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His arm ached, his chest hurt, and he had sand in places he didn't really want to think about, but what was really bothering John was Rodney being quiet. McKay was never quiet. He had an opinion about everything and was more than happy to share it with whoever happened to be close by. Now, he stared at the Ancient life sign detector in his hand, changed a setting, and stared at the device again. Silently. It was making John nervous.

He heard a something buzz through the atmosphere and looked up to see Jumper Three pass overhead. John glanced at Rodney still standing, staring at the scanner, then took a few steps away from their jumper and keyed his radio to a private channel. "Ford, this is Sheppard. Come in."

"Ford here, sir. We see you and will land next to your jumper."

"Negative, Lieutenant," John said softly with another glance at Rodney. "There is a downed Wraith ship about three miles north of our position."

"We see it, sir," Ford confirmed after a short pause.

"You'll need to land over there and retrieve the bodies of Doctors Abrams and Gall."


"You heard me, Lieutenant. Retrieve the bodies and then come back here. Do not, repeat, do not, bring any of this up with McKay." John glanced back at Rodney still fiddling with the Ancient scanner, apparently ignoring John's side of the radio conversation.

"We understand, Major," Teyla replied. "Are you both all right?"

"I'm a bit banged up, but we're fine," John replied. "Rodney needs to do some work on the jumper before we can leave, so check back here before you head out. Just in case we need to hitch a ride home with you."

"Understood, sir. Ford out."

John tapped off the radio and went back over to the jumper.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Rodney asked, looking up from the scanner and giving Sheppard a sideways look.

John sighed as he sank down in the shadow of the jumper. "I'm fine." He saw Rodney's skeptical look and added, "Really. It's not that bad. Just a lot of bruises and Carson will probably need to stitch up my arm. Nothing serious, I promise." He waved a hand at the jumper. "Don't worry about it, just see what you can do to get the jumper fixed."

Rodney gave him one last penetrating look before he reached out a hand toward the edge of the shield.

"Don't!" John shouted, jumping to his feet with a groan as he grabbed his ribs.

Rodney let out a yelp of pain as he dropped the scanner and stumbled back, shaking his hand, and glaring at the jumper.

"... Do that," John finished. "I already learned the hard way, it kinda stings."

"How did he manage to reroute the power like that?" Rodney wondered out loud as he rubbed his still throbbing hand.

"You all right?" John asked.

"Yes, yes," Rodney replied, sounding distracted. He picked up the scanner and went back to studying the readout, mumbling to himself about power conversion theories as he sat in the shade.

John paced around the jumper a few times dividing his attention between watching their surroundings and watching Rodney. There really wasn't much to see; a few of the lightning bugs buzzed around some of the scrubby plant life on the hillock where McKay had hidden just before the drone hit and that was it. He watched the shadows move across the sand and went back to pacing.

He walked around the ship a few times before his brain caught up with what his eyes were telling him. The shadows weren't just moving, they were lengthening. He looked up and found the sun several degrees lower than when he was fighting the Wraith. The lightning bugs had all disappeared and the air felt distinctly cooler. He looked over at McKay to see Rodney absently rubbing at his bare arms. They needed to get inside the jumper, sooner rather than later.

"Rodney, you might want to move this along a little faster," John said, stopping beside the jumper and looking down at Rodney who was still studying the scanner readout.

"I have to figure out what the Wraith did before I can even start to fix it," he replied, looking up with a glare.

"I'm just saying, you need to pick up the pace. The sun is starting to set. I don't think we want to be out here at night."

"What? Why?" Rodney asked, thoroughly distracted by the shield, seemingly oblivious to the dropping temperature and John's concern. "I doubt there's anything still alive besides those glowing bugs, and Ford wiped out a good number of them with the drone."

"I'm not worried about animals," John told him with a tired sigh as he held his ribs with one arm. "Like I said before, I think it gets cold around here at night. We're going to want to be inside instead of outside when the sun goes down."

Rodney looked up from the scanner and glanced around. "Just how cold are we talking about?"

"Cold enough for a sort of icy snow to form," John told him.

Rodney swallowed and nodded. "All right, I think I have an idea what the Wraith did. Let's try the easy solution first." He held out his hand. "Give me your remote."

John shook his head even as he ripped open the top of one of his vest pockets and pulled out the little device. "You sure about this?" he asked. "Seems too simple to me."

Rodney shrugged and pushed the button that would normally deactivate the cloak. "Occam's Razor, the simple solution is usually the correct one. No way to know unless I try." He reached out a tentative hand and received another shock. "Ow!" he yelped and flapped his hand in the air again. "Of course, it couldn't be that simple. Idiot," he berated himself.

John tried not to grin or let the 'I told you so' escape his mouth, but Rodney saw something in his expression anyway and snapped, "It's not funny! That hurts!"

"Sorry," John replied, sounding anything but apologetic.

Rodney flexed his hand a few more times, then sat in the deepening shade of the jumper and pried the cover off the remote control mumbling to himself.

"Major?" Ford called over the radio.

John glanced at Rodney before taking a few steps around to the back of the jumper.

"Go ahead."

"Sir? We found Doctor Abrams and Doctor Gall, sir, but …" John heard Ford take a deep breath. "Umm, sir? Doctor Gall didn't die from the Wraith attack, sir. He was shot, and … It looks self-inflicted, sir."

John scrubbed a hand over his face as he glanced around the corner of the jumper to check on Rodney. The number of 'sirs' Ford had used in his report gave John an idea of just how bad it had to be. Ford had seen a lot during his tour in Iraq and if this was upsetting him … "Damn," John whispered.

"Sir?" Ford asked over the still open radio channel.

"Nothing, Lieutenant," John replied. "Just get back here as soon as you can."

"Yes, sir. Ford out."

That explained a lot, John realised as he went back to the corner of the jumper. Gall had committed suicide, and Rodney had probably seen the whole thing. No wonder he was acting so strange.

The sun had almost set when Jumper Three landed a short distance away. Ford and Teyla came down the rear ramp, their expressions a mixture of sadness and worry as they looked around.

John stepped away from his silent observation of Rodney and met them as they came closer. "Steer clear of the jumper," he warned them as he walked over to meet them. "We have a technical problem McKay is still working on."

"What sort of problem?" Ford asked as he stopped a few feet away from the corner of the jumper.

"The Wraith managed to put some sort of shield around the ship," John replied, and he couldn't hide the disgust in his tone. "Rodney is still trying to fix it."

Ford rubbed his hands together as the temperature dipped and the sun went down. "I'm not sure we'll all fit in the other jumper, sir," Ford said in a low voice. "Not with …"

John nodded. "Rodney?" he called and went back to the other side of the jumper. "You gonna be able to get us inside any time soon?"

Rodney glared up at him as he put the cover back on the remote control. "You do realise if you'd been stuck out here with anyone else, you'd freeze to death, right?" he asked with a scowl as he stood. "This isn't as easy as it looks."

"Just tell me you've got it fixed," John replied mildly.

"I've got it fixed," Rodney told him and pushed the button on the remote again. This time there was a slight shimmer in the air, and when Rodney reached out a cautious hand, he didn't receive another shock.

"Good work," Sheppard said with a smile before he led the way inside the slightly warmer shuttle. He watched as Rodney followed him inside, shed his tac-vest, and glowered at the partially dismantled control box.

Supplies were strewn all over the benches and the floor, wires dangled from the control box in the rear section and several crystals were scattered over the bench under it. John went into the cockpit and found more wires hanging loose and the panel under the front console propped open. He tapped a few of the controls trying to get the lights powered up and the rest of the environmental systems up and running, but nothing changed. All of the controls seemed dead.

He shook his head at the damage and started to have second thoughts about even Rodney's ability to get the jumper flight worthy. He really didn't want to have to abandon the little craft, and he didn't relish the idea of Rodney spending fifteen hours in the same ship as his two dead scientists, but he realised they might not have much choice in the matter.

John walked back into the rear section where Rodney had a light stylus in one hand and was studying the control box. Teyla and Ford had a couple of large flashlights wedged into the storage netting giving the rear compartment, at least, some light as they picked up the various storage containers and supplies thrown around by the Wraith. They stored what items they could back in the netting and set the rest aside to put away once Rodney was done with the control box. John watched as McKay fingered the wires hanging out of the conduit cover above the storage netting, frowning and mumbling to himself as he poked at the crystals in the box.

"So, how bad is it?" John asked as he stood just behind Rodney.

"It's a mess," Rodney grumbled. "It looks like the Wraith pulled crystals from three different systems in order to switch the cloak to a shield." He looked over at John. "It's going to take me a little while to get this all put back together again."

"But you can fix it, right?" John asked with a glance out the rear of the jumper at the encroaching darkness.

Rodney poked at a couple more crystals before he answered. "Yes," he replied. "Nothing is really broken, it's just a matter of replacing crystals and reprogramming a few things."

John nodded and tapped his radio," Sergeant Markham, come in."

"Markham here, sir."

"Rodney thinks he can get us up and running again. Go ahead and head back to Atlantis. We'll follow as soon as we can."

"Copy that, Major. We'll see you when you get back. Markham out."

John heard the rattle of sand against the skin of the jumper as Markham took off then sat heavily on the bench opposite Rodney.

"Major Sheppard," Teyla said. "Perhaps now would be a good time for one of us to look at your arm." She found the first aid kit tossed under the other bench near Rodney's feet and held it out to Ford.

"And his ribs," Rodney said as an aside as he tested various crystals in the control box. "Don't forget his ribs."

John glared at Rodney's back.

"Sir?" Ford asked as he held up the kit.

"Fine," John told him and Ford started untying the pressure bandage. He watched Rodney poke at the control box as a distraction from Ford poking at his arm.

"Okay, yes, that's …" Rodney paused for a moment as he touched a few of the crystals with the light stylus. "... That's pretty ingenious, actually," he finished grudgingly.

John watched as he pulled several crystals out of the control box and replaced them from the pile of scattered crystals on the bench in front of him.

"Care to share with the class?" Sheppard asked and winced as Ford started to clean his arm. He glanced at it once Ford had it cleaned up and saw it was deeper than he first thought. Okay, so maybe a little more than just a flesh wound, he thought as Ford finished cleaning out the wound and unrolled a fresh pressure bandage.

John caught Rodney rubbing his head and wondered if the headache was caused by the stress of losing two of his people, the adrenaline wearing off from fighting the Wraith, or if he was reacting to John's injuries. Probably a combination of all three, Sheppard thought as he pawed through the first aid kit on the bench beside him and found the bottle of ibuprofen. John held the bottle out to Teyla as he glanced at Rodney.

She nodded, shook out a couple of the pills, and tapped Rodney on the arm.

Rodney twitched slightly at her touch, saw the pills, and gave John a withering look. John stared back, one eyebrow cocked, not backing down. Rodney sighed and looked away from him before he took the pills and the bottle of water Teyla held out for him. "Thanks," he mumbled to her.

"You were saying about the ship?" John asked once the pills were swallowed.

"It looks like the Wraith wired one of the power recyclers into the cloaking field, that's what gave it the charge," Rodney replied and sorted through the crystals still on the bench in front of him. He picked one up and slotted it back in the control box. "Then it used the existing cloaking system and redirected the inertial dampeners to create a bubble around the ship." He glanced back at John. "That way it remained invisible but was still able to repel anything that touched it."

John nodded. "But you can put it all back the way it was, right?"

"Yes, of course, I can," Rodney snapped. "It's just going to take a while," he mumbled to himself as he turned back to the control box. He pulled out a few more crystals and added, "Although, a shield like this might be something we want to consider in future. It could really come in handy."

"That's something you can play with once we're back in Atlantis," John told him. "Just get my ship put back together so we can go home."

"Yes, yes, fine," Rodney replied and went back to examining the control box.

Ford finished wrapping the clean bandage around John's arm and gave his commander an awkward look. "I really should take a look at your ribs, sir. Just in case."

John shot another glare at Rodney's back. "I'm sure my ribs are fine," John said with a huff of impatience. He had just about reached his limit for the fussing by his well-meaning team.

Rodney must have sensed the gaze drilling into his back since he turned around, gave John a tired, but concerned, look and headed for the cockpit.

Ford stood, patiently waiting until John relented. He unbuckled his tac-vest, then lifted his t-shirt, seeing the bruising on his chest for the first time. He hissed a few times as Ford's careful fingers found a particularly tender spot, but he didn't feel anything grind or move as Ford prodded his rib cage.

"I think it's just bruises, sir," Ford said once he was done. "There should be some chemical ice packs in the kit, that should help." Ford dug through the first aid kit and came up with one large ice pack. He squeezed the pack to mix the chemicals together, then handed it over.

John took the ice pack with a nod of thanks, pulled his t-shirt back down, and followed McKay into the cockpit. Rodney was on his back under the main console, his legs sticking out between the two forward chairs, a few more crystals piled on his stomach.

John sat in the pilot's chair and listened as Rodney puttered with the control board under the console. He heard him mumbling as he worked out what the Wraith had done as he reassembled the system, making mental notes to remember how this or that system had been altered to recreate the changes once they were back in Atlantis.

"Rodney, how's it going up here?" John asked a few minutes later as he adjusted the ice pack on his chest.

Rodney crawled out from under the console and checked over the co-pilot's panel then pushed a series of buttons. Lights bloomed to life throughout the jumper and Rodney smiled faintly. "The power recyclers are fixed and the shield has been dismantled so the inertial dampeners are flight ready. The cloak isn't fixed. If you want that done too, it's going to take another half hour."

John grinned. "Good job," he said. "Never doubted you for a moment." He noticed Rodney's hands shaking slightly as he checked over his repairs and tried to remember when the last time was he saw McKay eat anything. Before we do anything else, John thought to himself, he needs to eat.

"Come on," he said as he pulled Rodney to his feet and led the way back to the rear of the jumper. "I say we break out the MREs, have some dinner, and then head back to Atlantis."

Rodney looked like he was about to argue, another bad sign in John's mind. McKay was not one to skip meals.

Before McKay could protest the idea, John and Ford exchanged a quick look. "I could eat," Ford agreed with a tight smile and started looking for the storage bin with the food rations. He found it shoved under the bench and handed it over to John.

John gave Rodney the one meatloaf meal they had and watched surreptitiously as he picked at the food as the others talked about visiting the mainland once they returned to Atlantis. To John's disappointment, Rodney ate about half of the ready-made meal before setting the rest aside and standing to study the crystals in the control box again.

John noticed Teyla giving McKay a sad look, but shook his head when she started to say something to him. "We'll need to sleep in shifts," John said once their dinner was cleared away. "I'll take the first watch, get us headed back toward Atlantis. You three make yourselves as comfortable as you can back here."

John made his way back to the front of the ship, sat in the pilot's chair, and started his pre-flight checks. He wasn't surprised when Rodney followed him and settled in the co-pilot's seat a few minutes later.

"You should get some sleep," John told him with a quick glance. "It's fifteen hours back to Atlantis. You'll need to take over flying at some point."

"I want to make sure everything is working the way it should first," Rodney replied.

John could hear the exhaustion in McKay's voice and knew he probably wasn't in much better shape. His arm hurt, and his ribs still ached even if they weren't broken. He glanced over at Rodney. "I thought you said everything was fixed."

"It is!" Rodney snapped tiredly. "I just want to make sure it all stays fixed."

John glanced in the back of the jumper and saw Ford stretched out on one of the benches and assumed Teyla was asleep on the other. He closed the bulkhead door between the two compartments, turned back to Rodney, and asked carefully, "You sure you're all right?"

Rodney gave him a fleeting look then turned to look out the window, ignoring the question and the implied offer to talk.

John gave him a few moments to answer and when he didn't get any response, decided to drop the matter, for now. He fired up the engines and lifted off.

The planet's surface quickly dwindled below them until it was little more than a tannish spot as he made an orbit to get them pointed in the right direction for home. They passed the Ancient satellite that had started this whole mess about an hour later and he noticed Rodney refused to even look at it; he fiddled with the controls on the co-pilot panel and never looked up.

They were another hour into their return flight when John noticed the tapping at the other panel had stopped. He glanced over to see Rodney was finally asleep, his head cocked to one side, snoring softly as he slumped in the chair next to John.

"Finally," John muttered to himself. "Long may it last." If what he suspected was true, he knew it wouldn't be long before the nightmares started.

He checked their position on the HUD and nodded at the straight line guiding him back to Atlantis. Markham's jumper showed up as an occasional blip just at the edge of the scanner's range as John goosed the engines as much as he dared to get them back as soon as possible.

He looked over at Rodney again as he twisted slightly in the chair and shook his head sadly.

The trip was supposed to be relaxing and maybe a bit fun for a change. Bring a couple of McKay's scientists out to see the satellite and at the same time let Rodney play with the jumper a little bit. Instead, the two scientists were dead, he was injured, and Rodney had probably witnessed Gall kill himself. John sighed and looked out the window at the endless night wondering what he could do to get Rodney to talk to him.

Rodney shifted in his chair again and started murmuring under his breath.

"Damn," John mumbled to himself and pursed his lips into a frown. "I was really hoping he'd get more sleep before the nightmares started."

Rodney's muttering was getting louder and John could make out a few words as he twisted in the chair.

"Changed … Go on … Save the day …" Rodney jerked awake, one arm hitting the bulkhead beside the co-pilots chair before he shuddered and covered his face with his hands.

John laid a hand on Rodney's arm for a moment to help ground him. "You okay?" he asked softly as he took back control of the jumper with both hands.

Rodney scrubbed a hand over his face and nodded.

"Wanna talk about it?" John asked and glanced over at him. "Everyone else is asleep," he added with a nod at the closed door between the cockpit and the rear compartment. "No one to hear except me."

Rodney took a deep, shuddering breath, held it for a moment, then let it out. "No," he replied bluntly. "He killed himself. What else is there to say?"

John frowned, but when Rodney only glared back at him, he dropped the subject. They sat in awkward silence for another thirty minutes before John gave up. "If you aren't going to sleep, I will," he said. "Switch places with me."

Rodney startled out of his contemplation of the darkness outside and gave John a surprised look. "You mean it?"

John nodded as he stood up and traded places with Rodney. "It's still another twelve hours before we get back." John settled as best he could in the co-pilot chair. "Try to keep it in a straight line this time and wake me up in a few hours to take over."

Rodney grasped the controls tightly as he stared up at the HUD, then out the front screen. John glanced at the display long enough to make sure Rodney was keeping to a reasonably straight course, then closed his eyes and tried to sleep. McKay's issues wouldn't be solved in the few hours they had before their return to Atlantis, but John promised himself he wouldn't let those issues fester for very long. He just hoped Rodney would accept the help.

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

Atlantis glowed with warm yellows and pinks in the early morning light as John brought the ship down toward the control tower and the jumper bay. He wasn't surprised to find Elizabeth waiting for them as the rear hatch opened, but he felt Rodney stiffen beside him; McKay was obviously not expecting a welcoming committee.

