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The Sound Of Silence

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The gym was dark and empty at that time of night, for which Ford was grateful. He needed to get the anger and embarrassment out of his system without an audience. He didn't bother with changing out of his BDUs, but found a pair of gloves and started hitting the heavy bag for all he was worth.

Sheppard had tried to tell him back on the mainland, he realised.

You were there …

I really didn't think after all this time, I'd need to still be wondering …

He gave the bag several quick hits in succession as he remembered the disappointed look on Sheppard's face. He'd believed the Major had been blinded to McKay's obvious faults, that he refused to see the truth about him, due to their close friendship. It turned out he was the blind one; willing to believe the worst in a teammate on little more than a rumor. His grandmother would be ashamed of him, he knew.

He is an honorable man.

I choose to believe there is more to what happened than what we know.

Teyla's words echoed in his head as he dropped back a step and landed several power punches on the bag. He'd made one of the biggest mistakes a Marine could make; he had assumed. He'd assumed McKay had panicked during the storm, he'd assumed the ridiculous bandage wrapped around his jacket was merely attention-seeking, he'd assumed McKay would give up information at the first opportunity.

Now he knew there was more to the story, just like Teyla said. McKay's forearm had looked like mincemeat. Between the cuts and the stitches, never mind the swelling and the angry red of the infection, Ford had nearly bolted before Sharon came back in the room. He wasn't an idiot, he knew Sheppard had put Beckett up to it. He knew, too, it was something Sheppard felt he had to do. Ford had been so sure McKay was exaggerating the extent of any injuries he had to save face. Now he knew, if anything, McKay had underplayed things.

He stepped back from the bag and took several deep breaths. He remembered the last time he'd been here, heard Bowers and Stephens talking, how Thompson had glared at all of them and gave Ford such a disappointed look.

Thompson, who barely knew McKay, had known better than to take the stories at face-value. Ford was now certain if the code of conduct hadn't prevented it, Thompson would have probably ripped into Ford right then and there for throwing a teammate under the rumor mill bus.

Three days ago he'd seen McKay stagger through the 'gate dragging Sheppard behind him, and he realised he'd make still more wrong assumptions: that McKay had been the one injured and thus slowing down Sheppard, that he'd wouldn't do whatever he had to in order to watch Sheppard's back, that McKay was somehow weaker than the rest of the team because he wasn't trained military.

Maybe he was an idiot, after all, he thought as he gave the bag a few more solid hits.

"Lieutenant Ford?" Teyla said from the doorway to the gym. "Doctor Beckett called me. He said you may need someone to talk to." She walked across the gym and stood against the wall.

Ford snorted and sat on one of the benches along the wall, pulling off the gloves.

"What has happened?" she asked as she sat next to him.

"Major Sheppard took drastic measures," Ford said cryptically at the floor as he braced his elbows on his knees and hung his head.

When Teyla made no reply, he glanced over at her and sat with his back against the wall. "He maneuvered Doctor Beckett into having me help him with Doctor McKay's arm. Sheppard wanted me to see exactly what Kolya had done to him, I guess." He looked down at his hands. "I didn't expect … that. What Kolya did was torture, plain and simple. His arm looks awful."

"This is what Doctor Beckett calls 'tough love'?" she asked.

Ford laughed. "Yeah, I guess," he agreed. "Not sure Major Sheppard needed to go that far, though."

"Oh?"

"Yeah," Ford sobered. "I was there when they came back. I saw how bad off the Major was, saw McKay drop as soon as they were home. I figured out pretty fast at that point I'd made a big mistake."

"So what will you do now?" she asked.

Ford stood with a sheepish smile. "I apologise to Doctor McKay and hope he doesn't shut off some vital system in my quarters."

Teyla smiled. "Somehow I doubt that will happen," she told him as they left the gym.

Ford turned down the hallway to his quarters and stopped. "How did you know?" he called to Teyla.

"Lieutenant?" she replied, coming back to the junction where they'd separated.

"You seemed to just know Doctor McKay wouldn't betray Sheppard. How could you know that?"

"They are chaguo ndugu," she said simply.

Ford shook his head. "Brothers by choice, yeah, I remember. So?"

She frowned at him. "It is more than just a phrase, Lieutenant. They are bound to each other by ties of more than mere friendship. They are family, with all of the responsibility that entails. One could no more betray the other any more than he could betray himself."

Ford was still thinking about that when Teyla smiled gently. "Good night, Lieutenant. I will see you in the morning."

