Even if Bates hadn't done it for security reasons, Elizabeth would have just to keep Rodney's private domain safe. It was a matter of a few seconds for him to pop the access panel and 'jump' the circuit to unlock the door.
He entered the dark lab, found the work table across the room from memory, and turned on the light over it, leaving the rest of the room dim. He frowned at the mess of notes and objects on the table; Rodney was usually incredibly fastidious about his work space.
He was still looking over the notes Rodney had made about the ruins on the planet when he heard the soft whoosh of the door and Teyla walked in, also wearing a tac-vest and her sidearm. Yeah, he really needed to have a better guard on the armoury, he thought with a wry smile. She glanced around the room, curiosity plain in her expression, before she walked over to the work table. Sheppard wondered if she had ever even been in the lab before.
"Anyone see you?" John asked.
She shook her head. "Doctor Beckett has discovered we left the infirmary, however. I heard him calling Doctor Weir before I turned off my radio."
"Good call," he replied and removed his own earpiece, stuffed it in the same pocket of his tac-vest, and switched off the radio.
"Where do you suggest we start our search?" she asked as she looked around the lab. "We do not know what areas of the city Sergeant Bates has already searched."
"We don't need to know that," John said. "Ford is going to be somewhere close to the area with all the booby-traps."
"Will not Sergeant Bates also be in that area? He has an understanding of these same tactics, does he not?"
"He does, and I'm hoping Ford has had enough time to lay down a false trail, so to speak."
"You know where he is hiding," Teyla said, more a statement than a question.
John gave her a grim smile. "He'd want someplace secure to hole up. Somewhere most people won't know anything about."
"Somewhere like an abandoned engine room?" a new voice asked and Sheppard whipped around, his sidearm in his hand, to find Zelenka standing in the door to the lab.
"That's a good way to get yourself shot, Doc," John said as he re-holstered the Beretta.
Zelenka came over to the work table, a small handheld computer in his hand. "Apologies, Major. I heard the call go out you had left the infirmary and knew you would come here."
"Am I that predictable?" John groused.
Zelenka smiled. "Only to those of us who know how much time you spend with Rodney outside of missions," he said and held out the computer.
Sheppard saw it was a map of the area under the control tower.
"Lieutenant Ford was with Doctor Jenson's team last week when the engine room was discovered. Neither Doctor Jenson nor Doctor Tsao has the ATA gene so they could not really study the equipment." Zelenka glanced around the lab, a tired look on his face. "I had planned to tell Rodney about the find, but he was off-world fighting Wraith," he looked at Teyla with a gentle smile, "and then he was gone again on your latest mission."
"Why would Atlantis need such a room?" Teyla asked.
"The city was also a spaceship," Zelenka explained. "We have little knowledge as to how the Ancients made it fly, but with the discovery of this room, we can start to understand how they did it. Rodney will be impossible to live with once he finds out we found such a room and did not tell him."
"Is it possible he may be hiding there?" Teyla asked Sheppard.
John nodded. "Besides a couple of Rodney's people and now us, no one knows about it. It sounds like something he might think would be a good place to hide for a few days."
"I did try to point out area to Sergeant Bates when he searched Rodney's lab," Zelenka said and shook his head as he looked around again.
John suddenly wondered how much of the mess was from Rodney not thinking clearly and how much was from Bates being Bates.
"He would not listen," Zelenka said. "He informed me there was correct method for searching and the area with the engine room was outside current search parameters."
Teyla took the computer from Sheppard. "I think it would be best for me to look for Lieutenant Ford," she said to him. "You must find Doctor McKay."
"We should stay together," Sheppard argued.
"I disagree," Teyla said as she looked over the map. "Lieutenant Ford does not trust you at the moment. If he sees you, he may run. He wanted me to talk to Doctor Weir about your report. I can use that to get close enough to him to hopefully convince him to come to the infirmary on his own."
"He's setting booby-traps," Sheppard reminded her. "He's not worried about hurting people."
"My people have also used such methods in the past, Major. I know what to look for."
"I don't like --"
"There is another reason," Teyla said and laid a hand on John's arm. "We need to find them quickly," she said and John saw the worry in her eyes.
"Rodney isn't going to trust me, either," John admitted in a low voice. "Not after what I said to him on the way back to the 'gate."
Teyla shook her head. "I do not believe there is anything you could say to him that would cause him to truly stop trusting you, Major. Your bond is a strong one."
John didn't think that was the case at all and it must have shown in his expression.
"You will see, Major," Teyla said with a small smile. "He knows you care about him too much to ever truly forsake him."
She nodded to Zelenka as she headed for the door, the handheld computer tucked in a pocket of her tac-vest.
"And where will you look for Rodney?" Zelenka asked once Teyla was gone.
John sighed and sat on the stool in front of the work table. "I was hoping he'd left me a clue where he would go somewhere in here, but …" He waved a hand over the cluttered surface.
"He left his radio," Zelenka said as he picked up the earpiece.
Sheppard glanced at the receiver in Zelenka's hand as he looked through the various piles of notes, objects, and assorted pieces of Ancient technology on the work table. "Did anyone see him yesterday or the day we came back?" he asked as he looked at the items on the shelf behind the work table and picked up the small wooden box with the yellow stone Kalani had given Rodney.
"I did not," Zelenka said. "I can ask some of the others if they saw him."
Sheppard nodded absently as he opened the box and Zelenka hurried out of the room.
He picked up the small yellow stone and smiled slightly as it started to glow in his hand; he wondered if Rodney had figured out what it did yet. He stared at the stone in his hand, it was a bit mesmerising, and he thought the glow was brighter than he remembered, then realised the lighting in the lab was lower than what was normal when Rodney was ensconced in his domain. He held it for a few minutes more then carefully put it back in the box.
He was going through Rodney's desk, trying not to disturb things any more than necessary, when Zelenka came back.
"No one really talked to Rodney once he returned from the planet," Zelenka reported. "However, Doctor Tsao believes several of his tools may be missing and Doctor Kusanagi says she saw him wandering down the corridor the evening of your return muttering about Steve. He needed to talk to Steve. Would this Steve knows where Rodney went?" he asked and looked over at Sheppard.
John turned to Zelenka and he could feel the grin on his face. "You're sure it was Steve?"
"Yes, yes. She was certain. I asked if she heard surname, but she said no. Just Steve."
John clapped Zelenka on the shoulders as he rushed past.
"You know this Steve?" Zelenka asked, and Sheppard almost laughed at the bewildered look on Zelenka's face.
"Yep, he's a Wraith!"
