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To Err Is Human

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"This is … cool," John mumbled as Chaya shifted to her ascended form and her light surrounded them. He felt warm, content, at peace. He felt himself sinking willingly into those feelings and letting go of everything. In the blink of an eye he saw Athar's entire history, and what saving her people had cost her. As he absorbed everything about her, she was taking in everything about him. All of his carefully locked boxes were thrown open as she learnt of his secrets, fears, and responsibilities.

And then it was over. He staggered slightly as the light faded and once again Chaya stood in front of him. She let go of his arms, stepped back, and smiled. "Now you understand all of me," she said with a sad smile as she brushed a hand lightly across his cheek. "You understand now why I can never leave Proculus." She let her hand fall back to her side. "Just as I know you cannot leave Atlantis and the people there." She looked into his eyes. "I even understand the unique relationship you have with Doctor McKay. The ability to share the mental link was rare in Atlantis, you are truly fortunate."

John gave her a crooked smile at that last comment. He was still more than a little angry at McKay for how he'd treated Chaya. Maybe that's why she'd told him, he thought to himself. If she could forgive Rodney for his aggressive attitude, maybe he should as well.

She moved away from him, up the stairs of the temple. "Now you must go, John. Before the others realise you are here."

John looked up at her as she disappeared inside the stone temple. He stood there a moment longer, then started back to where he'd left the jumper. Once back in the shuttle, he sat in the pilot's seat replaying what had just happened in his mind in a vain attempt to remember everything he had learnt but he could already sense the memories and feelings from their 'sharing' starting to slip away.

He looked out the windscreen with a sigh, powered up the jumper, and took off. As he passed over Chaya's temple, he saw her in her human form, standing on a balcony. She waved to him just before she shifted back to her ascended self and he smiled. They both knew the chances he would return were slim. He made one last pass over the house and garden before he aimed the jumper toward the sky. He had a city to return to and a friend to talk to.

The 'gate flared to life as he approached and, just like that, he was home. He saw Elizabeth come out of her office as the docking system took control of the shuttle, raising it into the jumper bay. He could tell she wasn't happy about something and suspected he had two people he needed to explain things to.

"John," she said over the radio. "Once Carson gives you the all clear, we need to talk."

"Copy that," John replied with a wince as the jumper rose out of the gateroom.

An hour later, showered and passed by Doctor Beckett as healthy, he crossed the walkway from the control room and tapped at Elizabeth's door. She waved him in and he sat in front of her desk trying to assess how much trouble he was in for his mad dash to fly off after Chaya.

"John," she greeted as she closed her computer, "I take it you were successful in fending off the Wraith from Chaya's planet?"

John sat back in the chair. "The people there are safe," he said carefully. "Chaya, or Athar, I guess, was able to defeat the two hive ships attacking the planet."

"I see," she replied, her tone neutral. "I don't suppose she had a change of heart regarding the people in this galaxy as a result of coming back here?"

John glanced down at his hands and shook his head. "She finally explained why, though." He looked up at her with a crooked smile. "Seems she went against some of the other ascended Ancients and saved the people on Proculus even after she was ordered not to. She's prohibited from trying to help anyone else as punishment."

Elizabeth gave him a studied look. "I guess you have more in common than you thought," she said.

John thought again of everything he'd learnt about Chaya as they 'shared' each other. There were many similarities, he could admit. They both needed to help others, they'd both been punished for disregarding the will of others to fulfil that need.

They were both lonely.

Was that was it really boiled down to? he wondered. They had sensed the deep loneliness in each other? His job had ruined his marriage, and he never really dated again after things ended with Nancy. Chaya had been the first woman in a long time with whom he had felt such an instant connection. Rodney would probably say it was their Ancient genes calling to each other. A slightly more polite way of saying he'd been thinking with something other than his head, John thought wryly.

"John? Are you all right?"

John looked over at her. "Yeah, maybe just tired. It's been a long day."

"Yes, it has," she agreed. "Get some rest, I'll want your report on what happened on Proculus tomorrow."

John accepted the dismissal and left her office. He needed to find something to eat and he needed to find Rodney. While he could admit he might have been distracted by Chaya and his emotions, McKay had been out of line with how he'd acted. He'd had a problem with Chaya almost from the instant he'd met her, going so far as to spy on her, them. He shook his head as he exited the transporter and walked toward the mess hall.

