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Carson closed Rodney's medical folder with a sigh and stood. The last few days had been different, to say the least, he thought with a grim smile.

He had known when he accepted Elizabeth's offer to join the expedition, the Pegasus galaxy would present any number of new medical challenges. Trying to solve how to separate the consciousness of a woman he had started to rather like from the body of one of his closest friends had never even made the list of possible medical scenarios he'd be faced with. In the end, it hadn't been medical science that had saved Rodney and Laura Cadman, it had been Rodney himself. There were few things more frustrating or upsetting for him as a doctor than the realisation he was unable to help someone in need.

He tucked the files under his arm, left the office, and paused at the lone occupied bed in the infirmary where Sergeant Garcia lay, his arms and face covered in red welts.

"Sergeant, how are you feeling?" Carson asked. He smiled at Garcia and nodded at Sharon, standing on the other side of the bed with a bottle in her hand.

"Not too bad, Doc," Garcia replied. "D, I mean, Sergeant Thompson, said he'd be around in a bit with a deck of cards. Anything to keep my mind off the itching."

"No scratching, Sergeant," Carson admonished. "You don't want any of those sores becoming infected." He watched as Sharon dabbed more lotion on the hive-like rash and added, "Sharon, love, I've the weekly meeting with Doctor Weir, I'll be back in a tick."

"We'll be fine, Doctor Beckett," Sharon replied as she capped the bottle.

Carson tapped Garcia on the shoulder. "I'll come check on you in a bit, Sergeant. If this lotion works, you'll be out of here soon."

Garcia smiled. "Thanks, Doc."

"You're welcome, lad." Carson looked over at Sharon, gave her a nod and a smile, and left the infirmary.

Twenty minutes later, Carson sat back in his chair in Elizabeth's office. "Lastly, Sergeant Garcia is recovering nicely from his encounter with the plant life on P2R-483. It took a bit of trial and error, but I think we've found the right antihistamine combination to deal with the allergic reaction."

"And the rest of Sergeant Thompson's team?" Elizabeth asked, looking up from the report in front of her.

"No worse for wear. The pollen didn't affect the rest of them as nearly as badly, though I did suggest to Doctor Heller that the botanists should use caution when testing the plants Sergeant Thompson brought back."

"Good idea," Elizabeth replied.

"Sergeant Garcia's rash should, hopefully, clear up in another day or two."

Elizabeth nodded. "The planet looks promising, I'd hate to take it off the list as a potential alpha site," she said with a tight smile as she closed the file. She set aside the folder and looked at Carson. "What about Doctor McKay and Lieutenant Cadman? You didn't tell me anything about either of them."

Carson ducked his head before handing over the last two files in his hand.

"All of their scans were clear," Carson replied. "I sent the Lieutenant back to her quarters the other evening, with orders to take things slow for the next few days. She met with Doctor Heightmeyer yesterday, and Kate believes she is adjusting well to everything that happened. She wants to meet with Lau - I mean, Lieutenant Cadman in another few days and then will sign off on her return to full duty."

Elizabeth nodded as she opened the other file. "And Rodney?" she asked and glanced up at Carson.

Carson hesitated. "After everything his body had been through, I kept Rodney a little longer just to be sure he was recovering from the effects of sharing his body with Lieutenant Cadman." Carson glanced down at his hands. "Physically, Rodney is fine. His brain function is back to normal, and none of his organs show any signs of damage. He's still a bit stiff and sore from the seizure, but that's to be expected."

Beckett squeezed his hands together and glanced at the bowl on the end of Weir's desk.

"Carson?" Elizabeth asked, and Beckett heard the worry in her tone. "If Rodney is fine, why are you still concerned?"

Carson looked up at her. "He's not acting like himself."

Elizabeth smiled slightly. "Some people might say that's an improvement."

"He's too quiet," Carson told her, his tone serious. "The only thing Doctor Heightmeyer could get from him when she met with him this morning was that he wasn't sleeping much." He held up a hand when Weir started to say something. "I know," he replied. "Rodney doesn't always get the sleep he needs, but this is different. Kate thinks he's afraid to sleep."

Elizabeth frowned. "Why would he be afraid to sleep?"

"How much do you know about what actually happened between them while the Lieutenant was … inhabiting Rodney?"

Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest. "I heard a few things, mostly from Doctor Heightmeyer concerning their couples sessions."

Carson scrubbed a hand over his face. "There was at least one instance where Cadman took over Rodney's body while he was asleep. He woke up in her quarters instead of his own bed. I suspect that has something to do with his fear of sleeping."

"But he knows Cadman is no longer in his head," Elizabeth replied, her expression puzzled.

"I never said it was a rational fear," Carson said with a tiny smile.

"I see. So what do we do about it?"

"I'm not sure," Carson replied. "It may be that he just needs time. Time to get comfortable in his own skin again."

"I see. Any suggestions?"

"I do have one idea," Carson told her.

"I'm all ears."

Carson leant forward in his chair. "Maybe a change of scene. Get Rodney away from the city for a few days. Give him a chance to find his footing again, so to speak."

Elizabeth nodded. "Colonel Sheppard had proposed taking his team on another team-building exercise right before everything that happened with the dart on Thenora."

Carson started to say something about their previous team vacations but changed his mind.

Elizabeth nodded as if reading his mind. "I suspect Rodney thought the same thing," she said with a smile. "I take it you have a better idea?"

"I might. We do still have a trade agreement with the people on Drellim. We promised them regular medical checks, and it has been several months since our last visit."

Elizabeth pursed her lips. "We still need the Wraith to believe Atlantis was destroyed. I'm not sure we can risk exposing the fact we're still here by visiting. It may be safer for them as well as us if we don't try to reestablish contact."

Carson stood and paced the room. On the one hand, he knew Elizabeth had a point. They were not ready to face the Wraith again so soon. On the other hand, his concern for Rodney aside, he had a responsibility to his patients on Drellim.

He faced the desk and grasped the back of the chair he'd been sitting in. "We've been sending teams through the stargate for several weeks now," he argued.

"Yes, and so far we've been fortunate. Most of the planets have been uninhabited, or the Athosians were completing trade deals for us." She gave Carson a wry smile. "As for the rest, I doubt the people on Mendar will tell the Wraith we were there."

Carson waved the reminder aside. "We could tell the Drellimian people that a few of us managed to escape Atlantis, or were off-world when the Wraith attacked the city. That we're still willing to honor our end of the agreement. If we're now refugees, we will still need food. It's not that far-fetched an idea."

He watched as Elizabeth toyed with the computer stylus in her hand, twisting it in her fingers or flipping it over in her hand. She set the stylus down, studied him for a moment longer, then nodded.

"All right, Carson. I'll talk to Colonel Sheppard about a mission to Drellim."

Carson stood up straight and blew out the breath he'd been holding.

"This could also be a good way to ease Ronon onto Colonel Sheppard's team," Elizabeth added and clasped her hands together on the desk. "Teyla is on the mainland checking on one of the Athosians, I'll send a jumper to bring her back, and we can meet tomorrow morning to discuss any final questions. Hopefully, by then, Rodney will have had a good night's rest."

Carson smiled. "Thank you, Elizabeth."

"I worry about him too, you know," she replied, her tone serious.

"I know you do," Carson assured her as he gathered up the files scattered across the desk. "Give him a few days to adjust to things being back to normal, and Rodney should be right as rain."

Elizabeth smiled. "One last thing, do you have any update on the Wraith DNA project you've been working on?"

Carson stopped near the door to the office. "Aye. I have an idea of using a retrovirus to try and suppress the Wraith elements of their genetic code. Rather similar to the one I created to give members of the expedition the ATA gene."

"And you think that could work?"

"Hard to say, really. For us, it was a matter of inserting one specific gene, and even then, the procedure didn't work on everyone. This is a much grander scale and will need more testing before I can say for certain if it will work on a live Wraith."

Elizabeth picked up the computer stylus and nodded. "Keep me informed."

"Certainly," Carson replied and left.

He was in his office an hour later when he heard a tapping on his door and turned to see Lieutenant Cadman standing in the doorway.

"Lieutenant," he said with a smile. "What can I do for you?"

"Doctor Beckett," she replied, and stepped hesitantly into the office.

"How are you feeling?" he asked as he offered her the chair at the end of his desk.

"Good. Better now that I'm back in my own body. Went for a run last night, felt great." She perched on the edge of the chair and gave Carson a nervous smile.

"Don't go pushing yourself too much," Carson cautioned. "While your body didn't suffer from the effects of having two people inside of it, it was trapped in that dart for a long time. I'm not sure what the long-term consequences of being held in stasis for that long might be."

Cadman nodded as her fingers toyed with the papers on the edge of his desk.

"So," she said a few moments later, "I just wanted to say thank you for everything you did, while I was …" She waved a hand near her head.

"You're very welcome, my dear," Beckett replied. "Though, I didn't really do that much. You should probably be thanking Rodney. It was his idea to use the components from the stargate to separate the pair of you."

Laura snorted a laugh. "I don't think McKay's ego needs any more help."

Carson frowned slightly but let the comment pass. Instead, he said, "Besides, maybe it's me who should be thanking you. You did push me out of the way of that Wraith culling beam."

"Good point," she replied with a smile. "If I hadn't done that, it might have been you trapped inside McKay's body."

"Or," Carson said, his tone suddenly serious, "that beam could have swept all three of us up, and one or all of us would be dead now."

Laura stopped fiddling with the papers and dropped her hands into her lap. "Yeah. Maybe." She glanced over at him, then back at the corner of his desk.

"Was there something else?" he prodded after several seconds of silence.

Laura looked up at him, her expression changing from subdued to mischievous as she smiled again. "That wasn't exactly what I'd pictured for our first kiss, you know."

Carson chuckled. "No, I would expect not. Though as first kisses go, it was … memorable."

Laura laughed. "I'll bet." She leant forward in her chair. "We could, I don't know, try an actual date sometime. Maybe see if we can get the second kiss right."

Carson smiled. "I think I'd like that. I'm getting ready to leave for a few days. I need to check on some patients off-world. Dinner? When I get back?"

Laura stood. "Sounds like a plan. I'll see you then," she replied and squeezed his hand.

She left the office and Carson couldn't help the happy smile on his face as he thought about seeing her again once he got back from Drellim.

Twenty minutes later, he was checking the latest results from his Wraith DNA tests when he heard another tap at his door, turned, and waved Colonel Sheppard into the office. "Colonel, is everything all right?" he asked when he saw the serious expression on Sheppard's face and glanced out the door into the main infirmary.

Sheppard sat in the chair at the end of the desk and said, "Maybe I should be asking you that. I heard from Elizabeth about your idea of a trip to Drellim. She told me part of the reason you wanted to go now was because you were worried about McKay."

Carson sat back in his chair and studied Sheppard for a moment. "And you aren't?"

Sheppard shrugged and gave Carson a sideways look.

"That's what I thought," Beckett said with a tiny smile.

"He had a second consciousness stuck inside his head," Sheppard said, and Carson heard the frustration in Sheppard's tone. "How am I supposed to help him deal with something like that?"

Carson remembered the look on Sheppard's face when they'd run into the lab with the dart and saw Rodney standing in front of the emitter array preparing to be transferred back into the Wraith containment field. He hadn't believed Rodney's bravado with the mice or men comment, and Carson could tell from the look on Sheppard's face at the time, the Colonel hadn't believed it either. But Carson also knew they were out of options. Either Rodney's idea would work, or he and Cadman would both end up dead anyway.

Carson watched Sheppard riffing the edges of the files on the corner of the desk and realised he wasn't the only person frustrated by the feeling of helplessness where Rodney and Cadman's situation had been concerned. He leant forward in his chair and tapped Sheppard on the arm.

"The best thing we can do for him is to help him understand that we're here for him and he is in control of himself again."

Sheppard watched him for a moment, then sat back in his own chair. "And you're sure he's all right otherwise?"

"Aye, as long as he doesn't push himself too hard the next day or so, he should be fine."

Sheppard stood from the chair and took a step toward the door.

Carson looked up at Sheppard and frowned. "Is there something I should know?" He glanced at the open office door and dropped his voice down to a whisper. "Is the link telling you something different?"

Sheppard shook his head. "No. No headache, no itch, it's just … He had a seizure." He crossed his arms over his chest and stared out the office door.

Carson sat back in his chair as the light dawned. This wasn't Colonel Sheppard asking after a member of his team. It was John Sheppard asking about a family member.

"John, he's fine," Carson said kindly. "It was one seizure, we know why it happened, and it won't happen again. Like I told Elizabeth, physically, he's fine. He just needs to regain a sense of control after the last few days. That's all."

Sheppard uncrossed his arms, took a deep breath, and glanced at Carson. "Control. Okay, I might be able to help with that."

"Colonel?"

Sheppard smiled and turned toward the door. "I think I have just the thing."

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

John left the infirmary, thinking about what Carson had told him. Beckett had been right, he had been concerned about McKay, but with no enemy to fight, John wasn't sure what he could do to help him. He knew how to battle the Wraith. He had no idea how to help a friend battle the mental demons of, for all intents and purposes, being possessed.

Beckett said Rodney needed to regain a sense of control. John knew of one sure-fire way to feel in control of a situation. Elizabeth had mentioned to him she needed someone to fly out to the mainland and pick up Teyla. It was the perfect chance for John to disguise a flying lesson as a way to give Rodney back some peace of mind.

John had found over the years, the best way to feel like he had some control was to take to the air. Just him, a plane, and the wide-open sky. Or in the case of the jumpers, wide-open space. Hopefully, McKay would feel the same way.

"Let's face it, you haven't been able to do much else to help him," John muttered to himself as he strolled back down the hallway to the transporter.

Once they had rematerialised Rodney, alone, on Thenora, there hadn't been much John could do to help with separating Cadman from McKay's body. He'd trusted Zelenka and Beckett to do what needed to be done and had concentrated on his other problem, namely convincing Elizabeth that Dex was the best choice to fill the vacant slot on his team.

Ronon assisting Lorne on Mendar to rescue his team hadn't been enough to sway Weir's opinion. Elizabeth, or more likely the SGC, still needed the tedious proof of marksmanship numbers and combat training fitness before she would sign off on the idea. As distractions went, spending a couple of days with Ronon, watching as he trained with the Marines and Teyla, and obliterated targets at the shooting range, had worked well.

John had agreed with Weir when she broached the idea of a trip to Drellim as a good way to introduce Ronon to how the team worked, and if it helped McKay, too, all the better. For now, though, he wanted to get Rodney out of the city for a little while. The problem was he needed to find McKay first.

Rodney had missed their usual team breakfast that morning, claiming he needed to meet with Doctor Heightmeyer. John didn't begrudge him the time to talk to someone about what happened, but he also remembered the comments he'd overheard at dinner the night before and suspected there was another reason McKay was avoiding the mess hall.

John entered the mess hall, where the dinner rush was already in full swing, with Rodney shuffling along a step behind him. He was doing a decent job of hiding it, but John suspected McKay was more than a little tired and probably still ached even though the link wasn't reacting.

He found Ronon sitting at a table near the windows, already eating, and John steered Rodney toward the table instead of the mess line. McKay glanced over at him as they made their way across the room, and John's suspicions were confirmed when Rodney didn't argue but followed along in John's wake.

"Who do you think had it worse, McKay or Cadman?" John heard someone ask from one of the nearby tables. He looked over and saw two Marines, recent additions from the Daedalus, with their heads together.

"Cadman," the two Marines replied at the same time with a laugh, and John saw Rodney flinch beside him.

John overheard another whispered comment as they walked past another table of Marines and Rodney muttered beside him, "Maybe I'm not so hungry after all."

"We're already here, and we both need to eat something," John replied. "Just ignore them."

Rodney snorted. "Says the man who thought being inside my head would be a nightmare," he grumbled.

John grimaced. He had meant the off-the-cuff comment for Cadman, in sympathy for what she had been through. It wasn't until he'd glanced at Rodney and had seen the hurt expression on his face, that he understood how the sarcastic comment might sound to McKay.

He waited until they were past the Marines, then draped a casual arm over Rodney's shoulders and pulled him a little closer. "I've been inside your head, remember?" he said in a low voice. "Trust me, for anyone who's not you, it's more than a bit overwhelming." He looked over at Rodney. "But since you and I are the only ones who know about that part of the gauntlet, I couldn't really come out and say anything else, now could I?"

Rodney glanced over at John. "No, I guess not," he replied with a thin smile as they arrived at Ronon's table.

John saw the look Ronon gave him and could have kicked himself. He'd forgotten about Ronon's keen sense of hearing. Of course, Dex would have heard what he'd said. He shook his head at Dex, even as he pushed Rodney into one of the chairs.

"I'll be right back," John said and headed for the mess line.

He returned a few minutes later to find Rodney slouched over the table with his head resting on his arms and his eyes closed while Ronon glared at another group of Marines seated a few tables away.

"Problem?" John asked as he nudged McKay and set a tray in front of him once he sat up.

Ronon shook his head and stood. "I'll be right back."

John watched as Dex stopped at the nearby table of Marines who had been pointing in their direction and snickering. Ronon bent down and said something John couldn't hear. The Marines quickly sobered, picked up their trays, their food only half-eaten, and left. Ronon waited until they were gone, glared at the rest of the room, then returned to their table.

"Making new friends?" John asked, his curious tone laced with a hint of censure.

Ronon sat down across from Rodney and went back to his dinner. "Didn't think anyone else could hear them," he explained with a glance at Rodney picking at the food on his tray.

"Do I want to know?" John asked.

"Not really," Ronon replied.

John studied Ronon for a moment, and when it was clear Dex wasn't going to say anything else, he let the matter drop.

Sheppard shook himself out of the memory and considered the best way to find McKay.

Beckett had said Rodney was supposed to be taking things easy. John knew that meant McKay was either in his room or his lab, two places where he could rest as well as ignore the so-called humorous remarks some people were making about what had happened with Cadman.

Since crew quarters were closer to the infirmary, John decided to start with Rodney's room. The transporter dropped him off in the right section, and John was a bit surprised when he met Ronon in the hall as he turned the corner leading to McKay's room.

"Sheppard," Ronon said in greeting as he fell into step next to John.

"Ronon," Sheppard replied and continued down the hall to Rodney's quarters.

He stopped outside McKay's room and knocked on the door. After a few seconds, he knocked again but still didn't get an answer. John pursed his lips. After McKay had been blinded by the transformer explosion, Zelenka had figured out a way to key the sensor so the door would open for Sheppard as well as Rodney even if the door was locked. After he'd regained his sight, McKay had never reset the sensor. "Could be handy in an emergency," he'd explained at the time and changed the subject.

He could be hurt, John thought with a glance at the sensor when Rodney still didn't answer. Or he could be asleep like Beckett wants, he mentally argued. John debated a few seconds longer before he touched the sensor for Rodney's door.

The door opened easily, and John stepped into the room and looked around. The bed was neatly made and obviously empty. John idly wondered if McKay had slept in it since Beckett had released him from the infirmary.

Ronon stood just inside the door with his arms crossed over his chest, looking around as John glanced in the small bathroom. He came back out and found Dex staring at the diplomas hanging on the wall over the desk. When he reached out for the hand-carved toy pickup truck on the shelf under the diplomas, John walked over and stood next to him.

"It's a model of an Earth vehicle," John explained as Ronon studied the truck and spun one of the wooden wheels.

Ronon set the toy back on its shelf. "Hard to picture McKay having the patience to make something like that."

John chuckled. "He didn't make it. I did."

Ronon gave him a questioning look, and John shook his head. "Remind me to explain Secret Santa to you sometime," John said with a smile and a glance at the truck. They still needed to make that trip to Niagara Falls, he thought as he ushered Ronon back out of the room

"Doctor Weir talked to me," Ronon said on the way back to the transporter.

John nodded. "She told me. She also told me she's signed off on you officially joining my team."

Ronon grunted as he fell into step next to John. "So, what happens next?"

John led the way back to the transporter. "First, we find McKay."

He suddenly remembered the large lab with the dart and had the sneaking suspicion that instead of resting, Rodney was elbow deep in the ship's innards.

So much for taking things slow, he thought wryly as he walked back up the hall.

"After we find him," John continued, "we need to head out to the mainland and pick up Teyla."

He waited for Ronon to step inside the transporter then tapped the area of the map with the science labs. "There's a mission briefing tomorrow morning. Doctor Weir wants us to tag along with Beckett on a visit to a planet called Drellim to check on some folks."

"Heard of it," Ronon said as the transporter hummed to life. "Never been there."

"Sergeant Markham and his team visited the planet last year. Beckett offered his medical services as part of a trade deal."

They exited the transporter and were still several steps away from the door to the large lab when John heard Zelenka's voice issuing orders.

"Doctor Hooker, you can take samples from the cockpit after Doctor Marcus has finished the diagnostics on the DHD."

"I'm done," someone else, presumably Doctor Marcus, said. "I can analyse the rest of the data back in the lab."

John stepped into the room with Ronon close behind him and watched as McKay's scientists crawled over, under, and around the dart in an effort to learn as much as they could from the ship.

Zelenka looked up from the computer tablet in his hand as they walked into the room and nodded. "Colonel Sheppard," he said in greeting as John joined him near the table where the emitter array sat. "Ronon."

"Doc," Ronon replied as he watched the scientists work.

"How's it going down here?" John asked, giving the emitter a wary look.

"With everything that happened with Rodney and Lieutenant Cadman, we have only just started on the analysis of the rest of the dart," Zelenka said, holding the computer against his chest. He nodded at the ship next to him. "It is a fascinating piece of technology."

John heard Ronon growl low in his throat as he glared at the ship. While he could agree with Dex's sentiment, John also knew they had a better chance of fighting the Wraith ships the next time they attacked the city if they found out everything they could now.

John walked around the dart with Zelenka in tow. He didn't see McKay in the lab, and was a little surprised, not to mention concerned, Rodney wasn't the one standing there telling him all about everything they'd learnt so far. "Find out anything interesting yet?" he asked, pushing his worry to the back of his mind.

Zelenka nodded. "Thanks to what happened to Rodney and Lieutenant Cadman, we now have a good working knowledge of how the culling beam works. I have started an analysis of the beam energy itself to see if there is a way to shield against it." He touched the side of the ship with one finger. "We also know the ship is made up of several organic components."

"I could have told you that," Ronon stated. "There's a smell inside a Wraith ship, like something decaying."

John thought back to the two times he'd been inside a Wraith ship. He hadn't noticed anything different or unusual about the ships at the time. Of course, neither of the ships had been functional, either.

"How would something like that even work?" Sheppard asked.

Radek set the tablet computer on the table next to the emitter and held his hands out in front of him. "We are still trying to understand how the Wraith were able to integrate the two systems. Doctor Hooker is taking samples of the organic structures. If we can figure out how the organic and inorganic components interact," Zelenka twisted his hands together, "we may be able to devise a weapon that would sever that connection." He pulled his hands apart and looked over at John.

John glanced the length of the dart. "Making any Wraith ship, what? Disintegrate?"

Zelenka shook his head. "Not exactly. More like creating a feedback loop that would make them inoperable."

"Sounds good to me," Ronon said as John took another surreptitious look around the lab.

"He is not here," Zelenka told him softly.

John glanced over at him.

"You came looking for Rodney, yes? I have not seen him since Doctor Beckett released him yesterday afternoon."

John stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets.

Radek picked up the computer tablet. "I hope he is in his quarters, getting some rest. He did not look well when he was here yesterday."

John remembered the shuffling gait and the pain lines around McKay's eyes at dinner and had to agree. "Unfortunately, he's not in his room, either. I guess we'll try his lab."

Zelenka studied Sheppard for a moment, then walked over to another table, picked up a hard drive, and handed it to John. "It is the data dump from the dart's computer," Radek explained as John turned the drive over in his hand. "He will want to examine the contents himself, I'm sure." Zelenka glanced at the drive and hesitated.

"What's the problem?" Ronon asked.

"It would not surprise me if Rodney has the door to his lab locked." Radek glanced at John and lowered his voice. "People have been talking." He waited for John to look at him, "The drive will give you a reason to ask him to unlock the door."

John grimaced then nodded. "Thanks."

Zelenka stepped back. "Even with him here, constantly yelling at me, I cannot imagine what the last few days have been like for him. You will help him, yes?"

John turned around. "I'll do my best."

Radek nodded once and turned back to the dart.

John left the lab and said, "Come on," he said to Ronon. "Third time's the charm." He handed Ronon the drive and turned down the corridor that led to Rodney's lab.

John stopped in front of the closed door to the lab a few minutes later and knocked. When he didn't get an answer, he waved his hand over the sensor. He wasn't surprised when the door didn't open. Unlike his quarters, where Rodney could have been asleep, John assumed this time McKay was actively ignoring anyone trying to talk to him, and tapped his earpiece.

"Rodney? It's John. I'm outside the lab, unlock the door."

John waited several seconds then said, "Rodney? Come on, buddy, open up. I brought a hard drive from Zelenka. He says it's the data from the Wraith dart you wanted."

When the door still didn't open, John tapped off the radio and paced a few steps away from the door.

"Maybe he wants to be alone," Ronon said.

John shook his head. "No, even if he wanted to be left alone, he'd at least tell me to go away. No, something's wrong."

He turned back to the door. Unlike his quarters, Rodney had the lab door keyed to only his DNA pattern. John hesitated for only a moment before he pried off the access panel.

"What are you doing?"

"A little trick McKay showed me," John said as he pulled out the middle crystal, moved the top crystal down into the middle slot, and used the middle crystal to bridge the other two.

"Nice trick," Ronon said with an approving nod as the door slid open.

John smiled slightly and led the way inside the lab. The smile quickly disappeared when he found Rodney slumped over his work table, asleep.

"Rodney?" John called and lightly shook McKay's shoulder.

Rodney sat up with a jerk and stared around the room, wide-eyed. "What? Where am I?"

John frowned. "You're in your lab."

Rodney glanced first at John then at Ronon, standing near the door. "Lab. Right. That's right," he said absently. He rubbed his eyes, looked around the room again, and swallowed. "I was working on the new cloak emitter," he said, more to himself than John. "Must have fallen asleep."

"You sure you're all right?" John asked as he rested a hand on Rodney's arm.

McKay flinched at the touch, and John's frown deepened.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," Rodney snapped, though his tone was missing some of its usual bite. "Why are you here? How are you here? I thought I locked the door." He glanced over at the door as Ronon stepped forward with the drive.

"Sheppard picked the lock," Ronon said and set the drive on the end of the work table.

"I never should have shown you how to do that," Rodney groused as he picked up the hard drive. "Where did you get this?" he asked Ronon.

"Zelenka asked us to bring that over when he found out we were heading this way," John explained. "He said it was the computer dump for the dart."

"Finally," Rodney said and reached for the laptop computer on the other side of the table.

"That can wait," John told him with another tap on Rodney's arm. This time John was relieved to note McKay didn't flinch.

"What do you mean? Of course, it can't wait. Who knows what information we can get from this. It might have data on the location of who knows how many hive ships or communication codes we could hack into."

"It can wait for right now," John told him. "Elizabeth wants us to go to the mainland and pick up Teyla."

Come on, Rodney, work with me here, John silently pleaded.

He knew if McKay really didn't want to come, John couldn't force him. The whole point of this exercise was to give Rodney back a sense of control.

Rodney glanced from John to the drive. "You can do that without me."

John took a step back from the work table and pulled his last card. "Sure I can," he said smoothly. "Just thought you might like to be the one doing the flying."

Rodney looked up at him, and John could see equal parts excitement and suspicion in his expression.

"You'd let me fly?" Rodney asked. "Why?"

John shrugged as he gave McKay a penetrating look. "It's been a while since you've had any flight time. Now's as good a time as any to let you have control." He put a slight emphasis on the last word.

Rodney glanced at him again, and John knew he'd received the unspoken message.

"If McKay is doing the flying, I'll stay here," Ronon said from where he stood next to Rodney's desk.

"It'll be fine," John assured him. "He's actually not that bad of a pilot," he gave Rodney a cocky smile, "even if he still can't fly in a straight line."

"Motion is relative in space," Rodney replied in response to the long-standing argument.

"And you, relatively, still can't go in one direction. Come on," John added, and gently tugged Rodney to his feet. "We'll take the jumper, maybe do a few orbits of the planet, then go get Teyla."

"Fine, whatever," Rodney said, but John saw the spark of excitement in his eyes.

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

Though he would likely never admit it to Sheppard, the impromptu flying lesson had helped Rodney feel less out of sorts. Once they were out of the jumper bay, John had handed over control of the ship to Rodney, telling him they could go anywhere he wanted.

Rodney had chosen to fly them out to the larger of the planet's two moons. He'd orbited the chunk of space rock, then with John's encouragement, had flown the ship low enough to skim the surface.

"Too bad there aren't any geologic instruments on board," Rodney said as he pulled them back up into space. "I know Volkov and some of the geologists have wanted to get samples from the moons to see if they could determine if they were meteors captured by the planet's gravity or if they were formed the same way Earth's Moon was created when something hit the planet."

"Maybe next trip," John said as he glanced at his watch. "Elizabeth said she would give us an hour and then radio Teyla to expect us. We need to head back."

Rodney glanced over at Sheppard. "Are you …" He nodded at the control sticks.

"Nope, you're doing fine. Let's see how you manage a landing."

"You've never landed a ship before?" Ronon asked from his seat behind Sheppard.

"Umm, no," Rodney admitted as he broke orbit and turned the jumper back toward the planet. "I've only ever flown in open space."

Rodney heard Ronon mutter something else but chose not to hear it. He found he was enjoying himself too much to worry about what Dex thought.

