Notes: This is set immediately following the episode Suspicion.
Many, many thanks to Lyn for the beta read. Any remaining errors are of my own doing.
Thank you for all the reviews and faves for the last story, writers love to hear from readers!
UPDATE: April 2021 This story has needed some work for a long time. Nothing is different plotwise, however, all of the passive exposition scenes have been reworked into a more active voice. There has also been some general grammar clean-up and I have (hopefully) found all of the typos. :)
Rodney stared at the box and wondered just how much Teyla hated him at the moment. He still couldn't believe he had gone through her possessions at the behest of Sergeant Bates of all people. He hadn't wanted to do it, had told Bates in no uncertain terms just what he thought of his suspicions, but in the end, he had done as Bates asked. Worse, he'd proven the man's hypothesis correct.
He had tried to mitigate his actions by telling Sheppard instead of Bates when he had found the transmitter, but he knew Teyla had every right to be angry. He just hoped Teyla wouldn't hit him with her fighting sticks during their next training session.
Rodney scrubbed a hand over his face and stood. No sense stalling any longer, he told himself. Maybe he'd get lucky, and she wouldn't be back from the mainland yet.
He grabbed the box off his work table and headed back up to the section of the city used for crew quarters.
A few minutes later, he stood outside Teyla's quarters, trying to work up the courage to face her. He reached out to knock on the door but pulled his hand back when he saw one of the Marines walking toward him. He gripped the box in a tighter hold, nodded to her when she passed him with a strange look, and blew out the breath he was holding when she disappeared around the corner.
"Just get it over with," he ordered himself in a low mutter. "If she doesn't answer, you can leave the box."
He gave the door a gentle tap, waited a bare few seconds, then decided Teyla wasn't back yet.
He was looking around for the best place to leave the box when the door slid open, and Teyla, still wearing the stitched duster and other Athosian clothing from her trip to the mainland, looked up at him.
"Oh, umm," Rodney muttered. He glanced at her, then looked down at his feet. "I wanted to return your …" He held out the box, refusing to make eye contact.
Teyla took the box, and Rodney stepped back. "I'm, umm, sorry," he said. He turned and took a step, hoping to escape before she had a chance to yell at him.
"Doctor McKay?" Teyla said softly.
Rodney felt his back and shoulders tighten as she said his name and slowly turned around. He knew he deserved whatever Teyla had to say to him. He had just hoped to avoid it. He glanced at her, mentally grateful she wasn't armed that he could see and waited.
"Thank you," she said simply with a smile and set the box in her quarters.
Rodney stared at her for a moment, completely confused. "You're welcome?" he replied. "I know you're mad at me for …" He waved at the box sitting on the table near the door. "I just, umm … I wanted you to know it really wasn't my idea."
Teyla rested a hand on his arm, and Rodney flinched, still expecting an angry rebuke. Teyla frowned at the reaction but withdrew her hand.
"Thank you," she said again. "I know you were coerced into Sergeant Bates' … investigation." She nodded at the box. "I also know, of anyone he could have chosen for such a task, you treated my belongings with respect."
"Oh, umm, yes. And I did," Rodney replied. He stood in front of her for a few more moments as the awkward silence grew, then turned once again to leave. "So I'll just, umm … go now."
"Doctor McKay?" Teyla called again.
"Oh, what?" Rodney turned around, exasperated now that she'd stopped him twice from making a quick getaway, and found Teyla smiling at him.
"I was going to find supper," she said as she stepped out of her quarters and the door whispered shut behind her. "Would you like to join me?"
"Oh … umm." He hesitated as Teyla took a step down the hall, then hurried to catch up with her. "Now that you mention it, I guess I could eat something," he said and fell into step next to her.
Once seated at their usual table in the mess hall, Rodney was at a loss. He'd never been good at small talk, and outside missions and their training sessions, he hadn't spent much time with Teyla one-on-one.
"So, umm, how's the mainland?" he asked as he started to eat. He hoped if she started talking, all he would have to do is make a few encouraging sounds every now and then to keep the conversation going.
"My people are adjusting quickly," Teyla replied. "It has been difficult for some of them these last months, being in the city. While Atlantis is a safe haven, they had nothing to do here. Halling and the others are farmers and hunters and not used to being confined. The mainland offers a compromise I think will work out well for them and for Atlantis."
Rodney nodded absently as he chewed, wondering what to say next. So much for letting her do all the talking, he grumbled to himself. Where was Sheppard when he needed him?
He was casting about for another topic of conversation when Elizabeth entered the mess hall and walked over to their table. She nodded to Rodney and spoke to Teyla, "I received the message you sent," she said. "Do you really think your friend Laren would have enough grain for trade?"
"What's this?" Rodney asked. He looked up from his tray and glanced from Elizabeth to Teyla.
Teyla set down her cup. "Doctor Weir mentioned to me that Doctor Beckett is concerned about the food here in Atlantis."
Rodney looked down at his reconstituted meal. "What's wrong with MREs?" he asked. "I like MREs."
"A little variety wouldn't hurt, Rodney," Elizabeth said with a smile. "Most of what we were able to trade from Kalani and his people is gone."
Rodney shrugged and went back to his dinner.
Elizabeth stepped back from the table. "Come by my office in the morning, and we can discuss a possible mission."
"I will be there, Doctor Weir," Teyla said.
Elizabeth gave Rodney a nod and walked back to the mess line. She stopped long enough to speak to two of the scientists at another table, then grabbed a cup of coffee and a sandwich and left the mess hall.