"There is Wraith named Steve?" he heard Zelenka mutter as he left the lab and smiled wider. He wasn't sure why Rodney wanted to talk to the Wraith, but it gave him a place to start looking.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Teyla knew she'd wasted valuable time avoiding personnel as she followed a circuitous path through the city. It was necessary however as she was sure if anyone found her, she would only end up back in the infirmary and Lieutenant Ford even further from the help he needed. She felt the guilt building even as she ducked into an alcove to avoid a pair of scientists deep in discussion. She knew the feeling was the result of the toxin still in her system, but that did nothing to help with the immediate problem and her guilt at not helping Ford sooner overwhelmed her for a moment. She leant against the wall of the alcove and took several deep breaths to get her emotions back under control, then checked the hallway again before she continued on her way.
She made it to the transporter closest to the area with the marked engine room and sighed as the door opened to one of the lower areas of the city. Now that she was away from the more inhabited areas of the city she knew she would have to start looking out for the booby-traps Major Sheppard mentioned. She had seen two of the Marines in the infirmary as she snuck out with their ankles and hands carefully wrapped in bandages so she had an idea of the sort of traps the Lieutenant was setting. Painful, certainly, but she didn't think Ford would set any sort of trap that would be truly lethal. At least that was her hope. The Lieutenant was an explosives expert, she remembered. Would he move up from nuisance traps and start setting up bombs?
She pulled the tiny flashlight out of her tac-vest and carefully scanned the floor and walls nearest her feet. No glint of metal or odd shadows indicating wires and she took a few hesitant steps down the corridor. She was only a short distance from the transporter when she saw one of the radio repeaters she remembered Ford placing when they'd gone to the east platform when the city almost flooded. She took a step and even had her hand within inches of the device before she jerked her hand back and took a careful look at the repeater itself. Yes, there it was, a wire led from the radio to a makeshift dish balanced on a pipe above the repeater. Anyone who touched the radio would have the contents of the dish spilt on his hands. She wasn't sure what the dish held, but it didn't matter. She took another step back and continued on her way.
She entered the corridor leading to the engine room and carefully looked around. She had already discovered two other booby-traps on her way to this section of the city and was certain that now she was close to where Lieutenant Ford was hiding, the traps would be more prevalent. Would they be more deadly as well? she wondered again. Would Lieutenant Ford set a trap that could kill members of the expedition? It seemed counterintuitive that he would do such a thing as the end result would be the very outcome he was trying to avoid. She reminded herself Ford was probably not thinking logically at the moment and took her time looking for more traps.
She kept the flashlight aimed at the floor as she walked and saw the beam of light glint off something metal. She carefully stepped over the trip wire and nearly backed into another before she realised what the thin thread was.
"Lieutenant Ford," she called and made sure her voice was low and calm. "Lieutenant Ford, are you here? I have come with news."
She pulled out the computer with the map and checked her location against where Doctor Zelenka had marked the door to the engine room. According to the map, it should be just ahead.
She heard a soft hiss of noise behind her and crouched down as she swept the flashlight along the corridor behind her. She didn't see anyone and slowly turned back around and walked the rest of the way to the engine room door. She touched the control for the door and quickly stood to one side as it opened. Her instincts were sound as the loud report of a Beretta sounded and several rounds from the handgun shot out the door and embedded in the wall opposite the door.
She stayed flat against the wall as she called into the room once the Beretta stopped firing, "Lieutenant Ford? It is me, Teyla." She waited but didn't hear any other sounds from inside the room. She chanced a glance around the corner and glimpsed several consoles and pieces of machinery in the dim light from the hall before she ducked low and entered the room. "Lieutenant Ford, I came to tell you what Doctor Weir said," she tried again but was met with more silence.
She crept further into the room and crouched near one of the consoles.
"Don't move," Ford's voice, eerily calm, came from the shadows to her right and above her.
Teyla huffed out a quiet sigh, she'd found him. Unfortunately, that was the easy part.
"How did you find me," Ford demanded suddenly.
Teyla sat on the floor near the console. "Doctor Zelenka told me how one of the science teams found this room last week," she told him. "I spoke to Doctor Weir about your concerns regarding Major Sheppard." She was careful to keep her statements as truthful as possible.
"You're lying," Ford said.
"I am not," Teyla replied with forced calm. "I spoke to her as you asked me to." She glanced around the room but couldn't see him in the dim light then she heard something shift above her and glanced up. There was a gantry running along the length of the room and she thought she saw a crouching shape pressed against the railing above her.
"Lieutenant, I became concerned when you did not contact me as you said you would," she said into the heavy silence. "I came to find you. Doctor Weir would like to talk to you about your actions during our fight with the Wraith."
She heard what she thought was a snort of bitter laughter. "You expect me to believe you? If you were so concerned about me, why did it take you so long to come looking for me?"
She had no idea how to answer that as she was certain he would not believe she had spent the last two days in the infirmary as Doctor Beckett treated an infection, nor would he believe he was also in need of medical help.
She heard a clatter above her and glanced up to see a shadow moving along the walkway above her. "Yeah, that's what I thought," Ford said his tone now defensive. "You believe him too, don't you?"
"I have not talked to Major Sheppard about what happened on the planet. He has been in the infirmary since our return."
"I don't believe you," Ford answered and Teyla sighed. Well, it had been worth a try, she thought and slowly moved around the console trying to keep him in sight.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney had lost track of time as he roamed the dimly lit sections of the lower part of the city. After hearing Bates say John and Teyla were in the infirmary, he'd just sort of wandered aimlessly, his only thought was to get lower in the city and away from any culling beams. He wanted to check with Elizabeth or Grodin and find out what was happening with the Wraith. He also wanted to know if John was still alive, but when he reached up to his ear, the radio was missing and he didn't remember when he'd lost it.
Without the radio he would have to deal any Wraith that came down to the lower levels himself, he realised. There would be no way to alert a security team in time. He meandered down another hallway and found what looked like some sort of repair facility, there were stacks of broken bits of metal and, as he picked through several piles, what looked like broken crystal components, an idea started to form in his head that he could make some sort of Wraith detector and at least track their movements.
He pulled out several pieces that looked like they might still work with only minimal repairs before he remembered he had no tools. He searched the room he was in but found nothing he could use. Maybe it wasn't a repair station after all, he thought to himself, maybe it was simply the Ancient equivalent of a city dump.
By then hunger had intruded on his thinking as well and he'd decided to kill two birds and go up into the city just long enough to steal some power bars from Zelenka's lab and a few tools from one of the benches in one of the others. He didn't want to go back to his own domain, the Wraith knew where that was and would find him for sure. The lab area had been deserted when he'd been there. He'd hoped it was because it was late and everyone was asleep, but another part of his mind reminded him he wasn't the only night owl in the science department and his hands shook as he realised maybe the reason it was so empty was because everyone had already been culled.
Back in his hiding place again, he pulled the last energy bar from his trouser pocket and sat with his legs dangling over the edge of a gantry, his Wraith scanner, made from several cobbled together components, lay on the walkway beside him as he ate. How many Wraith were in the city now, he wondered, and glanced down at the cracked screen on the device.
