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It's Growing Day by Day

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* Day One *

As Rodney struggled to open his eyes, he became aware that his head was dully throbbing. "What...ow...fuck, I hurt." The weird, flickering light made it worse and he quickly closed his eyes again.

"Do not try to sit up," Teyla said, and even her quiet voice seemed to batter at his ears. "We believe you have a concussion."

"Christ...." Rodney drew a deep, but careful, breath. "You believe? I take it we're not...." He paused, frowning as he remembered blocks of stone falling and Ronon pulling him to safety just before everything went black. "Shit."

"Yeah, what you said, buddy," John said, his voice so carefully neutral that Rodney knew they were well and truly fucked.

"Is...." Worry made Rodney risk opening his eyes and he was glad to see Ronon leaning against a pillar of some kind. He had a shallow cut on his right cheek and his dreads were dusty, but otherwise he looked okay. "Thanks," Rodney said.

"No problem," Ronon said.

Rodney looked around; they seemed to be outdoors and in spite of what his eyes were saying, it was pretty dark. The source of the flickering light was a smallish fire; he had to look away from it because the sight of it made his nausea worse. "Should we be this close to the ruins?" he asked, bringing a hand up to touch his head. He found a bandage and more pain, and quickly lowered his hand.

"We're on the outer edges," John said. "We checked; these pillars are pretty stable."

"Mm'kay," Rodney mumbled. All of a sudden it was too much to take in. "Tired."

"It is all right," Teyla murmured. She rested a cool hand on his forehead. "Sleep. We will wake you when it is necessary."

As Rodney slipped back into sleep, he heard Ronon talking. "He gonna be okay?"

"I sure as hell hope so," John replied.

If anyone said anything more, however, Rodney didn't hear it.

* Day Two *

He was vaguely aware when they woke him a few hours later. He managed to keep down several sips of lukewarm water before he went back to sleep. The next time, Teyla had him eat half a power bar, drink more water, take some Tylenol and recite pi to twelve places before she let him sleep.

The third time, he actually felt more alert. It looked like it was late afternoon, and, with some help from Ronon, he got to his feet and made it to a point outside their camp. Ronon had to steady him while he pissed, but they'd been teammates for over five years now and helped each other through far worse.

"Where are Teyla and Sheppard?" he asked when they returned to the campsite.

"Searching the ruins," Ronon said. "Sheppard thinks he can find some more information."

"Translation: he's fidgety because he can't do anything about our situation so he has to act." It was true and they both knew it, so Ronon just shrugged and handed over the other half of the power bar.

"I am remembering things correctly, right?" Rodney said through a mouthful. "The gate is buried under about a ton of rock?"

He hadn't realized how much he was counting on his memory to be wrong until Ronon nodded. "Yeah. We're lucky we already on our way out of the room."

"Shit," Rodney looked around quickly and then winced. "Ow...my gear, did we get it too?"

"All but the cables you'd attached to the DHD." Ronon held up Rodney's tablet and Rodney sighed with relief.

"I have an extra set of cables somewhere in my stuff, so I'm good there." He really, really didn't want to think about the fact that there wasn't anything to hook the tablet to; his head hurt enough as it is.

"Oh hey, you're awake," John said, as he and Teyla returned a few minutes later. "How're you feeling?"

"My head hurts, but I think it's a pretty mild concussion." He paused and frowned. "And you know, the fact that I know that says a lot about my life in the last six years."

John dug into one of his tac vest pockets. "You should take more Tylenol."

"Yeah, that'd be nice, but I don't think so." When John looked surprised, Rodney shrugged. "I think we're gonna want to keep those for bigger emergencies."

There was a long silence and then Teyla took a deep breath. "Is there a nearby space gate that might be listed in the directory on Atlantis?"

"There might be, but that's not really relevant."

"Why not?" John asked.

Rodney rubbed at his forehead, carefully avoiding the bandage. He took a drink out of his canteen as well and then finally sighed. "This was the location of a secret research base." When no one seemed to be getting it, he frowned. "Secret as in...."

"There is no physical location in the database." Teyla's face was calm, but something in her voice made Rodney think she was hoping to be wrong. Hell, no big surprise there; he was wishing he was wrong.

"Exactly. The fact that, with some observation and a few calculations, I could figure out where we are, is pretty much useless." Rodney managed not to shrug, but it was a close thing.

"Half the time we go through the gate we don't have more than a gate address," John said. "But hey, we have water, there are bound to be animals or plants we can eat and we have an engineering genius. We might be able to dig the gate out from under the rubble."

"Are you...?"

"I doubt it." Ronon interrupted Rodney, which was just as well, since yelling at John wouldn't have helped Rodney's head any. "That's a lot of rock."

"We can look at it when Rodney's better." John said and Ronon shrugged, apparently unwilling to argue. "For now...what are our food supplies like?"

As usual, Rodney was carrying the lion's share of the available food. He'd figured that, if they were lucky and there was anything left of the research base, they were likely to spend all day working. Wish we'd planned on spending the night, he thought. For that matter, I wish we'd been able to bring a jumper through.

Everyone else had brought a lunch, so they had a stack of six MREs as well as a rather surprising number of power bars and an assortment of snacks. To anyone else, it would look like enough food to last about at least week between the four of them. As it was, Rodney knew the last thing he needed while recovering from a concussion was a hypoglycemic reaction. Even if they were all careful, the food they had would last three, maybe four days.

"I didn't think you liked power bars," he said to Teyla, who had put four of them into the pile.

"I do not. I carry them in case you forget yours or we end up somewhere where you cannot eat the food."

"Oh...thank you." Rodney swallowed and then gave her a slight smile.

"So, we'll have to hunt later, but now, we should eat," John said, looking at the pile of food. he grabbed a power bar and tossed it to Ronon who shook his head and handed it to Teyla.

"Not hungry."

"Oh stop it," Rodney said, throwing another bar at Ronon. "You need to keep up your strength so you can protect me from, you know, bears or more falling rocks." As Ronon unwrapped the bar, Rodney opened one of his own. "So...now what?"

"More inventory," John said, frowning a little. "I'm not wild about our weapon situation. We've only got the two P-90s."

Rodney remembered lying his own P-90 aside once they'd realized that the dusty, acrid smell of overheated wiring was coming from the DHD. After that, everything was pretty much lost in the memory of falling stone and fear. "We've all got our side arms and Ronon's got his gun," he said now, wanting to do something about the faint look of worry buried underneath John's casual expression. "And if it helps, I still have my extra clips."

"I'd feel better if there were any trees around here, so we could make some bantos," John said. "All we've found are bushes."

"There is very little of anything in this area," Teyla said. "While the ruins provide some shelter, we also know how unstable they are. Once Rodney is able to move, we should see if we can find a safer location."

"When you guys were looking around, did you find anything that actually looked Ancient?" When John gave him an odd look, Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'm well aware of our predicament," he said. "The thing is, if we can find their lab--if there really is one--we might be able to learn some things about this planet."

"Good idea," John said, but Rodney could still see the tenseness around his eyes. If they were back at home, he'd try to do something about that--and when had he turned into that kind of guy?--but here? He wasn't even sure if Ronon and/or Teyla knew about the thing he and John had going. And anyway, how did you reassure someone about being abandoned on an uninhabited planet with no Stargate?

If anyone here knows the answer to that, I wish they'd share.

Rodney yawned again and felt his eyelids getting heavy and, as much as he felt like a coward, he was more than happy to curl up and go back to sleep. He heard John, Teyla and Ronon talking softly and thought, if I had to be stuck somewhere with no gate, I can't really think of any three other people I'd rather be stuck with. Comforted, he drifted into sleep.

* Day Three - Day Four *

His head still aching, Rodney spent the next day dozing and doing his best to not worry too much. He wasn't all that successful at the latter; worrying was one of the things he did best, but still, he tried.

The oddly strained tedium was broken on their fourth day on the planet. John and Ronon, who had been exploring the ruins, came back to the camp at a run. Adrenaline and motion making his head pound, Rodney scrambled to his feet, hand on the butt of his side arm.

"I think we found part of the lab," John said. "It's over on the edge of the ruins; I'm not sure the people who built this city could get into it."

"That's good; hopefully they left it alone." Rodney reached for his tac vest. "Do you think we can access it?"

"It'll take more than the gene; I tried that already."

"You...?" Glaring hurt his head even more, but Rodney did it anyway. "You know better than that! You could have...."

"Rodney, nothing happened. We're fine."

"But you might have...."

"You gonna come look at it or not?"

As Rodney packed up his vest, he couldn't help smiling; over the last several years, Ronon had gotten pretty good at redirecting Rodney and John whenever their arguments got in the way of important stuff.

"Okay," he said, taking a deep breath. "Lead on."

As soon as Rodney saw the section of the ruins John and Ronon had explored, he could see why John was so sure he'd found something Ancient. Unlike the worn stone flooring surrounding it, the round metal hatch looked like it had been laid down yesterday and the decorative markings on it had the Art Deco look typical of Ancient design.

"Looks like this was some kind of temple or chapel," Ronon said, watching as Rodney carefully knelt down near the hatch.

After a quick glance around, Rodney was fairly sure Ronon was right, but it took him a minute to figure out why Ronon would know.

"How can you tell?" John asked.

"The layout," Ronon replied. "You can see where this part had walls around it; it was probably closed off, maybe behind an altar or something like that. It's at the front of the building; you can see by the pillars where the rest of the building was and the whole thing faces east."

John managed to keep his jaw from dropping, but the effort was visible nonetheless. Rodney cracked up and Teyla stifled a laugh.

When Rodney finally stopped laughing, he looked up at Ronon. "And here I thought you and...whosit...that archaeologist, had better things to do."

Ronon just grinned.

"Wait, which archaeologist?" John still looked confused.

"I though you weren't supposed to ask," Ronon replied blandly.

John blinked and then got it. "Oh, right. Um, okay then...Rodney can you get this open?" Rodney bit back another laugh at the sight of John mentally pairing Ronon with either of the expedition's two male archaeologists and then, pulling out his scanner, settled down to investigate the hatch.

"There's no access panel," he began and then frowned as the scanner registered a faint amount of energy. "No, wait...it's hidden, but there's something here...." One of the flagstones near the hatch began to glow around the edges.

"Colonel, put your hand on that stone and see if you can get it to open up."

John obeyed and, with a reluctant groaning noise, the hatch lifted. The air that came out was stale and made Rodney cough, which in turn reminded him of just how much his head ached. "Give it a minute before you go down there," he said, sitting back and breathing carefully.

"Any idea what's in there?" John asked.

"It does not smell as if any animals have made their home in the lab," Teyla said.

"Hopefully animals have made their homes somewhere," Rodney said. "Those MREs of ours aren't going to last forever."

"It's okay," Ronon said. "Sheppard and I spotted some lizard things and there's some bigger herbivore around here somewhere."

"Oh God, you two were out examining shit again, weren't you?"

"Don't mock the people who'll be feeding you," John said and there was a sudden silence.

Oh my God, Rodney thought as he tried not to hyperventilate. We're stuck here. Really, truly stuck with no way for anyone to find us.

"Rodney?"

He looked up to meet Teyla's concerned gaze and instantly felt guilty as all fuck. There were people he would miss, of course--and he tried not to think of Jeannie--but really that was nothing compared to what Teyla must be feeling.

"I'm fine," he muttered and pulled his mini mag light out of a vest pocket. Leaning over, he shone the light down into the hole. "Oh hey, it's a really short drop...maybe three, three and a half meters. Oh, even better, there's a ladder."

John joined him, reaching out to test the ladder. "It looks fairly safe...."

Moments later, Rodney, John and Teyla were standing in what looked like a fairly typical Ancient lab.

"What were the Ancients supposed to be researching here?" Teyla asked, using her flashlight to look around.

"Weapons," Rodney said. "Not that you can tell. It would have been nice if they'd left some lying around for us."

"As long as they weren't biological." John frowned a little, which, thanks to the poor lighting, made him look slightly demonic. "This place feels pretty dead. You think you can power it up?"

"Yes," Rodney replied shortly, already digging in his pack for some spare crystals. "Provided they used standard crystals, that is. Can someone give me a little light here?"

Fortunately, these particular Ancients had used standard crystals and Rodney soon powered up the lab's main computer. After all his time on Atlantis, he was fairly familiar with the way their categorized their data and in a matter of minutes he was staring at a directory. "Okay...mmmm hmmmm...there we go...oh good, looks like there were people living here besides the scientists...." As he spoke, he downloaded as much information about the planet as he could.

"Okay, I've got a bunch of stuff about this planet on here and I'm running out of space, but I think that's it; I don't need to use one of my extra drives."

"What about the weapons research?" John asked.

Rodney just looked at him. "I got some, but what about it? It's not like we can use any of it."

"When we get back to Atlantis," John began and Rodney snorted.

"Rodney," Teyla murmured and Rodney shut his mouth.

"When we get back to Atlantis," John repeated, "we're going to want that information."

"Well then you can bring me back in a jumper and we'll get it. If we seal the hatch again, the data isn't going anywhere."

"Fine," John said shortly. "Are we done here, then?"

"For the moment," Rodney replied. "I want to look this stuff over, but I'd rather do it on my tablet than this console." He unhooked his tablet, then pulled the out crystals and tucked them carefully back into the carrying case he and Zelenka had designed way back in their first year on Atlantis. He took extra care putting everything back into his vest; every single tool and piece of equipment he had was precious and he needed to maintain that mindset from here on out.

On out to what? he wondered bitterly as they climbed the ladder.

The temple area seemed stable and while Rodney rested--his head was throbbing again--Teyla and Ronon went out to gather some firewood and refill the canteens.

"So," John said, not looking at Rodney. "I need to assume that we're going to get home."

"I know. But you should know by now that my glass is always half empty and that's how I work. It's how we work and I don't really know that now is the time to change that."

"Yeah, but Teyla's usually our buffer and now...."

"Yeah." Rodney looked down at the tablet in his lap. "God, she must be freaked out. I mean, I'm pretty upset about not seeing him grow up."

"Rodney...."

"Okay, okay." There was another pause and Rodney remembered why they didn't talk about important things. We both suck at it.

"Why didn't you say anything about Ronon? You're always telling me all the good gossip; I can't believe you knew about him and...which one? Lachance or....whatshisname, that Dutch guy?"

"Van Akkeren," Rodney said. "I didn't tell you because it was none of your business."

"Like Teyla's pregnancy?"

"Oh please, are you still on about that? I had only guessed and I hadn't figured out how to ask her yet. It's kind of embarrassing if you're wrong, you know. But about Ronon...he's team. If he thought you needed to know then he'd have told you. The rest of the gossip I share...that's just stupid entertainment." Rodney gave John a direct look. "You want to know which archaeologist Ronon was involved with, you have to ask him."

John opened his mouth, scowling, and then paused. "Why are we doing this?"

"Because we're freaked out and sniping is our default; it's easy and familiar." Rodney smiled a little when John looked surprised. "Years of therapy tend to catch up with me now and then."

"Yeah, I guess."

"John," Rodney said quietly. "Remember who you're dealing with here. We're not your guys; we're team. I know you need to be optimistic, but if your optimism slips now and then," Rodney shrugged and tried to sound casual, "we're not going to stop trusting you."

"Oh...."

"Yeah. Now shut up, I need to rest for a few minutes before I start trying to read Ancient."

It wasn't the last serious talk they needed to have, but Rodney didn't really want to have the "what do we do about the sex thing" conversation right now, so he took a drink of water and then leaned back against a low wall and closed his eyes.

He'd intended to just rest his eyes, but when he opened them again, the light was fading and he was stiff and hungry. He settled for drinking some water and looking around. Teyla and Ronon had returned and John and Ronon were a little way away, bent over something.

"What are they doing?"

"We shot a couple of the lizards," Teyla said. "Ronon and John are skinning them."