"When did you have time to talk about groceries?" Rodney asked once Elizabeth was gone.
"Several days ago. Before … the latest crisis with the Wraith." She reached up to touch her neck where the necklace had been. "I am glad you discovered the truth before I led them to another world to cull." She dropped her hand with a sigh.
Rodney looked over at her, feeling uncomfortable. If he was bad at small talk, he was terrible at comforting someone. "You didn't know it was the necklace that alerted the Wraith," he told her. "What happened on those worlds wasn't your fault."
Teyla gave him a sad smile and toyed with her food. "Yet it still feels as though I am to blame." She looked out the window at the night sky. "There are five worlds that were culled because I was there." She glanced over at Rodney and asked, "How many people were taken because of me?"
Rodney pursed his lips and focused on his dinner. He had no answers for her. Did she want one? he wondered. He watched her sip her tea and shrugged.
"You didn't do anything wrong," he said again. He paused and glanced over at Teyla. "You know, if you think about it, you could blame Sheppard. He's the one that used his super-charged Ancient gene and turned the transmitter on in the first place."
Teyla smiled and picked up her fork. "I am not certain blaming Major Sheppard is any better, Doctor McKay."
Rodney felt a little thrill when she smiled. Maybe he could do this comfort thing, after all, he thought to himself. "Then we just won't tell him," Rodney replied.
"Won't tell me what?" Sheppard asked.
Rodney spun around in his chair and found Sheppard standing behind him.
"Oh, umm, nothing. Really, nothing important," Rodney muttered and glared at Teyla. "You could have told me he was behind me," he hissed.
Teyla laughed, and Rodney felt another little spark of happiness that he'd been able to help her feel better. "It is nothing, Major. I am still … upset regarding what happened thanks to my necklace."
"And you thought McKay would be the best person to help with that?" John asked with mock horror.
"Oh, shut up," Rodney muttered with a scowl.
John grinned before strolling off to find his own dinner. He returned a few minutes later and sat down next to Rodney.
"Where did you disappear to, anyway?" Rodney asked as John started to eat.
John swallowed and glanced from Rodney to Teyla. "Oh, I was down talking to our guest."
"Our guest … You mean the Wraith?" Rodney didn't hide his surprise or his fear at Sheppard willingly taunting the Wraith locked in a holding cell several floors below them.
"Yeah, him." John nodded. "Do you think they have names? Maybe we should give this one a name. How does Steve sound?"
"Ridiculous," Rodney replied. "And you think Ford comes up with bad names."
"I'm kinda liking Steve," Sheppard persisted.
"Whatever." Rodney waved one hand and finished his coffee. "Did he have anything interesting to say?"
"Just the usual. He was going to feed on me. It would hurt." Sheppard shrugged. "He really isn't the best conversationalist."
"Do not make jokes, Major," Teyla said, her tone serious. "He is hoping you will become overconfident and make a mistake he can exploit."
"He's going to get awfully hungry before I get overconfident," Sheppard replied, his expression suddenly hard.
"Still, I recommend caution when dealing with him."
"I'll keep that in mind," Sheppard promised.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
The next morning John was on his way to the lower decks for his morning run when he met Elizabeth in the corridor outside the control room.
"John, I'm glad I found you," Elizabeth said as she stopped in front of him. "I have a meeting with Teyla this morning about one of her contacts and a possible trade for food. If it sounds like a good opportunity, I'd like to send your team to the planet this afternoon."
Sheppard nodded. "I don't think that will be a problem," he replied with a smile.
"Good," Elizabeth replied with a nod. "Let's plan on meeting at eleven hundred hours in the conference room."
"Eleven hundred it is."
Elizabeth smiled as she left, and John continued down to the lower deck. He spent a few minutes stretching, then set off on his first circuit. While the exercise was undoubtedly a benefit, running also gave him a chance to think and plan. In this case, think about how to repair ties between Teyla and certain members of the military force.
Intellectually, he knew Sergeant Bates had a tough job, and for the most part, a thankless one. But that was no excuse for his continued hounding of John's team. The 'training session' with Rodney a few weeks ago and now his blatant actions with Teyla made him wonder if it wasn't so much the makeup of his team that had the sergeant bent out of shape but their team leader.
Bates had been Sumner's right-hand man, John reminded himself. Were Sumner's personal feelings about Sheppard coloring Bates' actions as much as the sergeant's general disregard for scientists or the Athosians?
John made another circuit around the lower section as he pondered the issue. He hoped the fact Teyla wanted to help the city, and had offered one of her close contacts as a potential source for trade, meant she held no ill will for the expedition members.
Rodney had been vocal in his displeasure at being drawn into Bates' witch hunt. John knew McKay had felt even worse when he discovered the truth about Teyla's necklace. The mix of guilt and fear on Rodney's face when he had found John in the infirmary had been plain, and John had silently berated Bates for causing the rift in his team as a result. It had been a bit of a relief when he had found the two of them at dinner, smiling and even sharing a joke, even if it was at his expense.
At least Teyla still trusted the team, he told himself. He could figure out the rest as he went along.
He finished his run, informed Rodney and Ford about the meeting, and went in search of a shower and food.
John walked into the conference room at eleven hundred precisely and found everyone else already there. He shook his head at Rodney seated on one side of the triangular table, typing away on his custom combo computer, oblivious to everyone else in the room. John sat next to McKay and tapped at his arm to get his attention as Elizabeth glanced around the table.
Rodney looked up from the computer, finished typing one last thing, and set the machine aside.
