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Finding Home

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John watched as Ronon stared at the screen showing the destruction of Sateda one last time then left the control room without saying another word. He nodded to the two Marines assigned as an escort and said, "See that he gets back to his room."

"Yes, sir," one of the Marines said, and led the way out of the control room.

"Chuck," Elizabeth whispered, "recall the MALP."

"Yes, ma'am."

The flickering images disappeared as the screen shut down, and John ducked his head. He couldn't imagine the type of pain Dex had to be in at the moment. How would he react if he saw images of Earth, or Atlantis, in ruins?

"John?" Elizabeth said on her way back to her office. "We need to talk."

"Yeah," John agreed with a sigh, and followed her into the glassed-in office.

'What do you want to do now?" she asked once she was seated behind her desk. "With his homeworld destroyed, there's nowhere for Mr Dex to go." She paused and looked down at her desk. "It may not have been the best idea to bring him back to Atlantis. We are trying to stay hidden."

John frowned. "He's not going to tell anyone we're still here."

"You don't know that," she replied. "He did kidnap you and Teyla."

"Only because he didn't know who we were," John insisted.

"He certainly knows now," Elizabeth replied, and John could hear the mix of concern and exasperation in her tone.

"He hates the Wraith just as much as we do." John stopped and thought about the images from the planet. "Probably more," he amended, and straightened his back. "He's not going to give us up."

Elizabeth studied him for a moment longer, then sat back in her chair. "What do you intend to do about Ford?" she asked.

John was a bit surprised at the change of topic. He'd honestly expected a bit more of a fight where Dex was concerned. "We found him once, we'll find him again."

Elizabeth looked down at her desk and picked up the stylus for her computer.

"What?"

"Are you sure that's such a good idea? Like you said, he ran into the Wraith culling beam."

"To escape the planet!"

Elizabeth sighed. "I understand that, John." She paused a moment. "However, he chose running into that beam over coming back to the city. Have you thought about that?"

John rubbed a hand over his eyes. He hadn't thought of much else since they'd returned. He thought about the promise he'd made to Ford's cousin, that he would find Aiden and bring him home.

"We didn't leave him. He ran away," he remembered Rodney saying while they were on Earth.

"We will need to tread carefully, or he will only continue to run away from us," Teyla had said after Ford left in the jumper.

John stared at the bowl on the corner of Weir's desk. Was he supposed to just give up? he wondered. Leave Ford to fend for himself? Both McKay and Teyla thought Ford was running away from them. Was he the only one who couldn't see the truth? Would Ford, or Teyla, or Rodney abandon him if their roles were reversed and he was the one affected by something that fundamentally changed him? John shook his head and looked down at his hands.

"Have you had a chance to talk to the rest of your team? What do they think?" Elizabeth asked after a few moments of silence.

"McKay and Teyla want to find him, too," John insisted.

Elizabeth studied him for a moment, and John looked away. "I'm sure they do," she finally said. "But did you hear what Rodney said before Caldwell left?"

John replayed the conversation a few hours ago with Caldwell in his head.

"Based on the quality time I spent with Ford, he was definitely not thinking straight," he remembered McKay saying. He hadn't thought anything of it at the time, just Rodney trying to help prove John's point.

Elizabeth leant forward in her chair. "Something happened between Rodney and Ford," she said. "There's something he's not telling us."

"He seemed fine in the meeting."

"Yes, that's what's worrying me. When have you ever known Rodney to be fine after something like what happened today?"

Elizabeth had a point, John realised.

Rodney had disappeared soon after their return to the city. At the time, John had assumed McKay had gone to get cleaned up and checked out by Carson. John had been busy dealing with Ronon and explaining to Elizabeth why they had brought him back with them; he simply hadn't been paying much attention to where Rodney was or what he was doing.

When he'd arrived for the debrief with Elizabeth and Caldwell, Rodney had already been in the room reading something on the computer in front of him. John had given him a quick once over, and he'd seemed fine. Now John wondered if his concern for Ford and the distraction of sorting out quarters for Dex had let him miss something with Rodney.

John scrubbed a hand through his hair and stood from his chair. He turned to the door. "I'll talk to him," he promised.

Elizabeth nodded. "As for Ronon Dex, you need to find out what he wants to do now that he knows what happened to his home world."

"And if he decides to leave?" John asked from the doorway.

Elizabeth twisted the stylus in her hand. "We'll cross that bridge if we have to."

John left the office and headed first to the mess hall for a couple of cups of coffee before heading down to Rodney's lab.

"Colonel Sheppard!" he heard a voice call when he entered the mess hall. He turned to see Teyla enter the room behind him.

"Teyla," John replied and stopped just inside the door. "Something I can do for you?"

She smiled and held out her hand. "With everything that has happened over the past few days, I have not had a chance to return this to you," she said as she dropped a silver coin in his palm.

John glanced at the coin and saw it was the challenge coin he'd given to her before the siege, in case he didn't survive. He ran his thumb over the stylised image of Afghanistan, the memory of sitting on a hill in California superimposed over the memory of sitting in the infirmary telling Teyla how he'd made the decision to come to the Pegasus galaxy.

"You never told him?" John asked as he flipped the coin over to see the eagle in flight on the opposite side.

Teyla shook her head. "You asked me to give Rodney the coin only if something happened to you."

John nodded. "Thanks," he said, and dropped the coin in his trouser pocket.

"You are welcome," she replied then hesitated.

"Was there something else?"

Teyla nodded at John's pocket. "You should tell him, John. If it was important enough for Rodney to know of your decision and what it meant to you after you died, it is just as important for him to know now that you survived."

John smiled slightly. "Maybe I will. Someday."

She studied him for a moment, then changed the subject. "Nothing has changed with the plan for tomorrow?"

John pursed his lips. "I still don't like this idea."

Teyla nodded. "I know. However, Halling and I have both been to Hyax many times. We can complete the trades without compromising the safety of Atlantis."

"I get that. I just don't like the idea of you being off-world without backup."

Teyla smiled. "I will have Halling with me, and as I said, the people there know us. There should be no danger."

"It's that 'should' part that concerns me," John told her, his tone serious.

"We will be fine."

Teyla followed as he turned toward the mess line and the coffee urns at the end of one of the counters.

"I have not seen Ronon since our return to Atlantis," she said. "Has he decided to stay in the city?"

"I don't think he knows what he wants to do yet. From what you told me about these runners, he's a free man for the first time in seven years. That's got to be a lot to take in."

"Perhaps I will see if he is interested in joining me for supper," Teyla suggested as John carefully picked up the two cups and headed for the exit. "The city can be intimidating if you are not used to it."

John chuckled. "Not sure Ronon Dex has been intimidated a day in his life."

Teyla frowned. "Do not let appearances fool you, Colonel. I suspect what we have seen of Ronon so far has been a defence mechanism, not unlike Rodney's acerbic attitude. It is meant to keep people at a distance."

John thought about what she'd said for a moment then nodded. "You may have a point," he admitted. "I'll keep that in mind."

He watched as Teyla left the mess hall then headed for the transporter that would take him down to the lab area. As he walked, he thought about Ford running away from him, again, Ronon standing in front of the screen as the MALP camera panned over the destruction of his world, and the cryptic statement from Rodney about his afternoon with Ford.

There wasn't anything he could do for Ford at the moment, he finally admitted. He would have to hope the Lieutenant would find a way to escape the Wraith or they would get information on where he was so they could mount a rescue. He didn't like the idea, but he'd have to accept Ford hadn't given him much choice.

Ronon was a different problem, and one John thought he had an answer for. He'd just need to get Dex, not to mention Rodney, Teyla, and Elizabeth, to agree. Ronon had proven he was more than capable of taking care of himself and was good in a fight. Being a Runner for the past seven years also meant he had intel on various planets, something they could use.

But would he want to stay? After seeing the destruction of Sateda, John wouldn't blame Ronon if he wanted to leave and seek vengeance on his own. John would have to find a way to convince him it would be better for both sides if Ronon chose to stay and help Atlantis fight the Wraith.

John tapped the control for the transporter as he balanced the two cups of coffee in one hand.

If he were honest with himself, John had to admit he hadn't given much thought to Rodney throughout the day. He'd had his hands full looking for Ford, getting kidnapped by Dex, convincing Dex not to shoot them, and then talking Elizabeth and Carson into removing the transmitter. Once Ford disappeared into the Wraith culling beam, John's only thought was to get his people off the planet in case more Wraith decided to show up.

Now he wondered if he hadn't made a mistake assuming Rodney was more or less okay after his encounter with Ford.

John exited the transporter and stopped short in surprise. The hallways around the lab areas were usually quiet. Unless there was some sort of immediate issue, most of Rodney's scientists stayed in their own labs or debated a problem in one of the conference rooms down the opposite corridor.

Now he found chaos as he tried to get down the hall and around the corner where Rodney's lab sat without splashing hot coffee either on himself or one of the milling scientists. He looked around and saw Zelenka standing on a chair at the junction of two hallways, a tablet computer in one hand, as he tried to make himself heard over the general hubbub and noise.

"Doctor Heller and the botany team is down the hall and through the double doors," Zelenka called over the sound of several conversations as he pointed to the hallway across from him.

John watched as three people, including the red-headed woman who had spent so much time with Rodney during the trip out in the Daedalus, head down the indicated hallway.

"Chemists, you are down another floor," Zelenka said, and pointed to a huddle of people standing behind John. "See Doctor Hooker for lab assignments."

The group of men and women turned back to the transporter and John heard the hum as the transporter engaged.

Zelenka looked up from his computer and gave John a half smile and a shrug as Sheppard walked past.

John nodded back and turned down the hall where Rodney's lab was, thankful to leave the gaggle of new scientists behind.

"No, no no!" he heard Radek cry, and John looked back in Zelenka's direction. "The Geology labs are on other side of the section. Take equipment there!" He watched as two men groaned before they turned around and headed in a different direction hefting a large box between them.

John stopped in front of Rodney's lab, balanced the two coffee cups in one hand, and tapped the sensor to trigger the door.

He waited a few seconds and frowned. When the door didn't open, he tapped the sensor again.

"He has kept the door locked for the past two hours," Zelenka said from behind John. "He is not answering the radio, either."

"You sure he's even in there?" John asked with a glance at the door.

Zelenka nodded. "I saw him when he came down. I wanted to ask him about the new lab assignments. He told me to deal with it and then locked the door." Zelenka paused and looked down at the tablet computer. "I heard what happened with Lieutenant Ford," Zelenka added. "Rodney did not seem his usual self."

John grimaced. First Elizabeth and now Zelenka telling him something was wrong with McKay. Something he hadn't bothered to notice. He really needed to get his head back in the game.

"Thanks," John said with a tiny smile. "I'll see what I can do."

Zelenka nodded, and with a last look at the door, he went back to directing the new scientists to their work areas.

John waited until the hallway was clear, then tapped his earpiece. "Rodney, it's John." he waited a moment, and when he didn't get a response, tried again. "McKay, I'm outside the lab. Open the door. I brought coffee."

He was about to start pounding on the door when he heard the door whisper open.

"Go away," Rodney growled and turned back to the work table.

"Hey," John said, and stepped into the lab before Rodney could close the door again.

"I'm busy, Colonel," Rodney said shortly.

John pursed his lips at the use of his rank. Rodney calling him Major, or now Colonel, only happened when he was angry or upset.

The Ancient box Rodney had been working on for the past several months sat on the work table with assorted crystals lying around it. Another bad sign, John told himself. McKay usually only worked on the mystery box when he needed something to do with his hands while he thought through some other problem.

John followed him back to the work table and frowned when he noticed McKay was limping.

"What's wrong with your leg?" he asked as he set one of the cups on the worktable, pulled a stool around, and sat down across from Rodney. He hadn't noticed anything wrong during the debriefing, and he hadn't felt anything through the mental link, either.

Rodney looked up with a glare. "I don't know, Colonel, maybe it has something to do with getting caught in a trap and left hanging upside down while my supposed friend and team leader went haring off into the woods."

"Ford --"

John saw Rodney's hand clench around the screwdriver he held, and John stopped speaking. Elizabeth had been right, he realised. Something had happened when Rodney had found Ford. Or had Ford found Rodney? John wondered with a sinking feeling in his gut.

He had assumed the 'ray blast' that had hit Lorne was from Dex and Rodney had become lost trying to find help for the Major, eventually running into Ford instead.

Had it been Ford who'd shot Lorne? And then what? Kidnapped Rodney?

Based on the quality time I spent with Ford, he was definitely not thinking straight.

John suddenly remembered the bloody wound in Ford's shoulder and felt his stomach clench. At the time John had thought Ford's injury was something from his fight with Dex.

"I shot him, too," he remembered Rodney saying hesitantly in the debriefing. If Rodney had actually fired on Ford …

"You never did tell me what happened to you today," John said when Rodney went back to working on the box, pointedly ignoring him.

Rodney grunted and pulled another crystal out of the box, checked it and put it back in a new slot.

"Rodney," John drew out the name, "talk to me."

Rodney dropped the screwdriver and glared across the work table. "What do you want me to say, Colonel? That I spent part of the day with Major Lorne, who did little more than belittle my worth on a 'gate team? Or how about being kidnapped by a man I thought was a friend, who instead threatened to kill me, and almost succeeded. Twice! Then I get left with some hairy giant who thinks it's funny to threaten me with a knife, before he finally decides to cut the rope around my leg, letting me drop to the ground, nearly snapping my neck in the process."

John was a bit stunned by the sudden tirade, but Rodney wasn't done yet. He stood and paced back and forth between the table and his desk, limping with every step.

"And after all of that, my team leader, once he finally shows up, doesn't say anything except 'We need to get back to the jumper' and walks away without even bothering to find out if I can move." Rodney stumbled and braced his hand on the desk. "First Mason, and now Ford. How many more supposed friends or colleagues are going to try and shoot me?" he finished, and John heard the hurt underlying the anger.

John stood and placed himself in Rodney's path as he turned in his constant pacing.

"Sit down before you make that leg worse," John said gently.

He tried to tell himself he'd known Rodney wasn't hurt that badly thanks to the mental link. In reality, he had to admit he'd been angry at himself for Ford running away from him again, and other than checking to make sure both McKay and Dex were following him, he hadn't been paying much attention to either of them on the hike back to the ship.

Rodney scowled at him but sat back on his stool. "Now he notices," Rodney muttered under his breath, and John chose not to hear it.

Rodney picked up the coffee cup, stared at it for a moment as if wondering where it came from, then took a drink.

John scrubbed a hand over his face as he sat back down on the stool across from McKay. He remembered hearing the rapid fire from a P-90 just before he found the clearing where Ford and Dex were fighting. Had Ford actually tried to kill Rodney? What would he have found if Ronon had been just a little slower reaching them?

"He tried to throttle Carson, and he attacked Doctor Zelenka in the jumper bay. I don't think either of us can really say one way or the other what Ford will do at this point," Elizabeth had said to him when Ford first went missing.

The thought had never occurred to John how much danger Rodney might have been in if he found Ford. John had partnered Rodney with Lorne for a couple of reasons during the search. As his second in command, John needed Lorne to start working with McKay and hopefully build a relationship, and he needed Rodney to start trusting Lorne for the same reason.

More importantly, John had wanted someone Ford knew on each of the search teams. Lorne was there more to protect Rodney from any dangers on the planet. Like strange Runners, John thought wryly. Not from Ford himself. John had simply assumed Ford would listen once one of his teammates finally caught up with him.

When Ford had chosen to run into the Wraith beam instead of coming back with them, John had been shocked and more than a little hurt by Ford's actions. He'd spent the trip back to the jumper replaying everything that had happened trying to figure out where he could have done something different to convince Ford to come back to the city. Rodney had glared and mentioned something about his leg when they had left the clearing, but John hadn't paid attention, other than to check periodically to make sure he was keeping up on the way back to the jumper. He'd assumed McKay was mostly fine, just grousing to let Sheppard know he wasn't happy John had left him with Dex.

"What did Carson say?" John finally asked with a nod at Rodney's leg.

Rodney studied him for a moment, then shrugged. "No permanent damage," he finally said, his tone conciliatory. "Don't walk on it too much and ice it every hour."

"What about your neck?"

"Shoulder," Rodney corrected shortly. "It's a lovely shade of purple."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, Rodney working on the box, John finishing his coffee.

"What happened to Conan, anyway?" Rodney asked a few minutes later, his tone neutral, and John accepted the peace offering.

John snorted. "His name is Dex, Ronon Dex."

"We never got to the pleasantries while I sat under a tree wondering if you were going to come back, or if Ford had killed you, or if the Wraith had scooped you up in a beam of light and I'd never see you again."

John ducked his head for a moment. Okay, he thought to himself, not quite forgiven. "Elizabeth sent a MALP to his planet."

Rodney looked up from the Ancient box when John hesitated.

"It doesn't look like there's anything left," John finished.

McKay sat in silence for a few moments. "That's, umm … What's he going to do now?"

"Don't know. Not sure he knows."

"But you have an idea."

John smiled and stood. "Maybe." He picked up the empty cups and turned toward the door. "Zelenka is going a little crazy out there trying to wrangle all of your new scientists, you know."

"It's good for him. Besides, I'm not supposed to be walking around." Rodney looked up as John stopped at the door. "Leave it open. Radek can come get me if he needs something."

Chapter Text

Ronon had stormed back to his room … cell? he wondered with a glare at the two men following him, determined to keep his emotions in check until he was away from prying eyes. He would not give these near-strangers the satisfaction of seeing him weep; anger was a much better salve for what the Wraith had done to him and to Sateda.

He entered the room and watched as the men stopped at the doorway. "We'll be out here," one of them said and let the door close.

Ronon grunted and paced the room for several minutes trying to burn off the excess emotion. It would never do to allow Sheppard or anyone else to see him as anything but in control. He found his pack and leather duster on the end of the bed and dug through the pack until he found the leather thong with the silver charm dangling from it.

He held the necklace in his hand and twisted the charm back and forth, letting the afternoon sunlight play on the polished surface. Melena had given him the charm when he'd enlisted. She'd said it was for good luck, to make sure he always made it home to her. He squeezed his eyes shut as the image of Melena standing in front of a window just before the wall behind her exploded, played in his memory. He'd been right there, trying to convince her to run, leave before it was too late, and then she was gone. Right in front of him.

He clenched the charm in his hand and studied the floor in front of his feet. He'd survived, but she hadn't. His planet hadn't. He dropped the necklace on the bedside table and went back to pacing the room.

The afternoon sunlight played across the room, and he stopped near one of the windows, his arms crossed stiffly over his chest, and watched the play of the light on the water. The scene reminded him of the lake where he and Melena would walk on those rare occasions when he had leave, and she was free from her studies at the hospital.

They'd been young, silly, full of hope. They'd been in love. They had their lives planned. He would rise through the ranks of the military while Melena became a doctor. They would build a house on the lake and raise their children near the water.

Then the Wraith came, not to merely cull, but to kill, to wipe out the people and culture of Sateda. He'd watched as Melena was killed. He'd watched as his friends died defending a man whose only thought was to save himself, not the Satedan people. And he'd been captured, tortured, and turned loose to be the plaything of the Wraith looking for sport.

Seven years he'd been running from the Wraith unable to stay in one place long enough to rest, much less enjoy the scenery. Seven years thinking of home and dreaming of someday returning. It wouldn't be the same, he knew that. Melena was dead. Most of his friends were gone. But Sateda was still home, it still held the promise that someday he could return.

Or at least it had.

Now, he truly was alone. According to Sheppard and the machine sent to Sateda, there was no one left alive, and the planet was in ruins. His home was gone. Destroyed by the Wraith.

He'd stared at the picture on the screen, burning the image of the destruction into his mind. He'd make the Wraith pay for what they had done to his world, he silently vowed. He'd seen the sympathy, the sorrow, in Sheppard's eyes and in the woman's, and had turned his back and left the room. He neither needed nor wanted their pity. What he needed, was vengeance.

He watched the sun go down over the water, and the lights from the city come on, reflecting on the waves. He clenched his hands into fists and considered what he should do next.

He was a free man for the first time in seven years. No more Wraith hunting him, no more need to run. Should he try to find other survivors? Did any of his unit make it to the ring? he wondered. Tyre and the others might still be out there somewhere. If he could find them, he'd have backup when he went after the Wraith.

Ronon thought about the deal he'd made with Sheppard. He'd tracked Ford easily enough through the jungle, which was probably a good thing for the red-suited man caught in one of his traps and hanging from the tree. He hadn't been sure if the hanging man was a friend or not, but Sheppard had wanted Ford, and Ronon had agreed to get him Ford in exchange for removing the tracker.

He'd been surprised after cutting down the man, McKay? Was that what he'd called himself? He'd been surprised to learn McKay knew Sheppard. The little man didn't seem the type for taking off world. He shook his head as he thought back to waiting for Sheppard to return.

"Thank you. I think," McKay had said, as he scooted back until he was against the tree. He gave Ronon a wary look. "I think something's wrong with my ankle," he muttered. "I know something's wrong with my shoulder. The ground isn't as soft as you think it is." He gave Ronon another cautious look.

Ronon watched McKay wince as he rotated his right shoulder, then slowly climb to his feet. "So, umm, I'm just going to go …" He stood, pointed at the nearby trees, and took a limping step. "Find Sheppard."

Ronon shook his head and planted himself in front of McKay. "No," he said. The Wraith were still out there, he knew. McKay obviously wasn't capable of avoiding even the simplest of traps. He didn't want to be the one to explain to Sheppard he'd let McKay, whoever he was, get culled.

"No? What do you mean, no?" McKay said with a scowl, his arms crossed over his chest.

Ronon was surprised to see McKay's fear and distrust quickly change to frustration and anger. He also remembered the yelling he'd heard as he'd tracked Ford to the clearing. Even as he was hanging upside down and had someone pointing a gun at him, McKay hadn't been meek. Maybe he wasn't so weak after all, Ronon thought to himself.

McKay uncrossed his arms and took a step around Ronon. "Look, I'm grateful for the timely intervention with Ford, but I don't know you, and I'm not staying here. I need to find Sheppard."

Ronon moved into McKay's path, held his knife where McKay could see it, and refused to move. "No."

McKay threw up his hands, then groaned and grabbed his shoulder with the movement. "I don't believe this," he muttered, and stepped back against the tree again. "First Ford, and now some hairy giant. Is this Kidnap McKay Day and I just didn't get the memo?"

Ronon sheathed his knife. "You talk too much, you know that?"

McKay glowered at him. "So I've been told."

McKay had split the remaining time while they waited for Sheppard to return either muttering to himself or watching the trees where Sheppard had disappeared until Sheppard finally reappeared. Alone.

Unlike Sheppard or Teyla, McKay didn't bother to conceal his expressions. Ronon had watched, hiding his own amazement, as the fear on McKay's face gave way to happiness, relief, concern, and then hurt when Sheppard did little more than check both of them were upright before telling them they were heading back to something called a jumper.

As far as Ronon was concerned, McKay's lack of control was one more reason he would never be allowed off-world if Ronon were in charge. The Wraith weren't the only ones who would prey on someone so easily manipulated. Where did these people come from that such basic survival skills weren't taught from a young age?

He turned away from the window. He had to admit the city of the Ancestors was the last place he would have guessed for their homeworld.

Ronon heard a knock at the door and turned around. When nothing happened, he started to turn back toward the bed when the knock sounded again.

"Ronon? It is Teyla," he heard her call through the door.

Ronon walked over to the door and triggered the release.

Teyla smiled up at him. "I am going to find supper. Would you like to join me?"

"Do I have a choice?" he growled with a glance at the ever-present guards.

Teyla frowned. "Certainly," she said, and took a step back from the door. "If you would prefer not to, I will understand."

Ronon glowered at her for a moment.

"Perhaps another time," she said with a nod and started to turn away.

Ronon glanced back through the window at the lights playing on the water. Sateda was gone. His old life was gone with it. Seven years running had taught Ronon many skills, one of which was a harsh sense of practicality. If his old life was gone, he needed to start making a new one. Now was as good a time as any.

"Wait," he said, and stepped out of the room. "I guess I could eat."

Teyla smiled. "I am glad."

He followed Teyla back through the hallways, ignoring the two men trailing behind them until they stood outside a set of double doors.

The doors opened automatically, and Ronon saw a large room, backed by windows along one wall. Tables and chairs were scattered around the room, with people seated at most of the tables. A line of people selected food items from various counters to the right of the door.

The room was three-quarters full when they walked in, and he and Teyla, along with their escort, joined the end of the line of people waiting for food. Ronon divided his time between watching the room and trying to figure out what some of the strange foods in front of him were. It had been a long time since he'd seen so much food in one place or had to think about choosing what he wanted to eat as opposed to eating whatever he could find.

He piled a plate with as many of the different foods as he could, ignoring the stares coming from the men and women around him, and followed Teyla to a table next to the windows. The view was different from what he'd seen from his room, not as many lights from the city, but there was a reflection on the water from a pair of moons, just rising, in front of them.

"Do you know what you want to do now that the Wraith tracker has been removed?" Teyla asked after they'd been eating for several minutes.

Ronon shook his head and picked up something that looked like flattened meat in a roll of bread.

"Colonel Sheppard calls that a hamburger," Teyla told him as he pulled the meat out of the bread and looked at it. "He says they are especially good with cheese."

Ronon put the meat back in the bread and took a bite. It did taste good, he thought, and finished the rest of the hamburger in a few bites.