"We can't just eat anything," Rodney snapped, knowing even as he said it that it was a stupid thing to say. "What about food poisoning?"

"That's why I try it first," Ronon said over his shoulder. "Take a few bites and then give it several hours."

"And that's your idea of...."

"I'm still alive, McKay."

"Um...yeah, sorry." Rodney reached for his tablet and turned it on, figuring that the least he could do now was shut up and work.

He sorted through the data, beginning with the information about the lab itself. Deleting everything about the scientists themselves, he moved on to the logs. "They got recalled," he told Teyla. "Shortly before the last siege. Looks like they took pretty much everything that wasn't nailed down with them."

"That is unfortunate."

"Not really. They were working on shipboard weapons, so anything they left behind would be pretty useless to us."

"You said there were other people living here. Were they also Ancients? Or were they the people who built this city?"

"Both," Rodney said. "It says here that there was another research station down on the southern edge of this continent. But there was also a native population that might have been the ancestors of these guys." He gestured at the pillar behind him, before looking down at the tablet.

"It doesn't say what they were researching. In fact, it's pretty vague, but...oh. Oh. My. God."

"Rodney?"

"Hush, I'm making sure of my translation...." Something in his voice had captured John and Ronon's attention and they moved closer. "Whatever they were doing down at the other station was important and they really needed to keep in close contact with Atlantis." He took a deep breath.

"There's another 'gate. Down there near the other lab."

"Really?" Rodney could almost see John's shoulders relax just a little and the lines around his eyes lessened. He wondered when he'd gotten so good at reading John's more subtle expressions and then realized he could read both Ronon and Teyla's relief as well.

"You said this other lab was south of here," Teyla said. "Just how far is it?"

"Not sure." Rodney bent over the tablet again, calling up the map data. "Okay...." He did the math, blinked and checked the distance notations again. "Fuck...it's just about 3,800 kilometers."

"Jesus," John said, frowning a little. "That's...that's like walking from, what, DC to San Francisco? Maybe a little less...."

"Yeah," Rodney said, heaving a sigh. "As the crow flies."

"Long walk," Ronon said.

"Okay," John began after a moment's thought. "Let's say thirty miles...."

Rodney coughed.

"Fine. Let's say forty-five or maybe even fifty kilometers a day."

"Forty-five?!" Rodney stared at him. "You think we're gonna make forty-five kilometers a day? Are you out of your mind?"

"Why not? Roman legions marched somewhere between fourteen and twenty miles a day and we don't have all the crap they carried."

"We don't have anything at all," Ronon said. "We're going to have to hunt along the way and that's going to slow us down."

"Perhaps we should count on making maybe...." Teyla paused and looked into the distance before continuing. "Maybe thirty kilometers a day?"

"Rounding everything up, that's five months of travel," John said.

"Possibly more," Ronon said. "Depending on the availability of water and food."

"Not to mention physical barriers and weather," Rodney said, already searching through the data to see if there was a map. "I'd rather not hit the equivalent of the Rockies, if they have them, in winter, if that's okay with you."

John and Teyla exchanged a glance, one that Rodney couldn't read.

"We could," John said slowly, "split the team. If the lizards and those herbivores are edible, you and Rodney could stay here."

"Are you fucking kidding?"

"Ronon and I can probably make the trip faster than the four of us can and there's food and water and even shelter here, plus you can work in the Ancients' lab...." The expression on Rodney's face must have reached him and he trailed off.

"Look, I can't believe I'm arguing in favor of me going on a trek of this magnitude, but no, we don't split the team and you know it. Not for this." Rodney crossed his arms across his chest. "What if something happens to one of you? If all four of us go and someone gets hurt, yes, then we can split the team, but doing it now? What, are you afraid I'll whine the whole time?"

"It's a possibility," Ronon said, a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth.

"Aren't you the one who's always saying that I'd be good at the physical stuff if I just applied myself?"

"Yeah." Ronon glanced at John. "I think McKay's right. Yeah, we'd be faster, but I'd be even faster if I went on my own and I don't think you're gonna go for that."

"No," John said. "I just...."

"Can I talk to you for a minute, Colonel?"

Teyla and Ronon exchanged a glance and then moved off to where John and Ronon had been skinning the lizards.

"I appreciate the effort," Rodney said quietly, "but I'm not your girlfriend. You don't have to protect me like that."

"You're always bitching at me to protect you. Telling me that it's my job."

"Stop it! You know what I mean."

John sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Look, it's going to be fucking epic, okay? I just thought...."

"Thought?" Rodney finally asked as the silence stretched out.

"This isn't your thing; it's not what you wanted to be. You're a scientist...." John's voice trailed off yet again and Rodney took a second to wonder if John would ever get around to finishing a sentence in this particular conversation.

"I'm also a member of this team." It was weird, because on one hand, John was right. This wasn't what Rodney had wanted. Yes, he'd gone through the gate to Atlantis on what could have been a one way trip, but he'd intended to settle in the city and never leave it.

And then John had asked him to join the team.

"Besides," he added. "You'll probably need me when you reach the other facility."

"Oh, right," John said. "Okay, fine. Just remember this argument when your feet start hurting."

As John turned to join Ronon and Teyla, Rodney put a hand on his arm. "Wait a minute. We should...about us. We probably shouldn't wander off and fool around or anything like that. It's not fair."

"Yeah. I was actually trying to figure out how to bring that up."

"Well," Rodney said smugly, "I'm just that much smarter than you."

"Rodney, everyone's smarter than me when it comes to relationships." He paused. "Even you."

Rodney laughed. "I admire the fact that you know your own limitations so well."

As he headed over to join Ronon and Teyla, John flipped Rodney off.

* * *

The lizards turned out to be edible if rather tough. "I'm going to smack the first person who says they taste like chicken," Rodney said.

"They don't taste at all like chicken," Ronon said.

"It is an old Earth joke," Teyla said.

"More specifically, it's an old SGC joke," Rodney said. "Goes back to the very first mission Jackson and O'Neill went on."

"It's so weird," Ronon said. "Everyone trapped on Earth with no way off. Even now, you don't let people know about it."

"You can't imagine the response," Rodney said. "In fact, that's the reason they don't tell anyone. No one can imagine or predict the response. Sure, there are people on Earth who believe that maybe, just maybe, there's life on other planets, but most of the population is convinced that we're alone in the universe, that sentient life on Earth either happened thanks to some incredibly long evolutionary odds or because God put it there."

"Colonel Carter told me that she visited an alternate Earth where there was rioting when people learned of the Stargate and first heard of the Ori." Teyla smiled a little as she glanced at Rodney.

"Yeah, the one where she and I were divorced," Rodney said with a snort. "She told me all about it last year, probably in an effort to keep me from hitting on her or something."

"I don't know why you'd do that," Ronon said. He glanced at John. "You've done a lot better for yourself."

John all but choked on a piece of lizard.

"What?" Ronon shook his head. "I'm not blind. And you can't really hang on to that don't ask thing out here."

"I...um...." John drank from his canteen and looked helplessly at Rodney.

"Don't look at me; didn't the new guy say he was going to repeal it?"

"Until he does, it's still law." John didn't sound all that convinced.

"Technically, John, you have not told any of us and none of us have asked. The rule does not apply to you, does it, Rodney?" Teyla looked serious, but Rodney thought he could see a smile hiding around her eyes.

"No, not really. But, if he were involved with me, it'd still be a violation of military law."

"It's a stupid law and anyway, we're team. We've both known for a while."

John glanced and Rodney and then looked down at his hands. "Are we that obvious?"

"Only to those of us who know you very well," Teyla said. "And, as Ronon said, we are on your team. We would not tell anyone."

"Thank you," John said quietly. "We...you don't need to worry that we'll be all over each other or anything on this trip."

Teyla raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, leaving Rodney wondering what she was thinking.

* Day Five *

The next day, while Rodney rested and did his best to glean as much information as he could from the ancient lab database about the continent they had to walk across, John and Ronon managed to track down the mysterious herbivore.

"They look like horses," John said, as they ate more lizard for dinner. "But smaller and lighter-boned; I doubt we'd be able to ride them," he added, dashing Rodney's hopes.

"Could they be tamed to use as pack animals?" Teyla asked. "We do not have much in the way of possessions at the moment, however we will gather things along the way and we should always have firewood."

"Bill the pony," Rodney said with a laugh.

John shrugged. "Taming horses isn't that easy, but I could take a crack at it. But only if we name the other one Ted."

"That'd be most excellent," Ronon said and Teyla shook her head.

"I worry that someday you will show Torren that film and he will start calling people, 'dude.'"

There was a pause and then John smiled at her. "I think that's a given, yeah."

"Just don't bother with the second one," Rodney muttered. "It'll stunt his growth."

"Seriously, though," John said. "I'll try taming one of the horse things, but I'll want watch the herd for a little while and maybe take one of the mares who's too young to start a herd of her own."

"I really should sit on my ass for at least a few more days," Rodney said. "I know it was only a mild concussion, but we don't have any way to treat me if I push myself too hard." He tapped at his tablet. "Also, I really should make some observations, find out what season we're in at the very least. I also want work on our route and then have everyone take the time to memorize it."

"Good idea," John said. "Teyla, you should work on the route with Rodney; you've probably got more experience with this kind of thing than any of us."

"We did wilderness survival in training," Ronon said. "It included map making."

"Yeah, so did we," John replied. "Most of what we learned wasn't all that useful, seeing as things like celestial navigation and what you could and couldn't eat all depended on being somewhere on Earth."

"Fair enough. Most of what I learned was only good on Sateda and we only had the classes because they were traditional. My grandmother taught me how to hunt and then I got really good at it while I was running."

That was, Rodney thought, almost more than he'd ever heard from Ronon about his past since...well, since Ronon had joined them.

"All right, then," John said after a moment. "Ronon, I'm going to put you nominally in charge of food. We'll all hunt, and yeah, we'll teach you how, Rodney, but Ronon will be the one to determine what we can and can't eat and how we can best preserve what we take.

"Teyla, I want you and Rodney to work as our navigators. Use whatever maps Rodney can find in the database and figure a route. Also, once we get started, I'll want you to keep track of how fast we're moving and the climate and so on, so you can work out some kind of schedule."

"We had guides among the hunters who navigated for us when we moved, and I studied with them." She smiled a little. "Kanaan is a guide."

"Cool," John said and Rodney remembered a late night conversation in which John had bitched to him that Kanaan was a nice guy but not anywhere near good enough for Teyla.

"Rodney, you're our quartermaster. And first of all, you'll need to do a little pillaging. We're going to need as much information about the planet that you can get from the lab. I know it's incredibly out of date, but do what you can. Also, if there's anything at all down there that you think will be useful, take it. We'll decide what we can and can't bring with us once we know whether or not we'll have pack animals.

"After that...well, you're the brains of the outfit." Rodney snorted and John shrugged. "Also, how much of your field first-aid do you remember?"

"Some. Why? Oh don't tell me you want me to be the medic?"

"Yeah, I do. You're enough of a hypochondriac that you'll keep the rest of us from pushing ourselves too hard if we get hurt or sick."

"Like you're going to listen to me."

"He's right, McKay," Ronon said. "And yeah, we'll listen to you."

This is real, Rodney suddenly thought. Holy fuck, we're really going to do this. He took a deep breath. Or at least try.

"Of course you will," he said, raising his chin a little.

* * *

Surprisingly enough, the lab turned out to have some useful items. There were three crystal-based lamps that Rodney was going to be able to recharge using the small solar recharger Miko had developed in their first year on Atlantis. Rodney also found two pieces of pierced metal that looked like crosses between screens and grills; Rodney had no idea what the Ancients had used them for, but Ronon was happy to take them for use as cooking grills.

"Can you use them to smoke meat?" Rodney asked but both Ronon and John shook their heads.

"You need to be able to enclose the fire," Ronon explained.

"The survival manual suggested using a rain poncho." John shrugged. "Which, of course, we don't carry unless the MALP shows rain."

"Hmmm...." Rodney made a note on a list he was keeping on his tablet.

"What's that?" Ronon asked.

"Notes for a team survival kit."

John smiled. "Good idea," he said and clapped Rodney on the shoulder.

The real find, however, was the six containers he found in a dark corner of the lab. Made of the thin but tough metal the ancients had used when weight was a concern, four of them looked like they'd hold about twenty liters and the other two were half that size.

"Are they clean?" Teyla asked.

"No idea, but I know this metal; it'll take a lot of heat. We can boil them long enough to sterilize them." He spread his hands. "It's not much, and even after boiling them, I'll be nervous, but still, if John manages to tame the ponies, these things could save our lives."

"Speaking of the ponies, I think I've figured out which mare I'm going to pull from the herd. We got lucky; it looks like the herd was about to split anyway. If I take her, I can probably at least one stallion and maybe a younger mare."

"Don't take the whole damn herd; we're going to have to feed them," Rodney said with a frown.

"Well yeah, if we need to, we may have to let them go at some point," John agreed. "Hell, we might have to eat them if things get rough."

"There's a reason I was never in 4-H," Rodney said.

"You mean besides the fact that you hate nature?"

"4-H?"

"Yes, I do, in fact, hate nature," Rodney said, and went back to his tablet, leaving John to explain 4-H to Teyla.

* Day Seven *

Two days later, they moved to a lightly wooded area Teyla and Ronon had found about ten kilometers from the ruins.

"It'll make a good starting off point," Ronon said explained as Rodney packed up the things he needed to carry. "And it's a good distance to gauge our speed."

"Plus, I want a little distance between us and the herd's usual territory." John looked a little worried.

"If you can't tame them, then you can't tame them," Ronon said. "We can do this without them."

"Yeah, but not very easily," John said. "It's just...I've never actually done this before. At one point in my life, I really wanted to raise race horses. I used to listen to my riding teachers talk about it and I read a lot of books. My mom was really into horses; we used to ride together." He paused for a moment and then shrugged.

"Anyway, I know some theory, all of which has to do with actual Earth horses, but I have no practical experience."

"Welcome to my world," Rodney said. John looked a little startled and then smiled.

"Thanks, Rodney, you're a real inspiration."

"No problem," Rodney replied, totally ignoring John's sarcasm.

The walk was easy enough; they'd walked further on missions. Although they needed to make more than one trip to bring everything--the larger water containers were awkward even when empty--everyone agreed that Rodney only needed to do it once. He supposed he should be annoyed at being treated like the weak link, but given the way his head hurt after the walk, he figured he was the weak link.

Sighing as he sat down, he tried to reassure himself that the headaches would fade, that he was still recovering from the concussion. It occurred to him that John had been even more sneaky than usual; by making Rodney the medic, he'd fixed it so Rodney had no one to complain to.

If I wanted to take some aspirin right now, I could, and no one would say anything, he thought, drinking more water instead. But I know damn well we'll probably need it later for something more important.

He settled for glaring at the back of John's head as John and Ronon headed back to the ruins.

After he and Teyla had collected some firewood, and she'd settled down with a pair of slim branches she'd picked up, he looked at the rough map they'd worked out. A very rough map, seeing as all they had was a vague outline of the continent and two marks--their starting and, hopefully, ending points. There were some mountains and a couple of large rivers marked on the map Rodney had found in the database, but given that 10,000 years had passed, the riverbeds could have shifted and even the coastline could look very different.

"Do you really think we can do this?" he asked Teyla abruptly. "I mean honestly and not just the whole optimistic thing Sheppard does."

"Do you really believe that John is merely doing an 'optimistic thing?'"

"I can't always tell," Rodney admitted. "I know it's part of his personality and I know that, because it's part of his personality, it's also part of his command style, but still, there are times when I just can't tell."

Teyla smiled just a little. "And you think I am less optimistic?"

"I think you're less likely to sugarcoat things just because you want your boyfriend to feel better."

That got him an actual laugh. "Fair enough," she said. "To answer your question: yes. I know it will not be easy and I think it might take more time than John thinks it will, but yes, I do believe that we will reach the other research facility."

