John stood in his quarters, looking over the items he still needed to pack for the team's excursion to the mainland. While they all seemed to be dealing with the after-effects of the bacteria they'd been exposed to, John knew better. Ford had spent far too much time at the shooting range over the past few days, Rodney snapped at his minions more than usual, and Teyla spent far too much time in her room 'meditating'. They needed a break. They needed a chance to find their footing again.
He pulled out his stash of chocolate bars and the marshmallows he'd 'borrowed' from the mess hall and added that to the pile along with a football he'd found in the rec room. He picked up the football and tossed it from hand to hand as he thought about the other thing he'd found in the rec room two nights ago, namely Rodney playing, and playing well, a keyboard someone had managed to smuggle across two galaxies.
John had stood in the doorway for several long minutes before he'd announced his presence and just listened to the quiet music coming from his friend. He'd have never guessed Rodney had such a talent, and John could tell it was something he truly loved. He'd taken the plunge and had let Rodney know he was there, unsure how Rodney would react when he discovered he was no longer alone. Any remaining fears he had about the strength of their friendship disappeared once Rodney chose to share his secret and let him stay.
A knock at the door brought him back to the present and he dropped the football back on the bed, and since he'd been expecting Rodney to show up so they could go eat, he just hollered "Come in" and nudged the door open on his way across the room to the dresser.
"Major Sheppard, sir?" a voice said from the doorway and John turned to see Sergeant Thompson standing in the hall outside the open door.
"Sergeant," John greeted and tried to keep the mild surprise out of his voice. "Something you need?" To John, Thompson looked more than a little nervous as he hovered in the doorway holding a small box.
"I found this, sir," Thompson said and held up the box. "I wasn't sure what to do with it, though."
"And you thought bringing it here instead of to one of the labs was the answer?" John asked, a little impatiently as he walked back to the bed with the few casual clothes he had brought to the Pegasus galaxy.
"I wasn't sure the lab would be a good idea, sir," Thompson said then hesitated. "I found it near where Doctor McKay fell, sir. I think it was something he made while …"
John dropped the clothes and waved Thompson into the room. "Yeah, I can see why you might want to talk to someone about that, Sergeant," John said and smiled an apology at Thompson as he set the box on John's desk.
John opened the box and pulled out the handheld screen he remembered seeing on the gantry along with the power bar wrappers.
"I think it's a scanner of some sort," Thompson said. "But it doesn't seem to work. I wasn't sure if Doctor McKay would want it back or not."
John picked up the odd device and studied it for a moment before he found something that looked like a power switch and flicked it on. The screen blinked a few times before it steadied, but it didn't do anything else. He fiddled with a few of the dials and saw one little flicker before the screen went blank again.
"I wasn't sure how Doctor McKay would react if he saw it after everything that happened," Thompson said, his tone slightly defensive. "I didn't want to get him upset or anything."
John looked up at Thompson and smiled. He wondered if Rodney even realised the impression he'd made on Thompson. He knew Rodney had been shocked and more than a little surprised when the Sergeant had apologised for what had happened during their 'training session' a month ago, but John doubted he knew the sense of loyalty the Marine now had for him.
"Thank you, Sergeant," John said sincerely. "I'll take care of it."
"Yes, sir," Thompson replied and backed up the few steps to the door. He gave Sheppard a brief nod as the door slid open, then turned and disappeared up the hallway.
John shook his head with another smile as he repacked the scanner in the box and left his quarters for Rodney's lab.
"Where exactly did your Ph.D. come from?" he heard Rodney say snidely as he stopped outside the lab. "Zelenka told you in no uncertain terms what would happen if you put it under that much pressure and not to go ahead with the experiment."
"Oh, please, Zelenka is an engineer, not a chemist. Why should I listen to him on things within my own field?" Kavanagh yelled back.
"Like it or not, Zelenka, is in charge when I'm not around," Rodney growled. "If you had bothered to take five minutes and work out the math for yourself, you would have known what would happen and we wouldn't be out even more equipment we can't replace."
