NOTES: Thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed, and/or favorited my other stories in this series. I'm glad you're enjoying them!
This story starts a little before the end of The Hive. Let's just say things in the episode wrapped up a little too quickly for me.
As always, these scribbles are much improved thanks to my beta reader, Lyn.
John pulled the flight stick to the left, narrowly avoiding one of the dots on the heads up display as it closed on his position. An outline appeared on the display in front of him, and it took him a few precious seconds to realise what he was seeing was the first hive ship, and that he was on a collision course with the superstructure. He pushed the stick forward, diving under the ship, then slew to his right to avoid another swarm of darts heading for the outline of the planet in the near distance.
He'd been relieved to discover that flying the dart wasn't too hard, once he figured out where his horizon was in the constant stream of data flowing over his head. Pitch, roll, and yaw were the same in any galaxy. No, the challenge was trying to figure out what the ship was telling him on the display since he didn't have Rodney's tablet to translate the Wraith text for him this time.
John felt a smile quirk his lips as he thought about a Wraith drone climbing into a dart and finding the tablet computer strapped inside.
Must have been one confused Wraith, John thought to himself as he avoided another group of dots on the display. For a moment he wondered if Rodney had wiped the computer before installing it in the dart, but the sight of more dots appearing on the heads up display forced him to focus on his flying.
It didn't take him long to figure out the swarms of dots were other darts, and his close call with the side of one of the hive ships allowed him to sort out where the hive ships were in relation to each other in the mass of data streaming past him. Once he knew that, he turned the dart around, and aimed for the second hive ship's flank. He glanced down at the flight stick as he skimmed the surface of the ship, and saw what had to be the trigger for the dart's weapons.
He pushed the button on the top of the controller with his thumb and smiled when what was clearly a targeting system came online in front of him. He had no idea what would be a vital hit on the hive ship, but that didn't really matter, he knew a dart wasn't going to inflict that much damage regardless of where he hit it. He had another plan in mind for destroying the two hive ships. He opened fire and felt the grim smile on his face when the heads up display showed him where his shots had impacted the ship.
John came around for another pass on his chosen target and spotted a third blip on the HUD as he opened fire. He had no idea what the display was trying to tell him about the object; he wasn't sure if it was another hive or one of the smaller cruisers. Whatever the other ship was, it was too far away for John to worry about at the moment. As bad as his plan had been, Ford had been right about one thing, they needed to stop the hive ships before they had a chance to cull the nearby planet.
John grimaced as he fired on the hive ship again. Had Ford managed to evade the Wraith drones chasing them? he wondered. If his plan worked, John knew he'd be sentencing Ford to near-certain death. He shook his head and refused to let himself think about Ford still on board the first hive ship. He could only hope Ford would find another way to escape, and they would see him again one day.
He focused on the HUD and lined up for another pass on the second hive ship.
"Here goes nothing," he muttered, breaking the eerie silence inside the dart.
He made one more strafing run on the hive ship in front of him then blew out a breath when the data on the display showed a new set of dots, smaller than the darts, flying between the two ships, and John realised the two hives had opened fire on each other. What was more, the newcomer also opened fire on one of the hive ships.
Must have been a support cruiser, after all, John thought to himself as he wove through the hundreds of darts reversing course to return to their respective hives. It didn't take long for the smaller ships to start shooting at each other even as the larger hive ships continued to target each other.
"That's more like it," John said to himself as he dodged several darts closing on his position and targeting him.
So far, his plan was working perfectly. Now all he had to do was survive it.
"'Gate, 'gate, Where is the 'gate?" he muttered to himself as he scanned the data stream flowing past him.
He knew the 'gate was on the other side of the planet from where the two hive ships continued to bombard each other and pointed the dart in the direction of the planet. He made sure to steer clear of the mysterious third blip still hanging at the edge of the heads-up display firing at the Wraith ships. He didn't need to escape two hive ships, only to be blown out of the sky by a lucky shot from the interloper. He set a course that would hopefully keep him out of range of the new ship and swerved to his right when a swarm of darts flew past him on their way back to whichever hive ship they belonged.
John recognised the symbol for the 'gate on the HUD at the same time some sort of alert sounded inside the dart. It was the first sound he'd heard from the ship since the canopy had closed over him in the dart bay and he suspected it couldn't be telling him anything good.
"Great, now what?" he said, glancing around the darkened canopy.
He didn't see any of the dots representing darts on his tail, but one of the outlines for the hive ships blinked faster and faster as more of the tiny dots hit its flank. It didn't take a genius to realise the ship was about to blow up, and John pushed the dart to go faster.
The object he'd been aiming for was now front and center on the display and growing larger as John closed on the stargate. He pushed everything else out of his mind as he concentrated on flying the dart. The last time he'd tried this, he'd had Rodney's tablet giving him the information he needed to line up with the center of 'gate. This time, he'd have to literally fly blind and pray he could figure out the right information on the display.