It had taken him several hours to figure out how to get the various pieces of Ancient rubbish to function, and he hoped he had it configured correctly for finding Wraith. He'd managed to filter out the human life signs easily enough by using his own location as a test, but no matter what he tried, he wasn't finding any Wraith. He'd thought about going back up to the area with the containment cell and using Steve to test the device, then rejected it. If the Wraith were mounting a rescue mission, that was the last place he wanted to be. He fiddled with the device again as he chewed, but there still weren't any Wraith showing up on the screen.
Thoughts of the Wraith brought Sheppard to mind as well, and Rodney hoped the Major hadn't been badly injured in whatever Wraith encounter he'd survived. He had a momentary vision of John, old and wizened, lying on one of Beckett's infirmary beds and whimpered softly. Maybe he could risk a short trip up into the city, just long enough for him to make sure John was okay. But would Sheppard want to see him? Rodney wondered as his other fear rose and he swallowed painfully as he shivered.
His hands had been shaking off and on while he worked on the scanner, and he'd chalked it up to low blood sugar and had eaten several of the power bars to stave off the shaking. As the rest of his body started twitching as well, he realised it was probably due to being cold. While the lower areas had minimal lighting and air flow, there wasn't much heat. He kicked himself for not grabbing Zelenka's jacket off the man's chair when he stole the food and tools. Instead, he sat just in his shirt sleeves and tried to ignore the cold.
He finished eating, stuffed the energy bar wrapper in his pocket with the others, and thought about what he was going to do next. Try to think about the problem logically, he told himself. What did he need? Now that he, hopefully, had a way to track the Wraith, he needed to find a way to get them out of Atlantis and save his friends.
Was John still his friend, his brother? he wondered as he rubbed at his throbbing head. He'd never seen John that angry before and it had scared him more than a little. He shook off the thought. Even if Sheppard never spoke to him again, and he shuddered at the idea, no one deserved to die at the hands of the Wraith. He really hoped John would still want him around, though, assuming he wasn't a withered husk. He found he liked the idea of having a brother, a family, after all these years.
He forced his mind back to the task at hand. He knew what he needed to do, what did he have to accomplish his goal? He turned out his pockets and laid the items on the walkway next to the scanner. He had several energy bar wrappers, the few tools borrowed from one of Zelenka's people, and for some reason, an intact crystal from the junk room.
He picked up the crystal and considered what else he could make from the spare parts in the rubbish room when he heard footsteps and jerked to his feet, a screwdriver in one hand, the crystal in the other, and frantically looked around. He didn't see any Wraith, either with his eyes or on the scanner, and he didn't see one of their creepy mind shadows either, but told himself he'd been foolish to stay in one place for so long.
As quickly and quietly as he could, he moved along the walkway, the scanner forgotten in his fearful retreat, until he found a set of steps leading to the next level down. He crept down the steps, wincing as one of them creaked, and stopped at the bottom to listen for any pursuit.
He didn't hear anything following him and let out the breath he'd been holding. He glanced around and headed off to the left. The pipes overhead told him he was near the desalination plant and if he kept going he would find another set of stairs across a bridge and around a corner. He was almost to the stairs when he heard the footsteps again, and this time he knew they were behind him.
He tried to keep moving, but couldn't help himself as he turned around and saw a Wraith striding toward him. Where had it been hiding? he wondered, even as it hissed at him and spread its arms away from its body, preparing to attack. Rodney took a step back, his eyes wide in terror, as the Wraith advanced and he was surprised when it suddenly stopped. Its yellow eyes bore into him as it stood there hissing and gesturing. Rodney took another step back even as he stared at his worst nightmare come to life in front of him. He was going to be sucked dry by this Wraith and chances were, even if there was anyone left in the city, they would never find his body.
The Wraith took a small step toward him, its hands out in front of it, and Rodney cringed and took another step. Expecting to still be on the walkway, he had a moment of adrenaline-fueled giddiness when he felt himself falling instead. The Wraith lunged for him even as he fell, but it was too late. He felt his right arm hit one step, his back landed painfully on another, and then he was tumbling until his head hit something and he didn't have to worry about what the Wraith did next as he blacked out.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
By his count, Ford had been waiting more than a day for news from Teyla about her meeting with Weir. While the delay gave him time to set up more traps, his mind told him the longer it took for him to hear news, the more likely it was that Teyla had been turned against him as well. Maybe he should have gone to Bates or one of the other Marines instead of the Athosian, but he thought he'd have a better chance with a teammate. It seemed he was wrong.
Several of his outlying traps had been tripped over the last day, he knew. He made sure to keep moving but tried to check each of his trapped sections when he had the chance. There was a tiny, still rational, part of his mind screaming at him to stop, that he had injured several Marines already and if Sheppard's report didn't get him court-martialed, attacking fellow Marines certainly would. Every time such thinking invaded his mind, he shook it off and reminded himself it was possible all of the Marines were under the influence of Sheppard, someone clearly acting outside his authority, and therefore his was the correct side after all.
He looked down at his hands and saw they were shaking again. He grimaced and clenched his them into fists to stop the movement. He'd had several bouts of the shakes already, his arms, his legs, once his whole body shook for several seconds before he got himself back under rigid control. He wasn't sure what the problem was; maybe there was something wrong with this batch of MREs, he thought, as his hands slowly stopped twitching.
He heard sounds coming from outside the engine room door and aimed the P-90 at the entrance as a voice called again and the door slid open. Ford watched from his perch on the gantry above the engine room floor as someone opened the door and set off his last trap. The Beretta stopped firing and a voice called, "Lieutenant Ford? It is me, Teyla."
He glanced down at the open doorway as a shape entered the room and cowered near one of the consoles. He listened as she tried to explain the delays, but he realised she was lying. She'd been turned just as he thought. He moved along the gantry to get a better angle on her position and he shifted the P-90 in his hands. She must have heard him and moved out from the cover of the console and deeper into the engine room in response.
He watched as she kept the flashlight pointed low at the ground as she moved. Looking for other traps, he realised, and used it as a way to track her as she explored the rest of the engine room.
"Lieutenant," she called again a few minutes later, "I cannot help if I cannot see you. Please come out so we can talk."
"I can see you just fine," he replied and balanced the barrel of the P-90 on the railing of the gantry and sighted along it until he found her standing next to another console.
He saw her head tilt back as if looking up and around for him. "If you can see me, you know I am here alone," she said.
He saw her shift her weight and hold her hands up at shoulder height. "I only want to help you, Lieutenant Ford."
He hesitated a moment as he watched her slowly turn in a circle and look up again, then she stopped and quickly turned away from him.
"Lieutenant?" she said and looked up at the other end of the gantry.
Then Ford heard it as well, the careful step of someone moving along the gantry from the other direction. "You set me up!" he screamed at her as he pointed the P-90 down at her and pulled the trigger.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
John was halfway to the holding cell for Steve before he remembered the Marines guarding the room and stopped. The Marines had orders to report anyone near the holding cell, orders he'd given after the Wraith had been captured. Likewise, if they saw him striding up the corridor, they'd report him as well. He backtracked back down the corridor and paused to think.
