Tribulation: noun: grievous trouble.
Walking back to the gate after visiting this planet's version of a flea market, John was trying to tune out Rodney's complaints about the lack of any decent technology for sale when Ronon suddenly went on full alert. John shared a glance with Teyla, who had also noticed the change in their teammate. Rodney, however, merely moved on to loudly worrying about the local buzzing insects that looked remarkably bee-like to him. John sighed, checking the road ahead as Teyla caught Rodney's attention and motioned for silence.
The road passed through rocky terrain and they were still a good thirty minutes from the gate. Dusk was descending and they were the only ones travelling the road, the other traders or customers having left already or else intending to stay the night. John wished he had given in to Rodney's demands to bring a jumper, but Teyla had pointed out that there would be a mix of people attending the market, some of whom might view them with fear. After all, for many in Pegasus, a ship usually meant Wraith.
"Someone up ahead," Ronon stated.
"Life signs?" John asked Rodney, who quickly retrieved the life signs detector from his vest pocket, a worried look on his face.
"Six. Three to the left, three to the right, about twenty metres ahead of us, behind those rocks," he reported, thankfully knowing better than to point towards the hidden people.
"An ambush. Damn." John surveyed the area. "Okay, they're probably wondering why we've stopped. Rodney, look like you've lost something."
"You know, check your pack...make them think we've stopped because you've lost something."
"Right, fine," Rodney muttered, searching through his pack for nothing. "Why does it have to be me?"
"Because then I can send Ronon and Teyla back towards the market, and once they've turned the corner behind the rocks down there, they can split up, sneak around and ambush the ambushers," John explained, as if talking to a child, earning himself a look of disgust from Rodney.
After a few minutes of Rodney fumbling through his pack and then his pockets, with the rest of them acting annoyed at the delay, Ronon and Teyla stalked off, looking suitably disgruntled at the idea of having to go back to the market this late at night. John, meanwhile, moved to the side of the road where there was a flat rocky outcrop just the right height for him to slouch against, feigning boredom.
Rodney jittered in place, trying to look suitably chastised, and then sighed and moved to stand next to his slouching team leader.
"How long do you think it'll take them to sneak around and why didn't we go with them?"
"I don't know and we didn't go with them because they're stealthier than you are. And someone has to stay with you."
"I can be stealthy," Rodney said indignantly. "Well, reasonably stealthy."
"Right," John said, disbelief in his voice.
They fell silent, though Rodney was still fidgeting nervously. John was thinking he should have gone himself – he really hated waiting - when the sound of gunfire moved them both into action. John headed towards the ambushers on the left hand side of the rock, with Rodney close on his heels.
Slowing down and carefully creeping over the rocks, they were met with the sight of two downed assailants and Ronon, unconscious and bleeding profusely. The third assailant was nowhere in sight, and after a quick visual sweep, John motioned for Rodney to keep watch as he checked on Ronon.
"Teyla, respond," John called over the radio as he grabbed a bandage and applied pressure to the wound on Ronon's upper arm, which was deep and long, and judging by the flow of blood, had damaged an artery. But severe though the injury undoubtedly was, he was surprised that Ronon was unconscious. It normally took more than this to knock his team mate out and thoughts of poisoned knives crossed his mind, increasing his concern.
"She's not replying," Rodney said worriedly, trying to watch the rocks around them but distracted by Ronon's situation.
"I know," John answered tersely. "Get over here, I need you to keep an eye on Ronon while I find her..." He trailed off when Rodney gave a squawk of surprise. John turned to see a man with a knife to his teammate's neck.
"Drop your gun," the man said gruffly to Rodney, who complied. "You, stay over there. You try to stop us from leaving and I'll slash him open."
"Who are you? What do you want?" John demanded, still holding the bandage in place and trying to ignore Rodney's frightened eyes.
"Olesian. Because of you, the city was culled. Now, I'd be happy to make you come with us, but I don't think I'd be able to control both of you, so I'll just cut my losses and take this one."
"What makes you think we had anything to do with the culling?" John asked, more than ready to deny any involvement to save Rodney.
"One of the prisoners you let go told his story to Tewsa, a Genii spy on Heldan. He recognised McKay's name and told us all about the four of you."
"And you believe a Genii?" John asked incredulously. "You know, they're not the most trustworthy of people."
"That's so true, especially with all their infighting and that..." Rodney babbled, trailing off with a small whimper as the Olesian increased the pressure of the knife at his neck.
"Tewsa is one of us now. He has no reason to lie. He brought photos of you and this one when he joined us. We carry them with us always and when we saw you here, we knew we had a chance to make you pay for the loss of our world."
"You've got it all wrong," John said. "This Tewsa guy clearly wants us dead for some reason and is using you..."
"Shut up!" the man shouted. "Don't try to lie your way out of this, and don't try to follow us. This one will have to do. At least for now."
"No!" He couldn't let them take Rodney. "Take me instead."