"Nice and easy," John said from the co-pilot seat several minutes later as Rodney brought the jumper in to land in the clearing behind the Athosian village.

"I've seen you do this a hundred times," Rodney retorted as he concentrated on steering the ship. "I know what to do."

"Your angle is a bit steep," John said, his tone patient. "Check your attitude."

Rodney heard Ronon snort behind them as he checked the information on the HUD. He adjusted their descent angle slightly and saw Sheppard nod.

"Good. Now bring her down nice and slow."

Rodney gripped the controls tighter and reduced their speed.

"Lighten up on the controls," John admonished. "Otherwise, you'll skip the jumper across the field like a stone."

"You're only making this more difficult," Rodney told him through gritted teeth even as he loosened his strangle-hold on the control sticks.

"That's better," John said a moment later as the jumper floated to the ground.

Rodney grimaced as the ship skipped slightly when it landed and gave Sheppard a furtive glance.

"Not bad," John told him with a smile as he stood. "Not bad at all."

Rodney grinned back as he let go of the controls.

Ronon grunted as he stood and followed John into the rear compartment.

Rodney lowered the ramp and mentally shut down the jumper. He followed Sheppard and Ronon out of the ship and stood to one side as Teyla walked across the field.

"Colonel Sheppard," Teyla said with a wave and a smile.

"Teyla," John replied. "You got Weir's message?"

Teyla nodded and stopped in front of Sheppard.

"I did. You are sure it will be safe to make contact with the people of Drellim? Such a visit will not compromise Atlantis?"

"Shouldn't be a problem."

She turned to Rodney and squeezed his hand. "How are you feeling?"

Rodney looked down at the hand holding his. "Umm, fine. I'm fine," he replied.

Teyla let go of his hand and studied his face for a moment. "I am sorry I was not there when you needed help."

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. The afternoon of flying had let him forget for a little while what had happened with Cadman. Teyla's sincere apology brought it all crashing down on him again.

"There's nothing you could have done," he told her. He smiled slightly and glanced at John.

John caught the look and thankfully changed the subject. "So, how is Charin?"

Teyla turned to Sheppard. "She no longer had a fever, and she was breathing easier this morning." She took a deep breath, and Rodney thought she looked more sad than relieved that her friend was recovering. "Iranda believes she is over the worst of the sickness, but she is still very tired."

"Sounds like she's going to be fine," Sheppard replied. "That's good."

"Yes," Teyla agreed with a smile. "However, I am worried about her."

"That's understandable," John said and led the way aboard the jumper. "You've known her for a long time."

"It is more than that. Charin is very dear to me. As with you and Rodney, she is my chosen family." She sat in one of the rear seats in the cockpit and looked down at her hands. "She is the only family I have left," she admitted in a low voice. "I am not sure what I will do once she is gone."

"If you asked, Carson would make the trip out here to see her," Rodney offered after a few seconds of silence. "Maybe there's something he can do to help."

"That's not a bad idea," John agreed. "This mission shouldn't take more than a few days. Once we're back, I'm sure Elizabeth would give us the time to come out here with Beckett."

Rodney started to sit in the pilot's seat when John tapped his arm.

"Maybe I should take us back," Sheppard said and pointed at the co-pilot's chair. "It's not that far back to Atlantis, and I don't think either of us is ready for you to try landing in the jumper bay."

"Oh, umm, fine, I guess," Rodney replied and ignored the sigh of relief he heard from Ronon in the seat behind him.

Chapter Text

Rodney woke with a start. Something was off, but he couldn't put his finger on what. He rolled over and started to sit up, only to bang his arm against the table next to the bed. He heard something clatter and fall, glanced over, and saw several picture frames scattered across the floor.

"No," he muttered and jumped out of the bed, staring at the exercise equipment and the framed insignia on the wall. "No, no, no. This is not happening!"

"McKay?" Cadman's voice mumbled in his head. "We agreed it was my day to have the body, go back to bed."

Rodney felt the blood drain from his face as he backed against the nearest wall. "This is not happening," he repeated over and over.

"Oh, trust me, it's happening," Cadman told him. "Your plan didn't work. We're stuck like this."

"No!" Rodney shouted and tried to leave the room, but Cadman forced him back toward the bed.

"It's my day with the body. Back in bed," Cadman told him. "I have a busy day tomorrow."

"No!" he shouted, and woke with a start.

Rodney felt himself panic when he couldn't move. It took him a moment to realise he was tangled in the bedcovers, and he frantically pushed them aside. He scrubbed a hand over his face and stared around the room. His diplomas. His computer on the desk. The wooden truck John had given him on its shelf.

"Quarters," he muttered as he took a shaky breath. "You're in your quarters just like you're supposed to be."

He glanced at the clock on his desk and groaned. Two-thirty in the morning. Contrary to what Sheppard or Beckett might believe, there were times when he really did want to sleep. The dream, however, had felt all too real. He'd heard Cadman's voice clearly in his head, felt his body moving and had been unable to stop it.

So much for sleeping, he thought as he sat on the edge of the bed, holding his head in his hands. He stared at the floor, rubbing his temples in the vain hope of warding off the building headache.

It hit him as he sat there that Heightmeyer must have said something to Beckett about his issues with sleeping the past few nights. It would explain Sheppard's insistence on the flying lesson, he told himself with a wry smile. Trust a pilot to think the best cure for what ails you would be to fly something.

What amazed him was the fact that John had been right. He'd been able to relax for the first time in days. There were no thoughts about Cadman, or Wraith, or dying due to some freak accident. It had just been him, John, Ronon, and all of space.

Did Carson go through Elizabeth or did he tell Sheppard directly about the nightmares? he wondered before he slowly stood up, went into the small bathroom, and found a bottle of ibuprofen.

He swallowed a couple of pills, rinsing them down with a glass of water, and stared at his reflection in the mirror. On the one hand, he was a little angry so many people were discussing his private problem. But on the other, he was a bit surprised to realise he was thankful they actually cared enough to try and help.

He wandered back into the main room, found a clean uniform, and quickly dressed.

If he wasn't going to sleep, he might as well do something useful, Rodney told himself as he pulled on his uniform jacket and left his room.

After a brief mental argument, he decided to head for his own lab instead of the large lab with the dart. There was still the data dump someone needed to look at.

He didn't meet anyone in the corridor near his quarters, and the hallway near the labs was blissfully empty that late at night. He let out the mental breath he'd been holding as he tapped the sensor for his lab. At least he wouldn't be getting a late-night visit from a grumpy colonel wondering why Rodney wasn't in bed like the more sane members of the expedition.

Rodney entered his lab, found the work table easily in the dark, and turned on the overhead light, leaving the rest of the room in shadow. The hard drive with the data from the Wraith dart was still at the end of the table where Ronon had left it. He plugged it into one of the laptop computers on the work table and started a search of the information it contained.

He spent the next hour paging through the data, looking for anything they could use. Some of the data was corrupted, and most of the rest of it was indecipherable, someone else would have to work on translating the files.

Another half-hour of randomly clicking files and he found what looked like might be navigational data and pulled the files off to another computer. He started a search of that data against the Ancient database looking for any 'gate addresses that matched and went back to the computer with the Wraith hard drive wondering what else he might find.

He was still idly paging through the Wraith data almost two hours later when the second computer beeped and scrolled a list of 'gate addresses across the screen. He leant back on the stool, the vertebrae in his back cracking and popping as he moved, and studied the screen.

His search had found at least a dozen different addresses so far, and the database was still adding new ones as he watched. The list had to be planets the dart had culled recently, and Rodney swallowed when he realised it had been sheer luck he and Cadman were the only people trapped in the dart's containment field. What would have happened to him if he'd had several strangers, as well as Cadman, stuck in his head?

He shuddered and rubbed his scratchy eyes, not wanting to consider the possibility of more voices in his head. One had been more than enough.

The list of addresses was all well and good, but what could he do with the information now that he had it? He set up another computer and started inputting the addresses looking for any information on the planets and where they were located. He also started back through the data from the dart looking for any other navigational data.

He was trying to decipher another set of files when the door to the lab whispered open, and he heard a familiar step behind him.

"Rodney," Sheppard drawled as he stopped next to the work table. "What's all this?" he asked, looking at the computers lined along the work table.

Rodney finished reading the latest information from the Ancient database, sat back on the stool. He glanced at Sheppard standing beside him as he rubbed his forehead, trying to ward off another headache.

"Data from the dart. If I can find the planets that match these 'gate addresses, there might be a way to plot a sort of reverse course for the hive ship."

John glanced from Rodney to the various computers on the work table, then bent over to study the nearest computer.

"Why? Not much use knowing where its been."

Rodney glared at him. "Because if we know where it's been, we might be able to figure out where it's going next."

Sheppard stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets. "And?"

"And what?"

"Where is it going next?"

Rodney shrugged and went back to studying the Wraith data files. "Don't know yet. All I have so far is the list of addresses. I've started a search of the Ancient database to find the planets that match the 'gate addresses." He rubbed his head again.

Sheppard walked around the work table, looking at the various computers. "How long have you been working on this?" Sheppard asked, his tone an odd mix of suspicion and concern.

Rodney ignored the question. "That isn't important," he replied and sat back as the database started a new search. "The important thing is --"

John turned back to Rodney and frowned. "McKay," Sheppard drawled. "How long?"

Rodney sighed and glanced down at his watch, found he wasn't wearing it, and said, "Umm, what time is it now?"

John stopped at Rodney's side. "Almost eight-thirty," he replied with a glance at his own watch. "I wanted to make sure you showed up for breakfast this morning."

"Umm, then about six hours," Rodney replied with a sideways look at John.

Sheppard pursed his lips. "Did you get any sleep at all?" he asked, and Rodney saw the worry in John's expression.

"Some," he hedged, and looked away as Sheppard stared at him.

"McKay --"

"What?" Rodney demanded and crossed his arms over his chest. "This could be important."

He heard Sheppard sigh and Rodney worked to rein in his temper. He knew his reaction was due to lack of sleep and didn't want to give Sheppard a reason to haul him up to the infirmary.

"As important as this might be," John said a few seconds later with another glance at the computers. "Teyla and Ronon are waiting for us in the mess hall, and then we have a mission briefing." Sheppard gave Rodney another measured look. "You going to be up for this?"

Rodney shrugged as he stood. "I'm fine, and it's not like we're going to some unknown planet." He turned toward the door but stopped when Sheppard didn't follow. "I thought you said we were meeting Teyla and Ronon."

"What about all the computers?" Sheppard asked as he fell into step beside Rodney.

Rodney glanced back at the table. "It'll be fine. I'll tell Zelenka what I'm working on before we leave. He can make sure all the data collates and I can work on the map once we get back."

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

Elizabeth watched as Sheppard's team filed into the conference room and took seats along the triangular table. She passed out a file folder to each of them and nodded to Carson, seated next to her.

"This is your mission, Doctor Beckett," she said with a smile. "Why don't you start."

Carson glanced at her, then turned to the others. "Right then, it's a simple trip, really. Sergeant Markham negotiated a trade deal with the people on Drellim last year. In exchange for food, grain, fruit, meat and such, we agreed to provide medical aid."

"What's wrong with them?" Ronon asked, ignoring the file folder in front of him.

"Nothing specific," Carson replied. "Normal ailments, mostly, a few broken bones from hunting accidents. One of the things I've been working on with their healers is finding local sources for various medicines. Plants, herbs, and the like."

"I may be able to help with that, Doctor Beckett," Teyla offered. "I know of several medicinal plants that are common on many worlds. These plants should be easily found on Drellim as well."

"That would be a great help. Thank you, Teyla."

"You are welcome, Doctor Beckett."

Sheppard flipped through the pages of information on the planet. "Wait, isn't this the planet where Davis won some sort of contest last year?"

Carson smiled. "The very same, Colonel. I made two other trips to Drellim last year with Sergeant Markham's team. Each time, Jor-tan, the head of the village, offered the animal to Corporal Davis." Carson looked down at his hands resting on the table. "I suppose I'll have to tell them they won't need to worry about it now."

"Why?" Ronon asked.

Carson looked over at Ronon and gave him a sad smile. "Corporal Davis died during the siege a few months ago."

Elizabeth let the silence hang for a few seconds then said, "This is a humanitarian mission, but we need to be careful. We don't want to tip our hand that Atlantis survived the Wraith attack."

"It says here, Markham found some strange energy readings," Rodney said as he looked up from the file in front of him. "I don't remember anything about this planet in any of the science reports."

Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Markham had just finished up the trade agreement when you and Colonel Sheppard went missing on the mainland."

Rodney ducked his head and went back to reading the file. "Oh. Well, yes, that would explain it," he muttered. "Since no one bothered to follow up on those readings, I may as well see what I can find out while we're there."

"While McKay does that, Ronon and I will see if there's anything we can do to help out the rest of the village," Sheppard said. "Should we be expecting to bring anything back with us?"

"The trade agreement was for food," Elizabeth said. "Anything the Drellimians can offer will be appreciated, I'm sure. As someone pointed out to me yesterday," she smiled at Carson, "we need to maintain the appearance of being refugees."

"When do we leave?" Sheppard asked.

"I need to finish packing some medical supplies," Carson replied and glanced at Elizabeth.

"Have your team ready to go in two hours, Colonel," Elizabeth said. "Carson, how long do you expect to be on Drellim?"

"Oh, not more than a few days, I expect."

Elizabeth nodded. "Daily check-ins, please."

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

Idyllic was the first word that came to mind as John came through the 'gate and looked around. It was warm without being hot, and he caught the scent of some sort of sweet flower in the air. Large trees, in two wide columns, led away from the 'gate toward a series of low hills, providing shade as well as a natural defence against Wraith darts coming through the 'gate. A path, lined with stones, led away from the 'gate through the trees, and John could see a column of smoke rising into the air near the hills a few miles away.

"It is beautiful," Teyla said as she followed John over to the DHD.

"It is that," Carson agreed. "When we were here last year, the trees near the village were bent nearly double with the weight of various fruits."

Rodney made a face but said nothing as he pulled the scanner out of his vest pocket. John watched as he turned in a slow circle alternately looking at the surrounding landscape and then the device in his hand.

"Past noon," Ronon said to John with a glance at the sky then walked a short way up the path. He bent down and examined the ground.

John nodded. "According to Markham's report, Drellim is pretty close to Atlantis' day. We should have plenty of time to find the village before it starts to get dark."

Dex stood and walked back to the DHD and John raised a questioning eyebrow.

Ronon shook his head. "No one's been here for a few days at least."

John nodded and looked around the clearing one more time.

"I'm assuming the path leads in the right direction?" John asked Beckett.

Carson nodded. "The village is a few miles that way." He pointed through the trees to the hills and adjusted the medical pack on his back.

"All right. Teyla, take point." John said and pointed toward the rising smoke.

"Yes, Colonel," she replied, and headed down the path with Beckett beside her.

"Ronon, you've got our six," John said and followed Beckett.

Dex checked the charge on his particle weapon, holstered the gun, and nodded.

McKay stood fiddling with the scanner as Teyla moved past him along the path.

"Rodney, let's go," John added and tugged lightly on McKay's arm.

"Yes, yes, coming," Rodney muttered, still glaring at the scanner.

"We're really not expecting any trouble, you know," John said to Ronon with a glance at the exposed particle weapon. "We've dealt with these folks before."

Ronon shifted his leather duster to cover the weapon. "Can't be too careful."

John eyed him for a moment longer and let the matter drop. He caught up to Rodney, keeping one eye on their surroundings and the other on McKay walking with his head down as he fiddled with the Ancient scanner in his hand.

"I'd be happy to go to the mainland and see your friend," Carson said to Teyla a few steps ahead of John and Rodney. "Why didn't you come to me sooner?"

"Charin has had these spells a few times in recent years," Teyla replied. "I did not want to bother you if it was not serious."

"It's not a bother, love," Carson told her, and John saw him squeeze her hand. "We'll make the trip to the mainland when we get back to Atlantis."

Teyla bowed her head slightly. "Thank you, Doctor Beckett."

They walked along for another fifteen minutes, John enjoying the scenery while Rodney appeared more and more frustrated with what the scanner was telling him.

"What's the problem?" John finally asked after Rodney muttered something under his breath and poked at the scanner for the fourth time.

"Hmm, what?" Rodney replied, never looking up from the scanner.

"I said, what's the problem? You've been arguing with the scanner ever since we left the 'gate."

Rodney looked up from the scanner long enough to glance at John, then went back to fiddling. "It's these energy readings. It's weird. They don't make sense."

"Okay," John drawled and waited. "Rodney?" he prodded when McKay didn't continue.

"Hmm?"

"Why don't they make sense?" John asked, and didn't bother to hide his exasperation.

Rodney looked over at him. "There's something off, something wrong, and I can't figure out what."

"Is it dangerous?" Ronon asked from behind them.

Rodney shook his head. "Nothing is about to explode if that's what you're asking." He looked out at the hills to their right as they came out of the trees."At least I don't think so." He shook his head. "It's just …"

"Weird," John finished for him.

"Exactly."

"Colonel," Teyla called from in front of them. "I believe we have arrived at the village."

John followed Teyla and Beckett across the open space between the trees and the beginning of the village. The buildings were long and rectangular with slightly rounded corners. Most were only two or three stories high with narrow alleys in between. The buildings were a uniform light brown, and they looked like they'd been coated with a plaster that matched the rock from the surrounding hills. John had a flash of the stuccoed homes he'd seen in southern California as a kid as he looked around the village and smiled at the people gathered on the street.

"Doctor Carson!" various voices called in greeting, and several men and women stepped out of the crowd and approached Beckett, shaking his hand or patting him on the shoulders.

John put out an arm to block Ronon as the crowd closed in on Beckett. "They know him," he said in a low voice.

Ronon grunted and stepped back, but John noticed he kept a wary eye on the crowd and his hand hovered near his weapon.

"Come now, back up, back up, let the poor man breathe," a loud male voice said, before a man easily as tall as Ronon with thick black hair to his shoulders and a neatly trimmed beard engulfed Beckett in a hug.

John felt Ronon tense as they watched the man greet Beckett.

"Jor-tan," Carson said, slightly breathless, and returned the hug. "How are you?"

"We are happy to see you, Doctor Carson," the man said as he stepped back and glanced at the rest of them. "We had heard what happened to the Ancestor's city. We feared you had been lost to the Wraith."

"Some of us were off-world when the Wraith attacked," John said with a tiny smile before Carson could reply.

"Jor-tan, this is Colonel John Sheppard," Carson said. "These others are Teyla, Ronon, and Doctor Rodney McKay."

Jor-tan nodded to each of them in turn, then said to John, "You were lucky to escape the Wraith, Friend Sheppard."

John shrugged. "Maybe. We lost a lot of good people."

Jor-tan studied Sheppard's face for a moment. "I am sorry for your losses," he replied, and put his hands together, palm-to-palm, and bowed his head. The men and women gathered behind him did the same.

"Umm, thanks," John said and nodded at Jor-tan.

Carson glanced at John then Jor-tan and said, "I'm afraid Christopher was one of those we lost, along with Sergeant Markham and the rest of his team when the Wraith attacked the city."

Jor-tan gripped Beckett's shoulder. "We will light candles in their memory, Doctor Carson. Friend Markham and his team were hearty men, and they will be missed, by our people as well as yours."

"Thank you, Jor-tan," Carson replied, and eased out of Jor-tan's hold.

After a moment, Jor-tan looked up and said, "Come with me. We will go to my house, and you can tell me the reason for your visit."

Jor-tan led the way across the square to a large house with a wide front door and two comfortable-looking chairs sitting in a small flower garden next to the entrance.

"You remember my daughter, Kai-tan," Jor-tan said as a young woman met them at the door.

"Of course," Carson said with a smile. "How are you, my dear?"

"I am well, thank you," Kai-tan replied, and glanced over Beckett's shoulder at the rest of them.

"Friends of Doctor Carson," Jor-tan said and led the way into the house and down the hall to a large room.

The walls were an off white plaster, allowing the sunlight from the large window to John's left to fill the room with a warm glow. A wooden desk sat in one corner with a small bookcase next to it full of books, while a fireplace stood in the opposite corner. A leather sofa sat in front of the fireplace, a long low table in front of it. Chairs made of wood with leather seats and backs sat opposite the sofa while others were scattered around the room, each with a small table next to it. A large rug covered the floor in the middle of the room, and a long narrow table against the far wall held several bottles and glasses.

"Sit, sit," Jor-tan said and waved to the sofa and chairs.

John, Teyla, Rodney, and Carson sat on the sofa while Ronon leant against the wall next to the fireplace. Jor-tan sat in one of the chairs.

"Kai-tan, some wine, I think," Jor-tan said with a nod at the long table in the corner.

"Certainly, Father," Kai-tan replied with a nod. She walked over to the long table and poured an amber liquid into seven glasses.

"It is our local wine," Jor-tan explained as she used a tray and passed out the glasses.

Once everyone had a glass, Jor-tan held up his. "To the memory of those lost," he said, then drank most of his wine.

John held up his glass for the toast and took a small sip. The wine was light and fruity, not at all what he expected, and he took another, larger swallow before setting the glass down on the table in front of him. Teyla followed John's lead and drank most of her wine. Ronon set his glass down untouched, while Rodney sniffed his glass suspiciously before taking a cautious sip.

If Jor-tan noticed Ronon and McKay's less than enthusiastic reaction, he didn't say anything. "What brings you back to Drellim, Doctor Carson?"

Carson glanced at John, who nodded and leant back on the sofa. "I came to check on you and see how you were all doing," Beckett said and set down his empty wine glass. "We had made the promise to offer your people medical aid and training. I still want to honor that agreement."

"We welcome such aid, Doctor Carson," Jor-tan replied. "The fruit is not quite in season yet, but we do have meat and grain we can offer in trade."

John smiled. "The rest of us can help with anything you need around the village while Beck -- Doctor Carson sees to his patients."

"Thank you, Friend Sheppard," Jor-tan said. "Your help would be most welcome." Jor-tan turned to Carson. "The evening meal is almost ready, please join us," he looked back at Kai-tan standing behind his chair, "I will have a room made up for all of you as well. I remember Friend Markham preferred to have his team all in one place," Jor-tan glanced at Teyla, "I assume you are the same, Friend Sheppard?"

John traded a look with Beckett. "That will be fine."

"Excellent," Jor-tan replied and looked back at Kai-tan standing behind his chair.

"I will see to the room, Father," she said and left the room.

"Come, come," Jor-tan said and stood. "We will eat and then let you rest. Doctor Carson, your regular exam room will be ready for you in the morning."

"Thank you, Jor-tan," Carson said and followed their host.

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

Rodney opened his eyes and looked around. Something was off, but he couldn't put his finger on what.

"Mission," he told himself. "You're on a planet, remember? Everything is fine."

He started to relax and drift when he heard, "McKay? Why did you wake us up?"

Rodney jerked himself back until he hit something solid behind him. "No! Go away! You aren't supposed to be here!"

Cadman sighed. "Hey, I'm not happy about this either, you know. You think it's easy being stuck in here?"

"No! My idea worked. This isn't happening!" He tried to move but found he was frozen in place.

"Stop hijacking me! Let me go!"

"Let me go!" he yelled again as something gripped his arms.

"McKay! Rodney! Wake up!" a new voice ordered.

Rodney's eyes shot open as he tried to pull himself free of whatever was holding him down.

"Rodney? Hey, you with me now?" the voice asked, and Rodney realised it was Sheppard.

He felt the hold on his arms loosen and took a deep breath as he looked around the room. Even though there wasn't much light, he saw Sheppard sitting on the edge of the bed, looking tired and worried.

Great, he thought to himself. It was bad enough he wasn't sleeping. Now he was keeping John awake as well.

"Sorry," he mumbled and covered his eyes with one arm. "Didn't mean to wake you up."

"Nothing to apologise for," John told him easily. "Must have been some dream." He paused. "Cadman?"

Rodney moved his arm enough to stare at John.

"You kept saying something about being hijacked," John told him.

Rodney heard movement near him and flinched. "Colonel?" Carson asked softly. "Everything all right?"

John glanced down at Rodney, then turned toward the other side of the room. "Just a bad dream," Sheppard said. "We're fine."

Rodney curled on his side. "Is everyone awake now?" he muttered, and tried to hide under the blanket.

"Probably," John said with a thin smile. "Like I said, must have been some dream."

"Lovely." He felt his face redden in embarrassment.

"Hey," John said, and rested a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "No one here but me, Carson, Ronon, and Teyla. Don't worry about it. You going to be okay?"

Rodney took a deep breath and nodded. He felt Sheppard squeeze his shoulder then the mattress jounced as John stood. "Go back to sleep," John said and patted his arm.

"John?" he called softly a few seconds later.

"Yeah?" John said from the next bed.

"Umm, thanks."

"No problem. Go back to sleep."

Rodney woke late the next morning and found himself alone in the room. He pushed the blanket away and sat up slowly. To his own surprise, he'd managed to not only sleep the rest of the night, but he didn't remember having any more dreams of Cadman still stuck in his head either.

He heard the clatter of silverware on dishes and swore he smelt coffee as he quickly tied his boots and left the room.

He followed the sound of murmuring voices and found the others in the same dining room where they'd had supper the night before. Sunshine streamed through the windows behind the table. A large sideboard held several dishes as well as a steaming pot from which the coffee smell emanated.

The others stopped talking and looked up when he entered the room. Rodney felt his face redden again as he stood in the doorway, remembering what had happened during the night.

"Rodney, good morning," Teyla greeted. "We were waiting for you."

Rodney gave her a wan smile before he walked over to the sideboard and filled a plate. He sat down between John and Carson and started to eat, not looking at any of them.

Rodney heard a knock at the door a few minutes later and looked up as Kai-tan walked into the room.

"Good morning, Friend McKay," she greeted and turned to Beckett, "People are arriving to see you, Doctor Carson. We have set up the same room you used on your last visit."

"Thank you, my dear," Carson replied. "I'll be right there."

She nodded, smiled to the others, and left the room.

Beckett emptied his cup and stood. "I'll see you all later."

"What's everyone else up to today?" Sheppard asked after Beckett left.

"I plan to take Kai-tan and a small group of the villagers into the woods," Teyla replied. "I believe many of the plants I told Doctor Beckett about will grow on Drellim. I can show the villagers what to look for and how to dry them properly."

John nodded and glanced at Rodney.

"I'm going to see what I can find out about those strange energy readings. Who knows, it might be something we can use in Atlantis."

"Don't get too far away from the village, either of you," Sheppard warned.

"We will be fine, Colonel," Teyla said with a glance at Rodney. "I am meeting Kai-tan and the others in a few minutes. We will return this afternoon." She reached across the table, squeezed Rodney's hand, and left.

Ronon stood as well. "The trade supplies should be ready soon."

John nodded. "I'll go with you. It's nearly time to check in with Elizabeth."

Ronon nodded and followed Teyla outside.

John set his cup down and stood. "I'll see you later," he said to Rodney. "I meant what I said before. Don't get too far away from the village."

"The strongest of the readings are near the hills," Rodney told him, and pointed out the window. "Not that far."

"Still, watch yourself."

Rodney nodded, finished the last of his breakfast, and went back to their room for his tac-vest and the Ancient scanner.

He left the house in time to see Ronon and Sheppard leaving the village by the path that led back to the stargate, Ronon leading a small horse-drawn cart loaded with sacks and barrels.

Rodney turned in the opposite direction, set the scanner to search for the odd readings, and wandered out of the village toward the hills in the near distance.

He walked for a little over an hour before he found a clearing, easily fifty meters or more wide, where the readings suddenly spiked. Rodney walked around the perimeter of the clearing, looking for anything that looked like an Ancient structure or artefact but found nothing. There were no buildings in or near the open space. Whatever was causing the energy spikes had to be big, but the only thing in the area were more trees and shrubs.

"So where is it coming from?" he asked out loud. He found a tree stump that was shaded, sat down, and tried to figure out where to search next. "Should have brought my backpack and the computer," he muttered to himself as he tried to refine the search parameters for the scanner.

He tried two different ideas for finding the source of the energy readings without success.

"It should be right here," he growled and looked out at the clearing. "The only thing that makes sense is if it's buried, but why do that?"

He was working on a third idea when he heard something in the woods behind him. He stood and spun around, feeling for the Beretta on his hip.

"Rodney?" Carson called, and Rodney relaxed.

"Carson? Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" Rodney groused and sat back on his stump. "What are you doing out here, anyway? I thought you had patients to see."

"Aye," Carson agreed as he sat on the ground next to the stump. "There was nothing terribly serious. Besides, I wanted to come check on you. See how you were doing."

"I'm fine," Rodney told him and focused on the scanner. "Even managed to get a decent amount of sleep even with …" He let the sentence peter out with a wary glance at Carson. He saw the tiny smile on Beckett's face and scowled. "What?"

"Never mind," Carson replied, and wiped the knowing look off of his face. "Speaking of Colonel Sheppard …"

Rodney glared at him even as he understood the unspoken message.

Carson waited a beat, then started again. "I spoke to Colonel Sheppard just before finding you. He and Ronon are back from delivering supplies to the stargate. He wants us to head back to the village and meet them."

Rodney grunted and input a different set of parameters into the scanner.

"I take it you haven't had any luck finding your elusive power source?" Carson asked a few minutes later.

"No," Rodney told him and looked around the clearing again. "It should be --" His radio squawked, interrupting him.

"Sheppard to McKay. Rodney, where the hell are you?"

Rodney tapped his radio. "I'm here," he started to say, and stared up at the sky as a high-pitched whine crossed overhead.

Rodney scrambled to his feet and stuffed the scanner down the front of his vest.

"Was that …" Carson said as Rodney pulled him to his feet.

