The Young Ancients

By C. L. Combs

 

 


Rating: I am SOOOOOOOOO confused with all the new rating systems. Let's see... no sex... a bit of violence by an alien bull... A couple of threats by swords and guns and a back hand hit... A bad word here and there.... I'd say nothing a teen couldn't handle. Of course, I'm a single woman with a dog - what do I know about kids?

Authors note: One of the problems with writing fanfiction for an ongoing series is that every new episode has the potential to contradict your ideas. I wrote this story to be set just after Siege III of Atlantis (and between Seasons 8 and 9 of SG-1) before I saw Siege III or Avalon. While I've made adjustments after viewing Siege III, there are still a few canon problems that have cropped up. So, before anyone complains, yes, I know now that it would be impossible for SG-1 to go through the Stargate from the SGC due to not enough power. And I realize that once Daniel actually manages to arrive at Atlantis, Jack will need heavy equipment to pry him back to Earth. I apologize for those errors - I normally do better, but couldn't see a way around it.

I want to thank Shallan and Sealie for beta'ing, and Teri for posting.

Enjoy the ride.

Disclaimer: Most of characters are not mine. I'm borrowing them out of deep reverence, affection and respect. I will accept only personal fulfillment, and no monetary gain. If you do sue, you will not get much and I will send over my Black Lab mix, who will stare at you pathetically for hours and probably con you out of all your food.

Please do not post, reproduce, copy, or otherwise use any part of this story without permission from the author.


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Please send any comments to spacecloud@juno.com


The Young Ancients by C. L. Combs


Market Square, Frejor

 

The Grand Market Day on Frejor was in full swing. People from across the Pegasus galaxy came to trade, dressed in everything from brown leather to brightly colored fabrics. On the outskirts of an open stone square were pens full of livestock. They ranged from massive beasts with rows of stingers on their flat tails to long legged animals reminiscent of Earth's horses, except for the green color. Buyers and sellers wandered through the pens, dickering on prices. On the large square, tables and stalls were lined up in rows. Each was filled with a variety of goods, including food, farm implements, fabrics, pots and old doodads. It was a table full of doodads that had attracted the attention of Drs. Rodney McKay and Radek Zelenka of Atlantis.

 

"Do you think this might be...?" Zelenka trailed off, holding up a two toned hook as a possible prize.

 

"No, that's just a piece of twisted metal," McKay dismissed. He held up another item, its smooth curves fitting easily around his finger. "Now this, this has possibilities."

 

Major John Sheppard glanced from his position off to the side of the two men who wore light blue T-shirts and black utility vests. Briefly lifting his face to feel the rays of the Frejorian sun, he ran a hand through his shaggy dark hair. Then he shifted his tall, lanky frame to in order to see both his charges and the pedestrian traffic. The scientists were hoping to find Ancient parts that might match up with what they had found on Atlantis. Sheppard was simply enjoying warm sunshine and the smell of grilling meat from two aisles over.

 

This was a good idea. When Zelenka had heard about the annual market from one of the Athosians, he had put in a request to go. McKay had been concerned, since Zelenka had only been off Atlantis once since their arrival from Earth, and that was during the hurricane evacuation. So Rodney had volunteered to go with his friend. Teyla, the former Athosian leader, was familiar with the market and had eagerly offered to go along with them. John decided that if his teammates were going, he should join the fun as well. They all needed a break.

 

The only concern the expedition's leader had was with the timing. Tomorrow, the famous team of SG-1 was due in to check out the Atlantis base. Dr. Elizabeth Weir wanted to make sure everything was ready for their arrival. But after Teyla pointed out the great potential of finding new trading partners, and Sheppard had promised to return in time for the final inspection, Dr Weir had agreed to the outing.

 

He focused again on his two charges. Rodney's brown hair was ruffled from the breeze instead of anxious hands running through it, while the intense strain was finally easing around his blue eyes. He was having fun with Radek. While the blond Czech was shorter and slighter than the sturdy Canadian, Zelenka was one of the few who could weather McKay's blunt and tempermental personality. Both were babbling excitedly over a particular doodad. Sheppard smiled. The pair had been under incredible stress the past few weeks and it was good to see them relax. Atlantis needed them both back in top form.

 

Enjoying the view as a group of well-endowed women walked by, John's mind drifted back to the past couple of days. He had been surprised at the level of excitement over the upcoming visit. While General Jack O'Neill had been the one to talk him into this little trip to the great unknown, he had never realized the man was practically worshipped by the personnel who had worked the Stargate Project. The exploits of O'Neill and his team had filled the halls, work areas and the cafeteria ever since the visit was announced. Sheppard had to admit he was impressed, and was looking forward to seeing the general again.

 

However, he was a bit disturbed by what he'd overheard from the chair room that morning.

 

********

Earlier that morning, Atlantis

 

Raised voices were floating out into the hall as he and Teyla had left the transporter. Signaling Teyla to follow him, Sheppard approached the open door. It was easy to pick up McKay's annoyed snapping, and he quickly identified Calvin Kavanaugh as the second voice. He didn't like Kavanaugh; the scientist had an over inflated ego and a lot of disdain for the military personnel. A part of him wanted to turn back and leave the scientists to hash out their problems. However, they were leaving in less than an hour, and he needed to extract McKay from the jerk.

 

"... overload the system. Colonel Carter will be impressed enough with what we have to show her."

 

"Like you have any idea how to impress the Colonel," Kavanaugh sneered. "She's the one who got you sent to Russia, right?"

 

John stopped in his tracks, earning a puzzled look from Teyla. How in the hell did an US Air Force officer send a Canadian scientist to Russia?"

 

Apparently sensing blood in the water, Kavanaugh continued his assault. "What was it you did again? Try to hit on her? Oh no, that's right, you nearly killed off her teammate."

 

McKay's reply was sharp and dismissive. "That was a long time ago. Sam and I are past that now."

 

"'Sam', is it? How sweet. Just don't do something to make 'Sam' mad at you again, and get us all into trouble."

 

"It's 'Colonel Carter' to you, and she's not a spiteful woman."

 

"Still, I think we should -"

 

"That's your problem right there - thinking. Or whatever passes for thinking in your head."

 

Deciding he'd better interrupt before someone took a swing, Sheppard stepped into the room with Teyla in his wake. On the chair's dais, McKay and Kavanaugh were face to face, glaring at each other. While Kavanaugh was taller, McKay had put on some muscle since arriving at Atlantis. John suspected Rodney could easily take out the pony-tailed jerk, assuming scientists actually punched people. Smirking, he called out, "Hey."

 

Two pairs of glaring eyes met him. "What?" they chorused.

 

Sheppard tilted his head towards the door. "McKay, time to go."

 

"Fine," McKay replied. He returned to glaring at Kavanaugh.

 

"Dr. McKay," Teyla asked, hoping to break the tension. "What is this mark on the floor? I do not remember seeing it before."

 

Taking a breath, Rodney turned to her. "I believe the user in the chair may be able to activate a force field around the dais for protection. That's where I estimate it extends to."

 

"McKay," Sheppard prodded.

 

"I'm coming." He stabbed a finger at Kavanaugh. "While I'm gone, do not touch this chair, do not touch the device in my lab, and for the love of God, do NOT touch the panel in the control room."

 

Kavanuagh crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I still think..."

 

"Stop thinking!" With that order, McKay turned abruptly and left the room, Sheppard and Teyla in his wake.

 

As they entered the transporter, Sheppard glanced at his friend from the corner of his eye. Rodney still looked ready to explode. He squashed the urge to tease him.

 

Teyla was studying her teammate worriedly. "Dr McKay, what is 'Russia'?"

 

Rodney continued to stare at the control panel. "Someplace cold, dark, with lousy food and I don't wish to discuss it." He stormed out into the hall. John simply shrugged at Teyla and followed him out.

 

******

Present, Market Square, Frejor

 

"Major Sheppard!"

 

John looked up to spy Teyla, wearing a form-fitting coral top along with the military issued pants. He had rarely seen her wear the regulation black T. But then, the strong woman looked beautiful in whatever she wore, so no one cared. Her polished copper hair shone in the sunlight as she approached. She handed him a tall ceramic cylinder. The smooth surface felt cool against his fingers. "What's this?"

 

"It's a popular Frejorian drink called Sweezie. I thought you might like something refreshing."

 

John took a sip. A cool explosion of fruity flavor flowed over his tongue. "That's good. Reminds me a bit of blueberries."

 

"Like the dessert they serve in the cafeteria." Teyla nodded thoughtfully. "I believe you are correct. It is a similar flavor."

 

"How did the talk with the Bendanas go?" John asked, carefully pronouncing the name. Rodney had mistakenly called them the 'Bandanas' during the pre-mission meeting, leading both men to mixing up the words. Weir had glared at them each time, but that had only made it worse.

 

"Quite well. They are interested in the medicines we have to offer for a share of their harvest. I have arranged for us to meet them on their world next month."

 

"Good. That will make Dr. Weir and our supply staff very happy."

 

Teyla turned to study the scientists, still amicably arguing over the doodads. "Dr. McKay's disposition has improved since this morning."

 

Sheppard shrugged. "We got him away from Kavanaugh; that'll improve anyone's mood."

 

Teyla still had a slight frown on her face. "What is 'Russia? Is it a prison?"

 

John nearly snorted, then caught himself. "Actually, it's the country Dr. Malkov and Miss Ivanova are from. The people there don't have as many of the modern conveniences like McKay and I are use to in our countries. Also, part of it is near the north pole of our planet, so the winters can be pretty unpleasant. "

 

"And thus it would be cold and often dark." Teyla paused, then asked, "Who is this 'Colonel Carter', and why would she send Dr. McKay to such a place?"

 

"I've never met her, though from what I've heard she's well liked and respected. She's one of the main scientists with Stargate Command back home." Noting Teyla's puzzled expression, he added, "Basically, she's to the SGC what McKay is to us."

 

Understanding lit her features. "She is the one who comes up with solutions to difficult problems. Then why would she send Dr. McKay away? Would she not need his expertise as well?"

 

Again, John shrugged. "Don't know. Maybe he annoyed her and she doesn't know how to put up with him like we do."

 

"It should not be a matter of 'put up.' Dr. McKay is a good man. He should be treated with respect."

 

Sensing trouble, John pointed out, "We don't know the whole story, and Rodney did say they were over the incident. Let's just wait until we meet the Colonel, and go from there."

 

Teyla gave him a reluctant nod of agreement. "I will do as you say, as long as she is respectful of Dr. McKay."

 

John barely held back a sigh. This visit could be more difficult than he thought.

 

******

 

Rodney McKay continued to study the items in front of him as Radek haggled the price for the two they had already chosen. The Frejorians had traded hard currency for the antibiotics they had brought, which gave them the money to use for this shopping spree. However, the concept of haggling made no sense to Rodney. To his mind, a thing should have a set price and not depend on such nebulous factors like how fast one talked. Thankfully, Radek knew how to do it.

 

A long, pink crystal imbedded in a swirl of grey metal caught his eye. Rodney leaned closer, examining the piece. It looked like a smaller version of the crystals the more advanced races in the Milky Way used to store data. Sam Carter would probably be interested in it. He should buy it as a 'Welcome to the Pegasus Galaxy' gift. Let lesser men give women flowers; Dr. Rodney McKay gave them alien technology. Then he snorted at himself. Samantha Carter is, was, and always will be way out of his league. He knew it, but it didn't stop him from hoping.

 

Still, he considered her a friend, so he might as well get a gift for her. He picked it up from the table. Without warning, the crystal lit up with a brilliant light. Rodney dropped it like he had been stung. The light went out before it hit the table.

 

Sheppard and Teyla were immediately by his side. "What happened?" John demanded. "Are you hurt?"

 

"No, I'm fine. But that thing -" Rodney waved at the piece.

 

Without thinking, John reached for it, only to pull back when the crystal started to light up again. Pausing, he whispered, "Is it a Wraith transmitter? Like the necklace Teyla had?"

 

McKay already had covertly pulled out his monitoring equipment from his vest. "No, no transmission."

 

"Thank God for that," Sheppard returned with relief, not wanting to bring down their enemies on their hosts.

 

Teyla carefully reached for the item, then picked it up. It stayed dark. "It must react to your gene from the Ancestors," she noted softly.

 

"Which means we need to study it." McKay raised his voice. "Radek, we want this one, too."`

 

Radek paused in his heated haggling to take the item from Teyla. "For your lady Colonel, Rodney?" Without waiting for an answer, he started dickering with the booth owner again.

 

McKay turned away from Sheppard's questioning smirk and Teyla's frown. He had no desire to discuss Sam with anyone, let alone his teammates. "Is that food I smell? I'm hungry." Smooth change of subject, McKay. He could almost feel Sheppard's interest increase.

 

"Teyla, keep an eye on Dr. Zelenka while I go with Dr. McKay to find the food," he heard John request before the Major trotted up to him. John pointed to the right. "I think it's this way."

 

"That way's a dead end," Rodney snapped. He pointed to the left. "It's this way." Honest, for a pilot, the man had no sense of direction.

 

"No, I'm sure it's this way..."

 

Unobserved by the Atlantis crew, a young woman had witnessed the entire proceedings. Head lifting at the name of 'Dr. McKay', she slipped through the crowd to report.

 

******

 

Standing in line for the roasted meat, John decided to test the water. "Your lady Colonel?"

 

Rodney continued to stare at a nearby booth without actually seeing it. "Sam Carter is a friend."

 

Nodding slightly, John continued to watch his teammate from the corner of his eye. "Somehow, I can't picture you with a Colonel."

 

"Samantha Carter isn't your average Air Force Colonel, and we're just friends."

 

"Uh huh."

 

"Men and women can be just friends, you know."

 

"Uh huh."

 

"Not all us try to be Captain Kirk with a girl in every port. Unlike some others I could name."

 

As John opened his mouth to protest, a rumbling sound caught his attention. "What's that?"

 

Suddenly, a mass of running beasts entered the row. Screams rose into the air as the people around them panicked. A huge man forced his way between them, shoving John and Rodney in opposite directions. The crowd pushed John back against one of the stalls as the massive animals thundered past them. He tapped his radio as he tried to not to get crushed. "McKay! Teyla! Report!"

 

"Dr. Zelenka and I are running out of the square." Teyla's voice was tense yet calm, in spite of the cries around her.

 

"Good, head for the Jumper, we'll met you there. McKay?"

 

"I'm... near the... Watch it! ... Pots booth." Then a sharp cry ripped over the radio.

 

"McKay! Rodney!" Sheppard was already trying to maneuver his way through the tightly packed crowd.

 

"We will try to reach you," Teyla declared.

 

"No! Teyla, get Radek to the Jumper, that's an order! McKay?!?"

 

There was no answer from Rodney. Frustrated, John ducked under a table. He spotted two large pots down the open lane between table legs, and crawled on his belly in that direction. One table was tipped over just as he passed under it, but John continued to crawl. Once he reached his goal, he stuck his head out from under the white display cloth. There was Rodney, laying in the dirt and holding his arm as massive feet slammed into the ground only inches from his head. "McKay!" John reached out to grab his friend's vest and pulled him into the relative safety beneath the table.

 

Rodney continued to cradle his arm tight against his chest as he sat up, mindful of the low head room. "What happened?" John asked as he pulled the arm towards him to examine it.

 

"I got hit by one of those damn tails!" Rodney declared, breathing heavily.

 

A row of red welts rose along his bare arm. John could see the limb was swelling. "Looks painful."

 

"Thanks for that astute observation, Major," McKay snarled. "Feels like a whole army of killer bees attacked me."

 

The word 'bees' caught Sheppard's attention. He quickly studied Rodney, Beckett's long-ago lesson running through his mind. He noted the hives beginning to appear on his friend's neck as Rodney's breath grew wheezy.

 

Rodney's good hand suddenly started fumbling over his vest. "Need ... epi..."

 

With a swift move, John reached for the Epipen he carried. "I got it. Try to relax." Remembering the instructions, he quickly popped off the top and injected the epinephrine into Rodney's thigh. Massaging the injection site, he continued, "Just concentrate on breathing." Both winched as the table shook from a blow, but held firm.

 

"Major?" Teyla called over the radio. "We are at the Jumper."

 

John tapped his earpiece. "Good. Stay there."

 

"Dr. McKay?"

 

"I've got him." His eyes swept over his friend as he spoke. Rodney sat with his good arm resting across his knee and face resting on his arm. It was almost painful to hear him struggle to breathe. "He got hit by one of those stinger tails and is having a reaction." The table shook from another blow. "I had to use an Epipen. Once things calm down, we'll be coming in hot, and heading straight for Atlantis."

 

"Understood. Teyla out."

 

Beside him, Rodney began to tremble. "McKay!"

 

"It's okay." Rodney lifted his head as he shakily drew another breath. "It means... epi's... working." Embarrassment flowed from his eyes. "I hate ... that stuff."