Rodney looked down at the map on his tablet. "I hope you're right."

"You do not believe we will make it?"

"There are too many variables, too many things that can go wrong." He spread his hands, wondering if he could get her to understand. "I know I'm always the doom-and-gloom guy, but the thing is, I can actually work out the variables, see almost all the possible outcomes in any given situation; it's one of the reasons I'm so good at what I do. Get me out in the field where all too often most of the possible outcomes are death...." He shrugged.

"And yet, here we all are." She reached out and rested her hand on his. "I know that faith is not something you...."

"No," he said. "You're wrong. There are some people I have all the faith in the world in."

As if sensing that he'd just said something difficult, she just squeezed his hand and went back to working on her sticks.

Rodney sighed looked down at the tablet, automatically checking the battery level. Theoretically, between the solar charger and the crystal batteries they'd developed, he should be able to power the tablet through the whole trip. Whether the hardware would last that long was another question; the expedition machines were built tough, but this trip would be as hard on his machine as it would be on him.

* Day Eight - Day Twelve *

The next several days proved interesting and, Rodney supposed, pretty funny if you weren't John. He and Ronon had managed to separate two mares and a stallion from the herd, which Rodney thought was kind of a stupid idea.

"They're going to end up pregnant halfway through the trip," he said. "If they aren't already."

"I'm counting on a long pregnancy period," John replied, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. He looked incredibly hot in his black t-shirt and BDUs, in spite of the fact--or maybe because of it--that he was covered with dirt and sweat. "Horses on earth are pregnant for eleven months before they foal." He sighed. "Look, I got mares because if we took nothing but stallions, they'd be way too fractious. The stallion....

"Um, he just came along and short of shooting him, I can't get rid of him."

"All the boys love you," Rodney said quietly.

He smirked when John rolled his eyes, but it was true, at least in this case. Contrary to what Rodney would have guessed, the stallion, which they named Bill, was by far the easiest of the ponies to train. As long as John rewarded him with petting, whispering and tiny pieces of power bar, he'd do anything, and before long he was comfortable around the rest of the team as well. Even Rodney, whose love of animals pretty much began and ended with cats, had to admit that Bill was surprisingly sweet.

The mares--Theodora and Molly--proved to be a little harder to train to the simple rope halters John had created. Theodora was clearly the alpha and John had to spend a fair amount of time convincing her that he was more alpha than she was, but he managed it in the end. Once Ted accepted John, Molly--a name John chose and refused to explain--calmed down as well.

While John worked on the ponies, Rodney rested and helped Teyla make a set of bantos for everyone. Ronon discovered three different kinds of berries, only one of which proved to be edible, and a tuber that tasted just a little like a garlicky potato. Sure that Ronon was poisoning himself, Rodney fretted so much during the testing process that Teyla had to intervene twice.

Finally, John loaded the ponies up with the containers of water and the cooking grills and he and Teyla took them on a five kilometer test walk. While they were gone, Rodney and Ronon finished designing a rope harness arrangement for Ronon to use as a backpack.

"If you wore a tac vest, we wouldn't have to do this."

"I hate those things; they're cumbersome."

"Well yeah, I hate them, too, but with the amount of crap I carry, not to mention the fact that people occasionally shoot at me, I'm pretty okay with the cumbersome aspect." Rodney used the rope to attach one of the small containers to Ronon's back. "How's that? Does it pull or bind anywhere?" Before Ronon could answer, Rodney tugged on the container. "I'm serious; don't be all stoic if it pinches or something."

"It's good, McKay. Really it is."

"Well then," Rodney said, dusting off his hands and stepping back. "If I'd had any leather...but sadly, we just don't have the time to reinvent tanning."

"You could probably do it," Ronon said, taking off the harness.

"Well, yeah, although there would be a lot of trial and error." Rodney shook his head. "And pissing. A lot of pissing."

"And moaning?" Ronon did his best to look innocent when Rodney glared at him.

"People need to stop teaching you Earth idioms."

"Not much chance of that; I get most of them from Sheppard."

"One more reason to look forward to this trip." Rodney said, sitting down and picking up the branch he planned on using as a walking stick.

To his surprise, everyone else had found one, too, and the fact that they were all serious about using them made him feel better about his.

They heard John and Teyla returning before they saw them, or more accurately, they heard the ponies. Both John and Teyla were smiling as they came into view and the ponies didn't look very tired.

"Success?" Rodney asked.

"Yeah," John said. He took a deep breath. "I think we can get this show on the road tomorrow, if everyone's agreed."

"I'm good," Ronon said.

"As am I," Teyla added.

Everyone looked at Rodney. He paused and went through his mental checklist. He was a little freaked out, a little hungry and somewhat tired. However, his head didn't hurt and, according to his observations, they were moving toward the summer solstice, which meant they'd better get on the road soon. "Okay," he said. "Let's do it."

* Day Thirteen *

After a breakfast of berries and potato things, Rodney went down to the stream to wash up and fill his canteen. They were following this stream because it was headed in a generally westerly direction, toward the large river they intended to follow down to the coast and, hopefully, the other gate.

They had packed up already; Ronon was carrying one of the small containers filled with potato things and the other small one, full of dried lizard meat, was tied to Bill's harness. Bill also carried the four branches that they'd been using to hold the cooking grills above the fire, as well as the grills themselves.

Ted and Molly each carried two empty water containers and Rodney and Ronon's bantos rods. Other than that and Rodney's lost P-90, they were all armed as they had been when they came through the gate. Rodney was keenly aware of their extremely small number of bullets, and as he came back from the stream, he found himself hoping desperately that they didn't run into mammoths or dinosaurs.

"Here," John said, holding out Rodney's walking staff.

Rodney blinked and stared at it; someone, probably John, had used a bit of rope to lash a large piece of broken Ancient crystal, probably from the lab, to the top of the staff.

"You," Rodney said and then had to pause, because, really what did you say? "Thank you."

"For luck," John said, looking a little sheepish.

"Right."

"Although," Ronon added, "if you can call up some over-sized birds, that'd be cool."

"Wrong kind of miracle, I'm afraid. Mine aren't as useful as Gandalf's in these circumstances."

"Shall we?" Teyla asked.

As they headed away from the campsite, Rodney suddenly laughed. "Wrong movie. We're just three guys helping a young lady find her way home. I refuse to speculate on which one of us is which character though."

"Ronon," Teyla said, glancing up at him, "looks like the lion."

"He does, although he's not exactly a coward," John agreed. "And I trip over my own feet all too often, so that would make Rodney the Tin Woodman?"

"Just as long as we don't meet that princess, the one with the all the heads, I don't care who I am."

"Princess? I do not remember a princess."

"The Wizard of Oz,," Rodney explained, "was only the first book in a long series of children's books. The one with Princess Langwidere was the third book."

"You remember this stuff?" John asked. "Obscure kid's books from 1900s?"

"Jeannie liked them," Rodney said. "I read them all out loud to her, so I actually remember them pretty well."

"They met a princess with a lot of heads?" Ronon looked surprised. "How do you fit more than a couple extra heads on one body?"

"No no no, she had a collection of them." Rodney looked at his watch; they'd been walking for about twenty minutes. "You all know what happened in the first book, right?"

"From the movie, yes." Teyla looked curious.

"God, I can't believe I'm doing this." Rodney took a deep breath. "The second book is about a boy named Tip...."

* * *

"Oh God, my feet are fucking killing me." Rodney all but flopped down onto the grass. The sun was setting ahead of them and the stream was babbling away next to him. He'd been more tired in his life, during the siege, for example, but that had been a different kind of tired; right now, he was physically exhausted.

"Hey," John said. "Don't go to sleep yet."

"Why not?"

"Food," Ronon said. "I'm gonna boil and then mash up some of the not-potatoes and grill some lizard."

"We're going to make sure the ponies get fed," John said. "Someone needs to help Ronon gather wood and you need to figure out how far we walked today."

"Right." Climbing to his feet wasn't easy, but Rodney managed it. Fortunately, they were still in a lightly wooded area and there was plenty of wood on the ground. Rodney even came back and got the empty first-aid kit--he'd consolidated their three kits into two--and filled it with some of the little yellow berries Ronon had okayed.

Rodney was ravenous and dinner was actually quite good. "I hope we can find something besides these lizards," he said afterwards as they cleaned up. "They're surprisingly tasty now and I'd hate to get tired of them."

"If this stream dumps into a bigger river," John said, "we might find some fish."

Rodney leaned back against a toppled tree that they'd been using as a backrest and thought about closing his eyes.

"Hey," John said softly. Rodney blinked and looked around, confused. The fire had burned down to embers and he could hear the familiar sound of Ronon snoring. "You need to shift and actually lie down or your back is going to feel worse than your feet."

"Uh-huh," Rodney mumbled, letting John move him around. "When's my watch?"

"Just sleep," John murmured. "We're gonna do three on, one off."

As Rodney fell back asleep, he thought he felt John's hand brushing over his hair.

* Day Fourteen *

He hurt like hell the next day and the fact that he'd expected it didn't help any. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," he muttered, climbing to his feet.

"Take your shoes and socks off and go sit with your feet in the stream for a little while," Teyla said. "The cold water will help."

She was right, but while his feet felt better, the muscles in his legs still ached. "Even my butt hurts," he said as he munched on a handful of berries.

"Yeah," Ronon said, stretching, "that'll happen when you first start doing long walks. You need to stretch out."

Rodney thought about the bottle of prescription strength Motrin in the first-aid kit, and then sighed and walked slowly over to Ronon. "Okay, what do I need to do?"

He felt better after stretching, although he bitched about it some, mostly for form's sake. As everyone settled down and ate leftovers for breakfast, he was suddenly struck by the fact that he was about to spend at least five months--very probably more--with these people.

Rodney liked his team a great deal, could even admit, if only in his head, that he loved them. Somehow in the last few years, he'd become closer to these three people than he was to anyone else, including his sister. And yet, there was a reason he wasn't close to a lot of people, and really, the fact that he was "petty, arrogant and bad with people" was only the start. Most of the time he needed handling and when he didn't need handling, he needed solitude because he was working.

When was the last time I had solitude? Real solitude, nothing but me, a pad of paper and a computer?

And okay, maybe he didn't need it as much now that he had friends and colleagues who respected him, but still, this much time with at least one person always within shouting distance was going to be really fucking hard. On them as much as on me.

The meal over, they stood up, and Rodney was pleased to see that he wasn't the only person stretching and wincing. He and Ronon tidied up the campsite while Teyla and John checked the ponies and then loaded them up for the day.

"Ready?" John asked.

"What happens if I say no?"

"I come over there and smack you."

"Teyla," Rodney said, turning to find her smiling, "can I hide behind you?"

"You are welcome to try," she said.

As they headed out, Rodney took a deep breath. Even the simple action of walking wasn't all that easy and he needed the distraction. "Okay I've got something I need to say."

"What?" Ronon asked.

"I know I'm hard to get along with. In fact, given that you guys probably know my faults better than I do, I won't bother listing them."

"I dunno," John said, keeping a hand on Ted's neck. "It might be fun to compare lists."

"As I was saying, I'm hard to get along with. I'm going to try to be a little more...aware of the moods around me, but if I miss something or I'm being too...well, too me, let me know, okay?"

"I think you exaggerate," Teyla said.

"That's because you have the patience of a saint," Rodney said.

"It'll be okay," John said and Rodney realized that John really did understand what was going on in Rodney's head, how he was afraid of losing his friends.

"Yeah," Ronon said. "Although that 'patience of a saint' thing is funny."

"How so?" Rodney asked.

"We called them Sages, but near as I can tell, they're like your saints. Sage Ronon was a solider. She was known for her impatience and temper before she had a revelation and became a scholar."

"Really?" John looked curious. "Some of our...some of the Christian saints were soldiers. Michael, George, Martin, Joan...probably several others I've forgotten."

"Ronon really is a name used by both boys and girls?" Rodney wasn't sure why Ronon laughed at Teyla, but then he got it when she continued. "And here I thought you were joking when you suggested it."

"Nope. A lot of Satedan names are unisex. Like yours, Rodney; you wouldn't have had a problem with it if you'd been born on Sateda."

Although surprised that Ronon was talking about Sateda like this, Rodney did his best not to call attention to it and just roll with the conversation.

"To be honest," he said, "the real reason I hate it is that it was my Dad's great-uncle's name. Dad named me Meredith because he thought Great Uncle Meredith would leave him his money." Rodney shook his head. "Great Uncle Meredith was an obnoxious jerk who had no time for Dad and he got him in the end by leaving all his money in a trust fund for me." Rodney grinned at the memory of his father's frustration. "And the will was so tight that no one could break it."

"Is fighting over money and possessions so common on your world?" Teyla asked.

"Oh hell yeah," John said and Rodney remembered lying with John in the dark, listening to him talk haltingly about his father's funeral.

"On Sateda, too," Ronon said.

"You Athosians are so much more communal," Rodney said.

"Yes, and also, we don't put the same stock in things that more 'advanced' cultures do." Although Teyla didn't actually make air-quotes, Rodney could still hear them.

"You're lucky," John said with a shrug. "It's all just stuff."

"Yeah," Ronon said, looking off into the distance. Rodney wondered what he was remembering, what "stuff" he'd left behind that he wished he still had.

"Rodney told us a story yesterday," Teyla said, after a moment. "Ronon, you should tell us about Sage Ronon."

"'Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote,'" John murmured, and Rodney blinked at him.

He was just about to ask why on Earth John had memorized the beginning of the Canterbury Tales, but paused, not wanting to give Ronon an out.

"Okay, why not?" Ronon said. "I don't remember some of the details, but I'll give you what I do remember."

He paused, adjusted his pack, and took a deep breath. "Sage Ronon came from a merchant family that had social aspirations. On Sateda at that time, as in our...my own time, sending one of your educated children into military service was one way for a family to advance. Ronon, the third child of four, did not wish to join the military at first. However, being a dutiful daughter...."

* Day Fifteen - Day Seventeen *

They had made twenty-seven kilometers on their first day, but only made nineteen on their second. While John seemed a little antsy, Teyla declared herself pleased with their progress. "I expected it," she said, and then gained Rodney's gratitude for what she said next. "Do not just look at Rodney; we are all tired. We are active people, yes, but this is not an activity that we are accustomed to performing."

John relaxed enough the next day to tell the story of Hidalgo and then explain the combination of history and tall tales it was based on.

"You saw that movie?" Rodney rolled his eyes and said.

"What?" John replied. "Viggo Mortensen is hot and it had horses in it."

That led to a discussion about filming history as fiction, something Teyla had a lot of questions about, and the day passed surprisingly quickly.

They only made sixteen kilometers, but Teyla quelled John with a look before he could even say anything. Before Rodney slept, however, he noticed he didn't feel as sore as he had been the night before, and when he woke up to take his turn at watch, he wasn't very stiff.

They were still paralleling the stream through the light woods. Past the trees on either side was a vast grass plain like the one the ruins were situated on. Once, on the fourth day, they saw a herd of ponies off in the distance, but as near as they could tell, their ponies had no intention of running off to join their free compatriots.

In fact, the ponies seemed to be quite content as long as they had grass to eat and water to drink. Ted got fractious now and then; as far as Rodney could tell, she got pissed if John paid too much attention to Bill or Molly without giving Ted her due. Other than that, they were placid and easy to get along with.

On their fourth day, they'd been walking for about an hour or so, and it was Teyla's turn to tell a story. While Ronon's story hadn't even mentioned the Wraith--Sage Ronon had lived in between culling cycles--Teyla's was about a hunter who vanished into an unusual Wraith ship.

"And so, as Melnan had been gone for five seasons and one, he was declared dead by the people and his song was sung before the Ring of the Ancestors."

"You do that even when there's no body?" John asked and Teyla nodded.