"Teyla," Elizabeth said once everyone else found seats, "why don't you tell the others about Laren and your proposal."
Teyla smiled and nodded. "Certainly." She took a breath and said, "While the mainland offers both my people and Atlantis an opportunity to be more self-sufficient, we are not to that point yet. Halling and the rest of my people require seed for crops, and Atlantis could always use another source for trade. The people on Arcadia give us the chance to do both."
She clasped her hands on the table and continued, "Laren and his people are fair traders, and their planet is well suited for crops as well as wild fruit. I have known his people for many years and have traded with them often. Laren would make a good friend for Atlantis."
"What do they grow?" Ford asked, looking up from the file in front of him.
"Their main crop is a grain," Teyla replied. "Doctor Weir believes it is very similar to your rye on Earth. This is the time of year for the harvest on Laren's planet, and I believe we will be able to trade, not only for milled grain but for seed as well."
"I hope we can trade for enough of the grain to last for several weeks at least," Elizabeth said. "Carson is concerned there aren't enough grains in our diet at the moment."
"There's something else rye is good for," John drawled with a glance at Elizabeth as Ford grinned.
"Major, I don't want to know anything about that," Elizabeth replied with a small smile.
"Is there any potential for other, say more technological resources?" Rodney asked.
"Possibly," Teyla replied. "There are a few ruins that predate Laren's people arriving in the valley. They tell stories of the 'Old Ones', which may be the same people as the Ancestors. There are also several caves in the area used by Laren's people to store grain and hide from the Wraith."
John saw Rodney shudder at the mention of caves and changed the subject. "What are we offering in trade for the rye?"
"Laren's people are always in need of medical supplies," Teyla said. "Or it is possible we might be able to trade labor for the grain."
"Such as?" Elizabeth asked.
"Help with clearing fields. Building new structures. Anything requiring significant manpower," Teyla replied.
Elizabeth nodded. "Either of those options is workable." She looked at John and added, "Since Teyla knows the planet and the people, we aren't sending a MALP through first. You have a go for this afternoon."
John glanced from Ford to Rodney. "I think we can be ready to go in a couple of hours."
"In that case, good luck, Major," Elizabeth said and stood from the table.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Two hours later, they exited the 'gate and found a planet at the height of autumn. The trees lining the wide clearing were changing color, and there was a bit of a crisp, cool bite to the air.
It was also eerily quiet.
John frowned as he stepped away from the 'gate and turned in a slow circle. There were no birds singing or insects humming. Even the slight breeze through the limbs of the trees seemed muted.
"Anyone else getting a bad feeling?" Ford asked as he stopped next to the DHD.
"Something is not right," Teyla agreed.
"There are life signs in that direction," Rodney reported. He looked up from the handheld scanner and pointed at a path leading into the trees. "Most of the readings seem to be concentrated in one area, say a village or maybe a small town."
"That would be Laren's village," Teyla confirmed, and John thought she sounded relieved at the news there were life signs.
"All right," John said. "Teyla, since you know these people, you lead the way. Rodney and I will go next. Ford, you have our six. Hopefully, there's nothing to the weird vibe, but play it safe until we find the village."
Teyla nodded, adjusted her grip on the P-90 in her hands, and led the way across the clearing to the path.
John followed Rodney and couldn't help feeling a little exposed as they walked through the open meadow. There was more than enough room to fly a jumper, or worse, a dart through the 'gate. Why did the people here keep the area clear instead of letting the trees grow closer to the 'gate? he wondered. Basic defence would dictate making it as hard as possible for the Wraith to feed.
"Can someone tell me why we didn't bring a jumper?" Rodney asked, echoing Sheppard's thoughts. "Why are these villages always so far away from the 'gate anyway?"
"Distance gives you more time to hide, Doctor McKay," Teyla said as she glanced behind her. "People in the Pegasus galaxy learned a long time ago not to build near the stargates."
"While I can see the logic," Rodney replied as they climbed a small hill, "I'd think it would also make trading with other planets more difficult."
Teyla shrugged. "It is normal here."
"That still doesn't explain why we didn't come in a jumper," Rodney continued. "Were we planning on stuffing the grain in our packs and carrying it back to Atlantis?"
"Laren will lend us carts to bring the grain to the 'gate," Teyla explained, and John thought her patient tone sounded a little forced.
She glanced back at Rodney and added, "A jumper would have unnecessarily frightened Laren's people. They are not accustomed to seeing flying machines unless it is the Wraith."
Rodney grunted something under his breath but let the matter drop.
They hiked for another twenty minutes before Teyla suddenly stopped at the top of another rise. "Oh no," she whispered and turned a stricken gaze on Sheppard.
"What?" John asked as he moved around Rodney and stood next to her.
"Wraith," Teyla replied, her tone a mixture of sadness and anger.
John looked out on acres of scorched fields, then glanced at Rodney and Ford standing on Teyla's other side. He surveyed the valley for a moment, then turned to Teyla. "I'm not seeing any darts or drones down there."
"There's nothing on the scanner, either," Rodney said.
John glanced at Rodney then at Ford watching their backtrail, his P-90 at the ready. "Teyla, do you sense anything?"
Teyla closed her eyes and concentrated. "It is strange," she said a moment later. "There is … something." She opened her eyes and shook her head. "Perhaps, it is merely a residual impression. This was very recent."
"Didn't you say there were life signs?" Ford asked Rodney.
