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The Sound Of Silence

Chapter Text

Rodney ignored his throbbing arm as he made his way out of the control room and back to his lab. The stab wounds had waited this long, they could just continue to wait, he reasoned. He didn't want to see what Kolya had managed to do to him. He also didn't want to face Beckett, assuming someone had probably told him by now that Rodney had been a few keystrokes away from killing him and Teyla. He had too much to do, he decided, making sure the storm damage was assessed and repairs prioritised, as well as fixing systems blown out by the electrical surge through the city. He didn't want to deal with what happened with Kolya, too.

He entered his lab and let the door close behind him, revelling in the silence. He wasn't hiding, he told himself, he was working. The fact he didn't have to deal with the curious looks or listen to the whispers, quickly silenced whenever he entered a room, was beside the point. The rumors shouldn't have surprised him. He'd talked, given up vital information. Did it really matter how Kolya found out the plan to save Atlantis?

He stood at his desk and looked over a report someone had left for review, then wandered over to the various Ancient items stored on the shelf by his work table. He picked one up, turning it this way and that before setting it down and picking up another. He set the second device back in its place with a tired sigh. He just couldn't be bothered to figure out their mysteries at the moment. His arm gave another painful twinge, and he rubbed at the gauze then sat at the work table staring into space.

He felt a little warm wearing his uniform jacket in the lab and wiped at the line of sweat on his forehead with one sleeve. Removing the coat would also mean removing his makeshift bandage, however, and he wasn't ready to do that yet; he'd just suffer being hot for a little longer. He pulled the combo computer over in front of him with another grimace of pain, let it boot, and opened a fresh document to start writing up his findings about the city's shield.

He stared at the blank document for several minutes then decided he needed more information before he could actually write the report. He set another computer searching the Ancient database for more information on how the shield worked normally. He also had a new idea on powering the shield and tasked another computer to run power consumption models to see if there was a way to power the shield using the stabilizer system for the city and wave power. Maybe they could store the energy in some sort of battery? he wondered, and set another system looking at viable power storage options.

The report on the shield would have to wait until he had all of the new data compiled, he decided and pushed the combo computer away for the time being. Instead, he started going over the systems for the 'gate shield to find a way to prevent another incident where all someone needed to bypass the system was a lot of alcohol and a scared farmer. His mind found refuge in the detailed schematics of the shield and the GDO device and he finally started to relax a little as he traced circuit paths and computed new code algorithms.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed when there was a tap at the door and Zelenka came into the lab carrying a datapad.

"Rodney, I have more reports on the damage from the flooding," Zelenka said, stopping at the end of the work table. Rodney looked up from the schematics and saw Radek frown.

"What?" Rodney snapped, seeing the look Radek was giving him.

"You look awful," Zelenka told him bluntly and pointed to his own eye.

Rodney reached up to touch his face and found the skin around his eye puffy and hot. He'd forgotten about the backhanded punch Kolya had given him. No wonder people had been staring.

"Your arm appears to be bleeding as well," Zelenka added. "Maybe you should go to infirmary?"

Rodney glanced at the bandage wrapped around his arm and saw a few spots of red. He hid his arm under the work table and glared up at Radek.

"You said you had something on the damage? Anything major?" Rodney asked, ignoring the hint about the infirmary.

Zelenka gave him another look. Rodney could almost believe it was concern.

"No, no," Zelenka replied. "The east and north piers are almost completely pumped out. I will send engineering teams into those areas once we restore power. There was some minor damage from the electrical surge. I have teams working on those repairs."

Rodney snapped his fingers for the datapad and Radek handed it over. He read through the latest reports seeing Zelenka had the repairs well in hand.

"The Marines have most of the medical stores back in the infirmary," Radek said carefully. "I was checking the conduits near the medical lab and saw Doctor Beckett directing the orderlies on where the recovered items were to go. Other than a few medicines Doctor Beckett thinks he can remake, and basic first aid supplies, the Genii did not steal much."

"Good for him," Rodney mumbled as he read through pages of data. "Why is Kavanagh working on the desalination plant? There wasn't any damage to those systems."

"True," Zelenka said with a tiny, conspiratorial smile. "But he does not know that."

Rodney almost smiled in return. "What's this note about the air scrubbers in the lower level of the control tower?"

Zelenka crossed his arms over his chest and ducked his head. "It may be nothing," he said hesitantly. "Major Sheppard used a number of smoke grenades in that area. The system should be monitored to make sure scrubbers equalise over time."

Rodney froze, handed back the datapad, and shooed Zelenka out of the lab. He closed the door, sank into his desk chair, and stared blankly at the wall. He'd been doing a good job of not thinking about the invasion right up until Radek mentioned what Sheppard had done to fight off the Genii. With that one comment, Rodney's brain went into overdrive, replaying everything about the Genii invasion and what he'd done wrong.

He should have stalled longer, he berated himself, or made repairs slower, basically done more to help John deal with Kolya's men. He leant forward in his chair, arms braced on the desk and his head in his hands, and remembered how frazzled he's been by the time Kolya was sent back through the 'gate. He'd nearly killed Carson and Teyla in his rush to save Atlantis. It had taken Sheppard ordering him to wait that gave them time to get to the control room. However, the biggest blunder by far was giving in to Kolya and telling him there was a plan to save the city. If he'd just kept quiet, regardless of the knife and the threats, the rest would have never even happened.

Did you ever doubt me?

Yes. Several times.

Was it said as a joke or was she serious? he wondered. At the time he'd been too tired to think about it but now he wondered if Elizabeth was being honest, that she thought less of him because he'd panicked.

He was a coward, he'd known that for most of his life. His parents and the school bullies had made sure he was well aware of his shortcomings in terms of bravery. Since coming to Atlantis, he'd done any number of things, not the least of which was going through the 'gate, to try and convince himself and others there was more to Rodney McKay than ego and bluster. But when the chips were down, when all he had to do was keep his mouth shut, he'd caved and blurted everything.

"Trust me, I'm not that brave ... " he'd told Kolya as he was pushed over the balcony railing, and it was only partially a bluff.

He'd known exactly what Sheppard had done to the 'gate, it wasn't hard to figure out. He replayed that scene in his head over and over and wondered if he would have told Kolya how to override the shield if the 'gate hadn't shut down when it did or if Kolya had pushed him just a little further over the railing. He'd like to think he would have held firm the second time Kolya threatened to kill him … but he just wasn't sure.

Part of him really wished John had told him how to put memories away in boxes with intricate locks. He scrubbed a hand through his sweaty hair and stood. Introspection had its place, but he didn't have time for this, he needed to get back to work. He went back to the work table and started taking apart one of the GDOs, the 'gate shield was a problem he could solve.

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

John knew he was punchdrunk due to exhaustion when he started thinking about just how few people were needed to defend something the size of Atlantis. It seemed all you needed was an Air Force Major, a Marine Lieutenant, one Athosian, and three people with various Ph.D.s to deal with an invasion force. He quickly sobered when he remembered the bodies of the two Marines Kolya had killed in cold blood, and it hadn't escaped his notice it was the civilians sporting the injuries, not the military.

He followed Elizabeth into her office, ostensibly to see if there was anything else in need of his immediate attention, but in reality, he wanted to check and make sure she was all right. He still wasn't sure what Elizabeth thought of his actions. She was grateful, he was sure, but he suspected he'd scared her more than a little. Reading redacted after-action reports and seeing the commendation letters doesn't give the same clear picture as witnessing what a special operations-trained officer can do firsthand. Never mind having a bullet whiz past your ear from close range. He knew from experience, even if you did trust the man with the gun, it was still a little unnerving.

"John?" Elizabeth said as she moved behind her desk. "Was there something else you needed?"

John leant against the doorframe and crossed his arms. "Just wanted to make sure you were all right."

She smiled faintly and looked around the office. "It's been a long couple of days," she said wearily.

"Yeah," John agreed and resisted rubbing at a headache he felt building.

She looked down at her desk and sighed. "I could really go for a hot shower and a cup of strong coffee."

"And about twelve hours of sleep," John added.

"That too," she agreed. "I'll be fine, John, really. I just need some time to let it all sink in." She looked out at the gate room.

John pushed off the wall, ready to leave Elizabeth to her thoughts, when she looked back at him. "He stepped in front of a gun for me," she said quietly, and John felt his jaw clench knowing exacting who the 'he' was. "And after the 'gate shield was raised …" She looked away again. "Kolya had Rodney backed over the railing near the grounding station. If Rodney hadn't done some fast talking …" She looked John in the eye. "Kolya was ready to throw him off."

"I've dealt with bullies most of my life. Usually, I'd just out talk them," John remembered Rodney telling him once.

Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm worried about him, John," she admitted. "He's only allowing himself to see a small part of the picture." She sighed and glanced down at her desk. "He needs to get that arm checked."

John nodded as he opened the door to her office. "Don't forget to take care of yourself," he said and left.

Once in the hallway outside the control room, John rubbed his head. The itch at the back of his skull had been building for several hours and he could no longer ignore it. He only had a vague idea of what Kolya had done to him, but Rodney had steered clear of the infirmary for hours and John's head couldn't take much more avoidance.

John didn't blame Rodney for wanting to try and forget what had happened with Kolya, but he knew from painful experience how well that worked. Rodney needed to start talking to him. To start getting past it certainly, but, like Elizabeth, John had the sneaking suspicion Rodney was only focused on one part of what had happened.

Since Rodney obviously wasn't going to come to him, he'd have to beard the lion in his den and go to Rodney. John stopped in the mess hall for two cups of coffee and headed for the lab.

John exited the transporter, the two cups balanced in one hand, thinking about the best way to approach the subject with Rodney, when he rounded a corner and nearly ran down Zelenka. Radek's quick dodge saved them both getting splashed with hot coffee and John gave him a crooked smile in apology.

"Major Sheppard," Zelenka said as he took a step backward and held a datapad behind his back.

"Sorry about that," John said.

"No apology necessary, Major. We scientists learn quickly to get out of the way of someone lost in thought carrying hot liquids."

John chuckled and asked, "How're things going with the cleanup?"

"Very well, actually," Zelenka replied and brought the computer out from behind his back and tapped the screen. He showed a schematic to John and said, "The flooded sections are nearly all dry. We will need to survey all of those sections, make sure they are still structurally sound, but so far everything is going well."

John could see there was something else Zelenka wanted to say, he just wasn't sure how to say it. John suspected he knew exactly what, or really who, it was Zelenka wanted to talk about. He decided to give the engineer an opening. "I was just on my way to see McKay, figured he'd need a break by now."

"You will make him see Carson, yes?" Zelenka asked, worry clear in his expression.

"Where does everyone get the idea I can make McKay do something?" John groused as he maneuvered around the engineer.

Radek smiled and pushed up his glasses. "You are the only person he will listen to, I think."

"Lucky me," John replied with a wry smile as he started walking again.

He entered Rodney's lab and found the work table littered with computers running various programs and McKay sitting on a stool, poring over what looked like a disassembled GDO.

He set one of the cups of coffee on the table where Rodney would see it, but where it wouldn't spill on any of the components, pulled over another stool, and sat on the other side of the table.

He had no idea what to do next, he could see Rodney needed sleep as well as a trip to the infirmary; he didn't need any special mental connection to tell him that. He supposed he could simply order McKay to see Beckett, maybe drag him there if need be. He didn't want to have to do that except as an absolute last resort, however, so he sat, sipping his coffee, and waited.

It didn't take long for Rodney to look up at him and John's fingers clenched around the cup a little tighter when he saw the black eye again.

"Something you needed?" Rodney asked, ignoring the coffee cup in favor of the various pieces of the GDO.

"Just came down here to see how you were doing," John replied with forced nonchalance. He could see why Zelenka was worried. The black eye and exhaustion aside, John could see a thin line of sweat on Rodney's forehead and the screwdriver in his hand shook slightly in his grip.

"I'm busy." Rodney waved a hand at the work table.

"Not what I'd call it," John said, and bent forward to catch Rodney's eye. "You can talk to me, you know," he added gently.

Rodney dropped the screwdriver and glared at John. "You know I'm an adult, right?" Rodney asked, his tone suddenly harsh as he slammed a hand down on the work table. Unfortunately, it was his injured arm and he gasped as he curled the arm to his chest. "I am fully capable of taking care of myself," he continued, his voice slightly breathy from the pain. "I've been doing it for a good long time now."

"Rodney, calm down," John said, glad the door to the lab was closed. No reason the entire science department needed to hear them.

"No, I will not calm down," Rodney snapped back. "I've just had one of the worst days of my life. I think I'm allowed a moment to try and deal with it."

"Hey," John said, and held up his hands. "I get it. I do. Probably more than you realise. That's why I really need you to talk to me. You can't just keep this bottled up and hope it will go away. Trust me, that doesn't work."

John sat and waited. He wasn't sure what would happen when the lid came off, Rodney's moods were mercurial at the best of times. He finished his coffee and watched Rodney toy with the screwdriver.

"I just want to stop feeling like this," Rodney said softly after a few minutes silence. He set the screwdriver aside and started absently fiddling with one of the GDO pieces.

"Like what?" John prodded, and inched forward on his stool.

"Like he's going to come back."

"Like who's going to come back," John pushed, and Rodney glared daggers at him. "Can you even say his name?" John asked, concern clear in his tone.

"Kolya," Rodney spat out. "His name was Kolya. He stuck a knife in my arm and I told him everything he wanted to know."

"Exactly," John said, determined to keep his own anger under control. He didn't need Rodney misreading his reactions and thinking John was mad at him. "He hurt you. And he kept hurting you until he got what he wanted."

Rodney shook his head, turned away from him, and started tapping keys on one of the computers.

"You're not a coward if that's what you're thinking," John said softly, and Rodney's hands froze on the keyboard.

Rodney turned his head just enough for John to see his face. "Could have fooled me," he muttered. "Haven't you heard what everyone is saying?"

"Elizabeth told me what you did. That's the only story I'm interested in hearing," John said and leant forward until his arms rested on the work table. "She told me you stepped between her and Kolya's gun, that you saved her life at least twice by risking your own." He closed his own eyes for a moment thinking about what had almost happened.

"You also managed to get key information about Kolya's plans to me without him knowing. You came up with a way to stall Kolya long enough that he chose to leave the city. And then you saved the city. That doesn't sound like someone who's a coward to me."

John reached across the table and rested a hand on Rodney's unbandaged arm. "I'm proud of you, buddy," he said sincerely. "You did good."

He could tell Rodney wasn't ready to believe that quite yet, but at least he'd stopped typing and turned back around on the stool.

"I was so scared," Rodney admitted softly as he rubbed his arm, and John saw spots of blood on the makeshift bandage. "I didn't know what to do. He kept threatening Elizabeth and you and the city." He looked over at John. "I really thought he was going to kill me," he whispered. "He had me pushed over that railing and I just knew he was going to let go."

John stood from the stool suddenly and paced around the work table. From talking to Elizabeth, John knew exactly when and why Kolya had nearly pushed Rodney off that balcony. If McKay hadn't done a lot of fast talking … John clenched his hands into fists and hid them behind his back. Chances were they would never have found a body, Rodney would have just been gone.

John swallowed his fear and anger again and said, "I'm sorry you had to go through all of that. Part of my job is to make sure stuff like that never happens to you."

"It's not like you were just sitting in the mess hall drinking coffee," Rodney replied. "If I'd've thought of a better plan, maybe you wouldn't've needed to …" Rodney waved a hand and John got the message.

John stood at the end of the work table. Now or never, he thought to himself. "You should let Beckett take a look at your arm," he said calmly.

Rodney shook his head and sighed. "He probably knows by now," he replied.

John frowned. "Knows what?"

Rodney looked up at him. "That I nearly killed him. And Teyla. And Kolya's little friend. I'm pretty sure he's more than a little mad at me."

"I'll go with you if you want me to," John said, and stepped away from the work table, hoping Rodney would follow.

Rodney stared at the GDO pieces on the work table for several seconds before he finally stood.

"Fine," he said tiredly. "If it will get you out of my hair and make you happy, I'll go see Carson." He followed John out of the lab. "Maybe you'll be able to keep him from using every needle in the infirmary on me as revenge," he finished.

"Major Sheppard," Beckett greeted when they entered the infirmary a few minutes later. "What brings you by?"

As Rodney trailed John into the room, Beckett's look of pleasant enquiry changed to a frown.

"Carson," Rodney mumbled, refusing to look at Beckett.

"Rodney," Beckett replied with a sigh and held out a hand. "Come on, lad, let me take a look at you."

John followed them to one of the beds in the corner and stood at the end, arms resting on the rolling bed table, as Carson told Rodney to lie down. He grasped Rodney's arm gently and tsked at the haphazard bandaging as he carefully unwrapped the gauze around Rodney's jacket sleeve.

Rodney refused to look at his arm. He turned his head the other way and John thought he looked about ready to fall asleep.

John could see Rodney's jacket sleeve was slashed and covered in dried blood from his elbow nearly to his wrist once the bandage was removed; the gauze had done a good job disguising the damage. He straightened up and grabbed hold of the table.

Beckett tsked again and patted Rodney's shoulder. "I'll be right back, lad," he said softly. He came back a moment later with a prepared syringe. "This should help take the edge off," he said as he found a vein in Rodney's other arm and injected the medication.

It didn't take long for the morphine to kick in and John watched as Rodney's eyes, drooping even before Beckett gave him the injection, closed completely.

"Daft bugger," Carson mumbled at Rodney as he sat and started to cut away the jacket and then the shirt sleeve underneath. "Why didn't you come to me right away instead of waiting hours?"

"He said you were concussed," John answered. He chose not to mention the other reason Rodney had been avoiding the infirmary.

"I had worse nights at the pub when I was at university," Beckett replied, then hissed when the last of the fabric came away from Rodney's arm. "Bloody hell," he murmured, and carefully touched the edges of the three angry cuts running up Rodney's forearm. From what John could see, it looked like Kolya had made each incision deeper, probably as Rodney refused to answer.

John gripped the bed table so hard his knuckles turned white. All he wanted to do at that moment was dial up the Genii homeworld, find Kolya, and take him apart. Slowly. John promised himself if he ever saw the Commander again, Kolya wouldn't survive a second encounter. He certainly wouldn't be allowed within a mile of Rodney.

"Did you know it was this bad? "Beckett asked, and John shook his head.

"Elizabeth told me Rodney was left alone with Koyla and a few of his men when she was sent to get the Wraith data device." John stared at the bloody arm. "When she came back, Rodney was bleeding, but she never got a good look at his arm and Rodney didn't tell her what had happened."

"Sharon," Beckett called, still gently probing the cuts.

Sharon Peterson came over to the bed and winced when she saw Rodney's arm. She glanced up at John, sympathy clear in her expression.