"I can't complete my work without those items that were in my lab," Kavanagh pointed out. "I know Tsao, at least, has a spare centrifuge he's not using. Since you want to be in charge, tell him I need it."
"No?" Kavanagh's voice cracked slightly in disbelief. "What do you mean, no?"
"I thought I was perfectly clear," Rodney snapped, and John heard the rare, genuine anger in his tone instead of the normal impatience. "It's a simple word, you do understand English don't you? No. Figure out some way to fix the one you broke. It's not like we can call the SGC for spares any time someone decides to blow up his lab."
"I'll go to Weir," Kavanagh threatened.
"Get out," Rodney replied, his voice low and hard, and John wondered if he should pull Kavanagh out of the lab or just help Rodney hide the body.
John heard stomping footsteps and leant against the wall as Kavanagh stormed out of Rodney's lab. He waited a moment then casually entered the lab himself and found Rodney standing at his work table, his hands clenched at his sides and his face red.
"Problems?" he asked as he shifted the box from one hand to the other.
Rodney took a deep breath and shook his head. "Just Kavanagh being his usual idiot self," he mumbled and pulled the stool wedged near his desk back around to the work table and sat down heavily. "Did you want something?" he asked tiredly and glanced at the box with only mild interest.
John wasn't sure now was the time to bring up Rodney's recent sojourn to the lower levels of the city. "I thought we were getting lunch before I met Teyla for a workout."
"Oh," Rodney said and looked back at the device sitting in several pieces on his work table. "I guess I lost track of time."
"Anything interesting?" John asked, and came over to the work table and stared at the object Rodney was working on.
"Maybe," Rodney said. "I think this might be some sort of portable interface for the Ancient database."
He picked up part of the small object and gave it to John. John set the box on Rodney's desk and took the small interface device. He looked at it from all sides, then handed it back.
"If I can get it to work, it could help the teams repairing various part of the city as they could call up schematics, or further information on a system without having to go through me or Grodin first."
"Think you can fix it?"
"Of course I can fix it," Rodney snapped as he put the piece back with the rest. "It just might take awhile," he admitted with a wry smile. He glanced over at the box. "What's in that?" he asked and reached out for the box on his desk. Before John could stop him, he opened it.
"Sergeant Thompson found it," John explained as Rodney took the scanner out of the box and set it on the work table. "He wasn't sure what to do with it and brought it to me."
Rodney nodded and John could see he was lost in thought. "It was supposed to be a Wraith detector," Rodney said softly. "I needed a way to track …" He rubbed a hand across his cast. "Stupid idea, really," he said and pushed the scanner to the back of the table. "Never could get it to work."
"There weren't any Wraith," John tried to explain but Rodney glared up at him.
"Yes, thank you," he snapped. "I'm well aware I made a first class fool of myself. Thanks for the reminder."
"That's not what I meant," John retorted. "You can't know if it worked or not if there weren't any Wraith around to test it."
Rodney opened his mouth to argue, then closed it with a snap. "Oh. You make a good point." He rubbed at the back of his neck. "Sorry," he said with a tiny smile. "Maybe I could use a break."
John wasn't sure if he meant lunch or their planned field trip to the mainland. "Come on, then," he said and pulled Rodney to his feet. "We'll start with lunch. You get grumpy when you don't eat."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"They were lucky you were there when you were to trade," he'd told her. "While they had a bit more of an immunity, they were still sick. You saved all of those people."
Teyla had smiled at the time, she knew Doctor Beckett was right, but she also realised he'd told her that to assuage some of her earlier guilt for the countless people culled due to her necklace acting as a transmitter for the Wraith.
She gave herself a mental shake. This was not the time to dwell, she told herself as she watched Sheppard circle around her.
John moved in quickly and she blocked one feint, tried her own attack which he also blocked, then she attacked his flank and knee in quick succession, dropping him to the mat.
