Thank you to everyone who has left review or faves on other stories in this series. It means a lot that you all are enjoying these stories so much.

Special thanks to Lyn for beta reading!

This story takes place immediately following events in The Defiant One.

His arm ached, his chest hurt, and he had sand in places he didn't really want to think about, but what was really bothering John was Rodney being quiet. McKay was never quiet. He had an opinion about everything and was more than happy to share it with whoever happened to be close by. Now, he stared at the Ancient life sign detector in his hand, changed a setting, and stared at the device again. Silently. It was making John nervous.

He heard something buzz through the atmosphere and looked up to see Jumper Three pass overhead. John glanced at Rodney still standing, staring at the scanner, then took a few steps away from their jumper and keyed his radio to a private channel. "Ford, this is Sheppard. Come in."

"Ford here, sir. We see you and will land next to your jumper."

"Negative, Lieutenant," John said softly with another glance at Rodney. "There is a downed Wraith ship about three miles north of our position."

"We see it, sir," Ford confirmed after a short pause.

"You'll need to land over there and retrieve the bodies of Doctors Abrams and Gall."


"You heard me, Lieutenant. Retrieve the bodies and then come back here. Do not, repeat, do not, bring any of this up with McKay." John glanced back at Rodney still fiddling with the Ancient scanner, apparently ignoring John's side of the radio conversation.

"We understand, Major," Teyla replied. "Are you both all right?"

"I'm a bit banged up, but we're fine," John replied. "Rodney needs to do some work on the jumper before we can leave, so check back here before you head out. Just in case we need to hitch a ride home with you."

"Understood, sir. Ford out."

John tapped off the radio and went back over to the jumper.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Rodney asked, looking up from the scanner and giving Sheppard a sideways look.

John sighed as he sank down in the shadow of the jumper. "I'm fine." He saw Rodney's skeptical look and added, "Really. It's not that bad. Just a lot of bruises and Carson will probably need to stitch up my arm. Nothing serious, I promise." He waved a hand at the jumper. "Don't worry about it, just see what you can do to get the jumper fixed."

Rodney gave him one last penetrating look before he reached out a hand toward the edge of the shield.

"Don't!" John shouted, jumping to his feet with a groan as he grabbed his ribs.

Rodney let out a yelp of pain as he dropped the scanner and stumbled back, shaking his hand, and glaring at the jumper.

"... Do that," John finished. "I already learned the hard way, it kinda stings."

"How did he manage to reroute the power like that?" Rodney wondered out loud as he rubbed his still throbbing hand.

"You all right?" John asked.

"Yes, yes," Rodney replied, sounding distracted. He picked up the scanner and went back to studying the readout, mumbling to himself about power conversion theories as he sat in the shade.

John paced around the jumper a few times dividing his attention between watching their surroundings and watching Rodney. There really wasn't much to see; a few of the lightning bugs buzzed around some of the scrubby plant life on the hillock where McKay had hidden just before the drone hit and that was it. He watched the shadows move across the sand and went back to pacing.

He walked around the ship a few times before his brain caught up with what his eyes were telling him. The shadows weren't just moving, they were lengthening. He looked up and found the sun several degrees lower than when he was fighting the Wraith. The lightning bugs had all disappeared and the air felt distinctly cooler. He looked over at McKay to see Rodney absently rubbing at his bare arms. They needed to get inside the jumper, sooner rather than later.

"Rodney, you might want to move this along a little faster," John said, stopping beside the jumper and looking down at Rodney who was still studying the scanner readout.

"I have to figure out what the Wraith did before I can even start to fix it," he replied, looking up with a glare.

"I'm just saying, you need to pick up the pace. The sun is starting to set. I don't think we want to be out here at night."

"What? Why?" Rodney asked, thoroughly distracted by the shield, seemingly oblivious to the dropping temperature and John's concern. "I doubt there's anything still alive besides those glowing bugs, and Ford wiped out a good number of them with the drone."