"I imagine you are eager to return to your homeworld," Teyla continued. "Is there someone waiting for your return?" she asked as she sipped from her cup.

Ronon glanced up at her. "Sheppard didn't tell you?" he asked suspiciously.

Teyla set down her cup. "Tell me what?"

Ronon concentrated on his food for a few moments debating whether or not to say anything.

"The Wraith destroyed Sateda," he finally said, his tone gruff as he refused to look at Teyla.

"Ronon," she said, and Ronon could hear the empathy in her tone.

She reached out to touch him, but Ronon pulled his hand back.

Teyla curled her fingers into her palm and placed her hand in her lap. "I am sorry. The Wraith destroyed my world as well, though I was fortunate in that most of my people escaped. Maybe the same is true for your people."

Ronon shrugged and continued eating. "In seven years, I never ran across another Satedan."

"You could stay here," Teyla suggested.

"Not sure I'm wanted here," Ronon replied with a glance at the two men at the next table who looked away from him.

"The guards are only temporary, I am sure," she tried to reassure him.

"Maybe." Ronon glanced at his escort again. "Was it like this for you?"

Teyla sat back in her chair and shook her head. "There were … different challenges for me during my first year here. However, Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay were, and are, very good friends."

Ronon crossed his arms over his chest. He remembered the look on McKay's face when Sheppard finally reappeared after chasing Ford. He'd also caught Sheppard checking where McKay was a few times on the way back to the jumper.

"What's going on with them?" Ronon asked with a glance at Teyla.

"I do not understand." Teyla gave him a puzzled look as she sipped from her cup.

"What did McKay do that Sheppard owes him so much."

Teyla set down her teacup. "Why do you believe there is an honor debt between them?"

"Only thing I can think of that makes sense for why Sheppard would put up with McKay," he said simply.

He picked up several of the pale yellow vegetables that had been cut into long, thin, strips and shoved them into his mouth. He had expected the strips to crunch but instead found the inside to be soft and the whole thing tasted salty. He ate several more of the thin, starchy vegetables and decided he liked some of these Atlantean foods.

Teyla shook her head. "There is no debt, not the way you imagine it. They are brothers."

Ronon frowned. "Don't look like kin."

Teyla smiled. "No, not by blood. On my world, we would say they are chaguo ndugu, brothers by choice. They have a strong bond that transcends mere friendship."

"Hard to believe," Ronon scoffed.

"Why would you say that?"

Ronon thought back to the image of McKay hanging upside down in a tree. "McKay's not someone I'd want watching my back."

"Rodney will do whatever is necessary to protect John, just as John will risk himself to defend Rodney."

Ronon shrugged. "If you say so." Disbelief was evident in his tone as he finished eating.

"You do not know Doctor McKay well, yet."

"Not sure I want to. Does he ever stop talking?"

Teyla smiled slightly. "When Rodney stops talking, that is when it is time to worry," she told him and stood from the table. "I am teaching a few of the new Marines some of stick fighting techniques used by my people this evening. You are welcome to join us if you wish."

Ronon considered the offer for a few moments before he shook his head. He wasn't sure he wanted these people to know how proficient of a fighter he was quite yet. "Might not be a good idea," he said with a glance at his guard.

Teyla studied him for a few moments, then nodded. "In that case, I will see you tomorrow."

Ronon watched her leave then went back to the rest of his food. He picked up a red jiggly square and stuffed it in his mouth, pleasantly surprised by the taste.

Chapter Text

Rodney groaned as his alarm clock started beeping; he hadn't slept well thanks to his aching leg and shoulder. The dreams about Ford shooting him hadn't helped. He slowly sat up, grimacing as he tried to rotate his sore shoulder, then stumbled over to the desk and shut off the alarm.

"Shower," he muttered to himself. Maybe the hot water would help to loosen the stiff muscles in his shoulder and ankle.

Thirty minutes later, showered, dressed, and feeling only slightly better, he made his way to the mess hall to meet Teyla and John for breakfast.

"Rodney, are you all right?" Teyla asked as Rodney walked over to their table, limping slightly, and sat down next to John. He was surprised Sheppard hadn't brought his new friend along to the team breakfast.

"Remind me to never ask, whatshisname, Dex, to help me out of another tree," Rodney groused as he started eating.

"Perhaps you should rest today," she said.

Rodney shook his head. "Can't. You know about the tower and the labs Zelenka found while we were back on Earth?"

Teyla nodded. "He was very excited at the time. It was difficult to persuade him to wait until your return to start studying the objects and devices he and Doctor Tsao discovered."

"I have teams starting an inventory of those rooms so we can find out what's over there. I need to be there to supervise." He glanced at John. "One of them looks like it was some sort of engineering lab. Could have some interesting technology."

"Just take things easy," John admonished.

"I'll be fine."

John studied him for a few more seconds then went back to his own breakfast.

Teyla set down her teacup a few minutes later and glanced at Sheppard. "Have you seen Ronon this morning?" she asked.

John shook his head. "I had a report from Sergeant Cahill an hour ago. Carson took him down to the infirmary to check his back. Once we're done here, I'll go down and see how he's doing."

Teyla nodded. "I am worried about him," she said. "He is very angry."

"Can't say I really blame him," John replied grimly. "The Wraith destroyed his planet."

"Yes. He told me as much last night at supper."

Rodney finished his coffee and studied John's face. "You want him to stay, don't you?"

John shrugged. "He could be useful to have around."

"I agree, Colonel," Teyla said. "He has nowhere to go. He needs a new place to call home."

"So, we're what? Taking in strays now?" Rodney said with a scowl.

"Dex found Ford pretty fast on that planet," John said. "Having someone around who can track like that could come in handy. And we know he's good to have in a fight."

The pieces fell into place, and Rodney nearly dropped his coffee cup. "You have got to be kidding," he said, and glared at Sheppard.

"Rodney?" Teyla asked.

"Don't you get it?" he asked her, setting the cup down. "He doesn't just want this Dex around the city. He wants him on our team."

"That's the idea, yeah," John replied with a frown. "Is that a problem?"

Rodney shook his head and finished eating in silence. Had John heard nothing he'd said the night before?

"Do you believe he would want to stay in Atlantis?" Teyla asked Sheppard.

"Like you said, he doesn't have anywhere else to go."

"He has been on the run for seven years, Colonel," Teyla reminded him. "He may wish to remain on his own."

John pursed his lips. "I'm hoping we can maybe change his mind on that."

Teyla nodded. "If Ronon decides to stay in Atlantis, I would welcome him as a member of our team."

John and Teyla turned to Rodney. "McKay?" John asked.

"Oh, sure, make me look like the bad guy," Rodney groused and stood from the table. He saw the frown on Sheppard's face and added, "I don't know, all right? We didn't exactly have the best first meeting."

Teyla started to say something, but John held up his hand to stop her. "Just tell me you'll at least think about it," he said. "I really think this could be good for all of us."

Rodney studied Sheppard's face for a moment, and sighed. "Fine. I'll think about it." He picked up his tray. "No promises."

John nodded. "Understood."

Rodney cleared his dishes and stopped in the mess line long enough to stuff a handful of power bars in his jacket pocket and a grab a couple of bottles of water before heading down to his lab.

He was in the hall outside the lab, already planning how he wanted to inventory the nearby tower, when someone ran into him, sending him into the wall with a painful grunt as his bruised shoulder slammed into the wall. The bottles of water in his hands were knocked to the floor along with a tablet computer, and he groaned as he grabbed his sore arm.

"Are you blind?" he started to yell, and stopped short when he felt gentle hands on his arm and had a glimpse of red hair.

"Oh, Doctor McKay, I am so sorry. I was reading a report on the new hydroponics lab, and I didn't see you," the red-haired woman said.

Rodney shrugged off the hold on his arm and tried to stand a bit straighter when he realised it was Doctor Katie Brown, one of the new botanists, who had collided with him. He stared at her, at a loss for words, as she picked up the computer and the water bottles, and gave him a worried smile.

He'd been pleasantly surprised when Katie had sought him out on several occasions while on board the Daedalus saying she wanted to ask about life in Atlantis. It wasn't until her questions focused more on him and his work more than the city or the Pegasus galaxy that he started to wonder what was going on.

When Rodney mentioned her odd behavior in passing to John, Sheppard had rolled his eyes and shaken his head.

"What was that look for?" he had asked, and John had chuckled.

"You have dated before, haven't you?" John asked with a mock frown as he rested a hand on Rodney's shoulder.

Rodney glared at him. "Yes, of course," he snapped and shook off John's hand. It took another moment for what Sheppard meant to sink in. "Wait, you think, you think she likes me?" he asked in surprise. "I thought she just wanted to know more about what to expect when she got to Atlantis."

"I'm sure she does," John agreed with a smile. "But she keeps asking you. Over coffee. When no one else is around."

Two days later, John had found them in the tiny mess hall on board the Daedalus drinking coffee and talking. Sheppard had given Rodney a knowing look before he grabbed a cup of coffee and a sandwich, and had politely left the room.

"Are you all right?" Katie asked, bringing him back to the present. "I heard what happened yesterday. I hope I didn't hurt you with my clumsiness."

"It's, umm, fine. I'm fine," Rodney replied, and tried not to rub his aching shoulder as his mind scrambled to think of something else to say. "You're starting on the hydroponics lab this week, aren't you?"

Katie smiled slightly. "Yes. Doctor Heller has some interesting ideas on how to cultivate Pegasus galaxy varietals, so we aren't as dependent on the Daedalus for fresh food. He's hoping Doctor Parrish finds some useful information when he investigates the new tower today."

"Ahh, good, that's good." Rodney clasped his hands behind his back for a moment then noticed she was still holding the water bottles and the computer. "I should …" He pointed down the hall toward his lab and took the items from her.

"Oh, oh, yes, of course," she replied, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Sorry again for running into you like that."

Rodney nodded and was a few steps away when Katie said, "Umm, Doctor McKay? Rodney?" she called to his back. "I could make it up to you. Maybe dinner some night? I haven't really seen much of you since we got here. I miss our talks."

Rodney froze. Had she just asked him out on a date? he wondered. He turned around. "What was that?"

"Umm, I said we could have dinner?" she repeated. "I'd love to hear more about the Pegasus galaxy and the planets you've visited."

Definitely a date, he realised. He was thankful Sheppard was nowhere around, and the hallway was blissfully empty at the moment. He didn't need an audience.

"Oh, umm, dinner." He paused. "That-that, would be, umm, nice, yes."

Katie smiled. "Great! I'll umm --"

"I could --" Rodney said at the same time then stopped.

"I know the Daedalus dropped off fresh food before she left to return to Earth. I could make something. Say tomorrow night? I'm not a bad cook." She looked up at him.

"Oh, ahh, that sounds, umm, lovely."

"Then it's a date," she said, and tapped his arm. "I also know where I can get a lovely bottle of wine." She smiled at him again then headed back down the hallway.

Rodney watched her walk away, wondering what he'd got himself into, then headed for his lab feeling slightly dazed. He dropped the bottles of water and the computer on the desk and checked for any reports from Radek about the lab assignments. He knew it had been a bit unfair to leave Zelenka to deal with the new scientists yesterday, but after everything with Ford, and Dex, he'd needed time to sort out his own head.

Finding no messages, he booted up his desktop computer and pulled up the schematic for the tower and reviewed the areas they planned to explore. The largest of the rooms was roughly the same size as his lab and according to the initial survey, appeared to be full of various Ancient devices. Tsao had done the initial investigation while Rodney had been gone, but since neither he nor Zelenka had the ATA gene, they'd been unable to discover much.

Rodney felt himself getting excited about what could be in the room and what new discoveries he could make. Much better than the fear, and he would admit to himself, the anger, over what had happened with Ford, or his conflicting emotions regarding Sheppard's plan to add Dex to the team.

He grabbed his tools, combo-computer, along with the extra power bars and water he'd brought from the mess hall, and stuffed them in a backpack he kept in the lab for excursions around the city.

He was looking for the cables for the computer when Zelenka walked in.

"Ahh, Rodney, you're here," Zelenka said, and stopped near the desk.

Rodney looked up. "Where else would I be?" He stuffed the cables in the pack and started to pick it up with his right hand. He felt his shoulder complain and quickly shifted the pack to his left. He hoped Radek hadn't noticed.

"The teams are ready to head over to the new tower," Radek reported, ignoring Rodney's sarcasm.

"Good. Each group has someone with the gene?"

Zelenka nodded. "Doctor Kusanagi is working with Doctor Parrish and his team. Sergeant Stackhouse has agreed to help Doctor Corrigan and the archaeologists. One of the new Marines will help Doctor Volkov and Doctor Archer." Radek smiled slightly. "The new linguist, Doctor Chaudhri agreed to work with Doctor Wallace and Doctor Maçon to inventory the room next to the engineering lab."

Rodney grunted, not really paying attention, as he looked around the lab checking for anything he may have forgotten.

He looked up and saw Zelenka watching him. "What?"

"I heard what happened with Lieutenant Ford yesterday --" he started to say, but Rodney interrupted him.

"That didn't take very long."

"Rodney, I am sorry," Zelenka said, and Rodney could hear the sincerity in his tone. "I know he was a friend."

Rodney tried not to flinch at Zelenka's use of the past tense with regard to Ford. It's true, though, he realised. Even if they found Ford tomorrow and Carson was able to reverse the effects of the enzyme, Rodney wasn't sure he'd ever truly trust Ford again. Not after what had happened on P3M-736. Ford had been ready to kill him, would have killed him if Dex hadn't shown up when he did.

He wasn't sure what he'd do if or when they found Ford again and somehow managed to get him back to Atlantis for Carson's treatment. The more cowardly part of him hoped he'd never have to find out, then he'd never need to explain to John why he couldn't work with Ford anymore. He knew Sheppard still felt guilty about what had happened during the siege, but Rodney couldn't easily forget Ford had pointed a gun at him, had had every intention of killing him.

"I planned to take the engineering team and inventory the large lab," Zelenka said after a few moments.

Rodney shook his head. "I've got the lab. You and Tsao stay here and work on the modifications to the shield. If, or more likely, when the Wraith find out we're still here …"

Rodney saw Zelenka shudder. "Yes, yes, I know." He paused for a moment, then added, "I still say there must be a way to use the shield and the cloak together."

"And I told you, I've been thinking about this for months. In order to have any chance of working, we'd need to design a whole new emitter array."

The information on the emitter bloomed in his head, and Rodney made a face as Zelenka's voice interrupted his train of thought.

"Yes, yes, I know. But it may be possible --"

"Shut up," Rodney ordered as he studied the design in his mind.

It could work, he thought. If they added the secondary systems for the cloak there and there … He saw the new design form in his head. It would take a lot of work, and they'd need to figure out a way to test it, the city would be completely defenceless if they destroyed the current emitters, but it could work.

But that was a project for another day, he told himself.

He glanced over and found Radek watching him.

"Okay, yes, there may be a way," Rodney admitted. "But I don't have time to think about it today. Just worry about the modifications for right now." He picked up his pack.

"We will need to take all of the shield systems offline for several days to make the changes."

"Yes. I've already cleared that with Elizabeth."

Zelenka hesitated. "If something happens and we need to raise the shield --"

"What's going to happen?" Rodney asked impatiently. "The Wraith think the city was destroyed. There will never be a better time. Just do what you can. I'll be over in the new lab if you get stuck."

Radek frowned. "You should take someone with you."

Rodney shook his head. "Anyone else would just be in the way. It's not like I'll be in the section by myself, three other scientists will be in the next room. Besides, you told me the rooms were cleared by Stackhouse and a team of Marines while we were gone. Nothing to worry about."

Zelenka frowned. "I have learnt over the past year, that is the time to consider what may have been missed."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "It's just another lab, no different from the dozen or so others we've found over the last year." He shouldered the pack and headed for the door. "I'll let you know if I find anything interesting," he added as he left. "Who knows, maybe I'll find another one of those boxes or some research about them. Maybe I'll finally figure out what they do."

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

It was still dark when Ronon woke up, slightly disoriented. He sat up with a start, reached for the weapon that wasn't there, and gave the room a wary examination before he remembered where he was and why. Atlantis, city of the Ancestors, he told himself as he sat on the edge of the still-made bed. A twinge in his back reminded him the Wraith tracking device was gone and the rumble of his stomach told him he needed to find the eating place again.

He glowered at the door for a moment, wondering if he'd be allowed to leave. Sheppard had told him he wasn't a prisoner, but Ronon wasn't ready to believe that yet. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and stood. May as well find out how much autonomy he had, he decided as he opened the door and stepped out of the room.

"Is there somewhere I can help you find, sir?" the fresh-faced kid standing in front of him asked.

Ronon could tell he was nervous but had to give the kid credit, he didn't back down or drop eye contact even though Ronon towered over him by at least six inches. "Going to the," what did Teyla call it? "mess hall," he said and took a step down the hall.

The kid nodded. "Yes, sir. This way," he said, and took the lead as they headed down the hall.

Ronon glanced back as the other man, older and obviously more experienced, fell into step behind him.

There were a few other early-risers in the mess hall when he entered a few minutes later and walked over to the counters of food. The items available were completely different from what had been offered the evening before, and Ronon marvelled once again at the level of choice the people here had when it came to food. He piled his plate with several different items, grabbed a full pitcher of water from the end of the counter and looked around the room.

He sat at a table where he could watch the door, the other people in the room, and the sun rising over the water, ignoring the looks from the others in the room as he tried the new foods. The dish of gluey porridge he set aside after a few bites, but the meat strips were tasty and went well with the flat, doughy bread covered in sticky liquid.

It wasn't long before he saw one of the few familiar faces in the city as Doctor Beckett entered the hall, gathered his own breakfast, and looked around the room. When he saw Ronon watching him, Beckett smiled and headed for the same table.

"May I join you?" he asked.

Ronon nodded and pointed to the chair opposite. Like Sheppard and Teyla, Beckett had impressed him on the planet. The doctor hadn't been intimidated by Ronon's attitude and had done his job removing the tracking device with more skill and compassion than Ronon had known since Melana died.

"So, what do you think of Atlantis so far?" Beckett asked kindly after a few minutes.

Ronon shrugged and nodded at the window next to him. "Nice view."

Beckett smiled. "It is that," he agreed and ate a few more bites of food. After several more minutes of silence, Beckett asked, "Do you think you might want to stay here, then?"

Ronon glanced around the room at both his escort and the people watching him from a few of the other tables. "Not sure yet. May not be wanted here."

Beckett shook his head. "I'm sure that's not the case."

Ronon snorted and stared at the two men seated at the next table, armed with rifles.

Beckett caught his look and pursed his lips. "Doctor Weir is just being cautious," he explained. "We've had a bit of a rough few months."

Ronon said nothing and went back to staring out the window leaving Beckett to finish his meal.

"Regardless of any decisions you make in the future, today I want to check your back and make sure there are no signs infection and that you're healing properly," Beckett said as he finished eating a few minutes later. "Why don't you come down to the infirmary with me and let me check that incision."

Beckett pointedly ignored the two men following them as he led Ronon down to the infirmary.

"Gentlemen, you can wait for Mister Dex out here," Beckett told the two soldiers when they reached the door.

He was polite enough, but to Ronon, it was clear from his tone Beckett wasn't going to accept 'no' for an answer. He watched the men glance back and forth first at each other, then at Beckett who showed no inclination to change his mind. Ronon stood to one side with his arms crossed over his chest. He was curious to see who would win the battle of wills.

"Yes, sir," the older of the two said a few seconds later, and stationed himself to one side of the door.

Ronon raised an eyebrow at the response as he followed Beckett into the medical bay.

"Good morning, Doctor Beckett," a woman greeted from where she worked at a desk in the corner.

"Hello, Sharon, love," Beckett replied with a smile. "Mister Dex is here to get his incision checked."

Sharon nodded and smiled a greeting to Ronon then went back to her paperwork.

"Ronon," Ronon said as he followed Beckett to a bed on the other side of the room.

"I'm sorry?" Beckett asked as he went to a cabinet, pulled out several different items that he placed on a tray, and rolled a table next to the bed where Ronon waited.

"My name. Ronon. Not Mister Dex."

Beckett smiled and set the tray on the table. "Ronon it is then. Come along, let me have a look at you." He pointed to the bed, and said in the same no-nonsense tone he'd used with the soldiers, "Up you get. Let's have that shirt off so I can see how you're doing."

Ronon found himself complying with Beckett's requests just as quickly as the two soldiers had and thought there was more than one training sergeant who could learn a few things from this seemingly unassuming doctor.

He sat on the bed, took off the black, sleeveless shirt he wore, and watched as Beckett pulled on a pair of gloves. Ronon felt the tape from the bandage pull on his skin and then careful fingers prodding his back as Beckett examined the incision.

"Have you had any pain or discomfort?" Beckett asked.

"No."

"You're sure?" Beckett asked, and stepped into Ronon's line-of-sight. "If you're in pain, you can tell me. I can help."

Ronon shook his head. "It's fine."

Ronon heard Beckett sigh and mutter something under his breath as he finished the exam of his back.

"This looks to be healing quite nicely," Beckett said a few moments later as he came around to face Ronon. "No signs of infection. I'll put a new dressing on it just to be safe. The stitches can come out in another few days."

Ronon grunted and idly wondered if he'd still be in the city in a few days to worry about the stitches.

Beckett had finished, and Ronon had his shirt back on when he heard the door to the infirmary open, and Sheppard walked in.

"Is there something I can do for you, Colonel?" Beckett asked, and Ronon was surprised to see the doctor place himself in front of the bed, blocking Sheppard from coming any closer.

Sheppard must have been surprised as well. "Stand down, Doc," he said, and stopped short of the bed. "I just came by to see if your patient wanted to take a look around the city." Sheppard glanced from Beckett to Ronon. "Everything's all right, isn't it?"

"Oh, aye," Beckett replied, and stepped back giving Sheppard access to the bed. He turned to Ronon and added, "Come see me at the end of the week, and I'll take the stitches out."

Ronon hopped off the bed and nodded. "Thanks, Doc."

"You're welcome, lad. You're free to go. Try to keep that dressing dry in the meantime."

Ronon nodded again and followed Sheppard out of the infirmary. "No guard?" he asked, seeing the two soldiers were no longer waiting in the hall.

Sheppard shook his head. "Didn't think they were necessary if you were with me."

Ronon studied Sheppard for a moment then shrugged. "So, where are we going?"

Sheppard stopped. "Nowhere in particular. I just thought you'd like to see a bit more of Atlantis. Might help you decide if you want to stay or not."

"And if I don't?"

Sheppard frowned. "I'll be honest, I really hope you decide to stay. We could use a guy like you."

"And what is a guy like me?"

Sheppard turned to face him. "Someone who knows his way around the Pegasus galaxy and can help us find new allies. Without giving away the fact Atlantis survived the attack by the Wraith."

"Not to mention someone who can fight for you," Ronon told him, and crossed his arms over his chest.

"No," Sheppard replied, matching Ronon's tone. "More like someone to fight with us."

Ronon matched Sheppard's stare with one of his own but was also the first to look away. Sheppard waited a beat then turned and started down the hallway again.

Ronon followed silently behind. Sheppard is not Kell, he reminded himself as Sheppard led him to one of the transport devices and pushed on one section of the map. The door opened on another hallway, more narrow than the one near the infirmary, with several doors. Some of the room were empty, he saw people in other rooms, practising various fighting techniques. A few of the doors were closed, and he didn't hear any noises coming from the rooms.

Sheppard stopped just outside one of the open doors and Ronon tensed slightly when he heard the distinct sound of something hitting flesh and a male voice grunt. Ronon glanced in the room and saw Teyla standing to one side of a group of soldiers watching as two of the men circled each other, each armed with a pair of sticks roughly two feet long.

One of the men lunged forward only for his attack to be repelled, and his opponent successfully launched a counterattack against him.

"Well done, Sergeant Harper," Teyla congratulated. "You have been practising." She turned to the man who had made the initial attack. "You must remember to keep your elbows tight to your body," she told the man. "Sergeant Harper was able to anticipate your attack because you telegraphed your movements by extending your arm too soon."

Teyla looked up and saw them standing in the doorway. "Please try again," she said, and walked toward the door. "Colonel." She nodded to Sheppard. "Ronon, it is good to see you this morning," she added with a smile.

"Teyla," Ronon replied and shook his head as the soldier behind Teyla overextended his elbow again. This time Harper caught him behind the knee with one of the sticks and dropped him to the mat.

"Was there something you needed, Colonel?" Teyla asked with a glance behind her as Harper helped the other man back to his feet and they started to circle one another again looking for an opening to attack.

Sheppard smiled. "Nope. Just wanted to make sure you had everything you needed for your trade mission."

Teyla nodded. "A jumper is on its way to the mainland to pick up Halling. I am waiting for their return before we leave. My people should be getting ready to plant spring crops soon. The additional seed will ensure a diverse yield."

"I was going to take a jumper and show Ronon here some of the planet. Sure you don't want to stick around and come with us instead?"

"I am sure, Colonel. We will be fine. I will see you in a few days."

John shrugged. "It was worth a try," he told her with a smile. He motioned Ronon out of the room, and Teyla went back to her class. "Let's go find Rodney. Get him out of that lab of his for awhile."

Ronon glowered as he fell into step beside Sheppard.