The symbol for the stargate grew on the display in front of him, and just as John was starting to wonder if he were close enough, a blue ring blinked around the edge of the 'gate symbol.
"Please tell me that means what I think it means," John said to the ship as he punched an address into the DHD.
The blue light around the edge of the symbol blinked faster, then winked out as the symbol itself switched from black to green and John aimed for the center of the symbol on the display.
He heard the alarm inside the ship change from a high pitched beeping to a shrill squawk just as he passed through the middle of the target on the HUD. Before John had a chance to worry about what the alarm meant, it stopped, and the display overhead changed again, this time showing John the curvature of a planet instead of the flat horizon of space.
He scanned the HUD and didn't see any of the dots representing Wraith darts. He didn't find anything that would be a hive ship either, and let out the breath he'd been holding.
"Made it," John muttered to himself.
He had no idea what the display was telling him about the terrain below and glanced back-and-forth over the canopy looking for anything he could recognise. After several seconds, he found the symbol for the 'gate on the planet's surface and turned the dart around. He knew the area in front of the 'gate was an open clearing and scanned the console in front of him until he found the control that would release Ronon and Teyla from the containment field.
John nodded to himself when he saw two blips appear on the heads up display in front of the 'gate a few seconds later.
They'd done it, he realised. Against all odds, they had managed to get off the hive ship, hopefully destroying it and the second hive ship in the process, and saving the people on that nameless planet from a culling.
Not a bad day's work, John thought to himself with a grim smile.
John landed the dart a short distance away from the blips and powered down the dart. The canopy disappeared, and John started to climb out of the ship but froze and raised his hands when he saw Ronon standing in front of him, his blaster raised.
"Sheppard," Ronon greeted and lowered the particle weapon.
"You guys all right?" John asked as he jumped down from the ship and walked over to Ronon and Teyla standing near the DHD.
"We are fine," Teyla told him. "Your idea of escaping in the dart worked," she added as she looked around.
John nodded as he joined them. "If things went the way I hoped, those two hive ships blew each other up, too," John said as he looked around. "Figured we didn't want to stick around for that." He didn't mention the third ship. He had no idea if the explosion from two hive ships blowing up would take out the third ship as well.
"Lieutenant Ford?" Teyla asked.
John rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know," he admitted softly.
"Aiden is a survivor," Teyla told him as she squeezed his hand. "I am certain he found a way to escape."
"Yeah, maybe," John replied, unable to shake the guilty feeling that he had broken his first rule, again, in leaving Ford behind.
"So where are we?" Ronon asked into the silence a few moments later.
"We are on Ymber," Teyla replied. She let go of John's hand and gave him a questioning glance.
"Yep," John said and looked around at the tall trees surrounding the clearing. "At least it's not raining this time."
Teyla smiled as she took a few steps away from the DHD and studied the nearby trees.
"Why didn't we go back to Atlantis?" Ronon asked.
John turned back at the dart. "Wasn't sure that would fit in the gateroom."
Ronon glanced at the ship and shrugged. "Makes sense, I guess."
"It shouldn't be too hard for Elizabeth to convince Colonel Caldwell to come back here. The dart should fit in the Daedalus' launch bay. Rodney and the science teams will have a field day figuring out how it works."
John smiled to himself at the thought of how excited Rodney would be when he laid eyes on the dart. Even after months of study, the science teams hadn't learnt much from the dart he'd shot down on Thenora. He knew he was volunteering himself for hours of 'helping' with Rodney's research, but after months of awkwardness between them, John found he didn't mind the idea.
"Speaking of Rodney," Teyla said with a glance at John. "We have been gone for several days, he must be worried about us. We should return to Aiden's basecamp."
Ronon walked over to the DHD. "What's the address for the planet where McKay is?" he asked and looked over at John.
John shook his head. "We need to go to Atlantis first," he replied. "We've been gone for weeks. Elizabeth needs to know we're all right."
Ronon looked up from the DHD with a frown.
"Colonel? What about Rodney?" Teyla asked.
John walked over to the DHD and started to dial the address for Atlantis. "That's the other reason we need to go to the city first. Everyone on that planet is using the Wraith enzyme. What are they going to do when we show up without Ford or any of his people?"
Teyla pursed her lips.
"They're going to think we double-crossed Ford," Ronon said and stepped over to one side of the stargate.
John nodded. "Exactly. Somehow I doubt they are going to listen to us or be happy just to hand Rodney over and let us go on our merry way once they find out what happened."
Teyla nodded. "You may be right."
John finished dialling and watched the wormhole form. "We'll go home, let Elizabeth know we're all right, get Lorne and Thompson, and then go get Rodney."
Ronon took one last look around the clearing and stepped toward the 'gate. "Let's go," he said.
John walked into the gateroom moments later and waved off the guards standing on either side of the 'gate.