"Yes! Move! Move! We can't stay here!" He tapped the radio. "Sheppard, there's a Wraith dart out here!"

"There's more than one," Sheppard replied, and Rodney heard gunfire over the radio.

"Sheppard?" Rodney yelled into the radio. "John?" He looked over at Beckett when he didn't get an answer.

They were on the edge of the clearing, and Rodney ducked when a culling beam shot down not far from where they stood. "We need to move," he said, and pulled Carson toward the deeper trees.

They weren't more than a few steps into the trees when Rodney saw something flit past out of the corner of his eye. "Did you see that?" he asked and spun around when he saw the shadow again.

"I didn't see anything," Carson told him, panting slightly. "We need to get back to the village."

"No, wait," Rodney said, and shot out a hand to stop Beckett. "We can't go that way. Listen."

More darts screamed overhead, every now and then a beam of light cut through the trees between them and the village.

"Rodney?" Carson asked.

"Back. We have to go back," Rodney told him and turned around.

They were nearly back to the clearing when a Wraith drone stepped out of the trees in front of them.

Rodney stopped and stared at the Wraith drone bearing down on them for a split-second before he drew the Beretta and fired. He kept firing until the gun clicked empty and watched as the drone fell to the ground.

"Run!" Rodney said as he holstered the Beretta and pushed Carson in front of him.

They were halfway across the clearing when Rodney glanced back and saw the Wraith drone start to move, then sit up. He knew if they wanted to escape, they had to be in the trees on the other side of the clearing before the Wraith fully recovered and saw them.

He turned around to check where they were and felt the ground under him start to shift.

Before he could do much more than share a startled look with Beckett, the ground opened up, and they were both falling.

Chapter Text

Ronon stopped the horse and cart to one side of the ring as Sheppard stepped in front of the control pedestal and punched in the address for Atlantis.

"Atlantis, this is Sheppard," Sheppard said once the wormhole formed and Ronon tapped his radio into the conversation.

"This is Weir. Good to hear from you, Colonel. How are things going?"

"We met with Jor-tan, the head of the village. Beckett has started his medical checks, and we have some supplies with us that Jor-tan offered in trade." John glanced over at the cart piled with sacks and barrels.

"Good work, Colonel." There was a pause over the radio, then, "We're ready on this end, go ahead and send the supplies through."

"Stand by," Sheppard replied and tapped off the radio. "You heard her," he said to Ronon and hefted the first sack of grain. He slid it through the ring and stood back as Ronon rolled one of the barrels through next.

Twenty minutes later, the cart was empty, and Sheppard tapped his radio again. "That's the last of it. I'll contact you again at the same time tomorrow."

"Understood," Weir replied. "Atlantis out."

Ronon turned the horse and cart around. "So is this what most of your missions are?" he asked as they started back to the village.

"Sometimes." Sheppard glanced over at him with a grin. "What's the matter, not enough excitement for you?"

Ronon shook his head. "Just thought we'd be doing more to find the Wraith."

Sheppard's grin disappeared, and he walked along in silence for a few minutes. "Look, I can sort of understand how you feel, but maintaining these alliances is just as important as blowing up hive ships."

On one level, Ronon understood that. He knew to survive, Atlantis needed friends. On the other, he'd been in the city for almost three months. He couldn't help wondering how many Wraith would be dead if he'd chosen to leave instead of staying with Sheppard.

"We don't have a way to defeat them yet," Sheppard said as if reading his mind. "We'll figure something out. Give McKay enough time, he can solve just about anything."

They walked back into the village an hour later. Ronon returned the cart and animal to its owner, then wandered around the village. He watched as a man and woman wrangled over a trade outside one of the shops. Another group of men stood in front of an empty plot planning out the construction of a new building. Several women sat outside another shop, talking amongst themselves and laughing.

It had been a long time since Ronon had been able to simply walk around a village or town. As a Runner, he didn't dare stop in one place for very long. In the past, he would have scouted a settlement from a distance, stolen what he needed, and escaped back through the ring before anyone, human or Wraith, had known he was on the planet. Here on Drellim, people greeted him with smiles, offered him bits of food, and seemed happy he was there, for no other reason than the fact they knew he was a friend of Beckett's.

Ronon came around a corner and found three young men standing with their backs against a building watching several young women about the same age on the other side of the street. The boys shoved one of their number toward the girls, shouting advice on what he should do next. The boy stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets and shuffled closer to the girls. One of the blushing young women stepped forward and smiled at him. He smiled back and took her hand as they walked down the street together. Ronon backed up and turned around, memories of courting Melena in much the same way assaulting him.

Ronon wandered back through the village and found Sheppard seated in front of the pub, an empty plate in front of him, talking to someone over the radio.

"... Be back within the hour," Sheppard said and tapped off his radio. "Beckett," he said as Ronon sat down across from him. "He finished with his patients for the day and went out to find Rodney. Make sure he was all right after everything last night."

Ronon nodded and glanced around the village. He was no stranger to nightmares, he'd had more than his share over the last seven years. He didn't know much about what had happened with McKay and the Lieutenant, other than the fact they'd been picked up by a dart culling beam and somehow they'd ended up in one body together.

The previous night, he'd woken when he heard the distressed noises coming from the other side of the room. Ronon had heard Sheppard get up, and their quiet conversation. At the time he'd said nothing and let Sheppard deal with the situation. However, once Sheppard went back to his own bed, Ronon had stayed awake watching and waiting, making sure nothing else was going to happen.

"Come on," Sheppard said and stood. "Beckett thinks he needs one more day here. Since Jor-tan was so generous with the supplies, we'll check in with him and see if there's anything we can do to help out around the place."

They were in the middle of the street when Sheppard stopped and tapped his radio. "This is Sheppard. Teyla? What's wrong?"

Ronon stopped next to him, and before he could tap his own radio, Sheppard's face hardened, and he looked up at the sky. "You're sure?" He waited a beat, then said, "Get back here as quickly as you can. Sheppard out."

"Sheppard?" Ronon asked as Sheppard started to run toward Jor-tan's house.

"Teyla is sensing Wraith in the area. We need to get these people to safety."

Ronon growled low in his throat as he pulled his weapon and checked the charge. "How far away?"

Sheppard shook his head. "Not far." He burst through the front door of Jor-tan's house. "Jor-tan!" he shouted and ran toward the study at the back of the house.

"Friend Sheppard?" Jor-tan said, standing from his desk as Sheppard stormed across the room. "What is the matter?"

"Wraith," Sheppard told him. "Not far away. We need to get your people out of the village."

Jor-tan paled and staggered a step before he caught himself on the edge of the desk. Ronon watched as he took a deep breath and let go of the desk.

"There are caves," Jor-tan said once he was back in control. "In the hills. We have been safe there in the past." He hurried past Sheppard and out the door of the house, calling for men to spread the word to run for the caves.

Ronon and Sheppard followed him outside, dodging out of the way of people as they ran past. Ronon saw the young couple from earlier hurry past, the young man leading the young woman by the hand as they ran out of the village square.

"We need to give them cover," Sheppard said as he watched the peaceful afternoon dissolve into chaos. "Teyla is on her way back. Have you seen McKay or Beckett?"

Ronon shook his head.

He heard Sheppard mutter a quiet, "Damn", before he tapped his radio. "Sheppard to McKay. Rodney, where the hell are you?"

Ronon ignored the conversation as he surveyed the outskirts of the village and glanced up at the sky. He heard the whine of darts in the near distance a few minutes later, and pulled Sheppard, still talking to McKay, into what cover there was between two buildings.

"There's more than one," Sheppard said over the radio. He fired his P-90 at three darts as they screamed overhead and their culling beams lit up the square a few feet away from them.

Ronon heard villagers yelling from the other side of the square, turned, and fired his gun as the first of the Wraith drones entered the village.

Ronon broke cover and ran into the square, clearing a path for the frightened villagers to escape. He ducked back into the shelter of an overturned cart where Sheppard joined him a moment later.

"We're going to have a problem soon," Sheppard said as he dropped a spent magazine for the P-90 and loaded a fresh one. "These Wraith couldn't have come through the 'gate."

"Hive ship," Ronon agreed, and shot two more Wraith drones as they crossed the square.

"Exactly, and we don't have the firepower to deal with that. We need to fall back to the caves."

Ronon scowled and shook his head. This was the first real fight he'd had in months. He was not going to leave a single Wraith alive if he could help it.

"Ronon, come on," Sheppard yelled and started backing out of the village, firing the P-90 at another drone.

Ronon stood his ground. Visions of Sateda flashed through his mind as he stood in the square shooting at drones and darts.

"Ronon!" Sheppard ordered, and Ronon heard the command tone of his voice. "Move! Now! That's an order."

Ronon growled but joined Sheppard as they followed the last of the remaining villagers out of the square and into the surrounding trees.

"What about Beckett, McKay, and Teyla?" Ronon demanded.

Sheppard fired off several more rounds. "Nothing we can do for them right now," he replied, and Ronon saw the frustration and worry in Sheppard's eyes. "All we can do is hope they found cover, and that they can stay alive long enough for us to find them after the Wraith leave."

"If they leave," Ronon muttered and shot another Wraith drone coming toward them.

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

Teyla tapped off her radio and glanced up at what sky she could see through the trees. "We must return to the village," she said to the five people surrounding her. "Quickly."

"How can you know the Wraith are coming?" Kai-tan asked even as she and the others gathered up the various bundles of herbs they'd collected.

"A few of my people have a … gift," Teyla said as she stuffed the bundles in her pack. "We can sense when the Wraith are close by."

"And you trust this gift?" one of the others asked.

Teyla gave the young man a tight smile. She could understand his skepticism, but they did not have time to debate the issue. "The gift has saved many of my people over the years. The Wraith will be here soon. We must get back to the others." She clipped the backpack to her vest and grasped the P-90 hanging from her tac-vest.

Kai-tan led the way through the trees. "The village won't be safe. There are caves in the hills. We have used them in the past to escape the cullings. Our people will go there."

Teyla looked up into the late afternoon sky searching for darts. She knew the Wraith had to be close, and from what she could sense, she knew the attack force would be significant.

Colonel Sheppard had ordered her to return to the village. She knew he would need her assistance protecting the villagers as they tried to escape. The problem was, they were at least a couple of miles from the village. The chances of making it back before the Wraith attacked were small.

Teyla caught up to Kai-tan, reached out, and laid a hand on her arm to stop her. "Where are these caves?" she asked. "Would the villagers be able to reach them before the Wraith attack?"

Kai-tan pointed to the hills in front of them. "The caves are scattered throughout the hillsides. Everyone knows to go there when the Wraith come."

Teyla nodded, then looked up at the sky again. "I believe Colonel Sheppard has a plan for helping your people," she said to Kai-tan. "If possible, we need to return to the village, but we will skirt the hills, just in case."

Kai-tan studied Teyla's face for a moment, then nodded. "This way," she said and pointed through the trees.

It was the best compromise Teyla could think of. She knew Colonel Sheppard would need help protecting the villagers as they made their escape, but she also knew the chances of reaching the village before the Wraith arrived were slim. She needed to protect the small group with her as best she could.

Teyla stepped aside and let Kai-tan lead the way. She took the rear position and kept one eye on the surrounding trees and the other on the sky.

They were still some distance away from the village when Teyla heard the whining buzz of darts overhead, at the same time she saw movement to her right and opened fire. She didn't wait to see if the Wraith was dead or merely stopped as she turned and ran to follow the others.

"Run!" she shouted to Kai-tan and the others. "Head for the caves!"

"This way," Kai-tan replied.

The trees ended before the hills began, but Teyla could see the dark opening for a cave ahead of them. She heard movement behind them again, turned, and fired on the two Wraith coming out of the trees behind her group. The P-90 clicked empty just as the two drones fell, and she quickly reloaded.

"This way! This way!" Kai-tan directed. Teyla glanced behind her and saw Kai-tan waving the others toward the cave in the side of the hill. "Friend Teyla!" Kai-tan shouted. "You must hurry!"

"Go!" she shouted back and shot another Wraith coming out of the trees.

Teyla didn't turn to see if Kai-tan had listened to her. She couldn't afford to be distracted, she knew the Wraith were following them. The cave would not protect Kai-tan and the others for long.

The advancing Wraith had pushed her out of the last of the trees into the open area in front of the hills. Teyla found cover behind a few boulders and waited. She saw movement in the trees and waited until the Wraith were completely exposed before she opened fire, she wasn't going to waste ammunition on Wraith shadows.

When the rifle clicked empty, three Wraith were on the ground, not moving, while two more closed on her position. Teyla dropped the rifle and pulled out her combat knife. She set herself and waited. She knew she was going to die, but she was not going to go down without a fight. Hopefully, it would give Kai-tan and the others a chance to run.

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

Radek entered Rodney's lab the next afternoon, turned on the lights with an absent wave of his hand over the switch, and walked over to the desk. Over the past year, he and McKay had worked out a system of emails and notes for when Rodney was off-world to make sure the scientific research continued without delays, and he checked Rodney's desk for any notes on the science teams' current research.

He had heard more than a few rumors, not to mention off-color jokes about the situation Rodney and Lieutenant Cadman had been in. Knowing what it had cost Rodney in terms of his health, not to mention knowing how close they had come to losing both of them, Radek had not found the humor in the situation and had told more than one member of the various science teams to drop the subject.

He didn't blame Rodney in the least for wanting to escape the scrutiny and was quietly thankful Carson and Colonel Sheppard had found a way to get him off-world for a few days. Hopefully, by the time they returned, the rumor mill would have moved on.

He shuffled through the various folders and reports on the desk and froze when he found a pad of paper with notes for the dart's power systems in Rodney's handwriting. In amongst the various calculations and scratched out ideas on ways to improve the stability of the system, there was also a scrawled message to him.

Radek,
On the off chance I don't come up with a brilliant solution,
I've told Elizabeth to make you the head of the department.
Thanks for … well, trying, I guess.
I know I'm leaving my city in good hands.
RM

Radek stared at the sheet of paper in stunned silence for a moment. Rodney was not one to overtly show appreciation to anyone. He tore the note off the pad, carefully folded it, and put it in his pocket.

Not finding any other notes about the on-going work for the department, Radek turned to the work table. Rodney's email had said something about a computer and various calculations he needed Zelenka to check. Radek had expected to find one computer running the calculations, what he found instead were four different machines seemingly running different programs.

"What is all of this?" he muttered as he sat down in front of one of the computers. He read the data scrolling across the screen. "You were running statistical models? Of what?"

He glanced at the next computer working on a database search.

"Planet coordinates?" he asked the room as he read the information from the database.

He looked over the work table and found the hard drive with the data from the dart plugged into a third computer.

"Yes, yes, I see," he muttered. He went back to the first computer and studied the calculations again. "Oh, that is … Yes, that could work." He typed a few new lines of code and waited for the results.

"Doctor McKay?" a voice called from the doorway.

Radek looked up and found Doctor Katie Brown standing just outside the lab, a puzzled look on her face and her hands clasped tightly in front of her. "I was looking for Rod -- Doctor McKay," she said and looked around the lab. "I don't suppose you've seen him?"

"He left on a mission yesterday afternoon," Radek told her and waved her into the room. "He did not tell you?" he asked as she walked into the lab.

Doctor Brown shook her head and looked at the computers scattered across the work table. She wandered around the room, looking at the desk, and then the shelves full of Ancient artefacts before she stopped at the end of the work table across from Radek.

Zelenka sat back from the table and gave Doctor Brown a tight-lipped smile.

He had known for months about Rodney's many aborted dates with the botanist and wondered how much Rodney had told her about the accident or what had really happened during their date.

Knowing Rodney, it wasn't much, he thought to himself as he watched Doctor Brown pick up part of the new shield emitter Rodney had been working on, then set it back on the table. He suddenly wondered if McKay was trying to avoid more than just base gossip by leaving the city.

The only reason Radek knew as much as he did was because he had been in the infirmary when Doctor Heightmeyer explained what had happened during her session with Rodney that led to the seizure. He wasn't sure if Rodney had even told Colonel Sheppard the whole story.

"Doctor Brown? Are you all right?" Radek asked after another awkward silence.

She gave him a sad smile and picked up another stray component from the end of the table and fiddled with it.

"Is Rodney all right?" she asked. "I haven't seen him since our … date." She ducked her head and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "I get the feeling he's avoiding me."

Radek sighed and shook his head, unsure what to say as his hypothesis was confirmed.

"I'm sure that's not --" he started to say.

Doctor Brown smiled and shook her head. "Lieutenant Cadman found me at breakfast this morning. She told me what happened the other night and apologised."

Radek made a silent 'Oh' and looked at the computer running the simulation. One of the projected routes for the Wraith ship caught his attention, and he focused on the screen, not paying attention to what Doctor Brown said next.

"Ne, ne, ne. To nemůže být správné," he muttered under his breath and reran the last simulation again.

The simulation finished, plotted out the same course.

"Mary Matka Boží," Zelenka cursed.

" … I was hoping Rodney would be here so we could talk," Brown finished.

Radek realised he hadn't heard a word she'd said, but he didn't have time to worry about it now.

"I'm sorry, Doctor Brown," Radek told her as he unplugged the computer running the simulation and stood up from the table. "I need to speak to Doctor Weir right away."

"Is everything all right?" she asked, clearly confused as Radek herded her out of the lab and closed the door.

"I don't think so," he said cryptically and headed for the transporter.

Radek hurried across the bridge from the control room to the glassed-in office, relieved when he saw Elizabeth sitting at her desk, reading something in a file.

"Elizabeth?" he said as he stopped in the doorway.

"Radek," she replied as she looked up at him with a smile. Something must have shown in his expression as the smile quickly disappeared. Elizbeth glanced at the control room behind him, closed the file, and waved him into the office. "What's wrong?"

Radek perched on the edge of one of the chairs in front of her desk and handed over the computer.

Elizabeth studied the screen for a moment, then looked over at him. "What am I looking at?"

Radek pushed up his glasses and pursed his lips. "Before they left, Rodney had asked me for the computer data from the Wraith dart." He paused as Elizabeth looked down at her hands. "In an email he sent me, he asked me to check on some calculations he was working on while he was gone. When I went to his lab, I found several computers on his work table, sorting through the information we recovered."

"All right," Elizabeth said. "What has you so concerned?"

Radek came around the desk and pointed to a tiny dot covered by a line. "The calculations on this computer seem to be a projected trajectory of the hive ship the dart belonged to."

Radek looked at Elizabeth and waited for her to figure out the rest. When she only gazed back at him in confusion, Zelenka sighed and said, "If Rodney's math is correct, the hive ship is heading for this system next."

Elizabeth studied the screen again. "How much time do we have before the Wraith reach that system? I'm not sure we will have time to warn any people on those planets."

Radek shook his head. "No, no, you do not understand. That system includes the planet Drellim."

Elizabeth looked over at him, shock and worry evident in her expression. "You're sure? I spoke to Colonel Sheppard a few hours ago. Everything seemed fine."

Radek pushed up his glasses and nodded. "The Wraith could be there at any time. It's been almost a week since the dart was shot down on Thenora."

Elizabeth stood from her desk and hurried into the control room. "Chuck, have we heard anything from Colonel Sheppard's team?"

Chuck looked up from his console in surprise. "No, ma'am, not since they sent the supplies through this morning. They aren't due to check in again until tomorrow."

Elizabeth glanced at Radek. "Dial the planet," she ordered Chuck.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, and quickly entered the address.

Radek watched as the chevrons lit up one by one until the last refused to engage.

Chuck glanced up at Elizabeth. "We can't seem to connect to the 'gate on Drellim."

Radek hurried over to one of the computers and ran a diagnostic of the 'gate systems. "There is nothing wrong on our end," he reported.

"Try dialling again," Elizabeth ordered.

Chuck punched in the address, but the wormhole refused to form as the 'gate shut down before the last chevron could engage.

"Elizabeth?" Radek said, letting the worry show on his face and in his tone.

She shook her head. "I know," she replied. "Where is the Daedalus?"

Chuck shook his head. "No way to be sure. They should have left Earth a week ago. Which means they won't be in radio contact with us for at least another two days."

"As soon as they are in range, send a message diverting them to Drellim," Elizabeth told Chuck. "Tell Colonel Caldwell, we have information indicating the planet may have been attacked by the Wraith, and we have personnel missing."

Chuck swallowed. "Yes, ma'am," he whispered.

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

Rodney groaned and slowly opened his eyes; not that it really mattered. Wherever he was, the light was dim, and the ground felt cold. He was on his side, and there was something thick and sturdy looking, a meter from his face. He was still trying to figure out what had happened when he heard a high-pitched buzzing coming from somewhere above him and the space around him was lit briefly by the light of a culling beam passing nearby.

Wraith! his mind screamed, and he jerked upright only to fall back on his side with a moan of agony as his head pounded in time with his heart and his chest felt like it was encased in a vice.

Rodney closed his eyes and tried to breathe through the pain.

Where was John? he wondered. Teyla? Ronon? Had they all left him alone wherever he was? That didn't seem right. He needed to find the others.

He rolled onto his back, felt something wet along the side of his face, and winced when his probing fingers found the source of the wetness near his temple. He curled his other arm against his side and stared at his bloody fingers for a moment.

Why was he bleeding? And when did it get so dark?

He was still staring at his bloody fingers when he heard the buzz of another dart overhead and memory crashed back into place.

Darts. Wraith.

He'd been searching for the strange power fluctuations when he'd heard the darts. He'd been running when the ground gave way underneath him. He felt his heart skip a beat when he realised he had fallen into some sort of cave. He looked up and saw sunlight through a hole over his head and slightly to his left.

Breathe, he told himself, and closed his eyes when he realised he was trapped.

Don't panic, he ordered. Think about big fields, wide-open sky.

He remembered the feeling of flying the jumper with Sheppard. All of space in front of him as they visited one of the planet's moons.

Where was Sheppard? he wondered again. He remembered hearing gunfire over the radio right before the signal cut out. Had John been able to find a place to hide from the attack?

Rodney's breathing hitched. Sheppard wouldn't hide; he'd stand and fight. Which meant Ronon and Teyla would stand with him. Rodney felt his heart racing again at the idea of Sheppard and the others culled by the Wraith while he lay trapped in a cave.

He heard another dart zip past above him and cringed away from the hole as the glow from its culling beam lit up the space around him.

"Get away … from the opening," he chastised himself and dragged himself to the nearest wall. He had no idea what would happen if only part of his body was caught in one of the beams but assumed it would not be good.

He sat with his back against the wall and his arms wrapped around his chest, trying to breathe.

It had to be a hive, he realised a few moments later. Nothing else made sense.

Which meant they were all screwed. There was no way Sheppard would be able to fight off a hive ship with a couple of P-90s and a particle blaster.

He needed to get out of this hole. He needed to find a way to help his team before it was too late. He rested his head against the wall behind him, closed his eyes, and tried to think around the headache.

Rodney was still pondering how to get out of the cave when he heard something move nearby. He opened his eyes and looked around, but he still couldn't make out much in the gloom.

Was it some sort of animal? he wondered, then swallowed as another thought hit him. Had the Wraith drone fallen into the cave with him and was about to suck the life out of him?

He drew the Beretta with one shaking hand and pointed it in the direction of the noise.

"Need light," he muttered, and patted his vest pockets looking for the tiny flashlight he always carried. He froze and looked around in surprise when the walls around him started to glow.

Rodney forgot about his aching head and throbbing side when he saw where he was. This wasn't a cave after all. He was in a room. A room with consoles and screens and two doors leading away from the room he was in. A room that responded to a mental command for more light.

He looked around the room again as the light increased further and realised he was in some sort of Ancient structure. The strange energy readings the scanner had picked up were coming from here, he realised as he looked around. They had to be.

As the light increased, he discovered it wasn't an animal moaning and shifting near him, or a Wraith about to attack him, but someone lying on the ground about a meter away, on the other side of a clearly damaged console.

It took a moment for his fuzzy mind to remember Beckett had been with him as they tried to escape the Wraith drone.

"Carson?" Rodney said, and mindful of his sore head and aching side, he crawled over to the body-shaped lump on the ground.

He found Beckett lying on his side, his eyes closed, and the leg of his trousers red with blood.

"Carson?" he called again and holstered the weapon. He glanced at Carson's bloody trousers and frowned when he saw the jagged tear in Beckett's leg just above the knee. The knee itself already looked swollen. He remembered the broken console, glanced up at it, and spied the shattered crystal tiles, several of them also stained with blood.

"This is bad," Rodney muttered to himself as he touched Carson's shoulder. "Carson? Can you … hear me?"

Beckett twitched at Rodney's touch. "R'dn'y?" he murmured and tried to roll onto his back.

"Yeah," Rodney replied and saw another cut across Beckett's cheek. "Don't move … I need … to get this … bleeding stopped."

Beckett frowned and started to reach down, but Rodney stopped him. "Leave it alone," he admonished and pulled a pressure bandage out of a vest pocket. He didn't know if there were still shards from the tiles embedded in Beckett's leg, but he knew he had to get the bleeding stopped first; otherwise, it wouldn't matter.

He wrapped the thick bandage around Carson's leg and couldn't hide his own moan of pain when he tied the straps.

He felt Carson's hand on his arm as he tried to get his breathing under control. "You're hurt," Carson whispered, and tried to push himself more upright.

"Of course … I'm hurt," Rodney snapped impatiently. "We fell … almost … seven meters … I think … one of the … consoles … broke our fall." He swiped at the blood still dripping down his face with the sleeve of his jacket.

Another dart whined past overhead, and Rodney glanced up at the small opening above them. The Wraith were still out there, he reminded himself. How much time had he wasted already? Sheppard and the others were still in danger and needed help.

Like you can do something stuck down here, he growled to himself and leaned his back against the wall, one arm protectively wrapped around his chest.

"Any ideas on how to get out of here?" Carson asked as he slowly pulled himself up and leant against the wall next to Rodney.

Rodney ignored the question focusing on Beckett and the way he cradled his right arm against his chest. "What's wrong … with your arm?"

Carson looked down at his hand and grimaced. "I think my wrist is broken," he replied.

Rodney hissed in sympathy. "How bad?"

Carson shook his head. "Bones aren't displaced. Might just be a bad sprain. Will need an x-ray to be sure."

Which we don't have, Rodney thought to himself. He patted at the pockets of his vest and found a roll of gauze. "Would this help?" he asked and held up the roll.

Beckett nodded. "It certainly won't hurt," he replied.

Rodney scooted close enough to reach, and followed Beckett's instructions on how to wrap the wrist.

Once he was done, Carson flexed his fingers and nodded. "Good job," he said to Rodney with a smile. "I may make a field medic of you yet."

Rodney snorted, then winced. "Not likely," he replied and looked around the room again.

"It's Ancient," he muttered a moment later, and carefully climbed to his feet.

"Rodney?" Carson questioned. "I don't think you should be moving about."

"I am … such an … idiot," Rodney chastised himself, ignoring Carson's concern as he shuffled over to one of the consoles. He looked over the tiles and turned back to Beckett. "Don't you … get it? … Whatever … this is … it's Ancient … The lights came on … when I … thought about it."

Rodney touched the edge of the console and watched as a few of the tiles glowed with a dim light. Wherever they were, the structure still had power. Thoughts of a second Zed-PM for Atlantis danced in his head as he studied the tiles in front of him and pressed one. The screen over the console lit up and showed him a schematic of the structure. Rodney studied it for a moment, then stepped back in surprise.

"All right, it's Ancient," Beckett replied. "How does that --"

"It's a ship," Rodney whispered, looking at the walls again as he spun around. He groaned when he moved too fast and clutched at his ribs.

"Rodney, sit down before you make yourself worse," Carson ordered, his voice breathy with pain and lacking its usual authority.

Rodney waved off the order with his right hand while he held his ribs with his left. "Shut up … I'm trying … to think."

It's a ship, he realised as he slowly moved to one of the doors and stared down a hallway. Debris blocked the hallway roughly fifteen meters away. How does being inside a ship help them? he wondered. He rubbed his head and grimaced when his fingers found the still-bleeding cut near his temple.

He could still hear darts zipping back and forth outside. Whatever he was going to do, he needed to do it soon. The team aside, he didn't know if the Wraith drone was still somewhere nearby, about to find the hole they'd fallen through and attack them again.

Drones. The word rattled around in his aching head for a moment until the light dawned and he snapped his fingers a few times.

"It's a ship," he muttered. He wandered back to the engineering console and studied the tiles. "If it's a ship, it has to have defences." He pressed a series of tiles one-handed and read the information on the screen.

"Yes," he hissed. "I knew there had to be one." He turned back to Beckett and the open door in the wall beside him.

The question was, did the ship still have enough power to run the control chair, and more importantly, were there any drones left? The ship had obviously crashed. Was that before or after it had run out of the missiles? he wondered.

Rodney was a few steps away from the doorway when Carson held up a hand and forced him to stop.

"Where are you going?" Carson asked, and tried to stand.

Rodney saw Carson's face pale as his leg gave out under him, and Beckett sank back down to the floor with a groan.

"Stop moving," Rodney told him, and stopped near the doorway.

"You're one to talk," Beckett replied with a frown as he looked up at Rodney. "I have eyes, you know. I can tell your ribs are bruised, if not outright broken and that cut on your head is still bleeding. You shouldn't be moving about either."

Rodney frowned as he touched the cut on his head and leant against the wall beside Beckett. "I need to get … to the next room … We're the only ones … who can do … something," he muttered.

"I don't follow," Carson replied. "What do you think we can do from down here?"

"This is a ship," Rodney said, and glanced down expectantly at Beckett.

"So you said," Carson replied, obviously not getting the point.

"An Ancient ship," Rodney told him, and waited for Beckett to put the pieces together.