"Can you clean and prep Rodney's arm with a local while I get the suture kit? Get the rest of that jacket and shirt off of him as well," Beckett said and stood from his stool. "He's had a dose of morphine already so he should be out for a few hours."

"Major?" Carson said, and gently led John away from the bed. "Since I know you won't leave, you can wait over here. When we have those lacerations sutured, he'll need to sleep off the morphine. Once he's awake, you can take him back to his quarters."

"He's going to be all right?" John asked. "No permanent damage or anything?"

Beckett's expression turned dark. "That Kolya knew what he was doing, I'll give him that," Carson growled. "He knew where to do the most damage and inflict pain without hitting any major arteries." Beckett rubbed a hand over his face. "There is muscle damage, but Rodney should be fine."

Carson stopped at the supply cabinet and started taking out the items he'd need for Rodney's arm. "It would have been better if he'd come down sooner, there's the start of an infection, but we should be able to nip that in the bud. He'll be fine in a few days." He gave John a measured look. "Are you all right, lad?"

"Yeah, just tired, I guess," John mumbled. He'd never told Beckett or Rodney about the weird feeling he got whenever McKay was seriously hurt. No wonder he'd had such a headache, he thought to himself. Rodney had been hurting for hours and had done nothing about it. "Elizabeth said Kolya must have … I didn't realise he'd cut him more than once."

Carson gave him a steady look. "He's going to need to talk about what happened, you know."

"Way ahead of you," John said, his expression serious.

"And what about the rumor mill?" Beckett asked bitterly as he gathered the supplies from the cabinet on a tray. "Don't you think for one second I don't know the real reason Rodney didn't come to me sooner. I've already heard several different versions of what people around here think happened."

John rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn't heard the specifics of any of the rumors, but John had a good idea what people were saying about both of them. He'd received more than a few strange looks from the military contingent as people trickled back from Manara. He'd used tactics against the Genii he hadn't needed since Afghanistan and Iraq, tactics he'd hoped were safely left behind in the Milky Way galaxy. While the scientists were content simply to know the city had survived, the Marines certainly had some ideas about what happened during his guerrilla war with Kolya's men.

Unfortunately, it sounded like they had the wrong idea about everything else.

"Doctor Beckett?" Sharon called as she moved a portable curtain around Rodney's bed. "He's ready."

"Thank you, Sharon. I'll be right there." Carson turned back to John. "You can sit with him once we're done."

John nodded and sat on the nearest bed to wait. Thirty minutes later, Sharon removed the screen and John went back over to the bed. Rodney was dressed in a scrub top, his arm neatly bandaged. He sat by the bed watching Rodney sleep, plotting the various ways he would make Kolya pay for what he'd done if they ever met again.

Chapter Text

Ford pounded the makeshift heavy bag the next morning trying to release some of his pent-up anger and frustration from the past few days. First, there was Doctor Beckett arguing with him at every turn about any decision Ford had made during the storm. Then he found out McKay had spilt the beans to the enemy, and now there were all the stories flying around the base. He could hear Bowers and Stephens on the mats discussing the latest gossip even as they practised take-downs. Sergeant Thompson sat at the weight machine in the far corner dropping the weights with a bang every time the others got too loud.

The rumors had started flying as soon as most of the city's personnel were back from Manara, not a real surprise considering everything that had happened. Ford had even done his part to spread some of them. What Major Sheppard had done, alone, had been nothing short of a miracle. Ford was proud of his commander and told anyone who would listen what he knew of Sheppard's tactics.

While he'd done nothing to encourage the negative stories about Doctor McKay's role, he hadn't done anything to counter them either. A part of him felt a little guilty about leaving a team member to twist in the rumor-mongering wind, but another side of him felt McKay deserved all the flack he caught for what he'd done. If he hadn't given up the plan, maybe Kolya would have left the city with the supplies and that would have been the end of it.

He'd been working with McKay for months now, and while he could respect his intelligence, Ford had never really become that friendly with him; certainly not to the level Major Sheppard seemed to like the guy. For Ford, it wasn't that hard to believe McKay would crack at the first opportunity.

The man was known to panic at the drop of a hat. Ford had witnessed it first hand on several occasions including the last time Major Sheppard really needed McKay's help when their jumper had been stuck in the stargate. McKay had spent most of that thirty-eight minutes explaining exactly how and why they would die instead of working on the problem. Ford had been tempted to shove McKay through the event horizon even earlier than he did just to shut the man up.

He gave the bag a series of quick one-two punches as he let his thoughts roam to a place he rarely wanted to go. He was aware Sheppard had some sort of close, brother-like relationship with McKay. He just didn't understand why or how Sheppard could be friends with someone like him even after talking to both the Major and Teyla about it. He didn't understand how Sheppard could trust McKay so completely knowing how unreliable the man could be if pushed even a little bit. The events with the Genii only seemed to highlight his concerns.

He stood back from the bag and wiped the sweat off his face with a gloved hand, remembering a conversation with Sheppard when the Major had first suggested McKay as a member of a 'gate team.

"He just doesn't seem to fit in, sir. Even the scientists don't seem to like him much. He just rubs everyone the wrong way."

"I'm not asking you to be his best friend, Lieutenant. I just need to know if you'll be able to work with him during missions through the stargate."

He stepped back up to the bag and started pounding it again. He'd had his doubts then, and even though McKay had been easier to be around lately, this latest incident brought all of Ford's suspicions back to the surface.

He finished another set and grabbed the bag to stop it swinging as he took a few deep breaths. Bowers and Stephens had worked their way across the mats and Ford could no longer ignore their conversation.

"Not sure what Sheppard's thinking keeping him on a 'gate team now," Ford heard Bowers say snidely.

Ford surreptitiously peeked at the two Marines on the workout mats.

"The arrogant SOB showed his true colors if you ask me," Bowers finished as he swept Stephens' feet out from under him.

"Ahh, come on, Dave," Stephens replied as he stood up. "He's a civilian, what did you expect?"

Bowers snorted as he ducked under Stephens' guard and dropped him to the mat again. "Did you see that ridiculous bandage he had wrapped around himself? If he was so hurt, why didn't he go down to the infirmary right away? He complains about the least little thing and he didn't go running to a doctor as soon as he could? Nah, I'll bet there wasn't anything under that bandage, he was just hoping we'd take pity on him. Forget what he did."

"I heard from one of the orderlies McKay was in the infirmary yesterday evening and his arm was pretty cut up. He must have held out at least a little," Stephens replied with a shrug.

There was a loud clang from the corner of the room as Thompson dropped the weights one last time, stood, and glared at Bowers and Stephens. He gave Ford a fleeting look as well, and Ford thought he saw more disappointment than anger in the look he received from the sergeant.

Thompson left the gym and Ford turned back to the heavy bag before Bowers or Stephens realised he had been listening. He really didn't want to have to defend McKay if he didn't have to. Ford wondered if McKay even understood what his actions had done to Sheppard's reputation as well as the team's. Somehow he doubted it, he thought viciously. He wasn't sure McKay really thought of anyone other than himself. He finished his workout and headed back to his quarters to shower before meeting the team for breakfast.

Teyla was already in the mess hall when he arrived; he gave her a quick wave as he started down the line gathering oatmeal, juice, and coffee before joining her.

"Hey Teyla," he greeted as he sat next to her, facing the rest of the room. "How's your arm?" he asked as he pointed to the bandage on her upper arm.

"It will heal," Teyla replied. "Doctor Beckett says there will not be much of a scar."

"That's good," he replied with a smile as he started to eat.

They were discussing the merits of stick fighting versus the Marine combat training a few minutes later when Ford noticed the vibe in the mess hall change. He looked up to see Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay enter the room, talking about something. Ford noticed McKay had stopped just inside the mess hall and gave Sheppard an odd look before Sheppard took his arm, the left one, Ford noticed, and pulled him into the food line.

"Ford, Teyla," the Major greeted with a nod and a smile when he and Rodney arrived at their table a few minutes later. Sheppard took the seat across from Teyla leaving McKay the chair across from Ford.

Ford noticed McKay sported a bit of a black eye and wondered what had happened, he didn't remember seeing it in the control room the day before. He glanced down at McKay's arms, but he was wearing his tan uniform jacket and Ford couldn't tell how badly, or even if, his arm was really injured.

"Major. Doctor McKay," Teyla replied with a nod and a smile to each of them.

Ford nodded at Sheppard.

They ate in an awkward silence for a few minutes until Teyla spoke, "I am considering asking Doctor Weir to allow Sora to be moved to the mainland if it is decided she cannot be returned to the Genii."

McKay abruptly stopped eating and picked up his coffee cup. Ford saw the fingers holding the cup were white.

"Taking pity on her?" Sheppard asked with a smile that didn't reach his eyes.

Teyla glanced from the Major to Doctor McKay who was now staring out the window behind Ford. "I have known her most of her life," Teyla said carefully. "I would like to help her. If she will let me."

"I have things to do," Rodney mumbled as he stood and gathered up his mostly full breakfast tray.

"Rodney," Sheppard said.

"What?" Rodney hissed as he bent down next to the Major. "I told you this was a bad idea. I should have just stayed in the lab." He glanced over at Teyla and then Ford. Ford wondered what McKay saw in his expression since he straightened stiffly and stepped back. "I'll see you later," he said to Sheppard and left.

"I should not have brought up Sora in front of him," Teyla said to Sheppard once McKay was gone. "I had forgotten she was with Commander Kolya while Doctors McKay and Weir were held hostage."

"He needs some time," Sheppard agreed with a glance at the door McKay had left through. "I think we all do. I can understand you wanting to help Sora, but I for one am not quite ready to forgive and forget just yet."

Teyla nodded. "I understand that, Major," she replied sadly. "I wish things could have been different for her."

Major Sheppard finished the last of his eggs and stood. "We have nothing on for today so take the opportunity to take care of yourselves," he said. "I'll let you know if we're needed for anything."

"I thought I'd go to the mainland this afternoon and see how Halling and the others are faring," Teyla said and stood as well. "I have not heard how severe the damage was to the village."

"I'll see if I can fly you over if you want," Sheppard replied. "Ford?"

Ford grinned. "Sure, why not. Just as long as Doctor Beckett isn't the pilot."

Sheppard smiled slightly. "I'll talk to Elizabeth about borrowing a jumper. I'll see if I can pry Rodney out of that lab of his and get him to join us. He could use the fresh air."

Ford must have made some sort of face since Sheppard frowned. "Is there a problem, Lieutenant?"

No, sir," Ford replied, a little more formally than usual, and watched as Sheppard and Teyla left the mess hall. He finished his own breakfast and tried to ignore the looks and whispered comments from the men and women at the neighboring tables.

The jumper left Atlantis two hours later in awkward silence. Teyla toyed with the pockets of her tac-vest, McKay stared out the window and Sheppard divided his time between piloting the shuttle and watching McKay.

"I have been unable to raise anyone in the village on the radio," Teyla said once they'd cleared the control tower and turned toward the mainland.

"The radio is probably on the fritz," Sheppard said. "McKay can take a look at it." He glanced over at Rodney.

"Hmm," McKay said, looking around. "Yes, yes, look at the radio. Fine."

Once they were over the mainland, Sheppard did a flyover of the Athosian village so they could survey the damage. Ford saw lots of downed trees, debris still scattered everywhere, and the fields were little more than mud and broken plant stalks.

"Oh," Teyla murmured as she stood behind McKay's chair looking out the window. "It is worse than I expected."

"We'll get some folks out here to help with the clean-up," Sheppard said. "I think Elizabeth was already looking for some volunteers."

"That will be greatly appreciated, I am sure," Teyla replied.

Sheppard set the jumper down in a clear area a mile or so from the village and they walked into the cluster of tents to find Halling and a few other Athosians waiting for them.

"Teyla," Halling greeted and bent forward so they could touch foreheads.

"Halling, I tried to let you know we were coming. How bad is it?" Teyla asked sadly.

Halling led the way into the village. "The radio is damaged," he said, pointing to a disheveled tent they passed. "We did not have time to remove the electronics before the storm hit."

"Rodney?" Sheppard said.

"Yeah, I'm on it." McKay ducked under the tent flap.

The rest of the village was slowly returning to normal. Ford watched as several men and women raised another tent not far from the one McKay was in. Children were picking up branches and piling them near the edge of the nearby forest.

An older woman came out of one of the tents and greeted Teyla with a smile. "It is good to see you, Teyla Emmagan," the woman said as she took both of Teyla's hands.

"Iranda," Teyla said with a smile. "I hope Isla and the baby are well?"

Iranda smiled as she joined them. "Thanks to your friends," she glanced at Ford and Sheppard, "we are all well."

"What about your crops?" Teyla asked Halling as they continued to walk around the village.

"The storm destroyed everything," Halling replied. "We can clear the fields, but we may not have time to plant another crop. We will need fresh seed."

Teyla looked over at Sheppard.

"If you know a planet we can trade for more seed, I can talk to Elizabeth," Sheppard said. "For right now, let's see what we can do about getting these trees cleared." He took off his uniform jacket. "Ford?"

"Yes, sir," Ford replied and took off his own jacket.

"Major, that is not necessary," Halling started to say.

"Hey, we came to help," Sheppard replied. "We can only stay the afternoon, but like I said to Teyla, we'll see about getting some work crews out here to help, too."

Ford found a couple of saws and handed one to Sheppard.

"Are you sure?" Teyla asked quietly.

"Some manual labor could be good," Sheppard replied. "Right, Lieutenant?" he added with a pointed look in Ford's direction.

"Yes, sir," Ford agreed and wondered what the look was about.

"Besides, it's going to take some time for Rodney to get the radio fixed, so we may as well do something useful."

"I will talk to Iranda and see what else needs to be done."

Sheppard waited until Teyla was out of earshot, then turned to Ford. "All right, Lieutenant, let's have it," he asked, his tone neutral.

"Sir?"

"You've had a chip on your shoulder since we left Atlantis," Sheppard stated. "I want to know why. Before we run into a situation on a mission."

"I'm not sure what you mean, sir," Ford replied, his voice flat.

"Try again," Sheppard said his tone shifting from neutral to that of a commanding officer.

"It's nothing, sir," Ford replied, still not giving an inch. "Just been doing some thinking."

"Thinking, right," Sheppard drawled and shook his head, disappointment clear in his expression and tone. "I'm willing to bet we both know what you've been thinking about. Whatever you think you know about what happened during the storm, you're wrong, Lieutenant." He moved toward the nearest tree then glared at Ford. "You were there, I really shouldn't have to tell you that."

Ford could tell Sheppard was waiting for some sort of reply, but he remained stoically silent.

Sheppard shook his head as he started to cut through the nearest downed tree. "I remember asking you once if you'd be able to work with McKay on missions. I really didn't think after all this time, I'd need to still be wondering." Sheppard frowned slightly as Ford finally looked away. "I guess I'm asking, Lieutenant. Are you going to be able to work with Doctor McKay?"

Ford glanced at him, his expression stoic. "I guess we'll find out, sir," he replied, just like he had all those months ago. He started working on his own tree and tried to ignore the frustration rolling off Sheppard.

Three hours later, several trees had been cleared and Ford and Sheppard were taking a break in the shade of one of the tents when Teyla found them.

"There is a meal being prepared in the large tent," she told them. "Halling insists we join them."

"I could eat," Ford said with a smile. The manual labor had worked almost as well as the punching bag for draining off his residual anger.

Sheppard smiled. "I'll go get Rodney. We'll meet you there in a few minutes."

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

John wandered back to the tent where he'd left Rodney. He stopped outside when he heard Jinto and a few other boys all talking and, wonder of wonders, Rodney sounding patient for once as he explained something. John peeked around the tent flap to see what was going on and found Rodney seated on the ground with Jinto, Wex, and a few other boys in a semi-circle in front of him.

"Okay, you all have the piece of metal screwed down?" Rodney asked as he looked from one boy to the next. "The last step is inserting the crystals." He handed each of the boys two crystals. "If you hold them up to the light you can see how they're different."

John grinned as the boys all dutifully held the crystals up toward Rodney's big flashlight propped up on the table behind him.

"The one with all the twisted coils is the power crystal. The other one is your transmitting and receiving crystal. You all see the difference?"

One of the boys apparently didn't understand what Rodney was saying and McKay glanced at the crystals in the boy's hands. He pointed to the crystal in the boy's right hand. "See how the filament is wrapped in a circle?"

"Oh!" the boy exclaimed with an eager nod.

Rodney looked back at the rest of the boys and caught John watching. He waved John into the tent and continued his lesson.

"The crystal with the coils goes on the left, the other one goes under the receiver."

John stood just inside the tent as the boys inserted their crystals.

"Okay," Rodney continued as heads came back up from whatever they were working on. "Jinto set the dial to 'all' and tap the long bar a few times."

Jinto tapped his bar and the other boys all jumped as the device in front of them tapped back. He stared up at Rodney in awe.

"Each of you has a different transmitter and receiver crystal so you should be able to talk to each other without interfering with the others. Just set the dial on the left to either 'all' if you want to talk to everyone or pick one of the numbers if you only want to talk to one person."

"How do we talk to someone?" Wex asked as he tapped at his device a few times.

"You can either work out your own codes or I'm sure Major Sheppard here can teach you Morse Code." He glanced up at John as he spoke.

"Cool!" Jinto exclaimed. "Thanks, Doctor McKay!"

The boys all stood up and ran out of the tent carrying their devices and chattering to each other.

"You taught them how to make a telegraph?" John asked as he pulled Rodney to his feet.

Rodney shrugged. "They kept getting in the way while I was trying to work. I told them if they sat down and let me finish fixing the radio, I'd show them how to make something else."

John grinned. "Gotta say, that looked better than the one I made in Boy Scouts when I was a kid."

Rodney packed up his tools and spare parts then followed John out of the tent.

"Having the crystals certainly makes a better telegraph," Rodney said. "They should have a pretty good range, several tents worth of distance at least."

"David and I drove our parents nuts with the ones we made," John said with a smile.

"I never saw the point after figuring out the basic principles," Rodney admitted. "Didn't have anyone to talk to with it."

John frowned slightly as they entered the large communal tent where the Athosians had set out food.

Teyla and Ford were waiting at the end of one of the tables. John saw Jinto showing Halling the telegraph and explaining how it worked.

"What has Jinto so excited?" Teyla asked as John and Rodney sat across from her and Ford.

John grinned. "Rodney taught Jinto and his friends how to make a telegraph." When Teyla looked confused, he added, "A simple communication device."

Teyla smiled. "He has been fascinated with such things ever since coming to Atlantis."

John squeezed Rodney's shoulder as he said, "And now we know Rodney is a pretty good teacher. How come you're never that patient explaining things to your scientists?"

