A/N: I would like to thank my beta, Saclateri, for her help in making this a better story. Any remaining typos, grammatical faux pas, or boring bits are completely my fault.
Current Day – 1200 Atlantis Time (AT)
John Sheppard heard Rodney McKay's panicked yells as the two men fell through the air and cursed as he hit the water. He cursed the Genii; and cursed crazy scientists who insist on leaping off cliffs into the ocean when they know they can't swim.
As he burst back to the surface and sucked in a lungful of air, he spied the scientist flailing in the water about ten feet away. Before he could help McKay a wave picked him up and tossed him against the rocks at the base of the cliff. His shoulder took the brunt of the impact and he felt the joint dislocate. When water closed over his head again, he clawed his way back to air using only his legs and his right arm.
He surfaced next to McKay, who was now face down in the water and sinking. Treading water with his legs, he pushed the pain radiating from his shoulder to the back of his mind. He used his good arm to turn the other man face up, then rolled onto his back so he could maneuver McKay's head and shoulders onto his torso. He kicked as hard as he could to get away from the rocks, relieved to hear involuntary gagging from his passenger. After some painful struggles, he managed to get his own left hand tucked inside his belt, immobilizing it as much as possible. He would worry about getting the shoulder back into place after getting himself and McKay away from the cliff.
During his manipulations he kept a wary eye on the figures milling around the cliff's edge, thirty yards above the water. Sheppard saw one of the men raise a weapon. He didn't hear the weapon fire over the sound of the surf, but felt a sting as the bullet tore through his scalp, just above his ear. He jerked involuntarily and lost his grip on McKay. He threw out his arm to yank the other man back, and felt another bullet hit his already injured arm. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he got his hand under McKay's chin and resumed swimming. He kept a wary eye on the cliff, and saw a figure, taller than the others, confronting the one who had been firing at them.
After several minutes of constant kicking, Sheppard paused to get his bearings. He moved only enough to keep the two of them afloat as he looked back toward the cliff. There was only one figure visible up on the cliff's edge now.
He knew that their attackers could make it around the headland and to the stargate before he could get himself and McKay there, but there wasn't a lot of choice of direction at this point. To the north there were several miles of cliffs which neither he nor McKay was capable of scaling at this point. If they kept going south, there was an accessible shoreline approximately a half-mile up the coast. From there it would be a two- to three-mile hike to the stargate.
They made slow progress around the headland, but were farther from shore than he liked. He adjusted their position so that they would be moving parallel to the shore when he resumed swimming again.
He reached up and tapped McKay on the cheek. "Rodney, time to wake up." He waited a few seconds, then repeated the tap. "McKay!"
When there was no response, he sighed and started swimming again. He considered using his bandana or belt, woven through loops on their respective vests, to link them together so that he could use his uninjured arm more freely; however, the picture of a groggy McKay waking up and starting to thrash around, dragging them both under, was very clear in his head. He would save that alternative for later, if it became necessary.
Five minutes later he cursed when he paused and realized they were making no progress around the headland. In fact, they were farther from shore than before.
They were being pulled out to sea.
Previous Day – 1145 AT
Sheppard smothered a yawn behind a hand, and flipped to the next page of the monthly progress meeting agenda. Oh, good, Zelenka was going to explain the repairs that had been made to the waste recycling system. Another yawn threatened to crack his jaw. Even the stare he was receiving from Weir couldn't stop it.
"Are we keeping you awake, Colonel?" she asked, the raised eyebrow clearly signaling her displeasure.
"Sorry, Dr. Weir," he said, and reached for his coffee mug. When she continued to stare, he cast about desperately for an excuse. "I was just, hmmm... "
The City's klaxon began blaring, coming to his rescue. Almost immediately the 'gate tech's voice came over their comms. "Unscheduled incoming wormhole."
Both Weir and Sheppard reached up to key their mikes, but the Atlantis leader was faster.
"Do you have an IDC yet, Michaels?"
"Just receiving one now, Ma'am," a pause, then, "It's Sergeant Stackhouse's IDC. I'm lowering the shield."
"They shouldn't have finished their business on Kier'tel yet." Sheppard said, concerned. He started to get to his feet. "They've only been gone an hour; that's barely enough time to finish the greeting and farewell ceremonies with Elder Loka'n. That doesn't include moving the supplies to the gate."
"Why don't you fetch Sergeant Stackhouse and meet me in my office?" Weir said as she gathered her papers. "Ladies, gentlemen, I'm sorry, but I need to go check on this. It's nearly lunchtime. Why don't we break for an hour, then meet back here?"
As he exited onto the wide balcony that overlooked the stargate, Sheppard could hear what he assumed were Czech complaints being muttered by Zelenka, punctuated by a cheerfully snarky comment from McKay. He continued through the Control room to the stairs leading down to the 'gate, while Weir stopped at her office.
The event horizon rippled as a half-dozen Athosians and four military personnel came through in pairs, each pair carrying a case clearly marked with the Atlantis expedition seal. The last through was Stackhouse. He glanced up at the Control room and gave the signal to close the gate, then dismissed his team. He trotted up the stairs, automatically coming to attention when he reached Sheppard.
"At ease, Sergeant," Sheppard drawled. "You didn't come back hot, so I'm guessing you weren't being chased. And you came back with our trade goods, and not the agreed upon supplies. So...?"
"Elder Loka'n wants to renegotiate the trade agreement, sir," Stackhouse said, adding in disgust, "Still made us go through the greeting and farewell ceremonies, though."
"Let's go into Weir's office, so you don't have to report twice." Sheppard turned and led the way.
Weir waved them into chairs, and looked expectantly at the sergeant. "What happened on Kier'tel, Sergeant?"
Stackhouse shifted on his chair as if trying to find a comfortable position. "Sir, Ma'am, we were met at the 'gate by Elder Loka'n and his usual assistants. We went through the greeting ceremony, same as every other time, which ended when we reached the village common. But there were no supplies, like on other trips." Stackhouse shifted uncomfortably on his chair again. He finally stood up, standing at ease with one hand resting on the butt of his P-90, the other tucked behind his back. "At this point Loka'n explained that they want to renegotiate the trade agreement. Said that they were concerned about the Wraith coming. Apparently they have other trading partners who have been completely wiped out in the recent cullings. Loka'n said he'd heard tales about our weapons, and he wants to trade for them, along with training. He's not interested in continuing the current trade agreement. He asked that Colonel Sheppard come to renegotiate, then refused to discuss the matter further. We went through the farewell ceremony and 'gated home."
"Elder Loka'n specifically asked for Colonel Sheppard?" Weir asked.
"You weren't involved in the original negotiations with the Kier'tel, were you, Colonel?" she asked, confused, reaching for her laptop.
"No, Lieutenant Meiers made first contact, while we were back on Earth. Teyla went back with Meiers' team on the second visit and started the negotiations. I didn't meet them until it was a done deal, and we were picking up the first shipment." Sheppard looked up at the younger man. "Sergeant, how exactly did he phrase the request?"
"You know how formal they are, sir. But he was incredibly brief, for a Kier'tel. After explaining about their growing concerns over the Wraith, he said, ah, something about how it would please them greatly if the Warrior Sheppard and his attendants would return to Kier'tel to discuss a new pact."
Sheppard frowned. "He called me 'Warrior'?" he asked. "He's always referred to me as 'Leader' in the past. That's an interesting change."
"Sergeant," Weir asked, "what about the people's attitude toward you and your team? Were they the same as usual? Were they hostile? Or frightened?"
Stackhouse started to reply, then paused, a thoughtful expression appearing on his face. "Now that I think about it, Ma'am, there were a lot fewer people than normal. I'll check with my team to be sure, but I don't think I saw any women, or kids younger than teenagers. There were no little kids running around. As for attitudes, I'd say they were tense and apprehensive. Like I said before, they're normally very formal, but Loka'n practically raced through the welcoming ceremony – for him. That slow stroll from the 'gate to the village, where they point out all the local attractions and stuff? He was much quicker than normal. I think they're worried, but it wasn't us that caused it."
Sheppard leaned forward in his chair. "Were there signs that the Wraith had been there already?"
"No, sir, none of the destruction that we've found on other planets. It could be they've seen it on one of the other planets they trade with, sir."
"No, the Kier'tel don't leave their planet, it's a religious thing. All of their trading partners come to them." Restless, Sheppard walked to the bank of windows to watch the activity in the 'gate room. "I suppose one of the other trading worlds brought them news about the Wraith wiping out entire planets. You did explain that we wouldn't trade guns or explosives, Sergeant?"
"I tried, sir, but Elder Loka'n just repeated his request to renegotiate."
Sheppard looked at Weir with a raised brow. When she shook her head, he turned back toward Stackhouse. "All right, Sergeant. Get your teams' impressions, and write up your report. Be as specific as you can on what was said. I'd like to have that on my desk by 1700. Dismissed."
Stackhouse snapped briefly to attention then exited the office. A moment later Sheppard could see him down on the 'gate room floor, speaking with one of the Athosians on his team.
The lt.-colonel turned away from the window. He watched Weir as she stared at her laptop screen, reading rapidly. After a few moments she grimaced, flipped the screen down, and got up to fix herself a cup of tea.
