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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.

Chapter Text

Rodney had watched as the jumper disappeared through the event horizon, unable to hide the scowl on his face as John vanished with it. He couldn't believe after proving to Sheppard that Chaya had lied to them, to him, John was still running after her like some lovesick puppy.

She was an Ancient. He'd been stunned when he put the pieces together in the conference room, and for a moment, he thought he had John back on his side. That was until she'd told John Proculus was under attack and Sheppard had decided to play the hero and fly off after her. The Captain Kirk comment was more apt than he'd realised. He stared down at the now quiet stargate lost in thought. He'd done all of that work, and lost a night's sleep, to show John how Chaya was using him. Apparently, it was all for nothing.

He'd been used too many times in his life not to recognise the signs. Parents who only wanted a trophy child. Universities wanting the prestige of a child prodigy on their student rolls. Never mind the professors or fellow researchers who stole his data for their own use. He knew that hurt well. He didn't want a friend, a brother, to feel that same sense of loss when such trust was broken. He'd hoped explaining his conclusions in terms John would understand, in feelings and intuition, that Sheppard would listen to him when logic had him tuning Rodney out.

He'd been trying to help, damn it. Why couldn't John see that? he wondered. He stared at the silent stargate, his shoulders sagging in defeat, and wondered if he had actually broken the very trust he was trying to preserve. Rodney had been shocked to realise John had been angry with him. Yelling at him in a way he hadn't heard since the bacteria that had infected all of them several months ago.

Now John had left, without so much as a glance back, to fight who knew how many Wraith with a single puddle jumper. All Rodney could think about was that Chaya better pull another ball of energy out of her hat and protect John, or Rodney would go back to Proculus and give her hell for getting John killed. He didn't want to consider the idea their last ever conversation had been a fight. Over a woman of all things.

He sank into an empty chair at one of the rear consoles and rested his head on his arms. He hadn't slept since they returned from Proculus. Instead, he'd spent all of his waking hours figuring out what Chaya had been trying to hide. He was exhausted with a headache to match. All he wanted was to be left alone to figure out how he was going to fix the mess he'd created.

"Doctor McKay, are you all right," Teyla asked softly and Rodney heard another chair pulled across the floor before she sat down beside him.

He rolled his head over on his arms and looked first at her and then the rest of the control room. He realised, other than Grodin working at the control console in front of them, everyone else had left.

"Nothing I did seemed to matter," Rodney admitted in a low voice. "He refused to listen to anything I said about her."

Teyla leant back in her chair and pursed her lips. "I see," she said, still keeping her voice low so Grodin wouldn't overhear them. "Perhaps it was the manner in which you told him that was the problem."

"The manner?" Rodney said as he sat up and jutted out his chin. "I gave him the facts. She was lying to us. To him! She was hiding who she really was. Was I supposed to not say anything?"

He didn't realise how loud he was getting until Grodin glanced at them. Rodney glowered back at him and Peter shrugged then turned back to the console in front of him. Rodney lowered his voice and added, "Tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing."

Teyla closed her eyes with a sigh. "I would not have been so … blunt in my accusations," she said.

Rodney frowned. "I'm always blunt," he told her. "It eliminates misunderstandings if you just say what needs to be said."

She smiled sadly at him. "And yet, you are upset with how Major Sheppard reacted to your findings."

Before Rodney could reply, the stargate activated.

"Incoming wormhole," Grodin announced.

Elizabeth came out of her office and stood in front of the control console.

"Point of origin is P2J-883," Grodin added. "I'm receiving Sergeant Stackhouse's IDC."

"Lower the shield," Elizabeth said and turned to face the 'gate as a security team scrambled into position.

"Atlantis, this is Sergeant Stackhouse. Come in."

"We're reading you, Sergeant," Elizabeth replied. "You're six hours early for your check-in. Is there a problem?"

"No, ma'am," Stackhouse said. "We've uncovered a cache of what looks like Ancient devices in one of the lower rooms. Doctor Corrigan thinks we need someone to come take a look and let us know if the items are safe to transport back to Atlantis."

"Corrigan," Rodney said and rolled his eyes. "Why couldn't it have been Jenson? She, at least, has some common sense."

Elizabeth frowned in his direction and Rodney realised Stackhouse could probably hear him.

"Is there any information on what the items are or what the site was used for?" Elizabeth asked.

"We've found something Doctor Corrigan thinks might be a data recorder and a what looks like a few notebooks. He hasn't been able to translate much of it, however," Stackhouse replied. "The cache was in an interior room of a building that suffered heavy damage at some point. Not a lot is left."

"I'll go," Rodney said suddenly and stood. "I need to … get away from here for a while." He looked around the control room, trying not to think about the shuttle descending down from the jumper bay and John disappearing through the stargate to follow Chaya.

"Hold on, Sergeant," Elizabeth said and turned to Rodney. "Are you sure?"

"I know more about Ancient technology than anyone else in the city. It makes sense for me to go." He crossed his arms over his chest, then clasped his hands behind his back when he thought he looked too defensive.

"I don't think Major Sheppard would want you going off-world without him," Elizabeth started to say.

"Well, Major Sheppard isn't here right now," Rodney snapped with a scowl. "He apparently has better things to do." He stopped speaking when he saw Elizabeth's expression and tried to get his temper under control. "I'm not doing anything else at the moment," he added, shoving the anger and hurt back down. "I can be ready to go in a few minutes."

Elizabeth studied him for a few moments and Rodney could tell she was about to tell him no, that she would send someone else. Considering Doctor Jenson was still in the infirmary with a broken leg, he wasn't sure who Elizabeth thought she could send in his place.

"I will accompany Doctor McKay," Teyla said, stepping up to Rodney's side and giving him a sideways glance. "This way he will have … backup, if anything should happen."

"You don't need to. I can take care of myself," Rodney argued, his expression stony.

"Doctor Weir is correct," she told him with a puzzled glance. "Major Sheppard would not want you to go off-world without one of us with you."

"Fine," Rodney huffed out with bad grace. "Come along if you want."

Elizabeth nodded at Teyla as she tapped her earpiece. "Sergeant Stackhouse?"

"Still here, ma'am."

"I'm sending Doctor McKay and Teyla to assist you. You can have them for two days, but then I need them back in the city. They should be ready to go in a few minutes."

"Copy that. We'll be waiting. Better let Doctor McKay know it's about four miles from the 'gate to the site, so he should only bring essentials."

Elizabeth glanced back at Rodney. He made a face and nodded as he stepped around the console and headed out of the control room as Elizabeth replied, "Message received, Sergeant. Atlantis out."

Rodney headed for the transporter and his lab for his combo-computer and tools, then met Teyla in the armoury.

"You are sure you want to do this?" she asked as she pulled on her tac-vest.

"This isn't some sort of dangerous mission," he snapped tiredly. "They've been there almost two weeks."

"That is not what I mean," she replied, ignoring his tone. "Major Sheppard will return from Proculus soon --"

"We hope," Rodney muttered.

"And when he does, the pair of you will need to talk." Teyla gave him a measured look as he buckled his tac-vest and checked the Beretta before sliding it into its holster. "You are running away," she finished.

"I am not!" Rodney exclaimed with a glare. "I just want some time … to think," he added as he attached his pack to the vest.

Teyla waited for him to join her, then headed back out to the gateroom. "Then we should go," she said as Grodin started dialling the 'gate. "Before Major Sheppard returns and spoils your escape."

Rodney glared back at her but said nothing as the wormhole formed with a whoosh.

"Rodney, Teyla," Elizabeth said from the balcony. "We'll see you in a couple of days."

Rodney glanced up at the jumper bay, then over at Elizabeth before he stepped through the event horizon and found himself on a planet in the blush of spring. The air was cool and he knew he'd regret leaving his jacket behind before he got back to the city. The trees had leafed out and several bloomed with small purple flowers while the ground was a carpet of fresh green. It was a nice change from the city or even the mainland where the harvest was in full swing.

"Doctor McKay. Teyla," Stackhouse greeted as they stepped down from the dais. "The excavation site is this way." He turned and led the way across the small clearing with the 'gate to where Rodney could just glimpse a few deteriorating buildings and a couple of white dots that had to be the Earth-issue tents in the distance.

"We've set up a large tent with the items Doctor Corrigan found so far," Stackhouse explained as they walked. "Corrigan and Stephens did most of the work. Since they don't have the gene I thought it would be safe."

"You mentioned a data recorder?" Rodney asked.

Stackhouse nodded. "Doctor Corrigan thinks that's what it is. It's this box full of crystals all lined up in rows. He's also found what he thinks are logbooks written in Ancient."

"There have been no signs of people in the area?" Teyla asked.

Stackhouse turned back to her. "Nothing we can really confirm," he hedged.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Rodney asked. "I thought Elizabeth said the planet was deserted."

Stackhouse shrugged. "Stephens keeps getting this feeling like we're being watched. I've sent Stephens and Ortega out on patrol a few times, but we haven't found anything. No one has bothered us or come near the camp since we arrived."

"There are stories of marauders," Teyla said as they walked. "Men and women who live in ships and subsist on plundering planets and selling what they find or steal."

"Oh, wonderful," Rodney groused as he gave the surrounding landscape, especially the forest, a wary look.

They entered the excavation site an hour later and Rodney headed for the large tent open on one side where Corrigan sat studying something on his computer, several Ancient devices sat on the long table beside him. Rodney did a double-take when he saw one of the items was a largish box just like the one he'd had in his lab for the last nine months.

He walked over to the end of the table with the box and examined every inch of it. It was the same size, and unlike the one in his lab, he could see this one had crystals lined up in neat rows inside of it.

"Doctor McKay," Corrigan said in greeting.

Rodney grunted at him as he continued to study the box. This one, for all it had been buried under a collapsed building, was in better shape compared to the one he'd found in Atlantis. Peering through the top of the device, it looked like all of the crystals were intact.

"Doctor Corrigan, I hope you are well," Teyla said from Rodney's other side.

Corrigan smiled at her as he came over and stood on the other side of the table.

"I think it's a data recorder," Corrigan said, pointing at the box. "From what I can see of the inside, the crystals are arranged in groups and I think those groups act as a sort of partition in a hard drive. I'm not sure how one would go about retrieving the data, however."

Rodney reached out a hand and touched the top of the box and mentally told the box 'on'. Nothing happened. He frowned slightly and touched one of the sides and repeated the silent command, then used both hands and picked the box up. Still, nothing happened. He put the box down, slipped off his pack, dug around inside, and came up with a power bar and his tools. Dragging a folding stool over from one of the other tables, he sat down and examined the box again.

"I believe I will look around the rest of the area," Teyla told him and started to walk away.

Rodney gave her an absent nod of acknowledgement as he opened the power bar and reached for the box again. It didn't take him long to figure out the box opened just like the one in his lab and he was soon elbow-deep in the innards of the device, pulling out crystals and tracing conduit paths with his fingers. In spite of Corrigan hovering over his shoulder every ten minutes, Rodney felt himself finally start to relax as he spent a pleasant couple of hours tinkering.

Maybe Teyla was right, he thought to himself as he worked. He had been blunt, maybe more blunt than usual, regarding Chaya. He'd suspected something was off as soon as she told them Athar refused to help them. He'd never had much patience for religious rigamarole and that, added with the way Chaya was eyeing John, had set him on edge.

Worse, the more time John spent with Chaya, the less he was willing to listen to reason. Listen to him. While he and John disagreed about things on a regular basis, this was the first time Sheppard refused to even hear what he had to say. Rodney had given a passing thought to telling Sheppard it was little more than his and Chaya's Ancient genes creating a sort of pheromone reaction, but he stopped himself at the last moment. Some instinct told him that would be a step too far, and John would never forgive him.

Was John back from his foolhardy trip to Proculus? he wondered. Did he know Rodney wasn't in Atlantis? Did he even care? Teyla had accused him of running away from the situation with John, but he'd told her the truth. He needed time and space to think. He wasn't sure what he could do to fix what had happened. He couldn't take back the things he'd said, or pretend it hadn't happened. So what was he supposed to do?

The last fight he'd had with Jeannie resulted in a four-years and counting rift where she refused to speak to him. Atlantis was too small and held too few people for John to give him the complete silent treatment, but would he call their friendship quits? Would Sheppard go back to calling him 'Doctor McKay', stop visiting his lab to talk about whatever came to mind, and only have contact with him on missions?

Rodney looked up from the box as he considered what life in Atlantis would be like without John's friendship. He wasn't sure he wanted to go back to the cold, impersonal relationship they'd had when they'd first arrived in the city. He'd changed in the months since their arrival, Gall had told him as much as he lay dying in the Wraith ship. The old Rodney wouldn't have cared if a colleague was used the way Chaya was obviously using Sheppard. Hell, he thought to himself, the old him probably would have stood back and watched with a certain sadistic glee as John made a fool of himself.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eye, glanced out the open side of the tent, and saw Teyla, sitting with her back against one of the crumbling walls, talking to Stephens. That was another puzzle his head was still trying to work out. Why did she come with him? Was it just out of a sense of duty to Sheppard and the team or was something more? After all these months, he still wasn't sure where exactly he stood with Teyla. Were they friends or merely teammates?

This was why he'd always kept people at arm's length in the past. He just couldn't understand the messy emotions and innuendo. Science and engineering responded to logic. A given set of parameters would yield a predictable result. Simple. Neat. People were neither simple nor neat in their responses. He thought he'd had made progress, but the fight with John, and Teyla's comments, made him question that conclusion. He shook his head and turned back to the box, pulling his mind back to a puzzle he had a chance of solving.

He reached back into the box, trying to figure out where the next line of conduit led and cursed when the screwdriver slipped and he cut his first two fingers on the edge of one of the crystal brackets.

"Doctor McKay?" Corrigan said looking up from a hand-drawn schematic of a building laid out on the table in front of him.

"Nothing," Rodney growled as he pulled open one of his vest pockets and found an antiseptic wipe. "Just cut myself."

Corrigan nodded once and pointed at a first aid kit sitting on the other table. "I think there are some bandages in there," he said.

Rodney finished cleaning the cuts and dug through the kit until he found the box and pulled out a couple of bandages, covered the cuts on his fingers, and went back to work. He finished tracing the conduits and started replacing the crystals. As one part of his mind worked on reassembling the box, another part concluded maybe Teyla was right, as usual, and he'd made a mistake leaving Atlantis when he did. He'd half-expected to see Sheppard stride into the camp at some point during the day, demanding explanations, and found he was a bit disappointed when it didn't happen.

He leant back on the stool, his back popping as he shifted position. He looked up when Teyla came into the tent and walked over to the table.

"Corporal Ortega is heating several MREs for dinner," she told him as she stopped next to the table. "Have you learnt the purpose of this device?" she asked as Rodney set down the screwdriver in his hand and stood.

"No, not yet," he replied. "I'm pretty sure it's not a data recorder, though."

She nodded and turned back to the opening in the tent.

Rodney swallowed. "Umm, Teyla?" he said in a low voice, and waited for her to turn around. "I've been thinking about … well, about what you said earlier. I still say I wasn't running away, but you might have been right. Maybe I shouldn't have left Atlantis before talking to Sheppard."

She came back over to him. "I suspect John will be concerned when he finds out we left without consulting him first."

Rodney pursed his lips. "If he hadn't run off," he started to say and stopped himself. "I don't know how to fix what happened," he admitted a few moments later. "I think I might have screwed things up permanently."

"I do not believe that is the case at all. You and John share a very strong bond. Family members are allowed to disagree with each other. Even," she said with a small smile, "get into yelling matches in the hallways. You and John simply need to talk to each other. Tell him exactly what you are telling me, that you are sorry for your part in the disagreement. I am certain he will forgive you."

Rodney snorted as he led the way out of the tent. "I think I mentioned once I had a sister," he said. "We had a huge fight years ago. She didn't speak to me for four years."

"But you eventually reconciled?"

Rodney looked out at the deepening night sky as a few stars started to twinkle. "No," he admitted softly. "I was sent to Antarctica and then here. I tried to call on her before I left. She didn't answer when I went to her house." He glanced over at her. "What if John does the same thing?"

"He is your chaguo ndugu," Teyla told him with a reassuring smile. "He will forgive you. You must decide if you will forgive him as well. Only then will you both be able to move past what has happened."

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

Rodney stepped out of the tent used as sleeping quarters the next morning, pulling on his tac-vest out of habit. The Beretta was already strapped to his leg. Sheppard would be proud, he thought idly as he watched the sun rise over the ruins. He usually wasn't such an early riser, but he'd spent most of the night tossing and turning, trying to sort out what he was going say the next time he saw John. As the sun started to rise, he gave up the illusion of sleep and left the tent to try and get some more work done before they had to return to Atlantis. He'd already decided the box was coming back with them. One of the privileges of being the head of the science department, he thought with a smile.

He entered the work tent and booted up his combo-computer. He pulled the box over to where the light coming in the tent was better and looked around when he thought he heard a noise behind the tent. He remembered Stackhouse saying something about the excavation being watched. Then he remembered Teyla's stories about raiders and swallowed nervously before creeping out of the tent.