"Because they're supposed to know already. I shouldn't have to keep telling them the same things over and over." Rodney paused and looked over at the boys tapping at their telegraphs. "They wanted to learn," he added softly. "Anyone can teach someone something if they want to actually learn."

John smiled and squeezed Rodney's shoulder again. John knew it wasn't that simple, but let it go as bowls and platters had arrived at their end of the table and the team set to eating.

"I have been thinking," Halling said after a few minutes. "There was a planet I surveyed with Sergeant Stackhouse a few months ago. The people there harvest a grain crop. It may be possible to trade something for more seed."

"Anything else you remember about this planet?" John asked.

"The trees were huge," Halling replied. "Taller than any others I have seen. Sergeant Stackhouse wanted to call the planet the Redwood Forest."

"Ford, remind me to tell Stackhouse he's not allowed to name things anymore, either," Sheppard said with a laugh.

"I do not understand," Halling said with a frown.

"Never mind," John said. "Inside joke. Were the people there interested in trade?"

Halling nodded. "Yes, I believe so."

John nodded. "All right. I'll talk to Elizabeth and see about a trade mission to the Redwood Forest."

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

John sat in front of Elizabeth's desk the next morning waiting as she reread Stackhouse's report on the Redwood Forest planet. "Halling thinks the villagers would be willing to make a trade?" Elizabeth asked.

"He thinks so, they seemed interested when Stackhouse brought it up as a possibility."

Elizabeth studied him for a moment. "Are you sure you want to do this? I can send another team."

John shook his head. "It should be a nice, simple mission. We can handle it."

"What about Rodney's arm?"

"Beckett cleared him," John said. "As long as he's careful and doesn't pick up anything heavy, he's good to go." John waited a few seconds. When it looked like Elizabeth was still undecided, he added, "The rye crop was a total loss due to the storm. If we want to eat, the Athosians need fresh seed."

Elizabeth looked through the file one more time. "All right, Major, you have a go. Tell your team to be ready to leave in an hour."

Chapter Text

Rodney stepped through the 'gate and stopped short as he gazed up. And up. He'd skimmed the reports by Stackhouse's team but reading about it didn't do the forest around them justice. He'd seen pictures of the sequoia trees in California cut with tunnels for cars to pass through them, but these trees may have even dwarfed those. He wasn't sure if all four of them holding hands would be able to reach around one of the trunks, either. For once Rodney was speechless as he walked away from the 'gate, staring upward trying to figure out how tall the trees were.

"Ford, take point," Rodney heard John say and he pulled his attention back down to earth, or whatever the people of P9X-664 called their world. "According to Stackhouse's report, there's a village about five clicks east of here," John finished as he pointed toward the path leading away from the 'gate.

"Yes, sir," Ford acknowledged stiffly as he gripped his P-90. He made a sharp about-face and headed off down the path. Rodney half-expected him to salute.

Ford's snapped acknowledgment of John's order was something new to Rodney, he was used to an easy smile and maybe a nod at most from the Lieutenant before he carried out whatever Sheppard wanted. He looked from Ford to Sheppard, but John wasn't paying any attention, so Rodney fell in behind Ford thinking about what could have caused the change. Was this more fallout from his own actions or something to do with the time Ford, Teyla, and Beckett had spent on the mainland during the storm?

Rodney knew a little about the arguments Beckett and Ford had had about how to get back to Atlantis during the storm, he wasn't sure how that translated into Ford's current attitude, however. Maybe it was something to do with him after all, Rodney thought.

He frowned as he followed Ford. There was a reason he'd spent most of his life trying to not have to deal with people. Emotions were messy at the best of times. And while he was getting better at figuring out those unspoken cues, he still wasn't sure what to do when the problem wasn't straightforward. Give him an engineering problem over an emotional one any day.

He kept up with Ford as best he could, shifting the weight of the pack on his back, grateful he only had to carry a sidearm and not the heavier rifle as well. Ford had set a fast pace and he was just keeping the Lieutenant's backpack in sight ahead of him on the trail while John and Teyla lagged about the same distance behind him.

He heard a few snippets of their conversation and realised they were talking about Ford's behavior as well. He slowed slightly to see if they had any better ideas as to what was going on with the Lieutenant.

"He was extremely upset with him at the time," Teyla was saying. "Doctor Beckett refused to take off during the storm even though we knew you needed assistance."

"Beckett made the right call," Sheppard replied. "He's a doctor, not a pilot. He had no business trying to fly through a storm like that. I wouldn't have tried it, either."

"I agree, Major. However, Lieutenant Ford was frustrated with the delay. I am afraid his temper was rather short with Doctor Beckett once we were back in Atlantis and looking for you. At the time I could understand why Lieutenant Ford acted the way he did; we needed to find you quickly."

"And now?"

Rodney glanced back and saw her twist her head. "He is still … angry," she replied with a sigh. "I am not sure why. There have been rumors …"

Rodney hurried forward a few paces, focused on the trail and Ford's backpack instead of the conversation he was sure he wasn't supposed to have overheard.

It took them about an hour to hike from the stargate to the village nestled in a small valley backed by mountains and more of the forest. A stream encircled the buildings from the left, separating the town from fields of what looked to Rodney to be some sort of wheat, before it meandered to a large lake or sea in the distance to the right.

They crossed a wooden bridge over the stream and entered the village square. As he looked around, Rodney estimated the planet was at about the technological level of Europe in the 1700s. The buildings were made of brick or stone, the streets were paved with more stones instead of just being dirt, and there were several different stalls in a nearby street selling various wares from cloth, to fish, to wooden toys. A large stone fountain dominated the center of the square and Rodney heard the tinkle and splash of the water as they entered the center of the village.

As they crossed the wooden bridge over the stream, villagers stopped and stared at them. Maybe he was a little hyper-conscious, but Rodney took a step back as more and more people stopped what they were doing and watched them.

"Hello," Teyla said with a smile. "We are explorers come to trade. Is there someone we could speak to?"

A tall, broad man stepped out of one of the nearby buildings. "I am Rowland, Master of this village."

"Rowland," John said as he stood next to Teyla. "My name is Sheppard, these others are Ford, Teyla, and McKay." John nodded to each of them in turn.

"Ahh, are you also from Atlantis?" Rowland asked as he studied each of them. "We met men from the great city during the last moon."

Sheppard smiled. "We are. We were told you might be interested in a trade."

"We are always interested in a good trade, Sheppard. Come with me, let us see what sort of trade we can make."

John gave them a quick glance. "Rodney, you and Ford take a look around the town. Teyla you come with me."

Rodney took out the Ancient scanner and set it looking for energy signatures. Unsurprisingly, the only one he found was the stargate itself. Stackhouse hadn't found anything during his survey either. He reset the scanner and stared at the screen for a moment before he wandered over to the fountain.

"Now that's interesting," he mumbled and knelt down next to the beige-colored stone fountain. "This is the same odd stone I found in those ruins near Laren's village."

Ford gave him a bored look. "So? What's so fascinating about that?"

Rodney glared up at him. "For one thing, it's not composed of anything we have on Earth," Rodney said. "For another, Laren didn't know where the stone came from." Rodney stood up. "Maybe it comes from this planet." He shrugged out of his pack and hunted through the pockets looking for a sample jar.

He found a jar and said, "Ford, I need to borrow your knife." When he didn't get a response, he looked up and found Ford on the other side of the square, looking at the various wares for sale on the carts. Rodney sighed and pawed through his pack again until he found something to take a scraping of the stone.

As a distraction from Ford's obvious attempt to ignore him, Rodney wandered down a few streets looking for any more of the beige-colored stone. The buildings were laid out in a grid radiating out from the village square near the bridge. The larger, more impressive buildings were close to the square while the buildings farther away were smaller and dirtier.

Rodney didn't see many people as he walked. He assumed they were busy doing whatever it was people did in villages barely entering the industrial age. The few people he did encounter did their best to ignore him and went about their business as quickly as they could.

The street he was on ended at the river and he turned up another street passing what looked like a blacksmith's shop as well as a shop with several men planing wood planks. He followed the street across the village until it ended at the forest. He saw a few paths into the trees, but decided against further exploration.

"Sheppard to McKay. Rodney, where the hell are you?"

"Here. I'm here," Rodney responded. "I was looking around the village, like you said."

"I also said you were supposed to stay with Ford. Get back to the square. Sheppard out."

Rodney tapped off the radio and with one last look at the towering trees, he headed back to the square. As he passed the blacksmith's again, he paused long enough to let several men rolling small barrels into the warehouse across the street pass by before he continued back through the maze of alleys to meet John.

He entered the square and saw Teyla standing outside what looked like a pub. She raised a hand in greeting and waited for him to join her.

"The Major and Lieutenant Ford are inside," she said as he crossed the square.

"How did the negotiations go?" he asked as she led him inside.

"Not very well, so far. Rowland is a shrewd man. He wants a high price for the seed."

Rodney entered the pub and saw a large man with a full beard standing behind a high wooden bar laughing at something one of the men seated at the bar had said. Rodney was sure the bar itself had been fashioned from a single length of one of the trees he'd seen earlier. It ran the entire length of one wall, what Rodney estimated to be around five meters, and was intricately carved along its entire length. There was a wide door behind the bar and another door in the corner of the room opposite a large fireplace.

Rodney peered around the dim room, lit only by the large fire and a few lamps. A boy stood to one side of the large fireplace turning a spit of meat. Several other villagers sat at tables scattered around the room drinking and speaking in low voices.

Rodney found John and Ford at a table against the wall. He made his way through the maze of tables, chairs, and villagers, and sat next to Sheppard. Teyla sat on the other side of the table with Ford and a woman who looked enough like the man behind the bar Rodney thought they had to be related.

"Where were you?" John asked as Rodney squirmed out of his pack and set it on the floor at his feet.

"I told you, exploring the village. It's not that big, really."

"You should have stayed with Ford," John chided.

"I wasn't the one doing the ditching," Rodney replied cryptically with a glance at Ford as the bartender came over to their table.

"Welcome, friends," the bartender said in a deep voice and gave each of them a piercing look as he stood at the end of their table. Rodney had a momentary flashback to grade school when Michael Howser, a boy several years older and many inches taller, decided to make Rodney his favorite punching bag. Michael had had that same predatory look in his eye. "My name is Kelden." He pointed to the woman seated next to Teyla. "I see you've already met my sister, Freyan. Rowland says you are to have the best meal the house has to offer."

"That is very kind of him," Teyla said with a smile.

He clapped his hands and a pair of girls, aged around twelve, came through the door behind the bar carrying dishes of food as well as plates and utensils. The table was quickly laid and Kelden returned with mugs of beer and encouraged them to eat.

Rodney had to admit, the meal was good, roasted meat, a variety of different root vegetables, even the bread, which he gave a suspicious look before tasting, were all better than what they were eating in Atlantis at the moment. He thought Sheppard would nix the idea of beer, but when Rodney raised an eyebrow in question, Sheppard nodded and picked up his mug.

"Stackhouse told me it was pretty good," John told him in a low voice as Teyla and Ford asked Freyan about the village.

"We are fortunate," Freyan replied to a question Teyla had asked. "The forest provides wood which our craftsmen make into furniture as well as trinkets and toys for trade. And of course, there is farming and raising of bovids." She nodded to the platter of meat on the table.

"What of the Wraith?" Teyla asked as she finished her mug of beer.

Freyan sighed. "We have been lucky, there hasn't been a culling here for three generations." She clasped her hands in her lap. "We have heard rumors from those who come to trade, the Wraith have awoken in great numbers. If they do come here, we may be forced back into the mountains like our ancestors to survive." Freyan hurriedly stood from the table. "Please eat, enjoy."

Rodney waited until Freyan was behind the bar before he said, "Teyla says the negotiation isn't going well."

Sheppard snorted. "That's an understatement. What Rowland wants is out of the question."

"What does he want?"

Sheppard gave the surrounding tables a wary look before saying, "Weapons. Ammunition."

"Oh."

"Yeah. Oh. We know how well that went the last time." John shook his head as he finished his beer.

Rodney swallowed hard at the reminder of the Genii.

"They have a sort of shotgun," Ford said. "I saw a few of the men carrying them as they headed for the woods."

"Yep," Sheppard replied. "Apparently, they have a limited amount of powder for them, which is something else Rowland is asking for."

"So are we leaving?" Rodney asked.

Teyla and Sheppard exchanged a look. It seemed Rodney had inadvertently stepped into a running disagreement between them.

John stared at Teyla a moment longer, then sighed. "No," he finally said. "The Athosians need the seed and this is probably our best chance of getting it. We'll try again in the morning." He looked at Teyla again. "If we can't come to some sort of agreement by the time we're due to check-in with Atlantis, we'll have to try our luck elsewhere."

Teyla nodded her agreement and Sheppard looked around the pub.

Freyan must have seen him as she came back over to the table. "Would you like more beer?" she asked.

"No, thanks," John said with a smile. "We do need a place to stay for the night. Is there anywhere we can rent rooms?"

Freyan smiled. "We have rooms here, however, there are only three. Two of you will have to share."

Rodney didn't like the idea of splitting them up for the night and glanced over at John to see what he wanted to do.

"McKay and I will take the double," Sheppard said with a quick look at Teyla and Ford.

"Yes, sir," Ford said stiffly and Rodney thought he looked like he wanted to disagree with Sheppard.

Sheppard looked up at Freyan. "There are two beds, right?"

She nodded. "The beds in that room are smaller, but you should be comfortable."

"Okay," Sheppard looked across the table. "I say we call it a night. We'll talk to Rowland again in the morning and then check in with Atlantis."

Freyan led them through the door in the corner and down the hallway to three doors, two on the left-hand side, and one on the right. She opened the right-hand door on a room with two beds.

"See you in the morning," John said to Teyla and Ford as he stood in the doorway to their room.

"Good night, Major. Doctor McKay," Teyla replied and opened one of the doors on the left.

"Sir," Ford added with a nod. He gave Rodney a fleeting glance, then went into the last room and closed the door.

Rodney followed Sheppard into their room and closed the door. A metal candelabra with four arms sat on a table between the beds, the candles providing the only light in the room. The room itself was narrow with one bed under a large window that opened outward and looked out on several trees and the other was between that bed and the door. A beautifully carved wooden chest sat at the end of each of the beds.

Sheppard checked the door and turned the lock before he dropped his pack on the bed closest to the door and stuffed his earpiece in a pocket of his tac-vest before dropping the vest and his jacket on the chest.

"Was it a good idea to split us up like this?" Rodney asked as he dropped his own pack, vest, and jacket on the chest at the end of the other bed. He put the earpiece for the radio on the bedside table where he would see it in the morning.

John shrugged. "Stackhouse's team was here a few months ago without any problems," John said as he took off his boots.

"And yet you still checked the lock and took the bed closest to the door," Rodney pointed out.

"Habit," John replied and laid down on the bed. "Relax. Everything's fine."

"Right, relax," Rodney muttered. He took his boots off and stuffed them under the bed, then laid down and tried to get comfortable. He glanced at the bandage on his arm as he rubbed absently at the ache and stared up at the blank ceiling.

The last thing he wanted to do was try and sleep with John in the same room. He hadn't slept much since the storm, thanks to several recurring nightmares involving knives, lightning, and any number of people ending up dead, himself included. While he knew John would keep anything he heard to himself, Rodney suspected John was having more than a few bad dreams of his own and he didn't want to add to his problems.

The bed was narrow and the mattress a thin stuffed tick. Rodney squirmed for several minutes trying to get comfortable before an impatient "Settle already, McKay" came from the other bed.

Rodney sighed, closed his eyes, and tried to relax. He told himself to not think about Kolya, or monster storms or bloody knives. He rolled onto his side, facing away from the window and watched John in the other bed fall asleep seemingly effortlessly.

Rodney must have slept at some point as he found himself back in the same nightmare he'd had the last two nights. Kolya stood in front of him with the knife in his hand, that same hard look in his eyes that said he had no problem hurting Rodney or anyone else. The blade was already red and Rodney looked down to see a long cut on his arm. He gulped as he looked back up and felt the knife against his throat. Unlike other nights, the blade felt unusually sharp and cold against the skin of his throat and he stared into Kolya's eyes as he demanded Rodney drop it.

Rodney's confused mind was still trying to figure out what that meant when he felt himself jerked backward and something wrapped around his chest, making it difficult to breathe. Oddly, even though he thought he was awake, he could still feel a knife against his throat as he was half sat up on the bed by someone behind him.

"Hey," he croaked and started to struggle out of the hold around his chest. "Lemme go! What's going on?"

He felt a trickle of blood along his neck which only seemed to make him fight harder as panic set in. His sleep-addled mind didn't know how Kolya had managed to grab him, but he wasn't going to let the Commander use him again.

"Let him go," a hard, cold voice demanded. "Now."

The demand froze Rodney for a moment in his struggle to get free. There was never anyone with him when Koyla attacked him. Where had the voice come from?

A dim red glow from outside the window lit the room enough for Rodney to see John crouched on his own bed, facing him, Beretta aimed at a point just to the left of his head.

"John?" Rodney squeaked, as the grip around his chest tightened.

"You shoot me, you shoot him," a gravelly male voice said in Rodney's left ear.

That wasn't Kolya, Rodney's sleepy mind noted. He fought against the hold until the knife at his throat dug in a little deeper and he felt the blood flow down his neck faster.

"Hold still," the voice growled in his ear.

"Not likely," Rodney hissed back and tried to get a leg into kicking range.

"Hold still or I'll kill you right here."

Rodney gasped as the man squeezed him harder. It was getting difficult to breathe, and panic set in again. Rodney gave the arm around him another futile push and sought out John's face.

"I won't tell you again," John growled, his face blank but his eyes hard. His aim never wavered from the point just to the left of Rodney's ear. "Let. Him. Go."

"You talk a good game," the man growled next to Rodney's ear. "We both know you won't shoot. Not with your little friend in the way."

Rodney bristled at the 'little friend' comment and anger momentarily replaced the panic. "You know, after the week I've had, I really didn't need to add human shield to the list." He tried to squirm out of the grip again, but his captor just squeezed his ribcage until he didn't have enough air left to fight.

He was starting to see black around the edges of his vision when there was pounding on their door.

"Major!" Ford yelled and the pounding sounded again.

It was enough to distract Rodney's captor that he glanced at the door and loosened his hold slightly.

Rodney had just enough time to take a shallow breath before he was deafened by a gunshot in the small room. He slid to the floor, unsure sure if he'd been shot or not. He didn't feel any pain, but didn't that happen with shock? You didn't feel it right away? His eyes were still closed and he took several gasping breaths of air. He couldn't hear anything but ringing and a voice coming from down a long tunnel. He felt hands on his shoulders and opened his eyes to see he was on his knees on the floor and John knelt in front of him holding him up.