Sheppard must have caught the look on his face and frowned. He looked around, stopped outside another of the small workout rooms, checked it was empty, led Ronon inside, and closed the door.

"I get the feeling you don't think much of Rodney," John said without preamble. "Did something happen yesterday between the two of you that I don't know about?"

Ronon studied Sheppard for a moment and wondered if he should say anything or simply feign ignorance.

"He's not a soldier," Ronon finally said.

Sheppard leant against the wall next to the door. "You're right. He's not a soldier. He's a scientist, and one of the smartest people I know."

Ronon paced away from him. Sheppard was a warrior, and from what Ronon had seen, a good one. How could he not know taking a civilian, and according to Teyla, someone Sheppard cared about, off-world was dangerous.

"He doesn't know how to defend himself," Ronon tried to explain. "It's not safe to take someone like him through the ring."

Sheppard shook his head. "Look, part of what we do is explore new worlds, seek out new --" Sheppard made a face and ducked his head. "We aren't just looking to eliminate the Wraith," he said patiently. "We also want to find out more about the Ancients."

Ronon gave him a puzzled look.

"Sorry, the Ancestors. We want to learn more about them, find technology or intel they may have left behind on the planets around here."

"Why? The Ancestors are gone. They abandoned the people here a long time ago."

"True, but they had some pretty impressive technology." Sheppard waved a hand around the room. "If we can find some of it, and figure out how it works, we can maybe use it to defeat the Wraith once and for all. That's what Rodney does. He figures out how all this Ancient stuff works and uses that knowledge to help the rest of us. Part of my job is to protect him while he does that."

Ronon tried to reconcile the man Sheppard described with the man he'd met hanging upside down in a tree and found it hard to believe.

Sheppard must have seen some of his disbelief and added. "The things he's been able to figure out about Atlantis and the Ancients, he's saved my life and the lives of everyone in this city more times than I can count. Trust me, he's an important member of my team."

Ronon stopped pacing and leant against the wall opposite Sheppard. "Teyla said you and McKay were family."

Sheppard met his gaze and nodded. "That going to be a problem for you?"

"Guess not."

"Good," Sheppard said, and pushed himself away from the wall. "Let's go find Rodney and see about getting away from the city for a few hours."

Chapter Text

Rodney's hopes for a quiet day of tinkering were dashed as soon as he stepped off the transporter and heard raised voices spilling into the corridor from the open door of a lab half-way down the hall. He'd already checked in with Volkov and his team working one floor above him. Parrish was happy as a clam in one of the rooms near the top of the tower, and Corrigan's team was busy sorting through what looked like a trove of artefacts in the large room below him. He'd been tempted to claim a corner of the room for himself but changed his mind when he remembered what the large engineering lab held.

Rodney hadn't been paying much attention to Zelenka when he explained the assignments for the tower inventory. Now he realised Radek had assigned three of the new scientists to the room next to his. A not-so-subtle bit of payback for leaving Zelenka alone to deal with the chaos the day before, he was sure.

The bickering was getting louder, and Rodney was half-tempted to just ignore them until he heard something crash to the floor. Did they think these things grew on trees? he fumed as he stormed over to the lab.

"Now look what happened," he heard a female voice with a French accent snap. "I told you not to pick it up that way."

"I'm sorry, I thought you were a chemist, not an engineer," a second voice, this one male, sniped back. "This design makes no sense anyway. How was I supposed to know the top would come off?"

"I am not sure all of this stuff is even Ancient," another voice said, and Rodney heard the slight lilt of an Indian accent. "Look at this, for example, this does not look like the Ancient script from Doctor Jackson's notes."

Rodney dropped his pack, stopped in the doorway, and found three people, a man and a woman, roughly his own age, standing near a set of cluttered shelves, while a third, younger man, stood near a desk in the corner cradling some sort of egg-shaped object in his hand.

Something about the object in the man's hand tickled something in Rodney's brain, but he pushed it aside to deal with the immediate issue of three supposed scientists acting like idiots.

It didn't take long for the three people in the room to stop bickering and to turn to stare at him.

"Funny I thought I was hiring scientists for this project, not a bunch of squabbling school children," Rodney snapped as he walked into the room. He took a quick look around and saw a small room with no windows. The shelves, however, were crammed with objects, and Rodney had to agree, none of them looked like Ancient devices.

"It's not --" the woman started to say.

"I didn't --" the man standing next to her said at the same time.

Rodney noticed the young man in the corner sat down and turned the egg-shaped object over in his hands, ignoring the other two. At least one of them was doing his job, Rodney thought to himself as he turned toward the door.

"If you can't figure out how to work together, I'll make sure you're shipped back to Earth the next time Daedalus drops off supplies."

The two so-called scientists near the shelf glared at each other before nodding at Rodney.

Rodney gave them both a hard look, waited for them to go back to work, and left the room.

Who knew the Ancients were such junk collectors, Rodney thought to himself as he picked up his pack and walked to the end of the hall. How many of the other rooms of the tower would they find packed to the rafters with Pegasus galaxy knick-knacks? Corrigan and the archaeologists would be happy for a few months at least.

Rodney touched the door control for the lab he'd been itching to explore, eagerly stepped inside, and stopped in surprise. Tsao's report hadn't said anything about the floor to ceiling windows along one wall looking out on the ocean.

"Wonder who worked here before to rate the corner office," Rodney muttered to himself as he set his pack on the work table near the windows and stared out at the view. Too bad it looks like it's going to rain, he added silently, and watched the thick heavy clouds pile up in the near distance. On a nice day, the view would be amazing.

"Maybe I could convince Elizabeth to let me move my lab out here," he said with a tiny smile.

After a few more minutes, he turned away from the windows and surveyed the rest of the room. This room was larger than the one he'd just left with the bickering scientists. Thick metal support beams ran from the floor to the ceiling, and the ceiling itself was crisscrossed with thin metal rods. It took Rodney a moment to realise the rods were there for aesthetic reasons and had nothing to do with the structural integrity of the ceiling itself. Two other work tables sat on the opposite side of the room from the windows with a line of shelves and cabinets along the wall behind them.

The shelves were cluttered with objects, but unlike the ones in the other room, these were clearly Ancient in origin. What had Rodney so intrigued as soon as he read the report on the tower was that many of the objects seemed unfinished. If what Rodney suspected was right, he had stumbled onto an engineering lab for Ancient tech.

Rodney forgot all about the scientists in the next room as he pulled out his tools and the computer, set them on the work table near the windows, and went over to the nearest shelf. He ran a finger along the shelf, careful not to actually touch any of the devices and selected a small hand-held device that looked promising. He studied the device sitting on a metal stand from several angles before he decided it was safe to touch, and picked it up.

It was surprisingly heavy for its size. The small device sat in the palm of his hand, the dark metal cool to the touch. There was a tiny dial and two buttons on one side of the device while the other side was smooth except for two thin grooves worked into the metal. Looking at it, it didn't take a genius to realise it probably fired something out the short, stubby barrel, the question was what.

He carried the object and its support stand back to the table near the windows, found a chair pushed into a corner, and settled at the table, quickly losing himself in the details of the device in front of him.

Even with the gathering clouds, the sunlight coming in through the windows provided ample light for him to see what he was doing, but he also felt himself getting uncomfortably warm. He shed his uniform jacket, carelessly tossed it on a corner of the table, and glanced at the windows behind him with a frown. He idly wondered if the glass had been treated with something to prevent ultraviolet radiation from passing through the windows. 'You can get just as bad of a sunburn on a cloudy day as a sunny one,' he remembered someone telling him once. Maybe his usual lab wasn't so bad after all, he concluded, and went back to work.

Sometime later he heard the door whisper open and looked up ready to tell whoever it was to leave him alone but stopped short when he saw John stroll into the room with Dex looming behind him.

"How did you find me?" he asked shortly, and went back to studying the inner workings of the device.

"Hello to you too, Rodney," John replied, unfazed by the less than enthusiastic greeting.

Rodney watched John walk over to the work table while Dex prowled the room.

"Zelenka told me where you were. I'm taking a jumper up this afternoon, thought I'd show Ronon some of the planet. Maybe head into space for a few orbits. Give him a chance to really see Atlantis."

Rodney wasn't fooled by the innocent expression on John's face. "You don't fool me, you know. You just want an excuse to go flying."

John grinned. "Maybe. What do you say? Wanna come along?"

Rodney shook his head and gave Dex another wary look as he stalked over to the windows and looked out on the water. "Can't. We need to get this survey done, and Zelenka set up the work teams so that I'm the only one on this floor with a bunch of so-called scientists fresh off the Daedalus who can't seem to get along. Someone has to be here in case the idiots get into another fight over their toys."

John laughed "Told you you should have helped Radek with the lab assignments yesterday."

Rodney glared at the wall separating him from the lab next door. "I'm sure I'll think of some way to thank him for this."

John grinned and started to say something else but stopped and tapped his earpiece instead.

"Sheppard here."

Rodney watched as John listened for a few seconds then frowned when Sheppard's expression changed from relaxed to serious. "Was anyone injured?" John asked, and listened for a few more seconds. "All right, I'll be right there. Sheppard out."

"What's happened?" Rodney asked, standing up from his chair.

"Thompson's team ran into trouble off-world." John glanced over at Rodney. "Daley was hurt, but it doesn't sound too bad. I need to meet with Thompson, find out what happened, and if our status was compromised."

Rodney swallowed and tried not to think about a fresh horde of Wraith descending on the city.

John stood next to the work table and glanced first at him then over at Dex.

Rodney could see the wheels turning, and he knew what Sheppard was going to say next. He started to protest, but John merely talked over him.

"Ronon, why don't you stay here. Hopefully, this won't take long, and then we can head out."

Dex studied John for a moment then glanced at Rodney.

Rodney could see the moment Dex came to the same conclusion he had, Sheppard was leaving them alone in the hope they would start to get along. Rodney could also see Dex wasn't any more happy with the idea, or Sheppard's thinly-veiled manipulation, than he was.

"Whatever," Dex finally said, and wandered back over to one of the smaller work tables and sat on the edge.

"Give him a chance," John whispered to Rodney before he turned toward the door.

Rodney glared at John's back as he left the room then went back to working on the device in front of him. He tried to ignore Dex when he stood and started pacing on the other side of the room. The problem was, every few minutes Dex would touch something or make some noise that distracted Rodney from what he was doing.

After the third time Dex broke his concentration, Rodney grimaced and tried to hold his temper as he remembered Dex didn't want to be stuck in the lab any more than Rodney wanted him there.

"You know what he's doing don't you?" he asked as he watched Dex peer into the far corner of the room. "Sheppard wants you to stay in Atlantis."

"So he said." Dex glanced around the room, and Rodney wondered if it was merely curiosity, or if he was looking for a way to escape.

"Do you want to stay?" Rodney asked, curious to know what Dex thought of the idea. Sheppard acted as though it was a foregone conclusion Dex would be staying and joining the team. But was it? Rodney learned a long time ago not to assume.

"I owe Sheppard for getting Beckett to remove the tracker," Dex stated and continued his survey of the room.

Rodney thought about that for a moment. He was sure John didn't see it that way. Sheppard wanted Dex to stay because he thought the Runner was a good fit for their team, nothing more.

"This is Lorne all over again," Rodney muttered and picked up a screwdriver. "And things went so well with him."

"Who's Lorne?" Dex asked. He walked back to the two work tables and examined the devices on the shelves behind the tables.

Rodney glanced up. "You met him on the planet. Air Force Major just arrived from Earth, he's Sheppard's new second-in-command." He saw Dex reach out to one of the items in the shelf and added, "Don't touch anything."

Dex turned and glared at Rodney, but pulled his hand back from the shelf. "What happened to Sheppard's last second?"

Rodney swallowed and stared out the window. "You met him on that planet too."

He sat, lost in thought, and forgot about Dex as he remembered Ford flipping from the young, eager man he knew, excited to learn Sheppard had been promoted, to the hard, cold, suspicious man threatening, and almost succeeding, to kill him.

Rodney was brought back to the present when Dex bumped into the work table, knocking the device he'd been working on off the metal stand.

"Hey, be careful! I have no idea what this does yet." Rodney picked up the little device and checked it for damage. How does someone that big move that quickly and quietly? he asked himself as he set the device back on its stand.

Dex glanced at the device. "It's some kind of energy weapon," he said matter-of-factly, and looked out the windows.

"Yes, I know it's an energy …" Rodney retorted impatiently then stopped and looked up when he realised what Dex had said. "Wait, how did you know it's an energy weapon? More likely a directed energy beam similar to a laser cutter rather than a weapon, but still, how did you know?"

Dex pointed to a thin cylinder inside the housing. "That's the power source. We had blaster rifles on Sateda that had the same thing. Part of our training was stripping a blaster, and repairing it under battle conditions."

Rodney glanced down at the little device. "With weapons like that I can see why the Wraith attacked your planet," he said thoughtlessly as he poked at the cylinder with his screwdriver.

His only warning was a low growl right before Dex grabbed him by his shirtfront. Rodney felt himself bodily lifted out of the chair, his back slammed against the windows, and his feet dangling six centimeters off the floor. He felt the window vibrating against his back, and for a moment wondered if the glass would break.

"You think my people deserved what happened to them?" Dex growled, his expression stony.

Rodney suddenly found it hard to breathe as Dex's hands twisted in the fabric of his shirt.

"What?" he squeaked. "No! Not what I meant." Rodney started pulling at one of Dex's hands to get him to let go. "Can't breathe," he muttered as he started to struggle harder.

Dex glared at him for a moment longer, then let go and stalked away.

Rodney dropped to the floor, his still sore ankle sending out a jolt of pain when it twisted under him, and spent a few seconds trying to get his breathing back under control. He looked over at Ronon standing near the door with his arms crossed over his chest glowering at Rodney as he slowly climbed back to his feet.

"All I meant was the Wraith don't seem to allow any planet to get so advanced," he tried to explain. "Most of the people we meet barely have any sort of gun at all. The fact your people had advanced to the point they had energy weapons made you a significant threat to them." He sank into the chair behind the table, alternately rubbing his leg and his throat.

Dex's glower never changed as he paced to the other side of the room. "For your sake, you better hope Sheppard gets back here soon."

Rodney silently agreed. His second encounter with Ronon Dex was worse than the first. Sheppard's idea that they could work together on a team seemed less likely than it had that morning.

Rodney spent the next several minutes working out how the power source for the laser worked. He reached forward to make a few notes about the device on the computer and winced as his shoulder twinged.

Can you get bruises on bruises? he wondered, and looked up as Dex stalked across the room to the door.

A moment later he heard yelling coming from the hall, realised the three scientists next door were at each other's throats again, and growled in frustration.

All he'd wanted was a nice quiet day to tinker with a few new Ancient devices and try to forget about Ford and what had almost happened on P3M-736. Instead, he was stuck with someone else who apparently hated him, and three scientists who, he promised himself, would be shipped back to Earth at the first opportunity.

Rodney stood from the table and wandered back over to the shelves, edging around Dex who stood glowering near the door. He was halfway between the windows and the shelves when Dex yelled something at him at the same time the wall between the two labs disappeared in a roar of noise and a wave of heat. He heard the crash of breaking glass behind him and felt himself thrown to the floor.

Just before he lost consciousness, he had two thoughts. Where was Dex? And why had the Ancients stored a Wraith grenade in the same room with a bunch of strange artefacts?

Chapter Text

John strolled back to the transporter with only a slight twinge of guilt over leaving Ronon and Rodney alone with each other. He'd been trying to think of a way to encourage the pair of them to reconcile their differences and try to start working with each other, Thompson's message had been the perfect excuse for John to let them hash things out without him there to referee.

He heard raised voices coming from the room between the lab where he'd left Rodney and the transporter. He slowed then stopped when the voices became louder. John glanced in the door to the room, and saw one young man seated in a corner nearly hidden behind a pile of objects as he studied something John couldn't see while making notes on the computer beside him. The other two stood near a set of shelves, not unlike the ones he'd seen in the lab with Rodney, arguing about how they should organise the inventory work.

"We should have videotaped the entire room like I said before we started," the woman said. "There may have been some sort of system for how the Ancients had stored these objects."

"Oh, please," the man said, and threw up his hands. "Look at this place! There was no organisation. It looks like my brother's bedroom when we were kids, everything thrown on a shelf wherever it would fit."

"We'll never know now, will we?" she replied, her tone dripped sarcasm as she waved her hand at the pile of objects on the table between them as well as the table where their third member diligently worked.

John thought the younger man was doing an admirable job of ignoring the other two as he typed something into the computer next to him. John shook his head and walked back to the transporter, thankful the scientists were Rodney's problem. He closed his eyes and winced as he stepped in the transporter and heard something hit the floor behind him.

"Hey! Be careful!" the woman shouted just as the transporter door closed.

McKay would not be happy when he found out they'd broken one of the artefacts, John thought to himself and had the sneaking suspicion there would be at least two openings in the science division when Daedalus returned next month.

He entered the infirmary a few minutes later and found Carson and Sergeant Thompson standing next to Corporal Daley who was lying in an infirmary bed.

"Carson," John said in greeting. "Sergeant."

"Sir," Thompson replied.

"Hey, Colonel," Daley added with a smile. "Come to see the klutz for yourself?"

John took in the leg cast and the bruise on Daley's cheek and shook his head. "What happened?"

"Got on the wrong side of a rock fall, sir," Daley replied as she tried to shift on the bed.

John started to ask another question, but Carson stopped him.

"Colonel, as I was just explaining to the Sergeant, my patient needs her rest," Beckett said with a nod and a smile at Daley.

John noted Thompson's dusty uniform and dirty hands. "Where's the rest of your team, Sergeant?"

"Breaking camp, sir. They should be back within the hour."

John nodded. "All right. Get cleaned up. We'll meet in the conference room in thirty. Doctor Weir will probably have some questions."

Thompson nodded and left the infirmary.

He glanced back at the bed. "Take care of yourself, Corporal."

"Yes, sir," Daley replied with another smile and a wave.

John caught Carson's eye and walked back to Beckett's office. "She's going to be all right?"

Carson nodded. "Aye, a broken leg and lots of bruises. She'll be fine. I'll release her tonight or tomorrow morning."

John nodded and turned toward the infirmary exit.

"Colonel?" Carson asked and looked around. "Where is Ronon?"

John smiled slightly. "I was over in the new tower with Rodney when Thompson paged me. Left Ronon with McKay while I sorted this out."

Carson pursed his lips. "Was that such a wise decision? Neither of them seems very comfortable with the other at the moment."

"Maybe. But I think Dex could be a good addition to my team, that is if I can convince him to stay in Atlantis. I need them to work out their differences." John took a few backward steps. "Besides, it won't be for more than an hour, two tops. How much trouble can they get into in that time?" John gave Carson a last wave, and left the infirmary.

John tapped on the open door to Elizabeth's office a few minutes later. "You heard about Daley?" he asked as he sat in the chair in front of her desk.

Elizabeth closed her computer and nodded. "I haven't talked to Carson, yet. She's going to be okay?"

John nodded. "Broken leg is about the worst of it. I told Thompson to meet me in the conference room once he had a chance to get cleaned up. I assume you'll want to be there as well."

"Yes. We need to make sure this wasn't a deliberate attack."

Twenty minutes later, Thompson entered the conference room where John and Elizabeth were waiting.

"Ma'am," he said with a nod to Elizabeth, then turned to John. "Sir, the rest of my team is back. Do you want to wait for them to join us?"

John shook his head. "Shouldn't be necessary, Sergeant. Let them get cleaned up and find something to eat. Debriefing the boss is one of those team leader perks."

John thought he saw the beginnings of a smile on Thompson's face before he schooled his features, turned away, and spoke into his radio.

"Freddo, you and Masters are on stand down. Clean up and find yourselves some chow. Daley is going to be fine. Check with Doc Beckett and see if she needs anything. I'll come find you later."

Thompson signed off the radio and sat down in the chair opposite John and Elizabeth.

"Sergeant, you and your team have been on M2R-248 for almost a week without incident. What happened?" Elizabeth asked once they were all seated.

"I think it was just bad luck, ma'am," Thompson said. "There had been a lot of rain the last two days, and we were in the hills about five clicks from the stargate. Corporal Daley had point and rounded a bend on the path. Freddo, I mean, Sergeant Garcia, Corporal Masters and I were following. Next thing I know, I hear the rocks coming down the hill, and Daley yelling at us to get back."

Thompson looked down at his hands. "Sergeant Garcia and I got Daley dug out. Corporal Masters did what he could for her, and I carried her back here."

"And you're sure this was a natural fall?" Elizabeth asked as she made a note on the pad beside her.

Thompson nodded. "It appeared to be, ma'am."

"Had there been any sign --" John started to ask when he heard a dull booming noise and the room shook slightly.

John groaned as he felt a sudden spike of pain and the itch crawl up the back of his skull. He ducked his head, gripped the table, and tried to breathe through the pain until the spike faded.

A few seconds later, there was a quick knock on the door, and Chuck entered the room at a run.

"Sorry to interrupt," he said, and John thought he looked pale, "but there's been an explosion." He glanced at John. "In the tower where the science teams are working."

John forced himself to let go of the table as the spike faded. "Find Zelenka," he ordered to Chuck. "We need to know how many people are working over there and where they are."

Chuck looked from Elizabeth to John for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, sir." He left, and John heard him call into his radio, "Doctor Zelenka? You're needed in the conference room."

"John?" Elizabeth asked in a low voice, worry evident in her tone.

"He's hurt," John said shortly with a quick glance at Thompson, and tapped his radio. "Sheppard to Lorne."

"Lorne here," John heard a few seconds later.

"Major, something's happened to the science teams working in the next tower. The control room is reporting some sort of explosion. I need you in the conference room at the double to work with Zelenka and coordinate the rescue effort."

"Yes, sir," Lorne replied. "I'll be there in two."

"Sheppard out."

John turned to Thompson. "Better go find the rest of your team, Sergeant. Chances are we're going to need them."

Thompson nodded. "Yes, sir," he replied, and hurried out of the room.

John looked over at Elizabeth when he heard her on her radio. "... We're not sure yet, Carson. Colonel Sheppard is working on organising the rescue effort. Your teams should be ready for anything."

John stepped away from the table and tapped his earpiece again. "Rodney? It's John. Can you hear me?" He waited a few seconds and tried again. "Rodney? Respond."

He saw Elizabeth watching him and shook his head. "It was worth a shot," he told her. "Is Teyla still here?"

Elizabeth shook her head. "She and Halling left half an hour ago. They aren't due to check in until tomorrow."

John looked over at the door as Zelenka came in the room.

"Something has happened?" Radek asked as he looked from John to Elizabeth.

"Unfortunately, yes." Elizabeth paused for a moment and took a deep breath. "There's been some sort of explosion in the tower where Rodney and science teams are working," she explained.

"Matka Boží," John heard Zelenka mutter as he sank into one of the chairs, his face slack. "Do you know who has been hurt or …" He looked up at Elizabeth, and John could tell he was a little afraid to know the answer.

Elizabeth sat down next to him and patted his arm. "No, we haven't heard --" she said, but John turned away again when he heard his name over the radio.

"Stackhouse to Colonel Sheppard."

"Sheppard here," John replied, and stepped over to a corner of the room as Elizabeth spoke to Zelenka.

"I'm with Adam and an archaeology team in one of the neighboring towers, sir. Something over here just blew up."

"Already aware of that, Sergeant," John replied. "What's your status?" He could hear Stackhouse panting slightly over the radio.

"I was able to get everyone out of the lab. We couldn't get back to the transporter on our floor, too much debris, we're in a stairwell heading down to the next level. Hopefully, we can get back over to the control tower from there." There was a pause over the radio and John thought he heard someone groan.

John pursed his lips. "How badly are your people hurt?"

"Adam was hit by some debris, he's semi-conscious, and his head is pretty bloody. The others have some nasty cuts, but nothing too serious."

"Copy that. Once you have them to Beckett, come up to the conference room. I need to know what we're dealing with."

"Yes, sir," Stackhouse replied. "Stackhouse out."

John tapped off his radio and glanced over at Elizabeth speaking to someone else as Lorne came into the conference room followed by Doctor Biro.

"Doctor Beckett sent me to help coordinate the medical teams," Biro said to John, and looked around the room.

"Get to the infirmary and get your people checked out," Elizabeth said and touched her earpiece.

"That was Doctor Parrish," she said, and squeezed Radek's arm. "The botany team got out without any serious injuries," she told him with a smile.

"Good. That's good," Zelenka replied with a hesitant smile.

"Sir?" Lorne said as he stopped at John's side. "Search teams should be ready to move out in the next ten minutes."

John acknowledged Lorne's report with a nod and walked over to where Zelenka and Elizabeth were seated at the conference room table. "I just talked to Stackhouse," John told Radek. "Sounds like Corrigan is pretty banged up, but the rest of that team has only minor injuries." He looked over at Elizabeth. "Once he gets them to the infirmary, Stackhouse will be here to fill us in on what he knows."

John watched as Zelenka closed his eyes. He knew this was a lot for Radek to take in, and gave him a moment to absorb everything. When Zelenka took a deep breath and opened his eyes again, John sat down in the chair next to him and tapped his arm.

"Who else was over there, Doc?" John asked gently.

Radek pushed up his glasses and looked down at his hands knotted together on the table. "Doctor Volkov and a geology team. There was a lab that looked like it was used to study various geologic features on planets. Doctor Volkov hoped they would find useful equipment to help with their own studies."