Rodney had been muttering about Steve. It had to be the Wraith, Rodney wasn't on a first name basis with many people and none of them were called Steve. John glanced up the hall again. So, did he come down here at all? he wondered. Did he come down, and seeing the guards, left again? Why would he want to talk to Steve at all, though? He paced a few steps up and down the corridor.
Beckett had said they'd all had different emotional reactions to the encounter with the Wraith near the village as a result of the toxin. Ford had become paranoid of official sanctions, Teyla was feeling guilty, he was just plain angry. How would Rodney have reacted? "Next time, I'll just leave you to be Wraith food" drifted across his memory and he knew. Rodney's reaction to the Wraith would be fear. How was the toxin and John's own anger toward him playing into his response to that fear?
"Damn," he muttered to himself. What had possessed him to ever say something like that? Did Rodney think Steve was loose in the city? Was that it? So Rodney was afraid, he thought. Rodney was afraid and convinced that no one, that he, wasn't going to come this time. So what would he do? John looked up and down the hall for inspiration and his gaze landed on the access door. He'd hide and come up with a crazy plan, he thought with a slight smile.
John pushed off the wall and pried open the door to the access shaft. Maybe he could convince Rodney to let him help with the plan just long enough to get him back to the infirmary and Beckett's tender care.
"Believe it or not, Rodney, here I come," he said softly and closed the access door behind him.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Teyla ducked under the console as Ford started shooting at her. This was not how she wanted the encounter to go. She had hoped she would be able to talk to him long enough to convince him to come back with her. She heard running feet above her as the P-90 stopped firing and then heard the whoosh/whine of a Wraith stun rifle and a beam of light shot over her head. Were there Wraith loose in the city as well, she thought frantically and reached for her sidearm to defend her teammate. Had the transmitter in her necklace led the Wraith to Atlantis after all? Guilt swamped her again. She shook her head and took a deep breath, she didn't have time for this. Ford needed her help, either to help fight the attacking Wraith or to protect him from himself.
The P-90 above her started firing on the new threat as another stun beam lit up the area near where she thought Ford was hiding. She heard Ford yelling wildly as he fired until a third stun beam caught him in the chest and he fell to the gantry. She twisted out from under the ruined console and aimed for the running footfalls on the gantry.
"Hold fire! Hold fire!" a voice shouted and Sergeant Bates looked over the railing and down at her.
"Sergeant Bates," Teyla said and lowered her weapon. "You were nearly shot."
She saw Bates twist his lip into what she assumed was a smile and then look down where she could just make out someone lying on the gantry at Bates' feet. It took her a moment to recognise the Wraith stun rifle in his hands and she let out a breath as she realised it was the security team firing the weapon and not a Wraith invasion of the city.
She quickly made her way to the nearest access ladder and the gantry above and knelt beside Ford's unconscious body. The Marine with Bates held Ford's P-90 while Bates talked on his radio. Teyla reached out and carefully checked Ford's pulse and then looked for any injuries as she spoke softly to him.
"Yes, ma'am," she heard Bates say into the radio. "We have Lieutenant Ford and Teyla in one of the disused rooms under the control tower." He paused and listened then looked down at Teyla with a smirk. "One of my men saw her and followed her, ma'am. She led us right to Lieutenant Ford."
Teyla glared at him then went back to speaking quietly to Ford.
Bates signed off the radio and turned to the large Marine still hovering behind him. "Thompson, get down there and show the med team where we are."
Thompson saluted then inched past Ford's prone body. As he came alongside her, he touched her shoulder and as she looked up, Teyla could see sympathy in his eyes. She gave him a slight smile and he nodded once before he continued along the walkway to the access ladder. She heard him make his way back to the same door to the engine room she had used, then the door opened letting more light into the engine room.
Bates stood in the same place with the stun rifle still casually aimed at Ford as he alternately watched the Lieutenant and then scanned the room at large.
"So you followed me," Teyla said in a tight voice after a few minutes silence.
"It wasn't that hard," Bates replied with another smirk.
"If you had listened to Doctor Zelenka when he pointed out this room to you yesterday there would have been no need for such action and Lieutenant Ford would have received the treatment he needed much sooner."
Bates glared at her and she saw his body stiffen at the accusation. Teyla smiled to herself and rubbed at Ford's arm as he twitched.
It was another ten minutes before Teyla heard voices outside the engine room. Someone in the group must have had the ATA gene as long dormant lights started to glow and she blinked a few times as her dark-adjusted eyes adapted to the new light. Someone hurried up the access ladder and a few seconds later, Doctor Beckett was on his knees beside her checking Ford over even as he ordered the litter team down below to get ready.
Teyla scooted as far out of the way as she could get on the narrow walkway and watched as Beckett quickly checked Ford's vitals and injected a syringe into his arm.
"The first dose of the antibiotics," he told her in a low voice as he glanced over at her. "Fancy meeting you here," he added, his tone flat.
Teyla smiled back weakly. She knew the tone was one Doctor Beckett used when he was particularly irritated; it was the same voice he frequently used when Doctor McKay was being troublesome in the infirmary. "Did we find him in time?" she asked as the litter crew arrived and readied Ford for transport.
Beckett stood next to her and the Marines carefully lowered Ford down the ladder. "The twitching has me a mite concerned," he told her once they were back on the lower level. "It could be the first of the convulsions starting." She swallowed and watched as the Marines left the engine room at a ground-eating trot. Beckett put a hand under her arm and gently led her from the room. "I think he'll be fine, lass. You did a good job, even if it was directly against medical orders."
Teyla started to say something but Beckett held up a hand. "No, I don't want to hear the reasons, or more likely, the excuses Major Sheppard came up with to justify the pair of you leaving my infirmary." He glared at her for a moment longer then smiled and patted her arm. "I'm happy you found him, lass, but you didn't need to risk your own health to do it."
"Has Major Sheppard found Doctor McKay?" she asked as they walked back through the inhabited areas of the city.
Beckett shook his head. "No, and that could be very bad." Teyla gave him a startled look and he explained. "There is more to worry about than just the toxin in his system," he said and glanced at Bates walking behind them. "Rodney has a condition where he needs to eat regularly."
Teyla nodded. "Major Sheppard explained that to us once when Doctor McKay was not around. He asked us to carry extra supplies when we went off world and to make sure he ate something every few hours."
Beckett smiled. "Why am I not surprised," he mumbled, then in a normal voice said, "Yes, well it's been a day, possibly longer, since I know Rodney had anything to eat. It's possible he may already be unconscious due to the hypoglycemia."
"Major Sheppard will find him, Doctor. I am sure of it."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
John wandered the lower areas of the city with several different worst case scenarios running through his head. Had Rodney fallen off one of the gantries and was lying dead somewhere far below? Had the toxin already run its course and he was lying dead somewhere nearby, never to be found? Then there was the hypoglycemia to worry about as there wasn't much to eat down here. Almost all of his worst-case scenarios, he realised, involved Rodney being dead. Only slightly better were the ones where he found him, but Rodney never spoke to him again.