It was late and the mess hall was quiet after the dinner rush. He gathered a few items on a tray as well as a cup of coffee before heading to a table near the windows. He was just as glad to eat alone for once. If he was going to confront McKay about everything that had happened with Chaya, he needed to have a clear plan in his head first.

He finished eating and headed for McKay's lab. If Rodney was still angry at him about Chaya, and John had every reason to believe he was, he was most likely working late on some project or other. He wasn't surprised to find the door to the lab closed. It opened as soon as he waved his hand over the sensor, and he was surprised to find the space dark and empty.

Okay, not in the lab, he thought. Where would he go? He checked Rodney's quarters next, then the balconies he knew McKay frequented when he wanted to think. Still no luck. He felt his own temper rising again. "All right, McKay, you want to play this game, I'll let it go for now," he muttered to himself as he left the balcony near their quarters and headed back to his room.

The next morning he headed for the mess hall intent on clearing the air. If nothing else, he wanted to find out what Rodney's problem with Chaya had really been. He glanced around the room as he entered and frowned when he only saw Ford sitting at their usual table. He made his way through the mess line, grabbing his usual eggs and a cup of coffee, and headed for his lone teammate.

"Ford," he greeted as he sat down.

"Morning, Major," Ford replied as he finished his oatmeal.

"Where are Teyla and McKay?" he asked as he started on his eggs. "I can see Rodney being late but Teyla usually beats me here."

Ford gave him a guilty look before he ducked his head back down to his breakfast.

"Something you want to tell me, Lieutenant?" John asked, trying to keep his tone casual.

"Didn't anyone tell you, sir?" Ford asked, and John watched as the guilty look morphed into fake innocence.

John dropped his fork and stared, stone-faced, across the table. If something had happened, he'd know about it, he reminded himself. Mental link aside, someone would have told him if Rodney or Teyla had been injured in the few hours he'd been gone the day before.

"Tell me what?" John ground out.

Ford gathered his few breakfast dishes and stood. "Sergeant Stackhouse radioed yesterday after you'd … left to help Chaya," Ford said. "He said they'd found what looked like a cache of Ancient technology and needed someone to examine the devices they'd found to make sure they were safe to transport back to Atlantis."

"Okay," John said. "What's this got to do with Rodney and Teyla?"

Ford took a step back from the table, his dishes loaded on the tray in his hands. "Umm, Doctor McKay was still in the control room when Stackhouse checked in with the news. He told Doctor Weir he would go check out the site. Teyla offered to go with him."

"And Elizabeth just let him go?" John asked, slightly stunned.

Ford nodded. "From what I heard from Doctor Grodin, McKay wasn't in the mood to take 'no' for an answer. You were already gone and I was helping Doctor Zelenka track down a problem with the air circulators in one of the lower levels. According to Grodin, Doctor McKay didn't want Teyla to go with him, either, but she insisted and Doctor Weir agreed to let them both go."

John sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. As avoidance went, Rodney had outdone himself. Leaving not only the city, but the planet, in order to get away from him. He was going to have a long talk with McKay once he returned about running off.

"Maybe I'll wander up to the control room and see how things are going on Stackhouse's mission," John said and hid his smile as Ford relaxed.

"Yes, sir," he said. "If you need me to go to P2J-883 with you, I'll be in the gym."

John nodded and waited until Ford was gone. He finished the rest of his breakfast and headed up to Elizabeth's office to find out exactly what sort of mission Rodney had assigned himself.

"Was there something you forgot to tell me last night?" he asked as he stood in the open door to Weir's office a few minutes later. "Something about two members of my team volunteering for an off-world mission maybe?"

Elizabeth sighed and put down the report she was reading as she waved him into the office. "I'm not sure what you want me to say, John. Sergeant Stackhouse needed help evaluating several Ancient devices and Rodney offered to go and see what they had."

"And you didn't think it was odd at all for Rodney to volunteer for a mission? Or that he apparently didn't want anyone to go with him?"

Elizabeth gave him a hard look. "Honestly? No, I didn't. You two seemed more than a little at odds with each other the last two days. I think he wanted a chance to clear his head before seeing you again."

John sighed. "I know I need to talk to him. Sort things out." He leant back in his chair trying to project an air of casual indifference. "Maybe I'll drop in on Stackhouse's team and see how they are doing."

Elizabeth shook her head. "I'd leave him be for right now, John. Sergeant Stackhouse and his team have been on the planet for more than a week with no issues. Give Rodney a couple of days to cool off, then apologise to him."