"I'm not worried about animals," John told him with a tired sigh as he held his ribs with one arm. "Like I said before, I think it gets cold around here at night. We're going to want to be inside instead of outside when the sun goes down."

Rodney looked up from the scanner and glanced around. "Just how cold are we talking about?"

"Cold enough for a sort of icy snow to form," John told him.

Rodney swallowed and nodded. "All right, I think I have an idea what the Wraith did. Let's try the easy solution first." He held out his hand. "Give me your remote."

John shook his head even as he ripped open the top of one of his vest pockets and pulled out the little device. "You sure about this?" he asked. "Seems too simple to me."

Rodney shrugged and pushed the button that would normally deactivate the cloak. "Occam's Razor, the simple solution is usually the correct one. No way to know unless I try." He reached out a tentative hand and received another shock. "Ow!" he yelped, and flapped his hand in the air again. "Of course, it couldn't be that simple. Idiot," he berated himself.

John tried not to grin or let the 'I told you so' escape his mouth, but Rodney saw something in his expression anyway and snapped, "It's not funny! That hurts!"

"Sorry," John replied, sounding anything but apologetic.

Rodney flexed his hand a few more times, then sat in the deepening shade of the jumper and pried the cover off the remote control mumbling to himself.

"Major?" Ford called over the radio.

John glanced at Rodney before taking a few steps around to the back of the jumper.

"Go ahead."

"Sir? We found Doctor Abrams and Doctor Gall, sir, but …" John heard Ford take a deep breath. "Umm, sir? Doctor Gall didn't die from the Wraith attack, sir. He was shot, and … It looks self-inflicted, sir."

John scrubbed a hand over his face as he glanced around the corner of the jumper to check on Rodney. The number of 'sirs' Ford had used in his report gave John an idea of just how bad it had to be. Ford had seen a lot during his tour in Iraq and if this was upsetting him … "Damn," John whispered.

"Sir?" Ford asked over the still open radio channel.

"Nothing, Lieutenant," John replied. "Just get back here as soon as you can."

"Yes, sir. Ford out."

That explained a lot, John realised as he went back to the corner of the jumper. Gall had committed suicide, and Rodney had probably seen the whole thing. No wonder he was acting so strange.

The sun had almost set when Jumper Three landed a short distance away. Ford and Teyla came down the rear ramp, their expressions a mixture of sadness and worry as they looked around.

John stepped away from his silent observation of Rodney and met them as they came closer. "Steer clear of the jumper," he warned them as he walked over to meet them. "We have a technical problem McKay is still working on."

"What sort of problem?" Ford asked as he stopped a few feet away from the corner of the jumper.

"The Wraith managed to put some sort of shield around the ship," John replied, and he couldn't hide the disgust in his tone. "Rodney is still trying to fix it."

Ford rubbed his hands together as the temperature dipped and the sun went down. "I'm not sure we'll all fit in the other jumper, sir," Ford said in a low voice. "Not with …"

John nodded. "Rodney?" he called and went back to the other side of the jumper. "You gonna be able to get us inside any time soon?"

Rodney glared up at him as he put the cover back on the remote control. "You do realise if you'd been stuck out here with anyone else, you'd freeze to death, right?" he asked with a scowl as he stood. "This isn't as easy as it looks."

"Just tell me you've got it fixed," John replied mildly.

"I've got it fixed," Rodney told him and pushed the button on the remote again. This time there was a slight shimmer in the air, and when Rodney reached out a cautious hand, he didn't receive another shock.

"Good work," Sheppard said with a smile before he led the way inside the slightly warmer shuttle. He watched as Rodney followed him inside, shed his tac-vest, and glowered at the partially dismantled control box.

Supplies were strewn all over the benches and the floor, wires dangled from the control box in the rear section and several crystals were scattered over the bench under it. John went into the cockpit and found more wires hanging loose and the panel under the front console propped open. He tapped a few of the controls trying to get the lights powered up and the rest of the environmental systems up and running, but nothing changed. All of the controls seemed dead.