"Sorry we're late," he said to Elizabeth as she hurried down the stairs from the control room and stood in front of him.
John watched as Elizabeth gave each of them a quick once over and a relieved smile. "Colonel Sheppard, Ronon, Teyla. It's good to see you."
John stared at Weir for a moment, wondering what was going on. They'd been missing in action for at least a couple of weeks, sure, but that didn't explain Elizabeth's reaction on seeing them.
"I know we were gone longer than we planned," John said with a glance at Ronon and Teyla standing one either side of him, "but that tip we got about the ZPM didn't really work out."
"I know," Elizabeth said and led the way up the stairs and into her office.
"You know?" John asked. "How could you possibly know?" he asked as Elizabeth walked behind her desk and sat down. John and Teyla sat in the chairs in front of the desk while Ronon stood near the door.
"Rodney came back a few days ago -" Elizabeth started to say.
"He did?" John interrupted, feeling equal parts pride and relief that Rodney had managed to escape Ford's men on his own.
Elizabeth nodded, and John saw her expression change again. He didn't understand the worried crease across her forehead and wondered what Elizabeth wasn't saying.
"Yes. He told us about Lieutenant Ford and his plan to use all of you to help him destroy a hive ship, and that you had been dosed with the Wraith enzyme." She looked over at John. "The Daedalus was there when the two hive ships blew up."
John remembered the strange blip on the heads up display. "So that's what that was," he muttered under his breath.
"Colonel?" Elizabeth asked.
John shook his head. "The heads up display in the dart I stole didn't give me much information. At the time, I thought it was another hive ship or maybe a Wraith cruiser assisting one or the other hives in the battle."
Teyla sat forward in her chair. "Was Rodney onboard the Daedalus?"
John felt a jolt in his stomach as Elizabeth nodded. That explained the strange expression on her face when they came through the 'gate, John realised. Caldwell had probably reported the destruction of the hive ships to Weir.
And Rodney had watched the whole thing.
John stood from his chair with a grimace.
"We need to contact the Daedalus," he said with a glance from Elizabeth to the control room behind him.
Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. "We can't."
John shook his head and paced a few steps away from his chair. "Elizabeth -"
"I know, John. But they are already on their way back. There's no way to communicate with the Daedalus while they are in hyperspace flight, you know that."
"How long until they get back here?" John asked and crossed his arms over his chest.
Elizabeth clasped her hands in front of her on the desk. "According to the message Colonel Caldwell sent before they started for Atlantis, they should arrive around 1900 hours."
John glanced at his watch. Two hours. Two hours where Rodney would think his entire team was dead. That John was dead.
"In the meantime, you all need to head to the infirmary," Elizabeth said. "Carson needs to make sure there won't be any side effects from the enzyme Ford gave all of you."
John caught her worried glance at the 'gate but wasn't sure what had her so concerned. Ronon and Teyla both seemed fine. Now. Before John could ask what was wrong, she tapped her earpiece.
"This is Weir," Elizabeth said. She listened for a moment, then glanced at John, Ronon, and Teyla. "Yes, they are in my office. I'm sending them over to you now."
She tapped the radio again and said, "Word travels fast it seems. That was Carson. He's expecting all of you."
"Elizabeth -" John started to say, as Elizabeth held up a hand.
"Go. Let Carson check you all out. I'll have Chuck radio the Daedalus as soon as he can. It's the best we can do."
John pursed his lips but motioned Teyla out of the office ahead of him as Ronon followed him.
"Colonel," Carson said with a nod as John walked into the infirmary a few minutes later. "You lot have had us all a bit worried these last few weeks." He gave Ronon and Teyla a quick smile before he led them to the far corner of the room where Sharon and Doctor Cortes waited.
"Blood samples from all three of them, if you please," Carson said as he pointed to the scrubs waiting on two of the beds. "Once the initial exams are done, Ronon and Teyla can clean up and get changed."
"Changed?" Ronon asked.
Carson gave him a penetrating look. "I already know that Lieutenant Ford dosed both you and Teyla with the enzyme," he said. "I want to keep both of you here at least overnight, just to be safe while we run some tests."
He turned to John and added, "As for you, Colonel -"
"Ford didn't give any of the enzyme to me," John tried to explain.
Carson shook his head. "You don't know that for certain." When John started to interrupt, Carson held up a hand and continued, "However, if your initial blood work is clean, I'll release you."
"How long for the blood tests?" John asked as he sat on the edge of another bed.
Carson stepped back as Sharon came over with a tray of supplies and took a blood sample.
"I've been working on a new way to detect the enzyme," Carson said as Sharon finished and taped a cotton ball over the puncture in John's arm. "The initial test we can do in an hour or two. That will at least tell us if there is any of the enzyme present in your system. If there is," he glanced at Teyla and Ronon, "I have a few other tests we can run to check how much of the enzyme is there and how long it will take to break down completely."