"You found a control chair?" Beckett asked, and Rodney heard the combination of surprise and hope in his tone.

"Yes," Rodney replied. "Assuming … I can get there … and assuming … there are still … drones onboard … maybe I can … do something … about all of those … Wraith outside."

Carson pursed his lips. "Maybe I should go instead," he offered. "I've had more practice."

Rodney shook his head. "You can't … walk … Besides …" He looked down the hall. "You don't …" He pointed to the Beretta. "You don't … kill things."

Beckett frowned. "And you do?"

Rodney shrugged and refused to look at Beckett.

"You've never even used the control chair before," Carson said after a brief silence.

Rodney gave him a crooked smile. "First time … for everything … then."

Beckett studied him for a moment then asked. "Will your idea work?"

Rodney pushed away from the wall. "Only one way … to find out."

"What about us? You said we fell in here. If the ship is buried, what will happen to us when the drones launch?"

Rodney swallowed. He'd been trying very hard not to think about the fact that he was basically trapped in another cave, albeit a cave full of Ancient technology, but still a cave.

"I don't know," Rodney admitted. "Depending on where … the drones launch from … I could blow a hole … in the ship … or bury both of us … alive." Rodney ducked his head and pressed his arm against his side.

"Rodney, you need to sit down," Carson told him, and started to stand again.

Rodney let out a bark of sarcastic laughter and groaned as his side throbbed. "I intend to … Just as soon … as I find … the control chair."

He watched as Beckett looked around the dimly lit room. "Can you even be sure the ship has enough power for the chair to work?"

Rodney glanced over at Carson and tried to stand straight. "I'm not sure … what else to do," he admitted softly. "Sheppard … and the others … don't have enough firepower … to fend off … a hive ship."

Carson shifted and winced as he jarred his leg. "It may not be a hive ship," he offered.

Rodney shook his head. "Has to be. Darts … wouldn't be able … to get through the 'gate … with all of those trees … in the way."

"Aye, I suppose not," Carson said sadly, then looked up at Rodney. "Go. Do what you have to."

Rodney nodded and left the room. Thankfully, the control chair was close. He didn't want to tell Carson how much his side ached when he tried to breathe and moving only made it worse.

He paused in the next doorway and spotted the chair in the middle of the room, raised off the floor by a couple of steps. He had a flash of memory of the Entry Room and what had happened with the dual chairs. He gave the rest of the room a wary glance.

"Those systems … were specific … to Atlantis," he reminded himself, and sank down on the edge of the chair, savoring the fact he was no longer moving.

He'd never had broken ribs before, but he remembered how much pain Sheppard had been in when they were trapped in the jumper on Lurra. He suddenly had a new appreciation for how John must have felt.

He carefully settled back in the chair, rested his hands on the pads, and took as deep a breath as he could.

"Here goes nothing," he muttered and concentrated on powering up the chair.

Chapter Text

John ducked behind a tree as the Wraith drone in front of him fired another stunner. He waited for the blast to pass him, then turned around and fired at the Wraith. He heard the whine from Ronon's blaster on his left and saw another drone go down.

"Ronon!" he shouted and waited for Dex to glance over at him. "The villagers are clear. Fall back."

Dex nodded and started to move while Sheppard laid down cover fire. Once Ronon was in a new position, he covered John as Sheppard fell back several yards and found cover behind a boulder.

So far, their strategy was working. Jor-tan couldn't give him an exact distance from the village to the caves, but John thought it had to be at least a couple of miles. He and Ronon had acted as a rearguard, covering the villagers as best they could as Jor-tan's people ran for the safety of the caves.

John wasn't sure if the darts had managed to cull any of the villagers yet. He could only hope their actions would minimise the losses.

He checked the surrounding woods and glanced down at the clear magazine for the P-90. He had a couple of dozen rounds left. John checked his vest pocket and found one more full magazine.

It was probably too much to hope the Wraith would give up soon and leave, he thought wryly as he balanced the rifle on the top of the boulder and fired at the three Wraith coming toward him.

He dropped one, Ronon shot the other two, and John quickly reloaded.

Like that's going to happen, he snorted to himself as he searched their backtrail for more targets.

"Sheppard!" Ronon yelled, and John glanced over at Dex in time to see him firing behind them.

"Damn it!" Sheppard looked quickly to his right and found more Wraith coming out of the trees. They'd been outflanked on the ground, and several darts were closing in above them. He opened fire and backed up until he and Ronon were back-to-back. "Villagers?" he asked.

"Clear," Dex replied and fired again. "Saw them run into the cave."

John nodded and shot another drone. "Any bright ideas?"

"Go down fighting and take as many of them with us as we can."

John checked his remaining ammunition. "As plans go, it could use some work."

"It was always my plan," Ronon said and fired again.

John dropped another Wraith just as the rifle clicked empty. He managed to take down another using the Beretta, then he was out of ammunition.

"Well, it seems we're going with your plan," John said as he pulled out his combat knife and readied himself for another attack. Four more Wraith closed in around them from the surrounding trees, their staff weapons pointed at John and Ronon.

John was completely unprepared for what happened next.

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

For a split second, Rodney wondered what would happen when the chair powered up. His only two frames of reference with regard to using the chair were Sheppard and Carson. John made using the chair seem effortless, while Beckett struggled to make the device do the simplest things.

Which would he be? he wondered, and hoped for something similar to Sheppard's level of effortless control. With a hive ship in orbit, Rodney didn't have the time or the energy to fight with the Ancient systems.

The Entry Room chair had activated without much effort on his part, he reminded himself. Would the control chair act the same way even though it didn't rely on the link he shared with Sheppard?

Rodney took another breath and focused on the chair. To his delight, the chair reclined and powered up easily. Information streamed across his consciousness, and he groaned slightly as the headache increased.

He'd been right, he realised as he read the data floating above him. He was inside an Ancient ship. He scanned through more of the data and discovered the Ancients had sent the ship to defend Drellim from a Wraith attack ten thousand years ago, but the ship had been shot down before it could do much to defend the planet.

"Weapons," he muttered, half to himself, and half to the ship. "Tell me you still have drones."

A targeting screen flashed in front of his eyes along with a tally of drones still available. He swallowed when he saw the number of darts swarming the planet. He looked up, and the tracking system followed his mind as it found the hive ship in orbit around the planet.

Which should he deal with first? he wondered. The darts or the hive ship?

Deal with the biggest problem first, Sheppard's voice echoed in his head.

"Hive ship it is," he muttered, and concentrated on launching the missiles.

Rodney felt the floor shudder violently as the drones launched and wondered what damage he'd done to the ship as a result. The heads up display showed him the path of a dozen missiles as they shot skyward and swarmed the hive ship. The scientific side of his mind tried to calculate the energy requirements necessary for the drones to make multiple passes through the hive ship while the rest of his mind tracked the trajectories themselves and made sure every hit counted.

He winced as the heads up flashed with the destruction of the hive ship, notching his headache up another level. That was the easy part, he grimly reminded himself.

The hive ship was huge, and it wasn't moving very fast in relation to where he was on the planet. Not even he could miss hitting it. The darts and any Wraith soldiers still on the ground would be a different matter. They were much smaller and moving, and in the case of the darts, moving quickly.

He shifted slightly in the chair, forced himself not to rub his aching head, and focused on the heads up display. Sheppard made using the chair look so easy. Rodney had had no idea the level of concentration required for John to make the system work.

Maybe he should be a bit more patient the next time Beckett told him something wasn't as simple as it looked, he thought wryly. His head was pounding, and the constant stream of information crossing in front of his eyes only made it worse.

Rodney tried to relax and forced himself to focus. There were still a dozen or more darts in the sky, flitting hither and yon, either not knowing or not caring that their hive ship was destroyed. He launched the remaining Ancient drones and did his best to direct the missiles taking out as many of the darts as possible. Luckily for him, most of the darts were flying close to one another, and he could use one drone to take out several ships at a time. Dozens of explosions lit up the heads up display. Rodney moaned softly and squeezed his eyes shut.

With the darts gone, there weren't that many Wraith signatures left on the map. The ones he saw were all moving in the same direction, and Rodney realised they were heading for the stargate.

He checked the heads up display, looking for any more drones he could send into the horde of Wraith bodies massed in front of the 'gate, but didn't find any. A new screen activated on the display telling him the stargate had been activated, and he watched as the remaining Wraith life signs disappeared.

Rodney had another idea and was searching through the data on the heads up display for information on the planet the Wraith had dialled when a warning message flashed across the display too fast for him to read. Before he had a chance to think about what the warning could be, the screen blinked and told him the 'gate had suddenly shut down.

Rodney saw there were still a few Wraith life signs near the 'gate, but he was out of drones, and his head had had enough. He powered down the chair, tried to stand, and groaned as he fell out of the chair, landing on his right side.

He'd been running on fear and adrenaline ever since the Wraith drone had found them near the clearing. His head was pounding, his chest hurt with every breath, and he lay curled on his side, with his eyes closed. He'd done what he could for the people on the planet. He hoped it had been enough. He hoped Sheppard and the others were still alive. He hoped someone would find them soon.

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

The blade of Teyla's knife slashed across the arm of the Wraith closest to her. The drone flailed at her with its other arm, and Teyla quickly backed up and ducked under its reach, stabbing it in the leg. The drone fell to its knees, and she turned to the other drone coming at her from behind. Teyla tried the same trick again, but this time the knife wedged in the drone's leg and was pulled from her grip.

Teyla rolled away from the two injured drones, found a long, fairly straight branch, snapped it in half, and waited for the two Wraith to attack again. The first Wraith was back up and coming toward her when she felt the ground shudder and roll under her feet. Teyla fought to keep her balance as the ground trembled, but fell to her knees. Both of the drones stopped short and managed to stay upright as the ground continued to shake.

The earthquake stopped as quickly as it started and the two Wraith closed on her again. Teyla quickly rolled to her feet with the two pieces of branch ready. The Wraith drones closed in again. Teyla was set and ready to attack when the drones stopped again, this time clutching their heads.

Before Teyla could figure out why the two Wraith had stopped their attack, she saw a flash of light in the sky and felt a dull pain in her head. She closed her eyes and rubbed her head, forcing herself to push the pain aside. She couldn't afford to be distracted. She heard the whine of a dart overhead, and ducked back into what cover the trees offered.

A few moments later, the ground shook again, rolling and bucking under her. The two Wraith drones fell, but this time it was Teyla who managed to stay on her feet. She saw what appeared to be an Atlantean drone shoot past her and the dart hovering nearby blew up. Teyla dropped to the ground and covered her head as debris from the dart landed around her. When she looked up a few seconds later, the two Wraith soldiers had disappeared.

Teyla slowly climbed to her feet and looked around. She found her combat knife on the ground nearby, picked it up, along with her P-90, and stared into the trees where the two Wraith drones had vanished.

"Friend Teyla?" Kai-tan said from behind her. "Is it over? Have the Wraith gone?"

"It would appear so," she replied and turned around. "I believe it is safe to return to the village."

"You are a mighty warrior indeed," the young man next to Kai-tan said as they started back through the forest. "We will tell stories of this day!"

Teyla gave him a gentle smile. "I am not sure I am the one to thank for the Wraith leaving," she said.

"What happened?" Kai-tan asked.

"I am not entirely certain," Teyla admitted. "There was …" she glanced at the villagers hanging on her every word and changed her mind as to what to say next. "Something managed to destroy the darts flying overhead. For some reason, this also caused the Wraith soldiers on the ground to retreat. I am no longer sensing any Wraith nearby."

She watched as the villagers stared up at the sky. Teyla wasn't sure how to explain about the defences of the Ancestors. She was simply happy Colonel Sheppard had managed to activate the drone weapons and repel the attack.

She tapped her radio and heard an odd hissing noise through the earpiece. "Colonel Sheppard, this is Teyla. Please come in." She waited a moment then said, "Ronon, it is Teyla. Please respond." She tried Rodney and Doctor Beckett as well and frowned when the only reply was more static.

She looked up and found Kai-tan and the others watching her, their expressions full of empathy.

Teyla brushed aside their silent offerings of sympathy. "We need to return to the village," she told the others with a faint smile. "Your friends and families will be concerned, I am sure."

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

One of the two Wraith soldiers coming toward him had another of the stun weapons, and John was wondering how he could get it away from the drone when his buddy charged forward. John ducked the attack, stabbed the second drone in the back and wrenched the knife out as it went down.

"One down, three to go," John muttered and dove away from the culling beam that shot down from overhead. "Close, John," he told himself, "A little too close."

He ducked as the Wraith with the stunner took a shot at him. Sheppard waited a beat then charged the Wraith, hoping the element of surprise would give him enough of an edge to get the stunner away from the soldier and maybe turn the tide of the fight.

He caught a glimpse of Ronon on the other side of the boulder John had used for cover earlier fighting one of the other Wraith drones with the sword he'd had strapped to his back. John didn't see the particle weapon anywhere. John only caught a glimpse of the fourth Wraith on the ground, not moving, before the two Wraith near him closed on him again.

John heard more darts near the caves and glanced up. He hoped Jor-tan and his people were far enough inside to escape the culling beams. His momentary distraction was enough for the drone with the stunner to hit him in the solar plexus with the staff. He dropped to his knees with a groan and tried to duck away as the drone raised the staff to hit him again.

His balance was thrown off as the ground shook slightly. John looked up to see Ronon not far away, roll back to his feet and lunge with the sword at the Wraith on the ground in front of him. John planted his feet, ready for the Wraith to attack him again.

The drone closed on him, and John was ready to grab the staff weapon when he saw a brilliant flash of light in the sky. He glanced over at Ronon, who was also looking up in surprise.

Their reaction was nothing compared to the Wraith. Both Wraith soldiers in front of John staggered back a few steps, clutching their heads. Before John could take advantage of the situation, both Wraith turned and ran back into the trees.

John was still trying to figure out what had just happened when he felt the ground shudder again, spotted the swarm of yellow lights heading toward the darts, and shouted, "Take cover!" just before the Atlantean drones blew the darts to pieces.

Drones? John wondered as fragments from the destroyed darts rained down on him. Where did the Drellimians get Ancient defence weapons?

His musings on automated Ancient defence systems was cut short when he saw Ronon scoop up his gun from the ground and run after the Wraith escaping into the trees.

"Ronon!" John shouted. "Ronon! Stop!"

Dex either didn't hear him or didn't care and kept going.

"Damn it!" Sheppard exclaimed. He stopped long enough to grab his rifle and Beretta off the ground and started after Dex.

"Friend Sheppard?" Jor-tan called from behind him.

"The Wraith have left," John told him. "Get your people back to the village. We'll meet you back there once we clean up the stragglers."

John didn't wait to see what Jor-tan did. The Wraith and Ronon had a head start on him, and he needed to catch up before Dex did something stupid. Something else, stupid, he amended as he ducked under a branch.

He caught up with Dex just in time to see him fire on the last few Wraith running for the active 'gate. Unfortunately, the Wraith Ronon was aiming at, dodged, and the blast from the particle gun hit the edge of the DHD sending out sparks. The 'gate shut down with a snap leaving a few startled Wraith standing in front of it.

John saw the feral grin on Ronon's face as he shot the remaining Wraith and Sheppard growled in frustration.

"What the hell were you thinking?" John demanded angrily as he stopped next to Ronon.

Dex surveyed the dead Wraith near the 'gate and turned to John with a glare. "That I wasn't going to let any of them get away," he replied as he holstered his gun.

"Seems we are going to have to set some ground rules," John informed him. "Things like, you don't go charging off without backup."

"What's your problem?" Ronon asked with a scowl. "We won."

John shook his head and pointed to the damaged DHD. "Yeah, the Wraith may be gone for now, but how are we going to get back to Atlantis with the DHD shot to hell?"

Sheppard watched as Ronon walked over to the DHD and pressed one of the glyphs. The tile remained dark. Ronon tried a few of the other tiles, and when they didn't light up either, he gave John a sideways look and backed away.

Dex started to say something, but John cut him off.

"Come on, we need to get back to the village," he said and started back up the path. "You get to be the one to tell McKay what happened to the DHD." John tried to make his tone light, but in reality, he just hoped Rodney was still alive to complain about what Ronon had done to the delicate device.

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

Rodney had disappeared into the next room a few minutes before, and Carson was beginning to wonder if his plan to use the chair would work when the floor heaved suddenly and he heard a number of thumps and bangs echoing along the hallway.

Carson braced himself as best he could as the ship shuddered under him again. There was a loud crash on the other side of the room, and he dragged himself over to the doorway, hoping the reinforced arch would provide some protection as the rest of the ship shook around him.

He stared around the room, wide-eyed as the shaking continued. The light in the room dimmed, then returned, and Carson saw dirt and plant debris sifting down from the hole in the ceiling they had fallen through.

How long ago? he wondered and glanced down at his watch only to discover the crystal was broken.

"Can't have been more than half an hour," he muttered, and let out the breath he'd been holding when the shaking stopped as suddenly as it started.

Carson waited another few seconds, and when it seemed like the ship was done tossing him about, he started to uncurl from the doorway. He was half-in and half-out of the arch when the ship gave another heave, sending more dirt and tree branches down into the room.

Carson yelped and pulled himself back under the questionable safety of the doorway. His leg throbbed at the sudden movement, changing Beckett's yelp of surprise into a groan of pain. He glanced up at the arch for the door and muttered under his breath when he saw a crack forming above him.

The ship stopped shaking again, and this time Carson stared out into the room for several long seconds then up at the cracked doorway before he decided it was safe to move. He crawled out of the doorway and leant against the wall just inside the console room where they'd landed. The ship groaned and creaked as it settled around him and he held his breath, waiting to see what would happen next. When the noise stopped, he glanced up at the hole in the ceiling, now partially blocked by a tree, and watched as dirt sifted down, creating a haze in the air.

The dusty air made him sneeze several times, which in turn, caused his leg and wrist to flare with pain each time his body jerked. He looked down as his leg and frowned when he saw the blood spotting the bandage.

"Of all the times to leave your medical kit behind," he chastised himself as he tried to peek under the bandage.

He patted his vest pockets, found two antiseptic wipes and another pressure bandage, along with a few large bandages, his canteen, and several power bars. "No suture kit," he muttered with a glance at his leg. He hadn't had a chance to get much of a look at what he'd done to himself but suspected the wound needed a right cleaning and stitching.

He glanced around the rest of the room as he started to untie the pressure bandage. A metal support had fallen across another of the console stations, breaking more of the crystal control tiles. Dirt and debris covered more of the consoles, and the light that glowed from the walls was dim compared to before all of the shaking had started.

Were the lights fading due to damage to the ship? he wondered, or something else? Rodney could tell him, he was sure.

Rodney.

Carson turned and glanced down the hallway where Rodney had disappeared several minutes before.

"Rodney?" Carson called and waited a few moments hoping to see McKay returning, but the hall remained empty.

"Lovely," Carson muttered to himself. "Rodney! Answer me!" he called again, this time louder, and waited to hear any sort of response.

"The chair room was close," Carson said to himself. "He should have heard me. The fact he's not answering …" Carson didn't like where his thoughts were going. If Rodney wasn't answering, it probably meant he couldn't, which meant he needed help.

Carson sighed and glanced down at his leg. His knee was swollen and bruised, and the gash above it still slowly wept blood. Moving was going to hurt. A lot.

"No help for it," he muttered.

He re-tied the pressure bandage as best he could, stuffed the meager medical supplies back in his vest pockets, and tried to stand.

He managed to get halfway up before his leg protested and gave out, dropping him back to the floor with a groan. He waited out the waves of agony, then looked around the room, hoping to find something he could use as a makeshift crutch. The few tree branches he saw were thin and spindly, nothing that would bear his weight.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Right, then. You can do this," he muttered. "No time for having a lie-in, Rodney needs your help."

Carson slowly pulled himself to his feet, gasping as the change in position made his leg throb. This time he managed to get all the way up, and gripped the door frame with one hand as he tried to find his balance on one foot. He gave the pain a moment to recede, then hopped into the hallway, keeping his right hand tight to his chest and his left on the wall for balance.

"Almost there," Carson muttered to himself as he braced himself against the wall for a moment. "Thank god it's only the next room."

Carson hopped through the doorway for the chair room and froze when he saw Rodney curled on the floor in front of the control chair.

"Bloody hell," he whispered even as he hopped across the room.

"Rodney?" he called softly, and sank down on the step next to McKay. "Rodney, can you hear me?"

He laid a hand on Rodney's back, grasped the nearest wrist he could reach and checked McKay's pulse.

Rodney groaned at his touch and shifted on the floor.

"Come on, lad, talk to me," Carson said as he found the steady beat. "Tell me what's wrong."

"Carson?" Rodney whispered and slowly opened his eyes.

"Aye. What happened?"

"Chair. Too much. Head's killing me."

Carson glanced at the chair behind him then down at the blood still oozing from the cut near Rodney's temple. "I don't think it was all the chair's fault, lad," Carson told him as he gently rolled Rodney onto his back and pulled one of the antiseptic wipes out of his vest pocket.

Rodney hissed and tried to move his head away as Carson started to clean off the blood.

"Hold still," Carson admonished.

"That hurts," Rodney replied with a faint version of his usual scowl.

"That's because you gave yourself quite the knock when we fell in here," Carson told him as he finished cleaning off the blood and got a good look at the wound. It was long, but thankfully, not deep. Carson could already see the bruise forming across Rodney's forehead.

"How's your vision? Any nausea?" he asked as he gently probed the edges of the cut.

Rodney winced and closed his eyes. "Using the chair … hurt eyes … and head."

Carson tapped him on the shoulder. "Rodney, open your eyes. You need to stay awake."

"Tired."

"I'm sure you are, but you may be concussed. You need to stay awake." Carson pulled one of the large self-sticking bandages from another pocket. "Hold still." He covered the cut on Rodney's head and stuffed the wrapper for the bandage in his pocket. "That should hold for now," he said.

Rodney sighed, then groaned and tried to curl on his side again.

"Let me see, lad," Carson said, rolling Rodney onto his back. He unzipped the tac-vest and Rodney's jacket, then lifted his shirt.

Carson hissed under his breath when he saw the bruises across Rodney's chest and side. He gently pressed and prodded Rodney's chest checking for any broken ribs. "I don't think you've broken anything," he said with a tiny smile once he was done. "But you are badly bruised."

"No … kidding," Rodney ground out.

He heard Rodney shift on the floor beside him and looked down. "I'm assuming your plan must have worked," Carson said.

Rodney nodded. "Blew up hive … and darts," he replied softly, his eyes focused on the wall in front of him.

Carson watched as Rodney picked at the edge of his jacket sleeve and refused to look at him. He thought back to the Wraith pilot he'd nearly shot on Thenora and squeezed Rodney's shoulder in sympathy. Neither of them was really prepared for what it meant to kill, even if it was a Wraith bent on killing them or someone else.

Beckett reached out and stopped the fingers fiddling with the jacket. "You going to be all right?" he asked, his tone laced with concern.

Rodney took a deep breath, winced, and nodded. "Had to … do something … to save Sheppard … and the others."

Carson nodded.

After another few minutes, Rodney slowly sat up and looked around the room. "We need to … get back to … the other room … Find a way … out."

Carson looked around the spartan chair room. Other than the control chair, there was only a small console against one wall with a screen behind it. What it lacked in amenities, it made up for in sturdiness, however. He didn't see any damage, either from the violent shaking they'd endured earlier or from the fact the ship had been buried for thousands of years.

"Maybe we should stay here," Carson suggested. "This room seems more intact." He was not looking forward to hopping back to the other room.

Rodney shook his head. "The only way out … is over there." He started to point toward the other room, but changed his mind and wrapped his arm around his chest instead. "Maybe … I can build … something … climb out."

Carson didn't bother to hide his skeptical look at that plan. Neither of them was in any shape to be climbing anything. But he also knew Rodney was right. The only certain way out of the ship was by way of the same hole they'd fallen through.

Rodney must have seen the hesitation in Carson's expression and figured out why Beckett was reluctant to move. He climbed to his feet, one arm wrapped protectively around his ribs and held out the other hand to Beckett.

"Come on … I'll help," he offered.

Carson grimaced at the thought of hopping back to the other room. He looked up at Rodney, watching him with his hand out to help and shook his head. He used the control chair instead and carefully levered himself upright.

The trip back to the console room was just as bad as the trip to the chair room. True to his word, Rodney tried to help, but Carson refused to lean on him. The last thing McKay's ribs needed was Beckett falling against him. He wasn't completely certain Rodney only had bruises. If any of his ribs were broken, another fall could be deadly. Instead, Carson chose to hop his way back to the other room using the wall for balance.

Carson entered the console room and sank down with his back against the wall just inside the door. Rodney sat down beside him and closed his eyes. Carson saw the beads of sweat and the pain lines creased across McKay's forehead and suspected he didn't look much better.

Carson closed his eyes and revelled in the fact he was no longer moving. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, trying to rub away the spiky pain in his leg. He must have been nearly asleep when he felt something heavy pressing him into the corner of the wall. Carson opened his eyes and frowned when he realised the heavy object was Rodney slumped against him, his eyes closed and his breathing slow and slightly wheezy.

He shook McKay's arm gently and said, "Rodney, you need to stay awake, remember?"

Rodney groaned but opened his eyes and pushed himself more upright.

Carson kept one eye on McKay as he untied the pressure bandage on his own leg and had his first good look at the jagged tear in his leg. The bleeding had mostly stopped, but he could see a few glints of glass and knew he needed to clean the cut even if he didn't have a way to suture it at the moment.

"Do you think they're still alive?" Carson asked as he took out his knife and slit his trouser leg to the knee.

Rodney blinked and glanced over at Carson. "What?"

"Colonel Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon," Carson explained with a worried glance at Rodney. "Do you think they survived the Wraith attack on the village."

"I don't know," Rodney murmured and ducked his head.

Carson frowned at the guilty expression he saw flit across Rodney's face. What's that all about, then? he wondered.

Carson dug the other antiseptic wipe out of his vest pocket, found a small tweezer in another pocket and set about cleaning his leg wound as best he could. A few pieces of glass were deeply embedded, and Carson hissed in pain as the shards finally came free.

He dabbed at the fresh blood oozing from the cut, glanced over at Rodney, and asked, "Is the link telling you anything?"

Rodney closed his eyes, and Carson saw his brow furrow. A few seconds later, Rodney shook his head and opened his eyes. "Nothing," he replied, and Carson saw the mix of worry and fear in his expression. "Maybe John is too far away," Rodney offered with a hesitant look at Carson.

Carson nodded but didn't say anything as he pulled a clean pressure bandage out of his vest pocket. He wasn't sure what would happen if the day ever came when Sheppard or Rodney died, leaving the other alone. He had no idea what that would mean for the surviving half of a linked pair.

He had searched the Ancient medical database for more information on the mental link after Colonel Sheppard had told him about it, but had found very little. Other than some information on the distance limitations, the rest of the material he had found dealt more with the potential uses for the those who were linked, not how to help them deal with the side effects of the link itself.

"We'll take that to mean he's not injured then," Carson told him with a smile.

Rodney shrugged and shifted against the wall.

Carson picked up the clean pressure bandage and was trying to figure out how he'd get it tied around his leg with only one useful hand when Rodney plucked it out of his hand and tied it for him.

"Thank you," Carson said with a light tap on Rodney's hand once he was done.

Rodney nodded and leant back against the wall.

"We just have to sit tight and wait for Colonel Sheppard and the others to find us," Carson added when Rodney didn't say anything else. "I'm sure they will try to contact us soon."

Rodney stared at him for a moment. "I'm an idiot," he muttered and fumbled for his radio.

"Rodney?" Carson asked.

Rodney shook his head and tapped his radio. "McKay to Sheppard," he said and paused for a moment. "John … can you hear me?" he tried again and glanced at Carson when he didn't get an answer.

Carson tapped his own radio. "Colonel Sheppard, come in, please."

Rodney glanced up at the hole in the ceiling. "There's nothing … blocking the signal."

Carson looked up as well. The hole was partially covered by a fallen tree, but enough light filtered through the branches for him to note it was late afternoon and the sun would be setting soon.

"Why isn't he … answering?" Rodney muttered to himself as he pulled his transceiver out of his vest pocket.

Carson heard a tiny sigh from Rodney and noticed the transceiver was in several pieces.

Is it as simple as a broken radio, though? Carson wondered. He didn't want to consider the all-too-real possibility for why Sheppard wasn't answering the radio.

"Give me … your radio," Rodney ordered. "Maybe I can find enough … working parts to cobble … something together." He closed his eyes and braced his arm against his chest as he took several breaths.

"Maybe you should rest. Then worry about the radio."

Rodney shook his head. "You're the one … who told me … to stay awake." He pointed to the pocket with Carson's radio. "Besides we need to … let someone know … we're still alive."

Carson glanced up at the hole in the ceiling again. There was a certain logic to what Rodney said, he realised and handed over the transceiver.

"Will need a way … to boost the signal," he heard Rodney muttering to himself as he carefully pried the backs off of both transceivers with a screwdriver. "Cut through … any EMP … interference."

Beckett listened with half an ear to Rodney talking to himself as he worked. The light in the room faded as the sun set, and a tiny part of Carson's mind wondered how long Rodney would be able to work on the transceivers before he had to give up for the night.

Carson startled awake sometime later when he felt something bump into him. The only light in the room was from the dim glow of the walls and a tiny flashlight balanced on Rodney's leg. He found Rodney still sitting next to him, holding various radio components connected by a delicate spider web of wires in his hand.

Rodney looked back at him. "Cross your fingers," he said and tapped a button on the edge of one of the components.