"Rodney, are you all right?" John said close to his ear. Rodney suspected he'd asked that question a few times already based on the worried look in John's eyes.

"Umm, fine, fine, I think," Rodney mumbled as he tried to hide how scared he'd been to have yet another knife used against him. He must have failed as John squeezed his shoulder before helping him sit back on the bed.

"How did you even know he was there?" Rodney asked, fear making his voice crack as he looked around the room.

"You were having a nightmare," John explained absently. He tilted Rodney's head enough to get a look at his neck and Rodney saw anger flash in John's eyes. "I was going to wake you up when he came through the window and grabbed you."

"He got away, sir," Ford said as he banged through the door, making Rodney jump. Teyla was right behind him, her face set and grim. "You hit him, though, there's blood on the window sill. You guys all right?" He looked from John to Rodney and back again.

John nodded and Rodney saw Teyla pass Sheppard a sterile pad from her vest.

"Here," John said as he took Rodney's hand and pressed the pad to his neck. "He didn't do much more than nick you," John reassured him, never taking his hand off Rodney's shoulder.

"I did not need another bully with a knife coming at me," Rodney grumbled as he held the pad against his neck. "Once was more than enough."

John squeezed his shoulder and turned to Teyla and Ford. "What do we know?"

"What's going on?" Kelden yelled as he came down the hallway a thick club in his hand.

Ford and Teyla faced the door, weapons raised, while John stood between the door and Rodney.

"Your hospitality leaves a bit to be desired," Sheppard growled as Kelden stood in the doorway and lowered the club.

"What happened?" he asked again.

"Someone came through the window and tried to kidnap one of my people," John explained. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

Kelden shook his head. "I don't know what to say. This has never happened before."

John grunted and turned back to Rodney as he dropped the bloody bandage on the table and felt along his neck trying to find the cut.

John batted his hand away and tilted his head slightly. "It's stopped bleeding," John told him after a quick look. "I think you'll live."

Rodney scowled at him and John smiled.

"I can get the healer," Kelden offered.

"That won't be necessary," John said and gave Kelden another wary look. "We'll be fine."

"If you're sure," Kelden pressed.

John nodded and Kelden left.

"Theories?" John asked once the door was closed.

Rodney had his suspicions but before he could say anything, Teyla looked at John.

"I believe it may have something to do with our current negotiations," she said and sat on John's bed.

John sat next to Rodney. "So, what, I don't give Rowland weapons, he kidnaps McKay?"

"I have heard of such things happening," Teyla confessed. "It is rare, but it does happen." She glanced at the window. "There is a chance Rowland had nothing to do with this. According to Sergeant Stackhouse's report, there are several villages within a few days walk of the stargate. It is possible someone else was hoping to either stop the trade with Rowland or force us to trade with them as well."

"I vote we leave now," Rodney said as he touched his neck. "We can get seeds somewhere else or eat MREs."

Ford rolled his eyes. "Shouldn't we try to find out what's really going on?" he asked.

Rodney snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. "You be the one squeezed to death next time. Then see how you feel about sticking around to ask questions."

"McKay has a point," John agreed. "I'm not sure sticking around is the best idea, but we need that seed. Let's get back to the 'gate and let Elizabeth know what's happened. She can either call this whole thing off or send us some reinforcements."

Teyla and Ford nodded.

"Since we don't know how many more might be out there, we'll split up, go in two groups. Teyla, you go with Ford. I'll stay with Rodney. We'll meet at the 'gate."

"Sir, are you sure?" Ford questioned, his expression determined. "Maybe I should go with you."

John frowned. "I'm not sending two civilians back to the 'gate alone, Lieutenant."

Rodney saw Ford's face harden. "But Teyla --"

"Is still technically a civilian. You have your orders."

Ford glowered at him for another second, then gave Sheppard a sharp nod

"Get your shoes on," John told Rodney as he pulled on his tac-vest, pack, and holster and headed for the door.

Rodney finished tying his boots, grabbed his belongings, and followed the others as John led the way back through the pub and behind the bar to the kitchen.

"Isn't sneaking out the back door a bit cliché?" Rodney asked as John cracked open the door and checked the alley behind the pub.

"Let's just say I don't want to make us an easy target for anyone else who might be watching," John replied as he crept down the alley to the corner of the pub facing the square.

Sheppard turned to Ford and Teyla. "Go. Don't take chances, and watch each other's back."

Ford still looked unhappy, but he nodded and motioned for Teyla to follow him.

Chapter Text

P9X-664 had a large moon near full that gave off a surprising amount of light making it easy for Rodney to watch as Ford and Teyla followed the edge of the square until they reached the stream and crossed without using the bridge.

They were barely out of sight when something that sounded like a cannon to Rodney went off and a corner of the pub disappeared.

"Someone's shooting at us!" Rodney exclaimed as John pushed him back against the wall with one arm.

"I got that, thanks," John replied as he eased back to the corner and took a quick look.

"Why is someone shooting at us?" Rodney asked as he unholstered his Beretta. "I thought Ford said you shot the guy in our room."

"I guess he had friends, Rodney, maybe we should go ask him."

The cannon went off again and Rodney realised it was actually some sort of shotgun as another chunk of the pub vanished in a spray of stone chips and dust.

John fired a couple of shots out into the square then ducked back down.

"Maybe Ford and Teyla will come back," Rodney offered as another shotgun blast rocked the side of the pub.

"They better not," Sheppard growled. "This is why we split up, to make sure someone managed to get to the 'gate. We just got drafted to be the diversion."

Rodney heard people starting to yell and a few ran past the opening to the alley where they hid.

"We can't stay here," John told him as he looked out into the square again. "This alley dead-ends behind the next building. We need to get across the square and into the rest of the village."

"Cross the square?" Rodney asked. "Are you nuts! There's someone shooting at us!"

"Exactly," John said, and Rodney could see he was trying to be patient. "So we need to move before we get pinned down back here."

Rodney squeezed his eyes shut and nodded.

"Okay," John said and readied himself. "We're going to do this in two steps. Step one, get to the fountain. I'll go first. I think our friend with the shotgun is hiding around the shop stalls to our right. Once I get there, I'll cover for you."

Rodney opened his eyes and stared at John. "Who's covering for you?" he asked as more villagers woke up and came out to see what was happening.

"I'll take care of me, you just make sure you're ready to run when I give you the signal."

John checked his Beretta then waited for the shotgun to fire. As soon as Rodney heard the loud report, John was off and running, firing toward the shop stalls as he went. He slid to the ground behind the fountain just as the shotgun fired again, this time taking out chunks from the base of the water feature.

Rodney crept to the end of the wall where he could see John crouched behind the fountain. He took a couple of deep breaths and waited for John to tell him when to run.

The shotgun went off, another piece of the fountain was reduced to dust.

John dropped his arm and opened fire with the Beretta, laying down cover fire for Rodney.

Rodney ducked down, trying to make himself as small a target as possible, and made a frantic dash of his own, landing on his knees beside Sheppard just as the shotgun went off again. Rodney felt chunks of stone from the fountain cut his face and hands.

"You okay?" John asked as he gave Rodney a quick once over.

Rodney swallowed and nodded. "You?"

John smiled. "Fine."

"I'd really like to know who's shooting at us," Rodney grumbled. "What is with these people? How do they think anyone will want to be a trade partner if there's the threat of kidnapping and death if they don't get what they want?"

"One problem at a time," John replied. "First problem, concentrate on getting away from the guy with the really big gun. The rest can wait."

Rodney could see the logic in that and nodded.

"All right. So far, so good. Okay, now for step two, we're aiming for that alley to the left. See it?" John pointed to the narrow opening between two large ornate buildings.

Rodney found the opening and nodded.

"That leads through to some workshops and out to the forest," Rodney said. "That's where I was earlier today."

"Even better," John said. "We'll get into the forest and make our way back to the 'gate through the woods."

John pulled a fresh magazine from his vest, reloaded the Beretta, glanced toward the shops, and ducked back as the fountain took another hit.

Rodney heard John grunt in pain, but before he could make sure John was all right, Sheppard was up and running toward the alley. Something caught Rodney's eye and he noticed a patch of red where John had leant against the edge of the stone basin for the fountain.

He was still processing what the red stain meant when John's Beretta barked again and Rodney ran across the square and into the alley.

Rodney slid to the ground and John pushed him up against the wall of the alley just as the shotgun fired again and pieces of the building rained down on them.

"You're bleeding," Rodney exclaimed as he sat next to John, pointing to Sheppard's bloody side.

John glanced down at his side with a frown. "It's not that bad," he replied. "We need to keep moving," John said, his voice tight. "We're still dealing with the first problem."

John peeked around the corner of the building and jerked his head back as another shotgun blast hit the corner of the building.

"Move," John ordered. "I'll be right behind you."

Rodney got to his feet and hugged the wall as he moved farther away from the village square. He glanced back to make sure John was really following him before he randomly turned down one street and then another, the Beretta firing behind him occasionally. No one else seemed to be around, the area they were in was the equivalent of an industrial zone, no houses, so no scared villagers to see where they were going.

He came out onto another street and found the blacksmith shop on one side, and the woodworking shop next to it. He glanced around and saw the warehouse as well and smiled slightly that he'd found the right street.

Rodney tried to stop to catch his breath and remember where to go next, but John was right behind him still shooting.

"He's still behind us," John said and gave Rodney a push. "Get in behind those workshops."

Rodney had just crossed the street, John was a few steps behind him still in front of the blacksmith when several things happened at once. Rodney glanced back to check where John was and saw the door to the warehouse open and a young man with a lantern stepped out looking around.

He heard John yell something to the man with the lantern, but it was too late.

The shotgun went off again, missing John, but hitting the man with the lantern. The man fell back, dropping the lantern which set several nearby boxes in the warehouse on fire.

John was at Rodney's side pushing him further down the alley between the blacksmith and the woodshop when Rodney felt his ears pop just before he heard the warehouse explode. The pressure wave hit him a split-second later and he felt a wet agony as his recently stitched arm hit something hard and he blacked out.

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

Ford ran from building to building, leading the way out of the village. There were a few people out and about but with no way to tell friend from foe, Ford avoided everyone. He avoided the bridge and forded the stream below the village where the water was only a foot or so deep, then headed for the closest trees and cover. Teyla stayed on his heels as they moved through the underbrush as quietly as possible.

Once they were a mile or so from the village, Ford led them back out to the trail and they moved faster, on the alert for any movement around them. There was a muffled boom behind them and Ford turned back in time to see a red glow coming from one section of the village.

"Something has happened," Teyla said.

"Yeah," Ford agreed.

"Should we go back to the village? They may need help."

Ford shook his head. "We need to get to the 'gate. Doctor Weir needs to know what's happening here. It could be the Major set that off as a diversion."

Teyla gave him a skeptical look but fell into step beside him when he started out for the 'gate again.

"You do not agree with Major Sheppard's tactics?"

He'd been ordered to get to the 'gate and call for help. He even agreed with Sheppard's idea of splitting up. His problem was Sheppard having only McKay to watch his back. Everything he knew about the events during the storm came back to him in a rush as they walked. Sheppard taking on Kolya's men while McKay and Doctor Weir were held hostage.

He couldn't really blame McKay for that part, but he certainly did blame him for giving up vital information and putting Sheppard at risk. He'd been around McKay and his various complaints and fears for months now. No matter how much Sheppard said otherwise, a part of Ford could easily believe McKay would fold at the first sign of pressure. Which was why he didn't want to leave his commanding officer behind with essentially zero backup.

Ford shrugged. "I don't like leaving the Major behind to deal with whatever is going on by himself."

"Doctor McKay will do his best to help John," Teyla reminded him gently.

Ford scoffed as he walked along the trail. "Like he helped with the Genii invasion?" he asked sarcastically and looked over at her. "Did you know if it weren't for Major Sheppard making him wait an extra few minutes, McKay would have fried you and Beckett? He didn't even stop to think about the two of you still being in the hallways, he just wanted to save the day."

He walked a little faster but Teyla stopped him with a hand on his arm. "You are wrong about Doctor McKay, Lieutenant, he is an honorable man." She let go of him. "I have heard the same stories as you, I choose to believe there is more to what happened than what we know."

"Sure, whatever," Ford replied sarcastically. He glanced back at the village and frowned at the red glow lighting the early morning sky.

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

Rodney opened his eyes and found himself lying on his side staring at a pile of rubble where the warehouse had been. He sat up carefully, coughing from the smoke and dust in the air, oblivious to whether or not he was safe from whoever had been shooting at them. He stared out toward the street in a daze, trying to piece together what had happened from the blurry images of red light and shadows moving in a chaotic dance in front of him.

Several long seconds later he realised the red light was the warehouse on fire and the shadows were villagers running back and forth frantically trying to put the fire out before it spread. He didn't see anyone with a gun and no one seemed very interested in their narrow alley so Rodney concluded he was safe enough for the moment that he could take stock.

He felt something running along his arm, looked down, and saw the sleeve of his jacket was bloody. Pushing up the jacket sleeve, he saw the bandage covering the knife wound was red in several places. He must have popped the stitches, he realised as he watched the red patches slowly blend together. Carson was going to kill him, he thought dully and pushed the sleeve back down.

There was a long tear in his trousers as well and he saw his calf had a long cut from some sort of shrapnel. A careful exploration of his skull revealed a welt behind his ear which probably explained the odd tingling at the base of his skull and the headache and he was still coughing. He looked around blearily, still feeling slightly dazed, and found John about half a meter away, lying in his stomach, not moving.

"John?" Rodney called, and reached out to prod Sheppard's arm, the only thing he could reach without moving. "John?" Rodney called again, louder and managed to pull himself to his knees and crawl to John's side, ignoring the hot pain that ran through his leg and arm when he moved.

John was unconscious, Rodney found the bloody gash on his head from where he'd been hit with debris and winced. He searched for John's pulse and let out the breath he'd been holding when he found it, a bit fast, but there.

"I'm probably not supposed to move you, and Carson will likely yell into next week, but I don't see much choice," Rodney said to John as he took off John's pack and carefully rolled him onto his back.

He shook his head when he found the wound in John's side. "It's not that bad," he mimicked as he found a pressure bandage in a vest pocket and tied it around John's middle. "Would it kill you to admit it when you're hurt?" Rodney groused. "You don't have to pull this John Wayne stuff, you know." He found another wound on John's arm and felt through his pockets for another bandage for that as well as the head wound.

A wave of vertigo hit him as he finished wrapping John's injuries. He leant his back against the wall of the workshop they'd been hiding next to and shut his eyes again, waiting for the spinning to stop.

"John? Can you hear me," Rodney asked hoarsely a few minutes later. "It would be really good for you to wake up now."

John groaned slightly but remained stubbornly unconscious.

Rodney was still trying to decide what to do next when he heard footsteps near their alley. He wasn't sure if it was someone else wanting to kill them or frightened villagers, but he didn't want to stick around to find out. There weren't any doorways they could hide in, but he knew the street with the workshops led to the woods, so he decided to try for the cover of the forest.

"The possibility of meeting some wild animal seems like better odds than the certainty of staying here and getting shot, wouldn't you agree, Major?" Rodney said and stifled another cough as he unclipped his own pack. He knew he'd have enough trouble carrying John without the added weight from the backpack. He hid the packs as best he could, carefully stood, wrapped his arms around John's chest, and started to drag him to the end of the alley away from the still burning warehouse. His arm and leg throbbed in agony, but he tried his best to ignore it as he tripped over some rubble in the road and fought to keep his balance.

"Carson will probably have a fit that I'm doing this too," Rodney said with a grunt as he checked the area behind him. "Would probably tell me I shouldn't be moving you at all. But I don't see where there's any other choice." Rodney grunted as he tripped over something again in the dark and readjusted his tenuous hold around John.

They were almost to the trees when he heard two voices close by. He pulled Sheppard into the shadow of one of the last buildings that abutted the forest and huddled beside him. It worried him more than a little that for all the rough treatment, John was still unconscious.

"We lost them, Terris," a gravelly voice said, and Rodney thought it sounded like the man who had broken into their room.

Rodney felt another cough building and held his breath to hold it off as long as possible.

"Of course we did, you idiot," another voice, Rodney assumed it was Terris, replied. "You were shooting at them, what did you think they would do? Why did I think using you for this was a good idea?"

"You said you wanted them."

"Yes, but I need them alive, Whelan. They can't do any trading if they're dead, can they? We need to get to the Circle, chances are that's where they're headed."

They were barely gone before the tickle Rodney had been trying to suppress exploded in a harsh coughing fit that left him gasping for air. He lay on the ground panting for a few minutes, trying to get his breathing under control then turned to Sheppard.

"Did you get all of that?" he asked as he checked John's bandages. "Too bad we have no idea who Terris is."

Rodney wasn't sure if the groans and slight movements he saw were from John really starting to wake up or if it was just wishful thinking on his part. "John?" he called but didn't get an answer.

"I'm really not good at this surviving in the wilderness thing," Rodney said as he slowly stood and looked around. Once he was sure the coast was clear, he wrapped his arms around John's chest and started moving again.

"Feel free to wake up any time now," Rodney groused hoarsely as the trees closed in around them. "You're a lot heavier than you look, you know." He'd hoped his constant chatter would get John to wake up, but it wasn't working. He started coughing again as he pulled John further under the cover of the trees.

The village was finally out of sight when Rodney stopped again and leant Sheppard against a handy tree. He thought it had been about twenty minutes since the building near them had exploded, but he had no way to be sure since he wasn't wearing a watch.

"I think we're safe for the moment," Rodney said to John, and pulled a tiny flashlight and an antiseptic wipe from a vest pocket. "You're a mess, you know that?" he asked conversationally as he removed the bandage over John's eye, opened the wipe, and started cleaning the blood off John's slack face.

"I don't think this will need stitches." Rodney continued his one-sided dialogue as he checked the cut once the blood was gone. "The bruise is going to be spectacular, though."

John groaned and turned his head away from Rodney.

Rodney stopped what he was doing and asked, "Hey, you in there? John?" He tapped Sheppard on the cheek a few times and was rewarded when John slit his eyes open and stared dully around.

"John?" Rodney said again and moved into John's line-of-sight.

Sheppard glanced at him and Rodney could tell he wasn't really with it yet. "Hey," he said with a wave.

John gave him a puzzled look. "R'dny?"

Rodney quirked a smile. "Yeah."

John's gaze wandered back to the trees. "Whr?"

Rodney started cleaning John's arm with another wipe. "P9X-664. Do you remember what happened?"

John shook his head, groaned, and tried to shift away from Rodney.