He walked all the way around the tent but didn't see anything or find anyone lurking nearby.

"Must have been an animal," he mumbled with a shrug and went back inside the tent. He settled at the work table with the box in front of him, the combo-computer beside him, and soon lost himself in trying to figure out how the box worked.

He looked up when Corrigan walked in an hour later and came over to the table. "Have you been able to get it to work?" he asked Rodney with a glance at the still inert box.

Rodney bit back the first thing he wanted to say and merely shook his head. "Not yet. It's not a data recorder though. The crystals are wired in sequence which suggests some sort of power distribution, not data."

Corrigan frowned but said nothing for a few moments. "In that case, Sergeant Stackhouse said you were only staying until tomorrow morning," he said a bit stiffly as he stood at the end of the table. "Did you want to see the area where we found the artefacts before you went back?"

Rodney tossed the screwdriver he was using back on the table and stood. "Might as well," he replied as he stood from the table. "Maybe there's something you missed that will tell us what this site was used for."

Corrigan pursed his lips but said nothing as he led the way out of the tent and over to the large building in the center of the camp.

"Doctor McKay?" Teyla called as they made their way over to the building.

"Morning, Teyla," Rodney replied as he walked. "Corrigan is showing me where they found the cache. Wanna come?"

Teyla nodded and fell into step beside him. "I would be most interested to see something of the Ancestors settlement."

Rodney followed Corrigan inside the building and down a hall lit by the wavering beam from Corrigan's flashlight.

"I think this was a sort of research lab, or think tank, maybe," Corrigan said as he moved down a long wide hallway. "There seems to be a number of smaller rooms off of this main corridor," he pointed to the line of doorways along the hall, "almost like individual labs."

"Did the items you have discovered so far come from these different rooms?" Teyla asked as she walked beside Rodney.

"No," Corrigan replied. "That's the odd thing. All of the devices we've found so far have been in the largest, most central room in the building. The smaller rooms we've been able to search have all been empty. Which is actually a good thing. Many of the smaller rooms appear to be completely caved-in."

Rodney glanced in the next doorway they passed and saw what Corrigan meant. Rubble blocked the entrance less than a meter inside the door. There was no way the expedition would be able to dig through the blockage in the limited time they had.

"Perhaps the people feared an attack and were trying to preserve the items in the most fortified part of the building," Teyla offered as they passed another of the blocked doorways.

"Maybe," Corrigan said with a shrug. "I've found a few books buried under some of the rubble in the main room, but I haven't been able to translate much, yet. One looks like a research log or diary. It's broken into sections with what could be dates followed by long lines of text."

"Show it to Elizabeth when you get back," Rodney suggested. "She's been studying the language. She might have better luck."

As they moved farther into the building, Rodney noticed more and more of the small rooms blocked. He also saw deep cracks in the walls and ceiling and found himself giving the walls frequent wary looks. He stopped and flinched in anticipation of the roof caving in on them when there was an ominous creaking sound from the ceiling.

Corrigan must have caught the motion from the corner of his eye, as he snickered slightly before turning down another hallway. "The main room is just up here," he said and waved the flashlight beam over a wide doorway at the end of the hall.

Rodney glared at Corrigan's back before he hurried forward. He walked into a room with a high ceiling and sunlight streaming in from where a large section of ornate roof was now strewn across the floor. He wandered over to one area where the team had obviously been working and poked around in the rubble. Broken glass and components littered the ground under his feet. He did a slow turn as he studied the room, surprised Corrigan had managed to find as many intact items as he had.

"Sergeant Stackhouse and Sergeant Stephens have proven to be apt students in anthropology," Corrigan said with a smile as Rodney wandered around the room. "I've been able to excavate most of this room with their help. With Jenson laid up from her last off-world trip, we wouldn't have nearly as much information as we do without their assistance."

Rodney only listened with half an ear as he caught a glimpse of something glinting under another small rubble pile in the morning light. He walked over to the corner of the room and carefully pulled away a couple of large slabs from the collapsed ceiling, reached in the hole, and pulled out a small device about the same size and shape as the scanner he kept in his vest pocket.

"What is it?" Teyla asked as she walked over to him.

"Not sure," he replied and turned the device over in his hands. "It almost looks like it should control something." He looked over at Corrigan. "Have you found anything that would need a sort of remote control?"

Corrigan shook his head.

The building creaked again and Rodney gave the walls a hard look before he headed back for the door carrying the little device. "I think I've seen enough," he said and motioned Corrigan to lead the way back out of the building.

He walked outside in time to see Stephens with a video camera and Ortega placing several Ancient devices on the ground along the wall of the building.

"What's going on?" he asked, absently stuffing his new find down the front of his vest.

Corrigan glanced back from where he stood near the work tent. "Daily video check-in," he explained with a shrug. "Sergeant Stackhouse makes a recording and one of us walks back to the 'gate to send it through. Haven't you seen my reports?"

Rodney ignored the question as he watched Stephens make a few last adjustments to the camera in his hands then give Stackhouse a nod.

"Sergeant Thomas Stackhouse, team leader, day ten on P2J-883," Stackhouse said into the camera.

Rodney stood to one side of the ruined building watching Stackhouse give his report. When the camera panned in his direction, he gave it a hesitant wave and wondered once again if John was back from Proculus and if he would see the video.

Stackhouse finished his report while Stephens let the camera move back over the site again. Once he was done, Stackhouse said, "Your turn to run it down to the 'gate, Mike." He smiled as Stephens groaned. "If you hurry, you'll be back in time for lunch."

Rodney watched Stephens jog out of the campsite then spent the rest of the day tinkering with the small device he'd found or with the Ancient box. The more he studied the small scanner-sized device, the more he became convinced it was only part of a larger instrument. The problem was it looked like the power crystal was cracked so he'd have to wait until he was back in Atlantis to see what the little device did.

He packed up the small device as well as the box and the small log books Corrigan had found for the trip back to Atlantis. He could finish the work on the devices while Elizabeth started on the translation of the diaries. Corrigan and the rest of his team were scheduled to remain on the planet for a few more days so it would give them a headstart on the research.

He looked up as the sun started to set and glanced around the tent. Once again he thought he'd heard something outside and weighed whether or not it was worth checking, and what he would do if he actually found someone lurking in the shadows.

Teyla walked in a few seconds later and he assumed what he'd heard was her moving around near the tent and let the matter drop. Three days of little to no sleep had him imagining things, he told himself.

"The evening meal is ready," she told him and waited for him to follow her over to the fire.

He sat next to Teyla by the fire and listened as Ortega told stories about the hunting trips he went on with his father and brothers when he was a child in Colorado. Teyla offered a few stories of her own while Rodney stared at the fire, lost in thought. With all of the distractions from the dig site packed away, all his mind had left to think about was what would happen when he saw John tomorrow.

He left the others to their tale-spinning and went back to the tent and his cot to try and get some sleep. He shed his tac-vest and holster, took off his boots and tried to get some sleep. The others came in a little later and after listening to everyone else slowly drift off, Rodney finally fell into an uneasy doze.

He wasn't sure how much later it was when he heard voices nearby and rolled over to see what was going on.

"What's the problem?" he heard someone say near the tent flap.

Rodney sat up slowly and saw Stackhouse and Stephens standing near the front of the tent having a whispered disagreement.

"Someone is out there, sir," Stephens replied. "I know you guys all think I'm imagining things, but I swear I heard someone walk past the tent."

Rodney heard Teyla shift in the cot next to his and he saw her glance over at him before turning her gaze back to the discussion near the tent flap.

"All right, we'll go take a look around," Stackhouse said. "But we stay near the camp. No sense in getting lost in the woods."

"Yes, sir," Stephens replied and ducked under the tent flap.

Rodney gave Teyla a concerned look then reached under his cot for his boots.

"Is everything all right, Sergeant?" Teyla asked as Corrigan and Ortega sat up.

Stackhouse frowned as he stared at the tent flap. "Not sure," he finally admitted as he pulled on his tac-vest and started to follow Stephens. "Mike thinks he heard something. We're going to take a look --"

"Contact!" Rodney heard Stephens yell just before he heard three soft pops.

"Damn it," Stackhouse cursed and ran out of the tent.

"We need to help them," Teyla said as she reached for her Beretta lying on the ground under her cot.

Rodney swallowed and nodded as he grabbed his own weapon and followed her out of the tent.

As soon as he stepped outside, he knew they were in trouble. Several large men carrying torches stalked through the camp upending supplies and setting anything they could on fire. They slashed at the other tent and Rodney saw two of the men pick up the box he'd been studying as well as several of the smaller items he'd set aside to take back to Atlantis in the morning.

"Get Doctor Corrigan and Corporal Ortega," Teyla said as she ran toward Sergeant Stephens. "They will be trapped if they stay in the tent."

Rodney turned back in time to see Ortega, with Corrigan in tow, run out of the tent and head for the ruined building. "You get inside and find cover in one of those rooms," Ortega said to Corrigan. "Don't come out until one of us gives you the all clear."

Rodney and Corrigan traded a quick look just before he heard Teyla yell and turned back to see one of the invading men had his arms wrapped around her as she kicked at him trying to squirm loose.

"Teyla!" Rodney shouted. He stopped and tried to fire the Beretta at her attacker, but Teyla was still fighting to get out of the man's hold, spoiling his aim.

He heard another soft pop and turning in the direction of the sound, saw Stackhouse fall on his side, clutching his shoulder. Ortega ran toward Stackhouse and Rodney turned back to Teyla, still struggling in the large man's hold.

He gave up trying to shoot the man and hurried forward to try and pry Teyla out of his grip.

Before he could get more than a few steps, Teyla kicked the inside of her captor's knee hard enough that he loosened his grip and she dropped to the ground, looking around the campsite. Rodney started toward her, the Beretta raised again when she turned to him and shouted, "Doctor McKay! Look out!"

He heard someone behind him and tried to duck away but he wasn't fast enough. Something hit him just behind the ear and he fell to the ground, losing the Beretta in the process.

He was vaguely aware of voices yelling and someone grabbed his hands, pinning them behind his back. His head felt as if it were about to split open and he didn't have the energy to fight what was going on around him or the darkness encroaching at the edge of his vision. The stray thought of what John would do when he found out about the attack crossed his mind, but the pull of the darkness was too much and he let himself sink into the nothingness where he didn't have to worry about Teyla, or John, or even himself.

Chapter Text

Teyla counted eight men roaming through the campsite setting fire to whatever they didn't outright destroy. It was difficult to make out any details about the men in the darkness. All she could determine from the little light afforded by the torches was they were large, easily as tall as Halling or Sergeant Thompson, and were well-muscled. They appeared to be clad in tight-fitting trousers and vests, but there was no way to determine what material the clothing was made from. There wasn't enough light to make out any facial details, either, although one of them, at least, was bald as the light from the torches reflected off his bare head.

She watched as one of the men overturned the heavy work tables in the other tent, scattering Doctor McKay's tools and various parts from the objects he'd been trying to repair. She watched as the box he'd spent the last day working on slid to the ground, the table missing the edge of the box by inches. She glanced around, looking for Doctor McKay. She feared he would recklessly charge after the man if he knew what had happened to the precious artefacts.

She saw Corporal Ortega run from the tent, pushing Doctor Corrigan in front of him, Doctor McKay following behind and breathed a sigh of relief. At least he won't do anything foolish, she told herself as she ran in the opposite direction from where Ortega was leading the two doctors to safety in the ruins.

She found Sergeant Stephens on the ground near the path leading back to the stargate and hurried over to check him. She grimaced at the amount of blood she saw on his jacket and the dirt under him and was surprised when she knelt down beside him to hear shallow breathing. She reached one hand down for his wrist and placed the other on his head to let him know she was there to help. She barely had time to find the weak pulse beating under her fingers before a pair of strong arms grabbed her from behind, pulled her off her feet, and away from Stephens.

The arm wrapped around her middle trapped one of her arms, forcing her to drop her weapon, but her other was still free and she used it to strike any soft surface she could find. She managed several well-placed kicks before she heard Doctor McKay yell her name. She looked up and saw him running toward her, his weapon raised, at the same time her foot found her captor's knee. She pulled free as the man holding her crumpled to the ground, spitting curses, as she rolled away from him.

Teyla sprang back to her feet, turning in a quick circle to make sure no one else was about to attack and kicked her would-be captor in the jaw as he tried to grab one of her legs. She made a check of the area and turned to face Doctor McKay a few steps away just as another of the invaders came up behind him.

"Doctor McKay! Look out!" she shouted and watched in horror as McKay was hit from behind by a man with shoulder-length blond hair, and fell to the ground, then lay still.

The distraction was enough for another of the men, the bald one she'd noticed before, to grab her as she started to run toward her teammate. This time both of her arms were pinned and she was held in such a way she had no chance to kick her way free.

"Hold still," a voice ordered in her ear. "You will come quiet or we'll kill your friend over there."

"Kirin, what should I do with this one?" the man standing over McKay asked as he kicked him in the side.

She stopped struggling and the man put her down but still kept a bruising grip on her arms.

"That's better," Kirin said and turned to the man standing over Doctor McKay. "Desh, tie him up and bring him along." He glanced up at the night sky and frowned. "This is taking too long. Rasha is going to wonder where we are." He gave a sharp whistle and the rest of his men came running.

Teyla watched as Desh pulled Doctor McKay's arms behind his back and tied his hands with a bit of coarse rope. McKay hadn't moved or said a word at the rough treatment and when Desh pushed him over onto his back, she could see McKay was unconscious.

She started to struggle again as McKay was unceremoniously thrown over Desh's shoulder, but her own hands were swiftly tied in front of her and she was pushed from behind. "Move," Kirin ordered.

She ignored the order as she looked desperately around the campsite. Stackhouse and Stephens were both lying on the ground, blood pooling near them, and not moving. She hoped they were still alive. She did not see Doctor Corrigan or Corporal Ortega anywhere and hoped that meant they were both all right. It did, however, mean no one was going to be able to help them escape.

"Walk," Kirin ordered with an evil grin, "or I'll have Desh kill him." He hooked his thumb over his shoulder at McKay. "I only need one of you alive to give me the information I want."

"What information do you think we have?" she asked, her expression blank. She would not give these men the satisfaction of seeing her either afraid or concerned for Doctor McKay. She knew such emotions could easily be used against her.

Kirin shook his head. "No need to play dumb with me. We know you can use the Portal and we know where you came from. We've been watching those people at the ruins for days now and were all set to take what we could and leave this planet when one of those men," he glanced back at the bodies lying on the ground, "used the Portal and said he wanted someone from Atlantis to meet him."

Teyla glared up at Kirin but said nothing.

Kirin gave her a shove as they starting walking out of the campsite. "He wanted an Atlantean to come to this planet and the two of you showed up minutes later." Kirin pulled Teyla around to face him. "Rasha wants to know the symbols for the city and one of you," Kirin looked from her to McKay, "will tell him. The lost city of the Ancestors," he added, his expression full of greed, "the haul we'll take will be enough to set all of us up for life."

Teyla paled in spite of her rigid control. The stories were true, she realised. There were marauders interested in only theft and killing and now they wanted the 'gate address for Atlantis. She and Doctor McKay were in serious trouble. These men could take them off-planet before anyone knew the raid on the camp had occurred. There would be no way for Major Sheppard to find them then.

She swallowed as she was pushed forward again, not toward the stargate as she expected, but toward the mountains. As long as they remained on the planet, she told herself, the odds were in their favor that Major Sheppard would find them.

Did they have a ship hidden nearby? she wondered. Where was this Rasha waiting for them? She tried to look casual as she looked for some evidence of a ship. No, they wanted the symbols for the stargate, she reminded herself. That meant they had to have a hiding place somewhere near enough to keep watch on the ruins but far enough away that Sergeant Stackhouse hadn't found it.

They were well away from the campsite, in the wooded area between the ruins and the mountains when Teyla heard Doctor McKay groan before he started to weakly struggle against the man carrying him.

"D'n," he mumbled and tried to squirm out of the hold. "Gon'a b'sck."

Teyla turned in time to see Desh grimace in distaste and all but drop McKay who groaned again as he landed hard on his right shoulder and started to vomit. Teyla managed to jerk herself free of Kirin's hold and knelt next to McKay, tugging him away from the mess on the ground once he was done heaving.

"J'n?" he whispered as he coughed and tried to sit up.

"No, Doctor McKay," Teyla told him gently. "John is not here."

"T'yla?" He squinted over at her and frowned when he tried to move his arms.

She smiled slightly. "Yes," she replied as Kirin jerked her to her feet.

"Enough of that," Kirin growled as he pulled her away. "Desh, get him up. If he's awake, he can walk."

Desh pulled McKay to his feet and Teyla could see he wasn't really aware of what was going on around him as he stared owlishly first at Teyla then at the men surrounding them.

