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Last Chance To See

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The Wraith were coming. They always knew it was inevitable. The only difference between today and yesterday was now they had a timeline. Two weeks. Two weeks to decide if they were going to stay and fight or abandon the city. If John had his way, they'd stay and fight it out. At least the military would stay and fight, he amended with a glance at McKay standing next to him.

"I will need to go to the mainland," Teyla said into the shocked silence. "I must explain to Halling and the others in person what is happening."

Elizabeth nodded. "I agree. However, we need to have an evacuation plan in place first, I don't want to cause undue panic for the Athosians. We need to have an Alpha site arranged before we start any evacuations."

"Can my people not simply return to the city?"

"No," Rodney said flatly as he moved Zelenka out of the way and read something on the computer screen. "They can't come here."

John saw the flash of anger in Teyla's eyes as she frowned at Rodney, obviously not liking his blunt response.

"Rodney --" Elizabeth started to say.

Rodney turned around and glared at both Weir and Teyla. "They can't come here because we can't afford the additional power consumption."

"I don't understand," Elizabeth said.

Rodney sighed and clenched his hands into fists. "We didn't find the Zed-PM on Lurra and …" He swallowed and looked down at his feet. "And we lost the one on Dagan." He looked back up at Elizabeth. "We don't have the resources to support more people in the city. I'm sorry, but the Athosians can't come here."

Teyla looked ready to continue the argument, but Elizabeth held up her hands. "All right. We aren't going to find the solution in the next five minutes. You're all tired and need to be checked out by Carson." She glanced at John.

"You heard her," John said. "Get cleaned up and head for the infirmary."

"Get some food and sleep," Elizabeth added. "We'll meet tomorrow afternoon, after the memorial, to make plans and discuss our options for defending the city."

John started to follow the rest of the team out of the control room when Elizabeth stopped him with a hand on his arm and a nod toward her office.

Once they were seated, Elizabeth asked, "What happened on Dagan?" she asked. "I thought Allina and her people were helping with the recovery of the ZPM."

John scrubbed a hand over his face. "The Dagans had a change of heart once they realised we weren't actual Ancients," John replied with a crooked smile.

"I'm sorry?"

"Allina and some of the other Dagans founded a new Quindosim. They basically used us as a way to find the ZPM and vowed to hide it until the real Ancients came back to claim it," John told her. "They see us as squatters in the city, being descendants of the Ancients apparently isn't enough. Add the fact they had weapons given to them by the Genii --"

"What?" Elizabeth exclaimed and dropped the stylus she'd been twisting in her fingers.

John gave her a grim smile. "Yeah. Kolya showed up, too."

John didn't miss Elizabeth's clenched hands or the way she nervously tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. She took a deep breath and looked John in the eye. "Tell me," she said.

John nodded and started talking, beginning with Kolya trapping them all in the underground room and ending with the flashbangs and John sparing Kolya's life.

"I guess I'm a bit surprised you would do that," Elizabeth said once he was finished.

John shrugged. "The timing wasn't right," he said and looked down at his hands.

Elizabeth gave him a shrewd look. "Meaning Rodney was still with you, and you don't want him to know what you're really capable of."

"Something like that," John replied shortly and stood. "I should probably get down to the infirmary before Beckett sends out a search party."

"Go. I'll see you in the morning. The memorial for Markham and Smith is scheduled for ten."

John nodded and left the office, replaying the events of the afternoon in his head as he walked down to the transporter.

Neither Elizabeth nor Rodney would ever know just how close he came to shooting Kolya. He hadn't missed Rodney rubbing the scars on his arm when he figured out Kolya was the one holding Ford hostage, or the stubborn set of his chin when he decided to go with Kolya to protect the rest of them. John had a good idea of what it had cost McKay to willingly go with the man who had tortured him and John told himself he needed to check on Rodney before he had too much time to dwell on what had happened with Kolya. And Allina, he reminded himself.

"I've been on the receiving end of people wanting something from me too many times not to recognise the signs," John remembered Rodney telling him a few weeks ago. "I was 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."

John had watched as Rodney's excitement over the newly-discovered ZPM changed to bewilderment as Allina thanked him for his help even as she took the crystal away from him. He'd seen the flash of hurt in Rodney's expression as McKay turned to him, obviously wanting John to explain what had just happened.

Before he could say anything, John saw the hurt disappear, covered by a mask of indifference as McKay hunched his shoulders and looked away. He had tried to say something on the walk back to the stargate, but Rodney had shrugged off John's hand on his shoulder and refused to look at any of them for the rest of the trip back to Atlantis.

In the space of half a day, McKay had confronted Kolya, discovered he'd been fooled by Allina and used yet again by a supposed friend, only to get back to Atlantis and find out a Wraith fleet was a few days away. How much more was he expected to take? John wondered. How much more could he take? He needed to find Rodney sooner rather than later, he decided.

He was entertaining ideas of a shower and a change of clothes before a quick stop in the infirmary when the transporter opened and Stackhouse pulled himself to attention. "Major," he greeted and stepped aside as he exited the transporter.

"Sergeant," John replied. When Stackhouse didn't keep walking, John turned back to him and asked, "Was there something you needed?"

Stackhouse glanced at the wall to the right of John's head. "You heard about Markham and Smith, sir?"

John sighed. "Elizabeth told me what happened. You saw it?"

Stackhouse swallowed and looked down at his hands. "Yes, sir. They never had a chance, sir. The Wraith opened fire just as we made visual contact. Markham was in the lead jumper."

John grimaced slightly as he watched Stackhouse. The after-action what-ifs were never fun and were even worse when the pilot shot down was a friend. John had spent many long nights in Afghanistan second-guessing decisions he'd made and what he could have done differently to keep friends alive a little bit longer.

"I assume Miller was piloting the other jumper. Not the first flight mission I would have wanted for him," John said into the silence.

Stackhouse shook his head. "Lieutenant Miller was off-world at the time, sir."

"Then who was …"

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about, sir." He gave John a fleeting look. "Sergeant Bates and Doctor Beckett were in the third jumper."

John scrubbed a hand through his hair as Stackhouse's news sank in. Beckett wasn't a pilot. Hell, he wasn't even military, John thought to himself. He hadn't had any training on how to deal with combat deaths. Rodney wasn't the only friend he needed to check on.

"Understood, Sergeant," John said. "I'll take care of it."

Stackhouse nodded and started to walk away.

"Stackhouse?" John called and waited for him to turn around. "Thanks for the heads up."

Stackhouse gave him a tight smile. "No problem, sir.

John headed for his room, showered, and found a clean uniform, then headed down to the infirmary for more than just his post-mission physical.

Beckett was waiting for him when he arrived with a pointed look at his watch and a frown on his face. "I was beginning to wonder if you got lost on the way down here, Major," Carson said impatiently and led the way over to one of the exam beds.

"Elizabeth wanted to discuss a few things," John replied easily, and watched as Carson fussed with the tray of supplies next to the bed.

"Damn and blast," Beckett muttered. "How many times do I have to tell them … David!"

John looked around but didn't see the med tech in the infirmary. Sharon, however, must have heard the yell and came over to their corner.

"Is there something I can help with, Doctor Beckett?"

"Yes, you can make sure the techs are doing their jobs," Carson growled. "This exam tray is incomplete."

John frowned at the uncharacteristic behavior and traded a quick look with Sharon. He gave her a slight nod, and she gave him a tight-lipped smile in return.

"I'll get a new set-up," she said and took the tray.

"If we were back on Earth, I'd take you to a bar and get you drunk," John said once Sharon was gone and waited to see how Carson would react.

He saw the moment Carson gave up the act as his shoulders slumped. He sank onto a nearby stool and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Yes, well, if we were back on Earth, I never would have been piloting the bloody jumper in the first place."

John sat on the edge of the bed. "No," he admitted, "you wouldn't."

Even with the gene therapy, there weren't more than thirty or forty members of the expedition with the ATA gene. Of those, no more than ten or so had even the slightest acumen for flying; Stackhouse, Miller, Carson, and Rodney being his best students. Markham had been one of the few pilots in the expedition before they'd arrived.

"If the rumors going around are true, I'm going to have to do it again, aren't I?" Carson said softly.

John could tell it wasn't really a question. "Probably, yeah. And before you ask, no, it doesn't get any easier to watch the second time."

Carson rubbed his face. "No, I don't suppose it would. I'm not really cut out for this sort of work, John. Like I told Sergeant Bates, I'm a doctor, not a fighter pilot. I took an oath to do no harm."

John ducked his head. "Yeah, I know. We've all had to take on new responsibilities since we got here." John refused to dwell on Colonel Sumner.

"I'll be sure to remind you of that statement if you ever have to perform emergency surgery," Carson replied, and John saw the glint of humor in Beckett's eyes.

"Deal," John said with a smile. "Though I suspect you've done much better as a pilot than I ever would as a surgeon."

Sharon came back with a new tray and set it on the bedside table.

"Thank you, Sharon, love," Carson said as he stood. "I'm sorry for my temper earlier."

She waved off the apology. "You should get some rest," she told him with a smile.

"Aye, so I should."

She patted his arm and left.

"I take it the others have already been here?" John asked, trying to sound casual as Carson started his exam.

"Oh, aye," Carson replied and picked up the ear thermometer. "Nothing serious, just some scrapes and bruises. Rodney cut one of his fingers on something." Carson paused and looked over at John. "Were you expecting to hear something different?" he asked as he took John's temperature.

John remembered Rodney's complaints about the flashbang and swallowed. It wasn't that long ago McKay had been blinded by the transformer explosion. Was his grumbling merely Rodney grousing or … "McKay didn't mention any problems with his vision or hearing?"

Carson shook his head with a small smile as he reached for the blood pressure cuff. "You can stop tiptoeing, Major. I heard all about the flashbangs," he said as he started inflating the cuff. "Rodney is fine. Nothing wrong with his eyes."

John shook his head and rolled his sleeve back down as Carson noted the reading. "So, you know about Kolya showing up on Dagan?"

Carson nodded. "Oh, aye. Though I heard about that from Ford and Teyla more than Rodney. All he would tell me was that Kolya didn't hurt him this time. I gather there were more than a few threats made, however." He gave John a curious look.

John grimaced and had to remind himself why he hadn't killed the Genii commander when he had the chance. If he'd known about the threats before-hand, he might not have been so forgiving.

"It wasn't my idea to send him off alone with that maniac," John pointed out.

Carson smiled. "I assumed as much. I think I mentioned to you once before that our Rodney was learning to care about others as much as himself. I think he proved that again today."

"I might have liked it better before he learnt that lesson," John mumbled.

Carson gave him a steady look. "You don't mean that."

"No. Not really." John sighed. "He scared the hell out of me when he offered to go with Kolya with nothing but the Commander's word he would be all right."

"One of the frustrations of family, Major, they tend to go to extreme measures to protect their own. Even to the detriment of their own health." Carson tapped John on the knee. "He learnt from the best, it seems."

"So you're saying this is my fault?" John protested with mock indignation.

"Absolutely, Major," Carson replied with a grin. "Now get your shirt off so we can get this exam over with. We could both do with a hot meal and a good night's rest."

John couldn't disagree with the idea in principle, but he had one more stop to make before he could think about sleeping. One friend sorted, one more to go.

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

You screwed up and lost the Zed-PM, Rodney chastised himself as he closed the door to his lab. You spent the afternoon with the ever delightful Commander Kolya and his threats to kill you every other minute. And if that weren't a bad enough day, the Wraith are heading for Atlantis.

He settled at his work table and booted up his computer. What else could go wrong today? he wondered bitterly.

He traced the long, thin scars running from just behind his wrist to nearly his elbow with a finger. Kolya. The shock of having the Genii commander staring down at him and casually ask about his arm was nothing compared to his surprise at the anger he heard in John's voice when Rodney offered himself in exchange for Kolya not hurting anyone else. It had taken several moments for him to realise John wasn't mad at him, but rather at himself for not having a better solution.

John had been silent as Allina and Sanir were lifted out of the cave. The rope dropped back down, and Rodney had been about to grab it when John took his arm and pulled him aside.

"You don't do anything to piss him off. You hear me?" John had said, never taking his eyes of Rodney's face or letting go of his arm. "We will figure something out."

John had done nothing to hide his concern as he spoke and Rodney was surprised at the level of emotion in John's expression. He had swallowed and nodded once before John led him back to the dangling rope.

He'd felt John squeeze his leg as Kolya's men started to pull him out of the chamber and looked back down at Sheppard, seeing the worry plain in his eyes, before one of Kolya's men reached down, grabbed his arm, and pulled him the rest of the way out of the chamber. He'd heard the cover stone dropped back in place over the hole and had to swallow down his sense of claustrophobia knowing John and the others were now trapped.

He'd almost been able to forget about Kolya and his trapped teammates as he and Allina worked out the true meaning of the symbols and found the last puzzle stone hidden in the wall map. They'd worked well together, and Rodney had enjoyed spending time with her as they searched the Dagan countryside for the stones. She was smart, and fun to be around and, wonder of wonders, she wanted to spend time with him as well.

He'd been surprised when Ford and the others had told him Allina apparently had a crush on him. He'd been flattered at the idea even as it scared him. He wasn't a virgin, he'd had a few girlfriends, contrary to what anyone might think. The problem was none of those relationships had lasted very long.

At the time he wasn't sure he should be encouraging a relationship with Allina, 'gate travel put a whole new spin on long-distance relationships. He'd stumbled through a few conversations at the dig site the next day, his embarrassment and frustration growing as he became more and more tongue-tied. Allina, for her part, had merely smiled and encouraged him.

Now he knew he'd been nothing but a fool. Allina had been using them, him, to find the Zed-PM for her brotherhood, nothing more. He should have known better than to think there was anything real in her interest in him.

"This is what happens when you let your guard down," he muttered to himself as he remembered the moment Allina had taken the Zed-PM from him. He'd been so shocked at what she was telling him, about the new brotherhood and hiding the crystal until the Ancients returned, he hadn't fought to hold onto it.

He'd watched Allina walk away and had turned to John, the hurt evident in his expression, he knew. He'd wanted John to explain what had just happened, but all Sheppard could do was meet his gaze with one of his own. He wasn't sure what to make of the emotion he saw in John's expression and took it as pity, the last thing he wanted to see from anyone.

Rodney had curled his arms around his chest and looked away. By the time Allina and the others were gone, he was past the initial shock and ignored the looks the rest of the team gave him on the hike back to the 'gate. Whether they blamed him for the loss of the Zed-PM or not didn't matter. He blamed himself and had vowed to do whatever was necessary to find another solution to their increasing power problems.

Finding out the Wraith were practically on their doorstep only added to his sense of urgency to solve the problem once and for all.

To that end, he started writing yet another search algorithm for the Ancient database to find a source of naquadah and turned to the components scattered across the work table. If they couldn't find any Zed-PMs to power the city's defences, he'd just make something else.

The door to the lab hissed open, and Rodney looked up with a glare to find Zelenka hovering in the doorway.

"What now?" Rodney asked as Radek walked over to the work table.

"I came to see what you wanted me to do."

"Do?"

"The Wraith. I assume you have some ideas on how we can survive?"

"Three hive ships are heading directly toward us," Rodney said with a scowl. "What makes you think we have a chance in hell of surviving something like that?"

Zelenka sat on the stool across from Rodney. "I do not know that we can," he admitted sadly and slouched down with his arms crossed on the work table, his chin resting on his arms. "I was hoping you had some ideas."

Rodney ducked his head and picked up a screwdriver to hide the guilty look on his face. If they had the Zed-PM, the shield would work. The Wraith could do their worst, and the city would be safe. If they had the Zed-PM, they could use the control chair and shoot back, destroying the Wraith easily, assuming there were still drones in the city. If they had a Zed-PM. Which, thanks to him trusting Allina, they didn't.

He glanced over at Radek, a little unnerved to find Zelenka watching him.

"I might have one," he finally said and nodded to the parts on the table, "but it's not anything I need your help with." Rodney toyed with the screwdriver in his hand then glanced at Zelenka. "There is something else we need to consider," he said a few moments later. "For when the inevitable happens."

Radek stared across the table at him. "You mean if the Wraith succeed?"

"I'm not going to let them have my city," Rodney mumbled more to himself and tossed the screwdriver on the table.

"Sorry?"

Rodney looked over at him, his expression hard. "One of the things Elizabeth is going to want is a worst-case plan. We need a way to keep the Wraith from getting their hands on all of this Ancient technology and using it to get to the Milky Way."

Zelenka straightened on the stool. "You are talking about destroying Atlantis," he said softly.

"Completely," Rodney confirmed. "I don't want the Wraith to be able to salvage anything, up to and including the water features in the hallways."

"We have the self destruct program."

"I know that," Rodney snapped. "We need to be sure it will be enough."

Zelenka nodded but stayed seated on his stool, seemingly lost in thought.

"In your own time, of course," Rodney said sarcastically a moment later.

Zelenka shook himself and stood. "Yes, yes, I'm going."

Rodney picked up the screwdriver again and watched as Radek walked back toward the door.

The door whispered open, and Zelenka turned around. "I had hoped this expedition would have lasted longer," he said wistfully. "There is still so much to learn."

"Yeah," Rodney agreed with a tiny smile. "Me, too." He and Radek exchanged a look.

Radek glanced down at his hands a few moments later and nodded. "I will just go work on those scenarios," he said as he waved a hand toward his own lab.

Rodney waited until Zelenka was gone then made sure the door was locked before he went back to work on the generator.

Two hours later, the computer search was running, and he was elbow deep in building a new generator case when he heard a pounding on the door to the lab. He glanced at his watch and made a face as he made his way over to the door and unlocked it. He'd frankly expected this visit much sooner and had hoped to avoid it at all costs.

"Do you have any idea how predictable you are?" Rodney asked as he opened the door.

Sheppard stood in front of him, two plates and two mugs on the tray balanced in one hand, the other raised to knock on the door again.

Rodney waved him into the room, turned around, and headed back for the work table.

"If I'm so predictable, why was the door locked?" John replied as he followed Rodney and set the tray on the end of the work table.