He shook his head at the damage and started to have second thoughts about even Rodney's ability to get the jumper flight worthy. He really didn't want to have to abandon the little craft, and he didn't relish the idea of Rodney spending fifteen hours in the same ship as his two dead scientists, but he realised they might not have much choice in the matter.

John walked back into the rear section where Rodney had a light stylus in one hand and was studying the control box. Teyla and Ford had a couple of large flashlights wedged into the storage netting giving the rear compartment, at least, some light as they picked up the various storage containers and supplies thrown around by the Wraith. They stored what items they could back in the netting and set the rest aside to put away once Rodney was done with the control box. John watched as McKay fingered the wires hanging out of the conduit cover above the storage netting, frowning and mumbling to himself as he poked at the crystals in the box.

"So, how bad is it?" John asked as he stood just behind Rodney.

"It's a mess," Rodney grumbled. "It looks like the Wraith pulled crystals from three different systems in order to switch the cloak to a shield." He looked over at John. "It's going to take me a little while to get this all put back together again."

"But you can fix it, right?" John asked with a glance out the rear of the jumper at the encroaching darkness.

Rodney poked at a couple more crystals before he answered. "Yes," he replied. "Nothing is really broken, it's just a matter of replacing crystals and reprogramming a few things."

John nodded and tapped his radio," Sergeant Markham, come in."

"Markham here, sir."

"Rodney thinks he can get us up and running again. Go ahead and head back to Atlantis. We'll follow as soon as we can."

"Copy that, Major. We'll see you when you get back. Markham out."

John heard the rattle of sand against the skin of the jumper as Markham took off then sat heavily on the bench opposite Rodney.

"Major Sheppard," Teyla said. "Perhaps now would be a good time for one of us to look at your arm." She found the first aid kit tossed under the other bench near Rodney's feet and held it out to Ford.

"And his ribs," Rodney said as an aside as he tested various crystals in the control box. "Don't forget his ribs."

John glared at Rodney's back.

"Sir?" Ford asked as he held up the kit.

"Fine," John told him and Ford started untying the pressure bandage. He watched Rodney poke at the control box as a distraction from Ford poking at his arm.

"Okay, yes, that's …" Rodney paused for a moment as he touched a few of the crystals with the light stylus. "... That's pretty ingenious, actually," he finished grudgingly.

John watched as he pulled several crystals out of the control box and replaced them from the pile of scattered crystals on the bench in front of him.

"Care to share with the class?" Sheppard asked and winced as Ford started to clean his arm. He glanced at it once Ford had it cleaned up and saw it was deeper than he first thought. Okay, so maybe a little more than just a flesh wound, he thought as Ford finished cleaning out the wound and unrolled a fresh pressure bandage.

John caught Rodney rubbing his head and wondered if the headache was caused by the stress of losing two of his people, the adrenaline wearing off from fighting the Wraith, or if he was reacting to John's injuries. Probably a combination of all three, Sheppard thought as he pawed through the first aid kit on the bench beside him and found the bottle of ibuprofen. John held the bottle out to Teyla as he glanced at Rodney.

She nodded, shook out a couple of the pills, and tapped Rodney on the arm.

Rodney twitched slightly at her touch, saw the pills, and gave John a withering look. John stared back, one eyebrow cocked, not backing down. Rodney sighed and looked away from him before he took the pills and the bottle of water Teyla held out for him. "Thanks," he mumbled to her.

"You were saying about the ship?" John asked once the pills were swallowed.

"It looks like the Wraith wired one of the power recyclers into the cloaking field, that's what gave it the charge," Rodney replied and sorted through the crystals still on the bench in front of him. He picked one up and slotted it back in the control box. "Then it used the existing cloaking system and redirected the inertial dampeners to create a bubble around the ship." He glanced back at John. "That way it remained invisible but was still able to repel anything that touched it."

John nodded. "But you can put it all back the way it was, right?"

"Yes, of course, I can," Rodney snapped. "It's just going to take a while," he mumbled to himself as he turned back to the control box. He pulled out a few more crystals and added, "Although, a shield like this might be something we want to consider in future. It could really come in handy."