"What?" John asked, sitting forward in the chair, all pretext of magnanimity gone. "I think you've got that backwards. After the way he'd acted around Chaya? He followed us out to the southwest pier, for Pete's sake."

"I didn't say he didn't owe you an apology as well," she said calmly as she watched him shift in the chair. She smiled slightly and added, "Stackhouse is due to check in in six hours. I'll let you know when he radios. You can see for yourself, then, that Rodney is fine."

"Fine," John agreed with bad grace and stood. "There are some things I need to get done anyway."

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

John spent the rest of the morning dealing with the accumulation of paperwork on his desk and working on off-world team assignments. As he looked at the upcoming schedule, he realised once again, three off-world teams just weren't enough to cover the number of planets they needed to explore and hopefully set up friendly relations.

He threw his pen back on the desk and leant back in his chair and thought about who he could tap as another team leader. They needed at least one more team, two more would be ideal. As he ran through the roster of Marines in his head an idea started to form and he tapped his radio.

"Sheppard to Thompson."

"Thompson here, sir."

John smiled at the crisp response. "Sergeant, I need to discuss something with you. Can you meet me in my office?

"Yes, sir," Thompson replied. "I'll be there in five, sir."

"No rush, Sergeant," John replied. "Sheppard out."

Four and a half minutes later there was a knock at his open door. John looked up to see Sergeant Thompson standing in the doorway waiting for permission to enter. John waved him in and pointed to the chair in front of his desk. As Thompson sat, John leant back in his own chair with a smile.

"I've been reading the latest reports on your missions helping Sergeant Markham's team with a resource treaty on P6X-449 and how you've stepped up to assist Lieutenant Ford in training both the off-world teams and the gateroom security force in hand-to-hand and knife fighting. Good work."

"Thank you, sir," Thompson said with a nod, his expression stoic.

John studied Thompson for a moment, then nodded to the open file on his desk.

"You were part of Desert Storm?"

"Yes, sir. Was back in-country for Nasiriyah a couple of years ago."

John nodded as he flipped the folder in front of him closed, watched the Sergeant for a few moments, then leant forward with his arms resting on his desk. "Since Sergeant Bates became the head of base security, we've been down a team for off-world missions. That's something I want to try and rectify with your help."

Thompson met John's gaze. "Anything you need, sir."

"I was hoping you'd say that," John said with a smile. "I want to make a proposal to Doctor Weir for two more off-world teams and I want you to lead one of them."

John watched as Thompson tried to maintain his stoic expression for a few moments before the smile bloomed across his face. "Yes, sir. I would absolutely accept such an assignment."

John's smile widened at the enthusiastic response. "Good! I'll talk to Doctor Weir about it and let you know when I have confirmation."

Thompson looked down at the floor and pursed his lips. He gave John a sideways look as if he wanted to say something else and wasn't quite sure how to broach the subject.

"What's the problem?" John asked seeing the look on his face.

"I just wondered, sir. If your idea was approved, would I be able to choose my own team members?"

"Was there someone, in particular, you wanted to be included?" John asked. "As long as he or she isn't on a current team, it shouldn't be a problem."

Thompson shook his head, then hesitated. "More the opposite, sir. There is someone I would prefer not to have on any team I lead. If it's possible, sir."

John frowned and ran back through what he knew from Thompson's file. The man was a career Marine, excellent service record, and more than a few commendation letters for exemplary service. No disciplinary actions, and no notes from Ford, off the record, of problems with anyone else in the expedition crew.

"Who would that be?" John asked and wondered for a moment if Thompson would tell him. It was an unwritten rule in the military that non-comms rarely told officers about interpersonal problems.

Thompson's gaze locked on a section of the wall to the left of John's head. "Corporal Bowers, sir," he said in a low voice.

Bowers. John should have known. If Kavanagh was the thorn in Rodney's side, Bowers was one of the thorns John dealt with on a regular basis. He knew about the rumors Bowers tried to spread after Rodney's accident with the transformer. He also knew all about the advanced training session Teyla had used as an excuse to remind Bowers McKay had a team watching his back.

Bowers had more than one note in his file for fighting as well as numerous petty offences since their arrival in the Pegasus galaxy. If they ever made contact with Earth again, John would insist Bowers be one of the first shipped back to the Milky Way galaxy with a recommendation for the most remote duty assignment the Pentagon could come up with for reassignment.

John clasped his hands on the desk and smiled slightly. "I don't think that will be a problem, Sergeant," John assured him. "You give me a list of potential team members, don't forget you'll need someone from the science department, and I'll see about getting you the people you want."