"I take that grimace to mean we're going to try to renegotiate? Without offering weapons?" Sheppard asked.
"Besides the fruit and smoked fish – which we can get elsewhere – they are also supplying us with a plant which has the medical research teams quite excited; something to do with cancer research. The botanists haven't been able to successfully grow the plant here in the City or on the Mainland. So we need to keep getting the plant from Kier'tel." She took of sip of tea, and returned to her chair. "I don't see how we can ignore this request, John. But I'm not going to authorize trading weapons for this plant."
"I didn't think you would," Sheppard said. "I can go and open new negotiations, see what they have to work with defense-wise. Maybe they would be satisfied with us acting in an advisory capacity. They're not technological at all; McKay didn't pick up any energy readings when he went to the planet. They have bows and arrows, and harpoons on their fishing boats. Frankly, as far as I can remember, hiding is probably their best defense; it sounds as if they've already sent the women and smaller children away."
"When can you go?"
He checked his watch. "It's too late to arrange to meet today. I'll send Lorne and an escort through to let them know we'll be there tomorrow. If we leave at 0700, it should be just after mid-day there. That'll give us plenty of ceremony and negotiation time."
She nodded, typing annotations on her laptop. "That sounds good. Just remember not to make any promises until you've run it by me."
"I know, Elizabeth. I'll go tell Teyla and Ronon we have a mission tomorrow," he said, and started to leave.
"Where are you going, John?" Weir asked.
He turned, maintaining an innocent expression as he glanced at his watch. "Ronon should be giving a class in the main gym right now, so I was – "
" – Just going to return, with me, to the monthly progress meeting." Weir said, amused. She grabbed her stack of papers and nudged Sheppard in the direction of the conference room. Seeing the disgruntled expression on her military commander's face, she chuckled. "If I can sit through Zelenka's report on the waste recycling system, so can you. It's part of your job, too."
"Half an hour, John. Then we will all be free for another month." She flashed a smile and moved around the conference table to her former place.
Sheppard dropped into his own chair and smothered a yawn.
Previous Day – 2130 AT
Sheppard initialed the last report, closed the file, and tossed the stylus down on top of the electronic notepad's screen. He stood and stretched, thinking about going for a run before turning in for the night. A quick lap or two around the south pier would help him relax. He pulled his running shoes out from under his bed and went to find a clean pair of socks.
He was finishing his pre-run stretch when his doorbell started ping-ing. He called out, "Come."
The door slid open to reveal an irritated Rodney McKay. "When were you going to tell me we were – good gods, man! What are you doing to yourself?"
Sheppard let go of the foot he had been pulling gently backwards to stretch the muscles in the front of his thigh, his back arched slightly. He grinned at the confused expression on McKay's face, and grabbed the other foot. "I'm stretching before I go for a run. Want to join me?"
McKay shuddered, remembering another late night run his body had been subjected to. "Why would I want to do something like that? I came to ask why I wasn't told we have a mission tomorrow." He pressed his lips together and crossed his arms, obviously not intending to move.
"Walk with me down to the south pier," Sheppard said, grabbing a water bottle and his 9-mm, tucking both into a pouch at the small of his back.
"Why can't we stay – you're taking your gun with you?" McKay asked, surprised.
"I take it everywhere," Sheppard said, as he exited his quarters. "If you want to talk you need to walk with me. Don't want to waste the warm-up."
"Fine, I'm coming," the scientist mumbled as he trotted to keep up with the brisk pace set by the lt.-colonel. "So, why wasn't I told? I can't prepare if I don't know about a mission."
"Rodney, you've been complaining for weeks about how busy you are, how you don't have time to finish one project before you have to start another, as well as supervising everyone else's work. This isn't a new planet, with potential technology for you to explore. This is a renegotiation with a people that you've already declared... well, I believe you called them 'backward.'" Turning into a stairwell, he flashed a grin over his shoulder, "I thought you'd appreciate the break."
"Is that the only reason?" McKay asked, sounding uncertain.
Sheppard had started down the first flight of stairs. Now he stopped and turned to look up at McKay, who was still on the landing. "Why would I have another reason, Rodney?" he asked.
"Well," McKay began, then stopped. He stood nervously at the top of the stairs, arms crossed and shoulders hunched. When he started to speak again, he uncrossed his left arm and used it to gesture, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together. "Well, everyone has been treating me differently... since the whole hive-ship incident, and the, ah, enzyme... "
His voice faded away, and he re-crossed his arms.
Sheppard stared up at him for a moment, and a grin pulled up the corner of his mouth. "Rodney, have I treated you any differently? I mean, after I yelled at you for pulling such a lame-ass stunt, and then thanked you – after that, have I treated you differently?"
McKay cocked his head to the side and shifted from one foot to the other. "Well, no, maybe not you. But others have. I just don't want you to think that I can't handle going off-world anymore."
"I never thought that," Sheppard said. "At least... not after I got over being mad at you for pulling that lame-ass stunt, and remembered to thank you."
He turned and started back down the stairs, calling over his shoulder, "If you want to come to Kier'tel there's a briefing at 0600, and we're 'gating out at 0700. Be prepared to sit quietly, and not make rude comments about the plumbing." He paused and looked up. "Come on, Rodney. Let's run. It'll be good for you."
He continued down the stairs, smiling when he heard footsteps following him.
Current Day – 1210 AT
McKay was a 'sinker'. The man had no natural buoyancy and started to sink like a brick if not supported.
During the last few minutes Sheppard had struggled to rid himself and McKay of any unneeded equipment and clothing that might weigh them down. It had been an exercise in pain, every movement – carefully thought out so as not to lose his control of his unconscious burden - seemed to jostle his injured arm. He had reluctantly unclipped his P-90 and watched it sink in the clear blue water; but had kept their 9-mms and spare clips. McKay's backpack, containing the ubiquitous electronic notepad, had also been sacrificed.
He hoped the riptide would release them soon so that he could start the long swim back to shore, which was now over a quarter mile away.
He had managed a cursory exam of his passenger. Except for a large lump behind the left temple, he hadn't found any other obvious signs of trauma – no overtly broken bones or bullet wounds. He contemplated his own injuries: the shallow gash above his ear appeared to have stopped bleeding, but the bullet wound in his left forearm had not. He was considering how he could get a field dressing on his arm without dumping McKay, when the other man started to wake-up.
McKay regained consciousness just as Sheppard had feared. After spending a moment blinking in confusion, he realized where he was and started thrashing. He didn't hear, or ignored, Sheppard's quiet voice urging him to be calm. His movements were weak, incoherent sounds of panic issued from his mouth, but he managed to jolt the lt.-colonel's injured arm several times before stopping abruptly. Gagging replaced the previous sounds and he started vomiting. Sheppard grimaced and rolled them into a more upright position in the water, his good arm wrapped around the other man's chest, providing support.
After what seemed like several minutes the retching stopped and McKay floated limply again, panting. Sheppard gave him a moment to recover, then shook him slightly.
"Rodney, you awake?" Hearing a disgruntled mumble, Sheppard smiled. "Come on, open your eyes and pay attention. I need you to help me out here."
"My head hurts." McKay kept his eyes stubbornly closed.
"You probably got a concussion when you banged your head on the rocks. You've been unconscious about fifteen minutes, which means you really need to stay awake now. Open your eyes. McKay!"
The other man raised his head slightly and turned it toward his tormentor. "What?"
"Concentrate for a minute. Are you hurt anywhere except your head?"
McKay was quiet for a few moments, then gave a minute shake of his head. "No. My head really hurts. And dizzy. I threw up."
"I know," Sheppard said, thankful there were no other problems. The head injury was bad enough, but a subdued Rodney McKay was worrisome. "Rodney, I want you to support yourself for a few minutes. I need to get a bandage on my arm, and I can't do that and hold onto you, too."
"Why are you kicking me?" McKay mumbled, plucking at the arm encircling his chest. "Let go of me."
"I'm not kicking you, Rodney. I'm treading water to keep us afloat. No, don't panic," he said quickly as he felt the other man stiffening. "You're okay. We're okay. Right now I need you to take over treading for just a couple minutes."
"Swim? I can't swim!" McKay tried to turn around and jarred the other man's injured arm.
Gritting his teeth against the bright flare of pain, Sheppard tightened his grasp around the scientist's torso. He took several deep breaths, willing the pain to recede. "I know you don't know how to swim. But treading water is easy. All you have to do is kick your feet like I'm doing – that's good, keep it up. Now, wave your arms through the water. Gently. Like this." He demonstrated the proper motion. "Keep kicking your feet, Rodney. That's good. Keep going."
He kept a hold on the neck of the other man's vest until he felt comfortable with McKay's ability to stay above water.
Sheppard backed off to get some maneuvering room. His left arm was cold despite the warmth of the water, and starting to feel numb. He took a deep breath and held it, then grabbed his left elbow and maneuvered the arm to the right, then up. His breath escaped in a pained gasp as the joint rotated back into place. He laid the abused limb against his chest, as he fumbled a dressing out of his vest, and tore open the package.
He paused in his first aid, reached out and grabbed McKay, who was drifting away. "Getting a little far away, Rodney. You're doing real good."