"I wanted some peace and quiet to get work done. In case you've forgotten, we have Wraith headed our way and, since we came back empty-handed, I need to find another solution to the power issues around here." He picked up one of the generator components.

"Rodney --" John started to say, but Rodney didn't give him a chance to finish.

"I get it, all right?" Rodney dropped the component in his hand and glared at John. "Allina used me to get the Zed-PM." He looked down at the partially assembled case. "I'll figure out a way to fix it." Rodney glanced over at Sheppard and caught the frown on John's face. "What?" he asked, his tone harsh.

"None of us had any idea what Allina's true motives were," John said gently as he pulled out the stool Zelenka had used earlier and sat down opposite Rodney. "What she did wasn't your fault."

Rodney snorted his disbelief and went back to work. He saw that same expression in John's eyes that he'd noticed on Dagan once Allina left and still couldn't put a name on it. He turned back to the generator housing, something he did understand.

"If you want to blame someone, you can blame me if you want," John said a few moments later. "I encouraged you to get to know her better."

Rodney glanced up at Sheppard, and it dawned on him John was feeling guilty about what happened with Allina. He shook his head and gave John a crooked smile. "Okay, maybe it was your fault," he replied.

John grinned back. "It seems a lot of what happened today was my fault."

Rodney frowned, not bothering to hide his confusion.

"Just something Beckett said, don't worry about it," John said and handed over one of the plates of hreindyr meat and vegetables mixed with some sort of rice-looking grain. "You should probably eat something."

Rodney stared at the plate John held out to him for a moment, then sighed, pushed the generator casing off to one side, and took the offered food.

They ate in companionable silence for several minutes. Rodney was surprised the dish of grain and vegetables tasted good and quickly finished off the rest of what was on his plate.

"What is all of this?" John asked as he finished eating and set his plate back on the tray.

Rodney swallowed his last bit of coffee and said, "I told you weeks ago I could make a naquadah generator in case we ever needed it. After Lurra and," he looked down at his plate, "Dagan, I guess we're going to need it."

"There are still two more planets on the other Elizabeth's list," John said.

Rodney shook his head. "In case you've forgotten, the Wraith will be here in a matter of days. We don't have time for another wild goose chase."

"You said you needed a source of naquadah to make the generator work. Have you found one?"

Rodney glanced at the computer. "No," he admitted. "But I'm still looking, and while the computer searches the database, I can get the rest of the generator built."

John watched him work for several minutes, then stood and gathered up the dishes. "I meant what I said. What happened on Dagan wasn't anyone's fault. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Don't spend all night down here trying to make up for something no one blames you for."

Rodney glanced up and found John watching him. He saw the sincerity in John's expression and nodded.

"All right. The memorial for Markham and Smith is at ten. I'll see you there." John picked up the tray and headed for the door. "Get some sleep," John added with a last look behind him.

Rodney nodded again and waited for John to leave before he turned back to the half-assembled housing and went back to the work table. He'd get a little more work done on the generator casing and then go back to his quarters and try to sleep.

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

Teyla took a deep breath and slowly let it out as she moved from one position in the meditative form to the next, the ancient movements helping to center her mind. Attacks by the Wraith were a way of life for her people and everyone else in the Pegasus galaxy. The difference this time was she knew the Wraith had no intention of merely culling and moving on. They were determined to not only destroy Atlantis, but find a way to invade another galaxy.

She felt her fear and anger growing and forced herself to focus on her breathing. She spread her arms above her head, then brought her hands together, palm-to-palm, and pulled her hands down in front of her.

Doctor Weir had mentioned an evacuation to another planet, but Teyla knew that would only delay the inevitable. The Wraith would find them eventually. Stay and fight or run and hope to survive another day? She did not envy the decisions Doctor Weir would need to make in the coming days.

She would need to make enough hard choices of her own, starting with the mentioned trip to the mainland. Her people would need to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice once a suitable planet was found.

Another upheaval, she thought to herself. Less than a year since they'd fled Athos to the supposed safety of Atlantis and they were forced to move again. However, three hive ships, bent on destruction, was not something to brush aside.

Her anger turned inward despite her attempts to remain calm. She should have known better than to think any place was completely safe from the Wraith. A lifetime spent with the constant threat hovering just out of sight, taking in refugees from other planets decimated by cullings, and losing countless friends, not to mention her parents, should have kept the real threat at the forefront of her mind.

A lifetime of experience was no match against hope, she reminded herself and slowed her breathing and heart rate again. John had saved her from a Wraith hive ship within days of meeting her. Elizabeth had welcomed her and her people to Atlantis after the destruction of Athos. As a result, both the Earth people and her own had thrived the last few months.

Most amazing of all, she lived in the city of the Ancestors, a beacon of hope for the entire galaxy. She realised she had seen and done so many wondrous things in the past few months, she had let her guard down. She had started to believe the Wraith could be defeated once and for all.

She heard the door to the workout room open behind her as she stretched her right arm out to her side and the left straight out in front of her and stepped forward with her left leg bent slightly in front of her. She finished the movement, stood straight, and turned to see Ford standing just inside the door.

"I didn't mean to interrupt," he said, "I can go if you want me to."

Teyla shook her head and walked over to the bench where a towel and small workout bag sat.

"You have done nothing wrong," she told him as she sat on the bench and patted her face with the towel. She watched as Ford wandered around the room then sat beside her on the bench.

She noticed the bruising on his knuckles and frowned. "You should have worn gloves," she said, knowing he'd been using the punching bag in the gym to vent his own feelings.

Ford glanced down at his hands. "Didn't think of it at the time," he admitted and flexed his hands a few times.

Teyla rummaged through her bag and found a chemical ice pack. She shook the pack and handed it to him. "Was there something you wished to talk about?"

Ford adjusted the pack on his knuckles and shrugged. "How did your people live like this for so long?" he finally asked.

She gave him a puzzled look. "I do not understand."

He leant back against the wall. "Knowing the Wraith are coming. Knowing there's nothing you could do to stop them."

She ducked her head so Ford couldn't see her face. A lifetime of experience, she thought to herself as she faced him. "We try not to dwell on the possibility," she told him. "We know the Wraith could come at any time and we strive to live in the moment, enjoying the company of friends and family, going about our lives the best way we can."

Ford sighed. "When I was stationed in Iraq, we had to worry about roadside bombs and snipers any time we left the safe zone. This is nothing like that. Aliens that see us as nothing but food with ships that can attack us from space and we have no way to fight back." He shook his head as he shifted the ice pack to his other hand.

Comprehension dawned as his last words sank in, and she glanced at his bruised and scraped knuckles. It wasn't fear of being culled, or even of dying, she realised. Ford, and she suspected many of the other Marines, was angry they could do little more than sit and wait for the inevitable.

She laid a hand on his arm and waited for him to look at her. "We make what defensive stand we can," she told him and tightened the hold in his arm. "And, if necessary, we die protecting those we care about."

Chapter Text

The next morning Rodney entered the gateroom, slightly bleary-eyed, wearing his one good shirt and jacket. He found John, Ford, and Teyla near the front of the assembled group and grimaced as he walked over to them. He was beginning to hate John and Ford's dress blues and Teyla's formal Athosian dress and leggings almost as much as the sports jacket he wore; it seemed they only wore them for funerals.

Elizabeth made her way slowly to the front of the group and up to the podium. "Thank you all for coming," she said as the sun played off the water behind her. "We are here today to remember Sergeant Joseph Markham and Corporal Peter Smith who perished yesterday while defending Atlantis from a Wraith scout ship."

Rodney stood next to John and listened with half an ear as Elizabeth talked about sacrifice and bravery. He hadn't known Corporal Smith at all but had grown to like Markham since their arrival in the Pegasus galaxy all those months ago. He'd come to rely on the fact if there was ever trouble off-world, Markham and his team would be there to help sort it out, usually with a minimum of bloodshed.

He looked around at the men and women, scientists and Marines, listening as Elizabeth spoke and the cynical side of his mind wondered if there would be anyone left in the city in a few weeks to hold another memorial for those lost once the Wraith hive ships arrived. He glanced at John standing beside him, his attention focused on Elizabeth. He knew Sheppard would be at the center of whatever defence they were able to mount. He also knew the odds of John surviving the attack were slim at best given their current resources.

He saw Sergeant Jeffries on the other side of the room flanked by Davis and Sanchez. All three stood ramrod straight, not a button or ribbon out of place on their dress uniforms, stoic expressions on all of their faces, as they honored the memory of their friend the best way they could. That was one of Rodney's bigger fears. That, if by some miracle Atlantis did survive the attack, he'd be standing here without Sheppard beside him. Maybe seeing John in his dress blues wasn't such a bad thing, after all, he decided with another sideways glance at John.

"Just promise me you'll try and lay off the self-sacrifice stuff. I can't keep watching you die," he remembered saying to John after Sheppard had pulled the stunt with the defibrillator.

"I can't make that promise, for the exact same reason you can't," John had told him at the time.

As he watched Markham's team and listened to Elizabeth, Rodney came to a startling realisation. Even if they managed to find a suitable Alpha site, he wouldn't be going through the 'gate. He told himself it was because he was needed here if they had any chance at all of defeating the Wraith, minuscule as that chance may be. The shocking reality was he'd discovered he'd much rather die with his family and friends than try to go on again without them.

Gall was right. He really had changed since coming to Atlantis, he thought to himself. Less than a year ago, the idea of staying to make a last stand would have been utterly foreign to him. Now the idea of leaving John to face whatever happened without him was inconceivable.

The memorial finished half an hour later. Rodney made his way back through the crowd to the nearest exit and escaped down to his lab. He savored the silence in the room for a moment as he took off his jacket and tossed it on his desk before heading to the work table. He checked the progress of the computer search then went back to work on the generator. If they wanted to have any chance at all, they needed the device to power the city's defences.

John strolled into the lab an hour later, dress blues replaced with his usual black uniform. "Elizabeth wants to meet this afternoon to talk about options."

"I'll be there," he replied.

John hesitated for a moment then walked over to the work table. "I've been thinking --"

"Always a scary proposition," Rodney mumbled and looked up from the generator. He'd expected some sort of sarcastic response and was surprised to see the serious look on Sheppard's face. "Thinking about what?" he asked, and put down the screwdriver in his hand.

"When we get the Alpha site set up, maybe you should --"

"No," Rodney said flatly.

"McKay," John drawled.

"No, Major." He glared across the table at John. Apparently, he wasn't the only one doing some serious thinking during the memorial. As usual, however, Sheppard had come to the wrong conclusion.

"Aren't you the one who's always telling me how important that brain of yours is," John said, and Rodney heard the frustration in his tone. "If we lose the city, the people sent to the Alpha site are going to need every advantage if they hope to survive."

"And if I'm here, maybe we don't lose the city at all," Rodney retorted, crossing his arms over his chest and sticking out his chin. And you don't end up dead, he added silently. "You're not getting rid of me that easily."

"Rodney --"

"You need me. If you're staying, I'm staying, too."

Before John could say anything in reply, the computer at the end of the work table pinged, and Rodney quickly read the scroll of data crawling across the screen.

"Hold off on whatever martyr speech you were about to make, Major. I think I just found what we need." He looked up at John. "According to the database, there's a moon orbiting a large gas giant." He read through the data and continued, "The Ancients built it as an outpost to spy on the Wraith and used a naquadah mining operation as a cover."

John looked up. "So there could be information there on the Wraith? Ship formations? Attack strategies?"

Rodney shrugged. "Yes, I suppose so, but that's not the important thing."

"Any information we can find is important, Rodney," John pointed out.

"Any information that's still there is going to be ten thousand years old. Not exactly fresh intel, Major. Look," he spun the computer around and pointed to a column of data running down one side of the screen, "the important thing is the mine was operational right up until the Ancients were run out of the galaxy. There's a good chance we could find refined naquadah just waiting for someone to come take it."

"How do we know someone hasn't already ransacked this outpost of yours?" John asked. "We know there are pirates willing to sell just about anything they can get their hands on. As you were more than happy to point out, this is a ten-thousand-year-old site, it could have been tossed generations ago."

Rodney forced himself to not think about Rasha as he brushed the argument aside. "We haven't run across any civilisations at a level where they could use the naquadah if they even knew what it was. The Genii are the only ones remotely close, and they are focused on nuclear options.

"According to this, the moon isn't inhabited. The atmosphere is about ninety percent carbon dioxide and extremely thin." He glanced at the readings again and added, "Not that different from Mars now that I think about it."

"You said the outpost was also used for espionage. The whole thing could have been destroyed or at the very least heavily damaged by the Wraith thousands of years ago."

"So we send a MALP," Rodney retorted. "We're running out of options, and we need to do something. This is the best I can come up with."

John glanced at the computer, the half-assembled generator, and then Rodney. "All right. I'll support the idea of going when you bring it up to Elizabeth. But we look for the naquadah and any intel or technology we can find."

"Fine," Rodney replied and glanced at his watch. "I need to talk to Grodin about sending a MALP to this moon. We don't have a lot of time to waste."

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

Elizabeth watched as Teyla and Ford along with Sergeant Bates, filed into the conference room and found seats along the triangular table. Rodney, Zelenka, and Peter Grodin stopped just inside the conference room arguing about something Elizabeth didn't quite understand involving a moon. John stood behind them, his head turning one way then the other as he watched the discussion.

"The rest of the casing will take at least another two days to build, Rodney," Zelenka said. "And it will need to be tested before we can integrate it with the rest of the power systems which will take several more days. That will be cutting things a bit close, no?"

"That's why you're working on the casing while I go get the naquadah."

"You're assuming there is refined naquadah on the moon," Grodin added. "For the generator to work the way you've designed it, you will need naquadah with a purity level of at least eighty percent."

"Your point?" Rodney snapped.

"There could be only raw ore, or the mine itself could be spent," Grodin replied. "You did say the mining operation was a cover. There's no way to know if the mine even produced anything worthwhile."

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "Which is why we need to send the MALP."

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth pitched her voice to carry over the argument, "I think we're ready to begin." She nodded her head at the remaining empty chairs.

Rodney glared at Peter before he sat next to John along one edge of the table.

Once the others were seated, Elizabeth folded her hands on the table and looked around. "All right, we all know the Wraith will be here in a couple of weeks. We need to have an evacuation plan in place for the city and the mainland." She glanced at Teyla and nodded. "We also need a defensive plan for the city and a failsafe contingency. Just in case."

"Sergeant Stackhouse is working up a list of potential planets we can use as an Alpha site," John said.

Elizabeth nodded. "Peter, can you go through the Ancient database and see if there are any viable planets we could add to that list?"

Peter nodded and looked over at John. "I'll have a preliminary list ready as soon as possible."

"What about the city's defences?" she asked with a glance at John then Bates.

"We don't have the manpower to defend the entire city," Bates said. "We will need to pull all personnel back to a limited area near the control tower."

"Meaning the Wraith could destroy everything else?" Elizabeth asked.

"I don't see any other way with the limited resources we have," Bates told her. "We have to protect the stargate."

"The control tower won't do us any good if the rest of the city sinks around us," Rodney pointed out.

"Several of my people may be willing to stand in defence of Atlantis as well," Teyla added.

Elizabeth frowned at the sneer in Bates' expression. "I don't think that will be necessary," he replied, his tone clearly dismissive of any assistance from the Athosians.

"Well, I think I have a better solution anyway," Rodney announced as Teyla frowned across the table at Bates. "Something better than sacrificing ninety-nine percent of the city to the Wraith and probably getting all of us killed in the process."

"I'm all ears," Elizabeth replied.

"Our biggest problem has always been power," Rodney said. "I've been working on building a new naquadah generator for the past few weeks --"

"You can build a naquadah generator?" Ford asked, and Elizabeth heard the disbelief in his tone.

Rodney rolled his eyes and glared across the table. "Why do you people all find that so incredible? Where do you think the generators we have came from? Someone had to build them."

"McKay," John said before Rodney could really get on a roll. "Just tell her your idea."

Rodney held his glare on Ford for a moment longer then turned to Elizabeth. "As I was saying, I've been working on building a new generator to replace the ones we brought with us that are nearly depleted. I've been able to make a few improvements to the design, and I think the generator will be enough to at least power the shield."

Elizabeth felt the weight on her shoulders lift slightly. If they could power the shield, it would mean the Wraith couldn't just destroy them out of hand. It would at least give them time to come up with other options. "What do you need?"

"A source of naquadah to power the reactor," Rodney replied and glared over at Grodin. "And I think I found one. A search of the Ancient database gave me the coordinates for a moon the Ancients used as a mining outpost."

"An abandoned mining outpost," Grodin added. "There may not be anything there. The mine could have been depleted ages ago."

"Yes, well, we won't know that until you send a MALP and we can see for ourselves," Rodney snapped.

"We need the MALP to scout out potential Alpha sites, Rodney. I told you that when you charged into the control room an hour ago."

"If we can power the shield, that would give us more time to look for an Alpha site and evacuate the city," Zelenka added quietly from Rodney's other side.

"Thank you. Someone who can still think," Rodney said.

Elizabeth could see she was about to lose control of the meeting, but before she could say anything, John spoke up, "There's another reason to check out this moon. Along with the mine, the Ancients used the outpost to spy on the Wraith. There could still be information there we can use."

Elizabeth could see the advantages of making the trip, but what about the downside? The trip would take time, time they may not have to spare. It also meant Rodney and John were both gone when they needed to be thinking about the city's defence and, worst-case, determining what should be salvaged and moved to the Alpha site.

Which they still needed to find, she reminded herself.

She clasped her hands on the table in front of her and ducked her head, listening as the debate swirled around her. She heard Bates dismiss Rodney's idea out of hand while Rodney's tone became more and more arrogant as he reminded Bates how few options they had.

This was likely their last chance to find another solution other than abandoning the city, she realised. She looked up and saw John watching her.

He glanced at Rodney still arguing with Bates, turned back to her, and nodded.

She met his eyes and nodded back. Rodney's idea may be a longshot, but it gave them a chance to save themselves and Atlantis.