"Halling has told me that the custom dates back to the days when we lived in the city. According to the Lore, there was a group of Lore-Keepers whose only job was to travel the world collecting the names and deeds of the dead. Then they would return to the city that housed the Ring and sing the songs of the dead."

"Speaker for the Dead," Rodney said, but when Teyla asked him about it, he shook his head. "It's not my turn."

She was just about to go back to the story when Ronon turned, pulled out his gun and fired up into the air. Teyla's bantos were in her hands and John had his P-90 up and ready before Ronon lowered his arm, and even Rodney had his side arm out.

"Sorry," Ronon said, looking a little sheepish. "I saw a big bird."

The bird was bigger than a chicken but smaller than a domesticated turkey. "It is not a carrion eater," Teyla said after Ronon had slit the bird's throat. "The beak is wrong. It is also wrong for eating live animals, although perhaps it could eat fish."

"Does it matter what it eats?" Rodney asked.

"Birds that eat meat or, even worse, fish or carrion, taste awful," John said. "That's one of the dangers of duck hunting, you never know if what you shoot is edible."

"You hunted back on earth?" Ronon asked. "Why? Looked like your people were pretty well off."

"For sport," John said, looking a embarrassed. "It's a thing you do. My mother's family were pretty big on hunting, although most of that was fox hunting."

"Oh good Lord, could you be any more Victorian?"

John gave a rueful laugh. "Nancy was pretty appalled too. But, you know, they don't actually kill the foxes any more."

"Then why do it?" Teyla asked.

"The thrill of the chase," John said. "You're riding fast horses and jumping fences and ditches...I guess it's pretty exciting."

"You've never...?"

"I was too young; Mom wouldn't let me. Later...it wasn't exactly Dad or Kristen's thing."

There was a silence for a moment and then Ronon picked up the bird.

"You want me to carry that? We'll have to pluck it," John said, "and that's easiest when you can either singe the pin feathers or used boiling water. Well, there's also the paraffin method, but we can't do that here, obviously."

"Paraffin?" Rodney wondered if he'd regret asking.

"Yeah, you give it a Brazilian."

Rodney flipped John off as Ronon picked up the bird. "I'll carry it," he said. "Let's go."

The bird turned out to be edible, which was a good thing as they'd left lizard country. There were still plenty of potatoes, however, and Rodney was getting to the point where he'd kill for a pat of butter and maim for some margarine.

"This, on the other hand," he said, holding his piece of bird, "is fucking excellent. I think we should call it a ducken."

"Don't make me think of turducken right now," John said wistfully and then had to explain.

Rodney looked at him as he talked, watching the way the firelight caught on the planes of his face and in his hair. They hadn't been away for very long at all really and yet, Rodney was having a hard time believing that he'd once raced remote cars down a 10,000 year old hallway with this same guy. Or that he'd laid on his back, looking up as John, breathing hard and stammering obscenities, rode him. Everything before now seemed oddly distant.

The emotion, though, yeah, that was still there. The thought that some random chain of events starting with John being on call the day General O'Neil needed a lift had led to their friendship, their relationship, actually made Rodney feel a sense of gratitude toward the universe.

Just then, John looked at Rodney and whatever Rodney was feeling must have been on his face because John's eyes went wide and whatever question he'd had for Rodney died unasked.

"I...ah, sorry," John said. "Just blanked out for a moment." But he gave Rodney a quick smile that had nothing in common with his usual smirk.

One more reason, Rodney thought, to get home as soon as possible.

Home, where Teyla's people would give her five seasons and one, and then sing for her, and the SGC would give them the seven standard years before downgrading them from MIA to KIA with empty coffins and flags for Dave Sheppard and Jeannie.

All he could think as he settled down to sleep was that this planet damn well better not be a magical time-warping planet like the Wraith ship in Teyla's story. Or if it was, then he was hoping for it going the other way, like it had for John, so they'd have only been gone a few hours.

That he could even entertain the notion in a vague manner said something about the last five years, he decided as he fell asleep.

* Day Eighteen - Day Twenty-Three *

Five days--during which they averaged about twenty-eight kilometers a day--and a lot of ducken and potato meals later, they reached the river.

They'd been expecting it; the light forest had spread somewhat and Ronon and Teyla had agreed that the very faint haze up ahead meant a somewhat large body of water.

"'Somewhat large body of water,'" Rodney said as they stood looking at it.

"Jesus," John said. "It's like the Mississippi. Please tell me we don't have to cross it."

"That all depends on whether it's shifted course sometime in the last 10,000 years."

"Well, we can...."

"If you say 'cross that bridge when we come to it,' I'm pushing you in."

"Rodney," Teyla said. "Do you think you could build a raft?"

"Is that a trick question? Of course I could build a raft. Do I think I can build one here? No. We have no way of cutting down trees of the size I'd need and we haven't got enough rope or the right kinds of vines."

"Plus we'd get into a whole Huck Finn thing and that's just someplace I don't want to go."

"You gonna ask?" Ronon said to Teyla.

"I think it is your turn."

"I knew it!" Rodney said through his laughter. "I knew you guys took turns!"

When John laughed as well, his real, ridiculous honking laugh, Rodney felt like a weight he hadn't even noticed was lifting off his shoulders.

* * *

By the end of the day, they'd walked thirty-one kilometers and had finally found an easy way down the riverbank to a small inlet with a narrow beach.

"We should start carrying water," Rodney said as they set up camp. "We'll probably have nights when we can't find a way down to the river."

"We should also rest tomorrow," Teyla said. "I do no know about any of you, but I would really like to bathe with hot water."

Rodney thought about it for a moment and then sighed. "I have an extra t-shirt with me. We could cut it up and use it for a wash cloth."

"That is very generous of you," Teyla said with a smile and Rodney shook his head.

"Just don't go telling people, okay?"

"Your secret is safe with me."

John and Ronon managed to look very much alike as they rolled their eyes almost in unison. "Go," Rodney said, waving them away. "Go off and hunt and gather."

"Yes, dear," John said, smirking. He and Ronon headed toward the river, and Rodney heard the word "fish" more than once.

"Mmm...fish," he said to Teyla as he dug in his pack. He'd taken to keeping an extra shirt with him fairly early on, along with an extra pair of boxers and socks. As he pulled the t-shirt out and reached for his knife, he wondered if the socks would make it. At least they'd had a supply run recently; his trainers were new but broken in.

"Rodney?"

"Oh, sorry." He blinked and then smiled at her. "I was thinking that we'd had at least one stroke of luck, what with the resupply." As he talked, he pulled out his knife and cut one sleeve off the t-shirt. "My old trainers were getting pretty ratty."

This was going to be his life for the next six or seven months, Rodney realized later as he washed up; everything was going to be about making do with nothing. He supposed it was all a matter of perspective. Thanks to several days going without any kind of washing, the hot water felt great and he felt a lot cleaner, even without soap. After getting back into his pants, he rubbed his face, which was moving beyond mere stubble and into beard territory.

"So," he asked John. "Beard or not?"

"Unless you want to shave with nothing but water and a knife, I'm thinking a beard."

"There's fat," Ronon said. "From the ducken."

"Great, we have the choice between looking like ZZ Topp or shaving with ducken fat." Rodney drew breath in preparation to launch into a rant, but John cut him off.

"We've got those little scissors in the sewing kids. Grow a beard but trim it."

"Oh...okay." Rodney glanced over at Ronon. "I've never had a beard. On you, it looks good, me? Who knows?"

"It's not like you have to worry about anyone's impressions of you while we're here." He glanced at John. "Does he?"

"Jesus, what are you, some kind of freakin' yenta?"

"A yenta's a matchmaker," Rodney said, figuring he might as well head off the question at the pass.

"I know," Ronon said. "Corporal Reuter told me." He glanced from Rodney to John.

"Look, can we just not...." For some reason Rodney was angry and he opened his mouth to go off on someone and then he took a deep breath and stood up. "I'm going to walk over to the edge of the river. I'll be in sight of all of you so please just...leave me alone?"

Proud that he'd gotten than out without any profanity, he headed toward the water's edge. As he walked, he heard Teyla say, "Ronon," in what he'd thought of as her "mom voice" since long before she actually became a mom.

Sitting down, he picked up a handful of pebbles and tossed them one by one into the river. He'd known going in that John was--had to be--closeted and he'd been okay with it because as much as he liked whatever it was that they had, he wouldn't do a damn thing to jeopardize John's position. But here and now....

It's not like you've ever told him that you want some kind of acknowledgment of the relationship, he thought. What's he supposed to do, read your mind?

Several more pebbles landed in the water before Rodney felt that he'd pushed the whole issue sufficiently down and out of the way. Hardly emotionally healthy, but then again he wasn't exactly the poster boy for emotional health.

Getting up, he walked back to the fire. "So," he said, looking at Teyla. "Since we all had a wash tonight, do you still want to stay here tomorrow?"

"I think we should. If we do not rest, we will grow tired and start making mistakes. We cannot afford an injury of any kind."

Rodney shot her a glance and she just looked back at him with a slight smile.

* Day Twenty-Four - Day Twenty-Five *

The day off had been a good idea, Rodney thought as they packed up and started to head out the day following their rest day. John, in spite of all his hunting experience, turned out to know very little about fishing. Rodney, on the other hand, thanks to his summer with Great Uncle Meredith, had wasted a lot of time in what he thought was a boring activity.

He and Ronon had spent part of the afternoon talking about the best way to fish in the river and then the best way to fish in the river with what they had on hand. They'd reluctantly come to the conclusion that they needed to find a point where the river widened or at least split into more shallow branches.

Being with Ronon had been surprisingly relaxing; he seemed to be perfectly content with being silent while Rodney talked about everything and anything. For some reason, it was easier to hang out with Ronon here than it was back on Atlantis, where Rodney often felt that he and Ronon had nothing in common.

Knowing how to fish, he thought now as he slid his tac vest on and reached for Molly's bridle, was something; it was a good start.

* Day Twenty-Five - Day Thirty-Five *

They found their fishing ground ten days later. It had been a good ten days; they'd averaged around thirty-five kilometers a day, and while John claimed they still hadn't reached their best speed, he seemed happy with their progress. Rodney was still working his way through the Oz books, Teyla's traditional stories weren't all grim, and Ronon must have done really well in his philosophy classes; he seemed to have an unending supply of stories of the Sages' lives, some of which were truly bizarre. Somewhat to Rodney's surprise, John had proved to be the most eclectic storyteller; one day he'd talked about the gunfight at the OK Corral and then the next time it was his turn, he related the Russian fairytale about the firebird.

None of them managed to tell their stories without interruptions and Rodney often found the freewheeling, rambling conversations more interesting than the stories themselves. We should do this when we get home, he thought one afternoon as he and John tried to explain the Cold War. Skip the movies and just sit around and talk.

Teyla had called a halt around the middle of the day five days in and they'd all washed up in hot water again and napped, and even Rodney had enjoyed dozing in the quiet broken only by the murmur of the river and the occasional whinny from the ponies.

Now they'd reached a point where the land around the river had flattened out and there were shallows and low wide islands covered in shrubs and rocky beaches.

"What do you think?" Rodney said, looking at the water.

"It's still pretty fast. But over there, that island. See the tiny cove?" Ronon pointed and Rodney nodded.

"Can we actually wade out there?"

"One way to find out. Sheppard?"

"You sure it's safe?" John asked, looking at the river.

Ronon just raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, okay. Don't drown."

"Take your pants off," Teyla said.

They all turned and looked at her.

"Just Ronon. The water is not kind to leather and you do not have an extra pair of pants with you."

"You don't want to look at my legs, too?" Rodney grinned at her.

She paused and then smirked just a little. "Rodney, if you took your pants off, I would not be looking at your legs."

After a moment, Rodney was aware that he was standing there with his mouth open only, for once, no words were coming. "You...you just said something...risqué!"

"I do," she said and winked at him. "From time to time."

Ronon was laughing and Rodney glanced over at John. He had a hand over his face and his ears were red. But when he moved his hand he was smiling and Rodney just shrugged and tried to look modest.

"Go get some damn fish," John said, still smiling. "And Ronon?"

"Yeah?"

"Take your pants off."

The water was freezing and came up to Rodney's thighs. "Fuck, fuck, fuck...." he chanted as they made their way to the island. He was on the beach shivering and watching Ronon (who really did have excellent legs and, somewhat to Rodney's surprise, wore boxer briefs) when Ronon paused and frowned a little.

"Are you okay?" Rodney yelled, heading back for the water.

"Yeah, I'm good. But there are definitely fish in here."

"I'm sure your knees make excellent bait. C'mon!"

Rodney expected Ronon to be all stoic, but as he came out of the water he said, "You were right. Fuck...." He pulled his shirt off and used it to dry his legs and Rodney sighed.

"I'll be warmer if I take my pants off, won't I?"

"Probably."

Any hope Rodney might have had that John and Teyla were doing something--anything--else died when he heard the wolf-whistles. He tired to ignore them but it was hard to be dignified when you were standing there in a pair of wet plaid boxers.

"Ronon?"

"Yeah?"

"Have your Marine friends taught you what 'mooning' is?"

Ronon gave him a look, and then glanced at the shore. "If it were only Sheppard, I'd go for it."

"Good call," Rodney said, a little regretfully. "Oh well...I suppose we better see if we can catch some fish."

They'd sacrificed some of the string Rodney always carried with him, and several of the safety pins and some of the red thread out of one of the sewing kits. "I have no idea if this is going to work," Rodney said, tying his piece of string to a thin flexible stick.

"It'll take some time and we might have to come back out here early in the morning."

It took longer than even Rodney had expected. "This is why I always hated it when Uncle Meredith took me fishing. There are always more important things you could be doing."

"Not here and now; we need the food," Ronon said and Rodney looked up to see him staring into the distance.

"I really admire you, surviving for seven years like that, " Rodney blurted out and then felt his face go a little hot.

"I just did what I had to."

"Yeah well, I sure as hell couldn't have done it."

Ronon was quiet for a long time. "Back when I met you? Maybe not. Now? I think you could."

"Oh...." Before Rodney could figure out what to say, although he supposed his expression probably said it all, he felt something jerk at the end of his line. "Holy fuck!"

There was no reeling anything in, Rodney just carefully raised the stick and grabbed at the string and, there it was: a fat, pinkish fish. As he pulled it off the improvised hook and watched it flop around on the shore, he muttered, "Please be edible."

They managed to catch two more before their luck ran out. Rodney refused to let Ronon try the fish raw--"remind me to tell you about a little dish the Japanese like to call fugu"--and so they carried them back across the river, only to find that John and Teyla had been busy doing some scrounging.

"We found a new berry," Teyla said. "It is tart and very refreshing. And a lettuce and some bulbs that are like onions."

Ronon frowned. "You tasted it all?"

"Yeah, we did," John said. "You're no more expendable than any of the rest of us, so just relax."

The fish turned out to be fine and dinner was one of the best Rodney had ever had, even if it did have to be eaten entirely with MRE spoons and their fingers. There were still using the smallish plastic case that had held a first-aid kit as a shared dish and after the meal Teyla frowned.

"If I had some wood of the right shape and size, I could make us some plates."

"You do wood carving?" Rodney shook his head. "Is there anything, besides cooking, that you can't do?"

"Quite a few things," she said. "And I am not particularly good at carving."

"So I'm assuming you need fairly thin pieces of wood about this size?" John gestured with his hands, sketching out a roughly plate sized square and Teyla nodded.

John looked at Ronon. "You ever try your gun on a tree?"

"I've hit a few while I was shooting at Wraith." Ronon grinned. "They do tend to splinter."

"In the morning," Rodney said. "It'll be too dark soon."

They washed up and scrubbed the grill and then settled back around the fire. "We've been pretty lucky with the food," John said. "Between that and the types of planets we end up on, I have to wonder if the ancients did some terrafoming."