Rodney rechecked the Ancient device and nodded. "Still there. Looks like close to a hundred signatures. Still in the same area."
"And you're sure they aren't Wraith just waiting for us to walk in and say 'hi, what's for dinner'?" Ford asked, still watching their back trail.
Rodney looked up from the scanner with a scowl. "It's not that specific. You asked if there were life signs. Yes, there are about one hundred little dots off that direction." He pointed to a cluster of trees at the end of the valley opposite the scorched crops. A thin column of smoke rose from the same direction.
"Wraith have no need of fires, Major," Teyla said with a hopeful expression. "What I am feeling is more like a faint whisper. If there were close to one hundred Wraith waiting for us, the feeling would be much different."
"So there were survivors." John nodded. "All right. We'll keep going." He looked at Teyla then back at Ford. "But stay alert. We don't want any nasty surprises."
Yes, sir," Ford said as Teyla started off in the direction of the smoke.
They walked into what remained of the village fifteen minutes later. John saw few buildings still standing, and of those few, most had at least some damage. Several people worked clearing away rubble, piling up the stone to be reused, or sweeping clean areas already free of debris. He watched another group carefully laying out the foundation for a new building.
"Maybe we should just go," Rodney muttered, and took a step back toward the path. "These people are going to need anything they still have."
John was inclined to agree, but before he could say anything, a tall, young man with hair so blond it was almost white left one of the work groups and walked over to them. "Teyla!" he exclaimed and ran forward to hug her.
"Laren," Teyla replied with a tight smile as she disengaged from the hug. "I am happy to see you." She looked around the village with a concerned expression.
"Wraith. A few days ago," Laren said in answer to the unspoken question. "We were lucky. Most of us were up in the caves storing the harvest. Otherwise …" A sad expression crossed his face before it cleared just as quickly. He smiled again and asked. "What can we do for you?"
John was taken a bit by surprise at Laren's reaction. For all of the destruction, Laren seemed weirdly calm. John looked around at the other villagers and found similar expressions. Certainly, they were shaken, but by no means were they defeated as they worked to repair the damage and move on with their lives.
"Maybe we should be asking you that," John said as he watched all of the activity.
"I don't know you, friend," Laren replied. The question was plain in his tone, though the smile remained on his face.
"I am sorry, Laren," Teyla said and turned to the others. "This is Major John Sheppard, Lieutenant Aiden Ford, and Doctor Rodney McKay. They are friends of mine. From Atlantis. We came to trade for grain but now …"
Laren's face lit up at the news. "The Ancestor's city!" he exclaimed. "There had been rumors it was inhabited again. I am honored to meet any friend of Teyla's." Before John could stop him, Laren stepped forward and gave him the same sort of hug as when he'd greeted Teyla. Ford was next, but Rodney somehow managed to avoid the contact. Laren didn't seem offended and turned back to Teyla. "You wish to trade for food?"
"Yes. We were hoping for a sizable quantity of milled grain and possibly fruit as well as seed." She frowned as she looked around the village. "But, Laren, we do not want you to sacrifice what remains of your harvest."
"Nonsense!" Laren replied. "As I said, most of us were up in the caves when the Wraith came, the harvest was nearly finished, and we have plenty to spare. It was a good year. Come, come. We were about to have our meal. Join us, and we can discuss the terms of the trade."
Laren led them to a cleared space behind one of the still-standing buildings. Several dozen people milled around the area, setting out baskets of crusty, dark brown bread, plates of fruit that resembled apples, pears, and grapes, and another platter with some sort of meat on the open-air tables.
"The bread is made with our grain," Laren said as he helped to serve his guests.
Rodney looked uncomfortable as he looked around at the other tables near them, and John could understand why. Even if Laren claimed they had survived the culling with few losses, it still felt strange to be eating and laughing mere days after who knew how many people had been lost.
"Eat, eat!" Laren said as the team hesitated.
John watched the rest of the villagers talking and telling stories as they ate. After another moment's hesitation, he shrugged, and with a can't beat 'em, join 'em mindset, started on his own meal. He had to admit that the food was delicious; the fruit was juicy and sweet. The meat, some sort of domesticated beast he decided to think of like a cow, was tender and full of flavor. The bread was almost made for sopping up the juices. He glanced over at the rest of the team and saw they were enjoying the meal as well. Even Rodney could find little to complain about, though he did avoid most of the fruit.
Once everyone was done eating, the dishes were cleared and one of the women set a jug and several glasses on the table between Laren and John.
"It's wine," Laren explained as he poured each of them a glass. "It is a tradition to toast before beginning a trade."
Rodney studied the almost clear liquid in his glass. "What is it made from?" he asked. He picked up the glass and sniffed the contents.
"Grapes that have been fermented and then mixed with honey," Laren replied and held up his glass. "To new friendships," he said and clinked Teyla's glass and then John's.
"Friendship," John replied and sipped from his glass. The wine was surprisingly light and fruity.
He noticed that Ford drank his wine in a few swallows while Rodney sipped from his glass and then set it to one side. Laren smiled at each of them in turn, drank his wine and poured another.
"Now," He said and leant back in his chair. "How much grain do you require?"
John nodded to Teyla and listened as she began negotiating the grain seed they needed in exchange for help rebuilding the village. As they haggled back and forth, John watched Rodney and Ford roam around the village in the late afternoon sunlight. Ford was quickly drafted to help with clearing another building site while Rodney stood off to one side playing with the Ancient scanner. After a few minutes, Rodney wandered toward the edge of the village, and John split his time between watching his team and listening to Teyla haggle.