"I know this probably hurts, but hold still, I'm almost done," Rodney said and quickly finished cleaning the cut. They didn't have much in the way of medical supplies, only what they happened to have in their tac-vests. Rodney rummaged through his pockets and found a couple of sterile pads and some gauze and used one of the pads to cover the gash on John's head. "It's not my best work," he admitted once the bandage was tied off, "but it will do until we get back to Atlantis."

"R'dny?"

Rodney looked up from checking John's arm for infection, then used other sterile pad and more gauze to cover it. "And a month ago, you didn't think I knew anything about first aid," Rodney mumbled as he worked. "If I thought you'd remember any of this, I'd give you such a hard time, believe me."

John gave him another glazed stare and Rodney was starting to get worried. He wasn't used to an out-of-it John Sheppard. Even when he'd had the vampire bug attached to his neck, he was still lucid.

"R'dny?"

"Yep," Rodney sighed, "Still here."

"Whr?"

"P9X-664. The place with the really big trees."

Rodney unzipped John's tac-vest and carefully pulled it off, then hissed in sympathy as he peeled the bloody bandage away from the tear in John's side. He hadn't had time to do more than tie the pressure bandage over John's shirt and the wound when they were in the alley. He lifted up the bloody shirt to get a better look at the injury. The bleeding had stopped, and Rodney hoped that meant the wound wasn't that bad.

He went through the pockets on John's vest and pulled out two more antiseptic wipes and another pressure bandage. He tried to be as gentle as possible, but John still groaned and tried to jerk away from his touch as he tried to clean the wound.

"I know, I'm sorry. Sorry," Rodney muttered with a glance at John's eyes. "Almost done." He threw away the wipe, unrolled the pressure bandage, quickly tied it off, and pulled John's shirt back down over it. "That should hold until Carson has a chance to look at it," Rodney said as he pulled the tac-vest back on, but didn't zip it up.

When he was done he gathered up the bloody bandages and wipes and concealed them under a nearby fern. He sat next to John and enjoyed the silence for a moment, until he felt another tickle and started coughing again. "Great," he mumbled and groped for his canteen. "That building was probably full of asbestos or something and I'm going to die of cancer."

John didn't say anything but when Rodney glanced over, he noted John's eyes were still open. He wanted to believe John looked more alert, but he wasn't sure if that was, in fact, the case or just wishful thinking.

He shifted against the tree and winced as his own injuries burned. "So much for that well-honed sense of self-preservation, McKay," he berated himself as he took off his jacket and looked at his bloody arm.

The bandage over the knife wound was a mess and he suspected he'd popped all of Carson's remaining stitches pulling Sheppard out of the village. He stared at the blood, his mind lost in recent memories of Kolya stabbing him.

John bumped against him, bringing him back to the present.

"I'm telling Carson this was all your fault," Rodney groused as he wrapped more gauze around the existing dressing, they didn't have any more bandages. He wasn't sure what had cut up his leg, but he cleaned it with the last wipe then wrapped the last of the gauze around it the best he could.

He pulled his jacket back on and heard something that oddly sounded like a snort of laughter. He turned to see John looking at him, really looking at him, for the first time since the explosion.

"Are you back with me now?" Rodney asked even as he moved to see John's face better.

John nodded then winced and rubbed his head. "Wha' hapn'd?" John asked.

Rodney didn't miss the way John still slurred his words. "What do you remember?" he asked and pushed John's hand away from his bandaging efforts.

John closed his eyes for several moments and Rodney was about to make sure he was still awake when his eyes slowly opened and he looked around at the trees.

"Seed," John said. "Came to trade."

Rodney nodded. "Then what?"

John shrugged. "It's a jumble. An explosion. Someone holding a knife."

Rodney shuddered at the memory of yet another knife poised to kill him. "The short version is someone named Terris apparently didn't like that we were considering a trade with Rowland and decided to take measures so we'd talk to him instead."

John tried to move and winced as he grabbed at his side.

Rodney held out his canteen and the ibuprofen from his vest. "Here, take these," he said and waited for John to swallow the pills. John leant his head back against the tree and closed his eyes again.

"Radio?" John asked a few minutes later.

"Mine is probably still sitting on the table by the bed in the pub," Rodney admitted.

John felt his ear then checked his vest pocket. He pulled out the earpiece in two pieces. "Must have broken when I landed on it," John mumbled.

"Great. So even if Ford and Teyla manage to avoid getting caught, we have no way of letting them know where we are." Rodney dropped his head back against the tree. He was exhausted but knew they couldn't stay where they were for much longer.

He glanced over at John who had his eyes closed. "Don't go to sleep," Rodney said and poked him in the leg.

John opened his eyes and looked around them again, Rodney thought he definitely looked more alert. "Where are Ford and Teyla?"

"You sent them to the 'gate to call Atlantis for help." Rodney paused.

"And?" John asked and stared at him. "What's the part you're not telling me?"

"They may have run into trouble," Rodney replied and glanced at John. "Terris is heading for the 'gate, too," he finished in a mumble.

"We need to go," John said and tried to get to his feet. He managed to get about halfway up before he started to sag and Rodney caught him, biting back the yelp of pain as John hit his bloody arm.

"Would you take it easy?" Rodney snapped as he got one of John's arms over his shoulder. "I just got all the bleeding stopped."

"They need help, Rodney," John said stubbornly.

"In case you haven't noticed, we aren't exactly in fighting shape here," Rodney retorted even as he started limping with John draped over his left shoulder.

He wasn't sure which way the stargate was but figured the first thing they had to do was put more distance between them and the village, then they could double back and see what had happened to Teyla and Ford.

Navigating an unknown forest in the middle of the night would have been hard enough even if Rodney didn't have Sheppard to support as well. The trees blocked out most of the moonlight and he tripped over unseen branches and vines. John's stumbling gait wasn't helping matters. While they may have started off well, it didn't take long for John to start to tire with Rodney taking more and more of his weight.

It was starting to get light when Rodney spotted an opening at the base of a tree and pointed them in that direction. They needed a break. John was asleep on his feet which was probably the only reason he hadn't noticed how badly Rodney was limping.

Rodney set Sheppard down beside the tree and bent down with a groan to see inside the tree cave. He swallowed hard against both another cough and the claustrophobia as he crawled inside, looked around, and marvelled again at the sheer size of the tree. The space inside was large enough for both of them to at least sit comfortably. The ground was strewn with leaves and dried bracken but it didn't take him long to shove the detritus out the opening. With a last look around inside, he went back to get John.

"Come on, there's a nice hidey-hole here with our name on it," Rodney cajoled as he maneuvered John into the cave and set him on the ground with his back against one wall. He held out the canteen for John to drink then settled next to him and savored the fact he was no longer moving. His eyes started to drift shut and he didn't try to stop them.

Rodney shook himself out of his exhausted stupor with a start and glanced around. The sun was higher, but not very much. He thought he'd slept for an hour, maybe a little longer, and he straightened up, rubbing his face to try and wake up. He needed to think. Teyla and Ford were in trouble, there were villagers hunting all of them, and John was badly injured. He glanced over at John and found he had his eyes closed and looked to be asleep even though one of his hands seemed to twitch against his flank. Rodney could see a fine sheen of sweat on his face and his cheeks looked flushed.

Rodney pulled himself into a crouch and carefully checked under John's bandages trying not to wake him. The cuts on his head and arm seemed fine. The wound in John's side, however, felt warm and Rodney thought it looked red and angry when he peeked under the bandage.

"Stop fussing," John mumbled tiredly, and tried to swat Rodney's hand away from his side.

Rodney snorted. "You're one to talk."

"Part of my job."

Rodney ignored that as he replaced the bandage as best he could. "It looks infected," he said seriously and John nodded.

"Not surprised," John replied softly. "Nothing we can do about it here."

"Here," Rodney said as he offered the canteen. "You need to drink something."

John opened his eyes long enough to swallow a few sips of water then handed the canteen back. Rodney finished the water and was adding 'find a water source' to his mental to-do list when he felt John sag against him.

Rodney looked down at the top of John's head on his shoulder in surprise. He was not good at comfort, he rarely knew the right thing to do or say. He awkwardly patted John's arm for lack of any other ideas.

"Didn't you tell Teyla once I was the worst person to go to if you wanted to feel better?" Rodney asked even as he pulled John up so his head rested more comfortably on Rodney's shoulder. When John didn't pull away, he wrapped one arm awkwardly around John to keep him in place and went back to thinking.

Rodney had no idea where the 'gate was or even the village at this point, but what he did know was John wasn't going to be walking any farther. Before he could even think about finding the stargate or helping Teyla and Ford, he'd need to figure out a way to move John without making his injuries worse.

He sat staring at the inside of the tree for several minutes before he realised the solution was right in front of him. Neither of them would make it very far if John tried to walk, but what if he didn't have to?

The problem was he'd have to leave John alone for an unknown amount of time to find the things he needed. He could wait until John was awake again, but he didn't know when that would be and he was certain John would argue he was fine, even though he clearly wasn't. He shifted John into what he hoped was a more comfortable position against his side. What was the saying? It was easier to ask forgiveness than permission?

John needed Carson. Teyla and Ford probably needed rescuing. In order for Rodney to do anything to help his teammates, John had to be moved.

Which meant he'd need to leave, he realised with a guilty look down at the top of John's head. If their roles were reversed, would John leave him? Rodney wondered. Did it really matter? He needed to leave in order to help John and save Teyla and Ford. John would understand that. At least he hoped John would understand it.

Decision made, Rodney shifted John enough so he could slip out of his tac-vest and jacket and balled the jacket into a rough pillow. He made sure the bloody sleeve was tucked out of sight and tried to ignore the spots of blood on the fresh gauze he'd wrapped around his arm. He then laid John down on the ground with his head cushioned on the coat and covered him with an emergency blanket he found in one of the pockets of John's vest. He pulled his vest back on and a quick search of his own pockets yielded a pencil and the pad of paper. He hurriedly wrote a note for John in case he woke up before Rodney returned and left it where John would see it.

He moved back to the opening in the tree and took a careful look around before he crept out of their hiding place, arranged some branches over the hole at the base of the tree in a way he hoped looked natural, and set off.

Chapter Text

It was just getting light when Teyla and Ford arrived at the stargate, tired, scratched, and bruised from branches as they tried to avoid anyone else on the trail back to the 'gate. Teyla peered out from behind the trees near the clearing and saw two men crouched down near the DHD.

"We're going to need a distraction," Ford said as he knelt next to Teyla.

"I may be able to lead them away from here long enough for you to dial the stargate and return to Atlantis," Teyla said, adjusting the strap on her P-90.

Ford was shaking his head before she even finished speaking. "Like Major Sheppard said, you are technically a civilian. It's my job to keep you safe."

"We are teammates, Lieutenant. It is our job to keep each other safe. I have far more experience surviving in a forest than you do."

"Doesn't matter. If only one of us can get through, it's going to be you. Sheppard would have my head if I left you here alone."

Teyla studied the clearing again, maybe there was a way for them both to get through the stargate. The two men weren't moving around much. They'd hover near the DHD, then move closer to the 'gate, staring off into the woods in one direction or the other, then back to the DHD and they would start over again.

"I think I have an idea," Ford said a few minutes later. He unclipped his backpack pawing through it until he came up with two squat cylinders. "These are flashbangs," Ford said as he strapped the pack back on. "They'll create a really loud noise and a bright light, that should be enough to get those two away from the DHD."

Ford stood and took a few steps away. "Get ready," he said. "When I throw these, we'll have about two seconds before they go off. Cover your ears and don't look where I throw. Hopefully, it will be enough to get them away from the clearing. You get to the DHD and dial. I'll be right behind you."

Teyla nodded as she pulled her GDO from her vest pocket.

"Ready?" Ford glanced back at her. "One."

Teyla moved to the edge of the trees.

"Two," Ford said.

She checked the ground between herself and the DHD, they didn't have time to recover from any falls.

"Three!"

She ducked down and waited. She heard the concussive bang and saw a bright light through her eyelids then glanced up at the clearing. The two men were both running toward the area of the woods where the flashbangs had gone off.

Teyla didn't waste any time. As soon as the men left the clearing, she was up and running for the DHD, punching in the address for Atlantis even as she heard yelling coming from the trees where Ford's light show had erupted. The wormhole formed, lighting up the clearing, and she started running toward the stargate even as she sent her IDC through for confirmation. The yelling changed and she imagined the men running back to the clearing as the light from the stargate was noticed.

She glanced behind her to see where Ford was.

"Go!" he yelled even as he started to follow her.

As soon as she had confirmation the shield was down she ran through the event horizon. She skidded to a stop on the other side of the stargate as the Marines lowered their weapons and stepped back. Teyla turned back to the wormhole, waiting.

A few seconds later, Ford scrambled through. "Shut it down!" Ford yelled with a glance up at the control room.

The wormhole disengaged with a snap.

"Lieutenant? Teyla?" Weir called from the balcony. "Where is Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay?"

Teyla looked around for a moment before stepping up the stairs leading to the control area and Weir's office. "Doctor Weir," she said, still slightly breathless from her run to the 'gate. "We have a problem."

"Come to my office," Weir replied.

"What's happened? "Doctor Weir asked once Teyla and Ford were seated.

"There was an ambush in the village," Ford said succinctly and went on to explain what had happened. "Major Sheppard sent us back to report and get help."

"We are not sure what has become of Major Sheppard or Doctor McKay," Teyla added.

"How was the negotiation going?" Doctor Weir asked.

Teyla shook her head. "It was not going well. Rowland was asking for weapons and ammunition, something Major Sheppard was not willing to trade."

"And with good reason," Weir said.

"Yes," Teyla agreed. "Major Sheppard called a recess for the night and we were in rooms provided by a local pub when someone broke into the room where Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay were sleeping and held Doctor McKay at knife-point."

Teyla saw Doctor Weir clenched her hands into fists on the desk before asking, "Major Sheppard and Rodney were all right?"

Teyla nodded. "Major Sheppard was able to convince the man to leave."

"Convince him how?" Doctor Weir asked, her expression worried.

"The man was threatening Doctor McKay," Teyla said simply. "Major Sheppard shot him."

Ford looked as if he were about to say something, but changed his mind.

"I see," Weir said with a grimace.

"He was wounded only," Teyla said in Sheppard's defence.

"Was this man sent by Rowland?" Weir asked. "There have been instances on Earth of men holding people or ships hostage for ransom."

"Such things have happened here as well," Teyla said. "But we have no way of knowing if Rowland sent this man or not."

"Stackhouse's report mentions several villages within a few days walk of the stargate, ma'am," Ford added. "If could be someone from one of those villages wanted to trade or were afraid of what Rowland would trade for. We need to take a tactical team back to the village, ma'am. We need to find Major Sheppard and find out what's really going on on the planet."

Teyla frowned at Ford's exclusion of Doctor McKay. His continued animosity was foreign to her, she could not understand why the Lieutenant was so willing to blame McKay for everything that had happened during the storm.

"It may be better to make contact with Major Sheppard and simply return to Atlantis." She glanced at Teyla. "I know the seed is important, too, but these people may not be worthy of our trust. I will not support a terrorist action against my people."

"It may not be that easy, ma'am," Ford said and Teyla noticed the anger and frustration in his posture. "If they've been captured …"

Weir twined her fingers together on her desk and studied her hands for several moments. "All right, you can take a team and go back. Just to find Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay. Nothing else." Weir stood and tapped her earpiece. "Sergeant Markham, please come in."

"Markham here, ma'am."

"I know your team just got back, Sergeant, but there seems to be a problem on P9X-664. Lieutenant Ford is requesting assistance."

"Do we know the extent of the problem, ma'am?" Markham asked.

Ford tapped his own radio at Doctor Weir's signal. "Standard search and rescue, Sergeant. There was a problem in Rowland's village."

"I assume Major Sheppard stayed on the planet, sir? Do we know his status?" Markham asked.

"Unknown at this time," Ford said shortly. "Last time we saw him, he was still free, but that may have changed."

There was a pause over the radio. "Understood, sir. We'll be ready to go in five."

Ford stood from his chair. "I'll meet you in the armoury, Sergeant. We can work out a strategy."

"Sounds good, sir. Markham out."

Ford turned back to Doctor Weir.

"Go," she said. "Bring back our people."

"Yes, ma'am," Ford replied as he left the office.

Doctor Weir started to open her computer but looked up as Teyla shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

"Doctor Weir?" Teyla said hesitantly. "May I speak to you for a moment on another matter?"

"Is there something else going on on the planet?" Doctor Weir asked as she closed the computer again.

"In a manner of speaking," Teyla replied and stopped. She wasn't sure how to bring up her concern about Lieutenant Ford's attitude regarding Doctor McKay.

"Teyla? What is it?"

Teyla stared at the bowl on the end of Doctor Weir's desk. She looked up at Weir and said, "There have been a number of … rumors circulating in Atlantis about what happened during the storm."

Weir nodded and Teyla was sure she had at least some idea where the conversation was going.

"Lieutenant Ford … is not taking the fact Major Sheppard stayed behind in the village with only Doctor McKay very well. I fear the Lieutenant does not trust Doctor McKay very much at the moment."

Doctor Weir sighed and looked down at her hands. "Rodney is not the easiest person to like most days, and it seems there are more than a few people willing to believe the worst regarding his actions, or what they perceive were his actions."

Teyla sat forward in her chair. "I can, perhaps, understand why those who do not know Doctor McKay well would assume the worst about him, but Lieutenant Ford is a teammate. He has worked with Doctor McKay for months. He knows they are chaguo ndugu; that Doctor McKay would not willingly endanger Major Sheppard, or Atlantis for that matter. I do not understand how he can so easily throw that knowledge away."

"Chaguo ndugu?" Weir asked.

Teyla felt her face flush slightly. "I am not sure …" She looked up at Weir. When Teyla only saw concern on Weir's face, she continued, "The phrase is from the old language of my people," she explained. "It means 'brother by choice'. I told Major Sheppard months ago he and Doctor McKay shared such a bond. I thought he would have mentioned it to you as well."

Weir smiled. "It sounds like as good a phrase as any to explain their relationship," she replied.

"Lieutenant Ford and I talked about this as well. I thought he understood what chaguo ndugu implied. His willingness to believe Doctor McKay would forsake Major Sheppard makes me wonder if that is indeed not the case at all."

Doctor Weir gave her a sad smile. "Sometimes it's much easier to believe the worst in somebody rather than consider how much that person can change. Lieutenant Ford will need to figure things out for himself." Weir straightened in her chair. "And if he doesn't," she added, "I'm sure Major Sheppard will offer him some help."

"Ford to Weir," they both heard over the radio. "We're ready to go, ma'am."

"Acknowledged," Weir replied. "Teyla will be right there." She walked Teyla back out to the control room. "Bring them all home, Teyla."

Teyla bowed her head. "I will do so, Doctor Weir."