He zipped up his jacket against the cold and walked along yet another gantry, letting his gut more than anything direct his steps.
He walked through another door and stopped, listening hard. He thought he'd heard a voice mumbling somewhere ahead of him and let out a breath as he heard Rodney muttering to himself about something. At least he was still alive, and still conscious, he thought to himself. Now he just needed to fix his big mistake and everything would be fine.
He came around another corner expecting to see Rodney only to find a small pile of power bar wrappers and some sort of large hand-held screen, as he heard distant footsteps running along the walkway off to his left, and oddly, below him. He glanced over the railing and saw Rodney hurry along the gantry looking behind him every few steps.
John found the stairs leading down to the next level and decided to follow Rodney until he settled again. He didn't want to chase him all over the lower decks of the city if he could help it. He came around a corner expecting to find it empty and instead found Rodney staring back at him, eyes wide and full of fear as he slowly backed away. John froze when he saw Rodney backing toward the steps leading down to another level. He held his hands up and took a slow step forward trying not to spook him further.
Unfortunately, that only made Rodney retreat faster and John stopped again, held his hands further away from his body and said softly, "Hey, buddy, it's me." He hoped his tone would calm Rodney down, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. Rodney took another step back and it took all of his control not to leap forward and grab for him.
"You're getting a little too close to the edge there," he tried again and hoped Rodney wouldn't notice as he inched a step closer. "Why don't you come back over here and we can get everything sorted out."
He felt a lump form in his throat as Rodney cringed away from him, clearly afraid of what he would do next. Before he could try anything else, Rodney took one last step backward and yelped as he started to fall. John lunged forward, but even as he started to move, he knew he'd be too late. He heard Rodney's body hit the gantry steps and reached the edge just as he came to a jarring halt on the landing below.
John stared down in horror for a moment, then took the stairs two at a time and landed on his knees next to Rodney who had ended up on his right side with his legs slightly bent. He could see blood oozing from a cut on Rodney's face and something looked off with his right arm, but he was relieved to see his chest rise and fall, and while his pulse was a bit fast, it was there and that's what mattered.
He'd noted the cold skin of Rodney's neck, and squeezing one of his hands, he confirmed how chilled he was just in his blue uniform shirt. He stripped off the tac-vest then his jacket and spread the thin coat over Rodney as best he could. He wasn't sure what other damage had been done in the fall and settled for squeezing one shoulder as he put his vest back on, took his earpiece out of his pocket, and turned on the radio to a private channel.
"Carson, this is Sheppard," he said and waited for Beckett to answer.
"Major," he heard a few moments later, "it's good to hear your voice. Can I presume you have some good news?" John heard a mix of relief and maybe a little anger in Beckett's voice and rubbed a hand over his face.
John glanced down at Rodney and pulled a sterile pad out of his tac-vest and pressed it against the cut on his cheek.
"Umm, I have news," he said, and when he wasn't immediately interrupted he continued, "I found Rodney. He's alive but he fell down some metal stairs. He hit his head and there's something wrong with his arm." He stopped and closed his eyes then whispered, "He was trying to get away from me, Carson, and he fell."
"All right, lad," Beckett replied, and John could hear the sympathy in his voice this time. "Just tell me where I can find you and I'll have Rodney right as rain in no time."
John glanced around and sighed. "About that, I have no idea where we are. We're somewhere in the lower levels of the city." He looked up and saw pipes running along the wall beside them.
"Keep talking, Major. Sharon is letting Peter Grodin know what's going on, he should be able to find you. How is Rodney doing?"
John glanced down at the still man. "He's unconscious." He checked the cut. "There's a cut on his face that's stopped bleeding but I think he hit the back of his head, too. I didn't want to move him in case …"
"You're doing fine, Major. You know what to look for with hypoglycemia. Any signs he's in trouble?"
"No, I found several energy bar wrappers nearby so he's been eating something over the last day or so."
"Thank god for that at least," Beckett replied, relief clear in his voice.
Sheppard heard someone talking to Carson off mic then Beckett said, "All right, Major, we know where you are. I'll be there in a few minutes."
John tapped his earpiece to turn off the radio and sat on the steps near Rodney's head. "Ya hear that? Beckett's on his way," he told Rodney and touched his arm again.
Rodney didn't so much as twitch at the contact and John sighed. "I know I screwed up here," he said softly. "I'll do what I can to fix it, I just hope you're willing to give me the chance."
Several minutes later, he heard voices and footsteps above him. "We're down one more level," he called and saw someone glance over the railing at him. John looked up as the footsteps came closer and twisting around saw Beckett along with Sergeant Thompson and Corporal Davis looking down at him from the top of the stairs.
Beckett came down the stairs and knelt on Rodney's other side. He gave John a fleeting look then focused on the body in front of him. "All right now, Rodney, let's see what you've gone and done to yourself," he said softly as he ran his hands over Rodney's neck and back. Once done he nodded at Sheppard and they carefully rolled him over so he was lying on his back. "I see what you mean about his arm, Major," Beckett said as he carefully set the arm in a sling. "Looks like he's broken his wrist and he's got a good-sized lump behind his ear." He nodded at the Marines waiting at the top of the stairs who came down with a stretcher. Once they had Rodney loaded, they headed for the nearest door as John and Beckett followed.
"I've already had this discussion with Teyla," Carson said peevishly, "and while I'm not at all pleased you decided to stage an escape from my infirmary, I'm glad you found them."
Sheppard nodded. "So she found Ford? How is he?"
Beckett sighed. "He should be fine. Teyla found him a little over an hour ago. I've already started him on the antibiotics so the next few hours will tell if he's responding. Speaking of which, you're due for your next dose as well."
"I feel fine," John argued.
"That's not how this works, Major. You take the antibiotics even after you think you feel fine. We don't need some superbug invading the city that is resistant."
They entered the infirmary and Beckett pointed to the curtained off area he'd been in before. "Sharon will help you get settled while I go see about Rodney," Beckett said and walked off to the other end of the infirmary where another nurse was setting up the diagnostic hood over Rodney's still body.
John watched the hood light up and slowly move back and forth before he pushed the curtain aside and found Teyla and Ford on one side of the space in beds next to each other. Two more beds stood waiting and he walked to the one across from Teyla, leaving the bed next to the wall for Rodney. Ford was unconscious, an IV ran into his arm and several monitors tracked his vitals. John hoped he was just asleep even as he noticed Ford was also restrained. Teyla was awake and watched him as he pushed aside the set of waiting scrubs and sat on his bed.
"How's he doing?" he asked and nodded at Ford.
Teyla glanced at the bed beside her. "Doctor Beckett thinks we found him in time," she said but John could tell something else had happened while bringing Ford back to the infirmary.