"You are doing much better, Major," she congratulated him as he got back to his feet.
"Yeah, it now takes you a whole three minutes to drop me on my backside," he replied as he paced a few steps then came back to his ready position.
She smiled genially and readied herself again.
This time Sheppard didn't wait, he instantly attacked. She was hard-pressed to stop him and he managed a couple of solid hits to her arms before she caught his sticks in a cross hold and kicked his feet out from under him.
He lay on his back for a moment, then got back to his feet, headed for the bench against the wall, and dug for his water bottle.
He took several swallows of water before saying, "You wanna tell me what's buggin' you?"
She raised her eyebrows and gave him a questioning glance.
"I may be getting better, but you seem distracted," he explained.
She was startled for a moment at how perceptive he'd been. "Do I not have a reason to be?" she asked as she found her own water bottle and sat on the bench next to him.
"Sure you do," he said nonchalantly. "That's part of why we're going to the mainland tomorrow." His expression turned serious. "We all need some downtime and a chance to regroup."
"Yes." She packed away her sticks, not looking at him, and took a deep breath. "Before we go, however, there is someplace else I think I need to visit first."
She turned to face him, her expression resolute. "I need to go back to Laren's village. I want to make sure his people are recovered."
John didn't say anything and she hurried on.
"I know Doctor Beckett said the treatment worked and they will be fine, but … they are friends. I wish to make sure."
"I can understand that," John replied and quirked a smile.
"I will understand if you, Lieutenant Ford, and Doctor McKay wish to stay here. I'm willing to make the trip myself and return before the rest of you leave for our trip to the mainland."
"Hang on a second," he told her, holding up a hand. "There's no need to go alone. Carson said he needed to make one last trip to check on a few folks. I don't see why we can't tag along."
John looked at her and she saw she had hurt him. "Yes, we," he replied with a slight frown. "You, me, and I'm sure Ford and Rodney will come as well."
"I … thank you, Major," Teyla said.
"Let me talk to Elizabeth and the others. Carson is leaving in an hour or so, go get ready and we'll meet you in the gateroom."
An hour later Teyla watched as the last of the medical equipment was loaded on a cart and Doctor Grodin started to dial the 'gate.
Doctor Beckett smiled at her as he rechecked the cart one last time, his two assistants waiting to one side. Major Sheppard and Lieutenant Ford waited beside her while two Marines stood at the head of the cart ready to be the first through the 'gate once it opened. The only person missing was Doctor McKay. She tried to ignore the slight hurt she felt that he'd chosen not to come with them, but she understood. He had not had a good experience the last time he was on the planet, why would he want to go back?
The wormhole formed with its customary whoosh, and she looked up as Elizabeth came out of her office and stood at the balcony.
"Carson, we'll see you back here in a few hours," she called down to them.
Doctor Beckett gave her a sickly smile and a little wave as the two Marines started toward the 'gate pulling the cart behind them.
"Wait! Wait! I'm coming!" Teyla heard from down the corridor and she turned in time to see Doctor McKay come into the gateroom slightly out-of-breath as he awkwardly tried to snap his backpack to his tac-vest, the cast on his hand making the task difficult.
The Marines were already through the 'gate and the medical assistants were heading out, but Doctor Beckett took long enough to frown at Doctor McKay, panting with his hands on his knees, before he followed the medical team. Teyla watched Beckett hesitate for a moment at the edge of the event horizon before he took a deep breath and finally stepped through. She thought he might have had his eyes closed.
Teyla turned back to her teammates and noticed neither Major Sheppard nor Lieutenant Ford seemed surprised to see Doctor McKay appear as they watched him settle the backpack on his shoulders, and she chastised herself for doubting him. She should have known he would come with the rest of them. While he may be new to the concepts of team and friendship, he was learning, and took those responsibilities seriously.
"Get a move on, McKay," Sheppard said as he and Ford stepped toward the 'gate. "Don't want to get left behind."