Thompson came back in the room with the rest of his team as well as Ortega and Stephens.

"We heard what happened, sir," Stephens said as Zelenka paused. "We're here to help."

John nodded. "Stackhouse is taking the archaeology team to the infirmary. He should be here soon." He turned back to Zelenka. "Anyone else?"

"Other than Rodney working in what looked like engineering lab," Zelenka continued, "there was only Doctor Wallace and two others working in the room next door to him."

Radek ducked his head. "Doctor Wallace's team are all new to Atlantis. I put them in the room next to Rodney on purpose," he glanced at John, a slightly guilty look on his face, "so he would have to deal with any issues. Doctor Wallace and Doctor Marçon do not get along."

John remembered the bickering scientists as he walked back to the transporter, and smiled slightly. "I think Rodney was doing his best to ignore them when I left."

John glanced at Elizabeth. "I left Ronon in the lab with Rodney, so that's five people on that floor we need to account for." He looked back at Radek. "How many people were with Doctor Volkov?"

"Umm, three others. Doctor Archer, Doctor Verona, and one of the new Marines who had the ATA gene." He looked up at John. "I do not understand. Those rooms were checked. We were told they were safe. What could have exploded?"

John pursed his lips. "One problem at a time, Doc. Let's get everyone out of there first. Then we can worry about figuring out what happened."

"Yes, yes, of course." Zelenka pushed up his glasses again and stood. "I have schematics of the tower on my computer. I will be right back."

Stackhouse walked in as Zelenka walked out.

John stood up and frowned slightly when he spotted the blood on Stackhouse's uniform. "Sergeant, what can you tell me?"

Stackhouse straightened and said, "We were about twenty levels down from the top of the tower, sir. There was a team working on one of the top floors, and two others working on the floors directly above us.

"Approximately twenty minutes ago, there was an explosion from the floor above where I was assisting Doctor Corrigan and a team of archaeologists. The room we were in sustained serious damage and Doctor Corrigan was injured by falling debris."

John heard a hiss behind him, and Stackhouse looked over at Stephens and Ortega. "Doc says he's concussed and will have a doozy of a headache tomorrow, but he's going to be fine," he reassured the rest of his team, and turned back to John. "We were able to get out of the lab and into the hallway, but our path back to the transporter was blocked by debris."

Stackhouse paused for a moment. "There was at least one body, male, in the rubble. Since all of my people were accounted for, he must have been working in the lab above us where the explosion emanated."

John closed his eyes and tried not to think of Rodney or Ronon half buried in rubble. He knew from the mental link, Rodney was still alive, he'd felt a few smaller stabs of pain and the headache was getting worse. What he didn't know was how long McKay would stay that way, especially since it sounded as though he was practically on top of whatever blew up.

"Could you identify the body?" John asked, and pushed his worry to the back of his mind.

Stackhouse shook his head. "I didn't get more than a glimpse, sir. The rest of the ceiling looked like it could come down at any time and I needed to get my group clear of the area. There was a wedding ring on his hand though."

"Doctor Wallace," Zelenka said sadly from the doorway.

"Radek, I'm sorry," John said.

"I did not know him well. He only just arrived with you from Earth." Zelenka set the computer in his hands on the table. "You are sure the explosion came from the lab above you?" he asked Stackhouse.

Stackhouse shrugged. "It's a best guess."

Zelenka hooked the computer up to the large screen behind the conference room table and pulled up a schematic of the tower.

"Doctor Corrigan's team was here," Zelenka said as he walked over to the screen and pointed to a small room roughly a third of the way down the tower on the map.

"Doctor Wallace's group was working here." He pointed to a room above and catty-corner to the one where Corrigan and his team were working.

Zelenka paused and glanced at John. "The engineering lab is here." He pointed to a large space on the schematic, directly above where Corrigan and Stackhouse had been working. "Next to Doctor Wallace's team."

John nodded. "I was there a little while ago. There's a whole wall of windows looking out on the ocean."

"Doctor Volkov was here." Radek pointed to the room directly above the engineering lab.

John rubbed absently at the back of his skull as he studied the map. "Okay, we have eight people trapped on two floors," John said and paused. "I haven't been able to reach Rodney on the radio, and Ronon doesn't have one. I'm assuming you tried to contact Doctor Volkov?"

Zelenka nodded. "I did not receive an answer from him or anyone on his team."

John grimaced. "We need to know what the damage looks like on those other floors." He glanced over at Stackhouse. "Stackhouse, take Stephens and Ortega, check out the floor above the explosion. Take a life signs detector and see if you can make contact with Volkov and his people. Once you have confirmation of where they are, contact Major Lorne, he'll coordinate the rescue effort to get them out." John looked over at Doctor Biro. "We need a medical team to go with them."

Biro nodded and tapped her radio. "David. Grab your kit and meet Sergeant Stackhouse …" She looked over at John.

"Tell him to meet at the transporter," John said, and Biro relayed the message.

John looked at Stackhouse. "Make sure the area is clear before you let the med team through. We don't know what set off the explosion in the first place, so treat the area as hostile territory. We don't need more people hurt."

Stackhouse nodded and signalled the rest of his team to follow him.

"Radio when you get there and tell Lorne how things look."

"Yes, sir," Stackhouse said, and left the room with his team at his heels.

"Major," John said to Lorne. "Have teams standing by to help clear debris. If Volkov's team isn't answering comms, chances are they are seriously hurt. Medical is going to need a clear path to get them out."

"Yes, sir. I'll take care of it. What are you going to be doing?"

John headed for the door. "I'm going to go get McKay and Dex."

"John," Elizabeth said, and John stopped at the door. "Maybe you should --"

"I not sending someone else, Elizabeth," John told her his tone flat.

"I was only going to suggest you take Sergeant Thompson's team with you. You may need the extra help."

John nodded. "Not a bad --" he started to say but was interrupted by the radio.

"John? John? Hear me?"

John felt a weight lift from his shoulders at the sound of McKay's voice. Rodney sounded terrible, breathy and in pain, but at least he was aware enough to use the radio.

John tapped his earpiece. "Rodney? Talk to me, buddy." He saw the relieved look on Elizabeth and Zelenka's faces when they realised who was calling him.

"Splosion. Stuck," Rodney answered after a pause.

"How badly are you hurt?"

"Umm."

There was a long pause over the radio.

John squeezed his eyes shut. He needed information, and it was clear Rodney wasn't going to be able to give it to him. "Rodney? Where is Ronon?" He hoped Ronon was in better shape and could tell him their status.

"Ronon? Umm, he's here, too."

"Rodney, give Ronon the radio."

"Umm, 'kay."

John winced as the radio squelched loudly in his ear.

"Sheppard?" Ronon said a few seconds later.

"Yeah. What happened and how badly are you two hurt?"

Chapter Text

Ronon had stalked away from McKay and forced himself to get his temper under control. Part of him knew McKay was right, his people had been careless when it came to their technology. Melana had told him about the warnings Science Consortium had sent to the Satedan government that steps needed to be taken to hide their level of advancement before the Wraith discovered the truth. The government and the military had still been debating what to do when the Wraith had attacked.

That didn't mean he wanted to hear that fact thrown back in his face by a man who probably hadn't had to fight for much in his life.

He heard McKay whimper and turned to watch as he picked himself up off the floor and sat back in the chair behind the work table. McKay winced and rubbed his shoulder before he pulled the chair up to the table and went back to work. Every now and then he'd glance up as if to see where Ronon was in the room, and Ronon smiled to himself.

Good, he thought to himself. If McKay was afraid of him, all the better. Sheppard had claimed McKay was important to their survival, Ronon really couldn't see how.

A part of him considered just leaving. The door was wide open, McKay wouldn't be able to stop him. He could find his way back to the room Sheppard had assigned to him quickly enough. Or maybe he would just leave the city all together. He wouldn't have to deal with the guard detail and the suspicion if he went his own way.

He shook his head and leant against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. The problem was he was starting to respect Sheppard. The Colonel had kept his word and was one of the first people in a long time to show some compassion for what the Wraith had done to him. Teyla had been equally empathetic and had shown no fear while they'd sat in a cave, and he pointed his weapon at her. She had trusted Sheppard to keep his word and come back with a doctor, and Sheppard hadn't let her down.

It had been a long time since Ronon had felt willing to follow someone, to trust his life to their leadership. He thought Sheppard might be worth the risk. Sheppard had suggested he could stay, help Atlantis fight the Wraith, and Ronon found himself starting to consider the idea.

While he could see himself following Sheppard, he knew from talking to Teyla that would mean dealing with McKay as well. He hadn't been impressed with McKay on the planet, he was even less impressed now. McKay was arrogant and untrained, two of the fastest things to get someone killed in a fight. Ronon still couldn't believe Sheppard was willing to trust the man so completely.

He glared over at the work table near the windows and watched as McKay went back to studying the energy weapon. What did Sheppard see in him? Ronon wondered. Did his intelligence really make up for his many shortcomings?

He heard shouting coming from the room next door and turned toward the hallway. He couldn't make out the words, but it was clear the scientists in the next room were excited about something.

McKay glanced toward the door as he stood from the table. He must have heard the noise as well, Ronon thought, and smiled to himself as he watched McKay take a wide path around him as he wandered toward the shelves lined with items.

"Move! Move!" Ronon heard a male voice shout from the hallway.

He glanced out the door and saw a man, roughly the same age as Sheppard, herding a woman and another younger man out of the lab toward the transport device he and Sheppard had used to reach the tower. "There's only a few seconds before it explodes!"

Ronon jerked upright at the word 'explode'.

"Down!" Ronon shouted, and lunged toward McKay standing in the middle of the room. McKay gave him a startled look, but then it was too late.

In a matter of seconds, Ronon felt himself flung painfully against a wall and heard the screeching sound of tearing metal as the ceiling came crashing down around him. There was searing heat on his arms, and he tried to cover his head as more of the room came down on top of him. Despite his best effort to remain conscious as the room collapsed around him, his world faded to black.

When he came to, he wasn't sure how much time had passed, but he didn't think it had been very long. The room still creaked and groaned around him, and he heard the clatter of falling masonry as debris shifted and settled.

Ronon slowly opened his eyes to find he was lying on his front and was more than a little surprised to realise he was still alive. He blinked a few times trying to get the room to focus until he realised the problem was the chunk of broken stone little more than a handbreadth from his face.

He reached out to move the stone and groaned as he felt the skin along his arms pull painfully when he tried to move.

Burns, he realised, and remembered the wave of heat that had hit him as he was flung against the wall. Nothing he could do about it now, he told himself, pushed the pain aside, and tried to move.

Along with the burns, he felt something pressing on his back and legs and tried to tilt his head back enough to see what was weighing him down. He glimpsed more stone piled on top of him, braced his arms, pushed up, and felt the mass on his back move slightly. With a growl and another heave, he managed to shift the debris off his back and slowly sat up, coughing from the smoke and dust in the air, and checked himself for other injuries.

His shirt stuck to his back near where Beckett had removed the Wraith tracker and his shoulder ached if he moved it. He assumed the blood and pain was from the incision opening up. His arms were red with a few blisters already forming behind the leather braces on his wrists. He knew the burns would hurt more later, but for now, he ignored the ache as best he could. His face stung, and his exploring fingers found a bloody cut on one cheek and another along his chin. Neither felt deep, and the cut on his chin had already stopped bleeding.

Cuts, some burns, and what was sure to be painful bruises, he tallied in his head as he wiped his bloody fingers on his trousers and looked at the destruction around him. All things considered, he'd been lucky.

The wall with the shelves was completely gone, Ronon could only see rubble where the other room used to be. He wondered if the three people who had been working in the room had managed to get back to the transport device in time.

The room he was in wasn't in much better shape. Most of the ceiling had come down, and when Ronon glanced behind him, he saw what was left of the doorway was completely blocked.

No one was going to get in or out that way any time soon, he thought grimly, and looked around for another exit.

He stared up at the ceiling when he heard metal creaking and pulled himself into a crouch, ready to move if what remained of the ceiling gave way. He relaxed a few seconds later when the sound stopped, and he took a closer look at one of the gaping holes above him.

Maybe he could get out by getting into the room above? He climbed up a small pile of rubble and peered into the hole between the two rooms.

He growled low in his throat and jumped back down in frustration a few seconds later. The ceiling had been composed of two different sections, a ceiling for the room he was in, then an open space between the floors, and a second layer of masonry formed the floor for the room above. The ceiling on his side was gone, but it looked as if the floor above was still intact. No escape in that direction.

He coughed again in the gritty air, and turned his head to look to his right when he felt a breeze on his arms. Several sections of the glass wall were cracked, and one of the windows was gone entirely. The work table McKay had been sitting at had been tipped on its side and pushed up against what remained of the windows, blocking part of the space where the glass used to be, with a pile of rubble stacked against the back side of the table.

Staring at the table, he was reminded of the fact McKay had been in the room as well, and he hadn't heard a sound from the scientist since he regained consciousness.

"McKay?" he tried to shout but ended up with another coughing fit as the dust caught in his throat. "McKay?" he yelled again when he had his breath back, and frowned when he didn't receive a response.

He did a slow turn, searching for any sign of McKay, and for a moment wondered if he'd been blown out the windows before he remembered McKay been standing in the middle of the room just before the explosion.

"McKay?" he called again, "you better answer me. I don't want to have to tell Sheppard you're dead."

Ronon stumbled through the rubble, picking his way across the room, looking for any signs of McKay and growled low in his throat when he saw material matching the grey trousers McKay had been wearing, just visible under the pile of rubble in front of the upturned table by the windows.

It took several minutes of careful moving and shifting of the debris before he was able to reach the pile of rubble with the cloth poking out. McKay had been lucky, too, Ronon realised. The table had blocked the hole in the window and had probably kept him from falling out of the tower. Ronon studied the debris for a few seconds, looking for the best way to dig McKay out.

He pulled one of the smaller blocks off McKay's back and groaned, from the pain and also frustration, as his right arm protested the movement and frowned. His shoulder hadn't hurt this badly even when Beckett was removing the tracker. He flexed his hand then bent his elbow. Both moved easily, however when he tried to rotate his shoulder, another stab of pain warned him something was wrong. He tried to peer over his shoulder, but couldn't really see anything. He tucked his right arm against his chest and went back to work.

While Ronon had been near a wall and protected somewhat as the ceiling came down, McKay had been in the middle of the room and therefore more exposed. Ronon could tell there were several more substantial pieces of masonry covering McKay's lower body. He just hoped they hadn't crushed him.

He worked for a steady fifteen minutes, digging McKay out of the rubble one-handed. He soon uncovered enough of McKay's body to know he was lying on his front, his head turned to one side. A cut across McKay's forehead oozed blood, and he had the beginnings of a bruise near his temple.

Ronon shifted the last of the rubble off McKay's arms and checked for a pulse at his wrist, relieved to find a beat, slow but there. At least he wouldn't have to tell Sheppard McKay was dead. Not yet, anyway, he reminded himself and looked at the debris covering McKay's lower back and legs.

He was about to put McKay's arm down when he saw the three long scars running up McKay's right forearm from just behind his wrist almost to the elbow. He froze and studied the scars for a moment. It wasn't hard to tell the scars were from a knife, or that the injuries were less than a year old, the edges were still well defined, not smoothed over.

Ronon had to admit, he was a little curious how McKay would have acquired such scars. Had he been in a fight after all? Ronon could easily see McKay coming out second best in a knife fight. What had him puzzled was how McKay would have been in such a fight in the first place.

He tapped McKay's cheek a few times. "McKay?" He waited a few seconds and tapped his cheek again. "Hey, McKay!"

McKay remained stubbornly unconscious.

"Maybe it's for the best," Ronon muttered, and turned to the rubble still piled on the lower half of McKay's body.

Twenty minutes later he had most of the debris shifted off McKay except for a couple of large slabs pinning his left side that were too big and too heavy for Ronon to move one-handed. From what he could see, McKay's leg was somehow pinned under the slabs by more stone.

Ronon heard McKay groan and looked over to see his eyes were open, if a bit glassy.

"Wha hap'ned," McKay mumbled and groaned when he tried to move.

"Something in the room next door blew up," Ronon told him absently as he studied the slabs looking for another way to get them off McKay's leg.

"Dex?" McKay asked, confusion clear in his tone. "Whr's J'n?" he asked and tried to move his leg.

"Not here," Ronon replied, and walked around to the other side of one of the slabs. "Stop moving around," he added.

"Head h'rts," McKay muttered, ignored Ronon's order, and tried to shift again. Ronon watched as McKay's face paled when he tried to tug his leg free. He groaned but didn't stop his panicked movement to free himself.

Ronon came back around the slab and pushed lightly on McKay's back, forcing him to stop moving. "Stop moving before you make it worse."

"Stuck under a building," McKay told him with a faint glare. "Can't get much worse."

Ronon rolled his eyes. Figures, even when McKay was trapped, he still didn't stop talking.

"Stay still," Ronon admonished as he stood again.

"Wh'r you going?"

"We need a way out of this room."

"In case you forgot, I'm stuck," McKay said, and tried to tug himself free again.

Ronon ignored him and looked around the room. He needed to find a way out and get help for McKay. On top of the trapped leg, McKay had to have a concussion which would explain the slurred words and limited focus. Ronon knew combat first aid, and Melena had taught him more. He knew McKay needed to stay calm and more important, he needed to stay conscious until help arrived.

Sheppard had to know something had happened by now, he told himself. So how did he let Sheppard know he and McKay were alive but trapped in the room?

He looked back at McKay and saw the glint from the communication device still in McKay's ear.

Ronon walked back over to McKay and knelt beside him. He noticed McKay's eyes were closed and tapped him on the cheek several times.

"St'p th't" McKay groaned, opened his eyes, and tried to glare at him.

"You need to stay awake," Ronon told him.

Rodney groaned and nodded.

"Does that still work?" he asked and pointed to McKay's ear.

McKay looked back at him, confusion clear in the expression.

"The radio. Does it work?"

McKay frowned, and raised a hand to his ear. "John? John? Hear me?"

McKay paused and then nodded his head. "Splosion. Stuck."

Ronon stood and walked back over to the blocked doorway. He turned when he heard McKay say his name.

"Ronon? Umm, he's here, too," McKay said, and paused again. A few seconds later he clumsily pulled the earpiece out of his ear. "Wants talk t'you," he said, and held up the little device.

Ronon studied the device for a moment, then looped one end over his ear and said, "Sheppard?"

"Yeah," Sheppard said. "What happened, and how badly are you two hurt?"

Ronon took a few steps away from McKay and the upturned table.

"Something exploded in the next room. McKay is trapped under some debris," Ronon said succinctly.

There was a pause over the radio, then Sheppard asked, "What about you?"

Ronon shrugged even though Sheppard couldn't see him. "Cuts, burns, bruises." He winced as his shoulder throbbed, but since he couldn't tell Sheppard what was wrong, he ignored the pain. He'd had to often enough in the past, this was nothing new.

"You're sure?"

"I'm fine," Ronon growled impatiently. "Better than he is at least."

"All right, I'm heading over there now with a team of Marines. We'll see what we can do about getting you two out of there," John said.

Ronon started to reply when he heard the floor above him began to creak again. "Might want to hurry, Sheppard. Not sure how much longer this place is going to hold together."

Chapter Text

John tapped off the radio and looked over at Elizabeth and Zelenka. "They're both alive," he told them.

"How badly are they hurt?" Elizabeth asked.

"Not sure. Ronon said McKay was trapped under debris. It might be best for Carson to check him before we try to move him."

"And Ronon?" Elizabeth asked.

"He says he's fine," John hedged.

Elizabeth studied his face for a moment. "But you don't believe him?"

John shrugged. "You didn't see him when Carson took the tracker out of his back. I don't know if he really is fine or if he's refusing to admit he needs help, too." John glanced over at Thompson. "All right, we need to get over there and see what we're dealing with. I'll radio Carson and let him know Rodney and Ronon are alive. If things are under control down there, I'll need him to come with us."

"I can take care of that for you, Colonel," Doctor Biro said, and left the room.

John turned to Thompson. "There could be a lot of debris between our people and us. We're going to need bracing equipment, rope, and tools to dig through the rubble."

Thompson nodded. "We're on it, sir," he replied and motioned his team toward the door. "We'll get the gear and meet you over there."

John nodded and watched as Thompson's team left.

"John?" Elizabeth said, and John stopped at the door to the conference room. "Be careful."

Carson met him in the armoury five minutes later and held out his hand to John. "You must have a whale of a headache by now, Colonel," Carson said as he handed over the pain medication and some water. "Is there anything else you can tell me about their condition?"

John swallowed the pills and shook his head. "Ronon says he has cuts and bruises. Not sure if that's all or if he's not telling me something."

Carson nodded. "He has an incredible threshold for pain. It's possible he is more injured than he realises as a result."

John zipped up his tac-vest. "According to Ronon, Rodney is trapped under something." He looked at Carson. "You'll need to tell us the best way to extract and move him."

Carson nodded. "From what Thomas told me when he brought Adam and the rest of the archaeology team in, I think we should be grateful they've both even survived." Beckett checked the rest of the room, then asked in a low voice, "What is the link telling you?"

John shrugged. "No spikes in the last thirty minutes, but the itch is there."

"We'll take that as a bit of good news, then," Beckett replied, and adjusted the medical pack on his back.

John motioned Carson out of the armoury and back toward the transporter.

"Lorne to Sheppard," John heard over the radio, and stopped walking.

"Sheppard," John replied and tapped Carson on the arm, so he stopped next to him.

"Sergeant Stackhouse reported in, sir. He says the transporters are still only working for the lower levels. Closest he could get to Volkov's team was level twenty-five."

"Copy that. Did he say anything about what his level looked like?"

"Not good, sir. He says the damage is extensive. He also said that section of the tower is not very stable. They've had a few parts of the ceiling come down since they arrived. They've started digging through the debris to reach the geology team, but he isn't sure they will be able to reach them any time soon."

John rubbed a hand over his face. If the damage was that severe one floor up, how bad was the level where Rodney and Ronon were trapped?

"There is some good news, sir," Lorne continued. "Stackhouse said the life signs detector found four people on his floor and four on the floor below. It sounds like everyone else is at least still alive."

John rubbed the back of his head. "I'm assuming two of the other readings are directly below the four indicating Volkov and his team."

"Yes, sir."

"That would be McKay and Dex. Where are the other two?"

"Stackhouse isn't sure, sir. According to Doctor Zelenka's schematics of the tower, they could be trapped in the transporter. If that's the case, it's going to be a heck of a job getting them out."

"And no one has been able to reach them on comms?"

"No, sir. We're not sure if that's because they are unconscious or if it's due to damage to the radios."

Or they don't have their radios, John thought to himself remembering the number of times Rodney forgot to wear his earpiece or took it off for whatever reason.

"Copy that. Sheppard out."

"Colonel?" Carson asked.

"The good news is Stackhouse found eight life readings over in the tower. Everyone we're trying to account for is still alive."

"And what's the bad news?" Carson asked.

"Getting to any of them is going to be difficult. According to Stackhouse's report, there is a lot of damage from the explosion. We're going to have to climb at least five floors to get to where Rodney and Ronon are trapped, and most of the hallway on Stackhouse's level is blocked." He glanced at Carson. "I'm not sure we'll be able to get to any of them quickly."

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

Rodney lay on his stomach listening to Ronon talk to John. He needed to focus, he told himself, rubbing his head. He coughed as he tried to take a deep breath of the smoky air and twisted his head enough to look around.

He glimpsed Dex across the room near where the shelves of Ancient devices used to be and felt a pang of regret knowing whatever the objects were, they were gone now. No chance anyone would discover their secrets now.

Rodney glanced at the gaping hole where the wall between the two labs once stood, and memory flooded back of the man holding the Wraith grenade. Why was the grenade even in the room? he wondered. It wasn't like the Ancients wouldn't recognise one when they saw it. Was it carelessness? Arrogance? Were there more grenades over in the other room now primed to explode?

He felt a spurt of adrenaline-fueled panic at the thought, and tried to pull his leg out from under the slab of stone pinning him to the floor. He whimpered slightly as he felt fresh blood trickling down his leg, stopped moving, and dropped his head back down on his arms.

Maybe Dex was right, he decided. Maybe he shouldn't be moving. He tried to twist around enough to see how he was pinned, but couldn't see much more than a large slab of stone resting on his calf. He could feel something else under the stone scraping against his leg any time he tried to move and realised he wasn't going to get out from under the rubble with either his own panicked efforts or Dex's brute strength.

He was supposed to be the smart one, he told himself, he needed a plan.

He waited until the pain in his leg faded from a sharp stabbing to a dull throbbing, then looked around the rest of the room looking for something Dex could use as a fulcrum or some other way they could shift the stone.

He heard a creaking noise above him, glanced up, and saw what was left of the ceiling sway slightly as dust and some smaller bits of stone rained down on him.

He coughed again and tried to brush the grit out of his eyes. He winced when his hand touched his forehead, and his fingers came away bloody. He swiped at his head again and felt a cut, several centimeters long, across his forehead.

Along with his bloody leg and head, Rodney could feel his heart racing at the thought of being trapped, not only under whatever was pinning his leg, but the lab in general. He'd glimpsed the pile of rubble blocking the door; he knew they weren't getting out that way any time soon.

First things first, he told himself. Get out from under the slab. Then worry about getting out of the room. He rested his chin on his arms and tried to think around the headache pounding in his skull.