There was some noise over the channel, but Carson wasn't sure if that was the result of the interference Rodney had mentioned, or if the static was due to the patch job McKay had done to get the radio to work at all.

"McKay to Sheppard … please come in … John? Hopefully … you're hearing me … Carson and I … are trapped … in an Ancient ship … in the forest." Rodney paused and took a few breaths. "We could really use … a timely rescue … about now. Ow!" he yelped as the contraption in his hand snapped loudly and a spark ran down one of the wires.

Rodney dropped the device and kicked it away with one foot as it started to smoke. "That's it … for the radios," he said to Carson, and dropped his head back until it rested against the wall behind him.

"Do you think Colonel Sheppard heard you?"

"No way to know … for sure. Might be … too much EM … interference … still. Even if it … hadn't caught fire … had to use parts from … the receiver too … No way to … get a reply."

Rodney looked away, and Carson heard him mumble, "If they're even … still alive."

Carson frowned as Rodney sighed and closed his eyes. They were both exhausted and in pain, and now it was night on the planet. Assuming there was still someone alive to hear Rodney's message, Carson doubted there would be any rescue until morning.

He tapped Rodney on the arm and waited until McKay opened his eyes and focused on him. "You realise we're going to be here all night."

Rodney looked up at the now-dark hole above them and nodded.

"What supplies did you bring with you?" Carson asked as he emptied his own pockets.

Rodney fumbled with his vest pockets and added the Ancient scanner, several more power bars, his tools, a pad and pencil, a few medical supplies, an emergency blanket, and the small flashlight to the little pile on the floor between them.

"Canteen … is mostly full too," he added.

Carson sorted through the items on the floor, picked up two of the power bars and handed one to Rodney. "Here. We both could do with eating something."

Beckett finished eating a few minutes later and spread the emergency blanket so it covered them both. He settled in the corner and groaned softly when he made the mistake of moving his leg into a slightly more comfortable position. He sighed and tried to ignore the pain.

"Don't be dead," he heard Rodney whisper a few minutes later. "Please don't be dead."

It took Carson a moment to realise the implications of what Rodney was saying. If Sheppard and the others really were gone, Carson didn't think Rodney would ever be able to forgive himself for shooting down the darts or the hive ship. He sighed, and hoped his fears were unfounded. He knew all they could do now was wait and hope Sheppard and the others were still alive and would find them soon.

Chapter Text

John waited for Ronon to fall in beside him as they walked back through the tunnel of trees near the 'gate.

He tapped his earpiece. "Sheppard to McKay," he said as he walked.

He waited a few seconds, then stopped and tapped the radio again. "Rodney? You and Beckett all right?" There was still no answer, and John heard a persistent static-y hiss over the channel. For a brief moment, he wondered if McKay and Carson had been inside one of the darts that had been destroyed.

"No, they're still alive," he muttered to himself, unwilling to accept the alternative.

"Sheppard to Teyla, come in," John said over the radio. There was no way to miss the look on Ronon's face when all he heard was more static, and Teyla didn't answer either.

"You need to accept they might be gone," Ronon told him.

"Not what I want to hear," John growled, and glared over at Ronon.

"Just saying."

"Well, stop saying it," John retorted. "They're still alive."

Ronon stared at him for a moment, then turned on his heel and started walking back toward the village.

John glared at Ronon's back for a few seconds before he followed. He wasn't going to give up on his people. Not yet, anyway.

John and Ronon walked into what remained of the village an hour later. Jor-tan's house was still standing, though several of the windows were gone and part of the roof at the back of the house appeared to have caved in. Many of the other buildings showed similar damage and a few, like the pub, were little more than piles of rubble.

"Friend Sheppard," Jor-tan greeted as he stepped out from a huddle of villagers surrounding a pyre built in a wide clearing at the edge of the village. "We owe you and your people a great debt."

John shook his head and watched as a slow procession carried several shrouded bodies from one of the buildings toward the pyre. "How many of your people did you lose?" he asked with a sideways glance at Jor-tan.

"Very few, it seems," Jor-tan replied and wiped his eyes as the last of the bodies were placed on the platform above the waiting wood. "They were fed upon," Jor-tan added softly as the fire was lit.

The wood was dry and well seasoned, it didn't take long for the flames to reach the platform. Once the pyre was fully engulfed, John heard a low keening from the mourners surrounding the fire.

Jor-tan placed his hands together, palm-to-palm, raised his hands to his forehead, then down to his chest and bowed his head.

John and Ronon stood to one side as the villagers finished their ceremony and slowly walked away, leaving the fire to burn down throughout the rest of the day.

Jor-tan turned toward his house, and John and Ronon fell into step beside him.

"You were lucky," Ronon said. "I would have expected more losses with that many Wraith."

Jor-tan clasped his hands in front of him. "Most of my people were able to reach the caves, thanks to you and Friend Sheppard."

Jor-tan sighed and looked out toward the forest. "There are still many missing, however, including my daughter and the group who were with Friend Teyla looking for herbs." He glanced at John. "I don't suppose you have heard anything from her?"

John shook his head and focused on the surrounding trees. "No, nothing from Teyla or McKay and Beckett," he admitted. "But there could be a simple explanation for why they haven't checked in yet."

Jor-tan gave him a sympathetic look, similar to the one Ronon had out on the road, and John felt his temper rising. He would not accept that Rodney and the others were simply gone. Not without some evidence to prove it.

Jor-tan must have sensed something of his mood. "Some of the caves are a fair distance from the village," he offered. "We will give then a little more time and then send out search parties."

John nodded. "What can we do to help?" He watched as several young men sifted through the rubble of one of the destroyed buildings, separating out the bricks that could be reused and stacking them to one side.

Jor-tan shook his head. "You have saved most of my people, Friend Sheppard, you have done more than enough. We will rebuild our village, most of our crops and animals were spared as well. Come," Jor-tan pointed toward what was left of his home, "we will eat and wait for your friends to return."

"I could eat," Ronon said with a glance at John.

John gave the forest one last longing look then nodded. "Lead the way."

The dining room in Jor-tan's house was in the section with the collapsed roof, and they ate their meal in one of the rooms facing the square. John watched as villagers straggled into the square from the woods over the next half hour as he nibbled at the plate of food in front of him. Every time someone walked out of the trees, John felt his heart speed up, only to drop back into his gut a few moments later when the newcomer wasn't Teyla, Rodney, or Beckett.

John saw another group run into the square, the young men and women greeted with hugs and tears. He started to turn back to his half-eaten meal when he caught a glimpse of black clothing from the corner of his eye, turned back to the window, and jumped to his feet.

"Sheppard?" Ronon demanded, standing as well.

John turned to him with a grin. "Teyla's back," he said. He ran out the door, Ronon on his heels.

"Teyla!" John called from the edge of the square outside Jor-tan's house.

"Colonel!" she replied and hurried over to him. "It is good to see you. To see you both," she added with a smile and a glance at Ronon.

"Father!" Kai-tan called as Jor-tan came out of the house behind them. "I am so relieved to see you!"

"And you, Daughter," Jor-tan said as he hugged her.

"It is thanks to Friend Teyla we survived, Father. She fought many Wraith defending us."

Teyla nodded at John's questioning look and smiled when Ronon said, "Good for you."

Jor-tan walked over to John, Teyla, and Ronon, his arm draped over Kai-tan's shoulders. "I will never be able to thank you enough for saving my daughter, Friend Teyla."

"You are quite welcome, Jor-tan," Teyla told him with a slight bow.

Jor-tan squeezed Teyla's hand, then led Kai-tan back to their home.

"Come on," John said, and nodded his head toward one of the partially destroyed buildings on the other side of the square. "We'll leave them to the family reunion."

They sat on the remains of a fallen-in wall and John heard Teyla's soft hiss of pain as she sat next to him.

"You all right?" John asked and gave her a measured look. He noted the bruises on her face and arms and suspected he and Ronon didn't look much better.

Teyla nodded. "My injuries are not serious," she said. "Kai-tan found a cave where the rest of the villagers with me were able to hide. There were still several Wraith soldiers nearby, however, so I could not join them. The arrival of the Ancestor's drone weapons was well-timed. Thank you." She smiled over at John.

John ducked his head. "It wasn't me," he told her. "I think there must be some sort of automated defence systems protecting the planet. Maybe that explains the weird energy readings McKay was picking up."

Teyla glanced around the village. "Rodney? Doctor Beckett?" she asked.

John shook his head. "Not here. They were in the woods looking for Rodney's mysterious energy reading when …" John waved his hand around the square.

"It's been a couple of hours," Ronon said bluntly. "And they didn't have any weapons. If they were still alive, they would have been back by now."

"Ronon," Teyla said softly as she laid a hand on John's arm.

John shook off her sympathetic gesture and glared at Ronon. "I thought I told you I didn't want to hear that. They're not dead."

"John," Teyla said, and John turned his glare on her. She sighed and looked away. "What is the link telling you?" she asked.

John tamped down his anger and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. "Nothing," he admitted. "But we know there is a limit of how far the link will extend," he added hurriedly. "And there's always the chance he's not hurt at all, just lost."

Ronon snorted softly but said nothing.

The uncomfortable silence grew until Teyla spoke a few minutes later.

"Is it not strange that all of our communications equipment stopped working?" she asked. "I tried to radio once the Wraith were gone, I did not want you to be concerned for us. However, I could not seem to reach any of you."

John glanced at Ronon. "I tried too. Couldn't get anything but static." He stared into space for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "EM pulse!" he exclaimed. When neither Ronon or Teyla seemed to understand, he said to Teyla, "Remember the nanites and how Rodney stopped them?"

Teyla slowly nodded. "You blew up one of the naquadah generators over the city."

John grinned. "Right! But before we could do that, we had to shut down all of the Earth-based gear."

"So?" Ronon asked. "No one blew up a generator here."

John turned to him. "No, but those Ancient drones just blew up a hive ship and a whole bunch of darts."

"You believe the radios were damaged as a result of the explosions?" Teyla asked.

"Not so much damaged, but there could be interference," John replied, and felt a weight lift from his shoulders. "Maybe the combination of the hive ship and so many darts blowing up at the same time is somehow jamming the radio frequencies."

"How long will this jamming last?" Ronon asked, and John thought he sounded a little more positive about the possibility Rodney and Beckett could still be alive.

"No way to be sure," John replied. "Could be a few hours, could be days."

Teyla glanced up at the sky as the sun started to set. "If the radios do not work, we will need to send out search parties to find Rodney and Doctor Beckett."

John stood. "I think Jor-tan would be willing to help with that. We need to go talk to him."

"Any search will have to wait for morning," Ronon told him. "Trying to search in the dark, we could miss something."

John pursed his lips, but he knew Ronon was right. "We'll talk to Jor-tan. Get the search parties organised, and see if he knows anything about these automated systems. That might give us a place to start looking in the morning."

John led the way back across the square to Jor-tan's house.

"We need your help," John said to Jor-tan once they were seated in the front room again and Teyla had a plate of food.

"Anything at all, Friend Sheppard," Jor-tan replied, and John noticed he kept Kai-tan close to his side.

John took a deep breath. "We think Rodney and Doctor Bec -- Carson, are somewhere in the forest surrounding the village. We plan to search for them in the morning and could use anyone you can spare from the cleanup to help."

Jor-tan ducked his head, and John knew what he was going to say. "The Wraith --"

John held up a hand. "They're not dead," he said. "We think they might be lost and maybe injured."

Jor-tan didn't look convinced but nodded. "Doctor Carson is a great friend of my village. We will do whatever we can to help you find him and Friend McKay."

John nodded. "Rodney had found some strange energy readings when we arrived yesterday. He was trying to find the source. I think it may be tied to those automated systems that blew up the hive ship and the darts."

Jor-tan shook his head. "There are no such systems, Friend Sheppard. This planet has been culled many times in the past. Never before have the Wraith been driven off with such weapons as we saw today."

Before John could say anything else, he heard a burst of static through his earpiece and winced. He was about to pull the radio out of his ear when he heard Rodney's voice through the background interference.

"Kay to Shep … ome in … John? ... hear … son and I are trap … cient ship … could … rescue … Ow!"

John tapped his radio. "Rodney!" He pushed the receiver further into his ear, trying to hear Rodney's message. "McKay, say again. You're breaking up."

John waited a few seconds, and when Rodney didn't answer, he yanked the now-silent earpiece out of his ear and gave serious thought to throwing it against the nearest wall.

"John?" Teyla asked.

"That was Rodney," he said, and stuffed the earpiece in a pocket. "I think he said he and Beckett were alive but trapped somewhere."

"Trapped?" Ronon said with a glare at Jor-tan. "What kind of trap?"

John shook his head. "No, nothing like that." He closed his eyes and replayed the message in his head. "It almost sounded like …" He opened his eyes and turned to Jor-tan. "He said something about an Ancient ship."

"Ancient?" Jor-tan asked.

"The Ancestors," Ronon told him.

"As I said, Friend Sheppard, there are no defences for the planet --"

John shook his head as an idea bloomed in his mind. He looked from Ronon to Teyla. "Rodney said they were trapped in or maybe near a ship." When he only received blank looks in return, he added, "An Ancient ship."

"There would be a control chair," Teyla said with a smile as she caught up to John's train of thought.

John pointed to her. "Exactly! And both Rodney and Beckett have the gene. One of them must have launched the drones that took out the Wraith."

"Okay," Ronon said. "How does that help us find them?"

"I don't know," John admitted. "I'm still working on that part. The important thing is, we know they're both still alive."

"But they are trapped," Teyla reminded him. "Which means one or both of them is likely injured."

John sat down beside Jor-tan. "Do your people have any stories about the Anc -- Ancestors coming to your world? Anything at all about a ship and where it may have landed?"

"More like it crashed," Ronon pointed out. "Only reason it would still be here would be it was damaged."

John nodded. "Good point."

"There is the story about The Wanderers," Kai-tan said.

"Wanderers?" John asked.

Kai-tan nodded and leant forward, resting her arms on the table. "It is a story that has been passed down for countless generations. As the story goes, there was a night where the air was hot and still. Suddenly a bright light lit the night sky, sending the people scurrying to the safety of the caves. Before the people could reach the hills, they saw a fiery object in the sky, and moments later, the ground shook as something crashed in the forest behind the village. Many trees were set afire, and animals were seen running through the village square trying to flee the noise and flames.

"That certainly sounds promising," John said.

"The next morning, several of the village men went into the forest to find out what had happened during the night," Kai-tan continued. "But the only thing they found was a score of men and women wandering through the trees, not far from the edge of the village itself. They would not say who they were or where they had come from. The villagers did what they could to help the strangers. Once they were healed, the wanderers asked to be taken to the ring. The stargate," Kai-tan added with a nod to Sheppard. "The wanderers were neither seen nor heard from again."

"Sounds like a ship that crashed to me," Ronon said.

"Any ideas where this happened?" John asked.

Kai-tan shook her head. "The story only says the people were found wandering in the woods to the west." Kai-tan pointed to her left.

"Then that's where we'll start," John said and stood. "Jor-tan, can we impose on your hospitality for another night?"

"Certainly, Friend Sheppard. What is mine, is yours," Jor-tan replied. "The room you slept in last night was spared by the Wraith. You may use it for as long as you wish. I will have food ready for you before you leave in the morning."

"Thanks," John said with a nod. "Come on," he added with a glance at Ronon and Teyla, "We need to get some sleep. I want to be out at first light."

"It's not much to go on," Ronon said once they were alone.

"It's enough," John replied. "This is our best chance, and we need to find them soon."

"You are concerned about more than just possible injuries," Teyla said as she sat on one of the beds.

John pursed his lips and nodded. "I doubt they had much food with them," he told her. "Beckett's medical pack is still in the room he'd used to treat the villagers."

John stood and walked around the bed he sat on. "And Rodney's pack is still here," he finished holding up the heavy pack.

He set the pack back on the floor, pulled off his boots, and laid down. "Get some rest," John said. "It's been a long day, and I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be just as long."

John closed his eyes and listened as Ronon and Teyla settled on the beds across from him. He opened his eyes a moment later and stared at the empty bed beside him. Rodney and Beckett were alive, he told himself. He had to hope they would stay that way until he could find them in the morning.

"Just hang on, Rodney, we're coming," John murmured under his breath as he fell into a fitful sleep.

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

His back was never going to forgive him, Rodney decided with a groan as he tried to shift into a more comfortable position; for some reason, he had been sleeping sitting up with his back against a wall. Opening his eyes, he saw several consoles in front of him lit by a soft glow from the metal walls.

"Where …" he muttered as he looked around. He felt a stab of fear hit his gut when he couldn't remember why he was sitting on a dirty floor in an unfamiliar room of the city, wrapped in a silver emergency blanket.

Rodney frantically pushed at the silver blanket, trying to untangle himself from the crinkly folds. Pain flared in his head and chest, and he groaned, rubbing his head and wrapping an arm around his chest as he tried to figure out what had happened overnight that he was sleeping on the floor.

He was relieved when he didn't hear Cadman's voice in his head telling him they'd gone for another late-night run. Was that a good thing? he asked himself. It meant this wasn't another nightmare, but at the same time it didn't explain where he was or why. The headache was making it hard to think and the pain in his chest told him he shouldn't try to move.

Whatever was going on, Sheppard would find him soon, he told himself and felt himself start to drift.

He was almost asleep when he heard the blanket crackle even though he hadn't moved. Rodney felt his breathing hitch for a moment as he debated what he should do. Should he look? he wondered. Or pretend he hadn't heard anything and hope whatever it was, went away soon?

The blanket crinkled again.

Better to know, he decided. He took a deep breath, wincing as his ribs pulled, opened his eyes and slowly turned his head to his left where he found Carson wedged in a corner, murmuring in his sleep. As Rodney watched, Carson pushed himself further into the corner, made a pained face, then settled back to sleep.

"Carson?" Rodney whispered. He sat back against the wall and tried to figure out why Beckett was with him and was obviously injured somehow. What had happened to them? Why were they sitting on a dirty floor instead of lying in a clean infirmary bed? And where was Sheppard?

Memory flooded back as he stared at the dimly lit walls. They'd been on a planet. Carson had wanted to check on some villagers. Then the Wraith had attacked the planet, he and Carson had been chased, and had found an Ancient ship the hard way. He had found the control chair and had used it to shoot down the attacking Wraith ships.

Carson shifted again, and Rodney readjusted the blanket so it covered him better.

What about Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon? he wondered. Where were they? Were they dead? Killed when he had destroyed the Wraith ships? Was that why he and Beckett were still trapped inside the ship?

Rodney ducked his head and wrapped his arms tighter around his chest. "He's alive," Rodney muttered to himself. "Sheppard is … alive … So are … Ronon and Teyla … Just keep … telling yourself … that. They're alive … and they will … find you." Even to himself, he didn't sound very confident.

He looked up at the slightly darker hole in the ceiling they had fallen through the day before. "Still night, then," he muttered and pulled part of the blanket back up around his chest. He pushed himself further against the wall and whimpered when his ribs protested all of the movement. He squeezed his arms around his chest and tried to control his breathing.

"This so sucks," he whispered as he rocked back and forth, trying not to wake Carson. He glanced up at the hole. "You aren't … getting out of this … without some help," he groused. "Assuming Sheppard … is alive … how long would it … take him to find us?" he wondered aloud, and glanced at his watch.

He frowned when he noticed his hand was trembling. "Great. As if being unable … to breathe wasn't … bad enough." He felt around on the floor until he found the pile of supplies and opened one of the power bars.

He did the mental math to figure the local time as he ate, and decided there was still an hour or two before dawn. If Sheppard was still alive and had received his radio message, Rodney knew John wouldn't wait very long after the sun was up to look for them.

What did the ground above them look like? he wondered.

He had felt the ship heaving each time he launched the drones and suspected the clearing above them was littered with downed trees and broken branches, not to mention gaping holes where the drones had broken through the surface. Would Sheppard, Ronon, and Teyla even bother searching the area? Or would they assume the clearing was just another casualty of the Wraith attack and move on?

"So how is Sheppard … going to find us," he muttered to himself as he looked around the room.

The easy answer was they would use technology. The problem was they'd only brought the one Ancient scanner, and it was on the floor beside him.

"So much for … the easy answer," Rodney grumbled and glanced at the scanner.

Unlike the radios, the hardy little device seemed to be intact. Rodney smiled slightly when he picked it up, mentally turned it on, and the scanner glowed to life.

The screen was still set for finding the energy reading he'd been hunting the day before, and Rodney noticed the signature itself was barely registering now. Clearly, he'd been picking up something from the ship. Unfortunately, his use of the chair had drained most of what power had remained.

He quickly tabbed through the various data points until he found the life readings, then hesitated.

"Do you really … want to know?" he asked himself. "What are you … going to do if … the only readings … you find … are in this room?"

Rodney closed his eyes. Right now, he was living on hope. Hope his use of the drones had stopped the Wraith attack. Hope that at least a few of the villagers had survived the culling. Hope that his team was still alive. One tap on a screen and he'd be faced with reality.

"Always better … to know the truth," he said decisively.

He opened his eyes, moaned when he tried to take a deep breath, and tapped the screen to start the life signs search. He gave the scanner a moment to finish the scan for life readings, then looked down.

There were several readings scattered in the forest, some were even close to the ship. Rodney glanced up at the hole and hoped what he was seeing was only animals. He never had found the time to program the scanner to differentiate Wraith from human signatures.

Rodney widened the search, and felt his stomach lurch when the scanner detected a large concentration of readings at the edge of the scanner's range. None of the readings showed movement, and Rodney took that to mean what he was seeing were signatures for the villagers, safely asleep, and not Wraith still roaming the countryside.

He clenched the scanner tight in his hand and closed his eyes. There were survivors, he realised. Someone would know he and Carson were missing.

"But would they … look for us?" he asked the room. Or would they just assume he and Beckett had been culled? The villagers wouldn't have any way to contact Atlantis and let Elizabeth know what happened; as far as Jor-tan knew, the city was destroyed.

He studied the scanner again. There was no way for him to distinguish Sheppard, Ronon, or Teyla from the rest of the life signs, but if that many of the villagers had survived, there was a good chance his team had as well.

Rodney felt the weight lift from his shoulders. Maybe he hadn't killed them after all.

The problem was, Sheppard and the others had no idea where to look for them. They were a few miles from the village. Would John search the entire forest? Would it matter with them trapped in a ship that had been buried for thousands of years?

"So how is someone going to find us down here?" Rodney silently asked himself as he set the scanner on the floor beside him.

He was trying to decide if there was a way to salvage enough parts from the burned-out radios to make some sort of beacon when he heard a snuffling breath coming from above him. He looked up and gasped when a pair of glittering eyes stared down at him. Whatever was stalking them, growled low in its throat when it spotted him.

The eyes came closer as the animal tried to fit through the branches covering the hole. Rodney heard some of the twigs snap under the animal's weight and swallowed. While he was all for getting the tree out of the way of the hole, he didn't want some sort of angry predator in the room with him.

Rodney stopped watching the hole and looked around for some sort of weapon. The Beretta was out of ammunition which meant he didn't have an easy way to defend himself or Carson from the thing hunting them. He spotted a tree branch on the ground not far from his feet and picked it up with a grunt. It wasn't more than a half a meter long and a few centimeters in diameter, but it was better than nothing. He gripped the branch in one hand and stared back up at the glittering eyes watching him.

"Go on, go away," he hissed up at the hole and brandished the stick in his right hand while he braced his left against his chest.

The eyes watched him for a moment longer then suddenly disappeared. Rodney heard something large and heavy run past the hole a few seconds later and waited, the piece of tree branch raised and ready.

When he didn't see anything else peering down at him, he dropped the stick and sank back against the wall with his eyes closed and waited for the pain in his chest to fade.

"That was close," he muttered to himself, and tried to get his breathing back under control.

He flinched a moment later when he heard the blanket crinkle beside him.

"Rodney?" Carson asked, his voice rough as he sat up, blinked a few times, and rubbed his eyes. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," he replied with another glance up at the hole.

Beckett sat up and looked first at the branch next to Rodney's hand, then at the rest of the room.

"Rodney?"

Rodney sighed. "Had to persuade … some of the … local fauna … we weren't the … best option for breakfast."

Carson stared up at the hole for a moment. "I see." He winced as he pushed himself more upright with his good hand. "How are you doing? You still sound wheezy. How bad is the pain?"

"Still feels like Dex is … sitting on my chest," Rodney told him and pinched the bridge of his nose. He heard the blanket crinkle, then felt a hand on his forehead.

"You don't feel feverish," Carson told him and shifted his hand from Rodney's head to his wrist. "How bad is the headache?"

"Not as bad as last night, I guess," Rodney replied.

"Here," Beckett said, and Rodney opened his eyes. "Your hands are shaking," Carson told him, holding out a power bar. "Might help the headache too." Carson opened another of the bars, and they ate in silence.

Rodney didn't mention he'd eaten less than an hour ago. He took the bar with a nod and swallowed it with a few bites.

Beckett finished his power bar and loosened the straps for the pressure bandage wrapped around his leg.

Rodney didn't see any blood on the outside of the bandage and took that as a good sign. "How's the leg?" he asked, and popped the last bite of his breakfast in his mouth.

Carson adjusted the bandage back over the gash. "It doesn't look infected yet. As long as we get out of here soon, it should be fine."

Rodney nodded and turned back to the Ancient scanner sitting in his lap.

"Is the scanner telling you anything?" Carson asked a few minutes later.

Rodney turned the device enough for Beckett to see the screen. "Looks like … most of the villagers … survived."

"Well, that's a bit of good news, then," Carson said with a smile.

Rodney nodded but said nothing.

"So what's the problem?"

Rodney looked over at him. "I don't --" he started to say in denial, but Carson shook his head.

"You just said your plan with the control chair worked, and the villagers survived. Doesn't that mean they will be looking for us?"

Rodney looked anywhere but at Carson. "There's no way … to really know if Sheppard … and the others … are still alive," he admitted softly, letting the unspoken fear rise up again.

Carson gripped his shoulder. "I'm sure they're fine," he whispered. Carson let go of Rodney's arm. "So, with that in mind, what do we do now?"

Rodney took as deep a breath as he could and pushed aside his fear. John was alive and would look for them, he told himself. His job now was to make sure Sheppard found them.

"It's going to be light in … an hour or so," Rodney replied. "Sheppard won't wait … very long … before he starts … looking for us … We need to do something … to make it easier for him … to find us."

Carson massaged his thigh just above the gash, lost in thought. Rodney saw the pain lines across his forehead, and realised Beckett was hurting more than he was letting on.

"Colonel Sheppard will need to check in with Atlantis, won't he?" Carson asked a moment later. "Surely, Elizabeth will send search teams to look for us."

Rodney nodded. "That's plan A … We need a plan B … just in case." He looked around the room again, cataloguing anything he could use to signal a search team where they were.

He caught the strange look on Carson's face as Beckett watched him. "What?" he finally asked.

"With everything else that's happened the last few days, I never got the chance to say that I'm sorry I horned in on your date with Katie the other night," Carson replied.

Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn't want to think about that night. He certainly didn't want to talk about the horrible evening spent trapped in his own body while Cadman took over.

Cadman hijacking him during his date had been bad enough, the disastrous session with Heightmeyer and the seizure the next day had capped the awful experience. He wasn't sure what he would do the next time he saw Katie. So far, he'd managed to avoid any contact with her, but the science labs weren't that spread out. Sooner or later, he'd have to see her again.

"I don't want … to talk about it," he mumbled, and stuffed the empty power bar wrapper in his jacket pocket.

Carson pursed his lips. "I'm certain Laur -- Lieutenant Cadman was only trying to help."

Rodney didn't miss the slip, and his temper flared. "Help? You call … what she did … helping?" He groaned and wrapped his arm around his chest as he tried to catch his breath.

"Rodney, you need to calm down," Carson told him. He leant forward enough to grasp Rodney's wrist.

"I will not … calm down," Rodney hissed angrily and shook off Beckett's attempt to check his pulse. "She took over … my body … without … permission … Whose side … are you on … anyways?" His chest felt tight as he gasped for breath. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his middle in an attempt to ease the pain.

"I'm not on anyone's side," Carson started to say.

"Maybe that's … the problem," Rodney growled under his breath.

Carson shook his head and sat back against the wall.

Rodney saw the flash of emotions cross Beckett's face, frustration, concern, hurt, and tried to get his own temper under control. What happened with Katie wasn't Carson's fault, he reminded himself.

Rodney waited several minutes until the pain in his chest returned to the heavy, dull ache and uncurled from his protective ball. "Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean …" He let the sentence peter out and relaxed when Carson patted his arm.

He took a few careful breaths and hesitantly asked, "Are you … really interested … in Cadman?"

Carson sighed. "Maybe. Possibly. She hasn't been in Atlantis that long, I really haven't had much of a chance to get to know her."

Rodney grunted and leant back against the wall next to Carson.

"Katie seems like a lovely lass," Carson said a few minutes later.

Rodney heard the forgiveness in his tone and gave Carson a crooked smile. "She is … I guess. Somehow … I don't think … I'll be getting … a second date … though … It took me three months … to work up the courage … to go on the first one."

"I'm sure if you just explained --"

Rodney snorted, then winced. "No good way to explain …" He waved a hand at his head. "Who's to say that won't … make things even worse." Rodney shook his head. "Better for both of us … to just forget about it."

Carson frowned but said nothing.

Rodney picked up the scanner and idly paged through the different screens. He'd been nervous about the date with Katie for weeks. He'd managed to postpone a few times, using projects or his broken leg as an excuse, but when Sheppard threatened to take her out if Rodney didn't, he'd bit the bullet, made a date, and had had every intention of seeing it through.