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

Rodney had noticed on their walk to the village the day before the long strips of bark littering the forest floor, many as long as he was tall. His plan was to make a travois out of the bark and use lengths of the vines hanging from the trees as rope, that way he could drag Sheppard behind him and hopefully get John back to Atlantis quickly. He knew the wound in John's side was getting worse, an infection like that could kill him as fast as any bullet if left untreated too long. He trudged deeper and deeper into the woods picking up scraps of bark and dropping them again when he realised they were too short, too long, or too narrow for his needs.

He was exhausted, his own wounds ached, and he had a nagging headache, but John needed Carson and this was the fastest and safest way to get him back through the 'gate. He promised himself he could have the bed next to John's as soon as they were back in the city. Then he remembered Teyla and Ford might still need rescuing. Fine, he told himself, he would beg Carson to take him in after everyone was back in Atlantis.

It took longer than Rodney hoped to find a length of bark long enough and wide enough with a slight concave curve for Sheppard to lie on and it was getting hot before he turned to head back to their hiding place.

He'd been walking for several long minutes with his head down, dragging the hunk of bark behind him before he realised he had no idea which tree John was, hopefully, still sleeping in. He squinted in the morning light, turning in a slow circle looking for some sort of landmark before he remembered he hadn't really paid that much attention to his surroundings when he left the tree.

"Besides, it's a forest, every tree looks like every other tree," he berated himself out loud as he made another slow turn.

He was about to start yelling for John so he could follow his voice back when he snapped his fingers and pulled the Ancient life signs detector out of his vest pocket.

"You need to eat something," he told himself as he adjusted the scanner. "You aren't thinking straight."

He quickly tuned it to find life readings and once he was able to eliminate what he assumed were fish in a nearby stream, and some woodland creatures he wasn't sure he wanted to meet, he found a lone life reading and headed for it.

Twenty minutes later, Rodney was back at their tree, exhausted, hungry, and ready to go home as he dropped the hunk of bark and the vines he'd found next to the tree. He carelessly moved the branches away from the entrance and slowly crawled inside only to find Sheppard, half sitting, half lying against the wall of the tree cave, glaring at him with his Beretta pointed squarely at Rodney's chest.

"That's a good way to get yourself shot, McKay," John said as he wearily dropped the gun. "Next time, announce yourself or you're liable to end up with an extra hole or two."

"How was I supposed to know you'd even be awake?" Rodney asked as he dropped to the ground beside John trying to get his heart rate back under control.

"Where did you go, anyway?" John asked as he tried to sit up further but ended up back in his slumped position. "A note that says 'Back soon. Do not leave.' isn't very informative."

"I went to get a few things to make the rest of this trip a little more bearable for you," Rodney said as he dug his last power bar out of his pocket and broke it in two, giving John the other half. John only took a few small bites before he wrapped up the rest of the energy bar and stuffed it in one of his vest pockets.

"I found a stream, too, while I was out," Rodney said, trying to sound upbeat while making no comment on John not eating. "If you have any purification tablets, we can fill the water bottles before we leave for the 'gate."

John clumsily went through his pockets and came up with one more power bar and a few purification tablets. "All I've got," he said in a murmur and slumped further toward the ground. He'd apparently expended all of his remaining energy defending himself against what turned out to be Rodney.

Rodney watched John close his eyes with a frown. "We should be ready to go in about thirty minutes. I just need to borrow your knife," Rodney said as he pocketed the tablets and the power bar.

John handed over the knife without opening his eyes or saying a word. Rodney remembered how Ford had ignored a similar request just the day before.

Rodney reached out a hand and felt the heat radiating off John even before his hand touched Sheppard's forehead. His frown deepened when John didn't immediately shake off the touch. John was not one who allowed fussing, even though he could dish it out in spades when someone else, usually Rodney, was hurt. The fact John was allowing the attention now had Rodney more than a little scared. He knew it meant John was getting worse, which meant he needed to move faster. He crawled back out of the tree and got to work.

Rodney knelt over the chunk of bark and did some mental math before he started boring a hole near one end of the wooden slab. He had to widen it a few times before the vine fit through, but the second hole was easier and soon he had the vines looped through and tied off as a harness to his satisfaction.

He wrapped the loops of vine over his shoulders and checked the angle of the travois before he set it down and went back in the hole to get John. "Come on, your ride is waiting outside."

"What?" John mumbled as he startled awake.

"We're going home, John," Rodney explained gently, "just as quickly as I can get us there. Which means you get to ride."

"Teyla. Ford," John said and Rodney saw a spark of stubbornness in John's eyes even as he started to fade again.

"I'll find them," Rodney promised. "I can only solve one problem at a time, remember? First problem is getting you to Beckett."

"Don't leave people behind, McKay," John mumbled with as much glare as he could manage.

"No one said anything about leaving them, but I can't find them by myself, either."

John didn't answer and Rodney took that as acceptance as he helped Sheppard to stand and slowly climb out of the tree cave. He carefully laid him down on the travois, then went back for his jacket, John's tac-vest, and the emergency blanket.

He used his jacket as a pillow again, stripped off his own tac-vest, knowing it would just get in the way of the vines, and put both vests by John's feet then covered him with the blanket. Satisfied he had John as comfortable as he could make him, Rodney picked up the loops of vine, slipped them up his arms onto his shoulders, and started to pull.

It wasn't as easy as he'd hoped, the travois caught on branches or roots sticking up, which yanked the vines looped around Rodney's shoulders, but they were making better time than the previous night.

He kept the Ancient scanner in one hand, tuned to the largest power source he could find, which had to be the stargate. In terms of actual distance, they were probably less than ten kilometers from the 'gate, but such a hike would be a trial even with a full night's sleep and an actual breakfast.

He found the stream, thankfully in roughly the same direction he had to go, filled the water bottles, and used the last of the purification tablets. He managed to get John to drink a little before he drifted off again, took a few sips himself, and capped the canteen, telling himself he'd need to ration the water until they got home.

He then checked Sheppard one more time, shouldered the loops of vine, checked his route with the scanner, and started for home.

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

Ford came through the 'gate, weapon at the ready. Markham and his team were already spread out in the clearing focused on the surrounding forest for potential threats. Teyla followed him a moment later, her own weapon raised and ready but there was no one waiting for them.

"Not the welcome I was expecting," Ford muttered as they moved away from the 'gate.

"Agreed," Teyla replied as she looked around.

"Perimeter search, Sergeant," Ford told Markham. "Let's make sure there aren't any surprises waiting for us."

"Yes, sir," Markham acknowledged and directed his team to search the nearby forest.

"Whoever is attacking us may already have Major Sheppard or Doctor McKay," Teyla said softly once Markham's team disappeared into the trees. "I am surprised there was not some indication left here of what we were to do in order to secure their release if that is indeed the case."

Ford stopped next to the DHD, his gaze never leaving the woods. "Yeah, I thought of that, too." He shrugged slightly as he made another survey of the clearing. "We need information." He tapped his radio three times, the team's signal to check-in silently, but received no response.

Teyla frowned and tried her own radio. "Major Sheppard, this is Teyla," she said after a few seconds she tried again, "Doctor McKay, please respond."

Ford shook his head and looked around.

"We could go to the pub. Talk to Freyan and Kelden," Teyla suggested. "Major Sheppard did not believe they were involved. They may be able to help."

Ford shook his head. "We'll go back to the village and scout around first. See if we can find the Major or at least get some intel on what happened to him."

"Them," he heard Teyla mutter but chose to ignore her. He was sure if something had happened to Major Sheppard it was because of McKay.

Markham joined them near the DHD. "Perimeter is all clear, sir."

Ford acknowledged the report with a nod. "We're heading back to the village. Quietly, Sergeant. No reason to alert anyone we're still here. Once we get there, we observe and gather intel. We need to know if Major Sheppard or McKay have been taken and if so where they're being held."

"Yes, sir," Markham replied and signalled his team to move out. Jeffries and Sanchez took point while Markham and Corporal Davis brought up the rear.

It was late morning by the time they reached the edge of the forest near the village. Everything looked much the same as it did the previous day when they'd arrived, the only difference being the obvious damage to the central fountain and the walls of the pub; both were pockmarked with several large holes from some sort of weapon.

Ford and Teyla exchanged a worried look.

"All right, two-man teams," Ford ordered. "Circle the village and see what you can find out. Meet back here in thirty."

Markham and Davis went to the left, Jeffries and Sanchez went right.

Ford took out a set of field glasses and scanned the village for any indication of where Sheppard or McKay might be. He focused on the fountain for a moment trying to piece together what might have happened from the damage he could see and found a smear of red near the base.

"Looks like one of them was hit," Ford said as he handed the binoculars to Teyla, pointing out the blood stain. "I'd guess the Major was trying to get into the area over there," he pointed toward a series of low roofs, "where they could hide. McKay was probably hit when they hid behind the fountain for cover."

"You assume it was Doctor McKay," Teyla said with a frown.

"He doesn't run as fast as the Major," Ford pointed out. "Chances are higher he's the one injured."

Teyla studied his face for a moment, then nodded. "If Doctor McKay is injured, how does that affect any strategy Major Sheppard would have for their safety?"

"Hard to say without knowing how bad McKay is hurt. If it's really bad, he's going to look for a place to hide that's defensible until we can find him. If it wasn't too serious, he might still try to get back to the 'gate."

Teyla handed back the binoculars and Ford went back to watching the villagers. A thin trail of smoke columned into the air in the same direction Ford suspected Sheppard went, but the villagers didn't seem agitated or overly concerned. The people he could see seemed to be going about their day as usual, the market shops were open, people roamed the streets. The only indication anything had happened overnight was the damage to the fountain and the smoke.

Twenty minutes later Markham and Jeffries' teams returned.

"Everything seems normal, sir," Jeffries reported.

"We found the same, sir. No sign of Major Sheppard or Doctor McKay, however," Markham added.

Ford nodded. "All right, let's go talk to Rowland and find out what's going on."

He led the way back into the village and through the square, to the large house Rowland had used the day before.

Chapter Text

Rodney stopped next to a small creek, shucked out of the vines, and checked John. He wasn't sure if Sheppard was merely asleep or unconscious, but based on the fever, he was going with unconscious.

"I need to do something to get that fever down," Rodney said. He looked around for something he could soak in the water and settled for the jacket still under John's head. "Sorry, you need cooling off more than you need to be comfortable at the moment."

He pulled off the emergency blanket and stuffed it under John's feet, then removed the jacket pillow, and carefully set John's head back down. John never woke and Rodney tried not to think of the implications of that as he dunked the jacket in the water until the material was thoroughly soaked. He squeezed out some of the water and laid the wet jacket across John's chest.

Rodney leant back against a tree and closed his eyes. He figured he'd had maybe an hour or two of sleep at the pub before he'd woken up to find a knife at his throat. Then there was another hour or so inside the tree cave for a grand total of maybe three hours sleep. No wonder he was tired. Staying up all hours was fine in his lab where there was a chair and coffee. Trudging through an unknown forest while pulling your best friend home on a makeshift sled was a different sort of beast.

He sat up and checked John's temperature, before setting the coat to soak again, wringing it out, and putting it back over John.

In order to keep from falling asleep, Rodney sat beside the travois and realigned the scanner for life signs. "I don't think anyone is following us," he said as he fiddled with the device. "The readings are pretty scattered, I think it's just animals. All of them are more than a kilometer away so we should be safe."

He studied the screen for several minutes to reassure himself the dots really were random and not coming close to them, then switched it back to find the energy reading for the 'gate

"I think we're still at least six or seven kilometers from the 'gate," Rodney told Sheppard. "Of course the easiest thing to do would be to follow the road, but since that option is off the table, I think we need to keep going east and pass the village up here. What do you think?" He showed the scanner to John but didn't get any reaction.

"Good. I'm glad we agree," Rodney said.

He removed the jacket and set it back in the water and checked under the bandage on John's side. "This is definitely infected," he mumbled as he put the bandage back.

John groaned and shifted slightly.

"John?" Rodney glanced up at John's face and saw his eyes slightly open. "John, you with me?"

He ignored the burn in his right arm as he pushed himself up to where John could see him.

"We're on our way back to the 'gate," he said and waited to see if John reacted.

He was rewarded with a slight nod. He held up the canteen and said, "You need to try and drink some of this. Carson is already going to have my head for dragging you through the woods, let's not add dehydration to his list."

He held John's head up and trickled some water into his mouth. "If I thought you wouldn't choke on them I'd give you the last of the ibuprofen," he added as he capped the canteen.

John's hand started to reach for the bandage on his side and Rodney moved it away. "Leave it alone," Rodney admonished. "Trust me, it's not pretty, you don't want to see it." He threw the bandage a guilty look then reached for the jacket, wrung it out and put it over John again.

John made a slight face. "It's either my wet jacket or you lose brain cells due to high fever. You really don't have that many to spare, you know." He tried for his usual sarcastic bite, but the comment fell flat and he looked away. "Next time, you might be better off getting lost in a giant forest with Teyla or Ford. They're both better at this kind of thing than I am."

He felt a slight pressure on his arm and turned to see John's hand on his arm and Sheppard trying to glare at him. "What? Tell me I'm wrong," Rodney said with a sigh.

John squeezed his arm a little harder.

"Fine. I'm just as good at this as they are. Happy?" He glanced back at John as he closed his eyes again. Rodney was about to move when he felt a soft pat on his arm. He looked back and John nodded at him once and closed his eyes again.

He sat for a few more minutes convincing himself he needed to move before he got back to his feet with a groan as his leg throbbed. He looked around and found a branch he could use as a walking stick which helped a little, then picked up the scanner, looped the vines over his shoulders and started out again.

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

Ford pounded on the door of the house and waited a few seconds, then pounded again. A small, mousy woman opened the door and looked out at them.

"We have come to speak to Rowland," Teyla told the woman. "We were here yesterday to discuss a trade."

"I will see if the Master has time to see you," the woman replied and started to shut the door.

Ford shook his head and started to push his way into the house, but Teyla stopped him.

"We will wait here," she said to the woman.

The woman nodded and closed the door.

"We don't have time for this," Ford hissed once the door was shut.

"It will be fine, Lieutenant. We have a saying, the rabbit will come to the softest trap. It means you will get further with kindness than aggression."

"You catch more flies with honey," Ford mumbled as he tried to look in the windows.

It was several minutes before the woman came back to the door, opening it wide. "Master Rowland will see you," she said, "but only two of you. Your companions may wait in the front room."

"Markham," Ford said as they entered, "I'll go with Teyla and talk to Rowland." He made sure Markham's team was set in the waiting room, and as he passed the Sergeant, he whispered, "Three clicks."

Markham nodded.

The mousy woman led Teyla and Ford down a hallway and into a large room dominated by a large window overlooking the grounds and an equally large desk that looked like it had been carved from a single piece of wood.

"Teyla, it is good to see you again," Rowland greeted as he stepped around the desk. "Dreana, please see that our guests in the other room have refreshments." He motioned to the two chairs in front of the desk. "Please, sit, sit. Have you reconsidered my offer?"

Teyla sat in the chair, Ford, however, stood to one side, his expression blank as he scratched at his ear, surreptitiously clicking on his radio in the process.

Rowland gave him a curious glance, then ignored him in favor of Teyla.

"I am sorry to say, we are not here for trade," Teyla said. "Major Sheppard and another of our group were attacked last night."

Rowland rocked back in his chair. Ford thought he was doing a pretty good job of looking surprised. "Is the Major all right?" Rowland asked. "There is a healer --"

Teyla shook her head. "Luckily, Major Sheppard was able to repel the attacker without injury to himself or our team member."

"That is good news," Rowland replied. "I will give you any assistance you wish in finding this person who brings shame on my village."

Ford couldn't help the disbelieving snicker that escaped. Rowland and Teyla both glanced at him. "Nice words," Ford sneered. "Especially since we think you're the one who sent him."

"Now see here!" Rowland growled as he jumped to his feet.

"The Major wasn't going to give you what you wanted, so you, what, decided to kidnap one of us and force him to give in?" Ford asked belligerently.

"You will get out of my house, both of you," Rowland ordered.

"Rowland, please," Teyla said, also getting to her feet, her hands splayed out in front of her. "If you are not involved, then you may be able to help us figure out who is."

"You accuse me of false trading and kidnapping, in my own house," Rowland fumed. "Why should I do anything to assist you?"

"Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay did not meet us as planned," Teyla told him. "We believe one or both of them may be injured. If you did not sanction this attack, you might know who did and can help us find them."

Rowland glared at Ford a few moments longer then resumed his seat behind the desk.

"What did you want to know?" he growled.

Teyla gave Ford a pointed look before she, too, sat down.

Ford refused to give her any sign of apology. He turned to look out the window.

"Why did you ask Major Sheppard for weapons and ammunition?" Teyla asked. Ford thought she was using the same patient tone she used when McKay was being particularly annoying.

Rowland glared at both of them a moment longer then said, "The Wraith."

"I'm sorry?" Ford said turning in surprise. "Did you say the Wraith?"

"Yes!" Rowland shouted, then took a deep breath and added more calmly, "They are coming, we know they are. We have no way to defend ourselves against them. Your weapons would give us a fighting chance."

"Our weapons may be more advanced than yours," Teyla said gently, "but they are still of little use against the Wraith. Even if Major Sheppard had agreed to such terms, the weapons would not save your people."

"Then we are truly forsaken," Rowland replied sadly. "We have escaped the cullings for three generations, but we cannot hope to slip their notice much longer."

"Can you think of anyone who would want to stop such a trade? Someone who thought we would agree to your terms?" Teyla asked.

Rowland shook his head. "Everyone in my village knows what is at stake. They would not jeopardise our chance for survival."

"What about the other villages," Ford asked. "Any of your neighbors holding a grudge?"

Rowland's expression changed from forlorn to concentrated at Ford's suggestion. He glanced down at his hands.

"Who?" Teyla asked, reading his body language as well as Ford.

"Why would he though?" Rowland mumbled, ignoring Teyla's question.

"Who?" Ford asked harshly.

Rowland glanced from Teyla to Ford. "You said a man came into your rooms last night. Did either of you see him?"

"Yeah, I did," Ford replied. "Big guy, very strong. Had a sort of craggy face."

Rowland nodded. "That would be Whelan. He's Terris' right-hand man."

"Who's Terris?" Ford asked.

"He is Master of the village near the water." Rowland pointed out the window to the large body of water in the distance. "While there is a slim chance my people could escape into the mountains, Terris' people would never make it before they were culled. He is even more desperate for weapons than I am."

"Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay are missing," Teyla said again. "Is it possible this Terris could have them?"

Rowland nodded. "It is very possible."

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

"Do you remember the nature lesson Teyla tried to give us a couple of months ago?" Rodney asked as he pulled the travois through the woods.