McKay watched quietly as Sheppard struggled to get the dressing wrapped around his left forearm. There was a grinding sensation; a broken bone or the bullet was rubbing against one of the bones. When he finished bandaging the wound and tucking the hand back into his belt, he leaned back in the water to catch his breath.
"You going to be okay?" McKay asked quietly.
"Yeah," Sheppard said, looked around and smiled wanly. "You're doing a good job of treading water there, Rodney. You want to try a little swimming?"
"I don't know how to swim," McKay said, sounding vaguely worried about the concept.
"Swimming is just a horizontal version of treading water. You still kick your feet, and wave your arms. Only you wave them up and down, instead of back to front. Let's give it a try. I'll hold onto you like before."
Sheppard swam up to the other man, helped him lean back in the water, and slid a supporting hand under his neck. After a few seconds of panicked thrashing, McKay managed to coordinate his arms and legs. Sheppard watched him move through the water for a minute, then urged him back into a vertical position.
"Okay, why don't you rest for a minute," he said, and got them into their buddy floating position.
McKay moaned, and put a hand over his eyes. "Ow."
"Here." Sheppard fumbled his sunglasses out of a vest pocket and slid them onto McKay's face. He grinned when he noticed how pink the other man's nose was getting; there would undoubtedly be some whining over that in the near future.
After several minutes of quietly floating and watching the distant shore, he decided the riptide wasn't pulling them any longer.
"Rodney, you awake?"
"Yes," McKay murmured, and flopped his arms to the side, letting his hands dangle in the water. "This is very... soothing."
Sheppard grimaced as the motion jarred his left arm, and resisted the urge to dump the other man face down in the water. "Sorry to disturb you, but the tide has stopped pulling us out. We need to start heading toward shore. Are you able to swim by yourself for a while? I'll be right by you."
"I, I think so," was the nervous reply. "Is it very far?"
"Don't worry about that. You just pace yourself, go as long as you can. When you're tired, I'll give you a tow. We'll make it to shore." Sheppard grinned as he moved away from McKay, but kept a supporting hand under the man's neck. "Remember how you were complaining about your legs this morning? Your arms are going to match that tomorrow."
"You enjoy this, don't you?" McKay asked, a hint of his usual spirit starting to reappear. "You are a sick, perverted soul, Sheppard."
"Just trying to stay positive, Rodney. Let's go."
Current Day – 0655 AT
"I can't believe I let Colonel Sheppard talk me into running around the pier last night," McKay moaned for the third time in ten minutes. "I swear, I think I pulled both of my hamstrings."
He limped dramatically as he, Teyla and Ronon entered the 'gate room. The other two ignored him. Teyla had already expressed her sympathy, twice, and felt that was enough. Ronon was busy consuming a piece of fruit, but the look he aimed at the smaller man was clearly not sympathetic.
Sheppard, who was coming down the stairs from the control room, grinned and rolled his eyes. "McKay, you jogged – slowly – halfway around the pier and walked the rest of the way."
"Well, my legs are killing me now," McKay snapped, bending to rub his thighs.
"I told you to warm up first." The lt.-colonel watched as McKay continued to fuss with his legs. "Are you sure you want to come with us today? It's a couple miles to the village, then a lot of sitting, before having to trek all the way back. If your legs – "
"Of course I'm going," McKay said indignantly. "I never said I couldn't walk. I'm going on this mission."
"Good," Sheppard said with a grin. "I'm glad that's settled. Ronon, Teyla, you ready to go?"
He signaled the 'gate tech to dial the address. While the stargate went through its dialing routine, he did a quick double-check of his own equipment. As the 'gate shimmered into life, he gathered his team with his eyes, and stepped into the event horizon.
He knew immediately that something was wrong as they emerged on the other side. Instead of Elder Loka'n and his attendants, there was no one. Not even the lone man usually given the 'honor' of greeting any visitors through the stargate. There was nothing except a peaceful mountain pasture, with trees a few dozen yards distance.
A well-worn path passed near the 'gate. Down hill led to the nearby ocean and a small fishing camp. Up hill was the village. The path was empty.
He pulled the P-90 to his shoulder, flicking off the safety. As the others emerged from the stargate Ronon and Teyla immediately picked up on his tension and moved to take up defensive positions to either side of him; McKay came through the 'gate still chattering.
" – ask Carson for some of that cream you rub on sore muscles," McKay said. He looked around the pasture in confusion. "Hey, I thought you said we would be meeting someone. There's no – "
"Quiet," Sheppard muttered. He reached up to key his comm open just as the event horizon disappeared. Growling in frustration he stepped toward the DHD, pulling the scientist with him. "McKay, dial Atlantis. Teyla, do you sense anything?"
McKay, who had opened his mouth to complain about being dragged around, clamped it shut and started pushing the keys. Sheppard took up position behind him, with Ronon and Teyla to either side, all of them scanning the surrounding area.
"No, Colonel, I do not sense any Wraith nearby," Teyla said, her head tilted as she 'listened'.
"I don't think the Wraith have been here," Ronon said quietly. "It's too... neat."
"Yeah, they do tend to leave a mess behind," Sheppard agreed, looking back over his shoulder. "What's the hold up, McKay?"
"The seventh symbol won't engage," McKay said, dropping to his knees and pulling out his pocketknife. He pried off the access panel at the base of the DHD. After a quick glance inside he looked up in consternation. "Someone's removed the main control crystal."
"Well, the Kier'tel didn't do it. They never touch the thing. Can you fix it?"
"Oh, sure! I carry spare control crystals on me all the time," he mumbled sarcastically, leaning back down to inspect the rest of the mechanism. "It doesn't look as if they did anything else to the DHD. If we can get our hands on the control crystal it'll be simple enough to plug it back in."
"Great," Sheppard muttered. "All right, people, looks like we're going on a treasure hunt. First clue is the lack of people. We're going to head up to the village; see if we can find more clues. Ronon, take point; stay away from the path. If you see anyone, let me know before we meet up with them. Teyla, take our six; McKay, you're with me. Let's go."
Ronon took off at a loping run, but slowed his pace as he reached the tree line. Sheppard and McKay started after him, followed shortly by Teyla. They traveled this way for about a mile, constantly scanning the surrounding area.
The former runner stopped abruptly, raising a clenched fist. The others halted, waited.
"There's someone up ahead. Wait here," Ronon said as he disappeared around a cluster of trees and bushes.
"Ronon, wait." Sheppard cursed silently to himself when he was ignored.
A moment later the sound of Ronon's blaster broke the silence. Before Sheppard could take more than a few steps toward the bushes the large man reappeared with a limp bundle draped over his shoulder.
"Don't worry, he's only stunned," Ronon said, and started to put down his burden.
"No, don't put him down here," Sheppard snapped. "We need to move away from here, in case someone heard you."
He took point and led his team further away from the path they had been paralleling. After a ten-minute trek, stopping frequently to scan their surroundings and listen for pursuit, he stepped into a small clearing.
McKay flopped onto the ground, red-faced from exertion. He watched as Ronon laid the unconscious man on the ground then disappeared into the trees to patrol the perimeter.
"Colonel, are you ever going to teach him that it doesn't have to be shoot first, last and always?" he asked, gesturing after the big man with his canteen.
"It's not necessarily a bad habit, McKay," Sheppard said as he went down on one knee by their... he supposed prisoner was an appropriate term. "At least he keeps it on stun now. Most of the time, anyway. Well, this gentleman definitely dresses like a Kier'tellan. Do either of you recognize him?"
Teyla stopped her slow pacing around the clearing's edge and looked at the man. She frowned momentarily, then nodded. "I have seen him in the village during other visits, Colonel. But I do not remember being introduced to him. I believe that he is dressed in the robes of a priest."
"Yes, yes, yes," McKay snapped his fingers. "That's where I've seen him. He came out of the local temple when I was here. He was with a couple of other overdressed guys. I remember seeing all of the embroidery and thinking it was a little over-the-top for a small village."
"Great," Sheppard said. "Nothing like befriending the local priesthood."
He patted the priest's face. When there was no response he moved the man into the shade. He sat back on his heels and keyed his mike on.
"Ronon, you see anything out there?"
"Nothing," was the terse reply.
"Good. I want you to get as close to the village as you can without being seen. Don't go into the village. All I want is intel right now. Try not to have to shoot anyone. Look around, then come back here." Sheppard glanced down at this watch. "Check in every thirty minutes, and be back within two hours."
"I'm on my way."
"Roger that. Sheppard out." He stood up and stretched his back. "I'm going to head out and patrol the perimeter. Call me when our guest wakes up."
"What do you want me to do?" McKay asked, standing up and presenting himself hopefully.
"Stay here. Rest up; we're liable to be doing a lot of walking soon. If you get restless, walk around the edge of the clearing but don't leave it. I won't be far." He cradled his P-90 and moved into woods.
McKay watched him go with a worried expression on his face. "The man has too much energy," he finally said. "If I could harness it we wouldn't need to find any more ZPMs."
"Colonel Sheppard feels his responsibilities very strongly," Teyla said quietly, sitting next to the unconscious priest. "He gets restless when he thinks he is not doing enough to fulfill his obligations. At least he has this activity to keep him occupied."