"John," Elizabeth greeted as he stepped off the ramp. "How are you?" she asked, glancing at his arm.

"A bit bloody and bruised but otherwise fine," John said with a slight smile.

Rodney snorted behind him but said nothing.

"All of you get checked out and cleaned up. We'll debrief once you've had a chance to get something to eat."

John watched as McKay hurried from the bay, not bothering to acknowledge Weir's statement.

John motioned for Teyla and Ford to go ahead, then said, "Elizabeth? We need to talk," he said and jerked his head back toward the rear of the jumper.

She made a face but followed him back into the jumper and sat on one of the benches.

"Maybe we should hold off on that debrief," John suggested as he took a seat on the opposite bench. "I assume Markham told you what happened."

Elizabeth clasped her hands in front of her as she bent forward with her arms braced on her knees. "Yes, he did," she replied and tipped her head down. "That's why we need to do this quickly. There have been some questions raised by a few of Doctor Gall's friends. They want to know what happened. The sooner we can give them answers, the better. I don't think either of us wants a repeat of the rumors that spread after the Genii came to call."

John scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration. "He doesn't need this," he said softly then looked up, he expression angry. "Damn it, Elizabeth, he witnessed it! He needs time to deal with it before we start questioning him about it."

"In a perfect world, I'd agree with you, John. But as we've discovered over the last few months, Atlantis and the Pegasus galaxy are anything but perfect."

"Fine," John said bluntly and stood. "But we do this my way. The whole team together, no taking him off alone. You ask him what happened and don't push for more than he's willing to say."

"John --"

"Gall shot himself," John told her, his tone hard. "Have you ever seen what a body looks like after something like that? It's not pretty. Don't push him, Elizabeth."

"He needs to talk about what happened, not only for the reports, but for his own well-being. You know that."

"I'll take care of it," John said in a calm, yet determined tone. "I'll get him to talk to me." He stood at the bottom of the ramp to the jumper. "I don't want him pushed somewhere he's not ready to go."

Elizabeth stood as well and clasped her hands behind her back. "We'll try it your way first, John. But understand, I have his best interests at heart, too. Let's get these rumors put to rest. Then you can focus on helping Rodney without worrying about people talking behind his back."

"Fine," John agreed, and stepped aside so she could precede him out of the hanger.

After a quick shower, he headed to the infirmary where Beckett was waiting for him with a frown on his face.

"Trust me, Carson, it was better for everyone if I showered before coming here," John said lightly when he caught a glimpse of the look on Beckett's face.

"Get your shirt off, Major," Carson told him stiffly. "Let's see how bad it is."

John took his shirt off and laid down on the bed Beckett indicated.

As Carson hemmed and hawed and tsked at the state of John's chest - if anything the bruises were even more spectacular now than when they were on the planet - John considered Beckett's mood.

"This isn't just about me being late, is it?" John said as Carson finished checking his ribs.

Carson sighed. "No, it's not," he replied. "I'm worried about Rodney. He didn't say more than five words when he was here and none of them were complaints about me, my staff, or the medical field in general."

John sat up and Beckett started to remove the bandage from his arm. "This is better than I hoped based on what Lieutenant Ford told me," Carson said as he cleaned the bullet wound and probed the edges with practised fingers. "No sign of infection, the lad did a good job, but it does need suturing, just to be sure. I'll be right back."

"I assume you know what happened with Gall?" John asked a few minutes later as Carson started stitching his arm.

"Aye," he replied sadly. "Elizabeth wants Doctor Biro's report on the autopsy she's performing as soon as possible."

John made a face. "I suppose it needs to be done," he said.

Carson finished with the stitches and rewrapped the wound in a fresh bandage. "All right, Major, you seem well enough. No cracked or bruised ribs, but the bruises you do have are going to be painful for a few days. Try to take things easy, won't you? I want you to come back day after tomorrow so I can check your arm."

John hopped off the bed gingerly and pulled his shirt back on. "Elizabeth has called a meeting, are you supposed to be there?"

Carson nodded. "I told Elizabeth I wanted to be there for moral support and, well, just in case."

They entered the conference room a few minutes later to find Teyla, Ford, and Elizabeth waiting. Rodney was nowhere to be found. John was about to head back out to look for him when McKay entered the room, looking drawn and tired. John waited until Rodney took a seat, then sat in the chair next to him. Beckett joined Elizabeth and Teyla and Ford sat on the third side of the triangular table.

"John? Why don't you start," Elizabeth said with a nod once they were all settled.

The meeting went about as well as John expected. He gave Elizabeth a concise, but detailed, report on finding the Wraith ship, discovering the cache of human remains as well as several dead Wraith. He described what had happened to Abrams as quickly as he could, then stopped with a glance first at Rodney, then at Weir.

McKay either looked down at the conference table or at a point on the wall just to the left of Teyla's head. At no point did he look at anyone else in the room. John and Carson exchanged a worried look, but John didn't try to stop the debrief. Get it over with, he thought to himself. If you start, maybe he'll finish it.

"It took us a little longer to find Doctor Gall," John continued and scooted his chair a little closer to Rodney's, close enough that his leg brushed McKay's under the table. "He was barely alive when we got to him. The Wraith was gone, however, heading for the jumper. I had McKay stay with Doctor Gall while I went to deal with the Wraith before he had a chance to contact any hive ships."

"I see," Elizabeth said as she made a few notes on the pad next to her, then looked over at Rodney. "Rodney, I know this is not going to be easy, but I need to know what happened after Major Sheppard left you and Brendan in the Wraith ship."

Rodney focused on his hands clenched on the table in front of him as he told Elizabeth about showing Brendan what he looked like in the mirror and trying to massage the feeling back into Gall's hands in a flat monotone.

"I turned away for just a second," Rodney said with a glance up at Elizabeth then over at John. It was the first time he'd actually looked at any of them since the meeting began. "It was just for a second …" He ducked his head down again.

Elizabeth started to ask a question, but John's glare stopped her. "I think that's enough for now," she said instead. "Major, your team is off rotation for the next forty-eight hours. Try to get some rest."

Rodney was up and gone before John could stop him.

"John?" Elizabeth called as John was about to leave the room. Teyla and Ford waited near the door. "Take care of him," she said sadly.

Rodney managed to elude John for the rest of the day. He wasn't in his quarters or the lab, where John frankly expected him to retreat, and John was at a loss. When Rodney didn't show up for dinner John's worry notched up another level and he was tempted to ask a few of the Marines to start discreetly looking for him but changed his mind when he realised Rodney would never forgive him.

He was aimlessly wandering the halls later that night when he heard music coming from the rec room. He should have known, he thought to himself. He glanced around making sure no one else was in the hallway, then stepped inside the room and let the door whisper shut behind him. Just like the last time John had found him playing late at night, Rodney sat on an upturned crate, his back facing the door, as he played something softly on the keyboard. He'd seen Rodney's shoulders tighten as the door closed, so he knew Rodney knew he was there.

"You missed dinner," John said after a few minutes.

Rodney shrugged and continued to play. The music, melancholy and slow, telling John more about Rodney's mood than anything McKay had said since the Wraith had been blown up the day before.

John slowly walked over, pulled up a crate and sat where he could see Rodney's face.

"What's the piece?" he asked.

"Chopin," Rodney replied. "Nocturne number two in E major." He gave John a fleeting look as he played. "What do you want, John?"

"I want you to talk to me," John told him and when Rodney scowled and started to protest, he held up a hand. "But since I know you aren't ready to do that, I want you to listen."

He waited for Rodney's fingers to still on the keys and for him to look up.

"What you saw with Gall was … there aren't words for how bad it was, I'm sure." Rodney looked away and John waited. "There are two things I want you to understand," he said when Rodney turned back to face him. "First, no matter what you're thinking, Gall's death was not your fault."

Rodney frowned and shook his head as his fingers inched back toward the keyboard.

"Hey," John said and tapped his hand. "It was not your fault." He could tell Rodney didn't believe him and had to stifle the urge to find out exactly what happened in the Wraith ship after he left. He tapped Rodney hand again and continued, "The other thing I want you to know is, when you're ready, you can tell me what happened. I'll listen."

Rodney gave him a fleeting glance, took a deep breath, and nodded.

"Good," John said and stood. "Come on. Let's find you something to eat before you end up in the infirmary and Beckett yells at me for not watching out for you."

Chapter Text

John could hear the yelling as soon as he exited the transporter and rounded the corner to the hallway leading to Rodney's lab. He'd come down to get McKay out of the lab, and the city, for a few hours to go to the mainland. Teyla had flown over to check on the Athosians after the memorial for Gall and Abrams and had radioed that morning she was ready to return. John was taking the opportunity to pick her up as an excuse to take a jumper out and get some flight time.

"It's isn't up for debate," he heard Rodney say. "You were told the request was denied two weeks ago and yet you went to Weir anyway."

"I went because she needs to know how poorly this department is being run," Kavanagh sneered. "I think she would be interested to know how much favoritism goes on around here. I don't see Zelenka's projects getting shot down. Or Grodin's for that matter."

"Maybe that's because they actually come up with viable, testable hypotheses," Rodney retorted.

"Or maybe it's because you're afraid of anyone else looking good? Afraid someone else will be seen as smarter than you are? Doctor Gall certainly wondered about that. Kind of makes what happened to him seem a little convenient."

The sudden silence was ominous, and John hurried the last few steps to the lab. The door was open, which was part of the reason why the yelling match had carried so far down the hall, and John could see Rodney standing at his desk, hands clenched into fists, his face red, as he glared at Kavanagh standing in front of him.

"Get out," Rodney growled and took a step closer to Kavanagh.

Kavanagh must have sensed he'd gone too far as he took a step back from the desk. "You won't do anything to me," he blustered even as he took another step.

"He won't, but I might," John offered casually from the doorway.

"I should have known you would back him up," Kavanagh sneered and glanced back at Rodney. "Must be nice to have the military in your pocket."

John entered the lab, his hands held loosely at his side. "I think Doctor McKay asked you to leave," John said his tone deceptively calm.

Kavanagh looked at Rodney, then John, and shrugged as he turned toward the door.

John stood to one side so Kavanagh could move around him and watched him stalk back down the hall and around the corner. He turned back in time to see Rodney sink into his desk chair and scrub his hands through his hair.

"What was that all about," John asked as he pulled the stool from the work table over and sat at the end of Rodney's desk.

Rodney dropped his hands and glanced at John with a sigh. "I told him two weeks ago his request for space to perform some experiments was denied. He went to Elizabeth and tried to get her to override the decision."

John glanced at the door. "What did he want to do?"

Rodney looked up at him, a scowl on his face. "He wanted to test a new compound derived from one of the elements in some rock samples found on P9X-565."

"Sounds reasonable," John said carefully.

"Yes, that's what Elizabeth said, too, until I pointed out how similar this new element is to naquadah and how explosive raw naquadah can be."

"But this isn't naquadah."

Rodney jerked to his feet and stomped over to the work table and picked up a piece from an Ancient device sitting, half assembled on the surface. "Are you going to start questioning my decisions, too, Major?" he demanded.

"Whoa, hey, calm down," John said holding his hands up. "I'm just trying to understand what happened."

Even though the memorial for Gall and Abrams had been a few days ago, John could tell something was still bothering McKay about their disastrous adventure. Rodney's temper had been on a shorter fuse than normal since their return and, like the confrontation he'd overheard with Kavanagh, the explosions were of anger, not impatience.

He saw the tension drain out of Rodney's shoulders as he sagged against the wall. "Sorry," Rodney mumbled. "I didn't mean to …" He waved the hand holding the component around for a moment before putting the bit of technology back on the table in front of him.

John stood from the stool and walked over to McKay. "Come on," John said and gave Rodney's arm a tap. "I came down here to tell you Teyla called, she's ready to come back from visiting Halling and the others. I'm taking a jumper out to get her and came to see if you wanted to get out of here for a while and come out to the mainland with me."

Rodney shrugged. "Sure. Why not," he replied, turning away from the work table. "Not like I'm getting anything done here."

John accepted the less than eager reply and led the way back to the transporter. He'd heard from Zelenka and Grodin, among others, that Rodney seemed out of sorts even in the lab which had John concerned. The lab was usually Rodney's sanctuary, but he still refused to talk to John about what had happened in the Wraith ship. John knew if he didn't get Rodney to open up soon, Elizabeth, or Carson, or both of them together would insist other measures be taken. While John didn't have an issue with Doctor Heightmeyer, he wasn't sure Rodney would take an order to see her very well.

He watched as Rodney sat in the co-pilot's seat and glanced around as John closed the hatch and started the jumper's engines.

"Ford's not coming, too?" Rodney asked as the jumper lifted off gently.

John shook his head. "He's seeing to the Marine re-qualifications today. Which reminds me, you need more practice on the P-90s, too."

Rodney said nothing as the jumper exited the roof of the tower and headed for the mainland.

The trip was made in silence. Rodney stared out the window at the passing water. John split his attention between watching Rodney and piloting, not liking the quiet. They landed in the clearing behind the little village and walked into the center of the cluster of tents and buildings to find Teyla talking to a group of Athosians, a baby gurgling happily on her hip.

"Major. Doctor McKay," Teyla greeted them with a smile as she handed the infant to one of the women and led a young man over to them.

"Teyla," John replied, looking around. "You ready to go?"

She shook her head. "Therin has some news you should hear first," she said and gestured to the young man beside her.

John glanced from the nervous young man to Teyla calmly standing next to him.

"Okay," John replied with an easy smile.

Teyla motioned toward one of the large meeting tents and gestured to the young man to lead the way.

John and Rodney followed Teyla and the young man with her, presumably Therin, into the tent. They sat at one of the long tables used for meals and John quirked an eyebrow.

"Therin, please tell Major Sheppard what you were saying earlier about the building on Eidolon."

John glanced at the man seated next to Teyla and waited. The man, little more than a boy really, sat up straight and said, "I heard about the building from one of the people on Hyax." He glanced from Teyla to John. "I was there last week with Sergeant Stackhouse?" He waited for John to nod. "Anyway, we were on Hyax to trade and one of the merchants mentioned this building on Eidolon. According to this merchant, it had writings by the Ancestors on the walls."

John felt Rodney stiffen slightly beside him. "What kind of writing?" McKay asked.

Therin shrugged. "The merchant didn't say. Just that he'd heard the story from someone else."

"Did this merchant say anything about what's inside this building?" Rodney pressed. "Any technology or records? Books?"

Therin shook his head. "He wasn't sure. Just that the building had lots of writing on the outside walls. He thought someone from the Ancestor's city should know, but he was afraid to say anything to the Sergeant."

Teyla glanced from John and Rodney back to Therin. "Thank you for telling us, Therin."

Therin bobbed his head and left the tent. John, Rodney, and Teyla followed him a few moments later.

"What do you think?" John asked Teyla as they made their way back to the jumper.

"The people on Hyax are reliable and honest traders. I believe the merchant told Therin about the Ancestor's structure in good faith."

"But?" John prodded. "There's something you aren't saying." He gave Teyla a glance as he finished the preflight and started the jumper's engines.

Teyla pursed her lips. "The planet, Eidolon." She sighed. "It has a strange reputation."

"How strange?" John asked as the ship lifted off from the clearing.

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

"The planet is haunted?" Elizabeth asked looking from John to Teyla as they sat around the conference room table. Rodney, on John's other side and Ford, beside Teyla rounded out the meeting held soon after the jumper had returned from the mainland with news of the Ancient building.

"There's no such thing as ghosts," Rodney pointed out impatiently. "I think I mentioned that on the way back."

"Be that as it may, Doctor McKay," Teyla replied. "Many strange things have happened on Eidolon to others who have travelled there. Many people have told of seeing shadows moving, following them." She looked down at her hands. "There have been a few stories of people vanishing, never to be heard from again."

"Shadows?" John asked. "Like the apparitions the Wraith can project?"

Teyla shook her head. "I am not sure," she admitted. "I was told about the apparitions by someone who visited Eidolon many years ago." She glanced at Rodney. "The woman who told me about the planet said she and her husband saw many strange things while they were on the planet. Some looked like people, others were just shapes or a movement caught just by the corner of the eye." She clasped her hands in front of her. "Rhea's husband was lost on the planet. She believes these spirits took him."

Rodney humphed softly at John's side. Teyla frowned but said nothing.

Elizabeth looked over at Teyla. "I thought you said the planet was deserted. Why do people still go there?"

"There are many wild plants used as medicines in the forest near the stargate. The planet is also known for being a good source for game hunting," Teyla answered. "Few, however, are willing to make the trip or stay very long on the planet's surface because of the ghosts." She glanced at Rodney again. "According to Therin, the Ancestor's building is several miles from the stargate. It does not surprise me no one has ever mentioned it before, few are willing to travel so far from the stargate."

Elizabeth heard a groan and turned to face Rodney.

"I don't suppose we could take a jumper and save ourselves the undoubtedly long and painful walk?"

Teyla shook her head. "The forest is very dense. I am not sure we would be able to see the building from the air."

Rodney sighed. "Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say." He looked up at Weir. "If this planet is somewhere most people don't want to go, then it's possible there's Ancient technology or possibly a Zed-PM still there. We really should check it out."

"John?" Elizabeth asked.

Sheppard shifted in his chair. "The potential for Ancient tech or other resources could be important," he said. "I agree we need to go take a look, but we should send a MALP first. Just to play it safe."

Elizabeth folded her hands over the computer in front of her. "All right. We'll send a MALP and see what sort of information we get back."

"The weather is also extremely unpredictable on Eidolon. One moment it may be sunny and pleasant and then a huge storm forms, seemingly from nowhere," Teyla said. "It may be difficult to obtain reliable data."

"We'll send it anyway," Weir replied. "Hopefully, we'll be able to confirm the planet really is deserted, if nothing else."

"This all could be some sort of elaborate trap by the Genii or even the Wraith to lure a team from Atlantis to the planet," John said to Teyla.

"The Wraith do not use such tactics," she replied.

"But the Genii would," John countered. "I wouldn't put it past someone like Commander Kolya to plant stories as a way to get back at us for throwing him out of Atlantis."

"You really think so?" Rodney asked, and Elizabeth could hear a note of hesitancy in his voice as he rubbed his right arm.

John squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before turning to face Rodney. "It's possible," he replied. "That's why we're sending the MALP first. If the planet really is deserted, another day won't matter."

"That's settled then," Elizabeth said. "I'll have Grodin prep the MALP and send it through to Eidolon. If everything looks good, Major, your team can leave in the morning."

Elizabeth watched as Rodney and the others stood and moved toward the door. "John? Can I speak with you for a moment?" She saw Rodney glance at John then back at her.

John turned back and sat next to Elizabeth as the conference room doors twisted shut.

"Before you ask," John said, "Yes, we are good to go."

Elizabeth nodded. "I'm sure you think so, John. But your last mission --"

"Elizabeth, why do you really think I want a MALP sent through to that planet?" John asked seriously.

