TITLE: THIEVES IN ATLANTIS

AUTHOR: TIPPER

 

Disclaimer:  Stargate: Atlantis and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s), not me.  Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who bring it to life.

Category/Rating: GEN/T –action, angst, h/c

Characters: Everyone, but Beckett, McKay and Sheppard pretty much dominate.

Status/Parts: WIP.  Probably about 20 chapters (I've written through 17)

Spoilers: Um...up through GUP

Acknowledgement: NT, for being my beta extraordinaire.

 

A/N: For reasons to become obvious, this needs to take place in Season 2, say around the same time that they discover the Tower.  So, before Michael, Coup d'Etat and Allies, but after GUP, Hive and Epiphany.  You will see why fairly quickly.  The only reason I'm posting now (i.e. before I've finished) is because I wanted to post before Season 3 starts.  (Soon!  WHOOO!)

 

Description: Four refugees from a culled world bring some unexpected trouble to Atlantis, and no one avoids the fallout. 

____________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER ONE: KNOCKING ON WOOD

 

"You mean, there really is such a thing as kleptomania?" Rodney asked, leaning forward in his chair, eyebrows raised so high on his forehead it looked almost painful.  Across from him, Weir rolled her eyes a little, and turned her head to where Kate Heightmeyer was sitting on the bench against the wall in Weir's office.  Standing between McKay and Kate, arms crossed loosely over his chest, Sheppard turned his head to regard the psychiatrist.

 

"Yes," Kate replied, managing to keep her (sort of freakish, in Sheppard's opinion) level of calm even in front of McKay. "It exists." 

 

"I mean," Rodney glanced up at Sheppard, "I always sort of thought it was a movie thing, you know? Movies, mystery books, the occasional bad TV show..."  The colonel gave a tiny smile at that.

 

"Doctor McKay," Kate interrupted, still calm, though there was a tiny twitch at the corner of one eye, "believe me, it's real.  It's a disease just like any other dis—"

 

"But, I don't really get it," McKay continued, his face a study in total disbelief.  "I mean, she steals little things, because she can't help herself, like pens?  Why pens?"

 

"She also took papers," Sheppard noted.

 

"Yes, but only, like, a random sheet in the middle of a pile.  Weird."

 

Kate emitted a small sigh, "I grant you, Doctor McKay, it can seem odd, but—"

 

"And paper clips?  Do you know she came up to my lab this morning and dumped two full handfuls of paperclips on my desk, apologizing profusely for having taken them? And not from me, I might add. Paperclips are the one thing I'm pretty sure I didn't need two fistfuls of in order to make my day complete.  I work on laptops, for goodness sake!  And paperclips and laptops aren't really simpatico, if you get my mean—"

 

"Rodney," Weir snapped, her voice like a whiplash, "stop talking."

 

McKay pressed his lips together, attempting to look both slightly sheepish and really annoyed at the same time.  It really was a uniquely McKay look.

 

"Thank you, Doctor Weir," Kate said, acknowledging the other woman with a small nod. "As I was saying, Doctor Bryce's kleptomania was something she's managed to control effectively for a long time.  However, she admitted to me recently that it's gotten somewhat beyond her ability to..." she shook her head slightly, seeking the right words, "stay on top of.  She has...."  Kate paused again, her hands lifting off her lap as she once again looked for the right words, and her fingers moved.

 

"A bad case of sticky fingers?" McKay offered helpfully, his expression innocent.  Sheppard looked up at the ceiling, jaw firmly clenched to stop himself laughing out loud.

 

"Rodney," Elizabeth sighed, putting all her exasperation into the name.  McKay shrugged.

 

"I was going to say," Kate said tightly, "that she has expressed a desire to return home."

 

"Oh," Elizabeth said sadly, understanding now the other woman's reticence. "I was not aware it had gotten so bad."

 

"The stress of being here, I think, has augmented her symptoms."

 

"Hell yes, they're augmented!" Rodney was nodding emphatically. "And I didn't even tell you about the pastel mini post it notes.  Radek's desk looked like the Easter Bunny had vomited—"

 

"Rodney!" Elizabeth gave him a sharp look, "Please.  And you!" Her eyes flew up, nailing Sheppard who was rocking back on his heels and biting his lower lip, still fighting his laughter. "Stop encouraging him!"

 

"What?" The colonel looked suitably shocked, his arms opening up wide. "Encouraging him?  I'm not doing anything!"

 

"You're enjoying it too much, and he knows it.  Both of you, behave.  Especially you, Rodney."  She glared at the scientist. "I would have thought you'd be more concerned that a member of your team is asking to leave.  Doctor Bryce was your choice, if I recall."

 

"Yes, because she looked great on paper.  Of course," Rodney shrugged, "she might have stolen the paper in her file that mentioned the kleptomania. After all, if it was in the middle..."

 

That was all it took—Sheppard burst out laughing, unable to help himself.  Rodney grinned, looking oddly triumphant.

 

"Out! Both of you!"  Elizabeth was up out of her chair, pointing towards the door. "Now!"

 

Sheppard complied immediately, still laughing.  Rodney stood up a moment later, the half smile still on his face.

 

"I am sorry," he tried, "I don't why I—"

 

"I do," Elizabeth growled. "Thank you for not helping, Rodney.  I'll speak with you later about this."

 

McKay nodded, and turned, following Sheppard out the side door into the corridor.  The doors closed abruptly behind him, nearly hitting him in the ass.  They were growing much too attuned to Elizabeth's moods.

 

Still grinning, chuckling softly, Sheppard was leaning against the corridor wall outside, wiping water from his eyes.

 

"I can't believe you did that," he said.

 

"I know," McKay nodded, grinning back, not the slightest bit contrite. "Seem to be unable to help myself."

 

Sheppard laughed some more, shaking his head. "Well, at least the whole thing wasn't more serious. Paperclips and Post It Notes..." He shook his head again, this time more negatively. "God...imagine the damage a real thief could do. "

 

"Oh please. Real thief? No chance," Rodney shook his head, "Where would they go? It's not like you could get off Atlantis without someone knowing." McKay stuck a thumb in the direction of the transporter. "Food?"

 

"Yeah, sure." Sheppard's eyes narrowed slightly, still contemplating McKay's point. "And I guess you're right."

 

"Of course I'm right," Rodney replied, striding away towards the transporter, feeling Sheppard on his heels. "The only way off this City when the Daedalus isn't here is by Gate or Puddle Jumper, neither of which can be used without a lot of people knowing." He waved a hand, already dismissing the conversation. "And even if the Daedalus was here, I don't think Caldwell would be too happy having his ship used as the getaway car." He smiled at his own joke, stepping into the transporter.

 

Sheppard stepped in with him, hit the pad for the mess hall, then made a show of looking intently around the interior of the transporter, then out at the mess hall when the doors opened again.

 

McKay watched him curiously. "What are you looking for?"

 

"Wood," Sheppard replied, stepping out, glancing back at Rodney, "to knock on."

_______________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER TWO: THE DANGERS OF "BE CAREFUL"

 

A couple of days later, Teyla informed them in the weekly debriefing that one of her contacts had come through with yet another "cool Ancient artifact sighting" on M4M-167.  This one didn't sound like a ZPM, but something akin to a personal shield device large enough to shield a small group of people at a thought of the wearer. 

 

"Like opening an umbrella in a rainstorm and crowding a bunch of people under it," Sheppard said, eyes lighting up at the prospect. "Cool."

 

"And it would be particularly useful for a certain flagship team on missions," Beckett added, flexing an eyebrow at the four members of SGA-1.

 

"I agree," Elizabeth nodded. "You have a go, Colonel, but—"

 

"Be careful," Sheppard and McKay chorused, one with amusement, the other with an eye roll.

 

"Yes," she smiled at them both. "As always."

_______________________________________________________

 

"I sometimes think it jinxes us," McKay said quietly, his tone in deference to the state of M4M-167, "when Elizabeth tells us to be careful."

 

"Yeah," Sheppard agreed, his tone soft, his mind calculating the odds that anyone survived what they had found. "Probably." 

 

"From now on," McKay continued, lowering his eyes from the view and turning to look towards the distant hills, where the smoke from the fires was less intense, "maybe she should just tell us to come back half dead and with refugees.  That way, we'd probably find a ZPM and maybe a nice healthy Ancient who doesn't hate me."

 

Sheppard gave his friend a small, sad smile. "Yeah," he said again, still very softly. Lifting his binoculars to his eyes, the colonel moved forward to stand at the lip of the ridge they stood on, joining Teyla and Ronon already there.

 

They had emerged from the wormhole to a scene of total and complete destruction.  Sitting atop a small hill, the Stargate overlooked a shallow, forest filled valley, at the bottom of which had once been a good sized town.  It now overlooked collapsed ruins and smoldering foundations, some still generating tendrils of ash smoke, drifting up almost lazily on the cool breeze.  The forest itself was blackened and gnarled, the fire that had burned it down still perceptible in places on the far side of the valley—it was slowly dying out, having obviously run its course for several days.  The whole scene was a study in black, grey and brown—except for the few reds, yellows and pinks visible in the clothing of people lying in the streets, unmoving. 

 

And the tinny scent of Wraith dart exhausts coated everything, even the smell of the dead.  Black holes in the ground and in the former crop fields showed where the Darts had attacked—the Wraith did not like retaliation.

 

Sheppard lowered the binoculars from his eyes, his expression shadowed.  He handed the binocs over to Teyla, who lifted them to her own eyes.  She sighed heavily, scanning the sight below.

 

"They must have fought back hard," Teyla said softly. "The Wraith do not usually need to...destroy so much when they cull..."

 

"I hope they took out a few of those bastards," Ronon noted coldly, his own memories of Sateda clearly still fresh in his mind.

 

"We should look for survivors," Sheppard said then, shifting his expression from restrained anger to an efficient sort of calm. "The mission prerogative has changed."  He turned, glancing at Rodney who was still avoiding looking down at the valley. "Call Atlantis; see if you can get Beckett here and a rescue team.  We'll see if there is anyone down there still alive who needs help."

 

"You think there will be?" McKay asked seriously, his own expression an exact counterpart to the military commander—where Sheppard had gone hard, McKay's face seemed to soften.  At Sheppard's arched eyebrow at the question, McKay nodded sadly. "No problem."  He glanced down at the city again, "Just...how recent do you think this is?"

 

"Not that recent.  Maybe four, five days."

 

That made McKay frown slightly, and he glanced at Teyla, "But didn't you only hear from that contact a couple of days ago?"

 

She nodded, "But that doesn't mean the information isn't much older," she replied.  Sighing, she shook her head, "I doubt my contact had any idea that this had occurred."

 

"Obviously not," McKay muttered, turning and walked over to the DHD.

 

Sheppard sighed heavily. "All right," he said tiredly, shifting his weapon up to firing position, and glancing at Teyla and Ronon, "let's go.  Oh, and McKay..."  Sheppard glanced over his shoulder at McKay. "Stay alert and keep your radio on."  McKay's only reply was simply to unlatch his holster as he proceeded to dial.

____________________________________

 

The familiar whoosh of the Stargate echoed behind them as Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon started cautiously down the hill along the dirt-packed road, keeping an eye out just in case anything still lurked.  It seemed unlikely, given the way things looked, but you never knew.  A dart had come back once before when they were exploring a culled planet, and had nearly succeeded in stealing both McKay and Lieutenant Cadman with it.

 

As they moved, none of the three spoke; there was no need to.  In their ears, the radio came to life, and they vaguely listened as McKay explained the situation to Elizabeth and requested back-up and Beckett's help.  They also heard Elizabeth's agreement, and reply that back-up would be there quickly.  Typically, that meant about ten to fifteen minutes for the marines, a little longer for Beckett and the medical team.

 

She also requested they "be careful" again.  Rodney's answering snort brought a smile to Sheppard's lips.

 

After that, things got very quiet.  It was unsettling.  Even the wildlife was scarce.  Sheppard's eyes lifted and his head turned, spotting an eagle-like bird winging its way overhead behind them, up towards the hills. It was the first creature he had seen, much less heard. 

 

They made good time, heading downhill at a healthy clip.  It was a well tended road—the people here must have used the Stargate often. 

 

"Colonel," Ronon called quietly, distracting Sheppard away from his morbid study of the ruins they were fast approaching.  The Satedan had his weapon raised and pointed towards what looked like a still intact stone mill off to the side, the structure hidden by the dregs of the blackened forest.  Had the trees not all been burnt to a crisp, the mill would have been invisible behind leaf cover.

 

"What?" Sheppard asked, seeing nothing obvious about the structure, other than that the water wheel still turned on the tiny stream feeding it. "You see something?"

 

"No," Ronon's eyes were narrowed. "I heard something.  Someone spoke." 

 

There was no faulting Ronon's exceptional hearing, and Sheppard nodded as he glanced at Teyla, eyebrows lifted in question. 

 

"Not Wraith," she assured him.

 

"Okay," he said, turning his attention back to the mill, "let's check it out." 

______________________________________________

 

McKay sighed, settling in to wait as Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon disappeared from view down the road. After shutting down the gate to Atlantis, he had walked over to the ridge edge again, to watch them survey the land, but they were soon out of sight inside the trees.  Quietly, he wished them luck and, just as silently, thanked Sheppard for not making him go down there with them.

 

Pulling out his scanner, he did a quick inventory of life signs and energy signatures, finding very little of both.  The life signs he attributed to wildlife—he glanced up as one dot moved swiftly across the top of the screen and smiled to see an eagle-like bird gliding elegantly across the blue sky.  The energy signatures were mostly residuals—nothing stood out as unusual or strong in nature.  If there had been an Ancient device here protecting someone or a group of people, it didn’t appear to be here now, and nothing in the residuals suggested one had been used recently. 

 

Which didn’t bode well for its existence.  Not that that mattered now.

 

Still, he reasoned, the scanner was only a very basic device.  If he really wanted to know what was here, he’d need something more sophisticated.  Putting the scanner away in his pocket again, he knelt down on one knee and pulled off his backpack.  Opening it, he soon had his data tablet out and was keying in a few search commands.

 

As he did so, he pulled out a powerbar from his vest and started to eat it, chewing on it distractedly as he worked on the tablet.

 

"Rodney?" Sheppard's voice called quietly over the radio.

 

"Yeah?" he answered, swallowing quickly and looking up from the tablet to gaze vaguely down the hill.  He couldn't see the others anymore, but that didn't matter, he still looked in their direction as if he could.  He had heard their chatter over the radio, but hadn't been paying attention.

 

"Tell whomever comes through that we're checking out a mill located about halfway down the road, on the left hand side,"  Sheppard told him.

 

Rodney shrugged.  Easy enough.  "Okay." 

 

He returned his attention to the tablet.

 

Fairly quickly, he was performing a much clearer search of the area for energy signatures…but the results were just as disappointing as the scanner.  Focusing on some of the more pronounced residuals, he played with the search parameters, seeking to broaden the range and specify the frequencies, but he already knew it was a waste of time.  There was no Ancient device here.

 

Sighing slightly, he shifted to change the knee he was leaning on to the other one, and glanced at his watch.  The reinforcements should be here soon.  Putting the now empty powerbar wrapper into his pack, he went back to his scans, his mind already thinking about dinner, how much he’d like a chair, and the possibility of going to bed a littler earlier than normal….

 

And then something rustled loudly in the woods off to his left.

_______________________________________________________

 

After telling Rodney where they were going, Sheppard had followed Ronon's lead through the scrub trees towards the mill.  Teyla had taken their six, watching the road behind. 

 

The mill was perhaps only a few hundred yards from the road, but the terrain to approach it from this direction was uneven and muddy—making the going slow.

 

Ronon stepped quietly, despite his size. His head was cocked slightly, almost like a dog's, and he kept his gaze vague, trusting in his other senses. In contrast, Sheppard's eyes shifted quickly around, focused on the most likely spots for an ambush.  Behind them, Teyla was truly silent.  She made the two men sound absurdly clumsy.

 

They reached the edge of the woods and entered the clearing around the mill, the wet, grassy ground squishing beneath their boots.

 

Suddenly, Ronon's arms lifted, his weapon pointed at the structure.

 

"Come out!" he shouted, "Now!  We know you’re there!"

 

Teyla and Sheppard fanned, watching both where Ronon pointed and elsewhere around the clearing, in case there were more. 

 

The distinct sound of a pair of rifle hammers being pulled back stopped them all in their tracks.

________________________________________________________

  

McKay had stopped moving, fingers poised over the tiny electronic keypad on the screen, frozen. 

 

The rustling had stopped. 

 

Relying completely on his hearing, he waited, trying not to move too much, his whole body rigid with tension. 

 

He caught a flash of tan in the leaves out of the corner of his eyes, shifting in the sunlight through the thick forest.

 

And for some bizarre reason, his mind asked, was this what wildebeest felt like when it sensed a lion nearby?  Flashbacks of old National Geographic specials passed through his lightning quick mind, and he imagined the surreally calm announcer in his head.  Watch as the human prey senses danger, sniffing the air and tilting his head. He halts, hesitates, trusting his ears and eyes  to warn him of the danger he knows is nearby.  Meanwhile, in the undergrowth, the beast waits its chance to pounce…

 

The rustling happened again, sounding closer to his position in the clearing.  Slowly, he typed in a few commands for the tablet to show life signs instead of energy signatures.  If it was a squirrel or a bunny, it wouldn’t register very brightly, but if it was bigger than that…. 

 

It was bigger than that.

 

"Oh, God," he whispered, swallowing thickly.  Two very strong life signs were blinking away on the screen, right on the edge of the forest cover off to his right, one significantly closer than the other. 

 

Still moving slowly, he put the tablet on the ground next to his backpack and drew his gun.  Pushing back up onto his feet, he gave up all pretense of not knowing something was there (Bear? Tiger? Wraith? Yeah, right, since when does a Wraith hide from a human? Which brings us back to…man-eating mountain lions or rabid hyenas or rampaging grizzlies…Oh yeah, that’s so much better than a Wraith, McKay, nice way to talk yourself down….) and turned to face the woods, gun raised and pointed at where he had last seen something shift.

 

The rustling stopped abruptly. 

 

Swallowing, he tapped his radio with his left hand.

 

"Colonel?" he called softly, his voice quavering slightly as the left hand moved to join the right holding the pistol.  "I might have a, uh, a small problem up here."

_______________________________________________________

 

"We don't want trouble," Ronon called again to the hidden people inside the mill. The big man didn't lower his weapon, but he had also stopped advancing, trying to pinpoint the rifles they had heard with his eyes.  "We're not here to hurt you."

 

"We're just here to help!" Sheppard added, sidling a little closer to Ronon's side, his most earnest look on his face. "Just...come out and let's talk, okay?  There's no need for any shooting to happen. We—" 

 

He was cut off when his radio came to life in a burst of scared sounding McKay.

 

"Colonel?"  The quaver in McKay's voice was strong. "I may have a, uh, a small problem up here."

 

Sheppard grimaced.  Not the best timing, but the man's voice told him not to take the call lightly.

 

"McKay," he replied curtly. "What's wrong?"

 

"I’ve got two very strong life signs up here  on the edge of the woods."  McKay's voice shook over the airwaves.

 

"Strong? Define Strong."

 

"Large, scary, carnivorous, astrophysicist-eating animal strong."

 

Sheppard gave a dark grimace, then turned and glanced at Teyla behind him, the woman still partially hidden by the woods.  She was looking at him expectantly.  He gave her a nod, and watched as she took off back towards the road without a backwards glance, already running.

 

Sheppard gave a soft sigh, turning his attention back to Ronon. "Okay, McKay. Teyla’s on her way," he said quietly over the radio.

 

"Just…just Teyla?"

 

"We’ve got our own problems, McKay.  Just hang on.  Atlantis should be sending help through any second, remember?  If it attacks, shoot first and get to the DHD and through the Gate before it recovers, you understand?"

 

McKay didn't answer for a moment, then, shakily, he muttered a soft, "Yeah."

 

"Okay.  Keep your radio on."

 

McKay just snorted, then muttered an "uh huh," sounding very distracted now.

 

Sheppard gave a wry grimace, knowing there wasn't much else they could do.  If McKay got in trouble, they'd hear it.

 

With that thought, he returned his full attention to where Ronon was now standing mid-field, about twenty yards from the mill and its slow moving water wheel.

 

"I said, come out," Ronon repeated, his voice suddenly soft. "We won't hurt you."

 

The abrupt change in tone confused Sheppard temporarily, until he followed Ronon's gaze and caught sight of a pair of terrified faces peeking out from a cellar window under the mill, near the wheel.

 

They were just a couple of boys...

 

Aiming two very effective looking rifles.

__________________________________________________

 

The rustling McKay heard was growing louder, and more color was visible inside the trees.  It was definitely tan.  Like a lion’s pelt.  Oh, Christ, why did he keep thinking about lions?  Does this place look like Africa?  Tigers are far more likely to inhabit forested places like this.  Tigers…who are larger, louder and more deadly than lions….

 

Oh, he really needed to stop thinking now.  He really did.

 

Somehow, the gun was remaining steady in his hands.  He wasn’t really sure how.

 

Shoot first.  Shoot first.  Shoot….

 

His finger twitched on the trigger.

 

And then a completely different thought entered his mind.

 

Suddenly, he switched his aim to point at the tree closest to where the sound was emanating from, and fired. 

 

The shot blasted loudly through the woods, echoing across the valley, and the side of the tree he’d aimed for exploded out in a rain of splinters and wood dust.

 

"McKay!  What's happening? You okay?" Sheppard’s shout was loud over the link, but it wasn’t nearly as loud as the high pitched childlike scream from the woods, or the furious yell that overpowered the screaming.

 

"Don’t shoot!" A woman’s voice shouted, terror filled and panting from somewhere further back in the woods. "Please!  She’s just a little girl!"

_____________________________________________________   

 

CHAPTER THREE:  THE REFUGEES

 

"We won't hurt you," Ronon repeated, kneeling in the muddy clearing to see the two boys better.

 

"Unless you try to hurt us first," Sheppard whispered to himself.  Ronon shot him a dark look, and Sheppard smiled cheekily.  At the Satedan's raised eyebrows, Sheppard sighed, but lowered his weapon's aim.  Ronon was in the process of putting his own weapon on the ground by his feet when a loud gunshot echoed in the distance, unquestionably from McKay's gun.  Both men were alert, weapons facing the mill again.

 

"McKay!" Sheppard shouted into the radio, "What's happening?  You okay?"

 

Ronon had looked away from the mill for a second when the shot rang out.  Looking back again now....

 

The basement window was empty.  The two boys had gone.

 

"No!" Ronon called, "Wait!"  He jogged to the side of the mill, aiming for the door...only to stop dead as it banged open to reveal a teenage boy pointing a rifle right at his head.  He was brown haired and lanky, covered head to toe in filth, and his pale blue eyes were wide and terrified.

 

"Don’t...don't move," the boy ordered shakily.

 

"Not moving," Ronon promised, lifting his hands.

 

"Look..." Sheppard said, coming up behind them, then stopping when the second boy, much younger—perhaps eleven or twelve years old in age—but just as dirty as the first, came out from behind the door and pointed another rifle at him.  Sheppard held up his hands as well, and attempted a smile.

 

"Look," he tried again, "we're not going to hurt you.  We just want to talk.  Okay?"

 

The boys both watched them unblinkingly, matching pale blue eyes going back and forth nervously, until the older one gave a quick nod.

 

"So talk," the boy said. "And make it fast.  But first...who's up there?  Who fired that shot?  And don't lie!"

 

Sheppard sighed, and, as 'ordered,' started talking very fast.

__________________________________________________________

 

"I said, don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!" the woman yelled again, from wherever she was.

 

"Okay! Okay!" McKay shouted back, pulling his arms back in so that the gun pointed upwards, "I’m not going to shoot!" He winced as the screaming continued unabated, shaking his head at the horrible sound.  And, in answer to Sheppard's shout, also added, "And I'm okay," into the radio.

 

"Put your gun away!" the woman yelled, before adding, in a softer voice, "Hush, Freya, It’s all right. It’s all right."  Then, when McKay obviously didn’t do as she demanded, she yelled again, "I said, put it away!"

 

"No!" he yelled back, still trying to see her inside the thicket.  Where the hell were they?  The child continued to wail, the noise heart-wrenchingly awful and, oddly, difficult to pinpoint.  It seemed to be all around him.

 

"Why not?" the woman yelled back, her fear switching quickly to anger. 

 

"Because…"  He winced, stepping back because the screaming was just too damn painful. "Oh, for Christ’s sake!  Can’t you shut her up!  What is she trying to do, burst my ear drums?" 

 

"Oh my soul…Are you really that heartless?  She’s just a child!"

 

"A loud one!" McKay snapped back.  "A scream like that could wake the dead!"

 

At his yell, the little girl’s screaming finally faded, becoming a sort of whimper, but the rustling in the woods grew louder.  Then, out from behind a tree, a fairly tall, brown haired woman emerged, her expression thunderous.  Perhaps close to fifty years in age, she wore a plain leather vest over a yellowed (possibly white once) short sleeve shirt and brown, loose trousers.  Her face and arms were darkened from too much sun, but the color did not hide the strength in her—she had the body of a farmer, toned and strong.  She strode forward, not hiding the Genii revolver she carried in one hand, which McKay vaguely glanced at before looking again to her bruised dark brown eyes.

 

"What is wrong with you!" she demanded, glaring at him with all the fury of a Valkyre.  The wildness of the long brown hair loosely bunch atop her head only helped the image. "Put your gun away!  You’re frightening her!"

 

McKay’s eyebrows lifted. "What, are you kidding?  I’m frightening her?  I’m not the one trying to sneak up on unsuspecting visitors!"

 

"She wasn’t sneaking up on you.  She was curious!  You’re the one who fired willy nilly into the woods with that weapon of yours!  You could have killed her!"  The woman was gesturing wildly, the heavy Genii revolver practically an extension of her hand as she waved it about.

 

McKay rolled his eyes.  "Oh, don’t be ridiculous!  If I had wanted to shoot someone, why would I shoot the tree?"

 

"Because you’re a bad shot?" she sneered. 

 

"Hey!" he shouted defensively. "I’ll have you know I’m a great shot…most of the time…when I have time to aim…which I did.  I mean, think about it!  I aimed for the tree specifically because I didn’t want to hit a person…if it was a person …which it obviously was…is…though how could I have known that, huh?  I thought it was an animal!  Could’ve been anything! Could’ve been Wraith, for all I know.  So…so, just…stuff it, you overbearing harridan, and be glad I didn’t aim for this alleged little girl of yours!"

 

The woman's eyebrows shot up, then lowered until her brow was so furrowed, she looked almost vulcan.  Her hair fell forward to partially cover her face as she glared up at him, only adding to the demonic look.

 

"This," she stated quietly, "is not your planet, stranger.  And I’d appreciate it if you left.  We’ve got quite enough problems without your type showing up and shooting up our trees." 

 

And then she pointed her gun at him.

 

McKay sighed.  His own gun was in his hand, but it was loose by his side.  Sort of pointless to lift it up now.

 

"No!" Suddenly, a dirty moppet of a child (possibly blond-haired though it was hard to tell), burst out of the woods, running towards them. "Don’t make him go!"  Before the woman could react, the child had barreled into the back of the woman's legs, sending her staggering forward a few steps.  It forced her to almost lose her grip on the heavy revolver, and, had McKay been Sheppard, he probably would have taken advantage of the distraction to raise his own gun, or pull some other sly maneuver to get her gun away from her…but McKay wasn’t Sheppard.  He just sort of stood there.

 

"Freya!" the woman chastised, getting back into position and attempting to lift her gun again. But the child was persistent, pushing against the back of her trousers and tugging on her vest and arm, forcing the gun to stay down.

 

"Don’t shoot him, Neera!  Don’t!  He’s got food!  I saw it!"

 

And Neera paused, looking down at the muddy urchin, before turning back to McKay. 

 

"She’s right," McKay said, shrugging.  "I do have food.  Actually, so do my friends.  Who will be here any moment, I might add. Lots of them. With many, many guns. So, uh…how about lowering your gun, eh?  This has kinda…gotten out of hand, don’t you think?  Look, I even have…"  He reached his free hand up to his chest, aiming to pull a powerbar from a pocket, but Neera’s gun came up again, stopping him mid-motion.

 

"Don’t move!" she shouted, a touch of fear under her anger.

 

"Oh for Christ’s sake!" McKay snapped angrily, and started again to get into the pocket of his vest, no longer paying her any mind. "Calm down!  Do I look like a killer?  I’m just getting out a powerbar!"

 

She blinked, "A power what?"

 

He rolled his eyes, pulled out the silver wrapped protein bar, then knelt down and handed it towards the little girl.  Neera watched, but, amazingly, didn’t say anything as Freya reached forward…and took it quickly.  The little girl ripped open the foil and after sniffing it, took a bite.  Her expression screwed up a little as she chewed.

 

"It’s kinda pasty," she informed them. McKay just snorted.  Neera studied him a moment longer, then, with a slightly bemused expression, finally lowered her gun.

 

"All right, who are you?" she asked. "What do you want?"

 

"I’m Doctor Rodney McKay, we—"  He stopped abruptly, as two things happened simultaneously.  Behind him, from down the hill, running footsteps could be heard, and he glanced that way to see Teyla bounding up towards him, her P-90 strapped to her chest and her 9MM in her hand so that she could run more efficiently but still be armed.  And then he turned further as the chevrons engaged on the Stargate, loudly announcing an incoming wormhole.

 

The little girl squealed again, and Neera once again had her gun raised and pointed at him, her face terrified.

 

"Rodney!" Teyla shouted, lifting her 9MM up to protect him, "Get down!"

 

"No, no, no!" he shouted, raising his arms up, "Stop! Wait!"

 

"Freya, run!" the older woman said, shoving at the little girl holding tightly to her with her leg.  The girl didn’t move, obviously too scared to.

 

"No, really," he looked at Neera, "it’s okay! I promise! They’re friends.  Don’t shoot!"

 

The older woman’s face registered clear confusion, and she looked at Teyla then to the wormhole.  She gestured that way with her gun, "But the wormhole, the Wraith might be—"

 

"It’s just more of my people, I swear."  McKay’s whole demeanor had changed, all belligerence gone.  The woman just blinked at him, clearly uncertain, but stuck because the child seemed to have fixed herself to the ground behind her. 

 

"We’re not gonna be slaves," the woman spat suddenly, her grip tightening on her gun. "We’ll die first!"

 

Rodney’s eyebrows shot up at that statement. "What?"  Now he was the one completely confused.

 

By that time, Teyla was by his side and the first set of marines were stepping out of the wormhole…and immediately turned their P90s on Neera.

 

Her eyes were as wide as saucers now, the revolver shaking in her hand.

 

"Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!" Rodney yelled, turning red from frustration. "Just HANG ON!" He whipped around, pointing at the marines, "You! Put those down! Now!"

 

Teyla, her eyebrow arched, watched as the marines hesitated a moment, then, slowly, lowered their P90s to point at the ground.  A tiny smile lit her face as the disgruntled looks on the marines’ faces at being ordered by McKay.  It fell when the scientist turned and shot a similar look at her, the same anger now pointed in her direction.

 

"Oh," she said, "of course."  She quickly put her 9MM back in it’s holster and stood loosely, a little behind McKay as he turned his attention back to the woman.

 

"Now," he said sharply, "as I was saying, I’m Doctor Rodney McKay.  This is Teyla Emmagen, and those soldiers behind me are from my planet.  We came to see if there were any survivors, and to see if we could help. Which, really, is pretty nice of us.  So…how about lowering that gun and we talk like civilized people, hmm?"

 

Neera continued to watch him for a moment, eyes still wide, but obviously listening.

 

"You’re not slavers?" she asked softly.

 

"Please," Rodney snarled. "That’s just insulting."

 

Her eyebrows lifted, then, with a grimace, slowly lowered her gun.  When it was loose by her side, she gave him a dark look.  "Fine.  But if you’re lying to me," her eyes narrowed, "I’ll kill you."

 

Rodney sighed. "Oh, gee, and here I was thinking I’d hadn’t had my life threatened enough this week.  Now I feel so much better."  Without giving Neera a chance to respond, he looked down to Freya, who had returned to gnawing on the powerbar. "Hey, moocher," he called, "How ‘bout giving me half?"

 

Freya’s answering giggle was enough to make everything all right again.

________________________________________________

 

Perhaps half an hour later, all four of the locals were standing next to the Stargate with Sheppard and McKay, while Beckett and a small med team examined them.  Teyla and Ronon were down the hill with the marines, scouting for any more survivors.  According to the Neera, however, there weren't any others.  It was just her and the three children.

 

Upon being introduced, Sheppard had grimaced slightly at Neera's name, not liking the memory it generated, but, luckily, she didn't notice. She had then gone on to explain how she, Freya and the two boys (the only ones actually related—they were brothers) had separately survived the culling, then found each other afterwards.  They had been living in the mill—the last intact structure—trying to decide what to do. 

 

She also explained that they were nearly out of food.  The Wraith had scoured the planet—destroying all the crops and killing all the livestock as well as most of the wildlife—leaving them with precious little to stave off hunger with winter coming soon.  They just didn't know where else to go.

 

But that didn't mean she felt comfortable going with them, yet.  She hovered near the children at all times, clearly still not fully trusting any of the Atlantians.  Beckett, in particular, seemed to really bother her—probably because he was getting so close to the children.

 

"What is that?" she demanded, as Beckett pulled out his small medi-scanner after putting away his stethoscope.

 

"Just a scanner, lass," he said kindly, turning it on. "It just lets me confirm that you are as healthy as you all appear."

 

She snorted, flinching a little as he raised it up to scan her.  She maintained a sort of distrusting wince the whole time he used it.  The little girl Freya, on the other hand, seemed fascinated by the physician, standing quite close to Beckett and watching him intently.  She seemed to be most fascinated by his accent, asking him repeatedly to say words twice, which Beckett seemed charmed enough to do.  He was clearly as taken with the eight year old girl as she was by him.

 

McKay, meanwhile, was trying to slough off the younger of the two boys, whose name was Ren.  He was indeed twelve years old, with long, light brown hair and blue eyes that had lit up at the sight of all of McKay's equipment.  The word "nerd" might have been tattooed on his forehead, the way he had fixated on the scientist's technology like a moth to a flame.  McKay was ignoring him as much as possible, but Ren refused to be shaken off, asking lots of questions, all of which the Answer Man answered...because he couldn't not.  It was simply too much a part of McKay's nature.

 

The last was the oldest boy, Garron, who stood quietly near Sheppard himself.  He was older than he looked, about seventeen in age, but he was absurdly thin and, while tall, had a sort of hunched quality to him that made him seem both younger and shorter.  Once in the presence of Neera again, his voice also appeared to have vanished.  He had not spoken since being brought up here—he just watched them all with an almost unsettling intensity.  Like Neera, he did not seem to trust the Atlantians, despite having handed his rifle over to Sheppard down below at the mill.

 

After nearly a full day of searching, during which time, the sun had fallen quite close to the horizon, it was determined that Neera's pronouncement that she and her children were the only ones alive was accurate. 

 

Elizabeth had already been informed, and she had okayed bringing them through to Atlantis.

 

Just four more refugees to add to the growing pot.

 

Neera's reluctance to go with them melted upon hearing the word "Atlantis," and her attitude towards them shifted.  She still wasn't sure about them, but she clearly no longer thought they were slavers.  At least, in that regards, the rumors about the "return" of the Atlantians was useful.

 

And so, armed only with a single (heavy) trunk, the four refugees from M4M-167 left their destroyed world and entered the wormhole to Atlantis.

 

None of the Atlantians following them through saw the mark the older boy, Garron, etched on the far side of one of the rocks near the Gate just before leaving.

 

It was the symbol for Atlantis, etched in white.    

_______________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER FOUR:  MAKING INROADS INTO ATLANTIS

 

Garron stood in the corner of the gym, in the shadows by the door, watching Ronon train the marines.  The Satedan knew the thin, seventeen-year old was there, but didn't acknowledge him.  If the boy wanted to learn to fight, Ronon would show him...but not until he asked.

 

At some point, Garron left.  It wasn't the first time he had come and gone without so much as a word. 

 

The four refugees from M4M-167 had been on Atlantis for almost a week, and they had all made their presence known except for Garron.  For some reason, the only person the boy seemed willing to offer any sort of respect was Ronon.  Everyone else he seemed to ignore or look away from.  The typical sulky teenager.

 

And most of the time, no one even remembered the boy was even there.

 

It bothered Ronon. 

 

But not because he was worried about the boy.  At first, he thought Garron was just very introverted, despite all the talking he'd done on the planet, but now...he'd begun to think the boy was intentionally trying to hide.  He just didn't know why.