"My squishy scientists have two competing theories on that," Rodney said. "There's quite the rivalry and a pretty sizable betting pool involved."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, it boils down to either 'yes, the Ancients terraformed because they seeded planets with copies of themselves and so needed earth-like conditions' or 'no, it just looks like that because the gate addresses we use come from their databases or people we've met, and so we end up on planets that humans can exist on.'"

"Which theory do you like?" Ronon asked.

"I like the idea that they terraformed," Rodney replied. "But Occam's razor suggests the second theory."

"I don't know," John said. "I kind of think that choosing the simplest answer doesn't work with the Ancients."

"There is that," Rodney said. "You know, you expect the Asgard or the Nox to have alien motives, but the Ancients looked like us and there's the whole thing where they're maybe our ancestors or at least there was some hanky-panky going on between them and our ancestors." He spread his hands. "What I'm getting at is that you'd expect them to think more like us."

"They were a lot older," Ronon said. "You have to take that into account."

"True," Rodney said. "So yeah, I have no idea why almost every damn planet we set foot on looks like Vancouver."

"This one looks more like Iowa," John said. "Or one of the other mid-west states along the Mississippi."

"Someday, I would like to see some of Earth, the real Earth," Teyla said. "To make my own comparisons."

"Well if you want to see Vancouver that should be easy enough to arrange. I'm more than happy to offer Jeannie's hospitality on her behalf."

"It'd be nice to visit Earth when guns aren't involved," Ronon said. "I'd like to see one of your cities."

"I'll arrange it when we get back," John said firmly. "God knows we'll deserve a vacation."

"My kind of vacation, with nice hotels and decent restaurants."

"I won't argue that with you," John said, gesturing at the night around them. "We'll have done enough roughing it, that's for sure."

* Day Thirty-Six *

Shooting Ronon's gun at a tree turned out to be as messy as Rodney had expected. Teyla wanted vaguely seasoned wood, so John and Ronon found a downed tree and blew it to pieces. Rodney was pretty sure the last three or four shots weren't exactly necessary, but seeing John and Ronon act like little kids made him laugh.

"You'll shoot your eye out!" he yelled at them at one point and John all but doubled over laughing.

They ended up with a hell of a lot of big splinters of wood and a couple of flat pieces roughly the size Teyla wanted.

"I will see what I can do with these," she said.

Rodney and Ronon tried fishing that afternoon, but had no luck and so it was ducken for dinner again. Rodney mashed up some of the berries and basted the meat with the juice and the result was pretty good.

"Are the days still getting longer?" John asked after dinner had been cleaned up and they were sitting around the fire, Teyla working on one of the pieces of wood.

Rodney had been keeping track of sunset and had whoever was on early morning watch keeping track of sunrise. "Yes, by fairly small incitements. At a guess, I'd say this planet has a year that's roughly 330 days long. Why?"

"Well at least it's still spring or early summer." John took a deep breath. "Still, I think we need to try and pick up the pace. I'd like to see us making at least twenty-five...sorry, at least forty kilometers a day if not forty-five."

Rodney glanced over to where the ponies were staked out for the night. "What about them?"

"They've been keeping up fine. If they have a problem, we can slow down. Hell, if it's too much for any of us, we can slow down."

I will want us to rest every...." Teyla paused and thought for a second. "If we rest for a half day after five days of walking and then a full day five days after that, I believe that we can make the distances you want."

"Rodney? Ronon?"

Rodney remembered what Ronon had said to him on the island. "Yeah," he said. "I think I can do it."

"Sounds good," Ronon said. "Since we might have to slow down when the days start getting shorter."

* Day Thirty-Seven - Day Eighty-Four *

The first few days of the increased pace left Rodney a little sore, but it was nothing like their first week walking. And it was worth it to see how pleased John was the first day Rodney's modified scanner showed that they'd made forty kilometers.

"A Roman army has nothing on us," Rodney said, a comment that led to John talking about the ancient Romans the next day. That segued into a discussion of empire building in the Pegasus Galaxy in which Teyla and Ronon talked about the legendary empires of the past. It could have been a depressing conversation, because, of course, every one of those empires had gone down to the Wraith, but, aside from their occasional appearance as the villains of one of Teyla's stories, there seemed to be some unspoken rule between the four of them to stay away from the Wraith as a general topic of discussion.

Atlantis and everyone in the city was the other big taboo. At first, Rodney had thought about the city often, worrying about the projects he'd been working on and hoping that Radek was making sure no one slacked off or did sloppy work. Then as the days and weeks went on, when he thought of home, it was the little things that occupied him, like clean clothes, his shower, blankets--it wasn't that he was all that cold at night, he just missed being covered when he slept--and those weird little candies they bought from the natives of P09-735.

Then, as the days lengthened and warmed up and they reached and sustained their best time of roughly forty-seven kilometers a day, Atlantis seemed to slip from Rodney's mind. He'd think about it occasionally, but more and more, his world narrowed down to the vast, omnipresent river, the imaginary line he walked, and the three people who walked it with him. He was usually slightly hungry, but never so much that he had any symptoms of hypoglycemia, and eventually even his faint hunger became part of the background of his life.

They still talked as they walked, and this too had become familiar and as comfortable as Rodney soft, faded t-shirt. They still told stories, and slowly, those stories became, if not directly about themselves, more personal as they talked about the people and the myths and the tales that inspired them.

Then the morning came when Rodney, who was on watch, recorded the sunrise and frowned, checking his log carefully. He said nothing at the time, but four days later he was certain. It was a rest day and so he built the fire up a little and added water to the small water container that was sitting on the grill. They'd found a fragrant, flowering plant that was edible and at Teyla's suggestion they'd started making tea out of it. It was a little like jasmine tea without the bitterness of tannin, and while it had no caffeine, it was still a nice thing to have in the morning.

John hadn't had a watch the night before and he woke first. Rodney poured some tea into one of the wooden cups Teyla had carved; this one was John's and had the Athosian J on it and an abstract design that looked a little like birds in flight.

"There's tea."

"Cool." John scrubbed at his face, scratching his beard, and Rodney had to grin; unless forced awake by some emergency, John was slow to wake up. "Gimme a minute." John wandered off to piss and Rodney grinned again and poured tea into his own cup, which was decorated with an Athosian R and pi to several places.

"Tea?" John said as he came back. Rodney handed him the cup and then started slicing up some of the apple-like fruit they'd found about three weeks back. "Too early for food," John mumbled when Rodney offered him some.

Once, Rodney would have shared his findings with John before the others woke up, but now the thought really didn't occur to him. He offered tea and fruit to Ronon and then Teyla, and only after everyone had had their breakfast did he pick up his tablet.

"According to our observations, the summer solstice was either five or six days ago." He paused and then spread his hands and stated the obvious. "Which means, of course, that the days will be getting shorter."

"Where are we?" John asked. "On the map."

Rodney and Teyla had been working on updating the map as they went and now Rodney called it up on his tablet and showed it to John. "I think we're actually making the kind of time you wanted; we are, as near as I can tell, over halfway there. If everything continues to go as well as it has, we should reach the coast in roughly two, two and a half months. Long before winter hits."

"Not bad," John said, nodding. He leaned back on his elbows and Rodney took a moment to appreciate the sight.

"Not bad?" Teyla said. She frowned. "Rodney? What day is it?"

"Eighty-four," Rodney said without even having to consult his tablet.

"On Atlantis, Rodney." Something about her voice made Rodney blink, and John sat up and looked at her.

"Oh, right." This time Rodney had to look down. "April 5, 2009." He stared at the date. "Wow, my birthday's in...."

"I wasn't asking about you."

The last time Teyla had snapped at him like that, Rodney had been kneeling in front of her while she gave birth. Now he stared at her, mouth open in shock and was vaguely aware of Ronon and John doing the same thing.

"Teyla...?" John began.

"He's walking now," she said, her voice harsh and angry. "He's eating by himself...he's...and I'm not...I'm...."

She got to her feet and stalked out of the camp, but not before they saw the tears on her cheeks. Still shocked silent, Rodney watched her, noticing that she didn't quite leave their field of vision before she sat down in the grass.

"I thought," John began. "I mean...I thought she was okay."

Ronon nodded. "I knew she missed him, but...."

"Yeah," Rodney said. "Jesus, we're fucking...there's nothing we can...shit."

They all sat in silence for a long time and Rodney was pretty sure both Ronon and John were feeling just as weird as he was; without Teyla to provide balance, they simply didn't work. The unfairness of it all was deeply embarrassing.

When neither John nor Ronon said anything or stood up, Rodney put his tablet down and got slowly to his feet.

"Um," John said. "Are you sure you should...?"

"No, but someone has to and I don't see either of you doing it."

Picking up her cup, Rodney filled it with tea and then walked through the grass, not trying to be particularly quiet.

"Hey," he said, settling down next to her. "I brought you some tea."

She was sitting with her knees up against her chest and her arms wrapped around them. When she didn't move to take the tea, Rodney set the cup down, not really caring if it spilled. Careful and unsure, he reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, ready to pull it away if she twitched even a little or went stiff under his hand.

Instead, it was almost like she crumpled; one moment she was sitting next to him and the next moment she was half in his lap, shaking. "I'm sorry," she said. "I know I shouldn't...I'm sorry...."

"It's okay," he said, petting her back and wondering if maybe John or Ronon could deal with this better than he could. But no, none of them were any good at this and Rodney felt a sharp pang of guilt when he realized they didn't have to be; being calm and soothing was what Teyla did.

"It's okay," he said again, shifting until he was able to hold her more comfortably. She'd always been lean, but now she was thin; he could feel the sharpness of her shoulder blades under his hand.

She cried quietly, which didn't surprise him at all. He stroked her back and opened his mouth again and again, never quite knowing what to say. This was Teyla and if she was afraid....

"He won't forget you," he said. "You're his mother."

And just like that, the rest of the tension went out of her and Rodney drew a deep shaky breath. Not only had he said the right thing at the right time, he knew he was correct. "You could...you could vanish from his life and...." He tightened his arms around her, doing his best to give her something to cling to without hurting her.

"He'd remember you." Taking a deep breath, he said the rest of it. "Even if something terrible happened to him and he forgot who he was, forgot the things he thought were important...he'd remember you."

"Oh," she said. "Yes...I...thank you."

After that, they sat in silence for a long time.

When they came back to camp, Teyla gave an embarrassed little shrug and Ronon got to his feet and reached out. "It's okay," he said quietly as he hugged her.

John had stood up as well and now he moved in and put an arm around her as well. "Sorry," he said. "We...we're here."

Rodney, looking at them with what felt like a new perspective, was shocked to see that, like Teyla, both John and Ronon were no longer lean, but downright skinny. As John's shirt rode up, Rodney could see how tightly he'd buckled the belt to his thigh holster; without it, John's pants would slide down around his nonexistent hips like he was one of those gangbanger kids back on Earth. And really, Rodney wasn't in a position to laugh, given how tightly he had to buckle his own belt these days. He slid a hand under his shirt and wasn't at all surprised at how easily he could feel his ribs.

And God, he thought as he moved on to wrap his arms around the others, but they're all fucking filthy. Today was a wash day, but it probably wouldn't make that much difference, given that they had no soap. They didn't exactly smell, or maybe they did and his nose was just used to it, but they all had greasy hair and dirt under their fingernails. Even Ronon's hair looked like it did when he first came to Atlantis, and Rodney remembered thinking, after Ronon had been on the team for a while, that it must be nice not to have to wash your hair, particularly when you had that much of it. He felt stupid now, because of course Ronon had washed his dreads; if he hadn't the difference wouldn't be as noticeable as it was.

None of it mattered, he realized when they finally pulled back. So they were filthy and skinny and their clothes were getting pretty ragged. Big deal, we're here. We're alive.

"And," he finished the thought aloud, "we're going to make it home."

"Yes," John said resting a hand on Rodney's arm. "Yes we are."

* Day Eighty-Five *

When they got on the road the next day, John took a deep breath. "Think we can make fifty today?"

"No," Teyla said. She reached out and rested a hand on his arm. "Three kilometers will not make enough of a difference. We have a routine that works."

"If you're sure...."

"I am, but thank you."

It was Teyla's day to tell a story, but she remained silent for a good half an hour and none of them seemed inclined to take her turn.

"When we were still on Athos," she finally said. "It was not unusual for two eraptas, groups of hunters, to split and join again, with half of one erapta going off with half of another. We did this to keep the gene pool healthy and our Lore-Keepers kept careful track of who went where.

"When I was ten, our erapta split and joined with one from the south and that is when I met Kanaan."

For a long moment, the only noise was the sound of their movement--the plod and rattle of the ponies with their burdens and the sound of four pairs of feet walking on grass.

"I did not like him at all," Teyla finally continued. "He was, after all, a boy."

They all laughed a little and Ronon shook his head. "Nice to see that some things are universal."

"I liked boys when I was ten," John said. Rodney reached out and smacked him.

"Of course you did," Teyla said with a little smile. "I was not so precocious and I did not like having to spend time with Kanaan, but his mother was a Lore-Keeper like my father and so we shared our tents."

"That must have been weird," Rodney said. "All of a sudden living with a family you didn't really know."

"It was customary, but yes, to be honest, I did not like it. I was an only child and our erapta's other Lore-Keeper, the one who left to go with Kanaan's former erapta was homosexual. Both he and his metnir, his partner, had children, but they lived with their mothers. I was quite used to being the center of attention in our tents."

"I'm having a hard time imagining that. You seem to be the opposite of a spoiled only child."

Teyla laughed. "I assure you, Rodney, I was as spoiled as any Athosian child is allowed to be."

"I've always wondered how your people felt about gays," John said.

"Unless a person is what Kate called a Kinsey six...that is the right term?"

"Yeah," Rodney said. "Six is completely homosexual."

"There's a scale?" Ronon looked amused.

"That's science for you," John said with a smirk.

"Well, science is stretching it a bit," Rodney said. "But let's move on before I sidetrack us with a rant about poor methodology."

"Thank you," Teyla said, dryly. "Among my people, those who can are encouraged to have at least one child, although there is no stigma attached to those who cannot or do not. I have discussed our family structures with your...squishy scientists, Rodney."

"Yeah, I vaguely remember those reports."

"You didn't read them?" John asked.

"Let's see, that would have been about halfway through our first year. Not only was I insanely busy, but by then I'd learned that my people were, in fact, halfway competent and didn't need me to hold their hands. Which only makes sense, given that I'd helped hire them." He looked at Teyla apologetically. "I just didn't have the time."

"I know," she said with a smile. "I am not offended.

"Eventually I grew used to Kanaan's presence, although neither of us were particularly friendly with each other. And then, a year after his family joined us, I was sent to Charin and lived with her for five years, learning, among other things, that I was not as unique as I had assumed I was and that there were other children who were more intelligent than I." She shook her head ruefully. "It was quite a shock."

"Probably never happened to Rodney," Ronon said with a slight snicker.

"Yeah, actually, it did," Rodney said. "Why do you think I built a bomb in grade six?" He reached out and smacked Ronon on the arm. "You seem to have gotten over it," he said to Teyla.

"Charin was not inclined to coddle her students."

Teyla's training had been rigorous, which came as no real surprise to Rodney, or, he suspect, to John and Ronon. As she talked about learning how to listen and not judge, how to be patient and understanding, Rodney thought of Elizabeth, who had learned those same lessons in a very different way a whole galaxy away from Athos.

"You should teach," he said, when she paused for a moment. "You'd be very good at it."

"Someday, I would like to," she said. "I have been lucky and have had many teachers in my life; I would like to pass on the things I have learned."

"Once in a while, when we're working on something easy," Rodney said. "Radek and I talk about teaching. I'm not very good at it, but he likes it and we think...look this isn't something we've talked about with anyone else, but we spend time fixing things for our allies. Why not teach them to do it? Why not teach medicine and engineering and...anything we can?"