 

"As long as it's helping. It is helping, right?"

 

"Yeah." He plopped his head back on his arm.

 

Feeling useless in the face of his teammate's suffering, John hesitantly wrapped a hand around Rodney's shoulder. His teammate felt cold and tense. "Just hang in there. We'll get you back to the Jumper and then into Carson's care before you know it." Rodney grumbled under his breath. They sat hunched in the illusion of safety as the noise died down. Gauging his teammate's breathing wasn't as labored as before, John lifted the display cloth again. "The coast looks clear. Ready to head out?"

 

"Just get me home," Rodney replied with feeling.

 

"Then let's go."

 

Sheppard crawled out from under the table, then aided Rodney to his feet. The festive market lay in ruin around them. People gathered in clumps, many crying, as they tended to the injured and inspected the damage. Sheppard wished he could stay and help, but his first concern was getting his teammate proper medical care. With his hand wrapped comfortingly around McKay's trembling shoulder, he led him towards the area where they'd parked the Jumper. "Teyla, this is Sheppard. We're heading back now. We should be there in..."

 

Suddenly, two large men in dark gray robes stepped in front of them. "Dr. McKay?"

As Rodney wheezed a 'yeah', John demanded. "What do you want? He's injured, and I have to get him to a doctor."

 

"No tricks, Pretenders."

 

Rodney gasped, "Pretenders? What do you mean?"

 

"Tell us later," John growled. "We're going."

 

Before he could lead Rodney another step, John felt a knife press into his back threateningly. From McKay's flinch, there was another at his. "You are going with us."

 

******

Atlantis

 

Dr. Elizabeth Weir leaned against the railing next to the control center, staring down at the Stargate. The floor was scrubbed, the banisters polished, and everything was tidy. All they needed was for their last team to return, and for Caldwell and Sheppard to make the final inspection, and they'd be ready for SG-1. She couldn't wait to show Dr. Jackson the beautiful Lost City of the Ancients, Colonel Carter the wondrous machinery that ran Atlantis, discuss management with General O'Neill, and Teal'c... Well, if she could get two nice words and an impressed look out of Teal'c, she'll consider the visit a success.

 

Suddenly, the rings on the Stargate began to move. She walked into the control room to where Dr. Chin worked the panels. It was hard getting use to not seeing Peter Grodin at the controls. He had given his life to protect them and the City, and she missed him. They had paid a steep price to hold onto Atlantis.

 

She paused by Chin's chair. "Major Sheppard's team?"

 

Chin shook his head. "No, ma'am. It's the SGC's code."

 

Weir blinked as she straightened. "Really. Open up the channel."

 

"Hello, Dr. Weir," a familiar voice greeted her.

 

A smile stretched across her face. "Hello, General O'Neill. This is a surprise. We weren't expecting you until tomorrow morning."

 

"Well, there's a lot of activity scheduled through the gateroom tomorrow, so we thought we'd see if we could come early?"

 

Hearing the boyishly hopeful tone in the strong voice, Elizabeth shook her head, though they couldn't see it. "We would be honored. Lower the shield." The multicolored energy shield over the shimmering wormhole disappeared. "Go ahead and come through, General."

 

"Thanks, Elizabeth. See you in a minute."

 

She leaned closer to Chin. "Page Colonel Caldwell to come to the gateroom."

 

She walked out of the control area and down the steps. As she neared the main floor, four figures and a MALP loaded with supplies emerged from the ring before it shut off. She smiled at the amazement in three of the four faces. Even Teal'c looked impressed. Elizabeth gave them a huge smile, and said the words she had been looking forward to saying all week. "Welcome to Atlantis, SG-1"

 

******

 

As Daniel Jackson enthused over the gateroom, Colonel Samantha Carter stared at the graceful lines and the light shining into the upper reaches. Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined the Lost City to be so well preserved, its understated elegance intact. What a grand way to spend her last mission as a member of SG-1.

 

Tilting her head back, she could see the doors to the ship bay above. She mentally chuckled at the name given the ships by the expedition. 'Puddle Jumper' sounds like something Jack would come up with. She couldn't wait to explore.

 

Then she heard Weir answer O'Neill's question. "Colonel Caldwell should be here momentarily. Major Sheppard and Dr. McKay are currently off world, but should be back soon. In fact, when you dialed in I thought it would be them."

 

Sam nodded as she brought her attention back to the conversation. As annoying as Rodney McKay could sometimes be, she had been a bit concerned for her rival astrophysicist. It would be good to see for herself how well he was doing.

 

Then the gate behind them began to operate. Sam's eyes lit up at the sight. It was beautiful compared to the more mechanical gates in the Milky Way.

 

Weir waved them up the lighted stairs. "Come with me, and I'll show you our operation in action." The team followed, eyes still partly on the Atlantis Stargate.

 

Once on the balcony overlooking the lower room, Sam took in the control center. Her fingers itched to check out the various stations for herself. Then she spied the colorful shield protecting the gate. "Sweet," O'Neill declared. Sam couldn't have agreed more.

 

"Atlantis, this is Teyla Emmagen." Sam nodded to herself, recognizing the name of a local woman who was working with the expedition. The voice sounded elegant and succinct.

 

"Teyla, good to hear from you. Are you ready to return?"

 

"We have run into difficulties here, Dr. Weir. Major Sheppard and Dr. McKay have disappeared. We believe they have been abducted."

 

"What!" Dr. Weir exclaimed.

 

Sam felt the holiday mood evaporating.

 

******

Road to the Temple, Frejor

 

The 'carriage' they had been forced into was little more than a wooden box with narrow slits in the top. There were no seats, little air, and definitely no shock absorbers. Sheppard braced himself against the sides as best he could, and tried to cushion McKay from all but the worst of the bumps.

 

Rodney was curled up in a miserable ball, his head, shoulders and injured arm resting on John's legs. John tried to protect him by wrapping his arm around Rodney's chest to hold him steady. While the hives had gone down and the trembling had eased, the arm was still swollen and painful-looking. The soft breath on his hand was John's assurance that his friend was holding his own.

 

When McKay had first mentioned his allergy to lemons, John figured he was exaggerating. During the early days of the expedition, he'd struggled to distinguish between fact and melodrama from the head scientist, before realizing the two were often entwined. But when he had chosen McKay for his off-world team, prudence suggested he ask their chief medical doctor, Carson Beckett, for the scoop. He had been shocked to learn the potential seriousness of McKay's reactions to both citrus and bee venom. Believing in the military adage of training for all emergencies, he arranged for Beckett to give Ford, Teyla and himself a mini-course on what to do if McKay ran into problems. Ever since, the three of them carried the Epipens with them out into the field. He wasn't even sure Rodney knew they carried it.

 

Once the preparations were in place, he dismissed the concern from his mind. Everything seemed so simple when Beckett had gone over it. Monitor McKay, give him the Epipen if it seemed necessary, and get him back to Atlantis as soon as possible. Carson never mentioned how difficult it was to listen to a friend struggling to breathe. Nor had John ever thought he'd have to give Rodney the injection in the middle of a stampede, let alone being abducted right afterwards. Though considering their luck in this galaxy, perhaps he should have.

 

While their radios and weapons had been taken from them, the kidnappers had let them keep their vests. That gave McKay access to his Benedryl and water. Sheppard hoped that it would kick in as the epinephrine wore off.

 

For the tenth time, Sheppard mentally reviewed his inventory of what they had in their pockets. Then for the eleventh time, he ran over possible escape scenarios. The problem he kept running into was that all of them depended on McKay being mobile. At the moment, he wasn't sure McKay could win a footrace against a snail, let lone two armed kidnappers.

 

He glanced down at Rodney's pale, taunt face. After Afghanistan, he hadn't wanted to get close to anyone again. It had worked at McMurdo. He was charming and pleasant, and maintained a comfortable distance. Then he had arrived in the Pegasus galaxy and suddenly found himself responsible for the safety of the entire expedition. He became dependent on an eager lieutenant, a beautiful Athosian warrior, a regal expedition leader, a smart-ass scientist, and others inhabiting the Ancient city. Comfortable distances were no longer an option. They made him feel like a part of something special, but they also made him vulnerable again. Ford had left in a fit of Wraith-enzyme induced insanity. There was no way he was losing McKay to a funky alien tail.

 

He could feel their forward momentum slow, then stop. When Rodney struggled to move, John helped him to sit with his back against the side of the box facing perpendicular from the door. Studying him, John softly asked, "How are you feeling?"

 

"Lousy, but better." Rodney ran his good hand over his face. "I'm nauseous and my arm feels like several red hot pokers are driving through it. But on the plus side my heart has stopped thumping like a jack hammer and I don't feel like I'm going to pass out anymore."

 

"You still sound wheezy," John commented worriedly.

 

"That's more asthmatic in nature, as opposed to my throat swelling up. It's normal for how these things run."

 

"When was the last time you had an allergic reaction like this?"

 

"Years ago, in grad school. I've tried to be careful ever since." Rodney looked over to see the Major pull out the life signs detector from his vest. "How many?"

 

"I see six others besides us."

 

"What do you think they want?"

 

"You, for some reason. They asked specifically for Dr. McKay."

 

"Yeah, I know, but why? How would they know my name?"

 

"Someone must have told them."

 

"Told them what? While they may have heard about Atlantis or the 'City of the Ancestors', or even that a group of people living there woke up the Wraith, I doubt I'm famous enough in this galaxy to be known individually."

 

John returned the life signs detector to his pocket. "Don't know. But we're about to get company, so perhaps we can find out."

 

The door opened. John slowly adjusted his position, making sure he was between his sick teammate and the threat. One of their kidnappers entered, pointing a long sword at them. Then a tall woman entered, her brown eyes studying them intently. Flowing gray robes brushed the tops of her sandal-clad feet. "Hello, Pretenders. I am Allura, head priestess of the Guardians."

 

"Hi," John replied tightly, trying not to let his anger show. "I'm Major John Sheppard. This is my teammate, Dr. Rodney McKay. Dr. McKay is injured and sick, and I need to take him back to our people as soon as possible. So if you'd please return us to the market square, we'd really appreciate it."

 

"Please, Pretenders, do not try to trick us."

 

"Does this LOOK like a trick?" Rodney demanded, holding up his swollen arm. "I need medical attention."

 

The woman continued to smile gently. "We were warned that you would try to trick us. But if we hold onto you, you will have to help us."

 

"Help you with what?" John asked.

 

"Why, the Legacy of the Ancestors, of course."

 

"Of course," John repeated, rolling his eyes.

 

Rodney held his arm back against his stomach. "Why me?"

 

"Because, even though you are a Pretender, you know how to make the Ancestor's Legacies work."

 

John's eyes glanced between the woman and their guard. "Why do you keep calling us Pretenders?"

 

"Our friends say you lived in the great City of the Ancestors, though you have no rightful claim to it. We are certain the destruction of the City was punishment for your presumptions. However, we need your skills for the Throne of the Ancestors in order to protect our world. You will help us."

 

At least the survival of Atlantis was still a secret. Now they just had to get back. "We'd be happy to help you," John offered. "There's no need to kidnap us or hold us against our will. Just return us so McKay can have his arm looked at, and we'll come back later to see what you've got."

 

"You are trying to trick us again. It will not work. Please, follow me."

 

John and Rodney traded glances, then John stood up and offered Rodney a hand. The sick man wavered a moment before becoming steady on his feet. John took a deep breath, and stepped down from the box. He was instantly surrounded by two more men. A young woman stood off to the side, studying him.

 

Rising above the trees, ruins were set on a high hill. John's eyes followed the narrow path winding up the steep slope. Rodney stumbled to stand next to him, also examining the view. "Oh God, we've got to walk up there?"

 

"You going to be okay?" John asked, trying to keep the worry out of his voice.

 

"No, but what choice do we have?" Shoves from behind emphasized his point.

 

******

Atlantis

 

Teyla sat at the main conference table at Atlantis. Along with the familiar faces who had become dear to her, there were four who were strangers. The white-haired warrior was receiving several respectful nods. Teyla covertly studied him. She had rarely seen an experienced warrior reach elderhood. Most, like her father, fell to the Wraith long before their time. She liked to think her father would have been similar to this man if he had lived, still strong and commanding respect.

 

A huge dark man sat proudly to the right of the white-haired warrior. On his left, a blonde warrior and another man who wore eyepieces similar to Radek studied the room with appreciative eyes. She wondered if the blonde was the 'Colonel Carter' who seemed to have such a dark history with her friend. She was quite beautiful, and had earned a few appreciative glances. Since Rodney so rarely showed his tender heart, Teyla felt both curiosity and protectiveness. As much as she wished to interrogate the other woman to find out how she had hurt him, Teyla had much larger concerns. Besides, she had promised John to find out the whole story first.

 

Dr. Weir, her face drawn in worry, sat down. "Teyla, please tell us what happened."

 

Using concise words, she explained to the gathering about the stampede in the marketplace, Rodney's cry over the radio, and John's orders to take Dr. Zelenka to the Jumper. She then took a deep breath. "Once we arrived, I called Major Sheppard again. He had found Dr. McKay and apparently some kind of shelter during the chaos. However, he said that Rodney had been struck by one of the Hooner beast's tails, and was having a reaction. The Major had used an Epipen, so as soon as they could make it through the crowds, we would need to fly back to Atlantis."

 

"Epipen!" Dr Beckett exclaimed. He leaned towards her. "Did the Major say anything more about Rodney's condition?"

 

"Wait a minute," Dr. Weir interrupted. "What's an Epipen?"

 

"It is the medicine stick in case Dr. McKay has certain symptoms," Teyla replied, "like hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing."

 

"It's a pre-measured dose of epinephrine," Beckett clarified. "John requested I teach his team how to use it in case Rodney had an anaphylaxic reaction out in the field."

 

"Because McKay's allergic to lemons," the blonde warrior commented, looking worried.

 

"And something called 'bees'," Teyla added. "Dr. Zelenka wondered if perhaps the Hooner Beast stingers were similar to these 'bees', and thus why Dr. McKay reacted poorly."

 

"Aye, lass, that makes sense."

 

"How serious is this, Carson?" Elizabeth asked.

 

Beckett ran a hand through his hair. "It could be life-threatening. Rodney has had trouble in the past on Earth. I had hoped that this galaxy would be kinder to him." He turned to Teyla. "Did the Major say anything else?"

 

Teyla shook her head. "Major Sheppard did not give me details, but he sounded terse. Due to your instruction, both he and I are aware of the seriousness of the situation. Dr. McKay himself never used his radio after he was injured."

 

Carson frowned. "That is not a good sign."

 

"However," Teyla added, "when they were taken by the abductors, I could hear Dr. McKay over the Major's radio and he sounded..." Teyla thought a moment for the right word. "Breathy."

 

Face grim, Beckett turned to Weir. "We need to find them. Sooner rather than later."

 

"What do we know about the abductors?" the white-haired man asked.

 

Teyla sighed. "The area was chaotic after the Hooner beast rampage. However, one Frejorian reported seeing two men being herded into a transportation box by preceptors of the Guardians. My father's friend, Nigol, was surprised. He said the Guardians rarely leave the Ancestors' Temple, and he didn't understand why they would abduct visitors."

 

"Ancestor's Temple," Colonel Caldwell repeated. "Possibly Ancient?"

 

"Yes. I believe the temple is located in the ruins of an Ancient settlement."

 

"Might be why they're interested in us," Beckett pointed out.

            `

"Especially since they asked for Dr. McKay by name." Teyla sighed. "Yet they called them 'pretenders', which I do not understand. The Doctor and the Major never pretended to be anything other than themselves." She could feel her worry deepen with her confusion. "Nigol was upset to learn of the situation. He and his people would have helped us track them down under normal conditions, but the current situation at the market square requires their full attention."

 

"I can understand that," Weir replied. "While our first concern must be to find Dr. McKay and Major Sheppard, we'll provide them some aid."

 

"I can have the Daedalus there in 12 hours," Caldwell offered. "We could search for them among the ruins."

 

"Rodney may not have 12 hours," Beckett argued.

 

"Dr. Zelenka remains in the jumper while I came to report to Atlantis, in case they returned or managed to send a signal. Frejor's gate is currently busy with people leaving to their home worlds, but Nigol said he would free it up in about an hour so I could return to search for Major Sheppard and Dr. McKay. " Teyla focused her gaze on Dr. Weir. "However, neither Dr. Zelenka nor myself can fly the Jumper. With a pilot, we could reach the temple faster and investigate it."

 

"I can fly her," Beckett instantly volunteered.

 

Teyla looked at the doctor. He hated flying the Jumpers.

 

"No, Carson," Weir replied. "If by some chance both Sheppard and McKay are injured, I want you to concentrate on them and not flying."

 

"You know, I've been dying to try out one of your Puddle Jumpers," the white-haired warrior commented nonchalantly.

 

Weir smiled at him. "Yes, but I'm sure you weren't planning on leading a rescue mission when you visited, General."