Twenty minutes later, Laren slapped a hand down on the table with another wide smile. "Done and done!" he said and poured more wine into his glass and then Teyla's.
"Major," Teyla said, turning to John, "I believe we have reached an agreement. Laren is willing to provide a quarter of his harvest in exchange for our help in rebuilding the village."
"Great," John replied and said to Laren, "We'll need to get in touch -"
"Major!" Teyla yelped. She jumped to her feet, her eyes wide as she searched the area and her P-90 at the ready. "There are Wraith nearby."
"What?" John said and scanned the surrounding area. "Can you tell how many?"
Teyla had her eyes closed, and her head cocked to one side. "There appears to be only one, but he is very close." She opened her eyes again and looked off to her right. "He is in that direction."
John looked around the village again. Ford, alerted by his movement, was already striding back over to the tables. Rodney was nowhere to be seen.
"Laren, get your people to safety. We'll take care of the Wraith," John ordered as he looked for Rodney.
Laren nodded and started herding people through the village and into the hills.
"Where's Rodney?" John asked even as Ford and Teyla shook their heads. He keyed his radio and said, "McKay? Where are you?" He paused for a moment and, when he didn't get an answer tried again, "Rodney, so help me, you better not have your radio off. Answer me."
"He was over there last time I saw him," Ford said and pointed off toward another destroyed building below the village to their left.
"Remind me to have a talk with Doctor McKay about proper field awareness when we get back," John growled and led Teyla and Ford off into the woods to the right in search of the Wraith.
With Teyla's ability, it wasn't difficult to find the Wraith lurking in the woods, stalking the villagers. John motioned them to close in on it from one side. The Wraith drone noticed them just before they opened fire, but it was far too late for it to do anything or attack. Once it stopped moving, John closed in and warily jostled it in the side a few times with one foot before firing three more rounds into its skull just to be sure it would stay dead.
"You sense anymore?" he asked Teyla as he scanned the woods, senses alert for another attack.
"No, Major," Teyla replied, "the faint whisper I noted earlier in the day is gone as well. He was alone."
John lowered his P-90 and scanned the woods one more time. "Did Laren mention anything about how many darts there were when the Wraith attacked them?" he asked and glanced from Teyla to Ford.
"He did not give an exact number, no," Teyla replied. "You suspect this one crash-landed and was left behind?"
"It makes sense," John replied and led the way back to the village.
They re-entered the village several minutes later. At the same time, Rodney ran into the village from the direction of the hills, his eyes wild and his Beretta in his hand.
"Where were you guys?" he asked, breathless, as he holstered the gun and came over to them. "I heard the gunfire and couldn't find you. Are you all right?"
John saw the mix of fear and anxiety on McKay's face, but at the moment, he didn't care. He grabbed McKay by one of his vest straps and started him moving out of the village and back toward the 'gate. "Teyla, tell Laren we'll be back with the manpower to help rebuild the village," he said in a low growl.
Teyla hurried off to pass the message along to Laren. "Laren will have the grain and seed ready when we return," she reported a few minutes later. She gave John a puzzled frown, but John ignored her.
"Move out," he ordered, still not letting go of McKay's vest.
Ford and Teyla exchanged a quick glance, then Ford took point and led the way back to the 'gate.
"Would you let go?" McKay said with a scowl once they left the village.
"Apparently, I need to keep you on a leash," John growled, letting go of the vest strap.
"What? What's that supposed to mean? And why are you mad?" McKay asked, confusion plain in his expression.
"It means you wandered off without telling anyone where you were going and you deliberating switched off your radio," Sheppard snapped with a glare in McKay's direction.
"No, I didn't," McKay said and glanced down at the radio in his vest pocket. He pulled it out and showed John. "See, it's on." He tapped the mic a couple of times. "And it's working."
"Not interested, McKay," Sheppard growled. "Next time, I'll just leave you to be Wraith food."
He brushed past McKay, his mood sour, and caught up to Ford several feet in front of them. He never saw the confused and hurt look on Rodney's face at the mention of being left behind.
The rest of the hike back to the stargate was made in strained, uncomfortable silence.
John felt his temper simmering just below the surface, and a part of him wondered why he was so angry. Yes, McKay had wandered off, but he'd done that before. He wasn't sure what to make of the radio. There was no reason for McKay to lie about having it off.
He knew part of his reaction came from fear. They'd been under attack, and he had no idea where McKay was at the time or if he was still in one piece. John would have understood feeling frustration with McKay over all of that, but this was raw anger. Several times on the walk back to the 'gate, he had wanted to turn around and yell at McKay for no real reason, but he had managed to control the urge.
They entered the clearing with the stargate thirty minutes later. McKay glanced at John, then walked over to the DHD and began to dial. John stood several feet away, alternately glaring at McKay and watching the lights on the 'gate. He caught more than one furtive glance in his direction as McKay dialled, and John realised McKay actually seemed afraid of him. Maybe he hadn't concealed his mounting anger as well as he thought, John realised as the wormhole formed with a whoosh.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"We have incoming travellers," Grodin announced as the stargate began to light up.
Elizabeth heard the announcement and glanced from the report she'd been reading to the 'gate as the lights ran around the outer ring. She glanced at her watch, then walked out of her office as the Marines on guard duty formed in front of the 'gate, weapons at the ready.
"It's Doctor McKay's IDC," Grodin said and looked up at Elizabeth.
"Lower the shield," she replied, and walked down the stairs to meet Sheppard's team.