"But?" he asked, dragging out the word.
Teyla sighed. "He had become more violent," she replied. "He was firing his P-90 at both me and Sergeant Bates' team. The Sergeant was forced to stun him."
Sharon came through the curtain, gave him his dose of antibiotics and looked pointedly at the set of scrubs beside him.
John tried to look innocent, but she wasn't buying his act so he merely nodded and waited while she checked Ford's monitors and asked Teyla a few quiet questions. He quickly changed and came back and sat on his bed again. "How did Bates know where you were? Did you tell him about the engine room?" he asked and frowned as she flinched slightly at the question.
She looked over at Ford again then down at her bare feet. "I did not tell him anything," she said and John heard the guilt in her voice. "One of his men was able to follow me. Lieutenant Ford heard them approach and that is when he started firing his weapon at us."
"Teyla, it wasn't your fault."
She looked over at him, the guilt now replaced with frustration. "How can you say that? If I had been more careful, Sergeant Bates and his men would not have been there and he would not have been spooked by their presence."
"Or," John drawled, "Ford could have gone off anyway and you would have had no one there to back you up." He waited for her to sit back on the bed and continued, "I'm not thrilled Bates got the chance to shoot one of my people, but I'm glad he was there to stop Ford with a stunner instead of a bullet and that none of the rest of you were injured." He glanced over at Ford. "That, at least, explains why Beckett has him restrained."
"Yes," she said, her voice tinged with guilt again.
"Yes, I know," she said and tried to smile. She closed her eyes for a moment then opened them and asked, "How is Doctor McKay? Doctor Beckett stopped long enough to tell me you had found him before he left to meet you."
Now it was John's turn to feel guilty. "He fell down a set of metal steps trying to run away from me." He glanced at the closed curtain and wondered what was taking Carson so long. "He looked at me and I could see just how afraid of me he was."
"Perhaps it was not you he was seeing," Teyla offered after a moment.
John snorted. "There wasn't anyone else there."
"Doctor Beckett did say one of the symptoms of this illness was hallucinations. It is possible he was not seeing you at all, Major, but someone or something else."
John shrugged, not willing to let himself off the hook that easily. "Yeah, maybe," he mumbled.
Teyla was asleep and John was dozing when Beckett and another nurse wheeled Rodney into their little corner, unconscious or asleep he couldn't tell, an hour later and settled him on the last bed, thankfully without any restraints. He sat up and watched as Beckett hung an IV bag and hooked Rodney up to a set of monitors. He could see the cut on Rodney's face had been taped closed and his right hand and forearm was encased in an electric blue cast. Beckett leant forward and said something to Rodney that John didn't hear then turned to leave.
"How is he," he asked in a low voice so as not to wake Teyla or Ford.
Beckett stopped beside his bed. "He should be fine given enough time to rest," Beckett replied and John heard the exhaustion in his voice. "I've started him on the antibiotics so he should be back to his normal self in a few days."
John couldn't muster a witty response to that, it was still a little too raw for him. "And the rest," he asked. "Just how badly did I hurt him?"
"And I thought Teyla was the one feeling all of the guilt," Beckett said with a frown. "You didn't do anything to hurt him, Major. Rodney woke up for a moment while we were examining him. Kept mumbling about a Wraith attacking him. We had a devil of a time convincing him there were no Wraith attacking the city." He glanced over at the other bed. "I'm still not sure if he believed me."
"But he's going to be okay?"
"Oh, aye, he broke his wrist and gave himself a bit of a concussion as well as a nasty bruise on his back, too bad I don't have any more of Malie's salve. But he should heal just fine."
John blew out a breath and Beckett smiled. "Get some sleep, Major. You're still recovering as well, you know."
John woke later that night to the sound of grunting and heavy breathing. He sat up and looked around to find Ford wide awake and pulling at the restraints.
"Whoa, hey," he said, as he got up and walked over to Ford's bed hoping to calm him down before someone overheard him or he hurt himself. "Ford, you need to calm down," he said and tried to sound reassuring. "Everything's going to be all right."
"Get away from me," Ford growled back angrily and pulled at the restraints again. "Did you just come by to gloat? Rub it in that you're better than me?"
John was at a loss as to how to respond. This was a side of Ford he'd never seen before. The normally happy-go-lucky young man he knew had been replaced with someone bitter, angry, and suspicious and he had no idea why he was the target.
"You're all the same," Ford continued. "I may be young but I'm not stupid. You think I'm just some dumb jarhead. Well, I'm not. You're not pinning this on me."
"What?" Sheppard asked, now completely confused. "Ford, I've never had any doubts about how good of an officer, how good of a person, you are. Where is this coming from?" He backed away from the bed as he realised he was just making Ford more agitated.
"Major?" Sharon said in a low voice. "It's not you, you know. It's the bacteria. You're just a convenient target."
John turned to the curtained-off entrance to their corner as Sharon walked in, a tray of syringes in her hands. He watched as she injected a dose of the antibiotics into Rodney's IV and then walked over to Ford.
"You leave me alone," Ford said in a low voice. "You can't give me anything I don't want and I don't want your so-called cure. I know what it really is …" His voice started to falter as she finished injecting the second syringe into his IV port.
"Everything will look much better in the morning, Lieutenant," Sharon said in a calm voice. "I promise."
Ford just glared at her until the sedative took affect and he slowly stopped fighting the restraints as he closed his eyes.
"I'm sorry about …" Sheppard waved at Ford with one hand once the Lieutenant was asleep.
"There's no need to apologise, Major," Sharon said as she gave Teyla her dose of antibiotics. "I've heard worse over the last few days." He realised just how tired Teyla must be since she didn't so much as stir from the injection in her arm.
Then his brain caught up with what Sharon has said and he ducked his head and rubbed at the faint bruising on his arms from his own time tied down. She stopped next to his bed and gave him his shot as well. "Yeah, well, I apologise for that, too," he said with a sincere smile.
"Major, you were very sick. I don't blame you for the things you said," she reassured him.
"Thanks, but that still didn't mean it was easy to hear." He glanced over at the now sleeping Ford and wondered what the real reason was for his paranoia.
Sharon smiled down at him. "Then I thank you for the apology, Major." She stepped around his bed and back to the curtain. "Try to get some sleep."
It was only a couple of hours later that Rodney started to wake. John woke to the sound of soft whimpering and knew from past experience the sound heralded a nightmare. He slid out of bed and pulled a chair over to the side of Rodney's bed as the soft moans turned into words as Rodney's head started to twist on the pillow.
"Shep'rd hurt … gotta find them … It got Shep'rd …"
What the hell? he wondered even as he laid a hand on Rodney's arm and started to talk. "Hey, calm down," he said softly. "I'm right here, Rodney. Nothing got me, I'm fine. You're fine. The city is safe."
"It got him. Need to find them," Rodney continued to mutter and shake his head, and John took a better hold on his arm before Rodney managed to hurt himself. He wasn't sure how much of the reactions were due to the bacteria versus the concussion.