"Wha's go'n on?" he mumbled as Desh tried to push him along only to grab him when McKay started to fall.

"Move!" Kirin ordered and pushed Teyla from behind.

Teyla heard McKay grunt in pain behind her and she turned to see Desh pulling him along by his right arm. He looked up to see her watching him and she could see he was still dazed, unsure of what was happening around him.

Teyla focused on the ground around her and did her best to leave some sort of trail for Sheppard to follow. She had no doubt the Major would be looking for them as soon as they failed to check-in, she just wondered if he had returned to Atlantis yet to know they were missing.

The forest seemed endless. There was little light other than a torch Kirin carried in one hand as he tugged Teyla along beside him with the other. She knew they'd been walking for more than an hour since Doctor McKay regained consciousness and the trees showed no sign of coming to an end.

She heard McKay stumble again, then Desh growl impatiently as he wrenched McKay upright. Teyla glanced back when she heard McKay hiss in pain as his arm was jerked, and watched as he surreptitiously broke off a branch from a nearby bush with his foot. He gave her a fleeting look as he seemingly tripped again and she smiled to herself knowing she was not the only one leaving clues for John to find.

She did not have much chance to worry about how Doctor McKay was doing with his own breadcrumbs as Kirin hustled them faster and faster through the trees. He kept glancing up at the sky whenever the branches left enough of an opening and she wondered why he was in such a hurry to get them wherever they were going. As far as she knew, the planet was deserted, hence why the expedition didn't have a larger security force at the camp, so what was Kirin so worried about?

It was still dark when they finally left the woods, although a false dawn offered enough light for Teyla to see a series of low foothills in front of them and taller mountains in the near distance. Kirin started up the path with what sounded to Teyla like a huff of relief as he pulled her along beside him.

The sun was starting to rise when they rounded another bend in the path and Teyla stopped short when she saw what looked like a long, low structure built into a crevasse in the mountain in front of her. The building looked like it had been carved from the mountain itself, with several long narrow windows cut at irregular intervals. Sections of the building looked to be two-stories high, while more of the narrow slits indicated there were also rooms below ground. Even more amazing than the building, was the number of people she saw milling around. She counted at least ten men, in and around the building. Added to the seven Kirin had with him …

For a moment, Teyla felt her determination waver. There was no way she and Doctor McKay would be able to escape with so many people watching the pass back down the mountain. Likewise, Major Sheppard would need a significant strike force if he hoped to successfully attack the fortress.

She saw Doctor McKay from the corner of her eye as he stumbled to a halt beside her. His eyes hardened and he pressed his lips together as he looked around the building. He must have felt her watching him as he turned to look over at her. She could see his eyes were dull from pain as well as the same sense of hopelessness she felt.

Kirin pushed Teyla toward one of the other men in the group and said, "You and Desh take these two to one of the lower rooms. Make sure the door is secure and they can't escape." He looked up at the sky again then added, "I'll go report to Rasha and let him know we have the two Atlanteans for him to question."

Teyla was a bit surprised to hear the note of fear in his voice. Just who was this Rasha? she wondered.

The man nodded and took Teyla's arm in a bruising grip and started to pull her toward a small opening in the building. Doctor McKay stumbled along behind her. She was suddenly reminded he had been sick in the forest, losing most of what he'd been able to eat at dinner. Add to that the blow to the head he'd received and the night-long hike to get to the building, and she feared his faltering gait was no longer a ruse.

The building was riddled with hallways and try as she might, Teyla soon lost count of the twists and turns they made before she was pushed down a set of steep steps. McKay stumbled down behind her and she saw a narrow doorway at the end of another short hallway.

The man holding her arm pulled open a thick wooden door then pushed her inside and against the far wall. He stood back enough for Desh to dump Doctor McKay on the ground at her feet before both men backed out of the room and shut the wooden door. She heard something heavy pushed up against the door and then footsteps as the two men walked away.

"Doctor McKay, are you all right?" she asked as she knelt down beside him and started working at the piece of rope binding her hands with her teeth.

He nodded faintly but made no effort to sit up. Now that she was close enough, she could see the minute tremors running through his body. His eyes were closed and the narrow openings high in the wall near the ceiling let in enough light for her to see McKay looked pale.

Once she had her hands free, she glanced around the room, making sure no one was watching them before she pulled a small knife from her boot. The knife had been a gift from her father when she was a girl. He had traded several small bowls for the knife and spent days cleaning and honing it back to razor sharpness then fashioned a new handle from the antler of a hart. She had acquired other weapons since then, but the knife was special, and she smiled slightly at the memory of her father presenting it to her.

She quickly cut the rope around McKay's wrists and gently brought his arms around in front of him as she rolled him onto his back. He groaned as she moved his right arm and Teyla pressed a hand lightly to his shoulder, feeling the heat coming from the joint.

"J'n?" Rodney whispered as he cracked his eyes open. "h'rts."

"I apologise, Doctor McKay," Teyla said softly as she felt along his head and found a lump behind his ear where Desh had hit him.

"T'yla? Whr's J'n," McKay slurred as he tried to look around and moaned when he tried to sit up.

"Major Sheppard is not here," Teyla said softly, trying to hide her worry at his obvious confusion. "You need to be still. Try to rest. I am sure John is looking for us. We must be patient until he can find us."

He frowned and shook his head and winced. "J'ns mad … mad. I do'n lik Ch'ya. D'n tr'st 'er." He looked around, his eyes slightly glazed as he tried to sit up.

"Doctor McKay, you need to be still. You are injured," Teyla told him.

McKay stubbornly kept moving until he was half-sat, half slouched against the wall. "Whr are we?" he asked as she stood and prowled around the room looking for anything else they could use as a weapon or a means to escape the room.

"We have been brought to a structure built into the side of one of the mountains. Do you remember what happened at the campsite?" she asked as she sat down next to him. He looked around the room, then studied her face for a moment before he slowly nodded.

"Lef' trail for Shep'rd," he told her in a conspiratorial whisper, then frowned. "Som'ting's n't ri't," he mumbled and patted at his chest. "Ne'd t'eat som'ting."

"Try to rest," she said again as she stilled his searching hands. "John will be here soon."

He nodded once and muttered something she couldn't understand before his eyes drifted shut.

She had no idea how she could help McKay while they were trapped in the room. It was obvious his confusion was the result of more than just the blow to his head. Now she understood why John always carried a few energy bars with him and asked that she and Lieutenant Ford did the same. She kicked herself for not grabbing her tac-vest when she left the tent.

Teyla sighed and rested her head against the wall, watching the beams of sunlight as they travelled down the opposite wall as McKay snored softly beside her.

She wondered if John was back in the city and if he knew what had happened to them yet. She knew their next check-in was scheduled for that morning and hoped Atlantis would be sending help soon, not only for herself and Doctor McKay, but for those they'd left behind in the ruins. She remembered Sergeants Stackhouse and Stephens lying on the ground, bleeding, and hoped any help Doctor Weir sent would not be too late for the two men.

Teyla estimated it was late morning when she woke from a light doze to noises nearby. She heard footsteps outside their room and the heavy object blocking the door moved away. She hid her little knife back in her boot and glanced over at Doctor McKay, his movements sluggish and uncoordinated, as he tried to sit up.

The door opened and Kirin stood in the doorway. Teyla watched as he entered far enough into the room to allow another man carrying a makeshift tray with two plates and a leather flagon to squeeze in the room behind him. It took her a moment to realise Kirin was limping and he had bruises on his face. Had there been some sort of fight amongst the marauders? she wondered. Had Rasha beaten him because they were late returning from the camp?

"You managed to free yourselves, I see," Kirin said never moving more than a few paces away from the door. He pulled a snub-nosed weapon from under his shirt and pointed it first at Teyla then McKay. "Saves me the trouble of having to do it, but don't try anything."

Teyla stayed where she was, one eye on the crude weapon as the other man inched into the room and stood against the wall next to the door.

Kirin pointed at the floor near the door and the man with him set down the food and the flagon. "Eat," Kirin said as he backed out of the room with the other man. "Rasha will send for you soon."

Teyla waited until she heard the door blocked again before she went over and picked up the tray. "Doctor McKay? You said you needed to eat something," she said as she sat down beside him and handed him one of the plates with some sort of greenish mashed vegetable and a chunk of dark bread.

She took the other plate and dipped the bread into the vegetable puree. The bread was hard to chew and the vegetable mash had little flavor but she ate it knowing she would need to keep up her strength.

McKay watched her for a few seconds before he stuck a finger in the crushed vegetables and sniffed it before putting it in his mouth. He made a face but scooped up a bit more of the pasty vegetable with his piece of bread. Within minutes both plates were clean.

"Do'n think it was poisoned d'you?" McKay mumbled a few minutes later as Teyla passed him the flagon of water.

She was relieved to hear his speech wasn't as slurred and he looked more alert after finishing the food.

"No," she replied. "These men require something from us."

"Oh?" He gave her a puzzled look.

"They wish to know how to find Atlantis," she told him. "We cannot give them such information."

Rodney glanced at the door before he swallowed hard and nodded.

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

Based on the information from Stackhouse, John knew the men who had raided the campsite and kidnapped Rodney and Teyla were heading north. The ground near the ruins was packed dirt, no chance of finding any footprints or other traces. The ground under the trees in the nearby woods should be softer, he told himself, and held better odds of finding prints.

They reached the trees in the early afternoon and John noted a wide swath of a path cut through the forested area. These raiders didn't seem very concerned about hiding their trail, something John planned to make them regret. Most of the prints were obscured, and as a result, it was hard to tell how many people were in the group. He did pick out a few smaller prints that had to be Teyla, and someone else left a heavier imprint on his left side, clearly from carrying something heavy. Like an unconscious scientist, John told himself grimly.

Interestingly, he didn't find any prints going off in another direction, either with his people or setting up a possible ambush for anyone who tried to follow the group. Did these raiders really believe no one would be coming after them? he wondered. Yet another sign they were either supremely confident or complete idiots, he thought and could hear Rodney's voice in his head telling him, of course, they were idiots. He smiled slightly at the thought and led the way as they followed the now obvious trail.

They'd been following the path for ten minutes or so when a bitter smell hit him and he found where someone in the group had been sick. He held up a hand to stop Ford and Thompson as he skirted around the mostly dry puddle, studying the ground intently. He didn't find any more of the lop-sided prints leading away from the damp ground. Hopefully, that meant McKay was awake and able to walk on his own, he told himself.

He motioned the others forward again as he considered the other implication of Rodney being sick. He realised their window for finding McKay and Teyla might be even smaller than he thought if McKay was possibly going on twelve hours already without any real food. Carson had explained to him there were no hard and fast timelines with hypoglycaemia. In general, as long as Rodney ate something on a regular schedule, he would be fine. Things such as stress or strenuous exertion could change how often he needed food, however.

Like being kidnapped and dragged through a forest, John thought with a frown and walked a little faster.

"Sir?" Ford asked quietly once they were moving again.

"McKay is injured," John replied, his voice hard.

"You can feel something now?" Ford asked with a quick glance in Thompson's direction.

John shook his head. "Stackhouse said he'd been hit from behind, so he's most likely concussed." John jerked his head back at the mostly dry puddle. "Someone was sick a few hours ago." He wasn't sure if Ford would put the other pieces together or not, but it didn't matter. Bottom line was they needed to find their people.

Ford walked along in silence for a few minutes, then asked, "Why take them though? I don't get it. Whoever kidnapped them left all of the supplies, even the Ancient stuff. Why take Doctor McKay and Teyla and leave the rest?"

"They have something these raiders want," Thompson said from where he walked behind them. "Only thing that makes sense."

John nodded. "The question is what. What do McKay and Teyla know that Stackhouse and the others wouldn't?"

No one had an answer to that and they walked on in silence. The path through the trees stayed fairly straight, no tracks moving off in another direction or doubling back. John shook his head again at the arrogance before he had another thought. These people had a very specific destination in mind, he realised as he searched the forest for some hint of a cave or other potential hideout. Did they come by ship or through the 'gate? he wondered.

If there was a silver lining to all of this, it was that the kidnappers hadn't headed for the stargate. He just hoped that meant they weren't heading for a ship. If they had managed to get back to the 'gate or leave the planet, the chances of ever finding Rodney or Teyla dropped to near zero.

They hiked for another thirty minutes or so before John started to find other signs along their trail other than the footprints. Every dozen feet or so, he found bushes with broken branches. He also found more and more instances of the small footprints he'd assigned to Teyla in clear patches of ground. He smiled grimly as he pointed them out to Ford and Thompson.

"They're both leaving breadcrumbs," he said as he fingered one of the broken branches.

Ford nodded. "They knew we'd come looking for them once the team missed their check-in."

John dropped the branch and stood. "So let's go get them," he said. "We know they were alive as of a few hours ago. Let's hope that's still the case."

It took another two hours of steady walking before they left the forest behind at the bottom of a series of foothills leading toward the mountains. Once they were out of the trees, the trail petered out on the hard rocky ground and it took some time to find what might have been the correct route up into the hills.

"Stay here," John ordered Ford and Thompson. "I'll take a quick look around." He made a circle of the area nearest the path looking for any signs the men had changed direction or tried to lead one or both of their captives away from the rest. He came back to where Ford and Thompson waited and looked at the path leading into the foothills again.

He started up the path and signalled Ford and Thompson to follow him. "It looks like they had to go this way," he said in a low voice.

They hadn't been hiking for very long before John started to feel an itch at the back of his skull. He rubbed the back of his head and grimaced.

"Sir?" Ford asked quietly, checking that Thompson was a few feet behind them.

"The good news is I can confirm Rodney at least is still on the planet and we're heading in the right direction," John growled with a glance around them.

Ford studied him for a moment then nodded, his own expression flat. "Do you know how badly he's hurt?"

John shook his head. "Enough that the link is responding to it," John replied. "Other than that …" He let the sentence hang.

"We know they're still alive at least," Ford said, and John could tell he was trying to see the positive.

John nodded in agreement as he rubbed his head again and led the way farther up into the hills.

The sun was starting to set over the plains to their left, John figured they had a couple of hours left before it was dark and tracking would be impossible. He led the way around a bend in the path and saw a long low structure built into the mountain in front of them. He ducked back down before anyone near the building could see him and froze when he heard the distinct sound of a weapon cocking near his right ear.

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

Rodney sat against the stone wall of their prison and made himself a silent promise he would never leave Atlantis without Sheppard again. All he'd wanted was a little time to sort out his head after everything that had happened with Sheppard and Chaya. Was that really so much to ask, he wondered as he tried to ignore his shaking hands.

Apparently, the answer was yes, he thought with a sigh as he crossed his arms over his chest and hid his twitching hands from view. The mashed vegetables and bread had helped a little with the hypoglycaemic reaction, his mind was clearer if nothing else, but he knew it wouldn't last for long.

It was supposed to be a simple equation. Take a couple of days to sort out the whole Chaya mess in his head with the added bonus of an Ancient site on a planet that was supposed to be safe. Instead, he'd been kidnapped and his captors wanted to know the 'gate address for the city. What else could possibly go wrong, he wondered as he watched Teyla prowl the room for the tenth time.

He sat thinking about the problem as the sun tracked down the wall in front of them as the day dragged into the afternoon. Later he'd probably blame the concussion or possibly the hypoglycaemia for the reckless plan he started to formulate. If these pirates wanted a 'gate address, he'd give them a 'gate address, he decided. And he had just the right place in mind.

The trick would be getting them to believe it was the address for Atlantis. He made a face when he realised the only way his plan was going to work was going to involve a lot of pain. He told himself it would be worth the price if it meant he and Teyla would both still be alive when, if? he couldn't help himself from wondering, Sheppard decided to make a daring rescue.

He just hoped these pirates didn't play with knives.

"Doctor McKay? Are you all right?" Teyla asked as she sat down beside him.

"Of course, I'm all right," he replied and hoped she didn't see through the lie. "More to the point, I think I have an idea of how we can get out of here."

She gave him a skeptical look. "What do you propose we do?"

Rodney snorted. "It's not a 'we' sort of plan," he said before he could stop himself.

"I do not understand."

He turned to her and started to explain his idea but stopped when he heard something heavy moved away from the door and a few moments later a large balding man walked into the room with another man, younger but if anything, even bigger, behind him.

Teyla was on her feet before the door even opened, her body held in what Rodney recognised as a fighting stance, her right arm raised near her chin, her left held low ready to block any attack to her body. He wasn't nearly as graceful as he slowly pulled himself up using the wall for support as the room spun slightly.

"Rasha wants to talk to you," the bald man said with a twisted smile. "He wants to know the symbols for the Ancestor's city."

"I want to send Kavanagh back to Earth," Rodney retorted with all of the arrogance he could muster. "Don't think either one of us is going to get what they want."

He saw Teyla give him a startled look from the corner of his eye but refused to look at her. He couldn't be distracted. If this foolhardy plan was going to work, he had to be the one Rasha talked to about the symbols for Atlantis.