Thompson relaxed in his chair and nodded. "I have a few ideas for Marines, sir. But I don't really know many of the scientists."

"Doctor McKay is off-world at the moment," John told him and he tried to ignore the niggle of worry that Rodney was off-world without him. "Contact Doctor Zelenka. He can give you a few names of scientists interested in off-world exploration missions. Talk to them and let me know who you want."

Yes, sir," Thompson said and stood. "Thank you, sir, for this opportunity. I won't let you down."

"Never thought you would, Sergeant," John replied and stood as well. "Dismissed."

Thompson saluted and left the office and John tapped his radio.

"Sheppard to Weir."

"Go ahead, John," Elizabeth replied. "It's still two hours before Stackhouse is due to check in, if that's what you're asking."

John shook his head. "Nope. I wanted to talk to you about that idea I had a few weeks ago to add more off-world teams. I have a recommendation for one of the new team lead positions."

There was a pause over the radio. "I'm about to meet with the geology team about a mission to M2R-937. It will have to wait until after that. Say an hour?"

John glanced at his watch and smiled. The convenient timing would mean they would have just enough time to discuss the new team before Stackhouse was due to check in. When did he get so easy to read, he wondered, knowing Elizabeth had timed their meeting specifically so he would be in the control room when Stackhouse called.

"An hour, then," John agreed and clicked off the radio. That would give him enough time for a quick run and a chance to think about everything that went wrong between Rodney and Chaya.

He jogged through the lower levels replaying everything that had happened over the last two days. The best he could come up with was Rodney had been jealous for some reason. John's only question was, if he was jealous she had picked him over McKay or if Rodney thought he was spending too much time with her and was jealous of the attention he gave her over him.

He remembered David acting much the same way when John started dating in high school. Suddenly, his laid-back little brother had turned surly, picking fights at every opportunity. To John, it looked like Rodney had acted exactly the same way. McKay had been surly, rude, and arrogant to both Chaya and John as if he'd been hoping one or both of them would respond in kind.

He finished a circuit and started another as he turned the problem over in his head. If he was brutally honest with himself, he had let his emotions get in the way of his job. And Rodney had been right, she was an alien, and not telling them everything. Maybe it was partially his fault for the problems over the last two days. He was so used to McKay backing up many of his decisions, that it surprised him to find they were on opposite sides for once.

The Captain Kirk comment had been unnecessary, though, he decided as he finished his run and headed back to his quarters.

Showered, and in a clean uniform, he headed up to Elizabeth's office for his meeting regarding adding two new off-world teams.

"Sergeant Thompson is a good choice," Elizabeth agreed once John explained his reasons for needing the additional teams. "Any thoughts on the other team leader?"

John shook his head. "I'd like to get Thompson's team up and running first. See how they work as a group and what sort of missions they would be best suited to handle. That will give me and Ford time to go through the roster and see who else would be a good candidate for a team lead position."

Elizabeth nodded as she made a few notes. She started to say something but looked up as the stargate started to dial. "Incoming wormhole from P2J-883," Grodin said over the open radio channel.

"Just your luck, John," she said with a smile. "Sergeant Stackhouse is twenty minutes early for his check in."

John followed her out of the office and over to Grodin at the control console. "It looks like another video message," Grodin said as the data came across his computer. "Give me a moment to decompress it."

John stood to one side as Grodin tapped at the computer for a few minutes. "Got it," he said and hit one last key, sending the video to the large monitor behind the consoles.

The video was shaky for a few frames until whoever the cameraman was steadied the image on Sergeant Stackhouse. John could see the team was in a large clearing with a few trees in the near distance. Several stone buildings stood in crumbled ruins behind Stackhouse along with the tents the team were using. John caught a glimpse of Rodney as he stood facing the camera in the background.

"Sergeant Thomas Stackhouse, team leader, day ten on P2J-883. We have started to explore the area with the cache of Ancient devices. Doctor Corrigan has discovered what appears to be logs or records of what the Ancients were doing at the site. From what he's been able to translate, the site was used mainly as a research outpost. Doctor Corrigan has not been able to decipher what, exactly, it was they were doing, however.

"We are still excavating part of the lower level of the main building." Stackhouse jerked his chin over his shoulder at the large building behind him. "Several items have already been cleared by Doctor McKay to be brought back to Atlantis."

John watched as the camera panned over a small assemblage of items lined up against a wall of one of the ruined buildings. He only gave the items a cursory glance since the camera had also focused on Rodney and Teyla standing to one side.