Sharon finished taking samples from Ronon and Teyla and left. Carson nodded to Doctor Cortes. "If you would go ahead with the initial exams," he said." I'll get started on the tests."
"Certainly, Doctor Beckett," Doctor Cortes said.
An hour later, their physical exams complete, John leant against the wall between Ronon and Teyla's beds, checking his watch every few minutes. He felt better after a shower and change of clothes, now it was a matter of waiting for Carson to return with their test results. Teyla and Ronon each sat on one of the infirmary beds dressed in clean scrubs. Other than some scrapes and bruises, physically they were all fine, and John's patience was wearing thin waiting for the lab work.
"Colonel?" Teyla asked as John glanced at his watch for the third time and then at the door to the medical lab.
The door to the infirmary opened, and Elizabeth walked in and over to their corner. "Chuck is tracking the Daedalus on the long-range sensors,'' she said as she stopped at the end of Ronon's bed. "They should be here in another half hour or so."
"Was he able to make radio contact?" John asked.
Elizabeth shook her head. "Unfortunately, no."
John pinched the bridge of his nose then glanced toward the medical lab as the door opened, and Carson walked over with a tablet computer in his hand.
"Well?" John asked.
"You were right," Carson said as he stopped at the end of Teyla's bed. "There are no residual traces of the enzyme in your system, so I think Lieutenant Ford was telling you the truth."
"He wanted a witness," John replied. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at his feet.
He'd been shocked when Ford had told him only Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla had been dosed, and a part of him had even wondered if Ford had done it for another reason besides acting as an impartial observer. If anyone knew how John felt about Rodney and the others, it would be Ford. It was a perfect way to torture him and keep him in his place at the same time.
"John?" Elizabeth asked, concern lacing her tone.
John looked over at her. "Ford. He wanted someone to act as a witness for his little experiment." He glanced at Ronon and Teyla.
"There was nothing you could have done," Teyla told him.
John only grunted in reply.
"As for you two," Carson said a moment later, and turned to Teyla and Ronon, "there are still signs of the enzyme in your blood work. We'll use those numbers as a baseline and take another sample in a few hours. That should tell us how long it will take for the enzyme to clear your bodies completely. Until then, I want to keep both of you here."
Ronon looked around the infirmary. "How long?"
"Hopefully, no more than a day or two," Carson told him. "How are you feeling?"
"I feel fine," Ronon replied.
Carson gave him a measured look, and John knew they were thinking the same thing. Ronon could be beaten, bloody, and half-dead, but he would still say he was fine to avoid a stay in the infirmary.
"I feel much more like myself as well," Teyla added.
John caught the strange look Carson and Elizabeth exchanged and once again wondered what he had missed while on Ford's little mission.
"Let's just have a quick look, and then I'll see about finding the pair of you something to eat," Carson said.
Carson finished checking Teyla's vitals and was examining Ronon when Elizabeth tapped her earpiece.
"This is Weir," John heard her say.
She nodded, glanced at John, and said, "Understood. Have them meet us down here. Weir out."
"The Daedalus?" John asked.
Elizabeth nodded. "They are docking as we speak."
John grimaced and nodded. So much for meeting Rodney when he landed, he thought to himself.
"All right, then, up you get," Carson said a few minutes later and helped Ronon sit up.
John started to say something to Carson but stopped when he heard a new voice behind him.
"Why aren't you dead?" Rodney asked.
John smiled to himself as he turned around. Trust Rodney to get straight to the point.
"Nice to see you too, Rodney," he replied. He hoped the sarcastic response would reassure McKay everything was fine, but when John turned around, he saw the stunned look on Rodney's pale face, not to mention the thin sheen of sweat on his forehead, and changed his mind.
"No, no, you know what I mean. Why aren't you … dead?" Rodney said, absently rubbing his left hand as he glanced at Ronon and Teyla.
John studied him for a moment and frowned when he noticed the minute shaking in Rodney's hands and the way he didn't look any of them in the eye.
What was going on? John wondered even as he explained how they had escaped the hive ship and convinced the two hives to destroy each other. Rodney's reaction was from more than just the shock of finding out John was still alive.
"And, umm, where is Ford?" Rodney asked, looking around the infirmary.
Teyla glanced at Rodney then over at John. "He was on board the hive ship when it was destroyed," she said softly.
John shook his head. "He was last seen on the hive ship," he replied, still unwilling to accept that he'd failed once again to save a member of his team.
Rodney rubbed his left hand and gave John a sideways glance. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know Ford. I wouldn't be surprised if we run into him again."
Rodney muttered something under his breath and wrapped his arms around his chest. He gave each of them one last glance, then took a step back as Caldwell moved to the end of Ronon's bed.
"Colonel Sheppard, good work with the hive ships," Caldwell said.