Weir ducked her head. "You don't really suspect a Genii plot," she said matter-of-factly.

John leant back in his chair. "No. I don't. I think Teyla's knowledge and intel is right, there's no one on that planet. But if it makes him feel better about it, I'll wait the extra day to make sure."

"And the ghost stories?"

John smiled. "Gotta say I kinda agree with Rodney. Ghosts aren't real." He sat forward. "It's good intel and a chance to find some Ancient technology. We'll be fine."

"All right," she finally said. "Just be careful."

"Always," John replied and stood.

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

Rodney followed Sheppard through the 'gate the next morning into a dazzling display of fall colors. The nearby trees were a vibrant palette of yellows, oranges, and reds that would put Algonquin Park to shame. Unsurprisingly, the 'gate sat in a small clearing raised a meter or so off the ground by a stone plinth. There were no signs of people in the area, the few trails through the trees were narrow, likely from animals. He took a deep breath and relaxed minutely as the leaves rustled and danced in the breeze. The air itself was cool with the smell of dried leaves.

"Good thing we planned to walk," John said conversationally as he looked around. "Getting a jumper through the 'gate would have been a challenge."

Rodney gauged the distance from the nearest trees to the 'gate and reluctantly agreed. A jumper could theoretically make it through, but it would be a tight fit, to say the least.

Ford and Teyla had moved away from the stargate and stood near the DHD looking around at the forest. Rodney glanced over at John in time to see him frown slightly.

"What?" he asked, suddenly on the defensive. "I thought everything was fine according to the MALP."

John glanced over at him. "It is. I just have this weird feeling."

Rodney took another look at the clearing and pulled the Ancient scanner out of his vest pocket. "What sort of weird feeling?" Rodney had learnt over the past few months that while there might not be a scientific explanation for them, John's weird feelings were rarely wrong.

John shrugged and smiled slightly. "Might be nothing," he admitted. "Listening to too many scary stories at camp as a kid."

Rodney snorted and dropped the hand holding the scanner back down to his side. "I doubt some stranger with a hook for a hand will be attacking us," he said sarcastically. So much for the reliability of weird feelings, he thought to himself.

John grinned as he stepped down from the 'gate. "So you've heard that one."

Rodney glared. "Everyone has heard that one. Teyla's people probably have some sort of similar story." Rodney looked over at John who still looked worried. "You're serious about this feeling?"

John sighed. "It's just a feeling. Like everything around us has paused and is waiting for something to happen."

Rodney took another wary look around before he followed John over to Ford and Teyla.

"Wow!" Ford exclaimed. "It's even better than the MALP would have you believe. I always loved the Fall at home. The cooler weather, playing football." He turned around with a nostalgic smile. "My grandmother would start baking apples into everything, pies, bread, cakes."

"Autumn is always a busy time for my people," Teyla said as she walked away from the 'gate. "There is the harvest, hunting for hart and pheasant, collecting and preserving the wild fruits near the village."

"Thanksgiving and Hallowe'en," Ford added with a grin. "Think Doctor Weir would let us trick or treat through Atlantis, sir?"

"I think you're a bit old for costumes, Lieutenant," John replied with a smile.

"Besides," Rodney said, "on Earth, it would be around January, not October. And on Atlantis, it's still late summer."

"Still," Ford said as he walked toward the woods. "It could be fun. We could tell ghost stories, watch scary movies." He turned back and grinned at them.

Rodney ignored him as he tapped at the screen of the Ancient scanner and started looking for life signs. He knew the MALP had confirmed Teyla's statement the planet was deserted except for animals, but after what happened in the Wraith ship, he wasn't taking any more chances. He would double and even triple check every reading this time, just to be sure.

"Did Therin tell you where we could find this Ancient building?" John asked Teyla as they moved away from the 'gate. Rodney kept one eye on the Ancient scanner as he zipped up his jacket. The wind had picked up, sending fallen leaves skittering across their path.

She nodded. "According to what he was told on Hyax, the building is in the forest south of the stargate." She pointed toward the nearest blaze of color. "He was unsure of the distance. Several miles from the stargate at least."

John glanced up at the sky. "Okay, let's see if we can't find it before nightfall, we should have several hours at least. Teyla, you know more about the planet than the rest of us, you take point. Ford, you have our six."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied and stepped aside for the others to walk ahead of him.

Teyla led the way into the woods following one of the game trails and John motioned for Rodney to follow her.

Rodney walked with one eye still on the scanner. He caught John watching him and put the scanner away. "Just checking."

They were a kilometer or so from the 'gate when Rodney thought he saw something in the trees a short distance away. He pulled the scanner back out and pointed it in the direction where he thought he'd seen movement.

"Problem?" John asked softly from Rodney's other side.

Rodney shook his head. "Thought I saw something moving over there." He pointed off to their right.

He watched as John studied the area for several seconds. "Anything on the scanner?"

Rodney fine-tuned the readings and shook his head. "Nothing now."

"Maybe it was an animal of some kind," John suggested. "A deer or something."

Rodney gave the trees another hard look. "Maybe. It didn't look much like a deer."

The wind picked up and the sky Rodney could see through the trees was no longer clear. Dark clouds scudded overhead and the air had an electric quality, the kind he remembered as a kid right before a big storm.

"Major?" Teyla questioned from a short distance ahead.

John and Rodney exchanged a look. "Rodney thought he saw something. Might be nothing more than an animal, but keep your eyes open."

She nodded and Rodney watched as Teyla made a careful survey of the area near them before she set out again.

They hiked for another hour before Teyla held up a hand. "Major," she said in a low voice, "I believe we have found the building."

Rodney followed John out of the trees and into a clearing not much bigger than the building itself, with a stone-lined path leading from one edge of the forest to the door. It looked like a ramshackle house constructed and then expanded over time as it sprawled across the clearing. The center of the building was two stories high and made from a beige-colored stone. Two wings twice as long as the rest of the structure was high, spread out under the nearby trees made of the same material.

Sections of the house were obscured by some kind of ivy growing up the walls, completely obscuring any windows. There was only the one door, two large blocks of the beige stone sitting at the top of two wide steps, intricately carved and divided in the middle so they could swing outward when opened. The main building had what looked like Ancient script around the stone doors and most of the front-facing wall. Curiously, none of the writing was obscured by the ivy and a corner of Rodney's mind wondered why, even as the larger part tried to translate the text.

John signalled Ford to move to the left while he moved to the right, checking the nearby trees and around the corners of the rambling structure. Rodney glanced up and saw the scudding cloud had gathered into a dark wall. The air smelt of rain and he hoped they were inside before the storm broke. He headed for the wall with the writing. Teyla followed him, her eyes alert and her P-90 held low but ready.

"Can you read what it says?" she asked as she reached out a hand to touch the writing.

Rodney shook his head. "Not sure it's even Ancient. It looks more like the writing I found in those ruins near Laren's village. I can read a word or two, but Elizabeth could probably translate the entire message, she's been working on translating the text I found a few months ago. Hang on." He unclipped his pack, set it against the wall, and took out the video camera. "Let me get this recorded while there's still enough light." He glanced up at the gathering clouds again. "Then I'll figure out how to open the door."

He waited until Teyla was out of the frame, turned on the camera and did a slow pan of the front of the building, then zoomed in to record the details of the writing. The more he studied the text, the more convinced he became the writing wasn't Ancient. It had the same flowing, artistic style as the writing in the ruins on Laren's planet. The Ancient text in Atlantis was blocky in comparison.

He recorded the rest of the building and the surrounding trees just for good measure and smiled slightly as he let the camera record Sheppard as he came back around to the front of the building and walked back toward him.

Once he had good images of all of the writing, he put the camera away and stood in front of the door. He ran his fingers over a few of the glyphs but couldn't make out more than a word or two.

"You said you understood a few of the words," Teyla prompted as John and Ford rejoined them.

"Yeah, it doesn't really make sense though," Rodney replied. "Something about a house of sorrow, or maybe lament? Like I said, I don't think it's actually written in Ancient."

Rodney felt around the door until he found an access panel covered in more of the ivy growing around the house. He tore away the vines and waved his hand over the sensor, but the doors didn't respond.

"Great," he muttered as he pulled off the panel cover and peered inside.

There was a rumble of thunder overhead and John said, "Might want to hurry up. Otherwise, we're going to get soaked. And I know how much you enjoy getting wet."

Rodney scowled back at Sheppard, then up to the sky just in time to see a flash of lightning, and went back to the access panel. The components were different from the doors in Atlantis, there were no crystals, instead, the mechanism appeared to be based on something almost Earth-like with strange wires and what looked like complex circuit boards. More evidence in his mind this wasn't an Ancient building after all.

He studied the mass of wires and circuits for several minutes, tracing various wires with his fingers, before he figured out which circuits to remove and reset. This time when he waved his hand over the sensor, there was a low grinding noise as the two big, stone doors slowly opened outward, forcing all of them to skip back out of the way.

John waved Ford inside and handed Rodney his pack just as the sky opened up, not with a gentle patter, but a deluge of water. All thoughts of a careful reconnaissance were tossed aside as they were quickly soaked and scrambled for the relative safety of the building. Once they were all inside, the doors slowly ground themselves closed with an ominous crash.

Rodney wiped his jacket sleeve over his face as he pulled the small flashlight out of his vest pocket and turned it on. They appeared to be in a small vestibule with a wide door at one end and steps leading down into another room. Rodney flashed his light over the doors and frowned.

"There's no panel on this side," he said to John.

John turned back to the doors, moving the barrel light from his P-90 over the frame. "The doors open outward," he said to Rodney. "Worst case, we can just push them open again."

Rodney gave the doors one last suspicious look, then turned back around, flashlight in one hand, backpack in the other.

"I don't suppose you could find the light switch," John said as he looked around with the barrel light.

Rodney frowned. "If this really is an Ancient building, the lights should come on in response to the ATA gene," he said as he moved around John toward the steps at the other end of the vestibule. "Assuming, of course, there's still some sort of power source."

"Nothing's happening," Ford pointed out from one side of the vestibule.

"Yes, thank you," Rodney retorted. "Maybe we just need to be further into the house first," he suggested and started down the steps.

"Stay behind me," John said as he stepped in front of Rodney and put out a hand to stop him. "Teyla, Ford," he added and motioned each of them to take up a flanking position.

Rodney started to protest that the house was supposed to be empty, but relented when he remembered what had happened in the Wraith ship. He surreptitiously pulled out the scanner, started a search for life readings, and waited as John carefully moved through the wide doorway and down the three steps into what looked like a Victorian-era sitting room, complete with richly papered walls, a chaise lounge, and wing chairs huddled around small tables.

Once John signalled the room was clear, Rodney entered the room and glanced around. He felt a bit guilty dripping water on the expensive-looking carpet, and took a few minutes to shed his wet jacket and stuff it into his backpack before putting his tac-vest back on. He set the backpack against the leg of a table near the door and played his flashlight along the walls until he found, of all things, an old-fashioned light switch and twisted it.

Electric lights began to glow from lamps on the tables as well as sconces on the walls. With the better light, he could see the walls were covered with a dark blue wallpaper with a gold paisley design worked throughout. The tables scattered around the room were covered with hand-worked lace doilies and cluttered with various knick-knacks.

"This is a very strange room," Teyla said as she picked up a ceramic figurine from one of the tables. "What is the purpose of such frippery?" she asked as she looked around.

"Usually to collect dust," John said absently as he walked around the room, his reflection caught in two long mirrors flanking another door out of the sitting room.

Teyla gave John a confused look as she put the figurine back on the table.

John glanced up at the ceiling as a crash of thunder sounded overhead and the rain pounded down even harder. "It doesn't sound like we're going to be leaving any time soon," he said. "May as well try to figure out what this place is and if there's anything worth taking back."

"This doesn't make any sense," Rodney mumbled as he studied the Ancient scanner, still looking for any life signs. "How would anyone in the Pegasus galaxy even know about something like this?" he asked as he looked at a pair of vases on the mantle over a fireplace at the opposite end of the room from the steps.

He adjusted the scanner to look for energy signatures and slowly turned in a circle until there was a blip on the screen and a scroll of data rolled past on the small screen. "There's something in that direction," he said and pointed toward the door between the two long mirrors. "It looks like a fairly strong energy reading."

John took one last look around the sitting room then led the way out the other door and into a long hallway. Rodney followed him, twisting on another light switch, and pointed to the right. "Down there," he said.

They walked past an ornately carved wooden staircase and down a carpeted hallway with paintings of the forest on the walls and more electric lights in sconces every meter or so. John entered another room and Rodney stopped as soon as he crossed the threshold.

"Doctor McKay?" Teyla asked softly from behind him. "Are you all right?"

Rodney ignored her as he stared around the room. It wasn't possible. This couldn't be what it looked like, he told himself. He glanced to his right and saw the grand piano standing in a corner and swallowed hard.

"Rodney?" John said.

Rodney pulled his mind back from the flood of memories and focused on Sheppard standing in front of him, a worried look on his face.

"This is the den in my parent's house," he said softly as he looked around again at the piano, the high shelves of books, and the leather furniture scattered around the room. All of it was familiar, and all of it made him uncomfortable. He did not have many happy memories surrounding this room. He walked around the room, stopped at the piano, and ran his hand over the glossy black surface.

"You said the energy signature was coming from somewhere in here?" John asked a few seconds later.

Rodney jumped slightly and saw John frown. "Umm, yes," he croaked and coughed. He turned his back on the piano and focused on the scanner. "Yes," he said again, and was relieved to hear his voice sounded more normal. "Not sure where exactly, though. According to this, it should be behind the bookshelves."

"Like a hidden room?" Ford asked as he wandered over to the books.

John studied the room for a few seconds then said, "All right, Ford, stay here with McKay. See if you can find this energy reading. Teyla and I will check out the rest of this floor and see what else we can find." He looked from Ford to Rodney. "We'll be back inside twenty. If you find the energy source, use the radio."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied from behind Rodney.

Rodney waved in John's general direction as he focused on the scanner and then the shelves along the wall opposite the door. He had to keep telling himself the room wasn't what it looked like, there was no way his parent's den could be in the Pegasus galaxy.

"You sure you're okay, Doc?" Ford asked once John and Teyla were gone. "You look a little pale and you've been standing there staring at those books for a while now."

Rodney gave him a distracted nod and moved along the shelves looking for the spot where the energy reading was the strongest. Pull it together, he told himself. This is not what it looks like. It's some sort of optical illusion. The question is why? Why a Victorian sitting room and why his parent's den?

"Ford, this is Sheppard. Come in," they both heard over the open frequency ten minutes later.

"Ford here, sir," he replied.

"We've got a bit of a situation here, Lieutenant, and need some help."

Ford and Rodney exchanged a quick look. "How serious is the situation, sir," Ford asked as he turned to the door and the hallway John and Teyla had disappeared down a few minutes before.

"Nothing too serious, Lieutenant," John replied. "We've found another room, but need help moving some crates to get inside. Is the room you're in now still secure?"

Ford glanced around. "Yes, sir."

"Fine. Rodney, you stay there. Do not leave. Ford, head down the right-hand hallway and meet us in the room at the end of the hall."

Rodney frowned. It wasn't like John to leave him alone on missions. On the other hand, the house seemed empty, and if John needed the help, who was he to argue? "I'll stay here and keep looking for the energy reading," he finally confirmed over the radio.

"Fine. Ford, we'll wait for you to get here."

"Yes, sir. I'll be right there. Ford out."

"You sure you're going to be okay, Doc?" Ford asked as he stood in the doorway.

"Yes, yes, go," Rodney replied. "It sounds like Sheppard needs the help. I'll be fine."

Ford hesitated for a few moments longer then left. Rodney saw him head down the hallway and turned back to the bookshelves. He'd reached the end of the bookcases, still unable to pinpoint where the energy reading was coming from and was getting frustrated with the scanner, the room, and himself. He wandered back across the room near the corner opposite the piano and started scanning again.

"I thought they would never leave," a familiar voice said from behind him.

Rodney felt the blood drain from his face as he swallowed. He knew that voice, and more importantly, he knew there was no way the person it belonged to should be able to speak to him.

Rodney slowly turned around but stayed near the corner of the room. Standing near the sofa, looking normal, not prematurely aged, or, more importantly, dead, was Brendan Gall. He glanced at the scanner in his hand wondering why it hadn't picked up any life readings inside the house.

"John!" he yelled into his radio as he pocketed the scanner and started for the door, but the … thing in front of him blocked his way. He tapped his radio and tried again, "McKay to Sheppard. John? Are you there." He didn't get any response and pulled out the earpiece to check it. He tapped his radio again. "John, can you hear me?" He took the receiver out of his ear again and started to pry the back off the small device.

"You can tear the radio apart all you like, it still won't work," the Gall-looking thing said. "Major Sheppard can't hear you."

Rodney took a step back as he stuffed the earpiece in his vest pocket and looked around for another way out of the room.

"No way out of this room, Rodney," the Gall-like thing said as if reading his mind. "And no way for Sheppard and the others to find you. Plenty of time for us to have a nice long chat before you die."

Chapter Text

John walked down the hall, his senses alert and the P-90 held low and ready. He'd had an uneasy feeling from the moment they stepped through the 'gate. Since they'd entered the house, the feeling had only become stronger. He'd learnt a long time ago to trust those odd feelings and now he felt his spine tighten as he and Teyla explored the mysterious house.

The old-fashioned sitting room was bad enough, but when Rodney said the den looked exactly like the one in the house where he'd grown up, John's bad feeling was confirmed. Someone or something was manipulating the rooms, he just wasn't sure how or why. Was it something benevolent trying to make them feel comfortable in an attempt to make contact, or was it malevolent and the house was little more than a lure to a trap? And if there was some sort of alien living in the house, why hadn't the scanner picked up anything? Rodney had been watching the Ancient device like a hawk ever since they came through the 'gate. If there was something here to find, John figured he would have mentioned it.

He glanced up as another clap of thunder shook the house. He tried to tell himself he was just being paranoid, but the storm hitting just as Rodney opened the door to the house seemed highly suspect as well. The more he thought about it, the less he liked the situation, and was more and more sure he'd led his team into some sort of trap. If you know it's a trap you can beat it, he told himself. As long as they stayed together, or at least in two-man teams, the better their chances were of getting back to Atlantis.

He found another doorway, and entered, twisting the light switch as he stopped just inside the room. A huge mahogany sideboard took up one wall of the room while a beautifully crafted table set with delicate bone china dishes surrounded by twelve chairs occupied the center of the room.

"Do you think this was another room from Doctor McKay's childhood?" Teyla asked as she wandered around the table, running her fingers over the backs of the chairs.

John shook his head. "No, this almost looks like my grandmother's formal dining room," he replied as he walked over to the sideboard and opened one of the doors, already knowing what he would find. He slammed the door closed and scowled up at the ceiling. "I don't know what you think you're doing, but it's not going to work," he yelled angrily.

"Major?" Teyla asked as she looked up as well.