He wasn't sure John was even awake, but he needed to do something to take his mind off the fever, how quickly the infection could kill John if he didn't get him home soon, and his own aches and pains. He'd stopped coughing, thankfully, but there was still the odd tingling feeling at the back of his head along with a headache. His arm and leg burned with every step or jerk of the vines and Rodney had the sneaking suspicion John wasn't the only one in need of antibiotics.

"She showed us all of those different plants that were safe to eat and which ones were poisonous." He glanced back at the travois and saw John's eyes closed. "I gotta say, I don't think any of it sank in. I can see all sorts of things in these woods, and wouldn't know a good berry from a bad if they held up signs."

Several low bushes grew near the trees he passed, their berries a tantalizing ripe red. He wasn't sure if they were the Pegasus galaxy version of a raspberry or something that would kill him as soon as he touched it. He didn't feel inclined to experiment and left the berries alone.

The travois caught on another root and jerked Rodney to a halt. He backed up slightly and tugged the chunk of bark over the root and set off again.

"I wonder if Teyla and Ford made it back to Atlantis," He mused a few minutes later. "Would Elizabeth send someone back to look for us if this Terris person poses a threat? They would try to look for us, wouldn't they?" He looked around the endless trees hoping to see some Atlantis black in amongst the green. "Well, they'd want to find you at least." He glanced over his shoulder again. "I'm not sure Ford would miss me very much at the moment. Even if I am the smartest person around and the only one who can keep Atlantis running properly."

He plodded on in silence for several minutes until the travois caught on something again. He worked them free and glanced down at his arm as it throbbed. "I really did try not to say anything about the plan," Rodney said once they were moving again. "But he … Kolya I mean, see using his name, just stared at me with those flat eyes, no emotion one way or the other." He hesitated then added, "He just kept c-cutting my arm."

Rodney swallowed hard. "He-he said he'd start c-cutting off fingers if I didn't t-tell him what he wanted to know," he stuttered. "There was no one there to stop him. Elizabeth was gone, you were gone. It was just me and Kolya and one of his soldiers holding me down." He swallowed again. "I really n-need my fingers," he whispered. "If I can't type or fix things, what good am I to anyone?"

He stuffed the stick under his arm and rubbed at his eyes. "Good thing you're asleep, can't see me fall apart here." He took a deep breath. "I keep dreaming about it, I guess you kinda knew that. How long does it take for the dreams to stop? It would be really great if you could teach me to put the bad stuff in a box, just this once."

A branch snapped off to his left and Rodney jumped. He quickly changed the scanner back to check for life signs. There was something out there, he realised as he saw a pair of blips on the screen. "Let it be a deer," he muttered. "A nice Pegasus galaxy deer. Nothing that wants to eat us or kidnap us." He changed direction just in case and a few minutes later the little dot fell off the screen as it moved out of range.

Rodney picked up his previous conversation as if the interruption hadn't happened. "Did I ever tell you how Colonel Carter and I met? I was brought to the SGC to help when Teal'c - did you meet Teal'c before we left? - was stuck in the 'gate buffer." Rodney shook his head. "She was so angry with me because I kept telling her Teal'c was dead and there was nothing she could do about it. She yelled and argued and came up with crazy plans that had no chance of working. She would have done anything to save her friend and I just didn't get it."

He looked over his shoulder at John. "Now I get it." He huffed out a breath.

He kept talking about whatever came to mind, the latest reports from the science teams, an idea he had to make the mess hall lines move faster. He knew John was probably too out of it to hear what Rodney was saying, but talking helped keep the rising panic at bay.

An hour later Rodney noticed he had to stare at the scanner constantly to remember where they were going and his hands were starting to shake. He found another small creek and slipped out of the vines, rubbing at his aching shoulders as he set the travois down carefully near the edge of the water, and checked John. He thought the fever was about the same as before so he set the jacket to soaking again and sank down beside the travois. He went through his pockets and found their last power bar.

"I'd offer you half, but I think you still have the half from breakfast in your pocket," he said to the unconscious, he could finally admit to himself John was not merely sleeping, Major. He finished the energy bar in three bites and washed it down with a swallow of water. His canteen was almost empty which meant they were down to just John's, and by Rodney's estimate, they were still at least three kilometers from the 'gate in a straight line. He doubted very much he could follow a straight line to the 'gate.

He squeezed out the wet jacket and put it back over John, took up his place pulling, and continued his monologue as he hiked. "Did I tell you one of the scientists may have found an Ancient satellite?" Rodney asked. "Gall found mention of it in the Ancient database and dug up some schematics for it. If he can get some proof it's actually still out there, Elizabeth thinks it might be worth the fifteen-hour flight to the Lagrange point to go check it out."

Rodney wiped the sweat out of his eyes with the back of his arm then tugged his sweaty shirt away from his skin. It had to be past noon and even with the shade provided by the towering trees, it was still hot.

"If you came with us, it might be a good time for another flying lesson. What do you think?" He glanced back at John and sighed.

"This is just so wrong," he mumbled. "You do realise everyone is going to blame me for this, don't you? We'll get home and everyone will just assume it was something I did that got you hurt. Ford certainly will."

He stumbled and nearly fell before catching himself with his makeshift walking stick. "Sorry," he mumbled at John as the travois nearly tipped over. He made sure John was still all right and started out again. He thought the trees were starting to thin or at least there was now more sunlight trickling down through the branches.

"I can never tell about people," Rodney said as he dodged around several large rocks in his path. "How can you tell when someone actually wants you around or if they just want something from you? I've always assumed the last one. I know what people think of me; there's never been a shortage of people to tell me exactly what they think my so-called flaws are. I can't help it if they can't keep up, but for some reason, it must be my fault.

"Where was I? Oh, yeah, people. While I can count the people I think of as friends on two hands and still have fingers left over, I really thought Ford was one of the ones I could count. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe we're more colleagues? Work associates? What does that mean for the team?

"Listen to me, would you? Before coming here, I never cared what people thought of me. Just ask Carter. Now, I'm not only worried about what Ford really thinks of me, but how that will affect our team. Our team? The team? Your team, I guess."

He looked up from the scanner, the trees were definitely further apart and a new sound caught his ear. He slowed down as he searched around trying to place it. It sounded like … he walked out of the trees and found their path blocked by a river. Not the small creeks he'd found in the woods or even the stream by the village with the wooden bridge, but a wide, fast-moving river.

"Umm, this could be a problem," he muttered as he watched the water tumble and foam in front of him.

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

Ford and Teyla exchange a glance. "We need to know for sure," Ford said and she nodded.

Ford tapped his radio, "Markham, you've been listening?"

"Yes, sir," Markham replied.

Rowland gave him a startled look, but Ford ignored him.

"Take your team and scout the village by the water. Let me know if you find any sign Major Sheppard has been there."

"On it," Markham, replied.

Ford turned to Teyla. "We'll look around here, see if we can find them or find out where they went."

Rowland stood from his desk. "I'd like to help," he said. "I fear you have a rather poor impression of my village. We're good people, really." He looked from Ford to Teyla. "Good people," he said again, "and afraid."

Ford turned to him. "We can cover the village," Ford told him stiffly. He caught Teyla's look and remembered their conversation earlier and grudgingly added, "If we need to search the forest, we'll probably need some help."

Rowland relaxed as he nodded. "There are several men and women who know the forest well. I will alert them to be ready if you require assistance."

Teyla smiled at him. "Thank you, Rowland. We will let you know."

Ford led the way out of the house and back into the village square.

"Where should we start?" Teyla asked.

"We'll start at the pub and see if we can retrace their movements," Ford said.

Freyan was behind the bar when they entered. She greeted them with a smile but said nothing as they went down the hallway to the rooms they'd used the night before. Ford entered the room with the two beds and went to the window.

The blood on the window sill was even more obvious in the daylight.

"We now know why at least one of them did not respond to our radio calls," Teyla said.

Ford turned from the window and saw the earpiece she held up.

"It was on this side of the table," she pointed to the side closer to the window. "I assume it is Doctor McKay's."

Ford nodded. "The Major would have taken the bed closer to the door," he agreed.

Teyla put the receiver in her pocket. She led the way back outside and looked around. "If they were in the alley behind the pub," she mused as she walked to the end of the building and looked at the damage to the wall. She looked out across the square to the building on the opposite side and saw more damage. ""I believe you were correct, Lieutenant. Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay went in that direction." She pointed down an alley across the square.

"Let's see if we can catch up with them," Ford said and headed past the fountain and down the alley.

There was more evidence of damage as they walked and, as Ford suspected they would, they came out into a street with a blacksmith on one side and a huge pile of still-smoking rubble on the other.

"I guess we know what blew up now," Ford said as he looked at the destruction.

"This was not a distraction," Teyla said as she looked around.

"No, it wasn't. I just hope they aren't somewhere under all of that."

"I do not believe they were," she replied and hurried into the alley between the blacksmith and a woodworking shop.

Ford followed her and saw two backpacks tucked under some scraps of wood against the wall of the woodshop. He picked up the packs, not liking where his mind went that the packs were left behind.

Teyla knelt down and touched the ground, then held up her fingers, Ford saw a hint of red. "It is almost dry," she said, "but there is a fair amount. Doctor McKay may be very seriously injured."

"That might explain why the packs were left behind," Ford said. "If the Major had to try and carry Doctor McKay, the packs would have been too much."

Teyla dusted off her hands and stood. She started down the alley to the next street but stopped when she heard Markham over the radio.

"Markham to Ford."

"Ford here," he replied.

"We're at the other village, sir. There's no sign Major Sheppard or Doctor McKay were here."

Ford grimaced. "Find Terris. I want to talk to him," he growled.

"Yes, sir," Markham acknowledged and Ford heard the radio click off.

"Come on," Ford said. "We're going to have a chat with Terris." Ford shouldered the two packs and led the way out of the alley and back up the street to the village square.

It took them an hour to backtrack back through Rowland's village and find the road to the lake or sea in the distance. Markham had radioed once to say they were still looking for Terris and thought he might be hiding in some warehouses near the water.

Ford and Teyla were nearing the water when Ford heard a loud gunshot followed by the sharp report from several P-90s.

Ford and Teyla ran the remaining distance to the warehouses and found cover behind a shed.

"Markham! What's your status?" Ford called over the radio.

"Taking fire, sir, Davis was hit. Single shooter. Large building right next to the wharf."

"There!" Teyla said just as the long-barreled weapon fired again.

Ford caught a glimpse of the gun aimed out one of the windows of the three-story building.

"Got him," Ford said to Teyla then added to Markham, "We see him, Sergeant. We're going to go around to the water side. Let's see if we can't get him in a bit of crossfire."

"Understood, sir. We'll lay down cover and wait for your signal."

Ford motioned Teyla to circle around the building as several P-90s started firing. They worked their way around to where Ford thought they had the best chance of catching the shooter unawares and found cover behind several barrels and crates.

"In position," Ford said over the radio.

"We're ready, sir."

Ford saw the barrel of the gun, followed by the craggy face he remembered from the attack in Sheppard's room. "Now!" he shouted into the radio even as Teyla opened fire next to him.

There was one last shot fired from the window, then silence once the P-90s stopped firing as well.

"Visual?" Ford asked over the radio.

"Nothing, sir," Markham replied. "I think we got him, but he fell back into the building."

"Two-man teams for the search, Sergeant."

"Yes, sir. Jeffries needs to stay with Davis, sir."

"How bad?"

"He's conscious, but he needs to get back to Atlantis," Markham replied.

"All right, we clear the building, then take your team and head back to the 'gate."

"Yes, sir," Markham said.

Ford and Teyla found the body not far from the third-floor window. Ford shone his barrel light on the face and confirmed it was the same man who had held McKay at knifepoint the night before.

Ford heard several voices and turned to see Markham leading another man into the room. The man took one look at the body on the floor and turned away, his hand over his mouth.

"Sergeant?" Ford questioned with a glance at the man standing against the far wall.

"Terris, sir," Markham replied with a sour look. "He swears he had nothing to do with shooting at us, it was all Whelan's idea."

"That's right," Terris said from his corner of the room. "He went too far." He glanced at the body for an instant and Ford thought he might be sick.

Ford huffed out a sigh. "All right, Sergeant. We'll take it from here. Get Davis back to Atlantis. Tell Doctor Weir what's happened."

"What about the search, sir?"

"I'm hoping Terris here will be able to help with that. If he can, we'll be right behind you, hopefully with Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay."

"Yes, sir." He turned to the Marine standing next to Terris. "Come on, Sanchez."

"All right," Ford said once Markham and Sanchez were gone, "let's hear it."

"I'll tell you everything, just please, can we not stay here?" Terris whined as he tried to not look at Whelan's body.

Ford motioned him out the door. "Don't try anything," he warned as they stepped back out into the late afternoon sunshine.

Villagers milled around the area, probably drawn by the noise, Ford thought. He stood to one side as Terris spoke to them and managed to get them to disperse without giving them any details as to what had happened.

"Come with me," Terris said once the villagers left. He led them back through the village to a pub. "Brax," he greeted the man behind the bar polishing mugs. "My friends and I need a quiet place to talk."

"The back is empty, sir," Brax said with a nod. "Will you be wanting anything?"

Terris glanced at Ford who shook his head. "Not right now, Brax, thank you," Terris said and motioned Ford and Teyla toward the back of the pub.

Brax gave him a shrug and went back to polishing.

Terris sat at the long table in the back room and motioned Ford and Teyla to seats on either side of him. Terris knotted his hands together and said, "I admit I was the one that suggested to Whelan we try to kidnap one of your party," he started without preamble. "But you have to understand, we are desperate." He looked imploringly at Ford then Teyla. "If Rowland managed a trade for weapons, we would have no chance of making a similar trade. I had to do something."

"You could have come to us," Teyla suggested. "As we have already explained to Rowland, such a trade would never happen and even if it had, our weapons have little effect on the Wraith."

Terris hung his head. "I tried to stop Whelan once he was unsuccessful, but he's never been the most stable. I think something just snapped when he was unable to kidnap your man. He started shooting at your people last night and then today …" He looked off toward the water.

"So, you don't know where our missing people are?" Ford asked, trying hard to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

Terris shook his head. "I thought they would go back to the Ancestor's Circle, so we went there to try and plead our case. We never saw anyone, just a loud noise and a bright light in the woods."

Ford stood and headed for the door. "We need to get back to Atlantis and get search teams together," he said to Teyla.

Terris followed them as far as the door to the backroom. "I never meant for any of this to happen," he said softly. "What are we going to do?"

The sun was starting to set as they made their way back to the stargate.

"How long will it take for search teams to come back?" Teyla asked as they walked.

"Assuming Markham has already told Doctor Weir what's going on, hopefully not that long," Ford replied. "I just hope we're not too late," he finished in a whisper.

Chapter Text

Rodney pulled up short on the bank of the river, the travois banging the back of his legs, as he stared at the water for a moment. From where he stood, the river looked to be about thirty meters wide, but he had no idea how deep it was and the water seemed to be moving at a good clip; white water churned in a few places.

He looked downstream and thought the water flattened out and slowed the further away it got from the mountains rising to steep peaks off to his right. He followed the edge of the river, slipping and sliding on the muddy bank, looking for the easiest place to cross, finally finding a spot that looked both free of rapids and shallow enough he could hopefully wade across and not drown.

He slipped out of the vines and wrapped them securely around his left arm, put the scanner on John's chest, and stepped into the river. He shuddered as the cold water hit his legs, the water was frigid and his legs soon went a bit numb. He used the walking stick to test the depth in front of him, changing direction if he found the water getting too deep.

"You were the one complaining about being hot," he berated himself, shivering as he stepped further into the cold water. "River must be coming right off a glacier or something." He clenched his teeth and held his breath as the water rose above his knees.

He checked his grip on the vines as the chunk of bark holding Sheppard started to float away from him slightly. "Okay, you can do this," he told himself. "It doesn't look that deep. See the stick says it's not that deep. You'll be fine."

He waded further out into the water and felt the current start to pull at him. He had to fight not just the pull of the river on him, but the travois as it tugged on his arm and tried to float downstream.

The water quickly rose above his knees, then his waist as he struggled across. By the time he reached the middle of the river, the water was up to his chest and he was having a difficult time keeping both his footing and his hold on the travois.

"Don't stop, don't stop," Rodney chanted to himself as he fought against the pull of the current. He wasn't a strong enough swimmer to try and swim the rest of the way across, towing the travois. He took another shuffling step. "Halfway there, keep going."

He glanced over at John and saw water lapping over the lip of the bark as the travois fought to free itself from his grip and float away. He held on tighter and kept moving, but only managed a few steps before he felt something under the water shift and he slipped and fell.

He came up gasping and sputtering as he flailed with one arm trying to find his balance again while being carried downstream by the pull of the travois. He caught sight of his walking stick floating past the travois and was a bit surprised at how fast it drifted away. While the river may have been slower than it was further upstream, it was still fast enough that the stick quickly disappeared.

It took several long seconds of fighting sudden panic, the current, and the travois before he managed to get his feet planted and start wading again. He shuffled forward, finally escaping the pull of the water as he struggled the rest of the way across. He fell to his knees at the edge of the river and crawled the rest of the way out of the water and up the muddy bank. He used his last bit of strength to pull the travois up next to him, then collapsed on his back, coughing and shivering.

It was several long minutes before he had his breath back and could tiredly sit up and check John. The bandage around John's side was soaked with river water and the wound looked just as bad as it did before, but Rodney heard a faint groan and looked up to see John's eyes open for the first time in hours.

"John?" Rodney said hoarsely and crawled to the head of the travois so he was easier for John to see. "How're you feeling?" he asked then winced. "Dumb question. Sorry."

"Rd'y?" John whispered.

"I'm here," Rodney replied.

"Whr?"

"Still on the way back to the 'gate," he wheezed as he tried to suppress another cough. "Should be there soon." He tried to smile for John's benefit, but he couldn't quite manage it as he shivered again.

He picked up the scanner and checked how far they were from the stargate. "I'm sure we're almost there," he said to John. "Just a little bit longer, and I'll have you in Carson's far more capable hands."

He finally found the energy signature for the 'gate and almost threw the scanner back in the river. They were still at least three kilometers from the 'gate. Hours of walking and then falling in a cold river and he'd gained little to no ground. John was getting worse and needed help.

"Told you I wasn't good at this wilderness stuff," he mumbled and dropped his head in his hands. "Teyla or Ford would have had you home by now, I know."

He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs and hid his head in his arms. He needed a minute, he told himself. Just a minute to warm up, get his emotions under control, and gather his flagging strength. He felt a slight tug at his trouser leg and turned his head so he could see John.

"D'ng best," John mumbled.