Dex had said the block was too big for him to move so the easiest thing to do would be to make it smaller. How could he make it smaller? He lifted his head and started scrabbling through the rubble nearby.

"Where is it?" he muttered, and pulled his leg against the stone pinning him in his haste to find what he was looking for.

He was so focused on what he was doing, he hadn't realised Dex had finished his conversation with Sheppard and was standing behind him.

"What are you doing?" Dex asked, and handed back the radio. "I thought I told you not to move."

Rodney took the radio and waved off the comment as he stretched his arms to reach the area up against the edge of the upturned table. "Where is the laser device I was working on?" he asked, wincing at the pain in his leg as he pushed aside some of the smaller pieces of stone within his reach.

"What?"

Rodney turned to glare as best he could. "The device I was working on before. Where is it?"

Dex stared at him for a moment, arms crossed over his chest, and Rodney could see the mix of impatience and frustration in his expression.

Rodney ducked his head and tried to hold onto his temper, he was going to need Dex's help if his plan was going to work. "You said the stone pinning my leg was too heavy to move. I told you I thought that the device was some sort of laser cutter. If I can get it to work, you can use it to cut the slab into smaller pieces."

"Oh. Not a bad idea," Dex replied with a nod.

"Thank you," Rodney retorted. "Now help me find it."

"That could be a problem," Dex told him a few seconds later.

Rodney looked up at him, and Dex continued. "The glass was blown out of some of the windows. It might be gone."

"For my sake, let's hope not," Rodney replied, and propped himself up on his elbows. "I put it to one side of the table, near my jacket. Try looking over there." He pointed to his left.

Dex glared at him for a moment longer then turned to look for the laser.

As soon as Dex turned around, Rodney saw a piece of metal sticking out of his back and swallowed hard. "You need to sit down," he said as he reached for Dex's leg, and tried to stay calm.

"I thought you wanted the laser," Dex growled back at him, still sifting through the debris near the end of the table. Rodney watched as he pushed more debris aside one-handed and pulled his jacket out from under the edge of the table. Dex hung it off the end of the table and went back to searching for the device.

"Really," Rodney said again, his tone more insistent. "You need to sit down."

Dex swung around and growled. "What's your problem now?"

Rodney stared up at him as best he could. "You really can't feel that? There's a piece of metal sticking out of your back, just below your shoulder."

Dex tried to reach the piece of metal and flinched as his fingers brushed against it.

"Don't touch it!" Rodney ordered. "You pull it out, you could bleed to death, and then who would be left to get me out from under all of this?"

Rodney ignored the angry look Dex aimed in his direction.

"We need to do something to stop the bleeding," Rodney said and glanced around the room. "Do you see a black backpack?" he asked. "There should be some medical supplies in it." Not to mention the power bars, Rodney added to himself as his stomach reminded him how long it had been since he'd last eaten.

"I found it," Dex said a moment later.

"Good. Bring it over here, and I'll tie something around your shoulder."

"That's not going to happen," Dex replied, came back around the table, his right arm held tight to his chest, and sat down beside McKay with a grunt.

"What do you mean? I keep some emergency supplies in my pack, I'm sure there's a pressure bandage we could use."

"You don't get it. The pack isn't here. It went out the window. There's something black on a balcony about halfway down the tower."

No pack meant no food on top of the no medical supplies. With no idea how long it would take Sheppard to reach them, that could be very bad.

He swallowed hard and tried not to think about it. "We need to do something about your shoulder," Rodney insisted and twisted around to get a better look at Dex's back. "It might have stopped bleeding on its own," he reported a few seconds later.

"It'll be fine," Dex replied impatiently and stood. Rodney didn't miss how he staggered a few steps before he found his balance. "I'll find the laser."

Rodney shook his head. Sheppard was not going to be happy, he thought to himself as he watched Dex disappear behind the upturned table.

"Here," Dex said a moment later and dropped the small device into Rodney's hand. "It looks broken, though."

"That's just the case," Rodney said absently as he studied the device. "The interior components all seem intact. I'll need any tools you can find."

He poked at the inside of the device with his finger as Dex went back to looking for tools. The power supply wasn't very big, he noted. If it wasn't powerful enough, he'd have to find a way to boost the output if he had any hope of using the laser to cut through stone. One problem at a time, he reminded himself. Get it to work first, then worry about modifications.

"This is all I could find," Dex said a few minutes later and dropped a set of screwdrivers and a pair of needle-nosed pliers on the floor near Rodney's arm.

Rodney nodded his thanks and set to work, barely noticing when Dex wandered back over to the door.

He had double-checked the power source, found it still charged, thankfully, and was checking the focal settings when he heard a clatter behind him and turned to see Dex skipping back from the pile of rubble near the door.

"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Rodney asked.

Dex flexed his fingers and stepped closer to the pile again. "I'm trying to dig a way out of here," Dex replied.

"That's not going to work," Rodney told him pointedly, and went back to the laser. "Based on how far that pile spreads into the room, you'll be trying to dig us out for a week and still not make a dent. Sit down before you make your shoulder worse."

"I suppose you have a better idea?"

Rodney tried to shrug but failed since most of his weight was balanced on his elbows. "I'll think of something," he started to say, then yelped as there was a crash above him and part of the ceiling came down around him.

"This section of the tower is becoming more unstable," Dex said once the noise stopped. Rodney was surprised to find Dex kneeling beside him.

Rodney looked up from where he lay with his arms over his head. "What was your first clue?" he asked harshly, and felt the new bruise forming on his cheek where a bit of the ceiling had grazed him.

Dex growled low in his throat and started to stand, but Rodney reached out and awkwardly grabbed Dex's arm.

"Stop," he said, forcing down his own impatience and pain. "Save your strength. We may need it more later."

Dex glared at him for a moment then settled back on the floor. "You going to be able to fix it?" he asked, and pointed to the device in Rodney's hand.

Rodney sighed and studied the device. "I don't know. Even if I do get it to work, the power supply isn't that big, it may not have enough energy to cut through my jacket much less …" He stopped and pointed to the coat still hanging off the edge of the table. "You can use it as a sling. Maybe keep from doing more damage to your shoulder."

Dex studied his face for a moment then reached over and grabbed the coat. The jacket was dusty and torn in a few places, but Rodney thought it would do as a temporary sling.

Dex zipped up the coat then flipped one of the sleeves over his shoulder. Rodney saw it catch on the piece of metal and winced in sympathy as Dex tried to jerk the sleeve free. "Stop, the sleeve is caught," he said. "Lean towards me so I can reach it," he added and twisted around as best he could when Dex bent forward. He shifted the sleeve off the piece of metal. "Okay, try again."

Rodney tried to help, but he didn't have the leverage to do much more than help tie off the sleeves in such a way Dex could use the body of the jacket to support his arm.

"That will hopefully hold until Sheppard can get to us," Rodney said, and dropped his head back on his crossed arms, easing the pain in his back from straining in an awkward position to help Dex make the sling.

"We still need to find a way out of here," Dex said a few minutes later.

"I'm still stuck and you can't dig. What exactly do you think we're going to accomplish?"

"We can't just sit here."

"Sheppard will get us out," Rodney told him, and stopped when he realised what he'd just said.

"What's so funny?" Dex asked, and Rodney realised he must have the stupidest grin on his face.

"Nothing," he started to say, and stopped with another look at Dex. "It's just I've had this conversation before, only the last time I was on your side of it." He remembered sitting in that cave with Ford, not really believing the Lieutenant when he said Sheppard would come for them.

He had a flash of memory of that same Ford pointing a P-90 at him and pulling the trigger. He'd never describe his relationship with Ford as best buddies, but he thought they were at least friends. He'd thought Ford was someone he could trust, someone who would trust him. Instead, his so-called friend had tried to kill him, twice.

"Sheppard will get us out of here, you'll see," Rodney said again, and closed his eyes.

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

John knew as soon as he stepped out of the stairwell, they were not going to be able to reach the lab. Carson had been right, the fact anyone had survived at all was a minor miracle. He could see most of the ceiling had collapsed into the hallway along with some of the surrounding wall. Glancing up, John could see places where the floor above them was also gone. Slabs of stone, metal support beams, and glass littered the area, and they weren't able to advance more than a few feet before there was too much debris, and they were forced to stop.

"Colonel Sheppard, are you there," John heard Zelenka call over the radio.

"Go ahead, Radek." John looked at the destruction around him.

"I believe I know why Doctor Chaudhri and Doctor Marçon have not tried to use the transporter to return to the control tower. I was able to run diagnostics on the system, and it appears the interface was damaged in some manner."

John looked at the destruction around him and could easily see how the delicate transporter systems could be damaged.

"That's assuming they are even conscious," Carson said, softly enough that Zelenka wouldn't hear him.

John shrugged. "We know they're alive. It could be they are just stuck due to the transporter malfunction."

"I hope so, Colonel."

"Tell me you have some good news," John said, his attention focused on the radio.

"Possibly, Colonel. I have been researching the transporters in the Ancient database, and there may be a way to remotely trigger the transporter. If I can get it to work, I may be able to transport the two people trapped inside to an area where rescue teams can get to them."

John stepped back as dust and a few small pieces of the ceiling sifted down. "How sure are you that you can get this remote system to work?"

"I will not lie. It would be much easier if Rodney were here to help, but I think I can make it work. The important thing is there is still power to the transporter on your level. I will need to reconfigure the system to allow a second transporter to direct the first."

"Let me know when you're ready to give it a try."

"I will do that, Colonel. Zelenka out."

John turned to say something to Beckett as more of the ceiling started to crumble down around them.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Thompson called as he joined them in the hallway. John glanced behind him and saw Sergeant Garcia and Corporal Masters following, carrying a bundle of excavation tools.

"Hang on, Sergeant," John ordered and held up a hand as more of the ceiling came down in the hallway in front of him.

"Sheppard to Stackhouse," John said over the radio.

"Stackhouse here, sir."

"You need to stop whatever it is you're doing up there, Sergeant."

"Sir?" Stackhouse said, and John could hear him telling someone nearby to stop working.

"The ceiling down here isn't stable, Sergeant." John heard a crash as a larger chunk of stone fell not far from where they were standing. "We've got more debris falling."

"Copy that, sir," Stackhouse replied. After a short pause, Stackhouse continued. "We've pulled back to the stairwell, sir. We weren't able to make much progress anyway."

"Were you able to contact any of Volkov's team?"

"Yes, sir. That's why we were trying to hurry. I spoke to a woman, Doctor Archer? She told me Doctor Volkov is buried under rubble and may be severely injured. He's having problems breathing."

"We need to get them out of there, Colonel," Carson said. "If he has a collapsed or punctured lung, he could suffocate."

John glanced up at the ceiling, then down the hall. They weren't going to get anywhere trying to dig through all the debris and time was becoming a factor. They needed a new plan. He thought back to visiting Rodney earlier, the wall of windows looking out at the ocean …

"Head back to the conference room, Sergeant," John ordered. "I might have an idea."

"Yes, sir. Stackhouse out."

John turned to Thompson and his team still waiting behind him. "We need to fall back. There's too much damage to try digging any of them out. We could end up doing more harm than good."

Thompson nodded as another chunk of the ceiling came down. "I think you're right, sir."

"Take your team back to the control tower. I'll let you know when I have a better plan."

"Yes, sir." Thompson turned to Garcia. "You heard the man."

John waited a moment, then tapped his radio again. "Ronon, it's Sheppard."

"Sheppard?" he heard Rodney reply, and was relieved to hear McKay sounded more like himself.

"Rodney, how are you two doing?"

"I have half of a building on my legs and Dex has a chunk of metal in his back. We could really use a timely rescue right about now."

"Ronon has what? He told me he wasn't seriously hurt."

"To be fair, he didn't know about it when you radioed before."

John heard Ronon's voice off mic saying something he couldn't quite catch.

"He was going to find out sooner or later," Rodney replied impatiently, obviously to Dex, not John.

John looked over at Carson and said in a low voice, "You need to hear this."

Beckett gave him a puzzled frown but tapped his radio into the conversation.

"Rodney," John said, "say again. What's wrong with Ronon."

John heard a sigh and then, "There's a piece of metal stuck in his back. I think it's from whatever that decoration was hanging from the ceiling."

"Rodney," Carson said. "Did you try to remove it?"

"Do you think I'm an idiot?" Rodney retorted. "I know enough not to do that. We're using my jacket as a sling for his arm."

Carson ignored the tone and asked, "What about you?"

"I'm still stuck. I do not want to be one of those people you read about cutting off their own limbs to free themselves, so tell Sheppard to hurry up." John heard the underlying fear as well as the pain in Rodney's tone.

"We're doing everything we can," Carson told him. "There's a lot of debris."

"Wraith grenades tend to have that effect, yes," Rodney said impatiently.

"What?" John said. "Did you say Wraith grenade?"

"Yes, well, I assume that's what it was." There was a long pause over the radio. "I didn't remember the Super Wraith or the devices we found in the derelict ship until it was too late," Rodney finished in a near-whisper.

A Wraith grenade. John shook his head and surveyed the level of destruction he saw in the hallway.

"Rodney, I have an idea on how to get you and Ronon out of there. Shouldn't be much longer," John promised and tapped off the radio.

"John?" Carson asked as John led the way back to the stairwell.

"It's too dangerous, and it's going to take too long to try and dig them out," John said. "If we can't get to them from the inside, we'll have to try from another direction."

John opened the door for the stairwell and saw the moment Carson figured out what he meant.

"That is bloody madness," Carson said. "Not to mention impossible."

John shook his head. "Not impossible. I've done something similar back on Earth using helicopters."

Carson started down the stairs, muttering to himself, "Bloody foolish, trying to fly a jumper up here and get them out through the windows."

"It's the only way I can think of to get to them," John replied. "You said yourself, we needed to hurry. I know the lab Rodney is in has a large bank of windows. I just hope the room Volkov and his people are trapped in has the same layout. If we can't reach them with a jumper, I'm not sure what else we can try."

John called Lorne and Zelenka once they were in the transporter and told them to meet him in the conference room.

"John? "Elizabeth said when John entered the conference room with Carson behind him. "Where is Sergeant Thompson and what is this new idea of yours for getting our people rescued."

"I had Thompson stand down for the moment," John replied as he sat down across from Weir. "Plan A isn't going to work," he said, as he braced his arms on the table in front of him. "The tower is too unstable, and our people are injured. Digging is going to take too long."

"But you have another idea?"

"Maybe," John said and turned to Zelenka. "Did you bring the schematics for the tower?"

"Yes, Colonel," Radek replied as he projected the drawing on the screen behind Elizabeth. "I am not sure this is a good idea, however."

John stood and studied the drawing for a few minutes. "Both levels have windows," he muttered to himself.

"Yes, but there are overhangs on both levels." Zelenka pointed to the out-jutting lips of stone above and below the window frames. "You will not be able to hold the jumper flush with the structure, and the ship will not fit between them. The ramp will need to be balanced here and here." He pointed to the space just below the window on each level.

"John, are you seriously considering flying a jumper over to the tower?" Elizabeth asked.

John turned to her. "I don't see how we have many other options. Stackhouse, tell her about Volkov."

"Yes, sir," Stackhouse said. "I talked to Doctor Archer a little while ago. She told me Doctor Volkov is still trapped. Doctor Archer and the other scientist with her --"

"Doctor Verona," Zelenka supplied.

"... Are trying to dig him out, but they can't move the larger blocks of stone and Volkov is having trouble breathing."

"There was a Marine with them," Zelenka said. "Can he not move the stone?"

Stackhouse shook his head. "Corporal Webber has a broken arm."

"Rodney is still trapped, too," John added with a look at Elizabeth. "I know it's not ideal, but we're running out of options and time."

"There may be less time than you think, John," Elizabeth said with a frown. "Have you looked outside? There's a storm brewing."

"Then the sooner we get moving, the better," John replied and turned to Carson and Lorne. "This will have to be in two trips. Carson? I need to know which floor we're going to first."

"Volkov," Carson said with only a slight hesitation. "If he is having difficulty breathing, we need to get him sorted first."

John nodded. "Get your team together and get to the jumper bay."

Carson nodded and hurried from the room.

John turned to Lorne. "We're going to need Marines and equipment to get Volkov out. They need to be careful. No heavy equipment. From what we saw, the floor isn't very stable, and McKay and Dex are in the room underneath them. We can't risk more of the ceiling coming down on them."

"Yes, sir," Lorne said. "I'll have a team ready to go in ten minutes," he added, and left the conference room.

Ten minutes later John glanced at the men and women crammed in the back of the jumper as he toggled the release for the jumper bay sunroof. John glanced at the empty co-pilot's chair and refused to let himself think about why Rodney wasn't in his usual spot.

Carson sat in one of the seats behind him. He spoke softly to Doctor Cortes, a small woman with dark hair and a lilting accent. Carson's two med techs, David and Jason, sat on one of the rear benches, a pile of medical gear stacked between them, while Thompson and the remaining members of his team, sat on the other bench.

"Control, this is Sheppard," John said as he closed the rear hatch. "We're ready to go."

"Copy that, Colonel," Chuck replied. "You are cleared for take-off."

"John, that storm is going to be here soon," Elizabeth said.

"We'll get there and get back as fast as we can," John replied and lifted off. "Sheppard out."

Chapter Text

Ronon had never been good at waiting, seven years of running had taught him that to stay still meant death. Now he was forced into inaction, and he didn't like it. He stood, ignoring the look McKay gave him as he moved, and wandered over to the windows.

The storm that had been on the horizon several hours ago was nearly upon them. Ronon watched as lightning flickered through the clouds and heard the low, rumbling growl of the thunder that followed. He shivered slightly from the cool, wet air blowing in from the broken windows and regretted the leather duster he'd left in his room.

"Why is it so dark in here?" McKay asked a few minutes later, and Ronon glanced behind him to see McKay squinting as he worked on the little laser device.

Ronon wasn't sure if the question had been directed at him or the universe in general but answered anyway. "Storm coming in," he replied and looked out the window as another flash of lightning forked across the sky.

"Great," McKay muttered. "What else can go wrong today?"

Ronon turned around and found McKay had stopped fiddling with the laser. Instead, he had his head raised and his eyes closed.

"What are you doing?" Ronon asked.

"Trying," McKay said, and smiled slightly as several strips along the one intact wall of the room started to glow, "to get the lights on." He glanced over at Ronon and added. "Sheppard makes that look so easy." He shivered then winced when the movement jarred his leg. "Can't do anything about the lack of heat, though."

Ronon looked around as the strips glowed a bit brighter. "How did you do that?"

McKay studied him for a moment, then said, "The Ancients, Ancestors, whatever you call them, designed their technology around their own DNA. We think it was a failsafe of sorts to keep the Wraith from stealing it. The only people who can activate or use the technology are those who have the right gene."

"And you have this gene?"

McKay nodded. "Some people, like Sheppard and Carson, have the gene naturally. The Ancients went to Earth a long time ago, and we are their descendants. Carson was able to design a gene therapy that worked on a few of us who didn't have the gene naturally."

McKay went back to working on the laser and Ronon prowled around the room, shifting debris in an attempt to have something to do.

"You really shouldn't move your arm around so much. Carson isn't going to like it," he heard McKay say a few minutes later.

Ronon ignored him, and continued to search for another way to dig through the rubble blocking the door. He didn't want to admit McKay was right, but the more he studied the debris, the more he had to agree, he was not going to be able to dig himself out of the room.

"If you're going to insist on making yourself worse, see if you can find my computer," McKay said.

Ronon tried to glare at him, but McKay never looked up from the laser.

"Maybe I can find something in the Ancient database about this," McKay held up the device, "so I can get it to work."

Ronon glowered for a moment, then decided the search would give him something positive to do. He turned back to the windows and started looking through the rubble for the computer he'd seen McKay using before.

"It's not here," he said after several minutes of sifting through debris. "Must have gone out the window with the backpack."

"Oh," McKay said, and Ronon thought he sounded strange. He turned to see McKay staring down at his hands, seemingly lost in thought.

"What now?"

"It's, umm, nothing," McKay said. He gave Ronon a fleeting smile. "It's just … Never mind. If it's gone, it's gone. Nothing we can do about it." McKay dropped his gaze and went back to work on the laser.

McKay was muttering something about increasing capacity when he absently touched his ear. "Tell me you're almost here," he said, glanced up at Ronon, and mouthed 'Sheppard'.

A few seconds later, McKay jerked against the debris trapping him.

Ronon saw his face pale. He wasn't sure if McKay's reaction was from pain or from what Sheppard was telling him.

"Are you insane?" McKay demanded a few seconds later. "Don't you remember what happened the last time you tried to fly a jumper through a storm?"

Ronon put the pieces together and quickly looked out the window. He could see something coming toward the tower, and soon was able to make out the shape of one of the ships Sheppard had called a jumper aiming for the tower.

"Fine. Assuming we both survive this ridiculous plan, see you soon." Rodney tapped off the radio and glanced at Ronon. "Sheppard will radio again in a few minutes. When he does, we're supposed to find cover. He plans to break the windows on that end of the room," McKay pointed to his right, "to get a team of Marines in here."

Ronon watched as the jumper came closer. It was a good plan assuming the weather cooperated. He heard more muttering behind him, turned around, and watched as McKay went back to work. It sounded like he was arguing with himself as he checked each component of the laser. He also noticed the pain lines across McKay's forehead and saw him rub his head more than once as he studied the device.

Ronon was relieved to know Sheppard would be there soon, and not only because he was eager to get out of the room. Sheppard's arrival meant McKay would soon be someone else's problem. It had been a long time since he'd been responsible for anyone's safety other than his own. And while it hadn't been as hard as he'd feared being stuck in the destroyed lab with him, Ronon was more than ready to give responsibility for McKay over to Sheppard, and whatever Marines were about to arrive.

If Ronon were honest, based on what he remembered from their time on the planet, he'd frankly expected more whining and complaint from McKay once he was conscious and found out they were trapped. He knew from past experience civilians tended to panic when put into a bad situation. While he'd moaned and complained in the beginning, Ronon had to admit he was impressed that McKay had also kept his head and had come up with a plan to free himself. Ronon idly wondered what McKay's plan would have been for getting out of the room once he'd managed to free his leg. Maybe Sheppard and Teyla were right. Maybe there was more to this Doctor McKay than met the eye.

"This is hopeless," McKay stated a few seconds later and tossed the laser to one side with a frustrated growl.

Or not, Ronon thought wryly as McKay started pulling against the debris trying to free his leg.

After a few seconds, McKay dropped his head back onto his arms, and Ronon heard him mumble under his breath, "Any time now would be great, Sheppard."

Thunder rumbled loud enough to make the remaining glass in the windows vibrate as it started to rain.

Ronon watched the rain splatter against the remaining glass for a few minutes, then turned to see McKay had his eyes closed and appeared to be asleep.

"Hey!" Ronon growled as he walked back over to the upturned table, bent down, and shook McKay's shoulder with his free hand.

"What?" McKay whined, and slowly opened his eyes.

"You're supposed to be staying awake," Ronon told him.

"Yes, well, that was much easier when I had something to do."

Ronon studied him for a moment, then said, "So talk about something."

McKay looked up at him with a glare. "Aren't you the one who said I talked too much?"

Ronon shrugged. "You need to stay awake."

McKay sighed and pulled himself up so his weight rested on his elbows. "What do you want to talk about?"

Ronon thought about the scars he'd seen on McKay's arm and almost let his curiosity show. Instead, he chose a topic that he hoped would keep McKay talking. "What happened the last time Sheppard flew in a storm?"

McKay snorted, then shivered again as the wind, and now rain, came in through the broken windows. "We crashed," he said succinctly, and rubbed his head again. "And nearly froze to death."

What little light still came through the windows dimmed, and Ronon looked up to see the bottom of a ship hovering a few feet from the side of the tower. There was a muted crashing noise, and glass rained down outside their windows.

"Sheppard's here," Ronon said. "He stopped at the floor above us."

McKay nodded. "He told me they need to get Volkov out first, then they'll be back for us."

Ronon glanced up when he heard a faint thump and dust sifted down from the ceiling. There were several more thumps with more dust, and sometimes small pieces of debris, coming down on them over the next several minutes. Ronon was able to dodge the smaller chunks of stone that fell from the ceiling. Rodney wasn't as fortunate and grunted as bits of stone hit his back and shoulders.

"They do know we're still down here, don't they?" McKay groused a few minutes later and covered his head as more of the ceiling crumbled down around them.

Ronon said nothing and watched as the jumper twitched and dipped in a minute dance to keep it as close to the side of the tower as possible. The Satedan military had flying craft as well, and while Ronon had never flown one of the ships, he could recognise the level of skill required for Sheppard to maintain such close proximity to the tower without damaging either the structure or the ship.

"Yes, we're still here, no thanks to the wrecking crew above us," McKay said ten minutes later. Ronon assumed he was talking to Sheppard again.

Ronon watched as the hatch on the jumper closed, and the ship slowly inched away from the tower. He was blinded for a moment as a bright flash of lightning lit up the room followed almost immediately by a loud clap of thunder. When he looked out the window again, he saw the jumper creeping closer to their window and took a step back.

"Get away from the windows," McKay said, and covered his head with his arms.

Ronon ducked down behind the upturned table and bent over McKay's prone body. Next thing he knew, he heard the sound of gunfire, then the crash of shattered glass. He felt the sting of rain on his arms as the wind whipped through the room sending dust into the air and making both of them cough. He looked up to see the rear hatch of the jumper open and two people making their careful way across the short distance from the ship to the edge of the window.