"I'm not worried about him being bored," McKay snapped. "I'm worried about those two getting captured by the Wraith or other bad guys. Or worse than captured." He stared into the woods where the two men had disappeared. "Half the time it seems as if the two of them don't have a cupful of self-preservation between them. I wonder if they care that we have to sit here and worry about them."
He sat down next to Teyla and began patting his vest pockets, opening the various velcro-ed flaps, examining the contents and then returning them. He was opening the same pocket for the third time when Teyla reached out and laid her hand over his. When he looked up resentfully, she smiled quietly.
"It is very difficult to sit and wait, and yes, worry," she said. "Ronon and Colonel Sheppard are doing work that must be done."
"Aren't we a team? Shouldn't we do things as a team?" he asked, frustrated. "They could use backup."
"Sometimes we work together as a team, and sometimes we work separately to help the team as a whole." She looked around the clearing, and then back at McKay. "I know it can be hard, but you must try and be patient. There are times when you, Rodney, are the one working alone, and it is we who must struggle with our impatience."
He sat in quiet thought for a few moments, his left hand going through unconscious gyrations. Finally he grunted, got to his feet, and stomped off to pace the edges of the clearing. "I don't do patience very well."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Sheppard found a cluster of rocks he could hide among and keep an eye on the pathway. Pulling out his binoculars he scanned up the gently sloping hill. The path took a sharp right turn around a small outcropping of boulders and disappeared. He knew it was approximately a five-minute walk from there to the village. He could follow the path back down the hill until trees obscured it, a quarter mile from the stargate.
He had been there about ten minutes when Ronon checked in for the second time. "Sheppard, you there?"
He reached up and keyed his mike on. "Yes. Where are you?"
"I'm on the north side of the village now, outside of Loka'n's house." Ronon's voice was a quiet rumble in his ear.
"Damn it, Ronon, I told you to stay out of the village," Sheppard hissed in annoyance.
"I was staying out of it. Then I saw a squad of soldiers come out of this house. They split up in groups of two and went into different houses around the village commons. One pair just left the village heading down the path toward the stargate."
"Soldiers? The Kier'tel don't have an army. Do you recognize the uniforms?" Sheppard asked, aiming his binoculars back toward the top of the path.
"Yes. They're the same as those soldiers that Ford's men attacked and stole explosives from – the Genii. Hold on."
"The Genii!" The unexpected exclamation from McKay over the comm caused Sheppard to jerk in surprise. His unwary movement caused a mini-avalanche of pebbles – loud to his own ears, but apparently unheard by the duo just rounding the outcropping of rocks. He crouched lower.
"Quiet, McKay," he snapped, easing himself to a position where he could watch the pair walk by without being seen. Thankfully they did not stop, but kept going until the trees blocked his view.
Sheppard listened to Ronon breathing for a few moments while he watched the Genii soldiers. What were they doing here? Obviously, they were behind the Kier'tellan wish to renegotiate, wanting to trap Sheppard and his team. But what were they hoping to accomplish by doing so?
The cadence of Ronon's breathing suddenly increased and became interspersed with small grunting noises.
"Ronon? Are you okay?"
For a minute there was no reply, then the former runner's voice came over the comm as a barely audible whisper.
"I'm in Loka'n's house, in the loft above the great room. There're two men down there. One's leaving. Hold on."
Sheppard gritted his teeth in a combination of irritation and frustration. He was definitely going to have to have another talk with Ronon about following orders, and not going off on his own.
After several minutes of listening to Ronon breathe, broken only by McKay's whispered demands for information, he was ready to open the stargate to the t-rex planet and push the large man through. He started to get to his feet, intending to work his way toward the village, when there was a loud crash over the radio, followed by the sounds of fighting – hard fists connecting with softer flesh, grunts, rustling, scraping, muffled exclamations, and finally silence.
Sheppard found himself on his feet, halfway to the bend in the path and out in the open. He sprinted the final distance to the rocks, and found a place of concealment.
"Ronon," he hissed into his mike. "Ronon, are you okay?"
There was the sound of heavy breathing, then,"Yeah, I'm okay." Ronon spoke in a normal tone, although slightly breathless. "This guy put up a little fight. McKay, is the control crystal blue, with... eight sides?"
"That sounds like one, yes," McKay said, sounding surprised. "Don't tell me it was just sitting there?"
"Got it," said Ronon in satisfaction.
"Terrific," Sheppard said. "Grab it and get the hell out of there before more Genii show up."
"What do you want me to do with this Genii, Sheppard? He's starting to wake up."
"Tie him up and gag him, stuff him in a closet. I'm five minutes away. Do you need help getting out of there unseen?"
"No, there's plenty of cover between here and the trees. After I get there, I'll be back in the clearing within twenty minutes," Ronon sounded very confident.
"Colonel," Teyla's voice broke into the transmission.
"What is it, Teyla?" Sheppard asked.
"The priest is starting to wake up."
"Okay, I'll be there in a few minutes," Sheppard said, getting to his feet, and pulling out his binoculars to scan the surrounding area. "Ronon, head back to the clearing. No side trips. None."
"I'm on my way," Ronon said, without acknowledging the order.
Sheppard resisted the urge to bang his head on a rock, tucked the binoculars back in his vest, cradled his P-90 and started back downhill.
Five minutes later he stepped quietly into the clearing and stared at the tableau in confusion. The priest was on the ground, awake and cowering against the base of a tree. Teyla stood facing McKay, and looked shocked. McKay was a few feet from her, his right hand cradled against his chest, a pleased but amazed expression on his face.
"What's going on here?" Sheppard asked.
"I punched him," McKay exclaimed, waving his fist in the air. "Ouch!"
He held the fist against his chest again, but didn't loose the smile.
"Is there some reason you're abusing the prisoner, McKay?" Sheppard asked. He let his P-90 hang from its clip while he pulled out his canteen.
"He wouldn't be quiet. I figured we didn't want to let the Genii know where we were, so I punched him in the solar plexus. Hard to yell when you have the air knocked out of you."
"True." Sheppard offered the canteen to the red-faced man, who accepted it with a grateful look.
"When he became fully conscious, he became agitated," Teyla said, obviously feeling that a fuller explanation was needed. "He demanded to speak with you, quite loudly. I tried to soothe him. He pushed me away, and that is when Dr. McKay knocked him down."
"You are the Warrior Sheppard?" the priest asked, dropping the canteen on the ground. He scrambled to his feet, pressed the fingertips of both hands to his forehead and bowed until his torso was parallel to the ground. "Please forgive my inability to perform the ceremony of greeting. I was waiting upon the path to the village of the People of the Craggy – "
"I'm sorry to interrupt, sir," Sheppard, struggling to hold onto his patience. "First, may I ask your name?"
"I am the Reverend Mora't. I am a priest of the third rank, of the Temple of – "
"Again, sorry to interrupt, Reverend Mora't, but we are under something of a time constraint. The Genii are here. Are they the reason that the Kier'tellan people are missing?"
"Yes, they came half a moon ago. They said they knew that we traded with the survivors from Atlantis. They threatened to harm us if we did not arrange to have you and your attendants come here." Mora't sank to his knees, and bowed his head. "We are not a martial people. We had no way to force them to stay away. And our religion forbids our use of the Ring of the Ancestors, so we could not warn you not to come. We have been poor friends to the people of Atlantis," and he sank forward until his forehead touched the ground.
"Please don't blame yourself, Reverend Mora't." Sheppard dropped to one knee and helped the man back to a sitting position. "Did the Genii take your people?"
"No. When the Genii first came, Elder Loka'n sent messages to the other villages. He started sending the women and smaller children of our village to the Hidings, a few at a time."
"What are the Hidings?" McKay asked.
"These hills," Mora't said, gesturing widely, "are full of caves, many of which go deep underground. We use them when the Wraith come. The Genii left one man here to send a message through the Ring of the Ancestors when we knew you would come. When he fell asleep after the message was sent last evening all of the others slipped away. I remained to greet and warn you. Now I must go to the Hidings, also."
He rose to his feet and started to bow again. Sheppard rose also.
"But if you told the Genii when we would be here, why weren't they waiting for us?" Sheppard asked.
"I'm sorry, I meant to explain. Please forgive me again. This day has brought much disruption to my mind." Mora't fell to his knees again, bowing. "Elder Loka'n did not give the Genii the correct time of your arrival. The Genii are not expecting your arrival until tomorrow at mid-day."
"Well, I think they probably know we're here now," Sheppard said. "How many Genii are here?"
"I have seen eleven come through the Ring and go to the village early this morning. None returned. I did hear them say they expect more to come later. But there are only twelve now."
"Only twelve. And the Genii specifically asked for me and my team?"
"Yes, Warrior Sheppard. The Genii leader said we were to demand that Sheppard and his team come to renegotiate our agreement."
"Did they happen to mention why they wanted us?"
"They did not provide this information when they made their demands," Mora't said. "However, as they passed the place of my concealment, on their way to the village, I heard them speaking. I do not believe they want all of you. They spoke only of taking the one called McKay back through the Ring."
"Me?" McKay's exclamation came out in a squeak. The powerbar he had just pulled from a vest pocket fell to the ground.