John gave the ceiling one last glare then pointed to the door. Teyla bent down and opened the door to see inside the low cabinet.

"David and I did that," John explained, pointing out the initials carved into the wood on the back of the door. "I was eight and David was six. My father grounded us for a month when he found out what we'd done."

Teyla traced the roughly cut 'JS' and 'DS' carved into the fine grain of the door.

"There is no way this room should be here," John growled with a last look around the room. Whatever was going on, he'd had enough. Storm or not, they were leaving. Getting soaked was the lesser of two evils in his mind, even if it did mean listening to Rodney complain all the way back to the 'gate about how sick he was going to get. "We need to get back to Rodney and Ford and get out of here."

"But the storm --" Teyla started to say.

John shook his head and led the way back out of the dining room. "We'll survive getting wet," he told her shortly as they walked back up the hallway. "Something is wrong with this house," he continued. "I don't know what it is, and I don't really care. We need to get back to Atlantis. I doubt there's any Ancient technology or anything else we can use."

He marched back up the hall, forcing himself not to break into a run, in the direction of the den. Teyla followed him, her face a mask of concern. He passed the ornate staircase, stopped and looked around. "This isn't right," he said and turned around. "Where's the room where we came in?"

Teyla walked back along the hall, looking at the walls. "It should be somewhere here," she said and touched the solid wall to her right.

John followed her, examining the wall as he walked. He didn't see the sitting room they'd walked into or the big stone doors. "It's trapped us in here," he growled and felt along the wall again.

"That does not make sense," Teyla replied. "How could a building trap us?"

John looked up and down the hall with a scowl. "The same way it can move rooms," he said. "The question is why. Why trap us here at all?"

John stormed back up the hall, passed the staircase on his right and stopped where he thought the door to the den should be. He walked into the room, turning on the light as he entered. Instead of finding a room with bookshelves, a piano, and more importantly Rodney, he walked into what looked like a study. The walls were panelled in dark wood, with a desk in one corner a pair of leather chairs faced the desk.

"This is not the same room," Teyla said as she followed him. "We could not have made a wrong turn." She looked up at John, her expression a mixture of confusion and worry.

John felt the scowl on his face again and tapped his radio. A corner of his mind told him he wouldn't get a response even as he said, "Ford, this is Sheppard. Respond." He glanced at Teyla. "Rodney, it's John. Answer me." He waited several seconds then tapped off the radio and went back into the hall.

He looked one way, then the other trying to decide where to start looking for his two missing people.

"The paintings are different," Teyla said as she followed him into the hall.

"What?" John asked in frustration.

She pointed to the nearest painting. "When we left the … den and found the room you said looked like your grandmother's dining room, the paintings were of the forest. Now they are of buildings."

John glanced at the paintings, then at the walls themselves. Not only were the paintings different, but the walls were painted a different color and the floor was now polished wood instead of thick carpet.

"We need to find Rodney and Ford, now," John growled and started down the hallway again.

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

Ford jogged back up the hallway looking for the room where the Major and Teyla were waiting. He saw what had to be the place ahead of him and sped up slightly as he came around the corner. He expected to see Major Sheppard waiting for him, instead, he found himself back in the sitting room. Except it wasn't the same room.

The walls were papered in a green floral pattern instead of the blue, the mirrors by the door were gone, and the furniture was different. He carefully walked around the room noting the long couch and high-backed chairs had been replaced with thin spindly little chairs and tables. He found Doctor McKay's backpack sitting on one of the chairs instead of on the floor where he'd left it and suspiciously looked around the room again. Ford frowned as he shouldered the pack and went back into the hallway.

"Major Sheppard?" Ford said as he tapped his earpiece. "Teyla? Are you reading me? Doctor McKay?" He shifted the two packs on his back. "Is anyone there?" he said, and while the radio was still set to an open channel, he spoke to the house at large as much as his teammates.

He walked back through the now green sitting room looking for the other doorway that led back to the vestibule with the big stone main doors, but there were no other exits out of the room. He felt along the wall where the door should be looking for a seam, or latch, anything that would tell him where the front doors had gone, but didn't find anything. It was as if the doors never existed.

Ford went back out into the hallway walking in the direction of where he thought the vestibule should be until he found another doorway. He fumbled along the wall until he found the odd light switch, twisted it, and stared in disbelief. He was in his grandmother's kitchen; he would have known the room anywhere. He slowly stepped into the room, running a hand along the center island with the large butcher block at one end his grandmother used as a cutting board. He smiled slightly when he pulled back a corner of the floral wallpaper and found the drawing on the wall he'd done when he was four. He looked around the room again and thought he caught a whiff of an apple pie and glanced at the oven, only to find it cold.

For all the happy memories he had of the kitchen and his grandmother, it didn't make sense the room should be here. Now he understood the shocked expression on Doctor McKay's face when they'd found his family's den.

"What the hell?" he muttered as he left the kitchen and headed back down the hallway to the den. If he couldn't find Major Sheppard he needed to get back to the room where he'd left Doctor McKay. He didn't like the idea of one of them being left alone in the house. Something was starting to feel off about the place, and all he wanted to do was find the rest of the team and head back to the 'gate.

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

Rodney stared at the man standing in front of him. "What kind of sick joke is this?" Rodney demanded to the room at large. "You aren't real," he told Gall. "You can't be real."

Brendan smiled. "I'm as real as everything else you see here, Rodney."

He shook his head and looked at the scanner, it still only showed one life reading. The thing in front of him was not a ghost, he told himself firmly. Maybe it was some kind of hologram or recording. He stuffed the unhelpful scanner back in a vest pocket.

Rodney glanced around the den and shuddered before he turned back to the door. John's order to stay where he was forgotten in his need to get away from whatever was in the room with him. He walked out of the room expecting to be in the hall only to find himself back in the den. "That should not have happened," he muttered. He turned around and walked out the door again.

And found himself back in the den.

"I told you already, you won't be allowed to leave," the Gall-like thing told him and Rodney thought he saw it lick its lips. "I control everything about this house, what you see, what you hear." the Gall-thing studied him intently. "You came into this house willingly. You did not heed the warnings. Now you are mine."

"What warnings?" Rodney asked with a glare. "All I could translate was something about sorrow."

The Gall-thing nodded. "The people who once lived here wrote that warning when they discovered they could not destroy this house. Once they realised the truth of what had happened to their family members and friends, they left this planet and I was reduced to feeding only when a hapless traveller, such as yourself, wandered inside." It looked out one of the ivy-covered windows as thunder cracked overhead. " I have not had many to feed on recently. It seems rumors have spread this planet is not safe. Few come here now, and of those, most stay near the Portal." It stepped closer to Rodney. "You and your associates are the first guests I've had in a very long time."

Rodney choked on the word 'guest' and looked around the room for some way to escape. "What are you?" he asked as he tried to hide how afraid he suddenly was. "I know you aren't Brendan because he's dead. I know you aren't his ghost because there's no such thing as ghosts."

"I am the Eidolon," the Gall-thing said.

Rodney snorted. "And people think I have an ego. You named the planet after yourself?"

The Eidolon took another step toward him. "Long ago, this planet had another name," it said. "The people who fled this planet carried with them stories about me. Over the generations, the stories spread and the names became confused."

"Why do you look like Brendan Gall?" Rodney asked as he looked around the room again. There had to be a way to send a signal to Sheppard telling him where he was.

The Eidolon looked down at itself. "Like everything else you see in this house, it came from your mind. Your feelings of guilt regarding this man's death are what I want. Guilt, fear, they are powerful emotions. Such emotions season the meal, so to speak." It eyed Rodney up and down and took a step closer.

"I don't think so. I'm not letting you anywhere near me," Rodney replied as he unholstered the Beretta and pointed it in the general direction of the Eidolon. And froze. He knew he should fire. He knew the thing standing in front of him wasn't Brendan. All he saw, however, was Gall, telling him he'd changed, telling him to go and save the day. He swallowed hard and tried to hide the rising panic as the gun wavered and the Eidolon took another step.

"It's too late for that," the Eidolon said and Rodney felt a cold, scaly hand wrap around his wrist.

He pulled out of the grip, dropping the gun, and took a few stumbling steps backward until his back hit the edge of the piano and he moved around far enough to have the instrument between them. He noticed a burning sensation in his arm and glanced down to see he was bleeding. "What did you do to me?" he demanded, staring first at the wound in his arm, then back up at the Eidolon.

"The venom will take control soon," the Eidolon explained, its voice almost hypnotic as it watched him.

"Venom?" Rodney repeated. "You poisoned me?" He clapped a hand over the small puncture wound in his arm, his eyes wide with fear as visions of dying of old age in his thirties started to play through his mind.

The Eidolon laughed as if reading his mind. "I am not Wraith," it said. "I am far older than that race of vultures. You will not age prematurely as I feed. When you die, you will look just as you do now," it told him. "Eventually, however, you will stop fighting the inevitable, and once you are unconscious, I will feast on what remains." The Eidolon gave him an evil smile.

Rodney jutted out his chin. "You might find that easier said than done," he retorted trying to sound defiant as opposed to scared out of his wits. He glanced down at his arm and saw it was still bleeding slightly from the two puncture marks. "I rarely follow orders, just ask Sheppard. Speaking of which, what makes you think he won't find me?"

The Eidolon laughed. "Every part of this house is controlled by me. Oh, you could escape if you found the main doors, true, but I can manipulate space within these walls, make rooms appear, or disappear at will. Even now, the others of your party are hopelessly lost, wandering from room to room." It looked toward a corner of the den with a distant look in Gall's eyes. "Yes," it murmured, "Sheppard is trying to find you. He has discovered part of the truth about this house. He knows it's a trap but he doesn't yet understand why." It smiled wickedly. "He is intelligent. So many over the centuries never understood why they were here until it was too late. Who knows, maybe I will let him find this room again, but not until it is far too late to save you."

"And then you'll, what, feed on them, too?" Rodney snarled in an attempt to not sound afraid.

The Eidolon laughed. "You are a genius," it said. "I've grown weak from the lack of humans to feed upon. Even my control over the house has faltered of late. You and the others will give me the renewed energy I need to sustain myself and control this house for a very long time to come."

It took another step toward the piano and Rodney.

McKay slithered out from behind the piano before he became trapped and made his way over to the sofa near the bookshelves.

The Eidolon seemed unphased and simply turned around. "Why do you persist in trying to evade me? You cannot escape." It paused, looking Rodney up and down again. "It seems you need a demonstration of my true power."

Before Rodney could blink, the Eidolon was beside him, a hand wrapped around his wrist again. Rodney felt himself sag slightly as his legs trembled and he felt himself sinking as he heard a soft hiss of pleasure near his ear.

Rodney rubbed at his tired eyes as he retraced a finger along the schematic for the recently repaired power systems, trying to take his mind off Wraith, Ancient satellites, and Gall. Whatever Atlantis had done to reroute power back into the rest of the city from the Entry Room with the twin control chairs, had actually helped with their grid issues in general. He was still trying to figure out how.

Someone knocking on the door made him look up, glare at the door, and go back to his analysis. He'd had enough of the so-called well-wishers over the last two days. He wasn't sure which was worse, the accusatory looks he'd received before Elizabeth's announcement of the findings regarding Gall's death, or the sympathetic ones after the news came out.

Since the results of the autopsy and investigation were posted, it seemed everyone felt the need to pat him on the shoulder or squeeze his hands. The worst had to be the number of women, mostly scientists, though one or two of the female Marines as well, that had insisted on hugging him. He'd tried being brusque, then outright rude to get everyone to stop. He didn't much care for people touching him under the best of circumstances, but it didn't work. Instead, he was met with more sympathy and patting, so he'd opted for retreating to his lab and locking the door.

He traced various lines and junctions for the power systems and thought he was close to figuring out how the power had been boosted to feed the control chairs when there was more pounding on the door.

"Rodney, if you don't open this door, I will," Sheppard threatened over the radio. <

Knowing Sheppard would do exactly that, Rodney scrubbed a hand through his hair, slid off his stool, and went to the door. He opened it, prepared to tell Sheppard he was busy, but stopped short in surprise. Standing in front of him was John Sheppard, not in his usual black Atlantis uniform, but his Air Force dress uniform. It was something Rodney had only seen once before, at the memorial held for Baker and Delgado after the storm.

"The memorial for Gall and Abrams is in an hour," John said as he gave Rodney a quick once over.

Rodney glanced at his watch and turned back to the work table.

"You were going, weren't you?" John asked carefully as he followed him over to the work table.

"Yes, of course," Rodney snapped and rubbed his head. "I just lost track of time," he admitted in a slightly more conciliatory tone.

"Well, then, it's a good thing I decided to drop by," John said, and Rodney saw the worried look John gave him. "Come on," he tilted his head back toward the door, "get changed and we'll go together."

Rodney sighed as he shut down the computer, his idea about the power system lost thanks to John's interruption, and led the way out of the lab and back to his quarters.

"Have you had any sleep at all since we got back?" John asked as Rodney hunted through the closet for the one dress shirt and jacket he'd thought to bring to the Pegasus galaxy.

Rodney shrugged. "Some," he hedged. He didn't want John to know he'd woken from nightmares after only an hour or two of sleep each night since they returned to the city. John looked worried enough about him already.

"Uh huh, that's what I thought," John replied.

Rodney jumped at the sound of another clap of thunder, shook his head, and looked down at his hands gripping the back of the leather sofa. His arm felt like it was on fire and he found the puncture wounds were now surrounded by a circular mark about the size of a quarter that still slowly dripped blood.

He forced his legs to stop quivering as he pulled himself upright against the back of the sofa. He looked around and saw the Eidolon standing a few steps away, a look of ecstasy on Gall's face.

"Oh, yes," it said, "that is exactly the sort of emotion I require." It looked over at Rodney and smiled. "You feel it now, do you not?" it asked. "As you become weaker, the venom will only heighten your sense of fear, thus providing more sustenance for me."

Rodney caught a glimpse of the sucker-like protrusion in the Eidolon's hand and hid his own shaking hands behind his back. He wasn't sure what had just happened, but he couldn't deny he felt fatigued, like after one of Teyla's workouts, or when John made him run laps. His muscles felt rubbery and he ached, but he was determined to find a way to at least warn John and the others.

"You are stubborn," the Eidolon said as it watched him, "but it will not matter. You will die soon and so will those who came here with you."

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

John felt his frustration mounting as he and Teyla moved from room to room. So far they'd found the dining room twice, with subtle differences, a mudroom, something with a bunch of plants, and a kitchen. No sign of the den, or Ford, or Rodney. The more he thought about it, the more John had to wonder if the whole point of the house was to isolate them from each other, though he couldn't figure out why. He consoled himself with the knowledge McKay wasn't alone and Ford would do whatever was necessary to keep him safe.

They passed the staircase again, now looking plain and utilitarian as opposed to being ornately carved, and finally found the sitting room again. Only it no longer looked like a sitting room.

"This is the inside of the meeting tent," Teyla said as they entered a room with a long wooden table with benches on either side filled one end of the room. The walls were of canvas and the floor was strewn with cushions. A large stove-like device stood in the middle of the room. She wandered through the room and John saw a small smile on her face. "In a way, I have missed this," she said wistfully. "My father or Halling would tell tales after the evening meal in this tent." She looked over at John. "Why would it be here?"

John shook his head. "Why would anything we've found be here," he asked, frustrated as he moved around the room. "I just want to find the room where we left Ford and McKay and get out of here." He stopped pacing around the tent-like room and slumped down on one of the benches.

"You are worried about them," Teyla said with a nod. "I am concerned as well. We should have found them by now."

John scrubbed a hand over his face and told himself again that Rodney was not alone, Ford was with him, and they would look out for each other.

"Major? May I ask you something? I admit it is of a personal nature," Teyla asked as she joined him and sat on the other side of the table.

"What?" John said. He heard the snap in his tone and gave Teyla a crooked smile. "Sorry, Teyla. I didn't mean to bark at you."

She brushed aside his apology and steepled her hands in front of her on the table. "Are you able to determine anything of Doctor McKay's condition from the link you share?"

John closed his eyes and shook his head. "I don't think it works like that," he told her after a few moments. "I don't know what he's feeling or thinking, and I don't want to. It would be a breach of trust."

She nodded. "I agree, Major. But you can sense when he is injured."

"Yeah," John said only half-listening as he considered other ways of getting back to the den. "Elizabeth thought it was a sort of early warning system to prevent a mentally linked pair from using those chairs unless both people were healthy."

Teyla glanced around the room as if searching for eavesdroppers. "Do you sense Doctor McKay in any pain now?" she asked carefully.

John started to say something and stopped as he focused on what she'd said. He didn't feel the itch at the back of his skull, or worse one of the spikes, he was relieved to note. Did that mean McKay was fine or was he already dead? Somehow he had the feeling if Rodney had died, he would have known it, through more than just the mental link.

"Okay, he's not hurt," John agreed grudgingly. "But why can't we get back to the room that looked like his parent's den? This house is trying to keep us away from him and maybe Ford, too, for some reason."

"I agree, although I do not understand the reason for such behavior." She suddenly stood from the table, her eyes wide.

John started to say something but stopped, cocking his head toward the door as she moved around the cushions on the floor near the stove. He thought he heard running footsteps in the hall and glanced at Teyla as she raised her P-90 and stood to one side of the door. John readied his weapon and took the other side of the door. A few seconds later, Ford came around the corner and skidded to a stop, his hands held away from his body and his eyes wide with surprise.

"Ford!" John exclaimed as he lowered his weapon. "What the hell are you doing? I thought I told you to stay with McKay."

Ford frowned and dropped the hands. "You called me on the radio and said you needed help." He looked from Sheppard to Teyla. "I don't understand, sir. Your message said you'd found another room, but you needed help moving some stuff out of the way," Ford told him. "I got here as fast as I could. I kept getting lost, the rooms keep changing."

John glowered and moved past Ford and stood in the hallway.

"What's going on?" he heard Ford ask from behind him as he studied the hallway.

"Major Sheppard did not summon you, Lieutenant," Teyla said and he heard them follow him back out into the hall.

"But, we heard you," Ford said and stopped at Sheppard's side. "I even asked Doctor McKay if he would be all right while I came to help you. I swear, Major, I never would have left him alone otherwise."

"I know that, Lieutenant," John replied. "And I have a sneaking suspicion whatever wanted to get Rodney alone knew that, too."

"Major?" Teyla asked.

John looked back at her, his expression hard. "I told you I thought whatever was going on here, was all to get one of us isolated from the rest." He glanced at Ford and saw the guilty look on the Lieutenant's face. "Well, whoever, or whatever, it is, they've succeeded," John said harshly. "We need to find McKay and that room and then get the hell out of here."

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

Rodney glowered from his position near the sofa. Think, he told himself, there had to be a way to fight back, keep that thing from draining what? His blood? His life-force? He looked down at the circular wound in his arm. It was still bleeding and he tried bunching his shirt against the wound to get it to stop. If he had any hope of surviving, he had to give John more time to find him.