"Welcome back," she said as Ford and Teyla came through the 'gate, followed a few seconds later by Rodney and Sheppard. "How did it go, Major?" she asked as they stopped in front of her.
She glanced from Rodney's bewildered expression to the angry scowl on Sheppard's face, and then the confused glance Ford and Teyla shared. What had happened during a simple trade negotiation? she wondered with a frown.
Major Sheppard glared at Rodney before turning to Elizabeth. "Teyla and Laren worked out a deal," he said shortly.
Elizabeth gave him an odd look at his stiff, formal delivery.
"Teyla?" Elizabeth asked, trying to keep the mood pleasant.
"Laren has agreed to offer one-quarter of his total harvest in exchange for assistance rebuilding his village," Teyla told her with a tiny smile and another glance at Sheppard.
"Rebuilding?" Elizabeth asked, then held up her hand. "Never mind, this sounds like it could be a long story. Major, get your team checked out and cleaned up. We'll debrief in an hour."
"Yes, ma'am," Sheppard said in that same flat voice and waved the rest of the team out of the gateroom ahead of him.
"Major?" Elizabeth called, and when Sheppard turned around, she asked, "Is everything all right? You seem rather tense for a successful trade meeting."
Sheppard gave her a sarcastic smile. "Like you said, it's a long story."
"Then I'll be waiting to hear it."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Elizabeth glanced up from her computer as Major Sheppard walked into the conference room, the last to arrive. She was surprised when Sheppard deliberately sat as far away from Rodney as he could get, shooting a poisonous look across the table as he lounged back in his chair. Elizabeth glimpsed a moment of hurt and confusion on Rodney's face before his mask of indifference fell back into place. Teyla and Ford simply looked worried as they glanced from Sheppard to Rodney and back again.
Elizabeth forced herself to refrain from outright asking what was going on and turned to Teyla. "Teyla, why don't you start."
She listened as Teyla laid out the details of the trade agreement and tried not to be distracted by the continued unspoken battle going on between Sheppard and Rodney.
"You said he was willing to trade a quarter of his harvest," Elizabeth said once Teyla was finished speaking. "How much grain is that, exactly?"
"In your measurements, it would be close to two hundred pounds."
"That much," Weir said elatedly. That would be enough to last a couple of months at least. "That is much better than I'd expected." She glanced down at her notes. "You mentioned our side of the trade would be in manpower to help Laren and his people rebuild their village. They can afford to give up that much of their harvest?"
Teyla nodded. "I believe so. Laren mentioned it had been a very good year. He is also willing to provide several bushels of seed grain for Halling and the others on the mainland to start growing our own crop."
"I'm not seeing the problem here, Major," she said with a puzzled glance at Sheppard. "The trade agreement seems more than generous. You said it was a long story …"
Sheppard sat forward in his chair and clenched his hands on the table in front of him. "Oh, it has nothing to do with the trade agreement," he said with a deceptive calm and another glare across the table. "It has to do with a certain member of my team wandering off while we were under attack by a Wraith!"
"Hey!" Rodney exclaimed, immediately on the defensive. "I already explained that. The radio was never off! I was down in the ruins looking for any technology or research we could use. I thought that was my job, Major."
"There were still Wraith on the planet?" Elizabeth tried to ask, but Sheppard ignored her.
"Your job, McKay, is to go where I tell you when I tell you," Sheppard replied, his voice rising as he spoke.
"I don't need this," Rodney said, his own temper rising as he stood up. "I don't know what your problem is, Major, but I'm not going to sit here and take this." He stalked over to the door and barely gave the panel a chance to twist open before he stormed through it.
"Major Sheppard!" Elizabeth barked as Sheppard tried to leave as well. "What is this about Wraith still on the planet?" she asked once she had his attention.
Sheppard glared a moment longer at Rodney's retreating back, then stiffly turned to Elizabeth. "Probably a straggler," he finally said. "There was only one. My guess is he either crashed his dart or wasn't fast enough to get back through the 'gate with the rest."
"And Rodney was missing during this attack? That doesn't sound like him," Elizabeth said with a puzzled frown.
"Major Sheppard did try to contact Doctor McKay through the radio, but he did not respond," Teyla said. "We were left with no choice but to try to find the Wraith without him."
"I see." Elizabeth looked at the rest of the team in front of her. "It sounds like this mission was more than any of us bargained for. I suggest you call it a day and get some rest. Things may look different in the morning."
No sooner had she stopped talking, and Sheppard was out the door, thankfully headed in a different direction than the hallway Rodney had used a few minutes before.
"Teyla," Elizabeth called as Teyla was about to leave the room. Teyla glanced at Ford then turned back toward the table.
Elizabeth waited until Ford left the room, then asked, "Can you think of anything that would cause Major Sheppard to be acting the way he is?"
Teyla shook her head. "Nothing. We were all together for most of the afternoon. Perhaps Major Sheppard is still dealing with some residual anger over the fact Doctor McKay was missing during the Wraith attack. Rather like a parent who will hug a child after finding him and then yell at him for disappearing in the first place."
Elizabeth nodded and watched as Teyla left the room. She gathered up her notes and walked back to her office, considering Teyla's hypothesis. It did make a sort of sense, she realised. Major Sheppard was very protective of his people. She just wondered if Sheppard had bothered with the concern before moving onto the anger part of the equation.
A few hours later, she was busy going through Sergeant Stackhouse's team reports regarding their latest planet survey when Carson Beckett's voice came over the radio. "Beckett to Doctor Weir."