"And give you the chance to kill me during the exchange? You think I'm stupid?" He glowered at John.
"Look, can't we, I don't know, talk about this or something?" Rodney stuttered, eyes wide in panic. "We're not the bad guys here, really."
"Shut up!" the Olesian said roughly.
"You won't succeed," John warned, his voice cold and threatening. "I'll catch up with you before you reach the gate, and believe me, you don't want that. Let him go now and we'll call it quits."
The man just sneered at him, pulling Rodney further away.
"You'll regret this," John said, standing slowly.
"No," Rodney suddenly said. "Sheppard, I... you..." Terrified blue eyes met John's. "Ronon needs you."
"Please." Rodney's eyes bored into him, desperate, scared, but determined.
"Like you have a choice," the man said with another sneer. "Follow and he dies."
John was forced to watch as Rodney was dragged away from him, onto the road that led to the gate. By the time he had pulled his gun, the man and Rodney had disappeared behind further rocks.
"Damn it," he cursed, and continued to curse as he picked up the pressure bandage and went to work on Ronon. Why hadn't he let Rodney see to Ronon's injury while he kept watch himself? After all, it was his job to protect Rodney's back, not the other way around. Just because Rodney went pale at the sight of blood didn't mean he wasn't capable of dealing with the deep wound. John had made sure that all of his team knew enough field medicine to cope with serious injuries until help arrived. Rodney would have done just fine.
But he hadn't wanted the pressure of saving Ronon's life to fall onto Rodney, perhaps also hadn't wanted to deal with the complaints and bitching that would have occurred. Damn it, if he had been keeping watch, he may have seen the attacker before it was too late; was more likely to have seen him than Rodney.
What the hell had he been thinking?
There was still no response and he cursed yet again, worried that she was injured badly, maybe even bleeding to death, and he couldn't go to find her, not yet, not until he got the bleeding stopped at least. And when he did, did he go to find Teyla or go after Rodney? Damn it, what sort of choice was that? A truly crappy one.
He heard a noise to his right and grabbed his gun, turning towards the sound only to see Teyla making her unsteady way towards him, blood down one side of her head.
"John," Teyla said, sounding woozy.
He moved over to her and guided her down next to Ronon. Checking her pupils and responses it was clear she had a slight concussion and wouldn't be going anywhere on her own any time soon.
"I managed to take out two of them before I was hit, but not the others," she reported carefully.
"Well, it looks like Ronon took out two of them as well. One of them has Rodney, which still leaves one. Unfortunately, Rodney has the life signs detector."
"Perhaps the other one has also left."
"Or perhaps not. I can't leave you two here undefended..." And yet he wanted to, so very desperately. He wanted to go after Rodney; he wanted to hurt the people who had done this, who had wounded his team and taken one hostage, but not if it meant the death of Ronon or Teyla.
"I can defend us."
"Teyla, you can't even see straight..."
"John, you must save Rodney."
"Teyla..." he started, but could see the determination in her eyes. She understood that he was torn and was giving him her answer, an answer he had no doubt Ronon would echo if he could.
"Go. We will be fine."
"Okay." He nodded. If she was willing to take the risk so that he could try to rescue Rodney, then what point was there in arguing anymore, other than to waste time? "Check Ronon's bandage; he's lost a lot of blood..."
"I know what to do. Go."
Nodding, he took off at a run towards the gate, hoping against hope that he wasn't too far behind and that he wasn't leaving Teyla and Ronon open to further attack.
Darkness was falling more quickly now. He needed to move fast, but the rocky terrain forced him to stay on the road, allowing him no short cuts and making it impossible to see far ahead. Eventually, though, the road came to a ridge, allowing him to look down at the gate below him, a blue light flickering in the gathering gloom telling him that he was too late. Three figures, one held closely by another, were swallowed up by the horizon as he watched, too far away to stop them. He didn't even have time to use his field binoculars to see the gate symbols before they faded.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it," John swore as he continued to the gate. He needed to get a medical team here for Teyla and Ronon. And get Radek here too, to collect the last fifty or so gate addresses from the DHD in the hope that they hit the correct address sooner rather than later.
The odds weren't in their favour.
Three days had passed since John's team had returned without Rodney, and so far all their attempts to locate him had been in vain.
Elizabeth sighed, exhaustion pulling at her as she tried to concentrate on the reports she needed to sign off on, and failed.
Olesians, John had said, and clearly after revenge. Perhaps with good reason. And yet the lifestyle of the Olesians had been built on sacrificing the lives of others, not all of them hardened criminals. How much longer could they realistically have kept the Wraith satisfied? The government had already started rounding up innocent people and it was clear that time had been running out for that society.
Yes, they had sped up the disaster by letting the prisoners go, but there hadn't been much choice. They hadn't been given much choice. It didn't stop her feeling bad about it though.
And of all the people they could have taken, Rodney...