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

Rodney woke to something tickling his face and tried to brush away whatever was making his nose itch so he could go back to sleep. A gentle voice said, "You must leave that alone, Doctor McKay. It is there to help."

With far more effort than he thought it should take, Rodney managed to get his eyes open enough to see someone beside him. He blinked a few times and the someone came into focus as Teyla, sitting in a chair.

"It is good to see you awake," she told him. "Doctor Beckett said you may have some water if you wish." She held up a cup with a straw and Rodney nodded.

"John?" he croaked once he'd had a few swallows of water.

Teyla smiled and moved slightly. "He is here. Doctor Beckett says he will heal, you both will be fine."

Rodney looked over at the other bed and saw John sleeping peacefully; no twitching and the fever seemed to be gone, too. Rodney sighed and closed his eyes. He'd managed to get John back in time.

"How long?" he mumbled. He opened his eyes when Teyla didn't answer right away.

"You have been back four days. You were very ill."

He didn't remember being sick. Wasn't John the one who was sick? He glanced down at his arm and saw the neat bandaging.

"Not your arm," Teyla told him. "Doctor Beckett said you had something called pneumonia. That is why you still need the oxygen."

It was getting harder to keep his eyes open and he let them drift shut again.

"That is also why you are so tired," she whispered. "Go back to sleep."

The next time he woke up, the voices were different.

"If I catch you getting out of that bed again, I will find a set of restraints and tie you to it," Beckett's voice growled.

"I just want to sit with him."

"You are sitting with him, Major. He's right there. He's not going anywhere and neither are you."

"Hey," Rodney tried to yell, but it came out as little more than a wheeze. "Trying to sleep here."

Rodney felt a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes to see Carson peering down at him. "So you've decided to rejoin us, have you, lad?" Beckett said with a smile. "How do you feel?" he asked as he looked over the monitors.

"Hurts to breathe," he admitted with a twinge of panic.

"Aye, that's not a surprise. You've come down with a touch of pneumonia, but you're going to be fine."

"John?" He looked around Beckett and found Sheppard watching him.

"Hey," John said with a wave. "I'm fine. Better than you, in fact, seeing as I didn't catch pneumonia falling in a river."

"I fell in a river?" he asked and furrowed his brow in puzzlement. "I don't remember that."

Beckett's expression changed to one of concern. "What's the last thing you do remember?"

Rodney glanced from Beckett to John. "Umm, Sheppard was hurt, had to get him back to Atlantis."

"Aye, and you did that," Carson said with a smile.

"Made a travois so he wouldn't have to walk." Rodney stared up at the ceiling trying to remember. "I remember the river, trying to figure out how to get across." He looked over at Carson. "I don't remember falling in, or how we got back for that matter."

"I'm not really surprised. With how low your blood sugar was, I'm not sure how you were still walking at all."

"Had to get John back here," he mumbled as he looked down at his arm.

He didn't see Carson and Sheppard exchange a look or John's signal for Carson to leave them alone for a few minutes.

He felt Carson pat his arm. "I'll be right back. I'll have a couple of trays brought over from the mess hall now you're awake."

"Rodney --" John started to say once Beckett was gone but was interrupted by Ford coming through the privacy curtain.

"Major," Ford greeted John with a nod. "Doctor McKay, good to see you awake."

Rodney wasn't sure how to take the comment. The last time he'd seen Ford, the Lieutenant had been distant, he had made no effort to hide his opinion that he thought Rodney was a liability. He glanced at John for help but Sheppard just stared right back, no help whatsoever for figuring out what he was supposed to do next.

He must have taken too long to say anything as Ford suddenly looked uncomfortable. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and toyed with the cap in his hands. "Umm, Doctor McKay?" Ford said hesitantly. "I … umm … I wanted to apologise for how I've been acting lately." He glanced at Rodney then back down at his hands playing with the cap. "I jumped to some conclusions, and … well … they were wrong … I was wrong. And I just wanted to say I'm sorry for that. I understand a few things better now and it won't happen again."

Rodney studied Ford for a moment then nodded once. "Okay." He glanced at John and found Sheppard watching him.

Ford looked a little stunned. "That's it?"

Rodney frowned. "What did you expect?" He gave John a confused look.

Ford snorted and smiled slightly. "I thought I'd be grovelling for a few days at least just to keep you from shutting off my hot water or messing with the environmental controls in my quarters."