They were both in short sleeves and wearing tac-vests. Teyla did not have a P-90, but John could just glimpse the holsters for the sidearms they both carried. Teyla looked relaxed as she looked around the area. Rodney looked tired, and John wondered if he'd had any sleep since he arrived on the planet. He also saw there were fresh bandages on a couple of his fingers as he gave the camera a hesitant wave and John shook his head with a tiny smile.

Stackhouse glanced down at his watch. "Next check-in will be in twelve hours. Doctor McKay and Teyla will also be returning with the first of the Ancient items at that time. Stackhouse out."

John watched as the camera made one last pan of the area and caught Rodney seemingly staring back at him before the video cut off.

Elizabeth caught John's eye and nodded back in the direction of her office.

"Everything seemed fine to me," she said once she was seated behind her desk. "Do you still think you need to go charging out there?"

John gave her a sheepish look. "Point taken," he said. "I guess I can wait until they get back tomorrow."

He turned toward the door and stopped when Elizabeth said, "John, I'm sure you two will work things out." She clasped her hands on her desk. "Teyla would probably tell you brothers are allowed to disagree with each other on occasion."

John thought back to his high school days and David fighting with him almost as much as his father. He didn't have much experience reconciling with family after such a big argument and suspected Rodney had even less. He hoped they could get past what happened on Proculus sooner rather than later.

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

John startled awake from a sound sleep and looked around for what had woken him up. He didn't hear or see anything out of place, but couldn't shake the feeling something was wrong. He got up, dressed quickly in a t-shirt and his uniform trousers and headed for the control room. He stopped just inside the door and found everything seemed quiet and normal. No alarms sounded, no calls to Zelenka about a system about to go critical and explode, everyone went about their business the same way they did every night.

Chuck looked up from the control console, saw him and asked, "Is there something I can do for you, Major?"

John shook his head and wandered over to the console. "No, just couldn't sleep. Thought I'd make sure everything was all right up here."

Chuck glanced down at his console then over at the one next to him. "Everything seems fine. City systems are all running smooth. Sergeant Stackhouse isn't due to check in for another three hours."

John glanced down as Sergeant Markham's team entered the gateroom with a couple of scientists in tow. John recognised the tall man with dark hair and eyes as Volkov, the head of the geology department. He didn't know the blonde pony-tailed woman standing next to him.

"Ready to head out, Sergeant," Markham called up to the control room. John saw him glance up and freeze. "Oh, sorry, sir. I didn't realise you were there."

"I'm not really here," John replied with a smile as Chuck started the dialling sequence for the 'gate. "Where are you off to?"

Markham directed the rest of his team and the two scientists to head toward the 'gate. "Mission to M2R-937, sir. Doctor Volkov wants to set up some equipment to monitor a volcano in the area."

"Not just any sort of volcano, Sergeant Markham," Volkov corrected. "It is a super volcano, larger than anything we could study on Earth."

John smiled slightly as Markham gave him a long-suffering look. "Well, good luck, Sergeant," John said as the wormhole formed.

"Thank you, sir. We should be back inside twenty-four hours."

John nodded and watched as the team went through the 'gate and the wormhole shut down a few moments later.

"That was about the most excitement we're going to have tonight, sir," Chuck said as he rechecked his console.

John gave him a crooked smile and headed back to his quarters. He still had a weird feeling something was wrong, but couldn't figure out what it could be. Everything seemed fine. He went back to bed and tried to get a couple more hours of sleep.

Four hours later he wandered into the mess hall, bleary-eyed. He'd tossed and turned for three hours before giving up and going for another quick run.

He made a beeline for the coffee, poured a cup and took several quick sips before refilling the cup and finding a table. He didn't feel much like eating for some reason and a corner of his mind wondered if something had happened during the 'sharing' he'd done with Chaya to explain the trouble sleeping and lack of appetite. He shook his head and swallowed more coffee. If something had been wrong, Beckett would have found it during his post-mission physical. He finished his coffee and watched as the early-risers trickled into the mess hall for breakfast.

Ford came in a half hour later and John decided he needed to eat something even if he didn't feel like it. If he was going to have a talk with Rodney about what happened with Chaya, he didn't need the distraction of an empty stomach.

Speaking of McKay, he glanced at his watch and frowned. Stackhouse should have checked in by now. Why hadn't anyone called him to tell him Rodney and Teyla were back. He stood up just as Ford arrived at the table with his breakfast. "That's going to have to wait," John said and headed for the door. "Something's wrong on P2J-883."