"Rodney," Teyla said, giving him a big smile. "That is a brilliant idea."

"I like it," Ronon said. "Once we're done with the Wraith."

"Well," Rodney said, his face a little warm. "It was mostly Radek's idea."

"Modesty?" John teased. "From you?"

"Oh shut up," Rodney said. "Teyla was talking."

"I am not really sure what to say," she said. "I was...I do not normally speak of my personal life and I wanted to tell you about Kanaan. Instead I have spent all this time talking about my youth."

"Most of us don't talk about ourselves all that easily," John said. Rodney was about to snap off a snarky comeback, but Teyla drew breath to speak again.

"After Elizabeth died," she said quietly. "I felt very alone. You are good friends, all of you, but I needed...someone. Kanaan surprised me; I had not thought of him as anything but a childhood acquaintance, but I discovered that he is very good company. We are comfortable with each other and he is a very good father."

"I'm sorry I haven't been more friendly around him," John said. "I didn't think...I thought you could do better. I guess I was wrong."

"Actually," Rodney said. "What he said was 'no one's good enough for Teyla.'"

"Thanks a lot, Rodney," John said, covering his face with his hand.

"Hey, I thought the same thing! It's like Jeannie; I know she loves that tofu-eating English professor of hers, but honestly...."

"If he hurts you, though...." Ronon said.

"Face it," Rodney said. "You're stuck with three over-protective brothers, you might as well get used to the idea."

"Thank you." Teyla ducked her head a little. "All of you."

* Day Eighty-Six - Day Ninety-Eight *

After Teyla talked about her childhood, it seemed foolish to not talk about personal things. One morning Rodney started talking about his childhood ambition to be a concert pianist and that led to a long, rambling three-day discussion of music during which he found himself promising to play for them when they got home.

"But only if you teach me something you can sing along with," he told Teyla. "Also, you all need to realize that an electronic keyboard is nothing like a real piano."

"I'm sure we can find a real piano for you to play when we go to Earth," Ronon said.

Discussion of the hypothetical vacation to Earth took up a lot of their time, and, surprisingly, so did talk of a 'Lantean school. They learned that Ronon's mother had been a teacher, and he was very enthusiastic about the concept and had a lot of good ideas about how to carry it out.

"If you're not careful," Rodney said one afternoon, "we'll make you the Dean or the Chancellor or something."

"Hey," John said, "what about me?"

"Professor of Mathematics," Rodney said. "Or, if you still feel the need to pretend to be a knucklehead, you can be in charge of the athletic department."

"I have never pretended to be a knucklehead," John said and then proved Rodney's point by tackling him.

That was something else that had changed; they'd all become more physical with one another, often leaning against each other in the evenings around the fire or touching casually while they went about their evening and morning chores. It was oddly comfortable with Ronon and Teyla, but it was becoming harder for Rodney to ignore John.

The problem was that the more he learned about John, the more he realized how much he liked, admired and just plain wanted him. Back when they'd first started sleeping together, it had been more about convenience and sexual attraction than anything else. Those days were long gone and Rodney hoped he wasn't alone here, hoped that nothing he'd said as they talked and walked had made John decide that Rodney wasn't worth the bother.

Now, as he yelped and they rolled around on the grass for a moment before he managed to surprise John and wind up on top of him, he was brought up short by the feel of John, skinny, yes, but still strong and wiry, under him.

"What are you trying to do?" Rodney demanded, taking refuge in mock outrage as he climbed to his feet. "Please do not break the scientist!"

"Bitch, bitch, bitch," John said. But he sounded a little strained and he was kind of distant for the rest of the day.

That evening, as they made camp, Teyla came up to Rodney as he set up the grill. Ronon was off getting water and John was settling the ponies for the night, but she still spoke quietly. "Would you and John like some time alone tonight?"

"Um...we kind of decided, back in the beginning, that we wouldn't." Rodney's face was hot and, no doubt, bright red, but he managed to keep talking. "We thought it wouldn't be fair."

"It is not fair to you, and Ronon and I do not mind."

"You've talked about it?"

"Yes, and in the last couple of weeks, we've realized that while it is very noble of you to refrain, you do not need to do so on our behalf. You are our friends and we want you to be happy."

"Er...um...thank you."

Rodney knew better than to tell John about what Teyla had said. Instead, he helped cook dinner and waited until John and Ronon had done the dishes to make his move.

After dinner, if there was anything green and leafy left over, John usually took it over to the ponies, who really liked the various lettuces they'd found along the way. Tonight, Rodney got up when John did and walked over with him.

"They really love you," he said, watching as John gave the ponies their treats and petted them for a while. It was true; while Bill, Ted and Molly got along fine with the rest of the team, they all adored John and tended to get fractious if he didn't spend enough time with them.

"Yeah, well," John said, shrugging a little. "They're pretty agreeable."

"Mmmm hmmm...."

As John finally turned away from the ponies, Rodney looked at him in the fading light of sunset. Even with the somewhat scruffy beard--they were both due for a trim--and wild hair, John was still astonishingly good looking.

"What?" John gave him an odd look and Rodney suddenly wondered what he looked like, if John found him even remotely attractive any more, if he'd even be interested. "Rodney?"

"Ronon and Teyla...." Rodney began and then gestured vaguely. This was going nowhere fast and Rodney gave up on words and just reached out for John.

"Oh," John said, looking surprised, but not resisting. "Are you...."

Rodney pulled him in closer and kissed him, careful and closed-mouthed. It was nothing like the wild clash of lips and teeth that had been their first adrenaline-fueled kiss, but John moaned and slid his arms around Rodney, pressing up against him.

"It's all right?" he asked, mouth moving against Rodney's and Rodney laughed a little.

"Uh-huh, and that's a conversation with Teyla that I'd rather not have again, so let's take advantage of this, okay?"

"Yeah," John said. "Oh God, Rodney...." He slid down to his knees and pulled Rodney with him, continuing until they were both sprawled on the grass.

Rodney was already hard and panting when John rolled them so he was on top of Rodney. "Want you," Rodney gasped out and John bent and nuzzled at his neck while he reached between them and fumbled with Rodney's fly.

"Been so hard to not really touch you," John said, and Rodney groaned when John's hand closed around his cock. "Yeah...God, yeah...."

When John got his own pants open, they squirmed and pushed against one another until Rodney finally got impatient and reached down between them, capturing both their dicks in his hand. John moved with him, bending to kiss him as Rodney set up a hard, brisk rhythm.

It was shockingly good and Rodney didn't see any reason to drag it out; he bit at John's mouth and twisted his hand just right. John cried out, the sound muffled by Rodney's lips, and came, thrusting up into Rodney's hand. That was more than enough for Rodney, and he moaned and arched up against John as he came hard.

"Damn," John murmured after a long moment. They were both panting hard and when John went to roll aside, Rodney tightened his arms around him.

"Don't...not yet."

"Yeah, okay," John said, and relaxed. "Missed this."

"Yeah, me too." Rodney chuckled. "And apparently Teyla could tell. Or maybe it was Ronon, but she's the one who told me to do something about it."

"Well," John said. "You don't want to ignore Teyla's advice."

"Never," Rodney said. "At least not when she's telling me to go roll around with you."

John was quiet for a moment and then he rolled slightly, bringing Rodney with him, until they were lying facing each other. "We're both kinda bony."

"Am I really that skinny?"

"Yeah, and it's kind of weird," John said. "I worried for a few weeks there, but then I realized that we're all a little underweight and it's not like there's anything I can do about it."

"I don't feel bad or sick or anything, if that helps." Rodney laughed a little. "Think about it; I've never been in such good shape in my entire life. Jesus, we've walked over two thousand kilometers."

"Yeah," John said. "It's...there have been times when I thought it would never end, but now, now I think I can see the end coming."

"Is it weird that I have mixed feelings about that?"

"Not at all," John said. "I think we probably all do. We'll never be...like this again, this close." He laughed a little. "I mean all of us. I hope to hell you and I are this close again."

"Don't be stupid," Rodney said. "Of course we will be. Although, I hate to say this but...I'm kind of cold."

They both pulled their pants back up and then Rodney rolled onto his back staring up at the stars. "We should come back," he said. "With actual camping gear."

"Did you just suggest camping for fun?"

"Yeah, weird, isn't it?"

"Downright freaky, but then that's what happens when you start to get old."

"Hey!"

"Rodney?" John rolled over and kissed him. "Happy birthday."

"Oh my God, I totally forgot."

"Yeah, I know. I bet Teyla didn't, though."

"I'd try to thank her, but honestly, that would be getting into a whole weird area."

"I think she'll be able to tell just how grateful you are." John laughed. "I know she'll be able to tell with me."

"Yeah, maybe."

Rodney pulled John down for another kiss.

* Day Ninety-Nine - Day One Hundred Twenty *

The next few weeks were some of the best of the trip, Rodney decided. Without being too obvious about it, Ronon and Teyla managed to give Rodney and John some time alone each day. They took care not to be gone too long or be too obvious about just what, exactly, they'd been up to. Ronon smirked at them from time to time, but Rodney found that his mood was good enough to forgive. After going without for as long as he had, regular sex, even with someone as grimy and tired as Rodney himself was, was pretty spectacular.

The fact that they were coming closer and closer to the end of their journey made all of them perk up just a little. They made even better time and somewhere along the line, probably when they'd started to talk about themselves, the taboo against mentioning Atlantis disappeared, although they kept to lighthearted topics like "how long I'm going to sleep" or "I'm not leaving my bathtub for about a week."

John had leered at Rodney after that one and Rodney realized that, in spite of the fact that his bathtub was pretty amazing, he'd never had sex in it. That, he decided, was going to change.

They'd been on the road for a hundred and twenty days and they were finally getting close to the river delta. While there had been some minor changes in the river's course since the ancient map was made, everything still seemed to be in roughly the place it should be and Rodney heaved a sigh of relief.

"We won't have to try to cross either the river or any of the off-shoots," he said one night. "We will have to go east of the delta before we hit the coast, but that's probably a good idea anyway."

"How far east?" Teyla asked. "Will water be a problem?"

"Not if we're careful," Rodney said. "At least I don't think so."

There was a rumble in the distance and they all turned and looked north. "Wow," Rodney said. "That's one hell of a storm."

They'd actually been fairly lucky with the weather. It had rained occasionally, but only twice had it been bad enough that they'd all huddled under one of the space blankets during the worst of it. Most of the time, the rain had been an excuse for everyone to strip off their shirts and take advantage of the clean water falling on them. As long as you kept moving, Rodney had learned, you didn't even get too cold.

This storm looked different. Huge dark clouds were building up over the red and pink of the sunset and they were moving fast. "Is that going to hit us?" Rodney asked.

"Looks like," Ronon said. "It's coming on quickly."

"Shit." John looked around. "We're kind of exposed here."

They'd camped on a flat area near a short cliff that bordered the river. There hadn't been much of a beach between the cliff's bottom and the river and they had plenty of water and a couple of ducken, so there had been no real reason to find a way down to the river. Now, Rodney wondered if they'd be better off down there, but he doubted it.

"I guess we're going to have to sit it out here," John said. "I better go bring the kids in closer; we don't want them freaking out."

The ponies were edgy, but once John brought them in near the campsite they calmed somewhat.

The first flash of lighting startled everyone and Rodney suddenly got to his feet. "We need to get everything metal away from us," he said. "C'mon."

The next few minutes were kind of crazy as they wrestled the water containers and the metal grill away from the campsite. Rodney insisted on moving the smaller containers they used to cook and carry food as well, and he took Ronon's suede jacket and wrapped it around his tablet, scanners and the rest of the electronics, holding them close.

And then...they settled down and waited to ride out the storm. It wasn't cold; in fact it was downright warm and humid, and when Rodney shivered, it was more because the charged air was making the short hairs one the back of his neck stand up than anything to do with the temperature.

"You okay?" John asked.

"Yeah," Rodney replied. "Jeannie was the one who was afraid of thunderstorms; I'm good."

"We'll have to tease her about that," Ronon said, and maybe it was an apology for the teasing Rodney had taken when his team had first met Jeannie or maybe it wasn't, but Rodney had to grin.

"She had to have her pink nightlight on, the one with the ballet dancer on it." He laughed. "But then she had to have that on all the time because she was...fuck!"

Rodney automatically counted until the thunder rolled over them and he really didn't like the answer.

"Less than a mile," John said, getting to his feet and standing with the ponies. "It's okay, guys...it'll be fine. I know it's scary, but you'll be fine, right, Molly? Yeah, you're a good girl, too, Ted...."

There was another flare and the ponies neighed and snorted. Ronon got to his feet and joined John, leaning down to pet Bill. "It's okay, boy," he said. "This'll be over soon."

The next bolt of lighting seemed to be right on top of them; Rodney yelped in spite of himself, Teyla clung to his arm, and the ponies, at the end of their ability to cope, went completely wild. Molly and Ted took out in one direction, John running after them, and Bill headed in another, Ronon right on his heels.

"No!" Teyla yelled. "Ronon, let him go!"

It took Rodney half a second to realize why she was shouting and then he was yelling, too. "Ronon! Stop!"

The full fury of the storm was on them, however, and Rodney knew they wouldn't be heard over the rain and the thunder. Grabbing his walking staff, he headed carefully for the cliff, hoping like hell he'd find Ronon before he'd find the edge. "Ronon!" he called. "Ronon, where the hell are you?!"

It was a nightmare; the rain was slamming down and the only light came from the occasional bolts of lightning, which were useless and confusing. Rodney was sure he'd end up at the bottom of the cliff, but he couldn't stop looking, particularly after he heard what he was sure was a scream from below. Teyla had joined him; he heard her calling for Ronon and saw her face, wild and wide-eyed whenever the lightning flashed overhead.

Oh God, we'll never find him he's dead somewhere and this rain will never stop and we'll never find him he must have gone in the river he could have drowned by now or broken his neck falling off the cliff.... Rodney had never hated his ability to see all possible outcomes from any given situation more than he did now. Everything he could think of ended badly, ended with Ronon lost.

It was only when he had to stop and draw a sobbing breath that Rodney realized he was crying.

The storm lasted forever, although later, when Rodney was able to look at his watch, he found that it had probably raged for about a half an hour before moving on, leaving a steady but light fall of rain behind. As soon as he realized the lightning was gone, Rodney raced back to camp, Teyla joining him a moment later. Aside from being a little damp, no harm had been done to the electronics bundled in Ronon's jacket and he pulled out a life signs detector and one of the Ancient lamps. Shoving another lamp at Teyla, he headed back toward the cliff with her on his heels.

"Oh my God," he said staring down at the LSD. "Teyla, we need to find a way down there."

"He is alive?"

"Yes!" Rodney began to walk along the cliff.

"Rodney?! Teyla?"

"Over here, John," Teyla called and waved her lamp.

"What are you guys doing? Where's Ronon and Bill."

"Down there," Rodney said. "Bill freaked out and Ronon went after him and it looks like they went over the cliff."

"Oh fuck," John said.

"He's still alive, but...."

"I'll go get the other lamp," John said. "And the first aid kit and some rope."

It took about twenty minutes before they found a way down. It was a rough trail and John insisted on sending tying the rope to a tangle of roots and bushes near the top of the trail. Even so, Rodney ended up sliding down the last third of the trail on his ass. Ignoring the pain, he scrambled to his feet and followed where the LSD led.

Ronon's legs were actually in the water, but Rodney hesitated, kneeling down next to him. "Hey, buddy, you with us?"

"R'ney," Ronon mumbled. "Kinda banged up...."

"Jesus," John said, crouching down next to them. Teyla knelt near Ronon's head, holding her lamp up and out of the way.

"Can you tell me what parts of you are banged up?" Rodney asked.

ABC, he thought. But no, he's conscious and talking, so I know he's breathing and his airway's okay. Gotta triage....