 

"Yeah, well, I was the one to talk Sheppard into joining your little party. Only seems fitting I pull his butt out of fire while I'm here."

 

Teyla looked at him in surprise. John knew this important warrior?

 

The blonde warrior nodded. "And my tour wouldn't be nearly as much fun without McKay telling me how the city works. I'm in."

 

"And I was the one to figure out how to send you all to this galaxy in the first place," the man with the eyepieces added. "So I'd better go, too."

 

"As will I," said the dark warrior.

 

"I'll still head out," Caldwell interjected. "Just in case you need help."

 

The white-haired warrior smiled. "Appreciate it."

 

"Do you not need the Ancient gene to fly a Jumper?" Teyla asked.

 

She was surprised by the smiles that suddenly appeared around the table. "Teyla," Dr. Beckett explained gently. "General O'Neill was the first person on Earth identified as having the ATA gene."

 

"Oh." Teyla wasn't sure what to say about that. Was that how John knew him?

 

Weir swept her gaze around the table. "You have a go. And good luck."

 

******

Hillside to Temple of the Ancestors, Frejor

 

They were three quarters of the way up the steep path when Sheppard saw McKay's knees buckle. Ignoring the guards, he caught his teammate and gently eased him to the ground. Then he turned to glare at the swords and knives that were so close as to almost touch him. "BACK OFF!" Apparently, he looked scary enough to give the pair some room.

 

Then he turned to gently pat McKay's pale face. "Rodney."

 

Blue eyes blinked a couple of times before focusing. "What happened?"

 

"You fainted."

 

"Passed out."

 

A smirk teased Sheppard's mouth at the response he had hoped to hear. He helped his friend sit up, back against a tree. "How are you feeling?"

 

"Like crap. What do you expect for a hell march on top of anaphylaxic shock?"

 

Sheppard handed him his canteen. "How's your breathing?"

 

"It's okay, just not as easy as usual." The scientist took a drink. "My arm hurts so much, I can understand why some animals chew off limbs. Got a headache, lightheaded, and kinda of nauseous."

 

John quickly tore open a wrapper. "Here, eat this."

 

"Did I mention nausea?"

 

"Eat."

 

"I'm not hungry."

 

"Now that's one sentence I never expected to hear from you." John leaned in closer to look at his friend face to face. "McKay, you haven't eaten since breakfast this morning. Just take a couple of bites."

 

Rodney sighed, and took a small bite. Staring at the powerbar, he commented, "You know, sometimes there's a second anaphylaxic reaction after the first one."

 

"I know."

 

"I had to toss out a couple of Epipens that had gone bad yesterday, and haven't had a chance to pick up some more from Carson. So I only had the one on me."

 

"Which you still have."

 

Rodney's eyes flew to John's in surprise as he felt a pocket in his vest. "But how..."

 

"I didn't know where yours was, so I used one of the ones I carry."

 

"Since when have you carried Epipens?"

 

"Since you joined my team and I never knew when I'd have to give you a shot in the middle of a god damn stampede." Taking a deep breath, John gently squeezed his shoulder. "We're a team, McKay. You watch my back, I watch yours, and we compensate for each other's weaknesses. We stick together, we stay alive. End of story. Now eat."

 

Rodney stared at him a moment more, eyes wide. Then he took another small bite of the bar.

 

"Excuse me."

 

Sheppard turned, glaring. The young woman of the party took a step back, then held out a small grey pot. "This is a salve the low landers make for Hooner Beast stings. It should help ease Pretender McKay's suffering."

 

John studied the young woman. She seemed sincere. He took the pot and sniffed at the contents. The scent was a mix of lavender and broccoli, though why anyone would want to combine the two was beyond him. He gave her a weak smile. "Thank you. And it's not Pretender McKay. It's Dr. Rodney McKay and Major John Sheppard." He ignored the cough from the ground that sounded suspiciously like 'Captain Kirk'.

 

The woman tilted her head, studying him intently. A bit unnerved, John turned back to his teammate. "She says it'll help. Wanna give it a shot?"

 

Rodney also took a sniff and shrugged. "At this point, I'm willing to try anything."

 

Carefully, John dipped a finger into the mixture, then gently spread it on the welt closest to Rodney's wrist. Rodney closed his eyes. "Oh, that does feel nice. It's like cool water on a raging fire. Please, continue."

 

John smeared the salve on the other five welts. He could sense the tension ooze out of his friend, indicating the pain was easing. It left Rodney appearing more frail than he'd ever seen him, monster storms and sleepless weeks included. He turned to the woman still behind him. "He's not going to be able to hike much further."

 

She did look contrite. "It is not long now. Then you can rest." She paused, then blurted out, "Do you still have the talisman?"

 

John's eyebrows puckered. "What talisman?"

 

"The pink crystal that lit up."

 

Rodney's eyes popped open. The teammates exchanged glances, then John replied, "No, we don't."

 

"Our friend negotiated the price along with a couple other items," Rodney softly explained. "It's still with him."

 

She studied them a moment more, then ran off.

 

"That was different," Sheppard commented.

 

Rodney closed his eyes again. "I wonder if she has any idea the significance of it."

 

"Not if she's still calling us 'Pretenders'."

 

"Do you think..."

 

"Pretenders!" John again turned to spy the head priestess. "You must stop stalling and continue the journey." Sighing, John stood up and turned back to McKay. Rodney slipped the half-eaten bar into a pocket and grasped John's outstretched hand. Pulled onto his feet, the scientist wobbled until John laid a supportive hand on his shoulder. Together, they followed the Guardians.

 

******

Atlantis

 

Sam made minute adjustments to her vest before positioning her hat.  She hadn't expected to be going into action on this trip, but life with SG-1 had trained her to be prepared.  Taking a deep breath, she felt eyes on her.  When she looked, Teyla had already dropped her gaze to check her P-90.  While the other woman had yet to say anything to her, she had the feeling the Athosian didn't like her.  Why, she didn't know, and honestly didn't care. Something about the urgency in Dr. Beckett's voice during briefing was ringing all her alarm bells.  How much trouble was McKay in?  Sure, he was an annoyance, but he could also be a useful annoyance, and he did try to be friendly.  Sam honestly didn't want anything to happen to him.

 

"Hello."  Sam looked up to spy Daniel holding out his hand to Teyla.  "In all the confusion, I don't believe we've been introduced.  I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson, with SG-1."

 

The woman looked up, and gave him a warm yet distant smile.  "I am Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Tegon, and a member of Major Sheppard's team."

 

Daniel was giving her his comforting look.  "We'll get them back."

 

"I know.  Though with good fortune, they will have found a way out of their predicament by the time we return."

 

"Happens a lot?" Daniel asked with a smile.

 

"Often enough.  But Dr. McKay is not normally ill. I fear that may hinder them."  Teyla sighed, clearly worried.  "We appreciate your help."

 

"We want to get them back safe, too.  We've worked with Dr. McKay before."  Daniel indicated her with his hand.  "This is my teammate, Colonel Samantha Carter.  She's an astrophysicist like Rodney."  Sam gave her a friendly nod, though Teyla's returning one seemed lukewarm.  "This is Teal'c, another member of our team.  And this," Daniel waved his hand at Jack as he approached, "is General Jack O'Neill."  Teyla's nod to her CO seemed much warmer and respectful than the one Sam got.  Perhaps she didn't like other women?  Or, like many before her, had fallen for Jack's charm?

 

"What can you tell us about this temple?"  Jack asked.

 

Teyla straightened.  "I have only seen it once, at a distance, when I was a little girl traveling with my father.  It sits on a high hill that rises above the forest. It looked magical to my young eyes. My father's friend said that a group of people called 'Guardians' live there and protect the ruins of the Ancestors.  They believe that if they perform their task diligently, the Ancestors will one day return and again protect their planet from the Wraith."

 

Jack nodded, absorbing her story. "How thick are these trees?" 

 

"They are quite dense in some areas, but I recall there were clearings within the forest.  I am hoping we can find one large enough for the jumper nearby."

 

"Good enough.  Anything else we should know?"

 

"Night is approaching the market square on Frejor.  It will make our task more difficult."

 

"Difficult does not mean impossible," Jack replied, earning a wan smile from the woman.

 

Dr. Beckett arrived, juggling two white cases and a large satchel.  Sam stepped over and took one of the cases.  "Thank you, lass."

 

Sam smiled, enjoying the sound of the doctor's Scottish accent.  Then she softly asked the question that concerned her most.  "You said that 12 hours might not be soon enough.  Is there something else we need to know about McKay's condition?"

 

Worried blue eyes caught hers.  "In any case of an anaphylaxic reaction, there is a small possibility of a second reaction hours after the first.  While it sounds like the Major got Rodney through the first one, and by my calculation they should have at least one more Epipen between them, I don't know what conditions they're being held under."

 

Sam easily followed his thoughts. "If they're separated, McKay could have a second reaction without being able to help himself or have anyone around him that knows what to do."

 

"Aye.  And it was just such a secondary reaction that nearly killed Rodney when he was a young man.  The hospital didn't hold him like they should have, and it hit him again at the university library. I've always suspected that's why he gets so paranoid about it."

 

Sam frowned, her own worry increasing.  "Without a second reaction, what do you think his condition is?"

 

"Hard to say, without more information. Teyla's report of 'breathy' tells me he may be fighting back an asthma attack. There are many other effects, all depending on how swiftly he reacted and how quickly the Epi was administered.  But overall, I'm sure he's feeling pretty lousy, even without the stress of being abducted."

 

Sam nodded to herself.  "Then we better find him and the Major right away."

 

"Aye, lass, I like your attitude."

 

Behind them, the dialing dance of the Atlantis Stargate began.

 

******

Hillside, Temple of the Ancestors, Frejor

 

Misery filled him as Rodney trudged up the path. His headache increased with each step. The injured arm still ached and was as useless as a huge sausage. The tightness in his chest made it hard to get enough air. The power bar had sank like a rock in his stomach. Temperatures were falling with the approaching night, making him regret leaving his jacket in the Jumper. All he wanted to do is curl up somewhere and sleep until he felt better. The only thing giving him strength was John Sheppard's presence by his side.

 

No one had ever wanted to be around him before. He had such a hard time connecting with people, he had given up the idea he could have close friends. Old lessons reminded him that while he could care deeply about others, he could not expect it to be reciprocated.

 

Then John had asked him to be on his team. Not because Elizabeth had ordered him, or as a second choice because someone else had said no, but as John's first choice. That was more than enough for him. It didn't matter how scared he got, or how physically hard some of their assignments were. He wasn't just needed; he was wanted. Other friendships had gradually followed. Never before had he felt such a sense of belonging. Together, they had faced danger and tragedy, and prevailed when the odds were against them. His team felt more like family than his relations on Earth ever had. Only the old lessons whispered it wasn't real; he just wanted them to care.

 

Now he found out that John carried Epipens and knew how to use them. The only reason he had for the extra item was his hyper-sensitive teammate. Even someone as dense as himself could tell that John was worried about him. Then Teyla had wanted to risk the raging beasts of the square to help him when he'd been hurt. They weren't pretending. They cared.

 

For Teyla, he had to trust she got Radek to safety and was searching for them. To think that he and John were the focus of her pursuit was reassuring - Teyla almost always succeeded when she went after something. For John, he had to keep going. He didn't want to give their abductors any reason to become violent. With the Major's heroic streak, he'd probably do something stupid, like step between Rodney and a sword. That was the last thing he wanted.

 

A light squeeze on his shoulder pulled his attention to Sheppard. John pointed ahead. "I think we're about there."

 

Through the deepening dusk, he spotted the graceful arch which led into a courtyard of sorts. Individuals in the same grey robes as their escort were scattered around. Beyond them laid ruins of what once had been a city. His natural curiosity about all things Ancient warred with his exhaustion. "Looks... Ancient."

 

"Yeah, I recognize the architecture." He could feel John's stare. "You holding up okay?"

 

"O...Kay."

 

John gave his shoulder another squeeze as the pair of escorts ahead of them passed under the archway. "Hopefully, they've got a couple of beds with our name on them."

 

Rodney managed a snort. "With our luck... they'll probably ... tie us ... to a post."

 

"Hey, don't give them any ideas," John admonished, his teasing tone at odds with the worry in his eyes. Still side by side, they passed under the ornate archway.

 

Suddenly, lights flashed above them. Startled, John grabbed him and pulled them both into the courtyard. Colors and symbols reminiscent of the Atlantis Stargate danced back and forth across the arch before going dark.

 

"Did you touch it?" Rodney gasped.

 

"I didn't touch it!" John denied. "What was it?"

 

"Almost looks like something reset... Perhaps it's some kind of regular signal for dinner?"

 

"Not from the looks we're getting," John replied, shifting uneasily.

 

Rodney glanced around. Everyone in the courtyard was staring at them and the arch, mouths hanging open. Even their escorts looked stunned, taking a couple of steps backwards.

 

John gave them all a weak smile and a half-hearted wave. "Howdy, folks."

 

"Nice trick, Pretenders!" The priestess Allura glided gracefully to a stop in from of them, her eyes angry. "We'll see how arrogant you are when you attempt to repair the Ancestor's Legacies." She turned to their escorts. "Take them to their room for the night."

 

As if suddenly remembering what the weapons in their hands were for, their escorts again pointed them at the Atlantis pair.

 

******

Stargate on Frejor 

 

As Teyla stepped out of the Stargate, the rest trailing behind her, Nigol was there to greet her. She had known the tall, dark-haired man for most of her life.  After the touching their foreheads in the traditional greeting, Teyla asked, "Any news?"

 

"I am sorry, dear one.  We have found no sign of them, and your Dr. Zelenka has heard no transmission."

 

Teyla sighed.  She had feared as much.  If Rodney was very ill, he would be unable to run and John would not leave him.  Even if he was well, Rodney was a scientist, not a warrior. His fighting abilities were based more on bravado than proficiency. Then there were John's questionable negotiating skills. Unless there was a pretty woman involved that he could charm, it was unlikely he could talk the Guardians into letting them go.  She would have to find them.

 

Then Nigol looked beyond her.  "Who have accompanied you?"

 

Teyla turned to find Dr. Jackson and General O'Neill behind her.  It unnerved her a little; for a moment, she was expecting it to be John and Rodney.  "They have come to help us search.  This is General Jack O'Neill, a great warrior and a leader from my friends' home world, and Dr. Daniel Jackson, one of their renowned scholars and a former colleague of Dr. McKay's."

 

"It is an honor to have such important people visit us," Nigol replied, tilting his head in respect.  "I wish it was under better circumstances."

 

"Me, too." General O'Neill replied.  "And I understand you have had some trouble of your own.  Was anyone seriously injured?"

 

Teyla could tell Nigol appreciated the question.  "Unfortunately, many were injured by livestock feet, the push of the crowd, and by the stings.  The medicines your people traded with us have already been put to use and greatly appreciated.  However, some of the visitors who were stung are also having symptoms we have never seen before.  My healer wonders if it could be similar to what Teyla's friend experienced."

 

"That is a grave possibility," Dr. Beckett replied, having come up to hear Nigol's report.

 

"Nigol, this is my friend, Dr. Beckett," Teyla introduced.  "He is the head of their healers."

 

"You have come to help Teyla's friend?"

 

"Aye, but a couple members of my staff has come as well."  Carson waved forward one of his nurses and a field medic, both loaded down with medical supplies.  "Dr. Weir sent them to help you through your crisis.  Ms. Madison can look at those who are having reactions, and train your healers on how we deal with those emergencies."

 

Nigol smiled brightly.  "That is wonderful news.  Please send Dr. Weir our heartfelt gratitude." He turned and grabbed one of the small boys running around. "Andor, please take these people to Murando."

 

Once Nigol had turned back, General O'Neill asked, "Teyla said you don't know why these Guardians would take our people.  Are we certain they're the ones who took them?"

 

Nigol frowned.  "It was my nephew who saw them, and he recognized one of the preceptors.  They occasionally come down to trade, and Langol always loves to talk.  However, neither he nor I understand why.  The Guardians are a very peaceful people.  They mostly stay at the Temple, and they have never caused us any trouble."

 

Dr Jackson suggested quietly, "Could someone else be influencing them?  They knew Rodney's name, and there's no way they'd learn it at their Temple."  He waved his hand at the people lined up at the gate.  "You obviously have a lot of visitors for the market.  Could one of them have traveled from here to the Temple without anyone knowing about it?"

 

"Yes.  Easily."  Nigol looked off in the distance. "The Guardians are good people.  We would not take too kindly to outsiders leading them astray."

 

"Well, we'll pay them a visit, and let you know what we find," O'Neill promised.

 

"Please, if possible, do not hurt the Guardians.  Like I said, this is very unlike them."

 

"We only want Dr. McKay and Major Sheppard back safely," Daniel assured them.

 

O'Neill nodded his head in agreement.  "We will use force only if it's the only way to rescue them."