"Thank you, sir," John replied. He gave Caldwell a thin smile and a nod.
Caldwell studied him for a moment, then turned to Elizabeth. "Doctor Weir, Hermiod wants to run a few checks on the drive system before we head back to Earth. I assume it won't be an issue if we stay a few more days?"
"That shouldn't be a problem, Colonel," Elizabeth replied.
John turned to mention the trip to Ymber to pick up the dart when he saw Rodney give him a furtive glance before he slipped out of the infirmary.
What the hell? John wondered as he watched the infirmary door whisper closed. He could understand that the shock of seeing them all alive after believing they were dead would throw Rodney for a bit of a loop, but this was more than mere surprise that John had once again seemingly come back from the dead.
He watched as Elizabeth and Caldwell left the infirmary, discussing the details for housing the Daedalus crew while Hermiod ran diagnostics, then turned back Teyla and Ronon as Carson spoke.
"I'll have trays sent over from the mess hall," Carson said to Teyla and Ronon. "And you both need rest. Residual effects from the Wraith enzyme aside, you both have had a trying few days with the withdrawal, I'm sure."
John caught the worried expression on Carson's face as he looked around the room.
"Where did Rodney get to?" he asked.
"He left a few minutes ago," Teyla replied.
"Looked like he needed sleep," Ronon added.
"He needs more than that," Carson said, his expression full of concern. He turned to John and added, "He needs to be where I can keep an eye on him."
"Why?" John asked, his worry notching up at Carson's statement.
Carson shook his head as he glanced around the room. "Come with me."
"Colonel?" Teyla asked, and John saw his worry mirrored in her expression.
"I'll let you know," he said with a glance at her and then Ronon as he followed Beckett back to his office.
"Carson? What's going on? Was Rodney injured somehow when he escaped?" John asked. Even without the enzyme, the men Ford left holding McKay hostage would have been formidable. With the enzyme …
Carson grimaced as he sat in the chair behind his desk. "Didn't anyone tell you how Rodney managed to escape and return to the city?"
John stood with his back against the closed office door, and his arms crossed over his chest. "I just assumed he waited for the right time and made a run for the 'gate."
Carson rubbed his forehead. "Not exactly."
John dropped his arms and walked over to Beckett's desk. "Okay, so what, exactly, did he do?"
Carson sighed and tapped on the keyboard for his computer. "It might be better to show you," he replied and turned the laptop around so John could see the screen.
John grasped the back of the chair in front of the desk as the video from the security feed in the gateroom started to play. He watched as Rodney came through the 'gate, one finger raised, already talking even as he walked through the event horizon. There was no audio, but John watched in mounting horror as he noted Rodney was sweating and shaking and the fact he never stopped moving, pacing in circles around Elizabeth, clearly agitated as he spoke.
When Rodney dropped to the floor a few seconds later, John sank into the chair. He watched as Elizabeth said something to the two Marines standing behind her and dropped his head into his hands as the two men rushed forward, picked Rodney up, and ran out of frame.
Carson paused the video and John sat with his arms braced on his knees, trying to digest what he had just watched.
"What …" He let the question hang as he stared at Carson.
"He took a massive dose of the enzyme," Carson said softly, and John noted the underlying distress lacing Carson's tone. "Almost as much as Aiden received during the siege."
John sank back in the chair, stunned. Of all the ways McKay could have escaped, injecting himself with more of the enzyme never even occurred to him.
"When they up the dosage, the side effects will be very real and very unpredictable," he remembered Rodney telling him on the way back from examining the DHD on Ford's planet.
"Rodney, what the hell were you thinking?" John whispered at the floor.
"From what Elizabeth could get from him in the gateroom, Rodney had become concerned when you three didn't return," Carson said in a low voice. "It seems he thought taking the enzyme was the only way to overpower the men preventing him from leaving so he could rescue you."
John scrubbed his hands over his face, remembering Ford lying on the floor in their cell as the enzyme wore off. "How bad was the withdrawal?"
Carson closed the computer and sat back in his chair. "Bad," he replied. "We nearly lost him."
John pushed himself out of the chair and paced near the door.
"That's why he needs to be back in the infirmary," Carson explained.
John looked up with a puzzled frown. "I thought he was fine. You let him leave on the Daedalus to find us."
"He survived the initial withdrawal, yes, but that's only the first step in his recovery," Carson replied. "From the tests I was able to run on Lieutenant Ford after he was exposed, it appears the enzyme can store itself in various cells within the human body.
"Even days later, there is still a significant amount of the enzyme in Rodney's body, waiting for the right stimulus to flood his system again. The odds of Rodney having some kind of secondary reaction were high before everything that happened with those hive ships. With all of the emotional turmoil of thinking you lot were all dead, only to then find out you're alive …"
Carson shook his head. "You need to find him, John."
John nodded and opened the office door. "I have a few ideas on where he's likely to be. I'll get him back here."