Then Cadman had decided to 'help'. He wasn't sure if Katie knew the truth by now or not about what really happened on Thenora. Either way, it didn't matter. She wasn't going to want to spend another evening with him any time soon.

The first glimmers of morning light played through the hole in the ceiling above them. Rodney shook himself out of his self-pity and slowly climbed to his feet. If he couldn't find a way to let Sheppard know where they were, what Katie thought of him wouldn't matter.

They still needed that Plan B.

He stood directly under the hole, one arm wrapped around his chest, and looked up. "It's not going … to be easy … for anyone to spot that hole … with the tree in the way," Rodney said.

"You and Colonel Sheppard have mentioned using the link as a sort of homing beacon to find each other in the past," Carson offered.

Rodney shook his head. "That idea only works … if Sheppard is close enough to … feel the reaction … We have to assume … he's going to get … Jor-tan and any villagers still alive … to help along with … whoever Elizabeth sends … from Atlantis."

"We need to consider every option," Carson replied.

"We'll call that Plan C," Rodney said absently as he wandered over to one of the consoles in the corner of the room.

Maybe there was something he could do with the ship to alert any search teams near the clearing, he thought to himself, and touched a corner of the console, mentally telling it to power up.

With the sun coming up, Rodney knew any searchers sent to look for them would be out soon. He was running out of time to come up with an idea.

Chapter Text

John rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. He heard the quiet breathing of Teyla and Ronon on the other side of the room and consoled himself with the idea that his remaining team members, at least, were getting some much-needed rest.

He usually had no trouble sleeping. Rodney was the insomniac of the group, up all hours working on one project or another. A lifetime in the military had taught John the art of sleeping anywhere.

Except for tonight, it seemed, he thought to himself and dropped one arm over his eyes.

After another few minutes, when sleep refused to come, he sighed, sat up, and scrubbed a hand over his face. You know he's alive, he chastised himself. He rested his arms on his knees and concentrated on the link. Was it trying to tell him something and that was the reason for his tossing and turning? he wondered.

Even after almost a year, they didn't really know that much about how the link worked. John had asked Beckett once, but Carson hadn't been able to find much in the Ancient database. Which meant they were left with figuring things out as they came.

He sat still for a few more seconds, then shook his head. He didn't feel anything, no spikes, no itch. Either Rodney wasn't injured, or he was too far away for John to feel it through the link.

The first glimmers of a false dawn peeked through the window, and John stood, picked up his boots and holster, and snuck out of the room, careful not to wake Teyla or Ronon. He wandered back through the house, stepped outside, and sat in one of the chairs in front of Jor-tan's house, pulling on his boots as he listened to the night sounds around him.

The trees near Jor-tan's house creaked in the light breeze. The air was cool, but not unpleasant. The sweet flower scent was mixed with something else, something spicy, and the combination allowed John's mind to relax as he settled back in the chair watching as the village square slowing came into view as the sun rose.

The heavy weight had lifted off his shoulders as soon as John had heard Rodney's voice the previous night. Replaying the message in his mind, John remembered the odd cadence of Rodney's speech and frowned.

Was it from the lousy radio reception or was he hurt? John wondered. The yelp at the end of the message seemed to confirm McKay was injured somehow.

"So if he is hurt," he muttered, "they aren't anywhere near the village."

Where was Beckett, though? John wondered. Rodney's message said they were together. He couldn't stop the visions of both of them bleeding, bones broken, that filled his head.

If Carson had been seriously injured, John wasn't sure what to do for him without access to Atlantis. His medical knowledge began and ended with enough first aid know-how to get someone back to the city and into much more capable hands. Beckett's hands, to be exact.

"We've all had to take on new responsibilities since we got here," John remembered saying to Beckett after Markham's jumper had been shot down.

"I'll be sure to remind you of that statement if you ever have to perform emergency surgery," Carson had replied with a wry smile.

John hoped now was not the time when Carson's comment was put to the test.

Before he could worry about any of that, he needed to find them, he reminded himself as he shifted in the chair.

Rodney had said they were trapped. John knew any rescue effort would depend on how and where they were trapped and how badly they were hurt. He made a mental note to find out what healers Jor-tan had in the village and make sure they were capable of dealing with whatever injuries Beckett and McKay might have.

Thinking about Rodney's message gave him an idea, and John tapped his earpiece. The background static was gone, and John hoped that meant the radios would work now.

"Sheppard to McKay," he said, and waited a moment. "Rodney, it's John. Come in." John frowned and tried again. "Sheppard to Beckett. Doc? You guys there?"

There was still no answer, and John tapped off the radio with a frustrated sigh, not wanting to think about what the lack of response from either of them could mean.

He watched as something that vaguely resembled a deer wandered out of the trees and crossed the square with a pair of young in tow. The chair creaked as he shifted his weight to get a better look at the animals, and the adult deer froze, its long ears perked forward as it stared in his direction. After a few seconds, the adult deer turned away from him and picked its way through the rubble in the square with its offspring following behind. All three disappeared into the trees on the other side of the village a few seconds later.

John settled back in his chair and shook his head when he heard the door open behind him a few minutes later.

"Why are you guys up so early?" John said as Ronon leant against the wall beside him while Teyla sat in the other chair. "I thought I was being quiet."

"You don't sneak as well as you think you do," Ronon told him, and John smiled at the reminder of saying the same thing to McKay not that long ago.

"Is everything all right?" Teyla asked.

John shrugged. "Just couldn't sleep."

Something dark and sleek came out of the forest and entered the square. It sniffed the ground where the deer had been a few minutes earlier, then turned toward Jor-tan's house.

John heard a low growl from the animal and watched as it took a step in their direction.

Ronon unholstered his blaster and took a step forward.

John watched as the cat-like animal slunk to the ground, its long tail swishing slowly behind it.

Ronon took another step and aimed his gun at the animal with a growl of his own. John stood as well and gripped the Beretta.

The cat paused, seemed to study Ronon for a long moment, then ran into the woods not far from where the deer had disappeared.

"Animals are still on edge," Ronon said as he re-holstered his gun.

John nodded and sat down. "One more problem to add to the list," he muttered, and stared out at the trees.

Teyla put a hand on his arm. "Is there something you have not told us?"

John pursed his lips. "In his message, Rodney didn't sound right," he admitted. "Even though the signal was garbled, something was off with his voice. And he sort of yelped right before the radio cut out."

"We suspected they were likely injured by whatever had trapped them, whether inside the Ancestor's ship or somewhere nearby after they had used the control chair," Teyla said gently.

"Yeah." John rubbed a hand over his face. "Which means they could have survived a culling only to be attacked by some scared wild animal." He nodded in the direction the cat-like predator has disappeared.

"We will find them before that happens," Teyla assured him.

"How do you want to do this?" Ronon asked a few minutes later. "With the Wraith and everyone running around yesterday, it won't be easy to track them."

John looked out at the trees. "In Kai-tan's story, the people from the crashed ship were found in the woods over there," John pointed to his left. "Teyla, you were in that area yesterday, did you see anything that looked like a ship?"

Teyla shook her head. "There were no buildings or structures of any kind where we were. And I did not see Doctor McKay at all when we were gathering plants."

John sat forward in the chair, his arms resting on his knees. "Okay, we can probably rule out where you were then," he said.

"That still leaves a whole lot of forest to cover," Ronon said.

John nodded. "We'll split up. Each of us will take a section of the woods. Rodney said he thought the energy reading was somewhere near the hills. Jor-tan's people might be able to help us narrow down the best places to look."

John turned around when he heard the door to the house open again.

"Friend Sheppard?" Jor-tan said as he stepped outside. "My cook told me you were out here. Is everything all right?"

John nodded. "Just coming up with a search plan," John told him and stood.

Jor-tan let the door close and came over to Sheppard. "I spoke to several of the villagers after you retired last night. They should be here soon. Have no fear, we will find Doctor Carson and your friend." He gestured back toward the house. "Come, the morning meal is almost ready. Once you have eaten, you can set out."

John ate without really tasting what he'd been given and noticed Teyla and Ronon were equally distracted. Once they were done, John stood and thanked Jor-tan for the meal. He stopped in the room Beckett had been using the day before, grabbed Carson's medical pack, and went back through the house to the sleeping room where Ronon and Teyla were waiting.

Sheppard watched as Ronon pulled on his leather duster and checked the charge for his particle weapon. Teyla zipped her uniform jacket and turned to the tac-vest and pack laid out on her bed.

"Ronon, take Beckett's medical kit," John said, and held out the heavy pack. "I don't know what we'll be dealing with when we find them, so let's be as prepared as possible."

Ronon took the pack with a nod.

"Sheppard," Ronon said a few seconds later.

John glanced up from where he was checking his own pack and saw Ronon standing next to one of the beds holding Beckett's sidearm.

"It was under the bed," Ronon said as he held out the gun and holster.

"Great," John said with a grimace. "That means they only have Rodney's weapon for protection." John took the Beretta and holster from Ronon and packed it in his own backpack.

Sheppard went around the bed and picked up Rodney's pack. John pulled out the two MREs, the water bottles, and the stash of power bars, and stuffed them all in his own backpack. He also checked to make sure he had several of the packets of drink powder, just in case.

Jor-tan knocked on the open door and said, "The others are here to help with the search, Friend Sheppard."

"Thank you, Jor-tan," John said as he shouldered his pack and picked up the P-90.

Jor-tan stepped back as John passed him. "When you find them, bring them back here," he added. "We will have food waiting, and Kai-tan has gone for the healer."

John nodded and walked back through the house. He stepped outside where a dozen men and women were waiting. Each of them wore a cloth backpack over some sort of shapeless poncho. Several carried walking sticks.

Two men with lengths of rope, draped bandolier style across their chests, stepped forward. It was easy to tell the two had to be related in some way. They were both tall and well-muscled, with dark hair worn long, and chiselled features.

"Jor-tan said you wanted volunteers to help find Doctor Carson," one of the men said. "My name is Hir-in." He pointed to the man standing next to him. "My brother, Cor-in. We've been hunting in these woods since we were boys."

John nodded stiffly to Hir-in and the rest of the group of villagers.

"We want to thank you for your willingness to help in the search for our friends," Teyla said after a moment.

"Doctor Carson has done a lot for us this past year," Cor-in said with a smile. "It's the least we can do."

"We need to break up into three teams," John said. "McKay was able to send a message last night. He said he and Carson were trapped in or near a ship of some kind."

John watched as the villagers traded confused looks.

"There's nothing like that in the forest," Hir-in said. "I've never seen anything that could be a ship."

John had a flash of memory of a hillside that turned out to be a Wraith ship. "It may be partially buried."

Hir-in gave him a skeptical look and shrugged.

"Ronon, take Hir-in and three others. Head north and west, see what you can find around the hills. That's where Rodney said he'd picked up the energy reading yesterday."

John turned to Teyla, "You go with Cor-in and another group. Head south and west, search the forest between the village and the 'gate. If McKay and Carson were running from the Wraith, there's no telling where they might have ended up. I'll take my group and search the forest in between. Check-in every fifteen minutes. Any questions?"

Everyone shook their head, and John watched as the villagers quickly sorted themselves into groups.

"Colonel," Teyla said softly. "If the radios are working …"

"I tried already," he told her and stared out at the trees. "Neither of them answered."

"We will find them," she said, then signalled for her group to head out.

"Yes, we will," John muttered under his breath and led his group into the forest.

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

Rodney moved from one console to the next, hoping to find one that would allow him to do something he could use to signal Sheppard and the others where they were. The engineering console wouldn't give him anything other than the ship schematic. Everything else apparently required a series of codes to access, and he'd left his pack, including the laptop, in Jor-tan's house. He didn't have the time or the tools to hack the system.

He tried a few of the other consoles, but the ones that weren't damaged were either completely dead or equally locked down and only gave him basic information.

"Anything?" Carson asked.

Rodney glanced over and found Beckett standing with one hand braced on the wall for support.

"Should you be … standing?" he asked, ignoring Carson's question.

"Probably not," Beckett replied with a wry smile, "but you need help checking these consoles if we're going to get out of here."

"Don't bother," Rodney told him with a nod at the weak light from the walls. "Whatever the power source … for this ship was … it's pretty much … depleted. Not enough left to … do anything with the consoles."

Rodney turned back to the console in front of him only to spin back around with a groan when he heard a yelp behind him and saw Carson braced against the wall with his eyes squeezed shut.

"Would you sit down … before you kill yourself," Rodney groused as he braced his arm across his chest.

"I was trying to help," Carson replied from where he clung to the wall, balanced on one leg.

"I'll let you know … when there's something … you can do to help."

Rodney shook his head and shuffled back under the hole. The sun was well up, he could see the ship was buried under at least a couple of meters of dirt, with a large tree lying over the top of the hole. He needed to think of something soon, or their chances of anyone finding them dropped to zero.

"How bad is it?" Carson asked, and Rodney was glad to see he was sitting down again.

"Bad," Rodney told him shortly and looked around. "Maybe we can tie … one of our jackets … to one of these branches … and force it through the hole," he suggested. He started to pick up one of the long, thick branches on the floor near his feet.

"Don't!" Carson cried just as Rodney tried to heft the thick branch onto the console in front of him.

Rodney dropped the branch and groaned as he braced himself on the console.

"Those ribs are at least bruised," Carson told him, "if not broken. Don't go lifting anything, you'll only make them worse."

"Now ... you … tell me," Rodney hissed, and tried to stand up straight.

"Maybe there's something we could use to signal the rescue team somewhere else in the ship," Carson suggested and glanced out the door that led back to the chair room. "A radio or some sort of communications device."

Rodney shook his head. "We don't have time … to search the … ship for … something … The sun is up," he carefully pointed to the well-lit hole above him, "which means Sheppard … and the others are … probably already ... looking for us … We're likely only going … to have one shot at this … We need to make it … count."

Carson looked around the room again. "We could start a fire," he suggested with a glance over at Rodney. "Someone might see the smoke."

The idea had merit, Rodney realised, there was just one problem. "I don't suppose … you brought any matches?" he asked.

Carson patted his vest pockets. "No." He sighed. "So much for that idea, then."

Rodney was about to agree when he saw his flashlight and the pad of paper lying on the floor. He shuffled back to the wall, scooped up the flashlight, unscrewed the bottom, and slid the two AA batteries into his palm.

"Yes," he muttered under his breath. "What can you use …" He picked up the pad of paper and shook his head. "Might work … for kindling," he said, and stuffed the pad in his jacket pocket. Something in his pocket crinkled and he pulled out empty power bar wrappers. Rodney fingered the wrapper for a few seconds and nodded. "Not perfect … should still work … though."

He walked back over to the hole, set the batteries on the edge of a console, and found his knife.

"All right, I'll bite," Carson said as Rodney split the wrapper open and cut it into strips "What are you going to do with a battery and an energy bar wrapper?"

"Make a lighter," Rodney told him absently as he set the strips next to the battery. He then gathered up several smaller branches, groaning as he bent over, and piled them on the end of the console away from the hole.

"That's going to work?" Carson asked, and Rodney heard the skepticism in Beckett's tone.

"Of course … it will … work," Rodney retorted, his voice breathy from all the exertion. He pulled the pad of paper out of his pocket and tore off several pages. "I'm building … a fire … not a bomb."

He glanced behind him and watched as Beckett looked from the console to the hole in the ceiling.

"Before you … ask," Rodney said, "I don't … know." He looked up as well.

The ceiling was high, several meters above their heads at least. It was possible it was too high to draw the smoke up and out of the ship. "If it doesn't draw … right away … I'll put it out." He didn't mention the fact he didn't have any other ideas, and they were out of time. It was Carson's fire or nothing.

Carson pursed his lips but said nothing.

Rodney cleaned off a space on the console underneath the hole of broken crystals and other debris, then piled several twigs in the center of cleared area. He crumpled the pieces of paper and stuffed them under the pile of twigs.

"All right. Here goes," he muttered, and touched the ends of one of the strips of the power bar wrapper to each end of the battery.

There was a tiny spark, and the wrapper caught fire. Rodney used the tiny flame to light the crumpled paper. He blew gently on the paper until the twigs caught fire as well.

Once he had a small blaze going, he placed a couple of larger sticks on the flames and watched the smoke. It took several minutes, and Rodney was about to dump dirt on the fire to put it out when the tendrils of smoke rose up and out of the hole.

Rodney added another piece of wood, made sure the smoke would draw, and shuffled back over to the wall where Carson sat watching him. He sat down with a grunt, and tried to catch his breath.

"Your lighter idea worked," Carson said as the smoke curled up and out of the hole.

"Of course … it worked," Rodney told him. He leant back against the wall near the door, curled his arm against his chest, and watched the smoke. "We'll need to keep … feeding it to make … enough smoke … for someone to see it."

Rodney closed his eyes for a moment and was almost asleep when he felt Carson's shoulder brush against him. Rodney opened his eyes and stared at the fire for a few minutes, then came to a decision. "You should … ask her out."

"I'm sorry?" Carson said.

Rodney looked over at Beckett. "Cadman. You said you … wanted to get … to know her … If we get … out of here … you should … ask her out."

Beckett stared at him for a moment, then shook his head.

"I won't mind," Rodney told him.

"Oh, well, thank you for that," Carson replied sarcastically. "So glad I have your permission to ask a lady on a date." Carson gave him a sideways look and shook his head again.

Rodney scowled. "That's not … what I meant." He paused. "I just meant …" He scrubbed a hand over his face. He hated dealing with emotions. "You know what? … Never mind. Ask her … don't ask her … I don't care." He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the smoky fire.

"Rodney," Carson drew out the name. When Rodney glanced at him, Carson continued, "Thank you."

Rodney shrugged.

"It's a bit late to be worrying about it anyways," Carson continued after a moment.

Roney glanced at him. "Oh?"

Carson nodded. "She asked me actually. Before we left Atlantis," he admitted with a smile.

"Why am I not … surprised," Rodney muttered.

"You could see if Ka --"

"No!" Rodney interrupted with a scowl. "Don't even … think about it."

He glared at Beckett for a moment, then carefully stood. He found a couple more short sticks and dropped them on the fire.

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

Even though he'd told Sheppard tracking would be useless, Ronon kept one eye on the ground as he followed Hir-in through the woods. He saw several of the broad, flat prints belonging to Wraith soldiers. He also found prints that matched the soft boots worn by the villagers. But he didn't find any of the treaded prints made by the boots worn by McKay or Beckett.

"A catamount came through here," Hir-in said, and pointed to the wide paw print on the ground.

Ronon bent down and examined the print. He touched the ground around the print and watched as the dirt crumbled. "Just before dawn," he agreed.

"It is rare for one to be this close to the village. I'll need to warn Jor-tan when we get back."

Ronon remembered the cat in the square just before dawn. "Big? Black?" he asked with a glance at Hir-in.

Hir-in nodded.

"It was in the square this morning. Following a group of hart."

Hir-in frowned. "That's bad. Catamount will attack people if given the chance."

Ronon wiped his fingers on his trousers and stood. "It went off to the east. Might not come back."

Hir-in turned to the two men following them. "Go back to the village. Tell Jor-tan about the catamount and the direction Friend Ronon saw it heading. No one should be in the forest east of the village until we're sure the animal is gone."

The two men nodded and turned around while Ronon and Hir-in continued north.

"I don't understand why Doctor Carson and your friend, McKay would be this far north of the village," Hir-in said after they'd been walking for several minutes. "There is nothing out here."

Ronon shrugged. "McKay likes technology. He was trying to find something left here by the Ancestors."

"Why?"

Ronon thought carefully about how to answer that question. Weir had been adamant that no one was to know Atlantis had survived the Wraith attack on the city. "Sheppard and his people want to find something that will defeat the Wraith once and for all."

"And this McKay thought he had found such a thing here on Drellim?"

"He found something," Ronon told him. "The hive ship attacking the planet was destroyed."

"So it was, Friend Ronon. So it was."

They walked in silence for another half a mile until Ronon saw something metal glint in the sunlight.

"Stop!" Ronon ordered and knelt down. He picked up the casing and showed it to Hir-in. "McKay was here," he said and scanned the ground for more spent brass.

"I have two sets of tracks matching the boot treads you showed me over here," Hir-in said from a few steps away.

Ronon walked over to him and checked the ground. He found three more bullet casings as well as two sets of prints made from Atlantis-issue boots. He scowled when he saw a set of the wide, flat prints belonging to a Wraith soldier alongside the boot prints. "They were being chased," he said and pointed to the deep toe prints inside the treaded prints.

Hir-in nodded and followed the prints.

"Friend Ronon," Hir-in said and held up more spent casings. "Looks like they were headed toward the Meadow," he added and handed the brass to Ronon.

"Meadow?"

Hir-in nodded and led the way through the trees. "It's a big open field surrounded by trees." He shook his head. "They would have been in the open. They were lucky not to be ensnared by a Wraith dart." He jerked his head and continued walking. "There are no buildings or anything that looks like a ship."

Ronon only listened with half an ear. He'd spotted more of the boot prints in the soft ground, so he knew they were headed in the right direction.

It's just up here …" Hir-in stopped short, and Ronon stared at the destruction in front of them as they came out of the trees.

"Oh," Hir-in whispered.

Ronon stepped around him and walked into what remained of the meadow. Dozens of trees lay across the field. The ground itself was littered with rills and holes, some of them several feet deep, making walking around the area treacherous.

Ronon knelt and studied the ground again. "The ground is too churned," he muttered and stood.

"There are caves in that direction," Hir-in said and pointed across the meadow. "This ship you are trying to find might be there as well."

Ronon looked around the clearing and nodded. "We'll need to find a way around this," he said.

"We can go this way," Hir-in told him, and started walking around the clearing to his left.

"Wait," Ronon said and stopped. The light breeze had changed direction, and he would swear he thought he smelt … "Do you smell that?"

Hir-in turned around with a puzzled expression. "I don't …" He paused and sniffed the air, then gave Ronon a startled look. "That smells like smoke."

Ronon turned around, jumped the rill in front of him, and studied the clearing again. He definitely smelt smoke, but where was it coming from?

Hir-in landed heavily beside him. "I don't see any fires," he said as he looked around.

"The smell is too strong to be carried from the village," Ronon said. "Something in this field is burning."

"The Wraith ships were firing their weapons," Hir-in said cautiously. "It may just be a smouldering grass fire."

Ronon shook his head. "Smell is wrong for grass. It's a wood fire," Ronon told him.

The fire had been made by McKay or Beckett, he knew it. They were here, now he just needed to find them.

"Sheppard?" he said over the radio.

"Go ahead."

"We found them. Place the locals call The Meadow."

"You're sure?" Sheppard asked, and Ronon heard the mix of relief and doubt in his tone.

"Pretty sure," Ronon replied. "There's smoke coming from somewhere nearby."

"That could be from anything," Sheppard countered.

"It smells like a wood fire," Ronon told him. "None of these trees are burning."

"Where are you again?"

Ronon checked the sun's position and said, "Three miles north and west of the village. Ground is going to be hard to cross. Whatever caused the earthquakes yesterday, came from here."

"All right, stay put," Sheppard ordered. "I'll radio Teyla. We'll meet you in thirty and work out the best way to search the area."

Ronon tapped off his radio and studied the torn ground looking for the source of the smoke. The day was bright and clear, with a slight breeze. Ronon wasn't sure where McKay and Beckett had found the wood to burn, but he suspected the fire wouldn't be very big.

"Not a lot of smoke," Ronon muttered to himself as he searched the area close to where they stood.

"Friend Ronon?" Hir-in asked.

"Fire will be small," Ronon replied. "The smoke is going to be hard to see in this light."

Hir-in looked out over the churned-up field. "You think Doctor Carson and your friend are somewhere in The Meadow?"

Ronon nodded. "They have to be. We're only smelling the smoke when the wind blows from that direction." Ronon pointed toward the meadow and slightly to the left.

Hir-in nodded. "It won't be easy to search. What did Friend Sheppard say?"

Ronon glanced at him. "Sheppard wants us to wait. He'll be here in half an hour."

Hir-in nodded and looked around. He found a tree stump, shook off his cloth pack and the bundle of rope over his arm, and sat down.

Ronon watched him from the corner of his eye as he continued to survey the clearing. "Come on, McKay," he muttered. "Where are you?"

Then he saw it. A thin column of smoke a little more than halfway across the field. It didn't climb very high before the wind caught it and the column fell apart again. Ronon watched long enough to see two more small plumes, then made his decision.

"Come on," he said to Hir-in. "We're not waiting."

"Friend Ronon?" Hir-in asked as he picked up his supplies and scrambled to keep up with Ronon's quick pace.

Ronon jumped another rill and glanced back at Hir-in. "Smoke is coming from over there." Ronon pointed just to the left of the center of the field. "We're going to find them. Sheppard can meet us there."

Hir-in nodded and followed as Ronon skirted a large hole and a fallen tree. Ronon gave the shaft a passing glance on his way past then stopped so suddenly Hir-in almost fell into the hole trying to avoid a collision.

Ronon grabbed him and pulled him back, then knelt beside the hole. He touched the side of the opening and noted the texture of the hole changed from dirt to smooth metal several few feet down.

"Sheppard was right," Ronon said and pointed into the hole.

"The sides of the hole are smooth," Hir-in replied as he peered into the depths.

"It's not a hole," Ronon told him and stood. "That's part of a ship." He started moving again and was several paces ahead when he realised Hir-in wasn't behind him anymore. "Hey!" he shouted.

Hir-in jumped and looked up from the hole.

"Let's go," Ronon told him. "The fire is over here."

"Yes, yes," Hir-in replied and hurried to catch up. "It's just … I never really believed that story about the Wanderers," he explained as Ronon climbed over another downed tree. "But you're saying we may have actually found their ship?"

Ronon looked over at him. "Looks like it," he said, and stopped beside another fallen tree.

A thin trail of smoke wafted up through the branches, and for a moment, Ronon wondered if they had in fact been following a natural fire when he heard a voice coming from under the tree. He couldn't understand the words, but it was definitely Beckett's voice.

"Doc?" Ronon yelled down through the tree branches. "McKay?"

He saw the smoke was actually wafting up from a hole under the tree and started to cough when the wind shifted, blowing the smoke in his nose and eyes.

"Ronon?" Beckett called back faintly.

"Yeah." Ronon croaked as he coughed.

"Oh, thank god," Beckett muttered, then louder. "Are Colonel Sheppard and Teyla with you?"

"No," Ronon told him absently as he worked out the best way to get the tree out of the way. "How much rope do you have?" he asked Hir-in.

Hir-in pulled off the rope he had looped over his shoulder.

"What does he mean … no?" Ronon heard McKay ask, and he frowned when he heard the strange pause.

"Rodney, I'm sure they're fine," Beckett said.

At the same time, McKay yelled, "Ronon!"

"Rodney, you don't want to be doing that," Beckett said, and Ronon heard a strangled groan and a muttered, "This … sucks," from the hole.

Ronon stopped listening as he tied the end of the rope around the tree and with Hir-in's help, pulled it away from the hole.

"Put out the fire," Ronon ordered once the tree was clear of the hole.

A few seconds later, Ronon heard coughing and moaning coming from the hole.

"Sit down, lad. Slow breaths," Beckett said.

Ronon heard the coughing trail off, and a few seconds later, the last of the smoke wafted from the hole.

Ronon bent down and stared into the opening. He saw several flat, table-like structures at the bottom of the hole but didn't see Beckett or McKay anywhere. He was about to call down to them again when he saw Sheppard come out of the trees followed by three of the villagers.

"Doc?" Ronon called as he stood.

"Still here," Beckett replied.

"I'll be back."

"Back? Where's … he going?" he heard McKay grumble. "He does know … we're still stuck … down here … doesn't he?"

Ronon glanced back at the hole and frowned. There had been any number of times over the past few months when Ronon wondered if McKay ever took a breath while talking. The odd pauses now made Ronon wonder just how injured McKay was, and if it was serious, how they were going to get him out of the hole.

"Stay here," Ronon said to Hir-in as he moved away. "Let me know if anything happens down there."

Hir-in nodded and sat down at the edge of the hole.

Ronon met Sheppard as he picked his way across the churned-up field. "Sheppard," he greeted.

"I thought I told you to wait," Sheppard said with a frown as he stopped in front of Ronon. The three villagers with him halted a short distance behind him.

Ronon looked away. "Thought it was more important to find them."

Sheppard shook his head. "We are going to have a long talk about following orders when we get back home," he told Ronon with a glare. Sheppard waited a moment then asked, "Where are they?"

"In a hole. Not sure how we're going to get them out. Something's wrong with McKay."

"Something's right," Sheppard muttered, and Ronon was suddenly reminded of the mental link they shared when he saw Sheppard rubbing the back of his head. "Are they conscious?"

Ronon nodded. "Talked to Beckett. Heard McKay talking, too, but he sounded weird."

Sheppard stopped and faced Ronon. "Weird how?"

"He'd stop talking every few words. Like he couldn't catch his breath."

"Great," Sheppard said and picked up his pace. "Probably means he's got broken ribs. What about Beckett?"

"Don't know, never actually saw either of them."

Sheppard glanced at him, and Ronon knew he was considering worst-case scenarios.

Sheppard stopped at the edge of the hole, nodded to Hir-in who stepped out of the way, and called down, "Rodney? Carson? How are you doing?"

"We've been better, Colonel," Beckett replied a moment later.

"I hear that. We brought the medical kit," Sheppard told him. He waited a moment, and when he didn't hear anything else, he added, "McKay? Talk to me, buddy."

"More than ready … to get out of here," Rodney replied, his tone breathy.

Sheppard pursed his lips, and Ronon saw the worried look on his face as he stood.

"Give us a couple of minutes to rig something up, and we'll see about getting you out of there."