 

"I understand.  I must leave now and oversee the clean up parties."

 

Once he'd stepped away, O'Neill frowned.  "So, where's the Puddle Jumper?"

 

Teyla tilted her head.  "It is this way.  Major Sheppard parked it in a small meadow away from the gate, so it would not 'advertise our presence'."

 

******

Temple of the Ancestors

 

John leaned against the wall of their new prison. The plain room in the ruins only contained a couple of bed rolls and a wooden bucket in the corner. Soft lights near the door turned on when he and Rodney walked in. From the reactions, John deduced that was also not normal. The only entrance had no door, but another guard. John figured it he could easily overpower the lone man, but then what? The life signs detector lit up like a festival of lights when he turned it on. Nor was Rodney in any shape for another hike even if they did sneak past the Guardians. In frustration, he felt the need to pace, but feared he'd wake up Rodney.

 

In the darker back half of the room, McKay was tucked in one of the bedrolls, his head and shoulders slightly elevated with the addition of the pillow from the second bedroll. Hopefully, the water and Tylenol would ease a bit of his discomfort. John prayed they were past the point of another reaction, but he didn't know it for a fact. Only Rodney's wheezy but steady breathing reassured him.

 

He had to get them out of there. He didn't know what the Guardians wanted exactly, but he could make a couple of guesses. Not that it mattered; his teammate wasn't well enough to help them. He figured his best bet was to wait until the middle of the night, take out the guard, and hope Rodney had gotten enough rest to manage the downhill climb.

 

It would have been nice to discuss options with Rodney. McKay's lightening fast mind was an asset he had come to rely upon. He also enjoyed their verbal sparring. McKay was one of the few who could take the full force of his dry, sarcastic wit and toss it right back at him. His gasping effort before they stepped through the archway only emphasized how sick his friend was. Rodney should be in the Atlantis infirmary, loaded up on meds and resting to the sound of a fussing Scottish brogue. He definitely should not be lying on a cold, dirt floor with only the small amount of drugs they had in their vests to ease his misery

 

With another glance to the back, John noticed Rodney's hand shift. Then he noticed something move on the blanket. John shot up from his slouch, senses on alert.

 

******

 

The rub from a purring body penetrated Rodney's light doze. Eyes closed, he reached down to stroke Maxwell's head. "Not now; sleeping," he muttered.

 

A small head butted against his hand. His feline companion could get so demanding in the mornings. He should be fed on schedule, regardless of late work nights. By habit, Rodney's fingers found the favorite scratching places. A soft purr was his reward.

 

"McKay."

 

Eyes still closed, Rodney wondered if someone was actually using his answering machine.

 

The whisper grew harsher. "McKay!"

 

Sheppard. Maybe John could feed Maxwell. But how did Maxwell get to Atlantis?

 

A hand touched his shoulder. "McKay!"

 

Rodney's eyes shot open. John was looking at something by his hip, his scowl indicating he was in military mode. He froze. What scary thing was there?

 

Then the small head bumped his hand again. Rodney looked down. A sweet, furry face looked back, seemingly content to snuggle in the rough blankets. "Major, it's a kitten."

 

"McKay, we're on an alien planet in a whole different galaxy. We don't know what it is."

Still half asleep, Rodney attempted to shift into a sitting position without bumping his sore arm. John leaned forward to help him. Once seated, he again ran his fingers through the soft fur. Of course it wasn't his Maxwell. This young one was much smaller, and the coat was different. The kitten was mostly deep gray with cream-colored feet and darker gray stripes around its eyes. Encouraged by his attention, it rolled over to briefly to show its cream and gray-spotted belly. Back on its legs, a striped tail uncurled. The small curved ears twitched with curiosity. "It acts like a kitten, and it purrs like a kitten."

 

"What do you know about cats?" John softly demanded, still watching the creature for any dangerous moves.

 

"I'll have you know that I own a cat. And they're not that hard to recognize. Haven't you ever had a cat?"

 

John shrugged, shifted back. "I'm more of a dog person."

 

"Figures."

 

Apparently deciding to explore, the kitten climbed up into Rodney's lap. It sniffed his swollen arm, then gave it a couple of gentle licks.

 

"McKa-ay."

 

"It's just being sympathetic, Major. And it has a rough tongue like a cat, too." The kitten then decided his bent leg made an excellent viewing spot. It quickly scrambled up the loose blanket and shifted its tiny paws to find the perfect balance on his knee.

 

A sudden scream turned their heads to the entrance. Rodney was just in time to see a tray of dishes hit the ground as a woman ran for the opening.

 

"You know," John stated slowly. "It's not usually a good sign when the locals run from the wildlife."

 

"Perhaps she's a dog person, too."

 

John shrugged as he approached the fallen tray. "So much for dinner." He squatted down to see if anything was salvageable.

 

Rodney was still fascinated by the kitten. Stroking her neck, he cooed, "What a dainty lady you are."

 

"Don't you dare."

 

"Dare what?"

 

"Give it name. First you name it, then we'll have to take it back to Atlantis. Which means while Carson's pumping you full of drugs, I'll be left alone to explain to Elizabeth why we brought home the wildlife."

 

"It's not wildlife; it's a kitten."

 

"You think that's going to make a difference to Weir? With our luck, she's probably allergic."

 

"Oh!" A female voice exclaimed.

 

Rodney again looked up to see the young woman who had given them the salve. She stared at the kitten.

 

"Hi, again." John slowly stood up. "Is this your cat?"

 

"Cat?" she asked.

 

"This dainty lady." Rodney indicated the kitten with his good hand.

 

The young woman slowly entered, still staring at the kitten. "We call them Shadow Dwellers. They are very shy; we only catch glimpses of them, though the kitchen always leaves out scraps for them to eat."

 

John lifted an eyebrow. "That one certainly isn't shy."

 

"Maybe she knows I like cats," Rodney pointed out, scratching under her chin.

 

"You are familiar with Shadow Dwellers?" the woman asked, eyes huge.

 

"Yeah, some people keep them as pets where we come from," John explained.

 

"Pets?"

 

"Furry companions who share our home and food," Rodney clarified. That only brought a frown to the woman's face.

 

"You know, I don't think I ever caught your name," John mused.

 

"I am Meraya."

 

"Hi, Meraya. Nice to meet you. I don't think we ever thanked you for the salve, either."

 

Rodney looked across the room to meet her eyes. "Yes, thank you. It helped a lot."

 

She blushed. "It is the least I could do for the inconvenience we have caused you."

 

"Why are we here?" John asked gently. "If your people need help, all you had to do is ask. If we could, we would have helped."

 

Meraya shrugged. "Priestess Allura was told you do not help willingly. If we do not capture and hold you, you will not come."

 

John's eyes widened. "Honest, that's not true. We like meeting new people. Who told her that?"

 

"I don't know him. Stern, dark man. I do not believe he is from Frejor." She glanced at the mess John was trying to salvage. "Do not worry about that. I will bring you another tray. Allana feared you would strike her down, since you commune with a companion of the Ancestors."

 

"We don't wish to hurt you, Meraya," Rodney explained. "We only want to go home."

 

Meraya only nodded her head and ducked out the door.

 

Both men watched her go. "Companion of the Ancestors," Rodney repeated. "Do you think that perhaps it was the Ancients who domesticated cats?"

 

John shook his head. "Who knows? We're supposed to look just like the Ancients. Who's to say cats aren't the second evolution of their form?"

 

Suddenly, the kitten's head shot up. She flew off Rodney's knee in a leap, then romped across the floor into one of the dark corners.

 

"Where'd she go?" John asked. He walked over to Rodney, peering into the corner.

 

"A better question might be why," Rodney pointed out, absently rubbing his tight chest. "If the locals being scared of the wildlife's a bad sign, what does it mean when the wildlife is scared?"

 

Before John could reply, two men they had never seen before entered the room. Both John and Rodney shifted to face their captors. Then a tall man entered. John slowly rose, growling, "Kolya."

 

Rodney scrambled to his feet, only to waver a moment before he caught his balance. Kolya smiled triumphantly at him. For an instant, he was back in the Atlantis control room, being held as a huge knife sliced into his arm. Then Sheppard stepped between him and Kolya, breaking the memory's hold.

 

Kolya continued to smile. "Major Sheppard. Dr. McKay. I had believed you had died when Atlantis was destroyed. I can't tell you how delighted I was to learn that wasn't the case."

 

"We're like bad pennies," John told him, crossing his arms. "We're hard to get rid of."

 

"Really. I wonder if even these 'pennies' are as difficult as you are."

 

"What do you want, Kolya?" John demanded.

 

"A very simple job, really. There are weapons here at this temple. I want Dr. McKay to fix them and make them portable so I can bring them back to my home world."

 

Rodney could feel his stomach twist.

 

"McKay is in no condition to be your little repair man. Besides, what makes you think we'd do anything for you?"

 

"Dr. McKay and I understand each other, Major. He knows he can either do what I ask, or he can watch me kill you. Then I will show him some real blade work."

 

Rodney couldn't stop the slight shiver. Yes, he knew Kolya was more than capable of killing and cutting. Just as they were both aware the threat to Sheppard would be sufficient to keep Rodney in line. Oh God, he wasn't well enough to handle this.

 

John didn't budge from his protective stance. "He's ill, Kolya. He needs medical attention."

 

"He looks well enough."

 

"At least let the swelling go down in his arm. He can't help you with only one hand."

 

"We'll see. If it's not better by morning, he'll just have to tell you what do to. He has done it before." Kolya kicked the bowl by his foot. "Enjoy your dinner." Then he and his men were gone.

 

Rodney just stood there, feeling his stomach twist and turn. Images flashed through his mind. Kolya pointing a gun at Elizabeth. Kolya about to toss him over a railing into the storm-whipped sea below. The Genii pushing him towards the Stargate so he could become their slave. Kolya forcing him to solve a series of clues at gunpoint while his team was trapped underground.

 

"McKay?"

 

He couldn't handle this, not on top of everything else.

 

Suddenly, Rodney was on his hand and knees, throwing up. Even once there was nothing left, his stomach continued to rebel. Panic filled his very being.

 

As the spasms finally eased, he became aware of a warm hand rubbing circles on his back. "Easy, Rodney. Easy." He wavered on trembling limbs until a strong arm gently shifted him away from the mess and steadied him. "It's okay, Rodney. Just breathe."

 

Mortification replaced the panic. John was the one to stand up to their nemesis; his only contribution was to fall apart. Forehead resting on John's shoulder, arms wrapped about his stomach, he managed to whisper, "Sorry...for being... girly wimp."

 

"You're not a girly wimp. You've just had a really, really bad day."

 

That understatement forced a snort out of him. "Still... sorry."

 

John's hand continued to rub his back. "No, I'm the one that's sorry. I should have killed that bastard when I had the chance."

 

Sheppard was blaming himself? Rodney shook his aching head, still resting on his friend's shoulder. "No... that's what ... he'd do. You're... better."

 

"Only on my good days, McKay. Only on my good days."

 

They stayed like that for a while, Rodney slowly regaining control of his breathing as John supported him. Then John gently squeezed his shoulder. "Think you're up to a little lookout duty?"

 

Rodney shifted away, giving John a puzzled look.

 

John nodded towards the dark corner. "Your 'dainty lady' apparently knows a way out of this room. And I don't know about you, but I feel the need to blow this popsicle stand. If you can watch the door, I'll see if we can follow her out."

Rodney gave him a weak smile and a nod. "I can do that."

 

******

Meadow near Market Square

 

As Sam followed the group to the Jumper, General O'Neill dropped back beside her.  After a few steps, he commented, "Not exactly what we expected on this trip."

 

Sam gave him a half hearted smile.  "I'd say that's an understatement, sir."

 

"You knew about McKay's allergies?"

 

"At least the lemons. He's the only person I know who asks the SGC's cafeteria staff 'What's in it?', as opposed to 'What is it?'"

 

Jack chuckled. After another couple of steps, he added, "You wanted to take this trip because of McKay.  Was it that video he sent to you? Did he say something to make you worry?"

 

With a shrug, Sam replied, "It wasn't so much what he said.  It was how he was.  The way he was talking and how he would drift off in the middle of a topic.  He was basically punch drink from too much adrenaline and not enough sleep.  I know what that's like. I've worked non-stop on enough emergencies to recognize the symptoms.  But even in my worse case scenarios, I could call upon Earth's military and intellectual resources, and even ask the Asgard and Tok'ra for help.  McKay didn't have any of that.  He and a handful of people with limited supplies had to defend the one Stargate to our home planet from a life-sucking foe with superior numbers.  I could tell he hadn't slept in days, and he still had a week to go before the monsters arrived.  He was trying to hide it, but there was no hope in his eyes."  Sam sighed. "He expected to die."

 

"We got them help, Carter," Jack softly pointed out.  "They survived."

 

"Barely. Hell, I'm still trying to figure out how he and this Dr. Zelenka got that cloak working in the short amount of time they had. Even now, they're still the front line protecting us from disaster.  I guess I wanted to check the situation out for myself, and see if there was anything I could ship him, like people or supplies, that would help.  Look at that one whiner from the tape you showed me.  I'm sure that guy can't be much support.  While McKay can be a jerk, he has helped me when the situation was desperate. Now it's my turn to help him."

Jack nodded his head. "And you will. Once we get them out of this little fix."

"I hope so, sir. There's still a lot of unknowns."

"But we do know that I get to finally fly a Puddle Jumper that isn't some wreck."

Sam couldn't hold back her chuckle, just as Jack knew she couldn't. "There is that, sir."

A meadow surrounded by trees could barely be seen ahead of them due to the deepening night. As they approached, Sam saw Teyla tap her radio. "Dr. Zelenka? We are here."

 

A soft voice replied, "Good. Good. I was becoming worried."

 

Suddenly, a ramp dropped down from no where, displaying the inside of a jumper. It had been cloaked. The Czech scientist was waiting for them at the top of the ramp. Teyla walked up to him easily. "No word?"

 

"No, none. I expected ones who took them would remove radios, but I had hoped Rodney might be able to improvise." The small, blond man pushed up his glasses. "But nothing."

 

"We will find them, Radek," Carson reassured him as he walked up.

 

Radek nodded, his face still worried. Then he spotted Jackson. "Daniel! It is good to see you. Weren't you supposed to come tomorrow?"

 

"Good to see you again, Radek," Daniel greeted, shaking his hand. "We got here early." He quickly introduced the rest of the team. Sam noticed Radek had a slight smile on his face when she was introduced. Had Rodney said something about her? Was that why Teyla had been so distant?

 

"Well, let's see what this baby can do," Jack declared, sitting at the pilot's seat and rubbing his hands together.

 

Carson stood behind him. "John can work her almost without thinking, but the rest of us have to concen..."

 

Suddenly, the HUD appeared across the front screen. Sam stepped closer, realizing a topo map of the area had appeared, with scrolling information and graphs around the sides. Daniel leaned forward and whistled. "It's information in Ancient about everything from the condition of the ship to the time for sunrise."

 

O'Neill had a boyish grin across his face. "Sweet. Too bad this baby doesn't have Infrared..." The view behind the HUD turned to infrared imagery. "Sweet!"

 

"How will we find MajorSheppard and DoctorMcKay?" Teal'c asked.

 

"Yeah, that's going to get interesting in these trees," Jack replied.

 

Sam eeked as a tray slide out of the wall next to her, holding a small device. "What's that?" She picked it up, tilting it back and forth to study it.

 

Carson smiled. "That, lass, is a life signs detector."

 

Teyla frowned. "I thought Major Sheppard brought it with him?"

 

Radek shrugged. "The Ancients have many backups and redundancies. Perhaps this one is... what does Rodney call it...spare?"

 

Sam frowned at the blank screen. "Is it broken?"

 

"Let me see it, lass." Beckett took the device and held it in his hands. Then he turned it towards her. "Like Puddle Jumpers, you need the gene to work it."

 

"That's frustrating," Sam replied, a bit miffed she couldn't get the cool technology to work for her. "No wonder McKay volunteered for the gene therapy."

 

"Aye, and the fact I was getting tired playing his guinea pig."


"Well, everyone take a seat. I'm about to take this baby for a ride!" Jack's smile grew wider as the craft smoothly lifted into the air. "Compared to that time machine, it's like going from a dump truck to a Ferrari."

 

"Ferrari?" Teyla asked, sitting behind him.

 

Teal'c, who had taken the copilot seat, turned and explained, "A dump truck is a hauling vehicle on Earth that is slow and unwieldy. A Ferrari is a much smaller vehicle that has great speed and maneuverability."

 

"Thank you." Teyla nodded her head at him.

 

Teal'c returned the gesture. "It is not always easy to understand the Tauri, but I am learning."

 

******

Temple of the Ancestors

 

Even with a flashlight, it was hard to distinguish much in the grey-metal corner, covered in years of dust and dirt. But the kitten got through, so there had to be something.