"Terrific," Sheppard muttered. "Well, whatever they need you for, Rodney, they're just going to have to do without."
He turned to the priest and gave an abbreviated bow. "Reverend Mora't, thank you for the information you have brought to us. When you see him, please tell Elder Loka'n that we do not bear any animosity toward the Kier'tellan people. The Genii are our enemies, and we apologize that you have been brought into the conflict between us."
"You will be able to escape the Genii's trap?" Mora't asked uncertainly.
Sheppard smiled reassuringly. "It's what we do." He glanced at his watch, and then keyed on his mike. "Ronon? How far out are you?"
"I should be there within five minutes."
"Okay. You have any trouble getting out of the village unseen?"
"Good. See you in a few. Sheppard out." He turned back toward the priest. "We'll be able to escort you to your hiding place in a few minutes."
Mora't bobbed in head in gratitude. "You do not need to escort me, Warrior Sheppard. The closest entrance to The Hiding is but a few minutes walk in that direction."
He pointed off into the woods, away from the path.
Sheppard looked in the direction indicated, and then back at the small, nervous man. "There may be Genii patrolling the woods. Are you sure you don't want us to go with you?"
"I am certain, Warrior Sheppard." Mora't got to his feet again, and performed one of his deepest bows, and glanced at each of them in turn. "May the Ancestors bless you in your endeavors today."
With that pronouncement, he hitched up his robes and trotted into the woods. Sheppard watched until the priest disappeared from sight behind a stand of brambles. He bent to pick up his empty canteen and replace it on his hip.
"You guys make sure you have your stuff together. We'll be leaving as soon as... Ah, speak of the devil." Sheppard watched as Ronon ran into the clearing. "Glad you could rejoin us. You have the crystal?"
"Yes," Ronon said, patting a coat pocket. He pulled out his own canteen and took a large gulp. "I don't think that guy I tied up stayed that way for very long. I heard men coming down the path – fast – just after I talked to you."
"Damn it, it just keeps getting better," Sheppard muttered, then looked up with a determined expression. "All right. Let's go find a way to get the Genii away from the 'gate. Teyla, you take point."
He ushered the others out of the clearing. He clapped McKay on the shoulder as the man passed by.
"Still glad you came today, Rodney?"
Current Day – 1330 AT
"Rodney, let's take a rest."
Sheppard reached out to stop the other man's slow progress, and moved them into their resting positions.
"How're you holding up, Rodney?" he asked. He stretched his right arm as far as he could and brushed his hand down his left arm, waving away the curious creatures that had come to explore the strange new 'fish' in the neighborhood.
"I'm okay," McKay muttered peevishly, "or I would be if you'd stop waving your arms around. How can I rest if I have to worry about you dumping me in the water? Can you never be still, man? And how come you float, and I don't?"
"Sorry," Sheppard said, a tired smile flitting across his face, "I think it's just the luck of the gene-pool draw." He glanced toward the shore. "There's only a couple hundred yards to go. And I don't see anyone on the shore yet."
He made an impatient noise and reached over to brush at his arm again, ignoring McKay's protests.
"Do you think Teyla and Ronon made it through the 'gate to Atlantis?" McKay asked quietly.
"Knowing those two, I don't doubt it," Sheppard said confidently. "It's only been a couple hours since we got separated. I'm sure the cavalry will be along any time now. Not that we need them, of course."
"Of course," McKay murmured sarcastically, "we're doing so well on our own. You should – what the – !"
Sheppard dumped McKay without warning as he erupted into agitated motion. An involuntary cry escaped him as he clawed at the bandage on his arm. Burning pain, increasing in intensity by the moment, spread up his arm.
"Sheppard! What's the matter?" McKay gasped as he dog-paddled after the other man.
"I can't... ahhh, got it." Sheppard stilled, both arms floating on the surface. The bandage on his left arm was dislodged, blood seeping from the wound. He slowly raised his right hand, and stared at the tubular fish he had just ripped off his arm. As McKay swam up, he threw it as far as he could. "Rodney, what is it with this galaxy and things that want to suck your life?"
McKay watched worriedly as Sheppard went from merely pale to grey faced. "Sheppard, are you okay?"
"I will be," he said, tried to flash his usual grin but succeeded only in grimacing. "Can you help me get my arm re-bandaged? Don't want another bloodsucker to get too interested in it."
He patted vaguely at his vest pockets. McKay moved closer and pushed the lt.-colonel's hands away. Locating another field dressing, he removed the old bandage. He sucked in his breath when he finally saw the damaged forearm; the bullet wound was bad enough, still bleeding sluggishly, but it was also swollen and bruised, and now there were three puncture wounds where the bloodsucking fish had latched on.
"The important question is not – why are there so many life-sucking... things in this galaxy." McKay said as he started wrapping the ties of the new bandage around the forearm. "The question is – why do you attract so many of them?"
"It's my magnetic personality," Sheppard quipped feebly. He watched as McKay knotted the dressing, surprised at how little pain he felt. He was pretty sure that wasn't a good sign.
"Ha-ha, your wit slays me," McKay muttered. He frowned as he felt how cold the injured limb was. He grabbed Sheppard's other hand, only marginally relieved to find it was equally as chilled. "You're too cold."
"Yeah, I was noticing how cold it was getting, " Sheppard said. He didn't want to think about why he was so cold and tired and fought the urge to close his eyes and sleep. He concentrated on McKay, concerned about how pale the man was under the incipient sunburn, and the continuing nausea. "Let's finish up our little swim, Rodney. I don't want to still be out here when the sun sets. Think you can manage this last distance on your own?"
"Yes, I can swim that far," McKay said, not even looking toward shore. He didn't think either of them was in any condition to help the other swim at this point. Besides the pounding headache, he was still having trouble keeping his vision in focus and it seemed as if every few minutes he had to stop and retch, although his stomach was empty now; Sheppard was clearly weakened from blood loss. He didn't know how the man was keeping himself above water, unless it was sheer stubbornness.
"Okay, we want to aim toward that pile of rocks on the south end of the beach, under that little cliff," Sheppard said, tilting his head to indicate the direction.
"That's the far end of the beach, " McKay said in protest. "If we head straight in, we'll cut the distance by a good forty yards."
"The rocks are the best cover on the beach, Rodney. We're going to need that if we're going to stay out of the Genii's hands until backup gets here." Sheppard made sure his left hand was tucked snuggly into his belt. "When we get to the rocks, I want you to crawl out of the surf, keep moving until you're up against the outcropping. Stay low and keep the rocks between you and the rest of the beach. You understand?"
"Yes, I understand," McKay said peevishly. "And just what are you going to be doing while I'm crawling – which, by the way, is probably all I'm able to manage without passing out or barfing – where was I... oh, yes, crawling around saving my own ass? Where will you be?"
"I'm going to be right behind you." A ghost of his usual smile flickered over Sheppard's face. "Don't worry. Are you ready to go? Good. Dry land here we come."
The sun was nearing the horizon; it would be dark within the hour.
Current Day – 1105 AT
Sheppard lined up the laser sight of the P-90 on the Genii soldier's 'center mass', and gently squeezed the trigger. The sound of the single bullet cut through the sultry afternoon air even as the Genii staggered and fell to the ground. He tapped McKay on the shoulder and they started to leave their concealment behind a dead tree trunk.
A bullet plowed into the trunk, and flying wood splinters cut at their faces as they ducked back down.
"Damn it, damn it to hell," Sheppard growled, automatically checking the settings on his P-90 before popping up and sending a half dozen bullets in the direction the unfriendly fire had come from. He dropped down next to McKay as a hail of bullets slammed into the tree and whistled through the air where he had been crouched a moment before. He could tell that they had been fired from a least two different locations.
They hadn't meant to end up behind this fallen tree. The last couple of hours had been spent trying to draw the Genii away from the stargate. The team had managed to pick off three of the enemy in short order, but then their luck had dried up. After nearly an hour with no headway, Sheppard had decided to split them into two groups. He and McKay had set out to circle the 'gate and start to approach it from the downhill side, hoping to catch the Genii off-guard.
It had been going well. He and McKay had made it to the woods behind the 'gate and were sneaking up behind two Genii when McKay had placed an unwary foot on a pile of wet leaves, slipped and tumbled down the incline. The sound of his body crashing through the undergrowth, not to mention his startled shriek, alerted the enemy that they were there.
That had been the start of their flight from the enemy that currently found them crouched behind the downed tree. They had been steadily forced to retreat further and further from the stargate.
They were near the bottom edge of a steeply sloped section of forest. Ten more feet and they would be on a short, grassy peninsula that ended in a cliff-top dropping to the ocean. It was close enough for a salty-smelling breeze to reach them among the trees, and he could hear the surf crashing against the base of the cliffs.
In the opposite direction, nearer the stargate, he heard the faint, but distinctive sound of Ronon's energy weapon and the staccato burst of a P-90. An uncharacteristically fierce grin cut across his face, as he popped the clip of his own P-90 and checked the load before slapping it back into place.
"Sounds like Teyla and Ronon are close to the 'gate," he said. He looked over at McKay who had scrunched up into an awkward position, to make as small a target as possible. "You okay, Rodney? Did you get hit by any of that tree shrapnel?"