If anything, John's statement made Rodney feel even worse. "Apparently, that's not worth much," he snapped and felt instantly guilty when he saw the look on John's face. "Sorry," he said and tried to take a deep breath but only ended up coughing again.

He got his breathing back under control and dug John's canteen from the pile of meager supplies at the bottom of the travois. He gave John's shoulder a slight shake and held up the water bottle when John opened his eyes again.

"You need to try and drink something," Rodney said, and scooted close enough to the travois to help John swallow a few sips of the water. He recapped the bottle and slowly climbed to his feet. He told himself he'd warm up as he walked, shouldered the vines again, and started walking.

"All right, Major, here we go," he said and stumbled forward again. Three kilometers, a little under two miles. He could do this, he told himself. He had to.

He wasn't sure if his leg was still numb from the cold water or if the cut was just as bad as John's side, but the weird dead feeling made walking difficult and he found himself bracing himself on trees to keep his balance.

They were too close to the village, he knew, and he didn't want to take any chances of running into someone now when they were so close to getting home. To that end, he checked the life signs on the scanner more and more often, changing their path in order to avoid any blips he saw on the screen. He didn't know if the little dots represented villagers, help from Atlantis, or just wild animals, but he wasn't going to take any chances.

The coughing was getting worse, Rodney had to stop more than once as a fit took hold and he bent double trying to get his breathing back under control. He didn't waste his breath talking anymore. His world was reduced to putting one foot in front of the other and making sure they were heading in the right direction while avoiding everything around them.

It was dark when Rodney reached the edge of the clearing with the stargate. He took one last look at the scanner checking for life signs, then stumbled over to the DHD. He struggled out of the vines long enough to drop the scanner on the travois and find his tac-vest by John's feet, fumbling through the pockets until he found his GDO. The device in hand, he dragged the vines back over his shoulders and punched in the address for Atlantis on the DHD. As soon as the wormhole formed he sent his IDC and started for the 'gate. He didn't wait for confirmation of the code. If he stopped moving now, Rodney wasn't sure he'd be able to start again.

He wasn't even aware he was through the 'gate until one of the Marines stepped in his path. Rodney looked up at the face of the man staring down at him, he could see the man's mouth moving, but couldn't hear any words. He thought he should know who it was standing there, looking worried, but his brain and body had had enough. He'd done what he promised he'd do, he got John back to Atlantis. With a small sigh, he closed his eyes and let everything go.

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

Elizabeth sat at her desk trying to look like she was working and not worrying when the stargate lit up and Grodin announced an unscheduled activation.

"Raise the shield," Elizabeth ordered as she left her office.

"We're receiving an IDC," Grodin said and paused. "It's Lieutenant Ford."

"Lower the shield."

She watched as Ford and Teyla came through the 'gate and glanced back at the event horizon hoping to see two more people with them. The wormhole shut down, however, without her two missing people reappearing.

"Lieutenant?" she called down to Ford.

He glanced up at her and shook his head. He started to say something but she cut him off.

"Get cleaned up and checked out," she said and tried to hide her disappointment. "We'll meet in my office in an hour."

"Yes, ma'am," Ford said as he left the gateroom, Teyla in tow.

An hour later Ford and Teyla walked into her office with determined looks on their faces.

"We need to go back with search teams," Ford said without preamble as he stood at her desk.

Elizabeth understood how he felt, but she wasn't going to send more people back to the planet without more information.

"Tell me what happened with Rowland and Terris first, Lieutenant," she said making sure her tone remained calm as she motioned them to the chairs in front of her desk.

Ford sat in one of the chairs with bad grace but made his report as succinctly as possible. "How is Davis?" he asked once he'd told her about the attack at the warehouses and Terris' confession.

"He should be fine," Elizabeth said. "Carson didn't seem too worried when I checked in with him a few hours ago."

"That is good news," Teyla said with a smile.

"We need to go back and look for Major Sheppard," Ford said again. "We're pretty sure one of them was injured."

"It's night on the planet now, Lieutenant. You wouldn't be able to do much searching," Elizabeth told him. "You said Rowland was willing to assist with a search of the forest?"

"Yes," Teyla answered when Ford only frowned. "His people are woodcutters and are familiar with the forest near the village."

"All right," she said with a glance at Ford. "I will have teams ready to go in six hours when it's light on the planet again. Work with Rowland to coordinate a search of the forest; two of his people with each of our teams."

She thought Ford looked ready to start another argument when the stargate started to light up and Grodin called, "Unscheduled activation!"

Elizabeth tapped her radio, "Raise the shield," she said even as she rounded her desk and headed for the control room, Ford and Teyla right behind her.

"We're receiving a code," Grodin reported, then his face broke out in a wide smile. "It's Doctor McKay!"

"Lower the shield," Elizabeth ordered even as she followed Ford and Teyla down the stairs and stood to one side of the 'gate.

The shield lowered but it was several long seconds before anyone stepped through the event horizon.

The Marines were in position, weapons raised, when Rodney finally stumbled into the gateroom pulling something behind him. Elizabeth saw he was covered in mud and limping heavily, the bandage on his arm a bloody, muddy mess. He didn't react to the people around him and Elizabeth suspected he would have kept moving right out of the gateroom if one of the Marines hadn't stepped in front of him, forcing him to stop.

Thompson stepped up to Rodney and said, "Sir? Doctor McKay?"

Elizabeth was on her radio calling for Carson even as Rodney gave Thompson a glazed look and collapsed.

Thompson caught him easily and laid him gently on the floor and stepped back as Teyla and Ford closed on their teammate.

"My god," Ford muttered and Elizabeth looked at him, then at the wooden sled Rodney had dragged through the 'gate.

John lay on the sled, what looked like Rodney's damp uniform jacket spread over him, his head and arm bandaged. Ford moved the jacket and she had a glimpse of a bloody pressure bandage before Carson entered the gateroom.

"Màiri, Màthair Dhè," Beckett muttered before he dropped to his knees next to John, pushing Rodney's uniform jacket and the tac-vests out of his way.

Elizabeth stepped back as Beckett issued orders to the people with him. John was carefully lifted off the sled and onto a gurney, it took a bit longer to get Rodney out of the tangle of what looked like vines wrapped around his shoulders and tied to the piece of wood, but once they had him free, he was placed on a gurney as well. She watched the organised chaos as vitals were taken, IVs inserted, and injuries triaged, not bothering to hide the worry she felt. After surviving something like the storm and a Genii invasion force, she couldn't imagine losing either John or Rodney on what was supposed to be a simple mission to trade for seed.

"Carson?" Elizabeth asked as he passed her.

Beckett looked back as he followed the two gurneys. "I don't know, Elizabeth."

She nodded and watched him run after the medical teams, calling orders as he went. She turned back in time to see the Marines gathered around the sled whispering and looking slightly awed.

Ford looked equally stunned as he stood next to Teyla. "I never would have expected …" Ford's voice petered out.

Elizabeth and Teyla glanced at one another before Teyla said, "We should go to the infirmary. Doctor Beckett will hopefully have news regarding Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay soon."

Teyla and Ford left the gateroom leaving Elizabeth, the Marines, and the sled.

"What should we do with it, ma'am?" Sergeant Thompson asked, tugging the sled behind him.

She smiled up at him briefly. "I'm not sure yet, Sergeant. Put it in one of the unused rooms next to armoury for now."

Thompson nodded and dragged the sled out of the gateroom.

"Peter," she called up to the control room. When Grodin looked over the balcony, she continued, "I'm going to the infirmary."

"Let us know when you find out news," he replied, looking as worried as she felt.

Elizabeth came down the hallway to the infirmary and found Teyla and Ford standing near the infirmary doors.

"Doctor Weir," Teyla greeted her with a nod.

"I take it there's been no word?" she asked.

Teyla shook her head. "Nothing so far."

She nodded and leant against the wall near the door.

Carson came out two hours later looking tired but pleased. He stopped next to Teyla and Ford and smiled. "They'll be fine, I think," he told them "With time and plenty of rest."

"Can we see them?" Teyla asked.

Beckett looked like he wanted to say no, but changed his mind. "Aye, I suppose, for a wee moment only. Neither of them will be waking up any time soon."

Carson led Elizabeth, Teyla, and Ford through the infirmary and around a privacy screen to a pair of beds side-by-side against one wall. Both men were hooked up to various monitors as well as oxygen. Rodney had two different IVs running into his hands while John had an IV and a separate line for a blood transfusion. The cut over John's eye was steri-stripped, Rodney's right arm was rebandaged.

"Carson?" Elizabeth asked as she looked from one unconscious man to the other.

Beckett stood where he could watch the monitors for both men as he spoke. "Aye, well, both of them are dehydrated, Rodney's blood sugar was very low and he's on a glucose drip to get his levels back up. He also managed to undo all my hard work suturing his arm, so that needed to be re-stitched. They were both hit with shrapnel from some sort of explosion, and it looks like Major Sheppard was shot with the same sort of weapon as Corporal Davis."

"But they're going to be all right?" Ford asked softly. Elizabeth thought he still looked a little stunned from seeing Rodney stagger through the 'gate.

"Aye, son, given enough time and lots of rest, they should both be fine," Carson said with a tired smile. "Rodney is physically exhausted and he's going to be stiff from pulling Major Sheppard on that sled to get him home, but bed rest will set him right soon enough.

"We stitched the wound in the Major's side, it was longer than it was deep, so it looked pretty bad, but it could have been much worse. It is infected, however, as are the knife wounds Rodney sustained during the storm, but I have them on antibiotics and should have that under control in the next few days."

Teyla nodded as she reached out to touch John's arm, then murmur something in his ear. Ford stood behind her, looking worried and a little scared. Elizabeth watched as Teyla went to Rodney's side and whispered something to him as well, Elizabeth noticed she was careful not to touch him.

Teyla must have sensed Elizabeth's curiosity as she stepped to her side and said, "I merely told them they were home and safe and we would be here when they awoke."

Beckett gave them a few more minutes but when it looked like Teyla and Ford were planning to stay longer, he shooed them out. "You can come back tomorrow and sit with them if you like," he said.

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

The buzzing noise teased at his ears for some time before he realised what he was hearing was actually voices.

"If we have him on the correct antibiotic, the fever should break soon, lass," he heard a male voice say.

"How long before we know if this medication is the correct one?" a female voice asked.

"Unfortunately, it may be a few hours before we know for certain. You know Rodney, he can't do anything by halves."

John peeled an eye open and took a lazy look around. No forest. Instead, he saw patterned walls and the edges of a privacy screen. He opened his other eye and found he was in a bed but he had no memory of how he got back to Atlantis.

"I suspect he picked up something after spending so many hours outside during the storm," the male voice said and John slowly turned his head enough to see Beckett standing over the next bed.

"River," John croaked weakly.

"Major?" Beckett said as he turned to John. "Are you back with us, lad?"

"How are you feeling?" Teyla asked at the same time.

John closed his eyes for a moment until he felt a hand on his arm and a straw at his lips.

"Small sips now," Beckett said as John sucked at the straw.

He opened his eyes again and found Beckett and Teyla still watching him.

"John?" Teyla said and squeezed his arm again.

"He fell in a river," John repeated, his voice a hoarse whisper. " Was cold."

"All right, Major," Beckett said as he read the monitors next to John. "You just worry about taking care of yourself. I'll have Rodney right as rain before you know it." He glanced down at John. "Teyla asked you a question, how are you feeling?"

John closed his eyes and took stock. "Side aches," he replied after a few moments. "Tired."

"Both to be expected," Beckett told him. "You both have had a rough few days." He turned toward the privacy curtain. "I'll get you something for the pain."

John idly glanced around the room again and caught a glimpse of Rodney in the next bed, asleep or unconscious he couldn't tell.

"How long?" he asked Teyla, frustrated his voice was so weak.

"You and Doctor McKay have been in the infirmary for two days, Major," she replied.

"You found us?" he asked her.

She shook her head as she moved enough for John to get a clear look at the other bed. "Rodney brought you home."

Once he had a better view, John realised Rodney did not look well. He was pale, sweaty, and obviously very ill. John saw the bandage on his arm and wondered how much worse the injury was now.

"How bad?" John asked with a glance at McKay when Beckett returned.

"Bad enough," Beckett said as he injected something into John's IV port. "Right now, he has a high fever, we're trying to find the right antibiotic to get the pneumonia under control. I'll keep him on the oxygen for now to help him breathe."

"Fell in a river," John murmured again. "Coughing a lot." He closed his eyes and started to drift as the morphine took effect.

"Get some sleep, Major," Beckett told him softly. "You'll both be feeling better soon."

The next time he woke up, Teyla was gone, but Ford was there, sitting between the two beds reading a paperback book. Based on the level of the lights and the quiet, it must have been late, but he had no idea how long he'd been asleep. He was aware of the dull itch at the back of his skull, and his side still ached, but for the moment it was manageable.

He heard rustling in the bed next to him. He looked over at the next bad and saw Rodney twitching, rolling his head back and forth, and muttering unintelligibly. John grimaced. It was obvious McKay was fighting a nightmare.

Ford put the book down as he stood next to the other bed. "You're safe, Doc," he told Rodney softly as he tried to awkwardly pat McKay's shoulder. "You're gonna be fine."

John could see Ford's words were having no effect; Rodney continued to twitch and mutter, oblivious. His reaction was worse when Ford tried to touch him. Instead of calming him down, Rodney startled at the touch and banged his recently stitched arm on the edge of the IV pump. John felt the itch in his skull flare at the same time spots of blood appeared on the bandaging, and he groaned slightly.

Ford pushed the call button by the bed even as he continued to try to get through to Rodney. He hadn't noticed John was awake. "Hey, Doc, everything's okay now," he said again, this time careful not to touch him, but still with no effect.

Ford glanced up as Sharon stepped around the privacy screen and stopped at the end of Rodney's bed. "I thought this antibiotic was working," Ford said, and John could hear the worry in his voice as Sharon checked the monitors by Rodney's bed.

"It is," she told him reassuringly. "His fever is down several degrees from yesterday. This isn't from the fever, I think he's dreaming."

"Must be some dream," Ford said.

"Let me up," John said, startling Ford and Sharon, as he pushed at the covers.

Sharon turned to him with a shake of her head. "Doctor Beckett doesn't want you out of bed, Major. You need to rest."

John glared at her and continued to push at the covers. "I'm not going to just lay here when there's something I can do to help," he growled. "Either help me up, or push the beds together, I don't care which, but I need to talk to him."

Ford looked at Sharon for a moment.

"Doctor Beckett is on his way. He left orders to be alerted if anything happened," Sharon said.

Rodney's muttering was getting louder. "No, no, please. Stop, please stop. Not here, not here." He curled his right arm to his chest as he whimpered.

John was half out of his bed, fighting Ford who was trying to keep him from getting up, when Carson arrived.

"Where do you think you're going, then?" Carson asked John sternly as he stopped next to Rodney's bed. "Just stay where you are, Major." He turned back to McKay, reaching out to lay a hand gently on his shoulder. "You're all right, Rodney," he said softly. "Everything is fine. Just calm down now."

"Wait, wait, have to wait," Rodney mumbled, twisting out from under Beckett's hand. "Carson and Teyla. Have to wait. Can't wait, can't wait."

While the focus of the nightmare had changed, John could tell Beckett was having no better luck than Ford in getting Rodney to calm down.

"Carson, let me talk to him," John demanded in a low voice. "It's the storm and Kolya. He'll listen to me."

Beckett sighed and rubbed his eyes. Rodney still twitched and mumbled to himself.

"All right, Major, two minutes. I'll not have you risk your own recovery over this."

Carson sent Ford to get a wheelchair, then he and Sharon carefully maneuvered John into the chair while Ford kept the IV line from tangling.

John's side throbbed at the change in position, but he refused to let it show. The space between the beds wasn't that wide, all Ford needed to do was turn the wheelchair around and push it a couple of feet and John was next to Rodney's bed.

He laid a hand on Rodney's arm, thankfully the left, and started talking, "Hey, Rodney, you need to stop this, you're scaring Beckett and Ford," he said lightly as he rubbed Rodney's arm. "Kolya's gone, he left Atlantis, remember?"

"Don't talk, don't tell," Rodney muttered, his injured arm still held tight against his chest. John saw more spotting and tried to ignore the mental itch as he kept talking.

"Rodney, Kolya's gone. I shot him, he's not coming back. Can you hear me, buddy? He's gone, we beat him."

Rodney slowly stopped tossing, his right arm relaxing back down at his side. "That's it," John coaxed, still rubbing Rodney's other arm. "Kolya's gone, he can't hurt you. You need to calm down."

Rodney stopped mumbling, sighed softly, and lay still.

John rubbed Rodney's arm a few seconds more until he was sure McKay was out of the nightmare, then sat back in the wheelchair with a groan.

"Let's get you back into bed, Major," Beckett said softly.

John nodded and let Beckett turn the wheelchair back around.

As Beckett helped resettle him on the bed, John said low enough that Ford, still standing near Rodney's bed, couldn't hear him, "When you check Rodney's arm, get Ford to help."

"Major?" Beckett said with a frown.

"He needs to understand a few things," John tried to explain and winced as the itch at the back of his skull spiked.

"I knew letting you out of bed was a bad idea," Carson admonished. "Just how badly are you hurting?"

"It's not that bad," he said, letting Beckett believe the only thing that ached was his side. "Really," he added when he saw Carson's disbelieving look. "Once I stop moving, it hurts a lot less."

Carson studied his face for a moment, then let the matter drop. "Sharon, will you get the suture kit, please. It looks like Rodney is determined to undo all of my careful stitching." He said something else to her John didn't hear and she nodded.

"All right, Rodney," Carson said as he pushed a stool over to the other side of Rodney's bed, "let's see what you've done to yourself."

Ford started to step away, but with a fleeting glance at John, Carson stopped him. "Actually, lad, I could use an extra set of hands until Sharon comes back. Grab yourself a pair of those gloves and come over here."

John could tell Ford was completely unprepared, but gamely pulled on a pair of gloves and waited for Carson to tell him what to do.

"I need you to hold his arm just like that," Carson said as he positioned Ford's hands in such a way Rodney's arm was supported.

Rodney mumbled something and Beckett waited until he settled again before he started removing the gauze.

Once he had the sterile pads removed, John heard the involuntary hiss Ford made and saw the Lieutenant's eyes widen in shock. He watched Ford swallow hard and look away. To his credit, he never let go of Rodney's arm.

Sharon came back around the privacy screen carrying a tray of supplies and Ford willingly gave up his position as nurse, stripped off the gloves, and made a hurried escape.

"I hope you know what you're doing, Major," Beckett admonished softly as he checked Rodney's stitches.

While he wouldn't admit it out loud, John hoped so, too.

Chapter Text

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