 

John glanced at McKay. He had set up Rodney, blanket draped over his shoulders, so he could see through the door and beyond the guard. There was the same expression on his face as when John had left him. John knew the look - it was the 'I know we're totally screwed but I'll do what I have to anyway' look.

 

That was one of the things he appreciated about McKay. Deception was very hard for the man. Just as every thought flowed out of his mouth, every emotion showed up on his expressive face. Some had a hard time with Rodney's bluntness. For Sheppard, it simply meant he always knew where he stood, even if it changed every few minutes.

 

But the very thing he liked in his friend was what Kolya used to exploit him. Just as Sheppard could tell there was more to the Lady Colonel story, Kolya usually could tell when Rodney was lying to him. The Genii commander also knew that with a little pressure, properly applied, Rodney's natural talkativeness would come forward. The expressive McKay had few defenses against a man who had no trouble brutally enforcing his will.

 

It was the John Sheppards of the galaxy who had the background and knowledge to fight face to face with the Kolyas. The McKays should be tucked away someplace safe to devise the equipment and inventive schemes that helped the Sheppards defeat the Kolyas. Unfortunately, Rodney kept getting shoved into the middle of the action.

 

Another strike against them was that the one defense Rodney had - fast talking and faster thinking - was currently out of commission. John didn't know if it was due to his breathing trouble, pain, or pure exhaustion, but smart-mouth McKay had been noticeably absent during Kolya's little visit. A fact he was certain Kolya was already planning to exploit. The sheer terror on Rodney's face when he realized who had abducted them would only encourage the bastard.

 

Then to have Rodney's body react so violently to the stress of Kolya's visit nearly did them both in. John had almost panicked and started searching for Rodney's last Epipen, until he realized his friend's heart was already racing. All he could do then was to try to calm him down, wondering which little brutal incidence with Kolya was running through his mind. Unfortunately, there were several to choose from. John didn't miss the so-not-subtle reference to Kolya cutting into Rodney's arm for the plan to save Atlantis. The thing was, Kolya would not hesitate to do it again. Kolya knew it, Sheppard knew it, and McKay definitely knew it.

 

Rodney needed food. He needed medicine. At the very least, he needed sleep. But most of all, he needed to get away from Kolya.

 

John paused in his search to glance at Rodney again. There was a thread of fear creeping across his face. He needed something else to think about. John had to get him talking.

 

"Hey Rodney, what's this Colonel Carter like?"

 

No response. Okay, that was probably not the smartest subject to bring up. Where was Teyla when he needed her?

 

Then McKay slowly responded. "Sam... Sam is a brilliant mind wrapped inside an incredibly sexy body."

 

John smirked as he ran his fingers over the wall. Perhaps this was a good subject.

 

"She's my height, and has these huge, sparkly blue eyes, and blond hair. God, I'm attracted to blondes who cut their hair short."

 

Now that's a tidbit he's going to have to remember. His fingers found a crack in the corner big enough for the kitten. Shining the flashlight at the spot, it looked like a piece had broken off. He began brushing off dust, finding the outline to an Ancient door. Since Rodney had stopped talking, he urged, "You say she's brilliant? I never thought I'd hear you call anyone else that."

 

"I barely hold a candle to her."

 

John blinked as he trailed his hand along the wall. That didn't sound like McKay. "Come on. You're a god damn genius. She can't be smarter than you."

 

"Sure, I can think fast, but I still have to follow A B C to get to D. Sam can make an intuitive leap from A to D without any supporting evidence, and somehow still get it right. It's like physics is music to her, and she simply knows the melody much better than I do."

 

"So, you two were colleagues?"

 

"More like rivals. I was brought in when they were having a problem with the Stargate, and someone wanted a second opinion. I'd been doing a lot of model work on the Stargate in Nevada, and was the only one who knew enough to help."

 

"Nevada?"

 

"Area 51."

 

"Makes sense."

 

"Yeah, but I'd never actually touched the gate before. I'd realize my involvement was politically motivated before I arrived, yet I wanted the chance to work with the real thing so badly. Before then, all I had to work with were equations, models and some distance observations. Sam was the lucky one who actually got to apply her craft in the real world. Anyway, my mind set was still academic, like an exercise on one of my models. But for Sam, it was personal. It was her teammate trapped in the Stargate. I didn't understand then. I do now."

 

John dipped his head a moment. Yeah, McKay understood now, especially after Grodin and Ford. Then he took a deep breath. "So did you get him out?"

 

"Yes, though no thanks to me. I had pretty much told her we weren't going to get anything resembling her teammate out of it; that too much time had passed. But Sam made one of her leaps of intuition and managed to save him."

 

"So, because you disagreed with her, you got sent to Russia? How's that possible?"

 

"Sam's plan required a DHD, and the US had to get it from the Russians. As part of the deal, the US agreed to help Russia build a naquada generator. They sent me to do the work." Rodney sighed, then coughed. "And I deserved it."

 

John was studying the control panel by the door, but Rodney's downhearted statement caught his full attention. "But you said you and Carter were past that."

 

"True. That happens when you work together to save Earth from total annihilation."

 

John blinked, then decided he'd ask about that another day. "So she doesn't hate you anymore?"

 

A slightly dopy grin stretched across Rodney's exhausted features. "Nope."

 

"You two date?"

 

"Nah, she's way out of my league. But she kissed me on the cheek once."

 

John smiled as he verified the door had power. "Well, I think I've found our way off the balcony, Romeo." He walked over and helped Rodney stand up. The talk about the Lady Colonel seemed to have eased the fear in his friend's eyes, but he was still a bit wobbly.

 

John led him to the corner, picking up the second bedroll on the way. As a safety precaution, John pulled out the life signs detector. Nothing showed up behind the wall. "Okay, let's give this a shot." He placed his hand on the panel and thought 'Open'.

 

With a jerk, the door slid part-way open. Rodney peered at it. "We can squeeze through."

 

John smiled. Now they were getting somewhere.

 

******

Preceptors' study, Temple of the Ancestors

 

Meraya glanced about for prying eyes before ducking into the small room. Several of her fellow preceptors were already there.

 

Allana looked up, guilt filling her eyes. "Were you able to give them more food?"

 

Meraya shook her head. "The stern man will not allow any to be delivered to them."

 

"If only I hadn't dropped the first tray." Allana was practically in tears.

 

"You were scared, little sis," Trajon told her. "Me, I feel unclean, forcing them by knife point to come here."

 

Illiad looked around, studying each of his friends' faces. "Are we sure they are not what Allura claims? She believes they can play tricks."

 

Trajon shrugged. "I've seen no deception. Only one man worried about a sick friend, just as we would be in the same situation. You know how painful those Hooner Beast stings can be. And the doctor's arm is swollen up to twice what it should be."

 

"Besides, let's look at the evidence." Rika, the oldest of the small group, held up a finger. "One, the arch danced with colorful lights when they passed under it. No one, not even old Nanet, has ever seen it do that. Two, ever since they have arrived, lights have come on all over the temple that no one knew existed. Three, Allana and Meraya saw them communing with a Shadow Dweller." She waved her hands. "No one has ever done that, at least not since the Ancestors left."

 

"Four," Trajon added. "In spite of what we've done to them, in spite of the doctor being sick, neither have threatened us or made any attempt to harm us."

 

"Well, you did take their weapons," Illiad pointed out.

 

"But they told me they only want to go home," Meraya pointed out. "They even said that if we had only asked, they would have helped."

 

"They said that to Allura, too," Trajon confirmed. "The wild haired one seemed very sincere, and very desperate to get his friend home."

 

"That's just it," Iliad pointed out. "How do we know that all these aren't just tricks?"

 

"Because they lit up the talisman in the square," Meraya suddenly blurted out. "They did not do it to trick anyone. In fact, they didn't seem to want anyone to know they lit it up. With no one to impress, why would they perform a trick?"

 

Illiad finally nodded his head. "Okay, I agree. Besides, I could practically feel the evil emanating from the stern man. I fear he's a bad influence on Allura's judgment."

 

"So basically, the two men are just like the old stories said," Rika concluded. "That leaves us with only two possibilities. Either they are connected to the Ancestors, or they are the Ancestors."

 

"Which is the same conclusion I suspect many of the elders have reached," Allana told them. "But they are afraid to go against Allura, especially with the stern man by her side. Besides, if they are the Ancestors, why haven't they performed their magic and left?"

 

"The one is ill," Meraya pointed out. "Perhaps they can not perform their magic until he is well."

 

"Or perhaps it's something else," Trajon said slowly. "We know the Wraith sleep for many generations. What if it's the same with the Ancestors? Perhaps they are only now awakening again, and haven't regained their full strength and knowledge?"

 

"Or they could be young Ancestors," Illiad pointed out. "They have not learned all the secrets of their people yet, just like Allana has more to learn to reach the preceptor level, or us for the elder level."

 

"That actually make some sense," Meraya agreed.

 

"Or perhaps it's a test for us?" Allana suggested. "To see if we have done our duty and protected their Legacies?"

 

Rika rubbed her hands over her face. "If that is the case, we have failed miserably. Not only do we hold them against their will, we have allowed an evil man to enter the Temple. I do not trust him, and I fear he has plans for the Legacies that are as stern and evil as he is."

 

"If the Ancestors have returned today, who knows what their wrath will be," Allana moaned.

 

Meraya shook her head. "No, I do not believe we need fear the Ancestors. They told me they did not wish to harm us. The great book says they only want to teach and nurture us. It is the evil man who is the problem."

 

"So what do we do?" Trajon asked. "It is our fault they are here, and the elders are afraid. We can't let the stern man take the Legacies, nor hurt the young Ancestors."

 

"Agree." Meraya lifted her chin. "But we must be careful and watch. Surely there will be an opportunity to save them."

 

"Yes," Rika agreed. "And we simply need to be ready to exploit it."

 

******

Underground Halls of Shadows, Temple of the Ancestors

 

It was obvious that no one had walked the hallway in a long time. Dirt covered the floors. Rodney couldn't even see footprints. Not that there was a lot of light to illuminate any footprints. Occasionally they would hit a section where a few dim lights would turn on, but there was too much damage along many of the walls. They had to rely on the Major's flashlight.

 

Gradually, the hall grew narrower, until it felt like the walls were pressing in. Each labored breath stole a bit more of his strength. Suddenly, John was patting his face. "McKay!"

 

Rodney blinked. He was sitting on the floor. "What happened?" he managed to croak.

 

"You passed out again." John checked the life signs detector, then shone his light into a nearby opening. "Okay, let's rest a bit in there."

 

A few minutes later, Rodney found himself tucked into the small alcove, blanket more firmly wrapped around him with the leftover half of the powerbar in his hands. He blinked at it. "I'm not hungry."

 

"Eat it anyway. You need the energy."

 

John sat the extra bed roll next to him, trying to brush some of the dirt to the side. Rodney watched him spread the bedding out. "What are you doing?"

 

"I want to you get some rest."

 

Rodney tried to glare at him, though he suspected it wasn't as fierce as he'd like. "We need to find the way out of here."

 

John squeezed his shoulder. "And we will. But why don't I scout around a little while you take a nap?"

 

"Major..."

 

Despite his protests, John was still guiding him down onto the blankets. "I know. I won't go far. But I need my teammate awake when we do get out. Besides, Carson's going to give me hell if he finds out I've been running you around Ancient ruins."

 

Rodney sighed. He knew there was something wrong with this idea, but he was too tired to think of it. Besides, it felt so good to be lying down again.

 

"I'll be right back. Okay?" Rodney could feel his eyes close. A rough hand lay against his throat a moment. "McKay?"

 

"O-kay," Rodney replied. He was vaguely aware of the blanket being tucked tighter around him, and then he slept.

 

******

 

The ruins were like a maze, and even spookier than the empty sections of Atlantis. With the life signs detector, Sheppard could keep track of McKay's dot while making sure he stayed away from all the other dots. But it wasn't much help in pointing to the exit.

 

He figured he'd see if there was a way to the other side of the ruins, where there weren't as many life signs. Best case, there was an easier path down the hillside. Worse case, they'd have to find a trail or a clear path to circle around to the one that led to the arch. Either way, there was a lot of hiking involved. Hopefully, Teyla was mounting a rescue mission and would find them on the road back.

 

John checked the life signs detector again.  Rodney's dot was still bright and alone.  He hated leaving his sick teammate asleep in an empty room with enemies nearby.  But he needed to find the way out and Rodney desperately needed the rest, especially if there was hiking in their future.  The good news was that no one appeared to have noticed their escape yet.

 

He stepped cautiously down a curving flight of stairs, his body tensing each time a new set of lights turned on.  Quick glances at the device in his hand reassured him no one was around.  Rarely had he felt so defenseless; he didn't even have a knife for protection.  What he would give to have the comfort of his P-90 resting on his arm.

 

Once his boot touched the ornate floor at the bottom of the steps, a flash of light enveloped the room.  Sheppard dropped to the ground, shielding his eyes.  When nothing happened, he slowly removed his arm.  A dais rose before him, a familiar chair at its center.  "Ah crap, they've got a chair?"  Was that what Rodney was supposed to fix? If Kolya expected to use it, John hoped he'd be sorely disappointed.

 

The urge to run up the dais and sit in the chair was strong.  Protection, information, and communication were all within an arm's reach.  Yet as bad as his day had gone, he couldn't help but think that this was way too easy.  He carefully stepped around the dais, shining his flashlight into the darker areas of the room.  A break in the smooth lines caught his eye.  It was a ZPM, lying next to its slot.  Approaching it, he could only stare.  Without the cell installed, the chair would not power up. He didn't know enough about those things to judge whether it was broken, or even had any juice left.  McKay was the expert.  As much as he wanted his friend to sleep, he was going to need his help with this one. On the up side, it may negate the need for hiking.

 

He glanced at the life signs detector in his hand. What he saw forced all other thoughts from his mind.  Another dot was swiftly approaching McKay. 

 

He raced up the stairs and into the twisting halls, nearly running into a wall because he was staring at the device in his hand.  The second dot had reached Rodney.  Frightening images of Kolya terrorizing his friend flashed through his mind as his feet dug into the last yard of dirt floor.  He flew through the opening, only then remembering he had no weapon.  He stopped and stared.

 

The little gray kitten was kneading the blanket next to the sleeping Rodney's arm. 

 

John slid down the nearby wall and dropped his head into his hands.  It was the kitten.  They were still relatively safe.

 

After his heart had slowed and his breathing was back to normal, he lifted his head.  The dark smudges under Rodney's eyes emphasized the paleness of his face.  A reddish hint of the hives could still be seen on his neck.  At least there was the movement of his chest. 

The fear that a second anaphylaxic reaction would shut down his friend's breathing was finally fading with the passing time.  It was being slowly replaced by the fear of a hypoglycemic reaction. He knew Rodney not eating wasn't good, but he didn't know how to get food into him when he felt so crappy. How much more could his friend's body take?

He glanced at this watch. It had been thirty minutes since Rodney fell asleep. He glanced at his friend, and then the life signs detector. Apparently, no one had missed them yet. He'd take the risk and allow Rodney a little more rest.

 

******

Puddle Jumper

 

Sam could tell Jack was having a ball flying the Jumper.  She had to admit it was a smooth ride.  While Teyla, Teal'c and she sat in the other forward seats, Daniel sat in the back with Drs. Zelenka and Beckett.  Yet the vehicle was not so large that she couldn't hear them.

 

"Still nothing?" Beckett asked Zelenka

 

Zelenka shook his head, still staring at the screen in his hands.  "No.  Nothing.  I hope perhaps abductors will become tired of hearing them argue, but still nothing."

 

Sam frowned as she heard Daniel ask, "Do they argue a lot?"

 

"Actually, it's more like squabbling between siblings," Beckett explained. 

 

"Yes," Dr. Zelenka agreed.  "Nip Nip Nip.  Nip Nip Nip." From her seat she could see the Czech had raised his hands, moving each in a biting motion in time with his words.  "Then, trouble comes, and they joined together."  His hands clasped together, and he made jabbing motions forward.  "They fight trouble, and then..."  His hands flew apart, fingers wiggling.  "No more trouble.  Yet whole time they are Nip Nip Nip."

 

"Aye," Beckett agreed.  "At the beginning, most of us were laying bets on when Sheppard would kill Rodney.  But they work amazingly well together."

 

Teyla then joined the conversation.  "That is because they balance.  Both are men with sharp minds and good hearts.  Only Major Sheppard follows his heart, while Dr. McKay follows his mind.  But they have come to respect the other.  Thus, when John's heart leads him onto an unwise path, Rodney can often reach his mind to make him rethink his action.  Then when Rodney is too focused following his mind, John can make him pause and listen to his heart.  Individually, they are worthy of respect.  Together..."  Teyla paused, a smile growing on her face.  "Together, they make me believe that even the Wraith can be defeated."

 

Sam blinked.  She had never thought of McKay having a heart, but perhaps she had never been in the position to see it.