"A scratch," McKay mumbled, rubbing a hand along his jaw-line and smearing several beads of blood. He switched his 9-mm to his left hand while he shook the cramp out his right. He winced as a battery of bullets smashed into the tree trunk above their heads. "I'm sorry."
"What are you sorry about?" Sheppard asked, flinching as a bullet forced him to retract his head. He was trying to get a view up the hill, to see if he could spot where the gunfire was coming from.
"All of this," McKay waved a hand in a circular motion. "This is all my fault."
"Because you slipped and rolled down the hill? Don't worry about it. Wet leaves are – "
"No, not for rolling down the... well, for that too, I guess," McKay said morosely. "I meant for all of this, for the Genii coming here to kidnap me and putting the team and the Kier'tel in danger. If I hadn't let my mouth run away with me – as usual – the first time we met the Genii, this wouldn't be happening now."
Sheppard paused in his preparations to send another mini-fusillade up the hill and looked at McKay in astonishment. His usual cocky grin appeared.
"Nonsense, McKay. It's clearly all my fault."
"I don't think it's... what do you mean it's your fault?" McKay sounded almost indignant at not being allowed to wallow in guilt.
"If I hadn't awakened the Wraith early, then the Genii would have had plenty of time to finish developing their nukes. And they wouldn't have felt the need to become murdering, terrorist bastards who feel it's their right to kidnap mouthy scientists to help them make bombs. Right?" Sheppard cocked an eyebrow – a trick he had learned from Weir – at McKay.
McKay scowled at his feet, his left hand jerking in a one-handed hand wringing. "No, they were already murdering, terrorist bastards when we met them."
"Exactly. So you don't get to feel guilty about this. It's all the Genii's fault," Sheppard said, then raised a hand to forestall further talk. He could hear Ronon's weapon firing again, and then Teyla's voice came over the comm.
"Colonel Sheppard? We are at the DHD, and I am replacing the crystal."
"Do you need McKay to talk you through it?"
"No. It is very clear where the crystal belongs. Does anything need to be done besides replacing the crystal?"
The sound of sporadic weapons fire punctuated her end of the conversation. Sheppard took a moment to send two bullets toward a suspiciously rustling bush and grunted in satisfaction when he heard an exclamation of pain. He glanced over at McKay who was looking frustrated, unable to hear the conversation because he had lost his comm during the involuntary trip down the hill.
"Does Teyla need to do anything besides plugging the crystal back in?"
McKay shook his head. "No, replacing the crystal will cause the DHD to automatically reboot. It'll take about thirty seconds."
"Teyla, McKay says the DHD will need about thirty seconds to reboot. As soon as it does I want you to dial Atlantis and go on through."
"We're not leaving without you, Sheppard," Ronon's voice was amazingly calm over the background noise of gunfire.
"Get through the damn 'gate and bring back a squad of marines," Sheppard snapped. He tried to sink even lower as another round of bullets smashed into the concealing tree, closing his eyes against the flying splinters. "Don't argue with me about this, Ronon, Teyla. We're pinned down here. You getting injured or captured trying to help us is not going to help."
Over the comm he heard the sound of the stargate activating.
"We are going now, Colonel," Teyla said. "We will be back soon."
He heard a frustrated growl from Ronon, and then there was silence over the comm. "Well, the cavalry will be here soon. We should be back home in plenty of time for dinner." He looked over at McKay and smiled reassuringly.
McKay, his face pale with a strange combination of anger and fear, shook his head slowly. "No."
Sheppard turned to see what McKay was looking at, and froze. And silently berated himself for getting distracted and not keeping a close enough eye on the cliffs behind them.
"Always a pleasure to see you, Major, Doctor," said a voice he had hoped to never hear again – deep and gravelly, and cold. Always cold.
He looked up into the scarred face with its burning, fanatical eyes and felt the hatred he had suppressed start to burn its way to the surface.
"I knew I should have questioned Ronon more closely about the Genii he attacked up in the village. Nice shiner." He struggled to keep his voice casual, friendly. Keeping his P-90 trained on Kolya, he stood slowly and reached down to give McKay a hand up. He kept the scientist behind him, taking several steps to one side. He turned slightly to keep all the Genii soldiers within his line of sight. The ones who had been firing upon them from up-slope came out of concealment and spread out. The Genii commander appeared to be the only one to have scaled the cliffs. "Where's the rest of your team?"
Kolya's scowl deepened as he moved to keep Sheppard in front of him. "I pulled all but two men away from the Ring after I received word that you had been pinned down here. If Teyla Emmagan and that behemoth have made it back to whatever world you now occupy, then my men are dead. Those were their orders. Please don't move any further, Major," he said, his own pistol pointed at the other man. "I really don't need you, but I had thought to keep you around to... encourage Dr. McKay to cooperate. At least at first. I'm sure after a while he will do as he is told without incentive."
"I'm going nowhere with you, Kolya," McKay, red-faced in anger, spat out. Sheppard had to fling up his arm to keep the scientist behind him. "I'm certainly not going to cooperate with the Genii, no matter what you... you terrorist bastards do to me."
"Calm, Rodney, don't poke the pit bull," Sheppard murmured, both impressed and amused. He cocked his head at Kolya and grinned. "Well, there you are. I'm afraid we have to decline your kind invitation."
He took a step backward, hoping to maneuver Kolya into moving between himself and the other Genii. He and McKay were moving out on to the peninsula, but he didn't think they had any chance of making it past the soldiers further up the slope. There were some nice big rocks to hide behind on that spit of land while they waited for rescue.
"Always the wit, Major – " Kolya sneered.
"Colonel," Sheppard interrupted.
"What?" Kolya asked, confused.
"I've been promoted since we last met. I'm a Lieutenant Colonel now, but you can shorten it to Colonel when you address me. How's your own career path doing, Kolya?" Sheppard asked in mock concern. "I've worried that you'll have a rough time making it up the advancement ladder, what with all your recent failures."
He heard choking noises behind him, and McKay muttered, "Way to provoke the scary man, Colonel."
"Enough, Colonel," Kolya snapped. "I want you to drop your weapons – now." He gave a signal, and the five remaining Genii soldiers raised their weapons.
In his peripheral vision, he saw McKay's 9-mm come up in a steady two-handed grip. He kept his weapon and his gaze aimed at Kolya, and reached up to scratch at his neck. He lowered the hand again, but rested it on top of the P-90.
"The thing is, Kolya," he said in a confiding tone, "you have more guns aimed at me, but your guys need to be careful not to get carried away and hit McKay. And your weapons are single shot. I, on the other hand, don't care if I kill each and every one of you. And my weapon," he patted the P-90 fondly, "can fire 900 rounds in a minute. Now, this clip it's loaded with only holds 50 rounds, but believe me when I say I can cut you all down – you first, Kolya – in a very short space of time."
He nudged McKay back another step while reaching up to scratch again. He didn't lower the arm this time, but hooked his fingers over the edge of the vest.
"Colonel, you know I'm not a man with a great deal of patience," Kolya said, aiming his pistol at Sheppard's head. "Because of the Kier'tellan's duplicitousness, for which they will pay later, we're not going to be able to take you to the Genii home-world before your reinforcements arrive. Luckily, we know of some sea-caves, accessible only by boat. We'll be staying there until the search is called off. But we must leave now. So, Colonel, drop your weapons now, or I will shoot you in the leg and we will carry you to the boat."
He lowered the pistol until it was aimed at Sheppard's knee.
"Now that's just unfriendly," Sheppard said. He made a gesture as if going to scratch at his neck again, but his fingers caught the velcro fastener of the vest pocket and pulled it open. A round metal object dropped into his palm. Holding the spoon down with two fingers he popped the pin with his thumb and held the object up for Kolya to see.
"Remember that explosion that stunned you and your men when you tried to steal the ZPM on Dagan? This is somewhat similar, but it won't just stun you. It's going to fragment into a thousand pieces and shred anything in its path. Do you want that to be you, Kolya? I made you a promise when we left you in that chamber, if you remember; I'd be happy to carry it out now." Sheppard removed one of the restraining fingers holding the hand grenade against his palm.
"Sheppard," Kolya growled, while his men stirred uneasily.
"McKay, turn around. Start walking out onto the peninsula," Sheppard said, and began backing up himself. "Kolya, I suggest you and your men just head to the 'gate and go home."
He had retreated about twenty feet when the Genii commander dropped to one knee and brought up his weapon. Sheppard didn't hesitate. He lobbed the grenade toward the soldiers, and swept a line of fire from the P-90 at the same time.
He didn't wait to see if any of his bullets found a mark. He turned and ran as fast as he could, mentally ticking off the seconds. At the last second he bellowed, "Get down!", and threw himself face down on the ground.
The explosion shook the air around them. He heard at least one person yelling in pain as he rolled over on his back, sending another burst of fire back toward the Genii.
"Get up, McKay! Find a rock to hide behind." He squeezed off a couple more rounds before it clicked on empty. He ejected the spent clip, pulled the spare from his vest and slapped it into place. The Genii were getting to their feet. He couldn't see who was left, or how injured they were, through the smoky haze left from the explosion. He fired off a quick burst then got to his feet and started after McKay.