"What about Teyla and Ronon?" John asked. "Do we need to worry about this secondary reaction with them too?"
Carson shook his head. "Hopefully, not. Even though they were on the enzyme for a couple of weeks, the overall dosage was never as high as the one Rodney gave himself in one go. Barring any physical side effects, Ronon and Teyla should be fine in a day or so, once the enzyme has broken down completely."
John watched Carson glance out the door with a worried frown.
"I'll find him," John promised and left the office.
He walked back over to the corner where he'd left Ronon and Teyla and found both of them standing at the end of Ronon's bed. Teyla's concern was easy to read in her expression and the way she paced between the two beds. Ronon wasn't nearly as obvious, but John could tell from the way he stood with his hands clenched into fists that he was worried, too.
"Colonel? What did Doctor Beckett say?" Teyla asked as John stopped in front of them.
"It turns out you were right," John said to Teyla. "Rodney was worried when we didn't come back."
"He did something. Didn't he." Ronon said, and John could tell it was a statement more than a question.
John sighed and nodded. "He dosed himself with Wraith enzyme."
Teyla hissed in a breath and John thought he heard a low growl from Ronon.
"He took more of the enzyme? On purpose?" Teyla asked.
John nodded and rubbed the back of his neck.
"How bad?" Ronon asked.
John dropped his arm and glanced at the infirmary exit. "Bad," he said shortly. He glanced at Teyla and added, "Almost as much as Ford when that Wraith attacked him."
Teyla stepped back and leant against the nearest bed, a stricken expression on her face.
John silently agreed. "According to what Carson just told me, Rodney thought it was the only way he could overpower Ford's men so he could find us. Now Carson is worried something could happen to him. A secondary reaction, he called it." He glanced at his watch. "I need to get moving," he added and took a step toward the exit.
"We will help," Teyla said as she started to follow him, but John shook his head.
"You heard Beckett. Until your blood work clears, you both need to stay here." John waited until Teyla sat back on her bed, and Ronon gave him a reluctant nod. "Don't worry. I'll find him," he said and left the infirmary.
John headed for the nearest transporter and paused once he was inside. He knew of several places Rodney could go, his quarters, the mess hall, his lab. Then there was the pier or any number of balconies he frequented when he wanted to think or more importantly, be alone.
John remembered the pallor and the way Rodney was sweating when he left the infirmary. "If anyone had seen him looking like that, they would have reported it," John said as he studied the map on the wall in front of him. "So, he's going to be by himself. That narrows the possibilities down to about two."
John's hand wavered over two locations on the map. "Quarters or lab?" he asked himself.
He thought back to Rodney pacing back-and-forth in Ford's hideout as the enzyme first took effect.
"He won't be able to settle enough to rest," John muttered and touched the section of the map for the science labs.
John stepped out of the transporter a moment later, turned the corner for Rodney's lab, and stopped short when he saw three men blocking the hallway as they struggled with a large crate that had fallen off a platform trolley.
"Radek?' John asked one of the men. "What's going on?"
"Colonel Sheppard!" Radek replied with a smile. "We thought …" He waved the thought away and continued. "That's not important as obviously you are here."
"Yep," John replied, with a thin smile.
After more than a year hanging around Rodney, John was used to the non-sequiturs when dealing with McKay's scientists. He watched the other two men struggle to get the crate back on the platform truck beside them. John stepped forward, took one end of the crate and hefted it onto the trolley.
"Thanks," one of the men said once the crate was situated.
John rubbed his hands together and watched as the men pushed the trolley around the far corner, then turned back to Zelenka.
"What the hell was in that crate?" John asked semi-rhetorically. "Must have weighed a ton."
"A winch with a thousand-foot steel cable for a science mission to M8R-159," Radek replied.
"Ahh," John said and reached for the door sensor for Rodney's lab.
"He's not in there," Radek said. "I have not seen him since he left on the Daedalus this morning."
John grimaced. "Damn," he muttered under his breath as he stepped away from the door. "So much for the easy answer."
"Colonel? Is everything all right?" Radek asked as John headed back to the transporter.
John turned around. "I hope so," he replied with a last wave at Zelenka as he touched the sensor for the transporter.
"Maybe he did go back to his room," John said to himself once he was back inside the transporter, and tapped the section of the map for their quarters.
He was in the hallway leading back to Rodney's room when he heard someone behind him.
"Colonel Sheppard!" a voice called.
John turned around and saw Lorne walking toward him, a huge smile on his face.
"It's good to see you, sir," Lorne said as he stopped in front of John with his hands behind his back. "After we saw the two hive ships go up we thought the worst."
"So I heard," John said. "You were there, too?" He glanced at his watch and started walking again.
"Umm, yes, sir," Lorne replied as he fell into step beside him. "Doctor McKay had the idea of using the sensors in one of the puddle jumpers to try and locate you and the others in the hive ship using your radios." Lorne paused and glanced at John. "After everything that happened when he returned a few days ago …" Lorne glanced over at John.