Sheppard stepped away from the hole and jerked his head for Ronon to follow. "We need to get down there. See how they're really doing. If McKay's ribs are broken, we'll need to rig up some sort of stretcher to get him out. And I don't like the fact we can't see either of them. Tells me Beckett can't move either."

Ronon had had much the same idea but said nothing as he looked around the clearing again. There were no handy tree stumps or boulders close enough to the hole that they could use to tie off the rope.

"Think you can lower me down?" Sheppard asked as Ronon finished his survey.

"Shouldn't be a problem," Ronon replied.

Sheppard turned back to the hole. "All right, you get me down there. I'll see how bad off they are, and we can work out a plan to get them out."

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

John finished tying a loop in one end of the rope, clipped Beckett's medical pack to his vest, and scooted over to the edge of the hole.

"Ready?" he asked Ronon as he dangled his feet over the edge.

"Just go already," Ronon growled at him. He had the rope wrapped around his waist while Hir-in and the other villagers stood in front of him holding the slack ready to help.

John slipped his foot in the loop, gripped the rope with both hands, gave Ronon a nod, and dropped over the side. He dropped a foot or two until Ronon and the villagers picked up the slack in the rope, then he was slowly lowered down.

John grimaced when he realised how far Rodney and Carson had fallen. He looked around the room as Ronon lowered him down. It was obvious they were in some sort of ship, but John didn't see a control chair in the room.

How far away was it? he wondered as he spotted Beckett and Rodney sitting against the wall near a doorway, watching him.

John landed on top of a console, pulled his foot out of the loop at the bottom of the rope, and jumped down.

"Hey," Sheppard greeted as he knelt in front of Rodney and Beckett, and tried to hide his concern.

Both of them looked pale, and John saw the pain lines etched across both of their faces. Rodney sat with his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around his chest. John also noted the bloody bandage stuck to McKay's forehead. There was a pressure bandage wrapped around Carson's leg, and his knee was double the normal size. The dark bruising peeking out from under the gauze wrapped around Beckett's wrist told John his arm was probably broken.

"What took you … so long?" Rodney asked, his tone more relieved than angry.

"You're lucky we found you at all," Sheppard retorted, hiding his own worry behind a mask of sarcasm at McKay's less than enthusiastic greeting. "You should see what it looks like up there."

He unclipped the pack and gave Beckett a worried glance as he passed Carson the medical pack. He grasped Rodney's shoulder and felt him relax slightly as he gave John a wan smile.

Carson searched through the bag one-handed and pulled out a large chemical ice pack. "Here," he said to Rodney. He handed the pack to John, who cracked the ice pack, shook it to mix the chemicals, and handed it to McKay. "It will help your ribs." Carson pulled out another ice pack, mixed the chemicals and laid it across his knee.

"Teyla's here," Ronon called down from the top of the hole.

John squeezed Rodney's shoulder, then stood and walked back to the hole. "Go ahead and lower her down," John said looking up at Ronon staring down at him. "I might need some help."

"How are they?" Ronon asked as he pulled the rope back up.

"They're both banged up pretty good," John replied with a worried glance behind him.

Carson had found an emergency brace for his wrist in the kit, and John watched as he tightened the straps around his arm before sorting through the pack again.

"Colonel, I am ready," Teyla said as she sat on the edge of the opening.

John guided her down to the console, took her hand, and helped her jump down next to him.

"Rodney? Doctor Beckett?" Teyla asked as she knelt next to Carson. "Are you all right?"

"Aye, lass," Carson said with a pained smile. "We're a bit worse for wear, but assuming Colonel Sheppard has a way to get us out of here, we should be fine."

"I'm still working on that part," John admitted.

"Cor-in and the others are building stretchers using their ponchos and walking sticks," Teyla reported, and John watched as she scooted over and squeezed Rodney's fingers.

John nodded. "So we just have to figure out a way to get them out here and then we can carry them back to the village."

"I fear the only option will be to pull them out," Teyla said. "I do not believe the stretchers will fit through the opening in the ground."

Rodney looked up at the hole with a pained face. "There has to be … another way."

John could sympathise. He wasn't sure if McKay's ribs were broken or merely bruised, but either way, pulling him out of the ship was going to hurt. The problem was he didn't see any other options.

"I'm listening if you have a better idea," he said softly.

Rodney looked around the room and shook his head.

"There may be something we can do to lessen the pain, at least," Carson said as he dug through the medical kit and pulled out two syringes. "Morphine," he explained.

John shook his head. "You're going to need to hold onto the rope. You can't do that if you're half-asleep."

"I can give each of us a partial dose now," Carson told him. "Just enough to dull things a bit, and the rest once we're out."

John considered the idea for a few seconds, then nodded. "Best plan we've got," he agreed.

"Rodney, hold out your arm, lad," Carson said and injected half of one of the doses into Rodney's left arm. Carson recapped the syringe and put it in McKay's jacket pocket. "That should take the edge off things," he murmured to Rodney.

John knew the moment the medication hit his system when Rodney relaxed the hold around his chest, uncurled his legs, and closed his eyes.

"Hey," John said, and tapped him on the arm.

"Hmm?" Rodney murmured, and cracked his eyes open.

"No sleeping yet. Let's get you out of here first."

Rodney stared at him for a moment, then nodded.

John helped him to his feet and guided him over to the opening above them. He tied the rope under Rodney's arms letting the end dangle down and slipped McKay's foot into the loop. Rodney's eyes were drooping again, and John wrapped his hands around the rope.

"Don't let go until Ronon tells you," he said in a low voice.

Rodney jerked his head up as John spoke and nodded.

John looked up at Ronon waiting overhead. "Slow and steady," he said as the villagers started to pull the rope.

John kept one hand on Rodney's leg until he was out of reach, then watched as he was pulled up and out of the ship. Ronon guided him out of the hole and kept one arm wrapped around him, holding him up as McKay sagged against him.

"Ronon," John called, and waited for Ronon to look down at him. "Syringe is in his left pocket. You know what to do?"

Ronon nodded. "Done it before," he said as he lay Rodney on the ground out of John's line-of-sight.

"Send the rope back down for Carson."

A few seconds later, the rope slithered down the hole again. John grabbed it and started to turn around when he was reminded of a conversation he'd had months ago with Beckett.

"Sharon and my team back in Atlantis know not to insert an IV in Rodney's right arm. The first time Jason tried, Rodney reacted by giving the lad a black eye, even though he was only half-conscious at the time. Since then, my team knows not to touch his right arm with anything sharp without telling him first."

"Ronon?" John called, and looked back up.

"What?" Ronon glared down at him.

"Don't touch his right arm with the needle," John told him. "Give him the rest of the morphine in his left."

Ronon stared down at him for a moment, then nodded and moved away from the hole.

"Okay, Doc," John said. "Your turn."

Carson nodded, and injected himself with half of the other syringe.

Teyla took the pack from him and helped Beckett to his feet. John grasped his arm, helped him limp over to the hole, and tied the rope around him.

"Ready," John called up to Ronon and made sure Carson had a steady grip on the rope. "Almost there, Doc," John said with a smile.

Carson gave him a slight nod and closed his eyes as the rope went taut, and he was lifted off the ground.

By the time Ronon pulled John back out of the ship, Rodney and Carson were both asleep, lying on the makeshift stretchers. He watched as Teyla covered first Beckett and then Rodney with an emergency blanket. She touched McKay on the shoulder, then stood back.

Ronon took the medical pack from her, slung it over his shoulders and picked up one end of Beckett's stretcher while Hir-in took the other.

John and Cor-in picked up Rodney's stretcher, and John nodded to Teyla. "Take point," he told her. "Let's get back to the village."

Chapter Text

It was mid-afternoon by the time they returned to the village. Jor-tan waited outside his house and directed them inside as soon as he saw them come into the square.

"Friend Sheppard?" Jor-tan asked with a wide-eyed glance at the pair of stretchers. "Are they …"

"A bit banged up, but it could have been worse," John replied as he followed Ronon down the hall to the room they'd used the previous night.

Ronon and Hir-in settled Beckett on the bed nearest the wall. Ronon shrugged the medical pack off his back and dropped it on the floor before sitting on the edge of the bed. He pulled out a knife, sliced away the rest of Beckett's trouser leg, dropping the tattered and bloody material on the floor, and untied the pressure bandage wrapped around Beckett's leg.

John heard Ronon mutter something under breath as he and Cor-in manoeuvred Rodney's stretcher over to the other bed.

Ronon looked up at him with a grimace. "This is bad," he said as Teyla handed him an antiseptic wipe from her vest. "It's deep and needs to be stitched."

"There should be a suture kit in the pack," John said with a nod at the medical kit on the floor. He turned back to Cor-in. "Nice and easy," he said as they settled Rodney in the next bed.

He started untying Rodney's boots when he heard McKay's wheezy breathing and frowned. John knew from past, painful, experience how hard it could be to breathe with broken ribs when lying flat. He abandoned the boots, sat on McKay's bed with his back against the wall, and carefully pulled Rodney up so he leant against John's chest.

John looked over at Jor-tan and said, "We need to find a way to prop him up. It will help him breathe a bit easier."

"I will see what I can find," Jor-tan said and hurried from the room.

Sheppard turned to check on Beckett and found Ronon rummaging through the contents of the medical kit while Teyla finished cleaning the gash in Beckett's leg. All John could think was Carson would have a fit when he found the dishevelled pack later.

"Got it," Ronon said and held up the sterile packet containing a curved surgical needle and thread.

"You are sure you know what you are doing?" Teyla asked.

Ronon nodded as he opened the package. "Had some training," Ronon told her with a sideways glance.

John saw the strange, almost sad, look on his face and wondered what Dex wasn't telling them.

"Had to patch myself up more than once," Ronon continued and started to sew.

Teyla turned to the other bed. "John? How is Rodney?"

"Still out," John replied with a glance down at McKay. "His breathing sounds better when he's sitting up. Should probably check that head wound, though," he added as he peeled the bloody bandage off Rodney's forehead.

Rodney twitched as the bandage came off. John winced in sympathy when he saw the cut and the bruise on his forehead.

Teyla found another antiseptic wipe and sat on the edge of the bed. "How are you feeling?" she asked softly as she gently cleaned the blood off Rodney's face.

John shrugged. "Bit of a headache," he admitted and adjusted his hold on Rodney. "Not too bad, though."

Teyla was still cleaning the cut when Jor-tan returned with a bundle of pillows in his arms.

"Will these work?" he asked as he set the pillows on another bed.

"Good enough," John told him with a nod of thanks and moved out from under McKay enough for Teyla and Jor-tan to push the cushions behind Rodney's back.

Teyla finished cleaning the cut while John found a tube of antibacterial cream in Beckett's medical pack. He smeared a generous dollop over the cut on McKay's forehead, and taped down a fresh bandage. He finished removing Rodney's jacket and boots and Teyla covered him with a blanket.

"How's it going over here," John asked as he moved over to Carson's bed.

"Almost done," Ronon replied.

John looked over Ronon's shoulder at the neat row of stitches in Carson's leg. "Good work," he said as Ronon tied off the last knot.

"Said I knew what I was doing," Ronon told him.

"And I believed you," John replied with a smile. He handed Ronon the antibacterial cream.

Ronon squeezed some of the cream over the gash, found a clean bandage in the medical kit, and covered the gash. "Not sure what to do about his knee or his wrist."

"Leave his hand alone," John said. "It's in a brace, that's the best we can do right now." John looked down at the swollen knee joint. "We don't have any more chemical ice packs, not sure what we can do about the swelling."

"There is a paste that one can make from certain flowers," Teyla suggested. "It will help reduce the swelling. Surely someone in the village has some." She looked over at Jor-tan, standing on the other side of Rodney's bed.

"I will see what I can find," Jor-tan said and left the room.

"Colonel," Teyla said, and held out the bottle of ibuprofen from the medical kit and a bottle of water.

"Thanks," he replied. He took the water bottle and swallowed a couple of the pills.

"There is still the question of how we get back to Atlantis," Teyla said a few minutes later.

John glanced at Rodney and sighed. "No way to know until McKay is awake. We'll need to figure out a way to get him out to the 'gate to look at the DHD."

"And if it cannot be repaired?" Teyla asked.

"We've missed several check-ins," John said. "Elizabeth has to know something is wrong. Since we haven't heard from them, I'm assuming they can't dial the planet any more than we can dial the city. Worst case, the Daedalus is due back in a week or two. Elizabeth will contact Colonel Caldwell and have him detour to Drellim."

"The people here need the stargate, Colonel," Teyla reminded him. "We cannot simply leave them isolated."

"I know that," John replied. "I'm sure Rodney and Zelenka will come up with something to fix the DHD. We won't leave Jor-tan and his people in the lurch."

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

Rodney heard the drone of voices coming down a long tunnel, and let the noise wash over him not really bothering to figure out what the voices were saying. Whatever was going on, it didn't need him to solve it. Just as well as he didn't feel like thinking at the moment.

He lay in the peaceful darkness and started to drift when he heard his name and forced himself to focus.

"... It was Rodney," someone said, and Rodney thought he should know who the accented voice belonged to.

"I was unaware Rodney could use the control chair," a female voice replied.

"He has the ATA gene," the first voice said. "There's never been a reason why he couldn't use the chair." The accented voice paused, then said in a whisper, "If you ask me, I think he was afraid to use the chair before now."

Rodney let himself drift away from the conversation and was almost asleep when something else niggled at the back of his mind. Something was wrong. He remembered Ronon pulling him out of the ship. His head ached and his chest still felt like it was in a vise any time he tried to take a breath. The problem was, he didn't think he was in the infirmary in Atlantis. He concentrated and noted instead of the antiseptic smell he was familiar with whenever he was trapped in Carson's domain, the room smelled of something sweet and at the same time a little spicy.

Rodney prised his eyes open and discovered he was half-sat up in bed with a pile of slightly lumpy pillows supporting his back and neck. He stared up at an unfamiliar ceiling and tried to figure out where he was if not back in Atlantis. After a few more seconds staring upward, he realised what he was seeing was the ceiling in the bedroom of Jor-tan's house.

Why was he still on the planet? he wondered as he blinked up at the ceiling.

"Rodney?" the female voice asked.

Rodney felt a hand on his arm, turned his head, and found Teyla sitting in the chair beside his bed.

"How are you feeling?" she asked, concern plain in her expression.

"Umm," he muttered and tried to shift on the bed to see her better.

He quickly realised that was a mistake when the pain in his chest flared. He closed his eyes and felt Teyla's hand in his. He concentrated on the feeling of her thumb rubbing the back of his hand, and waited for the throbbing to die back to a dull ache.

He opened his eyes, and Teyla gave him a worried smile as she let go of his hand. "You and Doctor Beckett are safe," she told him with a gentle smile. "Ronon found you this morning. We are back in Jor-tan's home."

Rodney frowned and looked around the room again. "Why?" he asked.

Teyla gave him a puzzled look.

"Why are we … still here?" he explained.

"Ahh," she replied. "That is more … complicated." She sat back in the chair.

Rodney's frown turned into a scowl. "Complicated … how?" he asked.

He had a sudden bad feeling and glanced around the rest of the room. The empty room. Teyla had said Ronon found them. He had a vague memory of John talking to him and getting them out of the ship, so he knew Sheppard was alive. So where were they? What was the bad news Teyla didn't want to tell him?

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Teyla sighed and glanced at the other bed.

Rodney followed her gaze and saw Carson on the other bed, a similar pile of pillows behind his back, with his arm in an emergency splint, and his left leg elevated on another pillow.

"Don't be worrying about it right now," Carson said. "The important thing is we're all still here."

Rodney looked around the room again. "Sheppard?" he asked. "Ronon?"

"They are both well," Teyla told him. "They have gone back to the stargate." She stood from the chair and continued, "I will send one of the villagers to find them and let them know you are awake. I will also ask Jor-tan to bring you and Doctor Beckett some supper."

She gave Rodney's fingers a quick squeeze and left the room.

"You didn't answer Teyla," Carson said once she was gone. "How are you feeling?"

"Sore," Rodney told him after a moment. "And hungry," he added, trying to keep his sentences short.

"You need to take deeper breaths," Carson told him. "I know it hurts, but you don't want to add pneumonia to the mix."

Rodney nodded and took a few deep breaths. "What about you?" he asked with a nod at Beckett's leg.

"Mostly fine," Carson said. "Turns out, Ronon is a deft hand at suturing." He tapped the neat bandage wrapped around his leg.

Rodney nodded and stared up at the ceiling. "Why are we … still here?" he asked again. "It doesn't make sense."

Carson started to say something and stopped. At the same time, Rodney heard a door bang somewhere else in the house.

"I think I'll let Colonel Sheppard explain that," Beckett said as John entered the room with Ronon behind him. John stopped the end of the bed and gave Rodney a measured look.

"Okay?" John asked.

Rodney winced and nodded.

John looked over at the other bed. "Carson," he added with a nod.

"Colonel," Carson replied. "Rodney was just asking why we were still here."

Sheppard glanced back at Ronon, who stood against the wall near the door with his arms crossed over his chest, glowering at John and Beckett.

"I told him you would explain," Carson finished with an innocent smile.

"What did you … do?" Rodney asked and tried to push himself more upright only to end up scattering the pillows on the floor.

"It wasn't me," John said as he picked up the pillows and helped Rodney settle them behind him again. "Ronon sort of shot the DHD."

Rodney froze. "You did what?" he asked, and glared over at Ronon. "How do you … sort of shoot …" He stopped and wrapped an arm around his chest. He took a few breaths, then tried again, "You shot … the DHD?"

"I was shooting at the Wraith," Ronon said stiffly. "The DHD got in the way."

"We were on our way back from taking another look at it when we got Teyla's message," Sheppard said. "It doesn't look that bad. It was more of a graze than a direct hit."

"And that's … your expert opinion … is it?" Rodney scowled at him. He shook his head and pushed aside the blankets.

"Whoa. Hey!" John exclaimed as Rodney wrapped an arm around his chest and sat on the edge of the bed.

At the same time, Carson exclaimed, "And just where do you think you're going?"

Rodney glared over at him from where he sat hunched on the bed. "Unless you want … to start paying … Jor-tan rent … I'm going to … go fix the DHD … so we can go home."

John stepped forward and rested his hands on Rodney's shoulders. "Stop."

Rodney scowled at him.

"You need to rest," John told him softly, and Rodney noticed the worry in John's expression.

He closed his eyes, sighed, and sank back against the pillows. Sheppard moved his legs back onto the bed and covered him with the blanket.

"Besides," John continued once Rodney was situated, "it's going to be dark soon. We can worry about fixing the DHD tomorrow."

"Food's here," Ronon announced, and stepped away from the door as two women entered the room carrying trays.

Rodney was a bit startled when the woman with his tray set it over his lap with a smile and squeezed his hand before leaving the room.

"Eat," John said, and motioned Teyla and Ronon toward the door. "We'll worry about the rest tomorrow."

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

John woke the next morning and found Ronon and Teyla already up and gone. He glanced to his left and saw Rodney still asleep in the bed next to him. The bruise on McKay's forehead was a painful-looking purple-black, but the bandage didn't show any signs of fresh bleeding. He sat up and found Beckett also still asleep, but the pillow supporting his leg had fallen off the bed during the night.

"Long may it last," John muttered softly as he adjusted the blanket over Rodney and carefully resettled Carson's leg on the pillow.

He grabbed his boots and went in search of his other two teammates. He found them in one of the front rooms of the house staring out the window. "Morning," he said as he sat down and pulled on his boots.

"Good morning, Colonel," Teyla said from one side of the window.

"Sheppard," Ronon said, and went back to looking out the window.

"What's with you two this morning?" John asked as he stepped between them and glanced outside. "Oh," he said a few seconds later.

"They started showing up at daybreak," Ronon told him, and let the curtain fall back over the window.

John glanced out the window at the villagers camped in front of Jor-tan's house. "What are they doing?"

"Waiting for Friend McKay," Jor-tan said as he walked into the room. "Teyla told me it was your Doctor McKay who fought off the Wraith. I, in turn, told my people. They wish to express their gratitude to the man who saved their lives and the lives of their families and friends."

John had felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach the night before when Teyla had informed him and Ronon of what Carson had told her of Rodney using the control chair to fight off the hive ship. He suspected the reality of what he'd done hadn't had time to really hit McKay yet and wondered what would happen when it did.

"Colonel?" Teyla asked.

John sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. Would the sincere thanks from the people outside help McKay come to terms with what he'd been forced to do, or make it worse? he wondered. He knew from past experience Rodney wasn't much for crowds, but he wasn't sure how to tell that to Jor-tan or the villagers waiting outside.

"Nothing," he muttered, then walked away from the window. "McKay and Beckett are still asleep. With everything that happened yesterday, I'm not in any hurry to wake them up. However, once McKay is awake, we're going to need a way to get him out to the 'gate so he can take a look at the DHD. He's not going to be able to walk that far with those ribs."

"I will have a cart ready whenever you wish to leave, Friend Sheppard," Jor-tan offered.

John nodded his thanks. "I suggest we get something to eat," he said the Ronon and Teyla.

Ronon jerked his chin at the window. "What about them?"

"Let them stay if they want. We'll just have to stick close to Rodney when we leave."

Ronon nodded and turned toward the makeshift dining room.

John, Teyla, and Ronon were still sitting around the breakfast table with Jor-tan when John heard grumbling coming from the hallway, and a few seconds later Rodney shuffled into the room half-supporting Carson, who was limping heavily and bracing his weight on the wall.

"What are you doing up?" John asked as he came over and helped Beckett to the table.

Jor-tan jumped to his feet and disappeared into the kitchen.

"Thank you, Colonel," Carson said with a tight smile as he sat down.

"I smelled food," Rodney said as he eased himself into the chair Teyla held out for him.

"Why didn't you call one of us to come help you?" John asked.

Rodney shrugged. "No radio. Besides … I was hungry."

Jor-tan came back with two plates heaped with food.

"Always thinking with your stomach," Ronon told him as he took one of the plates from Jor-tan and set it in front of McKay.

Rodney finished eating twenty minutes later and pushed his empty plate away. "I guess if we want to get home … I need to see the DHD," he said, and John was pleased to hear he was speaking in longer sentences between each breath.

John looked at the front windows and took a deep breath. "About that," he said and glanced at Teyla and Ronon.

"What?" Rodney asked and started to stand, one arm guarding his ribs. "You said we needed to … wait until morning … Well, it's morning … I'm more than ready ... to go home … I'm sure Jor-tan is ready … to have his house back."

"Not at all, Friend McKay," Jor-tan started to say, but John held up a hand.

"There's something you need to know before we leave."

"What now?" Rodney asked, and John heard the impatience in his tone.

John was still trying to find the best way to explain the crowd of people outside when Ronon stepped in.

"The villagers know you fought off the Wraith," Dex told Rodney. "They're waiting outside."

The bruise on Rodney's forehead stood out in vivid detail as he blanched and turned to John.

"They just want to say thank you," John told him with a reassuring smile.

"I'd really rather they didn't," Rodney told him.

John was about to make a sarcastic comment when he saw McKay wasn't kidding, his expression held equal parts fear and guilt.

"What's the problem?" Ronon asked, apparently oblivious to McKay's mood. "Usually you can't get enough attention."

Rodney scowled at Dex and turned to John. "I think I mentioned … once before … I don't really like … crowds of people … Bad things happen … in large groups," Rodney said with a wary glance at the front of the house.

Sheppard had never heard the story of why Rodney didn't like crowds. Part of him wanted to ask if it was just the claustrophobia or something else but now wasn't the time. "Unfortunately, there's not going to be a way to avoid this crowd," John told him. "They've been waiting a couple of hours already."

Rodney ducked his head and toyed with the fork on the table in front of him.

John watched him for a moment. This was about more than just the gathering outside, he realised with a puzzled frown. He replayed the events of the last few days in his head, but couldn't think of any reason why McKay would want to actively avoid the villagers.

"Don't worry about it," John said after a moment of silence. He nodded at Ronon, Teyla, and Beckett. "We'll be right there with you."

Rodney took a deep breath, winced, and nodded as he stood. "I need to get … my pack," he mumbled.

"No, you don't," Carson said and held up a hand. "No lifting or carrying with those ribs. I'm sure Colonel Sheppard or Ronon will be more than happy to carry whatever supplies you need."

Rodney started to protest, but John spoke over him, "Ronon, go get McKay's pack and meet us by the front door."

Ronon nodded and left the room.

"How long do think the repairs to the DHD will take?" John asked.

"How should I know?" Rodney retorted with some of his usual impatience as he sat back down. "I could be five minutes … or five hours." He paused and took a few deeper breaths. "Depending on what Ronon actually hit … I may not be able to fix it at all."

John grimaced and turned to Carson. "You might want to stay here," he said with a quick glance at Teyla.

"I can stay with Doctor Beckett," Teyla offered. "We can show the villagers how to use the herbs and plants we collected before the Wraith attacked."

"Sounds like a plan," John said as Ronon came back into the room carrying Rodney's pack. Sheppard nodded to Jor-tan. "Is the cart ready?"

Jor-tan nodded. "It's waiting in the square."

"Cart?" Rodney asked as he stood.

"Yeah," John replied. "It's a three-mile walk to the 'gate. Pretty sure you're not up for that."

Rodney wrapped an arm across his chest. "No, maybe not," he agreed.

"All right," John said. "Ronon, you go first. I'll follow with McKay. We'll let the villagers say thank you, then head for the 'gate."

Ronon nodded and shouldered the pack.

"Ready?" John asked Rodney once they were at the front door.

McKay shook his head. "Let's get this over with."

What John had expected was some applause, and maybe some cheering as the three of them made their way from the house to the waiting cart. The reality was somewhat different.

The villagers, who had been milling about the square, talking in small groups, all turned toward the house when the door opened. Ronon stepped outside and ignored the crowd of people as he moved away from the house, toward the cart. Rodney followed a few steps behind but froze when the crowd started cheering and surged forward a few steps in an effort to reach him.

John cursed under his breath when he heard the noise and caught sight of the panicked look on McKay's face. John gave Ronon a sharp whistle at the same time McKay took a hurried step back trying to escape the press of people surrounding him. John stopped him and draped an arm over his shoulders for moral support, but also to keep Rodney from retreating back into the house.

Ronon was near the edge of the crowd when John whistled and glanced back at the house. He must have seen the same alarmed expression on McKay's face that John had, and took two steps back, placing himself between Rodney and the eager villagers.

The crowd stopped, then moved back as Ronon rolled his shoulders and glared across the square. John would swear Dex actually grew taller as he stood there facing down the crowd.

John heard McKay let out a breath and felt him relax slightly as the crowd backed off. He was about to start McKay moving toward the cart again when a young woman stepped forward with a flower in her hand. Ronon glanced back at John, and when Sheppard nodded, Dex moved aside to let her pass.

She stopped in front of Rodney and gave him a shy smile. "What you did saved all of us, Friend McKay," she told him, "and we will never be able to repay that debt. Thank you."

"Umm, you're … umm, welcome," Rodney stuttered with a hesitant glance at John.

The woman smiled wider, held out the flower to Rodney, and waited.

John could tell McKay wasn't sure what he should do next, so he smiled at the woman, took the offered flower from her, and handed it to Rodney.

The woman nodded to John, smiled again at McKay, and stepped back, allowing the rest of the crowd to move forward more slowly this time. Some of the villagers gave Ronon a wary glance as they closed in around Rodney again, but most ignored him in favor of getting close enough to McKay to touch his hands or arms and give him the flowers they held out to him.

John kept one hand on Rodney's back as the villagers filed past. Rodney did his best to appear grateful, but John could feel McKay's muscles tense more and more as the procession continued and he hoped the impromptu thanks-giving would be over soon. He wasn't sure how much more strain Rodney's back or mood could take.

Twenty minutes later, the last of the crowd returned to their homes, leaving Rodney with an armful of flowers and a slightly stunned expression on his face.

"You okay?" John asked as Teyla stepped forward and took the bundle of flowers.

Rodney swallowed and nodded.

John studied McKay's face for a moment, then turned to Ronon, "All right. Let's get moving."

Rodney glanced around the square as he walked over to the same horse and cart John and Ronon had used for the supplies the day before. John watched as Rodney settled in the back of the cart. Ronon stood beside the cart, watching the square.

John walked back to Teyla and Beckett waiting inside the house and said, "I'll radio once Rodney has had a chance to look at the DHD and let you know what the ETA looks like."

"Don't let him do too much," Beckett warned. "Any lifting or stretching is going to make his ribs ache." He scooted forward in his chair and handed John a pill bottle. "Ibuprofen," Carson said as John looked from him to the bottle. "In case one or both of you need it," he added.

"We'll be fine," John said as he stuffed the bottle in a vest pocket. "Hopefully, it will be something easy to fix, and I'll have both of you back home before much longer."

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

The cart entered the shade from the tunnel of trees in front of the 'gate, and Rodney let out a silent breath of relief the trip was almost over. Even with the pills Sheppard had given him, his ribs had protested at every hole and rock the cart managed to find. A few minutes later, the cart rolled into the open space near the 'gate. Ronon stopped the horse near the DHD, and Rodney was silently grateful for Sheppard's help in easing himself down from the back of the cart.

Ronon unhitched the horse and turned it loose to graze on the grass growing under the trees.

"Won't it wander off?" Rodney asked as the horse snuffled the ground.

Ronon shook his head. "It won't go far."

"If you're wrong … I'm not chasing after it," Rodney told him and reached for his pack, but Sheppard got there first.

"I got it," Sheppard said and followed as Rodney walked over to the DHD.