"That's something you can play with once we're back in Atlantis," John told him. "Just get my ship put back together so we can go home."

"Yes, yes, fine," Rodney replied and went back to examining the control box.

Ford finished wrapping the clean bandage around John's arm and gave his commander an awkward look. "I really should take a look at your ribs, sir. Just in case."

John shot another glare at Rodney's back. "I'm sure my ribs are fine," John said with a huff of impatience. He had just about reached his limit for the fussing by his well-meaning team.

Rodney must have sensed the gaze drilling into his back since he turned around, gave John a tired, but concerned, look and headed for the cockpit.

Ford stood, patiently waiting until John relented. He unbuckled his tac-vest, then lifted his t-shirt, seeing the bruising on his chest for the first time. He hissed a few times as Ford's careful fingers found a particularly tender spot, but he didn't feel anything grind or move as Ford prodded his rib cage.

"I think it's just bruises, sir," Ford said once he was done. "There should be some chemical ice packs in the kit, that should help." Ford dug through the first aid kit and came up with one large ice pack. He squeezed the pack to mix the chemicals together, then handed it over.

John took the ice pack with a nod of thanks, pulled his t-shirt back down, and followed McKay into the cockpit. Rodney was on his back under the main console, his legs sticking out between the two forward chairs, a few more crystals piled on his stomach.

John sat in the pilot's chair and listened as Rodney puttered with the control board under the console. He heard him mumbling as he worked out what the Wraith had done as he reassembled the system, making mental notes to remember how this or that system had been altered to recreate the changes once they were back in Atlantis.

"Rodney, how's it going up here?" John asked a few minutes later as he adjusted the ice pack on his chest.

Rodney crawled out from under the console and checked over the co-pilot's panel then pushed a series of buttons. Lights bloomed to life throughout the jumper and Rodney smiled faintly. "The power recyclers are fixed and the shield has been dismantled so the inertial dampeners are flight-ready. The cloak isn't fixed. If you want that done too, it's going to take another half hour."

John grinned. "Good job," he said. "Never doubted you for a moment." He noticed Rodney's hands shaking slightly as he checked over his repairs and tried to remember when the last time was he saw McKay eat anything. Before we do anything else, John thought to himself, he needs to eat.

"Come on," he said as he pulled Rodney to his feet and led the way back to the rear of the jumper. "I say we break out the MREs, have some dinner, and then head back to Atlantis."

Rodney looked like he was about to argue, another bad sign in John's mind. McKay was not one to skip meals.

Before McKay could protest the idea, John and Ford exchanged a quick look. "I could eat," Ford agreed with a tight smile and started looking for the storage bin with the food rations. He found it shoved under the bench and handed it over to John.

John gave Rodney the one meatloaf meal they had and watched surreptitiously as he picked at the food as the others talked about visiting the mainland once they returned to Atlantis. To John's disappointment, Rodney ate about half of the ready-made meal before setting the rest aside and standing to study the crystals in the control box again.

John noticed Teyla giving McKay a sad look, but shook his head when she started to say something to him. "We'll need to sleep in shifts," John said once their dinner was cleared away. "I'll take the first watch, get us headed back toward Atlantis. You three make yourselves as comfortable as you can back here."

John made his way back to the front of the ship, sat in the pilot's chair, and started his pre-flight checks. He wasn't surprised when Rodney followed him and settled in the co-pilot's seat a few minutes later.

"You should get some sleep," John told him with a quick glance. "It's fifteen hours back to Atlantis. You'll need to take over flying at some point."

"I want to make sure everything is working the way it should first," Rodney replied.

John could hear the exhaustion in McKay's voice and knew he probably wasn't in much better shape. His arm hurt, and his ribs still ached even if they weren't broken. He glanced over at Rodney. "I thought you said everything was fixed."

"It is!" Rodney snapped tiredly. "I just want to make sure it all stays fixed."

John glanced in the back of the jumper and saw Ford stretched out on one of the benches and assumed Teyla was asleep on the other. He closed the bulkhead door between the two compartments, turned back to Rodney, and asked carefully, "You sure you're all right?"