"I heard," John said in reply to Lorne's cautious look.
"Right. Well, after everything with the enzyme, Doctor Weir didn't want McKay flying the jumper, so I volunteered to go along as his pilot."
John smiled. Rodney and Lorne hadn't made the best impression on each other when they'd first met on P3M-736 while searching for Ford. He wondered if Rodney knew how much Lorne's opinion of him had changed in the last few months.
"Thanks, Major," John said as he turned down the hallway that led to Rodney's room.
"No problem, sir," Lorne replied, and slowed to a stop. "Umm, sir?" Lorne said and waited for John to turn around. "There's, umm, there's something else you should probably know about."
"Umm, yes, sir," Lorne replied.
Evan stared at the floating debris, not bothering to hide the look of disbelief on his face. He hadn't known Sheppard for that long, but in the months since his arrival at Atlantis, Evan had grown to respect him. More than that, he had considered Sheppard a friend.
"Did any darts survive?" Caldwell asked Kleinman sitting at the weapons station.
Evan glanced back in time to see Kleinman shake his head. "Negative, sir."
So close, Evan thought to himself as he traded a look with Caldwell then peered out at the floating debris in front of them. They'd been so close to rescuing Sheppard and the others.
He heard a sound, something between a whimper and a groan, coming from the other side of Caldwell, looked over, and saw Doctor McKay staring out the window with a lost expression on his face.
Evan grimaced and looked down at his shoes. He knew what it felt like to lose a member of his team; he'd lost two of them on a recent mission to save Sheppard's life after he was infected with Beckett's retrovirus. McKay had just lost his entire team, and from what Evan understood from the base gossip, he and Sheppard had considered each other family as well.
"Major," Caldwell said in a low voice with a glance at McKay still staring at the debris field.
Evan nodded and walked over to McKay. He stood behind and slightly to McKay's right as Caldwell turned back to Kleinman.
"Ready forward rail guns," Caldwell ordered.
"Yes, sir," Kleinman replied. "Forward guns, primed and ready, sir."
"What?" McKay asked, looking around. "What are you doing?"
"Paying respects, Doc," Evan replied in a low voice and rested a hand on McKay's shoulder.
Caldwell glanced at McKay, then nodded to Kleinman. "Proceed."
Everyone on the bridge stood at attention, and a few seconds later, the forward guns fired. Evan heard another whimper/groan from McKay as he watched the streaks of energy fly over the debris field. A moment later, a second volley was fired, then a third.
As the third volley faded into the distance, McKay stepped forward until he stood against the bridge windows, staring out at the debris field as the men and women around him went back to their duties.
Before Evan could do or say anything, McKay wrapped his arms around his middle and left the bridge without a backward glance.
"Colonel?" Evan asked as he watched McKay disappear down the hall.
Caldwell looked up from the report in his hand and nodded. "Stay with him, Major. I'll radio Atlantis and let them know what's happened."
"Yes, sir," Evan replied and followed McKay off the bridge.
McKay had already disappeared by the time Evan reached the corridor outside the bridge. As he walked down the hall listing off the places McKay could have gone in his head, a part of him wondered what he would do once he found McKay.
Would he even want company? Evan wondered. Maybe it was better to leave him alone and let him deal with the loss his own way. He stopped and leant against the bulkhead.
"What would Sheppard do?" he asked himself then shook his head. What Sheppard would do didn't matter now, he realised. He wasn't John Sheppard. But he owed Sheppard. He owed it to his commanding officer to try and help the sole surviving member of his team deal with the grief and start to move on. The problem was, he had no idea how to talk to McKay.
He remembered their first meeting on P3M-736 and shook his head. At the time, all he knew about McKay was that he was supposed to be brilliant, but all Evan saw was a man who appeared to be afraid of everything, including a little sunlight as they searched for Lieutenant Ford. Then a couple of months later, he had discovered McKay hiking, alone, on a bum leg on a planet where the natives wanted to kill all of them, determined to find his two missing teammates. After that mission, Evan had re-evaluated his initial reaction to McKay and admitted he had formed a grudging respect for him. He finally understood that Sheppard did more than merely put up with McKay for the sake of his intelligence.
He was outside the mess hall when he saw movement inside the room from the corner of his eye. Evan stepped into the room, looked around, and found McKay huddled at a table on the far side of the room facing the large exterior window.
Evan watched him for a few moments, still at a loss as to what to do to help, when he spotted the coffee carafes.
"As good an excuse as anything," he said to himself as he poured two cups of coffee and walked over to the corner of the room.