"Sir?" Ford asked as he dropped the tray and followed John out of the mess hall to the transporter that would take them to the control room.

"They're late checking in," John said as the doors opened and John led the way down the hallway and into the control room. One look at Elizabeth's face and he knew he was right.

"What's happened?" he asked as he stopped in front of the control console and glared from Elizabeth to Grodin.

"Sergeant Stackhouse is two hours overdue for his check-in," Elizabeth said, concern plain in her expression. "Peter, dial the planet and see if you can make radio contact."

"Yes, ma'am," Grodin said and started the dialling sequence.

A few seconds later the wormhole formed and Grodin said, "Atlantis base calling Sergeant Stackhouse, please come in." Grodin paused, then said, "This is Atlantis calling any member of the research team, please respond."

Grodin looked up and shook his head.

"How far is the 'gate from where they are working?" John asked. "Can you access with MALP and turn on the camera?"

"The ruins are a few miles from the 'gate, Major," Grodin replied. "I can try, but the camera may not have the resolution to see much."

"Do it," John ordered.

Grodin tapped several keys on the computer set off to one side of the console and glanced back at the large screen behind them.

John felt his face lose all expression as the camera came up. The sun was high in the sky, giving them plenty of light to see something had happened at the campsite. They couldn't see much in the way of detail, but John saw enough. Smoke curled into the sky from one of the crumbling buildings and the white expedition tents were flapping in the slight breeze.

He exchanged a quick look with Elizabeth before he turned to Ford. "Gear up," he ordered, his voice hard. "We're leaving in five." He heard Elizabeth calling Carson at the same time he tapped his own earpiece. "Sergeant Thompson, this is Sheppard."

"Thompson here, sir."

"We have a situation on P2J-883. I want you and …" He paused for a moment, running through personnel files in his head. "Corporal Daley in the gateroom in five minutes."

"Yes, sir."

Sheppard didn't bother signing off the radio as he tapped his earpiece, turned, and headed for the armoury. "Hand me some of the packets from the drink stash," he told Ford as he stuffed several bottles of water, the first aid kit, and a number of the drink packets leftover from MREs Ford handed him in a backpack.

John had had a long conversation with Carson once about hypoglycaemia and what to do if Rodney started showing symptoms. He knew McKay kept one of the pockets of his tac-vest stocked with power bars, but after what happened on Kalani's planet, John and the rest of the team had started squirrelling away their unused powdered drink packets in case of a sugar emergency. Over the last few months, John had noticed the little stash of packets in the armoury had grown and he wondered how many of the Marines knew what they were for and were quietly adding to the supply.

Less than five minutes later, John was back with Ford. Thompson and Corporal Daley, her short, red hair a stark contrast to the grey of the gateroom, stood to one side. Carson and a pair of medical technicals waited near the steps leading up to the control room.

"Major?" Carson asked as Grodin dialled the 'gate again. "What's happened."

"Not sure," John replied. "Stackhouse's team is late and it looks like they ran into a problem."

"Rodney and Teyla were with them, were they not?" Carson asked softly.

"Yeah," John said shortly as the wormhole formed. "Which means they're probably in trouble."

John signalled Thompson and Daley through the 'gate and turned as Elizabeth called down to him.

"John? Bring them back."

John nodded, his expression grim. "I plan to," he said as he followed Thompson through the 'gate.

He heard her say, "Be careful" as he stepped through the event horizon and moments later, found himself on P2J-883, Ford at his side.

Thompson and Daley crouched at the edges of the dais for the 'gate, sweeping the surrounding area with their weapons for threats. Ford, bent over to make a smaller target, advanced to the DHD and scanned the area ahead, his P-90 up and ready. John knelt at the edge of the dais in front of the 'gate.

"Clear?" he called.

"Clear, sir," Ford responded.

"All clear," added Thompson and Daley.

John tapped his earpiece. "Atlantis, send Beckett and the medical team," John said and stepped away from the dais so Carson and his people had enough room to come through the 'gate.

John waited until Beckett and his team were through and the wormhole closed before moving toward the DHD. Thompson and Daley closed on the flanks while Carson and the med techs stood in the middle of their huddle.

"All right," John said. "The ruins are four miles in that direction," John said in a low voice as he pointed away from the stargate. "Thompson, you and Daley take the flanks. Ford, you have point." He turned to Carson. "Doc, no matter what happens, or what you see, you and your people stay behind me until we have the area secure."