 

General O'Neill called out, "I think we're approaching the temple."

 

Sam turned forward, seeing the ruins appear on the HUD. "I wonder how many people are there?"

 

Jack nodded. "I was wondering that, too."

 

Suddenly, the map was filled with white dots. "I'd say a lot," Daniel remarked dryly. "It's going to be difficult to pick out our guys, especially without being seen.

 

"We can go invisible," Dr. Zelenka piped from the back.

 

"Good idea." Jack concentrated a moment. "Now, let's make a few passes and get the lay of the land. Then we can come up with a plan."

 

******

 

Rodney traveled the halls of Atlantis, but it was a section he had never seen before. They twisted and turned, walls shooting off in strange angles. Somewhere was the essential device that would save Aiden from the Wraith and John from his suicide mission with the Genii bomb. He just had to find it.

 

Around a corner, he came face to face with Kolya. The overhead lights glinted off the blade of a knife. "Tell me the plan to save Atlantis."

 

"Wha, What plan?" Rodney stuttered, taking a step back. "I didn't say anything about a plan."

 

"Not yet."

 

He spun and dashed down another hall, his feet barely touching the floor. Suddenly, a Wraith appeared. "We will feast well on the Lanteans tonight! Then we will use your Stargate to find Earth."

 

His heart racing in terror, he fled around another corner and ran into Ford. "Lieutenant! Kolya's here! And so are the Wraith!"

 

The pupil of Aiden's left eye was enlarged, the skin around it looking scarred. The young man's body was a tightly wound spring, eager to release. "You didn't help me, Doc." He took a step towards Rodney, backing him into the wall.

 

"Aiden! Give us time," Rodney pleaded. "Carson's trying to help you, we just need time!"

 

"No, Doc. The Major's dead. Atlantis is lost. Time's up." Ford's hand shot out to grab Rodney's throat. He kicked and thrashed, trying to loosen the grip in vain as he fought to breathe.

 

"McKay!"

 

His wheezing lungs struggling for air, Rodney suddenly found himself sitting on the floor. In the dim light, he recognized Sheppard. He looked worried. "It's okay, Rodney. Just breathe." His friend's solid hand squeezed his shoulder. Rodney grasped the arm, just to confirm that John was really there.

 

"That must have been one hell of a nightmare," John commented softly.

"Kolya... Aiden..."

 

John squeezed his shoulder again, but didn't comment. As his breathing slowed, the Major reached around. "Here, drink some water." He handed him the canteen.

 

He managed a few swallows, the liquid easing his dry throat. Then a soft squeak brought his eyes to his lap. There was the gray kitten, playing with a loose thread. "Lady found us?"

 

"Ah damn, what did I tell you about naming it?"

 

Rodney ignored the complaint as he stroked her soft fur. He missed Maxwell so much. Then Sheppard touched his swollen forearm where a bruise was developing. Pain shot through the limb. Rodney cried out, jerking the arm away, only setting it to throbbing.

 

"Sorry."

 

"Injured here!" Rodney snapped. "Don't touch!" He rested it protectively close to his stomach, willing for the pain to go away.

 

"I said I was sorry." John studied him a moment. Before Rodney could snap at him again, he asked, "Just how hard did that tail hit you?"

 

"It knocked me to the ground." He could remember the stomping feet uncomfortably close to his head.

 

"I'm wondering if you broke it."

 

Rodney blinked. "I hadn't thought of that." He examined the swollen limb more critically in the dim light. "It doesn't look like it's at any funny angles."

 

"You've got two main bones in your forearm. Perhaps you just cracked one of them and the welts hid the damage."

 

"Great. Two for the price of one." He sighed. "What can we do about it?"

 

"The arm? Don't move it any more than you have to until we get you back to Beckett."

 

"Oh, that's a lot of help."

 

"In the meantime..." An oblong in a crinkling wrapper was shoved into his good hand. "Eat."

 

Rodney looked down to see a newly opened power bar. "I'm still not hungry."

 

"I didn't ask if you were hungry. Besides, I'm doing you a favor here. That's one of the last peanut butter ones. I don't hand those out to just anybody."

 

Rodney knew that the gesture was to make up for accidental pain John had caused him. He forced himself to take a bite and chew, surprised at how easy it went down.

 

John slapped him gently on his shoulder. "Besides, you're going to need the energy."

 

A vague memory arose as he swallowed another bite. "Weren't you going to go scouting?"

 

"I did."

 

"Did you find a way out?"

 

"Not exactly."

 

Rodney stared at him. "What did you find, exactly?"

 

"Remember that priestess mentioning a 'Throne of the Ancestors'?"

 

With a blink, his sluggish mind finally kicked into gear. "Throne of the Ancestors? Oh, no, don't tell me they have a chair!"

 

"Yep. Found it while I was looking around."

 

"Does it have power?"

 

"No, but there was a ZPM lying next to the slot. Figured I'd let you take a look."

 

"With a chair," Rodney thought out loud, "we could find the maps of the place, perhaps even send a signal to the Jumper."

 

"Exactly."

 

"Then what are we waiting for?" Rodney shifted to stand.

 

"For you to eat." John showed him the screen of the life signs detector. "No dots around but us and the kitten. But that could change, so I want you able to move fast if we have to."

 

Rodney took a bigger bite of the bar. He wanted to see the chair.

 

******

Head Priestess quarters

 

It took all of Rica's willpower not to fidget as she stood next to Allura. The dark man made her nervous, her skin wanting to crawl away from his presence. While the others had told her, she was still shocked to see how Allura was fawning over the man.

 

She glanced at Trajon across the room, and she could tell only from his eyes that he was as uncomfortable as she was. At least she could take a shift from Meraya, and allow her friend to try to reach the Young Ancestors again. It seemed so wrong to be feeding the dark man and his men while the nice men they had captured, including one who was ill, was forced to do without. The former priests and priestesses must be rolling in their graves.

 

"So, when are you going to show me this 'Throne of the Ancestors'?" The dark man asked.

 

Rica and Trajon exchanged fearful glances. The Throne was the holiest of the Legacies, reputed to contain the pure power of the Ancestors.

 

Allura shrugged delicately. "It is in the Underground Halls of Shadows. I thought I could take you tomorrow when the Pretenders are ready to work."

 

"I would like to see it first." The dark man sat down his fork. "Familiarize myself with it before Dr. McKay starts working on it."

 

Her heart leapt to her throat. The Throne was only to awaken for the Ancestors. While each preceptor would sit in it as part of their training, the cold metal and slightly mushy areas on the arms had made her nervous. What would happen if a Young Ancestor touched it? Would it come alive? And if it did, could the evil man make Dr. McKay do bad things with it?

Allura tilted her head with respect. "Then let us walk off our dinner, gentlemen. Rica, Trajon, the torches."

 

Taking a deep breath and praying the Ancestors would find a way to forgive them, Rica picked up a torch.

 

******

Underground Halls of Shadows

 

Sheppard led McKay through the dark halls, the kitten playfully darting around their legs. His teammate was still a bit unsteady on his feet, but the promise of a chair with a ZPM had brought a new surge of energy. Still, John set their pace slower than normal, so as not to tax the sick man.

 

He glanced at the life signs detector, then held up his hand. Rodney waited patiently for nearly thirty seconds. Then he demanded, "What?"

 

"Shhh."

 

Softer, Rodney asked again, "What?"

 

"A group of life signs have split off from the rest."

 

"Has someone discovered we escaped?"

 

John shook his head. "They're not coming from the same direction as the room we were held in."

 

"Then why..."

 

"Ah crap, they're heading for the chair room."

 

Suddenly, voices too faint to understand echoed off the walls. Nervous, McKay took a step back and lost his precarious balance. He stumbled, hitting a section of dark wall that crumbled beneath his shoulder. A deep rumble shook the hall.

 

"Run!" John ordered. Before he could follow the scrambling Rodney, debris rained from the ceiling. A sharp object slammed into his calf. John fell to the ground with a yelp, covering his head with his arms. He could feel things hitting his body with bruising intensity.

 

"John!" Rodney yelled.

 

Everything went gray, then John blinked. Dust was still falling around him, so he didn't think he'd passed out. He cautiously lifted his head. Rodney was kneeling next to him, his good hand tossing pieces of rock and paneling to the side. "McKay," John paused, coughing. "McKay, get out of here."

 

"We're getting out of here as soon as I get this junk off you," Rodney replied, the wheeze in his voice stronger.

 

"McKay, someone probably heard that."

 

"Almost got it." Rodney grunted as he struggled to pull up the last long piece of metal.

 

John cried out as a sharp pain shot through his lower right leg.

 

Rodney managed heaved the metal away. He quickly examined the back of John's calf, pulling back the tear in his pants. "Damn." Releasing the material, his good hand fumbled at a pocket in his vest. "Stay still!" he demanded when John started to shift.

 

John ignored him as he sat up, his own hands exploring his leg. Feeling moisture at the site of the injury, he pulled back his hand and saw blood.

 

"Didn't I say stay still?" Rodney unrolled the field dressing with a flick of his wrist, then leaned over to work on the calf. "It looks like a deep gash."

 

"We've got to get moving."

 

"We've got to stop the bleeding."

 

"They'll find us."

 

"They'll find us quicker if you're leaving a blood trail." Rodney managed to get the dressing pressed hard against the wound, but paused.

 

John quickly discerned the problem. "I'll tie it." He grabbed the ends of the dressing and swiftly wrapped it around the leg. Hissing, he pulled it tight and knotted it. "Now let's move."

 

Shakily, they both helped the other to their feet. John bit his lip at the pain, but he didn't have time to baby it. Rodney looped his arm over his good shoulder. Together, they started to stumble back the way they'd come. "Alcove?" McKay wheezed.

 

"Best bet at the moment," John grunted back.

 

They had only taken a couple of steps when a shot tore through the dirt at their feet. They froze, almost afraid to turn around.

 

"Gentlemen, I see you are eager to start working."

 

John closed his eyes as he felt a shudder go through Rodney. Kolya.

 

******

Outskirts of the Temple of the Ancestors

 

O'Neill landed the Jumper on a flat area attached to the ruins. "Probably was a landing pad for Jumpers back in the day of the Ancients," Dr. Jackson hypothesized, taking in the view. "Considering the size, I wouldn't be surprised if at one time, this was a main outpost like Antarctica."

 

Teyla shrugged a light pack over her shoulders, then picked up her P-90. Radek and Carson both looked at her, worried. She gave them a reassuring smile. "We will bring them back."

 

"Yes, we will." The white-haired warrior, O'Neill, picked up his own weapon. "I want the two of you to stay in the Jumper monitoring the radio. If you hear anything from our boys, let us know."

 

Teyla followed the warrior and his people out of the Jumper and into the ruins, eyes sharp for any movement. She also spared a few glances to the team around her. They moved as a cohesive unit. It was obvious that they were familiar with such operations, and had worked together for a very long time. She wondered if she, John and Rodney would work together like that some day.

 

For now, they were all suffering the loss of Lt. Ford in their own way. She and Rodney had stood in shock as the good-hearted, protective young man they knew nearly strangled Carson. John blamed himself for being unable to stop the crazed Aiden from leaving Atlantis. Was there any way they could have prevented Aiden's downward spiral? It happened so fast. While John still hoped they could bring the young man back into the fold, she feared the Wraith had taken another soul away from her.

 

General O'Neill raised his fist in a familiar gesture. She faded into the ruins like the rest for the group and held her breath. While she felt white-haired warrior's heart was like her father's, his words and actions often reminded her of John.

 

They all waited silently as two young women walked their direction. "I swear, Meraya, I heard something here."

 

"We don't know if there are any others besides the Young Ancestors," the older girl replied.

 

"I just know they're going to punish us."

 

"Ah, excuse me." The two girls jumped back as the General rose from the wall he hid behind. Their mouths dropped open, staring at his white hair. "These young Ancestors, was one of them tall, dark hair, outfit kinda like mine?"

 

"Ah," Meraya uttered.

 

"And the other one," Dr. Jackson added nonchalantly as he stepped away from a young tree. "Did he have brown hair, blue eyes, talks a lot? Possibly injured?"

 

The two girls looked even more frightened. Teyla knew they needed reassurance, and also rose from her hiding spot. "Do not be alarmed. We will not harm you, but we are their friends, and are very worried about them."

 

"Our head priestess took them," the younger one confessed in a rush. "A dark man claimed that they would only help us if we captured them."

 

"You are the woman who was with them at the market square," the older one added.

 

"Yes." Teyla noticed how they were glancing at General O'Neill, as if they thought he was a real Ancestor out of legend and was ready to smite them. "Was Dr. McKay injured?"

 

"Yes," the older one replied. "His arm is badly swollen with Hooner tail welts. He is also very pale and unsteady on his feet."

 

Her worry deepened for her friend. "Do you know who this dark man is?"

 

"He is Genii," the younger woman said.

 

"Genii?" Teyla repeated, suddenly angry. Why could not Cowen and his people leave them alone?

 

"Genii," General O'Neill repeated thoughtfully.

 

"Remember, sir, they're the ones who wanted McKay to help them with their nuclear bomb," Colonel Carter answered as she stepped away from her hiding place, making the girls jump again.

 

"And raided Atlantis just before the mega hurricane hit," Dr. Jackson added. "They wanted all the expedition's C-4 for their bombs."

 

Teyla saw Carter's eyes were angry. Apparently, she also knew of what had happened before the storm. Perhaps she and Rodney were now friends.

 

General O'Neill nodded as he absorbed the information, then turned back to the girls. "Do you know where our people are being held?"

 

"Yes," Meraya replied as her companion nodded. "We have tried to bring them food, but the dark man refused to let us."

 

Another concern rose in Teyla. Rodney needed to eat. She had decided long ago that his mind worked so fast, he needed more nourishment more often to fuel it.

 

"Is there any more Genii with the 'dark man'?" Dr. Jackson asked.

 

"Yes, four more," the younger one told them. "They follow him around with their weapons. We are all afraid of them."

 

"Weapons?" O'Neill asked.

 

Teyla quickly explained, "They are projectile weapons. Though not quite as advanced as yours, they are quite deadly." A suspicion rose in her mind. She leaned forward. "This dark man; do you know his name?"

 

Meraya frowned. "I believe Allura called him, 'Koca'? 'Kola'?"

 

Fear pierced her soul. "Kolya?" she growled.

 

Frightened, Meraya took a step back. "Yes, that sounds right."

 

Her fear increased tenfold, along with her temper. Teyla forced herself to take a step back and breathe deeply. If her friends were being held by Kolya again, her anger would not serve them.

 

The General glanced at her, then back to the girls. "Is there a way you could lead us to them?"

 

"Yes. Our people want to help the Young Ancestors."

 

As they followed the young women, Teal'c slipped out of his hiding place. "I have seen no one else as yet, O'Neill."

 

The General nodded, then softly asked, "Remind me about Kolya."

 

"He led the raid on Atlantis," Colonel Carter replied, eyes glittering with cold fury. "They killed two of our soldiers and took Weir and McKay hostage. Then he tortured McKay with a knife to find out his plan to save Atlantis. Kolya was also going to kill Dr. Weir until McKay convinced him that she was essential to his plan. It took Sheppard employing guerrilla tactics and McKay pretending his plan didn't work in order to get them to leave." The General's brown eyes grew hard as he remembered the report.

 

"Then he was going to take Elizabeth and Rodney back to his home world as slaves until Sheppard and Ford rescued them," Dr. Jackson added. "But I thought Sheppard shot Kolya to make him let go of Elizabeth?"

 

"He did, but Kolya survived," Teyla replied, her voice still deep with anger. "He later interfered with our search for a ZPM on Dagan. He forced Dr. McKay to solve a deadly puzzle, using Major Sheppard as the person to work the device, so he would die if Dr. McKay was wrong. Kolya threatened to make Lt. Ford and I each take a turn until Dr. McKay got it right."

 

"But McKay was right, right?" General looked at her questioningly. "Sheppard's still alive."

 

Teyla shook her head. "Rodney was too scared of killing John to think properly. It was John who solved it. Said he'd seen it on a test." Teyla sighed as she regained her composure. "As long as Kolya holds the life of someone Dr. McKay cares for, he can force him to do whatever he wants."

 

"Like Sheppard." The General's face was grim, his eyes like flint.

 

"Yes. As Dr. Beckett said, they have become like brothers."

 

"Then let's get them out of here."

 

The girls led them to the edge of their settlement. A young man rushed up to them. "There you are! The Young Ancestors escaped!" He suddenly took a step back when he spotted the others with the girls.

 

"They are the other Ancestors who have come for the young ones," Meraya told him. Before anyone could correct her, she asked, "Does the Genii know?"

 

"They didn't. But Rica sent word that the evil dark man found them in the Underground Halls of Shadows. He and Allura are taking them to the Throne of the Ancestors."

 

"Can you take us there? Preferably by a different route?" O'Neill jumped in.