He stopped next to McKay's table and frowned when he saw McKay's pale face and the thin sheen of sweat on his brow. Evan had reviewed the security footage of McKay's return to Atlantis, and he'd seen him in the infirmary when he had assigned a Marine detail to McKay in case he broke free of the restraints. Sitting with his back wedged into the corner between the chair and the wall, McKay looked almost as bad now as he had after his return to Atlantis a few days ago.
Shock? Evan asked himself, or something else? He had no idea how the enzyme worked to know if he needed to worry about side effects.
He glanced down at the cups in his hands and wondered if he should forgo the coffee and take McKay down to the infirmary instead.
"I really hate it when people hover," McKay muttered, never taking his eyes off the view out the window.
Evan smiled to himself as he set one of the cups in front of McKay then sat down beside him.
"Was there something you wanted, Major?" McKay asked, ignoring the cup in front of him as he wrapped his arms around his middle and continued to stare out the window.
Evan shook his head as he studied the closed-off body language. "Nope," Evan finally replied. "Just thought you'd want some company."
McKay shrugged, and Evan took that as permission to stay. He sat, sipping his coffee, saying nothing as he watched McKay until he heard his name over the radio.
"Major Lorne," Caldwell said.
Evan glanced at McKay as he stood. "I'll be right back," he said and stepped away from the table. He tapped his earpiece and replied, "Lorne, here."
"We've made the initial report to Atlantis on what happened," Caldwell told him. "We'll be heading back to the city in a few minutes, Major. If there's anything Doctor McKay wants to do or say, now's the time."
"Copy that, sir. I'll let him know."
"Understood. Caldwell out."
Evan tapped off the radio and walked back to the table. "Doc?" he said in a low voice and sat back in his chair. "We're about to head back. If there's something you want to …"
For the first time since Evan entered the room, McKay looked at him, and Evan was shocked at what he saw. Gone was the arrogance, and the towering ego; all that was left was a man lost in a profound sense of grief.
"It was all a mistake," McKay muttered. "I never should have …" He glanced at Evan and shook his head.
"Doc?" Evan asked when it was clear McKay wasn't going to finish. "What shouldn't you have done?"
"Ronon. Teyla. Sh-Sheppard," McKay replied and turned back to the window. "Spent most of my life, not caring about anyone. Until I came here. Until J-John …"
McKay pushed himself to his feet, and Evan watched as the grief was replaced with a mask of indifference. "I won't make that mistake again," McKay said. "People will always disappoint you in the end, Major. You're always left to deal with the problems alone."
He took one last look out the window then left the room just as the hyperspace streaks appeared outside and the Daedalus began the trip back to Atlantis.
"Damn," John muttered under his breath. He rubbed a hand over his face and nodded at Lorne. "Thank you, Major."
"For trying to help him."
"Umm, yes, sir," Lorne replied.
John took a deep breath and glanced at his watch. Between what Carson had said in the infirmary and what Lorne just told him about Rodney's reaction after the hive ships were destroyed, John suspected he didn't have much time left to find Rodney before whatever secondary reaction Beckett was worried about kicked in.
"I don't suppose you've seen Rodney recently?"
Lorne shook his head. "I left to take the jumper back to the bay as the Daedalus was coming in to land. I didn't even know you were all alive until Chuck said something as I was docking the jumper in the bay. I was just on my way to find you when I ran into you, sir. Is there something wrong? Do you want some help looking for him?"
"No, I'll find him," John said. "Go on, get some rest."
"Yes, sir," Lorne replied, and John watched as he walked back up the hall toward the transporter.
John walked toward Rodney's quarters, stopped outside the door, and softly knocked.
"Rodney?" John called through the door. "You in there, buddy?" He waited a few seconds, and when he didn't get an answer, he tapped the sensor and stepped into the room.
The empty room.
"Damn it, Rodney, where are you?" John muttered as he checked the small bathroom then walked back into the main room and looked around. He saw Rodney's uniform jacket on the floor and stooped to pick it up. "So, you were here," he muttered as he draped the coat over the back of the desk chair. "Where did you go?" he asked.
He glanced around the room again and grimaced when the itch from the link crawled up the back of his skull. "No, no, no," he muttered as he hurried out of Rodney's room.
He looked up and down the hall, trying to think where else Rodney could be when he spotted the door to the balcony at the end of the hall was cracked open. John pushed the door open and shivered when the cold air outside slapped him in the face. He zipped up his jacket as he stepped outside and looked around in the dim light. He didn't see Rodney right away, but he thought he heard something at the other end of the balcony. John mentally turned up the lights and froze when he spotted Rodney, shivering in just his shirt-sleeves, pacing back-and-forth.
He could see Rodney was sweating even in the cold night air and John wasn't sure if Rodney was shaking due to the fact he was chilled or if this was another symptom of the enzyme overdose.
"Rodney?" he called, and tried to sound calm.
Rodney's head jerked up as John spoke. "Don't," he said and held up a shaky finger. "Don't come any closer." He backed up and wedged himself in the corner of the balcony.