"All right," she said and held up her hands. She waited for Rodney and Bates to settle back in their seats. She glanced at Bates and continued, "I'm not willing to sacrifice so much of the city if there is any other option. Rodney," she added and turned to face him, "give Peter the 'gate address for your moon. Peter, we need to determine whether or not there is still naquadah present in the mine and if the outpost is safe to visit."

"And if there isn't any naquadah?" Bates asked, his expression closed.

"Then we are no worse off than we are now," Elizabeth replied. "Move forward with your defensive plan for the control tower in case we need it, Sergeant. Teyla, the Athosians need to be ready to travel back to the city." She saw Rodney about to protest and held up a hand. "They have a week to get ready. After that, we will shuttle them back here to evacuate to the Alpha site."

Teyla nodded. "Thank you, Doctor Weir. I will leave at once for the mainland and inform Halling."

"With the narrowed parameters, I should have an answer about the naquadah in a few hours," Grodin added.

Elizabeth stood as the meeting started to break up. She watched as Rodney, Zelenka, and Peter left together, all talking at once. Bates and Ford followed them out. Elizabeth could tell from his body language, and how he glared at Rodney and his team, Bates thought she was making a mistake to even consider Rodney's idea.

"Teyla, since we have some time, I'll fly you over to the mainland," John said as he and Teyla stood near the door.

"Thank you, Major. I will be ready to leave in a few minutes." She smiled at John, gave Elizabeth a nod, and left.

"John?" Elizabeth said and waited for Sheppard to turn around. "You didn't say much, other than to mention the possibility of intelligence. What do you think of Rodney's idea?"

John stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets and waited for the conference room doors to twist shut. "If we want to have any chance at all, we need power," he said once they were alone. "Rodney's idea gives us that. It may be that the only thing we can do is activate the shield long enough for everyone to evac to the Alpha site, but that's better than what we have now."

"You don't see any way we can save the city?" she said and glanced down at her hands.

John shrugged. "Maybe if there's enough naquadah left in the mine Rodney can build another generator that might power the control chair. But as things stand right now? No. We can try to save our people, but there's not much we can do to save Atlantis."

Elizabeth took a deep breath and nodded. "Thank you, John. Once Rodney has the information from the MALP, let me know."

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

John stood to one side of the meeting tent, his arms crossed over his chest, as Teyla told the Athosians the news that the Wraith were coming. John saw a few shocked expressions, and one or two of the younger children started to cry, but for the most part, they took the news in stoic silence.

"Do you plan to abandon the city of the Ancestors?" Halling asked John, his disappointment clear in his expression.

"Only as a last resort," John replied. "We are looking for a new planet to resettle if the Wraith can't be stopped. We will send all non-essential personnel there, along with your people, while the military mounts what defence we can."

"And if some of us wish to fight?" Halling asked pointedly.

John walked over to Teyla's side. "Then you'll be welcome," he said and met Halling's piercing look with one of his own.

Halling held his gaze for a moment longer, then stepped back and turned to Teyla, "We will be ready to leave when you give the word," he told her. "I will let you know the names of those willing to assist in the defence of the Ancestor's city."

"Thank you, Halling," Teyla said with a smile as she stepped forward and touched her forehead to his. "We will survive this," she told him. "Either here, or on a new planet, our people will endure."

John watched as the Athosians left the tent then glanced at his watch and led the way back to the jumper. "Grodin should have some information soon about Rodney's moon," he said as he powered up the jumper and ran through the pre-flight checks.

He saw Teyla's shoulders tighten at the mention of McKay's name. "Rodney isn't like Bates, you know," he said casually and focused on the flight board.

"I do not understand."

"I know you're still mad about what he said last night." He glanced over at her and saw the mix of hurt and anger in her eyes.

"He seemed quite willing to abandon my people on the mainland," she replied stiffly.

John shook his head. "You know Rodney would never leave your people here to be culled."

Teyla refused to look at him.

"He only said what he did because of the current power situation," John explained. "If we can find the naquadah, that will take care of the problem. More power means we can evac your people back to Atlantis sooner and hopefully defend the city with the shield."

"And if we do not find this mineral he needs? What will he do then?"

John leant back in his seat. "He'll think of something else. This is Rodney we're talking about here." He scooted forward and tapped her arm. "He won't leave your people out here to be culled. None of us will."

She studied his face for a few moments, then nodded. "I know you are correct, John. However, after hearing Rodney last night and then Sergeant Bates in the meeting this afternoon, I am feeling a bit --"

"Defensive?" John asked with a smile.

"Possibly," she replied.

John finished the preflight checks and powered up the engines.

"Do you believe Rodney's idea will work?" Teyla asked as the jumper lifted off and John set a course back to Atlantis.

"I think he can do what he says and build a new generator," John replied. "You've been around him long enough to know he usually delivers on his ideas."

"True." Teyla stared out the windscreen as the city came into view in the distance. "What will you do if we cannot hold Atlantis against the Wraith?"

John sighed and used the need to pilot the shuttle as an excuse not to look at her. "Worst case, we send everyone still alive through the 'gate to the Alpha site and destroy the city." He heard Teyla's sharp inhalation and added, "We can't let the Wraith have access to Ancient technology."

"And you wish to protect the people in your own galaxy," Teyla replied.

"Yes," John admitted. "That's part of it, too." He glanced over at her. "Hey, we're not there yet," he reassured her. "We have two weeks, we'll think of something."

John toggled the sunroof of the jumper bay to open and heard Rodney over the radio as he brought the jumper in to land. "McKay to Sheppard, meet me in the control room. We have news."

John heard the click as the transmission ended before he could respond. "Gee, Rodney, thanks for the welcome back," he mumbled as he powered down the shuttle.

Teyla smiled. "It sounds like something happened while we were gone."

"Let's go find out if it's good news or not," John replied and followed her out of the jumper and down the stairs to the control room.

He entered the control room to find Rodney and Grodin huddled around one of the console stations staring at a computer screen.

"There, see," Rodney exclaimed and pointed to the screen. "The sensors are reporting refined naquadah. Good purity, too," he added as an aside. "I told you it would be there."

"Yes, I see the reading, Rodney, but it doesn't look like very much is still there." Grodin tapped at the computer keyboard.

"We don't need more than a few kilograms."

"Which is good because I doubt there's much more than that in the facility." Peter glanced up at Sheppard as he came around behind the console.

"McKay," John said as he stood behind Rodney. "You said you had news."

Rodney spun around. "Good, you're here. Yes," he pointed at the computer, "I was right. It looks like the moon has what we need."

John glanced from Rodney's smug expression to Grodin's wary one. "You're sure?"

"Of course I'm sure," Rodney snapped.

"And the building is intact?"

"Yes, Major," Grodin replied. "Telemetry from the MALP shows a breathable atmosphere and a temperature of eighteen degrees Celsius."

"The stargate is not out in the open," Teyla said as she stared at the images on another computer screen showing a large open area with floor to ceiling windows looking out on an expanse of red canyons.

"That's the best part," Rodney said with a grin. "With the thin atmosphere, the 'gate had to be placed inside the outpost. We won't need to hike for hours to get there."

John ignored Rodney's enthusiasm over the fact he wouldn't have to walk anywhere and focused on Teyla's point. "What's the problem?"

Teyla stood back from the computer. "It may be nothing. It is rare for a stargate to be in a village or town. Outside of Atlantis," she nodded at the stargate below, "I have never heard of one inside a building."

"Several of the Earth 'gates are in buildings," Rodney said dismissively as he scrolled through more of the MALP data.

"But they weren't dealing with the Wraith in the Milky Way," John pointed out as he realised what Teyla was implying. "What sort of defences does the MALP show around the 'gate?" he asked Peter.

"Nothing really," Grodin said. "From what we can see of the room, there are no obvious defensive systems. Nothing has happened to the MALP since it arrived, either."

"Have the camera do a slow pan of the room," John requested and looked over Rodney's shoulder at the images the MALP sent back.

John studied the room intently and had to agree about the lack of apparent defences. The columns he could see in the images were decorative as far as he could tell. They seemed to go from the floor to the ceiling, and there didn't seem to be anything mounted on them.

"Satisfied?" Rodney asked and glanced back at John. "We need that naquadah if you want any chance of surviving the horde of Wraith about to descend on the city."

John ignored the impatient tone and turned to Teyla. "Find Ford and get geared up. Rodney and I will let Elizabeth know about the MALP results. We'll meet you in the gateroom in twenty."

Teyla nodded and left.

"Come on," John said to Rodney. "Let's go convince Elizabeth this is a good idea."

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

Teyla walked into the gateroom adjusting the strap for the P-90. She glanced up at the glassed-in office and saw Rodney standing in front of Doctor Weir's desk, his arms crossed over his chest, with his chin jutted forward. He flung his hands in a broad gesture away from his body as he said something and she caught a glimpse of the scowl on his face as Doctor Weir replied. She could see John's hands were clenched behind his back as he listened first to McKay and then Doctor Weir. Teyla suspected he was no more pleased with what they were being told than Rodney was, but John was doing a better job of hiding his emotions.

"Whatever it is, it can't be good," Ford said, and Teyla turned to see him standing a few feet away, looking up at the office. "They've been like that for the past five minutes."

"No, it would not appear to be a congenial conversation."

It was another few minutes before Rodney and John left the office. Rodney stormed down the stairs to the gateroom and gave her a fleeting glance before he turned back to John.

"I'll need a few minutes to get the sample case we'll need to carry the naquadah," Rodney growled and glared up at the office before he left the gateroom, his hands clenched and his spine stiff.

"What has happened?" Teyla asked as John came over to her.

"Elizabeth gave us a deadline. We need to find the naquadah and any useful intel and be back here in twelve hours."

"That does not seem like enough time," Teyla said carefully.

"Why the short window, sir?" Ford asked at the same time.

John nodded. "That's what Rodney said," John said to Teyla. "With everything we need to do to find and prep an Alpha site, ready what supplies and gear we can for the evac, and prepare for the attack, Elizabeth doesn't think she could spare us for any longer than that."

"What happens if we're late returning, sir?" Ford asked.

Teyla saw the crooked smile form on John's lips. "I know what you're thinking, Lieutenant, and I'll tell you the same thing I told McKay, we stick to the timeline." He glanced up at the office.

Teyla followed his gaze and saw Doctor Weir looking down at them, her arms crossed over her chest and her expression unreadable.

"Elizabeth made it very clear there would be consequences if we weren't back within the time limit," John told them. "I, for one, don't want to find out what sort of consequences she has in mind."

Ford nodded. "Yes, sir."

John looked at his watch. "I'll go get my gear. Once McKay gets back, we'll go, get what we can, and get back."

John and Rodney were back a few minutes later, both wearing their tac-vests and packs. Rodney also had a large sample case in one hand.

Doctor Weir came out of her office as Doctor Grodin began dialling the stargate. "Twelve hours, Major," she said from the balcony overlooking the gateroom. "After that, we will need to make what stand we can with what we have."

"Yes, ma'am," John replied and nudged Rodney in the ribs when he didn't say anything.

"Yes, fine. Can we go?" he snapped in reply. "We don't seem to have any time to waste."

"Good luck," Weir said as the wormhole formed.

John nodded to Ford to lead the way. Teyla followed him with Rodney right behind her.

Teyla came through the other side and stopped beside Ford as she looked around the large room roughly the same size as the gateroom in Atlantis. She saw what looked like a smaller version of the control room situated on a platform raised off the floor by several steps in front of them and two hallways leading out of the room. That was where the similarities ended, however.

Unlike Atlantis with its metal and stained glass, the outpost appeared to be made from a reddish stone with large columns rising from the floor to the vaulted ceiling high above. She stepped closer to one of the columns and gasped slightly as she reached out a hand to touch the stone. The column was carved from base to top with the same sort of geometric patterns she remembered from the waypost on the mainland.

"I think it's just a column," John said from where he stood next to Rodney studying another of the columns.

"It better be," Rodney replied as he inched away from the column. "I do not need another trip through an Ancient obstacle course, thanks."

John and Rodney had not said much about what they had experienced when they were transported by the waypost on the mainland, but from what little she knew, Teyla suspected the experience had not been pleasant.

She followed Rodney and John over to the large floor to ceiling windows and looked out on a desolate, yet beautiful, landscape of canyons seemingly made from the same stone as the outpost.

"That's not something you see every day," John said as he stopped next to Rodney and pointed out the window to his right where a large blue planet hung low in the sky. "The Ancients did like to look at beautiful things."

Rodney was the first to step back from the window. "Yes, well, as nice as the view might be, we're on a clock here. We need to find the refinery and any information on the Wraith." He headed for the steps leading up to the control room.

Teyla followed John up the steps and found Rodney seated in front of the console, his computer balanced on the edge of the Ancient system as he dug through his pack. He pulled out a set of cables then ducked under the console.

"I need to get … aha!" He plugged the adapter for the computer into a port underneath the console. "Why didn't the Ancients put those things in a standard place. Every time I need to access a new system I have to go hunting for the access port," he grumbled as he sat up and typed something on the computer.

"This outpost is huge," he mumbled. "The mining operation alone is extensive. Even if it was just a cover, the Ancients must have pulled naquadah out of this moon by the metric ton."

He typed some more then looked up at John. "I think I know why there aren't any defensive systems even though the 'gate is inside the building." He spun the computer around enough for John to see the screen.

Teyla glanced at it as well and saw an image of the canyon with a clear dome covering one end. "This entire complex is protected by a cloak. The Wraith never even knew to look for the Ancients here."

He looked over the Ancient tiles and glanced at the small screen full of Ancient text above the console. "The cloak is rather ingenious really. It looks like the same technology that powers to cloak in the jumpers. Somehow they figured out a way to expand it to cover a wider area."

Rodney turned the computer back around and tapped a few more keys. "If I can figure out how they did that …" His voice drifted off as he continued to type.

Teyla was distracted from watching Rodney work by Ford looking around the room again and frowning.

"Anyone else notice anything odd?" Ford asked.

Rodney glanced up before he went back to dividing his time between the computer and the console. "Not really."

"Ford?" Sheppard asked and looked around the room.

"We have power, sir," Ford explained. "If this outpost has been abandoned for thousands of years, how is everything still working?"

"Could there be a ZPM here?" Teyla asked with a glance from John to Rodney.

"That would certainly solve a few problems," John agreed and turned back to the console. "McKay?"

Rodney shook his head. "The MALP didn't pick up any energy signatures matching a Zed-PM," he answered absently, never pausing in his typing.

"So how come everything works?" Ford asked with a frown.

Rodney looked up from the console. "There is more than one way to power a building," he told Ford, and Teyla could hear the edge of impatience in his tone. "The Ancients could have tapped some underground resource, used something similar to wind or solar power, or used something from the mines themselves. They were trying to keep the outpost a secret, you know."

John held up a hand before Ford could say anything else. "The important thing is there's no ZPM here," he said and turned back to Rodney. "What about the intel the Ancients had on the Wraith?" John asked.

Rodney glared at Ford a moment longer then tapped a query into the computer and frowned. He touched a few of the tiles on the console, and the frown deepened. "You have got to be kidding," he mumbled and spent a few minutes typing on the computer and muttering to himself.

"McKay!" John finally said. "We're on a clock, remember? What's the problem?"

Rodney looked up, and Teyla thought he looked slightly pale. "I don't think this outpost was used just for surveillance," he whispered and pointed to the computer screen.

John bent over Rodney's shoulder and looked at the screen. "You're sure about this?" he asked a few seconds later.

"The data doesn't lie," Rodney said shortly.

"John?" Teyla asked.

John grimaced as he looked over at her. "If what McKay found is right, it seems the Ancients were capturing Wraith and using them for various experiments."

Chapter Text

John looked around at the rest of the team as the silence grew. Rodney looked disgusted, but John didn't think he looked particularly surprised as he typed something into the computer. Ford warily scanned the room and peered down the nearest hallway. John wondered if he was searching for Wraith or Ancient scientists. Teyla's expression was a mixture of disbelief and disappointment, and John was reminded that, to her people, the Ancients were seen as almost gods. The news these same Ancients were committing atrocities, even if it was in the name of survival, wouldn't be easy to swallow.

"Are we safe?" Ford asked a moment later. "There aren't Wraith still here just waiting for a handy meal, are there?"

Rodney shot John a startled look and pulled the Ancient scanner out of his vest pocket. "There's nothing on the scanner except us," he said, and held up the device for John to see the screen. He set the device on the edge of the console and pressed several of the tiles on the console.

John watched as the data on the computer screen changed every time McKay pressed another series of tiles. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to find the internal sensors for the outpost," Rodney said as he pressed another combination of tiles. "Got it," he muttered and switched to the computer. He typed a string of commands into the computer and sat back. "The station's sensors aren't finding any life signs other than us. I think we're safe."

John shook his head. "Wraith don't show up on the sensors if they're hibernating, remember?" He turned to Teyla only to see her standing with her head back and her eyes closed.

She held the pose for a few more seconds, then opened her eyes. "I do not sense any Wraith, either," she said.

"So what do we do?" Rodney asked. "We can't go home empty-handed. We need the naquadah."

"If the Wraith ever knew about this place, chances are they would have destroyed it," John replied. "If both the sensors and Teyla say there are no Wraith here, I think it's safe."

Rodney gave him a skeptical look. "Want to try that again and sound like you mean it? What about any captured Wraith still here and holding a grudge about being someone's science project?"

John glared back. "You said it yourself, we need the naquadah. Any information the Ancients had on Wraith ship movements or tactics would be good, too. Can you access the surveillance information from here?"

Rodney turned back to the console and worked for several minutes, muttering to himself as he first pressed tiles on the console then typed on the computer.

"According to what I've found so far," he said as he read the computer screen, "the outpost was initially set-up to mine for naquadah and other minerals. They didn't realise until after the facility was up and running that they'd stumbled upon a major route the Wraith took to get to certain feeding grounds." He looked up at John. "They disguised the surveillance with the mining operation and kept tabs on the Wraith for years."

"What about the experimentation?" John asked. "When did that start?"