The Eidolon chuckled as if reading his mind and Rodney realised with a shudder that it probably was doing just that.

"What else is hiding in your mind that I can feed upon?" it asked, suddenly beside him, reaching out its hand again.

Rodney didn't move fast enough and felt the sucker attach to his arm as the burning sensation travelled up his arm and into his back.

He stood at the control box, his eyes wide with fear as Ford shocked John and his heart stopped. For a moment Rodney's brain locked up; he simply stared, dumbfounded, at John's unmoving body on the floor of the jumper. One of the few people in the universe that had shown any sort of interest in or friendship toward him in a very long time had just died, on his own orders.

"No pulse," Ford yelled even as Teyla tried to pull the bug off John's neck.

It wasn't coming off, Rodney realised. John had killed himself for no reason, the damned bug was still attached to him. He tried to pace in the small area near the bulkhead between the two benches, but he was only allowed two steps in each direction. Instead, he hugged his arms around his chest and watched, helplessly, as Teyla and Ford tried to save Sheppard's life.

Then, "Settle. It may take a moment," Beckett said over the radio.

Rodney tried to let Carson's calm voice soothe his shattered nerves, but all he could think about was that Sheppard was technically dead. His brain was slowly dying, and everyone was just standing there, waiting. He stood near the bulkhead door, frozen, watching Sheppard not breathing.

Finally, Teyla was able to pull the bug off John's neck. Rodney watched as if from the other end of a long tunnel as Ford shot the thing several times before Teyla covered it with a jacket. His brain detached even further as he idly wondered whose jacket it had been.

Then Ford had tried to restart John's heart, and it hadn't worked. Rodney felt his own breathing hitch in his chest with the realisation John was still dead. He'd nearly lost it completely then, stumbling in shock as Ford and Teyla moved John closer to the front of the jumper and the shimmering event horizon. He didn't think he'd ever forget the frightened look Teyla gave him as she pulled John into the event horizon.

Once John was gone, Rodney mechanically went back to work trying to get the drive pods to retract. If he couldn't figure out the systems soon, they were all going to be dead. Elizabeth's reminder of only having seven minutes left wasn't doing anything to help with the problem. He tried to concentrate on tracing circuit paths, but he couldn't help the fear gnawing at the back of his mind. John was dead. John was dead. John was dead, he heard over and over as he tested crystals. It was no wonder when he finally hit the right combination of circuits in the control box and the pods finally retracted, that he needed Kavanagh to remind him of Newton's First Law.

Once they were back in Atlantis and John had revived, Beckett had tried to keep him out of the infirmary, but Rodney couldn't stay away. He needed to be sure John was going to stay amongst the living, that he wasn't going to leave, wasn't going to leave him, again. For the first time in his life, Rodney valued someone else's well being above his own and that scared him almost as much as nearly losing John in the first place.

Rodney sank to his knees with a groan as the cold, scaly hand let go of his arm. His head was pounding, his limbs ached, and he could barely move. He crawled around the end of the sofa, pulled himself up to lay on the worn leather cushion, and closed his eyes.

"Yes, that was very satisfying," the Eidolon said and Rodney cracked an eye open to see it standing over him. "People do seem to die around you on a regular basis, do they not?" it asked conversationally and reached down to touch Rodney's face.

Rodney flinched away from the hand and opened his eyes enough to glare weakly up at his tormentor. He tried to move off the sofa and away from the creature, but his arms and legs wouldn't respond to his mental orders to run.

Don't let it win, he told himself. Fight back. What will John think if he finds you lying here dead? He forced himself to sit up and look at the thing with Gall's face. He steeled himself as the hand reached out again and sent out a plea for John to find him soon.

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

John stood looking up and down the hallway trying to decide where to look next when he winced and braced one hand against the wall as he felt the itch crawl up the back of his skull.

"Major?" Teyla asked.

"Something's happened," he said gruffly as he straightened up and rubbed the back of his head. "Rodney's hurting. Whatever has us trapped in here is doing something to him. We need to find him. Now. Before it's too late."

Chapter Text

John led the way through hallways and rooms at random. He no longer paid attention to what any of the rooms actually were, just that they weren't the den or the doors that led outside. John could hear the rain still pounding on the house and the thunder rumbling overhead and ignored it. His focus was solely on finding McKay and getting out of this house. He'd endure the complaining about being wet if that meant Rodney and the rest of his team were safely back in Atlantis.

"Major Sheppard," Ford called from behind him, and John turned around to find Ford and Teyla stopped several feet behind him looking around.

"What?" he asked impatiently.

"Look around, sir. What do you see?"

John walked back to where Ford and Teyla were standing and glanced around the hall not really paying attention beyond noting any potential landmarks, like the staircase, that didn't seem to move every time they retraced a route. "It's a hallway, Lieutenant," he retorted and wondered when he started sounding like Rodney. "We've walked through is at least a dozen times."

"That's just it, sir. It's not the same hallway."

John scrubbed a hand over his face suddenly understanding how McKay felt when he had to explain something over and over. "I know that, Ford. Everything around us keeps changing."

"Exactly," Ford said with a smile. "It keeps changing, but it gets, I don't know, more basic. Simple."

John turned at looked at the hallway again, this time he could see what Ford was trying to tell him. The walls were a plain white, bare except for a few lights placed along its length. The floors were plain as well, no carpet, not even hardwood. It looked like the cheap linoleum used in his elementary school.

"Okay, so this, whatever it is, has given up on the interior design. Maybe it doesn't need to put out as much effort now that it knows we're trapped," John suggested.

"Or it may be it cannot maintain such highly detailed spaces," Teyla offered as she looked around. "When we first arrived we were all together and that first room was very precise in the details."

John nodded as he glanced in the nearest door and found a room with only a couple of chairs, a table and a rug on the floor. "It's having trouble creating new rooms because it needs to maintain the space Rodney is in as well as create new ones as we move around the rest of the house," he said as his mind turned over how they could use that to find Rodney or the front doors.

"Yes, sir," Ford said. "Although I'm not sure how we can use that to our advantage."

John looked around, then nodded at the junction of two hallways a short distance away. He waited until Teyla and Ford huddled close, then said in a low voice, just in case anything might be listening, "If we can spread this thing's attention even more," he suggested, "we might be able to break through whatever it's doing to hide Rodney and the room he's in."

"How would we do that and not become lost ourselves?" Teyla asked.

"I don't suppose either of you brought a ball of string, by any chance?" John asked with a slight smile.

Teyla frowned.

"It's a myth from Earth," Ford explained as John studied the hallway again. "This Greek hero, Theseus, goes into a labyrinth to kill a monster. He tied the end of a ball of string around the doorpost as he entered the maze. After he killed the monster, he was able to follow the string back to the door and escape."

"Ahh, I see," she replied and turned to John. "What shall we use for our string?"

John smiled as he focused on Teyla. "If I'm right, hopefully, we won't need it. I'm hoping we can stretch our monster's abilities so thin, the house will revert to its normal state. We'll find Rodney, and the front door, and then we'll get out of here."

Teyla nodded. "I believe such a plan will work. I will explore the upstairs areas," she offered.

"I'll check out the other wing," Ford added, his expression determined.

John nodded. "Be careful. Don't go into any rooms. We don't need anyone else trapped by this house. The den where we left Rodney should still be around this area of the house, so I'll stay here and keep looking." He checked his watch and frowned when he realised it wasn't working. He tapped his radio mic and found it wasn't working, either. "If this plan doesn't work," he said as he unhooked the earpiece and stuffed it in a pocket, "we'll meet back at the staircase. It seems to be one of the few permanent pieces of the house. We can regroup and come up with another idea." He gave each of them a hard look then added, "If the plan does work, and you find a way out of here, take it."

"Sir?" Ford asked, his tone clearly expressing his surprise over the unusual order.

"Someone has to warn Atlantis about this place before more of our people get trapped in here," John said. "If you get the chance, get out. Anyone who manages to escape, leave a message under one of the stones lining the path to the door so the rest of us know, then get back to the 'gate."

Ford looked ready to argue and Teyla didn't look too pleased with the idea either.

"That's an order," John told them, his tone hard.

After a few more seconds hesitation, Teyla gave him a single nod, then turned back up the hallway and the staircase.

Ford pressed his lips into a thin line, then with a mumbled, "Yes, sir" he hefted his pack, and McKay's on his shoulder and followed Teyla.

John waited until they were both out of sight, then turned down the new hallway in search of Rodney.

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

"We don't know if the MALP is still down there," Grodin said as he glanced up at Weir. "It's possible the entity will still go through the 'gate once it's depleted the energy in the naquadah generator on the MALP."

"Or it could just continue to feed off the 'gate's energy," she countered.

Rodney listened to the argument with half an ear as he watched the energy creature grow large enough to almost cover the stargate. If they didn't do something soon, it would fill the entire gateroom and the control room wouldn't be far behind. He stared down at the personal shield in his hand. It could work, he told himself as he took a step back from the console. It should protect him, just like it stopped Sheppard's bullet and saved him when the Major tossed him over the balcony.

He wasn't brave, he reminded himself as he watched his hands shake minutely. He was a scientist, not a hero. How many times in his life had he been told he was a coward when he ran away from the bullies, or when he stood his ground and was beaten up?

But he was the only one who could do this. The shield would only work for him. Rodney glanced over at Weir and Grodin still arguing about what the creature would do once the generator was depleted, then at Major Sheppard. He could tell Sheppard was working through scenarios in his head, trying to find a solution. Rodney could see he had the same idea of walking into the midst of the creature to throw the generator through the 'gate as his lips thinned into a grim line. The only problem was Sheppard wouldn't have the shield and would certainly die.

Could he do it? he asked himself. Could he trust in a piece of technology he barely understood and walk down into some sort of energy creature and do what needed to be done to save the city and a hundred or so people he barely knew? Could he do the brave thing?

All of that crossed through his mind in the few seconds it took to hook the shield to his shirt and take a deep breath. Then he was walking down the stairs and into the midst of the creature itself.

He heard Sheppard call after him, but ignored him. If he stopped, if he gave himself a chance to second-guess his decision, he wasn't sure he'd be able to go through with the idea.

The shield started to glow from contact with the energy creature before he was at the bottom of the steps leading to the gateroom. He stepped down onto the floor of the gateroom and everything went dark for a moment except for the faint green glow of the shield. He let out the breath he'd been holding as he stepped farther into the creature and looked around. The shield appeared to be holding.

He wasn't sure what he expected to see, but it wasn't what he found. There was light, for one thing. He'd expected he'd have to fumble around in the dark looking for the MALP and the generator. Instead, there was a soft white glow surrounding him. He watched as thousands of tiny blobs of energy interacted with each other, discharging electricity as they combined or split apart. A corner of his mind wondered if the discharges were similar to atomic fusion and what would happen if enough of them all discharged at once. Maybe the discharging of the blobs was providing the light, he mused as he stepped closer to the MALP.

Then he noticed the blobs were discharging around the shield and the soft green glow was weakening. He watched as the shield thinned over his hands and he felt little jolts of energy as the blobs made contact with his skin. He told himself he needed to hurry. Being brave was all well and good, but he really didn't want to die.

Even as he picked up the case he felt more and more of the little jolts as the shield started to fail. He heaved the case through the 'gate and took a few steps back from the MALP, stumbling as the shield failed completely and he was completely exposed to the creature. He felt the jolts all over his body and each one seemed to steal a bit of energy from him even as it discharged. He found his legs wouldn't hold him any longer and he felt himself falling as it appeared the creature started to follow the generator through the 'gate.

Rodney heard leather creak as he shifted painfully trying to fight off the tiny blobs. His body ached even more than before and he found he could barely get his eyes open. Memory and reality bled together as he took several seconds to remember he wasn't in the infirmary after his encounter with the energy creature, but instead in a house on another planet with a different creature that wanted to kill him. Weirdly, he felt the same way now as he had all those months ago, as if he could barely walk and could sleep for a week. No, he couldn't sleep, he told himself. If he went to sleep the Eidolon would stop toying with him and simply kill him.

At the reminder of what was really going on, he let his gaze lazily wander the room looking for his current tormentor. It took a moment for his exhausted mind to realise the Eidolon wasn't standing over him, gloating, but stood near the piano, its head tilted upward, frozen in place.

Rodney wasn't sure what was happening, or why the Eidolon had lost interest in him, but if it was distracted, this might be his only chance to escape the room. He slowly sat up, groaning quietly as muscles protested the movement. His left arm was on fire and he looked down at it and saw two more of the circular bite marks.

He glanced over at the Eidolon still standing in the corner; it hadn't reacted to his moving or groaning and he took that as a good sign. He sat a little longer, cradling his arm against his chest, trying to convince his body it needed to move before it was too late. The thought of the Eidolon feeding on him through more of his memories was enough to drag him to his feet. He took a few stumbling steps toward the door, balancing himself on various pieces of furniture and the wall.

He winced as his leg hit the edge of a table, from the noise more than the pain, but kept moving even as he glanced back at the far corner to make sure the Eidolon was still busy with whatever had it distracted. He reached the door, seemingly unnoticed and stopped, bracing himself against the wall to stay upright, remembering the last time he'd tried to leave the room only to end up back where he'd started. If he went through the door, only to end up back in the den, the Eidolon would surely notice and he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold out against it waiting, hoping, for John to find him.

He watched the door, looking for any indication he could get out of the room and thought he saw the air around the door flicker, just for an instant. He glanced at the corner and the Eidolon still frozen in place, then back at the door waiting to see if the flicker happened again. He was about to write off what he thought he'd seen to exhaustion or his imagination when he saw it again. For an instant, the hallway outside the door looked different, the walls made of beige stone instead of plaster and paint.

"You cannot escape. I thought I had already proved that to you," the Eidolon said and Rodney turned to see it watching at him. He swallowed and tried not to give in to the fear he felt as it moved out of the corner and toward him.

So much for a clean getaway, he thought to himself as he inched closer to the doorway. He caught the flicker again from the corner of his eye and stopped his mental clock. He had no idea what would happen when he went through the doorway, or even if the Eidolon would be able to follow him and easily trap him again in another part of the house. His whole plan was based on the hope the flickering was a sign the Eidolon was losing control of the house, hadn't it said something about being weak? but he had no way to know for sure.

What he did know was John wasn't going to find him as long as he stayed in the room, the Eidolon would make sure of it. Anything had to be better than staying here and waiting for the Eidolon to finish him off. He told his legs to hold it together for just a little longer and let go of the wall.

He took another stumbling step back as the Eidolon closed in on him and waited as his mental clock ticked down to zero. He saw the Eidolon smile as it started to reach out its hand and he stared at the sucker in its palm, wide-eyed, as he backed to the edge of the door.

Now or never, he told himself. He closed his eyes and stepped backward through the doorway.

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

Teyla crept up the stairs, her P-90 up and ready. As she reached the top and peeked around the corner, she found a hallway split in opposite directions, each one lined with doors. She picked a direction at random and walked along, noting the lack of decorative touches as she followed the hall. The walls were plain wood, the light fixtures little more than bare bulbs. There were no paintings or other artworks on the walls and the floor was little more than unfinished wood. She nodded to herself. It had to be a sign Major Sheppard's plan was working, she told herself.

She opened the doors to various rooms as she passed, forcing whatever was in the house to spread its attention a little bit more every time she investigated a new room. Each time she opened a door, she stood in the doorway, the P-90 trained into the room as she looked for threats. None of the rooms was in any way remarkable. A few held a plain bed or a chest of drawers, but most of them were empty. Whatever it was holding them in the house, was no longer even trying to make the rooms seem appealing.

The hallway ended in a dead-end and she turned to head back toward the stairs and the other corridor. As she passed one of the rooms, she thought she saw a flicker at the corner of her eye and stopped. She watched the door for several seconds before she saw the flicker again. The room shifted from a small chamber with a bed in the corner to an empty space with stone walls, much like the outside of the house.

Teyla smiled grimly as she headed for the other hallway. John's plan was definitely working, she said to herself as she followed the new hallway and found more of the small, plain rooms. She left the doors to all of the rooms open and watched as the flickering increased, more and more she saw beige stone walls in place of even the plain rooms.

She ran back toward the stairs and found the steps, little more than rickety wood this time, climbed down as quickly as she could, and stood in the lower hallway. She glanced up and down the hall looking for any of her teammates and heard someone running toward her. She took cover under the wooden staircase, readied her P-90, and waited to see who or what was coming toward her.

"Teyla!" Ford called when he spotted her and she lowered the weapon.

"Lieutenant," she greeted as she came out from under the staircase. "What is the matter?"

Ford stopped in front of her and put his hands on his knees as he caught his breath. "The doors," he said after a few moments. "I found the doors. You have to be in just the right spot, but every now and then it looks like one of the walls blinks out, just for a second, and you can see the main doors."

"Where is this spot?" she asked urgently. "We need to be ready the next time the doors appear."

Ford shook his head. "We need to find Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay first," he countered. "We can't leave them here."

"You heard Major Sheppard's order," she told him gently. "If we find the way out, we must take it and warn Atlantis."

"We can't leave them."

"We have little choice," Teyla said with more force. "I do not like it, either, but we must try to escape." She reached out to touch Ford's arm. "It is clear the Major's plan is working. He and Doctor McKay may already be out of this house, hoping we will join them. We must go."

Ford frowned but reluctantly led the way back up the hall and through the now spartanly furnished sitting room. "The vestibule is right around here somewhere," Ford said as he stopped in front of what looked to Teyla like a solid wall.

She stood next to him and waited. Sure enough, within a few moments, she saw that same flicker as before and for an instant, saw the large stone entry doors.

"There!" Ford exclaimed. "Did you see it?"

Teyla nodded. "I did. We must be ready to move the next time the doors appear. We may not have many chances to escape before whatever is in this house tries to prevent us from leaving."

Ford adjusted the two packs over his shoulders and held out his hand.

She looked at his hand for a moment, then clasped it tightly with another nod and a smile.

The next time she saw the flicker, she and Ford jumped through the 'wall' and found themselves back in the vestibule. The doors were closed and she could hear the rain and thunder outside.

"Doctor McKay said there was not an access panel on this side of the doors," Teyla reminded Ford as she watched him run his hands over the door frame.

Ford grimaced and studied the doors. "Maybe we can push them open," he suggested. "They open outward, so if we work together, we might get one of them to open." He shrugged out of the two backpacks, set them against the wall, and braced one shoulder on the nearest door.

Teyla joined him and together they heaved against the door. At first, she wasn't sure they were doing anything to force the door open, but then she felt a slight vibration as the door started to move.

"I think it's working," Ford said, his voice tight from the strain of pushing on the door.

Teyla silently agreed as she felt the door grind slowly open. She could feel the rain and wind on her face as the door opened farther. They shoved the door open a little more and Teyla was able to slip through the space between the doors and step outside. The rain pelted her face as she looked up, but only a few steps away the ground was dry.