She saw Sheppard wince at the comment and she glanced over at Doctor McKay to see how he would react. They were all, what was the term Doctor Beckett had used? Oh, yes, walking on eggshells. They were still walking on eggshells somewhat around each other.
Doctor McKay flinched slightly, but as Major Sheppard started to apologise, McKay waved it off and rolled his eyes as he stopped beside the Major. They both looked over at her and she realised they were waiting for her to join them. The four of them stopped at the edge of the event horizon, Sheppard turned and gave Doctor Weir a jaunty wave, and they stepped through the 'gate together.
The season had moved along in the time since they'd been there to negotiate the trade with Laren for grain and seed. Where a few weeks ago the air had been crisp with a hint of cold, it was now plain cold. The trees had lost their remaining leaves and the ground cover was brown and dormant. Teyla watched as Rodney shuddered and zipped his tan jacket up to his neck.
"Why didn't someone suggest we wear heavier coats?" he grumbled as he fell into step with Major Sheppard as they stepped down from the 'gate.
"You'll warm up as you walk," Sheppard said with a grin, but Teyla noticed he zipped his jacket as well.
"Laren's people make an excellent cider," Teyla said as they followed the Marines, Doctor Beckett's team, and the slow-moving cart. "It will help warm you up once we reach the village."
McKay blanched. "No offence to your friend," he snapped and crossed his arms across his chest. "I don't plan to eat or drink anything while we're here. Once was more than enough."
Teyla looked away from him. She couldn't blame him for his hesitance. He was here to support her, she knew, but that support apparently only went so far.
Sheppard frowned and elbowed him in the side. "Beckett cleared almost all of the grain," he told Doctor McKay with a frown. "The bacteria was only in a few of the last barrels from their previous harvest. The rest of the food and all of the grain from their recent harvest was fine."
Doctor McKay glared at him and shook his head. "You take the risk if you like. I'll stick with MREs."
"The seed was deemed safe as well?" Teyla asked, and glanced at Sheppard.
Sheppard smiled. "Yep. The seed is already in Atlantis. I told Elizabeth we would take it out to Halling with us tomorrow. Save someone else the trip."
"That is good news," she replied. "Halling and the others should have more than enough time to plant and reap a first crop before the season changes. Hopefully, with what Laren gave us that will be enough to see a steady source of grain in Atlantis."
They entered the village an hour later to a much more subdued greeting than on their last visit. The Marines parked the cart in the center of the village and Beckett's assistants unloaded a few of the crates they'd brought and set up a makeshift clinic in one of the newly finished buildings.
"Teyla," Laren greeted, and while he hugged her, he refrained from embracing the rest of the team. "I am so glad you came. I wasn't sure after what happened after your last visit if we would see you again."
"Laren," she replied and smiled up at him. "What happened was not your fault. I am just glad Doctor Beckett was able to treat your people before the sickness became more serious."
"Your Doctor Beckett has been most generous with his time and medicines," Laren agreed with a nod. "It is not something we will easily repay."
"And as I've told you several times already, son," Beckett interrupted on his way past, a box of supplies in his hands. "You don't need to. Your people were sick. They needed help. That'll be the end of it."
Sheppard grinned as Beckett walked on and turned back to Laren. "I wouldn't cross him if I were you," he said with a nod as Beckett crouched down on the ground talking to a boy and girl waiting outside the building.
Teyla watched as Beckett pulled a foil-wrapped object from his pocket and opened it. He gave each child a square of the chocolate and laughed as they tried the sweet treat for the first time. They stared at him wide-eyed as they gobbled the rest and pled for more. He gave them each another square, then stood and went into the building. It never ceased to amaze her the level of compassion the doctor had for near strangers. Many of the Athosian children trailed after him as often as they followed Rodney, though she suspected Beckett gave them more chocolate.
Laren smiled slightly as the two children ate their treat, then clapped his hands. "Come, and see what progress we've made," he said, and gestured to the new buildings and the finished village square. "There is also cider and food waiting."