Rodney tapped a few keys on the computer. "There's nothing here on how long they'd been capturing Wraith," he replied and paged through more data. "There are memos and notes here telling someone named Crius to stop the experiments. Not for any ethical reasons," he added with a scowl, "but because the Ancients in Atlantis felt he was risking the exposure of the outpost if he continued his 'research'." He mimed the quote marks.

He typed another query into the computer and frowned. He tapped a few of the tiles on the console, and the frown deepened. He sat back in his chair, and John knew before he even said anything the news wasn't good.

"The rest of the information isn't accessible from this system," McKay said and gave the console a disgusted look. "From what I can find, it looks like this," he waved at the console, "was tied to general functions for the outpost like the 'gate and the mining operation. Everything else must be on a separate system."

John scrubbed a hand through his hair. It made sense, he chastised himself. A secret operation doesn't stay secret if anyone can access the information. "Any ideas on where this other system might be located?"

Rodney typed a new request into the computer and sat back as a map of the outpost came up on the computer screen. "There's something over in this area," he pointed at the screen, "the system doesn't have any information on what work was done there, but I can't access any of those systems from here."

John frowned as he studied the map. "Where is the refinery in relation to that area?"

Rodney tapped a few keys on the computer and changed the map to a broad view of the outpost with two blinking dots. "The refinery is here." He pointed to a dot on the left side of the screen, not far from where they were. "The surveillance center, or whatever it was, is over there and down four levels." He pointed to the dot in the corner of the map.

"Of course they aren't anywhere near each other," John muttered half to himself as he studied the screen over McKay's shoulder. "All right, since it's closer, we'll find the refinery first, get the naqua --"

"Staying together will take too long," Rodney interrupted with a glance at his watch. "According to Elizabeth's time limit, we have a little over eleven hours left before we need to get back. If you want the intel, we need to split up. I can program the scanner to find the naquadah we need. While you do that, I'll find a terminal where I can access any files the Ancients may have had on the Wraith."

John frowned but knew Rodney was right. If they wanted to get the mineral and the intel, they needed to split up. "All right," he said a moment later. "But you aren't going alone. Ford and Teyla --"

"That won't work," Rodney said. "This facility is Ancient. Who knows what kind of security they have on the refinery or the surveillance areas. Someone with the gene needs to be in each group."

John weighed his options. Rodney was the only one who could get the information on the Wraith from the Ancient system. That left John to find the naquadah, and he'd need Ford to help carry the sample case. Even a small amount would be heavy. That left Rodney with Teyla as the other team.

He sighed and tried to keep the worry out of his expression as he looked from McKay to Teyla, images of Rasha and their recent encounter with Kolya dancing in his head. He didn't like the idea of sending his two civilians off alone, but it looked like he didn't have much choice.

The scanners said they were alone, he reminded himself. And Teyla didn't sense any Wraith. The risk would be minimal. He glanced from Rodney to Teyla and made his decision. "Fine. Teyla, go with him. Ford and I will get the naquadah and come find you in the research section."

Rodney nodded once, picked up the scanner, and plugged it into the computer. He typed a command string into the laptop then unplugged the scanner and handed it to John.

"Here. It's programmed to find the specific purity of naquadah we need for the generator. There's also a map of the facility," he said and shut down the computer before unplugging it from the console.

"I thought we just needed refined ore," Ford said as John took the scanner.

"If you want the generator to produce enough energy to power the shield, we need more than just any rock you happen to pick up," Rodney told him. "Even if we had the time, we can't refine the naquadah once we're back in Atlantis. Let's get this right the first time, shall we?"

"How much do you need?" John asked before Ford could say anything.

"As much as you can carry," Rodney said shortly. "Along with the generator, there may be some way to use the naquadah to modify the drones in the jumpers, so they have a wider area of impact." He gave John a fleeting look as he stuffed the computer and cables back in his pack.

He knows the shield won't be enough, John realised as Rodney busied himself with zipping up his pack.

"I'm not sure if it will work yet," McKay continued once he had the pack clipped to his vest. "I'm still working things out." He pointed at his head and glanced over at John. "Of course, assuming we actually survive all of this, we're going to need to build more generators to keep the city going, so get as much as you can."

"Stay in radio contact," John said a few moments later when Rodney dropped his gaze. "Check-ins every thirty minutes." He waited for Rodney's nod and Teyla's "Yes, Major" before he turned to Ford and led the way down the right-hand corridor.

It didn't take them long to find the refinery, though it was nothing like what John expected. What he thought he'd see was a vast area full of dirty conveyor belts, chemical holding tanks, and smelting equipment. He should have known better, he chastised himself. These were Ancients after all.

The refinery was still enormous, easily as big as the jumper bay in Atlantis, but that's where expectation and reality ended. The outpost refinery was elegant in its design. Long tubes ran along the walls of the room, feeding into various kilns and cisterns that were themselves decorated with carved geometric patterns. John turned in a slow circle as they entered and saw two more large doors leading into other areas of the facility. All told, John estimated the refinery was almost as big as one of the smaller piers in Atlantis.

He was still staring around the room when he heard Teyla's voice over the radio.

"Major Sheppard? This is Teyla."

John tapped his earpiece. "Go ahead."

"Checking in as ordered, Major. We are still looking for a route to the lab area where Rodney thinks he can access the information regarding the Wraith."

"Ask him if they've found the refinery, yet," John heard Rodney yell over the comm and tried not to smile.

"I was about to ask that, Rodney," Teyla replied, and John heard the slight edge in her tone.

"They were closer to the refinery than we were to the surveillance section. They should be there by now," John heard shouted over Teyla's radio.

Before either of them could say anything else, John jumped in, "Teyla, tell him we're here, and we're about to start the scan for the naquadah."

Teyla relayed the message.

"Any problems on your end?" John asked.

"No, Major," Teyla replied. "I believe the facility is deserted. We have yet to find the surveillance area, however. The lower levels more closely resemble a labyrinth rather than the carefully laid out corridors in Atlantis."

John glanced at his watch. They had less than ten hours to get back to Atlantis. "Copy that. We'll be as fast as we can and then come find you." John tapped the radio off and turned to Ford. "Let's go."

John set the scanner to the program Rodney created to find the naquadah and waited for it to lead them in a direction.

A few minutes later, he was still waiting.

"Maybe we're in the wrong part of the refinery," Ford suggested as he followed John toward a door in the far wall. "Doctor McKay said the MALP readings showed the naquadah was here."

"Let's hope so, Lieutenant, otherwise we have a big problem."

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

Rodney glanced at his watch and grimaced as he stood from the console. "We need to find the fastest route to the surveillance area," he said once John and Ford were gone. He glanced down at the edge of the console and then over at the right-hand hallway. "And I just gave the scanner to Sheppard," he grumbled as he pulled out his computer again.

He pulled up the file on the outpost and traced hallways with a finger as Teyla moved to stand behind him. "All right," he said a moment later, "I think if we follow that hallway, " he pointed to the door to his left, "that will lead to a transporter. Once we're in the lower levels, I just need to find a console, and I should be able to access the surveillance files on the Wraith."

Rodney took one last look at the map, then closed the computer. He clipped his pack to his vest, tucked the laptop under his arm, and was halfway down the stairs when he realised Teyla wasn't behind him.

"We don't have all day," he said impatiently. He looked up at her still standing near the console and paused. "What?"

Teyla shook her head and hurried down the stairs. "I am sure it is nothing. I simply had a brief feeling of unease."

Rodney glanced around warily. "You're sensing Wraith?"

"No, I am certain we are alone here. It was a momentary feeling of … foreboding about this place."

"Great," Rodney groused and led the way out of the gate area. "Now you tell me."

Teyla pursed her lips. "The information you discovered regarding the Ancestors experiments with the Wraith was … unsettling. It may be nothing more than a desire on my part to not believe such research occurred," she told him.

Rodney shrugged. "If it's any consolation, I think it was just one person, this Crius. Most of the people here may not have even known what was going on."

"Perhaps," she replied sadly, and he let the matter drop.

Rodney found the familiar-looking door for the transporter and was about to touch the sensor when Teyla stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"You are certain there is enough power for the transporter to work?" she asked.

"Of course it will work," he told her and tapped the sensor.

There was a brief hesitation before the door opened and he glanced over at her. "It should work," he amended and stepped into the transporter. He waited for Teyla to join him, then tapped the screen where he thought the surveillance area was located.

There was another pause before the door closed. Rodney swallowed and did his best to hide how nervous he was. He didn't relish the idea of being trapped in the small room if the transporter decided to prove him wrong. "It'll work," he muttered to himself just before he heard the drone as the transporter engaged.

The doors slid open on a dimly lit atrium and Rodney tried to hide his sigh of relief as he stepped out and looked around at the hallways leading away in three different directions.

"This doesn't look right," Rodney mumbled and balanced the computer in one hand as he pulled up the map file again.

"It is time to check in with Major Sheppard," Teyla said and took a few steps away from the transporter.

"Major Sheppard? This is Teyla."

Rodney didn't bother to tap his own radio into the conversation, he needed to find the surveillance area, and hopefully, a console that could access the information they wanted. He looked around the atrium and saw a stone sculpture with a flat top, balanced the computer on the statue, and started tracing routes on the map.

"Checking in as ordered, Major," he heard Teyla say a few seconds later. "We are still looking for a route to the observation area where Rodney thinks he can access the information regarding the Wraith."

"Who designs a facility like this?" Rodney mumbled to himself as another route dead-ended for no good reason. He glanced at his watch again. A little less than ten hours left, he noted and frowned. If John was having as much trouble finding the refinery, they had a problem. "Ask him if they've found the refinery, yet," he called over his shoulder to Teyla.

"I was about to ask that, Rodney," Teyla replied.

Rodney glanced over at her and saw the exasperated expression on her face. "They were closer to the refinery than we were to the surveillance section. They should be there by now," he pointed out and turned back to the computer.

He scanned through another section of the map and found what looked like an area with several hallways with smaller rooms leading out from a central atrium. "That's more like it," he said to himself. If he was right, the atrium should have a central console where he could access all of the information for the section, including the surveillance data they wanted.

"John says they are at the refinery and have started looking for the mineral," Teyla said, and Rodney nodded absently as he traced another series of hallways looking for a route to the atrium. At least something was going right, he thought to himself.

"Yes!" he said a moment later and closed the computer. "I think I found the right hallway," he said to Teyla as she signed off the radio. "We need to go this way," he pointed to the middle hallway.

They spent another twenty minutes wending through various hallways, Rodney's impatience growing as he glanced at his watch more and more often before they finally found the atrium.

"Finally," Rodney groused as they entered the room and looked around.

A horseshoe-shaped console sat in the middle of the room raised off the floor by four wide steps encircling the console area. Six more hallways led away from the room in different directions, and he could see several doors down each corridor.

Rodney climbed up the stairs and studied the console for a moment as Teyla looked around the rest of the room. He touched the top edge of the console, not bothering to hide his pleased smile as the Ancient system responded to the ATA gene. He unclipped his pack from his vest and pulled out the combo-computer and interface cables then looked around and found a stool at the other end of the horseshoe, dragged it over, and settled in front of the rounded section of the console with a few familiar-looking tiles.

Once the computer was plugged into the access port, he started a basic search of the system. He glanced up as Teyla stood next to him. "I think we're in the right place," he told her as the computer beeped and he quickly read the information on the screen and nodded.

"There is a lot of data here," he said a moment later. "It's going to take me a few minutes to dig through all of this and find what we need." He typed a new query into the computer then pulled a power bar out of his vest pocket as he scanned the information the console sent to the computer.

Teyla nodded. "I will check the other hallways."

Rodney glanced up from the computer as he took a bite from the energy bar. "I thought you said the outpost was deserted."

"I believe it is," she replied. "However, there may be other information, or possibly devices, we could take back to Atlantis."

"Hmm, good point." He pressed a series of tiles on the console and read the data on the computer screen. "If you find something, come get me," he called as Teyla wandered down one of the hallways. "And don't touch anything!"

"I will let you know if there is anything of interest," Teyla promised and disappeared down the corridor.

"All right, let's see what you can tell me," Rodney muttered to the console as he finished the power bar and stuffed the wrapper in his pocket then tapped in another series of commands into the computer.

He didn't notice the small tile on the far section of the console behind him start blinking each time he pressed the console tiles.

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

Teyla walked down the hallway, the P-90 held low but ready. She wasn't expecting any sort of trouble but had learnt from years of hunting for food and hiding from the Wraith not to take anything for granted. The first few rooms off the corridor were all unremarkable. A few held a work table, not unlike the table in Rodney's lab, but no artefacts were lying about waiting for someone to inspect them nor were there any journals full of exciting information waiting to be deciphered.

She tapped her earpiece and said, "Teyla to Major Sheppard."

"Go ahead, Teyla."

"We have found the observation area and a console. Rodney is trying to access the surveillance information now."

"Good work," John replied, and Teyla thought she heard a touch of relief in his voice.

"There are several corridors off the atrium where Rodney is working, I am searching them now. The rooms appear to be abandoned work areas. Have you found the naquadah? "

"We're still searching the refinery," John replied. "This place is huge. Don't get too far away from McKay," he added. "We don't have time for anyone to get lost."

"I understand, Major. Teyla out." She tapped her earpiece and continued to the end of the hallway where she found a large room.

Unlike the smaller work areas, equipment she did not recognise lined the shelves at the back of the room while a table that looked eerily similar to one of Doctor Beckett's exam beds sat in the center of the room. She frowned at the sight of the metal restraints attached to the bed. A small console was built into the wall to her left.

There were several smaller rooms along the wall to her right, each one with a door made out of the same sort of louvered bars as the holding cell in Atlantis where the Wraith John had insisted on calling Steve had been held captive. All of the doors were open. She stopped at the first door, glanced inside the small room, and took a startled step back when she spotted the bones on the floor.

Once she was past the initial shock, she knelt down and studied the bones further, a terrible suspicion growing in her mind. Her fears were confirmed when she touched the skull and hissed out a breath as a bony plate fell away from where it covered the front of the skull. She studied the rest of the bones and found a thick metal ring surrounded the bones of each leg.

She wiped her hand on her trousers and stepped out of the room with one last glance at the remains of the Wraith drone. It appeared Rodney's information was correct after all, she thought to herself sadly as she moved to the next room.

Teyla glanced in the next room and found more bones scattered across the floor of the small room. Another metal ring encircled the leg bones, and Teyla imagined the Wraith pulling against the restraint, trying to free itself.

"These were cells," she murmured to herself as she stepped out of the room and studied the rest of the doors lining the wall. These Wraith were used as test subjects, she reminded herself and frowned in distaste at the metal shackles on the floor.

While she held no sympathy for the Wraith; knowing the Ancestors could be so cruel was yet another of her childhood illusions destroyed. It was also something she would not be mentioning to Halling or the rest of her people.

Exploring the galaxy with John and the others over the past several months had taught her many hard truths about a people she had been raised to revere. Each time, she struggled with the decision of whether or not to tell her people what she had learnt. More often than not, she'd chosen not to say anything. What was the phrase she had heard the Earth people use? Ignorance was bliss?

Teyla let out a breath and adjusted her grip on the P-90 in her hands before she walked to the next cell.

The next cell was thankfully empty, and she stepped into it to get a better look at the tiny space. The leg shackles were both open, and she carefully stepped around them as she looked around the room. Other than the restraints, the room was bare.

She took a step back from the far wall and yelped in surprise when one of the shackles suddenly wrapped around her leg and closed with a snap.

She tried to pull the restraint off her leg and was shocked, literally, when a low-level current ran up her arm. She let go of the shackle, flapped her hand in an attempt to shake off the pins and needles feeling, and tapped her earpiece.

"Rodney? I am trapped in a large lab area at the end of the hallway to your right and need assistance." She frowned when she didn't get a response and tried again. "Rodney? Please come in."

His lack of response sent a wave of fear through her. It wasn't like him to ignore a call for help no matter how involved he might be with a project. "Rodney? Are you there? Please respond."

She started for the door of the cell, but the chain attached to the shackle pulled her up short a foot or so away from the exit. She growled low in her throat and pulled against the restraint, hoping the metal was weak and she could break free. Instead of the metal snapping, however, the shackle tightened around her leg, and she felt the same low-level electric charge shoot up her leg, numbing it to the point she lost her balance and fell to the floor.

"Major Sheppard, please come in," Teyla said into the radio, trying to hide the pain and fear she felt.

"Sheppard here. Teyla? What's wrong?"

Teyla ducked her head and closed her eyes, silently grateful he answered. "Major, we need assistance. I am trapped in one of the labs and Rodney did not answer when I called for help. I fear something may have happened to him as well."

"We aren't that far away from you," John said, and Teyla could hear the sound of running over the radio. "We'll be there as fast as we can."

"Understood," she replied and tapped off the radio. She could not think of any good reasons why Rodney would ignore her call for assistance. Which left only bad reasons. She hoped John was close, she wasn't sure how long Rodney could really wait. She pulled at the restraint and felt another jolt of electricity as the metal band tightened further. She wasn't certain how much longer she could wait, either.

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

John tapped off his radio after signing off with Teyla, smiled slightly at Rodney still yelling over someone else's radio instead of using his own, and glanced down at the scanner again. He and Ford were almost to the door on the other side of the refinery when a small dot started to blink on the scanner.

"Finally," John muttered and went through the door into the next section of the refinery. If the last room was for the initial processing work, breaking the ore mined from the moon down into key components, this room must have been for specific extraction. Several different systems of tubes crisscrossed the huge space leading to smaller and smaller kilns or chemical tanks.

"Over here," John said and led the way to a corner of the room. He double-checked the readings on the scanner as he studied the black chunks of rock piled on a counter near a small kiln.

"Not what I was expecting," Ford said as he set the sample case on the counter.

"Let me guess," John replied with a smile, "you thought it would be stacked in bars like the gold in Fort Knox?"

Ford looked up with a grin. "Something like that, sir." Ford picked up one of the chunks of refined ore with both hands. "Any way to tell what's the best stuff to take?"

John ran the scanner back and forth over the pile. "It's all reading about the same," he replied. "I guess we grab what we can and hope it will do what McKay needs to get the generator to work."