Carson nodded and shifted the pack on his back.

"Ford," John said with a jerk of his head. "Let's go find our people."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied and John noticed none of the usual happy-go-lucky attitude in the Lieutenant. His eyes were hard and his head moved back and forth, watching everything in front of them as he led the way toward the ruins.

It took them an hour of careful scouting to reach the ruins in a clearing backed by a stream and trees in the full bloom of spring. A corner of John's mind could easily understand why a population however many years ago would have built their outpost in the area. It was a beautiful spot, and under other circumstances, John would have taken the time to savor the view. Now, however, they had a job to do.

"Thompson, check the ruins on the left, Ford, take the right. Daley, you stay here with Beckett until we give the all clear."

"Major," Carson said, his tone serious. "If any of our people are injured, it's been several hours now. Time could be of the essence."

John turned back. "I hear you, Carson, but we have no idea what happened here or if whoever attacked our people left any surprises for anyone who came later. Better safe than sorry."

Beckett crossed his arms over his chest and jerked his head in a nod before Sheppard headed toward the area of the ruins where he'd seen Rodney and Teyla the day before. Several of the items he'd seen lined up near the wall in the video the day before were missing.

He ducked under one of the slashed tents and found three crates, their contents scattered across the ground, along with work tables, stools, and some computer equipment, including Rodney's combo-computer. He started to get a bad feeling.

He left the tent crouched low as he eased around the corner of the large crumbling building he remembered from the video and found himself on the wrong end of a Beretta held in the shaking hands of Doctor Corrigan.

John ducked back and lowered his P-90 slightly. "Doctor Corrigan?" he said, forcing his voice to remain calm. "We're the good guys, Doc. I need you to put down the gun so we can help."

"Major Sheppard?" Corrigan said, and John peeked around the corner as the gun in Corrigan's hand drooped. "Oh, thank god. I don't know what else to do for them." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder and John saw two bodies lying on the floor of the ruined building.

"Okay, Doc," John said and inched around the corner enough to take the Beretta out of Corrigan's hand. "We brought Doctor Beckett with us. Everything's going to be fine." He put a hand on Corrigan's shoulder. "You kept them safe. You did good, Doc."

Corrigan sank down with his back against the wall and nodded.

John took a step away from him and tapped his earpiece. "Carson, I've got Corrigan here with Stackhouse and Stephens in the large building in front of you. They could use some help."

"We'll be right there, Major," Carson replied.

A few moments later John heard someone scrabbling around outside and Beckett's face appeared. He caught a glimpse of Daley standing watch outside as Carson moved past him, gave Corrigan a quick once over, then headed farther into the building.

"How are you doing, Thomas, lad?" Carson murmured as he knelt down next to Stackhouse "I could use some light, Major," Beckett said in John's direction as he set his pack on the floor.

"Ford, see if you can find any of the expedition's supplies," John said over the radio. "We need some flashlights in here."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied and a few minutes later he appeared with a couple of large flashlights. "Major, I think we're clear," Ford said as he passed off the lights to Beckett. "There's no sign of anyone still around." He let the comment hang, the implication of what he meant clear.

John heard a groan behind them and turned to see Sergeant Stackhouse trying to sit up.

"Just stay where you are, lad," Carson admonished as he lifted the edge of the pressure bandage covering Stackhouse's shoulder.

"Check on Stephens," Stackhouse said with a groan. "He alerted us to the attack. I think they shot him right after that."

"I've got someone looking after Michael. You just worry about yourself for a moment," Carson said and glanced up at one of his techs motioning with his head to check the other body on the floor.

"He's alive," the tech murmured a few seconds later. "But we need to get him back to Atlantis, he's lost a lot of blood." The tech replaced the crude bandaging on the wounds to Stephens' chest with clean pressure bandages.

Beckett nodded as he stood back and motioned the other tech carrying a portable stretcher.

While Beckett and the techs were busy with Stephens, John knelt down beside Stackhouse. "What happened?"

Stackhouse shook his head. "I'm not entirely sure, sir," he replied, his voice a bit breathless from the pain. "We've been here almost two weeks. No problems. No sign of anyone else on the planet, that we could prove anyway."

"That you could prove?" John asked with a frown.

Stackhouse tried to sit up again and groaned. He closed his eyes for a moment then said, "A few days ago Stephens started saying he thought we were being watched. We went out to check,but couldn't find any traces of someone else near the camp. Then last night Stephens tells me he heard someone moving around behind the ruins." Stackhouse closed his eyes for a moment. "I told him we would take another look and he went outside. Before I could get out there with him, Stephens starts yelling about an attack."