"M' leg...broken," Ronon said. "Think my arm's dislocated...hit my head hard...."

"Okay," Rodney said. "We're gonna take care of you; you're going to be okay."

And when, he wondered as he brought the light up and watched Ronon's pupils react unevenly, had he become this kind of person? Shouldn't he be panicking and freaking out and letting Teyla or John do this? But no, they'd made him the medic way back at the beginning and now Ronon needed him to be calm.

"Okay, you probably have a concussion," he said. "Try to stay with me for a minute or two while I look you over."

"'Kay."

"It'll be okay, Ronon," John said while Rodney crouched in the water and looked at Ronon's legs. There were a couple of tears in his pants and one leg was bent at an unnatural angle.

He moved upwards, noticing the scrapes along Ronon's arms. "His shoulder doesn't actually look dislocated," John said, and Rodney, who'd seen his fair share of dislocated shoulders in the last five years, including one of Ronon's, had to agree.

"Hurts like fuck," Ronon said. "Maybe broken collarbone?"

There was an advantage, Rodney thought as he very carefully explored Ronon's collarbone with his fingers, to having someone who'd been hurt a lot in his lifetime as his first patient. Something moved under his fingers and he winced as Ronon grunted.

"Sorry," Rodney said. "But I think you're right about your collarbone...Jesus, you're lucky it wasn't your neck." He glanced down at his watch, a little surprised to see how little time had actually passed since they'd finished the day's walk. "We need to get you out of the river and warm you up some." He looked up at John. "How can we best move him?"

"No matter what we do, it's going to hurt."

"Okay, hang on, then. Ronon? Is there anything else that hurts, anything else I need to know about. Don't be stoic."

"Just the leg, my shoulder and my head...rest is all scrapes and bruises, near as I can tell."

"Okay, Teyla, if you can support his legs, I'll take his hips, and, John, you get him under the arms." Everyone got into position. "Okay, you ready?"

"Yeah, do it."

Although Ronon kept his teeth clenched, something like a scream escaped before he went limp in their arms. "Better," Rodney muttered as they got him up and onto the shore. "He doesn't need to be awake for this part."

"You were right," Teyla said as Rodney got his knife out. "He is lucky to be alive."

"Yeah, well...he's not out of the woods yet. John, I need your lamp down here, and take Teyla's and hold it up, too. Teyla, you need to help me slice his pant leg here; I'm going to have to splint his leg and I can't do that over his pants. In fact, I'm going to need the leather to help splint him."

Once they'd sliced all the way up the leg of Ronon's pants, Rodney examined the leg. It was broken at the shin, which didn't actually look too bad; there was no bone sticking out or anything like that, and Rodney was glad of that much. Don't think I could deal with that.

But even discounting the shin break, Ronon's leg looked wrong and Rodney winced when he realized that something was wrong with Ronon's knee. "Oh fuck," he said. Even back on Atlantis with Ancient medical tech, a busted knee was bad business; one of Rodney's best programmers was an ex-Marine of Sheppard's whose knee had gotten fucked up enough on a mission to earn him a medical discharge.

"Rodney?" Teyla said softly and he looked up, both she and John were looking at him. He knew that if he faltered here, one of them would take over and be no worse at it than he was; they'd all had basic first aid training, after all.

"Sorry. Okay, if I pull this straight now, he might wake up and thrash around some. I need both of you to hold on to him, make sure he doesn't move too much."

Rodney hoped he'd never again hear a sound like the ugly grating of bone as he carefully straightened Ronon's leg. Fortunately, Ronon remained unconscious through the whole thing and finally Rodney sat back, swallowing hard. "I need at least two of the posts we use to hold the grill over the fire; they're probably straighter than anything we have."

"Anything else?"

"All the rope we have; we're going to have to get him back up the cliff."

"Right away?" John asked. "We could just stay down here; I'm sure I can find away down with the ponies in the morning."

"Yeah, okay. I don't suppose we have any dry firewood? I'm a little worried about his temperature."

"I'll check," John said, getting to his feet.

"My duct tape," Rodney called out after him. "I still have half a roll in my pack!"

By the time John returned, Rodney and Teyla had gotten the rest of Ronon's pants off him and Teyla was cutting one pant leg into strips while Rodney checked Ronon's collarbone again.

"Okay, that's not bad; I think I can just make a sling for him."

Splinting Ronon's leg was a horrible, awful business made worse by the fact that Ronon woke up and threw up in the middle of it. Finally, Rodney was done.

"Okay, that's the best I can do for now; later I'll want to get more wood in there and get as close to a cast as I can."

"Tell me," Ronon said, sipping water carefully.

"The concussion is a concussion; you'll be over it in a couple of weeks." Rodney sat back on his heels. "The broken collarbone is a simple fracture; the best I'm going to be able to do for it is a sling, which is what you'd get from most doctors unless they thought you needed a...there's a brace, right?"

"Yeah," John said. "Dave had one when he busted his collarbone that one time, but that was more because Mom got all up in the doctor's face than because he really needed one."

Rodney took a deep breath. "Then there's your leg. I'm not Jennifer or Carson and I'm not going to sugar-coat this. Your shin...okay both bones down there, your tibia and...and...." He paused and snapped his fingers. "Your fibula. Anyway they're both broken, but again it feels like simple fractures. Your knee on the other hand...without x-rays, I can't exactly tell, but I know the kneecap is broken and possibly the femur where it meets your knee. I splinted it pretty heavily and I'm going to splint it more when we can find more wood."

"Can't walk."

"Oh hell no," Rodney said. "You're down for quite a while."

"Fuck."

"We'll talk about it in the morning," John said firmly. "Do you think you can keep anything down?"

"Yeah, maybe."

"Okay," Rodney said, "I'm going to give you a couple of the big Motrin and then we're gonna wrap you in a space blanket and try to get you warmed up."

By the time Ronon went back to sleep, the rain had stopped and he felt a little warmer. Rodney, on the other hand, was shaking.

"Oh my God, what if I did something wrong, and he can't ever walk again?"

"Rodney," Teyla said firmly, "you have done everything that can be done for the moment."

"You did what I would have done," John said. He moved to sit next to Rodney and put an arm around him. Rodney leaned against him and wasn't at all surprised when Teyla settled in on his other side. As the storm rumbled down south of them, they sat there wrapped around each other and watched over Ronon all night.

* Day One Hundred Twenty-One *

When the alarm on his watch went off, Rodney jerked his head and blinked. He'd been dozing for a couple hours, and now the sun was coming up and it was time to wake Ronon again and check on him.

"Hey," John said softly as Rodney moved. Teyla made a sleepy noise and Rodney did his best to shift her so she was leaning on John.

"Hey," Rodney replied. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I got a few hours earlier." John wrapped an arm around Teyla and she settled back down.

"Ronon?" Rodney said quietly, kneeling next to Ronon. "Sorry, but you need to wake up for a few minutes here."

"Yeah," Ronon said, his voice rough. He squinted and then opened his eyes and Rodney breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Ronon's pupils were dilating properly.

"How're you feeling?"

"Kinda crappy."

"Why am I not surprised?" Pulling back the space blanket, Rodney checked Ronon's leg. His lower leg looked good but his knee was swollen and warm to the touch. "Okay," Rodney muttered, covering it back up again. "Let's look at your collarbone...."

Aside from a lump right over the break, Ronon's collarbone looked good. "That lump's a common thing," John said. "Trust me, I've seen a few fucked up collarbones in my day."

"I'm going to need to look over all your scrapes and try to clean them up," Rodney said. He looked over at John. "Is there any chance at all of a fire?"

"I'll see what I can do."

"I will help you," Teyla said, sitting up and rubbing her eyes.

Half an hour later, after boiling one of the scraps of cloth they'd been using as a wash cloth, Rodney was carefully cleaning Ronon's cuts and scrapes, using both hot water and alcohol. "Sorry," he muttered as Ronon winced. "But I really don't want to be dealing with infections as well as broken bones. I'm going to give you some of the antibiotics we've got once you've had something to eat.

John had tossed some pieces of ducken along with some of the edible herbs and a cut up onion thing into some water in the other small container and set it over the fire. "Wonder if ducken soup can cure what ails you," he said.

"Hopefully," Rodney said. "We're good here if you want to go check on the ponies."

"Lost Bill," Ronon said. "He went into the river."

To his surprise, Rodney found himself blinking a little. I'm just tired, he told himself as he carefully daubed alcohol on the worst of Ronon's lacerations--a big, deep scrape along his left arm.

By the time the soup was finished, Ronon was asleep again and John and Teyla had brought the rest of their stuff down to the riverside. Rodney's tablet was still functional and he breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm going to have to write to the manufacturer; this thing has been amazingly sturdy."

Ted and Molly seemed oddly subdued; it seemed to Rodney as if they knew Bill wasn't coming back. John seemed pretty upset as well and he spent a lot of time with the girls, crooning and petting and combing them with the big wooden comb Teyla had carved for them.

They woke Ronon up and fed him soup, ibuprofen and antibiotics and then let him sleep again. Rodney offered morphine but wasn't surprised when Ronon refused it. "I'll save it for later," he said, watching Ronon sleep. "We're going to have to move him before you leave."

And there it was, he'd said it. John looked down at his feet and Teyla sighed.

"I know I've gotten better at...well everything really," Rodney said. "But honestly, I think you two can move faster than John and I could. And...." He stopped and tried to think of a tactful way to put it. "We should split up the gene carriers."

Tact still isn't my long suit and it never will be. And they know it.

"What do you think is going to happen?" John asked.

"I have no idea, but I sure as hell didn't expect this." Rodney gestured at Ronon.

"Rodney is right," Teyla said.

Rodney almost wished she'd said he was wrong, that she should stay with Ronon. Yes, she and John would move faster, but that was only because, without him there, they'd push themselves harder. He supposed all three of them knew that right now, but still, he worried that they would eat even less and travel even faster.

"All right," John said. "But I want to see you guys somewhere a little more sheltered. And I'm leaving one of the P-90s with you."

If it weren't for Ronon's gun and the fact that they fished for at least half their food, they wouldn't have had any bullets left at all, but as it was, they still had three full clips. "We'll discuss all that when you leave," Rodney said. "Let's concentrate on finding someplace comfortable for us to wait it out."

Teyla was drawing breath to say something when they heard a loud whinny that did not come from either Ted or Molly. "That's Bill!" John said, jumping to his feet.

Teyla followed him south along the shore, leaving Rodney sitting by Ronon. Both Ted and Molly were restive and so he got up and did his best to reassure them. He was so busy taking care of them that his first warning that John and Teyla had returned was when Ted gave a happy snorting noise and he heard Bill behind him.

Bill was bedraggled and bleeding from one forelock, but other than that, he was fine. Finally, Rodney thought, something's gone right.

Both Teyla and John were grinning widely and when John said, "Rodney, guess what we found!" Rodney was pretty sure he knew what John was talking about.

"I see!" he said, kneeling down to check Bill's leg, which was merely scrapped.

"No," John said. "I mean yes, it's great that we found Bill; I think he went in the river and then swam ashore downstream. But, we also found a cave."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It's not exactly spacious, but it's big enough to shelter both of you and some stuff."

"How far is it? It's not going to be that easy to move Ronon."

"It is not far," Teyla said. She pointed to a nearby bend in the river. "Just past there."

"Hmmmm...." Rodney thought for a couple of seconds and then nodded. "We'll move everything there except two of the walking sticks. And then...I'll need everyone's pants, some rope and my duct tape."

As stretchers went, the one he created using pairs of pants, two of their walking staffs and duct tape wasn't that great, but it was better than nothing. Ronon looked pretty skeptical when Rodney woke him, but Rodney just snorted.

"Oh ye of little faith," he said opening the first aid kit. "I'm going to give you...."

"Don't need it," Ronon interrupted, looking at the single shot kit with a frown.

"I'm not asking," Rodney said. "Look, I get that you think you can make it and I know you; I know you can. But if this thing breaks or we jostle you...." He sighed and looked up at John.

"Let him give you the damn shot."

Ronon held out his arm and, wincing as he did it, Rodney shot him up. He managed to hide the smirk of triumph when he saw the lines on Ronon's face smooth out some; Ronon had been in a lot of pain and, of course, hadn't bothered to share that fact with Rodney. Rodney took a moment to mentally sympathize with Keller and then nodded at Teyla and John.

"Okay, let's do this."

Even with the morphine, Ronon bit back a hiss of pain as they got him onto the stretcher. "Sorry, buddy," John said.

Acting as a stretcher bearer was another thing Rodney hadn't done until coming to Pegasus, and every time he did it, he hoped it was his last time. This was particularly awful because the stretcher was so lousy that Rodney spent half the trip sure it was going to break and dump Ronon on the ground. There was also the fact that they were all pantsless, but modesty wasn't really much of an issue for any of them anymore.

The cave was, as John had said, not particularly roomy. Rodney figured it was about a third the size of his room back on Atlantis. But it was tall enough for him to stand up in and although the walls were hard-packed dirt and not rock, they looked solid enough.

Dividing things was complicated; even though they'd started out with what they had on them and a few things scrounged from an Ancient lab, they had managed to acquire stuff along the way. Rodney's extra shirt and John's over shirt had been sacrificed; using the sewing kits he and Teyla had been carrying, Ronon had turned the clothing into couple of bags in which they carried the plates, bowls and cups Teyla had made for them, as well as the herbs they used for tea and flavoring.

"I think we should leave the ponies behind," John said.

"No," Rodney said flatly. "You need to take at least one. We're moving into the river delta and it's gonna get marshy and you might not be able to find clean water. Plus you're going to need one of the grills."

"We can take the container Ronon carries," John said. "Carry water in that and use one of the shirt-bags for food."

"John...."

"Rodney, this is Teyla and me. It's up to us to decide what we need and what will slow us down."

Rodney looked at Teyla. She shook her head at him. "I believe John is right. We can cook without the grill."

"Just tell me you plan to stop and eat and sleep now and then." Even knowing that it wouldn't have the desired effect, Rodney gave them his best intimidating look, the one he'd used to make students and minions cry.

"I promise that we will not push ourselves too hard," Teyla said and Rodney knew he was going to have to take her word for it.

"You guys mind if we...."

"Go ahead, I will do what I can to make Ronon comfortable."

"Try not to worry," John said a few minutes later. He and Rodney had climbed up a fairly easy incline to the lightly wooded area above the cave. "We'll be okay."

"Yeah, only no," Rodney said. "Telling me not to worry is pretty much useless at this point."

"Rodney...." John reached out for him and Rodney moved into his arms, leaning against him for a moment. "I...take care, okay?"

"Just," Rodney began, aware that he was as bad at this sort of thing as John was. "Just come back, okay? You...." Giving up on trying to find words, he kissed John hard.

"Yeah," John said a little breathlessly. "You know that...." He kissed Rodney back. "Me too."

"God, we suck." They both laughed and then Rodney leaned back to look at John. "I mean it. Come back or I will never fucking forgive you."

"Wouldn't want that," John said, tangling his fingers with Rodney's.

They were still holding hands when they came back to the cave.

"Teyla...you two need to look after one another, okay?" Rodney said after he'd finally let go of John and started modifying one of his scanners to show the map.

"We will."

"Okay, you have about seven or eight hundred kilometers to go, give or take." Rodney waggled his fingers. "You'll have to decide when to leave the river and head east; if you're lucky, you'll have some branches of the river to follow. There was a native settlement near the lab and it stands to reason they'd have a source of fresh water."

He handed the scanner and his crystal case to John. "With the scanner, the crystals and the cables I've got in there you should be able to get the place open. I've uploaded a couple of the basic lock pick programs I use; you've seen me do it and I know you pay attention. Plus, Ancient equipment tends to lie back and spread its legs for you, so you should be okay.

"Although you need to remember to make sure that you connect the leads in the proper...."

"Rodney," John said, tucking the scanner and the case into his tac vest. "I know what to do. You need to take care of Ronon for us, okay?"