Elizabeth gave her earpiece a distracted tap as she read through the last report. "Carson? What's wrong?"
"I need you to come down to the infirmary right away," he replied. "There's something you need to see."
The note of barely contained worry in his voice broke through Elizabeth's distraction, and she looked up from the report. "What's happened?"
"It would be easier for you to see for yourself," Beckett replied.
Elizabeth set aside the report and stood. "I'll be right there."
She walked into the infirmary a few minutes later and looked around for Beckett. "Carson?" she called as she walked toward his office.
"Back here," he replied and stuck his head out of the medical lab behind the infirmary.
"What's the problem?" she asked as she came into the room.
Carson sat on a stool in front of a microscope, his face a mask of worry. "Where are Major Sheppard and the rest of his team?"
Elizabeth frowned. "I told them to take it easy the rest of the day."
Beckett glanced at the microscope and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Carson, what's happened?" Elizabeth asked as her own worry notched up a level.
Beckett sighed and dropped his hand. "We need to find them," he told her. "And quickly. I think they've all been poisoned by something on that planet."
Elizabeth stared at Carson, not sure she heard him right. "They were poisoned? None of them seemed ill during the debriefing."
Carson scooted out of the way and offered her a chance to see what was under magnification. "Trust me, they will be. And Elizabeth, this could be very serious." She could see the worry plain in his expression as well as hear it in the thickening of his accent.
She peered at the slide under the microscope for a moment, but she had no idea what she was looking at. She looked back at Carson instead. "All right, walk me through it."
He waved at the microscope. "That is a culture from Rodney's blood sample taken after he returned from that planet. What you're seeing is an infection."
Elizabeth looked through the microscope again. "What sort of infection?" she asked as Beckett stood and started to pace.
Carson stopped in the doorway separating the lab from the main infirmary. "You said they were going there to trade for grain, correct?"
"That's right," Elizabeth replied and looked over at him. "Teyla said she had traded with Laren in the past. She thought he would be a good contact for us."
"Was this grain anything like wheat or rye?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Teyla said it was very similar to rye. Why? Carson, what's going on?"
Beckett walked back to the table with the microscope, sat down, and peered at the slide. He nodded and looked up at Elizabeth. "If I didn't know better, I'd say they were all suffering from a kind of ergot poisoning."
"I've never heard of it."
Carson smiled. "These days, most people haven't, but it used to be fairly common on Earth a few hundred years ago. On Earth, it was caused by a fungus growing on grains like wheat or rye. That fungus was ingested by people or animals. The people affected were very sick, including such symptoms as hallucinations and convulsions."
He shook his head. "No one at the time really knew what was happening, and many people died." Carson pointed to the sample under the microscope. "This is different. It's not a fungus. From what I've been able to discover so far, it seems to be more like a kind of bacteria, but the result is the same. All four of them are going to get very sick."
"Is this disease contagious?" Elizabeth asked as worst-case scenarios of a city-wide epidemic played in her head.
"Thankfully, no. The only way to get ergot poisoning is by ingesting the fungus. The most likely scenario for Major Sheppard's team is that they ate something made from the contaminated grain while visiting the planet."
Elizabeth started to breathe again. "And you think this is close enough to this ergot poisoning that we don't have to worry about anyone else becoming ill?" she asked, needing to hear the confirmation.
"Correct." Carson scooted the stool over to a nearby computer and started to type. "Even though it appears to be more like a bacteria, which by the way, could make it easier to treat, assuming we have an antibiotic that will work, I still think a person would have to physically swallow it to become infected."
Elizabeth thought back to how Major Sheppard had acted during the debriefing and considered his behavior in this new light. "Could this ergot poisoning affect a person's mood or temper?"
Carson looked up from the laptop and stared at Elizabeth. "Aye, very possibly." He sat back on the stool. "You've seen something already, haven't you?"
Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest and nodded. "Major Sheppard nearly took Rodney's head off during the debriefing." She saw Carson start to smile and shook her head, letting her worry show on her face. "No, this wasn't their usual bickering. John was cold, hard, angry. He wanted to cause pain. Honestly, I've never seen him like that."
"And of course, it would be Rodney he focuses on," Carson mumbled, then looked up at Elizabeth. "We need them back here, now. As I said, ergot poisoning is very serious."
"But you said this wasn't the same thing."
"Aye, which means I don't know exactly how to treat it, and time could be a factor," Carson replied.
"Well, let's try the easiest way first," Elizabeth said and tapped her earpiece. "Major Sheppard? This is Weir. Come in, please."
Beckett tapped his earpiece and glanced up at Elizabeth when there was no response. "Maybe he's asleep?"
Elizabeth shook her head and waited a few more seconds. She was about the hail Sheppard again when Sheppard finally replied.
"What now," he asked, the anger evident in his voice. "I thought we had the day off."
Elizabeth glanced at Carson, who grimaced and nodded. Elizabeth took a deep breath and did her best to remain calm. "You do, Major, but there is something I think you need to see in the infirmary."
"What? Did McKay succeed in blowing himself up or something?" Sheppard asked.
Carson hissed in a breath, and Elizabeth noted the shift back to using Rodney's last name.
"No, nothing like that," she replied and traded another worried look with Carson. "Just something Doctor Beckett wanted to run by you. It shouldn't take very long." Elizabeth knew her tone was more pleading than authoritative but hoped John wouldn't notice.
"Fine. Whatever. Give me a couple of minutes."