The younger man stalked over to Rodney and grabbed him by the arm. "I told you he wasn't worth the effort, Kirin. Let me deal with him while you take the woman to Rasha."

Rodney scowled and looked from the bald man, Kirin, to the one still holding his arm. "You think she knows anything?" he said snidely. "She's a woman. You think I'd tell her anything important like 'gate symbols. You're dumber than I thought." He winced as the young man jerked his arm again and still refused to look at Teyla.

Kirin stepped forward and grabbed Rodney's chin. He forced Rodney to meet his eyes and he made sure to not blink as he made his expression as dismissive as possible.

Kirin studied him for a moment longer then let go. "Bring him, Desh," Kirin ordered and stepped back to the door. "We can always torture the woman if he doesn't tell Rasha what he wants to know."

Desh pulled Rodney out of the room and Rodney had a glimpse of Teyla's face, her expression a mixture of anger and worry, before the door was pushed shut and what looked like a low wooden chest was shoved in front of the door.

Rodney did his best to try and memorise the route they took through the building, but the dim light from the setting sun along with the loopy feeling brought on by low blood sugar meant he didn't remember much after the first few twists and turns. Desh led him up a set of stone steps then down another hall before he was pushed into another room.

The ceiling was low, with wooden support beams running the length of the ceiling. Torches lined the walls and gave the room a reddish light. The only piece of furniture was a wooden chair in the middle of the room. A corner of his mind noted the construction didn't match the Ancient ruins Corrigan had shown him and he idly wondered who these people were and what had happened to them that their structures were now occupied by pirates.

A man, wearing what looked like leather pants, a shirt that might have been white at one time, and a dark leather vest paced the room. His hair was tied back in a knot at the back of his head giving Rodney a good look at the scar across one cheek as well as another along his neck near his collarbone. Rodney started to have second thoughts about his perfect plan when he saw the man and the large knife he wore at his belt.

The man looked up at the three of them with a glare as they entered the room.

"Here is the man from the Ancestor's city, Rasha," Kirin said diffidently.

Rasha looked Rodney up and down with a sneer, pulled the knife from the loop at his belt, and used it to point toward the chair.

Desh pulled Rodney across the room and sat him in the chair. He stood behind the chair with his hands holding Rodney's shoulders in a painful grip. Kirin stayed near the door, alternating watching the room and the hall outside.

Rodney sat in the chair trying to hide how afraid he was and reminded himself if he didn't get this right, Kirin would go get Teyla and do who knew what to her. He glared at the leather-clad man in front of him and tried to make his own expression as arrogant and condescending as possible.

"You are from the Ancestor's city," Rasha said, his voice low and gravelly as he tapped Rodney's cheek with the flat of the knife.

Rodney scowled and said nothing.

Rasha stopped his constant pacing and faced the chair. "You will answer," he ordered as he sheathed the knife.

Rodney jutted out his chin. "Or what?" he retorted.

In a flash, Rasha was in front of him and gave Rodney a backhanded slap across the face.

Rodney tasted the blood from his bleeding lip and told himself once again, this was their best option for staying alive and saving Atlantis.

"You will tell me the symbols to make the Portal work and send my men to your city," Rasha said as he took a step back from the chair.

"Not very likely," Rodney replied and felt his swelling lip with his fingers. He noticed, almost as an afterthought, his hand was noticeably shaking and tried to ignore the tell-tale sign as he glared up at the man standing in front of him.

Rasha nodded to Desh who grabbed Rodney's right hand in a tight hold.

"You forget we've been watching you at the ruins. Watching you try to fix the Ancestor's relics." Rasha stepped closer to Rodney and whispered in his ear, "You will tell me the symbols for the city," he said in a low growl. "Or Desh will break your fingers. How well will you be able to repair the Ancestor's devices then?"

Rodney's eyes widened when he felt Desh grab his wrist in one hand and his index finger in the other. He turned to try and break the grip on his hand as Kirin left his post by the door and grabbed his other arm.

Rodney felt the pressure on his finger increase as Desh pulled the finger farther and farther back.

"The symbols for the city," Rasha demanded.

Rodney squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. The pressure grew and he bit his bloody lip to keep from whimpering.

He felt a hand clap onto his jaw and opened his eyes in surprise to find Rasha, his face inches away from Rodney's, staring at him. "The symbols," he said, the grip on his jaw as tight as the hold on his arms.

Rodney shook his head and glared back as best he could.

Rasha let go of his face, and with a swift nod, walked away from the chair. The pressure increased until Rodney felt a wet pop and cried out in pain as Desh let go of his hand. Kirin let go of his other arm and Rodney tried to curl his abused hand against his chest as best he could. "Think of Teyla," he told himself over and over as he tried to breathe through the pain in his hand.

He looked up and saw the room waver slightly as his vision blurred. His head pounded, his shoulder ached, and now his hand was a new agony, but he told himself he needed to hold out just a little bit longer if he wanted his plan to work.

Rodney worked to get his breathing back under control as he tried to sit straight in the chair.

Rasha grinned wickedly. "You think you can withstand me?" he said, his voice now a low purr. "Do you have any idea the number of people who have tried over the years? None have lasted very long."

Rodney's vision blurred, and for a moment, he thought it was Kolya standing in front of him and shuddered. He could see the flash of the knife as Kolya stabbed him in the arm and asked what the plan was to save Atlantis.

Focus, he ordered to himself. It's not Kolya. This was to save Atlantis, to protect Teyla. He'd known going in there would be pain, he just hadn't expected how much broken fingers would hurt. Rodney swallowed and pulled himself up in the chair. He felt Desh grab his hand once again as Kirin pinned his left arm. Rasha closed in, the evil smile still on his face.

"The symbols for the Ancestor's city," he growled.

Rodney met his glare, pinched his lips shut, and shook his head. Now would be a good time, Sheppard, he thought to himself as he felt Desh start to bend his second finger back. This time he didn't bother to hide how much it hurt.

He was barely conscious when Kirin and Desh dragged him back to the room where Teyla waited. He heard the heavy chest pulled away from the door and the gasp of shock from Teyla as he was dumped on the floor inside the room.

"Pathetic," Kirin sneered from somewhere above him. "Thought you could defy Rasha?" Rodney grunted slightly when a boot connected with his back as he tried to curl into a ball.

He held his breath and with what mental awareness he still had, willed Teyla to remain calm.

He hadn't had time to tell her what he was up to, and he sincerely hoped she wouldn't spoil everything by trying to take on Kirin and Desh by herself. He heard her take a step toward the two men and heard himself whimper, in frustration that she might ruin everything, as much as from pain.

He felt a gentle hand on his back letting him know Teyla was beside him at the same time he heard the heavier tread of Kirin and Desh leave the room and a few moments later the chest moved back into place.

"Doctor McKay," he heard her say and he felt her carefully roll him over onto his back.

He cracked an eye open when he heard a soft hiss and he looked down at his mangled hand with a slight frown. For some reason, the hand wasn't hurting as much as he thought it should and knew that was probably a bad sign. He turned his head slightly and waited until the room stopped spinning and he could see Teyla sitting beside him, her face a mask of worry.

"Do'n w'ry," he mumbled with a tiny smile, "Evy'ting wen t'pln." he slurred as he closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

"Major Sheppard," a startled voice said and John hazarded a glance to his right to see Corporal Ortega crouched on a ledge just over his head. "Sorry, sir," Ortega added as he withdrew the gun. "I didn't realise …" He glanced back down the trail as Ford and Thompson came into view, weapons drawn.

"Stand down," Sheppard hissed behind him. He glanced up at Ortega. "Corporal, tell me you have news."

Ortega jumped down from the ledge and jerked his head as he led the way farther up the path to where a small depression in the rock gave them some cover from anyone going up or down the path.

"You know about the attack on the camp?" Ortega asked once they were all huddled together.

John nodded. "Sergeant Stackhouse told me you had tried to follow the people who took McKay and Teyla."

John saw the look of relief on Ortega's face when he mentioned Stackhouse and mentally kicked himself. He was so concerned about Rodney and Teyla, he'd forgotten Ortega had watched as two of his teammates were shot and left for dead.

"We brought Beckett with us when we came through to check on you," John told him. "Stackhouse and Stephens were both still alive. Corrigan managed to get them under cover and perform some rudimentary first aid. They're back in Atlantis and I'm sure Beckett will take care of them."

Ortega took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you for telling me, sir." He glanced out at the path again. "The entire attack was over in a matter of minutes. Stephens was shot first and Sarge went to back him up while I tried to get Corrigan and Doctor McKay to cover in the ruins. I didn't see what happened to Teyla, but Doctor McKay must have. He took off toward the work tent to help her." He gave John an apologetic look. "That's when they were captured, sir. I went to check on the Sarge and he told me to follow them and gather as much intel as possible."

John nodded. "So what have you found out about the hostiles?"

Ortega drew himself up to attention as best he could while still being hunched over. "There are roughly twenty men guarding the building. Doctor McKay and Teyla arrived early this morning, and as far as I've been able to determine, no one has left since then."

Twenty or more men between him and his people and he had a strike force of three. John forced his expression to remain neutral. The odds were not in their favor, he knew but he also knew it didn't matter. He glanced over at Ford, then Thompson and saw the moment they came to the same conclusion. He also saw the determined set of both of their faces. They would follow whatever plan he made to get Rodney and Teyla back safely, no matter what the odds.

John clapped Ortega on the shoulder. "You did a good job, Corporal," he started to say and squeezed his eyes shut as he braced an arm on the wall beside him and ducked his head.

"Major?" Ford asked and John could hear the concern in his tone.

John shook his head as he tried to breathe through the stab of pain at the back of his skull. While not as bad as the spike after the transformer explosion, it was still enough for him to know something serious had happened to Rodney.

He heard Thompson say, "Come on, Corporal. Show me where you've been watching the hostiles" and wondered how long it would be before the rumors started flying again.

"Um, yes, Sergeant," Ortega replied hesitantly, and John was relieved when he heard them leave.

He'd heard all sorts of wild speculation after he'd run out of Elizabeth's office a month ago after the transformer explosion. A few had even been close to correct in their guesses; though none knew the exact truth except the team, Carson, and Elizabeth. He consoled himself with the knowledge that, if the rumors started up again, this time he'd at least have a pretty good idea who had started them.

"Sir? How bad is it?" Ford asked again once they were alone and John felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Something's happened to McKay," John ground out just as a second stab hit him. He groaned and leant against the wall of their shelter as the wave of pain slowly ebbed. He felt something nudge his hand and saw Ford holding out a bottle of water and a couple of pills. He swallowed the pills and gave Ford a grateful nod before he carefully stood. "I don't think it's life-threatening, but he's still hurt." He slowly straightened and added, "We need to find them."

He was near the front of the little cave a few minutes later when he heard scrabbling outside as Thompson and Ortega slid back down into the depression.

"Someone's coming, sir," Thompson hissed. "There's a group of roughly ten men heading down the path in this direction."

John ducked back down. "Could you tell if McKay or Teyla were with them?" he asked as he heard running footsteps coming down the trail in their direction.

Thompson shook his head. "Hard to say. The sun was at the wrong angle to see much," he replied. "I'm pretty sure none of them was small enough to be Teyla, though."

John grimaced as he thought about his options. He knew something had happened and Rodney was hurting. Did that mean he was with the group heading toward them? Or were they both still being held in the building? Did he divide his meager force to try and take both fronts or focus on just one and which one? The building or the group heading back toward the forest and possibly the stargate?

He heard pounding footsteps of the group getting closer and knew he needed to make a decision. He weighed all of the information he had, and with a last glance out toward the path, he signalled the others to hide as best they could and wait for the men to pass. Their target was the building. John just hoped he'd made the right choice and hadn't sentenced McKay or Teyla to being lost forever.

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

Rodney felt Teyla's hand move from his back to his arm but didn't open his eyes until she tried to touch his hand. "Don't," he muttered and rolled on his side, moving his arm away from her. "Please. Don't."

"I know you are in pain, Doctor McKay, but your fingers need to be set and it will be easier for me to do that before the light dies."

"Rodney," he mumbled.

"I do not understand," Teyla told him gently as she hesitated a moment before reaching out and taking his uninjured hand.

"You never use my first name," he said, forcing himself to focus as he grasped her hand in his. He didn't understand the surprised look on her face as he held on to her hand, but didn't have the energy to worry about it at the moment. "You call Sheppard, John and I've even heard you call Ford, Aiden, but I'm always Doctor McKay."

She put her other hand on his shoulder and gently rolled him onto his back again. "You have never given me permission to use your given name," she told him with a smile. "I thought you preferred to be addressed by your title."

Rodney sighed and closed his eyes. "Not by friends," he said softly.

She squeezed his left hand. "Then I will address you as Rodney from now on."

He nodded. "Good," he mumbled and started to doze.

There was silence in the room for a few moments before Rodney heard the sound of tearing cloth and opened his eyes to see Teyla cutting off a piece from the bottom of her trousers with a small knife and tearing the material into smaller pieces.

"We do not have anything I can use as a splint," she told him as he watched her. "Once I set your fingers, I will bind them together until we return to Atlantis and Doctor Beckett can tend them properly."

Rodney forced himself to slowly sit up cradling his right arm against his chest, ignoring the dip and roll of the room as he moved, and pushed himself against the wall opposite the door. He glanced down at his right hand long enough to see his bruised and swollen fingers then swallowed and focused on the wall near the door.

"Do you think we will?" he asked, watching as she laid the thin strips of cloth beside her. "Get back to Atlantis?"

Teyla stuffed the knife back in her boot. "You know Major Sheppard would never leave us here. He will be looking for us."

He wasn't sure of that at all, not after what had happened with Chaya. Jeannie stopped speaking to him after their last fight; four years and still counting. He glanced down at his twisted fingers. That argument had been over a love affair as well, he realised. Jeannie had chosen Whatshisname over an exciting, not to mention lucrative, career in physics, just as John had chosen Chaya instead of listening to his concerns she was lying to him.

"Rodney?" Teyla said as she knelt in front of him. "Are you ready? I will be a quick as I can, I promise."

He closed his eyes as she gently took his right hand and waited. Just as she started to shift her grip on his hand, Rodney opened his eyes and stared at her. "You've done this before, right? You know what you're doing?"

She smiled. "I have set a few broken bones in the past, yes. Usually from hunting accidents." She paused. "Are you ready?" she asked again.

Before he could make any sort of acknowledgement, he felt a searing pain travel up his arm. "Ow!" he yelped and tried to jerk his hand out of her grip. "What happened to 'am I ready'?" he asked breathlessly a moment later. "I was not ready!"

She smiled slightly, never letting go of his wrist. "I did not want you to tense up. It would have made aligning the bone more difficult."

He glared over at her for a moment. "Next time, give a guy some warning," he mumbled.

"I still need to fix your other finger," she replied calmly, and he gave her a startled look just before he felt another wave of agony along his hand and arm.

He felt soft material wrapped around his hand and opened his eyes again to see his fingers bound together with the strips of cloth.

"Thank you," he said once she was done and leant his head back against the wall.

He saw his hands shaking again and hoped Teyla hadn't noticed, or if she had, would assume it had to do with the broken fingers and not the looming hypoglycaemic reaction he was going to have if he didn't get something to eat soon.

"You are welcome … Rodney," she replied and he felt her shift to sit beside him. "I would like to know why you felt you could not include me in this plan of yours. Especially as it resulted in you being injured."

"I was going to tell you, I just didn't have enough time before the goons came in."

"And what did this plan entail?"

Rodney smiled, a bit smugly he could admit, and replied, "They wanted a 'gate address. I gave them a 'gate address."

"Presumably not to Atlantis," Teyla said.

Rodney shook his head. "No, but I had to let them think they were getting the real thing." He held up his bruised hand for a moment.

"Major Sheppard is not going to like knowing you willingly allowed yourself to be hurt," Teyla told him with a slight frown.

Rodney glanced at the opposite wall as the setting sun painted it in reds and oranges. "I'm not sure he's coming," he admitted softly. "We've been here almost a day. Atlantis has to know something happened by now. John could still be on Proculus for all we know." He tried to hide the bitterness he still felt about John running after Chaya, but from the look of Teyla's face, he hadn't succeeded.

"Even if John has not returned yet, which I do not believe is the case, Doctor Weir would have sent someone to find us," Teyla said. "You know that." She rested a hand on his arm again. "John will find us, Rodney."

Rodney felt his eyes drifting shut and jerked himself awake. Another symptom to add to the list, he thought grimly. "You should try to get out of here," he suggested. "Go find help."

"I am not going to leave you here alone," she told him. "If we try to escape, we will go together."

Rodney let his head roll back and forth along the wall. "I doubt I'll get up those steps," he waved his good hand toward the door, "much less out of the building. Not feeling too good," he added when he saw the quizzical look on her face.

"Then rest," she said. "I will let you know if an opportunity to escape occurs."