Rodney gave him a fleeting look then turned to look out the window, ignoring the question and the implied offer to talk.

John gave him a few moments to answer and when he didn't get any response, decided to drop the matter, for now. He fired up the engines and lifted off.

The planet's surface quickly dwindled below them until it was little more than a tannish spot as he made an orbit to get them pointed in the right direction for home. They passed the Ancient satellite that had started this whole mess about an hour later and he noticed Rodney refused to even look at it; he fiddled with the controls on the co-pilot panel and never looked up.

They were another hour into their return flight when John noticed the tapping at the other panel had stopped. He glanced over to see Rodney was finally asleep, his head cocked to one side, snoring softly as he slumped in the chair next to John.

"Finally," John muttered to himself. "Long may it last." If what he suspected was true, he knew it wouldn't be long before the nightmares started.

He checked their position on the HUD and nodded at the straight line guiding him back to Atlantis. Markham's jumper showed up as an occasional blip just at the edge of the scanner's range as John goosed the engines as much as he dared to get them back as soon as possible.

He looked over at Rodney again as he twisted slightly in the chair and shook his head sadly.

The trip was supposed to be relaxing and maybe a bit fun for a change. Bring a couple of McKay's scientists out to see the satellite and at the same time let Rodney play with the jumper a little bit. Instead, the two scientists were dead, he was injured, and Rodney had probably witnessed Gall kill himself. John sighed and looked out the window at the endless night wondering what he could do to get Rodney to talk to him.

Rodney shifted in his chair again and started murmuring under his breath.

"Damn," John mumbled to himself and pursed his lips into a frown. "I was really hoping he'd get more sleep before the nightmares started."

Rodney's muttering was getting louder and John could make out a few words as he twisted in the chair.

"Changed … Go on … Save the day …" Rodney jerked awake, one arm hitting the bulkhead beside the co-pilots chair before he shuddered and covered his face with his hands.

John laid a hand on Rodney's arm for a moment to help ground him. "You okay?" he asked softly as he took back control of the jumper with both hands.

Rodney scrubbed a hand over his face and nodded.

"Wanna talk about it?" John asked and glanced over at him. "Everyone else is asleep," he added with a nod at the closed door between the cockpit and the rear compartment. "No one to hear except me."

Rodney took a deep, shuddering breath, held it for a moment, then let it out. "No," he replied bluntly. "He killed himself. What else is there to say?"

John frowned, but when Rodney only glared back at him, he dropped the subject. They sat in awkward silence for another thirty minutes before John gave up. "If you aren't going to sleep, I will," he said. "Switch places with me."

Rodney startled out of his contemplation of the darkness outside and gave John a surprised look. "You mean it?"

John nodded as he stood up and traded places with Rodney. "It's still another twelve hours before we get back." John settled as best he could in the co-pilot chair. "Try to keep it in a straight line this time and wake me up in a few hours to take over."

Rodney grasped the controls tightly as he stared up at the HUD, then out the front screen. John glanced at the display long enough to make sure Rodney was keeping to a reasonably straight course, then closed his eyes and tried to sleep. McKay's issues wouldn't be solved in the few hours they had before their return to Atlantis, but John promised himself he wouldn't let those issues fester for very long. He just hoped Rodney would accept the help.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Atlantis glowed with warm yellows and pinks in the early morning light as John brought the ship down toward the control tower and the jumper bay. He wasn't surprised to find Elizabeth waiting for them as the rear hatch opened, but he felt Rodney stiffen beside him; McKay was obviously not expecting a welcoming committee.

"John," Elizabeth greeted as he stepped off the ramp. "How are you?" she asked, glancing at his arm.

"A bit bloody and bruised but otherwise fine," John said with a slight smile.

Rodney snorted behind him but said nothing.

"All of you get checked out and cleaned up. We'll debrief once you've had a chance to get something to eat."

John watched as McKay hurried from the bay, not bothering to acknowledge Weir's statement.