Stackhouse shifted slightly with another groan. "There were eight of them, sir. Big, armed with crude weapons. After they shot me and Stephens, they grabbed Teyla when she came outside to help. Doctor McKay tried to help her, but one of them hit him over the head with something and they took him, too."

John's expression went flat and he had to put out a hand against the wall to keep his balance as he crouched next to Stackhouse.

"How badly were they hurt?" he asked stiffly.

Stackhouse swallowed then said, "Teyla seemed fine. She was kicking and fighting until they got her hands tied and one of them threatened to kill Doctor McKay if she didn't cooperate. She was able to walk when they left."

"And Rodney?" John wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Like I said, sir, they hit him over the head. He went down hard and was quickly tied up as well. They had to carry him, so I'm pretty sure he was unconscious."

John ducked his head as he scrubbed a hand over his face.

"I'm sorry, sir. There wasn't anything I could do to stop them." John could see the misery and guilt in his expression.

John nodded. "Yeah, I know that," he said. He patted Stackhouse's arm as Carson knelt beside them

"Major?" Carson said as he checked the bandage on Stackhouse's shoulder. "We need to go."

"Yeah," John said with a sigh and stood. "What about Ortega, Sergeant?" he asked as Stackhouse was loaded onto the other stretcher.

"He followed them, sir. They were heading toward the mountains." He nodded at the low hills in front of him.

John followed Carson out of the ruined building and motioned to Daley. "Daley, you're in charge here. Get Beckett and the injured back through the 'gate. Report to Doctor Weir on what happened here and tell her I want Markham's team on standby, assuming they're back from their mission, in case we need help."

She nodded her acknowledgement and took the ends of one of the stretchers.

Carson gave John an appraising look. "You haven't felt anything through the mental link with regard to Rodney, Major?" he asked once the others were out of earshot.

John shook his head. For a fleeting moment, he again wondered if the 'sharing' had done something else to him, then told himself he was being foolish.

Carson looked pointedly over at the mountains. "Interesting," he said in a low voice as Corrigan and the other med-tech passed them with Stackhouse's stretcher. "There must be a distance factor involved with the link. Any other time you or Rodney has been injured, you've been in close proximity to each other." He started walking back toward the 'gate. "You may be able to use that to your advantage."

It took John a moment to catch on to what Carson was implying, but when he did, he gave Beckett a nod. "I'll find them," he promised.

"I know you will, Major," Carson said as he started to follow the stretcher-bearers. "Just bring them home in one piece. And yourself as well."

John nodded and watched as the teams headed out. Once they were gone, John turned to Ford and Thompson standing behind him. "According to Stackhouse, we have eight hostiles who kidnapped two of our people. We're going after them."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied all business. Thompson adjusted the strap on his P-90 and nodded.

John headed over to the slashed tents hoping to find a trail they could follow. He wandered back through one of the tents and sifted through the overturned tables and Ancient devices scattered on the ground. John paused when he saw what looked like the same box he remembered from Rodney's lab pushed against one of the tables.

He picked up the box and set it on a stool along with a few other mysterious devices and a couple of small books filled with Ancient text. He knew the fact the equipment was left but Rodney and Teyla kidnapped was a bad sign. It meant they'd been targeted somehow. But by whom and why?

He walked over to the other tent and stepped inside. He spotted Rodney's pack and two tac-vests lying on the ground between two of the cots.

"Damn," he murmured as he closed his eyes.

"Sir?" Ford asked coming up behind him.

"They don't have any supplies," John said, picking up the vests, one of them with a pocket full of power bars. John patted at the vest and pulled Rodney's Ancient scanner out of another one of the pockets. He powered the device on and tapped at the screen until he found the information on life signs. There were several readings nearby, most likely fish in the nearby stream or other animals. He didn't see any large groups of dots on the screen, however, and shut it off.

He stuffed the scanner in one his own pockets and looked over at Ford and Thompson. "Corporal Ortega was following them," John said. "We need to find a trail and see if we can't catch up. Ford, take point. Thompson, you have our six."

John followed Ford as he led the way toward the mountains in the near distance. "You better be all right, McKay," he muttered to himself. On top of whatever other injuries he and Teyla may have, John knew with McKay's hypoglycaemia, they were now on a clock to find them. He did not want to consider the idea his last conversation Rodney had been a fight.