______________________________________________________

 

"So," Ren leaned against the lab bench, looking at McKay’s laptop and reading the data that was popping up, "are you saying that, when you swap X sub N for Y in the equation, that—"

 

"Okay, Ren, you know what?" McKay leaned back, fingers lifting from the keyboard to stare at the boy, "I think, after a week of you following me around like a lapdog and asking incredibly stupid questions, I can officially say, I'm done.  You get me?"

 

Ren's brow furrowed, "Done?  Done with what?"

 

"With you!  I can't take it anymore!  I’ve tried being nice; I’ve tried being mean; I’ve even tried being cruel, but you’re like than a lamprey sucking the life out of me! You won't let go!  So, I’m not asking you or telling you anymore—now I’m ordering you in the name of all that’s sacred and holy and good in this galaxy, leave me alone!"

 

Ren blinked at him, eyes wide, then they narrowed. "You don’t mean that," he said, tilting his head and smiling.  "If you did, you wouldn’t have been talking to me so much."

 

"Talking to you?" McKay threw up his hands, "I can’t avoid you! Like having a burr stuck to my clothing! I try to pick you off, but you won’t let go.  Out! Out!  Go find something else to do."  He made sweeping motions towards the door, "Now! Shoo!  Vamoose!  LEAVE!"

 

Ren just smiled, patted him on the shoulder and nodded. "Okay.  I’ll go.  But I’ll see you later, okay?"

 

"No!" McKay stood up, face reddening as he stared down at the twelve year old boy, "No, you will not!  You’re going to go away and never come back, understand?"

 

"Right, right.  So, when are you going to do the modifications to the jumpers again?"

 

"Never!"

 

"So, what, 4:00 or so?"

 

"No!"

 

"Okay!" Ren grinned, "See you at four!"  And he turned and bounced out of the room, leaving McKay groaning and falling back onto his lab stool, his head in his hands.

 

It wasn’t the first time Rodney had tried to get rid of the boy.  For a week, Ren had been shadowing McKay in the lab, following him around the Control Room, eating meals with him in the Mess, asking questions, and offering suggestions ("not to mention, getting in the way, trying my patience, and driving me insane!" McKay whined to Sheppard over a beer late one night), and no matter what insults McKay had hurled at him—some of them blistering—it wouldn’t shake the boy.  It was if he somehow knew that, no matter what McKay said, they were just words.  They washed off him like water off a duck’s back, and, if McKay were honest, he’d admit it was somewhat admirable. 

 

It was also freaky.

 

"He’s persistent," Zelenka said, coming up behind his friend and dumping off some papers. "I have never seen a boy so persistent."

 

"He's not persistent," McKay mumbled through his hands, "he's incurable. Like a terminal disease.  Slot me for six weeks to live if that boy doesn't go away soon." 

 

"He's just a boy," Zelenka said softly, patting McKay lightly on the shoulder. "He can not stay attached to you forever.  He will find other interests."

 

"Before or after I'm dead?" McKay asked, lowering his hands and looking up at Zelenka with almost puppy dog eyes. Radek just smiled back, shaking his head.

 

"He won't kill you," Zelenka shrugged. "Drive you insane, so you might kill yourself, yes.  But he won't kill you."  Radek chuckled lightly.  McKay gave him a dark look.

 

"When did you get so mean?"

 

"What can I say?" Zelenka said, grinning now. "I learn from the best."

 

McKay snorted, sighed, and picked at the charts Zelenka had placed next to his laptop.  They had a lot of pastel mini Post It notes stuck on them.  Rodney didn't say anything for a moment, then looked up again at Radek, who was studying McKay's laptop screen.

 

"By the way," McKay said quietly, reaching forward to type on the keyboard, "Thank you for trying to distract him earlier. I appreciate it."

 

Radek smiled.  If McKay was thanking him for something, then he had to truly be at his wits end.

 

"He will grow tired eventually.  And, if not…" Zelenka shrugged. 

 

McKay watched him a moment, then, frowning, prompted, "And if not…what?  What do I do?"

 

"Oh, I have no idea," the Czech said. "That is why I didn’t finish the sentence."

 

The look McKay gave him could have scalded a iceberg.

____________________________________

 

"So, lass, what’s this one do?"  Beckett’s question was directed at Freya, who was hovering near him, her large, blue eyes narrowed in contemplation.  Turned out, under all that mud, she was a beautiful little girl, complete with the sort of platinum blond hair that older women paid hundreds of dollars for back on earth.  

 

She bit her bottom lip, studied the rubber hammer Beckett was holding up, and then said, "Tests reflexes?"

 

"Well done!" The physician grinned at her, before returning to the patient sitting before him on the hospital bed.  Beckett was currently giving a routine physical to Cadman, who was smiling genteelly as Carson knocked on her knee with the rubber hammer.  She’d agreed to letting Freya watch, though it was clear she was more interested in watching Beckett interact with the little girl than in what was going on with the physical.

 

Freya followed up her guess by rattling off what Carson had taught her about nerves and the way the parts of the body are connected together, which made the physician smile more.

 

"All correct," Beckett said, smiling at the little girl sitting next to the lieutenant.  "Now, what about this one?"  He set down the hammer and picked up the blood pressure cuff.

 

"Blood pressure!" Freya said proudly.  Beckett chuckled as he set the cuff on Cadman.

 

"Exactly right.  And this young lady is pretty much perfect in that regard," he said, holding onto Cadman’s hand a little longer than was necessary.

 

Freya, a little like Ren (though nowhere near as obsessive), had spent most of her week visiting with Carson.  They got along very well, and it was clear that the Scot was growing very attached to her. 

 

At one point, Carson sent Freya out to fetch some more items for him, which she did, leaving Cadman and Carson alone.   The lieutenant gave him a quick kiss before asking the question that had been bothering the physician since Freya had asked to hang out with him today.

 

"So, Neera’s decided not to move to the Mainland then?"

 

Beckett sighed, shrugging slightly.

 

"Seems that way.  She seems to have really fallen in love with the mess hall kitchens, though goodness knows why.  I’m sure Kate’s got some clever explanation for it, but since Neera's been here, it’s rare to see her outside of the mess hall."

 

"Her food is good," Cadman said, a touch dreamily, probably thinking back to the pies that were served with lunch today.  Neera turned out to be something of a genius with desserts.  Fact was, she was pretty much a genius with everything.

 

"Yes, well, that being said," Carson shrugged, glancing towards the doorway leading into the main part of the infirmary, "it’s not right for Freya, Ren and Garron to be stuck here without any other children to interact with.  I wish there was a way Neera could see her way to moving out to be with the Athosians and the other refugees.  I’m sure the children would be happier."

 

"Well," Cadman shifted on the bed a little, "I mean, there isn’t really any need for her to go with them, is there?  She’s not their mother—they could be adopted by one of the communities out there.  It’s not like there aren’t plenty more Wraith orphans around."

 

Carson shook his head, "the three children don’t seem to want to leave her.  She’s not their biological mother, to be sure, but they appear to be very attached.  Until she moves to the Mainland, or elsewhere, I think they’ll stay here as long as she does."  He looked away for a moment, then a small, wicked smile lit his face. "Of course, the twelve year old boy, Ren, seems very happy with the idea, the way he’s been dogging McKay."

 

"Oh," Cadman’s eyes were sparkling with amusement, "I saw that!  He sat himself down between Rodney and Colonel Sheppard at dinner yesterday, despite there being no room, and started talking a mile a minute.  I was a couple of tables over, but we all heard him.  I’ve never heard a child, much less a boy, talk that much to an adult!"  She shook her head, "Though I have to say, as much as I think it’s hilarious," her eyebrows lifted, "I’m not really sure I understand the boy’s attachment to Rodney.  Some of the things that jerk said to Ren," her brow furrowed, "he was pretty mean to the boy, Carson."

 

"And yet, Ren pays no mind.  I’ve had a couple of lunches with them, Laura.  Nothing McKay says appears to have any effect, unless it’s a compliment.  Then it has a positive effect.  Otherwise…" He smiled, "It’s really quiet amazing.  McKay tried to be nice to him at first, but couldn’t keep it up, and it’s almost as if, the meaner McKay is to him, the more the boy wants to stay with him.  I can’t say I understand it, but it’s great fun to watch!"

 

As he finished, he settled in next to her, leaning against the bed, and she snuggled into his shoulder.

 

"Well," she said, "I guess we all have our heroes.  How Rodney came to be that boy’s, I’ll never know though."

 

Carson just hummed, looking again vaguely for Freya. 

 

"Isn’t there another boy?" Cadman asked after a moment.

 

"Oh, yes.  The eldest boy.  Garron."

 

"What’s he been doing?"

 

Carson’s eyebrows lifted, thinking about this for a moment.  After a moment, he gave a light shrug, so as not to dislodge Cadman’s head.

 

"To be honest, I’ve no idea.  Whatever teenagers do, I suppose."

 

"Here I am!" Freya called, bouncing back in with the things Carson had asked her to fetch.  She had way too many of each, and both Beckett and Cadman laughed as the little girl dumped them on the bed with a grunt, nearly sending everything to the floor. 

 

The dark look the little girl threw them was missed by both adults.

__________________________________________________

 

Neera had taken over the kitchens with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop.  She quickly whipped the rotating personnel assigned to kitchen duty into shape, demanding quality where before there had only been an emphasis on quantity.  More than that, she cut no one slack.  The marine's rank or the scientist's titles meant nothing when they found themselves under her command.  And she never bothered to learn their names—she named them by location on the kitchen floor.  Since they rotated, it made a sad sort of sense.

 

And it was also very clear that she loved being in charge.

 

Funny thing was, no one had given her that role.  She had just taken it.  She walked into the kitchens on the first morning after arriving from M4M-167, and had just decided she was going to become lord and master.  It had only taken a few compliments to the staff, one or two spectacular dishes whipped up with a modicum of ingredients and in almost the same amount of time it took to heat up an MRE, and the reins were handed over. 

 

And, despite the complaints of those assigned to work for her, everyone else was ecstatic about the change.  Her food was amazing.  Weir had taken one look at how well Neera was able to do so much more with so much less, that she okayed it without a second glance.

 

Sheppard grinned for a day after learning of Neera's talent—he felt like he'd finally succeeded in bringing home something more valuable than a ZPM.  And, in a way, he had.

 

He just wished McKay would stop complaining about the fact that Neera's food was too spicy.  The scientist was the only one still eating MREs.  Philistine!

 

Neera, herself, practically glowed. Adorned in Atlantian blues, she walked tall in the halls, greeted and complimented everywhere she went. 

 

If Sheppard weren't such an optimist, nodding to her one day as she skipped past, he'd think it was almost too good to be true. 

_________________________________________________

 

Garron ghosted the halls of Atlantis, head down, eyes to the ground.  He was doing what he did best—staying invisible.   Even when he was shifting the now empty metal trunk on a dolly with him towards the jumper bay, no one said a word.  He was just that good at not being noticed.  Usually, it was enough....

 

Until the day he noticed there was one eye on him. 

 

Once or twice, Garron looked up to see Ronon watching him.  There was something in the Satedan's expression that unnerved the boy.

 

So, he was forced to work even harder to stay hidden.

 

Ronon had tried following him once.  He'd shaken the large man.  Barely.

 

He just hoped it was only curiosity.  Ronon would eventually leave him alone, just like everyone else.

 

Or else he'd have to be dealt with.

__________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER FIVE: THE CAUSE OF ACCIDENTS

 

"So, what we’re trying to do here…"

 

"We?" McKay replied softly, almost like a moan.

 

. "…Is to increase power to the new shield mechanism without a significant drain on energy, right?  Something which, while being attacked, the pilot could opt for, if needed, with a single command.  Is that it?"  Ren was lying on the floor of the jumper next to McKay as the astrophysicist worked on the main console in front of the pilot’s seat, his eyes glued to McKay’s hands as the scientist worked the crystals.  As he spoke, Ren scooted in closer, in order to see better, and ended up knocking McKay’s left arm, earning an annoyed mutter from the scientist.

 

"You’re worse than a bad penny, you know that?" McKay muttered, sighing softly.

 

"Huh?"

 

"Nothing."  The scientist grimaced as he maneuvered around a particularly stubborn piece of crystal, to test the connections underneath.  When Ren reached up to try to help, McKay slapped his hand away, causing Ren to grin. McKay rolled his eyes a little. "But in answer to your incredibly asinine question, yes."

 

"And what you’re trying to avoid is draining power from one of the four essential systems—engines, life support, DHD and navigation, right?"

 

"Yes, again.  You’re on a roll, Ren!" 

 

The sarcasm was lost on the boy, who continued on without shame.

 

"And so, instead, you’re trying to siphon power from," Ren craned his neck, hooking his chin on McKay’s bent elbow to get an even better view (and earning him a very nasty look), "the inertial dampeners?"

 

"Well, obviously, if there’s a shield," McKay said, freeing his left arm roughly and returning his attention to plucking at the delicate circuitry beneath the dampener mechanism, "and you’re in the vacuum of space, dampeners are not really as vital."

 

Ren hummed slightly, tilting his head away again and looking at some of the other exposed sections under the console that McKay wasn’t working on.

 

"I was just thinking….can I make another suggestion?" He reached up to poke at one of the unused crystals, not flinching as McKay automatically slapped his hand down again. "Something else to skim power from?"

 

McKay didn’t reply for a moment, but Zelenka, who was in the back of the jumper, working on and monitoring the main control panels, paused and looked at the two of them.  Or, at least, at their legs—their upper bodies were hidden behind the pilot chair.  McKay’s long and partially bent ones were still, while Ren’s short and spindly ones were rocking back and forth, causing his toes to tap together.

 

McKay sighed heavily, lowered his arms, and looked at the boy next to him.  Ren grinned.

 

"Fine," McKay said unhappily. "What’s your suggestion?"

 

"Well, I noticed you didn’t have any belts on the chairs in here—which, by the way, I think is weird…I mean, how do you stop yourselves from hitting the console or falling out of your chairs when you crash?  And I know you crash, because Radek told me about how you guys came to get shields on the jumpers in the first place, because you crashed into the ocean and he saved your life, and also because Sergeant Sanchez told me that the reason Jumper Three is out of commission is because Doctor Kusanagi hit a flock of Kaya birds on the Mainland, and they took out the right engine pod...Anyway, anyway, as I was saying...."  He took a deep breath, oblivious to the pained look on McKay’s face at the rapid-fire prattle, "I noticed you don’t have any belts or harnesses on the chairs, to keep people safe.  But what if, say, you added them?  Then, when you needed the shields, everyone strapped in…and you turned off the artificial gravity?  I mean, would you need gravity if everyone is locked down?  And it takes a lot of power to maintain it, right?"

 

McKay’s pained expression faded, and the blue eyes turned to stared at the boy in obvious surprise.  Then, slowly, he began to smile.

 

"Well," he said, looking back up at the crystals, "we couldn’t turn it off completely.  The pilot still needs the speed that gravity allows him in order to manipulate the controls efficiently and quickly, not to mention, give him a sense of which direction is "up" so to speak, but, you know, a moderate decrease might….hmm.....Hey, Radek!"

 

"Yes, McKay?"  Zelenka was still watching their legs, a tiny smile on his face.

 

"You heard that?"

 

"Yes, McKay."

 

"What do you think?"

 

"I’ll check if the gravity controls can be sufficiently separated from life support to allow that sort of manipulation."

 

McKay grinned, then reached over and rubbed Ren’s moppish brown hair. "First useful thing you’ve said all week, Ren.  We’ll make a scientist out of you yet!"  As he spoke, McKay lifted his hands back up into the console, to return to his fiddling, so he missed the massive smile that brightened up Ren’s face.  Far more real than the polite one the boy wore most of the week—he was positively glowing with the compliment.

 

Zelenka, still watching them from the back, just chuckled.  Ren’s feet had finally stopped moving, showing just how pleased he was.

 

After a couple of minutes, Ren’s toes started tapping again, and he cleared his throat.  "Can I ask another question?"

 

"Oh, and we were doing so well," McKay groaned, all his brief niceness gone. "For a second there, I thought I’d managed to actually shut you up!"

 

Ren, unphased, plunged on. "I was just curious about the shield when it’s a cloak, or, rather, when the cloak’s not a shield," he hummed a little, as if getting that straight in his head, then asked, "if the cloak makes the ship invisible to all sensors, how does Atlantis know where it is?"

 

McKay rolled his eyes a little. "Atlantis can read its own ships, regardless of if they’re cloaked."

 

"How?"

 

"Does it matter?"

 

Ren grimaced, annoyed at the non-response, and he nudged McKay’s arm.  "How?" he demanded.

 

McKay swiveled an angry glare at him, "Stop that!"

 

"I will if you tell me!" Ren taunted, nudging his arm again.  McKay snapped his left arm out of nudging range.

 

"God, you’re annoying!"

 

"My name’s Ren, not God.  So, how does it do it?"

 

"Atlantis is attuned to its own machinery—the cloak is designed to repel all sensor ranges and frequencies except those that match Atlantis sensors exactly.  So, Atlantis always knows where her ships are.  There, happy?"

 

Ren smiled, leaning back again. "Yes.  Thank you."

 

McKay muttered something unkind about Ren’s parentage, which the boy totally ignored.

 

"So," Ren asked, and McKay sighed heavily, "Can it also read life signs within the cloak, or just the ship’s signature."

 

"Just the ship’s signature," McKay answered tiredly. "It can’t tell you who is on board."

 

"So, then, how does…"

 

"Hey, Ren, you done yet?  I’m getting bored." Garron’s loud call interrupted the conversation, and Zelenka jumped almost a mile in back.  Turning around, the Czech rested a hand over his rapidly beating heart at the sight of the dark-haired teenager sitting on the bench behind him, playing on what looked suspiciously like Corporal Dunne's gameboy.

 

Both Ren and McKay leaned out from under the console and around the pilot’s chair in order to better see the gangly boy. 

 

Garron continued to play on the gameboy, oblivious.

 

"How long have you been there?" Zelenka asked, still coming down from his shock.

 

"Hunh?"  Garron looked up, then down again, his thumbs never stopping their playing, "About five minutes." He shrugged, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.  "I came to fetch Ren for dinner."

 

"Oh!" Ren looked down at his watch—almost identical to McKay’s, "it’s six already?"

 

"Yeah," Garron said, yawning a little, and doing something that apparently shut the gameboy down.  He stood up lazily from his seat, putting the game away in a pocket in the big, oversized coat he seemed to like wearing.  "Oh, Neera’s making something called Beef Wellington tonight, based off some Earth recipe.  She’ll kill us if we don’t get there for the first servings."  He didn’t notice the way both McKay’s and Zelenka’s eyes lit up at the description.

 

"Okay, okay," Ren said, scooting out from under the console. "I’m coming."  Like just about every other people they had met in this galaxy, the four refugees had adopted the phrase, "okay" almost immediately. 

 

After Ren was up and dusting himself off, he turned to look at McKay, "You going to be okay without me?"

 

McKay just gave him a dark look.  Ren grinned, turned, and with a nod to Zelenka, bounced after his already departing brother.  Garron moved slowly, almost like he was too bored even to walk.  In contrast, Ren was like a hyperactive gnat, circling a slow moving draft horse.

 

Rodney sighed, climbing out from under the console himself and, after stretching for a second, walked over to join Zelenka now standing at the back hatch.  They watched the two boys heading out of the bay, and McKay sighed again.

 

"Damn it," he muttered.

 

"What?"

 

The scientist grimaced, glancing at Zelenka, "Now I’m hungry."

 

"Beef Wellington," Radek said, humming a little in agreement. "If it’s as good as everything else she’s cooked up this week…"

 

McKay just shook his head and walked down the ramp after the boys, knowing Zelenka would be right behind him.

 

About halfway across the bay, Ren stopped, grabbed his brother’s arm and pointed off towards the side.  Garron shrugged and Ren grinned, heading off in a different direction, while Garron stood where he was to wait.  The younger boy ran towards where Sergeant Sanchez and Doctor Bryce were supervising the repair of Jumper Three.  McKay paused, watching Ren go, frowning slightly.  Radek came up next to him, curious at McKay’s attention.

 

"McKay?"

 

Ren bounded up to the back of the jumper, getting up close to the damaged engine pod and looking down at it from the back.  Inside the jumper, Sanchez was fiddling with the mechanical workings of the engine pod retractors inside the bench, while Bryce worked on the main circuit board.  A young marine was also sitting up front in the pilot’s seat, staring at the wall and looking bored.  Consequently, none of them saw the boy.

 

Sanchez pulled his considerable bulk out from inside the bench and closed it, and looked towards the pilot.  They heard Bryce say something, then spin her hand around.

 

McKay took off running before Zelenka realized what was happening.  Bryce had just ordered the pilot to fire up the engine pod…and Ren was standing right behind it.

__________________________________________

 

CHAPTER SIX: THE FALLOUT

 

"Power it up," Bryce called from inside the jumper, causing Ren to stand up from his inspection of the back of the pod.  A sound purred from inside the engine pod in front of him, and his eyes widened.  He started to backpedal, but he stumbled and fell on his rear.

 

"Stop!" Zelenka’s voice yelled from somewhere too far away. "Wait!  Don’t fire it!"

 

It was too late.  Ren raised his arms to cover his face as a sudden explosion of heat hit him…at the same time something else did.

 

A huge weight slammed across him, carrying him sliding across the floor away from the engine, covering him and holding him tight.  When they stopped, the weight fell away, and Ren, shaking and crying, pulled away.

 

McKay was lying on his side in front of him, eyes tightly shut, his face grimacing in pain.  He breathed shallowly, almost gasping for air, and his hands, which had before been holding the boy to his chest, were now drawn up tight against his body, clenched tightly.  

 

"Shut it down! Shut it down!" Zelenka was yelling, pounding up next to them.  Everything sounded fuzzy to Ren, like someone had wrapped a piece of foam around his head.  He was aware of feet pounding up next to him, and then Zelenka was louder in his ears, shouting at him. "Ren! McKay! Are you okay?  Medical team to the Jumper Bay!  We’ve two injured!"

 

Ren, still trembling something fierce, somehow managed to get up onto his knees, and his eyes lifted from McKay’s face to see both Garron and Radek practically on top of them.  His brother was quicker, pulling him up off the ground and away from McKay, worried blue eyes looking him over from head to toe.  He whimpered a little when the older boy grabbed at his lower arms, and turned them over to see that they were bright red, as if from a nasty sunburn.

 

"Ow," he said softly, tears falling more freely now.  Garron reacted, drawing him in close and hugging him tightly. 

 

"You idiot," the older boy whispered softly, "You total idiot.  Don’t ever do that to me again."

 

Ren sniffled, turning his head so that he could see back to where McKay and Zelenka were.

 

The Czech was leaning over the still prone McKay, talking to him quietly.  Rodney was answering back, his voice rough with pain.  Ren couldn’t hear exactly what he was saying, but like a dam had broken, guilt started washing over him in huge waves. Over at the jumper, Bryce, Sanchez and the young marine were jogging over, confusion on their faces.

 

"Is…is he hurt badly?" Ren asked, too softly to be heard by anyone but his brother.  So, Garron repeated the question for him.

 

"I don’t know," Zelenka replied curtly, glancing over at them.  "His back..." Zelenka grimaced. "It’s pretty badly burnt.  He took most of the burn from the engine."  He shook his head, looking at McKay again.  They could see that Rodney was resting his forehead against the ground, looking like he was just trying to breathe.

 

"Did he…he saved my life, didn’t he?" Ren asked, his voice very small now.  He felt Garron’s arm’s tighten around him at the question.

 

Radek just nodded.

 

Ren grimaced and closed his eyes.  He was beginning to feel sick, nauseous.  He didn’t want to think anymore.

 

Luckily, he didn’t have to, because Beckett and a full medical team burst into the jumper bay and took over.

_____________________________________________

 

No one got Beef Wellington that night.

 

Neera sat in the conference room, plucking at the dark military issue trousers she had been given, listening to the explanation of what had happened in the Jumper Bay.  Bryce’s team had already given their story, and then Zelenka had given his.  Carson was the one speaking now, updating them on McKay and Ren’s conditions. Her eyes remained downcast as she took it all in, not ready yet to take part.

 

Ren, luckily, only had first degree burns on his arms and parts of his face.  Still, he was feeling sick and shaky, so Carson was letting him stay in the infirmary overnight. 

 

McKay had first and second degree burns on his upper and middle back, and on his upper arms and shoulders, where he had shielded the boy.  He’d be okay, but the skin would be tender for a couple of weeks, and the pain was pretty nasty.  He was going to be a patient in the infirmary for a couple of nights until the swellings went down.

 

Neera knew she should be upset—desperately worried about Ren or scared about what could have happened.  Instead, all she felt was anger. What the hell had Ren been thinking?  Both he and McKay were lucky that the engine test had failed, or they’d probably both be suffering third degree burns if not worse!  Part of her wanted to strangle the boy for being so careless, for nearly killing them both, and the other to whip Garron for letting the younger boy be so carefree with his curiosity!  She didn’t care how old they were, it was no excuse for…

 

"Neera?"

 

Neera blinked, looking up.  She found several sets of eyes watching her—they looked like they had been watching her for a while.

 

"Sorry?" she said, obviously a little out of it.  Elizabeth gave her a warm smile.

 

"Are you okay?"

 

"Oh," Neera gave a light shrug, "Yes, I’m sorry.  I was just thinking about…about how close we came to losing…." She trailed off, leaning an arm against the table and covering her eyes with her hand.

 

"We understand, believe me," Elizabeth said, her eyes soft, "But…I think this event tells us that we need to start thinking about the children a little more than we may have been."

 

Neera frowned slightly, lowering the hand. "What do you mean?"

 

"She means," Sheppard leaned forward, giving her his own version of ‘understanding smile,’ "that Atlantis may not be the safest place for them to be wandering around.  We spoke before about finding them something to do, to keep them safe while you worked here, but I don’t think it’s working.  The people working here just aren’t used to watching out for," he shrugged, "well, kids."

 

Neera’s lips pinched, her eyes narrowing slightly, "Are you saying…you want us to leave?"

 

"We don’t want you to leave," Elizabeth said, grimacing a little, "but it may be what’s in their best interest.  I just don’t think it’s safe or beneficial for the children to stay here in the City.  Garron, perhaps, is old enough to recognize the dangers, but Freya and Ren are so young…."  She shrugged, "Plus, as we mentioned before, I can only imagine that they would be happier with other children their own age, of which there are many on the Mainland, a number of whom are refugees as well."

 

Neera studied them for a moment, then lowered her eyes. "So…that would mean, I couldn’t stay in the kitchens, right?"

 

"I’m afraid so," Elizabeth said, sighing slightly. "Believe me, we really wish you could stay—your help this past week in the mess…well, I think you have the heart and souls of half the science staff already." She smiled lightly, then shook her head, "But…you know the children won’t go without you, Neera."

 

"But," Sheppard held up a finger, "that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t still visit.  Come, say, once a week to whip up a masterful dish for one and all."  He offered his most charming smile…which Neera ignored by lowering her eyes again.

 

"I see." Neera grimaced, not the slightest bit interested in the idea, and her lack of enthusiasm was clear to all.  Looking up again, she saw Elizabeth glancing worriedly at Sheppard, then to Carson on the far side.  The physician gave a small shrug.

 

Elizabeth sighed, "Neera, believe me, if I thought…"

 

"It’s fine.  I understand.  We’ll go." Neera stood up, looking tired, "So…when do we have to leave?"

 

Elizabeth stared at her a minute, biting her lips, then shrugged. "Why don’t we contact the Mainland, ask them to set up a place for you, and, once it’s ready, you can head out?"

 

Neera nodded, "And how long does that usually take?"

 

"A week, perhaps?" Elizabeth said. "It should give Ren time enough to heal, and for everyone to get used to the idea. And you can come back to the City anytime you want, Neera.  You and the children.  If we could afford the jumpers to head over every day, we’d get you as often as that.  The Athosians come often, especially when—"

 

"Fine," Neera said, cutting them off. "One week.  I’ll tell the children." 

 

Turning, she walked swiftly out of the room, not looking back.  Behind her, she heard Sheppard say sarcastically, "That went well."

__________________________________

 

"One week," Freya said, pouting and leaning against Neera.  They had just returned from the infirmary, where they had visited a very unhappy Ren. "But…he’s not well."

 

"I know," the older woman said, hugging the child closer. "We’ll just have to hope he’s well enough to travel by then."

 

"He can rest when we get there," Garron said, standing on the far side of the living room in the small suite of quarters the four of them had been assigned.  He had his back to her, staring out the window with his arms crossed.  The City rose majestically before him, and he was looking over at the Control Tower in the center, as if he could see inside it.

 

"I suppose he will have to," Neera said, sighing. "I suppose, it doesn’t really change our plans.  Just…hastens them."  She looked up, catching Garron’s eyes as he turned around to look at her.  "Will you be ready?"

 

Garron sighed, then nodded. "I've had some problems with the Satedan.  He's made it harder to set things up, but...yes. I think so."

 

Neera just raised her eyebrows at him, "It's not a matter of 'think so'.  We'll have to be ready."

 

Garron nodded more forcefully, "We will be."

_____________________________________

 

Ren sat up in his infirmary bed, leaning against the gray wall, his thin arms around his knees.  He was looking across at McKay, sleeping on his stomach on the next cot.  There were light gauzy bandages on the man’s back, covering the worst of the wounds, and the rest was covered in an oily looking substance, making the pink, puckered skin almost shiny.

 

Lowering his eyes, he sighed softly and looked towards the clock on the wall.  Almost 2:30 in the morning.  Everyone else was asleep, except for a couple of Beckett’s staff on night duty. 

 

McKay muttered something and turned his head, so that now he was facing towards Ren.  The expression on his face was tense, as if from a bad dream.  He muttered something again, and this time, Ren caught the name—"Kolya." 

 

Ren bit his lip, watching the emotions flashing across the expressive face.  Even in sleep, McKay was an open book.

 

Releasing a shaky breath, he turned and slid off the side of the infirmary bed, wincing a little at the cold floor under his bare feet, and tiptoed over to McKay’s cot.

 

Reaching up, he placed his small hand on the older man's sweating head, feeling the heat radiating off of it.   With a wry grimaced , he gently started to brush back the man’s damp hair, thinking about the way his own mother used to do this for him.

 

"Everything’s good," he said softly. "Everyone’s fine."

 

McKay’s brow furrowed darkly, and he mumbled something like, "No, don't hurt her."

 

Ren's eyes narrowed, frowning.  He lifted his hand away and let it drop by his side. "I'm sorry, Doctor McKay," he whispered. "I'm really sorry." 

 

Eventually, McKay's frown lessened, settling into a calmer state.  Ren looked down at the floor, curling his toes against the cold tile. 

 

"I just," Ren sighed softly, and looked up at the ceiling, fighting back tears, "I just want you to know…whatever happens..." He grimaced, swallowed, and bit his lip. Reaching up, he touched McKay's head again. "Thank you for this week.  It's been the best week of my life."

 

McKay didn't answer.  He was deeply asleep now.  Ren nodded in acceptance and simply turned to walk back to his own cot and climb back in. 

 

Not too long after that, he was fast asleep.

______________________________________

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: MAKING LITTLE BOYS CRY

 

Teyla stepped out of the jumper, smiling at Ronon who was leaning against one of the exit doors to the Jumper Bay.  He nodded at her as she handed some items to one of the Athosians with her, then headed over to his side.

 

"Ronon," she smiled, "this is a nice surprise."

 

The Satedan nodded, looking vaguely towards the people still exiting the jumper, along with the various food stuffs that had been transported in.  Marines were helping off-load.  Another group of Athosians and refugees were standing nearby, waiting to be taken back to the Mainland, along with a pile of goods.  Off to the side, Jumper Three was fixed and sitting back in its dock, but Jumper One, the jumper which McKay, Ren and Zelenka had been fiddling with several days earlier, was still open, waiting for McKay to return to active duty—which was probably tomorrow.  Ronon took it all in with an air of distraction.  Teyla's eyes narrowed.

 

"Ronon?"  Then her eyebrows lifted, a hint of real worry touching her face, "Is Doctor McKay all right?  I heard of the accident, but was told that, though painful, he would be fine...."

 

A smile quirked on Ronon's face as he shook his head. "Well, you missed some pretty impressive whining.  I don't know how Sheppard can stand to sit with him as much as he does."

 

Teyla smiled slight as well, a knowing look on her face, "Well, I admit...I did not argue very hard when the Colonel told me not to come back early."

 

Ronon nodded again.  He was still not looking at her.  Her smile fell, brow furrowing. 

 

"How was the Mainland?" he asked.

 

"It was pleasant," Teyla replied, following his gaze, then looking back up at him. "It is always nice to get over there for a few days, see my old friends.  I should go more often."  Her eyes narrowed slightly, as she realized he wasn’t really listening. "Ronon…what’s the matter?"

 

He frowned, glancing down at her.  Instead of answering, he asked another question.

 

"Has a place been set up for Neera and the children?"

 

She nodded, still studying him appraisingly. "I think they will like it.  It is spare, but serviceable.  There is already talk about trying to find a way to bring some of the unused kitchen equipment to the Mainland, so that she can continue her art.  Not before they move there, of course, but soon. I know Doctor Kusanagi was looking into setting up a more efficient electricity system to…."  She stopped, tilted her head, then took his arm.  Somewhere in the middle of her sentence, he had drifted off again.

 

"All right, enough," she stated seriously. "What is it?"

 

"Something’s wrong," he said.

 

"With?"

 

"Those people."

 

She frowned, turning to look at the people in the jumper bay.  "What is wrong with them?"

 

"Not those people," he corrected gruffly. "With Neera and…her three children."

 

"I do not understand," she said, frowning slightly.  "I know I have been away, but all the reports have said that they were settling in—"

 

"I tried following the oldest boy, Garron, one day…and he gave me the slip."

 

She frowned more deeply, "The slip?  You mean, you lost him?"

 

"I mean," Ronon said, finally looking at her directly, "that he intentionally got away from me."

 

She lifted her eyebrows, "Well, perhaps he did not wish to be followed."

 

"Teyla," he said, staring at her hard.

 

"Yes?"

 

"Think about who you are talking to."

 

She arched an eyebrow, but…then it dawned on her what he meant.  Ronon was a phenomenally good tracker, and he had the benefit of knowing this City now very well.  For Garron to have gotten away from him…

 

"It could not have been luck?" she asked, her voice soft.

 

"Unlikely."

 

"But," she held up a finger, "it is possible."

 

He shook his head, "It’s not just that."  He shrugged, glancing around the bay again, then up at something in one of the overhead docks, as if at something in particular. "I’m pretty sure the little girl…I saw something in her expression one day…it may have been a trick of the light, but I saw her looking at Sheppard as he chatted with Beckett in the infirmary…and there was hatred on her face."

 

"Hatred," Teyla repeated, frowning. "But…she’s, what, eight?"

 

"I know what I saw."

 

She gave a small smile, "Are you certain it wasn’t jealousy?  Lieutenant Cadman flew out one of the groups this week, and she confided in me that she thought Freya was getting a little too attached to Doctor Beckett.  She said she even caught a few dark stares sent her way as well."

 

Ronon frowned, "But why would Freya be jealous because of Sheppard?"

 

"Probably she is jealous of anyone taking up Carson’s time when she is with him."  She reached up, resting a hand on his arm.  "Ronon, I understand that you are…not comfortable with the number of refugees we bring in.  You have voiced your dislike of how soft-hearted the Atlantians are on a number of occasions.  So…perhaps you are reading too deeply?"

 

His expression went from dark to angry, and he shook his arm free. "I expected you to listen to me," he stated gruffly.  Teyla’s eyes widened in surprise.

 

"I did," she countered, "I simply do not agree."

 

"How can you know?" he demanded roughly. "You haven’t been here."

 

"I just…Ronon, if you expect me to start scrutinizing the actions of children, you are going to have to give me more to go on.  Nothing I have heard here, or from others, suggests that they are anything but exactly what they seem."

 

The Satedan stared at her a moment longer, then turned on his heel and left.  The abrupt dismissal made Teyla frown, but she didn’t stop him.  Looking down at the floor, then back at the crowded bay, she wondered if she should have taken him more seriously. 

 

Grimacing, she shook her head and walked back to help with the unloading. 

 

————————————————————————————

 

Sitting above them, precariously balanced between two of the platforms holding up the jumpers on the upper levels of the bay, Garron watched Ronon leave Teyla behind and head out.  He hadn’t been able to hear the conversation, but, for a moment, he thought he had caught Ronon’s eyes on him.  Sure, he was hidden up here, but that Satedan was smart. 

 

And he knew Ronon didn’t trust him.

 

His eyes narrowed.

 

The problem was...he found himself wanting, almost desperately, to somehow earn the man's respect.  He couldn't do that if Ronon was dead. 

 

Which, again...was a problem. 