The scientist had reached the end of the peninsula and was looking around in bewilderment. There were no rocks to hide behind this far out.
"McKay!" Sheppard snarled in exasperation. He turned back toward the trees to see Kolya and several of the Genii soldiers running toward them.
"I went too far," McKay shouted back, an explanation or an apology was unclear.
Sheppard got between McKay and the rapidly approaching Kolya, and brought up the P-90. He squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened. He worked the lever, trying to unjam the weapon, but failed to free the bullet. He had dropped the rifle and reached for his 9-mm when he felt McKay grabbed the back of his vest and pull him backward, forcing him to backpedal rapidly. "Rodney!"
"I'm sorry," the scientist shouted, sounding determined and terrified at the same time. Sheppard felt his feet go out from under him, and realized that they had run off the cliff edge. McKay's voice now reflected only terror as he screamed, "I can't swim!"
Sheppard heard McKay's panicked yells as the two men fell through the air, and cursed as he hit the water...
Current Day – 1410 AT
They crouched in the shallow water, only their heads above the waves. Well, mostly above the waves, Sheppard thought as McKay choked and snorted after another splash of water caught him in the face.
"You'd never make Special Forces, Rodney," he whispered.
"Well, who would want to, if this is what you have to look forward to," McKay snapped back, rubbing a hand over his face. "Do you see anyone?"
Sheppard made another slow scan of the visible landscape in the deepening twilight. He was shivering almost constantly now, and it made it difficult to determine if a shadow was actually moving, or was just the involuntary shudders of his own body. If the Genii were on this beach he couldn't see them. There was limited cover for them to hide behind, but Kolya was not one to give up easily.
"I don't see anyone, but that doesn't mean they aren't there." Sheppard said quietly. "Just keep low, keep plenty of cover between you and the rest of the beach. It's only twenty feet to the cliff base. You ready to go?"
"Yes," McKay said, sounding almost confident. "Colonel, shouldn't reinforcements have shown up by now?"
"They'll be here soon, I'm sure," he said. "They have to scan for our life signs, since neither of us have a comm now. You ready to go?" he asked again.
"You'll be right behind me?"
"Right behind you," Sheppard confirmed. "Go."
McKay squirmed out of the surf onto the rock-strewn beach, doing a poor imitation of a combat crawl. Sheppard flicked his gaze constantly between his team member and the rest of the beach. He moved closer to the dry sand until he was kneeling in about four feet of water, holding his 9-mm out of the water near his head. He hoped it would still fire after having been in the water for the last couple of hours.
He caught movement behind a pile of driftwood. Taking careful aim, he waited until one of the frequent shudders that wracked his body ended, then squeezed the trigger. He sighed in satisfaction as the gun bucked in his hand, and a pained yelp sounded across the beach. He immediately moved several feet to one side, smiling grimly when several bullets whipped past his previous position.
"Stay there, McKay," he yelled back.
"Still alive then, Colonel?" Kolya asked as he rose from behind some scrub bushes at the top of a dune.
"You really don't want to stay here, Kolya," Sheppard said, remaining crouched in the water, but aiming his pistol at the Genii commander. "Our reinforcements are going to be here any time now. I'm sure you and your men don't want to spend time in our brig."
"I think that if you were going to get reinforcements, they would have been here already," Kolya said mockingly. "You look the worse for wear, Sheppard. Come on out of the water. We'll fix you up; take you back home with us. You'll live for at least a little while longer. There are a lot of Genii who want to see you pay for your crimes against us."
"You don't look so good yourself, Kolya." He looked at the cuts on the other man's face, the torn, bloodstained clothing. "You forget to duck when I threw the grenade?"
Kolya's voice deepened in anger. "You will pay, Sheppard. And McKay will spend his remaining years working to repay the Genii for Atlantis' treachery."
Sheppard cocked his head, listening, and then smiled. "Our treachery? You Genii are certifiably psychotic. The whole lot of you. Unfortunately, I have to turn down your tempting invitation, again. Our ride's here." In his peripheral vision he saw McKay lift his head and scan the air above the beach.
Kolya looked around in an exaggerated fashion, then sneered. "I see no one here to help you."
"That's okay, Kolya, I don't see them either."
Energy bolts suddenly appeared in mid-air and struck at several locations about the beach. The contempt on Kolya's face was wiped away when he was struck by one of the Wraith stunner bolts and collapsed to the ground.
Sheppard saw McKay stand up and start walking toward the open beach as the puddlejumper dropped its cloak, revealing several marines standing in the open rear hatch.
"Damn it, McKay! Stay down," Sheppard yelled as he stood up and started to wade ashore, scanning the beach.
A Genii soldier suddenly appeared among the trees, a rifle braced against his shoulder. Sheppard bellowed wordlessly and sprinted the last few feet to McKay. He tackled the other man, felt an impact on his back, and heard the Wraith stunners being fired again all at the same time.
He stayed on top of McKay, listening to the jumper landing. It wasn't until he heard Teyla calling their names that he rolled to one side and allowed McKay to sit up. The scientist was looking green again, and a series of dry heaves left him leaning weakly over his drawn up knees.
"You okay, Rodney?" Sheppard whispered as Teyla and Ronon dropped to their knees by their team mates.
He didn't hear a reply or any of the questions directed at him. Suddenly unable to do anything except shiver uncontrollably, he couldn't protest as hard hands jerked him into a sitting position. A moment later his world spun sickeningly and he was bouncing along upside down on Ronon's shoulder. Before he could do more than groan at the rough handling he was abruptly flipped back upright and urged to lie down. He realized he had been moved into the jumper.
He tried to sit up but Teyla was above him, her small hand on his chest holding him down very easily.
"Colonel, please be still," she said as she began to unfasten his vest.
Sheppard rolled his eyes, trying to see the rest of the jumper but she blocked his view. "McKay?" he managed to squeeze out between his shuddering lips.
"He is here, also," she said, taking a blanket from Ronon and spreading it over Sheppard. She stepped aside so that he could see the scientist huddled in a blanket on the other bench seat, exhausted and pale under the sunburn. "Major Lorne will have us back in Atlantis in a few minutes. You can rest now."
He nodded shakily and closed his eyes. Despite the pain that seemed to envelop his whole body, he felt as if he could fall asleep very easily. He felt the familiar rushing sensation of the wormhole, recognized the sounds of the jumper rising back into its bay. A few moments later there were more hands touching him, voices he recognized but did not bother to try to understand. When the hands slid under his shoulders he let go and the world faded away.
Current – 2530 AT
Weir stopped in the infirmary on the way to her personal quarters. She had already spent several hours sitting at McKay's and Sheppard's bedside, but had been called away earlier to mediate a dispute between Zelenka and Kavanagh.
She had already slapped an administrative discipline on the pony-tailed scientist for once again taking systems off-line without clearing the action with any of the effected department heads. His actions had led to the inability to open the jumper bay, which delayed locating Sheppard and McKay. They had sent a squad of marines through the 'gate on foot, but it wasn't until two hours later that they were able to send through the jumper with its more powerful sensors to locate and rescue the two missing men.
The Czech had been meting out a little punishment of his own, in the form of public humiliation, and Kavanagh wanted retribution. Personally, Weir found the sign Kavanagh discovered taped to his back to be amusingly apropos. And no one had acted on the invitation. She had delivered a hand-slap to Zelenka and sent him on his way. When Kavanagh tried to shift the blame, she had told him to grow up and learn to accept responsibility for his own screw-ups. She had finally had to ask the guard on duty in Control to escort the fuming scientist back to his quarters, with a strongly worded suggestion that he stay there for a day or two.
Before she could leave her office the stargate had activated. Major Lorne, who had gone back to Kier'tel after delivering Sheppard and McKay to Atlantis, was reporting that they had finished rounding up the remaining Genii – only Kolya and three of his men were still alive – and he wanted to know what he should do with them.
It was decided not to bring them back to Atlantis. As much as she would like to punish the Genii for attacking her people again, she did not want them to know that Atlantis still stood. And she suspected that Kolya and his soldiers would be punished even more harshly by their own people. She wrote a hasty letter and addressed it to the Genii leadership. Lorne stuffed it inside Kolya's coat pocket before shoving the commander's bound body through the wormhole to the Genii homeworld.
Now, she yawned as she crossed the infirmary to check on Sheppard and McKay. They were both hooked up to multiple flashing monitors, IVs, blood-oxygen monitors clipped to their forefingers and nasal cannulae delivering oxygen. Rodney had a bandage wrapped around his head and his face was shiny from some sort of cream smeared over his sunburn. The left side of Sheppard's torso looked oddly distorted from thick dressings around the shoulder and the splint on his arm.
"Come to check on our patients again, lass?" Beckett murmured behind her, causing her to jump slightly.
"Yes, Carson. I thought I'd make one more quick stop before heading to my quarters. Have they awakened at all?"
"No yet. But it's nearly time for a new round of meds, so I expect them to start stirring in a bit." Beckett cocked his head as the monitors around Sheppard altered their cadence slightly. "Ah, there's the Colonel."
Weir sidled into the space between the two beds, while Beckett went to check the monitors on the far side of the bed. She plastered a smile on her face as Sheppard blinked his eyes open and stared up at the infirmary ceiling.