"Yes, sir," Ford said and opened the sample case.

The case was lined with a foam insert, John thought it looked remarkably similar to the soft inserts for a gun case. There were a dozen holes cut in the foam and Ford dropped his piece of ore in one of the cut-out sections.

John picked up another smallish rock with both hands and put it in the next opening. He dug back through the pile looking for the biggest pieces of the refined ore he could find.

"I think that's about as much as the case will hold," Ford said a few minutes later as he closed the lid of the case and staggered back a step as he picked it up.

John nodded. "Let's go find Rodney and Teyla." He glanced at his watch. "If we're lucky, we'll be back in Atlantis long before Elizabeth's deadline."

"How do we find them, sir? Teyla made it sound like they were in the middle of a maze."

John pulled out the scanner and switched the screen from Rodney's naquadah program to life signs. He turned the screen for Ford to see. "Lucky for us, we can just follow the map," he replied and pointed to the two dots on the other side of the outpost.

Since they knew where they were going this time, it didn't take them long to get back to the 'gate area.

"Leave that here," John said and pointed to the case. "No reason to drag it all the way down to the observation area just to bring it back."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied, and John tried not to smile at the relief he heard in Ford's tone.

Ford set the case on the floor near the 'gate and flexed his hand a few times, and looked down the opposite hallway.

"Looks like Rodney and Teyla are a few floors below us," John said and led the way down the left-hand hallway to a transporter.

"Do you think McKay can really build a new generator, sir?" Ford asked as they left the transporter and started down another corridor.

"You know Rodney. If he says he can build something, he probably can." John looked up from the scanner and saw Ford shrug. "What?" he asked.

Ford glanced at the wall to the right of John's head. "Do you think it will be enough, sir?"

John pursed his lips. That was the ten thousand dollar question, wasn't it, he thought to himself. "Enough to get our people to safety?" He paused. "Maybe. Enough to save the city?" He met Ford's gaze with his own. "Probably not."

Ford stared at him for a moment longer, then pulled himself to attention. "Yes, sir. Understood."

John watched him a moment longer, then nodded. They both knew what that meant. "Come on," he said. "We need to find the others."

They walked in silence for several minutes. John looked up from the scanner with a frown as he felt the tell-tale itch start at the back of his skull.

"Something's happened," he said, his tone flat as he rubbed the back of his head.

"Sir?"

"Something's wrong with McKay," John said. The itch was there, but there was also something else, a tightness, as if his skull was trapped in a vice. He groaned slightly and reached for his earpiece, but before he could send a message to Rodney, he heard Teyla over the open channel.

"Major Sheppard, please come in." John frowned at the pain he heard in Teyla's voice and started walking faster.

"Sheppard here," he replied, wincing against the headache and forcing his legs to move. "Teyla? What's wrong?"

"Major, we need assistance. I am trapped in one of the labs and Rodney did not answer when I called for help. I fear something may have happened to him as well."

John nodded. 'Something' was right, he thought as the tightness in his skull suddenly stopped. Was that a good or bad sign, he wondered and started walking faster.

John checked the scanner. The two dots on the scanner were close, down the next hallway and around a corner. Two dots, there are two dots. He's still alive, John reminded himself.

"We aren't that far away from you," he told her. "We'll be there as fast as we can."

"Understood," she replied, and John tapped off the radio and started to run, Ford close on his heels.

John skidded to a stop as he entered an open room a few seconds later. A horseshoe-shaped console sat on a raised platform in the middle of a wide atrium with hallways radiating out in six different directions. What made the blood drain from John's face was seeing the entire platform separated from the rest of the room by a transparent barrier and Rodney slumped over the console, unconscious.

Chapter Text

John took in the barrier and the pipes at the top leading into the ceiling at a glance. "Stand back!" he ordered Ford and lifted the P-90.

If what he suspected was right, he didn't have time to worry about what would happen to the glass or whatever the barrier was made from when he opened fire. All he knew was the shield was stopping him from reaching Rodney who was obviously in trouble.

He took careful aim and fired several rounds into the barrier until it shattered. Crystalline material rained down onto the platform, onto McKay. John didn't wait. He dropped the rifle and ran up the steps, Ford right behind him.

"Sir?" Ford asked as John reached Rodney's side. He lifted him off the console, supporting McKay's weight as Ford went to Rodney's other side. John felt a twinge in his stomach as he had his first good look at Rodney's face, pale, almost grey, with a slightly blue tinge around his lips and nose.

Training took over and together he and Ford quickly lifted Rodney off the stool and laid him on the floor. John ignored the crunching of the broken pieces of the shield as he knelt beside Rodney.

John watched as Ford pressed two fingers to Rodney's wrist, then his neck, almost afraid what he would find, or more to the point, not find.

"I have a pulse," Ford finally reported. "It's thready, but there."

"He's not breathing," John said grimly and proceeded to tilt Rodney's head back, pinch his nose closed, and blow air into his mouth. He focused his attention on Rodney's chest, hoping to see him take a breath on his own.

"Come on, Rodney, don't do this," John muttered and tried again. After a third breath, Rodney started to cough, and John rolled him onto his side and sat down heavily beside him, keeping one hand on Rodney's shoulder as he coughed and gasped.

Ford dug through his vest pockets, found an emergency blanket, and handed it to John.

John nodded his thanks and covered Rodney with the blanket. That's it," John encouraged and rubbed one hand up and down Rodney's arm as McKay's breathing slowed from ragged panting to more regular inhalations. "Just keep breathing."

Ford held up the blister pack of ibuprofen, and when John took it, he dug through his pack for a bottle of water.

"Thanks," John said once he'd swallowed the pills.

"No problem, sir. How's he doing?" Ford asked with a nod at Rodney.

John felt for the pulse point at Rodney's wrist, noted the stronger heartbeat, and glanced up at Ford. "I think he'll be all right for now. Go find Teyla. She said she was trapped in one of the labs. Help her get out and then we need to head back to Atlantis." He glanced down at Rodney as he started coughing again.

"Yes, sir," Ford replied. He gave Rodney a last look and headed down the nearest hallway.

John sat on the edge of the platform, alternately looking at the console with the computer still plugged into it and checking Rodney as his breathing evened out and his color improved. The blue tinge was gone, but he was still pale, and John could feel the tremors in the arm he rubbed.

"Hey, buddy, how're you doing?" he asked once the worst of the coughing stopped. "You with me here?"

Rodney nodded but didn't open his eyes.

John waited, his hand never leaving Rodney's arm. He could hear a slight wheeze with each breath. At least he's breathing, he reminded himself. They'd find Teyla and get both of them back to Atlantis and Carson's infirmary. He hadn't forgotten how pained Teyla's voice had sounded over the radio.

He glanced down and saw Rodney had his eyes open but wasn't really looking at anything. After another few moments, he slowly blinked, looked up at John, and started to weakly push against the floor.

John leant McKay against him as he sat up. He adjusted the blanket over Rodney's shoulders and wrapped an arm around him to help keep him upright when he started to sag.

"Dizzy," Rodney mumbled and closed his eyes again.

"Just take it slow," John replied.

Rodney nodded, took a deeper breath, winced as he rubbed his chest, and slowly opened his eyes.

"How you feeling?" John asked and ducked his head enough to see Rodney's still pale face.

"Tired," Rodney whispered. "Hurts to breathe."

John nodded and tightened his hold on McKay's shoulders. "Ford went to help Teyla. Once they get back, we'll head back to the 'gate. You have an appointment with an infirmary bed."

Rodney shook his head. "Need to finish the generator," he insisted. "Need the power."

"Hey," John said and waited for Rodney to lift his head and look at him. "When I found you, you weren't breathing." John looked at the wall in front of them. "I thought you were dead."

Rodney's eyes widened in shock as he stared at John, rubbed his chest, and coughed again.

"I don't care if every Wraith ever hatched is about to descend on us," John continued in a low voice, not bothering to hide how afraid he'd felt in either his tone or his expression. "You're going to Carson, and you're going to stay with him until he says you're recovered."

Rodney studied his face for a few moments, then nodded. "Sorry," he whispered. "Didn't mean to scare you."

John squeezed the arm still around Rodney's shoulders, pulling him a little closer in the process. Finding Rodney half dead was not something he ever wanted to experience again.

Rodney glanced at John, then at the pieces of the shield littering the floor around them. "What happened?" he asked a moment later, and John thought he sounded a little stronger.

"I was hoping you could tell me," John replied. "Teyla radioed and said she was stuck in one of the labs, but you weren't answering when she tried to call you. Ford and I got here and found you slumped over the console with this weird shield surrounding you."

Rodney picked up a few pieces of the material scattered around them, letting his fingers run around the edges.

John noticed for the first time all of the pieces were small and didn't appear to be sharp. Ancient safety glass, he thought to himself, grateful they didn't have to deal with any cuts as well as the near asphyxiation.

"Not glass," Rodney muttered and dropped the fragments in his hand. "Not that different from the material the control crystals are made from." He looked over at John. "How did you break it?" he asked hoarsely.

"I shot it." John frowned as Rodney started making a strangled, gasping sound again. It took him a moment to realise it was McKay laughing. "I'm not seeing what's so funny here," he growled and tightened his hold as Rodney's face went from pale to bright red and he pitched forward, his arms wrapped around his chest.

Rodney coughed a few times as he got his breathing back under control. "Sorry," he finally said with another glance at John. "You're right. It's just so typically you, that's all."

John smiled slightly but wasn't ready to see the humor quite yet.

Rodney looked over the console again. "How did you know the chamber wasn't full of some sort of gas that would kill you, too?"

John ducked his head. Now that Rodney brought it up, he realised it could have just as easily been a gas inside the shield, poisoning McKay instead of suffocating him. "I didn't," he admitted and watched as Rodney's expression went flat. "All I knew was something was trying to kill you and I had to stop it. Shooting it seemed like the best idea at the time."

Rodney must have heard the sincerity in his tone as he nodded and coughed again. "Thank you," he said.

John squeezed his shoulders. "You're welcome. Just don't ever do something like that again."

"I'll do my best."

"So what do you think happened?" John asked a moment later.

Rodney glanced over at the console and shuddered. "There must have been some sort of failsafe," he said. "I found the data on the Wraith. Both the surveillance and what I imagine were Crius' more … personal files. I had just started to download them to the computer when I saw one of the tiles change from the usual white to red."

He looked back at the console and John felt him shudder again. "I didn't have time to do anything before … the barrier surrounded the console and …" He glanced over at John. "I could feel the air running out, but couldn't find a way to stop it," he whispered.

John pulled McKay against his side. Too close, he thought to himself. Way too close.

"I think I'm really starting to hate the Ancients," Rodney mumbled a few seconds later.

John couldn't help the snort of laughter that escaped. "I think I'm starting to agree with you," he replied. He started to say something else but stopped when he heard footsteps pounding in their direction from the hallway to their right. He stood in front of Rodney, his P-90 held low but ready, and waited.

Ford ran into the room and stopped in front of John. He glanced at Rodney and nodded before he turned to John. "I found Teyla, sir. But there's a problem. Her leg is caught in some sort of shackle. I couldn't find a way to get it open."

John looked down the hallway, then at Rodney seated on the platform behind him. "Stay with McKay," John ordered. "I'll go see about Teyla."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied and moved until he stood next to Rodney.

"You might need help," Rodney protested and pushed aside the blanket as he climbed to his feet.

John shook his head and pushed him back down as he started to sway. "You can barely stand. Stay here with Ford. If I need you, I'll call," he said and waited for Rodney to reluctantly nod.

He exchanged a look with Ford over McKay's head, silently ordering Ford to keep Rodney where he was.

Ford glanced from John to Rodney and bobbed his head once.

Confident his message was received, John readjusted the blanket around Rodney's shoulders and headed down the hallway.

"Teyla? Where are you?" John called as he entered the large room at the end of the hall. He looked around at the equipment on the shelves and the bed in the middle of the room with mild interest. He noted the restraints on the bed were made of some sort of metal, instead of the leather cuffs Carson used in the infirmary, and gave the bed a wide berth.

He caught a glimpse of Teyla's face peeking out of a room on the far side of the room and hurried over to her.

"Major! Is Rodney …"

John saw her worried expression and quickly reassured her. "He's alive," he said as he entered the small room and knelt down beside her. "He going to be spending some time with Beckett, but he should be fine."

"Aiden said Rodney wasn't breathing when you found him," Teyla said softly, and John caught the way she watched him as he knelt down beside her.

John forced himself to focus on the metal band around Teyla's leg instead of the memory of Rodney's grey face and blue-tinged lips. "I got him breathing again," John said shortly, still not looking at her.

"Are you all right?" she asked softly and laid a hand on his arm.

John finally glanced up at her and nodded. "I will be," he said with a tiny smile. "McKay will be, too." He examined the chain and the cuff around her lower leg. "Let's get you out of this and get out of here."

"I have tried," Teyla said with a frustrated sigh. "Lieutenant Ford tried as well. We could find no way to release the shackle."

John turned Teyla's leg, first one way then the other, trying to find a way to remove the restraint.

"There are skeletons in some of the other rooms," Teyla said as John examined the shackle.

He couldn't see any way to release the cuff. The metal was solid and smooth, not even a seam to indicate how the shackle could have opened.

"The bones are of Wraith drones," she continued. "Each skeleton also had restraints such as this binding the legs."

"How did this end up around your leg in the first place?" John asked as he helped Teyla lean against the wall of the small room near the door.

"I do not know," she replied. "I made sure to avoid the cuff as I entered the cell. When I turned to leave, it was almost as if the restraint sensed my movement and closed around my leg by itself. What is so strange is the other restraint," she pointed to another cuff on the floor behind him, "did not react to Aiden at all. He stepped into the cuff before I could stop him. However, nothing happened. The cuff remained inert."

John picked up the other cuff and examined the two separate pieces of metal held together with a nearly invisible hinge. A length of chain attached to the cuff behind the hinge. He clapped the two halves of the restraint together a few times trying to see how they would seal together, but nothing happened.

"So it does open," John muttered to himself as he tossed the cuff into the corner of the room as far away from Teyla as possible. "I just have to figure out how." He looked up at Teyla with a smile. "Let's try the easy way first," he said. He touched the band, closed his eyes, and focused on mentally opening the shackle.

He opened his eyes and looked down. The restraint was still in place.

"Everything we tried only made the band tighter," she told him as John ran his hand around the shackle trying to feel for a manual release mechanism.

"Tighter?" he asked her and glanced up at her face. "How much is it hurting you?"

She shook her head. "There is some sort of electrical charge running through the restraint as well," she told him. "My leg is numb, preventing me from standing. I cannot feel anything below my knee at the moment."

"That's not good," Rodney said from behind them, and John whirled around to see McKay, pale, shaking, and held up by Ford, stagger into the cell.

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

Rodney sat on the top step of the platform after John left, his arms propped on his knees, trying to breathe without coughing. He rested his head on his arms and closed his eyes. All he wanted to do was crawl into a corner and go to sleep, but he knew that wasn't possible. Not yet anyway.

The blanket crinkled near his ear as Ford pulled it back over his shoulders.

"You okay, Doc?" Ford asked a few minutes later, and Rodney could hear the edge of concern in his tone.

Rodney nodded and rubbed his chest with one hand. Who knew nearly suffocating could be so painful once you survived, he wondered idly.

He lifted his head and did a slow survey of the room then looked up at Ford. "Where's the sample case?" he asked. "Please tell me you found the naquadah."

Ford nodded. "Got as much as the case would hold. It's back at the 'gate."

Rodney let his head sink back down on his arms. That much naquadah should keep them in generators for the foreseeable future. Assuming we have a future, he reminded himself grimly. He tried to sigh and ended up coughing again.

He was giving serious reconsideration to the idea of curling up and going to sleep when he heard the computer behind him beep. He opened his eyes and glanced up at Ford before slowly turning to look at the computer still balanced on the edge of the console. He'd almost forgotten the download he'd started just before the shield surrounded him and the console tried to kill him.

"What was that?" Ford asked and looked from Rodney to the console.

"The computer must have finished downloading the files Sheppard wanted," Rodney told him. He gave the platform another wary look then started to pull himself to his feet.

"I don't think Major Sheppard wanted you moving around, Doc," Ford said even as he reached out to keep Rodney from falling.

"After everything I went through to get those files, we aren't leaving without them," Rodney insisted, letting the blanket puddle on the floor at his feet. He ignored the slow dip and roll of the room as he shuffled back over to the console.

"Is it safe to be up here?" Ford asked, keeping one hand on Rodney's arm as he stopped in front of the console.

Rodney looked down at the small, glittering bits on the floor around them. "The shield is in several thousand pieces," he replied and pointed at the floor.

"Yeah, but what else can this console do to us," he heard Ford mutter and silently wondered the same thing.

"I'll get the computer. You grab the backpack," Rodney ordered and shook off Ford's hold on his arm.

He sank onto the stool in front of the console and checked the files on the computer. He was surprised to see the drive was nearly full. He did the math in his head and stared back down at the laptop. With the compression algorithm he'd been working on, the drive could hold roughly three times the usual amount of data. It was going to take weeks, if not months, to analyse everything, he realised as he unplugged the computer from the console.

Ford picked up the backpack, and they made their way off the platform and over against the wall. Rodney sank to the floor and busied himself with stuffing the computer and cables back in the pack. He glanced down the hallway where John had disappeared and frowned. They should have been back by now. "What did you say was wrong with Teyla?" he asked once the laptop was stowed.

"Her leg was caught in some sort of trap," Ford said with a quick look of his own down the hall.

Rodney looked up. "What kind of trap?"

Ford looked uneasy as he glanced down the hall again. "Umm, a shackle, on the end of a metal chain. I'm sure Major Sheppard will have her out of it soon, and then we'll head back to the 'gate."

Rodney heard the uncertainty in Ford's tone. "There's something else, isn't there," he said.

Ford glanced down at his feet. "The cuff around her leg got tighter every time we tried to get it off. I'm not sure what else Major Sheppard can try before the circulation is completely cut off to her foot."