 

————————————————————————————

 

Neera's cooking only seemed to grow in perfection as the week progressed, as if she were putting everything she could into every meal.  Soon everyone, even the ones who "only ate at their desks" and the ones who were "watching their diet" were regularly coming to the mess hall, filling it to the brim.  Seats were getting hard to come by, even for the injured.

 

About five days after the "incident" with Jumper Three, McKay, walking stiffly and wearing a scowl that made even Ronon feel a bit nervous about approaching him, walked into the mess hall for dinner and stood over a table until the two scientists sitting there nervously left.  Sliding gingerly into a seat, he made sure his back was to the wall and watched the food line.

 

Ren came out, carrying two trays, smiling brightly.  Sheppard was on his heels, grinning and carrying his own tray.  McKay slumped at the sight of the boy, then emitted a soft "ouch" and sat up straight again.  He was still grimacing painfully when Ren and Sheppard sat down.

 

"Look who I found!" Sheppard said happily, slapping Ren on the back a bit.  The boy just grinned wide and slipped one of the trays towards McKay, who took it begrudgingly. 

 

"Can't believe you made him carry my tray," McKay muttered, glaring at Sheppard. "Boy's injured."

 

"He insisted," Sheppard said, shrugging.  "Besides, his arms are almost healed. No worse than sitting out in the sun too long."

 

"Uh huh."

 

"Plus, he's tough," Sheppard arched an eyebrow at Rodney, "Unlike some astrophysicists I know."

 

"Hey, second degree burns here!  Pain meds! Infirmary stay!"

 

"Yeah, sure," Sheppard shrugged, "whatever, McKay.  We all know you're just a big baby, don't we, Ren?"  The boy just smiled as Sheppard patted his shoulder, the colonel's eyes bright with amusement.

 

In return, McKay just sneered and stuck his tongue out, causing Sheppard to laugh.

 

Ren, meanwhile, suddenly reached over with his knife and fork and speared the steak on McKay's plate, causing McKay to jump a little as the metal hit the tray with a twang.

 

"Hey!" McKay held out a hand at the boy, not hiding his shock, "What are you doing?  That's mine!"

 

"I know it's yours," Ren smiled as he started to cut it up. "I'm not going to take it. I figured it might hurt your back to saw at the meat, so I'm cutting it for you."

 

McKay stared at him with wide eyes, then look at the colonel.  Sheppard was no help, happily chewing away on his own meal. 

 

"Look," McKay said, then grabbed Ren's right hand, "Look!  Stop!  You don't have to cut my meat for me!"

 

"Yes, I do," Ren said, shaking McKay's hand off and returning to his cutting.

 

"No," McKay grabbed the boy's hand more forcefully this time and lifted it up, "You really don't."  He spoke tensely, pushing Ren's hands back roughly. "Leave it alone."

 

Ren stared at the half cut meat, then up at McKay.  "You're hurt.  You shouldn't be..."

 

"I'm fine!" McKay said, and he proceeded to cut at his own steak, but couldn't hide the slight wince as he pulled his back muscles.

 

"See?" Ren reached over and started cutting again. "Let me do it.  It's the least I can—"

 

"REN!" McKay snapped, shoving the boy's hands again, "Stop it!  Now! I don't need your help!"

 

Ren jumped at the shout and stared at him with brilliantly wide eyes.

 

Then, suddenly, he burst into tears. 

 

Before McKay had a chance to say anything else, the boy was up out of his chair and running out of the mess.

 

No one was more shocked than McKay.  He turned a bewildered stare on the Colonel, then down at his tray, then towards where Ren had gone.

 

"What...?" McKay's eyes looked around at the other eyes at the table (and neighboring ones) who were all staring at him darkly. "What'd I do?"

 

Sheppard was grimacing in sympathy. "I think you made a little boy cry," he offered honestly.

 

"Oh God, I did, didn't I?" McKay looked back at the colonel. "What, suddenly he's sensitive?"

 

Sheppard just shrugged, and McKay sighed heavily, looking again towards the doors

 

"Crap." He grimaced, glancing at Sheppard again, "Should I, uh...you know...."  he gestured towards the doors.

 

"Yeah," Sheppard said, shrugging again, "probably."

 

"Hell. Why me?"  McKay slumped, winced again in pain and straightened his shoulders again.  "Aw, damn it.  I don't wanna go.  Can't you...?"

 

"No."

 

"I didn't think so.  Damn it."  His fingers twitched where they were hovering over his tray. "But I'm hurt!"

 

The colonel gave him a dark smile. "Big baby," he needled softly.

 

Rodney glared at his alleged best friend and stood up, "Fine."  He stared at the food for a moment, then shoved it towards Sheppard.  "Save that for me." 

 

Sheppard grinned, taking the tray as McKay slid out of the table and started to walk away.  "I'll give it to Ronon," he called after the scientist.

 

"Don't you dare!" McKay said, turning his torso to stare back at Sheppard and flinching as it pulled on his back. "Ouch! Damn it!"

 

"Made you look!" Sheppard grinned.

 

"You're such a cretin!"  McKay strode swiftly away, his shoulders straight once more.

 

"What's a cretin, again?  A handsome, roguish colonel?  Because that'd be about right!"

 

"Keep trying, Colonel!  Just don't give it to Ronon!"

 

Sheppard just smiled, and dumped McKay's food onto his tray as the man disappeared out the far doors.  After a moment, he added Ren's then stood up and carried the laden tray out of the mess...heading slowly towards Zelenka's lab.  Someone there was bound to be hungry...

 

————————————————————————————

 

McKay found Ren pretty easily—he was in the Jumper Bay, sitting inside the jumper he and Zelenka had been working on before the accident. He was curled up on the bench on the right hand side, crying softly into his knees.  The bay itself was dark—the lights set for nighttime.

 

The scientist had turned around twice on his way towards the jumper, then turned around again and forced himself forward.  Being afraid of talking to a child was just absurd....But, come on, he was no good with kids!  And, frankly, didn't want to be.  So, why the hell had this one attached himself to him?

 

Part of him argued that he should turn around now, head far, far away.  After all, his problem was solved!  Surely, Ren would leave him alone now....and yet...

 

He was also well aware that the boy wasn't suddenly crying because Rodney had yelled at him.  He was crying because of something else.

 

And Rodney had a good idea what it was.  He felt the same pain himself every time someone got hurt because of something he did—and still remembered the overwhelming guilt the first time it had happened.  For that reason, he also knew that, unfortunately, he was the only one who could probably talk to Ren right now to make it better.

 

Crap.

 

He stood on the edge of the back hatch of the open jumper, sighed heavily, then walked up inside and sat down on the bench opposite Ren.

 

"Stop crying," he ordered, the tone tired.

 

Amazingly, it worked.  Ren looked up, face red and puffy, eyes still streaming.

 

"What do you want?" the boy demanded petulantly

 

"To talk you out of...giving up," Rodney replied, shifting a little in the seat to alleviate some of the needlelike pains in his upper back.

 

Ren's brow furrowed, confused. "Giving up?"

 

McKay made a face, then sighed, leaning forward to rest his arms on his knees.

 

"Look, let's face it, you're upset because you nearly got me and you killed, right?  Because your curiosity nearly blew up in your face...literally...."  He tilted his head slightly, allowing some of the white bandage under his light cotton shirt to peek out. "So...I'm here to say that you'd be an idiot if you let something like what happened stop you from doing...," he waved a hand around, "what you've been doing."

 

Ren was staring at him with wide eyes, a touch of disbelief in them.

 

"You...you think I'm crying because...because I'm scared of causing another accident?"

 

Rodney stared guilelessly at the boy's brown eyes, brow furrowed slightly. "Aren't you?"

 

Ren just stared at him for a long time, then, slowly, nodded. "Kinda."

 

"Kinda?" Rodney repeated, eyebrows lifting slightly.

 

"I...I'm afraid that..." Ren bit his lip, and looked outside the jumper at the bay.  After a moment, he got up and moved to sit right next to Rodney.  The scientist did his best not to slide away as the boy pressed up against the side of his arm then leaned against it.  "I'm afraid," Ren said again, very softly, "of hurting someone again...because of something I do."

 

Rodney stared at him a moment, then, because his arm was also slightly burnt and it was too hot to have the boy leaning against it (at least, that's what he told himself), pulled the arm free and rested it gently around Ren's thin shoulders.  A second later, he lifted it away, because it felt stupid, but by then, Ren was sort of resting against his chest.

 

"I see," he said, speaking softly to the top of the boy's head. "Thing is, Ren...we're all afraid of that."  He paused a moment, then took a deep breath and plunged on. "Did Radek tell you about Doranda?"  At Ren's shake of his head, Rodney gave a rueful smile and looked up away from the boy, out the back of the jumper.

 

"Doranda...is where I made my worst mistake.  I did something on that planet which I regret.  Really, really regret.  I pursued something that nearly got Colonel Sheppard killed, because I refused to temper my pride."  He frowned, still staring out at the darkened bay.  "And it took me a while to...face what I'd done, but...fact is, mistakes happen.  We all make them.  Some of us not as often as others..." he gave a tiny smile, then let it fade, "but if we didn't try and fail...we'd never learn.  We'd still be living in caves, too afraid to come out, too afraid of our own ideas to even think. And things would never change."

 

Ren sat there for a moment, his head resting against the top of McKay's chest.  Then, quietly, he asked, "But...would things never changing...be so terrible?"

 

McKay stiffened, and forced himself to breathe out his first reaction to that statement...which was to get angry.  Instead, he pushed Ren away and stood up, walking to the other side of the Jumper and turning to face the boy.  Resting his hands on his hips, he stared down into the still reddened eyes and shook his head.

 

"I'm going to forgive you for that statement," he said quietly, his tone very even, "because you...were crying...but I don't want to ever hear it again, you understand?  I never, ever what to hear you think it's better to hide than to use your brain! Everything changes, Ren, and we have to keep up with it. That's what keeps us alive!"

 

Ren's brow furrowed, "But..."

 

"No! No, you listen to me, Ren...whatever-your-last-name-is..."

 

"Lorrel."

 

"...Ren Lorrel, because I'm only going to say this once!"  He stuck a finger out at the boy, causing Ren to flinch back a little, "If you learn nothing else from me, remember this...that it's better to cause accidents than be too scared to learn about something, or to make something better, or to create something, or to change how we see the world. It's worth the risk! Always. You just have to learn to find ways to lessen that risk.  Next time you want to see a malfunctioning engine pod up close, announce your presence to the people working on it! And voila," Rodney threw his hands out wide, "risk reduced!"

 

"Voila?  What's—"

 

"Are you listening to me, or not?"

 

Ren nodded quickly, "Yes, sir."

 

"Ugh," Rodney winced, "don't call me sir.  You sound like a marine. Just call me Doctor McKay."  He took in a quick breath, blinked for a moment, then frowned.  He'd lost his train of thought. "Okay...what was I saying?"

 

"That, uh," Ren frowned, "that I should cause more accidents?"

 

Rodney's eyes widened, then rolled, "Oh for...No!  No," he lifted his hands up, "I don't want you to cause more accidents!  No, I'm telling you to...to...."  He bounced a second, then started again, eyes focused on the boy. "Okay, here's what I'm saying.  When you have an idea, don't be afraid to implement it because you're afraid to cause an accident, just remember to consider all the variables of the situation first.  Which is what you've been watching me do all week.  Why do you think I constantly swap around equations, run simulations, adjust things....Because I'm not just trying to make something work, I'm trying to make it work effectively, with the least amount of risk.  It's..." he looked around, and then pointed at the cockpit, "it's just like your belts and gravity idea.  We want to increase power to the shield—that's the goal.  That's the change we want to make, the endgame we wish to win. And it's an easy one to achieve.  There are a hundred different things that could be done.  But, most of them create too much risk for the pilot and his team.  So, you come up with ways to lessen the risk to them."

 

Ren glanced at the cockpit, then back at McKay. "My belt and gravity idea?  You thought it was good?"

 

"What?  No, Ren, you're missing my point!  My point is that, every time we make a mistake here, or something happens that forces us to rethink how we do something—whether it be an accident, or something worse—we try to fix it.  We don't just give up.  We...we....what are you doing?  Sit down!"

 

But Ren wasn't listening.  He was on his feet, smiling, walking towards the cockpit and back again. At McKay's frustrated order for him to sit down, his smile just grew bigger.

 

"So my idea was good?" Ren pressed again.

 

"Ren, will you focus?  Yes, it was good!  We'll probably try to implement it.  But that's not the point I'm trying to...oh, stop smiling!  I didn't say that to make you smile!"

 

But Ren couldn't help it, he was grinning like a fool.

 

McKay grimaced, "Ugh. Please...stop that. Every time you smile, I feel ill."

 

"Sorry."  Ren looked chagrined.  McKay winced even more.

 

"Oh, that's even worse.  I hate that word.  Instead of apologizing, just make it up to me, okay?"

 

"How?"

 

"Promise me...that no matter what mistakes you make, that you'll spend your life trying to fix them, not hiding from them.  And that you'll never stop learning."

 

Ren's brow furrowed.

 

"Promise me!" McKay said, more forcefully.

 

"Okay!" Ren said quickly. "I promise."

 

"Good," McKay said, then, more softly. "Good.  Because," he shrugged, "it'd be waste otherwise."

 

"A waste?"

 

McKay's jaw tensed, then he nodded. "Don't let it go to your head but," he swallowed, his voice growing very soft, almost inaudible, "you're not a complete idiot, Ren. You've got...talent.  More so than a lot of people here.  You could go far. If you...really want to."

 

Ren's eyes grew wide.

 

McKay backed away and looked down at the floor. "Anyway...that's all I wanted to say."  Turning abruptly, he started to walk out of the jumper, still feeling a bit queasy from the whole conversation. Talking to kids just...so wasn't him.

 

"Wait!" Ren called, "Doctor McKay!"

 

Rodney paused at the foot of the ramp, then, slowly, turned all the way around. "Yeah?"

 

"You gonna be in your lab at seven tomorrow morning?  It's my last day on Atlantis, you know."

 

McKay stared at him a moment, then, with a rueful smile, gave a single nod before turning around again to walk away.

 

He didn't need to see the huge grin on Ren's face.  He could feel it from where he was standing, burning through him like the energy of a hundred engine pods.

_______________________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: THE LEOPARDS SHOW THEIR SPOTS

 

Garron leaned against the far wall of the mess hall kitchens, inside the shadows, watching Neera lording over the handful of marines and scientists ordered to staff it for today's dinner.  They ran around like mice under her control, doing everything she ordered.  Her commands were as sharp as whip cracks, and the "sous chefs" leapt to answer. 

 

You can change its environment, but you can’t change a leopard’s spots...especially when that leopard was used to being a military commander.

 

Garron lifted his eyebrows when Neera glanced over at him, and he indicated for her to join him in the shadows with a head tilt.  She grimaced, spat out some more orders, then headed over to meet him.

 

"What is it?" she asked, keeping her voice low.  "I don’t have a lot of time.  We’re making something called Crème Brulee for dessert, and the blowtorches they dropped off are way too big."

 

"In here," he replied, indicating the meat locker off to the side.  He pushed off the wall and headed inside, Neera on his tail.  Shutting the door behind them, he waited until the refrigerator noise kicked on to re-establish the temperature inside before speaking.

 

"I was thinking about changing the plan," he said.  Her eyes narrowed.

 

"Why?"

 

"Because of this," Garron pulled a small tube out of his pocket, and waved it at Neera.  She frowned, not recognizing it.  It looked like a short, fat marker pen.  Garron handed it over to her.

 

"It’s some sort of virus gene thing," he explained, as Neera popped it open to reveal the needle on the inside. "It gives them the Ancient gene, which is how so many of them can work the Ancestor’s equipment.  They’ve managed to recreate the gene in about 48% of all cases."

 

"Half the population," Neera breathed, nodding in wonder. "So they’re not naturally gifted."

 

"Some of them are, but not many. Funny thing—apparently, McKay was the first successful human trial, according to Freya.  She found it while going through Beckett’s files.  Beckett's the brains behind it.  He’s also been working on some sort of anti-Wraith virus as well.  Sounds like he’s close."

 

Neera frowned, looking up. "Anti-Wraith?  Really?"

 

"Freya’s still trying to read and compile all the notes, but she thinks that is what he’s working on now, based on what she’s overheard while following him around."

 

Neera stared at him a moment, her eyes narrowing.  "Well, this is interesting information, Garron, but I don’t see how it changes the plan."

 

"I just think it’s worth considering…" he shrugged, "taking more than just Beckett’s notes."

 

Neera’s chin lifted, eyes lit with understanding. "You mean you want to kidnap Beckett himself."

 

He gave a single nod, "Yes."

 

"No."

 

He frowned, sulking slightly, "Why not?"

 

"Because Beckett’s already an integral part of the plan.  A plan we were told not to deviate from.  Who would take his place?"

 

"Doctor Weir."

 

Neera shook her head, "Please.  She’s too savvy.  Plus, none of us have spent any time with her."

 

"Then, what about Lieutenant Cadman?  Freya’s been…"

 

"She’s a skilled soldier.  Too risky."

 

"Okay, how about—"

 

"No!" Neera reached out, grabbing Garron’s shoulder and holding it tightly. "You’re not going to keep throwing names out at me unless you have a plausible scenario to back it up."  She stepped closer, "Listen to me.  If you want to change a plan, you need to have something viable to change it to.  This is too delicate to mess with—we’re not changing the plan without knowing exactly where the cards will fall if we do.  Right now, you have an idea.  It’s a good idea, and, with more time, we might have figured out a way to do exactly as you’ve suggested.  But your brother's stupid accident screwed us over, and we’ve only got a few hours before we implement the plan.  It’s shaky as it is.  So, I ask you…do you have a real alternate plan?  Or not?"  

 

Garron grimaced, his eyes dark as he glared back at her, "No."

 

"Then this discussion is over."

 

"At the very least, then," Garron pressed, "we should steal as much of these tubes as possible.  Perhaps our own scientists can learn to synthesize it for our own use."

 

She nodded, "That, we can do."

 

Garron just gave her an obvious look, and she gave him a dark look back.

 

"I have to go," she said, handing the tube back turning around to reach for the door handle.

 

"Commander, wait!" Garron grabbed her arm. "If I can come up with a way to kidnap Beckett, one that works within the plan laid out, will you listen?"

 

She stared at him for a moment, then shook her arm free.  "Yes.  But only if you have it by the time I return to our quarters tonight.  If you don’t…forget it.  We go as planned.  We’ve very little time now, Garron, remember that, and everything’s in place for the current plan.  Changing it now…."  She raised her eyebrows.

 

Garron grimaced but nodded, sighing slightly as she then walked out of the refrigerator without a glance back. 

 

He shivered slightly at the cold…then left himself a little while later.

__________________________________________

 

Freya feigned interest in drawing a picture on Beckett’s desk as Carson said goodnight to Cadman, waiting for him to fetch her for dinner.  Freya had already “booked” Carson for both dinner and breakfast, seeing as they were the last ones Freya was supposed to have on Atlantis before they were to be shipped off to the Mainland.  Beckett, soft soul that he was, didn’t mind.  The blonde lieutenant seemed less pleased, but seemed willing to give up her date with him.

 

Ren had the job of keeping an eye on Cadman to make sure she didn’t go looking for Beckett later that night.  If she did, Ren would sidetrack her with some excuse about wanting to talk about McKay.  Turned out, Cadman loved to talk about McKay—considered herself the resident expert on the man, even though she didn’t hang out with him much.  It was strange.  Made Freya wonder if Cadman had dated McKay first, before turning conquesting eyes on Beckett. 

 

Freya didn’t like Cadman.  She was, as most adults are, condescending to children.  Freya was the first to admit that she was still a kid, but she wasn’t eight, as everyone here thought.  She was almost as old as Ren, just small for her age.  Came from growing up sick most of the time.  Her mother had died in childbirth, and her father…died last year.  Of course, she was part of the community, but…she did wish, sometimes, that her father had lived long enough to see her fully back on her feet. 

 

And doing her duty for the good of her people.

 

She was going to make her father proud.  Even if he wasn’t here to see it.

 

“Lass?” Beckett’s voice called.  Freya looked up, then smiled to see Carson leaning into the office to see her.

 

“You ready?” Beckett asked, eyebrows lifted.  

 

Freya nodded, smiling some more, and slid out of the chair to follow him out.  She would be so glad when she didn't have to smile like this anymore.

 

Her drawing of a Wraith, she left behind.

_____________________________________________

 

Neera woke them all at three in the morning with light shakes.  Nodding to each one, she patted each on the head to wish them good luck.  Then she left.

 

About five minutes later, Freya followed her out.

 

Ren, still half dressed from having staked out Cadman’s rooms until a couple of hours before, sat up on his bed, and curled his arms around his knees.  He shivered slightly.

 

He jumped when he felt something heavy placed around his shoulders, and looked up to see Garron staring down at him, adjusting the blanket he'd given to him.  There was a touch of concern in the older boy’s eyes—Garron hid it most of the time, but he did love his brother.  Just…not as much as he loved himself.

 

“You ready?” the teenager asked.  Ren blinked, then, with a nervous swallow, nodded, turning his head forward again to rest his chin on his bent knees.

 

“Yeah.  You?”

 

Garron just smiled confidently, and sat down next to him, wrapping an arm around the younger boy.

 

“It’ll be over soon, Ren.  In less than a day, we’ll be home, praised as returning heroes.  People will remember our names for a long time because of this.  The black mark our mother put on the Lorrell name will be erased.  You’ll see.”

 

“Yeah,” Ren said, looking down at the gray blanket covering his legs. “I know.”

 

Garron was still watching him—he could feel the older boy’s stare on his face, felt the concern grow into confusion at the lackluster response.  Three weeks ago, Ren would have done anything Garron asked, just to make his older brother happy.

 

He wasn’t so sure anymore. 

 

His brother nudged him softly.

 

“Don’t you want to be famous, Ren?” Garron asked.

 

Ren turned his head to look at him, resting the side of his face on his knees.  “Is…is that the only reason you’re doing this, Garron?  To be famous?”

 

Garron grimaced, taking in a deep breath before answering..

 

“No, Ren, it’s not just for that, and you know it,” he said softly. “This isn’t about fame—it’s about duty.  And it’s about our future.  If we succeed, which I know we will, we’ll be bringing our people both knowledge and technology beyond anything we have now.  It’ll be a huge advantage in the fight for control of this galaxy.”

 

“Just,” Ren sighed, “why do we have to control the galaxy, Garron?  The Atlantians honestly only seem interested in defeating the Wraith, learning about stuff and helping people.”

 

“Oh, please, helping people?” Garron pulled his arm away and stood up to glare down at his brother.  “Don’t you get it, Ren? That’s exactly how they exert their control!” He sneered then, pacing away from the bed, “They control through their gestures of help and false kindness.  Like the way tamers trap wild animals—encourage them close with promises of food, only to snare them to eat later.  The Atlantians make people dependant on them, make them need their help.” He paced back to stare down at Ren, the angry frown on his face clear. “Everything out of their mouths is sophistry, can’t you see that?  They deceive to make us think they’re not after the same thing we are.  To rule!”

 

Ren grimaced, thinking about the people he’d met.  They didn’t seem to want to rule anything.

 

“But, why do we have to rule, Garron?”

 

“To make things better for everyone, Ren.  Why else?”

 

“Everyone, who?”  He looked up, “You and me?  Will our people ruling the galaxy make things better for you and me?”

 

“What?” Garron looked honestly confused by the question.

 

“Because I don’t think our leaders care about us, Garron.  I think they just want to rule us too.”

 

Garron stared at him with wide eyes, then a fire lit in his eyes…and he slapped the younger boy hard across the face.

 

“Don’t talk that way, Ren.  Don’t ever say that to me again.  You take that back!”

 

Ren was holding his burning face, trying not to shed the tears that had come unbidden to his eyes.  Quickly, he nodded. “I’m sorry,” he whimpered, “I didn’t mean it.  I take it back.  I take it back.  I just…I just….I’m sorry.”  He buried his face in his knees.

 

Garron watched him for a moment, feeling the guilt from the tingling still tickling his palm and fingers.  With a sad expression, he sat down again on the bed.  Ren shifted away from him a little.

 

“Listen to me, little brother,” he said, resting his hand lightly on the boy’s shoulder. “I know how much you’ve fallen in love with this place and the things here…maybe even some of the people too…but this isn’t our home.  We don’t belong here.  All this stuff,” he gestured at the room, “is nothing but fancy technology and bright lights.  You want to learn, to make something useful of yourself, you do what I did, and study to be a soldier.  That’s how you can serve our people.  It’s what dad wanted us both to become, remember?”

 

“A soldier,” Ren repeated quietly, his eyes lifting to study the wall opposite him.

 

“And doing this…it'll wipe the memory of our mother's treason from people's minds. The Lorrell name will be sung instead of spat upon. You’ll be famous when you start training, instead of infamous. All the other kids your age will look up to you.  You’ll be one of the great saviors….” Garron smiled, nudging his brother’s body on the bed.  “Won’t that be great?”

 

Ren just grimaced, then gave his brother a wry smile.  “Yeah, Garron.  It’ll be great.”

 

The older boy grinned, and rubbed at Ren’s head before standing up again. “Good.  So…let’s get to it.  I need your help with the jumper before you go to find McKay.  And uh…”  Garron bit his lip, rubbing his hands together, “I’m sorry I hit you.  I won’t do it again, I promise.  You just...you made me mad.”

 

Ren sighed and nodded, crawling out of bed and shivering again when his feet his the cold, cold floor.

 

For the first time in his life...

 

He didn't want to be Genii anymore.

______________________________________________

 

CHAPTER NINE:  PLAN IN MOTION

Carson jumped when someone started banging on his door furiously, eyes blinking open in confusion as, for a brief moment, he forgot where he was. The vestiges of whatever dream he’d been having slipped away and he turned his head to look at the green, glowing numbers of his alarm clock.

3:38 a.m.

Groaning, he placed a hand over his eyes, trying to alleviate the throbbing in his head from the abrupt awakening. The banging grew more insistent.

Crap.

Muttering under his breath about protocols and respect for tired doctors, he pushed himself up off the bed with the speed of an old, old man.

Stumbling across to the door, he had enough time to glance down at his half dressed state—T-shirt and boxers—before deciding whoever was there would just have to deal, and opened the door.

“What the hell is so bloody impor…?” The croaked protest died in his throat as he looked down to see Freya on his doorstep, tears rolling down her face and looking scared as hell. Blue eyes, red from crying, were so wide as to make her appear shell shocked, and she shook slightly as she waited for him to react. He instantly squatted down to her eye level, gently resting his hands on his arms and rubbing softly, trying to calm her trembling.

"Freya, what's wrong?"

“Carson,” she gasped, “You have to help!”

“I’ll try, sweetie,” he said gently. “What’s happened?”

Neera…” Freya gasped, choking slightly on her tears, “Neera’s hurt…and it’s all my fault!”

Beckett’s eyebrows lifted, “Hurt? What do you mean?”

“She sleepwalks sometimes, and she did tonight. I never meant to startle her! I never meant, I swear!” And suddenly Freya was Beckett’s arms, holding him tightly as she started to sob in earnest. Beckett stood up, pulling her up with him so that she wrapped her legs around him, and she held on as he attempted to soothe the child, running a hand up and down her shaking back.

“Hush, lass, hush,” he whispered, drawing her inside the messy room and giving the lights a mental nudge to turn them on. “Now, what exactly—”

“You have to help her,” Freya hiccupped, interrupting him. “You have to save her!”

“Okay, okay…” Gently, he put her down on the edge of a table, sitting her there as he leaned over to look her in the eyes, gently tucking some of the long blonde hair out of her face behind an ear. “Just slow down and start at the beginning….”

“She…Neera, she…she was walking…I followed her to the big balcony atop that funny tower on the South pier, near where we’re staying, and she got close to the edge. I got scared that she was too close and grabbed her hand to pull her back and she…she….”

“She got startled,” Beckett finished, getting the picture clearly. “She fell off?”

Freya nodded, “She landed on some sort of roof below, hard, and she didn't move, Carson! I called and called but I couldn’t get her to answer me! So, so I…I found the big radio panel in the hall and called for help. They’re sending people. But…but can you come too? Please? Please?”

Beckett’s eyebrows lifted, glancing at his quiet radio still resting on the nightstand next to his bed. He wondered a little why they didn’t alert him, since most knew how much Freya meant to him.

And then Freya was off the table, grabbing his hand and tugging hard. “Please come! You have to come!”

“I…all right, all right, I’m coming.” As he spoke, he looked quickly around his room, trying to remember where he’d left his things. Popping his hand free of her slippery grip, he grabbed a pair of trousers off a chair and hurriedly put them on, then grabbed his gray hooded fleece jacket he jogged in. It was cold outside at night.

Poor Neera!

Freya was crying again, jumping up and down impatiently as he grabbed the portable med kit he kept in his quarters. Finally, he went for his radio…to find it was gone.

“I got it,” Freya said, holding it up in her hand. She was already by the door, still bouncing impatiently. “Hurry!”

“Right,” he said, following her out the door and then forced to run as Freya took off sprinting down the corridor. “Hey! Hang on! Wait for me!”

—————————————————————————————

Freya didn’t stop running until she was in the transporter, and Beckett slid in next to her. He started to ask for the radio, but the doors were already opening again and Freya was already running down the dark corridor. It was all Carson could do to keep up.

He was panting by the time Freya stopped, standing on a balcony on the far side of the building, facing out towards the sea. The whole area was dead quiet…where was everyone? They should have been here by—

“She’s there!” Freya called, pointing downwards.

“Right,” he said, drawing in a deep breath, the blood still pounding in his ears from the running. He leaned over the low railing to peer down at the shorter buildings below. The one Freya pointed at had multiple peaks, like saw teeth, resulting in a lot of pitch black shadows between each wedge. He leaned over further—not seeing anyone down there. “Freya,” he asked, “Where…?”

And suddenly someone's hands were around his ankles and he was being lifted...and thrown over the edge. The med kit was still in his hand—he never had a chance to catch himself, though he tried, letting go the bag and scrabbling for a grip...

He screamed as he fell, looking back up at the balcony at Neera, standing at the edge, smiling coldly down at him.

The last thing he heard before hitting the roof below with a crunch was Freya’s laughter.

—————————————————————————————

Neera rubbed her hands together, a smirk on her face as she looked down at the little girl. Freya was laughing joyfully at the site of Beckett, crumpled in a heap twelve feet below.

“Did we kill him?” Freya asked, her eyes bright, as she looked up at Neera. “Because I really hope we killed him.”

Neera just shrugged, looping a belt around her waist in order to rappel down to the unconscious man. She wasn’t quite done yet.

“That’s what you get,” Freya snapped, staring down again at the still figure far below. “That’s for my daddy and my brother! That’s what you get for killing them when they came here last year!”

Neera sighed, shaking her head slightly as she finished tying the rope off. “Not so loud, Freya,” she said quietly. “Who knows how the sounds echo around here.”

Freya just snorted, watching as the woman climbed over the railing and proceeded to lower herself to the balcony below.

Neera touched the top of the peaked roof with a light foot. Sliding gently down the sloped edge to the eave below, she settled next to Beckett and squatted down, looking at him appraisingly.

Freya would be disappointed. Beckett wasn’t dead. Though, if he didn’t get help soon…he probably would be.

With a sigh, she pulled out the Wraith device from the pocket of the light tack vest she was wearing, and attached it about halfway up one side of the roof from where Beckett had ended up. Switching it on, she smiled as it started to blink softly.

If their scientists were right, it would hide Beckett’s life sign from anyone looking for it.

Smiling some more, she twisted and started to climb back up the rope.

Beckett never moved.

_______________________________________

 

CHAPTER TEN: MORNING COLD

 

Breakfast the next morning was stupendous, as Neera’s cooking attempted the impossible—to make everyone happy.  She had apparently decided, since this was her last meal that she would serve, to poll all the marines and scientists in the City for their favorite breakfast foods.  Consequently, the spread included everything from the ingredients for a full English Breakfast to Chinese rice pudding dishes to Turkish ekmek and tarhana soup to American pancakes.  It was a feast.

 

Weir, having anticipated the chaos, actually attempted to institute a rotating schedule for this breakfast only, based on last names.  It, of course, was a total failure, as people wanted to eat with their friends.  Plus, hell, they argued, they weren’t school children! 

 

Yeah, right.

 

As Elizabeth surveyed the fighting and jostling in the mess from a side door, she couldn’t help but think she’d seen better behaved people at an English football match.

 

Shrugging, she grabbed her tray (Neera had prepared one specially for her, in advance) and walked out of the mess, back to her office.

_________________________________________

 

Sheppard wasn’t much of a breakfast person—he was more of a fruit and granola type.  So, he handed the tray Neera had made for him, still mostly full, to Ronon and headed out to find McKay.  The scientist was (understandably) choosing to forgo the feast for fear of hurting his still healing back and was eating with Ren, who had promised to bring him food in the labs.  The colonel was pretty sure he could find something to annoy the scientist with (and thus entertain himself) until training later that morning.

 

Ronon dug into the second tray with gusto, which only made Teyla, sitting next to him, laugh out loud as she ate the traditional Athosian dish Neera had prepared for her people. 

__________________________________________

 

Watching from the kitchens, Garron grimaced as he watched the Satedan eat Sheppard’s tray…and worriedly fingered the small, empty bottles in his pockets. They’d already double dosed Ronon’s food (Neera’s suggestion.  Garron had tried to talk her out of it, which, he had to admit, she was right to question why he cared).  Fact was, if Ronon ate too much, it would kill him.

 

Damn it. 

 

Why the hell did he care?

 

The hand in his pocket gripped one of the little bottles so tightly...it shattered in his hand.  Quick as a flash, he washed his hand in one of the big sinks...then left the kitchens before Neera saw his mistake.

__________________________________________

 

Not everyone ate, of course.  A good number of marines were on duty, some were on the Mainland, training, and there were also those scientists who just didn’t eat breakfast.  Still, as Neera dumped puts and pans and kitchen utensils into the massive dishwashers, she had to smile at how many she had gotten.  By her estimate…she’d successfully sedated at least half the population of Atlantis.

 

And the other half…would soon be too distracted to notice.

__________________________________________

 

About an hour later, Elizabeth was yawning at her desk and chastising herself for eating too much so early.  Leaning her head on her hand, she watched as the screen on the tablet she was studying started to blur...and didn't really care.

 

The door chimed.

 

"Come in," she called, sighing and lifting her very heavy head up off her hand.

 

"Doctor Weir!"

 

Elizabeth was jolted out of her stupor by Neera storming into her office with Freya in tow.  It was obvious the little girl had been crying.

 

“I just want to say,” the older woman declared, lifting her chin angrily as she hit the edge of the desk and glared down at the other woman, “that, even though you’re exiling us to the Mainland later today, that’s no call to start pretending we don’t exist anymore!"  Freya started crying anew as Neera slapped a hand down on Elizabeth’s desk, making the leader jump. "You can tell your Doctor Beckett that making a little girl cry is not just rude, it’s downright mean!” 

 

The confused and slightly dazed expression Elizabeth gave to the tall woman was not faked.

 

“What?”

 

“Doctor Beckett!” Neera snapped, “He was supposed to have breakfast with Freya!  She waited for him for an hour in his office, but he never showed.  Well,” she slapped her hand down again, “you can tell that man that we don’t want to see him anymore.  He thinks he’s too good for Freya?  Well, he's wrong!  We’re too good for him.”

 

And with that, she turned and stomped out, never looking back, pulling the still crying little girl with her.

 

Elizabeth sighed, rubbing a hand across her tired, burning eyes, and tapped her radio.

 

“Doctor Beckett,” she called, “Do you read?” 

 

She waited a few seconds, then frowned slightly, some of the tiredness weighing her down falling away.  Straightening, she tapped her radio again.

 

“Carson, this is Weir, please respond.”

 

Again, nothing but silence.  Elizabeth frowned and looked out the glass window of her office, to where the Canadian sergeant manning the communications station was watching her.  Of course, he heard all the chatter on the radios, so had heard her call.  His eyebrows lifted.  She grimaced and stood up...only to stagger a little as her equilibrium threw her off. 

 

"Must've gotten up too fast," she muttered to herself, walking around the desk to the balcony leading to the Control Room.  In moments, she was standing before the man in question.  He actually looked wide-awake.  Oh, that's right...he was on duty during the breakfast.  She was beginning to think he was lucky.

 

“Call down to the Infirmary,” she said with a slight yawn, leaning against his console.  “See if Doctor Beckett's there.”

 

The Canadian tech nodded, and called down to the infirmary.  A moment later, he looked up and shook his head.

 

“He’s not there.  But, apparently, he’s supposed to be.  There aren’t any emergencies needing his attention so…he should be there.”

 

She frowned, sighed, and tapped her radio again. 