He nodded and this time when his eyes drifted shut, he didn't fight it. He reached out a hand toward her and smiled slightly when he felt her squeeze his fingers just before he fell asleep.

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

John watched the stone building until the sun set completely then scooted back down the slight incline and headed back to where the others waited, pulling out the Ancient scanner as he walked. He was confident Rodney, at least, was still in the building. There had been a couple of smaller spikes after the group ran past them almost two hours ago but the itch hadn't gone away. He wasn't thrilled Rodney was still hurting, but Carson had been right, the mental link was proving to be an advantage for finding him. He just hoped Thompson's eyes were good and Teyla was still with him.

"It looks like there are still seven, no, eight men wandering around outside the building," he reported in a low voice as he studied the scanner. "There's another six inside. No way to tell where our people might be." He glanced around at the faces he could barely see. "This needs to be fast and it needs to be quiet. If anyone inside figures out we're here, they could kill McKay and Teyla before we get to them. No firearms, sentry stalking only."

"Swift. Silent. Deadly. Yes, sir," Thompson replied, his expression hard.

"Once we're inside, we'll regroup and search the building," John finished and gave Ford a quick glance. "One last thing," he added as he stuffed the scanner in his vest pocket, "chances are high one or both of them is injured. Our exit will be dependent on how mobile they are."

"Yes, sir," Ford said.

"All right, move out. Let's go get our people."

John led the way toward the stone building but quickly lost sight of the others in the gloom as they spread out in search of guards. He was at one corner of the building when he found his first target. He wrapped his arms around the man's neck and twisted. There was a soft grunt and then the man was on the ground, no longer a threat. He checked his surroundings and moved on.

John was near the door when he felt an arm wrap around his own neck and start to squeeze. A kick to his attacker's knee loosened the man's grip enough for John to break free. He pulled his combat knife from the back of his tac-vest as the man closed a second time. He watched as the man waved a knife of his own back and forth and nearly fell for the distraction when he sensed another man coming up behind him.

He ducked under the new attack and came up with the knife, catching the second man in the side with the blade.

Sheppard looked around for the first attacker and saw him running toward the door. "Oh, no, you don't," John growled and brought the man down with a diving tackle. He quickly finished the man off and stood with his back to the wall of the building, searching for movement.

He heard running footsteps and brought up the knife to face the new attack only to find Ford skidding to a halt a few steps away.

John sheathed his knife and looked around. "Report," he ordered, bending slightly to catch his breath.

"With the two here, we've accounted for all eight men, sir," Ford replied drawing himself to attention.

"Anyone give warning?" John asked, standing up straight as Thompson and Ortega joined them.

"No, sir," Ford replied, his eyes flat and John knew none of the other raiders would ever kidnap anyone again.

John nodded and motioned toward the door and pulled out the scanner again. "Looks like there are two people near the southwest corner. Four more on the north side of the building, possibly on different floors," he added with a glance at the narrow windows close to the ground.

"Thompson, you come with me, we'll take the four on the north side. Ford, you and Ortega check the southwest corner. Radio if you find them."

Yes, sir," Ford replied and nodded to Ortega to follow him.

John waited until Ford and Ortega were inside the building, checking doorways as they carefully searched for either more hostiles or McKay and Teyla. "Come on, Sergeant," John said and led the way inside.

He expected to need to use the barrel light on the P-90 once inside and was surprised to discover the hallways lit with a soft yellow light. He glanced up and saw a section of the wall near the ceiling, roughly two feet in width, glowing the length of the hallway. He glanced in one of the rooms as he passed and noticed the same strip of light illuminating a table and several chairs.

He shrugged and led the way down the hall. He didn't know how the weird lighting worked, and didn't really care as long as it meant he didn't have to search the building in the dark.

They headed down the same hallway as Ford until John found an intersecting corridor and a set of steps leading down. The steps led in the right direction and he signalled Thompson to follow him.

He let the P-90 hang from its vest clip and pulled out his Beretta as he edged down the steps, ducking down to scan the lower hall before dropping the last two steps to cover the passageway as Thompson followed him, covering their back trail.

They were near the end of a hallway when John heard voices coming from the room a few feet away.

"Where is Kirin?" one voice growled. "He should have been back by now with his report on the city's location and defences."

"I - I'm not sure, Rasha," a second voice replied and John could hear the subservient whine in the man's tone. "None of the lookouts have reported seeing him or any of the others returning from the Portal."

John heard something wooden in the room shatter. "Something went wrong," Rasha growled. "The city couldn't be that far from the Portal."

"Kirin may have double --"

John heard a strangled yelp.

"Kirin is loyal," Rasha growled. "The Atlantean lied." John heard something else in the room crash to the floor. "I'll get the truth from that little maggot and this time I'll break more than his fingers."

John felt his blood run cold. He wasn't worried about the city, the shield would stop anyone unauthorised from coming through. Something he was sure Rodney was aware of when he gave up the 'gate address. No, what had him seeing red was knowing McKay had been tortured. Again. It had taken weeks for the nightmares featuring Kolya to go away. Now he knew what had caused the stabs of pain he'd felt through the link.

"Get the rest of the men and meet me outside," Rasha ordered. "We leave for the Portal in ten minutes."

John ducked back around the corner as a someone scurried down the hall, passing them without a glance as he hurried back up the hall to the stairs. A few seconds later another man, John assumed this was Rasha, stalked past and turned down a different hall.

John had a very bad feeling where Rasha was heading and signalled to Thompson they were following after him.

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

Teyla watched as Rodney slept, slumped against the wall. She had been surprised when he didn't flinch away from her as he usually did whenever she attempted to touch him. And then for him to reach out to her … She wondered what had prompted the change for a moment, then decided she didn't really care. It was a sign of his trust in her and that was enough.

She could feel the slight tremors through the hand she still held and frowned. She didn't like the pallor of his skin or the fact he was sweating while the room they were in was cool.

Major Sheppard had explained months ago about Rodney's problem with low blood sugar. This was why everyone on the team carried a few extra power bars and John had started saving their spare drink packets. What John hadn't been able to explain was what would happen if Rodney ever did go too long without eating something. Seeing the effects first-hand had her more than a little afraid. She was used to seeing him in frenetic motion, pacing, gesturing with his hands, his mind working faster than anyone else near him. Now he was lethargic, confused, and she feared he would only get worse if rescue did not come soon.

She watched him for a few more minutes before the thought tickled the back of her tired mind that she shouldn't be able to see him at all; the sun had set almost thirty minutes ago. She saw the glowing strip of the wall near the ceiling and glanced over at Rodney's sleeping form with a sigh. Normally, he would find such technology fascinating; theorising about possible power sources or other ways he could modify the systems for use in Atlantis. Now, he was oblivious and there was nothing she could do to help him.

She scooted closer to Rodney so his head could rest on her shoulder and shivered slightly in the cool evening air coming in through the windows. How long would it take for Doctor Weir to send someone to check the ruins after the team missed their check-in? she wondered. There had to be search teams on the planet by now looking for them, she tried to convince herself with another glance at McKay.

It was hard to estimate just how far away from the campsite the mountains were, but it had to be several miles at least. Knowing how the Marines usually searched, she hoped someone would find the stone building by morning. She glanced at Rodney again as he mumbled something in his sleep and squeezed the hand she still held. She wasn't sure he could wait much longer than that.

She fell into a light doze and it took several long seconds for her to realise the sounds she heard outside their prison were real and not part of a dream. She sat up and listened as heavy footsteps stopped just outside the room and the object blocking the door was moved aside. She eased out from under Rodney's sleeping body and climbed to her feet, her back to the wall and her knife in her hand.

She hesitated for a moment after the door was wrenched open, unsure if it was a friend or one of their kidnappers coming in the room. The way the door bounced off the outer wall, however, told her everything she needed to know just before a large man with his dark hair tied in a knot at the nape of his neck stormed into the room and headed for Rodney.

Teyla stepped between the man and McKay, her body crouched in a fighting position, ready to attack with the knife. The man towered over her by at least a foot and with his longer reach, she knew she would need to choose her targets with precision in order for her small knife to have any effect.

The man glanced at her with a sneer, then shoved her out of his way. She rolled with the attack and came back to her feet in one smooth motion. She ducked under his left arm, aiming for the space between two ribs.

He blocked the knife with his left arm and this time instead of pushing her away, he landed a fist to the side of her head.

The knife clattered on the floor and she had enough presence of mind to roll away from him again as her vision dimmed for a moment.

Rodney stirred slightly at the noise and looked up blearily as the newcomer picked him up by the front of his shirt and slammed him against the wall.

"What did you do, maggot?" the man hissed and pushed Rodney into the wall again. "Ten of my men are missing after they used the symbols you gave them for the Portal."

Teyla shook her head to clear it then crawled to the wall and used it to climb back to her feet. She glanced around for the knife and saw the man slam Rodney against the wall again.

She watched as Rodney stared at the man with a slightly dazed expression and saw a slight smile appear on his face. "Oops," he mumbled and groaned when his back and head hit the wall again.

Teyla bent and scooped up the knife and readied herself to attack again.

The man shifted his grip on Rodney so he was holding him up with one hand and turned to glare at her. "I'll deal with you soon enough, woman," the man said disdainfully and turned back to Rodney. "You think you've beaten me?" He pulled a large knife from his belt and flashed the blade in front of Rodney's eyes. "We'll see how clever you are now, maggot."

Rodney started to struggle weakly in the man's grip when he saw the knife. "Don't talk, don't tell," Teyla heard him mumble as he stared blearily at the knife.

The man laughed and ran the flat of the blade down Rodney's cheek. "Not so brave, now, are you? Thought you could play Rasha for a fool, did you?" Rasha used the tip of the blade and drew a line down Rodney's cheek.

Teyla saw a thin streak of blood follow the blade. Rodney's reaction, however, was to struggle harder in Rasha's hold.

Rasha gripped Rodney by the shoulder and braced his forearm against McKay's throat, the knife held up where Rodney could see it. "What did you do to my men?" Rasha hissed as he pressed his arm against McKay's neck.

Teyla realised she was out of time. Rodney stopped struggling and his eyes started to close as his breathing became more labored. She tucked herself into a roll aiming for the back of one of Rasha's knees, hoping that would force him to drop Rodney.

"Let him go," a harsh voice said from the doorway and Teyla turned to see Major Sheppard, his Beretta pointed at the man still holding Rodney pinned to the wall, standing just inside the door with Sergeant Thompson behind him.

Rasha glanced behind him, saw Sheppard standing in the doorway, and pulled Rodney around in front of himself.

Teyla wasn't sure McKay was still conscious; his head hung loose and he didn't react to John's voice at all.

"Where are my men?" Rasha demanded as he wrapped an arm around Rodney's throat again and brandished the knife at John.

Teyla stayed near the wall watching as John's aim shifted slightly every time Rasha moved.

"Your men are dead," John told him, his voice hard. "If you don't want to join them, you'll let him go."

Rasha's eyes bulged slightly at the news. He shoved Rodney at Teyla and charged John, his knife held high.

She dropped her knife as she instinctively tried to break Rodney's fall, but he was dead weight as he crashed into her and sent both of them into the wall. Teyla felt the skin on her back and side burn as she slid down the rough stone, pinned between Rodney and the wall.

There was a loud report as the Beretta fired and then Rasha jerked to a stop and stared down at the bloody hole in his chest. He glared at Sheppard and tried to take another step, but his legs gave out and he crashed to the floor.

John barely waited for Rasha to fall before he was across the room pulling Rodney off of her. "Thompson, get that," he pointed at the body, "out of here. Then radio Ford and Ortega, let them know we found Teyla and Rodney and where we are."

"Yes, sir," Thompson said as he let his P-90 hang off his vest clip. He flipped Rasha over on his back, grabbed the dead raider under the arms, and pulled him out of the room.

"Teyla? You all right?" John asked as he pulled Rodney up to lean against him and gave her a quick once over.

She forced herself to slow her breathing and nodded.

John pursed his lips and stared wordlessly at her.

"Truly, John, I am fine," she assured him as she found her knife and tucked it back into her boot. "I have only a few bruises and scrapes. Your arrival was well-timed. Be careful of Rodney's hand," she added as John started to readjust his hold on McKay.

John glanced down at Rodney's right hand and frowned as he tapped McKay's cheek. "Come on, Rodney. It's John. Open your eyes for me."

"I am afraid on top of what Rasha did to him," she touched her own neck, "we have had very little to eat today and he was ill last night."

John unclipped his pack and slid it over to her. "The drink packets are in the front pocket," he said and tapped Rodney's cheek again. "Power bars are next to the water. You need to eat something, too."

Teyla found the packets of powdered drink mix and a bottle of water. She opened one of the packets and poured the instant mix into the water.

"Better make it two," John said as he pressed his hand to Rodney's forehead, then his cheek.

She added another packet and shook the bottle before handing it to John and found one of the energy bars in the pack for herself.

"Rodney, can you hear me?" John said softly. "I need you to open your eyes. I've got something here that will make you feel a bit better."

Teyla watched as Rodney slowly opened his eyes and stared first at John, then at Teyla, confusion clear in his expression. "J'n?" he asked and Teyla winced at how gravelly his voice sounded.

"Yeah, buddy," John said and tapped Rodney's lip with the bottle. "I need you to try and drink some of this."

Rodney squinted at John for a moment longer then opened his mouth. John tipped the bottle enough for him to swallow the sweet, purple liquid and not choke.

"Body is in the room next door and Ford is on his way, sir," Thompson said as he re-entered the room and stood near the door. "No sign of anyone other than us still around."

John glanced up and nodded. "Thank you, Sergeant," he said absently, his focus clearly on getting Rodney to drink more of the water.

Rodney flinched at Thompson's voice and tried to look around.

"That's just Thompson," John told him in a low voice. "Everything is under control. You need to try and drink some more of this," he added as he tilted the bottle again.

Teyla was surprised, but pleased, to see only compassion on Thompson's face as he watched John cajole Rodney into swallowing more of the sugary drink. She knew from conversations with Lieutenant Ford, the close relationship they shared was rare and sometimes misunderstood by others.

Thompson came farther into the room and stopped beside Teyla. He grimaced when he saw Rodney try to sit up straight and take the bottle with his injured right hand. "I c'n do'it," McKay mumbled then started coughing.

John held the bottle out of reach. "Not yet," he said once the fit passed. "I'll hold it, you just drink."

Teyla smiled to herself when Rodney gave him a glare mixed with equal parts indignation and exhaustion as he opened his mouth again.

"What happened to his hand?" Thompson asked as he unclipped his own pack and took out a first aid kit. He pawed through the bag of medical supplies until he found a couple of emergency splints and passed them over to Sheppard. He dug through the kit again and handed Teyla two antiseptic wipes.

She nodded her thanks and started cleaning the scrapes on her arm and side.

"Rasha," John growled as he set the bottle aside and took the splints. He leant Rodney against the wall and looked him in the eye. "Better?" he asked softly.

Rodney nodded slightly and closed his eyes again.

"Hey," John said and tapped Rodney's knee. "You need to try and stay awake."

Rodney cracked an eye open and glowered but nodded again.

Teyla noticed the water bottle was almost empty and dug through John's pack to find another one and two more drink packets. She mixed two more packets into another bottle of water and handed it to John.

"He told me it was part of his plan," Teyla said softly, and waited to see how John would react.

As she expected, Sheppard frowned at that news and shook his head. He held up the splints where Rodney could see them, then gently picked up his hand and examined the purple fingers. John waited for Rodney to nod slightly before he started untying the bindings.

"Sorry," he muttered when Rodney hissed in pain. "I'll be as fast as I can." John glanced over at Teyla and pointed to her ragged trouser leg. "You did this?" he asked as he undid the last of the knots and carefully slipped Rodney's fingers into the splints.

"It was the best I could do at the time," she replied as she finished cleaning the scrapes on her side.

John smiled. "You did a good job. I doubt Carson will have to do much once we're back in Atlantis." He held the bottle up where Rodney could see it. "Ready for some more?" he asked.

Rodney nodded and took the bottle in his left hand. He finished off the rest of the sugary drink in a few swallows.

Teyla hadn't missed the fine pain lines around John's eyes and knew he had to have a headache from the link. She handed John a couple of the ibuprofen from the first aid kit and shook her head when Sheppard handed the pills to Rodney along with the fresh bottle of the water mixed with drink powder. She sighed, popped two more of the pills from the blister pack, found another bottle of water, and tapped John's arm again.

John stared at her with a frown. She ignored him and held out the pills and water with a raised eyebrow. He met her eyes for a moment longer then relented and took the bottle and the medication with a sigh and shake of his head.

Teyla caught Thompson watching the silent by-play and wondered how much the Sergeant had figured out about Sheppard and Rodney and the link. John had made it clear he did not want the entire city to know about the link they shared and Rodney had backed him up. Teyla had heard a few rumors, especially after Rodney's accident the previous month, but so far as she was aware the only people who knew the truth, other than herself and Ford, were Doctors Weir and Beckett. She hoped Thompson would keep anything he had guessed to himself.