One side of the base was scorched, and another section was gone altogether, Rodney could see the damaged fiber optics poking out of the hole. He stopped in front of the dialling device, tried pressing a few of the 'gate symbols, and shook his head when the glyphs remained dark.

Rodney carefully sat down and grimaced when he pulled the cover off the section of the base with the control crystals.

"Well?" Sheppard asked, and squatted down next to him.

Rodney rolled his eyes as he pulled the laptop computer out of his pack. "I just got here," he retorted with a glare. "Give me a minute."

John grinned and stood.

Rodney booted up the computer and growled under his breath as he searched unsuccessfully through his pack for the cables he needed.

"What's wrong?" Sheppard asked.

Rodney set the computer aside and stared at the crystals. How was he supposed to check the viability of the crystals if he couldn't run any diagnostics? He dug through the pack again, looking for anything he could use to connect the computer to the DHD.

"McKay," Sheppard said again, this time in his command voice. "What's wrong?"

Rodney set the computer aside and rubbed his forehead. "We might have a problem."

John crossed his arms over his chest. "So I gathered. What's the matter?"

Rodney squinted up at him. "This was supposed to be … a quick mission for Carson to … check on some folks … I didn't anticipate ... having to do … major repairs to the DHD … after someone decided to … shoot it." He glared over at Dex.

"Hey!" Ronon exclaimed.

Sheppard waved at both of them to be silent.

"Okay, so what's the problem?" John asked.

Rodney sighed. "I don't have the cables I need … to connect the computer to the DHD … I can't run any … diagnostics … Without the diagnostics … I can't fix the DHD."

"So we're stuck here?" Ronon asked.

Rodney stared at the trays of crystals lined up in rows in front of him, considering and discarding options.

"What were you doing with the console?" John asked.

"The tiles gave off different vibrations. The good tiles had a sort of high-frequency vibration, the bad tiles felt … dead, I guess, is the best way to describe it."

Rodney studied the control crystals as he remembered that conversation with Sheppard. He had used that ability to sense Ancient systems a few times since the transformer accident, though he'd never mentioned it to Sheppard.

Would the same trick work on the DHD? he wondered. Only one way to find out.

"Maybe not," Rodney muttered to Ronon as he started to shift around on the ground and laid down on his front, resting his weight on his elbows.

"Whoa, hey," John said, and bent down. "I really don't think you should be doing that."

Rodney glared over at him. "Normally … I'd agree … with you," he replied and winced as he shifted. "But the only way … to access … the control crystals … is from here." He pointed to the open section low on the base of the DHD.

"I thought you said …" Sheppard stopped talking and glanced from the open crystal panel to Rodney and back again. "You can't be serious?" he hissed, and Rodney knew he'd figured out his idea. "The last time you did that, you ended up with a migraine."

"That wasn't the … only time," Rodney admitted. "I've used the ability … since the accident. The headache wasn't … that bad."

"We'll think of something else," Sheppard said with a frown. "Beckett isn't going to like you lying on your stomach like that."

Rodney looked up with a pained glare. "I'm listening … if you have … a better idea."

Rodney could tell Sheppard didn't have an answer for that and focused on the crystals. He reached out a tentative hand, touched one of the crystals, and frowned when he didn't feel any vibrations.

"Okay," he muttered to himself. "Is the crystal actually dead … or does the vibration trick … only work on systems … inside Atlantis?"

Rodney touched another crystal and felt a jolt in his stomach when his fingers sensed the vibration of the viable crystal. "Yes," he hissed.

"What are you doing?" Ronon asked, and Rodney glanced up to see him standing next to John.

Rodney ignored the question and looked over at John with a smile. "Feeling for … the vibrations works … I might still be able … to fix the DHD."

"Still … " Sheppard started to argue but Rodney interrupted.

"This would go … a lot faster … if you stopped … distracting me," Rodney told him pointedly.

John glared down at him for a moment longer then took a step back and signalled Ronon to follow him as he explained about Rodney's ability to sense Ancient tech, thanks to the Overseer and their experience in the gauntlet.

Rodney waited until both of them moved away before he ducked his head and groaned softly. The truth was, even with most of his weight on his arms, lying on his stomach was killing him. But the faster he figured out what the problem was, the faster he could fix it, and they could all go home.

Ten minutes later, he sat up, wrapped his arms around his chest, and waited for the throbbing to subside. He felt a tap on his arm and looked up to see John with a worried crease in his forehead, holding out a power bar and a bottle of water.

"Thanks," Rodney said as he took the energy bar and opened it.

"What's the verdict?" Sheppard asked and knelt down as Rodney chewed and swallowed.

"The good news is … most of the crystals … are intact." Rodney pointed to the scorched section. "I think all I need to do … is rewire a few things … The energy isn't getting from … the power crystals … to the rest of the … system … That's why Atlantis … hasn't been able to ... dial us either."

"So you can fix it?"

Rodney nodded and finished the rest of the power bar.

"How long?"

Rodney studied the rest of the damage to the fiber optics. "Umm … an hour … Maybe two."

John stood and called, "Ronon!"

"Yeah?" Ronon replied, and walked over to the DHD.

"Let's get the horse hitched. Rodney thinks he can have the DHD fixed in a couple of hours. Head back to the village, get Teyla and Beckett, and bring them back here. You'll probably need one of the villagers to come too. To take back the cart."

"On it," Ronon replied.

"Rodney, I'm going to help Ronon with the cart."

"Yes, fine," Rodney muttered, and sat where he could reach the burnt-out fiber optics.

He sensed Sheppard watching him, and tried to ignore him as he pulled out the singed wires.

"You all right?" John asked, and Rodney could hear the concern in his tone.

Rodney sighed and nodded. "Maybe lying on my front … wasn't the best idea," he admitted with a rueful smile.

"No, kidding," John replied. "Here, hold out your hand."

"What?" Rodney looked up at him.

"Ibuprofen," Sheppard explained and dropped the pills into Rodney's palm.

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

"You're welcome. You going to be okay?"

Rodney nodded and reached for a set of wire cutters. "I can work on the cables … sitting up."

Sheppard stood next to him for a few more seconds, then said, "All right, I'll be right back."

Rodney glanced up as Sheppard walked back to the cart. Ronon had a grip on the halter for the horse and was carefully backing it into the traces. Sheppard waited until the horse stopped moving, then helped Dex secure the cart to the harness on the horse.

Rodney focused on the DHD and examined the damage to the rest of the device. While the power crystals were undamaged, that wasn't the case for the secondary systems or the fiber optics in the section hit by Ronon's particle weapon. He muttered to himself as his fingers wove through the bundles of cable, picking out the good conduit from the bad.

He was busy splicing a pair of wires together when he heard the cart moving away and caught of glimpse of John walking back over to the DHD.

Sheppard sat down with his back against the other side of the DHD from where Rodney worked. "So," John said after a few minutes silence.

Rodney ignored him and carefully cut out another section of damaged cable.

"Ronon should be back in an hour or so with Teyla and Beckett," John said.

"Good," Rodney replied absently as he spliced the two ends of good cable back together. He nodded when the repaired cable held. He let go of the delicate repair and moved on to the next bundle of wires.

The next section had more damage, and Rodney sorted through the mass of wires searching for the cables that still had power he could use to reroute.

"So," John said again after a brief silence. "What is it with you and crowds?"

Rodney scowled into the innards of the DHD. "Lots of people … don't like crowds," he muttered, and hoped John would drop the subject.

"True. But you seem to have a particular aversion."

Rodney glanced over at John and was surprised to see curiosity instead of condemnation in his expression. He turned back to the DHD and focused on finding functional cables to reroute. He really didn't want to talk about what had happened all those years ago. "It's nothing," he tried to hedge.

"It must be something," John replied.

"This isn't as easy … as it looks … you know," Rodney retorted and glared over at John.

"All right, all right," John said and climbed back to his feet. "Just thought you'd want some company."

Rodney ducked his head. He wasn't trying to be rude. Okay, he thought ruefully, maybe he was trying to be a little rude. But he ached. He needed to get the DHD fixed. And he really didn't want to talk about what had happened. He glanced up, saw the worried look was back on John's face, and sighed.

"It was my … freshman year … of college," Rodney finally said, not looking at Sheppard. "I had a roommate … nice enough guy … Didn't seem to mind … having a kid … for a dorm-mate."

"How old were you?" John asked softly and knelt back down beside him.

"Oh, umm, fifteen." Rodney gave him a fleeting smile. "Anyway … there was a party … for all of … the freshman … a sort of … meet and greet … get to know … each other thing … The gymnasium … was packed … with people …" He swallowed and focused on the fiber bundle in front of him. "Someone thought … it would be funny … to set off a … bunch of … firecrackers."

John hissed in a breath.

Rodney dropped the cables in his hand and wrapped his arms around his chest. "I woke up … in the back of … an ambulance."

"And your friend?" John asked.

"Umm, died. So did … two others." He refused to look at Sheppard as he reached for the partially spliced cables. He concentrated on finishing the repairs and tried not to think about the suffocating feeling of people pushing, shoving, and finally knocking him to the ground in their panic to escape what turned out to be a stupid prank.

He felt John squeeze his shoulder and looked up. "I'm sorry," John said softly.

Rodney studied him for a moment and nodded as Sheppard stood.

"Don't overdo it," John told him. "As long as you're sure you can fix it, there's no rush."

Rodney took a deep breath, winced, and went back to work.

John stood a few paces away, watching the tunnel formed by the trees.

Rodney wasn't sure how much time had passed when he heard the clop-clop of the returning horse.

"They're back," John announced, and walked over to meet the cart as it came out of the trees.

Rodney looked up in time to see Ronon leading the cart back into the clearing. Jor-tan and several of the villagers walked beside him while Teyla rode in the cart with Carson and a surprising number of bundles and barrels.

"What's all of this?" Sheppard asked Dex as the villagers started unloading the cart near the 'gate.

"They insisted," Ronon told him. "It was easier to accept it than argue with them."

"Jor-tan, this isn't necessary," John started to protest.

"On the contrary, Friend Sheppard, it's the least we could do. Your people have suffered a great loss at the hands of the Wraith, and yet, you have done so much to save us."

Rodney looked down before anyone saw the guilty expression on his face. He ignored the rest of the debate about the supplies and checked over his repairs. He had managed to find workarounds for most of the damage, he just hoped it would be enough to get the DHD working.

"Rodney?" John said as Rodney packed up his tools and closed the remaining access panels for the DHD.

"I think it's fixed," he replied, and started to pull himself up using the DHD for balance.

John shook his head, took Rodney's arm, and helped him stand.

Rodney gave him an absent nod of thanks. "Here goes nothing," he said and touched one of the symbols. The glyph on the DHD lit up, and the lights on the 'gate spun in response. Rodney smiled when the first chevron locked into place.

"Good work, Rodney," John congratulated.

Rodney looked up to see Ronon helping Carson out of the cart, supporting Beckett as he hopped on one foot. "It's a patch job at best," he told Sheppard. "Someone will need to come back with the right tools and fix it permanently."

"We can worry about that later," John told him. "Finish dialling. We need to let Elizabeth know we're okay."

Rodney nodded and dialled the rest of the address. The wormhole formed with its usual whoosh.

John sent his IDC and pulled his radio out of his pocket. He gave Jor-tan and the villagers standing nearby a quick glance, then said, "Sheppard calling base. Elizabeth?"

"John?" Rodney heard Elizabeth say over the radio in John's hand. "We were beginning to fear the worst."

"We ran into a little trouble," John replied, and Rodney snorted.

"Yes, we know."

"Wait. You know?" Rodney butted into the conversation. "How could you … possibly know?"

"Doctor Zelenka found a computer in your lab running a simulation that pointed to a possible Wraith attack on Drellim. We've been trying to dial the planet for two days."

"There was some damage to the DHD during the attack," John explained.

Rodney rolled his eyes at the omission of exactly how the device had been damaged.

"What about your team, Colonel? Are all of you all right?"

John glanced at Rodney and then over at Carson supported by Ronon. "Rodney and Beckett are a bit banged up, but we're all here."

"Understood," Elizabeth said. "I'll have a medical team standing by."

John glanced at the supplies piled near the 'gate. "We also have some additional supplies from Jor-tan."

"I don't understand. If the planet was attacked by the Wraith --"

"It's a long story," John replied.

"Then, I look forward to hearing it. Your team is cleared to return, Colonel. Weir out."

"Rodney, head back. Teyla, can you help Beckett?"

"Certainly, Colonel," Teyla replied and took some of Carson's weight as he hobbled toward the 'gate.

"Ronon and I will deal with the extra supplies."

Rodney bent down to pick up the backpack when John reached down and took it from him.

"I got this. Go," he said softly. "I'll meet you in the infirmary."

Teyla and Beckett disappeared through the wormhole, and Rodney turned to Jor-tan. "I'll come back with … the right tools and supplies … to permanently repair the dialling device," he promised.

"You are always welcome here, Friend McKay," Jor-tan told him. He stepped forward and shook Rodney's hand. "Go with our heartfelt thanks. We will await your return."

"Yes, well, umm, bye," Rodney said with a glance at Sheppard. He gave Jor-tan a tiny wave and stepped through the 'gate.

Chapter Text

Late the next morning Carson eased himself into one of the chairs in front of Elizabeth's desk, set the cane on the floor next to him, and rested his leg on the other chair.

"Carson?" Elizabeth asked with a worried frown. "Are you sure you should be walking around?"

"Oh, aye," he assured her as he set the file folders in his hand on her desk. "The swelling in my knee is gone, Teyla's ointment did the trick. The laceration will take a week or so to heal, but it's nothing to worry about."

"And your wrist?" Elizabeth asked with a glance at the brace on Carson's right hand.

Carson flexed his fingers. "The lunate bone was cracked, but thankfully not displaced. A brace will see it right in a month or so." He looked up with a reassuring smile. "I'm fine, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth gave him a long look, then shook her head. "All right, if you say so." She picked up the medical files. "How is the rest of Colonel Sheppard's team?"

"Considering what happened, they are all doing well. Colonel Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon all came back with a collection of bruises and abrasions from fights with various Wraith soldiers, but there were no serious injuries."

"And Rodney?" Elizabeth asked as she opened the last file.

"He was lucky, as well." Carson shifted in his chair. "He has three bruised ribs, but no fractures. A scan of his skull showed no damage. If he was concussed as a result of the fall, it had resolved by the time we got back."

Elizabeth looked up from the file she was reading. "And Rodney's other problem?"

Carson smiled. "I think that's sorted as well. There was a situation our first night, but Colonel Sheppard seemed to handle it well enough. Rodney didn't seem to have any problems after that."

Elizabeth closed the folder and clasped her hands on top of it. "Colonel Sheppard told me about the Wraith attack and Rodney using the control chair." She glanced over at Carson. "I know neither of you were expecting to have to do something like that."

Carson ducked his head. "Rodney insisted he be the one to use the chair," he admitted a moment later. "Said he was better suited for …" Carson let the sentence peter out.

Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Is there anything we need to worry about?"

Carson shook his head. "Somehow I suspect Colonel Sheppard will take measures to make sure Rodney can come to terms with what he had to do."

Elizabeth nodded. "You're probably right." She gathered up the files and pushed them across her desk. "As for my Chief Surgeon," she looked up at Carson with a serious expression on her face, "I can't order you to rest, but I can suggest it."

"Already sorted," he told her with another smile as he slowly pushed himself to his feet. "I plan to have a relaxing afternoon, on a balcony, with my feet up, watching the water."

Elizabeth leant back in her chair with a smile of her own. "With a little help from Lieutenant Cadman?"

"Elizabeth," Carson admonished with a mock frown. "A gentleman would never tell." He picked up the files, gave her one last nod and a smile, and left the office.

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

Ronon checked the bruises along his chest in the mirror. He had ignored the shocked looks and the tsking noises from the female doctor in the infirmary when he'd returned to Atlantis the day before. He was stiff, and the bruises hurt, but the injuries were minor in his mind. Another Wraith ship had been destroyed, and as far as Ronon was concerned, a few bruises was a fair price to pay to be able to exact retribution on his enemies. It wasn't enough, especially since he hadn't been the one to blow up the hive ship, but it was a start. He prodded a few of the dark blotches along his ribs and stomach, decided the ache was bearable, and put a shirt on before he left his room in search of something to eat.

As he walked down the hall on his way to the mess hall, Ronon realised he felt relaxed for the first time in months. He acknowledged the greetings from the Marines and a few scientists with a pleasant nod, as opposed to a scowl or ignoring them altogether as he was wont to do in the past. For the first time in months, he felt something other than brooding anger.

He suspected that part of the reason for his good mood had to do with the battle on Drellim. He'd finally been able to exact some of his promised revenge on the Wraith and as a result, he felt alive, almost happy. It had been too long since he'd been in a fight, and he could admit to himself, it had felt good. He wasn't sure what that said about him, but didn't really care.

Ronon was almost to the mess hall when he realised the other reason he felt lighter was because he had finally accepted he had made the right choice staying in the Ancestor's city. He glanced out one of the windows then stopped and simply admired the view. Atlantis wasn't Sateda. Nothing, not even the storied city of the Ancestors, could replace his homeworld, but Beckett had been right all those months ago. He had found a new home. He took a deep breath, let it out, and nodded to his reflection in the window.

He started walking toward the mess hall again when he saw Beckett coming toward him, limping as he supported his weight on the cane in his hand.

"Doc," Ronon greeted.

"Ronon," Beckett replied and stopped in front of him. "How are you doing today?"

"Fine. Nothing I haven't dealt with before."

Beckett pursed his lips but only asked, "Where are you off too, then?"

"Mess hall," Ronon replied, as a young blonde woman carrying a hamper walked past him and stopped next to Beckett.

"Carson? Are you ready to go?" the woman asked, and glanced at Ronon.

Beckett's attention shifted to the woman, and Ronon saw his expression soften. "I was on my way to find you, my dear," he said to her and glanced back at Ronon. "Ronon, have you met Lieutenant Laura Cadman?" Beckett asked, and made introductions.

"Ronon," Cadman said with a smile as she set down the basket and held out her hand. "Nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you."

Ronon took the offered hand, surprised at Cadman's firm confident grip as she shook his hand.

"Yes, well, we should be going," Beckett said and bent to pick up the hamper.

"I've got it," Cadman said quickly. She picked up the basket and took Beckett's free hand in a light grip, mindful of the brace.

"Ronon," Beckett said with a nod and a smile as they walked back up the hall, Cadman slowing to match Beckett's shuffling gait.

Ronon waited until they were out of sight then continued on his way to find food.

He passed the door to one of the balconies and looked out at the sun glinting off the water. Defeating the Wraith once and for all was by far his main reason for staying in Atlantis and joining Sheppard's team, but the views from the city were amazing. Nothing but water as far as the eye could see; it was daunting, and at the same time, Ronon found it oddly peaceful.

He had walked a few more steps before the other thing he'd seen through the window hit him. He stopped walking and debated whether he should deal with the situation himself or call Sheppard. It wasn't an emergency as far as Ronon could tell. He could call Sheppard, alert him to the problem, and let him deal with it.

Ronon nodded to himself, reached up to tap the radio, and stopped as another thought hit him. He was no longer alone. He was part of a team and had to start thinking of more than just his own comfort. After the conversation he'd had with Sheppard the night before, chances were, Sheppard would tell him to deal with it anyway, so …

Ronon growled under his breath as he made his decision. He would probably regret what he was about to do, he knew, even as he backtracked and opened the door.

"Sheppard know you're out here?" Ronon asked as he walked past McKay hunched in one of the long, low balcony chairs. Ronon leant on the railing and looked out over the water.

"No," McKay replied.

Ronon glanced behind him when McKay didn't say anything else.

"When Rodney stops talking, that is when it is time to worry," he remembered Teyla telling him when he'd first arrived in Atlantis.

Ronon turned with his back against the railing and really looked at McKay sitting in the chair, never making eye contact. The cut on McKay's forehead was covered, but Ronon could still see the purplish bruise around the edges of the bandage. He also noted how McKay sat curled in the chair, with his knees drawn almost up to his chest. Ronon had assumed at first it was the result of the bruised ribs from the fall into the Ancestor's ship. Now that he looked closer, however, McKay's posture was more defensive than protective.

Should have just called Sheppard, Ronon berated himself. He was much better at dealing with McKay's moods.

Ronon ducked his head and gripped the railing behind him. "What's the problem?" he finally asked.

McKay gave him a startled look and shifted in the chair.

"What makes you think there's a problem?"

Ronon eyed him. "You aren't talking."

McKay glanced over at him then back at the water. "How many Wraith do you think … were in that hive ship?" he asked a few seconds later, his voice barely above a whisper.

Ronon stared at him for a moment, unsure why the number should matter. They were Wraith. They were dead. Good riddance to the lot of them as far as Ronon was concerned.

Then it hit him.

For all of his bluster and abrasive attitude, McKay was basically an innocent when it came to violence and killing. Ronon had been fifteen years old when he'd killed his first Wraith. Ten years, a lost war, and time spent running for his life, later, the last thing Ronon was, was innocent.

Definitely should have called Sheppard, Ronon told himself grimly as he studied McKay curled in the chair staring out at the water.

He thought back to his military training and tried to remember what one of the veterans had told that bunch of raw recruits.

"The Wraith don't show mercy," Ronon told him. "You can't either. Not if you want to survive."

Ronon frowned when McKay shrank further into the chair.

"How many people?" McKay whispered.

Ronon shrugged. "Any people would have been past saving."

Ronon looked up as the door behind McKay whispered open, and Sheppard stepped outside. Ronon gave him a relieved look and darted his eyes at McKay.

Sheppard shook his head and leant into the corner of the wall behind McKay.

Ronon scowled in response, but Sheppard ignored him as he crossed his arms over his chest and concentrated on what McKay was saying.

McKay looked up at Ronon, oblivious to the silent discussion going on around him. "I could see the culling beams … through that hole in the ship … I heard the darts … Carson was injured … I didn't know where any of you were."

McKay took a deep breath, winced, and continued. "I knew I had to do something … That's when I thought of … the control chair … Sheppard wouldn't have hesitated … to use it ... so I thought … I can't either."

Ronon glanced over at Sheppard in time to see him duck his head and rub the back of his neck. When he looked up, Ronon saw the pained expression on Sheppard's face and remembered another conversation he'd had soon after coming to Atlantis.

"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."

At the time, Ronon had only heard the part about finding and using the Ancestor's technology. Now he understood the rest of what Sheppard had been telling him. McKay protected the team with his intelligence. The team protected him from the uglier side of war as much as possible. After what happened on Drellim, Ronon wasn't sure how successful Sheppard would be with that plan moving forward, but Ronon silently vowed to hold up his end of it.

Ronon looked back at Sheppard and found Sheppard watching him. Ronon met Sheppard's gaze, then glanced at McKay and solemnly nodded. He hoped the message was clear.

Sheppard met Ronon's steady gaze with one of his own and nodded back with a grim smile. He straightened from the corner where he stood and went back to the door, signalling to Ronon to stay there and disappeared inside.

McKay took a deep breath. "I never got the chance to ask," he said, and Ronon heard the hesitance in his tone, "How, umm, how many … of the villagers were culled?"

How many people did I kill? Ronon knew that's what McKay was really asking.

Ronon shrugged. "None."

McKay gave him a skeptical look, clearly not believing him.

"Sheppard asked Jor-tan the same thing. There were some deaths from the Wraith on the ground, but no one was culled. The villagers had good escape routes." He looked over at McKay and added, "You stopped them before they could do much."

The door opened again, and this time Sheppard made enough noise for McKay to jump and turn around.

"Here you two are," Sheppard announced with feigned surprise as he stepped outside. "I've been looking for you." Sheppard stopped next to McKay's chair, glanced down at him, then over at Ronon.

Ronon shrugged in reply to the silent question.

Sheppard pursed his lips and tapped McKay on the shoulder. "Come on, Teyla's meeting us in the mess hall."

Ronon felt his stomach rumble at the mention of food.

Sheppard waited until McKay stood from the chair, then held the door open for him. Ronon brought up the rear.

"I saw Doctor Brown earlier," Sheppard said to McKay as they walked toward the mess hall. "She was looking for you down at your lab." Sheppard glanced back at Ronon and added, "McKay's date the other night."

McKay hunched his shoulders. "Not much of a date, really … Not after Cadman … decided to butt in."

"Cadman?" Ronon asked. "Saw Beckett with a woman named Cadman. They were heading off somewhere together." He didn't understand the strange look of distaste on McKay's face or Sheppard's grin.

"Good for them," McKay ground out a moment later.

"You should ask Katie out on another date," Sheppard suggested. "She seemed worried about you."

McKay shook his head. "Not very likely."

"You can't avoid her forever, you know," Sheppard said as they entered the mess hall.

"I can try," McKay replied as he picked up a tray and started through the mess line, followed by Sheppard and Ronon.

Once they had their food, Sheppard led the way over to their regular table and sat down across from Teyla.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, then Sheppard said, "Daedalus is due in a few days. Once Caldwell gets here, Elizabeth says we can head back to Drellim and see about fixing their DHD." He glanced at McKay, sitting next to him. "Might also take a better look around that ship you found. See if there's anything worth bringing back with us."

Ronon saw McKay shudder when Sheppard mentioned the ship.

Sheppard must have seen the reaction as well. "Rodney?"

McKay gave Sheppard a sideways glance, then looked back down at his food. "I'll send Zelenka to look at the DHD," he said. "Someone besides me should know how to fix a DHD in the field. Corrigan can investigate the ship."

Teyla set her cup down and looked from Sheppard to Ronon. "Rodney, is everything all right?"

"I'm fine," he told her, never looking up from his plate as he picked at his food.

"I thought you'd be eager to get another look at an Ancient ship," Sheppard said.

McKay grimaced. "Oh, yes," he said sarcastically and glared over at Sheppard, "Just what … I want to do … spend more time … in a place I'd … much rather forget."

Teyla frowned at the tone, but Sheppard seemed to take it in stride. "What haven't you told us?" Sheppard asked.

The fight went out of McKay, and he sagged back in his chair. "After," he waved a hand over his head, "I didn't know if you'd all … already been swept up in a dart, or …" He swallowed and wrapped his arms around his chest. "Once it was all over … I spent the rest of the night … wondering if I'd just … killed all of you," he admitted in a whisper. "All I could think about was … so much for one for all."

"One for all?" Teyla asked.

McKay gave her a crooked smile. "'One for all and all for one'," he said. "It's from a book about," he stopped and shook his head, "that part doesn't matter … 'One for all', it means … everyone works for the betterment … of the whole."

"You won't be going alone, you know," Sheppard told him.

McKay looked over at him.

"You always seem to forget the other part of that motto, McKay," Sheppard said with a smile. "'One for all." He paused and gave McKay a significant look. "And all for one. Where you go, we go."

McKay relaxed and nodded. "Does this mean we get to carry swords … off-world now?"

"I already have one," Ronon said nonchalantly and finished his food.

McKay stared at him for a moment, then turned to Sheppard.

"Don't even think about it," Sheppard replied before McKay could say anything. "The last thing you need to be doing is running around with a sword."

Rodney glared back at Sheppard as Teyla laughed and finished her tea.

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

John shook his head when he saw the light spilling out of the doorway for McKay's lab later that night. He peeked around the corner and found Rodney sitting at the work table, the Ancient mystery box in front of him, and several crystals scattered across the table.

"I thought you were supposed to be resting," John said as he came into the lab and sat on the stool across from Rodney.

"I am resting … All I'm doing is sitting here."

"Right," John drawled. "Something tells me Beckett won't see it that way."

Rodney shrugged and pulled another crystal out of the box.

John watched him for a few minutes, then said, "I heard what you said to Ronon earlier. About using the control chair."

Rodney flinched.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there," John admitted. "What you did … I never wanted to put you in a situation like that. You're a scientist, not a soldier. It's my job to protect you."

Rodney set down the crystal and stared over at John. "I thought we were supposed to … protect each other," he said pointedly. "Isn't that what a team does?"

John sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Yeah, but--"

"It wasn't even the first time," Rodney spoke over him. "If you count … the weapons platform … and the nuclear bombs."

John heard the false bravado in McKay's tone and shook his head. "That's not the same thing, and I think you know that."

Rodney ducked his head and fiddled with one of the crystals on the table.

"I just want to make sure you're going to be okay," John told him.

Rodney dropped the crystal. "If I hadn't used the chair … you'd be dead right now … So would Carson and I, for that matter … The only reason someone found us … was because you convinced ... Jor-tan and the villagers … to search for us."

"That's not true," John argued. "I'm sure --"

Rodney shook his head. "Assuming anyone from the village … survived the attack if I hadn't used the chair … they never would have looked for us … They would have just assumed … we'd been culled." He waited for John to look at him. "And I think you know that."

John grimaced but couldn't really deny what McKay was saying.

"If you think about it that way … I was just saving myself," Rodney finished and refused to look at John as he picked up the crystal again.

John watched McKay work for a few minutes, then stood from the stool, and tapped Rodney on the arm. "Thank you," he said softly.

Rodney looked up at him, confusion evident in his expression.

"For being so selfish," John finished, and tugged McKay's arm. "Now, I'm going to selfishly make you go back to your quarters."

"How is that selfish?" Rodney asked as he stood and followed John out of the lab.

"Who do you think Beckett is going to yell at if he finds out you were down here all night?" John asked with a straight face.

"Oh."

"Yeah. Oh," John replied with a smile, and led the way back to the section of the city with their rooms.

He'd get Rodney to rest tonight and worry about any lingering issues tomorrow. Maybe another flying lesson, John thought with a smile as he tapped the control for the transporter. He'd get Ronon and Teyla to come with them, show McKay he wasn't as selfish as he wanted to think.

Afterall one for all and all for one.

FIN