 

“Major Lorne?”

 

A brief pause, then, “Yes, Doctor Weir?”

 

“Doctor Beckett’s missing, and Freya’s upset because she was supposed to eat with him.  Do you think you could try to locate him for me?”

 

 Sure.  I’ll have someone check the infirmary and—“

 

“He’s not in the infirmary.  Try his labs then his rooms, and, if he’s not there…”  she shrugged, “let me know.”

 

Right.  Lorne out.”

 

Weir leaned more heavily against the console, lowering her head.  Part of her reasoned she should be more worried than she felt…but it seemed very difficult to muster the strength to do so.

____________________________________ 

 

“So, Carson's missing?” McKay asked into his radio, looking over at Ren where they had been studying some of the jumper shield diagnostics on his computer screen in his lab.  The boy’s eyebrows were lifted, obviously curious about what was happening. 

 

Seems like,” Sheppard replied over the connection, sounding almost lackadaisical about it all.  No one has seen him since dinner.  Lorne’s already checked his lab, and I’m here in his room, but he’s not here.  His bed has obviously been slept in, but,” McKay could almost hear the shrug the colonel was giving, “he must have just gotten up and left.  I…oh…hang on….”

 

McKay frowned, crossing his arms, waiting for Sheppard to continue. 

 

Okay,” Sheppard radioed, “Cadman’s here.  She says Beckett’s med kit is missing, as is his grey fleece.  She also says he’s oddly fastidious about making his bed, so he must have left in a hurry.  That all suggests he was, maybe, woken up and asked to go help someone.”

 

Who?” Elizabeth asked from across the radio line, from where she was still in the Control Room.

 

I don’t know.  Lorne?”

 

Yes, sir?” The major, unlike the others, still sounded pretty crisp.

 

Send out a general roll call.  See if anyone else is missing.  Maybe he…what, Lieutenant?” 

 

There was another pause before Sheppard added.

 

Cadman pointed out that Beckett must have his radio, wherever he is.  Apparently, he always leaves it next to the bed, by his ear, when he sleeps.  It’s not here.  So he must have it.”

 

"Okay," McKay said, "And that helps us how?"

 

"What do you mean, how does that help us?" Sheppard replied. "If he uses it, we can find him."

 

“Yes,” McKay replied. "But he hasn't, so, right now, it doesn't."

 

Huh?”

 

“I'm saying it's not important to us right now. He's not answering. If he had it, and could use it, he would have. But he hasn't. So, either the radio is out of commission, or..." He paused. He'd been about to say, 'or Carson is out of commission,' but he knew no one wanted to go there yet, particularly not him. "So, I'm saying, it's not a factor, not unless and until he uses it."

 

There was a brief silence on the line, then, Sheppard sighed. “Oh.”

 

McKay frowned.  Sheppard wasn’t usually this slow. 

 

Well,” Elizabeth said, sounding tired, “just keep looking.  He couldn’t have gone far.”  And then it sounded like she yawned.  What the hell was she doing last night to be so tired?...Oh...brain, don't go there, McKay chastised himself.

 

"We'll find him," Sheppard called. 

 

"I'm sure we will," Elizabeth replied, sounding almost bored about it all.

 

Shaking his head at their oddly subdued tones, McKay walked over to the main screen in the lab, and called up the images that should be showing on the main screen up in the Control Room.

 

He frowned even more deeply when he found himself looking at the long distance sensors.

 

“Elizabeth,” he called, “Why aren’t you looking for him with the City’s sensors?”

 

Oh, right,” she replied, her rounded tones sounding like she was yawning again. “We were going to do that next.  Sergeant, if you would?”

 

A second later, the screen changed, to show the entire city.  It started to shift around, as whoever was controlling it began scanning for solitary life signs.  There weren’t many.

 

McKay grimaced, getting annoyed as the images seemed to shift too slowly.

 

“Look,” he said impatiently, “I’m coming up there.  Just keep looking.”  Shaking his head in annoyance, he turned to head out of the lab, pausing only at the last second to glance behind him at Ren.  The boy was still watching him, looking very worried. 

 

McKay jerked his head towards the door, “You coming?”

 

A small nod and Ren was off the stool he'd been perched on and following McKay out.

 

A couple of lab benches over, Doctor Bryce watched them leave with little interest, though the two still full trays of food near where they were working looked tempting. McKay had been too focused to eat, and Ren didn't either. Still, as good as it looked, it wasn't tempting enough.  With a sigh, he lowered her head to the bench in front of her, emitting a spectacular yawn.

 

She was asleep in seconds.

_____________________________________________

 

The wind was cool, brushing across his face with a kind touch.  Beckett let it soothe him for a while, before his brain slowly began to question why he could feel it.  He didn’t sleep with the windows open, so…

 

Bit by bit, awareness grew, as he wondered why he could also hear nothing but wind and, somewhere far away, lapping water.  A few other sounds—which he recognized as bird calls—came slowly to the fore.  For a second, he wondered if he was in a cottage on the water.  Maybe on holiday in Cornwall?  It certainly sounded like Cornwall.  Smelt like it too.  Salt water, seagulls, wind, a hint of cold wetness seeping through his clothes into his skin….

 

As he considered the possibilities, his body decided it wanted to breathe a little better, and he attempted to shift a little to draw in more air into stifled lungs.

 

“AH!” Pain blasted through him, searing points of agony across every muscle.  His eyes flew open as aches and pains from every joint, bone and sinew screamed in protest at any kind of movement.  What the HELL? He whimpered, desperately wanting and waiting for the pain to slacken its hold long enough so he could think…

 

Blurred memories of balconies and falling in the night and Freya’s laughter echoed through his jumbled mind as the facts of where he was and what had happened tried to coalesce in his head.

 

He was on a roof—a roof made up of a series of shallow peaks like dragon teeth, and he was wedged between two of them, trapped deep in the shadows.  He was hurt.  Mangled.  Broken!

 

He’d fallen?  No…God, no, he’d been pushed!  Neera had pushed him!  And Freya…Freya had laughed.

 

For several minutes, he fought the blind panic of his situation—trying both not to cause himself any more pain and trying not to just give up and die.  But, oh God…how was he going to get out of this? 

 

Help!  He needed help! Weakly, from a too dry throat, he managed a soft cry, trying to call out, but even he could barely hear his own voice.  Water.  He needed water!

 

Why hadn’t they found him?  Even on a roof, they should have been able to pick him up.  The sensors should have picked him out!  Were they leaving him to die?  Did they care so little that they hadn’t even noticed he was missing?

 

Every possible emotion, from anger to terror to despair to hysteria ran through him like water rushing from the tap, alternating hot and cold through his mind and across his injuries.  He couldn’t think clearly, couldn’t make sense of what had happened, couldn’t even make sense of where exactly he was.  Was he even on the South Pier?  Was he even on Atlantis?  Was any of this even real?  Please, God, PLEASE let this be a nightmare!

 

He wanted to scream…but even the idea of that hurt.  He could taste the tinny taste of blood on his lips. He was cold, too, stuck in this shadowed wedge.  He began to shiver as he thought about it, felt his heart begin to race.  Oh God…he was going to die!

 

He lifted his right hand (the other he couldn’t move at all—he wasn’t even sure it was there, except that there was a numb sort of impression where it should be) and raised his arm to the sky, as if he could reach up out of the shadow to the sun above.  He managed to lift it high enough for the sun to just touch the fingertips…and the warmth was wonderful.

 

But he couldn’t hold the position long, and it fell back down, landing on his stomach.  The fingers curled into a fist as he felt the warm sweatshirt material.  Tears ran down his face, and he tipped his head back, wanting to yell it all out…but his chest hurt too much. 

 

Then his fingers felt something square in the pocket of the fleece jacket.

 

For a second, he didn’t move, trying to think what it could be.

 

Slowly, he slid his hand to the side and then into the pocket.  And pulled out the iPod he’d borrowed from Cadman for jogging.  He lifted it up, staring at the device.

 

Shakily, he rested it back against his stomach, unwound one of the earbuds and put it against his ear.  Then he hit play.

 

Cadman’s taste in music was…not the best. 

 

As the sudden blasting of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” in his ear told him clearly.

 

Oh God.  He was going to die listening to a horrible Danish pop group.

 

It made him laugh; he couldn't help it.  It was too absurd.  For some reason, it cheered him up, particularly since, though laughing was painful, he realized the pain from his chest was not as bad as it had been.

 

Pulling the earbud back out of his ear, he turned the player off and let his quiet laughter subside. 

 

Laura was looking for him.  She wouldn’t give up.  And neither would Elizabeth, Rodney or anyone else.  They would find him.  They were looking for him right now.  He just had to hang on, or, better yet, find a way to tell them where he was…

 

The comfort this small bit of rationality brought him was wonderful, and it gave him a strange sort of strength.  Breathing carefully, more mindful of his injuries, he managed to detach from his fear long enough to catalogue what exactly was wrong with him.  Most of the pain was cascading, making it difficult to pinpoint, but he had his skill on his side.

 

He could think (mostly) clearly, so his head must be okay.  It didn’t beat with any real intensity, so he may have escaped any serious sort of head injury.  He could lift and turn it as well, which was good.  And he did so, to see the rest of him.

 

His left arm was wedged tightly between himself and the roof, and though the arm was bent so that he could see his fingers, he couldn’t get them to move much.  It was like they were buried deep in molasses.  That wasn’t good.  His chest hurt like hell.  Broken ribs?  Breathing was hard…but not impossible. As long as he didn’t breathe too deeply.  Legs.  There.  Far away.  They didn’t seem like they wanted to move.  He could feel them…at least, he thought he could.  He focused on shifting them.  They didn’t shift.

 

Panic started to rise in his throat again, and he had to force himself to calm back down.  It wasn’t working.

 

He pressed the play button on the iPod again.

 

The awful song started playing softly from the earbuds now lying loose across his chest, and the distraction was enough.  Thank you Laura.  He upped the volume.  Aqua, tinny when heard normally, sounded like the Chipmunks to him through the earbuds.

 

It made him giggle slightly. 

 

Stop that.  You don’t giggle.

 

Taking in another fortifying breath, he turning his head and tried to see more of his surroundings—to see if there was anything nearby on this roof that he could use. 

 

And that’s when he saw it.

 

There was no questioning what it was—the thing stuck to the side of the roof several feet away from his body, too far for him to reach, blinking merrily away—was a Wraith device.

 

Oh, crap.

___________________________________________

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: SEARCH PARTIES

 

McKay moved around people and consoles in the Control Room like a pinball on speed, ricocheting off machinery and bouncing around between the higher and lower levels almost spastically.  The dozen or so people he was overseeing seemed to stand almost still with him around, watching everything he did with hint of wonderment—as if his intensity were somehow strange instead of normal.  And in a way, it was, because he was acting completely in charge.

 

And Elizabeth was letting him.

 

McKay, with Ren, had stormed in here about an hour previously, and, when Elizabeth seemed unable to keep up, had swiftly taken control of coordinating the many search teams now scouring the City.  He’d put every available marine and most of the scientists not running experiments into the search.  He’d even sent half the Control Room away to search the more sensitive areas like the City’s sewer systems and engine rooms, trusting the techs to be the most effective (and circumspect) in those areas.

 

He and Sheppard had also coordinated sending Jumpers up into the air, to scour the City, Mainland and the water.  Meanwhile, he had the skeleton crew left in the Control Room trying to find different ways to use the City’s sensors to track someone, one outside of the normal means of pinpointing life signs, since it obviously wasn't working.

 

And he lorded over the whole affair, capturing and disseminating information with incredible speed, his fear for his friend increasing exponentially every minute that passed.  He was almost shaking with it.

 

And Elizabeth just stayed in the background, rarely saying a word.

 

McKay wasn’t blind.  He noticed, with increasing frustration, that only about half the people in the Control Room seemed to be responding to him with any efficiency.  The others, including Elizabeth herself, seemed inclined to just sit back and stay out of his way.  He was not ignorant of the fact that he was making all the orders, including the ones Elizabeth should have been giving, but he didn’t have the time to wait for her to get over whatever it was that was making her act this way.

 

For some reason, he knew, without a doubt, that Beckett was in deep trouble.

 

They had to find him, and soon.

________________________________________________

 

Ronon was searching a part of the lower city with a couple of Sheppard’s men.  Like Elizabeth, he felt a little woozy, his stomach growling as if unhappy with something.  Rubbing at it with a hand, he ignored the looks the other two shot him every so often.  Sweat dampened his hair, which he attributed to the dark, heavy air down here in the bowels of the City.

 

The radio chirruped in his ear, and McKay's voice calling his name came through clearly.  He tapped it.

 

"Hey, McKay."

 

"Anything?" Rodney asked, his clipped tones a weak cover for the man's obvious worry.

 

"Not yet," Ronon sighed, peering into yet another dark, empty room. "It's hot down here," he added, unnecessarily.

 

"Yeah. The City's atmospheric sensors were damaged by the Storm down there.  Which could mean the other sensors are off as well.  Just keep looking."

 

Ronon just grunted, then winced as a strangely sharp pain bit at his stomach.  The grunt of pain must have echoed over the radio, because Rodney was suddenly asking him if he was okay.

 

"Yeah, yeah," he replied, swallowing the sickly taste that had risen in his throat. "Fine."  He paused a minute, then decided to risk asking another question of McKay. "Hey, is that kid, Ren, still with you?"

 

"Huh?  Yeah.  Why?"

 

"Watch him."

 

There was a pause, then, "Watch him do what?"

 

"Just...watch him, McKay."

 

The pause was longer this time, then, pointedly, "Why?"

 

"A feeling."

 

The pause was very long this time, before McKay replied in a gritted tone, "I don't have time for this, Ronon.  Just focus on finding Beckett."

 

Ronon's eyes narrowed, then sighed.  What did he expect?

 

His stomach rolled again, and this time the pain was close to staggering, forcing him to catch himself on a wall.  What the hell?

______________________________________

 

Teyla sat in the co-pilot's seat, staring out the large widow of Sheppard's jumper as the Colonel expertly slid the ship between the buildings.  She had her legs both drawn up against her chest, her arms wrapped tightly around them.  In the back, Doctor Standish, an archaeologist with some medical training above standard field training, studied different kinds of sensor information scrolling down on a laptop.  She caught him yawning at one point, and grimaced.  She would have chastised him for not being completely focused, but...she had yawned a few times herself.

 

She couldn't seem to stop herself.

 

Her head was pounding with a headache now, and she covered up her third yawn in as many minutes with both hands, annoyed when her eyes watered slightly with the force of it.  Something was wrong with her, she knew that.  But, right now, finding Beckett was more important.

 

She glanced over at Sheppard, saw him sitting ram-rod straight in his chair, eyes intently tracking the outside of the City for any sign of the physician.  In the distance, her eyes briefly caught sight of another jumper scanning a different pier.  From here, it was like catching sight of a small bird disappearing into the trees.

 

"You okay?" Sheppard asked suddenly, glancing at her worriedly.  She frowned—how could he tell?

 

"I am...a little unwell," she admitted. "But more than well enough to continue."

 

He nodded, his gaze already back on the buildings.

 

"Something you ate?" he asked.  There was a touch of humor in his voice. "Perhaps...eating too much?"

 

She snorted, knowing he was trying to lighten the mood by making fun of the fact that she probably ate twice as much as she normally did in the morning.  She shook her head slightly, then frowned as the motion made her a little dizzy. 

 

And suddenly, his crack about food seemed less amusing.

 

"Colonel," she said, broaching the subject quietly, "have you...spent much time with Neera and her children since they have been here?"

 

His eyes narrowed a touch, and he glanced at her again briefly before returning his gaze forward. "Why?"

 

"Ronon said something to me.  He is...concerned that they are not," she took in a breath, "what they seem."

 

He shrugged. "I've spent time with the boy, Ren," he said, "mainly because he's been following McKay around.  He's a good kid."

 

She nodded, "Following McKay around? Is that how Rodney was close enough to help him when—"

 

"Yeah."

 

She nodded again, "And...you believe the boy to be honest?"

 

Sheppard snorted. "What?  He's twelve years old, Teyla.  Ronon's being paranoid."

 

"Neera is not twelve.  Nor is Garron."

 

Sheppard's brow furrowed, and he slowed the ship down into a hover.  He turned to look at her, his eyes dark.

 

"What does this have to do with Beckett?"

 

She grimaced, lowering her eyes slightly. "Nothing."

 

"Then let's talk about it after we find our missing man, okay?"

 

She gave a single nod, "Of course.  I am sorry.  I do not know why I even thought to ask."

 

But Sheppard was no longer listening, turning his attention back to the search.

 

Another wave of dizziness waved through Teyla, and she frowned.  Hardening her jaw, she resolved to ignore it.

__________________________________________

 

Gritting his teeth, McKay was running a sensor sweep of the piers and outlying ocean for the third time, only to come up empty…again.

 

“Damn it!” he swore, slamming a hand down on a console.  “This doesn’t make sense!  He couldn’t have just disappeared off the sensors!”

 

"Unless he's dead," Elizabeth said quietly. 

 

Rodney gritted his teeth, turning to stare at her darkly. "We're not going there.  Not yet."

 

She winced slightly, and nodded.  “Of course.  I'm sorry,” Elizabeth said quietly, leaning against a pillar near him, covering a yawn. “So…he left somehow.”

 

“And how would he do that, huh?” McKay snapped sarcastically, glaring at her, getting tired of her attitude (or lack thereof). “Did he sprout wings and fly away?  Grow gills and dive into the ocean?  Did he find the Rocketeer’s jet pack and decide to take it for a spin?”

 

Elizabeth shrugged, “Well, the last…perhaps he did find something that…”

 

“Oh, please! You’re not serious?” McKay mocked, arms thrown out wide.  “This is Beckett we’re talking about!  The man hates to fly!  He’d never try out something like that without checking with us first.  I don’t care how big of an emergency it was—he always hesitates before using any technology for the first time!  He would have radioed!”

 

“You, you mean,” Elizabeth said quietly, “He would have radioed you.”

 

McKay shrugged, nodding, “Yes.  Yes, he would.”

 

She tilted her head, brow furrowing a little, “Don’t tell me you’re feeling put out because he may not have radioed you if—“

 

“Whatever it is you’re going to say,” Rodney snapped, glaring darkly at Elizabeth.  “Don’t.” Inside, he roiled—how dare she think he was that shallow!

 

Her brow furrowed further, then shifted to a sort of confused expression, as if she herself didn’t know why she'd had that thought.

 

“Okay,” McKay said, looking down at the Canadian Sergeant’s console.  The tech was one of the few who seemed to be working with his usual alacrity. “What is the status of the jumpers?”

 

“We have six in the air, sir, and two in the water,” the tech replied, hitting some buttons to show their signals on the big screen behind his position.  “Four are combing the piers and other above ground areas of the City, two are scouring the Mainland, and two are checking the underside of the City and the oceanbed.”

 

“Okay.” Rodney grimaced, watching as the lights representing the ships moved slowly across the screen.  “Which one is Sheppard flying again?”

 

“Jumper Five, sir.”

 

“Of course he is,” McKay muttered.  Jumper Five was the ship they had used on the trip where they’d lost Gall and Abrams.  Sheppard had a strange affection for it.  The scientist walked over to another screen, this one showing the interior of the City.  Zelenka was sitting by the console below it, yawning and slowly keying in commands with one hand.  McKay growled slightly, and the Czech blinked and sat up straighter, blushing slightly in embarrassment.

 

“Well?” McKay demanded harshly, coming dangerously close to shoving Radek out of the chair and taking over.

 

“I’ve managed to make the biometric sensors sensitive enough to differentiate gender,” Radek said, smiling proudly up at McKay.  “So, at least now, we know where the men are.”  He looked over at the screen showing the City’s sensor grid, and it lit up with blinking yellow and blue lights.  “The men are in yellow.”

 

McKay stared at it for a few moments before shaking his head. “What the hell are you doing?  Don’t you get it?  His life sign is just not showing up!  Period!  Who cares what color it could be. Damn it, Radek, stop playing around and come up with some other way to track him!”

 

“Like what?” Zelenka asked, sounding honestly curious.

 

McKay stared at him. Since when did he have to spell things out for the engineer?  “Like something else!  Not life signs!”

 

Radek just blinked some more, muttered something in Czech, and turned around back to his computer.

 

Grimacing, Rodney tapped his radio, “Jumper Five, this is McKay, do you read?”

 

Loud and clear, McKay,” Sheppard called back. "Emphasis on loud." Unlike earlier, there was a definite spark back in the man’s voice.  Whether it was because he was flying, or simply that he’d broken out of whatever slump he’d been in, Sheppard sounded like he was back to his old self.  Any luck?” the colonel asked.

 

“I was about to ask you the same thing?  Where are you?”

 

South pier.  Running along the lower quays.  We’ve done one overhead scan already, and are now trying a more topographical approach.”

 

“Is Cadman with you?”

 

No, Teyla is.” Sheppard replied. “Cadman’s flying Jumper Two.”

 

McKay nodded, and hit his radio again, “Jumper Two, you copy?”

 

Have you found something?” Laura’s voice came over the comm., both grating (at least to his ears) and scared at the same time.

 

McKay sighed “No.  Not yet.  I take it you haven’t either?”

 

She sighed over the radio. “No.  Sergeant Greene and I are searching the northwest pier, but so far nothing.”

 

“I wanted to ask, you said you thought he’d be wearing his grey sweatshirt, is that right?”

 

Yeah.”

 

“Which is the one he uses when he goes jogging, right?”

 

Yeah,” Cadman sighed again. “But I know he wasn’t planning on doing any running this morning, Rodney.  He was—

 

“Not what I’m asking, Cadman,” McKay snapped. “I want to know if he usually goes jogging with anything, besides his radio?”

 

His radio?  You mean his earpiece?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

He doesn’t run with his earpiece.  He runs with a handheld.”

 

The caused McKay to lift an eyebrow, “Really?  Why?”

 

Because he uses my iPod when he runs, so he has the earbuds in.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Why?”

 

“Because I wanted to see if there was something else we could scan for.”  McKay pursed his lips, staring at the screen at the “PJ-02” symbol slowly floating along the northwest pier.  “Do you think he might have it with him now?”

 

There was a pause, then, “Maybe.  I didn’t see it in his room.”

 

McKay considered this.  The iPod was an insignificant device by Atlantian standards. It emitted low, almost negligible levels of power.  Even if they were to try to look for it, it would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack of needles, with all the energy Atlantis emitted even when it wasn’t at full power. 

 

Still…better than nothing.  He tapped his radio again.

 

“Jumpers in the air, this is McKay.  Set one of the sensors in your display to search for digital sound waves, namely music.  Beckett may have an iPod, and, if it’s playing…and you’re close enough, the jumper might be able to hear it.”

 

A chorus of “rogers” came over the link, and McKay sighed.  Talk about grasping at straws.

 

Emitting a grunt of frustration, he turned away from the screen and found himself face to face with Ren.  The boy had been shadowing him from the side, watching everything he did while staying out of his way.  McKay had almost forgotten he was there, and, consequently, almost ran into him.

 

“What are you doing?” he snapped, rocking back on his left leg. “I told you to stay out of my—“

 

“I have an idea,” Ren said quietly.  “Will you come with me?”

 

McKay frowned, but found that he himself was woefully out of ideas.  With a short sigh, he glanced at Elizabeth.

 

“Be right back.  Keep looking.”

 

She arched an eyebrow at him, but nodded. 

__________________________________________ 

 

Down in Beckett’s Office, Neera was hurriedly stuffing all the notes and files Freya had guessed were important and several boxes of gene therapy needles into two large knapsacks.  Freya’s knapsack would be almost as big as she was, but Neera knew the girl could take the weight.  She’d trained for months to be able to handle it. 

 

Freya herself was rapidly trying to download the rest of the science teams notes onto the two laptops they were stealing.  The eleven year old was scarily adept at the technology—Neera had to admit, Freya had been a good choice for the mission, despite her frail appearance.  Of course, the fact that the little girl’s father and older brother had died trying to raid Atlantis a year ago with Commander Kolya hadn’t hurt.  Revenge was a powerful motivator.

 

Glancing up, Neera looked at the wall clock.  It was nearing noon. 

 

They didn’t have a lot of time.  They needed to take full advantage of the distractions they had created, and time was running out. The sedative would be kicking in fully soon—there were already some people in the infirmary complaining of stomach pains and fatigue.  The purpose behind it had just been to slow the Atlantian's reactions down, maybe even put some people to sleep, but depending on how much people ate, and whether some might be allergic to the drug...when it really hit, people would realize it wasn't normal and start looking for a cause.  Plus, listening on Beckett’s radio to the chatter between the search parties, it was possible one of the jumpers would get lucky before they wanted it to.  And what the hell was an eye-pod?  Just too many variables that could go wrong…

 

“Almost done?” she asked Freya.

 

“Nearly,” the girl replied, not looking up from the screen.  “The machines just won’t go any faster.”

 

Neera nodded, not about to argue, and glanced worriedly out into the infirmary—it was getting busier and busier out there.  Meaning, getting out unnoticed was going to be almost impossible soon.  The only good thing was that no one was looking for them, and most of the marines were still spread out around the City—far, far from the Control Tower.  Worse came to worse, she could handle the few still hanging around here.  For now.  But if they found Beckett, and the marines returned to the hub...and if they put together that the breakfast had been laced...

 

“Just hurry as best you can,” she said.

______________________________________________

 

McKay followed Ren out into the hall, then over to a set of stairs that led up to the jumper bay.  He frowned, wondering at the round about route—after all, there were stairs in the Control Room that led directly to the same place.  But…maybe Ren didn’t remember that?

 

Shaking his head, he followed the boy up several levels to the top, then through the doors into the bay.  It was flooded with light from the open hanger doors overhead, sunlight streaming down, revealing dustmotes and pollen glittering in the atmosphere. 

 

“Okay,” McKay said, following Ren over to the main console by the other door.  “Why are we here?”

 

“Because I noticed something when that gate tech of yours…the one with the same patch as you?  What’s his name again?...when he was calling up information on the jumpers.”  Ren hit a few keys, then looked up at the screen.  “There,” he said, pointing at it, “see?”

 

McKay frowned, not understanding.  The screen showed a listing of all the available jumpers. It read seven jumpers inside the bay, and eight outside…wait…hang on…

 

The bay was a pentagon, with three rows of stacks jumper docks on each wall.  In other words, room for 15 jumpers.  There were eight outside, so there should have been seven powered down jumpers registering in the bay.  But one of the seven was powered up. 

 

Turning, he looked around, and saw nine empty slots.

 

One of the jumpers in here was cloaked.

 

“You said,” Ren added then, “that when a jumper is cloaked, you can’t see the life signs inside it, right?”

 

McKay’s eyes widened, then, slowly, he smiled.  He grinned at Ren, “You’re really going to be something someday,” he said, turning around to the console again.  He typed in a few very rapid commands, including activating a new subroutine implemented after the Siege, then turned around again.  Resting his hands on his hips, he tried to remember which jumpers were in the air.

 

As he ticked off each dock, he realized Jumper Four was the one that was cloaked.

 

Grinning he reached up to grab his radio, when he felt a hand grab his wrist.

 

Frowning, he looked at Ren, who was the one holding it.

 

“What are you doing?” he snapped. “I have to radio for—“

 

“I’m sorry, Doctor McKay,” Ren said quietly, “but I can’t let you do that.”

 

McKay stared at him, confused, then freed his wrist from the boy’s grip with a fierce tug. 

 

“Don’t be ridiculous!  What are you trying to do?”

 

Ren shook his head.  “Not me.”  And the boy’s eyes shifted to look over McKay’s left shoulder.

 

McKay quickly turned his head…just in time to see Garron hit him with a Wraith stunner.

__________________________________________

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: END GAME

 

Ren swallowed hard, looking down at the unconscious man at his feet.  Biting his lip, he looked up at Garron.

 

The teenager was furious.

 

"What the hell was that about!" Garron yelled. "You were supposed to bring McKay straight to the jumper!  Now we're going to have to drag him over there!"

 

"I was..." Ren sniffed, "I was getting to it."

 

"Like hell you were!"  Garron reached out, grabbing his brother's thin arm in a harsh grip. "He almost had time to use his radio!  And now we have to drag him over there!"

 

"But, I..."

 

"Don't even try, Ren.  You were showing off.  Admit it.  You had to show McKay how clever you were, just one last time!"

 

"But...."

 

"Just shut up and help me!"  Garron put the stunner down and walked around to McKay's torso, tipping the scientist onto his back and getting his arms under McKay's.

 

"Watch his back!" Ren said, without thinking.  Garron's eyes lifted to glare at his brother. Ren looked down and moved around to help drag McKay by his arms.

 

Slowly, steadily, they got McKay over to the cloaked jumper, and Garron roughly dropped the scientist on the base of the ramp.  Ren grimaced as he noted some red seeping into the bandage on McKay's neck—they must have torn some of the still healing skin. 

 

"Help me put him in the trunk," Garron said, getting a better grip under McKay in order to pull him up the ramp.  Ren stopped, eyes wide.

 

"What?"

 

"In the trunk.  Neera's idea.  She doesn't want to listen to him whine all the way back to Genii once he wakes up."

 

The trunk had held their weapons, poison, and various other items intended to bring down the Atlantians. It was about five feet long, two feet wide and two feet deep.  Ren saw that Garron had emptied all the junk out and shoved the contents to the side. 

 

"But it's...it's almost air tight.  And it's metal.  He'll...."

 

"He'll be fine," Garron sneered. "He won't suffocate—as you said, it's only almost air tight.  Plus, Neera and Freya have to be on their way soon.  With our luck, he won't even wake from the stun before we're through to the other side."  Garron grunted as McKay's booted foot got stuck on a bit of the ramp.  "Now help me!"

 

"But he's claustrophobic!" Ren argued again. "If he wakes up..."

 

"What is wrong with you!  Help me!" Garron stared at Ren like he had sprouted another head. "Don't do this, Ren! Not now!"

 

Ren shook his head, and a tear ran down his face. "Garron...please...."

 

The older boy just gritted his teeth, then, with a dark expression, wrenched McKay the rest of the way up the ramp on his own.  Once inside the jumper, he practically dumped McKay into the trunk, mindful only of the man's head.  Ren jogged the rest of the way inside, helping only to stop Garron hurting McKay anymore.

 

In moments, Garron had the lid of the trunk closed, sealed and bolted. 

 

Ren backed away, then looked at his older brother.  "Garron, I—"

 

"Don't talk to me," the older boy snarled, turning away and heading up to the pilot's seat.  Sitting down in the chair, he leaned forward and touched the console.

 

The whole thing lit up under his hands.

 

It was why the two Lorrell boys had been chosen for this mission.

 

They both had the gene.

________________________________________________

 

The world was losing cohesion for the Satedan.

 

Ronon was trailing well behind the two marines now, feet dragging along the hall.  Fact was, all three of them were moving slowly, slower than any of them should.  But Ronon was barely hanging on to his control, making the other two look spry.  Only his enormous stubbornness was keeping him moving.

 

The rooms were growing progressively darker in his vision, and his hearing seemed to grow more dulled with each plodding footstep.  His stomach was turning and heaving, like a washing machine, and he could taste bile on his tongue.  Every muscle felt like it was growing numb, atrophying even as he tried to force his body to keep moving.

 

He was lagging behind the two marines now, and one of them finally stopped to glance back at him.  Something in Ronon’s appearance must have made him stop, because he was calling to the other marine.

 

Ronon barely heard the shout. 

 

He wasn’t sure when he fell exactly, just that, suddenly, he was on the ground, staring at the booted feet of one of the marines now standing by his head.

 

And suddenly, he was throwing up violently, painfully, choking on it.  He felt the marine’s hands on him, tilting him on his side.  He heard them calling for help, and he tried to hold on to consciousness…

 

But the world just swirled away.

__________________________________________

 

Beckett had managed to change the music to a mix he had made.  He’d downloaded some of his own music onto Laura’s iPod, and, as Mouth Music’s "He Mandu" started to beat, he put the volume on high and let it wash over him.

 

Where the hell were Sheppard, McKay and the others?

 

It occurred to him he had to survive this.  He had to warn them…

 

He had to tell them that Neera and the children…were dangerous.

 

Worse, they might even be…working for the Wraith….

 

He stared up at the Wraith device…and prayed to God it wasn’t transmitting something.

 

Damn it…he had to do something!

 

And then the shadows around him grew suddenly deeper and darker, as a huge, long object blocked the sunlight over his head.

______________________________________

 

Elizabeth rubbed at her beating head, fighting to stay upright. The world was growing increasingly difficult to keep in focus.  She caught worried stares from the people around her, pausing to check on her every so often. 

 

“You heard McKay,” she said tiredly. “Keep looking.”  Still using the pillar as leverage, she shifted around it a little to glance over at Radek in the far corner.

 

Her eyes widened.  The Czech was slumped over his console—asleep.

 

Suddenly, her tiredness no longer felt natural.

 

The radio exploded then with news of Ronon's collapse and calls for a medical team, and Elizabeth's eyes widened.

 

“Oh my God,” she whispered.  Pushing herself off the pillar, she landed hard on the console in front of the Canadian sergeant, who jumped back a little at her sudden move.  "We've been poisoned.  Call the infirmary—something in the food. We've been tricked!"

 

And then her eyes widened even more as she realized that Neera probably hadn't acted alone, and she hit her radio, "Rodney!  Rodney, come in!"

 

The silence was like a censure, and Elizabeth looked upwards, hitting her radio again. "Colonel Shep—"

 

"We found him!" Laura Cadman's excited voice burst over the comm.. "We found Carson!"

__________________________________________

 

Neera's head snapped up at the news that Beckett had been found came in clearly over the radio they'd stolen from Beckett.  Damn it!  Too soon!  They weren't supposed to find him until after they had shut off the Wraith device remotely. 

 

"Freya!" The Genii commander turned to look at the little girl, who was still fiddling with the laptops.  “Time to go!” she snapped.  “Unplug those damn things, get them in the bags, and let’s get the hell out of here!”  As Freya rushed to comply, Neera pushed back her right sleeve to reveal the bracelet radio.  Garron, how’s it going?”

 

We've got McKay.  Jumper’s ready to go.”

 

“Okay.  We’re on our way!  If we're not there in fifteen minutes...go without us.”

 

There was a pause, then, "Yes, Commander."

 

Neera turned her gaze back to Freya, who was still trying to unplug things. "Freya! NOW!"

 

The death glare the little girl sent her even surprised Neera with its intensity.

__________________________________________

 

Sergeant Greene lowered himself slowly down from Cadman's jumper, landing just above Beckett's still form.  He could see the physician watching him through half lidded eyes.  There was blood on his forehead, some of which had run down into Beckett's mouth.  His body was at an ugly angle, and even from here, Greene could see the bruising along the Scot's side, where the fleece had hitched up to reveal skin.  The iPod was still playing away on his stomach, emitting some strange techno like music the American medic had never heard before.

 

He stopped when he saw the Wraith device, his heart catching in his throat.

 

"Greene," Beckett whispered, obviously seeing him clearly.  He reached up his right hand, and Greene moved close enough to snag it in his own.

 

"Sir!  How...how are you feeling?"  Greene's nervousness wasn't assuaged by the worry on Beckett's face.

 

"Warn...you..." Beckett gasped out. "It was...Neera and Freya....pushed me...think they're...Wraith sympathizers...."

 

Greene's eyes fairly popped out of his head, and he looked up at the two jumpers hovering over them, and caught sight of Lorne's dark expression in the window of the other jumper.

 

"Did you hear that, sir?"  the medic asked the major over his radio.

 

"Relaying that information now," Lorne replied darkly, then obviously changed to a wider frequency with a tap of his comm. "Colonel Sheppard, this is Major Lorne.  We have been compromised."

______________________________________________

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: BEST LAID PLANS

 

Sheppard rocketed back towards the jumper bay, looking worriedly over at Teyla.  The Athosian was slumped in her seat, eyes barely open and shivering.  A glance behind him, his first, really, to check on the young archaeologist with them, showed Standish had at some point fallen asleep on the small desk.

 

Elizabeth's warning, demanding they all return and Rodney's sudden disappearance, came on the heels of Cadman's exclamation about finding Beckett and, a second later, Lorne's information about Neera and the children.

 

And Sheppard was furious. 

 

He, and the other jumpers not involved in Beckett's rescue descended into the bay and docked swiftly.  Medical teams swarmed into the room as Sheppard learned that Teyla and Standish were not the only two who had succumbed during the search.  Lucky for them, none of the pilots had eaten much or at all at breakfast.

 

But most of Atlantis had.

 

And Ronon, Sheppard knew, had eaten more than anyone.

 

"How the hell could this have happened!" he yelled up at the massive room.

_________________________________________________ 

 

Garron smirked as he watched Sheppard yell at the room around him through the cloaked jumper's window.  Served the bastard right.