Rodney stared up at him for a moment then started to pull himself to his feet. "Where is she?" he asked.

"Major Sheppard said to wait here," Ford protested, but Rodney ignored him and headed for the hallway with his shoulder braced against the wall to keep himself upright as the room did slow loops.

"The Major is going to kill both of us," Ford grumbled as he picked up Rodney's backpack and slung it over his shoulder. He draped Rodney's arm over his other shoulder, and they started walking down the hall.

"They need help," Rodney said and concentrated on not tripping over his own feet.

By the time they made it to the room at the end of the hall, Rodney was out of breath and trying not to cough as he fought the waves of vertigo.

"There is some sort of electrical charge running through the restraint," he heard Teyla say. "My leg is numb, preventing me from standing. I cannot feel anything below my knee at the moment."

"That's not good," Rodney said, and his knees buckled as he gave in to the coughing fit.

He felt Ford quickly adjust his hold and heard John muttering under his breath before he felt a familiar grip on his arm as Sheppard helped him sit on the floor with his back against a wall.

"I thought I told you to wait for us to come back," John admonished, the hand gently rubbing his arm belied the frustration Rodney could hear in John's tone.

Rodney opened his eyes to see John kneeling on the floor in front of him. "You need me," he said hoarsely once he caught his breath again. "If you could get Teyla out of that leg trap alone, you would have done it by now."

John ducked his head for a moment, then looked Rodney in the eye. "Twenty minutes ago, you were almost dead. Just take it easy for a minute. We'll figure out a way to free Teyla."

Rodney nodded then leant his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. He felt John squeeze his shoulder then heard him move away.

"Is Rodney all right?" he heard Teyla ask from the other side of the wall.

"Stubborn as ever," John replied, then added in a lower tone Rodney barely heard, "We need to get him back to Atlantis."

He couldn't disagree with that idea and rubbed his chest as he worked to get his breathing back under control.

"You could return to Atlantis with Rodney," Teyla suggested. "Lieutenant Ford and I will continue to work on a solution to the restraint while you are gone."

Rodney cracked an eye open in time to see John, kneeling in the doorway next to him, shaking his head. "We don't know what will happen if there's no one here with the gene. All of the systems, including the life support, could shut down."

"Did either of you try the obvious solution?" Rodney asked.

John glanced over at him. "Obvious solution?"

Rodney braced himself against the wall and carefully pushed himself upright. He spotted the console on the other side of the room and pointed at it. "Crius had to have some way to get the restraints off when he wanted to move one of his guinea pigs or when one of the Wraith died. All we need to do is find the release command in the system."

He edged around the room, sank down on the stool in front of the console, and tried to hide how out of breath he felt just walking across the room. He glanced up as John stopped next to him then went back to studying the console.

"You okay?" John asked.

Rodney ignored the question as he reached out his hand then drew it back, his fingers curled into a fist.

"What's wrong?" John asked.

"Think about what happened in the other room," Rodney said.

"I'd rather not," John replied quietly.

Rodney glanced up at him and pursed his lips. "Sorry." He didn't see anything obvious and reached out his hand again to activate the console. "I was the only person near that console. I have the gene. Crius had that system booby-trapped so that even other Ancients couldn't access it. Why?"

John grabbed Rodney's wrist just before he touched the console. "You think he knew what he was doing was against the will of the other Ancients?"

Rodney shrugged and tried to pull his hand free. "You saw the memos. Someone wasn't happy with what he was doing."

"So he booby-trapped the console with all of the data?"

Rodney nodded. "It's the best explanation I have. If he was the only one working in this area, it wouldn't have been hard to do. He could have easily programmed a trigger into the system. If anyone tried to access the system without knowing how to disable the trigger …" He rubbed his chest with his free hand.

John let go of Rodney's wrist and looked around the console. "You're sure it's safe?"

"Only one way to find out," he replied and touched the console.

The tiles started to glow and the small screen in front of him scrolled a line of data from the bottom to the top. Rodney checked all of the tiles, didn't see anything out of the ordinary, and turned to John. "I'm going to need my computer," he said and pointed to his pack lying just inside the door to the room.

John retrieved the pack and handed it over.

Rodney pulled out the computer and cables, found the access port, plugged in the computer, and started searching for the restraint systems. He felt John's impatience growing as he alternately typed on the computer then pressed various tiles on the console.

"Come on," he muttered. "Where is it?" He typed another few lines of code into the computer and squinted at the screen. "That's not good."

"What?" John asked.

Rodney shook his head and pressed another sequence of tiles on the console and glared at the computer. "That should have worked!"

"Rodney!" John said in what Rodney recognised as his 'command' voice. "What's the problem?"

Rodney looked up at John. "I can't access the systems for any of the security protocols. Everything I try just sends back errors."

"So much for the obvious solution," John said. He grimaced and looked from Teyla to Ford. "Anyone have any other ideas?"

"We could try shooting it off," Ford suggested and held up his Beretta.

Rodney shook his head. "Are you serious? The bullet would probably just ricochet off and hit one of us instead."

"He's right," John said. "If this was meant to hold a Wraith, the chances of a bullet penetrating the cuff or the chain are slim."

Rodney turned back to the computer. He couldn't access the security systems, but what about … He read the information scrolling across the screen. "Yes! That could work. Maybe. "

"Rodney?" John asked.

Rodney ignored him "It would depend on the wires and if the current is strong enough," he continued more to himself than John.

"What could work?" John asked.

"I'll need to separate the wires," Rodney muttered. "Gonna need tools." He started digging through his pack again.

John pulled the pack out of Rodney's hands. "What could work?"

"Teyla said there was an electrical current running through the cuff making her leg numb. There has to be some sort of wire running through the chain to the cuff. I can turn those wires into a crude arc welder," Rodney said. "Cut through the restraint."

"What about Teyla's leg?" John asked. "The cuff is pretty tight."

Rodney glanced over at Teyla. "I'll try to be careful," he told her with an apologetic look, "but you could get burnt."

"I am willing to risk Rodney's idea of cutting the restraint," Teyla said. "Nothing else we have tried has worked."

Rodney nodded and started to stand. "First I need--"

"Hang on a minute," John said and pushed him back onto the stool. "You aren't going to do anything except tell me what to do."

"Major --" Rodney started to protest, but John held up a finger.

"Show me your hands," he ordered.

"What?"

"Show me your hands, Rodney."

Rodney sighed and held out his hands. He frowned as he saw they shook slightly.

"You're exhausted," John said softly. "Just stay there and tell me what to do."

Rodney tried to glare but had to admit John was right. His chest still felt tight, and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. He gave John a reluctant nod. Sheppard handed him the pack, and he pawed through it until he found the bundle of tools.

"Here," he said and handed John the small toolkit. "When I tell you, you need to cut the wires as close to the cuff as you can. Pull the wires out of the chain so you have some slack, but don't break the connection to the system. You'll need to separate the wires until there's a few centimeters of space between them. When I turn the power back on, the current will arc across the wires. You can use that arc of energy to cut the cuff off."

John nodded and turned back to the cell.

"Hey!" Rodney said and grabbed John's arm. "The wires probably aren't very well insulated. Find something to protect your hands. Speaking from experience, electrical burns are not fun. And find something to cover your eyes!"

"Got it. I'll be careful," John said and went back to the cell.

Rodney typed a new string of code into the computer looking for the system running the electricity to the cells. There had to be a way for Crius to turn off the cuffs when he needed to, he argued with himself. Wraith prisoners couldn't have been that easy for him to find that he could risk one dying from a surge. He tapped a series of commands into the console and read the data on the computer screen.

"Come on, come on, where is it?" he muttered and tried a different set of commands. Instead of the electrical system, he found some unusual information on the air handling system and paused.

He swallowed when he realised it was the schematics for the containment chamber around the horseshoe-shaped console in the atrium. "How did you configure the chamber to pull out the air?" he mumbled and traced the various pipes with a finger. He sat back in surprise as he read more of the data, and was about to pull up more information when John yelled from the cell.

"Rodney? Any time!"

"Yes, yes. Working on it!" Rodney hollered back and cleared the information on the air handling systems.

He pressed a different series of tiles and read the screen. "Found it. Give me a minute to shut down the power." He entered the series of commands to power down the cuff. He double-checked nothing was going to the restraint, and turned around. "Power's off! Cut the wires!"

"Done!" John said a few seconds later. "Turn it back on."

Rodney powered the system back on then stood and walked back to the cell. The room only swayed a little as he made his way back across to the cell, using the wall to keep his balance. He stopped at the edge of the door and saw Teyla with Sheppard's jacket draped over her leg, while John, wearing a pair of tactical gloves and a pair of sunglasses, held the two arcing wires next to the links of the chain just behind the cuff.

The metal sparked when John touched the wires to the links of chain and Rodney ducked his head and looked away.

"Got it!" John said a few minutes later.

Rodney turned back to see Sheppard drop the still sparking wires and help Teyla stand on one leg. The cuff was still attached to her other leg just below the tattoo of her family name.

"How you doing?" John asked as he wrapped an arm around Teyla's waist to keep her from falling.

"The feeling is coming back in my leg," Teyla said, and Rodney could easily hear the pain in her voice. "The cuff around my ankle is also painfully tight."

Ford handed her a bottle of water and gave her a couple of ibuprofen from the first aid kit in his pack.

"I figured it would be easier to cut through the chain, than the cuff itself," John said and helped her limp out of the cell once she'd swallowed the pills. "Hopefully Beckett will have some ideas on how to safely cut off the rest when we get back."

Teyla nodded and winced again when she tried to put weight on her injured leg.

Rodney went back to the console for his computer and backpack. They had the naquadah and the intel they came for, he was more than ready to get back to Atlantis. He was about to power down the computer when a new line of code scrolled across the computer screen and what looked eerily like a countdown started blinking at the corner of the console screen. He read the text then frantically started inputting commands into the console.

"No, no, no. You are not going to do that," he told the console.

John turned around. "What's wrong?"

"The system thinks there's been a jailbreak," Rodney replied as he sent a series of commands to shut down the security protocol. "Technically, I guess it's right," he pointed out tangentially. "We did break the restraint. Teyla did kind of escape the cell."

"McKay!"

Rodney forced himself back on track and glanced at John. "Crius repurposed this room for his experiments; he had to have a way to contain his Wraith prisoners. If one did manage to escape he had systems in place to keep it from leaving the area and killing the Ancients working in the outpost." And giving away what he was doing down here, Rodney thought to himself.

Rodney turned back to the computer and tried a different set of commands, but the system still refused to acknowledge the new code. Instead, the console started beeping insistently, and all the cell doors in the room suddenly slammed closed.

"What going on?" Ford asked.

John passed Teyla over to Ford and went to one of the cells. Rodney watched as he pulled on one of the doors then walked to the next cell over and tried that door as well.

"You aren't going to get them open," he told Sheppard. "This section is going into lockdown. I tried to get it to abort, but the console isn't accepting any new commands. Probably some sort of failsafe in case an escaping Wraith tried to do exactly the same thing."

Now he understood the rest of the air handling schematic. Crius or whoever it was, didn't build the system to purge the air from the chamber around the horseshoe-shaped console, at least not all of it.

"Are you going to be able to walk?" he heard John ask Teyla.

Rodney shut down the computer and unplugged it from the console. "The answer better be yes," he said grimly as he struggled to get the computer back in his backpack. "We need to get out of here before all the hallways are blocked. Trust me, we don't want to get trapped in here." He stood up and shot out a hand to balance himself on the edge of the console as the room spun slightly.

"What happens once the doors are sealed?" John asked, and Rodney felt Sheppard's hand on his arm, helping keep him upright.

Rodney looked over at him and didn't bother to hide the fear he felt. "If we can't get out," he swallowed and looked at John. "If we can't get out, I won't be keeping that promise I made, and we'll all be dead in about fifteen minutes."

Chapter Text

Fifteen minutes. John only gave himself a few seconds to think about all of the ramifications of that and tightened his hold on Rodney's arm as McKay swayed beside him.

John turned to Ford and Teyla standing closest to the exit. "Ford, help Teyla. You two get moving. We're right behind you."

"Yes, sir," Ford acknowledged, and John watched Teyla limp back up the hallway with Ford at her side.

John turned back to Rodney. "You got everything?" he asked.

Rodney nodded and awkwardly clipped the pack to his vest.

"Time to go," John said and pushed Rodney ahead of him as they made their way back up the hall to the atrium.

He could see Ford and Teyla nearly back to the open room and reached out a hand as Rodney stumbled against the wall. The itch at the back of his skull was starting to flare again, and John kept his hand on Rodney's arm as he propelled both of them back toward the atrium.

"Almost there," John murmured.

Rodney nodded but didn't say anything.

John noticed Rodney was breathing hard, almost panting as they hurried down the hallway. He needed Carson, John chastised himself, not to be running all over an Ancient outpost bound and determined to kill them.

Ford helped Teyla back through the entrance to the atrium, John and Rodney were only a few steps behind when John heard a series of loud bangs and saw the door next to the lab hallway slide closed. He and Rodney cleared the doorway leading back to the lab just before that door sealed as well.

Ford helped as Teyla sank down on one of the steps leading to the horseshoe-shaped console, then walked over to the sealed entrance across the room and ran his hands over the frame. He turned to John and shook his head. "It's no good, sir," Ford said. "It's sealed tight."

John left Rodney braced against the nearest wall and tried another of the doors. Ford was right. The door was flush against the wall, no cracks or seams they could use to force the door open.

He skirted around the horseshoe-shaped control console as he wandered around the room looking for another way out. He heard a soft whirring noise overheard and saw Rodney's face lose what little color it had as he stared, wide-eyed, at the pipes above their heads, still trying to catch his breath.

"What now, sir?" Ford asked as he walked back to Teyla and sat beside her.

"Something tells me this was the next step in containing any Wraith that escaped the lab," John said grimly as his gaze followed the pipes circling the ceiling. "There has to be a way out of this room," he added and turned to Rodney. "McKay? Any ideas?"

Rodney, however, stood frozen, his eyes locked on the pipes overhead as his breathing became more ragged.

John understood the fear and could sympathise. It had been less than an hour since he'd found Rodney unconscious and not breathing. He glanced at the bits of debris littering the floor around the console as he walked back over to Rodney.

"McKay!" John said in his command voice and shook Rodney's arm, forcing McKay to focus on him and not the sound of their air escaping through the pipes above them.

Rodney jumped and looked at him as his breathing hitched.

"We'll find a way out of this, all right?" John said in a softer tone. "But you need to calm down, or you're going to hyperventilate. Then we really will be in trouble."

McKay swallowed, and John watched as he closed his eyes and tried to get his breathing back under control. A few seconds later, he managed a deeper breath, shook himself out of John's hold, and made his way over to the door John thought led back to the rest of the outpost.

"Umm, maybe I can find a way to override the door controls," Rodney suggested as he ran his hands over the door frame.

"Sounds like a good plan," John agreed. "What do you need?"

"I need my tools," Rodney said sadly and looked back toward the now sealed door leading back to the cells. "Which we no longer have." He leant his head against the wall and closed his eyes again.

"Hey, I've got your tools right here." John reached into his vest and handed him the small bundle. "I did not want to suffer the wrath of Rodney for leaving them behind." He smiled slightly as Rodney glared at him.

"Oh, ha-ha," Rodney retorted as he took the bundle, and John was happy to see some of McKay's usual attitude.

Rodney set the tools on the floor in front of him and felt along the edges of the door. John watched as he pulled at one edge of the door with his fingers, then found a screwdriver in the bundle of tools, and pried the cover off an access panel.

He pulled a small flashlight from his vest pocket, peered inside the panel, and shook his head. "Of course, it couldn't be a simple system," he groused and set down the screwdriver. He reached into the open panel with one hand while he angled the flashlight into the access panel with the other.

John heard him grunt as he pulled out a crystal and studied it carefully for several seconds before he set it on the floor next to the bundle of tools. He could see the slight wavering as Rodney's hands shook a little and he wondered if McKay would be able to do whatever delicate work was needed inside the panel. He was about to suggest he do the work instead when McKay turned to him and held out the flashlight.

"I need two hands," Rodney told him and waggled the flashlight at John.

John took the light and shined it into the access panel. All he could see was a mass of crystals and what he assumed were circuit boards. Rodney must have had an idea of what he wanted to do, however, as he pulled out more crystals, set them on the floor near his feet, and studied the remaining innards of the panel.

John heard him muttering about power overrides and new routing options and glanced at his watch. Just under ten minutes left before they hit Rodney's deadline. He turned to Ford and Teyla and jerked his head for them to join him.

"We need to be ready once Rodney gets the door open," he said as Ford helped Teyla to her feet.

"This will work, won't it, sir?" Ford asked, his hand splayed across his chest as he tried to take a deeper breath.

John glanced over at Rodney still muttering to himself as he rearranged the crystals into a new configuration. "It'll work," John told him. He didn't add the 'because it has to', but he was sure Ford and Teyla could read the sentiment in his expression.

Ford glanced over at McKay and nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Teyla, how's the leg?"John asked. He tried to ignore how she seemed to be struggling for air as well.

"The numbness is gone from my leg," she replied with a look down at her foot. "However, the cuff is still tight. I have little feeling below my ankle."

John grimaced. "Ford, check her foot. If the circulation is compromised, we may not be able to wait for Carson to cut the cuff off."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied and bent down to remove Teyla's boot. "Can you feel that?" Ford asked as he pinched her toes.

Teyla nodded.

"I think she's okay for now, sir," Ford said. "Her foot looks a little swollen, but it's still warm, and the nail reacts to pressure." Ford put her sock and boot back on and re-tied the laces.

John nodded and glanced at his watch. Five minutes left. The cuff was going to be the least of their worries in a few minutes. He could feel his chest getting tight as it became harder to breathe. He looked back over at Rodney to see how close he was to overriding the door controls and frowned. McKay had stopped working and stood staring at the two different crystals he held, seemingly lost in thought.

John nudged his arm and waited for Rodney to look at him. "Almost done?" he asked and nodded at the crystals in McKay's hands. He didn't want Rodney panicking, but they were about out of time.