"Of course," Rodney said looking down at Ronon. "We'll be fine, right, buddy?"

"Yeah," Ronon said. "Just gonna be sitting here hanging out."

"So yeah, then." Rodney said. "Get going."

Teyla reached for him and hugged him, before touching her forehead to his. "I will take care of him," she said very softly.

When John stepped forward, Rodney paused for a second and then muttered, "Oh fuck it." Reaching out, he pulled John in close again. "Just...yeah, okay?"

"Yeah," John said. He hugged Rodney hard and then turned and walked away, Teyla at his side.

"They'll be back," Ronon said after a moment.

"Of course they will," Rodney snapped. He took a deep breath and looked around. "I don't know about you, but I'm hungry and we have soup left."

* Day One Hundred Twenty-Two *

Rodney hadn't slept all that well; he kept waking up and thinking of things he needed to do. And of course he had to wake Ronon up every few hours. Carson had told him more than once that it wasn't really necessary, but Rodney did it anyway, even though he felt kind of bad about it. Part of it, he could admit, if only to himself, was that he felt terribly alone and for the first time he realized that if they got home, it might not be as easy as he thought to settle back into his routine.

Not that his current routine was all that easy. He got up and took care of the ponies and then started up a fire and grilled some potato things--which, along with the ducken, had been the one constant in their diet--and boiled some tea. Ronon woke up naturally this time and there were personal matters to deal with, something that, even as comfortable as they were with each other, proved to be a little embarrassing for both of them.

"Hate being laid up like this," Ronon muttered, sitting up against the cave wall.

"I know," Rodney said. "But even if we were back home, you'd be flat on your back for a while."

He'd found some more pieces of wood to use as splints and Ronon's leg was pretty well immobilized now. Leaving Ronon behind like that bothered Rodney when he stepped out to fish for their dinner and he was glad that the fish seemed to be almost eager to eat worms off of safety pins. He found more of the two local lettuces and there was a not-a-pear tree near by as well.

"We've been lucky," Ronon said, when Rodney ducked into the cave with the food.

"You're joking, right?"

"Not at all; we've done pretty well here."

"I guess," Rodney said.

"You really don't need a list of everything that could have gone wrong, do you?"

"No, not really, that's my superpower." Rodney sighed. "Wish there just happened to be an ascension machine sitting around; that laying on of hands thing would be pretty useful right about now."

"Yeah."

Rodney was cleaning the fish, but by now it was something he could do without too much thought. "Oh hey, I found your notebook," he said. "It's a little wet, but not too bad. I'll get it for you in a sec."

At some point in their second year as a team, they'd each taken to carrying small notebooks with them. Rodney usually had two, one lined and one with graph paper, while John and Ronon preferred the plain pages and Teyla liked the graph paper as well. It had made it easier for Rodney to figure out what to give his teammates when gifts were required; several people on Atlantis had taken to decorating and making covers for the useful little books.

Ronon's was leather-covered, of course, and Rodney figured that that was what had saved it from worst of the rain. When he handed it over, Ronon smiled a little and pulled the stub of a pencil out of his jacket pocket.

"Thanks."

"Sure." Rodney watched as Ronon flipped through the pages. "Did your poetry survive?"

"Looks like," Ronon said. "Most of it's crap, though."

A couple of weeks ago, when Ronon had told them he'd written poetry in school and painted, and that he still sometimes wrote, Rodney had damn near tripped over his feet in surprise. He'd felt guilty about it and hadn't teased Ronon the way he once would have.

"Seriously? Or are you being modest?"

"Seriously." Ronon looked into the fire for long enough that Rodney was wondering if he'd fallen asleep. "You can write a hundred lines and maybe two or three of them are worth doing something with. It's frustrating sometimes."

"Sometimes?" Rodney shook his head. "I mean, I get it intellectually, but when I do stuff and then throw it out, it's still moving toward a goal."

"So's this."

"Fair enough." Rodney put the fish in a bowl and then added some pulped up not-a-pear and a little bit of onion root. "I don't get art," he said with an almost apologetic shrug. "I told you guys about that."

"That's bullshit."

"Sorry?"

"You heard me." Ronon frowned. "I've seen you listening to music. I just think your teacher was a moron."

"I can appreciate the technical...." Rodney shrugged.

Ronon shook his head. "Now you're being a moron and saying what you think you should say."

"You know, I liked you better when I thought of you as a vaguely amusing caveman."

"Yeah, I get that a lot."

Rodney couldn't help laughing.

"Anyway, you promised to play for us, remember?"

"I was actually hoping you guys would forget." Rodney looked down at his hands--they were rough and chapped and beat up, hardly the hands of a pianist--and he shook his head. "I meant it, but that doesn't mean it's easy for me to think about."

"It's like exercising a mental muscle," Ronon said. "When I first tried writing again, after I'd been on Atlantis for about a year, I was sure I'd forgotten how."

"Yeah," Rodney said. "Did you ever tell yourself that you didn't want it, try to talk yourself out of it?"

"A couple times, but really, it'd be like John trying to talk himself out of flying."

"No, I think that's more like me trying to talk myself out of physics. I can do without music, but no without science."

"But isn't it all numbers?" Ronon asked with a smile. "That's what Karen says."

"Karen? Oh you mean Simpson? When did you...oh my God are you fucking your way through my department?"

"Just because I call someone by their first name doesn't mean I'm fucking them."

"No, but that 'I'm too sexy for my shirt' look usually means something." Rodney shook his head. "Just don't break anyone's heart, okay? Or at least not any of my physicists'; I need them sharp."

"I'll check with you next time."

"See that you do." Rodney leaned back against the cave wall. "How's the leg?"

"Hurts a bit." Before Rodney could say anything more, Ronon shook his head. "My head hurts more, and no, I don't need anything for it."

"You do realize that I'm going to make you take some ibuprofen anyway?"

"You really don't need...."

"Tough shit; it's an anti-inflammatory. You know, if Keller were here, she'd say the same thing."

"And you'd tell her it was all voodoo." Ronon frowned. "You always say that; what's it mean?"

And then, of course, Rodney had to explain it to him.

* Day One Hundred Twenty-Three - Day One Hundred Forty-One *

Rodney had been under the impression that having to do all the work would mean he would have very little in the way of free time. When he realized he had plenty of free time even after looking after the ponies, gathering and hunting down food and taking care of Ronon, he felt pretty foolish.

"Can you believe that I've gotten used to walking all day?" he said one afternoon. "I keep thinking I should be doing something."

"I wish I could be doing something." Ronon had bad days and good days and the really weird thing was that Rodney had actually reached a point where he knew when it was time to fill the quiet with words and when it was time to shut the hell up. Given how that, and the fact that he was a workaholic, had been the bane of several relationships, he was a little surprised that he'd finally figured it out..

Weird how I had to come all the way to another galaxy and then get marooned on a strange planet with a warrior-poet to figure it out, Rodney thought as he bent over his tablet and tired to figure out where John and Teyla were. And we're not even involved.

Although, really, they were in a way. Just not that way. While Rodney could certainly understand the visual appeal and had even come to care about Ronon a lot, he was, he realized, pretty much stuck on John. In fact, when he should have been working on his analysis of the weapons research in the lab they'd found, he spent a ridiculous amount of time worrying about John, as if the man were helpless without Rodney around to look after him.

The fact that John probably felt the same way about Rodney didn't make it any better.

Ronon slowly improved. John and Teyla had been gone for about two weeks when Rodney finally found a pair of sticks that would work as canes. It took both of them to get Ronon up on his feet and he was pale and sweating by the time he'd walked out of the cave and a few steps up the beach. His mood, however, was much better, and Rodney reluctantly agreed to help him up again the next morning. Ronon didn't even mind that Rodney hovered next to him, ready to catch him if he so much as wobbled.

"Now I know how Jeannie must have felt when Madison first started to walk."

"Thanks," Ronon said dryly. "I always like being compared to a little girl."

"Hey, she's a very intelligent and cute little girl and I don't even like kids."

"They sure like you."

"I know!" Rodney rolled his eyes. "I have no idea why; I'm a jerk. It's a talent I've honed over the years and it's totally not fair that kids don't seem to care."

Ronon went a little further the next day and even further the next. Rodney still hovered and worried; he had no idea whether or not he should be letting Ronon do this. When we get back, I will make the damn time and take a real first-aid course or five.

He had just settled Ronon down outside the cave and was starting up the fire to make dinner late one afternoon when he heard and odd and vaguely familiar noise, something like a cross between a whir and a whine. He looked at Ronon, who looked back at him for a second before they both suddenly stared at the sky.

"Oh. My. God," Rodney breathed, probably meaning it more than he ever had.

Hovering a safe distance above them was a jumper.

John set it down so lightly that the fire hardly stirred. "Honey, I'm home!" he said, when Rodney ran up to the hatch. "Ducken again, or is it fish?"

Rodney stared at him and at Teyla as she came out of the jumper. "You look terrible," he said. If they'd been thin before, they were emaciated now and totally, utterly filthy. Teyla's pants were torn and John's t-shirt was missing both sleeves. They both had dark circles under their eyes and honestly, Rodney have never been so glad to see anyone in his whole life.

"You came back alone?" He stared into the back of the jumper but there was no one there. "Woolsey let you come back like this? Jennifer did?"

"Hey, good, Ronon's on his feet," John said.

Rodney whirled around to see Ronon climbing awkwardly to his feet and he rushed over to help. "Kind of on his feet. Here, help me get him into the jumper."

Something about the inside of the jumper seemed off to Rodney, but he figured it was just that he hadn't seen anything this pristine in months. He and John got Ronon seated in his usual chair, his splinted leg sticking out in front of him and then they went back to the cave. "You go see the...shit, what are we gonna do with the ponies?"

"If we leave them staked for a day or two, we can...we'll bring them home some way, even if it means I have to clean the jumper out behind them," John said. "Get the stuff you need right away, we can bring the rest of it later."

After all the time spent hauling their stuff across a whole continent, Rodney was astonished that he could pack things up and be ready to leave in less than twenty minutes and part of that time was spent very carefully dowsing the fire so it wouldn't spread. He took a quick moment to grab John and kiss him, even though John actually smelled worse than Rodney himself did.

"I was so fucking worried," he said, not caring how it made him sound.

"It was pretty rough," John said, leaning against him for a moment. "We're both pretty exhausted, but.... Just wait, okay?"

"What? Did they give us up for dead? Did you have to go to the alpha site first? What's going on?"

"Indulge me, okay?" John pulled back and gave Rodney an almost manic grin. "Trust me."

"Yeah, okay," Rodney said, following John up the gangplank and into the jumper. "So you found the outpost?"

"You could say that," John replied. They flew for a moment or two, Rodney staring in appreciation at the river, which was just as huge and overwhelming from the air as it was from the ground.

And then....

"What the fuck?" Ronon said as the window went black.

"Jesus, have you gone fucking crazy?!"

"Relax, I'm flying by instrument and also, the autopilot has a flight plan programmed in."

Rodney turned and looked at Teyla, feeling just a little nervous when she gave him a smile that looked a lot like John's.

"Just a few moments more," she said, smiling a little indulgently when Rodney and Ronon exchanged a quick glance.

"I didn't even know the jumpers could do this."

"You'd be surprised at what jumpers can do when you ask them nicely."

With the window blacked out, it was impossible to tell what direction or angle they were flying in, but finally, after maybe ten minutes or so in the air, they finally came to a stop. John took a deep breath and touched a control on the console and the windscreen cleared.

Rodney blinked. They were looking at...the gate room?

But no, it was different and also, not full of people like he would have expected, what with them having been gone for months. "John?"

"Welcome," John said, suddenly serious, "to Ys."

"Where?" Ronon asked, staring warily out the window.

"Ys," John said. "It's another legendary sunken city back on Earth. I have no idea what the Ancients really called this place. We didn't do too much digging around."

"Where are we?"

"About five miles out to sea," John said. "The facility on the coast looks like it was...well, it looks a lot like a shipyard. I think they built jumpers there. That's where we found this one."

"I...." Rodney shook his head. "This is real, right? I'm not dreaming or hallucinating after eating the wrong kind of fish?"

John leaned over and wrapped a hand around the back of Rodney's neck. Pulling him in close, he kissed him hard. "All real."

"Yeah, if this were a dream," Rodney said, his voice just a little shaky, "we wouldn't smell so bad." He took a deep breath. "Obviously I want to explore, but we really need to get Ronon back home."

The jumper hatch opened and Rodney had to appreciate John's parking job; they were backed up to the stargate, just far enough away to be safe when the wormhole engaged. "Go on and dial it," John said and Rodney grinned, pressing in the familiar numbers.

Once they had a stable wormhole, Rodney punched in his IDC and then looked at John. "Be my guest," John said, and Rodney touched his radio, not sure it would even work after all this time.

"Atlantis, this is Doctor McKay. We're coming in and we need a medical team to meet us."

"Doctor...Rodney is that you?!"

"You want me to sing 'O Canada' to convince you, Campbell?"

"That won't be necessary." That was Woolsey and Rodney smiled. "We've lowered the shield. You may come through."

It took both John and Rodney to get Ronon out of the jumper, but finally they managed and, with Teyla on Rodney's other arm, they stood in front of the stargate.

"Shall we?" John said.

"Yeah," Rodney replied. "Ronon's still kinda heavy."

They stepped through the stargate and into Atlantis.

* Day One Hundred Fifty-Two *

"C'mon, we have work to do! Chop chop!"

"Should you not be resting?"

"And let someone else explore?" Rodney gave Zelenka a look as they walked up the stairs to the control room in the new city, John right behind them. "I don't think that sounds much like me."

"We would wait," Zelenka said quietly.

"Well, this way you don't have to." Rodney rubbed his hands together and looked around. While all the consoles were in roughly the same place, there were still differences, most of them cosmetic. He pulled his tablet out of its place on his vest and frowned a little as he started to hook it up to a city operations console. It was a new tablet; the one he'd had with him on the trek was sitting back in his quarters. It felt odd to the touch, the same way all his clothes and the soap in his shower had, the same way sitting in a chair and eating off plastic had.

"Now come on and do something useful," he said, his mouth pretty much on autopilot.

"And we were under the impression that we missed you," Zelenka said, getting out his own tablet and cables. "What were we thinking?"

Rodney paused and rubbed a hand over his chin--not having a beard was another thing in the list of weirdnesses he was dealing with. "It's possible I missed you guys, too," he said, looking down at the tablet in his hands.

"We never stopped looking." Radek sighed. "We just...well, for obvious reasons, the actual location of this planet is deeply hidden in the database."

"I know," Rodney said. "Although I think you're idiots, you and Lorne, for not taking our jobs."

"I cannot speak for Major Lorne, but honestly, Rodney, who would want your job?"

Rodney was spared having to reply when his tablet beeped. "Oh!" he said, unplugging it and running toward the nearest transporter, Radek and John on his heels.

"What's up?" John asked as they all shoved into the small cubicle.

"Power levels," Rodney said, once the transporter had delivered them to their destination. "God, you're bony," he added as they moved down the corridor toward the ZPM room.

"You are as well," Radek. "It is rather strange."

"Well," John said reassuringly, "his ego's still pretty hefty, so it's okay."

"Ha ha ha...." Taking a deep breath, Rodney approached the power console and pressed a few buttons. "Look," he said. "Since this city was powered down on the surface, the power drain on the ZPMs was minimal and, look! There's a full compliment of them."

"More than that," John said, and something in his voice made Rodney turn and stare. John had opened up one of the cabinets set into the wall; there was a ZPM nestled in the midst of Ancient insulation. After opening another cabinet and revealing another ZPM, he smiled broadly. "Would you say the trek was worth it, given what we found?"

"I'd say," Rodney replied, looking at John. "That it would have been worth it if all we'd found was another empty lab."

* End *