 

Brought down by one Genii commander and three kids.  Suckered and beaten, just as Cowen had predicted the Atlantians would be. 

 

It had been a brilliant plan, one they had executed perfectly.  The Lorrell name would be lauded for generations because of this.  He just wished his father could be there to see this.  Their mother's betrayal would be forgotten, and they'd be heroes!

 

Looking to the right, he saw Ren sitting very quietly in the co-pilot's chair, still looking like the world was going to end.

 

"Come on, Rennie," the older boy said, "We did it!  Look at them!  Scurrying around like insects!  We've won!"

 

Ren didn't answer, just continued to stare out the window. 

 

Garron sighed and looked forward again.  Sheppard had already left.  Looking up, he saw another jumper descend into the bay.  Major Lorne's.  All that was left now were the two returning from the Mainland and Cadman's, with Beckett. 

 

He looked down at his watch.  Neera should be coming soon.

 

"Not long now," he said quietly. 

 

The grin left his face when he saw a whole new set of people rush into the Jumper Bay in white coats, with a gurney.  They filled the floor.

 

"Uh oh," he muttered, "that could be a problem."

______________________________________________________

 

Sheppard barged into Weir's office with a rebel yell, startling the woman struggling to stay awake behind her desk.

 

"What the HELL!" he shouted, walking right up to her desk and slamming his hands down, causing everything on it to move.  She gazed up at him through red eyes, the grit of her jaw showing just how hard she was fighting the drug in her system. 

 

"John," she greeted.

 

"What are we?" he demanded, throwing his arms up.  "The chumps of the Pegasus Galaxy?  Is everyone in this goddamned galaxy out to SCREW US OVER?" 

 

Elizabeth sighed softly, rubbing at her forehead with her hand. "It would appear so," she said, her voice strained. For the first time, he seemed to notice that she was hurting.

 

"Oh hell," he said, his voice softening, "you too?"

 

She just gave a half shrug and a nod, and Sheppard slumped, leaning heavily against her desk. For a moment he said nothing, just lowered his head, until a soft sigh passed his lips.

 

"McKay's missing," he noted quietly.

 

"Yes.  Ren took him somewhere.  I can only assume it was an ambush.  Again, the life signs detector is no help."

 

Sheppard winced a little. "Do you think they've—"

 

"I think we should just assume that they've kidnapped him, for now."  Elizabeth's voice was very quiet. "And hidden him as they did Beckett.  We're surmising that the Wraith device was somehow hiding Carson from our sensors, transmitting some sort of blocker. We do know it's not transmitting into subspace, however...which is a good thing."

 

Sheppard took in a sharp breath through his nose, saying nothing for a moment.  He just sat, staring out the glass windows through to the Gate Room.

 

Oddly, the thing that came to his mind then...was post it notes.  And paperclips.  And pens.  And his discussion with McKay about what would happen if a real thief hit Atlantis.

 

What was it McKay had said? You can't get off Atlantis without someone knowing.

 

They were still here.  McKay was still here.  They just had to find him. 

 

"What I don't understand," Elizabeth said after a moment, almost as if to break the silence, "is what they are trying to accomplish.  Hurting Beckett and Ronon, poisoning us, now possibly hurting Rodney—"

 

"Beckett said they were Wraith sympathizers."  He shrugged.

 

"Yes, but..."  Elizabeth frowned, resting her head in both her hands now, "To what end?"

 

"Disruption? Distraction?"  He shook his head. "Deflection?"

 

"From what?  Long range sensors are working fine. There is nothing out there.  And we've run several diagnostics on the Gate and the Iris.  It's all fine."

 

"Decimation?" he asked then, looking out at the skeleton crew working the main consoles.  Normally, there were a good ten people in that room at any one time.  Now there were two.  Hell of a lot of good they would be if someone decided to attack now.  And Beckett and McKay combined were probably the Wraith's two greatest human threats...

 

But Elizabeth was right.  There was nothing out there. And no one was coming in that Gate with the Iris working.

 

"Let's stick with distraction," Elizabeth said, the words barely over a whisper. "Decimation...is not a possibility I wish to entertain right now."

 

Sheppard snorted.  She wasn't the only one.  Finally, he shrugged.

 

"I don't know what they want," he said.  He sighed again, and turned to look at her. She was cradling her head on her arms now.  He grimaced.  "Look, why don't I take you down to—"

 

"No," she said, sitting up again. "Not until this crisis is over."

 

He arched an eyebrow, and was about to speak again when the radio chirruped in his ear.  He tapped. "Sheppard."

 

"Sir," Cadman's voice was brittle, "We have Carson in the Jumper.  We're...we're bringing him in now."  She sounded terrible, as if it hurt to speak.

 

"Roger that," he replied, "I'll see you up in the Bay."  He stood up and glanced at Elizabeth.  "At least agree to go to the infirmary to see Beckett after they get him down there."

 

She stared at him, then gave a nod. "Okay. But I won't stay there.  Not until—"

 

"I know," he said, smiling slightly. Giving her another nod, he turned and jogged out of the office, already tapping his radio to check on the search teams now scouring the City for Neera and McKay.

______________________________________

 

Neera grabbed a fistful of Freya's sleeve and pulled her into an alcove, holding her tight as a contingent of marines swarmed past, on their way to the infirmary.  They were only a few levels below the Control Room and, of course, the Jumper Bay, but the way the Atlantian military was combing the floors, it might as well have been a few miles.

 

As the hallway quieted, she sighed and patted her pocket, where the second Wraith device was, hiding them from the sensors, as its twin had hidden Beckett.  Not that it would do much good if someone actually saw them.

 

Swearing, Neera tapped her wrist bracelet, "Garron!"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"We've got problems."

 

"So have we.  They're bringing Beckett in soon.  There are people swarming all over the place now in here, and more to come from the sounds of it."

 

"Damn it," Neera swore, looking down at Freya's blonde head, then again out of the alcove. "Can you get out?"

 

"No.  The floor of the Bay has a bunch of medical personnel standing right on top of the exit, waiting for the jumper to arrive.  I don't think we're going anywhere until Beckett's taken care of."

 

"Hell!" Neera spat, leaning her head back against the wall behind her. "How the hell did they find him so fast?"  

 

Garron didn't answer.  Neera sighed heavily, then pursed her lips.

 

"Okay.  The moment that Bay empties, you get out of there, whether we're there or not."

 

"Yes, Commander."

 

"Do you have any idea how soon that might be?"

 

"Um...," Garron paused, then sighed. "Half an hour?  We're trying to keep up with the chatter about Beckett's status, but...we can't really tell how it's going."

 

Neera sighed again, then shrugged.  "Well, on the bright side, that helps me and Freya.  We can barely go ten feet without almost getting run over by these Atlantian maggots and having to duck and hide."  She shook her head, "Just...go as soon as you can."

 

"Yes, Commander."

 

Neera cut the communication on her bracelet, and peeked out of the alcove again. 

 

"Okay," she said softly to the girl with her, "let's keep pushing."

_____________________________________________

 

Sheppard took the stairs two steps at a time, and tapped his radio again. "Lorne."

 

"Yes, sir?"

 

"What's the status?"

 

"We're going through Neera's rooms, sir, but they've been stripped clean.  They planned this well, sir."

 

Sheppard growled.  He had hoped for something, some clue as to Neera and her brood's whereabouts and what they might have used to poison the food. 

 

"Damn," he muttered, stopping on the stairs and grabbing the rail as, for a moment, a short dizzy spell hit him.  It soon passed—replaced by anger.  Like the heat of the sun burning off a fog. It boiled through him in waves, shifting between simmering hot to full blown broil with each shifting thought.

 

What the hell!  What the FUCK! WHAT WAS WRONG WITH HIM?  How the hell did they get duped...again?!  And by Wraith sympathizers?  What the hell?  Were they all named Neera?  Note to self, Sheppard, never trust anyone named Neera!  Next time you meet someone named Neera, shoot first and run far, far away.

 

Hell, hell, hell, hell...

 

Part of him was aware that he was usually in more control than this—suggesting the drug was still affecting him. 

 

Most of him decided he didn't care.  The anger felt good, in an odd way.  No wonder McKay liked it so much.

 

The radio chirruped in his ear again, and he tapped it, "What?  Tell me you found McKay?"

 

"Uh," Lorne's voice already sounded apologetic, "No sir. No sign. Actually, sir, I'm calling to ask you for permission to take another jumper into the sky."

 

"What? Why?"

 

"If they have another of those Wraith device, sir, they could be—"

 

"Oh, good point," Sheppard said, cutting him off. He tapped his radio again, "Elizabeth."

 

"Yes?" she replied, still much too quiet.

 

"Is someone scanning for Wraith technology in Atlantis?  If they are using another one to mask their and McKay's life signs or their own, we can locate them that way."

 

"Of course.  I'll get someone right on it."

 

He nodded.  Man—they were all thinking slow, weren't they?  Elizabeth...or McKay... would normally have already been running with that idea. 

 

"Sir?" Lorne called again, interrupting Sheppard's cascading thoughts. "What about...?"

 

"Oh. No. Not just yet, Major, wait until Elizabeth's scans tell us something," Sheppard said, shaking his head. "They're here, probably in the Control Tower, and, with our manpower depleted, we need everyone covering the halls to find him."

 

"Him? You mean, them?"

 

Sheppard grimaced, not deigning to answer that. "Just tell me where you have your men stationed now."

 

"Covering all the entrances and exits to the Gate Room, and searching up and down the halls  near the transporters,  sir.  I've also seen to it that all non-essential personnel are secure in their quarters, and we've got men watching the water..."

 

"The water?  You think they've fashioned a boat, Major?"

 

"Anything's possible, sir."

v

Sheppard grunted, then frowned, as Lorne's statement gave him another thought, "What about the entrances to the Jumper Bay?"

 

"Sir?"

 

"They may not be able to initiate the Jumpers, Major, but if one is on, all they'd have to do is dial out.  Just like Ford, remember?"

 

"I thought Doctor McKay said he had set up some sort of program to stop that from happening again," Lorne noted.

 

"Yes, well, last I looked, McKay wasn't here to implement it, Major, and pretty much all of his team is unconscious in the infirmary or in their quarters, so...watch the entrances to the Bay."

 

There was a pause, then, tightly, "Yes, sir.  Any other orders?"

 

The colonel bit back the smart reply on his tongue by gnashing his teeth.  Taking in a sharp breath, he nodded sharply at nothing.  "Just keep looking.  They can't get out of this City without our seeing them, so...keep looking."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Sheppard sighed, turned and returned to climbing the stairs.  As he jumped from step to step, he tried to figure out just how many men he was down...and what their chances really were of finding Neera and her Children of the Corn before she did any more damage...or actually succeeded in killing someone. 

 

She'd already almost killed Beckett—and from Cadman's less than stoic description of his condition over the radio, she might still have done.  Then to find Ronon was in a coma, according to the haggard sounding Doctor Biro—one of the few doctors still upright—and seeing Elizabeth barely hanging on...

 

And now they had McKay.  Did they push him off a balcony too?  Or something worse...

 

No.  Don't think that way.  Elizabeth was right—for now, they just had to assume Rodney had been kidnapped.

 

Reaching the Jumper Bay's main entrance, he nodded to the two marines arriving at Lorne's orders to be  stationed there and hit the control to open the doors with a little more force than necessary.

 

Neera was not taking McKay from them.  He'd kill her first.

_________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE WALLS CLOSE IN

 

A strange sort of silence descended on the busy Jumper Bay, and both Garron and Ren stood up slightly in the pilot and co-pilot seats of their hidden Jumper, watching as the medical personnel and smattering of marines on the Bay’s floor all tipped their heads back to look up.

 

Leaning forward more over the console, Garron and Ren followed their gaze.

 

Slowly, as if it were carrying the finest crystal, a jumper descended into the bay.  In an almost hushed manner, it leveled out smoothly and came to a rest in the middle of the floor, touching the ground as if settling on a bed of pillows.  Garron grimaced, catching sight of Lieutenant Cadman’s taut expression through the window as she landed Jumper Two—she looked like she was about to break. 

 

Like exhaling a held breath, the back hatch opened and, the moment it touched the floor, the room exploded in noise.

 

A black doctor, tall and thin, stormed into the Jumper, yelling orders in a voice that belied his frame.  They had seen him before—a quiet, reserved man with a kind smile, always in the background—but with Beckett as the patient and most of the other physicians sick by Neera’s poison—he had become the one in charge. 

 

And he did it well.  There was no hesitation among his crew as demands for medicines and oxygen and braces were called for, no questioning as monitors beeped and whined when hooked up, no confusion as people swirled like eddies in and out of the small ship following his orders.  One thing about the people in Atlantis, Garron realized, they all knew their stuff, whether they were the heads or not.

 

They could still see Cadman through the front window of the Jumper, stuck in the front while they worked on the man she cared for more than anyone else in the City in the rear compartment.  The lieutenant stood up straight, not moving a muscle in her black military outfit, while white clad people framed her in the background through the window, flittering around like clouds of smoke.

 

At some point, Colonel Sheppard jogged into the Bay, asking quick, insistent questions and being answered with head shaking.  The Colonel’s face tried to hide it, but the concern and anger filling him was pretty visible, especially when he got the chance to see Beckett’s condition for himself.  He backed off for a little while, just watching, then seemed to shake out of his reverie.  They heard him bark an order about being informed when Beckett was moved to the Infirmary, then he was gone again.

 

“Commander Cowen was right,” Garron said quietly, watching all this with an impressed air, “Doctor Beckett is beloved by these people. There’s multiple crises going on, and yet this one clearly dominates them all.”  He tilted his head a little, “He was the right choice to use as the decoy.”

 

The coldness of these words seeped into the already shivering Ren.  The boy looked over at his older brother, eyes almost too big.

 

“I think,” he said, his voice almost tentative, “that these people who do the same for any one of their own.  They protect each other above all.  I don’t think it would have mattered who it was.”

 

Garron frowned a little, eyes narrowing as he looked at the younger boy. “Like the Genii, you mean,” he said, sneering a little. “You think they care about their people as much as we do ours.”

 

“No,” Ren said, “not like the Genii.”  The Atlantians care more, he added in his head.

 

Garron stared at him a moment longer, as if he could hear the traitorous words in Ren’s head, then looked back out the window.

 

A now burdened gurney was being wheeled rapidly down the jumper’s ramp to the floor, white clad personnel still swarming around it like bees stuck to honey.  They ran with the cart as it was pushed and pulled swiftly out of the Jumper Bay, heading towards the large transporter to take it to the Infirmary several floors below.

 

And, when it disappeared, once again, silence descended on the Jumper Bay.

 

Where there had been a couple dozen people, now there were just three.   Two of those were orderlies, from the looks of it.  They set about cleaning up the chaos left by Beckett’s return and departure, moving efficiently and without words.

 

The other was Lieutenant Cadman.

 

She had remained rooted in the front of her jumper, waiting for release.  Now that she had it, she seemed hesitant.  With an almost dazed air, she watched as the two orderlies cleaned around her and in the area outside in the Bay.

 

Slowly, she walked between them to the back hatch and down to the edge of the ramp.

 

“She needs to move that Jumper before we can leave,” Garron noted callously.  “It’s sitting right on top of the opening to the Gate Room.”

 

Ren didn’t say a word in reply.  His eyes just watched as the blonde marine took off her cap and sat down on the bottom of the ramp…and rested her head on her knees.

 

And started to cry.

 

The two orderlies never stopped cleaning around her.

________________________________________________

 

Hiding several floors above the infirmary floor, Freya and Neera watched through the holes in the metal grating as Beckett was wheeled swiftly through the halls below them towards the already burgeoning infirmary.  She caught sight of his pale, blood streaked face and some sort of tube down his throat before he was gone, disappearing almost as quickly as he had arrived. 

 

“He’s still alive,” Freya said, her tone despondent. 

 

“It’s a good thing,” Neera replied, shrugging as she watched the people milling about down below. She caught sight of what she thought was Colonel Sheppard with Elizabeth Weir’s arm around his shoulder a moment later, supporting the woman as they approached and entered the infirmary after Beckett.

 

“It’s a good thing?” Freya asked, her tone a cold sneer.  “How?”

 

“Just means they’re even more distracted, fighting to keep him alive.”

 

“But I want him dead!” Freya whined, loud enough for Neera to wince. 

 

The older woman grabbed the girl’s arm, drawing her close. “Are you trying to get us caught?  Keep quiet!”

 

“Let go of my arm,” Freya replied frostily, staring up hard at the older woman.  Neera grimaced, and gripped the arm even more tightly, getting nose to nose with the child. 

 

“Listen to me, little girl,” the Genii commander stated, “There is a time and a place for revenge, and a time and a place for following orders.  Right now, whether Carson Beckett or anyone else in this fetid swamp of a City lives or dies is not our concern.  Our mission is to get up to the Bay and escape with the gene therapy, the information we’ve gathered, the Jumper and McKay.  Everything else is secondary.  Do you understand?”

 

Freya didn’t answer, her eyes narrowed to almost slits.

 

“Do you understand?” Neera repeated, practically spitting out the words.

 

“I understand,” Freya replied tersely.

 

“Good,” Neera said, finally letting go the girl’s thin arm.  “Now, I saw a set of stairs at the end of this corridor which will probably be fairly empty right now.  We make it to those stairs, we have a good chance of getting all the way up to the top and the Jumper Bay with no one the wiser.  Are you ready for that?”

 

Freya gave a single nod, and Neera smiled, resting a hand lightly atop the blonde head. “Good girl.  Now,” the older woman stood up, glanced around, then back at Freya, “Follow me.”  And she took of at a steady jog. 

 

And Freya followed…for about two feet.  Then she stopped.

 

Already halfway down the corridor, Neera paused, realizing she was the only one running, and turned around, her face darkened in a frown.  Freya stood at the end of the corridor, watching her, golden hair glittering in the half-light of the shadowed alcove.

 

“Freya!” Neera hissed, “What are you doing?  We need to go.”

 

The young girl glared, then, unclipping the belt of her knapsack, let it fall to the floor.

 

“I understand, Commander,” Freya said then, pulling out what looked like an Atlantian 9MM from her belt, “But I don’t agree.  I didn’t come here to just steal from the Atlantians. I came here to make them pay.”

 

And, like a ghost, she turned and disappeared, leaving Neera staring wide-eyed at the discarded pack.

 

“Damn it,” she whispered.  Lifting up her wrist, she tapped the bracelet there, “Garron.  I have another problem.  I need Ren down here. Now.”

________________________________________________

 

Sheppard rested Elizabeth gently into a chair out in the already over-crowded “waiting room,” and watched as she slumped forward, breathing hard to keep herself awake just a little longer.  He then pushed through the doors into the heart of the infirmary, and was immediately assaulted by noise.

 

People covered every inch of space, some two to a bed, some on the floors or resting on gurneys in the middle hall.  Sheppard grimaced, stepping over what looked like Doctor Bryce sleeping on a pallet, and made his way over to Doctor Biro.  The pathologist, sometimes surgeon, was studying the chart over someone’s bed.  As he got closer, he realized it was Ronon.

 

Sheppard grimaced, seeing the normally unstoppable Satedan lying motionless on the cot, his face an unhealthy shade of pale.  It made the dark of his hair and eyebrows stand out in stark relief.  

 

Sliding quietly up alongside, he rested a hand on the cold arm, then looked up at Biro.

 

The physician ignored him for a minute, muttering to herself as she scribbled something on to the chart.  Finally, she lifted her eyes, peering at him over her glasses.  Lifting her head, she sighed and pushed the spectacles higher up on her nose.

 

“Colonel,” she greeted, her usual snip in her voice.

 

“Biro,” he answered back.  “How is he?”

 

“Not well.  We’re still working on isolating the poison, but while we have some good ideas, we haven’t nailed it down yet.  Until we do, there isn’t much we can do for him except try to keep him comfortable.”  She shrugged, “It would help if you could locate Neera and get a sample of what she used.  It would be much easier to find an antidote that way.”  There was no accusation in her voice, or demand, and yet, Sheppard felt one anyway.

 

Frowning, he looked down again at Ronon.  Teyla had said the Satedan had thought there was something wrong with Neera and her children.  He should have trusted the man’s instincts.  But then…Ronon hadn’t come to him with it.  He had told Teyla. Why hadn’t he come to him?

 

“Should have come to me,” he whispered, partly as a chastisement, partly as a censure of his own conduct.  Ronon needed to feel comfortable coming to him, and yet, apparently, he didn’t.  It was something they would have to work on.

 

When Ronon got better.

 

When everyone got better.

 

He looked up again, to see Biro still watching him, her eyes reminding him a little of a hawk’s eyes when they are studying a mouse skittering across the landscape.

 

“So you’re fine, right?” she asked, her tone curious.  “You didn’t eat any of the breakfast?”

 

“I only had a tiny amount,” he admitted. “I had other things on my mind at the time.”

 

She snorted, “Well, for once, your poor eating habits paid off.  How badly people have been affected is directly related to how much food they ate.  Most are just sleeping, like Teyla.”  She nodded behind her at the next infirmary bed, on which Teyla was sleeping. “Others are more serious.”  And she looked at Ronon again.

 

“Doctor Weir is outside,” Sheppard said then.  “She’s fighting it.  I don’t know how much she had, but she’s struggling to stay awake.  I tricked her to come here by telling her she needed to be here for Beckett.”

 

“Hmm,” Biro said, looking vaguely off in the direction of another room, “no one will be seeing Carson for a while. The new surgeon, Doctor Donovan,  is doing his best for him in there, but…”  Briefly, she let her true fears show on her face—the woman who deeply cared for her CMO as all who worked with Beckett did—before her ‘professional’ expression snapped back into place.  “I’m sure he’ll be fine,” she finished quickly, returning her attention to Ronon’s chart.

 

“I know Beckett's condition,” Sheppard said quietly.  “I saw him upstairs in the Bay.”

 

Biro stared at him a moment, then nodded.

 

“In any event, about Doctor Weir,” Biro shrugged again, “it’s good you brought her down.  She should be sleeping, like the others.  At this point, we’re fairly certain the poison was really just a strong sedative.  Most of the indicators have pointed in that direction.  Fighting it is just going to harm her.”

 

"If it's just a sedative," Sheppard frowned, “then why’s it killing Ronon?”

 

She rolled her eyes a little, “Because too much of anything is an overdose, Colonel, no matter what it is.  And overdoses are bad things.”  Her patronizing tone was rude, but not unusual for the woman.  It sort of reminded him of McKay.

 

Which was a nice punch in the gut.

 

He nodded to her, and stepped away.  He had to find Rodney.  “I have to go,” he informed her, “Can you take care of Elizabeth?  And keep me up to date on Carson and Ronon and…everyone else.  Just,” he frowned, “out of curiosity, have we got a head count on how many were affected?”

 

Biro grimaced, looking around the crowded room.  Fact was, most of the affected were in their own rooms, simply because they didn’t have the space. 

 

“At least half the City, by my estimation,” she replied.  She turned back to him, her eyes dark.  “Luckily for you, most of those are civilian. It would appear most of your men are still fine.”

 

Sheppard nodded—he'd just about worked that out for himself, but confirmation was a good thing. 

 

“Thanks, Doc,” he said, backing away some more.

 

“Good luck, Colonel,” Biro replied.  Sheppard grimaced, glancing at Ronon.

 

“You too,” he answered.  “For all our sakes.”

______________________________________________

 

Pins and needles.  Head to toe, pins and needles. 

 

McKay groaned, grimacing at the now all too familiar sensation of feeling his body wake up from being numbed from a stunner.  It was like having your funny bone whacked, except your whole body was your funny bone. 

 

Damned stunners.

 

How did he get hit again?  Oh…yes….

 

Garron.

 

Sheppard was going to be pissed.

 

They’d fallen for a bunch of cute kids.  Frikkin’ “Village of the Damned” all over again.  Of all people, he should have known: the cuter they are, the more evil they are. 

 

And he was the biggest sucker of them all.  And he didn’t even like kids! 

 

And yet…he’d come to like Ren.  Sort of.

 

He sighed.  Then frowned a little.  The air was stuffy—it tasted almost dead on his tongue.  And it was warm, almost uncomfortably so.

 

Where…?

 

Slowly, licking his dry lips, he managed to open tired eyes…and saw nothing.  Just black. Complete and total black.  He frowned, confused.  Surely he was still on Atlantis—where else could they be?  They couldn’t have gotten through the Gate…He lifted an arm, to reach out for a light or a switch…

 

And hit something. 

 

His heart skipped a beat as his hand splayed against a metal surface only about a foot over his head.  

 

He tried to move his bent legs, to stretch them out, but his knees hit the same metal ceiling and…and he couldn’t straighten his legs.  His feet hit an unyielding end wall.

 

Oh…God no….

 

His heart started to beat rapidly, filling his ears, and his breathing grew increasingly fast and shallow.  Desperately, he felt around his head and sides, shifted up and down inside the coffin…for he was sure it was a coffin…that he had been placed in.

 

“Hey,” he called, thumping against the metal over his head with his fist.  “Hey!  HEY!”

 

He was scrambling now, kicking at the end, punching the roof, dragging his fingers between the edges and corners of the metal box seeking a latch, any kind of latch...and finding none. 

 

"Help!  Help! HELP!"

 

His feet slammed against the foot of the coffin, he pushed with his arms against the head, his elbows hitting the sides. The pins and needles disappeared, replaced by the dull pain of bruises and the racing pain of high blood pressure.

 

“Let me out!” he screamed, banging at the walls. “Let me out!” 

 

Oh God…Oh God…how much air was there in here?  Why was it so hot?  Was it getting hotter?  OhGodohGodohGod

 

”LET ME OUT!  HELP ME!  SOMEONE!” 

 

He screamed then at the top of his lungs, his senses feeling the oxygen fading in the enclosed space, feeling the heat rising to suffocating levels….

 

NO!

 

“SHEPPARD!" he yelled, banging away again. "SHEPPARD! HELP ME! HELP ME!"

 

Gotta get out!  Gotta get out!  Gotta get out!

 

"GOD, SOMEONE, PLEASE! HELP ME!"

 

He wedged his almost non-existent nails into what felt like the lid edge, trying to pry it up, not caring when he felt them tear.  His feet banged against the metal end, knees slammed into the walls, and he screamed some more.

 

Some very tiny part of him knew what was happening, knew that this was his claustrophobia taking over, but most of him had no control at all.  He couldn’t stop, couldn’t think, couldn’t rationalize, couldn’t BREATHE!

 

“Let me out! Let me OUT!  LET ME OUT!”

 

His hands felt sticky, his back was on fire, his head was soaked with sweat.  Tears ran down his face, though he didn’t feel them.  All he could feel was the tightness of the coffin, the crushing weight of the walls, the oppressiveness of the silence and the dark....

 

And he screamed against it all.

___________________________________________

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE SCALES TIP BACK

 

Garron, now alone in the Jumper and nervous as hell, looked down at the metal trunk.  He could hear the desperate banging and muffled yelling—McKay had obviously woken up, though it was strongly muted by all that metal.

 

But all that screaming...the trunk wasn't air tight, but it was close.  McKay needed to stop.

 

He'd already tried shooting the trunk with his stunner, but it had no effect on the man inside.  The white light had just impacted the metal and shimmered into nothingness, and the banging hadn't stopped.

 

He grimaced, thinking about the delay now that they had to wait for Neera, Freya and Ren.  They were supposed to have been out of here over an hour ago.  Now Ren had gone to help Neera, and there was no way he was leaving without his brother.  Neera had ordered him to go within a certain time again—knowing that the longer they delayed, the more likely someone would figure out where they were, especially now that almost all the Jumpers were back in their docks—but…Garron wouldn’t leave without Ren.  He just wouldn’t.

 

But…he also really didn’t know enough about what could happen if McKay didn't calm down.  Damn it, the scientist would be no good to them dead.

 

Looking down at the stunner still in his hands, he flexed his hands around the thick handle.  The kind thing would be to open the trunk and stun McKay again before he could get out…but what if McKay overpowered him?  From the sound of it, the scientist was freaking out in there…Could he trust that he could open the lid, jump back and be fast enough to stun McKay again before McKay tackled him?

 

No, he wasn’t taking the risk.  McKay would just have to deal until Ren or one of the others came to help him.

 

A particularly loud bang from inside the trunk made Garron jump a little.

 

Swearing softly, the teenager made his way skittishly back to the front of the jumper.

 

Cadman had finally left, but Jumper Two was still sitting in the middle of the floor.  Why the hell hadn’t someone docked it yet?

 

Swallowing thickly, the boy held the stunner close to his chest. 

 

For the first time since this all started, he had enough time to grow scared.

 

“Come on, Ren,” he whispered, one leg beginning to shake with nerves. “Hurry up.”

_________________________________________

 

Ren made it down to the level Neera had described, and slid into the hidden alcove where she had supposedly been hiding with Freya.  There, resting against the wall in the shadows, were the two rucksacks.

 

Grimacing, he grabbed the larger one and muscled it onto his back, trying to ignore the weight.

 

Yeah…right.

 

Clipping it into place, he adjusted the straps as best he could until he felt he could handle it…then went to pick up the other.

 

He nearly fell over.

 

Swearing, he just grabbed the nylon handle on the top of the smaller rucksack…and started to drag it.

 

Just two levels up, he thought to himself, you can do it.

 

Garron’s waiting for you.

 

He's waiting.

 

He had to believe that.

___________________________________________

 

Biro pulled the laboratory results up on her screen of Ronon's latest tox screen, her sharp eyes quickly scanning the information.  Words and numbers finally came together in her mind in a clear picture.

 

A smile graced her face.

 

"So that's what you are," she whispered in relief, making a fist with her right hand next to the keyboard.  Banging it against the lab bench, she stood up and started yelling orders for flumazenil.

___________________________________________

 

Freya ducked into a darkened doorway, holding her breath.

 

Sheppard and several marines strode past her hiding place, headed in the direction she had just come from, towards where she had left Neera.  Her eyes skimmed the shadowed storage room she'd ended up in, glancing at the partially filled shelves then back again through open doorway at the brightly lit hall.  

 

As Sheppard and the marines disappeared around the corner, she let go the breath, exhaling loudly.

 

Neera.  She vaguely wondered if the Genii commander would keep going, or come after her.  Probably keep going.  If Neera came after her now, she’d run straight into Sheppard.

 

Not that Freya cared.

 

Well, she cared about Neera getting caught, but she didn’t care whether Neera came after her or not.

 

That is, she didn’t want to be left behind, but…she had made a vow.  She swore that she wouldn’t leave until someone here was dead.  And, once she saw how much the people here cared about him, had decided that someone was Carson Beckett.  She wanted the Atlantians to know her pain—the pain of losing someone you truly loved. And, as far as she could tell, Beckett was probably the most beloved person here. The fact that Beckett had been one of the Atlantians still here when Kolya had stormed the City last year—the stories from Layton and Sora’s retellings were well known to every Genii—only made it sweeter. 

 

More marching footsteps, and Freya held her breath again.

 

Damn it—how was she going to get anywhere with all these people around?

 

Neera’s poison was supposed to have taken care of this.  That and Beckett as a decoy.  But they had found Beckett too soon.  And then there was that Ronon character, whom Garron liked so much, alerting them to the dangers of the poison too quickly.  Served the glutton right for eating too much, Freya sneered, but it had screwed up the plan.

 

Two marines moved past, this time with what looked like one marine slung over a shoulder.  It was a slightly built woman soldier with long dark brown hair. Another sucker lost to Neera’s poison.

 

Freya touched her blonde head.  She wanted to dye it dark, like that woman soldier.  She’d blend in better into shadows if she had dark hair. 

 

She sighed, looking down at the gun in her hand.  It felt big and heavy, though nowhere near as heavy as the Genii ones.  She could get her hand around these Atlantian weapons, almost as if they wanted kids to be able to use guns.  Genii weapons were for soldiers, not children…

 

Not that she was a child.

 

At least, not anymore.  Not since learning that her brother and father had been killed without ever seeing the faces of their killers. Her father was part of the first strike force, and Layton had reported him one of the first to be killed, lured into a trap by Sheppard. And then her brother had been crushed against the gate shield, coming to help Kolya, while McKay and Weir refused to give up the codes to release it.  He hadn't deserved that.  He should have gone down fighting!

 

The gun seemed to grow bigger in her sight, heavier.

 

She would make them pay. She’d make sure they saw her face.  She’d tell them why too.  She wanted them to know.

 

If she did this…would they kill her?  Probably.  They protected their own here, that she knew.

 

She closed her eyes.

 

She wasn’t scared.  She had made a vow.

 

She was going to do this.

 

She looked up, and realized that the footsteps were gone. Had been for a while.

 

She peeked out of the doorway, then snuck the rest of the way out into the hall and kept low.

 

Not much farther now.

 

And it would all be over.

 

“Freya!” Neera’s voice snapped in her ear. 

 

Before the little girl knew what was happening, she was being dragged back into the dark room.  Eyes wide, she stared up at the older woman glaring down at her, iron grip fastened on her arm.

 

Neera?”

 

"You're coming with me," the older woman hissed. "Or so help me...I'll kill you right here."

_______________________________________________________

 

"Colonel Sheppard," the Canadian Sergeant's voice held a hint of pride as it came over the airways, and Sheppard hit his radio.

 

"Here."

 

"I've got them, sir.  There is at least one additional Wraith device in Atlantis not where it's supposed to be.  And it's on—probably masking life signs, like the one that hid Doctor Beckett from us."

 

"Where?"

 

"About a hundred feet behind you, in the direction of the Infirmary. Storage Room B3."

 

Sheppard's face broke into a dark smile, "Thank you," he said into the radio, and he meant it.  Eyes glittering, he looked at the men with him. "Let's go."  He hit his radio again, "Major, did you copy that?"

 

"Yes, sir," Lorne's voice replied. "I'll meet you there."

__________________________________________________

 

 

Freya grimaced, her eyes narrowing slightly as she stared up at the woman towering over her.    “Why won’t you let me finish this?” she demanded, her hushed tone strained.

 

“Because you’re going to get caught,” Neera answered, “And I can’t allow that.”

 

Freya appeared confused, “But…but I heard you tell Garron to leave without us if we didn’t get up there in time, so why does it matter if—“

 

“There’s a big difference, Freya,” Neera said, bending down so she could look the girl straight in the eye.  “If we didn’t escape with the boys, then we would continue to use this,” she reached into her vest and pulled out the Wraith device masking their life signs, “to hide ourselves with.  This City is huge, and the Atlantians barely occupy a quarter of it.  If the boys left, I’d take you out to a corner of the City, and we’d hide until that time when we can make our own escape, whether it be in the middle of the night or by some other means.  At no point, however, would I allow us to be captured.  I would kill us both first.”

 

“Why?”

 

“You know why,” Neera spat. “Because the moment they learn it was the Genii that took their precious Doctor McKay, they would do everything in their power to get him back.  And whether they succeed or not, it would start a war that Cowen does not want and probably couldn't win."

 

Freya frowned, her eyes dark, "You're assuming I would tell them who I was."

 

Neera gave her a knowing look. "Don't take me for a fool, Freya.  Isn't that what you were planning to do?" she asked. "You were going to tell them why you were making them pay—which means telling them who you are."

 

Freya stared, then looked to the side.

 

Okay, she hadn't thought about that.

 

"Listen to me," Neera hissed, "This can't be about you.  It can't be about any of us.  You think I don't want to prove myself to Cowen?  You think I don't know that I was picked for this mission because I was old enough to play an older motherly type—which is too old to be considered a real soldier anymore?  You think Garron isn't trying to make up for the black mark his mother's betrayal cost his family?  You think Ren would be here if he didn't love his brother so much?  But it can't be about any those things, no more than it can be about your revenge.  This is about stealing a puddle jumper and the Atlantian's most valuable asset—McKay—for the Genii.  Nothing more."

 

Freya kept her eyes averted, waging an internal war within herself.

 

"Freya," Neera said, gripping the arms tighter, "I need to know that you are Genii...not a rogue."

 

The girl's eyes squinted shut, then opened again.

 

"Freya!"

 

"I am Genii," Freya whispered tightly.

 

Neera took in a deep breath, then nodded, exhaling a sigh.  Nodding, she was about to say something else when someone cleared their throat.  Her eyes widened, and she and Freya both turned to look out the door into the lit hallway.

 

Colonel Sheppard stood there with about a half dozen troops at his back.

 

"Genii, huh?" he said, eyes narrowed to slits. "Well, that certainly explains a lot."

__________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: CONFRONTATIONS

 

McKay had stopped screaming.  His voice had worn out—he couldn't draw in enough air to try anymore anyway.

 

He just pressed against the top of the coffin, nails digging into it, as if he could claw his way out. 