"What?" Rodney asked and gave John a startled look. He glanced down at his hands and finished, "Yes, yes, just a couple more minutes." He stuck one of the crystals in a vest pocket and went back to work. "I just have to do one more thing."

John looked at his watch again but resisted the urge to tell Rodney they didn't have a couple more minutes.

"How are you doing?" he asked Ford and Teyla as they both sagged against the wall. He could tell they were both sweating and their breathing was ragged. He realised he probably didn't look much better.

"Fine, sir," Ford said and tried to stand up straight.

"We will be ready as soon as Rodney has the door open," Teyla added.

John smiled slightly. Maybe it was the thinning air and the looming hypoxia, but John had a sudden flash of memory walking through a forest wondering how he would get this group of individuals to ever work as a team. Now he saw the results of months of their working together and couldn't help the feeling of pride he had in each of them.

He was brought back to the present when Rodney staggered against him, and John reached out a hand to keep him upright. "Rodney?" John asked, and watched as McKay leant his head against the wall and closed his eyes. He was gasping, and John could feel his own breathing falter. He also felt the vice-like pressure building in his skull again as Rodney tried to catch his breath.

"I-I think I've got it," Rodney mumbled. "Once the door opens … I'll need to manually hold the connection … it won't last long … so you'll need to move fast."

"What about you?" Teyla asked, and John saw the frown on her face.

"I'll be right behind you," Rodney replied. "I've already suffocated … once today. Wasn't planning … on doing it twice."

"And you won't," John said. "Show me what to do. I'll hold the door open."

Rodney started to protest, but John held up a hand. "Like you said, you've nearly died once today. You're exhausted which means I can react faster than you. Show me what to do."

"The only reason … I'm giving in …" Rodney said, gasping every few words. "Is because … we don't have time … to argue."

"Glad you see things my way, McKay," John said. "Now, show me what to do."

Rodney packed up his few tools, scooted out of the way, and took the flashlight from John.

He shined the light into the access panel. "There are two crystals … on opposite sides of the panel … about half way up. Do you see them?"

John peered into the hole and saw the two crystals nearly touching. "Okay, got them."

"When you push the two crystals together … the door should open."

"Should?"

Rodney glared at him.

"Okay, the door opens. Then what?"

"Once you let go … the door will slide closed. You'll have about … two seconds … to get through the door … before it seals again. Will probably … fry the circuits too," he added as an aside

Two seconds, plenty of time, John told himself and glanced at the others.

"All right. Ford, make sure they get through the door." John nodded at Rodney and Teyla.

"Yes, sir. We'll be fine. Just make sure you get through too."

John took as deep a breath as he could. "On three. Ready?"

He waited for three nods and turned back to the panel.

"One." He positioned his hands inside the panel next to each crystal.

"Two." He glanced over at Rodney and saw him nod slightly. John nodded back.

"Three!" He touched the two crystals together and frowned as the door refused to move.

"Rodney?" John asked, forcing down his own panic.

Rodney shook his head and braced a hand against the wall.

John was about to release the crystals and try again when the door finally started to slowly slide open. He felt a gust of air rush into the room as the pressure on each side of the door tried to equalise.

As soon as the opening was wide enough, Ford pushed Rodney and Teyla through it, and with a quick look at John, followed them.

John inched as close to the opening as he could while still maintaining the contact of the two crystals. He took another quick breath, let go of the crystals, and dove through the doorway, landing on his hands and knees next to Rodney's prone body as the door slammed closed behind him.

He gulped in air for a few seconds, waiting for the dizziness to pass and his chest to stop hurting. Once he had his own breathing under control, he squeezed Rodney's arm and glanced over at Ford and Teyla on Rodney's other side. Teyla sat against the wall, rubbing the leg with the shackle still attached while Ford stood next to her, bent forward with his hands on his knees.

"You guys all right?" John asked hoarsely as he sat next to Rodney and tried to catch his breath.

"Think so, sir," Ford replied as he slowly straightened up.

"I am breathing easier," Teyla added, stretching her leg out in front of her.

John glanced down at Rodney lying in his back with his eyes closed. "Rodney?" he asked and tapped McKay's arm.

Rodney nodded. "Just … just give me a minute," he whispered and rolled onto his side as he started coughing.

"I don't get it," Ford said as he sank down beside Teyla. "How did this Crius get that room to purge all of the air like that?"

"He didn't," Rodney croaked as he stopped coughing and slowly pushed himself upright. "I think that whole section was initially set up to study the moon. Maybe that's how they found the naquadah in the first place." Rodney shrugged. "With the thin atmosphere, they had to have an airlock system in place to go out on the surface and not lose the atmosphere inside the outpost."

Rodney looked over at John. "At some point the investigation of the moon ended, maybe when they found the naquadah, maybe when they started their surveillance of the Wraith, who knows."

Rodney stopped and John watched as he took several deep breaths.

"When Crius took over the section for his secret experiments, he tapped into the airlock system to create the booby-trap on the console. He also found a way to use it to purge the entire section if a Wraith ever managed to escape from his lab." Rodney stopped talking and started coughing again.

"We need to get back to the 'gate," John said once the fit passed.

"The corridors in this area are very convoluted," Teyla said. "Rodney and I could not take a direct route from the stargate to the lab area."

John nodded. "It does seem like a maze down here." He stood and walked to the end of the hall. The corridor branched off in two different directions, and he wasn't sure which route he had taken in his mad dash to find Rodney and Teyla earlier.

"So how do we get back?" Ford asked. "There can't be more than a couple of hours before we're overdue to be back in Atlantis."

John checked his watch. He'd been so focused on escaping the lab area, he'd forgotten Elizabeth's imposed deadline. "More like ninety minutes," he replied.

Rodney unclipped his pack and pulled out his computer. John watched as he typed for a few minutes, then turned the computer around. "This is where we are," he said and pointed to one corner of the map. John knelt beside him and studied the computer screen.

"This is the 'gate, four floors above us." Rodney pointed to a section of the map near the middle top of the screen.

He pressed a few keys on the computer, and a yellow line appeared on the screen connecting the two sections. "This is the shortest way back to the transporter and the 'gate area."

John glanced from the computer, to Rodney with an arm wrapped around his chest, then over at Ford as he helped Teyla to her feet. He kept his arm wrapped around her waist as she hopped on one foot.

Good thing they'd decided to leave the sample case in the 'gate area, John thought with a frown. Neither Rodney nor Teyla was going to get back to the 'gate without help, he realised.

"You're sure this is the fastest route?" he asked as he studied the map.

Rodney shrugged and climbed slowly to his feet. "There may have been other routes, more direct routes, but we don't have time to look for secret passages. According to the maps I could download from the console in the 'gate area, that's the best I can do." He bent down to pick up his pack and John grabbed his arm when he lost his balance and nearly dropped the computer.

"Is there a way to transfer the map to the scanner?"

Rodney gave him a puzzled look.

John bit his tongue against the first thing he wanted to say. Rodney was pale, sweaty and still not breathing right. He was more than a little concerned he'd be carrying McKay back to the 'gate. Instead, he pointed at the laptop and said, "That computer is going to get heavy. Might be better to have something a little more travel-friendly."

Rodney stared at him for a moment longer, then patted at his vest pockets. His brow furrowed when he didn't find what he was looking for.

"Looking for this?" John asked and held out the scanner.

Rodney nodded absently as he took the scanner and sat back on the floor. He plugged the cable from the computer into the scanner and John watched as he typed for a few minutes.

"Here," he said as he unplugged the scanner and handed it to John.

John looked at the screen and saw the same yellow line imposed over a map of the outpost. John turned in place and noted the yellow line disappeared off the screen if he stepped in the wrong direction.

Rodney stuffed the cable and computer back into his pack and John pulled him to his feet.

"Rodney and I will take point," John said. "Ford, you help Teyla."

"Yes, sir," Ford said and pulled Teyla's arm over his shoulder.

John kept one eye on the scanner and the other on Rodney as they followed the circuitous route back to the 'gate area. They turned down one hallway then another before taking another turn that John would swear had done little more than turn them in a circle. He glanced at Rodney plodding along beside him with his head down and frowned.

When they'd started out, he'd managed to keep up with John's slow, but steady pace. It didn't take long for his energy to start to fade and John's steadying hand on his arm soon became Rodney's arm draped over John's shoulder as Sheppard kept the scanner in his other hand making sure they stayed on the right course.

According to the map, they were half-way back to the transporter when the lights along the corridor flickered for a moment. John stopped and looked at the nearest sconce then glanced back at Ford who gave him a startled look. "You saw that, too?" he asked, and Ford nodded.

"That can't be good, sir."

"Rodney mentioned this outpost was powered by something other than a ZPM," Teyla added.

"And with everything that happened in the lab, we've what? Drained the batteries?" Ford asked.

"It is a theory only," Teyla said.

"Yeah, but it's a good one," John replied and glanced over at Rodney, surprised he'd stayed quiet for so long. "McKay? Any way to find out what the power situation looks like?"

Rodney lifted his head and looked around. "Need to find an access point," he said and waved his free hand toward the scanner. He let go of John long enough to tap several keys on the device and looked up again. "Go that way." He pointed down a different corridor from the one they were following. "When it branches, take the left-hand turn, then a right. There should be a maintenance room where I can access the power systems."

John nodded, settled Rodney's arm back over his shoulder, and led the way to the maintenance room.

The door opened easily, and John visually cleared the room before he led Rodney over to the console along the far wall.

Rodney sank down on the stool with a cough before he pulled out his computer. He glanced up at John as he slowly walked around the room and came back to Rodney's side, giving the console a suspicious look.

"No reason to do anything to these systems," Rodney told him. "Any number of people would have needed to access them in order to keep the outpost running."

"No harm in checking," John replied and pushed another stool over to Teyla.

Rodney shrugged, placed his hand on the edge of the console to power it on, and pressed a couple of tiles on the console. John watched as he read the information on the computer screen and rubbed a hand over his face.

"Well?" John asked a few minutes later when Rodney stopped typing.

"Ford's right," Rodney said and pointed to the computer.

John bent down and saw what looked like a diminishing graph on the screen.

"The outpost has been running on standby power for probably thousands of years. At one time, there was enough stored energy to power the cloak that keeps this place hidden from the Wraith and maintain minimal life support. The Ancients obviously didn't intend to leave the outpost abandoned for so long since most of that power was drained before we got here.

"We were lucky we found the mine when we did. Even if we'd never come here, the cloak would have failed in another few months, maybe a year from now. If I'm reading this right, the batteries, for lack of a better term, are nearly spent."

"What about the 'gate?" John asked. "Is there still enough juice to power the 'gate from this side?"

Rodney pressed a couple of tiles on the console. "Maybe," he replied.

John could tell the answer was really 'no' from the sideways glance Rodney gave him as he nervously fiddled with the console tiles.

"Can we turn off the lights or something?" Ford asked.

Rodney shook his head. "The lights don't draw that much power, and the life support is already running at the bare minimum."

Which, John thought, was probably why he still felt a bit light-headed and why Rodney was still coughing even after escaping the lab area.

Rodney turned back to the computer and typed a query into the system. "If I manually turn off the cloak, there should be enough power for the 'gate." He looked up at John. "Activating the 'gate will probably drain the remaining power. And without the cloak, we'll be immediately exposed to any Wraith in the area."

"Are there any Wraith in the area?" Ford asked.

"There's no way to know with this equipment," Rodney told him with a wave at the console. "It only has basic functions. I'd need the console in the 'gate area to check the sensors."

"We don't have the time to run back and forth," John said. He looked down at Rodney. "Turn off the cloak. It's the only way we can be sure there will be enough energy to power the 'gate." He glanced over at Ford and Teyla. "We'll just have to hope there aren't any hive ships nearby."

Rodney nodded and turned back to the console. He tapped a series of commands into the console then leant back. "The cloak is off. There should be enough power to get the 'gate to power up long enough for us to get back."

"All right," John said and looked at his watch. "We've got about an hour before Elizabeth starts to wonder where we are. Let's go home."

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

"With Paulsen, Jacobs, and Masters, that's all the Marines tested for the ATA gene therapy," Carson said as he sat in front of Elizabeth's desk. "Unfortunately, it didn't take with any of them," he added. "There are still a few of the scientists who volunteered, but even if the therapy works on all of them, that's only another five people with the gene."

"We're going to need all the help we can get, Carson," Elizabeth said.

"Aye, but with only two weeks until the Wraith get here, I'm not sure what it is you expect them to be able to do."

"I'm not sure yet, either, but I'd rather have as many people with the gene ready to help defend the city as I can."

Beckett saw her check her watch for the third time since the meeting began. "Is there something the matter?" he asked.

Elizabeth pursed her lips. "No, not really. I gave John and the others twelve hours to find the naquadah Rodney needs. Their time is almost up. I thought they'd be back by now." She smiled slightly. "I guess I'm beginning to worry."

"Maybe the naquadah mine was farther away from the 'gate than they thought," Carson offered.

"Maybe." Elizabeth looked out at the control room at the same time the stargate started to light up. She glanced at Carson then stood from behind her desk.

"We have an incoming wormhole!" Grodin announced as Carson followed Elizabeth out to the control room. A few moments later Peter looked up at Elizabeth. "Lieutenant Ford's IDC."

"Lower the shield," Elizabeth said, and stood with her hands clenched around the railing as she looked down at the stargate.

"Sheppard calling Atlantis. Please respond."

Grodin pressed a tile and nodded to Elizabeth.

"This is Weir. John? It's good to hear from you. We were getting worried."

The wormhole flickered and spat for a moment before it steadied again. Carson had never seen the wormhole act like that before and looked over at Peter in confusion. Grodin shook his head and checked something on the console.

"... naquadah and some intel," John said over the radio's open channel.

"John, say again," Elizabeth replied. "Your transmission is breaking up."

"No time. Rodney isn't sure how much power the outpost still has to run the 'gate."

"That's not good," Carson heard Grodin mutter as he pressed a series of tiles. He looked up at Elizabeth. "There's not much I can do from this end."

She nodded absently as the wormhole blinked and sputtered again.

" … Have Beckett standing by."

Elizabeth frowned and looked over at Carson. "Understood," Elizabeth said over the radio, concern evident in her tone.

Carson didn't wait to hear any more of the conversation. "Sharon, I need a medical team in the gateroom," Carson said over his radio as he ran down the steps from the control room to the 'gate. "I'm not sure what sort of injuries yet."

"Yes, Doctor Beckett," Sharon replied. "I'm sending David and Jason now."

Carson glanced at the 'gate as the event horizon flickered again. A few seconds later, a large sample case slid through the 'gate and stopped a meter away from the edge of the watery pool. One of the Marines ran to the case, picked it up with a grunt, and moved it out of the way.

David and Jason ran into the room, medical gear slung over their shoulders, and Carson directed them to the steps nearest the 'gate. He had the first case open and was checking what supplies they had brought when Ford came through the 'gate supporting Teyla who was limping heavily.

Carson ran up the stairs to help take Teyla's weight and ease her down onto the nearest step.

"What happened to you, lass?" Carson asked as he found the piece of metal clamped tight around Teyla's ankle. He glanced up at her and noted she was pale and seemed out of breath.

Ford sank down next to Teyla and Carson frowned as Aiden rested his arms on his knees and bent forward as he tried to catch his breath.

"Did you have to run to the 'gate?" he asked as he checked Ford's pulse and frowned at the rapid beat.

Before either could answer, the wormhole fritzed again, then slowly returned to normal. Seconds later, John and Rodney stumbled through the event horizon, and the wormhole shut down with a snap.

John staggered as Rodney sagged against him. Two Marines hurried forward, took Rodney and laid him on the floor where he curled on his side and started coughing.

John sank down beside him, keeping one hand on Rodney's shoulder, as Carson knelt in front of John.

"Major? What happened?" he asked as he checked John's pulse then turned to Rodney still on his side with his eyes closed.

"Trap," John muttered and glanced up at Carson then over at Rodney. "He stopped breathing earlier," he said softly. "Scared the hell out of me."

Carson frowned. "Do you know for how long?" he asked John then looked behind him. "Jason, I need the portable oxygen."

John shook his head. "Still had a pulse. Only took a couple of breaths from me before he started breathing on his own."

Carson nodded absently as he placed the mask over Rodney's nose and mouth and took the stethoscope Jason handed him. He listened to Rodney's heart and lungs for several moments, nodded, and squeezed Rodney's arm gently.

Rodney opened his eyes, looked around lazily for a moment, then closed them again.

"You did a good job, Major," Carson said as he looped the stethoscope around his shoulders. "His lungs sound clear, but I'll run a scan just to be sure." He frowned when he heard John wheezing slightly. "David, start the rest of them on O2. And call down to Sharon. Ask her to have wheelchairs sent up here. I think this lot are going to need a ride."

Carson handed John another oxygen mask, waited for him to place it over his nose and mouth, and moved back over to Teyla and Ford. He was happy to see both were breathing easier with the supplemental oxygen and noted their color was better already. "Was this part of the same trap?" he asked as he examined the metal band around Teyla's ankle.

Teyla shook her head. "It was not," she replied, her voice muffled by the mask. Carson looked up at her as he removed her boot.

Her foot was swollen but still felt warm. "Close your eyes," he said and waited. "Can you feel that?" he asked as he pinched one of her toenails and watched the skin response.

Teyla opened her eyes and nodded. She removed the mask and added, "I can feel slight pressure. However, my foot is mostly numb."

Carson stood as Jason stopped next to him with a wheelchair. "Let's get you down to the infirmary, and we'll see about getting that cut off. I don't think there will be any permanent damage once it's gone. You're going to be bruised and sore for a few days."

Jason helped settle her in one wheelchair while David and two other technicians helped John, Ford, and Rodney. Carson was a bit concerned that neither John nor Rodney protested the enforced ride down to the infirmary. Their passive attitude told Carson more than enough about how they were actually feeling.

"Carson?" Elizabeth asked as she watched the wheelchairs leave the gateroom.