One of the two individuals was tall and broad, easily as tall as Ronon himself. The tall man followed Beckett, carrying a large pack in one hand while the other hand kept a firm grip on Beckett in front of him. Once they stepped off the ledge and into the room, the jumper's hatch sealed, and the ship flew away from the tower.

"Ronon? Rodney?" Beckett said, and looked around the room.

Another flash of lightning and crash of thunder reverberated through the room.

Ronon waited for the echoing rumble to fade, then said, "Over here, Doc."

Beckett and his escort glanced around, and nodded at Ronon as they picked a careful path around the fallen debris. Ronon slowly sat up and heard the sharp intake of breath when Beckett came around the table and had his first look at both of them. Ronon imagined they looked quite a sight, dirty, bloody, and bruised, not to mention the rubble still piled on McKay.

The tall man with Beckett set the large pack down next to McKay's right side. Beckett motioned him back a few steps, and they held a quick, whispered conference. The tall man nodded once Beckett stopped speaking, then unslung his own pack from his back and pulled out several items as Beckett came back and knelt at McKay's side.

"Rodney, how are you doing, lad?" Beckett asked as he checked McKay's pulse.

"I have a building on my leg, how do you think I am?" McKay snapped back, but Ronon thought he sounded more tired than angry.

Beckett ignored the tone and turned to Ronon. "And what about you? I understand you've been impaled by debris?"

Ronon looked down at the makeshift sling. "I'll be fine. Take care of him." Ronon pointed at McKay.

"Why don't I take care of both of you," Beckett replied, and opened the large pack next to him.

"We're going to have you out of here soon, I promise," Carson said to McKay. "Before we do that, however, I need to know where else you're hurt."

More lightning lit up the room, and Ronon watched as Beckett pulled on a pair of gloves. He touched the cut over McKay's eye and the bruises on his face. "Looks like you had quite a knock."

"Head hurts," McKay replied.

"Any blurred vision? Nausea?"

McKay shook his head. "Some before, not now."

Beckett nodded, opened a foil package and used the cloth to clean the blood off his face. "When was the last time you had anything to eat?"

McKay ducked his head away from Beckett's ministrations. "Breakfast," he replied. "Meant to stop for lunch," he waved a hand around, "this happened instead."

"You didn't bring any power bars with you?"

McKay glowered. "Of course I did. They were in my backpack. How was I supposed to know the room was going to explode and the pack would go out the window?"

Carson pursed his lips and glanced at his watch. "It's three in the afternoon now. Once we have you out from under this, we'll find you something to eat."

Ronon thought the questions and concern were a bit strange. He was hungry certainly, but he didn't understand why Beckett would be so worried about McKay's eating habits.

The tall man with Beckett came back around the table carrying a portable light in one hand. Ronon eyed him with warily as he studied the debris covering McKay's leg.

The man looked over at Ronon and nodded once. "Sergeant Derek Thompson," the tall man said as he got down on his hands and knees.

"Ronon Dex," Ronon replied, and watched as Thompson shined the light along the stone slabs covering McKay's leg.

Ronon ducked his head as another gust of wind blew through the room. "Where did Sheppard go?" he asked as Beckett lifted McKay's shirt and checked his back. He noticed McKay had his eyes closed, but he flinched when another flash of lightning strobed the room followed almost immediately by a loud clap of thunder.

"Some of these bruises are deep," Beckett said, ignoring Ronon's question along with the wind and noise as he gently probed McKay's spine. "Can you feel your feet and toes?"

McKay groaned and nodded. Ronon saw his right leg and foot twitch.

"Any problems breathing?"

McKay shook his head.

Beckett pulled the shirt back down, and glanced over at Ronon. "Elizabeth was worried about the lightning hitting the jumper," Beckett explained, and another flash emphasised his point. He took several items out of the pack at his side. "Colonel Sheppard took Volkov and his team back to the infirmary. He reluctantly promised Elizabeth he'd wait for the storm to pass, then come back for us."

"Great," McKay muttered and shifted his head lying on his arms.

"The storm shouldn't last long, Rodney," Beckett reassured as he unfolded a small, silver blanket and laid it over as much of McKay as he could reach.

McKay grunted as thunder rumbled.

"Doc," Thompson said quietly, and jerked his head to one side.

Beckett frowned but stood. Ronon followed them, curious to know what Thompson had found that obviously had him concerned.

"We might have a problem," Thompson said quietly once they were a few steps away from McKay. "He's pinned by more than one slab. It looks like several smaller chunks of rock are pinning his leg, and then two larger pieces are holding everything wedged together. I'm not going to be able to get him out by myself."

"Is anything actually pressing down on his leg?" Carson asked.

"Hard to say," Thompson replied. "I can see his foot, it's definitely wedged in there. Probably that's what's keeping him from pulling himself out." Thompson paused for a moment, then added, "There's something else. I found blood on some of the stone slabs around Doctor McKay's leg."

Beckett pursed his lips and glanced back at McKay. "Is his leg still bleeding?"

"I don't know," Thompson replied. "I didn't see any kind of pool, but what I could see of the stone pinning him is pretty bloody."

"He wouldn't stop moving," Ronon said. "Kept trying to pull his leg out."

"What are you talking about?" McKay asked from where he lay behind them.

Ronon turned and saw McKay twisted around, his weight balanced on his elbows, watching the little huddle.

"What's wrong?" McKay's gaze skipped from one face to the next, his expression changing from frustration to fear within a few seconds.

Ronon saw the dawning realisation in McKay's eyes right before he started frantically pulling against the stone slabs.

"Rodney, stop!" Beckett exclaimed, and hurried back over to him. "You're going to make that leg worse."

McKay stopped moving and glared up at Beckett. "Get me out of here, Carson. Now." Ronon heard the mix of anger, fear, and pleading in his tone.

"We're working on it, lad," Beckett said, his own voice gentle, as he knelt beside McKay and put a hand on his arm. "But you need to stay calm. I'm going to see to Ronon's shoulder --"

Ronon started to protest, but Beckett held up a hand. "I'm going to see to Ronon's shoulder, then we'll see about getting you out of this."

"Doc," Ronon started to say, but Beckett looked up, his expression serious, shook his head, and motioned Ronon back over to Thompson.

"You should help McKay first," Ronon stated as soon as they were far enough away.

Beckett sighed. "I'd love to, lad. But the truth is, we're going to need your help getting him out from under all of that. The explosion happened almost three hours ago. If we don't get him out soon, there is a risk of serious complications."

Ronon studied Beckett's face for a moment, saw the truth of his statement, and nodded.

"Right then. Derek, it may be a while before Colonel Sheppard can get back here. We're going to need some sort of protection against the rain and wind." Beckett glanced at the few remaining windows as heavy rain lashed against the glass and another gust of wind blew through the room, misting them with rain, as thunder crashed overhead. "These two don't need to be cold and wet on top of everything else."

"I'll see what I can do, Doc," Thompson replied, and Ronon watched as he did a quick survey of the room. Thompson headed for the far corner away from the windows and started piling up some of the surrounding rubble to make a wall roughly eight feet out from the corner.

Beckett looked around the room and pointed to a space away from both McKay and Thompson. "Come with me," he said, and led the way across the room. "Let's have that sling of sorts off of you and see what we're dealing with."

Ronon didn't see how he had much choice. He followed Beckett, sat on a flat chunk of masonry, carefully untied the jacket sleeves, and with Beckett's help, took his shirt off.

Beckett tsked and shook his head. He went over to McKay, whispered something Ronon couldn't hear as he adjusted the blanket covering him, picked up the large pack, and brought it back over to Ronon's side. Beckett then pulled on a pair of gloves, opened another foil package, pulled out the cloth, and started cleaning the blood off Ronon's back.

The cloth was damp and cool, and whatever was on the cloth made the cuts on his back sting. Ronon set his jaw but otherwise didn't move.

"You've popped a few stitches," Beckett said once the bandage over the incision had been removed. "And Rodney was right, you do have something metal, about five centimeters wide, just below the incision where I removed the tracking device." Ronon felt Beckett's fingers gently probing his back. "It's protruding out of your back about the same amount. Luckily, it doesn't seem to be very deeply embedded. It already looks infected, however."

Beckett came around and stood in front of Ronon. "Once we get you both out of here, you'll be spending the night in the infirmary. We need to get the infection under control."

"I don't --" Ronon started to argue, but Beckett interrupted him.

"No arguments," Beckett told him, and looked him in the eye. "I'll not get you sorted only to have you drop dead from an easily prevented infection."

Ronon glowered for a moment longer, then jerked his head in agreement.

Beckett used another of the damp cloths and cleaned the blood off his face.

"These are superficial, nothing to worry about," Beckett said as he checked the cuts on his cheek and chin. "Let me see your arms."

Ronon held his arms out for inspection.

Beckett took first one arm, then the other. "First degree burns, a few blisters. I think we can get away with just wrapping those for now." He looked Ronon in the eye. "What else? Any other pain? Headache?"

Ronon shook his head.

Beckett gave him a measured look, then nodded. "All right, then, I think the worst of it is the piece of metal in your back. I'd prefer to wait until we were back in the infirmary, but as I said, we're going to need your help with Rodney. I think I can remove it here just as easily. Won't be nearly as complicated as the tracking device," he added with a slight smile.

"Do what you need to do, Doc," Ronon said, and ducked his head as another gust of wind and rain blew through the missing windows.

"All right," Beckett said. "While the metal isn't very deep, I won't lie, this is going to hurt. I can give you something for the pain."

Ronon shook his head. While he may have accepted Beckett and the others weren't going to turn him over to the Wraith, he also did not want to give up control of himself or the situation. He was no stranger to pain. "I'll be fine."

Ronon heard a sigh come from behind him. "I don't suppose I could convince to you lie down for this?" Becket asked.

Ronon glanced around at the rubble-strewn floor. "No room."

"Aye, true enough." Beckett pulled more supplies out of the pack, laid them out on a clean cloth he removed from another package, and set to work.

Ronon felt Beckett's fingers on his back again, probing the skin around the piece of metal. He braced his arms at his sides, and gazed straight ahead. A bright flash of lightning showed Thompson cleaning out the debris from the space behind the rubble wall. Ronon felt Beckett grasp the metal object in his back.

"All right, lad. Here we go."

The piece of metal came out easily enough. Ronon groaned low in his throat and felt the blood running down his back as the piece of metal came free, then a heavy pressure as Beckett staunched the flow. "Let me disinfect these wounds, and I'll stitch them."

Twenty minutes later, Beckett had Ronon's back stitched and bandaged, and the burns on his arms cleaned and wrapped.

"How are you feeling?" Beckett asked as he taped the last bit of bandaging around Ronon's arm.

"Fine," Ronon replied as he put his shirt back on.

Beckett pursed his lips and held out several pills. "This is ibuprofen," he said as he handed Ronon a bottle of water from the large pack. "It won't make you sleepy, or cloud your judgement, but it will help with the pain I know you're feeling."

Ronon hesitated for a moment, then took the pills and swallowed them. "Thanks, Doc."

"You're welcome," Beckett found another of the silver blankets in the backpack, and before Ronon could stop him, wrapped it around his shoulders. "You stay there for the moment while I check on Rodney."

The blanket crinkled as Ronon settled on the stone slab, and he watched as Beckett sat cross-legged next to McKay and spoke softly to him as he rubbed one of McKay's arms.

He had known such kindness once. With friends and comrades. With Melena.

He remembered Teyla waiting in the cave with him, showing no fear, only compassion for what had been done to him. She'd been confident that Sheppard would return with someone who would help not only her but him as well.

He remembered Beckett walking into the hollow in front of the cave, clearly nervous, but also determined to help however he could simply because someone needed his expertise. He owed Beckett a debt for removing the tracker. He knew it would not be one that would be easily repaid.

He remembered McKay wanting to go find Sheppard after he'd been cut down from the tree even though it was had been obvious he was injured. He'd been ready to face off against not only Ronon, but the Wraith, and potentially a man who had just threatened to kill him, all because he thought Sheppard needed him.

Ronon shifted on the slab of stone as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled; the storm matching his conflicting emotions and mood.

Thompson stepped over to Beckett, said something, then knelt, spoke to McKay, and patted him on the back. McKay lifted his head enough to look up at Thompson and nod.

Sheppard was offering him a chance to have that life again, Ronon realised. To have people who cared what happened to him and would be there if he needed help.

Of course, that meant he'd have to start caring about them as well. He'd survived well enough on his own the last seven years. Did he want the emotional entanglements that would come with staying?

As more thunder rumbled overhead, he was surprised to discover the answer might be yes.

Chapter Text

Rodney shifted under the emergency blanket as another gust of wind blew cold rain on him. He was tired. His head ached. His back ached from holding himself in an awkward position to try and fix the laser. His left leg felt oddly heavy. And on top of all of that, he was now cold and wet. Sometimes life just wasn't fair, he grumbled to himself.

He heard Thompson doing something involving shifting debris but couldn't be bothered to find out what. All he wanted was out of the destroyed lab, Carson telling him he wouldn't be an amputee, a hot meal, and a warm bed. Not necessarily in that order.

He felt the warmth of body heat as someone sat beside him before a hand rested on his arm.

"Rodney, lad?" Carson said softly. "How are you doing?"

Rodney turned his head and opened his eyes, then squinted as a flash of lightning lit the room. "I've spent most of the afternoon with half of a building on my back, how do you think I feel?" Rodney replied, but the response lacked any heat.

Carson squeezed his arm. "How much is your leg hurting?"

"It doesn't really. Feels numb, heavy, like I've been sitting in a bad position for too long and it's gone to sleep."

Carson tried to hide his frown, but Rodney saw it. "What? What does that face mean?"

"It means I'm a bit concerned," Carson told him and patted his arm.

"Doctor Beckett?" Thompson said, and stood next to Carson. "The space in the corner is all set, and I think I have a way to get Doctor McKay free of the debris."

"Excellent," Carson said, and looked up as Dex dropped the silver emergency blanket and joined them. "What do you need us to do?"

"I found some lengths of metal girder I think will work as fulcrums." He looked over at Dex. "Looking at the debris fall, if I lift the big slab first," he pointed to the large slab on the top of the pile, "that should give you enough room to lift the other one."

Dex bent down and nodded as he studied the rubble. "I think I see what you want to do." He looked over at Carson and Rodney. "We lift the blocks, and McKay should be able to pull his leg free from the rest."

Carson crossed his arms and shook his head. "Rodney won't be awake enough to pull himself out."

"I won't?" Rodney asked, and felt his heartbeat speed up as he looked from Carson to Dex to Thompson.

"I'll take care of getting him out," Carson finished as he walked back over to where he'd left the medical supplies and brought the pack back over to Rodney's side.

"I told you, it doesn't really hurt," Rodney protested. "What aren't you telling me?"

Carson bent down next to him. "Your leg is going numb due to the increased pressure of the stones impacting your circulation."

Rodney swallowed and forced himself not to think about what that could mean.

"As soon as one of those blocks of stone is moved, it's going to be a shock to your system as the blood flow is restored. You are going to be in a lot of pain," Carson told him. He dug through the pack and pulled out a syringe. "I want to give you something that will knock you out, so you won't feel it." He gave Rodney a significant look. "Maybe spare John a headache as well," he added in a whisper.

Rodney squeezed his eyes shut hoping Carson wouldn't see the fear he was feeling. All he'd wanted was a quiet day to think. He needed time to come to terms with what had happened with Ford on the planet. And he'd promised John he would think about Sheppard's idea of adding Dex to the team.

He clenched his hands into fists and rested his head on his hands. His mother told him once that bad things happened in threes. He'd been attacked by a supposed friend one day, and had a building come down on him the next. Was he going to wake up tomorrow with part of his leg missing? he wondered.

"Rodney?" Carson said softly, and Rodney glanced over at him. "We need to get you out from under this, and this is the only way."

Rodney took a deep breath and tried to stop himself from panicking.

He felt Carson's hand on his back. "Rodney? We need to do this now. Are you ready?"

Rodney looked up and saw the syringe in Carson's hand.

"Carson …" He looked away.

"I know, lad," Carson said. "I promise you, I'll do everything I can."

Rodney hesitated for a moment longer then nodded.

He felt the sharp prick of the needle in his arm, then a feeling of cold as the medication entered his bloodstream. The last thing he knew was Carson's hand easing his head back down on the floor as everything drifted away from him.

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

Carson felt the tension go out of Rodney's body as the sedative took effect and his breathing evened out. He rubbed Rodney's arm with one hand while with the other he tracked McKay's pulse.

He looked up at Ronon and Derek a moment later and said, "He's asleep." Carson pushed the emergency blanket to one side so it was out of his way, patted Rodney's arm one more time, then sorted through the medical supplies for the items he'd need once they had Rodney out from under the rubble trapping him.

From what Derek had told him about the bloody stones and Ronon's description of McKay trying to pull himself free, Carson knew Rodney would have lacerations, he just hoped they weren't too deep. He set several large antiseptic wipes next to packages of sterile bandages and gauze. He found a temporary split in the bottom of the pack and put that to one side.

"We're ready whenever you are, Doc," Thompson said.

Carson looked up and saw Thompson had a metal girder braced under the larger stone while Ronon waited with another beam placed where he could lift the smaller slab of stone.

"Try and lift the stones as slowly as you can," Carson said as he checked Rodney's pulse again. "I don't know if the pressure is causing more damage to his leg or preventing him from bleeding out. Either way, the sudden change is going to be hard on his body."

"We'll be careful," Ronon told him, and Carson saw the genuine concern in his expression.

"Ronon, don't use your right arm any more than necessary," Carson added as he knelt and grasped Rodney under the arms. "You don't want your own wounds to open up again."

Ronon nodded and glanced at Thompson. "Ready?" he asked.

"Ready," Derek replied and looked at Carson. "On three."

Carson nodded and set his feet.

"One."

Carson checked his awkward grip. It would have been so much easier to pull him out if Rodney had been lying on his back instead of his front, Carson thought.

"Two."

Carson watched as Derek and Ronon both readied themselves to lift the heavy stones.

"Three!"

The stone slab on one side slowly lifted a few centimeters, then a few more as Derek pushed down on his girder.

Even with the anaesthetic in his system, Carson heard a low moan from Rodney as Ronon pushed down on his girder and lifted the other large block of stone.

Beckett gave Rodney an experimental tug, but he still couldn't get him free. "A little more if you can," he said, and watched as the two stones were slowly lifted a little bit higher.

He tried pulling again, and this time felt Rodney move. "That's it. I think I can get him out. Hold it just a little longer." Carson saw both men straining to hold up the stones even as he scooted back with Rodney braced against him.

Carson saw Rodney's booted foot come free of the debris just as Thompson and Ronon let go of the girders and the two slabs of stone crashed back to the floor. He carefully laid Rodney down, checked his pulse, and glanced at the two men standing with their hands braced on their knees, both of them breathing heavy from the effort to lift the stone blocks.

Carson gave them a moment to catch their breath as he looked Rodney over and grimaced as he had his first look at Rodney's leg. The leg of his trousers had rucked up leaving his calf bare from just below his knee to his boot. Several long cuts ran the length of his leg, many still bleeding freely and Carson could already see the signs of an infection in the wounds. The limb was also swollen and bruised.

"All right. We need to roll him over so I can get his leg sorted, but we also need to be careful," Carson said with a glance up at Ronon and Thompson. "On top of the lacerations, his leg is most likely broken."

Carson dug through the medical bag and pulled out two pairs of gloves. He handed one pair to Ronon, and said, "I'm going to need your help keeping his leg stable."

Ronon nodded. "I know what to do." He put on the gloves and knelt on Rodney's left side.

"When I say, Derek, you roll him over. Ronon, hold his leg here and here," Carson placed Ronon's hands where he'd be able to best support the limb. "Derek, you need to roll him over slowly and watch his head and neck."

"Got it, Doc," Thompson replied and took a sure grip on Rodney's shoulders.

Carson knelt where he could guide Rodney as they flipped him over and said, "All right, Derek, now."

Once they had Rodney on his back, Carson opened several of the sterile bandages and worked quickly to get the bleeding stopped. There was a rumble of thunder, and a gust of wind blew through the room, drenching his back as he bent over Rodney trying to protect him from the rain.

"What can we do to help?" Thompson asked.

"We need to get him out of this weather," Carson said as he tossed away one bloody bandage, opened a fresh pressure bandage, and tied it over the long cut on the inside of Rodney's calf that still bled. "That should hold him for now," Carson added and reached for the emergency splint. "I'll deal with the rest of his injuries once we've got him a bit more sheltered."

Carson quickly set Rodney's leg in the emergency splint, tightened the straps and sat back.

"Carefully as you can, please," he said as Derek stepped forward and grasped Rodney under the arms.

Ronon took his legs, and they carried him over to the corner where Thompson had built the rubble wall. Carson picked up his medical pack and the emergency blanket and followed. Carson ducked behind the wall as more wind and rain blew in the windows, knelt beside Rodney, and started to check the bandages.

"Weir to Beckett," Carson heard over the radio. "Carson, how are Rodney and Mr Dex?"

Carson ignored the radio for the moment as he checked Rodney's pulse and glanced at the spots of blood seeping through the pressure bandage wrapped around his leg.

"Derek, unbuckle the straps for the splint. I need to get the rest of that bleeding stopped and check his leg."

"Yes, sir," Thompson said, and Carson tapped his radio. "Elizabeth, we have Rodney freed from the debris. How long before Colonel Sheppard can come get us?"

"I'm not sure," Elizabeth replied. "Radek thinks the storm has stalled. It may be a couple more hours before it clears enough that it's safe for John to fly the jumper."

Carson closed his eyes and tried to keep his voice calm. Elizabeth was right to be cautious, he knew but that didn't help his feeling of frustration with the enforced delay. And he knew his frustration was nothing compared to what Sheppard must be feeling. He wondered how much longer Elizabeth would be able to keep John to his promise to wait for the weather to clear, or at least improve, before he tried to come to get them.

As if on cue, John's voice came over the radio. "Carson? How bad is he?"

"He's been better," Carson admitted after another glance at Rodney's pale face. "I had to sedate him, but I think we were in time to prevent any serious compression injuries."

"But he's going to be all right?" John asked and Carson heard the mixture of concern and guilt in his tone.

"He should be. He has several lacerations to his leg, and the bones are probably broken. He's going to need surgery to set the bones and sort out some of the cuts on his leg."

There was a long pause over the radio and Carson imagined John standing, his arms tightly crossed over his chest, and a worried crease in his forehead.

"And Ronon?" John asked a few moments later.

"He'll be fine," Carson said, and looked over at Ronon carefully wrapping the emergency blanket around Rodney. "Both of them will be spending a few days with me in the infirmary, but with enough time, they should both heal." He waited a beat then added, "I need to get back to Rodney, Colonel."

"Take care of him, Carson. Take care of both of them."

"I plan to, John. Don't take any unnecessary risks to get back here," he added, hoping to spare Elizabeth some of Sheppard's frustration at the need to wait. "You won't be doing him any favors crashing the jumper into the side of the tower trying to fight the weather."

Carson heard a sigh over the radio.

"I'll get you out of there as soon as I can," Sheppard promised. "Sheppard out."

Carson tapped off the radio and turned back to Rodney. If it was going to be possibly another couple of hours before Sheppard could come for them, he needed to do what he could for Rodney now.

"All right, Rodney," he murmured, and knelt down beside McKay again. "Let's see about getting you sorted."

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

Ronon sat with his back against the wall and watched the rain splatter against the few remaining windows. The worst of the storm seemed to be over, the rain was more a shower than a downpour and the thunder wasn't as deafening as it had been an hour before when they'd managed to get McKay out from under the rubble.

Though Ronon would never admit it, his back and shoulder hurt from the two injuries and he was exhausted. He'd spent most of the previous day running around a nameless planet, fighting Wraith and Ford. After seeing the images of Sateda in ruins, he hadn't slept very well or very long, images of battles fought and lost, and the screams of injured or dying comrades kept waking him up.

His body was demanding rest, and for once he couldn't fight it, even though he wasn't alone in the room. He felt something draped over his legs and a comforting hand on his arm before his eyes closed completely.

His inner clock told him he'd only been asleep a short time when the sound of falling stone startled him awake. He pushed himself more upright, groaned as the movement pulled his shoulder, and scanned the room looking for threats.

"Derek, what are you doing?" Beckett asked in a low voice.

Ronon looked around and found Beckett and Thompson standing near the broken out windows they had used to enter the room. He glanced to his left and saw McKay lying on his back, asleep or still unconscious from whatever Beckett had given him, Ronon wasn't sure which.

"You're going to wake them up," Beckett admonished with a glance toward the corner where Ronon sat slumped against the wall.

"Sorry, Doc," Thompson replied, his voice a low rumble. "But if we're going to carry Doctor McKay back to the jumper, we're going to need a clear path back to the windows." Thompson shoved another slab of stone out of the way.

Beckett said nothing, and Ronon watched as he turned and stared out the windows. "It's almost stopped raining," he said a few minutes later.

Thompson glanced out the window as he pushed aside another stone block. "At least this storm wasn't as bad as the last one."

Ronon saw Beckett's back twitch before he turned to Thompson. "Aye, though this is still a dreich sort of day to be sure."