 

Eyes wide as he took in the elder Warrior, the young man nodded. "Yes. Please follow me."

 

******

Throne of the Ancestors

 

Injured arm tucked against his stomach, Rodney sat on the dais and carefully examined the ZPM. It showed no cracks or other damage. From his instruments, it still had a lot of power. He wasn't sure if that was good or bad. He couldn't even begin to calculate the probability against Kolya having the ATA gene. That was more Beckett's field than his. But with their luck, he couldn't rule it out. The thought of Kolya in charge of a chair was frightening. If only he could get John or himself seated in it instead, without getting either of them shot.

 

He stole a glance at his friend. John's arm was held tightly by one of Kolya's soldiers, who dug a gun into his back. That didn't stop Sheppard from glaring defiantly at their captors. However, he wasn't putting any weight on his injured leg. Even from ten feet away, Rodney could see the line of crimson running down from the field dressing.

 

"Well, Dr. McKay, how long before it's ready?"

 

Rodney slowly lifted his eyes, fear and anger competing for his soul. He took a deep breath, coughed, then replied, "I need help. A ZedPM can be very touchy, and it needs to be put in just right. I can't do it with only one hand."

 

"Morty." One of Kolya's men knelt beside him.

 

Rodney held back his disappointment. He had hoped they'd allow Sheppard to help him. In soft, concise words, he talked the soldier into placing the ZPM into the slot. Then taking over, he gently pushed it into place. He sat back and wheezed a moment, watching the indications that the device was powering up.

 

"Any time now, Dr. McKay. Or do I start carving on Major Sheppard?"

 

"Go to Hell, Kolya," John growled back.

 

"It's done." Rodney slowly rose to his feet, battling his lightheadness. The dust from the cave-in had not done his lungs any favors. "But this is a very complicated device. It takes a lot of concentration and mental control -"

 

Rodney stopped talking when Kolya laid the flat side of his blade against Sheppard's cheek. John went still, but continued to glare. "How does it work, Dr. McKay?"

 

"You sit in the chair. It lights up if it accepts you. But it'll only do that if you have the Ancient gene."

 

"So you dare give me that old lie?" Kolya lightly pushed John back toward the soldier, then turned to climb the dais. Behind him, his men looked expectant while the Guardians looked almost fearful. "Dr. Weir tried to feed me the same one. I didn't believe her, and I don't believe you. They were our Ancestors. You're just arrogant interlopers."

 

Kolya sat in the chair. Nothing happened. He pounded on the arms and poked at the arm rest. Still nothing happened. Rodney released a sigh of relief as John simply smirked.

 

With a growl, Kolya leaped from the chair. "Fix it."

 

Rodney stared at him, focusing the last few hours of pain, anger and fear at his nemesis. "It's not broken."

 

Kolya stormed down the dais to stand in front of him. "I said fix it so I can use it."

 

"I can't," Rodney snarled back, his anger growing. "Only the Ancients or their descendants can use their more sensitive technology. You. Don't. Have. It."

 

Kolya backhanded him hard. Knocked off his feet, Rodney slammed into the dais steps on his injured arm. He cried out as pain shot through him. He barely heard John's shout through the ringing in his ears.

 

Without warning, room erupted with the sound of screeching yowls as hundreds of cats voiced their displeasure. Rodney managed to roll over in time to see tiny Lady drop from the ceiling, landing on Kolya's head. Spitting and hissing, she bit and clawed. Kolya waved his arms around, unable to connect with the lightning fast kitten.

 

Around them, the Guardians dropped to their knees and covered their ears. Kolya's men froze, unable to see what was creating the racket surrounding them. John took advantage of their confusion. He jammed an elbow into the gut of the soldier holding him, grabbing the gun and then swung it into the man's head. With barely a limp, he raced up the dais and jumped into the chair. As Lady forced Kolya away, the chair lit up beneath him and tilted back into position.

 

With an amazing leap, Lady launched herself off Kolya and onto Rodney's stomach. By the time Kolya turned around, a light blue force field surrounded the dais. Kolya took a step towards Rodney, then jumped back from the sting.

 

The cats stopped howling. Dead silence filled the room, then the Guardians, including Allura, prostrated themselves in front of the chair.

 

"What trick is this!" Kolya screamed at them.

 

"No trick," Rodney wheezed back. His cheekbone throbbed in time with his arm, increasing his lightheadedness. "Sheppard has the gene. You don't."

 

"Why you..."

 

"Kolya, right now Sheppard's controlling one of the most powerful weapons in two galaxies with only his mind. Emotions play a big role. Do you really want to draw his attention?"

 

Sputtering, Kolya started to raise his gun when a second forcefield rose up, surrounding himself and the rest of the Genii. A smile cracked across Rodney's weary face. "Cool. I didn't know it could do that."

 

"I'm always willing to experiment," John replied, his voice distant as his mind explored.

 

"I'll remind you of that the next time I need you to activate something." Rodney took another couple of wheezing breaths, then asked, "Major, will that forcefield stay up if you leave the chair?"

 

"I'm working on that."

 

A new voice popped up. "Think towards the left. There should be a timer."

 

Rodney sat up, looking around the chair. "General O'Neill! What are you doing here?"

 

"I thought I'd pick you kids up after school, see what you've been up to." Glancing around at the still prostrate Guardians and the angry Genii, O'Neill smirked. "Looks like you've been busy." His smirk disappeared when he got a good look at McKay.

 

"There." John dropped the shield from the dais and sat up. "It was on the right."

 

"That's why I told you left."

 

"But it was on the right."

 

"And you thought right first, correct? I know how you operate, Sheppard."

 

Telya knelt next to Rodney. "Dr. McKay!" She quickly examined him, brushing off some of the dust in his hair and lightly touching his swelling cheekbone. "Do you need another Epipen? I have one if you do not."

 

Moved, Rodney lightly shook his head beneath her hands. Teyla carried them, too? Then he smiled. "I knew you'd find us."

 

Teyla smiled in return, worry still in her eyes. "I always will." She gently placed her hands on his shoulders. Realizing what she was doing, Rodney met her forehead with his in the traditional Pegasus greeting. It warmed his soul in a way he'd never felt before. The Athosian woman, born a galaxy away from his own birthplace, was more like a sister to him than Jeannie back on Earth.

 

As Telya pulled back, she noticed the kitten in his lap. "What is this creature?"

 

"Lady," Rodney wheezed in answer. "She's been helping me and the Major out."

 

As Teyla gently lifted the kitten off him and sat back on her heels to study it, Rodney caught sight of Sam Carter. P-90 in her arms and tuffs of short, blond hair sticking out from beneath her green cap, she was still the most beautiful woman he knew. "Colonel Carter!" he called out with a cough. "Still incredibly sexy and with impeccable timing." Did he really just say that out loud? From Teyla's amused lift of the eyebrow as she set the kitten on the dais, he must have.

 

"And I see you've gone from annoying me to annoying the natives, McKay." Sam's large grin belied her words. She reached down with a hand. "Let's get out of here and catch up on old times."

 

"Deal." When Sam pulled him to his feet, the room started to spin. Both Teyla and Sam caught him as he tottered.

 

"Carter, Teal'c, get McKay back to the Jumper," the General ordered.

 

Secure within the arms of two beautiful women, McKay was led out of the room and towards safety.

 

 

John watched them go, his eyes catching Teyla's. For an instance, he saw her worry and relief as his own tried to communicate his trust and gratitude. Then she nodded and helped McKay with the blonde through the dark opening behind them. A huge man followed, obviously Teal'c, to protect them on the way from any stray Genii.

 

Then he took a deep breath. Rodney was finally heading towards Beckett and medical help. He could feel the tension that had been driving him since the stampede flow out, leaving him tired and limp. General O'Neill held out a hand and he took it gratefully as he stood up, hissing when he placed weight on his injured leg.

 

"What's wrong?" the General asked as he patted his back, raising a cloud of dust.

 

"Got caught in a cave-in and tore up my leg. By the time McKay dug me out, Kolya caught us."

 

Both men turned to stare at the Genii commander. John smirked when he saw the bleeding scratches on his face. "So that's Kolya," O'Neill commented.

 

"Yep."

 

Kolya snarled. "You tricked me!"

 

He limped a step towards him. "We didn't trick you. McKay told you that only people with the gene can work the chair. I've got it. You don't. Deal with it."

 

"You lie! You're the interlopers!"

 

"Dr. McKay worked for months trying to find a way to circumvent the need for the gene with the chair on Earth," Dr. Daniel Jackson calmly explaining the facts to Kolya. "He never found one."

 

Kolya crossed his arms. "How can you have a device of the Ancestors in your galaxy?"

 

Daniel continued his explanation, unfazed. "Your 'Ancestors' originally started from our galaxy before coming here. We call them 'The Ancients'. Their Stargates and ruins are scattered across the Milky Way just as they are here in the Pegasus galaxy. When they fled from Atlantis, they returned to Earth and apparently intermingled with us." John glanced around, realizing Dr. Jackson was speaking just as much to the Guardians as the Genii. "We have used our chair to defend Earth against a powerful foe. But it has to be run by someone with the Ancient gene."

 

"Are you telling me Sheppard has defended Earth with that chair?"

 

"Nope," O'Neill declared, crossing his arms. "I did. But Sheppard can do it if the occasion calls for it."

 

"That's why we needed the ZPM from the Brotherhood, to protect Atlantis. Which, thanks partly to you, we didn't get." John limped another step forward, his eyes glaring. "God so help me, if you ever, EVER, go near McKay again, I will kill you."

 

"And if you go near any of our people, I'll come back and help him," General O'Neill declared, his eyes as fierce as Sheppard's.

 

Kolya did not back down, but John could see a new grudging respect in his eyes.

 

"How long did you set the timer?" O'Neill asked him.

 

"Four hours."

 

"Well, that should give the Daedalus enough time to arrive and help the Frejorians take care of the trash." O'Neill knelt down to inspect the bandage around John's leg.

 

"Ancestors." They all looked to see the Allura at the foot of the dais, her people behind her, all bowing their heads. "We are sorry. Please punish us as you see fit."

 

Sheppard, O'Neill and Jackson exchanged glances. "We don't wish to punish you," John blurted out, hissing as the general added another field dressing to the saturated one already there. "You were misled by Kolya."

 

"We come for knowledge," Daniel explained. "We want to understand the Ancients, your Ancestors, better. We are always willing to help others when we can."

 

"If you had asked, we would have tried to help you with your Legacies," John added. He hissed again as O'Neill tied the dressing tighter. "Once McKay's feeling better, maybe he can visit you with a team, and see if there's anything here your people can use to protect yourself against the Wraith."

 

"But first, we need to get both these boys home." O'Neill stood up and faced them. "Some of our people will be contacting you soon to rid you of your Genii problem. We wish you well." He waved at Kolya and his men with the back of his hand. "We wish you not so well."

 

With his arm looped over the General's shoulder, John limped down the passageway the rest of his team took earlier. When Jackson's flashlight illuminated another staircase, John spotted a weary kitten attempting to climb the steep steps. Lady was apparently trying to follow Rodney.

 

"What's that?" Jackson asked.

 

"McKay's little cat friend. She's the one who scratched Kolya to get him away from Rodney."

 

"Good kitty." Daniel knelt to hold out a hand, but Lady darted over to rub against John's good leg. John attempted to reach down towards her, but grunted from the pain.

 

"What are you doing?" O'Neill asked.

 

"McKay's attached. Named her Lady and everything."

 

"He named her?" O'Neill shook his head. "Damn, that means we've got to bring her with us."

 

"I tried to warn him, sir, but he's had a rough day."

 

Daniel managed to capture Lady and held the squirming kitten out to John. "Then we'd better give her a lift. It's a long way for little legs."

 

John took her, tucking the warm body inside his vest. She snuggled next to his chest, only the furry top of her head poking out. Daniel then took his other side, and the two men helped him up the stairs.

 

******

Puddle Jumper

 

Within minutes of their arrival, Dr. Beckett had Rodney setting on one of the bench seats, blanket draped around his shoulders, a oxygen monitor clipped to his finger, an IV in his good arm, and a breathing mask over his nose and mouth. Sam smiled as she and Teal'c stood by the back entrance, listening to the Scottish brogue scold her friend about staying away from religious fanatics and alien cows with stingers. Teyla sat next to Rodney as Dr. Zelenka watched from the other bench.

 

"What's this?" Carson asked as he gently wiped something off Rodney's swollen arm.

 

McKay lifted the mask. "Salve from the locals for the stings."

 

"Put that back on," Beckett ordered. Rodney did as he was told, then pointed to a pocket. Carson pulled the small jar out and sniffed. "I'll have it analyzed when we get back. You're just lucky you aren't allergic to it as well." He continued to examine the arm, causing Rodney to cry out in pain.

 

"Worse ... Than... Sheppard..." McKay mumbled through the mask.

 

"This may be broken as well as stung," Beckett determined. Rodney only rolled his eyes. As the doctor pulled out materials for splinting, he asked, "What happened to your eye?"

 

"Kolya," Rodney forced out. Sam shot him another examining look. His face was unnaturally still, but emotions boiled in his eyes.

 

"Kolya!" Radek jumped up. "Kolya is here?" A stream of words in Czech rapidly followed, most likely not complimentary. A sick look crossed Carson's face.

 

"Major Sheppard has Kolya and his men trapped behind a force field," Teyla told them calmly. "He will not be following us." She caught Sam's eyes. Both women nodded in agreement. Even if Kolya could follow them, they would stop him from reaching McKay again.

 

"They have arrived," Teal'c announced. O'Neill and Daniel walked up the ramp, supporting Sheppard between them. The Major was not putting much weight on his leg, wrapped in a blood-soaked field dressing.

 

Teyla instantly stood up, concerned. "John?"

 

"Just a gash from a cave-in," Sheppard assured her. "McKay dug me out."

 

"How bad?" Beckett looked up from immobilizing Rodney's arm.

 

"It's still bleeding," O'Neill told him as he walked up front. "You'd better take a look at it."

 

Worried, Teyla helped Daniel seat Sheppard next to McKay. As Carter followed her teammates to the front, Sheppard turned to McKay and reached into his vest. "Here. Just remember that YOU'RE explaining her to Dr. Weir." He dropped the gray kitten onto McKay's lap. Rodney's answering smile could have lit a world.

 

Carson stared. "Is that a cat?" Rodney rolled his eyes again.

 

"A cat, presumably born in this galaxy?" Dr. Zelenka stood on tiptoe to peer over Carson shoulder. "It is sweet. Does it have name?" Rodney just continued to smile as he watched the kitten knead his thigh before curling up to sleep.

 

"Yes, Rodney named her 'Lady'." John wanted to make sure everyone knew who was to blame. "Apparently, its herd, flock, whatever you call a bunch of cats, was left behind by the Ancients." John suddenly jerked his leg away from Teyla kneeling in front of him. "Ow."

 

Teyla stared at him. "You must let me look at it while Dr. Beckett attends to Dr. McKay." Then she smiled at him. "It is good to have you back as well." She stood up and leaned forward to gently touch foreheads with Sheppard, then dropped back down to work on his leg.

 

Carter smiled as she sat down. McKay may face some harsh challenges, but at least he had teammates and friends to look out for him.

 

******

Medbay, Atlantis

 

Lying on his stomach, Sheppard thanked Carson's assistant who had stitched up his leg. Nodding to her instructions to keep it dry and elevated, he carefully lifted his foot up and down to test it. It was going to hurt for a few days. He laid it down on the medical bed as she left. Shifting around to sit up, he could feel the various bruises covering his back from the ceiling debris. It wasn't just his leg that was going to hurt. He'd be lucky to be able to move at all tomorrow.

 

Though he had been officially released, he wasn't quite ready to give up his perch yet. It gave him a good view of McKay in the bed across from him.

 

Rodney's eyes were closed, but he seemed restless. Between the pale skin, immobilized arm, and the swelling cheek on the drawn face, he looked especially beat up and frail. His fingers on his good hand twitched as he wheezed. After so many hours of worrying about him, John wasn't willing to walk away until he knew his friend would be okay.

 

Beckett walked up and squeezed his upper arm, knowing it was the one part of him not bruised. "How is my second patient?" he asked softly, handing him a paper cup of juice.

 

"Fine," John replied just as softly, ignoring the drink as he continued to study Rodney. "His arm?"

 

"Cracked a bone, as we suspected. We got it immobilized for now, but we'll wait a bit for the swelling to go down before bracing it. I want to keep an eye on those welts as well, make sure they heal properly. While they appear to be similar to bee stings, those Hooner beasts are something new for us."

 

"Is he asleep?"

 

"Aye, though lightly. His body has been through the ringer the past twelve hours."

 

"Man, has it only been that long?" John rubbed his face, then looked up again. "Why's his hand twitching?"

 

"It's the medication that helps him breathe. He'd be flying higher than the Jumpers if he wasn't so bloody exhausted." Carson gave him the once over. "You look exhausted yourself, lad, and you lost a bit of blood today. You should go to your quarters and rest."