She moved away from the front of the house, down to the path leading back to the woods, and turned back to face the house as Ford squeezed through the door, the two packs in his hands.

"It really is a trap," she said as Ford joined her on the path.

Where they stood, the sun shone down on the autumnal colors of the forest, and only a few steps away, nearer the house, it was dark and wet from the torrential rain. Teyla noted with some interest the rain only fell on the main section of the house, the two wings extending away from the center of the house were barely wet. Clearly, whatever was inside the house controlling the rooms was having trouble maintaining the storm as much as the interior details of the rooms.

"That is just weird," Ford muttered. "What the hell is going on?"

"I do not know," Teyla replied. "But we must get back to the stargate."

Ford dropped the two backpacks on the ground and started going through them. "We need to check the path for any messages from the Major," Ford said as he dug through McKay's backpack and pulled out a specimen jar.

Teyla walked slowly up and down the path, checking under the stones for any sign of a message from Sheppard.

"Did you find anything?" Ford asked as she came back to stand next to him.

"No, nothing," she replied sadly. "They must still be trapped inside."

Ford glanced up at the still open door even as he pulled a notepad and pencil from his vest pocket. "I could go back in and look for them," he suggested. "You can go to the 'gate and tell Doctor Weir what's going on."

Teyla thought about the idea. It did have merit. They could warn Atlantis, fulfilling Sheppard's current order as well as make sure John's personal order to leave no one behind was also honored.

"All right," she agreed after weighing the pros and cons of the idea. "Give me Doctor McKay's pack. I will take it back with me."

Ford held up the pack and Teyla shouldered it, surprised at how heavy it was.

Ford finished the note, folded it small enough to fit in the jar, then wedged it between two rocks. "I said you'd gone back to the 'gate," Ford told her as he stood.

She smiled. "But you did not mention your plan to return to the house."

"Always easier to get forgiveness than permission," Ford told her with a faint grin as he turned back to the house. "Go," he said as he glanced back at her. "Hopefully we'll be right behind you."

Ford was almost to the doors when she called out, "Lieutenant, wait! I have an idea!" Teyla hurried back up the path and stood just at the edge of the rainfall. She scrabbled around the path until she found a large rock and held it out to him with two hands. "Use this to wedge the door open," she said as she handed over the stone. "If the door is propped open, it might be easier to find when you catch up with John and Doctor McKay."

"Thanks," he said as he hefted the rock with both hands.

Teyla waited until he'd set the rock where it would block the door from closing completely and reentered the house. As expected the door slowly pulled itself closed until it met the rock and then stopped. She could hear the door grind against the obstruction and hoped the stone would withstand the force long enough for her teammates to get out of the house, then turned her back on the building and headed back to the stargate. She would warn Atlantis certainly, but she was also determined to bring back help.

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

John stalked back through the halls looking for the den and Rodney. As he peered through various doorways he was pleased to see his plan was having an effect on the house. While the rooms were still furnished and some even had a basic sense of style, gone were the details, the little touches that had so fascinated them when they'd arrived.

He was near the kitchen, again, now looking like the kitchen he'd had in his first apartment right out of Stanford, tiny, cramped, and none too clean, when he heard a thud against the wall a short distance away and around a corner from him. John eased his way to the corner of the hallway and whipped around, P-90 up and aimed, and dropped the weapon just as quickly when he saw what had made the noise.

Rodney leant against one wall of the hallway, staring wide-eyed at the wall in front of him. John could see Rodney was shaking even as his back slid down the wall until he sat on the floor, one arm clutched to his chest, still watching the wall, oblivious to John standing a few steps away.

"Rodney?" John called in a low voice, and frowned when McKay jumped and started to crab crawl away from him, his eye full of fear. "Hey, buddy, it's me," John tried again and knelt down in front of him.

"John?" Rodney whispered, and stopped moving away. "Really you?" He darted a look at the wall opposite them.

John frowned but gamely played along. "Yeah, Rodney, it's really me. We've been looking for you." The frown deepened when he saw the bloody marks on Rodney's arm.

Rodney reached out a tentative hand and pushed against John's arm then took one of Sheppard's hands and examined it closely before letting go.

John heard him mumble something about no suckers just before Rodney sagged back against the wall. "It actually worked," he said a little louder as he closed his eyes, only to jerk himself upright a moment later and look around.

"Rodney? Stay with me here, buddy," John said as he leant against the wall next to McKay, not liking how pale he looked. Now that he was close enough, John could see the fine trembling running through McKay's body as well as the tight, pinched skin around his eyes indicative of a headache. He ripped open one of the pockets of his vest and pulled out an energy bar. "When's the last time you ate anything?" he asked as he opened the bar and broke off a piece.

Rodney shook his head even as he took the offered food. "Don't know," he mumbled. "Watch stopped working." He finished the first piece and John handed him the rest of the bar, stuffing the wrapper back in a pocket.

They sat side-by-side against the wall for a few more minutes, John relieved to see some of the frightened look leave Rodney's eyes. Now that he appeared calmer, John asked, "You going to let me take a look at that arm?"

Rodney glanced down at his arm, then back at the wall. He took a shuddering breath before he extended the limb out to John.

Sheppard took McKay's left arm gently and grimaced as he saw the extent of the damage. "What happened?" he asked softly as he examined the wounds that were still slowly oozing blood.

"What?" Rodney asked in confusion as he stared down at his arm in John's grip.

John pointed to the small circular wounds on Rodney's inside forearm just below his wrist. They almost looked like bite marks, he thought, then remembered the mumbled comment about suckers. He looked up and met Rodney's stare. "What did you do to your arm?" he asked as he opened another vest pocket, pulling out an antiseptic wipe.

John quickly cleaned out the wounds, hissing in sympathy as Rodney jerked when he touched a particularly tender spot. "I know it hurts, but you don't want these getting infected," he said trying to keep his tone light even as he watched blood start to ooze from the wounds again. He quickly found a sterile pad and some gauze and wrapped the wounds, hoping the added pressure would stop the bleeding soon.

Rodney shook his head and stared at the bandage once John was finished with the first aid. Sheppard felt him start to frantically shift against him. "We can't stay here," Rodney said with another fearful glance at the wall. "It's going to get out. It's going to come after me." He tried to scramble to his feet but didn't get very far before he grabbed his head. "Whoa. Spinning," he mumbled as he started to fall back against the wall.

John jumped up and grabbed Rodney under the arms to keep him upright. "What's coming?" he asked as he draped Rodney's uninjured arm over his shoulder and started moving them farther down the hallway.

"Gall," Rodney replied tiredly and John gave him a worried look.

"Rodney," John said carefully, "Gall's --"

"Dead. Yes, I know that," Rodney snapped tiredly even as he stumbled along. "It looks like him though."

"What does?" John asked as they turned a corner.

"I do, Major Sheppard," Gall said from the middle of the hallway they'd just entered.

Chapter Text

Teyla stumbled as she ran through the woods, following the game trails back to the stargate. The sooner she reached the 'gate and help, she told herself, the sooner she could rescue the rest of her team from that house. She wondered how many others had been trapped by whatever controlled the building and thought of Rhea's husband. Is that what had happened to him? she wondered. He'd wandered through that house, lost, until he'd simply died from starvation or dehydration, never finding the way back out?

She felt a cold wave creep up her back at the thought. The only way she and Ford had escaped in the first place was because there had been four of them trapped together. Now she was out, but Ford was still inside looking for the Major and Doctor McKay. If the three of them met, would the house be able to regain control and re-hide the door? She hoped her idea with the rock would work to keep the exterior door visible at least long enough for the others to get out of the house.

She made the trip back to the stargate much faster than their careful survey when they first arrived. Teyla knew she was close to the clearing with the stargate and slowed her headlong dash as she neared the clearing and heard what sounded like voices.

"Check the perimeter," she heard one voice order. "There are no reported signs of a fight around the 'gate itself, but we still have no idea what happened to them."

"Yes, sir," a second voice said and Teyla sighed in relief even as she pulled out her earpiece and tapped her radio.

"Sergeant Markham, this is Teyla," she said.

"Everyone hold position," she heard Markham order from the clearing. "Possible radio contact." Then over the radio, "Teyla, this is Sergeant Markham. What's your position?"

"I am quite near the clearing with the stargate, Sergeant. May I have permission to enter?"

"You're clear to enter," Markham told her.

"Thank you, Sergeant. I will join you momentarily." Teyla tapped off the radio and walked the remaining distance to the clearing with a lighter heart. Doctor Weir had sent a team to find them, which meant help was even closer than she'd hoped.

She entered the clearing with her hands carefully held away from her body and found Markham and his team as well as several additional Marines waiting for her.

"Teyla," Markham greeted with a nod. "Your team is almost twelve hours overdue for check-in. What happened?"

She stared at him for a moment in shock. Twelve hours? They had been on the planet for almost a day and a half?

"Teyla?" Markham asked as he stepped in front of her. "Where is Major Sheppard and the rest of your team?"

Teyla shook herself out of her surprise. "Doctor Weir explained about the building with writings from the Ancestors?"

Markham nodded. "Sheppard was sent to see if there was any Ancient technology."

"Yes," Teyla agreed. "Did Doctor Weir also mention anything of the stories surrounding this planet?"

Markham smiled slightly and she could tell he did not believe the ghost stories any more than Doctor McKay had.

She frowned and pointed back into the forest. "The building with the writing is back in this direction," she said and took a step back the way she had come. "The house is a trap. Major Sheppard was not sure who had set the trap or why. All we know is something can control the rooms inside the building; changing how the rooms appear or making them disappear entirely. Lieutenant Ford and I were able to escape. However, he went back inside to try and find Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay while I returned to the stargate to get help."

Teyla knew many members of the Earth expedition had a difficult time accepting some of the things taken as common in the Pegasus galaxy. In some ways she envied them, never having feared something like the Wraith. On the other hand, it made things harder when they were confronted with things such as a house with rooms that changed seemingly at will.

Markham studied her for several seconds then turned to the men standing behind him. "Jeffries, you stay here. Dial Atlantis and tell Doctor Weir we've found Teyla and are going in search of Major Sheppard and the others."

Jeffries nodded and stepped over to the DHD.

"Sanchez, you and Davis come with me." Markham glanced back at Teyla. "Was anyone injured?" he asked her.

Teyla shook her head. "Lieutenant Ford and I escaped the house uninjured," she said. "Major Sheppard was also all right the last time we saw him. I am unsure of Doctor McKay's condition. He had become separated from the rest of us and Major Sheppard was concerned something may have happened to him." She was careful not to mention anything about the mental link. As far as she knew, only their team, Doctor Weir, and Doctor Beckett knew of the link and what it did.

Markham nodded. "Thompson, grab the portable stretcher and the first aid kit. You and Saunders come with us. The rest of you stay here. Hold position and wait for us to return. If you don't hear anything from us in six hours, return to Atlantis. And Jeffries," Markham added and waited for Jeffries to look over at him, "if you have to return to Atlantis without us, don't send anyone else after us."

Teyla thought Jeffries looked a little startled at Markham's last statement as he turned back to the DHD and started to dial.

Markham waited until Thompson and Saunders joined them carrying a portable stretcher and the first aid kit. "All right, Teyla, lead the way. Let's see if we can't find the rest of your team and get off this rock."

Teyla agreed wholeheartedly as she turned and led the way back into the woods.

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

Ford set the large rock down and watched as the heavy stone door slowly closed until it met the obstructing rock. Teyla's idea was a good one as far as it went, but Ford heard the stone door grind against the rock as it continued to force itself closed. He figured he had fifteen minutes, maybe thirty, before the rock lost the battle and the stone door slammed shut again.

He gave the stone door one last look then took a deep breath and focused on his mission. He was there to find Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay. With the assumed time limit, he hoped Sheppard had found McKay already, making his job a lot easier, but he was prepared to spend however much time it took to make sure both of his teammates escaped. No one was left behind.

He headed back through the sitting room, still only sparsely furnished and out through the other door into the maze of hallways. He wandered back through the various twisting hallways looking for any sign of Sheppard, McKay, or the room where McKay had found the energy reading and didn't find anything.

He was heading down yet another corridor when he heard three gunshots in quick succession ahead and to his left. Ford jogged to the end of his hallway and inched around the corner into the next where he stopped, unsure of what he was actually seeing. From where he stood, it looked like Major Sheppard was standing with his Beretta pointed at Doctor Gall.

Before Ford could call out or even wrap his head around what he was seeing, he heard Gall say, "That was a mistake. I warned you your weapon would not harm me," and stalked toward Sheppard.

Ford heard the Beretta fire again and raised his own weapon providing supporting fire. If Sheppard was shooting at Gall, or whatever it was that looked like the dead physicist, there had to be a good reason. Sheppard would explain when he could. Gall made no effort to turn in his direction, instead, he continued toward the Major, seemingly impervious to the bullets Ford knew were hitting him.

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

John had his Beretta unholstered and pointed at the Gall look-alike even as he untangled himself from Rodney and pushed McKay against the wall behind him.

"What the hell?" John questioned, not really believing what he eyes were telling him.

"Calls itself Eidolon. Like the planet," Rodney mumbled and John heard a thump behind him. He glanced behind him and found McKay sitting on the floor, his left arm held against his chest and his eyes drifting closed.

"McKay? You all right?" John called and backed up until he could kneel at Rodney's side. He kept the Beretta pointed at the Eidolon as he grasped Rodney's uninjured wrist to check his pulse.

Rodney's reaction was a complete surprise to John. He jerked upright, his eyes wide, if a bit glazed, as he pulled himself free and flailed the arm in John's direction obviously trying to protect himself.

John found himself in the awkward position of trying to both defend himself from McKay's admittedly weak attack, and at the same time not hurt or startle him further.

"Rodney!" John said sharply as he caught the fist aimed for his face. "It's just me!" He held on to the hand waiting for McKay to calm down.

Rodney took a gasping breath and John saw recognition dawn in his eyes. "John?"

"Yeah," John replied and let go of McKay's hand. "You back with me, now?"

Rodney nodded. "Sorry," he mumbled.

John remembered the circular wounds on Rodney's arm and mentally kicked himself. "That's what happened to your arm, isn't it?" John said softly. "It grabbed you by the wrist?"

"Don't let it touch you," Rodney replied, ignoring the questions as he gave John another dazed look. "Venom. Made me see things. Not good."

Venom, that explained a few things, John thought to himself. He just hoped whatever Rodney had been poisoned with was something Beckett could fix. He stood and focused on the Eidolon still hovering in the middle of the hallway. He was a bit surprised it hadn't tried to attack in the few seconds he'd been distracted with Rodney's panicked reaction.

The Eidolon laughed and glanced at Rodney with a look that John could only describe as hungry. "Oh, how I wished I'd tasted that. All of those chemicals in your bloodstream. Such a waste." It stopped smiling and took a step closer.

"Back off," John growled and raised the Beretta as he stepped between Rodney and the thing in front of them.

"You cannot stop me, Major Sheppard," the Eidolon told him. "Many have tried over the centuries. I am eternal. Your puny weapon will have little effect on me." It looked hungrily at Rodney again. "That one is almost spent. Let me have him and I will let you leave."

"Not gonna happen," John growled as he adjusted his aim. He didn't dare let his attention waver to check on Rodney slumped behind him. He suspected that's exactly what it wanted. It had missed one chance to attack them both, it wouldn't make that mistake again.

"His death will be painless," the Eidolon promised.

John shook his head minutely as he shifted into a defensive stance and his expression went blank.

He watched the thing in front of him, waiting for any indication it was about to attack and saw the moment the Eidolon prepared to charge. Before it had a chance to get more than a step or two, he fired three times, all three bullets hitting it in the chest.

"John?" Rodney slurred from behind him, at the same time the Eidolon took a few staggering steps back.

"Rodney, stay down," John ordered, never taking his eyes off the creature in front of him.

He didn't see anything like blood and wasn't sure the bullets had done any damage. Maybe it was similar to a Wraith, he told himself. It just took more effort to kill one. He adjusted his stance and prepared for it to attack again.

"That was a mistake," the Eidolon growled. "I warned you your weapon would not harm me," it added as it stalked back up the hallway toward him.

John fired the Beretta over and over, certain all of the bullets hit their mark. When he ran out of ammunition, he dropped the handgun and used the P-90.

The higher rate of fire seemed to be having some effect, he told himself, but the Eidolon was still coming at him. Then he heard a second P-90 join the fight from the other end of the hall. Sheppard adjusted his aim and fired at the head of the Eidolon instead of the body. After several more seconds of continuous fire from himself and whichever of his teammates was at the other end of the hall, the Eidolon finally fell and lay still.

John held position for several seconds waiting to see if the creature stirred, then yelled, "Moving!" and crept forward.

He stopped next to the body and breathed a small sigh of relief that the creature no longer looked like Gall. In its natural form, the Eidolon had a thin, almost emaciated, grey body with long arms and legs. The head was large and bulbous and did not appear to have eyes or a mouth. There were two large holes in the middle of the 'face' John assumed it used as a kind of nose. He knelt down, careful of the black liquid pooling around the body, and lifted one of the overly long arms. The creature didn't have hands, per-se, rather something closer to a small flipper with a large sucker-like orifice, lined with tiny protuberances, embedded in its palm, roughly the same shape and size as the wounds Rodney had on his forearm.

He looked up from his examination when he heard running feet coming toward him and saw Ford, weapon still raised and ready, stop a short distance away.

"Major?" Ford called as he slowly lowered the weapon.

"I think it's dead," John said and he stood.

Ford stared at the creature as he carefully stepped around it and stopped at Sheppard's side. "What was it?" he asked.

John shrugged and turned back to check on Rodney lying slumped on the floor. "The thing controlling the house," John said. "And it did something to McKay. We need to get him out of here and back to Beckett."

John knelt next to Rodney and gently shook his shoulder, frowning as he saw the gauze wrapped around his arm was already blood-soaked. "Rodney?" John called. "Time to get out of here, buddy."

It took several long seconds for Rodney to open his eyes and a few more before he focused on John. "John?" he slurred.

"Yep," John replied and pulled Rodney up enough to lean against him instead of the floor.

Rodney tried to look around, but John made sure he couldn't see the dead creature.

"Whr di' it go?"

"It's dead, Rodney. I shot it. Ford helped."

"Mmm. Tired," Rodney muttered as his eyes drifted shut again. John smiled slightly at the level of trust Rodney offered him. If John said the creature was dead, it was dead. No questions, just acceptance of John's word on the matter.

John heard movement behind him and turned to see Ford manhandling the dead creature out of the hall. "Be careful of its hands," John told him. "Rodney said something about venom in its bite. Who knows if it can still inject something reflexively even if it is dead."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied, and stayed well clear of the hands as he rolled the body into the closest room.

Ford came back a few minutes later and knelt on Rodney's other side, glancing at McKay's bloody arm.

"What's wrong with him, sir?"