"Rodney, I'm right here, buddy. Nothing got me, I'm fine."
Rodney stopped moving and slowly opened his eyes. John could tell he wasn't really awake or really seeing him, but he spoke anyway. "See," he said and tried to smile. "I'm right here."
"Shep'rd?" Rodney slurred. "Thought you'wer dead."
As with Ford's delusion that he thought John considered him a bad officer, he had no idea why Rodney would have latched onto the idea of his demise, but put that aside for the moment. "Nope, still here," he replied and patted the hand with the cast.
"Do'n hate me?"
John squeezed his eyes shut. He'd be paying for that comment for a long time. "No, Rodney, I don't hate you and I'm not mad at you." He squeezed the fingers poking out from the cast "Go back to sleep and we'll talk about it when you're more awake."
Rodney sighed and closed his eyes and John rested his head on the mattress next to the fingers he still held.
"I told you the bond was strong," Teyla's voice said from behind him and John raised his head enough to see her standing at the end of his bed.
"Yeah, you did," he said and slowly stood and made his way back to his bed. "I just hope it's still true when he's really awake and can fight back."
Teyla smiled and headed back to her own bed. "I do not think you have anything to worry about, Major."
John watched as Teyla resettled on her bed and was soon asleep. He glanced over at Ford and Rodney to see they were resting as well. He sighed and slowly let himself drift to sleep.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
John stopped by the infirmary two days later to check on his remaining teammates. He and Teyla had been released the night before with orders to get some sleep, not push themselves, and a schedule for their remaining injections of antibiotics was set. Rodney and Ford still had at least another day to go before Beckett felt they were ready to resume light duties.
He entered the infirmary and headed for the far corner where two beds still sat end to end. The privacy curtains had been removed and Sheppard could tell Ford was awake but Rodney was asleep. He'd been sleeping a lot the last few days, Beckett didn't seem concerned so John tried not to worry about it either.
"Lieutenant," Sheppard greeted in a low voice so as not to wake Rodney. "How are you feeling?"
Ford gave him a sheepish smile. "Better, sir."
"Good," Sheppard replied and looked around for something else to say.
"Sir?" Ford said and twisted his hands in his lap. "I … umm … I wanted to say …"
"There's no need," John said. "It wasn't really you saying those things."
Ford looked up at him. "Still, I just wanted you to know, I don't think that way about you, sir."
Sheppard leant against the wall next to Ford's bed and considered his team's various reactions to the bacteria. Teyla had felt guilt, probably a left over from the whole mess with the necklace. Rodney's fears he was well acquainted with, so his reaction made sense as well. Ford, however …
"So who was it?" Sheppard asked and glanced down.
"The CO, or drill sergeant, or whoever it was that made you think you were a worthless officer?"
Ford looked up at him, surprise clear on his face. "How did …"
"Not that hard to figure out," Sheppard replied with a wry smile. "So who was it?"
Ford looked down and fiddled with a loose string on the blanket. "Army captain," he finally said. "It was a joint mission in Iraq. He was ranking officer and screwed up an op. Tried to blame my unit for the mistake, claiming since I was in command of the Marine unit and so young, it had to be my fault three guys died."
John frowned in sympathy. He'd dealt with a few of those types over the years as well. "What happened?"
Ford shrugged. "Nothing. There was the usual post-mission debrief and eval. It was determined there was no clear evidence one way or the other who was at fault and it was just chalked up to fortunes of war. Never heard what happened to him. I finished my tour and was reassigned to the SGC."
"You know that won't happen here, don't you?" Sheppard asked. "You know I'd do whatever I needed to in order to back you up."
"Yes, sir. I know. Really." Ford smiled. "Like I said, I don't see you that way at all. I know you always have my back."
Sheppard shifted awkwardly as Ford spoke, slightly uncomfortable with the overt show of loyalty. He grinned suddenly and changed the subject, "You had quite the setup of booby-traps, I heard. I think there's still one Bates is afraid to touch. He wants to just block off the whole corridor and leave it."
Ford glanced guiltily over at the now empty beds around them in the infirmary and Sheppard stopped smiling. "I guess I can expect some pretty nasty payback for that," Ford said with a grimace. "Even as I was doing all of that, a part of me knew it was a bad idea, but I didn't seem to care. All that mattered was making sure …" He stopped and John read the embarrassment in his eyes.
"Making sure you got me before I got you?" he finished with a sardonic smile.
Ford ducked his head. "Something like that, I guess."
John nodded and wandered over to Rodney's bed. Like Ford, all of the extra monitoring equipment had been removed as well as the IV. He rubbed Rodney's arm and squeezed his fingers just to let him know he wasn't alone. He felt a slight pressure on his hand in return, but Rodney didn't wake up.
"I think we may need one of those team building sessions of yours, sir," Ford said quietly. "We're all kinda screwed up at the moment."
Sheppard looked over at Ford and smiled. "See, right there. That's the sign of a good officer." He squeezed Rodney's fingers in farewell and walked between the two beds. "I'm on my way to talk to Elizabeth and Carson about an excursion to the mainland. We can check how the Athosians are doing and maybe do a little camping on the beach."
Ford grinned, the first genuine smile John had seen on his face in days. "We never did get those s'mores the last time."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney wandered the city unable to really settle or think. It was late, most everyone else was long asleep, but he couldn't get his mind to stop replaying what had happened over the past week. He'd spent three days under Beckett's watchful eye as the antibiotics did their job and another four in his quarters with shots every six hours. Now that he was back in his right mind so to speak, all he felt was embarrassment as to how he'd acted. He was supposed to be the intelligent one in the group, smartest man in two galaxies, and he'd acted like a complete idiot thinking Wraith had invaded Atlantis. He'd never be able to live that down with the scientists, nevermind the Marines. How was anyone supposed to take anything he said seriously after he'd been found in the bowels of the city preparing for a nonexistent attack.
He'd tried to rest like he promised Carson, but he quickly got bored in his quarters and with the cast on his hand he wasn't able to putter with any of his projects very easily, not that he wanted to spend much time in the lab lately, anyway. He half-expected Elizabeth to show up and ask, ever so politely because she was still Elizabeth after all, for his resignation as head of the science teams. He suspected Zelenka was running interference for him with the scientists and he was oddly grateful for the Czech's show of support and loyalty.
He wandered into what had quickly been adopted as the expedition's rec room where, by mutual consent, everyone had offered up their smuggled books, DVDs, games, and any other scraps of items with some entertainment value for others to use. He checked the shelves looking for a book, movie, anything to take his mind off what had happened and came up empty. He surveyed the rest of the room and did a double take when he spotted the portable keyboard pushed against the far wall half buried under some empty crates used as extra seats for movie nights.
"How did someone get that here?" he wondered out loud as he crossed the room and ran his hand along the keys. He'd always loved music, taking lessons had been one of the few happy, if brief, memories of his childhood. Right up to the point when his teacher told him he had no feel for it and would never be a musician.