 

With oversensitive skin, he felt the metal slowly stripping under his ministrations, and he scraped and scraped until he could no longer feel the tips of his fingers. 

 

Finally, his numb hands fell to his burning chest, shaking against the hard ribcage, refusing to work anymore, the abused fingers curling in on themselves like drying flower petals. 

 

His lungs felt like they were bound by steel cables.  He could draw air in, but his lungs didn't expand with oxygen.  They just burned more with each breath.  To make it worse, his ears had started to ring, a sort of low pitched buzzing, while around him, he had begun to see images in the darkness—night terrors.  Ghosts of memories come to life in the darkness in his mind's eye.

 

His eyes closed.

 

He couldn't breathe.

 

He couldn't hear.

 

He couldn't see.

 

He couldn't do anything.

 

The eyes opened again, and they absorbed the total blackness, letting it flow into his mind and through his body.  It was comforting in its coldness.

 

Turning, he curled in on himself, pressing his hands to the side of his face to cover it.

 

And the walls finished closing in.

 

And crushed him.

________________________________________________

 

"Where is he?" Sheppard growled, lifting the gun higher. The dark storage room came to life with light, showing both of them clearly.  Neera sneered back, her eyes mocking as she tucked Freya behind her.  Sheppard walked straight up to her, staring down at the older woman...then reached behind her to twist the gun out of Freya's grasp, ignoring the young girl's gasp.  Tossing it to Lorne coming up beside him, he returned his glare to Neera.  "Where is he?" he demanded again.

 

Neera just shrugged, "Who?  Is someone missing?"

 

"I wouldn't test me," the colonel hissed. "Where did you put him?"

 

She shook her head, and smiled again.

 

So Sheppard clubbed her, hard.

 

It was more than vicious enough to draw blood, staggering Neera and causing her to fall to one knee.  Freya whimpered softly, holding Neera up from behind before she could fall the rest of the way down.

 

Neera growled angrily, glaring back at Sheppard, never giving up her sneer, even despite the blood now running from her nose.  Sniffing, she wiped a hand across her face and then, arching an eyebrow, smiled up at him again.

 

Anger flooded Sheppard's veins, and he reached down, grabbing her by the straps of the military vest she wore and shaking her roughly. "Where is McKay!"

 

The smile didn't shift.

 

Damn it, he didn't have time for this.  With a snarl, he threw her towards the door. "Get moving."

 

Neera stood for a moment in the entrance, before one of the other marines shoved her forward again, pointing her in the direction of the Infirmary.  Glancing back, Sheppard saw Freya was now being held in an iron grip by Major Lorne. The younger man nodded—he was more than happy to drag her.  Sheppard nodded back, spun around and strode out of the room after Neera and the other marines. 

 

"Where are you taking us?" Freya whined, trying to pull herself free of Lorne's hold as he dragged her out after them.  The major stripped her of her bracelet radio as he got her moving.

 

"The infirmary," Sheppard replied from his position in front, stripping Neera of her bracelet radio as well and doing a quick check for weapons, before pushing her forward again. "So you can tell Doctor Biro exactly what was in the food you served us this morning."

 

Neera just snorted a laugh, shaking her head as she glared back at him. "What makes you think we know?"

 

Sheppard glared at her, and shoved again, "And then you are going to tell us exactly where Ren and Garron are, and what you've done with McKay."

________________________________________________

 

At Sheppard's statement, Neera just smiled coldly.  Obviously, Sheppard hadn't heard her entire conversation with Freya, or he would have known about the cloaked jumper in the Bay.  "I'll never tell you anything of the sort."

 

Sheppard didn't look at her as he answered, "We'll see if you still feel that way after an injection of sodium pentothal."

 

She frowned, not recognizing the drug. "Of what?"

 

He just smiled.  Neera gritted her teeth, looking forward. She couldn't let them be injected with something she didn't know.  Was it a truth drug?  A poison?  A stimulant?

 

Freya started to cry softly, not hiding that she was scared. Neera wasn't sure whether it was faked or not.

 

They were coming up to an intersection in the hallway.  Mentally, the Genii commander placed the marines around her—Sheppard at her back, one man in front of her, two men behind Sheppard, then Lorne and Freya, and one more behind them.

 

Her hand slid down her right leg, to feel the butt of the knife hidden there.

 

Then it went behind her back, and she formed a "V" with her fingers, hoping Freya would see the signal.

 

The little girl, who had been heretofore been whimpering suddenly burst into a full blown hissy fit.

 

Neera had to fight a smile. Good girl.  She felt the men all hesitate, and, as they reached the intersection, heard Lorne's yelp of pain.  The soldier in front of her turned around to look, and she acted.

 

Her hands grabbed at his half turned frame and wrenched, pulling him fully around and with a well placed shoved, sent him reeling into Sheppard who was just catching on that something was happening.  At the same time, she pulled the Wraith hand stunner from the man's holster.

 

"Freya!" she yelled, stunning one of the guards behind Sheppard with the Wraith gun at the same time as she pulled her knife, "Run!"  She threw the knife at the other guard behind Sheppard who was raising his P90 at her.

 

Her eyes never left the men she fought to check on Freya—she'd trusted the girl's training to have gotten herself free.  Instead, she stunned the guard she thrown at Sheppard, managing to hit both of them with one jolt, and took off running down the left hand hallway.  Gunfire exploded behind her as one of the marines must have recovered, but she managed to get around another corner and down another hallway without being hit.

 

Her mental map had her heading back to the back stairs to the Bay.

 

Freya was on her own now.

__________________________________________

 

Freya had kicked Lorne in the shin, following it by a sold punch to his groin, then whipped around to plunge her hidden knife into the hip of the soldier behind her.

 

Laughing insanely, the girl pulled the knife out and ran down the other hallway...headed for the infirmary.

_________________________________________

 

"Sergeant!" Sheppard yelled into his radio, shaking off the tingling from the stunner—it had hit the marine Neera had thrown at him, and he had received a strange sort of aftershock by being in contact with him, but it hadn't knocked him out. "Tell me you have them on your screen!"  As he spoke, he took stock—two men stunned, one man with a knife in the shoulder, the other gripping a bleeding leg, and Lorne...

 

"I do, sir," answered the Canadian tech, "I've one life sign moving very swiftly...towards the south end stairs.  The other...straight to the infirmary."

 

"Major Lorne," Sheppard turned to look at the Major, who was wiping tears from his eyes as he gasped for breath, still half bent over, "you've the infirmary."

 

Lorne's shaky affirmative was to thin air as Sheppard took off after Neera.

__________________________________________

 

Ren wiped the sweat from his forehead, trying to calm his breathing as he reached the Jumper Bay level.  Sliding down the hall towards the bay, jumping at every noise that someone might be coming, he darted in and out of doorways, rooms and pillars, dragging the second rucksack the whole time.  It amazed him that he hadn't been spotted.  His only theory was that the Atlantians must have been spread too thin to be able to watch every nook—meaning they were only focused on watching the main corridors and entrances and exits.

 

Breathing hard, he reached the last room before getting back to the Jumper Bay.  This was the hardest part.  He'd managed to slip out of the Bay past the guards watching the doors by climbing through the ventilation system inside the walls, to get into the room he was now in.  But the shaft was barely large enough for him to slide through, because of his size.  There was no way he could get back in with the two rucksacks the same way.

 

Which meant....

 

He blew the air out of his cheeks, and lifted up his wrist to reveal the bracelet radio. He tapped it, "Garron."

 

A pause, then, "Ren."

 

"I'm outside the South entrance to the Jumper Bay—in the first room on the right.  I need you to stun the guards standing in front of the door."

 

"Right. How's now?"

 

Ren had to smile, "Now's good."

 

Silencing the radio, he moved towards the door, and waited.

_____________________________________________

 

Sheppard stared at the radio bracelet in his hand, the one he'd taken from Neera, and grinned.  Pivoting on his heel, he turned and ran towards a transporter, and, switching to a different frequency on his radio, issued orders for men to meet him up at the Jumper Bay.

_____________________________________________

 

Garron opened the Bay doors, and smiled up at the two marines turning to face him, shocked expressions on their faces to be caught off guard from behind.  He shot them both with his Wraith stunner, then jogged down the hall to meet his brother.

 

Ren said nothing as he shoved a rucksack at him, and the two were soon jogging back into the Bay.  As they did so, the younger boy noticed that Jumper Two had finally been settled back into its dock.

 

They were good to go.

_______________________________________________

 

Biro checked Ronon's vitals, and nodded slowly to see a marked improvement.  Patting him on the arm, she looked around at the stirring infirmary.  All around her, people were shifting on their beds and pallets, coming back to wakefulness.

 

A rare smile settled on his lips as she met the eyes of Sergeant Greene across the way, the blond medic nodding at her as he pulled a blood pressure cuff off of Doctor Bryce's arm.  The scientist was groaning, a hand lifting up to her head. 

 

Then Biro turned towards the back room, where Jackson and Donovan were still working on Doctor Beckett.  The smile fell. 

 

It was still far too early for any real information about Carson.  She sighed, and tucked her stethoscope back into her pocket.

 

Ronon grunted, and she looked down again, pleased to see the movement of his eyes behind his eyelids.

 

Man had the most amazing constitution, she thought, they really needed to find out his secret.

 

She patted his hand...and was amazed when he suddenly grabbed at her wrist.  Her smile broadened.  Damn!

________________________________________________

 

Freya was small, and she knew how to use that fact to her advantage.  She was like a rat on speed, flying down the hallway towards the infirmary.  The corridors were filled with gurneys and people lying on pallets, and the few nurses and marine medics reacted with startled yelps as she sprinted past.  She leapt over people on the ground, slid under beds and ducked under tables, ignoring the yelling following her desperate dash.

 

She'd made a promise, and she was going to keep it.

_______________________________________________

 

Biro heard the commotion, and, loosening her arm from Ronon's hold, moved over to stand in the middle of the infirmary, to face towards the doors.

 

Freya barreled into the smallish woman, knocking her sideways into a metal shelving unit.  Biro screamed, feeling the pain of every sharp edge of the shelves and implements as the whole thing collapsed with her.

 

Freya twisted away, almost like a footballer after a great play, and kept moving, headed for the operating room in back.

 

She knew he'd be there.  She knew.

 

Bloodied knife still in hand, she slammed through the plastic sheeting separating the operating room from the main infirmary, startling the two surgeons.  Donovan moved forward, instinctively trying to cover his patient, while the dark-skinned Jackson took a step towards the entrance to block the girl.  But she was too quick for both of them.

 

Darting under Jackson's arm, eyes wild with insanity, Freya leapt up onto the operating table like a cat, and slashed at Donovan, who fell back with a cry as she cut his arm.  Then she held the knife up in two hands over her head, ready to plunge down.

 

"For my papa!" she screamed, looking down at Beckett lying there, unconscious. "And my brother!"  And she started to stab down, aiming for his heart, ignoring Donovan's attempt to once more stop her with his arms.

 

And suddenly, she stopped, her mouth still open, her eyes wide.

 

Donovan, arms outstretched across Beckett and half bent over, looked up at her, confused.

 

The blood encrusted knife fell from the girl's slack fingers, and, slowly, very slowly, Freya turned, eyes still impossibly wide, to look behind her.

 

Ronon leaned against the door frame, the edge of it holding him up.  He held a throwing knife in his hand, his expression one of both disgust and dismay.  He was ready to throw it, if need be.

 

Just as he'd already thrown the one now buried in Freya's back.

 

The girl gasped once, an attempt to bring in air, and it choked her.  Blood trickled down one side of her mouth.

 

The blue eyes, still staring at Ronon, glazed over.

 

And she fell off the table, nearly tipping it over as she collapsed.

 

Ronon dropped the knife in his hand, and slid down the doorframe, never taking his eyes off of the young girl he'd just killed.

 

His dark brown eyes filling with tears, he looked up as the tall, dark skinned doctor with Donovan checked to make sure Freya was really dead.  After a pause, the doctor grimaced, looked over at the Satedan, and nodded.  Freya's dead eyes still stared at Ronon.  The doctor closed them before standing up again.

 

"She's...just a child," Ronon whispered from his position on the floor, "What...did I just do?"

 

"Saved Doctor Beckett's life and maybe ours," Donovan said, fixing him with a clear eyed stare. "Thank you."

 

Not answering, Ronon just covered his face with a shaky hand.  He felt other people come in behind him, one of which had blonde hair.  Lieutenant Cadman helped pull him away from what had just happened, saying something about seeing it from the gallery and whispering words of thanks...

 

And, behind them in the room, the two surgeons quietly and expertly got back to work as a nurse quickly bandaged Donovan's arm.

_____________________________________________

 

Ren stared at the quiet trunk, not sure whether to believe his brother that McKay had never woken up or made a sound from in there.  He itched to check.

 

"Get up here!" Garron shouted at him from the pilot's seat. "We have to go!"

 

Biting his lip, Ren did as he was told, stumbling to the front just as Garron lifted the cloaked ship off the ground.  He slid out of the dock and into the air above the Jumper Bay. 

 

"Right," Garron said, "Dial it."

 

Ren nodded, reaching forward to touch the DHD...just as Neera burst into the Jumper Bay.

 

"I'm here!" she shouted, looking around. "Where are—"

 

"DON'T MOVE!" Sheppard's voice shouted, barreling into the Jumper Bay from another doorway, a dozen men on his heels. He had his P90 pointed directly at Neera's head. From the other direction, another six or seven men appeared, all holding P90s pointed directly at the Genii leader standing in the middle of the room.

 

Neera spun in place in the Jumper Bay, hands outstretched, staring the marines all down.  Sheppard moved closer, his eyes narrowed to slits.

 

"You’re not going anywhere," he hissed angrily at her, never lowering his aim.  "I get it now.  You're going to try to use a Jumper to get out of here, but it's not going to happen.  You can't fly it—only those with the Ancestor's gene can fly it."  He lifted his head, turning towards where Jumper Four should have been, "Garron! Ren! Uncloak that jumper now, or I'll kill her!"

 

Garron's eyes widened, breathing hard.  Ren just stared at his older brother, out of ideas. 

 

Steeling his jaw, the teenager made a decision.

 

He hit the decloak to reveal them flying overhead...and opened the weapon pods.

 

"You're right, Colonel Sheppard," he shouted, using the Jumper's communicator to make himself heard. "Only those with the gene can fly it...and Ren and I have the gene."

 

Sheppard's eyes widened, as did the others in the Bay.  Several marines stepped back, even as they quickly changed their aim to point their P90s up into the air at the flying Jumper.

 

"Unless you let Commander Neera go," Garron threatened, "we will blow up the Bay and destroy all your jumpers...and you."

____________________________________________

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE

 

"How?" Sheppard muttered, mouth agape as he stared up at the Jumper. How were they flying it?

 

Neera laughed, her arms down now. "Doctor Weir's information about the Ancestor's Gene was very enlightening, Colonel," she sneered. "Every Genii was tested...and the two Lorrell boys tested positive.  Combine that with your reputations as soft-hearted fools...and a plan was hatched to steal both a jumper and your top scientist, right from under your nose."  She looked up at the Jumper. "This is really very poetic, isn't it?" she asked, "Isn't this exactly how you stole our first Wraith device from us?  By threatening us with your Jumpers' weapons?" 

 

Sheppard turned to glare at her, but, for the moment, he had no idea how to get them out of this.

 

"We have the upper hand now, Colonel," Neera said, grinning. "So how about tossing me that gun of yours, eh?"

 

The colonel stared her for a moment, then did as he was told—he tossed her his 9MM.  She thanked him with a nod, turning the gun around in her hand so that it was now pointing at him.

 

"Now...I assume you have Freya, or are still chasing her.  I want her up here.  Now."

 

Sheppard lifted an eyebrow, but shook his head.  "I can't.  We just heard from the Infirmary...she's dead."

 

Neera visibly flinched at the news, her breath catching.  Then her jaw steeled and she frowned.

 

"You will regret that," she promised coldly, backing up now towards the Jumper.

 

"Colonel Sheppard," Garron called over the Jumper comm., "we're opening the back hatch and tossing down a rope.  Commander Neera is to be allowed to climb up inside, and then we're dialing the gate and leaving.  If you try to stop us...we will destroy this place."

 

Sheppard gritted his teeth, looking around him at his men.  They could try to shoot at the two boys inside the jumper, but the glass was pressure treated.  It would take a few shots to break through it, and by that time....

 

One thought from either boy and the Bay was toast, not to mention the top of the Control Tower.

 

"And put down your guns!  Now!" Garron ordered.

 

Sheppard swallowed, but nodded, backing up and motioning his men to lower their weapons.  With grim expressions, the marines did as ordered. 

 

"We'll come after you!" Sheppard shouted at them. "Tell Cowen that we'll get McKay back!"

 

"I'm sure you'll try," Neera sneered, tucking the 9MM away in her belt and walking over to the rope that was now hanging out the back of the flying Jumper.  In moments, she was up the rope and inside the Jumper.

 

"Goodbye, Colonel Sheppard," Garron said as soon as the back hatch closed again. "Ren...dial it up."

 

"Wait," Neera said, appearing in the Jumper window. "Perhaps we should kill them after all."

 

"Oh, shit," Sheppard whispered, stepping back.  This wasn't good.

_______________________________________

 

"Wait," Neera said, coming forward to stand between Ren and Garron in the chairs, "Perhaps we should kill them after all."

 

She saw Sheppard flinch back, and she grinned, happy that he had heard that. 

 

Garron hit the comm. link, shutting it down, and turned to look at her with wide eyes. "What?"

 

"Kill them.  And destroy the bay, all their precious ships," she looked around at the jumpers. "They can't come after the Genii as effectively if they don't have them.  Put us and them on even footing."

 

"No," Ren protested, standing up. "You can't!"

 

"Don't question me, boy!" Neera snapped.  "Dial the Gate, then, when this floor opens...destroy this bay.  We'll be through the wormhole before the explosion gets to us...and we'll have destroyed Atlantis's greatest weapons as well!  They'll be crippled!"

 

"But...," Garron looked around, obviously no happier with the thought than his brother.

 

"They need the jumpers," Ren argued, standing in front of Neera, forcing her back. "To fight the Wraith!  They need them!"

 

"You think I care?" Neera spat. "We've fought the Wraith for centuries, without ships! So can they!  And Freya was right, they killed almost sixty of our men—they deserve to pay!"  She shoved Ren away from her and reached forward to the DHD, "As soon as that floor opens, kill Sheppard and everyone else in this damn place!"

 

The shove sent Ren falling backwards towards the rear compartment, eyes wide.  Garron watched him from the pilot's seat, his hands still locked on the controls as if afraid to let go, then looked up at Neera.  The woman was already dialing, clearly expecting them both to do as ordered. 

 

"Garron?" Ren stayed where he was, now looking to his brother.  The older boy met his gaze, then shook his head, frowning.

 

"She's in charge, Ren," Garron said, though, for the first time, Ren thought he heard doubt in his older brother's voice.  But it wasn't enough.  The younger boy's eyes filled with tears, and he turned to look at the trunk in the back.  If only he'd had more time, he might've....

 

"There!" Neera grinned as she hit the final chevron to activate the DHD, and looked down at the floor. "Now as soon as it opens, fire..."

 

She paused then, the smile falling from her face.

 

The floor wasn't opening. 

 

"Why isn't it opening?" she asked, staring at the static floor. "Why isn't it OPENING?!"

 

She was right—the floor wasn't moving.  The marines had all moved back to fan the walls, also expecting the ground to open.  Sheppard was frowning, looking from it up to the Jumper and back again.

 

The fact startled Ren enough to come forward again, as surprised as Garron and Neera, his pale blue eyes fixed on the floor.

 

"It should be opening," he said quietly, obviously bewildered.  Neera, standing next to him, suddenly narrowed her eyes at the younger boy and viciously grabbed his shoulder, pinching it painfully.  He squealed as she bore down.

 

"What did you do?!" she yelled. "What the hell did you do?"

 

"I didn't do anything!" Ren cried out, bending at the pain as she folded him down into the co-pilot's seat, "I don't know what's happening!  I didn't do it!"

 

"That floor should be opening!  You said it would open! It's automatic!"  Neera bore down harder. "You did something!  I knew I shouldn't have left you with that damn scientist as much as I did!  Especially after he saved your worthless life!"

 

"Hey!" Garron yelled, watching them, his hands shaking on the jumper controls. "Stop!  Leave him alone!"

 

"You fix it!" Neera shouted, shoving Ren down, so that he was just inches from the console.  "Now!"

 

"I can't!" the younger boy begged, tears rolling down his reddened face, "I didn't do it!  I don't know how!"

 

Neera screamed in frustration, and threw Ren into the chair the rest of the way.  His head hit the side of the jumper with a crack and he cried out, covering his forehead with his right hand, blood appearing from between his fingers. 

 

Uncaring, Neera spun to face Garron, "Fix it!"

 

Garron's eyes widened, "I don't know how to fix it either!"

 

"You've been hanging out in this Bay for two weeks!  You've seen them go in and out of that floor a half dozen times!  You must know!"

 

"I don't!  It just opens!" he insisted, staring at her with wide eyes, as if afraid she would attack him next.  Neera stared at him, then out the window.  Her eyes widened as she saw that Sheppard was still watching them, his eyes narrowed. 

 

Did he do this?  Could he?

 

"Then blow a hole in it," Neera said, meeting the Colonel's eyes squarely. "Use a drone!"

 

"No!" Ren screamed, leaping off the chair and into Neera, sending her sideways into Garron.  It sent the entire Jumper sideways, and it crashed into the edge of the platforms holding up the jumpers.  On the ground, Sheppard yelled at the marines to scatter...but not before he grabbed a P90 from one of them.  Backing up, he stood in a doorway and aimed the machine gun up at the now swaying jumper.

 

Neera threw Ren backwards, harder this time, and the boy crashed into the side of the jumper with a sickening crunch.  He didn't move again after that.  Garron settled the jumper back into the center of the bay and set it to "hover" with a thought. Finally releasing the controls, he watched in almost slow motion as Neera put her back to him, pulled the 9MM from her belt and pointed it at his now unconscious younger brother.

 

"No!" he yelled, shoving at her from behind.  Neera staggered, and turned, the 9MM now pointed at the teenager.  Garron leapt back in his seat, pressing his back to the metal wall.

 

"Never trust a Lorrell, eh?" she hissed, her tongue thick with acid as she stared at the older boy. "Traitors, just like your bitch of a mother."  Her eyes narrowed, "Fire the drone and blow that floor, Garron...or I'll kill your brother...then you."

 

Garron just stared at her, frozen.

 

"Okay then, boy.  Your choice," Neera sneered, her eyes ice cold.  Her arm swung around, the 9MM once more pointed at Ren.  "The Genii are better off without the stain of the Lorrell anyway.  I'd rather we all die than either of you two cowards live."  

 

Garron screamed as a shot rang out, then fell backwards as more immediately followed in rapid succession, sliding into the wedge between the seat and Jumper wall with his hands over his face.  He continued to scream at the overwhelming noise, the gunfire growing louder and louder in his ears, as glass splinters started to impact his hands and arms.

 

He thought he was dying.

___________________________________________

 

Sheppard fired the P90 over and over again, aiming directly for the woman standing in the middle of the two boys, never changing his aim or lifting his finger from the trigger.  At first the shots had not pierced the highly tempered Jumper window, but the constant barrage finally broke through with a satisfying explosion of glass...especially when Neera tried to fire back as soon as she realized what was happening.  Their combined firepower, from both sides, was too much for the thick glass...

___________________________________________

 

The blistering, cacophonous noise woke Ren from his stupor, and his eyes opened in time to see Neera thrown backwards as the Jumper window shattered.  It was strange, almost unreal.  Through her, he also saw Garron screaming, cowering behind his seat.

 

Closing his eyes again, he reached a hand up and touched the console over his head, one last thought crossing his mind...

 

Off.

 

And the Jumper responded—landing automatically on the floor of the Jumper Bay as gently as a leaf settling on the ground.

______________________________________________

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: TOUCH OF HYSTERIA

 

Sheppard exhaled the held breath he'd been holding, his heart feeling like it was going to explode in his chest.

 

In front of him, Jumper Four settled to the ground softly, clearly acting on automatic from an order to shut down. 

 

Half the window was shattered, destroyed, with just shards hanging down on the edges like icicles.  A massive hole was in the center, more than big enough to climb through.  On the other side of it, he could see Garron still curled up half in and half out of the pilot's chair, shaking and rocking with his arms around his head.  Neera and Ren, he couldn't see.

 

He couldn't see McKay either.

 

He moved carefully forward, gun still raised and pointed at the occupants.  He felt his men join him, backing him up.  Without needing to make an order, he saw more military black sliding around either side of him, heading around to the back of the now still jumper.

 

When he finally got close enough, he climbed up inside the jumper through the gaping hole, stepping partially on the now shut down DHD, the geometric surface covered in bits of glass.  When no one moved to stop him, he lowered the gun slightly and, with his left hand, reached out and hit the button to lower the rear hatch, pushing some more glass off the console as he did so.  The hatch opened in the back almost silently, and marines boiled in from outside, guns trained on the three visible occupants. 

 

Climbing the rest of the way in, Sheppard searched for McKay with his eyes, and, when he didn't see him, turned to look at Garron.

 

The teenager was just watching him now, not moving.  He seemed intent only on breathing.  Cuts from the shattered glass littered his arms, hands and face, the blood mingling from the tears still running down his face.

 

"Where is he, Garron?"

 

"What?" the teenager blinked once.

 

"McKay.  Where is he?"

 

The teenager's eyes shifted around, not focusing on anything, until they caught sight of someone leaning over the co-pilot's chair to get to the young boy knocked out behind it.

 

"Ren...," Garron looked up at the soldier, a young sandy haired marine, "can you help him?"

 

"I think he'll be okay," said the man, glancing up at Garron and Sheppard. "Knocked up a bit, but okay."

 

"She's dead though," a different marine said, looking down at Neera.  The Genii leader lay sprawled on her back in the middle of the floor between the four chairs, bleeding from a half dozen holes and a too many cuts to count.  Unseeing brown eyes stared up at the roof of the jumper. 

 

Sheppard nodded, then turned back to Garron.

 

"Garron, where is McKay?"  he asked again, his voice ice cold. "Answer me, where is he?"

 

The teenager frowned a little, then looked towards the rear compartment...at the trunk.  Sheppard followed his gaze, then swore.

 

In two steps, he was through the marines checking the back for stolen items and was pulling the deadbolts back on the trunk.

 

Stale air greeted him as he shoved the latched lid up fully, a mixture of blood and sweat greeting his nose.  Grimacing, he looked at the man lying inside, curled against himself on his left hand side, blood stained hands fisted and raised to cover and hide his face.

 

"McKay?" he called, reaching to touch the man's arm.  When he got no reaction, he jostled the arm slightly, "McKay!"

 

The same sandy haired marine who had checked on Ren appeared, and Sheppard recalled that he was studying to be a medic.  He hadn't the full training or experience of men like Sergeant Greene yet, but he was getting there.  His name was Sergeant Meriwether, and he looked every inch of that name. 

 

Reaching in to touch at McKay's neck, the young marine's eyes softened, showing every emotion on his face. "There's a pulse," he said, "steady...but slow." Reaching further inside, Meriwether tried to move the right hand covering McKay's face, grimacing a little at the dried blood caking the fingers, to get a look at the man hiding underneath.  Sheppard watched him, waiting.

 

"I...," the marine bit his lip, then shook his head. "Sir, he's...I think he's catatonic."  He looked at the metal trunk, studying the strong construction.  "It's a wonder he's not dead, actually. He would eventually have suffocated in there—it's looks practically air tight."

 

"God almighty," someone else swore from behind Sheppard, and the colonel turned to look behind him.  The large, black marine standing at his back was staring at the inside of the trunk lid, looking slightly sick.  Sheppard followed his gaze, and felt his own stomach twist in pain. 

 

The lid was scratched from fingernails--the metal had actually been peeled slightly and dried blood tracked the thin lines.  Rodney had been that desperate to get out.

 

Sheppard's breath quickened, and he growled, grabbing McKay's arm again and shaking. "McKay!  McKay, wake up!  MCKAY!"

 

"Sir!  That's not going to—"

 

"Shut up!  Rodney!"  Sheppard grabbed at the hand covering McKay's face, forcing it away so he could see the man's face.  The nails were ripped and torn, which explained the bleeding, and the sides of the hands were bruised.  McKay was pale, eyes tightly shut, barely breathing and completely unresponsive.  "No...damn it...Come on, don't do this..." 

 

With a determined motion, Sheppard reached inside the trunk and grabbed at McKay’s right hand, working his fingers inside the closed fist to loosen it, fighting the growing nausea in his stomach as it earned no reaction from the catatonic man. The hand stayed fisted, though now it partially gripped Sheppard’s hand inside of it.  Looking up, the colonel took stock of the men around him, all watching him dumbly, and his grimace turned into a frown. 

 

McKay didn't need an audience for this.

 

Turning his head further, he saw that Garron was now standing up next to the pilot’s seat, marines on either side of him, eyes moving from Sheppard to Ren’s crumpled form and back again.  A couple of marines were crouched by Ren still on the ground, but the rest of Sheppard’s soldiers were now just standing near their colonel in the rear compartment, waiting for orders.  He sighed.

 

“All right,” he said, his voice shifting gears to become scarily quiet, “Someone call a med team up here, one for the boy and one for McKay….”

 

“Already done, sir,” Sergeant Merriweather said. “I called them the moment you started firing on the ship.”

 

Sheppard offered him an arched eyebrow for that one, then switched his gaze to the stocky, black marine standing on Garron’s right.

 

“Sergeant Wright,” he said, then, nodding at the man and then to the tall, moustached marine on Garron’s left, “I want you and Wilmington to assist Garron down to the infirmary.  Before you do, check him head to toe for any other weapons, especially knives.  Once he’s cleared, take him down, under guard, and do not let him out of your sight.  Don’t let Biro or any of the nurses give you any backtalk about this, understand?  You heard how Neera and Freya got away from us before, I don’t want that happening again with Garron.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Wright answered, taking Garron’s arm more fully in his grip.

 

“Wait,” the teenager looked like he wanted to dig his feet in, “Ren, I…I can’t leave him.”

 

“He’ll be following you down soon,” Sheppard said, without much sympathy.  He had seen the fight inside the jumper through the window, and had seen Garron’s reaction when Neera turned her gun on his younger brother, but it wasn’t enough right now for him to feel more than cold anger at the boy.  Not while McKay was like this.  Not until he could properly process what had happened in his head.  “Wright,” he looked again to the sergeant, “Go.”

 

Garron was practically carried out of the jumper by the strong men on either side, and, though he craned his neck to look behind him towards his brother before he disappeared, didn’t actually try to argue again.  It was as if the fight had gone out of him.

 

“Lieutenant Moore,” Sheppard turned to look at the man standing over him—the one who had noticed the scratches in the trunk lid, “Take everyone here, except Dunne, Meriwether, Grossman, and Weathers, and, coordinate with the marines still searching the base to start looking for any devices or equipment that these people might have left behind as a present.  I’ll have Major Lorne take over once he’s finished in the infirmary.  Also, tell the Control Room to run full diagnostics of every system, and make sure no stone is left unturned, got it?”

 

“Yes, sir,” the man nodded, backing away.  With a nod to the marines around him, he headed out into the Bay with the bulk of them on his heels.

 

That left just four men in the Jumper, and Sheppard looked up at Grossman and Weathers, the two burly marines standing behind him. 

 

“Sorry about this boys, but I’m giving you coroner duty.  Wrap the body up and cart her down to the morgue.  The docs can find her down there later, but I don’t want her in this jumper or in my Bay any longer.”

 

Two quick salutes, and Weathers was reaching up into the Jumper’s stores for a blanket.  Pulling down a yellow one, he and Grossman lifted Neera onto the blanket and literally rolled her up inside of it.  Then, with a grunt, Grossman got her up on his shoulder and, with Weathers at his back, carried the dead woman out of the Jumper.

 

Which left two.

 

Sergeant Meriwether was still watching him from the head of the trunk, green eyes uncertain. He looked a little lost in this situation, though, now that they had confirmed McKay was alive just…not aware.

 

“Go and replace Dunne in front with Ren,” Sheppard said to him.  Meriwether grimaced, but nodded, and moved to head into the front of the jumper.  A few quiet words, and the young, dark haired Corporal Dunne was now standing next to Sheppard.

 

“I need you to go and find Heightmeyer…quietly,” Sheppard told him, keeping his voice low. “I don’t want anyone else to know about McKay down there except her, okay?  I believe she is in the infirmary, helping out Biro.  But, ask her not to come into the Bay until the med team has come for Ren and I’ve—”   

 

Sudden, new noise interrupted Sheppard as, at that exact moment, two sets of med teams appeared with gurneys.  They peeked inside, and the first was about to step into the jumper when Sheppard held a hand up.

 

“Wait.  Just one of you, right now.  For the boy.  I want the other team to wait outside the Bay.”

 

Slightly confused looks met his order, and one of the nurses was about to argue, when Meriwether jogged out from the front, grabbed the woman, and started speaking in quick, hushed tones.  After a moment, she backed off, sympathetic eyes looking at Sheppard. 

 

One of the med teams came inside and moved up front past Sheppard, pointedly not looking into the metal trunk as they went past.  In moments, they had Ren ready for transport, a cervical collar around his neck, and were wheeling him back out.  Sheppard didn’t have to give any further orders as Dunne disappeared to find Heightmeyer, and Meriwether left with the boy.  The soft-hearted sergeant promised him with a look that he would ensure people didn’t talk about McKay’s condition and Sheppard thanked him with a nod.  The nurse leading the other medical team, meanwhile, said something about being “just outside the Bay doors” for whenever he called for them.

 

Half a minute later, Sheppard was alone.

 

For a few seconds, he did nothing.  Just watched McKay as the scientist didn’t move, didn’t speak…just softly breathed.  Trapped in his head. 

 

The colonel sighed and worked his hand more inside of McKay’s right one, then, once he had a solid feeling interlocked grip, pulled upwards slightly in order to loop his arm under McKay’s, as if he were going to pull McKay up out of the trunk. Obviously, there were easier ways if what he was really trying to do was get McKay out, but that wasn’t his goal.  His goal was to get McKay to respond to him. 

 

But the scientist’s arm remained rigid, as if tensed to the point of rigor mortis.

 

Breathing hard, Sheppard readied himself on one knee and looked again at McKay’s face.  With the scientist’s right hand no longer covering it up, he could see the man’s pained expression, the strain in the tensed muscles along his jaw and along his forehead.  There was nothing comfortable looking about it.

 

“McKay,” he called, shifting again for better leverage, “McKay…wake up.”  He paused, grimacing a little, then tried again. “Okay, listen…it’s me. It’s Sheppard.  I’m here.  I’m going to pull you out, but help would be good.  So…you push and I’ll pull, okay?  And we’ll get you out of this damned box.”

 

He closed his eyes, let out a huge breath, then opened them again.  Gritting his teeth, he started to pull up.

 

McKay didn’t move.  He was like dead weight.

 

“Come on, McKay,” Sheppard said, gritting his teeth as he continued to pull. “Come on and help me out, here!”

 

He pulled some more, then, with a grunt of pain, let go…McKay was too heavy to keep it up.

 

“Damn it!  Can’t you cut down on the power bars, for Christ’s sake?  It’s like trying to lift Buddha!  Give me some help, you jerk!  I’m not superman!”  As he complained, he adjusted his stance again, moving his right leg to distribute the weight better and getting more of his arm under McKay’s.  “Hell, you’d think I was trying to move Moses off the damn mountain here.  All right, we’re going to try this again.  And this time, I expect help, you hear me?  So, none of this, hiding in the dark bullshit.  You’re going to wake up and push yourself up, got it?  Or so help me, I’ll make sure Zelenka gets your job and you only get to work on fixing the sewer systems for the rest of your life!  So, WAKE UP and pull yourself OUT!”

 

With a growl, he started pulling up on the arm again.  But McKay remained stiff, immobile, like trying to bend back a metal bar.

 

“McKay!” Sheppard yelled, feeling every muscle in his back and neck straining, desperation filling his voice. “Wake up and help me, damn it!  You rotten, stinkin’, pain in the ass, HELP ME!”

 

And, like that, it happened.  Sheppard nearly fell on his ass when McKay’s arm abruptly loosened and flew upwards with the colonel’s pull, bringing Rodney with it.  The scientist sat straight up in the trunk, still holding on tight to Sheppard’s hand, eyes very wide and very blue as he stared out the back of the jumper.  With a sobbed cry, McKay let the hand go and scrambled out of the trunk, falling to the floor first as he tripped on the metal edge of the box, and then stumbling back up to his feet and out the open hatch.