Rodney gave him an evil smile. "Oh, I never said I wouldn't do that, Lieutenant. But, since I'm apparently not getting out of here for a few days, you have that long to try and convince me not to do either of those things." He glanced at John again. "The sanitation system in your section of the city probably needs to be shut down and flushed."

"Okay, okay," Ford said with a grin. "I still have to grovel."

"Lieutenant," Sharon greeted as she came around the screen with two trays on a cart. She gave one tray to John and the other to Rodney. "You should probably let them eat now."

"Oh, yeah, okay," Ford said, and with a wave at both of them, left with Sharon.

"You were awfully forgiving," John commented as he lifted the cover on his tray and started to eat.

Rodney shrugged. "The truth is I didn't really blame him for thinking the worst. People are usually perfectly happy to only see what they want to see. Besides, I wasn't too proud of my actions, either."

"Rodney …" John drawled.

"I know, I know. I get it, I do." He took the cover off his own tray. "People rarely expect me to do the brave thing is all."

"Ford should have known better," John retorted. "He's supposed to know you better than that."

Rodney glanced up at John again. "I think you're more upset about how everyone acted than I am."

"Maybe I am," John replied gruffly.

Rodney twisted his lips in a crooked smile. "Thanks," he said.

"Any time."

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

A week later, Rodney had finally been freed from Beckett's clutches with orders to get plenty of rest and not over-exert himself. He still had to take the antibiotics, his right arm was still bandaged, and he limped slightly when he walked, but he was able to get back to work and that's what mattered most.

Thanks to Zelenka, he was up-to-date on the current state of the science department and for once everything was running smoothly. No city systems on the edge of going critical, no research projects in need of his personal supervision. The more Rodney thought about it, the more suspicious he became. Radek was running interference for him, probably on orders from Beckett.

He hated to admit it, but he still tired easily. Carson had told him it was to be expected. Something about exhaustion, low blood sugar, and pneumonia taking its toll, but that didn't make it any less irritating. He had things to do, he didn't have time to waste on naps. What was worse, not only had Beckett cut his coffee consumption to one cup, at breakfast only, but he'd managed to seemingly get the entire base to conspire to help him, so no chance for a caffeine jolt to keep him going, either.

He entered his lab, turned on the light over his work table and froze. A box sat on the table he didn't remember leaving there. He reached out to touch the box and jerked his hand back when something inside the box started ticking. He listened carefully and realised he recognised the sound. He pulled the top off the box and found a telegraph inside, just like the one he showed Jinto and his friends how to make.

Rodney couldn't help the silly grin on his face as he lifted the device out of the box and set it on the work table. It didn't take a genius to know who had left it for him. The receiver started clacking again and Rodney grabbed a pen and paper.

M.E.E.T.N.O.R.T.H.P.I.E.R.M.E.E.T.N.O.R.T.H.P.I.E.R.

Before John could repeat the message again, Rodney sent back a hasty reply and left the lab. He stepped outside and immediately regretted the jacket he'd left hanging on the back of his chair. It was a nice day, the sunlight danced on the waves, but the ever-present wind was cool. He saw John sitting on the end of the pier and shrugged. It wasn't that cold, he told himself. He'd been outside without a coat before, it wouldn't kill him.

Rodney sat down beside John, dangling his legs over the edge of the pier and said, "Something wrong with the radio?"

John grinned. "Nope. This is more fun."

Rodney shook his head and smiled. "How did you even know I knew Morse Code?"

"You said you'd learned the principles of how a telegraph worked. I figured that included Morse Code."

"That was a long time ago. I could've forgotten, you know."

John smiled. "I've been in your head, remember? I don't think you've ever forgotten anything you've ever learned."

Rodney couldn't deny that so he changed the subject. "When did you make them?"

"Last couple of days," John replied. "Zelenka had some ideas on how to extend the range." He glanced at the telegraph on his other side next to a thermos. "Works pretty good."

Rodney shivered slightly in a gust of wind.

"Why didn't you bring a coat?" John asked. "Carson will kill you if he sees you out here in just your shirt-sleeves."

"Didn't think to grab it."

"Here," John said and handed him the thermos cup. "If you tell Beckett where you got this," John said, "I'll deny everything."

Rodney sipped at the cup, and closed his eyes in bliss. He opened them a moment later when he heard John chuckle.

He took another sip, savoring the flavor, and held the cup in his hands. "Why the sudden inclination to give me contraband?" he asked. "I thought you were Beckett's main conspirator keeping me away from coffee."