Teyla saw Doctor McKay shoot Sheppard a startled glance. "I was, umm, just going to take another look at those ruins I found the last time we were here," Doctor McKay said and pointed vaguely toward the far end of the village near the mountains. "So, I'll just … go do that."
He took a few steps before Sheppard reached out a hand and stopped him.
"Rodney, wait," Sheppard said and looked over at Teyla. "You and Ford go with Laren. I'll stick with McKay. Carson said his checkups would take a couple of hours," he glanced at his watch, "we'll meet you back here by 1700."
"Maybe we should all go," Teyla suggested.
"Nah," Sheppard replied with a smile. "Go on, enjoy the afternoon with your friends."
Teyla nodded and followed Laren into the center of the village. She listened as Laren pointed out the pub as well as the new mill.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney took out the Ancient scanner and pushed several buttons before he pointed the device in the direction of the building with the symbols and shook his head. He fiddled with the scanner again and took a few steps toward the path leading down to the doorway.
"So this is where you were last time?" John asked as he looked around.
Rodney glanced back at him as he made his way down the path. He slipped on some loose gravel and reached out with his right hand to stop falling, banging his cast on a rock in the process. He made a face as he stared at his hand and flexed his fingers.
"Yes," he answered absently and stretched up on tiptoe to look at the writing along the outside of the doorway before he went inside. "I was in here trying to figure out what exactly it was I was looking at when I heard shooting."
John nodded as he entered the building and moved around the room. There was only the one door and no windows. The room itself was rather dim with the only light coming in through the doorway. There was some sort of altar at one end holding a couple of crumbling candles and some dusty, dead flowers. The rest of the room was fairly sparse, several benches lined one wall while the familiar Ancient blocky script covered the wall opposite the benches. As he took a closer look, he realised the writing wasn't quite the same, there was a sort of roundness or artistic flair to this writing that he didn't remember seeing in the city.
Rodney stood in front of the writing, carefully videotaping it and mumbling to himself.
John told himself he was just curious as he moved around the room, but he found he was doing an unconscious standard sweep of the space, checking the far corners, behind the altar, and glancing up at the roof, as Rodney stopped taping and stood in one place watching him.
"Satisfied?" Rodney asked with a smile, and Sheppard stopped next to him.
"Oh, please. You just cleared the room and you didn't even realise it."
"Force of habit, sue me," John replied with a wry smile at being caught.
Rodney shook his head with a smirk as he put away the video camera and headed for the altar, taking the Ancient scanner from his pocket again as he walked.
"What are you looking for?" John asked as he followed.
Rodney stopped in the center of the room and waved the scanner back and forth. "Not really sure. There are some odd mineral readings coming from this building and they seem to be concentrated here." He pointed at the altar, knelt down, and picked at the stone with a fingernail. "The structures outside were made of the same stone as the mountains around here. Laren could raid them if he needs more building material for the village." He looked up at John. "This building was made of something different. It's not like anything from Earth. I'm hoping the Ancient database will be able to tell us what it is."
He balanced the scanner in the fingers of his right hand as he reached back and unclipped the backpack and dug around until he came up with a sample vial. John handed him his knife to take the scraping.
John studied the walls again and noticed the stone was a different color from the rest of the structures built under the cliff. The stone was lighter, almost a beige color, while the rest of the buildings, both outside and back at Laren's village, and the nearby mountains were a darker color, almost brown. He thought about the implications of unknown minerals and was reminded of what happened during their last visit and Rodney seemingly ignoring his radio calls.
As Rodney continued to pick at the altar, John moved across to the benches and keyed his radio. "Teyla, this is Sheppard, come in." He waited a few seconds and getting nothing but static, tried again, "Ford, this is Sheppard, you reading me?" He ducked his head as the radio remained silent. It seemed he owed Rodney an apology. He turned back to the altar to see McKay standing with his arms crossed, watching him.