He'd been devastated. His first teacher had been a kindly woman, told him he was a natural and encouraged him to try new pieces from classical to the pop music of the 1970s. Then she'd died suddenly and his next teacher, a rail-thin man whom Rodney was sure had never smiled in his life, had told his parents after three lessons, it was a waste of his time to teach someone like Rodney. He was too stiff, he had no soul for music. Even a normal twelve-year-old ego would have taken such a comment to heart. Rodney had taken it especially hard as the piano had been one of the few things that let him forget about his family, the bullies at school, and the teachers that saw him as a troublemaker for correcting them during class.
His parents hadn't even tried to change the teacher's mind. He was right, they'd decided, it was just one more thing proving their son was more trouble than he was worth and there were no more lessons. His only consolation was his parents had kept the piano, not for him of course, but because it looked good in the corner of the den and maybe Jeannie would be a better reflection on the family by becoming a pianist. He played any time he was alone in the house, he didn't want his parents to find out, afraid of what they would do if they knew. Once he left for university, there had been a beat-up piano in one of the common rooms and he'd spent many hours noodling around on it when he was sure he was alone. He'd even found one in a disused office in Russia and spent many cold nights playing that out-of-tune upright piano.
He glanced around the deserted room and even checked the hallway before moving back to the keyboard. He hauled it out of the corner and carefully set it up. The stand was flimsy, and he braced it with a few books to make sure it wouldn't collapse. He dug around, found the cord, and quickly hooked it up to one of the jerry-rigged outlets he'd designed to work with Earth electronics. He pulled up one of the empty crates to use as a bench, sat down, and looked for the power switch.
The keyboard hummed slightly as it powered on and he looked for a volume control and turned it down almost as far as it would go. This was not something he needed to advertise to anyone still awake at this hour. At best he'd be teased and at worst laughed at; as usual, it was just better for no one to know. He sat with his back to the door and pressed a few of the keys just to hear what the board sounded like, then ran his hands through a few scales. He fumbled more than once, he hadn't practised in years and the cast on his right hand wasn't helping, but his fingers soon remembered what they were supposed to do.
The scales turned into a tune and he smiled as he recognised Bach's "Prelude in C Major", one of the first pieces he'd learnt, and as a result, also one of his favorites. He played through the short piece a few times, just letting his mind wander and he finally felt himself start to relax. He stopped thinking about Wraith, how he'd acted, and weird alien bacteria, and just let his mind sink into the music.
"I didn't know you knew how to play," John's voice said from just behind him and he jumped, the keyboard jangled painfully as he missed the last few notes, and he jerked his hands away from the keyboard guiltily even as he glared up at John.
John took another one of the empty crates and sat next to him. "What was that you were playing?"
Rodney heard the genuine interest in the question and relaxed slightly. John hadn't laughed. "Bach," he replied and self-consciously moved his hands further away from the keys.
"You don't have to stop," John said and started to stand. "I can leave if you want me to."
"No, no," Rodney said with just a tiny hesitation and motioned John back onto his crate. "It's okay, really."
John settled with his back against the wall and his feet out in front of him as Rodney went back to softly playing scales.
"So how come you never said anything about playing the piano?" John asked as Rodney's hands moved up and down the keyboard.
Rodney shrugged as he started on "Prelude" again. "It's just one of those things I don't bother to mention to people, I guess. When you're told at twelve you need to do the music world a favor and never touch an instrument again, you kind of get a little shy about saying anything."
John's expression fell and it took Rodney a moment to realise he was angry on his behalf and not mad at him. "Your parents?" he asked, his voice flat.
Rodney shook his head. "Music teacher. Said I had no feel for music and should just give up." He looked over at John. "But I loved the music," he said with a shy smile. "Not just the mathematics of it which was cool, too, but the actual music itself."
"Sounds like you had a bad teacher to me," John said and nodded at the keyboard. "I liked it."
Rodney snorted. "You didn't even know what I was playing."
"Didn't matter. It sounded nice."
Rodney smiled and transitioned to another piece as John sat next to him and watched him play. He had to admit it looked like John was enjoying himself.
"Now that you and Ford are off the antibiotics," John said a few minutes later, "Elizabeth and Carson signed off on the field trip to the mainland."
"Because the last field trip we went on was so successful," Rodney said and glanced over at John. His fingers missed a chord and he winced, stopped playing, and flexed his hands. Debussy had always tripped up his fingers, some things never changed.
He started playing again and John sat up straight and smiled. "Hey, I know this one," he said, "it was at the end of that heist movie a few years ago."
Rodney paused and stared. "Seriously? That was "Clair de Lune" and you think it's the theme song from a movie? I suppose you think Rhapsody in Blue was written as the theme song for an airline, too."
"Which one was that?"
Rodney played the opening few bars of the Gershwin piece.
"Nah, I remember that one from the Disney movie. Went with someone who wanted to see it. That part was good, although I liked the bit with the flamingo and the yo-yos, more."
Rodney growled under his breath as John just grinned wider.
"Was there a reason you were prowling around the city in the middle of the night?" Rodney asked as he went back to the "Prelude".
"Yeah, actually," John said, and Rodney noted the change in his tone. "I wanted to talk to you. Make sure you … we … were okay."
Rodney stopped playing and turned to face John, his expression wary.
"I didn't mean what I said back in the village," John said as he sat forward on the crate, his arms braced on his knees. "You know I would never leave you behind or make you face something like the Wraith alone if I could help it, right?" He looked up and Rodney could see the guilt and the truth in his eyes.
John was not his parents, he reminded himself. They were brothers by choice; they had chosen to be family.
"Of course, I know that. Don't be an idiot," he snapped but there was no heat in the words. "You know I don't really remember much of what happened once we were back." He glanced over at John. "What I do remember was thinking, no knowing, a Wraith had somehow done something to you and I needed to stop it."
"That's not --" John started to say.
"Don't tell me it's not my job," Rodney interrupted, his temper flaring. "I thought it had hurt you, not to mention Teyla and what it could do to the city." He toyed with a few keys on the keyboard as the anger dissipated. "I thought it had killed you and I wasn't going to let it get away," he finished in a whisper.
Rodney's fingers nervously played up and down the keys for a moment until John placed his hand over the top his and stopped him. "Thank you," he said sincerely and stood.
Rodney looked up at him, confused.
"For the concert," John finished with a cocky smile, although Rodney thought he might have seen something else in his eyes.
"Oh. You're, umm, welcome," he replied and hoped John saw the look returned.
He must have because Rodney felt John give his shoulders quick squeeze as he walked back toward the door.
John stopped at the door. "Hey, you don't know the song from The Sting do you?"
Rodney shook his head and smiled even as he started to play. "It's called The Entertainer," he replied with a long-suffering sigh, and let the sound of ragtime fill the quiet of the city.