"You're cold. We'll tell him it was medicinal."

Rodney took another sip, he wasn't going to argue. He finished the coffee and gave back the cup. "Was there any particular reason you wanted to meet out here?" he asked. "I do have a nice warm lab we could be sitting in."

John glanced at him as Rodney shivered again. John shook his head as he took off his jacket and handed it over.

Rodney grimaced and was about to refuse when another gust blew past and he shivered again. He took the coat without a word and zipped it up.

"I thought Canadians were supposed to be impervious to cold," John said.

"I tolerated winter," Rodney replied. "Why do you think I left? You still haven't answered my question. Why are we out here instead of my lab?"

"I wanted to test the telegraphs," John said nonchalantly but refused to look at Rodney. He toyed with the cup from the thermos for a moment before he added, "I talked to Zelenka a little while ago. He had your scanner --"

"No wonder I couldn't find it," Rodney groused. "What's he doing with it? I have those algorithms set up in a very specific way, he better not think he can make 'improvements'." He mimed the quote marks.

"It's nothing like that," John said. "He told me since you didn't remember a lot of the trek back to the 'gate, and I was kinda out of it, he figured out a way to track the path you followed to get us home."

"Oh?" Rodney asked and tried to sound blasé, but found he was sitting with his arms wrapped defensively around his chest.

He couldn't understand why everyone was so fascinated with what had amounted to an awful hike through the woods. The last thing he wanted to do was keep reliving the experience; too bad everyone else apparently did. He'd spent that entire day in pain and afraid. Afraid they'd be caught, afraid he wouldn't be able to get John to Carson in time. Then he'd found out when he finally did get them back, he'd collapsed in a graceless heap as soon as he was through the 'gate. Not one of his better moments; the rumor mill must have had a field day with that part. Thankfully he'd been out of it in the infirmary and didn't have to deal with it.

"Yeah," John said quietly. "He figures you hiked about ten miles."

Rodney snorted and looked over at John. "His math is wrong," he said dismissively. "The village wasn't more than a few kilometers from the 'gate."

"True," John said, "but we weren't in the village and you didn't walk in a straight line. You kept changing direction."

"Couldn't afford to get caught," Rodney replied. He remembered that. Vividly.

John studied him for a moment, then said carefully, "There's a story going around the Marines want to find a way to preserve that sled you made. They were really impressed. I hear Thompson wants to hang it in the armoury as a good luck charm."

Rodney could feel John watching him, waiting to see how he would react, but he didn't know what to say. "It was the best idea I could come up with at the time," he replied and fiddled with a loose thread in the jacket sleeve.

Zelenka had told him the travois was still in one of the rooms off the armoury. He didn't ever want to see it again and he didn't understand why John kept talking about it. Didn't he want to forget everything that happened on that planet, too? he wondered.

"Damn good idea, too," John said, still watching Rodney. "Thank you," he added softly and draped an arm over Rodney's shoulders. "Seems your best was good enough after all."

Rodney looked anywhere but at Sheppard. "It was my turn," he mumbled.

John gave him in a sort of sideways hug then relaxed, leaving his arm across Rodney's shoulders.

"Ford told me Elizabeth was able to make a deal for the seed the Athosians need," John said a few minutes later. "She was also able to get Rowland and Terris to talk to each other and come up with a plan for evacuating the two villages if the Wraith try to cull the planet."

Rodney grunted. He was glad they got the seed, but he really didn't care what happened to the people on that planet. John must have sensed his mood and changed the subject.

"You know, I heard most of what you said … about Ford and not understanding people. About Kolya."

Rodney tried not to react to the name, but couldn't help the shudder down his spine. John tightened his hold for a moment.

"We beat him, remember?" John said. "He's not going to hurt you again."

Rodney took a deep breath and nodded.

"And, Rodney?" John said and waited for Rodney to look at him. "It's our team. Got it?"

Rodney smiled. "Yeah. Got it."

"Good," John replied and climbed to his feet with a hiss of pain and held his side.

Rodney frowned and rubbed the back of his head, then hastily picked up the thermos and telegraph before John tried to bend over again.

"Now, you said something about a nice warm lab?" John said casually. "Kinda cold out here without a jacket."

Rodney smiled and stood. "As long as there's more coffee in the thermos."

John draped his arm back over Rodney's shoulders. "Carson is gonna kill us."

"Only if he finds out," Rodney replied, hugging the thermos close to his chest. "I'm not going to tell him."

FIN