Beckett glanced out the windows again then walked back over to their sheltered corner, knelt on McKay's other side, and checked the bandage and the splint on McKay's leg.

Beckett made a soft tsk-ing noise as he examined McKay's leg, and Ronon saw blood had seeped through the layers of bandage wrapped around his leg. Beckett tightened the straps on the splint, touched McKay's cheek and forehead, pursed his lips, dug through the medical backpack until he found a small device, and placed the tip of the device in McKay's ear. A few seconds later, Ronon heard it beep, and Beckett shook his head. Whatever the machine told him, Ronon assumed it wasn't good news from the expression on Beckett's face.

"You never can do anything by halves, can you," Beckett said softly as he put the device back in the pack and adjusted the silver blanket covering McKay.

Ronon glanced at the window as a distant flash of lightning lit the room. Thunder rumbled several long seconds later.

"Cr'sn?" McKay slurred and tried to open his eyes. "Whr?"

"Still in the tower, unfortunately," Beckett replied.

"J'n?"

"John will be here soon, I'm sure. Go back to sleep."

"Don' feel go'd," McKay mumbled.

"Your leg is infected, and you have a fever," Carson told him. "Just rest, lad. John will be here soon."

McKay frowned as if he wanted to say something else, but the pull of sleep must have won as he closed his eyes and his breathing evened out again.

"He going to be all right?" Ronon asked as Beckett leant against the wall next to him and closed his eyes.

"He should be. The big problems now are getting the broken bones set and dealing with the infection." Beckett glanced over at him, "Speaking of, how are you feeling?" Beckett turned, tapped Ronon on the arm, and motioned him to lean forward.

Ronon shifted away from the wall enough for Beckett to see his shoulder. "I feel fine. Don't worry about me."

"The bleeding has stopped, and the stitches are holding, but you have the beginnings of an infection as well." Beckett taped the bandage back down and looked him in the eye. "It's part of my job to worry about you lot," he added kindly.

Ronon looked away. He focused on a distant flash of lightning out the window instead of the man sitting next to him, or McKay lying on a makeshift bed of Beckett and Thompson's uniform jackets.

"I know it's not the same, but you could have a home here, you know," Beckett told him softly. "If you want it."

Ronon was saved from answering as a slow roll of thunder rumbled overhead.

McKay muttered something and fitfully pushed the blanket away.

Beckett pulled the blanket back up over McKay's chest, and Ronon caught another glimpse of the scars on his right arm.

"What happened to him?" he asked.

Beckett looked up in confusion.

"His arm," Ronon explained and pointed to the scars.

Beckett looked down at McKay's arm with a sad smile. "That's a story for Rodney to tell. When he's ready."

"That bad?"

"Not bad," Carson replied as he tucked the arm back under the blanket, "just complicated." He studied Ronon's face for a moment, then added, "If you do ask him, make sure John is with you. Otherwise, you won't get the whole truth of the matter."

Chapter Text

John sat in the mess hall with his back to the rest of the room, and a cold cup of coffee next to his elbow. Lightning flashed, and thunder rattled the windows in front of him as he idly spun the bronze challenge coin on the table, lost in thought.

He had agreed with Carson that Volkov needed to be in the infirmary sooner rather than later. He'd also agreed with Elizabeth that the lightning from the storm made flying the jumper back to the damaged tower too dangerous. Which meant leaving Rodney and Ronon stranded until the storm passed. He'd agreed. That didn't mean he had to like the decisions he'd made.

He tried to console himself with the knowledge Carson was with Rodney, and he'd be able to deal with whatever injuries McKay and Ronon had from the explosion. He'd talked to Beckett less than an hour ago, and Carson had done his best to reassure John both Ronon and Rodney were fine for the moment.

John glared out the windows as a flash of lightning lit the storm-darkened room. Thunder crashed a few seconds later, and the rain pounded the windows so hard John double-checked to make sure it was just rain and not hailstones hitting the glass. He gave the coin another twirl, and thought back to the last storm to hit the city, the torrential rain, the wind, the ocean whipped up into a series of monster waves.

This was nothing compared to a double hurricane, he told himself with a grim smile. This was just a normal, everyday thunderstorm; quick to blow up, and hopefully quick to dissipate. At least this time they didn't have to worry about an invasion by the Genii.

The coin rattled to a stop on the table as John sat up. The hurricane. They'd used the shield to protect the city during the storm.

"Sheppard, you're an idiot," John said, his tone remarkably similar to Rodney at his most sarcastic.

He jumped to his feet, barely remembering to pocket the coin in his hurry to get back to Elizabeth's office. If they could raise the shield, he wouldn't have to worry about lightning hitting the jumper or anyone walking back across the ramp to the ship from the tower.

He forced himself to walk, not run, across the bridge to the glassed-in office, knock, and wait as Weir looked up from her computer and waved him into the room.

"John? What's wrong?" Elizabeth asked as she closed her computer and stared up at him.

John stopped in front of her desk. "I think I know a way to go get McKay and Ronon. Now. No need to wait for the storm to end."

Elizabeth sat back in her chair. "Go on."

"We turn on the shield," he said, and leant forward, his hands resting on her desk. He saw Zelenka, a computer clutched to his chest, approach the office from the corner of his eye, but ignored him for the moment. He needed Elizabeth to see the advantages of his idea.

"I'm sorry?" Elizabeth looked up from her computer.

"We turn on the shield just like we did during that hurricane last year," John explained. "Raise the shield, and I can fly over, get Rodney and Ronon, and fly back here. No need to worry about lightning hitting the jumper."

"We cannot," Zelenka said softly from the doorway.

Elizabeth frowned. "It wouldn't take that much power from the ZPM to run the shield for the short amount of time John would be in the air. We could turn it off again once they are back."

Radek walked over to Elizabeth's desk and gripped the computer a bit tighter. "It is not a question of power," Zelenka told her with a shake of his head. "We cannot because the shield systems are all offline."

"So get them back online," John ordered, his control slipping for a moment.

Zelenka pursed his lips. "It is not that simple. We have the system shutdown to make modifications to the power conversion nodes. Rodney had an idea on how we could more efficiently displace the energy from Wraith weapons, creating less strain on shield itself and the ZPM. He hoped the modifications would prolong the life of the ZPM if we were ever attacked again. It will take several hours, possibly a day to bring it all back online."

John felt his momentary thrill of finally being able to do something to help his people fade. By the time Zelenka had the shield operational, the storm would be long over. He clenched his hands and forced himself not to growl at yet another delay.

"Rodney had you doing those modifications now?" Elizabeth asked.

Zelenka nodded. "He thought it was the best time. There was less of a chance of the Wraith returning so soon after they thought the city destroyed."

"Strategically, it makes sense," John said resignedly. "It's just our bad luck Rodney and Ronon are trapped in a tower that blew up during a thunderstorm." He started pacing the corner of the office in an effort to burn off his mounting frustration.

"I do have news," Zelenka said, and John saw him glance from him over to Elizabeth and back again. "I've been studying the transporter systems, and I think I have a way to remotely access the transporter where we think Doctor Marçon and Doctor Chaudhri are trapped."

"Good work," Elizabeth said with a smile. "Are you able to pinpoint a specific destination for the transporter to send them?"

"Yes, I believe so." Zelenka pushed up his glasses. "I will try to send them to the transporter closest to the infirmary."

Elizabeth stood and tapped her earpiece. "Weir to Doctor Cortes."

"Doctor Cortes, ma'am."

"We are going to try to remotely access the transporter where we think Doctor Marçon and Doctor Chaudhri are trapped. If this works, they should arrive at the transporter near the infirmary in a few minutes."

"Understood, Doctor Weir. I'm sending a team now."

Elizabeth rounded her desk and headed toward the door. "Radek, wait until you hear from me to trigger the transporter. I want the medical team in place and ready in case they have serious injuries."

"Yes, Elizabeth," Zelenka said with a nod and left the office.

"John?" She glanced over at him.

"Right behind you."

John followed as Elizabeth hurried down to the transporter around the corner from the infirmary. They were still at the end of the hallway when John saw Doctor Cortes, leading a medical team with gurneys in tow, stop outside the transporter.

"Radek?" Elizabeth said as she stopped next to Cortes. "We're ready."

"Engaging the override program … now," Zelenka replied.

There was no outward sign the transporter had worked until the door opened, and two people staggered out and fell to their knees. John saw bloody scrapes on both of them, and the man had his arm cradled against his chest in a way John knew meant the bone was most likely broken.

"Oh, thank god," the woman said as Doctor Cortes' team surrounded her. "We couldn't get the transporter to work, and we didn't have a radio. We didn't think anyone could hear us pounding on the door."

Elizabeth stepped forward. "Doctor Marçon? How are you feeling?"

John watched as Elizabeth helped the medical team assist Doctor Marçon onto one of the gurneys. Another team quickly checked the young man, Doctor Chaudhri, John assumed, and eased his arm into a sling before settling him on the other gurney.

"Umm, battered, bruised, and hungry," she replied, her tone a mixture of relief, pain, and exhaustion. She glanced around at the people in the hallway and added, "Manish has a broken arm." Marçon glanced over at the other gurney. "Did Steven tell you where we were?" she asked, and looked around at the group again. "He pushed us into the transporter and was going back to warn Doctor McKay about the device. He said they could escape down the stairwell. Was he badly hurt?"

Elizabeth ducked her head. "I'm sorry." She grasped one of Marçon's hands.

"No," Marçon whispered.

"One of the rescue teams found his body," Elizabeth told her gently.

"He-he got us out of the lab. He made sure …"

John turned away as she started to cry and the med team helped her lie back on the gurney.

"Sheppard to Zelenka," John said as he took a few steps down the hall away from the medical huddle.

"Yes? Colonel? Did it work?"

"Yeah, Doc, it worked. A medical team is taking Doctors Marçon and Chaudhri to the infirmary as we speak. They're a bit banged up, but it looks like they'll be okay." Physically at least, John added to himself as he glanced back at the gurneys as the medical team started back up the hallway.

John heard Radek mutter something under his breath, then louder, "I have good news for you as well, Colonel. It appears the storm is moving away from the city. I believe it will be safe to go back for Rodney and the others soon."

John smiled. "Good to know. I'll tell Elizabeth and get a jumper ready to go." He tapped off his radio.

"Tell me what?" Elizabeth asked once the medical teams were out of sight.

"Zelenka thinks the storm is breaking up."

"Good." Elizabeth nodded, and led the way back up the hall.

John stopped at the junction of two hallways. He turned down one direction, while Elizabeth kept going straight. He jerked a thumb down the corridor. "I'm going to go get the jumper ready." He wasn't really asking permission.

Elizabeth studied his expression for a moment, then said, "I'll contact Doctor Cortes and have another medical team meet you in the jumper bay." She turned up the hallway that led back to the control room, while John turned around and headed for the jumper bay.

John was in Jumper One running the preflight checks when he heard a clatter behind him and turned to see David, the medical tech, run up the ramp, set his bag on one of the bench seats and step into the cockpit.

"Colonel Sheppard," he said with a nod. "Doctor Cortes sent me to help Doctor Beckett in case either Doctor McKay or Ronon Dex are seriously hurt." He swallowed when John abruptly turned back to the console. "She has teams standing by to transport them to the infirmary once we get back," he finished with a quick glance around the jumper.

John nodded his acknowledgement as he finished up his preflight checks.

"John?" Elizabeth said over the radio. "It looks like the storm has moved off. You're cleared to launch."

"Roger that. We'll be back soon." He glanced at David as he settled in the seat behind the co-pilot's chair and toggled open the sunroof for the jumper bay.

It was still raining, but the sky was lighter, and John could see lightning playing across the dark clouds in the distance as the jumper cleared the roof and turned for the neighboring tower.

In a matter of a few minutes, he was back at the damaged tower. John hovered the jumper in front of the tower and tapped the shuttle's radio. "Carson?"

"We're here, Colonel," Beckett replied, and John saw movement in the room before Carson stepped up to the broken windows and waved.

"I have one of your techs with me. What do you need to get Rodney and Dex back to the jumper?"

"Rodney is asleep, we'll need a stretcher to carry him."

John glanced back at David already pulling a portable stretcher out from under one of the bench seats. "What about Ronon?"

"He should be fine to walk across."

"In that case, if you guys are ready to come home, we'll get this rescue underway. Carson, get everyone away from the windows," Sheppard said and waited until he saw the area was clear, then turned the jumper around.

He inched the jumper as close to the side of the tower as he could and lowered the rear hatch.

"David, lad, good to see you," Carson greeted, and John glanced back long enough to see Thompson take a portable stretcher from the med tech and help him off the window ledge.

The jumper dipped slightly, thanks to his inattention, and John turned back around and focused on his flying. It was several minutes before he heard footsteps on the ramp behind him.

"Set him here, lads," Carson said, and John glanced behind him to see Thompson and David carrying Rodney aboard on the stretcher. "Make sure the stretcher is secure."

"Don't worry, Doc," Thompson said. "We won't let anything happen to him."

"Ronon, there is space on the other bench if you wish to lie down," Carson added a moment later.

"I'm fine," Dex replied as he sat on the bench across from Rodney.

John gave him a quick glance, then looked over at Carson checking Rodney. For all Dex said he was fine, John could see the exhausted slump of his shoulders and the way he held his arm told Sheppard his shoulder had to be hurting.

"All secure, sir," Thompson said.

"Copy that," John replied and closed the hatch.

Minutes later he landed the jumper back in the bay and lowered the hatch for the waiting medical team.

"Carefully with him," Carson ordered as the med team swarmed the jumper, picked up the stretcher and carried Rodney out to a waiting gurney. "I need the diagnostic hood set up and ready to go when we get there."

"Yes, Doctor Beckett," John heard someone say and watched as a woman left the jumper bay at a run.

"Ronon," Carson said, and pointed to the wheelchair another tech held.

Ronon shook his head. "I can walk."

John saw Beckett's frown and stepped forward. "I'll get him down to the infirmary."

Ronon was about to say something, but John tightened the hold he had on Ronon's arm. "We'll be right behind you," John promised.

Carson watched them for a moment longer, then nodded, and followed the gurney out of the bay.

"I can just go back to my room," Ronon started to argue.

John shook his head. "One thing you'll learn after a while is when Carson can be pushed and when he can't. This is one of those can't times." John took a few steps toward the exit to the jumper bay and turned around. "Come on," he said. "Beckett will only wait so long before he sends out someone to find us. Trust me, things will be a lot easier for you if you don't keep him waiting."

Ronon glowered at him for a moment then fell into step beside him. "Anyone else hurt in the explosion?"

John sighed and led the way to the transporter. "Including you and Rodney? Eleven injured and one dead. Most of them are McKay's scientists."

"Sorry."

"Yeah."

They covered the rest of the distance to the infirmary in silence. John, for his part, was already thinking about how McKay was going to take the news that he'd lost another one of his scientists.

John's plan to sneak into the infirmary under the guise of delivering Ronon as promised were dashed when he saw Sharon waiting for them.

"Hey, Sharon," John said, and tried to charm his way past her. "Carson asked me to make sure Ronon got down here so I'll just …" He gestured toward the door and tried to step around her.

Sharon tapped John on the arm. "Nice try, Colonel," she said with a smile, "but I'll take Mr Dex from here." She motioned Ronon through the door and turned back to John. "Doctor Beckett will let you know when you can see Doctor McKay." She looked John up and down and added, "I suggest you get cleaned up and find something to eat."

John looked down at his dusty uniform and couldn't disagree.

"How is he?"

"He's being prepped for surgery to set the broken bones in his leg and suture the lacerations." Sharon tapped his arm. "He's going to be fine," she said with a soft smile. "Go take care of yourself. I'm sure Doctor Beckett will let you see him once he's out of surgery."

Sheppard was enough of a tactician to know when he'd been outmanoeuvred. "Fine," he said and took a step back. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."

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

"Come with me, Mr Dex," Sharon said once they were inside the infirmary.

"Ronon," Ronon said, and looked around the room as he followed the woman to a far corner of the room. Most of the other beds were already occupied with other victims of the explosion.

"Ronon," the woman said with a smile. "My name is Sharon Peterson. I don't think we were introduced when you were here this morning."

She stopped next to one of two empty beds and pointed to a set of loose-fitting clothes at the end of the nearest bed. "There is a bathroom with a shower around the corner. Once you've cleaned up, change into the set of scrubs and put your regular clothing in this." She handed him a plastic bin. "When you're done, come back here. I'll be waiting with Doctor Cortes to check you over."

"Beckett already did that," Ronon said, and tried to step back, but Sharon blocked his path.

Before Ronon could say anything else or try to escape, Beckett, followed by two people pushing McKay on a gurney passed their corner. Beckett signalled for the two people with McKay to keep going through another door marked 'Surgery' and stepped over to Sharon.

"Is he giving you trouble, Sharon?" Beckett asked, and glanced from Sharon to Ronon.

Sharon shook her head and glanced at Ronon. "Everything is fine here," she said with a quick smile at Ronon. "I was just telling Ronon where the showers were so he could get cleaned up and changed."

The look Beckett directed at Ronon, and then Sharon, told Ronon Beckett didn't believe her.

Ronon looked around the room. "You've got enough to worry about," he tried to argue. "I've had worse than this in the past seven years. I'll be fine back in my quarters."

"You may have had worse," Beckett said with a glance at the door where McKay had disappeared. "But you don't have to suffer now. I told you before I wasn't going to let you die of something like a simple infection. Get cleaned up and changed. I'll come back by to see you once I've got Rodney sorted."

Ronon studied Beckett's face and saw the determination along with worry and exhaustion. He began to understand Sheppard's comment that he was not going to win this argument, chose the better part of valor, and reluctantly nodded.

"Good. Sharon, make sure you check the burns on his arms as well as the incisions on his back. And tell Serafina to start him on a broad spectrum antibiotic. Those cuts are already infected, let's make sure it doesn't get out of hand."

"Certainly, Doctor Beckett," Sharon replied, and Ronon saw her concerned expression as she looked at Beckett, obviously seeing how tired he was as much as Ronon did. "Ronon and I will be fine."

"Ronon, I'll come by and check on you in a few hours," Beckett said, and pushed through the door where McKay had been taken a few minutes before.

Sharon waited until Beckett was gone, the turned back to Ronon. "The showers are through there," she told him, and handed him the set of fresh clothes.

Ronon came back from the shower, admittedly feeling much better for being clean, and sat still while Sharon and a small woman, presumably Doctor Cortes, checked his back and arms.

"Doctor Beckett was right, you have the beginnings of an infection in these gashes," Doctor Cortes told him after examining his back. "The good news is, the burns on your arms should heal in a week or two without any scarring." She turned to Sharon and added, "Go ahead with the clean bandages and some salve for the burns. Then start IV antibiotics, and I'm sure Ronon would appreciate something to eat."

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

An hour later Ronon was settled in the infirmary bed, the incisions in his back and the burns on his arms cleaned and rebandaged, and an empty tray from the mess hall on the table beside him. A bag hung from a pole next to his bed with a clear line running from the bag and attached to his arm. He picked at the tape holding the needle in place and watched the liquid slowly drip from the bag to the tube for a few minutes before he turned his attention the bustle of movement in the rest of the room.

From the corner where his bed was situated, he watched with interest, and he would admit to himself, a little envy, as friends or colleagues stopped to visit those injured by the explosion. He had known that sort of friendship and camaraderie once. Before the Wraith attacked his people. Before men like Kell betrayed his fellow soldiers to save his own skin.

Three men in military uniforms sat around a bed across the room from Ronon talking to someone named Adam who had a large bandage taped to his forehead. The three men would laugh and tease each other and Adam, though Ronon could see Adam wasn't following the conversation. Every so often he would stare into space, then blink several times before smiling a bit vaguely at his friends who exchanged a worried look amongst themselves before patiently explaining things to him again.

Two beds down from Adam and his friends, was a tall, dark-haired man propped up with several pillows so his upper body was almost fully upright. Ronon had heard one of the medical people call the man Doctor Volkov.

Volkov had bandages wrapped around his chest and left shoulder. A woman with long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, sat next to his bed, reading to him in a language Ronon couldn't understand. Every now and then Volkov would stop her, say something back to her in the same language clearly disagreeing with what she'd said. She would answer him then continue reading.

Ronon heard soft crying coming from the bed near the door to the infirmary and saw the woman he remembered being pushed toward the transport device just before the explosion. She didn't appear to be seriously injured, but she lay curled in a tight ball, quietly weeping. Another of the medical people stopped next to the woman's bed, tried to talk to her, then tapped her ear and asked for someone named Heightmeyer to come to the infirmary.

The door to the infirmary opened a few minutes later and a man with glasses and wearing the same sort of blue uniform shirt as McKay stepped in and looked around. Ronon watched the man's face as he gazed around the room, his expression shifting from sadness to a sort of calm as he took a deep breath and stopped at the bed nearest the door.

A young man with a broken arm and several cuts on his face glanced up at the newcomer then looked over at the crying woman. They spoke for a few minutes before the man in glasses touched the other's arm before moving over to the crying woman. He tried talking to her, but the woman only shook her head and curled into a tighter ball. The man sighed and squeezed her hand before he moved to the next bed.

Over the next thirty minutes, the man slowly moved around the room, speaking to each of the injured people in turn. He would smile and reply when asked a question, but Ronon could see he was distracted. Every few minutes the man would glance at the door where Beckett had gone with McKay, frown, sigh, and turn back to the person he'd been talking to. Ronon watched as more than once, the person the man had been trying to comfort would reach out, touch the man's arm or squeeze his hands, and say something that would make the man smile before the whole process started over again.

The door to Ronon's left opened ten minutes later, and Doctor Beckett returned followed by a man and a woman pushing a gurney with McKay, dressed in the same loose-fitting shirt and trousers as Ronon. McKay's eyes were closed, and Ronon could see his chest moving up and down with the slow, regular breaths of someone asleep.

McKay's lower left leg was in a kind of fortified splint, leaving only the tips of his toes peeking out of the end. The brace was held closed with a series of straps and Ronon saw the thick bandages wrapped around McKay's leg where the straps left a gap. McKay's face was pale except for a dark bruise on his cheek, the cut on his forehead had been taped closed with several thin adhesive strips.

McKay was moved into the bed next to Ronon's. The man pushed the gurney out of the way and placed a chair between the two beds as the woman hung two different bags of fluid from the pole next to McKay's bed, and started to pull up a blanket.

"Keep his left leg free," Beckett told her softly, "I want to keep an eye on his circulation for next few hours."

The woman nodded and arranged the blanket so it covered McKay's right leg and lower body. She checked several colored wires leading from under McKay's shirt to a machine next to the bed, turned the machine on, and read the flow of data. She noted down the information on a computer and with a last look at McKay, she turned and left.

"All right, now, Rodney," Beckett said in a low voice. "That's the worst of it over. You just rest." Beckett squeezed McKay's lax fingers and turned to Ronon.

"How are you doing, lad?" Beckett asked.

"Fine."

"Why do I think you would tell me you were fine even as you sat bleeding to death?" Beckett asked with a patient smile.

"Really, Doc, I'm okay."

"All right, I'll take your word for it." Beckett glanced down at his watch. "Why don't you try to get some rest. I suspect Colonel Sheppard will be stopping be before too long to check on the pair of you."

Beckett checked McKay one last time, then left the corner and walked over to a room in the opposite corner. Ronon could see the edge of a desk and a chair in the room and assumed it was Beckett's office.

The man with the glasses had made it around to their corner as Ronon talked to Beckett, and Ronon watched as the sad, worried look returned to the man's face before he took a deep breath and stepped up to McKay's bed.

"How are you, my friend?" the man whispered and patted McKay's arm gently. Ronon noted he spoke with a different accent from McKay and Sheppard or even Beckett. "You have found another way to leave me to deal with all of the new scientists, I see," he added, and gave McKay a weak smile.

McKay didn't react to either the words or the tap on his arm.

"All right, Rodney, you just rest," the man told him after a few moments. "I will keep an eye on things for you."

The man turned, and instead of leaving, Ronon was surprised when the man stepped over to his bed.

"Hello," the man said with a slight smile. "You are the man Colonel Sheppard met on P3M-736, yes?"

Ronon didn't understand the string of strange letters and numbers. As far as he knew, no one lived on the planet where he'd met Sheppard to give it a name. That was one reason why it made for such a good place to hide from the Wraith.

"Ronon Dex," Ronon replied with a wary look at the man.

"Radek Zelenka," the man said and pushed up his glasses. "I am a scientist like Rod -- Doctor McKay. He told me how you saved him when Lieutenant Ford tried to shoot him."

Ronon thought back to finding McKay hanging from the tree and Ford threatening to kill him. He had been there to capture Ford and keep his promise to Sheppard. Saving McKay had been a secondary concern at the time.

"He didn't seem that happy when I cut him down," Ronon said.

Zelenka nodded and glanced at the other bed. "He can be difficult at times, but he is a good friend."

Ronon made a noncommittal noise, not sure how to really respond.

Zelenka gave him another hesitant smile. "I am glad to see you will recover. If you need anything, tell Doctor Beckett to call me. I will see what I can do." He glanced over at McKay one more time then wandered away, and Ronon went back to watching the various people in the infirmary.

A woman with medium length blonde hair entered the infirmary and sat next to the woman who still whimpered from time to time. The blonde woman said something, then just sat and held the woman's hand. Eventually, the woman stopped crying and uncurled from her tight ball. The blonde woman said something else, patted the other's arm and went into Beckett's office and closed the door.