"Hi, John. How are you feeling?"
He flicked his gaze toward her, and then to Beckett. "I'm good. McKay?" He spoke in a hoarse whisper.
"Oh!" She backed up a step and waved toward the other bed. "He's over here, still sleeping."
"He has a concussion," Beckett said, anticipating the next question. He reached over and brushed Sheppard's hand away from the nasal cannula. "Please leave that alone, Colonel. Because of all the seawater you inhaled, I'm keeping you both on oxygen for now. If your lungs stay clear, I'll take you off of it.
Beckett reached for a blood pressure cuff. "As for yourself, I pulled a bullet out of the back of your shoulder. Luckily your vest stopped most of its momentum, so it only skidded along your shoulder blade instead of smashing it. I removed another bullet from your arm, which is broken. It's splinted, so please refrain from trying to use it. Can you tell me what caused those puncture wounds around the bullet wound?"
Sheppard grimaced as he looked down at the arm. "It was a fish, a bloodsucking fish. It was about a foot long, looked kind of like a squid, but no tentacles. Had these sucker things around its mouth." His voice was still hoarse from dryness. "Can I have some water?"
"I'll get you a glass while you talk with Carson," Weir said.
Beckett finished checking Sheppard's vitals and tucked his stethoscope into his lab coat pocket. "Well, that explains the toxins we found in your blood work. It must have injected you with something to thin your blood to make it easier to feed. It's quite fascinating, really," he said enthusiastically. "It is showing several of the same characteristics as the – "
"Doc," Sheppard groaned, "I already hate it. You don't need to share any more reasons why I should. Please."
"Aye, I can certainly understand that," Beckett said, with a sympathetic smile. "Sufficient to say you lost a lot of blood, so we had to transfuse you. The dislocated shoulder appears to have been reduced without causing additional damage. We'll give you some exercises in a few days to help it along. Do you have any questions?"
Sheppard shook his head. "No, not right now. Thanks for patching me up again, Doc."
"That's all right, then. You're not due for more pain medication for an hour. Are you comfortable enough for now?" Beckett asked. When Sheppard nodded, he continued, "Let me know if that changes. I'll leave you with Elizabeth, then." He addressed Dr. Weir as she returned with the requested water, "Five minutes, and then he's to rest. Here's the call button."
He placed the button next to the lt.-colonel's hand, and walked away while entering notes on a chart.
Sheppard took several sips of cool water, moistening the dry tissues of his mouth and throat. "What have we done with Kolya and his men?" he asked.
Weir took a several minutes explaining what had been done and why. When she was finished, Sheppard lay quietly staring at the ceiling.
"I should have killed him, back on Dagan," he finally muttered. "I should have killed him today."
"John, you did what was necessary on both occasions. And I'm pretty sure that the Genii are going to take care of punishing him, even if it's not for the reason we would like. Now, I have to go before Carson tosses me out. He already threw Teyla and Ronon out earlier tonight." She stood up to leave, and smiled down at Sheppard. "You should have seen the astonished look on Ronon's face when Carson pushed him into the corridor. The doctor can be quite fierce when he wants to be. I'll be by to see you in the morning."
"Elizabeth, wait," Sheppard said. When she turned back, he gestured for her to come back. "Have Lorne leave a squad on Kier'tel for now. Kolya promised to punish them for helping us, and I wouldn't put it past the Genii to follow through on that. We can decide later how long we want to keep a presence there."
"Okay, John. I'll get in touch with the Major again. Now go back to sleep."
"I will." He dropped his smile as soon as she left the infirmary.
He knew he had screwed up with Kolya, again. On Dagan he couldn't bring himself to shoot an unarmed man. Today, he had been concerned with how the other Genii soldiers would react if he took out their commander; whether they would follow through with their orders to bring McKay back alive or panic and kill both the scientist and Sheppard. So Kolya was still alive. And fanatical enough, angry enough, to come at them again – if he survived whatever punishment was dictated for his failure today.
Sheppard sighed and pushed those concerns to the back of his mind. The Genii, and Kolya, had become an ongoing annoyance and could be worried about later. He had a more immediate problem.
He looked over at McKay. How was he going to curb this sudden penchant for reckless behavior? He had a hard enough time keeping Ronon reined in, as displayed today. He didn't need two men on his team who acted as if his orders were merely suggestions. He knew he could pull Ronon into his office and give the man a dressing down that would have the former Runner towing the line, at least for a while.
He had no such authority over the scientist. All he could do was remove McKay from the team, and that would be cutting off his nose to spite his face. Although... maybe just the threat would be enough to curb the excessive enthusiasm?
McKay murmured something in his sleep, and raised a hand to fumble with the tubing draped around his face.
"Better leave that alone, Rodney," Sheppard warned, and watched as McKay opened his eyes and looked around in annoyance. "No, Carson's not here right now, but you know he'll find out. Just let it be."
"Voodoo witch doctor," McKay muttered. He stopped picking at the cannula and reached up to feel the bandage wrapped around his head. "My head hurts. I'd prefer to be asleep. Why haven't we been given something for pain, so I can sleep?"
"Carson said we'd be getting another shot in about half an hour. Can you wait, or do you want me to buzz for a nurse?" Sheppard asked, holding up the call button.
"No," McKay said, glancing nervously in the direction of the medical doctor's office. "He'd probably put it in an extra large needle, if we demand it early."
He plucked tiny mountains into his blanket, then smoothed them out. "Where's Kolya?"
"Weir had Lorne toss him and his men back through the 'gate along with a sternly worded letter to the Genii leadership. She didn't want to bring them here, and let them know Atlantis hadn't been destroyed."
"A letter?" McKay snorted his disgust. "That works so well for the United Nations. So, she thinks it'll work better here in the Pegasus galaxy?"
A crooked smile came and went on Sheppard's face. "I know, but she has to try. It's who she is."
He waited to see if McKay wanted to say anything else, but there was silence. He finally cleared his throat and said, "I wanted to say 'thank you' for saving my life."
McKay flashed him a look, then went back to smoothing his blanket. "I almost got you killed. Again."
Sheppard sighed. "Rodney, when Kolya started chasing us down that peninsula he was mad enough to kill us both. I might have been able to stop him with my automatic, but I might not. And then there were his men right behind him. I couldn't have stopped them all. Your rushing us off the cliff saved our lives."
"But you got shot, and attacked by a bloodsucking alien fish, and then shot again."
"And I'm going to survive all of that. Thanks to you." He waited a beat, then added, "And if you do it again, I'll kick your butt all the way around Atlantis. After I thank you again, of course."
The small, smug smile dropped off McKay's face as he sputtered indignantly. "Why would you do that? Aren't I allowed to save my team members?"
"You save us all the time. You save all of Atlantis. What I am concerned about is this sudden spate of physically reckless behavior." Sheppard shifted restlessly in his bed. "Look, Rodney, you are most valuable to this team for your intelligence. You do your best work when you are using your brain. I want you to use your brain to get us out of difficult situations. Leave the physical stuff up to the rest of us who don't have your IQ. I would prefer to get a little beat up, than to risk losing you and your brilliance."
Now McKay was staring resentfully at his blanket, his left hand jerking as he rubbed his fingers together. "You don't think I can handle the physical aspect."
Sheppard looked at him in amazement. "You kept up while we were running around trying to elude the Genii. You punched a guy! And you learned to swim today, in an emergency situation. I have no doubts that you can handle the physical aspects. You can use your body when you need to, Rodney, but you do your best work when you are using your brain. Just think about it, okay?"
He smiled encouragingly at the scientist. He hoped he had used the right words, and that McKay would take them in the manner they were meant.
A nurse came around the corner wheeling a tray with more IV bags and a couple of hypodermics, and he latched on to the distraction gratefully.
"Look, McKay, it's the good drugs," he said, peeking at the tray when she parked it between the beds. "And she has the small needles this time."
She chuckled as she changed out IV bags, making a notation on a chart. "We save the big needles for when the whining starts, Colonel."
"They're all sadists, hiding behind their medical degrees," McKay muttered, looking over at Sheppard.
The nurse paused before injecting the shot in the shunt on the back of his hand. "I could go get that larger needle and give this intramuscularly, if you prefer, Dr. McKay," she offered sweetly.
"No," he said in a tiny voice, "that's okay."
She finished dispensing the drugs and checking their vitals. Pushing her tray in front of her, she smiled at the two patients. "Why don't you gentlemen lay back and let the drugs take effect. You'll be asleep soon."
McKay watched her leave the room, and looked over at Sheppard. "First she terrorizes us, then she expects us to sleep. I'll never sleep now."
Sheppard chuckled, feeling muscles relaxing as the medication spread through his blood stream. The pain drifted away. "What have I told you about poking at the pit bulls, Rodney?" When he didn't get a reply, he looked over and saw McKay blinkirng at him sleepily. "Good night, Rodney."
McKay roused himself enough to say, "I meant to tell you 'thank you' for saving me today, too."
"It's what we do, Rodney," Sheppard said, smiling, and slipped away into sleep.
~~ The End ~~
Summary: On a visit to renegotiate a trading agreement, the team encounters old enemies. Whumpage, h/c, a little angst. Set in Season 2, after "The Hive."