John sat against the wall next to Rodney and nudged his arm. "How are you doing?"

Rodney glanced over at him. "Better," he said softly, his voice a little rough either from exhaustion or the choke hold Rasha had used on him. "Still a bit shaky and dizzy, but getting better."

A few minutes later, Teyla heard running feet outside the room and Thompson sprang up, his P-90 aimed at the door.

John stood as well. Teyla noticed he placed himself between Rodney and the door as he unholstered his Beretta.

The footsteps stopped just outside the door and Ford called out, "Major Sheppard? Clear to enter?"

"Clear, Lieutenant," John replied, and nodded to Thompson as he relaxed his aim.

Ford entered the room and Teyla smiled when she saw Corporal Ortega enter behind him, a bandage wrapped around his arm.

"Are you are all right, Corporal?" Teyla asked.

"Just a scratch, ma'am," Ortega replied with a glance at his arm.

"Hey, Teyla," Ford said as he strolled over to her. "You guys all right?"

She nodded. "More or less."

Ford glanced over at Rodney. Teyla followed his gaze and saw Rodney had his eyes closed again and the bottle in his hand was in danger of tipping.

"Is the building secure, Lieutenant?" John asked as he knelt down beside him and took the bottle from Rodney's lax hand.

Ford nodded. "Yes, sir. Two men on the other side of the building tried to trap us in a crossfire, another of the raiders tried to escape out the front door. That one thought he could fight his way out." Ford pointed at Ortega's arm. "He wasn't successful."

"In that case, we'll bed down here for the night," John replied. "Teyla and McKay could do with the rest. Ortega, too."

"I'm fine, sir," Ortega insisted.

"You haven't slept in more than twenty-four hours, Corporal," John replied, his voice stern. "Ford, Thompson, and I can stand watch tonight." He waited until Ortega gave him a reluctant nod then said, "Ford, break out the MREs. We'll eat, get some sleep, and head back to the 'gate in the morning."

Chapter Text

John woke several hours later to an odd hissing noise. He opened his eyes and noticed the strip of the wall near the ceiling no longer glowed but there was a little light in the room as early-morning sunlight filtered through the high windows. He rubbed his eyes, sat up, and looked around. Teyla, lying a few feet away, also sat up, pushing away the silver emergency blanket as she glanced at the door with a concerned look on her face.

He didn't miss the wince of pain as she carefully leant against the wall or the bruise along the side of her face. Once again his two civilians had come out the worse for wear because he hadn't been there to protect them. He shook his head and pushed the guilt aside as he followed her gaze and spotted Ford, Ortega, and Thompson in a whispered argument near the door.

"Ford, what's the problem?" John asked softly and turned to check Rodney, sleeping with his back against the wall. The emergency blanket was puddled around his legs and he slept curled on his side, facing John. John reached over and put a hand on Rodney's arm as he started to mutter in his sleep then pulled the blanket back up once he settled.

John was relieved Rodney's skin didn't feel as clammy as the night before. His color looked better and the tremors had stopped. The drink powder and the half of an MRE he'd managed to eat the night before had certainly helped the hypoglycaemic reaction, but all John wanted to do was get him back to Beckett as soon as possible.

Ford gave him a guilty look as he crouched down next to Sheppard. "We were trying to figure out what to do with the bodies, sir," he said, keeping his voice low. "The ground is too hard to dig a mass grave. Thompson thinks we should burn them. Ortega says he knows about a cave farther along the side of the mountain where we could put them and then bring down the overhanging rock."

John grimaced. He'd been so focused on finding Rodney and Teyla, then making sure they were both all right, he hadn't given the trail of bodies left in their wake much thought. He stood and jerked his head back toward the door so their conversation wouldn't wake up McKay.

"Burning will take too long," John said once they were out in the hall. "We need to get Rodney and Teyla back to Atlantis sooner rather than later."

Ford nodded but said nothing.

John glanced back in the room and smiled slightly when he saw Teyla sitting next to Rodney, a hand resting lightly in his arm. "Take Ortega and Thompson, find the cave. I want to leave after McKay is awake and everyone has had something to eat, so be as quick as you can."

"Yes, sir," Ford said and stepped back into the room just long enough to pull three sets of latex gloves out of the first aid kit and tell Teyla good morning.

He passed out the gloves to Thompson and Ortega and said, "Get the one next door and meet me outside," he ordered with a glance at the next door.

"Major?" Teyla asked in a whisper when John came back in the room.

"Nothing," he replied and sat against the wall next to Rodney's head. "Clean up duty," he added cryptically.

She nodded and let the subject drop as she moved and sat on John's other side.

"How are you feeling?" he asked as she settled beside him.

"I am sore," she admitted. "But otherwise fine."

"I'm sorry I wasn't --"

"You have nothing to apologise for, Major," Teyla told him. "We came here to help Sergeant Stackhouse's team catalogue artefacts from the ruins."

John snorted.

Teyla smiled. "Yes, well, you will need to talk to Rodney about his other reasons," she told him. "No one could have known about the marauders. You found us. That is the important thing to remember."

John heard a few grunts from Thompson and Ortega as they carried Rasha's body up the stairs, and glanced down at Rodney's right hand curled slightly against his chest. "I never did hear why McKay needed some sort of plan that involved his fingers getting broken," John said a few minutes later.

"These men are …" Teyla stopped and sighed, "they were ... raiders. Attacking settlements and stealing food, equipment, sometimes even kidnapping people." She gave John a crooked smile. "Kirin told me they initially planned to simply attack the team at the ruins and steal whatever they could that might be of value. According to Sergeant Stackhouse, Sergeant Stephens had thought they were being watched for several days, but he could not prove it.

"Then Sergeant Stackhouse called Doctor Weir to check-in. He reported finding several devices left by the Ancestors and he wanted one of the scientists to certify the objects were safe to bring back to Atlantis. When Kirin and the others heard the name of the city, they decided to change their plan and raid the city instead. There was only one problem --"

"They didn't have the 'gate address," John guessed.

"That is correct," Teyla said as she carefully probed the bruise on her face.

John frowned. "So where did the broken fingers come in? The shield would have protected the city if these raiders had tried to come through the 'gate."

"Didn't want to risk it," Rodney mumbled as he opened his eyes. "I didn't give them the address for Atlantis but they had to think I did. That was the plan." He slowly sat up and looked around.

"How are you feeling?" John asked and gave McKay a measured look.

Rodney shrugged then winced. "I spent yesterday slowly starving to death and then a night on a hard floor. How do you think I feel?" he asked sarcastically as he rubbed his right shoulder.

John didn't bite on the tone and stared at McKay, waiting for an answer. He needed to know if Rodney was going to be able to walk back to the 'gate or if he'd need to make a different plan.

"I'm fi --"

John pursed his lips and shook his head.

Rodney sighed. "Fine. My fingers hurt. My head hurts. My back and shoulder ache and I could probably sleep for a week. Happy?"

"What about the rest?" John asked not backing down.

Rodney held up his left hand and John saw only a slight tremor. "Not as dizzy, either," Rodney said as he dropped his hand back in his lap. "Mostly, I'm just tired."

John watched as Teyla went to the pile of packs and supplies in the corner and found the first aid kit. She came back with two bottles of water and a blister pack of ibuprofen. She popped a couple of pills out of the packaging and handed both the pills and one of the bottles to Rodney before taking a couple of the pills herself.

Rodney swallowed the pills without complaint and leant his back against the wall next to John.

"If you didn't give them the address for Atlantis, where did you send them?" John asked after a few moments of silence.

"P9X-565," Rodney replied with a slight smile.

John mouthed the designation, trying to remember what was so special about P9X-565 Rodney thought he could safely send pirates to it.

Rodney glanced at him and rolled his eyes. "The planet where we found those rock samples with the naquadah-like element," he explained, impatience coloring his tone.

John shook his head. "Nope, don't remember that one."

McKay gave him a disgusted look. "You do read the science reports, don't you?"

"Yes, Rodney," John said patiently. "But after a while, all those letters and numbers start to run together. Why P9X-565?"

"Low oxygen atmosphere," McKay replied with what John thought looked like a smug expression. "So even if they did manage to get back here, they wouldn't be in any condition to attack us. When Volkov went with his team, they were in the infirmary for a day recuperating afterwards."

"And the broken fingers?"

Rodney shrugged as he looked at his hand. "Rasha had to believe it was the real address," he mumbled. "I was just glad he didn't use the knife."

John wrapped his arm around Rodney's shoulders. "That was a pretty bold plan," he said softly. "You could have just given him the actual address. Elizabeth would have never lowered the shield."

Rodney shook his head. "I-I couldn't do something like that. The idea of stepping through the 'gate and never coming out?" He shuddered then winced and glanced at John. "I mean, I --"

"It's all right," John said, knowing Rodney was thinking of what he'd done to Kolya's Genii soldiers. He waited for Rodney to look at him. "I think I'm actually happier knowing you can't do something like that."

Rodney ducked his head then flinched as John heard footsteps coming down the hallway. Sheppard glanced at Teyla as he stood and unholstered the Beretta.

"Sergeant Thompson, sir," Thompson said, just out of range of the door.

John dropped his aim. "Come ahead," he replied, and put the weapon away.

"Lieutenant Ford sent me, sir," Thompson said with a quick glance at Rodney. "All done, sir. We can leave whenever you're ready."

John nodded and ignored McKay's puzzled look as he pulled Rodney to his feet. "Let's say we get out of this room, eat something, and head home."

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

John estimated they were halfway back to the ruins when he heard someone in the forest near their position. He held out an arm to stop Rodney who was walking next to him and gave a low whistle to signal Ford and Ortega, a few steps in the lead, to halt.

"What's wrong?" Rodney asked, looking around.

"Someone's out there," John whispered. "Could be those pirates you sent off to 565 recovered faster than you expected."

Rodney swallowed and John could see his eyes widen in fear. He remembered the wounds Stephens and Stackhouse received and knew the raiders had at least some sort of rudimentary projectile weapon and did a quick search of their immediate surroundings for somewhere Rodney and Teyla could hide. Unfortunately, there was very little cover other than the trees themselves. He signalled Ford to move out slowly and kept an eye out for anything they could use for protection.

They'd walked another quarter of a mile in tense silence when John spotted a rock outcrop and motioned Ford toward it. He pushed Rodney and Teyla into the scant shelter between two of the large boulders. "Keep your heads down," he ordered before he ducked down behind another boulder and watched trail ahead.

He didn't have to wait very long before he saw a figure darting from tree to tree trying to keep low and out of sight. He let the crouching figure get a little closer before he yelled, "That's far enough! We will shoot if you come any closer."

The figure held up a hand and ducked behind another tree. "Hello? Major Sheppard? Is that you?" a female voice shouted back.

John shifted his grip on the P-90 and tapped his radio. "Daley?" he said as he tapped his earpiece.

"Yes, sir," Daley replied over the radio. "When you didn't check in, Doctor Weir sent us to find you, sir."

John stood from behind his rock. Ford, Thompson, and Ortega followed suit, weapons held low but ready.

"Come on ahead, Corporal," John said and nodded for Teyla and Rodney to come out from their hiding place.

Daley and two others, John soon recognised as Corporals Sanchez and Jeffries, came up the trail and met John in front of the rock outcrop.

"Good to see you, sir," Daley said and gave the others a nod and a smile. "Sergeant Markham and a squad are back at the ruins with the prisoners, sir."

"Prisoners?" John asked as they started walking again.

"Yes, sir," Jeffries said from where he walked in the rear position with Thompson. "We had only been planetside for an hour or so before this group of men staggered through the 'gate like they were drunk or something. One of them, a big, bald guy, kept muttering about a 'rash' or something and when he saw us, he tried to pull a kind of gun. Sergeant Markham had all of them restrained and we herded them all to the ruins."

"Why go back to the ruins?" Ortega asked.

"It was the only place where we could secure the prisoners," Jeffries replied. "One of the smaller buildings was defensible so Sarge turned it into a stockade," he said to John. "We corralled them in there with a guard until Sarge could decide what to do with them."

"It wasn't until the bald guy said something about prisoners lying to someone named Rasha that the penny dropped and Sarge got suspicious," Sanchez added.

"Sergeant Markham questioned the bald guy, and after some … persuading … found out where Teyla and Doctor McKay were being held," Daley said. "By then, though, it was full night. We couldn't start a search until this morning."

"The man Sergeant Markham questioned could be Kirin," Teyla said from John's other side. "He appeared to be second in command of the marauders."

John noticed Rodney cradling his right hand, lost in thought, as Teyla spoke. "McKay? Something you want to add?" John asked.

Rodney glanced over at John. "Umm, Kirin, or whatever his name is, held me down while …" He held up his right hand.

John gripped his P-90 a little tighter. "Who was the other one? Rasha?"

Rodney shook his head. "He was there, asking the questions, giving the orders. The other two did the actual breaking."

"Who was the other one?" John asked again, his tone hard.

"There was a younger man," Teyla said carefully as she watched Rodney. "Tall and muscular with dirty blond hair worn loose to his shoulders. His name is Desh. He is also the man who attacked Doctor McKay the night of the raid."

John glanced at McKay for confirmation.

Rodney gave him a sideways look and nodded.

"I think I'd like to meet this Kirin and Desh," John growled and picked up the pace as the trees thinned and he could see the white of the expedition tents in the distance. He caught the startled look Rodney gave him from the corner of his eye but ignored it.

"Major Sheppard!" Markham greeted them as they walked into the campsite ten minutes later. "Good to see you, sir. You're just in time. I was about to head back to the 'gate with a status report for Doctor Weir."

"Sergeant," John replied and nodded his head in a follow me gesture. Once they were away from the others, John continued, "Everything under control here?"

"Yes, sir," Markham replied. "I sent word to Atlantis this morning about the prisoners and the intel on where Doctor McKay and Teyla were being held." Markham glanced up as a group of three of the prisoners were led across the camp, guarded by five Marines.

John watched as the men glared first at their guard, then seemingly at Rodney and Teyla. His eyes hardened as one of the men, young with dirty blond hair, whispered something to a large bald man walking beside him. When the men kept walking, John relaxed slightly but kept half an eye on the group as they headed for the small building Markham was using as a makeshift stockade.

"I think we need to make a decision on what to do with these … men," Markham frowned in distaste, "before it gets dark, sir. The building we're using isn't the most secure and they seem to have recovered from whatever happened to them before they came through the
'gate last night."

John nodded. "Agreed. I have an idea of what to do with them, but it's not exactly up to Geneva Convention standards. I just hope Weir goes along with it."

Markham snorted. "They shot two of our people," he growled. "Kidnapped two others, and who knows what else they've been doing to terrorise this part of the galaxy." He gave Sheppard a sideways look. "Last I heard that supervolcano on M2R-937 hadn't gone off yet, we could send them there."

John smiled at the suggestion and glanced over at the group of prisoners as an argument broke out in front of the stockade. "I know she won't go for that, Sergeant."

Markham shrugged. "Just a thought, sir," he deadpanned.

"I'll keep it in mind as plan B," John replied, his attention focused on the fight near the building.

John had taken a couple of steps toward the stockade when one of the men broke through the cordon of Marines surrounding the prisoners and ran back across the compound. John wasn't surprised to note it was the large, bald man whom John assumed was the Kirin Teyla had mentioned

"You nearly killed us, you maggot!" Kirin yelled and lunged at Rodney standing a few feet away near more of the ruins. "I'll make you pay for that."

John skidded to a stop and raised the P-90, but Teyla and two other Marines were in his line of fire. Ford was closer to McKay, but John could tell he didn't have a shot either. He dropped the rifle and ran, even though he knew he wouldn't reach Rodney in time. Markham pounded along behind him.

John heard the other prisoners yelling, either cheering on Kirin, or screaming threats of their own at McKay, he wasn't sure. Rodney, for his part, tried to get out of the way of the man charging toward him but he was backed up against the ruined building and had nowhere to run.

Ford and Teyla were both closing in from opposite sides of Kirin. John saw a glint of light flash off the blade of Teyla's knife as she threw it. The blade hit Kirin in the upper arm but didn't slow him in his headlong charge to reach Rodney. John had his own knife out and ready to attack when Thompson planted himself between Kirin and Rodney, his arms up in a defensive position and his feet slightly apart. John wasn't sure Kirin noticed Thompson was now between him and Rodney as the raider didn't slow down.

John skidded to a stop just as Thompson threw a straight punch at Kirin's face, landing a solid blow to the man's cheekbone. The force of the punch pushed Kirin back and Thompson hooked his foot behind Kirin's leg.

Kirin hit the ground hard and snarled as he jumped back to his feet and lunged at Thompson.

Thompson hit him again, this time in the ribs, dropping Kirin to a knee.

Before he could launch another attack, the two Marines chasing after him caught up and grabbed Kirin in a restraining hold and pulled him back across the campsite, still snarling and spitting threats at both Thompson and Rodney.