Elizabeth signed off the radio and blew out a breath. "Why is he fixated on Rodney?"
Beckett sighed. "Who knows. It could be the Major's natural concern for Rodney has morphed into anger. It could be something that happened on the planet right before he started getting sick, and that along with the bacteria has affected him mentally."
"Teyla mentioned Rodney was missing for a short time while they were dealing with a lone Wraith. Could that have something to do with it?"
"Aye, very possibly." Beckett shook his head. "And Rodney's reactions will be extreme as well. Remember, he's infected, too. As are Teyla and Lieutenant Ford. Elizabeth, we need to get them all in here as soon as possible, before they get worse or …"
"Or do something they'll regret later," she finished with a nod. She reached for her earpiece again. "Well, it worked once. Let's try it again," Elizabeth said and keyed her radio. "Lieutenant Ford, this is Doctor Weir."
This time the wait was even longer before he answered. "Whatever Major Sheppard said about me is wrong, Doctor Weir," Ford said without any preamble, his tone clearly defensive. "Don't you believe him! I stood right next to Teyla as we fought that Wraith on the planet."
Elizabeth and Carson exchanged puzzled looks. "Lieutenant?"
"He can't charge me with anything," Ford insisted. "Teyla was there. She'll tell you I shot that Wraith several times."
"I see," Weir said hesitantly. "Why don't you meet me and we can discuss it? I'm in the infirmary with Doctor Beckett if you'd like to talk."
"No, ma'am, no way. You're in league with Sheppard. I know you are. You'll just get Beckett to give me something so I can't defend myself. I'll prove it to you, I did my job. Major Sheppard is trying to cashier me out of the military."
Elizabeth heard the distinctive click as he closed the channel. "That wasn't anger," she said to Beckett as she tapped off her radio.
"No, that sounded more like paranoia," Carson agreed. "It appears this wee beastie manifests itself in different ways depending on the person it infects."
"Okay, I'm here. What's so damn important it couldn't wait until tomorrow?" Sheppard called from the main infirmary.
"Get him talking, and I'll get a sedative ready," Beckett whispered.
Elizabeth nodded and walked out into the main infirmary. She tried to smile as she led John over to one of the diagnostic beds and stood next to him with her hands behind her back. "Thank you for coming, Major. I know your team has had a bit of a hard day."
John grunted but said nothing as he rubbed his forehead.
Elizabeth saw the pain lines around his eyes and wondered just how bad the headache was. "Carson wanted me to know there could be a problem with the grain from Laren's planet, and I wanted to get your opinion before we went ahead with the trade." She'd learned from years of diplomatic training that a bit of flattery went a long way with angry leaders.
John crossed his arms. "How should I know if there's a problem with their grain?" he asked harshly. "You should ask Teyla. She did most of the talking."
Elizabeth nodded as Carson came up beside her, dropped a syringe into her hand, and casually stepped over to Sheppard. "I will, but I wanted to get your impressions of Laren's people. Did you notice anything strange in the village or -"
Carson grasped Sheppard's arm and gave Elizabeth a sharp nod. "Now!" he said.
Before Elizabeth could move or even realise what was happening, Sheppard twisted out of Beckett's hold and had Carson face down on the diagnostic bed with one arm wrenched painfully behind his back. He wasn't even breathing hard.
"Major," Beckett groaned and winced as John wrenched his shoulder higher.
Elizabeth saw Beckett's face screw up in pain as he tried to free himself. Elizabeth knew Carson was stronger than he looked, but he wasn't strong enough to escape Sheppard's hold. Even as she watched Carson struggle, John responded by pulling Beckett's arm farther up his spine.
Carson groaned again, and Elizabeth knew she couldn't wait any longer. She stepped around the bed, jabbed the needle into John's arm, and pressed down on the plunger.
"What the hell," Sheppard demanded as he released Carson and turned on her.
Elizabeth took a hurried step back and prayed the sedative would kick in quickly as she dropped the empty syringe and held her hands away from her body. "John, you're sick," she tried to explain, her voice calm even as she realised he could seriously hurt her without trying. "You've been infected by something on the planet. We only want to help."
"Help?" Sheppard growled in a low, angry tone as he stalked toward her. "You call him," he jerked a thumb over his shoulder, "attacking me helping?"
She glanced at Carson behind Sheppard, carefully holding his shoulder as he closed in on John again.
"You need to calm down, Major," Beckett said, and Sheppard spun around to face him.
"Don't tell me to calm down," Sheppard ground out. He took another step toward Carson, then grabbed the edge of the bed as he started to tilt to one side. "What did you do to me?" he demanded, but his voice along with the rest of his body faltered as he started to fall.
Beckett caught him before he hit the floor, and Elizabeth saw his face pale as Sheppard's weight pulled at his sore shoulder. "Help me get him on the bed," Beckett grunted in a strained voice.
"Are you all right?" Elizabeth asked once John was on the bed, and much to Elizabeth's dismay, restrained.
"Aye," Carson replied and rubbed at the sore shoulder joint. "I don't think he did any permanent damage."
"That wasn't the safest plan," she admonished with a tiny smile. "Weren't you the one telling Rodney last month to not pick fights with the military?"
"It worked, and that's the important part." Carson shrugged, then winced, and started checking John's vitals. "I'll see what I can do to treat the infection," he said. "You need to find Teyla, Ford, and Rodney and get them down here as quickly as possible."
Elizabeth gave John one last look and noticed he twitched on the bed even with the sedative still in his system, nodded to Beckett, and left.