 

John shook his head. "Got to report to Weir. Besides," he sighed, looking at his friend again. "Rodney had a nightmare during one of the brief times he dozed off."

 

Carson nodded in understanding. "I imagine running into Kolya again would disturb him." He glanced around. "I can keep an eye on him while you see Dr. Weir, eat and clean up, then you can check on him before getting some rest yourself."

 

"Thanks."

 

Seeing Elizabeth at the entryway, Carson commented, "At least you don't have to look her up." He gave John's arm another squeeze. "Drink your juice, and I'll give her the medical update first. And remember to use the crutches."

 

John slowly drank the grape juice, then eased himself off the bed. Ignoring the crutches, he hobbled over to join them. Carson was still talking when he arrived.

 

"... should be right as rain in a few days, but it took a lot of him. With so many stings at once, it could have been much worse. We're lucky Sheppard had the Epipen and used it so quickly. As it is, between the reaction and the dust, his lungs will need time to recover."

 

"Dust?" Weir asked quietly. Beckett had apparently warned her not to wake up Rodney.

 

"A bit of the ceiling fell on us in the Ancient ruins," John reported softly. "I'll explain in my report."

 

Weir nodded, looking him over. "I'm just glad to get you both back, more or less in one piece." She, too, examined McKay from the distance and frowned. "What is your impression of the people who abducted you?"

 

"They're good people, though rather obsessed with 'The Ancestors'. I could tell most of them were upset about abducting us. The one girl gave us salve for Rodney's stings and they did try to feed us. But it was Kolya who was pushing them."

 

"Kolya!" Elizabeth exclaimed, then nodded when Carson shhhh at her. "Kolya was involved?"

 

John quickly gave her a short report, hitting the highlights. As he talked, Teyla and SG-1 joined them.

 

"So Kolya wanted control of a chair," Elizabeth repeated thoughtfully.

 

"Good news is that he doesn't have the gene," John pointed out. "With luck, neither does any of the other Genii, so they'll never be able to use it, even if they find another one."

 

Weir shrugged. "I'm not sure how good that would be. If they had a real means to defend their world, perhaps they'd leave us alone."

 

Dr. Zelenka entered, his arm tucked against his chest. "How is Rodney?"

 

"Sleeping fitfully," Teyla told him.

 

"This should help." He shifted his arm to reveal the kitten. "Dr. Winskowski of Zoology took blood sample to analyze, but says it looks like healthy cat." He gently handed her to John.

 

"What is this?" Weir asked, eyes wide.

 

"A kitten, we think," John responded innocently.

 

"We think?" After another glare from Carson, she lowered her voice again. "You brought an unknown animal back to Atlantis? Don't you know what could happen if it's carrying diseases or --"

 

John raised his hand in a stop motion, then lifted his forefinger. He limped to Rodney's bed, hoping the subtle reminder that he was hurt as well would go in their favor. He whispered to the kitten, "Do your stuff," and gently placed her on the foot of the bed.

 

He grabbed the crutches on the way back, enduring the smirks from the others as Weir demanded of Beckett, "You're letting him put a strange creature on Rodney's bed in his condition?"

 

Carson simply shrugged. "It has been shown that pets lower blood pressure, reduce stress and promote better health in their owners."

 

"Watch," John admonished her as he set the dreaded crutches to the side and leaned against the wall.

 

Everyone saw the kitten make her way across the rumbled blanket to delicately sniff the twitching fingers. She then proceeded to walk up Rodney's arm.

 

"But," Elizabeth started, only to cut off as John held up his forefinger again.

 

Lady had reached his shoulder, circling twice before snuggling down. Almost immediately, Rodney seemed to relax. His breathing became less labored as his hand's twitching slowed. Weir could only blink.

 

"McKay did say that he missed his cat on the video he sent me," Carter commented to no one in particular. "In fact, I think that's the only thing he said he missed." John smiled. She was compassionate as well as smart and drop-dead gorgeous. He could see why Rodney was so infatuated with her.

 

"And a kitten that can attack a grown man like Kolya successfully may be useful," Jackson suggested to Carter matter-of-factly, his face the picture of innocence.

 

She nodded just as matter-of-factly. "I had wondered where he got the scratches." The General just smirked as he watched his team and Weir's face, Teal'c to his left simply providing a supportive nod.

"And Dr. McKay did seem quite attached to it," Teyla added in her two cents.

 

Still seeing a frown on Weir's face, John decided it was time to pull out the big guns. "Elizabeth, we both know Rodney works his ass off for this place. Hell, he pretty much gave up sleeping during the two weeks before the Wraith showed up. If anyone needs to reduce stress, it's him. Let him keep the damn cat."

 

"But..."

 

"And if you're not going to let him keep it, then you take it from him." John waved at the bed, playing his last card. He saw her face soften. Their head scientist did look pretty pathetic at the moment, and Elizabeth was a softy at heart.

 

"Okay, he can keep it." She stared at him a moment. "I want to see your report tomorrow by noon."

 

She left the Medbay, General O'Neill beside her. "It could be worse, you know. Let me tell you the tale that started with 'red bunting'. Me and red bunting? Can you see the problem..."

 

"I told him this would happen," John grumbled as the leaders disappeared around the corner. "He so owes me."

 

Carson waved him off. "Go. Eat some dinner, clean up, and use those crutches!"

 

Smirking, Teyla grabbed the crutches and thrust them at John. He made a face at her but took them. Then she, Carter, Jackson and Teal'c walked slowly with John to the mess hall.

 

Radek shook his head after they left. "You realize, we are never going to get pretty girls to look at us now. They will all be looking at Rodney and his kitten."

 

"You think a cat will do it?"

 

"You did not see Winskowski and Norris playing with kitten."

 

Carson and Radek look at their sleeping friend and the kitten, looked back at each other, and shrugged together. "Perhaps he will let us borrow her while he's on missions?" Radek suggested.

 

"Aye. It may be our only chance."

 

******

 

Suppressing a yawn, John hobbled out of his quarters and closed the door. The long day was catching up with him, but he still had a teammate to check. Using the crutches, he slowly worked his way to the Medbay.

 

Dinner with SG-1 had been nice. He was relieved to see that Teyla had apparently decided that Carter was okay. Not only did the two women chat amicably, but Teyla was having fun fielding questions from Jackson about her people and their culture. Teal'c had asked him questions about Wraith stunners, and had described Jaffa staff weapons. Admittedly, Sheppard wasn't sure what a Jaffa was, but he figured he could ask Rodney once he woke up. He hated to leave the impromptu gathering early, but he had things to do and people to see.

 

He paused in the entryway to the med beds. Carson was checking Rodney over.

 

"He's sleeping soundly now."

 

John turned to discover General O'Neill sitting in a chair. The senior officer waved at a second chair next to him, and Sheppard gratefully sank into it. Then John looked at O'Neill. "If you don't mind me asking, sir, but..."

 

"Why am I here?" O'Neill finished, a smile on his face. "I figured you'd show up here within the next hour or so."

 

"How...?"

 

"I know how it goes, protecting geeks."

 

John blinked, then remembered Carter and Jackson. "Ah." He glanced back into the infirmary. "I'm not sure how good I am at it."

 

"You did fine, son. Sounds like your geek has Carter's brilliance wrapped up in Daniel's single-minded curiosity, and that's scary. Trust me, getting your geeks out of trouble is normal for this job."

 

"Yeah, except when he's saving my rear." Sighing, John could feel the day weigh heavy on him. Later, he'd blame the exhaustion for his candidness. "I tried to prepare, but this morning... I've been in a lot of scary situations, especially since we've arrived in this galaxy. But to sit under that table and listen to Rodney struggling to breathe... That's got to be in the top three."

 

"You did what you needed to do. Dr. Beckett said you saved his life, and that you specifically requested for you and your team to be trained on how to handle such a situation. You took care of him to the best of your abilities. That's all you can do."

 

"Yeah, but to survive all the hell we've been through, only to lose McKay to a damn bull with a funky tail... Atlantis can't afford to lose him. All these scientists, yet he's our best shot to figure out this place."

 

"Yes, he is," O'Neill agreed. "But you didn't lose him. He's right in there, safe, because you knew what to do."

 

"Except the one thing I really should have done a long time ago."

 

"What's that?"

 

Suddenly, John remembered who he was talking to. "Ah..."

 

"It's off the record, Sheppard. We're just two guys shooting the breeze here."

 

John rubbed his face with both hands, then stated quietly, "Let's just say it's a good thing you arrived and there was a force field."

 

O'Neill paused a moment, then nodded his head. "Teyla said you had history."

 

"Bad history. From now on, he'd better find his own Q, or I may have to exercise my license to kill."

 

"Amen." Jack leaned forward, studying the dark look in the young Major's eyes. He knew that place only too well. It was time to change the subject. "You know, when I talked you into this mission, I didn't expect you to end up running the whole shooting match. But you rose to the occasion. You did good, kid. My only complaint is that you should think twice before doing any more kamikaze runs."

 

John couldn't help the sleepy smile that crossed his face. "McKay gave me hell for that, too. But I had no choice."

 

"Yeah, I know how that goes." They sat in companionable silence. Then O'Neill asked, "Okay, I've got to ask. Your Telya said you solved some dangerous puzzle because you'd seen it on a test. What test?"

 

John smirked. "Mensa."

 

"Really? You're in Mensa?"

 

"No." He paused, then sighed. The general was a pilot, too. He'd understand. "I wanted to fly. But McKay was impressed."

 

"I bet he was." O'Neill stood up and squeezed his shoulder. "We'll talk later. Go take care of your geek."

 

******

Next morning, Atlantis

 

Sam smiled as they exited one of the transporter rooms. What a cool elevator. As Zelenka led them down another hallway in the main tower, Sam again appreciated the graceful design. The tour had been going well, though she suspected Jack and Teal'c tuned out after seeing the Puddle Jumper bay. Even Major Sheppard looked a bit uncomfortable, though he was trying hard not to show it. Of course, his injured leg probably had a lot to do with that. He had ditched the crutches for the tour.

 

Part of her wished that McKay could have been with them. The fellow physicist would surely have some snarky comments that would have made them laugh. But Beckett was keeping McKay in the Medbay until noon, and Sam suspected he'd leave under strict orders to take it easy.

 

Too bad Teyla couldn't have joined them this morning. Sam had enjoyed talking with her, once they had her team back safe. She glanced at Jack, remembering how the young woman had admitted to her and Daniel that he reminded her of her father. They planned to spring that one on their CO when the timing was right. Sam couldn't wait to see his reaction. Perhaps they could do it when Sheppard was there to witness it. She had seen the dark look cross his face when they received news that the Genii had escaped.

 

Suddenly, the lights shut off. Into the pitch blackness, Jack commented, "This doesn't look good."

 

"We have emergency power routed to the shield for 15 minutes," Zelenka commented nervously. Sam could understand the nerves. No power meant no shield and no iris on the Stargate. The lack of both made Atlantis extremely vulnerable.

 

A flashlight clicked on. Apparently, Sheppard came prepared. "Before we left yesterday, McKay told Kavanaugh not to touch the chair, the device in his office, or the panel in the control room."

 

"Control room," Zelenka declared, turning to run up the steps. Sheppard and SG-1 raced behind him.

 

As she reached the top, she could hear an arrogant whine. "It should have worked! There is no reason why it didn't work."

 

"And I told you it would overload the system. Did you listen to me? No, you had to do it anyway, and totally screwed up the whole power grid!" The angry, breathless voice sounded like McKay.

 

"But it isn't my fault it didn't work!" In the faint sunlight that reached the control room, Sam could see a tall man with a pony tail standing near one of the curved stations. Yep, the same whiner from the video Jack had shown her. Then she spied a bare foot poking out from underneath the station.

 

"Yes, it is, so stay out of my way!" Sam followed Zelenka around the corner to see that the bare foot did indeed belong to McKay. He was still wearing the burnt orange hospital scrubs. Most likely, he'd ducked out of the Medbay before Beckett could grab him. His good hand flew over the mix of crystals and transparent wiring, lightly touching the various components. From the reports, Sam guessed that everything should be glowing, but was currently dark.

 

Zelenka ducked his head next to Rodney's. "What can I do?"

 

"We need a red crystal, three inches long." Zelenka practically flew to the corner where a crate sat. Must be their backup supplies.

 

"Why does he get to help and I can't?" Kavanaugh asked the room in general.

 

"Because you screwed up," Major Sheppard told him, his tone tight with tension.

 

Sam watched as McKay pick up a pair of pliers and turned back to the panel. Lifting his injured left arm to hold the transparent filaments, he winced in pain. Sam dropped down and crawled in beside him. Rodney looked at her in surprise. Taking the pliers, she explained, "I've got two good hands. Tell me what to do."

 

Dr. Weir's voice suddenly filled the room. "What is going on here?"

 

As Sheppard explained around Kavanaugh's constant interruptions, McKay talked her through bypassing the overloaded connections. At the same time, he was removing a crystal from the panel. Suddenly, a red crystal was thrust between their shoulders.

 

"Good," McKay grunted as he took it. He raised his hoarse voice. "Time?"

 

"Four minutes," one of the control room techs replied.

 

Sam and Zelenka held their breath as they watched McKay gently insert the crystal. Then he laid his hand on a small, pale square at the top and closed his eyes. Sam felt a touch of envy when she realized that McKay was using his adopted gene to restart the system.

 

The control panel lit up, followed by the lights bursting forth around them. Sam and Zelenka exchanged grins as cheers erupted in the room. McKay simply rested his head next to the panel and wheezed, "Oh, thank god." For a moment, he looked beyond exhausted. A rush of protectiveness flowed through Sam. Rodney should still be in the Medbay, not correcting mistakes of a man who liked to whine. Then she felt something brush her knee. She glanced down to see the kitten. Lady snuggled next to Rodney, trying to provide comfort.

 

In the background, Kavanaugh declared, "This is what I've been telling you, General O'Neill. McKay is just a glory hound, and Weir lets him get away with it. If he had set the system up like it was supposed to be, none of this would have happened."

 

McKay's eyes popped open. Seeing the surge of anger, Sam grabbed his arm to prevent him from standing and winked. McKay wearily blinked at her, confused. But then, he didn't know General O'Neill like she did. She signaled for them to rise slowly.

 

Meanwhile, Weir had crossed her arms. "Kavanaugh, you nearly lost us the shield. Please focus on what's important here."

 

"I am. Your mistakes have led us to this point, as General O'Neill can see from this incident."

 

Jack had one eyebrow raised as he listened to the argument. He glanced at the trio by the station as they stood. Sam knew him well enough to read the flicker in his eyes. He had appraised McKay's condition, and didn't like what he saw.

 

The General turned to Kavanaugh and nodded. "I see your point."

 

McKay opened his mouth, but stayed silent when Sam squeezed his arm.

 

"In fact," Jack continued, "I've been considering promoting you to a new position, Kavanaugh. One that would suit you and your ambitions."

 

Kavanaugh beamed as Sheppard's mouth dropped open and Weir looked shocked. Only McKay sent Sam an inquiring look. She gave him a tiny smirk.

 

"Where was that position, Daniel?" Jack asked with an exaggerated turn to his friend.

 

Daniel looked both serious and innocent. "Wasn't it in Iraq?"

 

"Yes, that's where it is."

 

Kavanaugh lost his smile. "Aren't they still fighting there?"

 

"There are reports of vehicles exploding and suicide bombers on the news each evening," Daniel replied matter-of-factly.

 

"And they do like to kidnap Americans and decapitate them," Sam added, giving Kavanaugh a pointed look.

 

As Kavanaugh looked scared, Jack slyly added, "Of course, you could stay here if you promise to listen to the Atlantis leaders, including when McKay tells you not to touch something."

 

Kavanaugh declared, "That's not... not..." A huge sneeze bent him over. "That's not..." Another sneeze grabbed him. "Fair."

 

Jack lifted his eyebrow again. "Problem?"

 

"God damn it," Kavanaugh sniffed, then snarled when he spied Lady by Rodney's ankle. "A cat! I'm allergic to cats!"

 

Jack smirked. "Here or Iraq, Kavanaugh?"

Grumbling, Kavanaugh left at a run.

 

Sheppard smirk. "You know, I think I can learn to like cats." He walked up to his friend. "Come on, McKay. Let's find you some real clothes and then eat."

 

"I'll meet you in the mess hall," Sam told him with a smile.

 

"I'd like that," McKay admitted as he allowed Sheppard to pull him away, Lady darting around their feet.

 

Sam's smile grew wider. This visit might not be so bad after all.

 

"Is he barefoot?" Weir asked, her eyes wide.

 

Then Dr. Beckett's voice sounded over the intercom. "Dr. Weir? Rodney has left Medbay without my approval. Have you seen him?"

 

Yep, she was going to enjoy this.

 

The End


Posted: August 17, 2005

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