"Sergeant," John said as he jogged over to Rodney's side and rested a hand on his shoulder. "Good work. Thanks."

"No problem, sir," Thompson replied. He gave Rodney a nod and walked off to help the two Marines with Kirin.

"You all right," John asked Rodney as Ford and Teyla joined them.

Rodney nodded, and John could see his hands shaking more than before. He gave the shoulder he gripped a quick squeeze and was rewarded with a slight smile and another nod.

"I take it that was Kirin?" John asked with a glance from Rodney to Teyla.

"It was," Teyla said as she stopped on Rodney's other side and gave him a concerned look.

Rodney stared at the small ruin as more shouting came from the building. He clenched his hands as best he could with the plastic splints and shrugged out of John's hold on his arm as he looked nervously around the camp.

He skirted around Ford and glanced back at John. "I'm going …" He waved a hand at the tents and headed for the partially collapsed tent farthest from the ruins.

"Sir?" Ford asked.

"I'll take care of it. You get Thompson and Ortega and get ready to leave for the 'gate. Weir is going to want a report on what's been happening the last two days."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied.

Thompson came back across the camp, wiping something with a piece of cloth. He stuffed the cloth in a trouser pocket as he approached John and Teyla and held out her little knife hilt first. "Thought you'd want this back, ma'am."

She smiled up at him as she took the knife and put it back in her boot. "Thank you, Sergeant."

John left them talking amongst themselves and wandered over to the tent. He shook his head when he found Rodney sifting through the clutter of supplies, Ancient artefacts, and assorted equipment scattered across the ground. He knew the burst of energy was the result of adrenaline; he also knew it wouldn't last very long before McKay crashed.

"Rodney, what are you doing?" John asked gently as he walked into the tent.

"We need to take all of this back with us," Rodney said as he sorted through piles one-handed.

John saw him smile slightly when he found his combo-computer and, after turning it one way then the other, tucked it carefully under his right arm.

"Yes, it's still here and still in one piece," Rodney muttered to himself a few seconds later when he uncovered the box-like device John remembered as the twin of the device in McKay's lab. He absently passed the computer to John, who grabbed it just before Rodney let go and bent down to pick up the box. He nearly dropped the Ancient device a moment later as he lost his balance and John grabbed his arm before he could fall.

"Whoa," Rodney muttered and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

John quickly set the computer down on a nearby table, took the box from Rodney and put it next to the computer, then righted a stool and sat McKay down.

"Hey," he said softly and bent slightly to look Rodney in the eye. "I will make sure all of this gets back to Atlantis, okay? I think we need to get you and Teyla back there first, buddy."

Rodney studied John's face. "You promise?" he asked as he picked up the computer again. "There could be important information we need in one of these devices." He looked around at detritus scattered around the tent and frowned.

John nodded. "I promise. Why don't you give me the computer? I'll put it in my pack so it gets back safe."

Rodney hesitated for a moment, then handed over the computer as John handed him a power bar. "I don't feel so good," Rodney mumbled as he took the energy bar.

"Then let's get you back to Carson. He'll get you fixed up in no time," John replied as he stuffed the computer in his pack. He waited until Rodney finished the power bar then took his arm and steered him out of the tent.

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

"Doctor Kavanaugh swears someone is taking equipment from his lab," Bates said with a twisted smile as he sat in one of the chairs in from of Elizabeth's desk.

Elizabeth glanced up at him with a frown. "Is this actual theft or a prank?" she asked. She did not want to entertain the possibility one of the hand-picked members of the expedition was a thief.

Bates shook his head. "As far as we can tell, no one has stolen anything. Doctor Kavanagh can't give me any kind of list of what is actually missing. He claims things have been moved around in his lab and some of his equipment has 'probably' been stolen." Bates mimed the quote marks.

Elizabeth sighed. "All right, I'll talk to Doctor McKay. It sounds like someone, or several someones, in the science department is harassing him, though I can't imagine why. Was there anything else?"

"No, ma'am," Bates said as he stood. "I'll have the new duty rosters posted this afternoon."

Elizabeth looked up at him and nodded. "Thank you, Sergeant."

Once Bates was gone, Elizabeth sat back in her chair, twisting a pen in her fingers. She'd known when she took the job as expedition leader, a significant portion of her time would be dealing with fellow scientists and their equally large egos. With a little over one hundred people taking part in the expedition, she'd known personalities would clash. It was inevitable. But Doctor Kavanagh managed to take prickly to a new level.

She glanced at her watch and stood. Sergeant Markham was due to check-in and she really hoped he had some good news for her. While she was happy Markham may have found Doctor McKay and Teyla, or at least where they were being held prisoner, she was worried no one had heard from Sheppard's team since the day before. She wanted to believe John had been able to find Rodney and Teyla without the extra information, but worried she now had four more people lost on the planet.

She stepped out of her office just as the 'gate started to light up and walked over to Grodin's station at the main console.

"Just in time," Peter said with a smile as she stopped next to him. "I have Sergeant Markham's IDC," he added.

"Atlantis, this is Markham."

Grodin tapped another crystal and nodded over at her. "This is Weir. Tell me you have good news, Sergeant."

"I have better than that, ma'am. Major Sheppard and his team would like permission to come home. With Doctor McKay and Teyla."

Several scientists at the rear consoles started to applaud. Elizabeth and Peter shared a relieved smile. "Permission granted," she said. "Radio Carson," she added to Chuck on her other side.

"Yes, ma'am," Chuck replied with a smile of his own.

"Sergeant Markham, any news concerning our other problem?" Elizabeth asked as she heard Chuck telling someone he wasn't sure what injuries the returning team may have.

"Everything is secure for now, ma'am. Major Sheppard thinks he may have a solution. He'll fill you in."

Elizabeth frowned slightly, wondering what John had suggested that made Markham sound so satisfied. "Understood, Sergeant. We are standing by for Major Sheppard and his team."

Elizabeth took the stairs down from the control room and met Carson as he came running into the gateroom with a pair of medical technicians in his wake carrying supplies.

Before she could do much more than acknowledge Beckett with a nod, Lieutenant Ford came through the stargate with Teyla followed by Corporal Ortega. A few seconds later, John and Rodney came through. Elizabeth didn't miss the hand John had on Rodney's arm or the way Rodney stumbled to a stop once he was through the event horizon. Sergeant Thompson stepped through last.

She watched as Rodney sank down on the steps nearest the 'gate as the wormhole shut down and realised she must not have been the only one to see how tired he looked as Carson dropped to a knee beside him. She noted the emergency splints on his fingers with a frown and could tell Rodney was exhausted as he leant back against John's legs. No wonder John was hovering, she thought to herself as Beckett spoke to Rodney softly.

Elizabeth's frown deepened when she checked the rest of her people and caught a glimpse of the bandage on Ortega's arm and the dark purple bruise on Teyla's face. Ford stood beside her as one of the medical technicians asked her questions and gently guided her to sit on another of the steps.

"Major," Elizabeth said with a smile. "Good to see you all back safe and mostly sound."

John pursed his lips and glanced down at Rodney as Carson called for a wheelchair.

"I can walk," Rodney mumbled and tried to stand. "Managed to get all the way back here."

"Aye, so you did," Carson said with a glance up at John. "Which is why I think you've earned the right to a free ride."

Rodney gave him a baleful look but any argument he wanted to make was refuted as he sagged back against John's legs, forcing Sheppard to quickly readjust his balance.

Two more technicians came into the gateroom pushing a pair of wheelchairs. Teyla settled into one and Ford started to walk beside her as they left the gateroom.

"Ford," John called. "Don't go anywhere."

Ford turned with a frown. "Sir?"

"We need to make some decisions about our … guests," John said cryptically.

Rodney looked up as Carson settled him in the other chair. "Teyla and I should stay, too," he said and tried to stand up again. "Explain to Elizabeth what happened."

"No, you go with Carson," John said and bent down. "Let him take a look at your fingers. Keep an eye on Teyla for me. I'll come by to see you in a bit."

Elizabeth watched as he stood and held a silent conversation with Teyla. She nodded and smiled slightly as the medical technical pushed her out of the gateroom.

"Come on lad," Carson said to Ortega, "You need to be checked over as well. And I have a couple of your teammates in my infirmary who will be happy to see you."

Elizabeth saw the relieved smile on Ortega's face at the news Stackhouse and Stephens were both alive and watched as he followed Carson and Rodney out of the gateroom.

"We have a situation," John told her as soon as the others left.

"I know," she replied. "Sergeant Markham told me about the people he found near the stargate and that they had something to do with kidnapping Rodney and Teyla. Markham also told me you may have an idea on what to do with them. Get cleaned up and meet me in my office."

Thirty minutes later John, with Ford in tow, knocked at the edge of her door. She waved them in and offered the two chairs in front of her desk.

"All right, what do we know from Rodney and Teyla about these men?" she asked once they were settled.

It only took John, with some assistance from Ford, ten minutes to tell her about the marauders, how and why they'd attacked the camp, and their plan to attack Atlantis as well as the idea Rodney had to stop them.

"That explains his fingers," Elizabeth said when he was done.

John nodded. "His plan worked, too. Up to a point. The men he sent off on a wild goose chase to P9X-565 came back through the 'gate where Markham and his team captured them. Right now he has them stashed in one of the smaller ruins, but we need to do something with them before nightfall on the planet. Markham's team is too vulnerable to an escape attempt once it gets dark."

Elizabeth clasped her fingers together on the desk. "Sergeant Markham said you had a plan?"

John nodded. "I do, but I need some information from Grodin first."

She gave him a quizzical look then tapped her radio. "Peter? Can you come to my office, please?"

She saw Grodin glance over at the glassed-in office, say something to Chuck, and head across the walkway.

"Something you needed, Doctor Weir?" he asked as he stood in the doorway.

John stood from his chair and faced the doorway. "I need a habitable planet, deserted, with a space 'gate."

"Space 'gate?" Elizabeth asked and sat forward in her chair with her arms braced on the desk. "John, what is this plan of yours, exactly?"

John turned back to face her, his expression hard. "These men are basically pirates, Elizabeth. We can't bring them back here. We can't leave them on that planet with a way to escape and continue pillaging other worlds. Even if we could disable the 'gate, chances are they have a ship stashed somewhere, too. This way, they get to live, but can never leave." He twisted his lip into a wry smile. "Markham suggested we dump them on M2R-937. I thought you'd be more amenable to my idea, but his plan has a certain merit to it."

Elizabeth looked from John to Grodin, the question clear in her eyes.

"The planet with the super-volcano," Grodin supplied with a quick glance at Sheppard.

"I told him you'd probably say no to that idea," John added. "But I'm okay with it if you are."

Elizabeth could see the anger simmering just below the bland surface expression on John's face and shook her head. "Your first instinct was correct, John. I told you once before we aren't in the revenge business. The super-volcano is out. However," she said as John started to interrupt, "the idea about a planet with a space 'gate has merit. Peter?"

Grodin glanced from John to Elizabeth for a moment. "I can run a search of the Ancient database. See if I can find any planets that match Major Sheppard's requirements."

"Do that," she said.

"And fast," John added. "We need to get those men moved in the next few hours."

"I'll get Doctor Zelenka to help," Peter replied, and left the office.

"I'm heading down to the infirmary," John said once Grodin was gone.

"I'll come with you," Elizabeth agreed and stood from her desk.

She wasn't surprised to see Teyla and Rodney in two beds near the far wall when she entered the infirmary behind John and Ford.

"Elizabeth," Carson greeted as he came over to them. "Major, Lieutenant."

"How are they, Carson?" Elizabeth asked as John and Ford wandered over to their sleeping teammates.

"All things considered, they are both doing reasonably well," Beckett said with a smile as he stopped at the foot of Teyla's bed.

She was relieved to see neither Rodney nor Teyla were hooked up to any monitoring equipment and noticed John and Ford relax slightly.

"They're both exhausted," Carson explained in a low voice. "Teyla has some painful bruises along her back and arms, not to mention some nasty scrapes along her back and side. She also told me she was hit in the head fairly hard by someone named Rasha, but she doesn't have any lingering signs of a concussion."

Elizabeth noticed John's expression harden for a moment. Apparently, he hadn't known about the cause of the head injury, she concluded.

Carson glanced at the other bed. "On top of the two broken fingers, Rodney's blood sugar needs to come up a bit. His right shoulder is also a bit swollen and I did a scan when I X-rayed his fingers. It will ache for a few days, but I don't think he re-injured it. His fingers should heal in a few weeks. Teyla did a good job setting them as quickly as she did. I'm keeping them here overnight. They need the rest and Rodney will be on the glucose drip for another hour or so."

Beckett gave John a measured look. "Are you all right, Major? How bad is the headache?"

John shook his head. "I'm fine. Really," he added at Carson's skeptical look. "My head was pounding a bit yesterday before we found them, but I'm fine now. There's just the itch."

"Grodin to Weir," Elizabeth heard over the radio.

She stepped away from the beds and tapped her earpiece, "This is Weir."

"We think we might have a candidate for Major Sheppard," Grodin reported.

She turned to look at John. "Thank you, Peter. We'll be right there." She tapped her earpiece again and said, "Peter thinks he has a suitable planet for your pirates, Major."

John nodded and stepped over to Rodney's bed. He bent down, whispered something in Rodney's ear, then squeezed his shoulder and stepped back. "I'll be back later," John said to Carson.

Elizabeth could see Carson had questions about Sheppard's plan but merely nodded. "I'm sure they'll be happy to see you," he replied.

"Ford, come on. Let's go deal with our pirate problem once and for all." John said and Elizabeth watched as his expression hardened and he led the way out of the infirmary.

Chapter Text

Carson looked up when he heard a knock on his office door.

"Anything last minute for the night shift, Doctor Beckett?" Sharon asked as she stood just inside his office.

"Hello, Sharon," Carson greeted as he stood. "I was just going to make one last check of everyone. Other than Thomas and young Michael, our only other patients are Rodney and Teyla. I sent Doctor Jenson back to her room this afternoon."

"So, you're telling me I will need to chase Major Sheppard back to his quarters at some point?" Sharon said with a smile.

Carson frowned. "Unfortunately, no," he replied. "Last I heard, Major Sheppard was still off-world dealing with a situation. Rodney woke up earlier still a bit groggy, asking for him. I had to tell the lad he wasn't back yet."

Sharon glanced out of the office toward two beds against one wall. "How long has Corporal Ortega been here?" she asked.

Carson following her gaze and saw Ortega slumped in a chair with his chin on his chest. "Oh bloody hell," Carson muttered as he left his office carrying a computer pad. "I thought he'd left an hour ago."

He stopped at the end of Stephens' bed, checked the monitors and made a few notes on in the computer before stepping over to the chair.

"Miguel, lad," Beckett called softly and laid a gentle hand on Ortega's shoulder.

Ortega snapped awake and looked up at Carson bleary-eyed. "Sorry, Doc, I must have drifted off there for a moment," he mumbled as he rubbed his eyes.

"It's been more like an hour, son," Carson said with a slight smile. "You should get some rest in your own bed. You've had a long couple of days."

Ortega nodded but didn't move as he looked from one bed to the other. "You're sure they're going to be okay, Doctor Beckett? Sergeant Stephens doesn't look too good."

Carson stepped back to the end of Stephens' bed, hoping Ortega would follow him. "I know it looks a bit intimidating right now," he said looking over the monitors and equipment surrounding the bed, "but he's doing as well as can be expected. Besides the actual trauma, he lost a fair amount of blood so he's going to be a bit peaky for a little while yet."

"But he's going to get better?" Ortega asked, rubbing absently at his bandaged arm.

"Aye, lad, give him time and lots of rest and he'll be right as rain soon enough."

"And Sergeant Stackhouse, sir?"

Beckett smiled. No matter how many times he told the Marines they didn't need to address him as 'sir' they still did it when they were nervous. "Ahh, now Sergeant Stackhouse will be ready to leave in a couple of days, but he will need to keep that arm in a sling for a few weeks yet. No 'gate travel for you lot for at least a month, I'd say."

Ortega nodded and squirmed around trying to get more comfortable on the chair. Carson shook his head but before he could try again to convince Ortega to go back to his room, a new voice entered the conversation.

"You heard the Doc, Corporal," Stackhouse mumbled and opened his eyes. "Go back to quarters. Get some rest. Someone has to ride herd on Corrigan and keep him from spending all of his time in those ruins. You know how he can get. Without one of us there to keep an eye on him, he'll never come out."

Ortega stood from the chair. "Yes, Sergeant," he replied. Even though he did a fair job of hiding his emotions, Carson could still hear the relief in his voice that Stackhouse was awake.

"And Miguel?" Stackhouse added and waited for Ortega to turn around. "I hear you helped Sheppard find McKay and Teyla. Good work."

Carson hid a smile as Ortega's face reddened slightly. Sometimes it was hard for him to remember how young Ortega and some of the other Marines were.

"Thank you, Sergeant. I'll, umm, see you in the morning."