John shook his head as he checked the pulse point in Rodney's neck and frowned at the rapid beat. "Not sure if it's the venom he mentioned or something else. The Eidolon said something about sensing the hormones in Rodney's blood, which makes me think the wounds on his arm are where the thing bit him. Maybe it's some sort of Pegasus galaxy version of a vampire."

Ford ripped open one of his vest pockets and pulled out a sterile pad and a pressure bandage and handed the items over to John. "His arm is still bleeding. That can't be good, sir."

John grimaced as he shifted Rodney to lean against the wall. He removed the bloody bandage and pressed the clean pad over the wounds trying to get the bleeding to stop. Each of the wounds on their own didn't bleed much, but three of them, and the fact he couldn't get them to stop bleeding, was a problem.

"There must be something in that thing's bite that keeps blood from clotting," he muttered more to himself than to Ford. He held the pad over the bite marks for a few more seconds then took the pressure bandage Ford handed him and tied it around McKay's arm as tight as he dared. Rodney flinched away from the pressure and opened his eyes slightly.

Ford swallowed as he looked back into the room where he'd dumped the body. "Are you sure it's dead, sir?" he asked.

"All that matters is it can't do anything to us at the moment and we need to get out of here," John said as he cleaned the blood off his hands with a wipe from his vest before checking Rodney's pulse again.

Ford nodded and stood. "We should probably hurry, sir. I'm not sure how much longer my doorstop is going to work."

"Doorstop?" John asked as and rose to his feet.

"Umm, yeah," Ford said with a guilty look on his face. "Teyla and I managed to find the front door. We propped it open with a rock, but I'm not sure how long it will be before the doors crush it."

John frowned. "Didn't I give you a direct order to get out if you had the chance?"

Ford glanced down at his feet for a moment then met John's gaze. "Yes, sir," he said formally. "But you stated your reason for that order was to warn Atlantis. Teyla volunteered for that assignment, sir. She headed back to the 'gate and I came back to find you." Ford glanced at the room with the body. "Probably a good thing, too. It took both of us to stop that … creature." He looked back at John. "Sir."

"We don't have time to discuss your creative interpretation of orders right now," John told him. "However, this conversation is not over, Lieutenant." John bent down and pulled Rodney's arm over his shoulder. "Help me get him up," John ordered and waited for Ford to take Rodney's other arm, careful of the bandaged area, and together they pulled McKay to his feet.

"I can walk," Rodney mumbled and tried to take a step.

"Sure you can," John replied, never loosening his hold as they started up the hallway.

"Shouldn't we carry him, sir?" Ford asked as they skirted around the black pool on the floor. "If he's been bitten by that thing, won't moving him like this make the venom you mentioned spread faster?"

"We don't have anything we can use as a stretcher and I don't think putting him over my shoulder would be any better," John replied. "And since we're apparently on a clock, this way is faster."

John followed Ford's directions back through the hallways toward the front door. Every now and then Rodney would lift his head slightly and try to take some of his own weight, only to sag after a few steps. After his third attempt to help, John glanced over Rodney's head at Ford.

"Almost there, sir," Ford said in answer to the unspoken question and a few seconds later they were back in the sitting room with the vestibule just ahead of them.

The stone doors were still cracked open slightly when they reached the vestibule and John saw crushed rock littering the floor around the opening as they sat Rodney down against the wall. John crouched next to him, not surprised to find him unconscious; he wasn't sure if his current state was the result of blood loss or the venom. His worry ratcheted up another notch, however, when he couldn't get Rodney to open his eyes again after several taps on his cheeks.

John heard the rock crunch slightly and turned to see the door inch closed a bit more. He stood and turned to Ford. "Let's get out of here, Lieutenant," John said grimly and set his shoulder against the door.

"Gladly, sir," Ford agreed and helped shove the door open again.

Once they had the door open wide enough, Ford stood in the doorway watching the surrounding trees while John went back for Rodney. He didn't bother with trying to pick him up again, instead, he wrapped his arms around McKay's chest and pulled him out of the house and down the steps.

The rain had stopped, but John could see a clear line of demarcation between where the rain fell on the house and the dry forest surrounding the building. His mind tried to sort out what the implication of that was as he headed for the closest trees, but all he could think about at the moment was at least they wouldn't get wet on the hike back to the 'gate.

Once they were in the shade, John laid Rodney down and checked the pulse point at his throat again. "Still a bit fast," he muttered to himself as he stripped off the tac-vest and then his jacket. He covered Rodney with the coat and put the tac-vest back on over his t-shirt.

"How's he doing?" Ford asked as he joined them.

John shook his head as he unwrapped the pressure bandage and checked Rodney's arm. "It's still bleeding," he replied, unable to hide the frustration or worry in his tone. "We need to get him back to Atlantis." John tied his last clean pressure bandage over the three bite marks.

Rodney's forehead puckered and he whimpered slightly as John tightened the bandage. "Rodney?" John called and tapped his cheek again. "You in there, buddy?"

McKay turned his head slightly in John's direction, but he still didn't wake up.

John sighed. "All right, you just save your strength," he said and squeezed Rodney's shoulder. He slowly stood and turned to Ford. "See if you can find some branches we can use to make a stretcher."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied. He hadn't gone more than a few steps toward the trees when John snaked out a hand and grabbed his arm.

Ford turned to say something, but John pressed a finger to his lips and pointed to the trees across the clearing to their right. John ducked down behind what cover he could find and readied the P-90. The last thing they needed to deal with right now was some animal drawn to them by the scent of Rodney's bleeding arm. Ford found cover off at a slight angle and they waited.

"... Door wedged open. Hopefully, that will make it easier to reenter the house and look for Major Sheppard," John heard Teyla say. He relaxed and stood up in time to see Teyla lead Sergeant Markham and a team of Marines into the clearing.

"No need to go looking for us, Teyla," John said as he moved out from under the trees. "We managed to get out on our own."

"Major!" Teyla said in greeting and John watched her expression change from worried to relieved. "Are Lieutenant Ford and Doctor McKay with you? Are you all right?"

"Yes, they're both here, too," John said, "Ford's fine but we need to get Rodney back through the 'gate. He needs Beckett."

"What happened," she asked as she walked over to the trees and knelt by Rodney's side.

"He was bitten. More than once," John said grimly from Rodney's other side. "His arm won't stop bleeding."

"We have some medical supplies with us, sir," Markham said and waved Davis over.

Davis knelt beside Teyla. "This is a basic field kit, Major," Davis said after checking under the bandage around Rodney's arm. "I can apply another pressure bandage but …"

"... The two we've already used haven't done much," John said with a grimace. "It's going to take a least a couple of hours to hike back to the 'gate carrying him. He could lose a lot of blood before we get him back to Atlantis." Maybe too much, but he didn't say that part out loud. Teyla and Ford could both see the concern in his expression, he was sure.

"I may have an idea, Major," Teyla said as she stood looking around. "I will need to find the correct plant, but it should not take very long."

"Plant?" John asked.

"Yes," she replied. "I mentioned before we came to Eidolon, many are willing to risk the ghosts on this planet to harvest the many medicinal plants that grow here. I know of one which has been used for many generations to stop bleeding."

"You mean like yarrow?" Ford asked.

"I am not familiar with that term, Lieutenant," Teyla said with a slight frown.

"Yarrow?" John asked turning to Ford.

Ford smiled. "More Greek mythology, sir. The story goes Achilles carried yarrow into battles as a cure for bleeding wounds."

"This plant works?" John asked Teyla. "You've seen it work?"

"Yes, Major," she told him her tone earnest. "I would not suggest it as an option if I did not believe it would help."

"Fine," John said and flapped a hand at them. "Go. Find this plant and get back here." He glanced up through the trees. "The sun's going to start setting soon and I want to be home long before that happens."

"Yes, sir," Ford said.

"We will return as quickly as possible," Teyla added before she led Ford back into the forest.

John sank back down on the ground next to Rodney, keeping one hand on his uninjured arm, as much to reassure himself as to keep McKay calm. He was surprised at how tired he felt as he leant back against a tree and rubbed at the back of his head with his other hand. The nagging headache had been plaguing him for what seemed like hours so he knew Rodney was hurting from the bites. He was just grateful he hadn't had any of the spikes telling him McKay was in immediate danger.

"Major Sheppard?" a voice asked and John found his eyes had closed at some point and he was nearly asleep. He opened his eyes to see Sergeant Thompson standing in front of him.

"Sergeant?" he replied with a tired look up at Thompson.

"We brought a stretcher and a blanket, sir." He glanced at Rodney. "If you wanted to try and make him more comfortable."

John scrubbed a hand over his face to wake himself up and nodded. "Good idea. One less thing we'll have to worry about once Teyla and Ford get back."

He dragged himself to his feet and watched as Thompson quickly unfolded the portable stretcher and laid it on the ground next to Rodney.

"If you want to get his legs, sir, I can manage the rest."

John ducked his head and smiled slightly. He must look almost as bad as McKay for Thompson to be acting so solicitous.

They moved Rodney to the slightly more comfortable stretcher and covered him with the blanket. John pulled his jacket back on over the tac-vest and checked the pressure bandage. He swore softly under his breath. Rodney's arm was still bleeding. Where the hell was Teyla and Ford, he wondered.

After what felt like an eternity to John but was probably no more than another ten minutes, Teyla and Ford reappeared with Teyla carrying what looked to John like a fern with white flowers.

"I will need a few minutes to crush the leaves," Teyla said as she started pounding the leaves between two stones from the path.

Once the leaves were ground into a pulpy mass, John removed the pressure bandage and Teyla smeared the green pulp over the wounds with her fingers.

Rodney flinched slightly as she spread the crushed leaves into the wounds.

"It should not take long for the woundwort to have an effect," she told Sheppard. "The plant should also help prevent any infection."

Teyla was right, it only took a few minutes for the bite marks to stop bleeding. John also noticed the pain line across Rodney's forehead eased slightly, though his own head still pounded.

Davis handed John a large sterile pad and a roll of gauze and John quickly wrapped the wounds, green, gooey plant and all. "All right, that should hold until we can get him back to Carson," John said as he stood. "Sergeant Markham, let's get out of here."

"Yes, sir," Markham replied and motioned Sanchez to take point.

Thompson took the head of the stretcher. John waved off Davis before he could take the other end and picked it up himself. He glanced back at the house when he heard a loud crack and watched as the large stone doors closed and the house stood innocently in the clearing. John couldn't help the cold shudder that went up his spine as he turned his back on the house and followed Teyla and Ford back to the 'gate.

Chapter Text

John walked through the 'gate relieved to see Carson and a med team waiting for them. About half way back to the stargate, Rodney had opened his eyes and looked around with a puzzled look on his face. John had tried talking to him to keep him awake longer, but Rodney only stared at him for a few moments before closing his eyes again.

"Just keep right on going with him, lads," Carson said as he stepped up to the stretcher and reached out for Rodney's uninjured arm.

"Don't," John said as he tried to stop Carson and hold onto the stretcher at the same time. "Check at his neck. Trust me," he added when Beckett gave him a look.

Carson glanced at Rodney's bandaged arm and nodded even as he reached for the pulse-point at his throat.

They entered the infirmary and set the stretcher down on the nearest bed. "Sharon, let's get the diagnostic scanner set up. Find out what we're dealing with," Carson ordered.

Thompson stepped back from the bed and gave John a nod before heading over to get checked by one of the other doctors. John stood next to Rodney's bed, watching the medical teams bustle back and forth setting up the hood, flexing his hands, trying to get the feeling restored in his fingers.

"He was bitten by this … creature," John explained pointing to the bandaged arm.

Carson nodded and glanced at the bandage as Sharon and another nurse moved the Ancient diagnostic scanner into place over Rodney's bed.

"He said something about venom and seeing things," John added, the worry clear in his tone.

Carson frowned at the word venom. "Get a blood sample," he ordered the nurse standing at his side as he started unwrapping the bandage. "Major? What is this?" Carson asked, pointing at the green, sticky mess on Rodney's arm.

"I couldn't get the bleeding to stop," John told him. "He soaked through two pressure bandages in less than an hour. Teyla suggested we try a plant she knew of that would get it to stop." John glanced down at Rodney's arm. "It worked."

Carson nodded as he picked at the plant matter with a fingernail. "Take samples of that as well," he requested to the woman standing across from him drawing blood from Rodney's other arm.

"Carson?" John asked, his question clear in his tone.

"I need to know what I'm dealing with first, Major. Especially if there's some sort of poison running through his system." Carson gave him a sympathetic glance. "Get yourself and the rest of your team checked out. Get cleaned up and a good meal inside you and I should have something to tell you in a couple of hours. The blood work will take at least that long to get the results back."

John knew it would do no good to push, and after one last check of Rodney, seemingly asleep, he allowed one of the nurses to lead him to another bed on the other side of the infirmary.

"Any news," Ford asked from the next bed as John was checked over.

Sheppard shook his head. "Carson needs to run tests. He'll know more in a few hours."

Ford glanced at the other side of the infirmary as Sharon set up a privacy curtain. John followed his gaze and watched several shadows move back and forth across the screen as Carson's team worked to figure out what had happened to Rodney. He could distinguish Carson's shadow from the others surrounding the bed, he could even see when the diagnostic hood started to slowly move back and forth over the bed. Everything seemed under control behind the curtain, people moved with calm purpose and there was none of the clipped orders or alarms from machines that John usually associated with serious emergencies.

John barely paid attention to the doctor giving him his post-mission physical. He answered the doctor's questions mechanically, his mind still trying to sort through everything that house and the Eidolon had done to his people. He'd been shocked to learn they'd been on Eidolon for more than a day. No wonder McKay had had the shakes by the time he'd found him, John thought to himself. It didn't seem like that much time had passed inside the house, but since all of their watches had mysteriously stopped, he was forced to take the nurse's word for it when she told him.

The more he thought about the house and Rodney, the angrier he became. The Eidolon had planned to kill all of them, and it acted as if it would enjoy it. A plan started to form of what he needed to do to make sure what happened to them never happened to anyone else who visited that planet in the future.

John left the infirmary once he was given the all clear and headed back to his quarters for a shower and change of clothes before meeting Teyla and Ford. He entered the mess hall, grabbed a tray and started through the food line, grabbing a few items at random as well as a cup of coffee. He waited for Teyla and Ford to get through the line and led the way over to their usual table by the windows, forcing himself to sit through the meal and actually eat the food he'd selected.

"I am sure Doctor McKay will be fine," Teyla told him softly as he picked at the brown patty-like thing on his plate. "Doctor Beckett would have sent for you if there were serious complications."

John nodded and ate a few more bites. His stomach wasn't really in the mood to accept the mystery meat, even as he told himself he needed to eat something.

"Besides, you'd know if something was really wrong, wouldn't you, sir?" Ford asked innocently as he speared a few of the long yellow vegetables on his plate.

John smiled slightly as Teyla frowned at Ford. "I've already talked to Teyla about that," he said. "All I get is the itchy, tingling feeling if he's hurting. I can't read McKay's mind."

"And do you feel anything is different?" Teyla asked patiently as she finished her soup.

"No," John admitted after a moment. "The itch is still there, but it's not any worse."

Teyla nodded. "In that case, you will have time to finish your meal and Doctor Beckett will have time to finish his tests."

John heroically waited another fifteen minutes before he gave up all pretext of eating and led the way back to the infirmary with Teyla and Ford in tow. John entered and found Carson in his office, calmly sorting through papers and making notes in a computer file.

"Ahh, Major," Carson greeted him with a smile and stood. "Teyla. Lieutenant," he added with a nod. "I wondered when you lot would turn up."

"How is he?" John asked bluntly, cutting across the pleasantries. He was tired and worried and just wanted to know if Rodney was going to recover.

Beckett stood his ground in the face of John's sour attitude. "If Rodney were in a bad way, do you really think I'd be calmly sitting in my office waiting for you?" he asked seriously.

Sheppard faced him down for a few more seconds before he ducked his head and looked away. "No, I guess not," John replied his tone still tired and worried and also slightly apologetic.

"What sort of friend to you take me for, anyway," Beckett grumbled as he led the way to the far corner of the infirmary. "You're not the only person who worries about him, you know."

John tapped Carson on the shoulder as they walked. "Sorry," he said sincerely when Beckett glanced over at him. "It's been a long day."

Beckett smiled his own apology. "Aye, lad, so it has."

Even with Carson's assurance Rodney was on the mend, John frowned when he saw McKay lying in the infirmary bed, a pair of IVs going into one hand and another line for a blood transfusion leading to his other arm. His left forearm was heavily bandaged and John was relieved he didn't see any spotting. His color was still off, though, not much different from the white set of scrubs he was wearing.

"His blood sugar was low, not surprising considering the amount of time you were missing. And he's a bit dehydrated," Carson explained.

"How bad was the blood loss?" John asked eyeing the bandaged arm.

Beckett pursed his lips. "Bad enough, but he should bounce back with the transfusion." He turned to Teyla. "That was a good job with the yarrow, lass."

"I thought that's what it was," Ford said with a smile.

"And the rest," John asked, not sure he wanted to know about whatever poison was running through Rodney's system.

"There are a few unknown chemicals still in his bloodstream," Carson admitted.

John felt his heart speed up at the news his fears were confirmed.

"But his body seems to be breaking them down easily enough," Carson hurried to add.

"That's the venom he mentioned?" John asked as he casually dragged a chair over to the bed.

"Aye, probably. One of them, we think, mimics a psychedelic hallucinogen. One of the others was probably the agent that kept his blood from clotting. My guess is this creature used the venom to overwhelm his victims with certain memories or emotions. I'm sure you don't need me to explain the anticoagulant."

John nodded. "Rodney said he'd seen things, but he didn't say what. The Eidolon also said it could sense various chemicals in his blood. From what Rodney was able to tell me, I got the impression it drugged its victims in order to trigger certain emotional responses."

"That would make sense," Beckett replied. "Hormones such as adrenaline will flood the bloodstream with the correct stimulus."

"So what do we do to get rid of it?" John asked.

"Nothing really. Rodney's body is slowly breaking down the chemicals of the venom, for lack of a better term, both the hallucinogen and whatever the anticoagulant was. We'll recheck the numbers in a few hours and get an idea of how long it will take for the venom to clear his system completely."

"He will recover?" Teyla asked.

"Aye," Carson replied with a smile. "The transfusion will take care of the blood loss from those bites, and he seems to be clotting now. The bites will take some time to heal, no way to really suture them, we'll just have to give them time, but he should be back to his normal self in a few days."

John saw the tension in his teammates dissipate at Beckett's prognosis. He sagged a bit in the chair then said, "Thanks, Carson."

"You're welcome, lad."

John rubbed absently at the back of his head as he turned back to the bed, missing the slight frown on Beckett's face as Carson walked away.

"We'll come back in the morning, sir," Ford said, taking a step away from the bed.

John nodded. "Someone needs to be with him. After everything that Eidolon thing did, he's going to be confused when he wakes up."