She closed her eyes and tried not to think of what might be happening to him.
He was stronger than he looked; she knew that. Had seen it time and time again. But would he be strong enough this time? Would they find him before it was too late? She wouldn't consider that they might already be too late. Couldn't consider it.
John was blaming himself, and she knew that nothing she could say would change that. Telling him not to second guess himself was pointless; it was human nature to do so. She often did so herself.
She'd been surprised that Rodney had insisted John stay with Ronon, even though she knew she shouldn't have. Sometimes it was easy to forget the depths of Rodney's loyalty to his team. A loyalty that had been reinforced after the events caused by the ascension machine.
She just hoped they found him and brought him back home before it was too late.
Hoped that he would survive.
Things weren't the same without him. She even missed the myriad emails he would send her, ranting about whichever members of his staff had messed up that day, or the lack of decent coffee in the mess hall, or the need for a chiropractor... A sad smile passed over her face at that last one.
Trying once more to distract herself with the reports, she started slightly when the alarms sounded and Chuck's voice announced an unscheduled incoming wormhole.
"It's Ladon Radim's IDC, ma'am. We're receiving a message."
And with that, everything changed.
Ladon had given them a planet address, one that had been visited by some of his men recently. They'd been checking up on an abandoned Genii outpost only to discover that it was occupied by a group identifying themselves as Olesians. They'd had a prisoner with them. The group had soon turned violent towards Ladon's men, who were lucky to escape with their lives. When he heard about the Olesians, Ladon had shown his men a picture of Rodney, who they confirmed was the prisoner they'd seen.
John would usually hate the idea of being in debt to the Genii, but right now he really couldn't care less where the information came from, so long as it led to them finding and retrieving Rodney.
He pushed his worry about what state Rodney would be in when found to one side, knowing it would only distract him from the mission. Instead, he allowed his anger to fuel him. They would get Rodney back, and if it meant killing every single Olesian to do so, then he'd do it. They could deal with the aftermath later, when Rodney was safely back on Atlantis. He would deal with it. After all, he was to blame for Rodney being taken, so the least he could do was help Rodney deal with the consequences.
Pushing the self-loathing and guilt down as well as his worry, he moved over to Ronon, who was looming in the corner of the locker room, impatiently waiting for everyone to finish getting ready, while checking and rechecking the status of his gun.
"You okay? Doc say you're good to go?"
"I'm fine," Ronon replied gruffly, giving him a look that challenged him to disagree.
"Okay," he drawled, knowing this battle was lost even before it had started.
Turning his attention to Teyla, she pre-empted him.
"I am fine, John."
Giving it up, he turned to hurry his men when he noticed someone enter the locker room at a fast pace. Moving away from Ronon on the pretence of double-checking his gear, he subtly - or not so subtly, based on the look on Teyla's face - removed himself from the warpath of one extremely pissed off doctor.
"And just where do you think you're going, lad?" Beckett demanded of Ronon.
"To get McKay," Ronon stated in a matter-of-fact manner.
"Oh no you're not! It's hardly been three days since I stitched up that arm of yours, not to mention we're still not sure if there are any lasting effects from the sedative you were exposed to, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you go and ruin all my hard work!"
"I've had worse," Ronon said with a shrug, flipping his gun back into his holster with a flourish that was lost on the angry doctor.
Beckett turned his scowl onto John. "Colonel, don't tell me you're letting this numpty go on the mission with you?"
"Well..." he started, only to be interrupted before he could form an answer.
"Idiots, the lot of you. Damned macho...."
"I'm going," Ronon interrupted brusquely.
"Not if Sheppard orders you not to," Beckett said, turning his attention back to John.
"Hey, you know he'll only ignore me," John said, holding his hands up in surrender. "So not much point in bothering."
"Ach, I don't know why I bother with the lot of you."
Beckett went to his own locker and started pulling out his tac vest.
"If he's daft enough to go, then I intend to be nearby when he breaks his stitches, so I can sew him back up," Beckett said tersely, slipping his vest on. "Besides," he added more softly, "you might need me to help with Rodney."
John sighed, wondering just when he had lost control of the rescue mission and having a sneaky feeling that Beckett was using Ronon's injury as an excuse to come with them. "Okay, Doc, guess you're coming too. Grab your kit and join us in the jumper bay, ASAP."
Less than half an hour later, Lorne's team was ready in Jumper Four and John and his team plus Beckett were in Jumper One as they waited for the gate to be dialled. A pang went through John when he looked behind him to see Beckett in Rodney's normal seat, but he ruthlessly pushed it down. Though he couldn't help think that the jumper was far too quiet without the animated scientist sitting behind him.
"You're good to go," came Elizabeth's steady voice came over the radio and he lowered his jumper into the gateroom.
"Bring him back," he heard her add quietly.
"I will," he stated confidently, as the jumper eased into the wormhole.
And he would. One way or the other, he would.