"I'm going to try really hard not to say I told you so," he said with a smirk as he stuffed the scanner and sample vial in his pack and handed John his knife.
Sheppard pursed his lips and nodded. "Okay, I deserved that," he said, and followed Rodney back out of the building.
"Yeah, you did," Rodney replied, without any heat. He looked around the area a bit longer with the scanner, then gestured toward the village. "There's really nothing else here if you want to head back."
"You think we've been gone long enough to avoid offending Laren?" John asked with a wry smile.
Rodney opened his mouth then shut it with a snap and gave John a guilty look. "I didn't want Teyla mad at me again, okay?" he replied with a huff. He tried to stuff his hands in his trouser pockets as the wind picked up, but the hand with the cast wouldn't fit, so he settled for blowing on them instead. "I wasn't kidding about avoiding the food in this planet. I don't care how much Carson says it's safe."
"You do know a couple of hundred pounds of that grain is already in Atlantis, don't you? You can't avoid it forever." He pushed lightly at Rodney's arm to get him moving back up the slope.
"Maybe not, but I can watch what happens to the rest of you first before I try anything," he retorted and led the way up the path and back to the village.
John snorted a laugh. "Gee, thanks."
They walked back through the village and found Teyla, Carson, Ford and most of the villagers in one of the newly constructed buildings.
"Figures the first building finished was the pub," Rodney said quietly as they entered and he went to warm himself by the fire.
Ford, Teyla, Carson, and Laren sat a nearby table with a jug of cider and some sort of fruit bread laid out on the table along with several plates.
"Major," Teyla greeted and made room for him on the bench seat next to her, "Laren was just telling us about the ruins you and Doctor McKay were exploring."
"They were made by the 'Old Ones'," Laren said. "There is evidence of their writings in the building nearest the mountain. Several of my people over the years have studied the writings trying to decipher their meanings, but the language is sadly lost to us now."
"Anyone know where the stone that building is made of came from?" Rodney asked, and John noticed he'd inched closer to the table.
"No," Laren replied. "The stone is not from the mountains, or from any of the other villages nearby."
Rodney made what John thought sounded suspiciously like a "humph" noise and turned back to the fire.
"You have everything done here, Doc?" John asked Carson as Teyla passed him a cup of the cider. She started to pour another one, but John caught her eye and shook his head as he took a sip of the cider. She glanced at Rodney now vigorously rubbing his fingers in front of the fire and set the jug back on the table with a nod.
"I think so," Carson replied and turned to Laren. "All of your people have been cleared of the bacteria so there shouldn't be any more problems like what you were having before."
Laren nodded. "Thank you, Doctor Beckett. I don't --"
Beckett held up a hand and Laren stopped. "Thank you, Doctor Beckett," Laren said with a smile.
"You're welcome, lad," Carson replied and stood. "Now, I think we should be heading back before Rodney sets his cast on fire," he finished with a smile and a glance at Rodney still trying to get warm.
"Oh ha-ha," he retorted but followed John and Teyla out of the pub.
The sun was starting to set as they stepped outside, which made the air even cooler. The cart standing outside and loaded down with a few extra gifts from the villagers as well as the remaining medical supplies, had a thin coating of white on it and John saw large, white flakes falling as they walked back to the stargate.
"Everyone packed for tomorrow?" John asked casually once they reached the 'gate. "I won't be turning the car around once we leave, you know."
Rodney rolled his eyes and said nothing. Teyla looked confused as Ford dialed the 'gate and sent his IDC through.
"Never mind, lass," Carson said, coming to her rescue. "The Major thinks he's funny." He looked at each of them in turn. "I want to make one last quick check of you all before you go," he told them. "Stop by the infirmary tonight. And Rodney? That includes you."
"Yes, yes, yes. Fine. Can we get back to somewhere warm now?" Rodney groused and followed the Marines and Beckett's assistants through the 'gate.