John motioned for Teyla and Ford to go ahead, then said, "Elizabeth? We need to talk," he said and jerked his head back toward the rear of the jumper.

She made a face but followed him back into the jumper and sat on one of the benches.

"Maybe we should hold off on that debrief," John suggested as he took a seat on the opposite bench. "I assume Markham told you what happened."

Elizabeth clasped her hands in front of her as she bent forward with her arms braced on her knees. "Yes, he did," she replied and tipped her head down. "That's why we need to do this quickly. There have been some questions raised by a few of Doctor Gall's friends. They want to know what happened. The sooner we can give them answers, the better. I don't think either of us wants a repeat of the rumors that spread after the Genii came to call."

John scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration. "He doesn't need this," he said softly then looked up, he expression angry. "Damn it, Elizabeth, he witnessed it! He needs time to deal with it before we start questioning him about it."

"In a perfect world, I'd agree with you, John. But as we've discovered over the last few months, Atlantis and the Pegasus galaxy are anything but perfect."

"Fine," John said bluntly and stood. "But we do this my way. The whole team together, no taking him off alone. You ask him what happened and don't push for more than he's willing to say."

"John -"

"Gall shot himself," John told her, his tone hard. "Have you ever seen what a body looks like after something like that? It's not pretty. Don't push him, Elizabeth."

"He needs to talk about what happened, not only for the reports, but for his own well-being. You know that."

"I'll take care of it," John said in a calm, yet determined tone. "I'll get him to talk to me." He stood at the bottom of the ramp to the jumper. "I don't want him pushed somewhere he's not ready to go."

Elizabeth stood as well and clasped her hands behind her back. "We'll try it your way first, John. But understand, I have his best interests at heart, too. Let's get these rumors put to rest. Then you can focus on helping Rodney without worrying about people talking behind his back."

"Fine," John agreed, and stepped aside so she could precede him out of the hanger.

After a quick shower, he headed to the infirmary where Beckett was waiting for him with a frown on his face.

"Trust me, Carson, it was better for everyone if I showered before coming here," John said lightly when he caught a glimpse of the look on Beckett's face.

"Get your shirt off, Major," Carson told him stiffly. "Let's see how bad it is."

John took his shirt off and laid down on the bed Beckett indicated.

As Carson hemmed and hawed and tsked at the state of John's chest - if anything the bruises were even more spectacular now than when they were on the planet - John considered Beckett's mood.

"This isn't just about me being late, is it?" John said as Carson finished checking his ribs.

Carson sighed. "No, it's not," he replied. "I'm worried about Rodney. He didn't say more than five words when he was here and none of them were complaints about me, my staff, or the medical field in general."

John sat up and Beckett started to remove the bandage from his arm. "This is better than I hoped based on what Lieutenant Ford told me," Carson said as he cleaned the bullet wound and probed the edges with practised fingers. "No sign of infection, the lad did a good job, but it does need suturing, just to be sure. I'll be right back."

"I assume you know what happened with Gall?" John asked a few minutes later as Carson started stitching his arm.

"Aye," he replied sadly. "Elizabeth wants Doctor Biro's report on the autopsy she's performing as soon as possible."

John made a face. "I suppose it needs to be done," he said.

Carson finished with the stitches and rewrapped the wound in a fresh bandage. "All right, Major, you seem well enough. No cracked or bruised ribs, but the bruises you do have are going to be painful for a few days. Try to take things easy, won't you? I want you to come back day after tomorrow so I can check your arm."

John hopped off the bed gingerly and pulled his shirt back on. "Elizabeth has called a meeting, are you supposed to be there?"

Carson nodded. "I told Elizabeth I wanted to be there for moral support and, well, just in case."

They entered the conference room a few minutes later to find Teyla, Ford, and Elizabeth waiting. Rodney was nowhere to be found. John was about to head back out to look for him when McKay entered the room, looking drawn and tired. John waited until Rodney took a seat, then sat in the chair next to him. Beckett joined Elizabeth and Teyla and Ford sat on the third side of the triangular table.