 

When McKay fell again on the floor of the Jumper Bay after just a few steps, landing hard on his hands and knees and looking ready to pass out again, Sheppard got up off the floor of the Jumper and jogged to the cockpit.  Hitting a button, he glanced up through the shattered window as the roof hatch opened above, letting in the bright sunlight of afternoon.  Turning, he ran out the back and skidded down onto his knees next to McKay, who was now sitting sideways on the marble flooring, holding himself up by his arms and pale as a ghost.  Sunlight poured over them like a molten gold, warming the cold floor and the two men sitting on it.

 

“Hey,” Sheppard said, getting up on one knee and shifting so that he was only a couple of feet from McKay.  He held his hands up—he didn’t want to touch the other man, to crowd him too much. “Hey, buddy, you okay?”

 

McKay was gasping for breath, swaying on trembling arms, seemingly unaware of the other man’s presence.  His head lifted to look up at the blue sky above, to feel the heat of the day on his face, then it lowered again, eyes closing.  His arms shook violently and the right one gave out, so that he landed hard on his elbow with a soft cry, and his head bowed towards the floor. Sheppard grimaced, wanting to help but afraid to startle his friend and cause him more pain—in the bright sunlight, he could easily see the dark stains on his friend’s back, some red with dried blood, the crusty fabric of the shirt breaking as McKay drew in huge lungfuls of air.  Too much air. 

 

Damn it. 

 

“Stop it,” Sheppard ordered, shifting a little closer.  “McKay, stop it! Your hyperventilating,” he warned. “Calm down.  Calm down!  Damn it, Rodney…use some of that famous intransigence to force your body to behave!”

 

For the first time, McKay seemed to hear him, and the still too wide blue eyes turned to look up first at the colonel’s raised hands hovering in front of him, then to the scared hazel eyes beyond.  Miraculously, as he met Sheppard’s gaze, he managed to swallow and his breathing began to slow.  His brow furrowed then, and he looked away, the confusion on his face turning into a frown, almost as if he was embarrassed.

 

“What…” He swallowed again—the motion looked painful, like this throat hurt.  His voice barely rose above a whisper, “Where am I? What happened?”

 

Sheppard forced back a smile at finally hearing his friend’s voice, fighting the urge to offer a comforting hand, and replied honestly, “You went catatonic on me.”

 

McKay frowned some more, his eyes searching from side to side, as if trying to make sense of that.  Swallowing again, he blinked slowly, still obviously trying to get his bearings.

 

"Ca...catatonic?"

 

"Yeah," Sheppard breathed, "And don't ever do it again."

 

Another deep breath, a few more eye blinks, and McKay whispered again. “Sorry.”

 

“Yeah, well, you should be,” Sheppard gave a weak laugh, giving up on trying to hide the relief in his voice. “Nearly scared me half to death, you idiot.”

 

McKay glanced at him again, the confusion still on his face, but there was a spark of annoyance as well at being called an idiot.  Sheppard just shrugged and smiled, and McKay’s obvious annoyance with him grew.  The color started to return to his face at the same time, muting the deathly pallor that had scared the colonel so much.  As Sheppard had hoped, the anger the annoyance generated galvanized McKay into moving again, the scientist's fierce pride too powerful to keep him down for long.

 

Slowly, Rodney pushed himself back up onto both arms…then, with a pained grimace, got his legs under him enough to push the rest of the way up so that he was standing…mostly.  Sheppard stood up with him, hands still outstretched, ready to catch his friend if need be. 

 

The scientist’s breathing had finally calmed to more manageable levels, so that it just sounded like he was wheezing.  His whole body was still wracked with tremors, however, and he swayed on his feet, stumbling a little when he tilted too far in any one direction.

 

He swallowed again, and, with a stubborn set to his jaw, McKay finally lifted his head to meet the colonel’s eyes.

 

“I’m okay,” he said, his voice rougher than sandpaper. From the sounds of it, it was amazing he had any voice at all.

 

“Oh yeah, I can see that,” Sheppard said, arching an eyebrow.  “You’re just raring to go, right?” McKay gave him a dark glare in return, then turned around to look at where he was, as if not quite seeing it yet.  The movement was too much for his fragile balance, and he fell sideways.  Sheppard acted without thinking, grabbing McKay’s arm to help hold him up.  He ended up with one hand on McKay's upper arm and the other under his elbow, drawing him in close, so that they were shoulder to shoulder.

 

Rodney stopped moving, closing his eyes as if to focus on his breathing, and letting Sheppard help him.  The scientist swallowed again, and the colonel realized McKay was probably nauseous and, clearly, dizzy.  Finally, Rodney moved to straighten again and made to pull his arm away, but the colonel held on firmly, tightening his grip.

 

“It’s okay, McKay.  Let me help for a minute, all right?  There’s no one to see.”

 

McKay opened his eyes again then blinked once, his brow furrowing as he took that in.  But he didn’t try to pull his arm away again.  Sheppard felt McKay finally give in, letting Sheppard take more of his weight.

 

“No one here?” he croaked softly, still not looking up at his friend, “that’s…odd.  Where…is everyone?”

 

“I sent them all out.  Figured you wouldn’t want…” he paused, mentally adding, 'anyone to see you like this.' He let out a quick breath, then smiled, “Figured you might need a little time to get your head back on straight, you know? So you can face the masses when you’re more able to be you again.”  He shrugged, then indicated the main doors with his head, “There’s a med team just outside the door.”

 

McKay suddenly straightened at the words ‘med team’, body going rigid again.  “Beckett!” He coughed a little at the pain in his throat, and the shakes were back in his frame, “Wait, did you…?”

 

“Calm down! Yeah, we found him, and he’s alive,” Sheppard promised, gripping McKay’s arm harder as the scientist still shook. “I said, calm down!  He’s down in the infirmary, being taken care of.  Neera and Freya threw him off a balcony—he’s lucky the fall didn’t kill him.”

 

McKay looked confused, but the shakes subsided as he took that in, “Neera and…?”

 

“Yeah. And Garron and Ren tried to steal a jumper and you while we were distracted searching for Beckett.  Oh, and Neera gave half of Atlantis food poisoning—which is why everyone was acting so slow.”

 

The scientist blinked slowly, as if Sheppard had just spoken in a foreign language, then looked up again at his surroundings. For a second he just looked around, still frowning at whatever it was he was seeing.

 

“That's why we’re in the Bay,” he said finally, as if just catching on to this fact.  

 

“Yeah.”

 

McKay looked up the rest of the way, at the open ceiling. “You open that?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

McKay closed his eyes, clearly just enjoying the sun on his face. "Thanks."

 

Sheppard watched him for a moment, then snorted.  “Well, okay.  Um, if you’re back with us now, I may as well call the med team in, so they can give you the pampering you so don’t deserve.”

 

McKay gave a short, weak laugh. “Pampering?  Please. Get real.”

 

“I’ll tell them to be nice.”

 

Rodney gave him a faint smile, “Not possible. They live to torture me. Especially the Vampire.”

 

Sheppard laughed, "You really need to stop calling Biro that."

 

"If the shoe fits..." he smiled more and coughed, then coughed harder, doubling over slightly.  Sheppard frowned, keeping a tight hold on the arm so McKay wouldn't fall over.  When he was breathing evenly, if roughly, Sheppard got him standing straight again, one arm around his friend's waist now in order to keep him steady. McKay was deathly pale again.

 

"I'll call them in now, yeah?" he asked.  McKay nodded, not opening his eyes.    

 

Sheppard grimaced and reached up to touch his radio, then paused, remembering something else. Clearing his throat, he gave his friend a sheepish look. “Oh…um…I forgot to tell you....Heightmeyer’s probably out there.  I…I was….in case I couldn’t….”

 

“I was that far gone?”

 

All trace of McKay's early humor was gone, and some real fear had returned to his eyes.

 

Sheppard gritted his teeth, then nodded. “Yeah.”  Then he smiled, “But you came back.”

 

McKay eyed him, the fear fading slightly, but not completely.  Then his eyes narrowed, as if remember something strange.

 

“I heard you yelling at me,” he admitted, eyes searching from side to side again. “It was...irritating.  I wanted you to stop.”  He looked away, snorted, and drew his arm away from Sheppard’s in order to stand on his own, and the other man let him. “I recall thinking how much I wanted to hit you just to make you shut up.”

 

Sheppard’s eyebrows lifted mockingly, “Yeah, like you ever getting close enough to hit me is going to happen anytime soon.”

 

McKay snorted, sniffed and lifted a hand to his head. “Aw, man...ow.  My head is splitting,” he muttered softly.

 

The colonel took that as a cue, and hit his radio.  As the doors flew open across the way, revealing a whole host of white clad personnel, McKay looked askance at his friend.

 

“And, thanks,” he whispered. “I don’t know if anyone else could’ve or would've—“

 

“Don’t mention it,” Sheppard replied with a shrug.  McKay stared at him a moment longer, then smiled softly, just as he found himself swarmed by people.

____________________________________________ 

 

Kate Heightmeyer caught Sheppard’s eye as McKay conceded to the gurney and settled himself down for the ride.  Even she could see how his muscles melted as he finally seemed to rest, letting the medical team guide him out.  He was down the hall and out of sight quickly, leaving the colonel and the psychiatrist behind.

 

Kate moved so that she was by the colonel's side, expert eyes reading the lines in his face and the tiredness seeping into his stance.

 

“What happened?” she asked softly.

 

“They locked him in a box,” he replied darkly. “A very small, dark box.”

 

“Ah,” she nodded, “his claustrophobia.”

 

“He wasn’t responsive when we got it open.  But…I think he’s okay now.”  He glanced behind him at the jumper still sitting in the middle of the Bay floor, “You might want to take a look at what he did to the lid of the trunk before you talk to him.”

 

“I will,” she said, looking at him kindly. Then, with a small sigh, she added, “You look like you could use some rest as well.”

 

“Unfortunately,” Sheppard arched an eyebrow, “I can’t.  City’s still on alert, and it needs someone at the helm.  With Beckett, McKay, Weir and Teyla down…that just leaves me.”

 

She smiled, “No rest for the wicked, eh?”

 

He just shrugged and sighed, rubbing at his forehead. “Yeah.” Giving her a nod in farewell, he turned and moved away, leaving her alone in the Bay.  As he reached the doors leading to the stairs to the Control Room, he glanced back and saw Heightmeyer heading towards the Jumper.  She was good at her job, no matter how much they each tried to pretend they didn’t personally need her. He remembered overhearing Teyla rib McKay one night off-world about pretending he was dating her, to avoid the appearance of his needing her help. Man was such an ass sometimes. A touch of guilt lit his gut, then, thinking about how he and McKay had been about Bryce last week, when Heightmeyer tried to talk to them seriously about Bryce’s condition.  Luckily for them, Heightmeyer was the last person to throw something like that back in their faces with a “shoe’s on the other foot now” sort of excoriation. 

 

Sighing again, he headed through the doors and was soon at the stairs, jumping down them to get to the Control Room.  Within moments, he was back in the heart of Atlantis, nodding at the skeleton crew manning it.  The Canadian gate tech was still at his station, expertly monitoring the search crews.

 

“Hey, Canuck,” Sheppard said, coming up next to him and patting him on the shoulder. “Just wanted to say, nice job.”

 

The sergeant looked up, smiled briefly, then frowned in confusion. “For what, sir?”

 

“The floor trick, up in the Bay.  With the Jumper.  I know they dialed, but you locked the floor somehow.”  He ruffled the kid’s hair, “You did good.  Probably saved McKay’s life with that one.”

 

The sergeant’s eyebrows lifted, “Oh…you mean when Jumper Four’s DHD activated the Gate?  That wasn’t me, sir.  I don’t have the command codes needed to institute the lock on the Jumper Bay floor.”

 

“What?” Sheppard’s eyebrows lifted, “Then who did it?”

 

“McKay himself, from what I can tell.  He locked it down a couple of hours ago, from the Bay itself, looks like.”  The sergeant typed some commands into the logs, and brought up some gibberish looking detail on his laptop screen.  He pointed at a particular command line, “See? That’s McKay’s command line.  He must have figured out that the refugees were going to try and steal a jumper, and he activated the protocol.  It wouldn’t have taken him long, probably just hit a few keys, typed in his code, and it was done—the refugees probably didn’t even notice he was doing it.”

 

Sheppard stared at it a moment longer, then backed away, shaking his head. “He must have typed it in right before they knocked him out,” he said, smiling crookedly. “Damn idiot managed to save himself, and he didn’t even know it.”  

 

“Well,” the sergeant shrugged, “he is a genius.”

 

And, for some reason, Sheppard found that hilarious.  He was still laughing as he started calling in for updates on the search teams and from the infirmary, clearly having a hard time returning to a straight face.  The sergeant smiled with him, saying nothing about the touch of hysteria he could hear.  Colonel Sheppard, he figured, had earned it.

________________________________________________

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN:  RETURNING TO NORMAL

 

By the time night fell, everything was pretty much back to normal.  The people who had been poisoned slowly filtered out of their rooms and the infirmary, making their way back to work or at least taking the opportunity to move around a little before going back to sleep again.  The search teams had found nothing, and neither had the diagnosticians, so it appeared that the Genii’s plan had just been to, simply, steal a jumper and kidnap McKay…and make the Atlantian’s suffer a little in the process.

 

Of course, “a little” was relative, as Beckett’s condition was still a big question mark.  He’d made it through surgery, but it would be a while before they knew the true extent of the damage.  The doctor had yet to awaken, and it would not be overstating to say a dark cloud had descended on the normally bright city.  Everyone had stopped by the infirmary at least once, some staying longer than others.  Hurting Carson was akin to kicking a puppy—even the coldest souls in the City were affected by its wrongness.

 

It was midnight when Sheppard finally wandered into the infirmary, yawning and looking for a chair to sit in. He’d handed over the helm to Lorne, and was now looking for some needed rest.  No one questioned when he grabbed a pillow off a free bed, stuck it on the chair between McKay and Ronon’s beds, and settled down, propping his feet up on McKay’s cot and letting his head fall to his chest.  He was asleep pretty quickly.

 

He was awakened a few hours later by the sound of light, erratic tapping.  Glancing at his watch, he saw that it wasn’t even four in the morning yet.

 

McKay had been sleeping on his side, to give his back a chance to heal a little, and had stayed that way for hours.  Upon waking, however, he had apparently rolled onto his stomach and shoved his pillow under his chest so that he could work on his data tablet.  He was now stabbing at it with the stylus—the source of the tapping.  Problem was, his hands were bandaged, and he was obviously having a hard time keeping hold of the small implement.  The expression on his face would have been comical had it not been....Sheppard looked at his watch again...3:47 in the morning. 

 

"Christ, McKay," he yawned, stretching and working out some of the muscles in his neck. 

 

“Sorry,” Rodney said, not sounding sorry and not looking at him. “Can’t sleep.”  His voice was back.  It still sounded rough, but it wasn’t the painful sounding whisper it had been in the Bay. "You could go sleep in your own bed, you know."

 

Sheppard sniffed, not responding to the pointless statement about leaving, and shrugged. “Stuff they gave you wearing off, I take it?”

 

“Yeah,” McKay grimaced, and he shifted a little on the bed.  “Feels like every muscle in my body’s on fire.  Makes the pins and needles you feel after a stunner blast seem pleasant.  Plus, my skin is sore as hell in the worst places.” 

 

“Ugh,” Sheppard sympathized.  Sitting up, he moved his chair closer to the head of McKay’s bed so that he could rest an arm on it and prop up his head with his hand.  He watched McKay work for a few minutes, then turned to look at the rest of the big room.

 

On the next bed over, Ronon slept quietly, his face finally returned to its normal color, though there were still obvious circles under his eyes.  Asleep in the chair next to his bed was Teyla—unlike Sheppard, she obviously hadn’t been woken by the typing.  She looked uncomfortable, but, obviously, didn’t care anymore than the Colonel did.  They’d all gotten used to sleeping in the infirmary chairs.  She shifted a little as he watched, pulling up the blanket someone had given her higher on her shoulders.  On the far side of her, the shadowy figure of Elizabeth Weir dreamed away on her own bed.

 

A few more people filled the other beds—those, like Ronon, who had gotten really sick from Neera’s poison.  Sheppard also spotted the marine Neera had thrown her knife at, his upper shoulder swathed in bandages, and the one Freya had knifed in the hip.  Both seemed to be sleeping comfortably. 

 

Glancing to the far end of the infirmary, he met the eyes of the two marines standing in front of the doors leading to the small room currently housing Ren and Garron, and gave them a nod.  They nodded back.

 

Turning to look in the other direction, Sheppard spotted the last occupant of the big room, his lips lifting in a soft smile.  Sleeping on a line of chairs near the entrance to the ICU—where Beckett was—was Lieutenant Cadman.  The young woman had her back to them, sleeping on her side, with her arms wrapped around herself.  Someone had put a blanket over her, but most of it had fallen off.

 

Grunting softly, Sheppard got up, stretched, then walked softly through the infirmary to where she was.  McKay stopped tapping, obviously following him with his eyes. 

 

Reaching the blonde soldier, Sheppard reached down and lifted the blanket up and rested it around her shoulders again.  She sighed softly, digging her head more into a pillow she had obviously purloined from one of the cots.  Smiling at her, Sheppard turned and headed back to his chair.  Soon enough, he was sitting again, and yawning spectacularly.

 

McKay was still watching him.  “Seriously, why don't you go to your own room,” he suggested. "Probably more comfortable.  None of us are going anywhere."

 

Sheppard just gave him a lazy smile and settled into the chair more deeply. 

 

He fell back asleep to the sound of McKay’s soft renewed tapping.

___________________________________________  

 

Sheppard, Weir and Teyla were all gone by the time Ronon finally pushed himself up into a sitting position on his bed, feeling truly awake for the first time.  He'd seen all three briefly earlier in the morning, all of them feeling it necessary to pat his arm as they left.  It sort of annoyed him—as if he were their pet.  None of them patted McKay, who had been doped up again this morning (after he'd frightened Biro by not whining as much as normal.  Apparently, the less McKay moaned, the more unwell he actually was.  So Biro gave him something, and now he slept like the dead).  Only Sheppard had touched the other man's head for a moment, before leaving, and it had looked more like a slap than a pat.

 

Ronon mentally catalogued his own aches and pains, and decided he was well enough to leave.  As was his way, he hadn't complained at all when he finally woke.  Unless he was dying—which he was pretty sure he wasn't—he didn't feel the need to let other people into his world.  So he had just stared at Biro when she pestered him earlier, refusing to answer her questions.  Fairly quickly, she had snapped at him, warning him she wouldn't let him leave if he stayed silent, and eventually stormed off in a huff.  Next thing he knew, she'd ordered someone to take another blood sample from him.

 

He was beginning to understand why McKay called her the Vampire.  He'd learned the legend from the Atlantians early on, and the more he dealt with Biro, the more he had to admit—it was a good comparison.

 

Still, they had all disappeared now—Biro, the blond medic, the dark skinned doctor Sheppard could never remember the name of, the nurses—and he was contemplating just getting up and taking off.  Fact was, he really didn't want to be here anymore.  The longer he stayed, the more he thought about the girl he'd killed.

 

Freya.

 

There had to have been a better way...

 

Just then, he heard a loud noise and a swear from somewhere over near the OR end of the infirmary.  Biro had been the swearer—it was actually a pretty impressive cuss.  He straightened up further, wincing a little as his stomach cramped painfully, and leaned forward to see the area more carefully.

 

Slowly, the plastic sheets were pulled back and the doors opened leading to the OR. As Ronon watched, someone wheeled out Doctor Beckett's still form on a gurney.  He had yet to get the whole story about what had happened, but he knew enough to know that Neera had nearly killed him, throwing him off a balcony.  And for what?  As a decoy? 

 

He grew cold just thinking about it.

 

McKay was smart, sure, and he knew that the Genii wanted the scientist to help them create more advanced weapons, but to nearly kill Doctor Beckett just to distract the people here enough to achieve it?  That sort of reasoning was something he would never understand.  You don't kill the innocent.

 

And yet...he'd killed a child.  Hadn't he? 

 

He lowered his head, shaking it, curling his lip as it caused his headache to grow in intensity.

 

Looking up, he watched as Carson was settled onto the empty bed on the far side of McKay. 

 

He saw the medical personnel on duty hovering around, including those who really had nothing to do with Carson's condition.  They just hovered. 

 

Ronon felt increasingly sick. 

 

None of them were looking at him.  They were too distracted.  And rightly so.

 

Quietly pulling the IV out of his arm, he slid off the bed...and left the infirmary.

 

————————————————————————————

 

Teyla watched as Kate spoke with the two Lorrell boys, sitting next to where Elizabeth stood at the end of Garron's bed.  On the other bed, which Kate sat on, Ren was awake, but wasn't speaking.  He just stared at the end of his bed, looking like the world had ended.  He had spoken only once, to ask if Doctor McKay was all right, and had looked unhappily at the blonde psychiatrist when Kate told him McKay was also in the infirmary.  He had then asked to see him...but Kate told him now wasn't a good time.  After that, he didn't speak again.

 

So Garron was forced to speak for both. Which he did begrudgingly, and only because he knew it would determine their future.

 

The more Teyla watched the two boys interact, the more she began to understand.  Garron pretended a disinterest in his brother, even sending him glares every so often, but there was streak of protectiveness which had the older boy deflecting Kate away from asking too much about the younger boy.  Teyla wondered how much Ren was aware of just how much his brother really loved him...and forgave him.

 

In the end, though, Kate had finally backed off and let Teyla and Elizabeth question them about who had set the plan in motion, what their objectives had been, and, lastly, what they felt their options were now.

 

Garron had stated, straight and with an undertone of anger, that they could not go back to the Genii now.  Something about already having a black mark on their name, and not being welcome.  Ren had flinched a little at that, but not, Teyla surmised, because he wanted to go home...but because he knew his brother did. 

 

Elizabeth had taken the news with a grain of salt, but had nodded, telling them she would take that into consideration before calling Cowen.

 

Garron had accepted that, and settled back on his bed, looking suddenly very young and tired. 

 

"Teyla," Elizabeth had said then, "do you have any questions?"

 

The Athosian stared at the two boys for a moment, then shook her head.  "However," she said, looking to the leader of Atlantis, "I may have a solution, if you'd like to discuss it outside?"

 

Elizabeth nodded, and turned to leave.

 

"Teyla?" Garron called as she moved to follow, and she turned back.

 

"Yes?"

 

"Ronon's okay, right?" he asked, eyebrows lifted.  Teyla arched an eyebrow, then nodded slowly.  Garron suddenly smiled, looking down at his own feet.  "Figured he would be," he said softly, a hint of awe in his voice.  Teyla watched him appraisingly a moment longer, then turned to leave.

 

She wondered if Ronon knew he had an admirer.

_______________________________________________

 

"I assure you, Doctor Weir, whomever those people were, they were not acting under the orders of the Genii."  Commander Cowen's voice came through loud and clear over the radio, but the strong connection didn't make it sound any more sincere.

 

"So, what you are telling me," Elizabeth said, crossing her arms and glaring at the wormhole shimmering inside the Gate, as if she could see through it to Cowen on the other side, "is they were just...calling themselves Genii to malign you?"

 

"I wouldn't presume to know why they called themselves Genii," Cowen replied.  "I suppose it is possible that they were, once."

 

"Once?"

 

"I would be lying if I didn't say that," he paused, and took a breath before continuing, "that we haven't had members of our military go rogue on us."

 

"Rogue?" Elizabeth said, not hiding the disbelief in her voice.

 

"Certainly.  Actually, I believe you may even have met a few.  I understand your...former... Lieutenant Ford even recruited a few members  of our intelligence organization into his little army.  How is your search for him going by the way?"

 

That was a slap in the face, and Cowen knew it.  Elizabeth winced, sighed and glanced over at John, who was grimacing.   

 

"None of your business, Commander," Sheppard spat angrily.  Elizabeth shook her head at him, and the colonel rolled his eyes.

 

"Of course not," Cowen replied. "Again, my apologies.  However, the point is, we don't like to speak of our...defections any more than you do."

 

Sheppard drew in a breath as if to argue more about Ford, and Elizabeth quickly held up a hand to his face, warning him with a look to be quiet.  His eyes narrowed, but he acquiesced with a frown.

 

"So, in other words, Commander," Elizabeth said finally, returning her gaze to the Stargate, "you are denying all knowledge of these four people and their plans to steal one of our Jumpers and kidnap Doctor McKay."

 

"Yes," Cowen replied, his tone plain. "All I can offer you is my sympathies. After all, you've already lost your great City to the Wraith. I would hate to think of you losing any of your precious ships, or the good Doctor."

 

Elizabeth tried not to laugh at the man's false sincerity, "Thank you, Commander.  We appreciate your...sympathies."

 

"Actually, there is one other thing we could do for you, if you like."  There was another pause, then, "Seeing as these people are claiming to be Genii, if you wish us to take care of prosecuting them for you, we could—"

 

"That won't be necessary, Commander," Elizabeth interrupted quickly, standing up a little straighter. "Unfortunately, all four of the thieves are dead.  When their plans to escape through a gate failed, they attempted to kill their hostages and fly away—we had to take them down."

 

There was a longer pause, then, "I see. I hope none of your people were hurt." 

 

"They weren't.  We're all fine.  Again, thank you for your concern."

 

"Of course.  Well, if there is nothing else...?"

 

Elizabeth smiled thinly, shaking her head and looking again at John.  Sheppard looked livid, but he wasn't saying anything, for which she was glad. "No," she said to the airwaves, "there isn't.  Thank you for your time, Commander." 

  

"My pleasure, Doctor Weir.  Until we speak again."

 

"Until then," she said, nodding to the gate technician.  A moment later, the wormhole to the Genii homeworld was dissolved.

 

"Man lies like a wet rag," Sheppard muttered, crossing his arms. "A really big part of me just wants to fly through to his world and destroy his precious underground city.  God knows he deserves it."

 

Elizabeth snorted, "Yes, well, he probably does deserve that.  Just as he is probably lying.  But," she shrugged, "we have no real proof.  From the sounds of it, he still thinks Atlantis is lying at the bottom of the ocean, so..."  She sighed, leaning against a console and crossing her arms again.  "There's really nothing we can do."

 

Sheppard just grunted.  Elizabeth watched him for a moment, then looked down at the floor. People buzzed around them, watching monitors and adjusting things.  It was a little like standing still in the middle of a ballet. 

 

"So," the colonel said, breaking the silence, "Ren and Garron are going to become members of the Athosian population on the Mainland, eh?"

 

"Better than death or being locked up for the rest of their lives, which we don't really have the ability to do," Elizabeth replied, shrugging.

 

"They okay with it?"

 

"Surprisingly...yes."  She looked up, a contemplative expression on her face. "Garron claims they can't return to the Genii now, though...I'm not sure I believe him.  I'm not sure I will ever believe anything either boy says ever again.  But...for now...Halling has said he will keep them under strict supervision."  She gave him a wry look. "It was Teyla's idea.  She says she sees something in them...a bond stronger than the hold the Genii has on them, but...I'm not sure what I see." She snorted again, "She also wants Rodney to talk to Ren, which...seems insane.  Of all people...."  She shook her head, "I just don't know what to think. They've done so much harm..."

 

"And don't forget that they both have the gene," Sheppard reminded her, arching an eyebrow. "If they ever decide to ambush one of the Jumpers visiting the Mainland...."

 

"I know."  She sighed, and frowned.  After a moment, she straightened her shoulders and lifted her head, a clear sign she'd stick by her decision.  "It's a risk we'll just have to take."  She glanced at the colonel. "Fact is, I don't think we have a choice.  We can't keep them locked up here, and I'm not about to sanction the death penalty, especially not for children.  We just have to hope that they'll be true to their words...and that Teyla's right about them."

 

"Seems that's all we ever do," Sheppard said, staring down at the Gate and to the stained glass windows beyond, "Hope."

 

Elizabeth nodded, "I know."

 

Sheppard closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them with a sigh.  Standing up from his lean, he nodded to Elizabeth and turned to leave.

 

She watched him go, then turned her own gaze to the Gate down below.

 

————————————————————————————

 

The rest of the day passed quietly, except for one rather taut argument sometime after dinner between Atlantis' leader and its head scientist.  As Elizabeth left the infirmary, gently touching the hand of the still mostly unconscious Beckett as she left (he'd woken twice, but never for longer than a few moments), she sent one more meaningful look back at McKay.  The scientist sighed, rolling his eyes a little, but gave a short, unhappy nod.  She smiled thinly as she disappeared out the door.

 

Despite feeling as stiff as a block of wood, McKay forced himself to get to his feet in order to walk to the isolation ward.  He wasn't going to be wheeled in there—he refused to give either of the two Lorrell boys the satisfaction of seeing that. 

 

The distance grew from feet to miles as he moved—he'd never felt so utterly tired before in his life.

 

When he finally arrived, he nodded to the marine standing guard outside the door, and the man opened the door for him.

 

Rodney stared at the open doorway for a moment, then, with a grimace, slowly dragged himself inside.

 

Sitting on a chair in the far corner, reading a book, Garron glanced up to see who it was, then straightened, looking oddly hopeful.  Standing, he tossed the book behind him on the chair, and jogged over to McKay.

 

He was only a couple of feet from Rodney when he was stopped by a guard—the man materializing from nowhere to stand between them, holding up a hand.  Startled a little by the action, Garron bit his lip at the treatment, but didn’t try to get any closer.  Instead, he just turned and gave McKay his most open smile.  Rodney frowned when he realized it was the same smile as his little brother.

 

“Thank you for coming,” Garron whispered. “Ren's been—“

 

“I’m here because I was forced to come,” Rodney replied harshly, his voice still very hoarse, which was the only reason he kept his own voice low.  “So, don’t thank me.  Thank Doctor Weir.”

 

Garron's smile disappeared, but, after a moment, gave a short nod. "Right. I understand." He backed up a step and to the side, settling himself against the metal wall and looking at the floor, "Thank you anyway." 

 

McKay didn't bother to reply as he looked away from the boy, just willed protesting muscles to move forward again. The guard with them maintained a buffering presence as the scientist limped past the teenager towards the curtained off end of the room.

 

This part of Beckett's infirmary was very quiet, the sounds of the City muted behind the thick glass and closed door, making it ideally suited for isolation purposes. Rodney knew it well—it was the same room that he had woken up in after the Enzyme overdose.  It was also the same room where Sheppard had recovered from the Iratus bug infection.

 

The very end of the room was curtained off.  Coming around the end of the curtain, Rodney came to a stop as soon as he was able to see Ren.  For a moment, he just studied the twelve year old who, three days earlier, he had been attempting to console.... Reliving that conversation with Ren in the Jumper in his mind, McKay realized just what a fool he'd been. He'd practically encouraged Ren to go ahead with his plan.  Christ, he was so bad with kids.

 

So why the hell was he here?  Oh, right...Weir.  Christ, what the hell did she expect from him?

 

Ren was sitting up in the bed, legs bent so that his head could rest on his knees.  One thin arm was wrapped around the spindly limbs, while the other was propped up on a pillow in a cast from wrist to shoulder. His head was turned to look out the window—Ren looked very small in that position.

 

Rodney cleared his throat, and Ren turned his head to look up at him.  Like Garron, at the sight of McKay, he straightened up and something akin to hope lit his features.

 

“You’re here?” he said, pale blue eyes appearing impossibly large and shadowed.

 

“What do you want, Ren?” McKay asked, not moving any closer to the bed.  He was close enough standing next to the curtain, where he could turn around and leave quickly if need be. "Your brother asked me to come, because you apparently wanted to see me.  So, what do you want?"

 

The twelve year old frowned, looking down at the bed. “I…I wanted to make sure you were all right.  I heard…they told me…they said you were fine, but….”

 

“I’ve pulled almost every muscle in my body and ruined my hands,” Rodney replied, “making it nearly impossible to do anything, even think. My back will never heal cleanly now, and I’ll probably suffer nightmares for, oh, the rest of my life.  And, to top it off, one of my closest friends is still hooked up to every conceivable machine in the infirmary, and there is talk he may never walk again.  So, sure,” he snorted, “I guess they were right, I’m perfectly fine.”

 

Ren winced at the caustic tone and glanced up at McKay again. “I’m sorry about Doctor Beckett.”

 

“Don’t,” Rodney hissed. “You didn’t care about him before; don’t pretend you care about him now.”

 

Ren nodded, accepting that.  “I…I…I don’t know how to make this better.  I don’t know if I can.  I never…I only wanted….”  He trailed off, and buried his head in his knees. “I’m sorry, Doctor McKay.  I’m so, so sorry.”

 

Rodney looked down, then up again.  “What do you want me to say?  You want my forgiveness, is that it?  You want me to tell you, it’s going to be okay?  Well, it’s not.  You made this bed, Ren.  You lie in it.” 

 

Ren hiccupped a sob into his knees, and Rodney looked away, his frown growing.  Turning, he saw Garron still watching him from where he was leaning against the wall by the door, a morose expression on his young face.  When the teenager, accompanied by two guards, had approached him with Elizabeth half an hour before, he’d begged McKay to not blame his brother.  Garron had claimed it was all his fault, forcing Ren to help, to take part in all that had happened.  And he’d begged McKay to talk Ren out of killing himself, which was all the younger boy had apparently been talking about since he’d talked to Kate earlier.  After the guards took Garron back to the isolation ward, Elizabeth had asked McKay to speak to Ren…and when McKay remained reticent, had eventually made the request an order, with a back-up threat of taking away some of his staff.  But Elizabeth never said anything about his actually needing to make Ren feel any better....

 

Which was good, because McKay didn’t believe in false sincerity.  He was far too truthful for that. 

 

But his truthfulness was also why he sighed suddenly—because he wasn't done.

 

“One more thing,” he said, his voice softening a little, “I understand you tried to stop them from blowing up the Jumper Bay, which is how you got hurt.”  His eyes fell to the floor as Ren lifted his head to look at him, blue eyes shining. McKay snorted softly, offering a wry look.. “I suppose that's something,” he told the boy. "If I were you...I'd start from there...when trying to fix this."

 

As he turned to leave, putting his back to the boy, he heard Ren sniff a little. "You mean...I can?"

 

McKay didn't turn to look at him again, eyes narrowing slightly. "Isn't that what you promised me you'd do?"

 

Ren breathed a little harder, as if from excitement. “Yes. Yes, and I will,” the boy said, his voice lifting with hope. "I'll find a way."

 

Rodney just nodded again, and, without a backwards glance, headed back towards the doors to leave.  He didn’t look again at Garron as he left, but felt the teenager’s eyes on him the whole time. 

 

All he knew was that he was too exhausted to walk all the way back, and accepted the chair that waited for him when he made it back into the main infirmary with a grateful nod.

 

————————————————————————————

 

The soft, repetitive sound of fists hitting a heavy bag echoed softly down the corridor as Sheppard approached the gym.  The colonel slowed as he reached the closed double doors, looking first through the stained glass at the tall, shadowy figure inside before actually entering.  There was no questioning who it was—Ronon's size and stature dwarfed most of the men here.  John himself was over six foot, and the Satedan made the colonel feel small.  The only other person to ever make him feel that short was Halling...and the one time he'd met Patrick Ewing in New York.   There was something about looking up at a man a whole foot taller than you that was strangely humbling.

 

Ronon had never made Sheppard feel humble...until now.  Ronon had known that something was wrong with Neera and the kids, and, for some reason, hadn't told Sheppard his suspicions.  And the colonel knew why—because Sheppard would have shot him down, the same way he had Teyla in the Jumper.  It was something he needed to fix—he needed to show his team he trusted them. All of them.  Rodney he could question—the man was too fantastically egotistical not to require questioning—but Teyla and Ronon deserved better from him.  He'd already apologized to Teyla in the infirmary, where she was currently keeping Rodney company, but he owed a bigger one to Ronon. He needed to apologize for the Satedan not being the one Ronon felt he could go to in the first place.

 

With a wave of his hand over the panel, the doors slid open quietly, and Sheppard walked inside.

 

Ronon paused long enough to see who it was, then returned to his bare-fisted pummeling of the heavy bag.

 

The man was a machine.  Two days ago, he'd been lying in a near comatose state, dying from a barbiturate overdose.  Today, he was hitting a heavy bag and making it move.

 

"Need someone to hold it?" the colonel asked casually, stopping a few feet inside.

 

Ronon paused again, and Sheppard had to reevaluate his initial thought about Ronon's constitution—the Satedan was nowhere near fully recovered.   Sweat dripped down his face and he was visually trembling from the exertion, his breath coming out in painful sounding gasps.  Sunken, bloodshot eyes pierced Sheppard from within skin that seemed faded, as if the tall man were growing increasingly insubstantial.  And yet, despite obviously being sick, Ronon had been murdering the heavy bag like a man possessed by demons.

 

Ronon was punishing himself for something.  And if he kept it up, it would drive him straight back to the infirmary.