Ronon heard muttering coming from McKay's bed, glanced over and saw his brow furrowed as he tried to move his left leg. A green line on the machine next to McKay sped up its up-and-down movement until McKay sighed a few seconds later and settled again.

It wasn't long before medical personnel asked the remaining visitors to leave the infirmary and Ronon felt himself drifting toward sleep. He fought it, he wasn't comfortable sleeping surrounded by a room full of strangers, but his body had other ideas, and he slowly fell asleep.

It was a few hours later when Ronon heard a voice nearby and jerked awake. The lighting in the infirmary was dim, but Ronon could tell someone was sitting between his bed and McKay's. He pushed at the blanket covering him restricting his movement, unsure who the person was, or what they were doing in the infirmary.

"Rodney, you're fine. It's just a dream," Ronon heard the voice say, and he relaxed slightly when he realised it was Sheppard speaking, but not in his usual authoritative voice. The tone reminded him of a man he'd seen once trying to calm a skittish horse.

Ronon glanced at the other bed and saw McKay's body twitching as his head rolled back and forth on the pillow. It took him a moment to recognise the body movement as the same thing McKay had done when he had been trapped under the rubble.

"St'k," McKay muttered, and jerked his left leg again. "C'n't g't loos."

"Hey, hey, you're okay," Sheppard said, and Ronon watched as he rubbed McKay's arm. "Thompson and Ronon and Carson got you out from under all of the rubble. You're in the infirmary, and you're going to be fine."

McKay turned toward Sheppard's voice, and Ronon could see his eyes were only slightly open. "L'g?"

"Broken, but still there, I promise," John reassured him. "Why don't you go back to sleep. I'll explain everything in the morning."

Ronon watched the exchange with interest. He hadn't really believed Teyla when she'd told him Sheppard and McKay each considered the other a brother. Up until that moment, Ronon still couldn't believe Sheppard would have much in common with McKay. Listening to how Sheppard spoke, and watching how McKay responded, Ronon finally saw the connection the two shared.

"J'n?" Rodney muttered a few minutes later.

"Yep, still here. Go back to sleep. You'll feel better in the morning."

"Mmm."

Ronon waited until it appeared McKay was asleep again, then asked, "How is he?" he asked, keeping his voice down.

Sheppard didn't seem surprised Ronon was awake, and Ronon assumed Sheppard had known the moment he'd woken up but had ignored him in favor of dealing with McKay.

"His leg is broken, and the deep cut on his calf is infected, but Beckett says he'll be fine." Sheppard pulled McKay's blanket back up, squeezed his arm, and turned around on the chair. "How are you doing? Carson said something about burns on top of the shrapnel in your back."

Ronon glanced down at his bandaged arms. "Nothing serious."

John eyed him for a moment and shook his head. "You know, getting you trapped in an explosion was not the welcome to Atlantis I wanted to give you."

"I've been in worse." Ronon brushed aside Sheppard's concern.

Sheppard looked as though he wanted to ask exactly what he meant, but changed his mind. "I hope this doesn't color your decision whether or not to stick around."

Ronon shrugged, and tried to hide the ache when he jarred his shoulder. "Still thinking about it."

Sheppard studied him in the dim light for a moment, then nodded. "Take your time."

McKay shifted on the other bed and mumbled something under his breath.

Sheppard looked at the machine next to McKay's bed, and Ronon wondered if he could read the information on the screen. The machine must have told Sheppard something he didn't like as he leant forward and whispered something to McKay that Ronon couldn't hear.

McKay sighed and stopped mumbling, and Sheppard leant back in the chair again. He pulled some sort of coin out of his pocket and let his fingers toy with it as he sat, lost in thought.

Ronon sat in the bed, picking at the tape for the line running into his arm and thought about what he'd learned over the course of the day, not just about the Atlantis people in general, but McKay in particular. His training sergeant had told his recruit cohort more than once that you never really knew a man until he was put in a life-or-death situation and you watched how he responded. It may not have been quite that serious, but spending most of an afternoon with McKay while he was trapped under those stone slabs, Ronon now had a glimmer of an idea of why Sheppard trusted him.

He still had a few questions where McKay was concerned, though. From the way Beckett had reacted, Ronon was fairly sure Sheppard wouldn't tell him how McKay got the scars on his arms, either, but there was still the strange food conversation he'd overheard between McKay and Beckett. On the one hand, it wasn't any of his concern, but on the other, it had been such an odd thing to be worried about that it had piqued his curiosity for the first time in a long time.

Ronon watched Sheppard play with the coin and finally decided to just ask and see if Sheppard would even answer him.

"Why was Beckett worried about McKay eating?"

Sheppard shook himself out of his reverie and looked over at Ronon. "What?"

"Beckett kept asking when McKay had eaten and telling him he would find something for him to eat. Seemed a strange thing to worry about with everything else going on at the time."

Sheppard flipped the coin on his palm a few times, and Ronon was sure he wouldn't get an answer when Sheppard finally spoke.

"I don't suppose you know what hypoglycaemia is?" he asked with a sideways look.

Ronon shook his head.

Sheppard looked down at the coin in his hands for a moment. "Basically, it means Rodney needs to eat something every few hours or bad things happen."

"What kind of bad things?"

Sheppard glanced over at the other bed and adjusted the blanket. Ronon could tell Sheppard was weighing how much to say.

"If you or I skip a couple of meals, we feel hungry and maybe a bit out of sorts. If Rodney doesn't eat regularly, he gets the shakes, and if he goes too long without food, he'll pass out." Sheppard gave Ronon with a measured look. "That's something you need to know about if you decide to stay in Atlantis and join my team," he said, his tone suddenly serious. "Rodney usually has food with him, but things happen, so we all carry a little extra as well. Just in case."

"You didn't bring any power bars with you?" Ronon remembered Beckett asking and McKay's impatient reply.

"Of course I did. They were in my backpack. How was I supposed to know the room was going to explode and the pack would go out the window?"

That was one mystery solved, Ronon thought, and glanced at the other bed before the rest of Sheppard statement sank in.

If you stay in Atlantis and join my team.

There was that question again. Sheppard was offering him the chance to be part of something for the first time in seven years. Was he a stubborn fool to even consider saying 'no'? He'd spent seven years telling himself he was better off alone, no one's survival he needed to worry about except his own. Saying yes to Sheppard's offer meant he'd have to think about protecting others as well as himself. On the other hand, there was something to be said for having someone to watch his back again.

He thought back to the images of Sateda and the promise he'd made to himself that the Wraith would pay dearly for what they had done to his people. And that was the crux, he realised. Would Sheppard and his people help him with his vendetta or would they try to stop him?

They fell silent again. Sheppard splitting his time between toying with the coin and watching McKay sleep while Ronon considered the choices in front of him and weighed the pros and cons.

It wasn't long before Beckett arrived in their corner, checked the machine next to McKay's bed, and chased Sheppard out of the infirmary for the night.

"Ronon needs to rest, and Rodney is going to sleep for the rest of the night," Beckett told him. "No reason for you to stay here all night."

"Carson," Sheppard started to say, but Beckett held up a hand, and Sheppard stopped speaking.

"It's been a long day for everyone," Beckett said. "You need to get some rest in your own bed. You can come back in the morning. I'll be releasing Ronon," Beckett gave Ronon a nod and a smile, "so he's going to need some clean clothes."

Sheppard hesitated, and Ronon wondered if he was going to ignore his own advice from earlier in the day and try to push his luck with Beckett.

"Rodney is going to be fine, Colonel," Beckett said before Sheppard could say anything else. "He's going to be here a few days at least until the infection in his leg clears up which means I'm going to need help keeping him occupied."

Sheppard glanced over at the other bed and with a sigh, put the coin back in his pocket, and stood. "You'll call me if anything happens."

Beckett nodded. "On the off chance he gets into trouble, I will let you know."

Sheppard bent down, said something to McKay Ronon couldn't hear, then turned to him. "I'll see you in the morning."

Beckett waited until Sheppard left then said, "Get some rest, lad." He tapped Ronon on the leg, checked the machine next to McKay and straightened the blanket covering him, then walked back to the office.

Chapter Text

The first thing Rodney was aware of were voices coming down a long tunnel.

"You need to take care, and not overuse that shoulder," someone said.

"Got it," a gruff voice replied.

Rodney turned his head slightly at the sound.

"Come back and see me tomorrow and I'll change the dressings. And you need to take the antibiotic."

Rodney shifted on the bed and felt a hand on his arm.

"I think he's waking up again," a third voice said.

"Rodney? You with us, son?" the first voice asked.

"Mmm," Rodney replied.

"Why don't you open your eyes and prove it," the third voice said, and Rodney realised it was Sheppard.

The voices faded as Rodney started to drift again, and he was almost asleep when he felt his arm squeezed and John whispered, "Hey, you need to try and stay awake. Ronon's going to think you don't like him."

Rodney heard a low growl and cracked open his eyes. "J'n?"

"Yep. You going to stay awake this time?"

Rodney looked to his right and saw John seated in the chair next to the bed, with Dex sitting on the edge of the bed behind Sheppard. As Rodney blinked and tried to clear the sleep out of his eyes, Carson came around the bed and stood on his other side.

"Rodney?" Carson said. "How are you feeling?"

Rodney frowned and thought for a moment. "Tired. Sore. Hungry."

John smiled slightly and looked up at Beckett.

"I think we can do something about that last one at least," Carson replied. "Once we're done here, I'll see about having someone bring you a tray."

Rodney shifted on the bed and felt an odd heavy weight on his left side and pushed the blankets aside. His left leg rested on a couple of pillows and was encased in a hard plastic boot held closed with a series of nylon straps.

"Carson?"

"I won't lie to you, lad," Carson said as he pulled on a pair of gloves. "You did a fair amount of damage to yourself. You have several lacerations that required stitches, and both bones in your lower leg are broken."

Rodney grimaced when he tried to move his leg. At least it was still there, he told himself. He would just have to cope with the weeks of hobbling around on crutches.

"I won't be able to put you in a hard cast until the lacerations heal and I can take the stitches out," Carson told him as he started his exam.

"I told you not to move around so much," Dex said from the other bed.

"Oh, thank you," Rodney snapped tiredly. "The I told you so's are always so helpful."

Dex shrugged and stood. "I can go, right?"

Carson nodded. "You can go. Just remember what I told you."

"I'll come by and see you later," John added with a glance at Dex.

Dex nodded at John and left.

"What about me?" Rodney asked as Beckett checked the cut on his forehead.

Beckett shook his head. "You picked up a nasty infection in that leg. I want to make sure we have it under control before I release you."

Rodney crossed his arms, mindful of the IV. "How long?"

"A couple of days at least, maybe until I can remove the stitches and set your leg in a regular cast."

Rodney sighed and dropped his head back on the pillow.

John stood. "Tell you what, I'll go get you something to eat while Carson finishes checking you over."

"Good idea, Colonel," Carson agreed, and John left the infirmary.

Rodney was dozing when John came back with a tray from the mess hall. "Carson said nothing too heavy," John told him as he moved the rollaway table over the bed and set down a tray with scrambled egg, toast, and a glass of apple juice.

Rodney looked up with a frown.

"Before you even ask, the no caffeine rule is in effect," John told him as he sat back down in the chair next to the bed. "No coffee until you're off the prescription pain meds."

Rodney pursed his lips and picked up the fork. "How bad?" he asked after eating a few bites of egg.

John looked around the rest of the infirmary and hesitated. Rodney followed his gaze and saw Volkov in a bed across the room reading what looked like a journal. Corrigan was a few beds down from Volkov talking to Ortega. Several others were asleep.

"Mostly broken bones," John said after a moment. "You and Volkov seemed to have got the worst of it." John glanced over at him. "Doctor Wallace died."

Rodney set the fork down and scrubbed a hand over his face, wincing when his fingers found the cut on his forehead. He hadn't really known Wallace, he'd been one of the new arrivals and wasn't much more than a photo and an impressive résumé. Still, he had been part of the science department, and therefore Rodney's responsibility.

"Doctor Heightmeyer is recommending Doctor Marçon be sent back to Earth when Daedalus returns," John added. "She's taking Doctor Wallace's death hard."

Rodney frowned. "From what I saw, I thought they hated each other."

John shrugged. "He saved her life and lost his. Survivor's guilt can be hard to live with."

Rodney twisted the juice glass around in tiny circles on the table. "If I'd only remembered sooner," he started to say, but John interrupted.

"Hey, none of that," he said, and tapped Rodney's arm. "That room had been cleared by Stackhouse and a team of Marines while we were on Earth. They didn't spot the grenade, either. And why would any of us suspect the Ancients would have stored Wraith ordinance in a research lab?"

"I think it was a booby-trap," Rodney said after a few seconds silence. He picked up the toast and took a bite. "The Wraith could have found out the Ancients were collecting all that stuff and they started planting bombs." He glanced down at his leg. "Too bad we found it instead."

"Heard from Teyla this morning," John said a few minutes later as Rodney finished eating. "She says the trade mission is going well and she and Halling should be back in a few days. She also met a couple of old friends."

Rodney stopped trying to rub his leg and glanced over at John.

"You remember Prin and his son Mica when we were looking for that ZPM on Lurra a few months ago?"

Rodney shuddered at the memory of trying to survive after the jumper crashed.

"Prin told Teyla the spring thaw has started," John continued. "It might take some fast talking, but we might be able to get back up to that cave with the drawings in a few months and see if we can find the ZPM the Ancients left there."

"Would Elizabeth be willing to risk them finding out the truth about Atlantis?"

John shrugged. "Not sure. Teyla knows them, and I think the risk would be small enough that Elizabeth might be willing to let us try."

Rodney leant back against in the bed as he considered the possibilities. "It couldn't hurt to have a second Zed-PM going spare," he said a moment later.

"There ya go," John said with a grin. "Once you're back on your feet, we'll talk to Elizabeth about a trip back to Lurra."

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

"These look to be healing nicely," Carson said as he checked the cuts on Rodney's leg several days later. "A few more days, I think, and I'll take the stitches out and put a hard cast on." He looked up. "How does your leg feel?"

Rodney shrugged. "It aches," he said shortly, his temper wearing thin due to the boredom of lying in the infirmary with little to do.

"That's not surprising, all things considered," Carson told him, ignoring Rodney's snappish tone as he rebandaged the lacerations, set his leg back in the brace, and tightened the straps. "I'll get you some ibuprofen for the ache," he added and walked away.

Rodney settled back in the bed resigned to the fact he wasn't escaping the infirmary any time soon. He stared at the ceiling and thought again about John's idea of asking Dex to join the team.

While they hadn't got off on the right foot, either on the planet or in the lab, Rodney could see why John thought Dex would be a good fit. He was a survivor. He'd survived the attack on his home planet and capture by the Wraith. Rodney couldn't even imagine what that had been like. To wonder if your world and everyone you knew was gone and no one was going to come to the rescue?

Then, Dex had spent seven years with a target on his back, hunted by the Wraith in a sick sort of sport, unable to stay in one place or trust anyone he met not to sell him out to the Wraith. Rodney was no stranger to trust issues. He'd spent most of his life believing the only person he could count on was himself, and for the most part he'd been right. Until Carson, and later John, Elizabeth, Teyla, and Zelenka had come along, no one had proved him wrong.

He thought back to their conversation in the tower and Rodney telling Dex with utter certainty that Sheppard would get them out of the destroyed lab. He'd been shocked at how easily he now expected Sheppard would come for him. Mason and Ford aside, Rodney had slowly learned to trust his team. Maybe it was time for him to repay that and convince Dex he could trust them, too.

"How the patient today, Doc?" John asked as he came through the infirmary door carrying a bag.

"Grumpy," Carson replied as he walked back over to the bed with John and handed Rodney a paper cup and glass of water. "So he must be feeling better."

"Oh, ha-ha," Rodney groused, swallowed the pills, and looked curiously at the bag.

John grinned as he dropped the bag on the end of Rodney's bed. "Well, if you like, I can take him off your hands for you."

Rodney looked from John to Carson, both of whom studiously ignored him.

"If you're sure, Colonel," Beckett replied, and Rodney caught the teasing tone. "It would be nice to have my infirmary back in order."

Rodney felt his mood lighten immediately at the idea he was getting out of the infirmary. Not only would he be able to get back to work, but he needed to talk to Dex, preferably without John there to hear what he said. He was happy to let Sheppard think Dex had come to the conclusion to stay without any input from him.

"There are conditions, Rodney," Carson told him, and pulled a bottle out of his coat pocket. "Antibiotic, three times a day," he said, and handed over the bottle. "You had a nasty infection in that leg, no skipping doses. Make sure you take those with food."

Rodney nodded and set the bottle on the table beside the bed.

Carson stepped closer and laid a hand on Rodney's arm. "Don't go pushing yourself," he added softly. "Your body is still recovering. You need to take things easy and get plenty of rest. No all-nighters in your lab."

"Don't worry, Doc, we'll make sure he sticks to his curfew," John teased.

Rodney glared daggers at John who gave him a cocky smile in return.

"All right, then. Get changed, and I'll find you a set of crutches," Beckett said and left.

Twenty minutes later, Rodney was dressed in a uniform shirt and an old pair of his tan uniform trousers that had the left leg cut off at the knee to accommodate the brace on his leg. John helped him off the bed as Carson handed him a pair of crutches.

"No weight on that leg," Beckett told him as Rodney stuffed the bottle antibiotics in his jacket pocket and tried to find his balance on one foot. "And you need to keep your leg elevated when you're sitting down. You can take ibuprofen for the pain. Come back tomorrow morning so I can check the bandages."

Rodney nodded. "Thanks, Carson."

"You're welcome, lad," Beckett replied with a smile. "Try to take care of yourself."

"Where to?" John asked once they were in the hallway outside the infirmary.

Rodney considered his options for a few seconds. "Umm, lab," he replied, hopping slightly on his one good leg as he overbalanced.

John nodded. "Lab it is," he said, and tapped the control for the transporter.

"You don't have to come with me, you know," Rodney said as John stepped into the transporter with him. "I think I can find my own lab."

"You don't seem too steady on those crutches," John replied. "Carson will kill me if you break something else five minutes after he released you."

Rodney couldn't deny he felt more than a little unsteady, a fact that was made clear when he exited the transporter, and someone bumped into one of the crutches. Rodney felt John's hand on his arm as he fought to stay upright when the crutch went out from under him.

"Injured scientist here," Rodney exclaimed once he had the crutch under his arm again.

"Sorry, Doctor McKay," the man said. "I didn't see you."

Rodney muttered under his breath and aimed for his lab.

"You going to be all right?" John asked once Rodney was seated at his work table, his left leg resting on the spare stool.

"I'll be fine," Rodney said, and tried to ignore the throbbing pain in his leg from the encounter in the hall. Maybe talking to Dex could wait a few days, he thought then changed his mind. He needed to talk to Dex before he made a stupid decision like leaving.

"I'll be back in a couple of hours to get you for lunch."

"I can --"

"How do you plan to carry a tray?" John asked pointedly.

Rodney looked at the crutches leant against the end of the table and sighed. "You make a good point."

"Glad you agree. I'll be back in a couple of hours."

Rodney nodded, and John squeezed his shoulder before he left.

Rodney waited until he was sure John was gone, then carefully made his way back out to the hall and the transporter. He wasn't sneaking, he told himself. He was free to come and go as he liked. Still, he was just as happy to get into the transporter without Zelenka or one of the other scientists seeing him.

Dex wasn't in his quarters or the mess hall, and Rodney was getting tired as well as frustrated when he couldn't find him.

In the end, he found Dex more by luck than anything when he spotted a Marine standing watch in front of the door to the balcony near his own quarters.

Rodney nodded to the Marine, another of the new ones he didn't know, and tapped the door release. He managed to get through the door sideways and slowly made his way around the balcony until he found Dex leaning against the railing staring at the water.

The tap-click of the crutches every time he took a step meant there was no way Rodney was going to sneak up on Dex, but he felt he needed to say something to let him know he was there.

"Umm. Hello."

Dex glanced over at him, and for a split second, his mask was gone, and Rodney saw a deep-seated pain in Dex's expression rather than the usual anger or indifference.

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, Rodney thought to himself as Dex turned away and stared out over the water.

"You know what? Never mind. This can wait," Rodney said, and started to back away.

Rodney got himself turned around and had started back for the door, when the tip of one of the crutches caught on something, jerking him off balance. Rodney let go of the other crutch and lunged for the railing hoping to save himself from a painful, not to mention embarrassing, fall. Instead, he felt Dex grab him around the middle and drop him onto one of the nearby chairs.

"Sit down before you kill yourself," Dex growled, picking up the crutches, and leaning them against the railing.

"Umm, thanks."

"What do you want, McKay?" Dex asked, and turned back to face the water.

Rodney picked at the edge of the chair as his resolve dried up. He was never good at these sorts of conversations. All of the carefully planned speeches about friendship and common causes he'd thought of the last few days in the infirmary vanished once he had Dex in front of him. What made him think he'd be able to convince the man to stay? he wondered.

"Carson told me you helped get me out of the rubble," he finally said. "You left the infirmary before I knew that and I wanted to, umm, say thank you for that." He glanced up at Dex's back.

Dex shrugged, never turning around. "You're welcome."

When Dex showed no interest in continuing the conversation, Rodney sighed and started to get up. This had been a bad idea, he decided as he got his one good foot under him and pushed against the arms of the chair. He'd talk to John instead and let Sheppard do the convincing. He was better at it anyway.

"The Wraith need to pay for what they did to my people," Dex said so softly Rodney almost didn't hear him.

Rodney settled back in his chair. His leg ached, but he ignored it for the moment. "Logically, you'd have more success with that if you stayed here with us."

"Sheppard said the same thing."

Rodney nodded even though Dex couldn't see him. "He's been known to have a good idea from time to time."

Dex grunted. "I owe him."

Rodney frowned. "Who? Sheppard? No one's keeping score here."

"I told Sheppard I'd help him find Ford."

"And as I seem to recall, you did that. Saving my life in the process."

"And I let him get away."

"Oh good grief, not you too," Rodney snapped irritably, his former hesitancy forgotten. "Ford chose to do what he did. You couldn't have stopped him, and you aren't to blame his actions running into that culling beam any more than Sheppard is."

Dex refused to turn around, and Rodney could see the muscles jump in his shoulders as he gripped the railing.

"Sheppard doesn't want you to stay out of some misguided idea of guilt or some debt you think you owe him," Rodney informed him. "He wants you to stay because we need your help." Rodney paused, took a deep breath, and added, "And I think you could use ours."

"He's right, you know," John said, and Rodney jumped, banging the brace against the leg of the chair.

"Gaah!" Rodney groaned, and tried to rub his leg as the pain flared. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack? Next time say something."

"I knew he was there," Dex said, and turned so his back was braced against the railing.

"See. Ronon knew I was standing there."

"Well, I didn't," Rodney groused.

"Obviously," Dex said.

"Why are you here?" Rodney asked John.

"I was looking for Ronon before coming to get you," John replied, and leant against the wall beside Rodney's chair. "Teyla's back. I told her we would meet her in the mess hall in an hour to hear about her trade excursion. I didn't expect to find the two of you together." He bent down until he was at eye-level with Rodney. "Especially since I remember leaving you in your lab."

Rodney glanced over at John. "I, umm. How much did you overhear?"

"Enough." John straightened and looked over at Dex. "And I couldn't have said it better myself."

Dex held John's gaze for a moment then looked back out over the water.

John let the silence hang for a few minutes then glanced at his watch. "Come on. Carson said you needed to eat something before taking the antibiotic."

Rodney started to push against the arms of the chair again but stopped when John offered him his hand.

"Ronon?" John asked as he helped Rodney to his feet and handed him the crutches.

Rodney was quietly grateful John kept one hand on his arm as he got the crutches settled under his arms.

"I could eat," Dex said, and pushed away from the railing.

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

Ronon sat in a chair in his quarters facing the window, and watched as the light from the setting sun danced on the water. Every now and then he glanced down at the necklace Melena had given him, the leather thong twisted through his fingers as the charm spun lazily in his grip.

Beckett had removed the bandages on his back, and after a short exam, had proclaimed Ronon right as rain, and sent him on his way. It was at that point Ronon realised not only had he been in Atlantis for over a week, longer than anywhere else he'd dared to stay in the last seven years, but he found he wasn't eager to leave, either.

Was he betraying his people? Melena? he wondered once he realised what he wanted was to stay in Atlantis. What about his promise to destroy the Wraith for what they had done to Sateda? Could he do both? Stay in the city and fulfill his vow? He had still been wrestling with the questions when McKay had found him on the balcony that afternoon.

That was another surprise. Of all the people in Atlantis, McKay was the last person Ronon had expected would try to convince him to stay in the city. Yet again, McKay had done the complete opposite of what Ronon expected, and he realised he didn't really understand the scientist at all. Sheppard he could respect as a warrior and a leader. Likewise, Teyla was a fellow warrior and a survivor of the Wraith destroying her planet. McKay was none of those things and Ronon had no idea how to deal with him.

He twisted the necklace in his grip and watched the light reflect off the charm. Sateda was gone. He was free of the Wraith. He needed to decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Staying in Atlantis, accepting Sheppard's offer to join him, and Teyla, and even McKay, in their fight against the Wraith could turn out to be a future he could live with.

FIN