"That will not be a problem, John," Teyla told him joining Ford at the end of the bed. "You need to get some rest yourself, do not forget."

John waited until Ford and Teyla left and settled back in the chair, watching Rodney sleep. He seemed peaceful enough, no nightmares at least, and he didn't have the pinched, in pain, look around his eyes anymore. John rubbed his head with one hand and finally allowed himself to relax.

Beckett came back with a paper cup and a glass of water. "I imagine your head must be aching after all of this," he said softly as he handed the pills and water to John. "And don't be getting too comfortable in that chair, either, Major. You said yourself, it's been a long day. You need proper rest, in a bed, mind. Rodney won't be going anywhere for a few days at least. I'll need your help to keep him occupied once he's awake."

John swallowed the pills and water without complaint and smiled slightly at Carson's last statement. He was almost looking forward to dealing with a bored genius. It would mean Rodney was getting back to his normal self, something he hadn't seen since their return from the disastrous trip to the satellite. Had that only been a week ago? he wondered.

John studied Rodney's sleeping form for a few more seconds. "You're sure he's not going to wake up?" John asked. "What that creature did to him had him a bit freaked out trying to figure out what was real. I don't want him waking up alone. One of us needs to be here."

"I promise you, Major, he's going to sleep the rest of the day and through the night. I'll leave word with the nurses that if it looks like he's coming around sooner, to send for me and I'll let you know."

John shifted his concentrated look from Rodney to Carson. After a moment he nodded and stood. "You'll call me?"

Beckett smiled. "I promise."

John turned back to the bed, grasped Rodney's arm gently and whispered, "You're safe now, buddy. I'll be back later to check on you." He gave the arm one last squeeze and headed for the door. Before he went to bed, there was something he needed to discuss with Elizabeth.

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

Elizabeth stood on the balcony outside her office enjoying the view of the ocean as she sipped a cup of coffee. It had been a tense day when John's team had failed to report in. Two other teams had been sent to the planet over the course of the day looking for them. However, since none of them knew exactly where the building was they were supposed to be investigating, the search had stalled. Then Sergeant Jeffries had radioed with the news they had found Teyla and Sergeant Markham was hoping to find Sheppard and the others soon.

She let the coffee cup warm her hands as she watched the water. When Jeffries had radioed in the rest of Sheppard's team had been found, alive, Elizabeth let her relief show to Grodin and the techs in the control room even as she requested Carson be in the gateroom when they returned as a precaution. John and the others had been missing for more than a day. She wasn't so naïve as to think there would be no injuries, but she was not prepared to see John and Thompson carrying Rodney home on a stretcher or to hear he'd been poisoned.

She heard someone knocking on the office door and turned to wave through the glass at John to join her.

"You look exhausted," she told him frankly as he stepped out onto the balcony. "Why do I get the feeling if I were to call Carson he would tell me you're supposed to be in bed?"

John shrugged. "I needed to talk to you about something first."

"Is Rodney all right? I meant to get down to see him."

"He's fine." John paused. "He'll be fine," he amended. "Once the venom that thing pumped into him is out of his system. He's sleeping. Carson thinks he'll be awake sometime tomorrow." John stared out at the water, his hands wrapped around the railing of the balcony so tight Elizabeth could see his knuckles turning white.

"John?" she asked. "What's happened?"

John turned to look at her and Elizabeth took a step back when she saw the combination of anger, concern, and determination in his eyes. "You mean other than being trapped in a maze disguised as a house, wondering how I was going to get my people out in one piece? Or maybe it was the part where one of my people was nearly killed by some sort of nightmare-inducing vampire? Or, after surviving all of that, after getting away from the house and the vampire, Rodney could have still bled to death before we got him back to Beckett. If Teyla hadn't thought of using that plant …" John's voice trailed off as he turned back to face the ocean.

Elizabeth laid a hand gently in his arm. She felt the barely contained anger in the strained muscles of his arm as he gripped the railing.

John ducked his head and loosened his grip. "Sorry," he mumbled with a sideways glance at her. "I didn't mean to unload on you like that."

Elizabeth opened the door to the balcony and motioned John to follow her. "I think I can let it pass. Maybe you should get some rest."

Once she was seated behind her desk and John slouched in one of the chairs, he said, "I want to go back to Eidolon," he told her, his expression hard.

Elizabeth sat back in her chair. Of all the things she might have expected John to say, proposing a trip back to Eidolon, after everything that had happened, was fairly low on her list. "Why?" she asked and tried to keep the concern out of her voice.

John pulled himself up so he sat straight in his chair and said in a formal voice, "Permission to take a jumper back through the 'gate and blow that house to whatever the Pegasus galaxy's version of Hell might be."

"John, we aren't in the revenge business," Elizabeth told him with a frown. "I understand how you feel about what happened to Rodney --"

"This isn't just about what happened to him," John interrupted with a scowl. "Teyla said the plants on that planet were medicinal. Hell, McKay may not even be here now if she hadn't found that woundwort, or yarrow, or whatever it was."

Elizabeth watched as John took a breath and worked to get his emotions back under control.

"People are afraid to go there and harvest the plants because of that house," he continued. "How many people has that thing trapped and fed upon in the last hundred years? The last thousand? Someone should do something about it and we're one of the few around here with the resources to succeed."

Elizabeth studied his face for several moments. "Let me think about it," she finally said and held up a hand when John tried to interrupt again. "We are new to this galaxy, John. We can't decide to take things into our own hands because we think it's right. Let me think about this, talk to a few people. I'll let you know tomorrow if you have a go."

John stood from his chair and turned toward the door. "We need to do something," he told her seriously then left the office.

Elizabeth looked down at her now cold coffee cup after John left. How much of John's request was based on altruism for the people in the Pegasus galaxy and how much was the combination of anger over Rodney's injuries and exhaustion? she wondered. And in the end, did it really matter? Either way, if she planned to wade into deep philosophical questions of right and wrong, she'd need more coffee.

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

John fired again and again, but Gall wouldn't stop. No matter how many times Sheppard hit him, Brendan kept coming toward them. John dropped the Beretta and took a step back, even as Rodney saw Gall smile an evil, knowing smile.

"You cannot hurt me," Gall said. "I am eternal."

Rodney tried to help, he tried to get up off the floor and do something, anything, to help John, but it felt as if a great weight was holding him down and he was unable to move.

John gripped the P-90 clipped to his vest, raised it and started shooting again.

Gall laughed as the bullets seemed to bounce off of him. John fired until the P-90 ran out of ammunition, then he pulled out his combat knife.

Suddenly Gall was in front of John, grabbing his arm and prying the knife out of John's hand. "I told you Sheppard would not find you until it was too late," he said looking down at Rodney. "I think I will feed on him quickly," Gall continued. "You will never escape me. Unlike Sheppard, I plan to make my meal from you last as long as possible."

Gall pushed back the sleeve of John's jacket with one hand even as John continued to struggle in his hold. The look in Gall's eyes was almost feral as he grasped John's arm tightly, closed his eyes and grinned again as John started to scream.

"No!" Rodney yelled and tried to get up again, but something still held him down. "No! John!"

"John!" Rodney yelled again, and fought against whatever was restraining him, keeping him away from Sheppard.

"Rodney, you're all right," a voice said near his ear. "It's just a dream, lad. Come on, now, open your eyes."

Rodney continued to fight the hold on his arms oblivious to what the voice told him. Gall was killing John, he had to do something.

"It's just a dream," the voice said again. "You're all right. You need to calm down. Deep breaths, now."

Something about the voice finally penetrated and Rodney stopped struggling.

"That's it, deep breaths," the voice told him. "Think you could open your eyes? There are a fair few people who've been worried about you."

Rodney opened his eyes and found Beckett standing over his bed, pinning his arms to his sides. "You back with us now?" Carson asked as he let go of Rodney's upper arms.

Rodney nodded and looked around slightly confused. "Carson? Is this real?"

Carson frowned slightly. "Aye, lad. It's real, I promise you."

"As Doctor Beckett said, you are safe now."

Rodney glanced to his right and saw Teyla standing next to the chair near his bed, a concerned expression on her face. "Teyla? We got out of the house?"

She smiled at him and nodded as she handed him a cup of water. "We returned to Atlantis yesterday."

Rodney frowned. "I don't remember …" He drank the water slowly and handed back the cup.

"I'm not surprised," Beckett told him as he checked the monitors near Rodney's bed. "Between the foreign substance in your blood, not to mention the actual blood loss, you were in a bit of a fix when Major Sheppard got you back here."

Rodney felt his heart speed up as he searched the infirmary. No John in the chair next to the bed, or asleep in the bed next to his. It wasn't like John to not be there. Where was he? Did the Eidolon succeed in killing him? Carson said it was a dream, but was it really a memory of what had happened to Sheppard?

An alarm sounded from the machines near the bed.

"Where's John?" he demanded, looking from Beckett to Teyla.

"Rodney!" Carson said. "You need to calm down. Major Sheppard is just fine, I'm sure."

"You mean you don't know?" Rodney asked, ignoring the flare of pain in his arm as he tried to sit up.

"Major Sheppard returned to the planet this morning," Teyla told him hesitantly with a glance at Beckett.

"What? Why?" They escaped, why would John go back?

Neither Beckett nor Teyla answered him, they just exchanged another look and Rodney could tell they were worried about something.

"What's going on?" he demanded, glaring from one to the other. A dozen different things that could be wrong started playing in his head.

"Major Sheppard spoke to Doctor Weir last night about going back to Eidolon and …" Teyla hesitated.

"He took a jumper through the 'gate an hour ago and plans to destroy the building you were trapped in," Carson finished for her.

Rodney sank back onto the bed. "Elizabeth authorised that?" he whispered.

Teyla nodded. "Doctor Weir spoke to me last evening. John had gone to see her and requested permission to go back to Eidolon and destroy the house. She wanted to know the possible repercussions to Atlantis if she allowed him to go through with his plan. Would the people here in the Pegasus galaxy see such an action as the new inhabitants of Atlantis overstepping their authority." She smiled down at him. "I told her destroying the house and the creature inside it could only be seen as a good thing. It had hurt too many people over the years."

Rodney felt his eyes starting to droop and forced himself to stay awake. "You think what happened to us happened to that woman you told us about," Rodney said in a sleepy mumble.

Teyla gave him a tight smile. "Yes, I do," she replied sadly.

"Will you tell her?" Rodney asked around a yawn.

"Rhea died many years ago," she told him as she pulled the sheet and blanket up to cover him. "Go back to sleep. I'm sure John will be here when you wake again."

Rodney tried to nod even as he fell asleep.

"... his system. I'll take one last sample tonight and if everything is normal, I'll release him tomorrow morning."

"Teyla said he was having bad dreams," a second voice said.

"Aye, but I think that's from everything that happened, not from whatever that creature injected him with."

It took several seconds for Rodney to realise the conversation was real and not part of another dream.

"John?" Rodney mumbled.

Rodney felt a hand on his arm. "Right here, buddy. You open your eyes, you'll see that."

He pried his eyes open and found John seated in the chair Teyla had used earlier. John smiled at him. "See?"

"I'll leave you be," Carson said from the end of the bed. "Don't tire him out, Major."

Rodney watched Carson leave then tried to sit up.

"Here," John said and helped him readjust the bed. "Better?"

Rodney nodded. "Teyla told me you went back." He let the implied question hang.

John bent forward with his arms braced on his knees. "Yeah. I took Ford and a jumper."

Rodney frowned. "I thought you said a jumper wouldn't fit through the 'gate with all the trees?"

"I said it would be a challenge," John corrected with a slight smile. "And I was right, it wasn't easy. I may have scared a few years off Ford's life when we came through and kissed the tops of a couple of trees."

"You shouldn't have gone back," Rodney told him. "What if the Eidolon wasn't dead? It could have done something to the jumper and then what would you have done?"

John sat back in the chair and gave Rodney a once over. "It needed to be done," John said firmly. "That Eidolon had been terrorising the people here for who knows how long. Like I told Elizabeth, someone needed to do something about it."

"So you decided that someone had to be you?" Rodney asked with a scowl and picked at the bandage wrapped around his arm.

John frowned. "What are you so angry about?"

"You took a stupid risk," Rodney told him, trying not to think of the nightmare where John died defending him from Gall. "You didn't need to go back there out of some sort of revenge."

"It wasn't out of revenge," John said.

Rodney stared at him in disbelief.

"It wasn't just for revenge," John admitted with a shrug. "We have the tools to stop it and I convinced Elizabeth to let me."

"It was still a stupid risk," Rodney told him. "You could have died."

"Hey," John said and reached out to squeeze his arm. "I'm fine. Everything went to plan."

Rodney sighed then nodded. "The house is gone?" he asked. "You're sure?"

John withdrew his hand and smiled. "A pair of drones more than took care of it," he said. "I made a fly-over before we came back. There was nothing left in that clearing except some slightly scorched trees."

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

John wandered the halls a few nights later searching for Rodney. McKay had been unusually quiet the last few days, no chewing out his scientists, even Kavanaugh seemed immune from McKay's temper. Teyla and Carson both thought it was a natural reaction to everything that happened on Eidolon, but John suspected it was something else. McKay hadn't really been himself since the trip out to the satellite. John had let things go at the time, but maybe it was time to find out why McKay felt so guilty over what happened in the Wraith ship.

He purposely waited until it was late and most everyone in the city was asleep. He had a good idea where he'd find Rodney that time of night and wasn't disappointed when he stopped outside the rec room and heard someone playing the electric keyboard. He shook his head when he recognised the same melancholy tune McKay had been playing after their return from the sand planet.

"I know you're there," Rodney eventually said. "You may as well come in and stop hovering in the doorway."

John accepted the backhanded invitation and found a crate to use as a chair. "Doesn't playing make your arm hurt?" he asked as he sat and leant back against the wall beside Rodney.

McKay shrugged. "It doesn't hurt that much anymore."

John sat and listened to Rodney play for a few minutes. When it became obvious he wasn't going to take the subtle hint to talk, John said, "So tell me what happened."

Rodney gave him a sideways look. "Tell you what happened when exactly?"

John tipped the crate forward and tapped Rodney's knee. "You know what I mean," he said. "Tell me what happened in the Wraith ship after I left you with Gall."

Rodney's fingers stuttered on the keys before he stopped playing and rested his hands in his lap.

"I know something about what happened is tearing you up," John said softly. "I really think you need to talk about it. If not to me then to someone. Height--"

Rodney shook his head. "No," he said. "I don't need or want to be psychoanalysed."

"Then will you talk to me?"

Rodney ducked his head. "It was my fault," he finally whispered.

John frowned. Gall had committed suicide. How did Rodney conflate that into it being his fault? he wondered.

Rodney looked over at John and he could see the misery in McKay's expression. "I kept telling him I was worried about you. Wondering what was happening, if you needed help. You told me to stay off the radio. Then you said you were hurt." His hands drifted back to the keyboard. "He told me I'd changed, that I was different from the man he knew before we came here."

"Maybe that's true," John admitted. "I didn't know you before all of this so I can't really say."

Rodney snorted. "If we ever make contact with Earth again, I'm sure Colonel Carter or General O'Neill would be more than happy to tell you what kind of person I was when they knew me."

"I still don't understand how what Gall did was your fault," John said gently. "He made a choice."

Rodney tried to stand but John held him in place with a gentle hand on his arm. "I told you. I was scared something had happened to you. But I told Brendan I wouldn't leave him if he couldn't move. That we don't leave people behind." He looked John in the eye. "I'd looked away, for just a second, to try and decide if I should call you on the radio or not. I didn't want to give you away to the Wraith if you were hiding." He looked down at his hands. "I was still trying to figure out what to do when … When he told me to go and save the day and then …"

John sat back on the crate. He could see where Rodney would get the idea it was his fault Gall had made the decision, but he didn't agree with the reasoning.

"Maybe it was my fault," John offered and waited for the reaction. He'd learnt a long time ago if he was going to win an argument with McKay it had to be based on logic.

Rodney's head shot up and he scowled at John. "Glad to know you're taking this so seriously," he growled.

John didn't take the bait. "I'm serious," he said calmly. "Very serious."

"You weren't even there, how was it your fault he shot himself?"

"Where did Gall get the gun?"

Rodney threw his hands in the air. "Gee, thanks for that reminder, Sheppard!"

"Where did he get the gun, Rodney?" John asked again calmly.

"I gave it to him!" Rodney shouted. "Happy now?"

John shook his head, his eyes serious. "Why did you give him a gun?"

Rodney gave him a frustrated look. "You told me to. You said it was in case you didn't come back."

"Exactly," John said. "You needed to be able to protect each other in case I didn't succeed."

"You mean in case the Wraith killed you."

"Gall simply took that idea to its logical conclusion," John said. "The best way he could protect you and me was to … do what he did. I wish there had been another way. I really do. More than that, I wish you hadn't had to witness it.

"But the truth is, just like with the Eidolon, I needed help. If Ford hadn't come when he did, we'd both be dead in that house right now." John tapped Rodney on the knee again. "If you hadn't come when you did, I would be dead and that Wraith would have killed both you and Gall anyway."

"So, you're saying he did the right thing?" Rodney asked.

John shook his head. "I'm saying he did the only thing he could do."

Rodney stared at him for a moment longer, then sighed softly. "Yeah, I guess he did." He stared down at his hand for several seconds then went back to playing.

John was relieved the tune was different. "That's the moon song, isn't it?" he asked a moment later as he recognised the song.

Rodney gave him a puzzled look even as his fingers tripped on a chord.

"You've played that one before," John explained with a smile. "Lunar something."

Rodney shook his head. "Lunar, really?" he asked and for the first time in a week or more, John thought he sounded like his normal self. "It's "Clair de Lune"."

"I was close," John replied defensively.

Rodney smiled. "I guess." He played through the piece and started over. "So," he said his tone dripping innocence, "does this mean Ford is off the hook?"

Now it was John's turn to give the puzzled look.

"You told him you were going to discuss his creative interpretation of orders. Knowing you, I assume through some form of physical penance. Since you just admitted he did the right thing, is he off the hook?"

John grinned as he leant back to listen to the music. "I'll think about it."

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

In a quiet clearing surrounded by trees in the full glory of Autumn, a house shimmered into existence. It looked like a ramshackle house constructed and then expanded over time with ivy covering most of its stone walls and strange writing on the wall near the large stone doors.

Anyone who had entered the house soon after it's reappearance would have found most of the rooms uninhabited, but the house was not empty. If the hapless traveller didn't turn and run, he would have heard a sound, as if dozens of small bits of metal were being carefully dropped, one by one, onto a hard surface. If the sound didn't persuade him to run for his life, he would have seen a strange metamorphosis as a few of the rooms suddenly shifted or changed. Furniture appeared in some of the rooms. The walls and floors were no longer bare.

"I am eternal," a voice cooed as it roamed the halls of the stone house. Waiting. Sooner or later someone would stumble upon the house and curiosity would lead him to enter. Then it would feed.