"I think they'll be fine," he told her as he walked over to stand next to her. "I will probably keep Rodney and Teyla overnight just to be safe. John and Aiden should be fine once their O2 levels stabilise."

"What's wrong with Rodney and Teyla?"

"John told me Rodney stopped breathing at some point. I want to make sure there are no problems with his lungs before I release him. My bigger concern is the band around Teyla's leg. I'm not sure what sort of metal it's made from. We might not have a way to remove it." He didn't say anything more, but could tell Elizabeth understood what that meant.

Elizabeth nodded and glanced down the hall where the medical team had disappeared. She looked down at her hands clasped in front of her and sighed. "Keep me updated about both of them," Elizabeth said and turned toward the stairs back up to the control room.

"Certainly," Carson said and stopped her with a hand on her arm. "It was the right decision to send them, you know. Now we at least have a fighting chance when the Wraith get here."

Elizabeth looked out the window behind the stargate. "I hope it's enough, Carson," she replied.

Chapter Text

John looked up from his book when he heard muttering coming from the bed next to him. Since Carson had switched out the oxygen mask for the cannula a few hours ago, Rodney had unconsciously tried to dislodge it at least once an hour. John reached out, stopped the hand about to pull off the thin tubing, laid the arm back at Rodney's side, and waited for him to settle back to sleep.

"All of his scans are clear," Carson had told him earlier that afternoon. "A good night's rest and the additional oxygen will see him right by morning."

John had let out the breath he was holding and nodded. "Thanks, Carson."

Beckett had smiled and started to walk away. "You need rest, too, Major. And in a proper bed, not that chair."

John had merely nodded again, and Beckett had left, shaking his head and muttering about stubborn family members.

Now John squeezed Rodney's arm and settled back in his chair with War and Peace on his lap. With everything that had happened over the last year, his plan to read a chapter a day hadn't worked out as well as he'd hoped. He was about a quarter of the way through the book, and to his surprise, had discovered he actually enjoyed the story once he got past all of the names thrown at him in the first few chapters.

He idly wondered if he'd ever find out how the book ended, then tried to shake off the maudlin thought. They had faced any number of challenges since coming through the 'gate, he told himself firmly. Somehow, they would find a solution. And if not … well, at least he would die defending something important.

Ford looked up from his seat on the other side of Teyla's bed. "Everything all right, sir?"

"Yeah, he's just trying to pull off the oxygen again."

Ford stood, stretched, and looked at his watch. "I'm going down to the mess. Want me to bring something back for you, sir?"

John felt his stomach rumble at the thought of food. They'd returned to Atlantis in the early afternoon with thirty minutes to spare on Elizabeth's deadline. John had spent the rest of the day either with Rodney and Teyla in the infirmary or taking the short amount of time needed to get himself cleaned up and checked over. There hadn't been time to find something to eat.

"Thanks. A sandwich and some coffee would be great." He marked his place and closed the book, setting it on Rodney's bedside table.

"Sure thing. I'll be right back."

John glanced at the other bed where Teyla slept with her foot resting on a pillow and an ice pack over the ugly bruise on her ankle.

Cutting the metal cuff off had proved to be more of a challenge than John or Carson expected and Beckett had been clearly worried about how tight the band was around her leg. Carson had tried to be positive with his prognosis, but when Teyla called him on it, he admitted if they couldn't find a way to cut the cuff off soon, there might be no other choice but to amputate her foot.

It had taken a couple of hours of testing and two visits by Zelenka with different pieces of equipment from the science labs for Beckett to figure out what the cuff was made from and what equipment Radek had in the lab that could cut through it. It took another forty-five minutes after that to get it removed.

John had stayed with Teyla while Beckett and Radek had worked to cut the cuff off her leg, talking to her, trying to distract her from what Carson was doing. She had kept a tight grip on his hand, her eyes focused on the ceiling above her as Beckett carefully cut through the metal band.

When the shackle finally came away from her leg, Carson examined her ankle, scanned her leg, and told them they had been lucky. The cuff hadn't done any permanent nerve or tissue damage. A night with her foot elevated, and ice packs for the bruising, and Teyla could go back to her quarters in the morning.

John adjusted the ice pack then leant the chair back so he balanced against the wall with the two front legs off the floor. They were going to be fine, he told himself. But for how much longer? Did they really have a chance against three hive ships? Was he just kidding himself that they would survive?

He stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets, pulled out a silver coin, and idly flipped the coin over and over in his hand, lost in thought.

"Is it a talisman?" Teyla asked softly, and John turned to see her awake.

He leant forward, setting the front legs of the chair back on the floor and smiled at her. "You should be asleep," he said. "How's the foot?"

Teyla sat up, moved the ice pack, and tried to rotate her ankle. She hissed softly before saying, "It is stiff, and the bruise still hurts, but the pain is much less." She put the ice pack back over her ankle and looked over at the other bed. "How is Rodney?"

John sat back in his chair. "Carson thinks he'll be fine. He told me he's going to release both of you in the morning."

She sat back in the bed and nodded at the coin John's hand. "You did not strike me as the type of man who would believe in luck charms."

John held out the silver coin and dropped it in her hand. He watched as she traced the image of an eagle in flight on one side, then flipped it over. "That's what the country of Afghanistan looks like on a map," he explained as she studied the blobby shape.

"This is another … what did you call them? Challenge coin?"

John nodded. "My team in Afghanistan had them made. And no, I don't believe in lucky charms," he added with a small smile.

She handed the coin back to him, and John sat with his arms braced on his knees, staring at the coin.

"Though maybe I should," he said softly.

"I do not understand."

"You know I wasn't originally part of the team that was assigned to come here."

Teyla nodded. "Rodney has mentioned more than once about how you discovered you carried the Ancestor's gene by sitting in the control chair on Earth by accident."

John glanced at the other bed. "Yeah, he does seem to like telling that part of the story."

He turned back to Teyla. "Really, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do once I found out about all of this.

"There had been a few … incidents during my overseas assignments and the Air Force wasn't too happy with me. The brass thought sending me to be a glorified bus driver in Antarctica was punishment. No one wanted to be around me, figuring they'd have mud on their careers by association, and I was left alone most of the time. I had pretty much had enough of dealing with people anyway by then and didn't really care. I was happy to fly the missions I was given, happy that I didn't have to worry about anyone other than myself.

"Then I get this assignment to fly some General out to the middle of nowhere, which in Antarctica really says something. We're nearly shot down by some sort of rogue rocket, I'm walking around in an underground base carved out of the ice, and then everything with the chair happened. Suddenly, I was being told I had alien DNA, that I was needed for some top secret mission, and that I'd be sent through a portal to another galaxy."

John stared at the coin in his hand. "It was a lot to absorb."

"It does sound overwhelming," Teyla agreed.

John nodded and studied the coin in his hand.

"Did the remembrance of your past missions help you decide to make the journey?" Teyla asked after a few moments of silence.

John shook his head. "What Rodney doesn't know, what no one else knows, is that I sat in a park in California overlooking the ocean trying to make sense of it all. I still wasn't sure how much I even believed what General O'Neill and Elizabeth were telling me. So I sat on a hill, watching the water, and flipped a coin to decide whether or not to come here."

He held up the silver coin. "This coin. The eagle meant I was to join the mission. If it landed on Afghanistan, I was going to stay on Earth."

"And you saw the eagle," Teyla said.

John smiled and looked down at the coin. "The second time I flipped it, yeah."

Teyla smiled in return.

"Don't get me wrong, there's been some bad stuff since we got here. Sumner, the Genii, not to mention the Wraith. But there's been a lot of good stuff, too." John glanced over at the other bed and stopped Rodney's hand as he unconsciously tried to pull out the cannula again. "I'm glad I came. I found a few things I didn't realise I was missing." He squeezed Rodney's arm and leant back in the chair.

"You are afraid something will happen to him," Teyla said softly a few minutes later. "It is only natural to be worried about family when the Wraith are coming."

John ducked his head down. "He's not the only one I'm worried about, but yeah, I guess so." He looked over at Teyla. "He's already made it clear he won't go to the Alpha site, assuming we find one."

"And this surprises you, John?" she asked. "I had only known you and Rodney for a few days when you rescued me from a hive ship, and then I watched as Rodney willingly walked into the midst of a shadow creature to save Atlantis. I knew then you were both brave and honorable men. It is not at all a shock to me that he would wish to stay here and defend his home." She reached out and touched his arm. "Protect his family."

John sat back in his chair, lost in thought. He flipped the coin a few more times, then held it out to Teyla.

"John?" she asked as she accepted the coin.

"Chances are, even if the city survives this attack, I probably won't," he told her. "That's the job I signed up for." He glanced at Rodney in the other bed. "Do me a favor. If I don't …" He looked down for a moment then met her concerned gaze. "Give him the coin and tell him what I told you. Tell him … it was the best decision I ever made."

"John --"

"You should get some sleep," John said brusquely and stood from the chair. "Ford was going down to the mess hall. I'm just going to go … see where he is."

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

Rodney woke up to the sound of soft snoring. He looked to his left and found John sound asleep on the next bed. Looking to his right, he saw Teyla, also peacefully asleep. He could tell from the low lights and the lack of bustle around him it was either very late or very early, as he lay for a few minutes simply breathing, happy that for the first time in who knew how long, he could take a deep breath without coughing or feeling like his chest was in a vice.

He untangled himself from the oxygen line and sat on the edge of the bed letting his feet dangle for a moment. He glanced behind him to see if Sheppard knew he was up and was a little surprised John hadn't moved. Rodney knew from past experience John was a light sleeper, something very handy on missions to potentially hostile planets. Much less so when he was trying to sneak past the man.

He spotted the bag with a change of clothes on the floor near the bedside table. With another cautious look behind him at John, he slid off the bed, took the bag, and looked for a place to change.

He nearly had a heart attack a few minutes later when he came around Teyla's bed, his boots in one hand and his jacket in another, and found Ford camped in the chair beside her bed, his feet up on a stool. It took him a moment to realise Ford was soundly asleep and was not about to raise the alarm about Rodney being out of bed. He skirted around the chair, and with a quick check to make sure the night nurses weren't around, and Beckett's office was dark, he escaped the infirmary and headed for his lab.

Carson wouldn't like it, and John would probably back him up, but Rodney needed to get away from everyone and think for a little while. Ever since they'd returned from Dagan, he'd been bouncing from one crisis to another, not to mention apparently nearly dying. He needed a little time to sort everything out in his head.

He didn't bother with the overhead lights when he entered the lab. He let the door slide shut behind him and found his work table from memory and turned on the light over the table. He took off his earpiece, set it on the end of the table, and sat on the stool in front of the table.

The half-assembled naquadah generator still sat on the table, and he idly wondered where the sample case had got to. He'd need Kavanagh to run some tests and make sure the mineral Sheppard and Ford collected had a high enough purity to work as a power source. He toyed with a couple of parts for the generator for a few minutes then set them aside and glanced at the shelves crammed full of the various Ancient devices they'd found in the last year.

He stood and let his gaze roam the shelves, running his hands over a few of the objects, smiling when he found a particular favorite.

The box-like device he'd found soon after their arrival was still a mystery all these months later. He rubbed the barely visible scar on the back of his hand and remembered finding the box in one of the first lab spaces they'd discovered once they'd started exploring the city. He'd made some progress since he'd found a second box on P2J-883 and was reasonably confident the boxes worked independently of each other. He hadn't found any way to connect them to each other and switching crystals from one box to the other had no effect on the boxes, either.

He touched the first box he'd found in the lab. "I wonder if I'll get the chance to figure you out," he muttered to the box.

He found the personal shield device on another shelf and picked it up. It felt heavy and dead in his hand; he didn't feel any vibrations indicating the crystal had power. After months of research, he was certain there was no way to recharge the device, but he found he could not simply throw it away. It had been the first object he'd activated once Carson's gene therapy had worked. He would deny it if anyone asked, but he had a sentimental attachment to the shield, it represented much more than just his ability to use Ancient technology. He put the shield back with a wistful sigh.

He shifted aside a few other objects and found the small wooden box with Kalani's stone. John had fixed the top of the box for him, and he slid it back, picked up the stone, and smiled slightly when it started to glow with a soft yellow light.

He'd always meant to do more testing of the device. Was it like the shield device and would only locate someone if John asked it? Would it find someone who did not have the gene at all, or was it tuned to the ATA gene? He'd even wondered if the only person it would locate was himself since he was the one to activate it first. However, one thing had led to another, and he'd never had the time to find answers to any of his questions.

On a whim, he held the stone flat in his hand and said, "Show me John Sheppard."

He was surprised, but pleased, when the stone glowed a little brighter, and an image of John floated in the yellow light above his hand. The problem was, the image he'd expected to see was Sheppard still asleep in the infirmary. What he saw instead, was John walking down the hallway outside his lab. Before he could really digest what that meant, the door opened, and John walked in, two cups of coffee in his hands.

"Carson is going to kill you," John said lightly as he handed over one of the cups. "He doesn't like it when his patients get up and leave on their own. I heard an earful when Teyla and I left to find you and Ford after the bacteria made us all loopy."

Rodney took the cup with a shrug. "He was going to release me in a few hours anyway."

"Maybe, but he likes being the one to say when you can go."

Rodney sipped some of the coffee and set the cup down. "How long did it take you to realise I was gone?" he asked and put the stone back in its box.

John pulled over the other stool and sat down across the work table from Rodney. "I knew as soon as you got up. You don't sneak as well as you think you do."

"I got past Ford," Rodney pointed out smugly.

John snorted a laugh. "Yeah, I should probably talk to him about that. Sleeping while on guard duty is a court-martial offence."

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes. Rodney finished his coffee and revelled in this moment of calm. Probably one of the last ones he'd get for a while, he thought ruefully.

"So why did you leave the infirmary?" John asked.

Rodney shrugged and looked around the lab. "Just wanted some time to think." He toyed with the cup in his hands.

John nodded. "I think we had the regrets talk once already," he said softly and ducked his head enough to catch Rodney's eye.

Rodney shook his head. "Not regrets." He set the cup aside. "This is the first place I've ever felt like I belonged," he admitted. "To my own surprise, I have friends here. Family, even," he added with a look at John. "Chances are, in a little less than two weeks, all of it will be gone."

John reached out and tapped Rodney's arm. "We are not dead yet. Besides, you have the naquadah now and can finish the generator. That's a start."

Rodney stared back at John and saw the absolute conviction in his expression. "There is one thing we can try …" He paused. "We could go back to that Entry Room. I'm sure I could rig something with the new generator to power the two chairs. Those symbiotic systems had to be set up for a reason. Defending the city seems like a good reason. Maybe there's something …"

John was shaking his head before Rodney finished speaking. "You heard The Controller. It's not safe." He held up a hand when Rodney tried to interrupt. "Elizabeth was right. We aren't Ancients, there's no guarantee we'd be able to get any systems in there to work." John shook his head. "We're not using the Entry Rooms. Getting the shield to work is the priority."

"And then what?"

"And then we do what we have to in order to survive."

Rodney was about to say something else when John tapped his earpiece. "Sheppard here."

John looked over at Rodney with an evil smile and nodded. "Yep, I know exactly where he is, Carson."

Rodney winced and looked away.

"We'll be there soon. Sheppard out."

"Exactly how mad is he?"

John shook his head, still grinning, and stood up. "Let's just say it's a good thing we're meeting him in the infirmary. You're probably going to need it."

The tongue-lashing wasn't as bad as Rodney expected. After letting Rodney know how much he didn't appreciate walking into his infirmary and finding one of his patients gone, Carson checked him over and officially released him.

Teyla was given the all clear to leave as well, and once she was dressed, they headed down to the mess hall, Teyla limping slightly as she walked beside John.

"Elizabeth wants to meet in half an hour to talk about options," John said once they were seated and started eating. "We need to start making contingency plans and work out a defensive strategy now that we have the naquadah."

Rodney finished his breakfast only listening with half an ear as Ford and Teyla offered various ideas on how to defend the city and the Alpha site. He glanced around the room as he finished his coffee, watching the scientists and Marines seated at various tables talking and laughing with each other. So different from how each group had treated the other when they'd first arrived.

He saw Radek walk into the room with one of his engineers. They exchanged a quick nod before Zelenka went back to his conversation. Stackhouse and his team sat at a table across the room; Corrigan was saying something while the three Marines listened intently. Thompson and Daley sat at another table with two other Marines Rodney didn't know.

He spotted the rest of Sergeant Markham's team seated in a corner, talking amongst themselves and occasionally glancing around the rest of the room. They had suffered the first loss in the coming fight. Rodney couldn't help wondering how many other teams, scientists and Marines alike, would suffer similar losses before everything was said and done.

He glanced around the table at Ford and Teyla. At John. Teyla had lived her entire life with the threat of the Wraith. She knew how to survive against them. Ford was young, but he was a Marine. After a year surrounded by them, Rodney knew Marines never gave up; they never surrendered while there was still something left to fight for.

He knew some of the things John had done, both for the Air Force back on Earth and here in the Pegasus galaxy. This was the man who had fought a one-man guerrilla war against Kolya when the Genii invaded the city. Though John had tried to hide the evidence, Rodney was aware of how many men Rasha had had with him when he and Teyla were kidnapped. He also knew none of them had survived John's assault on the compound to rescue them. John was not going to let the Wraith have Atlantis if there was anything he could do to prevent it.

Which was what scared Rodney the most. He knew John's level of commitment to protecting the city included sacrificing himself if necessary. Rodney was going to do everything in his power to make sure that never became an option.

These were his friends, his family. Would all four of them be able to sit down in two weeks and congratulate themselves on their mutual survival? he wondered.

They had the naquadah now, he could finish the generator, that was a step in the right direction. Atlantis was his city. His home. He would find a way to save it; he was a genius after all, the smartest man in two galaxies. He'd found any number of solutions to seemingly impossible problems since their arrival. He would find another one. Save the city. Save his friends. The math was simple really.

What was the old saying? Hope for the best but prepare for the worst? He'd always lived his life expecting the worst. But he had Teyla and Ford and John now. He was no longer alone.

Maybe it was time to try a little hope.

FIN