"John? Why don't you start," Elizabeth said with a nod once they were all settled.

The meeting went about as well as John expected. He gave Elizabeth a concise, but detailed, report on finding the Wraith ship, discovering the cache of human remains as well as several dead Wraith. He described what had happened to Abrams as quickly as he could, then stopped with a glance first at Rodney, then at Weir.

McKay either looked down at the conference table or at a point on the wall just to the left of Teyla's head. At no point did he look at anyone else in the room. John and Carson exchanged a worried look, but John didn't try to stop the debrief. Get it over with, he thought to himself. If you start, maybe he'll finish it.

"It took us a little longer to find Doctor Gall," John continued and scooted his chair a little closer to Rodney's, close enough that his leg brushed McKay's under the table. "He was barely alive when we got to him. The Wraith was gone, however, heading for the jumper. I had McKay stay with Doctor Gall while I went to deal with the Wraith before he had a chance to contact any hive ships."

"I see," Elizabeth said as she made a few notes on the pad next to her, then looked over at Rodney. "Rodney, I know this is not going to be easy, but I need to know what happened after Major Sheppard left you and Brendan in the Wraith ship."

Rodney focused on his hands clenched on the table in front of him as he told Elizabeth about showing Brendan what he looked like in the mirror and trying to massage the feeling back into Gall's hands in a flat monotone.

"I turned away for just a second," Rodney said with a glance up at Elizabeth then over at John. It was the first time he'd actually looked at any of them since the meeting began. "It was just for a second …" He ducked his head down again.

Elizabeth started to ask a question, but John's glare stopped her. "I think that's enough for now," she said instead. "Major, your team is off rotation for the next forty-eight hours. Try to get some rest."

Rodney was up and gone before John could stop him.

"John?" Elizabeth called as John was about to leave the room. Teyla and Ford waited near the door. "Take care of him," she said sadly.

Rodney managed to elude John for the rest of the day. He wasn't in his quarters or the lab, where John frankly expected him to retreat, and John was at a loss. When Rodney didn't show up for dinner John's worry notched up another level and he was tempted to ask a few of the Marines to start discreetly looking for him but changed his mind when he realised Rodney would never forgive him.

He was aimlessly wandering the halls later that night when he heard music coming from the rec room. He should have known, he thought to himself. He glanced around making sure no one else was in the hallway, then stepped inside the room and let the door whisper shut behind him. Just like the last time John had found him playing late at night, Rodney sat on an upturned crate, his back facing the door, as he played something softly on the keyboard. He'd seen Rodney's shoulders tighten as the door closed, so he knew Rodney knew he was there.

"You missed dinner," John said after a few minutes.

Rodney shrugged and continued to play. The music, melancholy and slow, telling John more about Rodney's mood than anything McKay had said since the Wraith had been blown up the day before.

John slowly walked over, pulled up a crate and sat where he could see Rodney's face.

"What's the piece?" he asked.

"Chopin," Rodney replied. "Nocturne number two in E major." He gave John a fleeting look as he played. "What do you want, John?"

"I want you to talk to me," John told him and when Rodney scowled and started to protest, he held up a hand. "But since I know you aren't ready to do that, I want you to listen."

He waited for Rodney's fingers to still on the keys and for him to look up.

"What you saw with Gall was … there aren't words for how bad it was, I'm sure." Rodney looked away and John waited. "There are two things I want you to understand," he said when Rodney turned back to face him. "First, no matter what you're thinking, Gall's death was not your fault."

Rodney frowned and shook his head as his fingers inched back toward the keyboard.

"Hey," John said and tapped his hand. "It was not your fault." He could tell Rodney didn't believe him and had to stifle the urge to find out exactly what happened in the Wraith ship after he left. He tapped Rodney hand again and continued, "The other thing I want you to know is, when you're ready, you can tell me what happened. I'll listen."

Rodney gave him a fleeting glance, took a deep breath, and nodded.

"Good," John said and stood. "Come on. Let's find you something to eat before you end up in the infirmary and Beckett yells at me for not watching out for you."