Carson watched Ortega leave the infirmary then turned back to Stackhouse. "How are you feeling, Thomas?"

Stackhouse tried to shrug and winced. "Only hurts when I move, Doc," he replied. "Mike really going to be okay?" he asked with a worried glance at the other bed.

"Aye, lad. It won't be quick, but he'll heal."

Stackhouse nodded and shifted on his bed. "Thanks, Doc."

Carson smiled again and patted Stackhouse on the arm. "You're welcome, lad. Now get some sleep."

Beckett wandered over to the far corner of the infirmary and sighed as he found another late night vigil taking place. Rodney lay curled on his side, his right hand, now with metal splints on his fingers, held against his chest. Teyla sat on the stool between the two beds, holding his left hand, whispering to him from time to time. Unlike Stephens, there was no monitoring equipment around either of the beds and Rodney's IV had been removed a few hours ago.

"You should be in your own bed," Carson whispered to Teyla as he walked around to the other side of Rodney's bed and laid a hand on Rodney's forehead. Carson was pleased to note he no longer felt feverish and his color was almost back to normal. Rodney shifted slightly at his touch but didn't wake up. "You need to rest too, lass."

"He was restless," Teyla replied softly. "I thought I would sit with him for a little while until John returns."

Carson studied her for a moment then glanced back at the bed as Rodney murmured something in his sleep. He nodded at the hand she held gently in her own and smiled to himself. "Accepted that he trusts you, I see."

Teyla glanced down at the hand she held lightly in her own. "I am grateful to have earned his trust. I know such faith does not come easily for him," she replied as Carson came around the bed and leant against the mattress near Rodney's legs.

"J'n?" Rodney mumbled and Teyla leant forward on the stool.

"John has not returned, yet," she told him softly. "Go back to sleep."

"Hmm," he murmured with a frown and rolled onto his back before his breathing evened out again.

"You should take your own advice," Carson said and nodded at the empty bed.

Teyla gently squeezed Rodney's fingers before letting go of his hand.

She stood and Carson helped her back under the covers, then sat on the stool beside the bed and added. "You did a good job with his fingers. I don't think I told you that earlier. You saved him a lot of pain setting them as quickly as you did. He'll only need the splints for a few weeks as a result."

Carson glanced over at the other bed and Rodney's right hand now resting on his chest. "If he'd had to wait until he got back here, it probably would have meant surgery in order to fix the damage."

She nodded at the comment and Carson could see something else was bothering her. "Was there something else the matter? You seem a little out of sorts."

Teyla stared up at the ceiling for a moment before she turned to Carson. "I now understand why John takes Rodney's issue with needing food so seriously," she admitted softly. "I did not really understand before what the possible consequences were if he did not eat regularly."

Carson pursed his lips and glanced over at the other bed. "It is a scary thing to see," he told her, "especially when there is little that can be done to correct it in the moment." He looked back over at Teyla as he stood. "I'm surprised Major Sheppard was able to get him to eat something so soon after finding you both. I imagine Rodney was in quite a state by then."

She sat up slightly in the bed and looked over at Rodney as he muttered something Carson didn't catch.

"John did not give him food," Teyla told him. "He has been hoarding unused drink powder from the MREs for just such an emergency. He realised after what happened on Kalani's planet, it was much easier to get Rodney to drink something rather than try to get him to eat."

"Smart man," Carson replied as he stood from the stool and moved to the end of her bed. "Get some sleep," he said with a tap on her leg. "If you both follow doctor's orders, I'll release you tomorrow morning."

She smiled at him. "Good night, Doctor Beckett."

"Good night, lass," he replied and walked back to his office, shed his lab coat, and headed for the door. "Sharon, be sure to call me if anything happens," he said as he passed Peterson on the way out of the infirmary.

"Good night, Doctor," she replied with a smile.

Beckett woke an hour later to the sound of someone knocking insistently on his door; never something he wanted to hear in the middle of the night. He crawled out of bed, threw on some clothes, and opened the door to find an orderly about to knock again.

"Jason?" Carson asked, squinting in the brighter light from the hallway. "What's going on, son?"

"Sorry to wake you, Doc. Major Sheppard and his team are back," Jason informed him. "Sharon thought you'd want to know."

"Anyone seriously hurt?" Carson asked as he followed Jason back through the quiet hallways to the infirmary.

"Not sure," Jason replied. "Sharon sent me to get you as soon as the call came in from the gateroom they were back."

Carson walked into the infirmary to see Ford perched on one bed getting checked over by Biro. He smiled and gave Beckett a thumbs up.

Markham's team was scattered on more beds. From what Carson could see, they seemed fine as well. He glanced into the far corner and saw Sheppard sitting on the stool between Teyla and Rodney's beds, his head leant back against the wall and his eyes closed. Carson grabbed his lab coat out of his office and headed in that direction. He pulled on the coat as he walked, and stopped at the end of Rodney's bed.

"Major?" Carson asked softly and waited for Sheppard to open his eyes and look at him. Carson winced when he got a look at the bruise on Sheppard's face, and glancing down at his hands he found scraped knuckles and more bruises along his arms. "What happened, John?" he asked as he stepped forward and looked for other injuries.

"Couple of them didn't agree with our relocation arrangement," John said tiredly. "Wanted to renegotiate the terms."

"I see," Carson said as he steered Sheppard to the bed on the other side of Rodney and pushed him to sit. He found a penlight in his coat pocket and flashed the light in John's eyes.

"I take it you were successful in persuading them to accept your plan?" he asked as he examined John's hands.

John's smile looked almost feral as he nodded and Carson tsked as he carefully checked each of John's swollen knuckles.

He turned to Jason waiting patiently at the end of the bed. "I need an ice pack, lad," he said and waited for Jason to leave.

"You won't do him any good if you get yourself killed on some fool's quest for revenge," Beckett admonished with a glance at Rodney.

"Don't know what you mean," Sheppard mumbled as his gaze focused on the wall behind Rodney's head.

Carson frowned and stepped into John's line-of-sight, forcing Sheppard to look at him. "How many of them are sporting broken fingers of their own, Major?" he asked bluntly.

John ignored the question as he watched Rodney shift on the next bed.

"That's what I thought," Carson said with a sigh as Jason came back with the ice pack. Carson cracked the pack and shook it slightly to mix the chemicals before he gave it to Sheppard.

"He called me Captain Kirk," John muttered at the floor as Carson started to walk away.

"I'm sorry?" Carson replied.

John looked up at him. "Everything with Chaya. Rodney said I was acting like Captain Kirk. Romancing the alien priestess," he added mockingly, then sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. "I think he was surprised I came looking for him. Maybe I wanted to prove to him, and maybe myself, we could get past everything that happened on Proculus."

Sheppard glanced at Rodney again and added, "I guess he was jealous of how Chaya and I got along. David acted the same way when we were kids. Always picking fights with me if he thought I was ignoring him."

"Rodney is not David, you know," Carson admonished gently.

"Yeah, I know" John replied softly. "But I reacted the same way. I wasn't paying enough attention and he went haring off to another planet and got himself kidnapped as a result."

Carson could hear the guilt in that comment and walked back to John's side. "What happened to him wasn't your fault, Major."

John shook his head and started to interrupt but Carson held up a hand to stop him. "From what I've heard he isn't completely innocent in all of this. His attitude and actions left a bit to be desired as well. It sounds to me like the pair of you need to sit down and actually talk to each other. And maybe listen without jumping to conclusions," Carson added with a pointed look.

John hopped off the bed and headed for the stool between Rodney and Teyla's beds, but Carson took his elbow and tugged him toward the exit instead. "They are both going to sleep the rest of the night. I suggest you do the same, in a bed, mind, and come back in the morning. I'm releasing them then so they will need some clothes."

"Maybe you're right," Sheppard admitted around a yawn as he handed Carson the ice pack.

"'Course I'm right," Carson replied as he took the pack and waved John toward the door. "Go. Get out of my infirmary. I don't want to see either you or Lieutenant Ford back here until morning."

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

"Rodney, I am sure Major Sheppard will be here soon," Teyla said and Rodney thought he heard frustration in her tone.

Rodney gave her a puzzled look as he continued to tap impatiently on the bed table with his left hand.

"The sound of the tapping is … irritating," she told him in response to his look.

"Oh. Sorry," Rodney replied. "I thought they'd be here by now. Carson said we could leave almost thirty minutes ago."

He tried to clasp his hands together to stop himself from tapping again but the splints were in the way and he settled for dropping his hands in his lap. His fingers, his whole hand really, felt heavy and clumsy with the splints and he had no idea how he was going to get anything done with a practically useless hand.

Rodney heard the infirmary door open and looked up to see Sheppard, with Ford in tow, heading in their direction.

"Finally!" Rodney exclaimed when John stopped at the end of his bed and dropped one of the bags near his legs before handing Teyla hers. "What took you so long?" Rodney continued to grouse as he opened the bag. He glanced up at John and did a double-take when he saw Sheppard's face. "What the hell happened to you?"

John glanced over at him, then at Teyla. "Don't know what you mean," John replied with an air of innocence.

"You aren't fooling anyone with the act," Rodney told him, setting aside the bag. "I may not have been entirely coherent yesterday, but I think I would remember if you had a black eye and swollen knuckles."

"Don't worry about it," John told him. "Go get changed, I'm hungry."

Rodney scowled at the avoidance of his question. Something was wrong, he knew it. Another of those weird feelings. Like with Chaya.

Don't go there, he told himself as he slid off the bed and went to change. He found a pair of grey trousers and a blue uniform shirt as well as underwear in the bag and quickly changed. He came back out from behind the screen to see Teyla already changed and hunted around until he found his boots shoved under his bed.

He sat on the stool between the two beds and pulled on his boots then started to tie them, no easy task with his first two fingers awkwardly held in place with splints. He grumbled as his fingers fumbled the laces a second time and he was a bit surprised when John knelt down and quickly tied the laces.

"We ever make contact with Earth, I'm finding you boots that have velcro," John teased lightly as he stood.

Rodney had a sarcastic retort on the tip of his tongue when he spotted Carson with a tiny smile on his face standing next to Ford. He quickly stood next to John and hoped his face wasn't as flushed as it felt.

Thankfully, Beckett focused on Teyla. "The bruises and scrapes are going to be painful for a day or two," he told her. "No stick fighting lessons for a few days. Give yourself a chance to heal."

"I will keep that in mind, Doctor Beckett," she replied with a smile.

He turned to Rodney, "The same goes for you, Rodney," Carson told him. "You need to take things easy today. Your body has had a shock so don't go running all over the city tiring yourself out again."

"I know what to do, Carson," Rodney replied impatiently. "I've dealt with a bad reaction before."

"Aye, but not this severe an incident, I hope." Carson gave him a measured look and Rodney looked down at his splinted fingers. Now was not the time to bring up the past, he told himself.

"I'll be careful," Rodney finally replied. He looked up to see Beckett and John watching him and sighed. "Can we go now?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, go," Beckett said and made a shooing motion toward the door. Ford and Teyla headed out and Rodney started to follow when he saw Carson stop John with a hand on his arm.

"Make sure he eats something every few hours, Major," he heard Carson say. "His body is still adjusting, it won't take much for him to crash again."

He watched John nod and felt his temper start to rise. He was an adult. Didn't he just tell Carson he'd dealt with the aftereffects of a hypoglycaemic reaction before? He was about to make a biting comment when Carson gave John a knowing look and spoke again.

"And don't forget what we talked about last night, either," Carson added and Rodney watched as John ducked his head before nodding again.

What was that all about? Rodney wondered and slowly left the infirmary before either of them realised he'd been eavesdropping. Ford and Teyla were already gone, so he loitered in the hallway outside the infirmary until John came out.

John was unusually quiet during the short walk to the transporter. Rodney was still figuring out something to say when the transporter doors opened and John put out a hand to stop him as he started walking toward the mess hall.

"What?" he asked. "I thought you said you were hungry."

"I need to talk to you about something first," John replied and looked up and down the hall before jerking his head behind them and leading the way out onto a balcony.

Rodney felt his stomach clench when John pointed at one of the chairs while he stood with his back against the railing. He suspected he knew what John wanted to talk about. He'd hoped to put off the conversation at least until he'd had something to eat, but apparently, he wasn't that lucky.

He perched on the edge of the chair and watched as Sheppard stuck his hands in his jacket pockets, then took them out and crossed his arms over his chest. He stood like that for a few seconds before he braced his hands on the railing behind him and Rodney suddenly realised John was nervous. John was never nervous, or if he was, he never showed it.

Rodney sat back in the chair with a frown. He knew, or at least had a pretty good idea, what it was John wanted to talk about. He'd expected to be yelled at again for how he'd acted around Chaya and was ready for John to be mad at him. He wasn't prepared for John to act like he was about to dump bad news in his lap.

"So," Rodney started to say and then stopped when John jerked his head up and stared at him. He quickly changed what he was going to say and instead asked, "Did you kiss her?"

"What?" John asked and dropped the hand he was scraping across his face.

"Chaya," Rodney replied. "Just how far did your Captain Kirk routine go with her?"

John scowled. "Look, I get that you were jealous, but --"

"I was never jealous," Rodney retorted, his anger flaring.

"No? You certainly were acting like it." John crossed his arms over his chest again. "You were acting just like David any time I had a girlfriend and he thought I was ignoring him."

Rodney shook his head and stood. He paced back and forth along the small balcony for a few moments, trying to keep his temper in check, before he leant against the railing and stared at the water. "You're an idiot," he mumbled.

He felt the railing shake as John pushed off and paced a few steps of his own. "If that wasn't jealousy, exactly what was it, McKay?" John growled. "You disliked her from almost the moment we met her! You were arrogant, condescending, and suspicious. You did everything you could to try and make her leave. "

"Because I could tell she was playing you, Major!" Rodney exclaimed and glared over at John. "She was using you, and you were oblivious. I was worried about you!" He turned to face Sheppard and gave free rein to the pent-up fear and anger he'd been carrying for the last few days. "She only wanted something from you. Hell, she even admitted it! She wanted to see Atlantis again. You were her ticket home and that's all that mattered to her."

He saw the stunned expression on John's face as he shouted, but he was on a roll and couldn't stop himself from continuing.

"I've been on the receiving end of people wanting something from me too many times not to recognise the signs. She wanted something from you and she didn't care what happened to you once she got it. I was trying to help! Trying to save you some of the pain I've felt more times than I care to count after supposed friends and colleagues got what they wanted and left me to deal with the fallout alone. So, yes, I was the worst possible version of myself hoping she would just leave before she had a chance to really hurt you."

He turned back around and gripped the railing so tight his knuckles turned white and his broken fingers throbbed.

He wasn't sure what John would do next and he felt his back muscles tensing as he heard John take a deep breath behind him. The last thing he expected was the hand that gripped his shoulder gently as John leant against the railing next to him. "Okay, maybe I was a bit of an idiot," John said, his tone conciliatory. "But you weren't exactly rational in all of this, either. Why didn't you just tell me all of that instead of spying on us, glowering at Chaya at every opportunity, and snapping at me?"

"Would you have listened?" Rodney asked and glanced over at John.

John opened his mouth, then closed it and shook his head. "No. Probably not," he admitted with a wry smile.

Rodney felt John squeeze his shoulder before he let go and braced his arms on the railing. "You were wrong about one thing, though. It wasn't just an act to get back to Atlantis. She did care about me, too."

"Oh god, did you …" Rodney ducked his head. "No, no, I don't want to know."

He heard John chuckle and glanced over at him. "Good, because I'm not the type to kiss and tell."

"So there was kissing," Rodney said with a smirk.

"Shut up, McKay."

They stood in companionable silence for a few moments, then Rodney asked, "So what really happened to you?" He pointed at his own eye. "I know you didn't have a black eye when we came home yesterday."

John glanced down at his bruised knuckles. "I had a conversation with a couple of the prisoners we transported to the planet Grodin and Zelenka found. I explained how I didn't appreciate how they'd treated some friends of mine."

"You took on Kirin and Desh by yourself?" he asked incredulously. He wasn't sure if he felt anger at John's reckless actions or gratitude that someone was willing to stand up in his defence.

John flexed his fingers and stepped back from the railing. "Nope. Ford and Thompson were there, too. They made sure no one interrupted us during our … talk."

Rodney shook his head as he followed John back to the door. He could only imagine what Elizabeth would do when she found out about Sheppard's method of getting his point across.

"One last thing," John said before they went back inside. "Next time you're mad at me, don't go running off to another planet in order to avoid me. We might not be as lucky a second time."

"It was supposed to be safe," Rodney replied. "It's not my fault we were attacked by pirates."

John turned back, his expression and tone serious. "No running off."

Rodney studied his expression for a moment, saw the worry laced with fear in John's eyes, and nodded. "As long as you stop and listen the next time I get a weird feeling about someone. They don't happen that often, you know."

John chuckled. "Deal," he agreed and led the way inside. "Come on. Ford and Teyla are probably wondering where we are, and I'm hungry."

FIN