 

"Or," Sheppard said, deciding to change his tactic, "maybe you'd do me a favor and sit with me a minute?  I've something I'd like to talk to you about."  He couched it as if it were an order, because he knew Ronon needed him to—he needed to give the Satedan an excuse to stop torturing himself.

 

Ronon grimaced, and turned a glare at the heavy bag as if the equipment had somehow failed him.

 

Sheppard walked over to the large window and sat down on the bench, leaning forward so that his elbows rested on his knees.  His eyes he kept on the floor, the picture of patience.

 

The Satedan sighed, walked over to grab a towel off the side mantle, and, wiping his face down, walked over and joined Sheppard in the window, sitting down heavily.

 

The colonel licked his lips, arching an eyebrow but not actually looking at Ronon.  "Biro say you're well enough to work out like that?" he asked quietly.

 

Ronon was back on his feet immediately. "Leave me alone," he snapped, already moving away.

 

"Wait," Sheppard said, straightening, his brow furrowed in annoyance, "Wait, wait...that's not what I meant."

 

Ronon stopped moving, and turned to look at his team leader with a confused brow. "Then what did you mean?"

 

"I'm not questioning whether you're well enough to work out," Sheppard said, keeping his tone even, "I'm questioning why you seem to be trying to kill yourself working out."

 

Ronon's eyes narrowed. "I'm not trying to kill myself," he spat.

 

Sheppard just lifted both eyebrows. "You sure?"

 

The Satedan's jaw muscles flexed at that, as teeth ground together inside the closed mouth. "Yes."

 

"Then what are you doing?"

 

Ronon shrugged, looking back towards the heavy bag. "Taking out my anger."

 

"At me?" Sheppard asked, eyes narrowing slightly. "Because, if so, I'm pretty sure I deserve it.  But I'd rather you just yell at me instead of torturing your body anymore."

 

Ronon turned around to look at him again, and there was no questioning the surprise on his face. "What are you talking about?  Why would I be mad at you?"

 

Sheppard shrugged nonchalantly, "Because you couldn't come to me with your suspicions?  Because you know I probably wouldn't have listened?"

 

"Oh," the confusion lessened on Ronon's broad face, "that."

 

"Yeah, that," Sheppard confirmed.

 

"Not really mad at you for that," Ronon said. "Not really mad at you for anything, Sheppard."

 

"Well, you'd be entitled," Sheppard said.

 

"Why?" Ronon's brow furrowed, "I didn't go to anyone else with it either.  I only talked to Teyla about it because I'd been following Garron around, and he'd just lost me in the Jumper Bay...and I was annoyed."  He snorted, grimacing again. "It just so happened that it occurred at the same time Teyla was there, coming back from the Mainland.  She thought I was there to meet her.  Didn't dissuade her.  I bounced the idea off of her, to see if I was crazy.  She didn't help much."  He frowned again, shrugged, then moved to sit down next to Sheppard again.  "Fact was, had it been you there, I probably would've told you.  Or Lorne."  He frowned, "Not sure about McKay or Weir, though.  I don't really get how they think.  Weir in particular....McKay I can anticipate.  Weir...really not."

 

Sheppard took all this in with a sort of stunned surprise.  By the end, it had turned to sheer amusement. 

 

"So...then you're not mad because...you were right and everyone else was wrong and all this could've been avoided had someone listened to you?"

 

Ronon's eyebrows lifted at the long sentence. "No.  If I'd really known something was wrong, Sheppard, I would've told you." 

 

Sheppard's shoulders collapsed and he bowed his head in relief, closing his eyes and grinning.  Releasing a big sigh, he smiled up at Ronon, "Thanks, man."

 

Ronon just shrugged, and reached over to grab a bottle of water by his feet. Taking a big swig, he looked at Sheppard again.  The colonel's face had grown serious again.  It had just occurred to Sheppard that he'd just been incredibly self-centered.  If Ronon wasn't working out like a kamikaze pilot because he was mad at Sheppard and the rest of Atlantis' personnel, then...

 

"So who are you mad at?" he asked, turning to meet Ronon's eye.  The Satedan grimaced, and leaned back against the side of the window frame.

 

"Me."

 

Sheppard frowned, "For what?"

 

"For not knowing.  At least, not in time to stop them."

 

"Ronon..."

 

"And for eating too much at breakfast.  I was suspicious of Garron and maybe Freya, but I didn't think to question Neera's cooking."  He snorted, his brow furrowing in a sneer, "Stupid."

 

Sheppard had to shrug at that one, "Well, I did offer my food to you.  So, really, it's..."

 

"But mostly," Ronon interrupted, his voice suddenly going incredibly soft, so much so that Sheppard looked up in surprise, "I'm mad because...I killed that little girl."

 

That shook the colonel—like someone had just frozen his lungs. "Ronon..."

 

"She was barely twelve years old, Sheppard.  Just a girl.  And I killed her."  The Satedan's eyes had grown very distant, as if seeing something he didn't really want to see, but unable to stop himself. "I should've...I should've found another way."

 

"She was insane, Ronon," John said softly. "She was inches from killing Beckett.  You saved his life.  It was the only thing you could do."

 

Ronon closed his eyes, shaking his head roughly. "I should've found another way," he repeated.

 

"Listen to me," the colonel's voice was gruff, "I know, right now, all you're seeing is a girl.  A blond, pretty girl.  But that girl was old, Ronon.  In her head and in her heart.  Some kids...they aren't like other kids, Ronon.  And Freya was one of them.  I don't know how she ended up the way she did, but she wasn't innocent.  And she wasn't sane.  What you did...? It was the only thing you could do. She gave you no choice."

 

Ronon opened his eyes, but kept them downcast.  He'd heard, but he hadn't listened. Not yet.

 

"Do me a favor," Sheppard coaxed, resting a hand briefly on Ronon's arm before lifting it away, "Just remember how she looked the moment before you stopped her.  Right before you threw that knife.  And think about who you saved."

 

Ronon sighed again, looking up at the gym.  After a few moments, he closed his eyes and nodded.

 

"All right," Sheppard gave him a small smile.

 

Ronon opened his eyes again, grimaced, then stood up, looking vaguely towards the heavy bag.

 

"Oh, and hey," Sheppard said, standing up as well, "I was going to go check on Beckett and McKay.  You want to come?  I think Teyla could use a break—she's been sitting up there for a little while."

 

Ronon gave him a sidelong glance, then snorted, "You're just trying to get me out of the gym."

 

"Yup." Sheppard's smile grew.

 

Ronon offered a wry look back, and he straightened, rolling his shoulders. "Is McKay awake?"

 

"No.  At least, not last time I checked."

 

"You promise?"

 

Sheppard laughed.

_________________________________________________________ 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY: THE CLOUDS FINALLY LIFT

 

“Go away.”

 

“No.”

 

“Please?”

 

“No.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because, as crazy as this sounds, Biro says you’re not eating. That, in fact, you haven't eaten anything in the two and half days since you've been here.  Personally, I find that nearly impossible to believe, knowing you as I do, but, well, you do look sorta…thinner.  For you. So, on Elizabeth’s orders, I have been sent here to make sure you do eat.  Apparently, she is under the impression that I am the only one who can successfully make you do stuff.”

 

“Oh, please.  No one can make me do anything, least of all you.  Besides, I've eaten."

 

"No, you haven't.  That doctor...whatsisname...found your lunch tray under Carson's bed. Not smart, McKay."

 

Mckay huffed. "This is ridiculous.  You're the one who is always saying I need to eat less."

 

"Yes, less.  Not, not at all."

 

"You said I should eat salad three meals a day. To me, that's the same thing as not eating."

 

"I'm not asking you to eat just salads, McKay, I...oh...ha.  I get it.  You're trying to distract me."

 

"No, I'm not.  I just think this whole thing is silly."

 

“I agree.  So, eat, and I can leave.”

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, come on.”

 

“No.  Especially not now.”

 

“Why not now?”

 

“Because then that would mean Elizabeth was right.  That you can make me do ‘stuff’ that I don’t want to do, and, frankly, that pisses me off.  Officially and for the record, Colonel, up yours.  So, whereas it’s possible you might have gotten me to eat something before, now I’m definitely not going to eat.”

 

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, McKay, you have got to be kidding me.”

 

Carson listened to the argument going on a few feet away from him with a strangely content level of annoyance.  The main reason he was enjoying listening to it, despite also equally wishing it would stop (and wasn’t that oddly incongruous!), was because it felt normal. He knew the voices, knew the banter, and knew what the end result would be.  It was the first really comprehensible and predictable occurrence he had known since waking up.  Before this, everything had been flashes of pain and light and confusion.  This argument…was the first thing to make sense to him since…since…something about being thrown off a balcony?

 

“Look,” Rodney said, sighing softly, “I’m not kidding.  I’m sick.  I’m tired.  I’m nauseous.  Food is about as appetizing to me right now as eating mud.  So, do me a favor and go dump the food into a trash can, take the empty tray away to show the Vampire, get your kudos from Elizabeth, and leave me alone.”

 

Sheppard snorted, “Yeah…sorry…not going to happen.”

 

“Why not?” McKay’s level of exasperation was growing.

 

“Look.  Biro says you’re not eating because, when you were trapped and all tensed up inside that thing…oh, hell, stop that.  Don’t go even paler on me. It’s like watching a white sheet turn gray. It's disturbing. Get over it, you wuss.”

 

Wuss?  Hey, that was a really scar—“

 

“Yes, wuss.  Now, as I was saying, Biro told me that you tensing up all your muscles like you did left a build up of lactaid—“

 

“Lactaid?  You mean lactase?  Because, Lactaid, last time I checked, was a commercial product for the lactose intolerant.”

 

“Okay, you know what? I’m not arguing about this anymore.  You know you’re being stupid, and you know I’m right.  So, here’s the way its going to work.  I brought only small things here—I even found more of the blue Jell-O which, frankly, was really nice of me—and you’re eating everything on this tray within the next ten minutes or I start getting angry.”

 

“And I wouldn’t like you when you’re angry, right, Bruce?”

 

“Smart man.”

 

“I always thought you were as stupid as the Hulk.  Now I know.”

 

“Stupid?  Stupid is the person who got themselves locked in a trunk!”

 

“I was stunned!”

 

“Exactly. And getting stunned was stupid.”

 

“Hey, you were fooled by them too!”

 

“I wasn’t stunned.”

 

“You’re not serious.”

 

“And you’re not seriously not going to eat the food on this tray.”

 

“I’m 'not seriously not’ what?…wait…how many negatives did you just use in that sentence?  Where did you learn English?”

 

“You think you’re stubborn, McKay?  You haven’t seen stubborn.  The Sheppard Stubbornness is legendary.  Killed many a promising career, I can tell you, including nearly mine.  So, you’re going to eat, or I’m going to pester you about eating until you’ll be begging me for more food!”

 

“Ha! Cold day in—“

 

“Please, for the love of God and all things holy,” Beckett croaked, his voice about as strong as tissue paper, but loud enough to carry to the two people near him, “Will you just eat the damn food, Rodney!”

 

Complete and total silence greeted this statement…for about a minute.  Then Rodney was shouting for Biro and Sheppard was yelling his name at him about two inches from his face, his breath hot on his skin.  He felt someone grab his hand, and without needing to open his eyes, guessed it to be the colonel. 

 

A bunch of things happened then, as noise and motion and air pushed in on him all at once.  He heard Biro asking him to open his eyes, and McKay yelling at Sheppard to move so he could see, and Sheppard asking Biro if “this was a good sign.”  Finally, blessedly, he heard Biro snap at Sheppard to back off, for McKay to shut up, and then her cool presence was leaning over him.

 

“Carson,” she called, her voice quiet and reserved, “open your eyes.”

 

He frowned.  He really didn’t want to.  They burned and felt sticky.  In fact, maybe he could just pretend…

 

“Open them, Doctor Beckett,” Biro repeated, her tone shifting from kind to stern, “Now.”

 

“Bloody hell, woman,” he whispered, cracking an eyelid to look up at her balefully.  She was fuzzy for a couple of seconds before coming into focus, “You really need to work on that bedside manner.”

 

The smile that greeted him told him she hadn’t heard a word. “There you are,” she breathed, her voice filled with gratitude, and leaned away from him to reach for something.  He tried to follow her movements, but his muscles felt like lead.  He also felt sore, and…damn he wanted to shift positions.  She came back into view with a small cup of water and a straw, which she inserted into his mouth.  He took a grateful sip, letting it soothe the raw burning in his throat, then frowned when she took it away again.

 

“Still thirsty,” he muttered, a touch angrily.

 

“I know.  I’ll give you more in a minute.  How are you feeling?”

 

He thought about that for a few minutes.  Mostly, he was trying to remember why  he felt so horrible.  His body felt numb and achy, his head was filled with cotton, his mouth felt dry and filled with lichen, and his muscles felt like they were cramped.  With a grunt, he pushed his hands down and shoved up, using his feet for more leverage.

 

“He just moved his feet!” Rodney shouted.  Beckett winced at the assault on his eardrums, but when he looked over at Rodney to tell him to not do that again, he found himself looking at the goofiest smile that Rodney possessed.  It was the same smile the scientist had given when he had heard Sheppard’s voice over the radio after they thought he’d died during the Siege.  The same smile he gave when he found out he wasn't going to die from the nanovirus.  The same smile…he gave whenever he learned someone he cared about was going to be okay.

 

Beckett’s blue eyes widened at the realization, and he turned to look at Sheppard, who was also smiling, then to Biro.  She was grinning, her eyes looking suspiciously wet.

 

“What?” he asked.  “Did I miss something?”

_________________________________________________

 

McKay was discharged the following morning, almost twelve hours later, mostly because Sheppard had gotten him to eat some dinner, and when breakfast came, had eaten all of it...and asked for more.  That was all it took for Biro to (gratefully) kick him out. 

 

Nevertheless, despite melodramatically bidding adieu to the infirmary at 8:00 a.m., he was back in the infirmary that afternoon to check on Carson.

 

The doctor had almost crumpled in on himself the day before when he was told the story of what had happened.  At first he had refused to believe it, unable to reconcile the sweet girl he'd had following him all week with...with the one who had laughed when he fell.  Cadman had, unhelpfully, brought up the two boys from Columbine, and he nearly drove the poor, normally very strong lieutenant to tears when he furiously asked her to leave.  She just didn't understand.  

 

He'd refused to see anyone at all the following morning, so when Rodney shuffled in—still moving like a geriatric version of himself—Carson just closed his eyes and turned his head to bury it in the pillow, to hide.

 

Yeah...that wasn't about to stop the pushiest man on Atlantis.  The nurse who tried to stop him got whipped by his best vocal barbs.  She ran away, sniffling.

 

McKay grabbed the chair next to Carson's bed, sat down with a sigh, rested his arms on Carson's bed and propped up his chin with his bandaged fists.  He smiled smugly, waiting for Carson to open his eyes again.

 

It didn't take long. 

 

The blue eyes opened only a crack, peering at Rodney through narrow slits, the brow furrowing as they caught the amused eyes watching him back.

 

"What do you want, Rodney?" he said at last, his voice quiet.

 

"To ask you if you wanted to go bungee jumping off the north pier," Rodney replied quickly, smirking now.

 

The brow furrowed more, and the eyes closed again.  If Rodney wasn't going to be serious, then...

 

"Actually," Rodney said, sounding a touch more somber, "I wanted to tell you that, of all the people in this scenario, I think you got the worst end of the stick."

 

Carson opened his eyes again, sighing unhappily. "Rodney, no.  I don't want to—"

 

"I mean, think about it.  Thrown off a balcony, nearly paralyzed—I hear you're going to be fine, by the way—nearly stabbed to death on the operating table...and for what?  First, as a decoy, and second for a vendetta which, honestly, would have been better served by her going after Sheppard...."

 

"Rodney..."  Carson tried again, beginning to feel a little sickly.  McKay's voice was like nails on a chalkboard right now. 

 

"I mean, let's face it," McKay continued, oblivious, "You're...maybe...as valuable as me to this outfit.  If the Genii knew more about your work, they'd be trying to kidnap you as well as me.  But, because they're more single minded than Sheppard in a room of hot alien priestesses, they stuck to their god awful plan.  And you got fooled by the greatest con-woman to hit Atlantis since...ever.  Sure, she was just a girl, but I'd place her in Haley Mills category for the best child actress ever to—"

 

"Rodney!" Carson snapped, tasting bile on his tongue, "Stop.  I don't want to talk about this!"

 

That earned a moment's silence, and some curious expressions crossed Rodney's face, until the scientist finally asked, "Why not?"

 

Carson didn't answer.  Rodney was obtuse sometimes, but, honestly, this took the cake.

 

Rodney clicked his tongue. "Just, have you even thought to consider that she also stabbed a marine in the hip? And don't get me started on poor, stupid Lorne...."

 

"I'm not kidding, Rodney," Carson snarled. The monitors around his bedside had started to beep faster.  "I'm not going to talk to you about her or what happened.  In fact, you're the last person I want to talk to."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because you won't let me be still!"

 

McKay's face suddenly hardened, all trace of humor gone, and Beckett glimpsed the man who had taken an overdose of enzyme in order to save his team. 

 

"Don't you mean I won't let you wallow?" Rodney asked quietly, pointedly.

 

Carson turned his head away.

 

"Just go away, Rodney."

 

There was a very long pause after that, and when Rodney didn't move to leave or attempt to speak again, Carson slowly turned his head back to look at him again. The monitors had stopped beeping quickly, and Doctor Biro backed off from where she'd been standing in the shadows, about to ask McKay to leave.

 

Rodney was frowning slightly, which, well, wasn't new.  But this time, it was tinged by a moroseness Carson didn't like.  Rodney wasn't looking at him, staring instead at the bedspread. He realized, for the first time, just how ill Rodney looked.

 

"Rodney?" he called softly. "You okay?" 

 

Rodney closed his eyes, sighing in frustration.  "Oh, that's so you.  Asking after me.  Of course I'm fine, you idiot.  You're the one who isn't fine. Just look at you!"

 

Carson snorted, a tiny smile on his lips, until it faded again.  He remembered why Rodney was here.

 

"Look," he said, his tone more kindly, "Rodney, I appreciate the effort, I really do, but I don't want to talk.  Not about this.  Not now, and not with you.  Okay?"

 

"No," the scientist looked up at him again, "It's not okay.  Because you really need to get something clear about what happened, and until you do, you're going to keep blaming yourself for Freya's death."

 

Carson visibly winced at the word's, 'Freya's death.'

 

"I know I'm not entirely to blame," the doctor admitted, sighing again, "but..."

 

"You're not to blame at all, Carson.  You think you are, but you're not. Because you've got this notion in your head of this pretty little girl.  But she wasn't just a girl, Carson.  She was that girl.  That particular girl.  That unique girl."

 

Carson blinked at him, honestly confused by that statement. "That unique girl?  What are you talking about?"

 

"You think I don't wonder if...," Rodney frowned, "that if I'd been nicer to Ren...if I'd gotten through to him somehow, that I too might have stopped this from happening?"

 

Carson stared at him a moment, surprised Rodney had actually been that astute. It was exactly what Carson had been beating himself up about.  That if he'd been better with Freya....

 

But, that was the difference, wasn't it?  Rodney did get through.  From what he'd been told, Ren had fought with Neera, and had, to put it bluntly, saved the day.  "But you did, Rodney," he repeated out loud. "You did get through.  That's why Ren's in there, alive.  Why you're still here and not in some Genii hellhole...."

 

"No," Rodney shook his head, "that's just it, Carson.  It wasn't me.  You know as well as I do that I was mean to that boy.  Just like I'm mean to everyone.  I don't care about how old they are, or how sensitive.  Lord knows I've driven Miko to tears more times than I can count. I'm not a nice person.  Had Ren not been forced to dog me as part of the plan, he would have been gone in an instant.  And don't tell me that it was something he saw in me that changed his mind about Atlantis...because you know that's not true."

 

"But, you still..."

 

"It was Ren, Carson.  His own curiosity.  His own inner...whatever...that got him to fight for us.  In the end, what turned him wasn't his fear for me suffocating inside that..." McKay took a shaky breath, then continued, "...or you on that table...but Neera trying to blow up the Jumper Bay that got him.  That's why he acted—to stop her killing anyone else, and crippling Atlantis."  He arched an eyebrow, watching Carson carefully, "Do you see?  He didn't save Atlantis because I told him what was the right thing to do, he did it because he already knew it was the right thing to do.  It was already in him."

 

Carson still frowned, not understanding.

 

"What I'm trying to say is, Ren would have done what he did...whether it was Sheppard he'd attached himself to, or Teyla, or Elizabeth, or even Kavanagh, if the dork was still around." McKay shrugged, "I just got the lucky straw.  You...got the unlucky straw.  You got Freya...the crazy girl."

 

Carson's frown deepened at the implication, but McKay just plunged on, adding anger to his tone.

 

"Damn it, you knew her for barely two weeks, Carson.  Two weeks.  That girl was gone long before you ever met her."  Rodney shrugged and leaned back, looking off towards the still closed off part of the infirmary. "It was more than just the Genii in her head," he said, "it was her own twisted view of reality.  Kate told us a little of what Garron has said about the three of them, and Freya.... Garron said he never let Ren alone with her.  He knew she was nuts, and avoided her as much as possible."

 

Carson pressed his dry lips together, trying not to listen.  He didn't want to listen. 

 

"Don't you get it, Carson?  It didn't matter what you said or did. Her mind was made up.  She played her role.  You could have," he waved a bandaged hand about, "given her the stars and the moon, and she wouldn't have swayed." 

 

Carson blinked up at the ceiling, his eyes growing wet.  McKay sighed, standing up so he could look down at his friend.

 

"Do you get what I'm saying, Carson?"

 

Beckett shut his eyes.  After a moment, he gave a nod.  This time, McKay's sigh was one of relief.

 

"All right, then." He patted Carson on his undamaged arm, and the doctor opened his eyes to look at him again. McKay gave him a soft smile.  "Look, Just...do me a favor and think about getting better, okay?  You need to get your head on that now.  And...you know...try to look on the bright side..."

 

Beckett's eyebrows lifted. "Bright side?  There's a bright side?"

 

"There's always a bright side," McKay said, still smiling.

 

When he didn't elaborate, Carson just lifted his eyebrows further. "Well, what is it?"

 

The scientist's smile faltered, "Oh...yeah...I don't know.  Sheppard says that to me all the time, and fills it in when I ask.  I was sort of hoping you'd figure it out for yourself, so I wouldn't have to."  He shrugged, "Maybe you should think about it, and, when you find an answer, let me know, okay?" 

 

And on that note, McKay flashed a grin, and then started to hobble off.  Carson watched him for a moment, then, closed his eyes. 

 

When he opened them again, to look towards the main doors to the infirmary, he saw Biro giving McKay a pat on the arm.  The 'thank you' on Biro's lips was easy to see from here.  McKay looked uncomfortable, backing away from her and disappearing out the doors before she said anything else.

 

Carson couldn't help but smile.  Biro was a good doctor.  And, though he'd never tell him, McKay was a good friend.

 

And he knew what the bright side was.

 

They were all still alive.

_______________________________________________________________

 

Several weeks later, Elizabeth and Kate Heightmeyer were sitting in Elizabeth's office, going over two different subjects.  The first was related to the two Lorrell boys.  Under guard, they had both been flown back to meet with Kate the day before, and she was meeting with Elizabeth to give her impressions. 

 

"In general," the psychiatrist said, glancing at her notebook, "both boys are doing well...in their own way.  Ren honestly seems to want to fit in, often asking after McKay and the others, and has expressed an interest in taking some of the courses being taught by the Atlantian scientists to the other Athosian children.  He is ahead of them in many ways, but he is also behind in others."  She smiled up at Elizabeth, "if you allow it, I would like to enroll him in a few subjects next time the classes start up." 

 

Elizabeth sighed softly, then nodded. "I will think about it, but, depending on the classes, I don't see why not.  He would need to remain under guard the whole time, of course."

 

Kate gave a sad smile at that, but conceded the point. "I know."

 

"What about Garron?" Elizabeth asked.

 

Kate paused a moment, then gave a shrug. "He is well, but...still very much a Genii.  He is very proud of his people and his heritage, Elizabeth.  However," she tilted her head, "despite his loyalty, I sense his brother is still the most important thing in his life, ultimately more so than his background.  He shows a strong protective instinct towards him in our sessions, despite a pretense of sibling rivalry. I believe if he sees Ren flourish, he will be able to find his own happiness.  At the very least, a measure of acceptance for what has happened." She lifted an eyebrow, "Of course, that acceptance could be helped along in other ways..." 

 

Elizabeth narrowed her gaze, smiling a little at the almost coy look on Kate's face.  "You mean, Ronon."

 

"I do," Kate said. "After our session, before the boys were escorted back, I learned of two rather interesting things.  First, that Ronon offered to try the boy out in a sparring session.  According to Major Lorne, Garron seemed to have a lot of fun, and I would guess it was quite cathartic for Ronon as well.  Ren, meanwhile, found himself "anonymously" gifted with a handheld PC—with no wireless connection—packed with electronic versions of various physics and other scientific texts.  He'd spent the entire time waiting for Garron reading voraciously...."  She shrugged.

 

Elizabeth's smile grew more wry, and she arched an eyebrow. "In other words, the two Lorrell boys have some friends still, despite it all."

 

"Yes.  Friends that, I am sure, can be encouraged to continue their quiet support in the boys' rehabilitation."

 

Elizabeth nodded, looking down at her desk. "I'll see that they are further encouraged," she said.  Kate smiled brightly in return, and thanked her with a nod.

 

"Now," Elizabeth said, her smiled disappearing, "moving on....What is your diagnosis regarding Doctor McKay?"

 

Kate pursed her lips, eyes dropping to her notebook again. "Well," she began slowly, "I would be lying if I didn't say that, regarding his claustrophobia, this has been a large setback."

 

Elizabeth already knew some of it—she had seen for herself the way McKay was hesitating for long periods before entering any dark room, and had come across him once or twice, sleeping in bright places, like the mess hall or the lab.  Apparently, he was avoiding sleeping in his own room, and, even when he was there, kept the door open and the lights on. Then there was the fact that, on his first off world mission, a recon mission with a science team to a world they had visited before, he had frozen at the prospect of entering a small cave and was practically carried away by Lorne until he responded normally to them again.  He had also suffered at least two panic attacks—once in the Control Room, the other in the gym—both times without any real warning or reason.  He had yet to go on a real mission with Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon, and part of the reason they hadn't gone out was because McKay kept finding reasons to avoid joining them.  

 

It was beginning to worry his friends…and his boss.

 

Heightmeyer had assured Elizabeth that it would get better with time, that she was sure Rodney would recover, but, well…time was something they often didn’t have.  They needed McKay out there—or they needed to find someone to take his place.

 

"So," Elizabeth said, leaning forward on her desk, "are we talking about...grounding him?  Asking Colonel Sheppard to find a replacement?  And perhaps asking Doctor Zelenka to take on more of Rodney's duties?"

 

Kate frowned.  She did not answer for a few moments, then, when she did, she seemed uncertain about something.

 

"Ordinarily," she said, "had this been someone else, I would have said yes.  But, as you know, Rodney McKay," she shrugged, "is something of a class unto himself.  Right now, he has been giving into this fear, one which he thought he had long ago learned to control, and he's terrified. He knows he is doing it, and he hates the whole idea of it, but can not seem to stop it."

 

"Sounds like the definition of a phobia," Elizabeth agreed, frowning. "But if time is not what he needs to deal with it...then what?."

 

Kate shifted in her seat, obviously trying to gather her thoughts, or perhaps to gather a little courage.  "Well...Rodney had two things going for him, both which I believe will give him the fortitude he needs to overcome this fear more quickly than your...average person.  The first, is his very powerful ego.  The other..."  She smiled, and there was a wicked touch to the expression in her eyes, "...is Colonel Sheppard.  My suggestion, Doctor Weir, is to send him on a mission with his team.  Someplace where you know they need to enter someplace dark..."

______________________________________________

 

"And did I mention the rats?" Rodney asked, crossing his arms and looking as arrogant as ever.  The dirt streaking his face only seemed to enhance his superior expression. 

 

Several days had passed since Kate and Elizabeth's conversation, and SGA-1 had just returned from a planet where a former Ancient outpost was meant to exist—one that was partially underground.  Elizabeth lifted her eyebrows, and turned to Sheppard.

 

"Rats?" she repeated.

 

"There were no rats," the colonel stated firmly. "He's making it up."

 

"There were rats!" Rodney threw back, glaring at the man sitting on his left, before swiveling around to look at Teyla and Ronon, watching from the bench on the side.  Heightmeyer sat there as well, but apart from the two team members—she was just observing quietly.  McKay's eyebrows lifted as he stared hard at Ronon, "Tell them!"

 

"There was something in that cave," the big man shrugged. "Might've been rats."

 

"Ha!" McKay turned smugly back to Sheppard, who was rolling his eyes.

 

"Like it matters," he muttered. 

 

"Oh," Rodney said smartly, "it matters.  If I hadn't managed to figure how that complicated locking mechanism worked we might all be dying of the bubonic—"

 

"Point is," Sheppard said sharply, leaning forward in his seat to get Elizabeth's attention, "we got out.  Despite Rodney's best efforts to make us think otherwise."


"Hey!" Rodney retorted. "I knew that...eventually...we'd get out of there!"

 

"Actually," Ronon rumbled from his seat, "I think you're exact words were along the lines of, 'we're doomed,' 'we're never getting out of here,' and 'oh God, we're all going to die.'"

 

McKay gave the Satedan a dark look. "Didn't mean I didn't think I could find a way to bypass that locking mechanism."

 

"Yeah," Ronon's eyebrows lifted, "sure."

 

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth said, trying not to smile, "can we get back to what exactly it was you found?"

 

"Tunnels," Teyla replied, taking the lead.  "We soon learned that they were fairly extensive, but unstable, just as the people of PX3-299 said they were, and—"

 

"And," Rodney held up a finger, interrupting Teyla and earning a grimace for it, "I deduced that a large section of them were carved out, probably by the same tools that made the caves on M7G-113."

 

"So, it was an Ancient outpost," Elizabeth said, looking again at Sheppard.

 

Sheppard sighed heavily and nodded. "Looks that way."

 

"And worth studying further?" Elizabeth prompted.

 

"Not with the tunnels that finicky," the colonel replied, shaking his head. "We barely got out ourselves—"

 

"Thanks to me," Rodney stated, smirking a little.

 

"Yes, thanks to Rodney," Sheppard admitted through gritted teeth, "...and we didn't even go that deep into the structure.  It's just too dangerous."

 

"But..."

 

"No, he's right, Elizabeth." Rodney looked down at the data tablet in his hand, "There were no discernible power signatures, nor evidence of anything left behind."  He looked up, "It's really unlikely there is anything left to find."

 

"The tunnels appeared stripped clean," Teyla agreed. "It is not the first time people have taken advantage of such places to find building materials and objects to barter.  It looks like the place was looted many decades ago.  Perhaps even centuries."

 

“So, then, what you’re saying is…?” Elizabeth prompted again.

 

“No luck,” Sheppard shrugged.  “There’s nothing there.”

 

“Just dark tunnels leading to nowhere,” McKay added, a fleeting shudder touching his frame.  (In the background, Kate marked something on her notebook).

 

“And not much value to keeping contact with the people, either,” Ronon added.

 

“Well,” Teyla said, fixing Ronon with a chastising gaze, “the people are friendly, but, Ronon is right, there is little to trade for.  However, Colonel Sheppard left them a radio and the gate address for the relay station, so they can reach us if they need to.”

 

Ronon gave a grunt at that.  He still had a problem with the Atlantians being too willing to trust strangers.  He’d made some snide remark when they first returned about how they never seemed capable of learning from their mistakes.  Elizabeth had wondered about that, not knowing the context, but she understood now.  She gave him a tight nod, to show his concerns were not unheard.

 

“Well, then,” she said, turning back to them, “I guess that’s that.  Have your mission reports for me tomorrow morning.”  She smiled then and leaned back in her chair, “And try to get a good night’s rest,” she added. 

 

Accepting her words as a dismissal, the four team members stood to leave, with Teyla and Ronon filtering out first, then McKay.  As Sheppard turned to go, Elizabeth cleared her throat. 

 

“Uh, Colonel,” she said, “would you mind staying behind for a few minutes?”

 

Sheppard stopped moving, turning back to Elizabeth.  In the door, McKay frowned a little, his expressive eyes looking first to Kate, then to Elizabeth and Sheppard.  He was not a stupid man.  His jaw firmed up and he lifted his chin slightly, a show of defiance.

 

“McKay,” Sheppard turned to look at him, “you heading down for dinner?”

 

Rodney blinked a moment at the seeming non-sequitor, then nodded. “Yeah.”

 

“Hang out by the transporter. I’ll be there in a sec.”

 

For a second, McKay just stood there.  Then the smallest of smiles touched the scientist’s lips, knowing that small statement was a promise of something, before he arched an eyebrow and gave his haughtiest look.  “Well, don’t be long,” he ordered. “It’s pizza night, and you know what the scientist’s are like on pizza night. Like pigs to a troth.” And with that, he backed the rest of the way out of the doors and let them shut behind him.

 

Sheppard smiled at the doors, before turning back to Elizabeth. As he did, his smile fell and he crossed his arms, the same defiance on McKay's face now reflected on his.  Kate stood up and headed over, so that she could sit on the edge of Elizabeth’s desk—apparently in order to see the colonel’s face better. 

 

“Well,” Elizabeth asked, leaning forward on her desk and looking up at Sheppard, who remained standing, “how was he?”

 

The colonel grimaced at the question, and they could see some sort of internal argument happening behind his eyes.  Finally, he shrugged, loosening his arms a little. “Okay...I'll admit, for a minute there…I thought we were going to lose him again.  But…a few well placed jabs to the ego, and he was back in full McKay mode.  Which, honestly, was a really good thing.  None of us had any idea that those tunnels would be as dangerous as they were, not even the townsfolk.  If McKay hadn’t figured out that weird Ancient lock thingy….”  He gave a small chuckle, “Part of me almost thinks the universe is out to get us.”

 

“Or at least, keep you on your toes,” Elizabeth agreed, smiling as well.

 

“Then, you feel pretty confident about keeping him on your team,” Kate asked, her tone both sweet and pointed.  Sheppard took the bait, his arms crossing even more tightly across his chest.

 

“Without question," he answered formally, as if to a superior officer. "We need him.  Today proved that. And,” he arched an eyebrow, “I think it also proved he needs us at least as much—if we hadn’t been there….” He shook his head, eyes going a little glassy as he obviously relived part of the mission.  Then he refocused his gaze, his eyes becoming hard.  “Look, he’s got one of the strongest wills of anyone I have ever met, but he’s not unbreakable. I think, were you to take him off the team, that you’d only be allowing him more time to dwell on this irrational fear of his, allowing it to grow.  Fact is, he’s meaner and quicker and faster when he’s with us, and that, more than anything, will help him overcome whatever it is that is causing him to panic....”  As he spoke, his eyes narrowed slightly, finally registering the knowing smile on Kate's face.  He arched an eyebrow at her, realization coming to him with some annoyance. 

 

“But,” he said eventually, his tone sour, “you knew that already.”

 

She gave a nod. “I had a feeling,” she admitted.  Then she shrugged, “I asked Elizabeth to send you on this mission with Doctor McKay because of a theory I had.  I…admit, when I heard about what happened, I regretted my decision, but you got your team through, Colonel.”

 

“We got each other through,” he stated.  Kate just nodded, accepting that.

 

“Thank you, Colonel,” Elizabeth said.  “You can go.”

 

Sheppard studied the two women for a moment longer, then, with a shrug of forced nonchalance, turned and left. 

 

As the door shut behind him, Elizabeth glanced up at Kate, and smiled.  The psychiatrist stood up and smiled back.  They had their answer, and neither woman could hide their relief.  As fully obnoxious as McKay could be...he was still the one whom they needed to save Atlantis when it needed saving.

 

“By the way,” Kate said, heading over to the bench to pick up the notebook she’d left there, “I thought you might like to know...” she glanced back at Elizabeth, “Doctor Bryce has decided to stay on.”

 

“Really?” Weir’s smile grew, “That’s wonderful news.  What changed her mind?”

 

“Apparently, someone papered her quarters with mini pastel Post-It Notes,” Kate replied, shrugging.  “And left a mountain of paperclips on her bed.  And when she told me about it,” the psychiatrist chuckled, “she couldn’t stop laughing.”

_____________________________________________

 

Outside in the hall, an argument concerning the existence or non-existence of rats in a certain cave echoed loudly down the hall until it was effectively cut off by the soft shush of the transporter doors.

_______________________________________________

 

 

THE END

 

Hope you liked it!  If you did, drop me a line! Tipper