AN: This is a new version. I've taken on two very good beta's to work on improving stories. There haven't been any drastic changes, minor grammatical fixes and wording here and there.


Chapter One

A Wet Day


The rain splattered against the bark of the tree, shattering into smaller droplets before slowly beginning their individual descent towards the saturated ground and another stage in the water cycle of the planet. Major Sheppard watched as the water oozed around his fingers resting against the tree, and trickled downwards, momentarily struck by the similarities to Earth.

They had been to many planets already. Some were as alien as he would've imagined a different planet in a different galaxy to be, but some struck him as remarkably home-like, and always that little pang of melancholy would hit and he'd realize how much he missed simple things like listening to the rain at night. Granted, it rained on the planet where Atlantis was settled, but you couldn't hear the sounds inside the city. It wasn't the same.

"Major, there's nothing here. This trip was a waste of time." The voice spoke behind Sheppard. John pulled his hand away from the trunk of the tree, away from the memories of home and things long past. "We had to try," he said, speaking to McKay though he remained facing away from the scientist, the words falling flatly between them, some trace of the earlier melancholy remaining.

McKay eyed the Major's back. He had recovered from his close call on the Hive ship, but he was different. Hell, look who's talking, he wasn't the only one changed. He had tried to talk to Sheppard after, there on that balcony that was becoming the last refuge for the wounded psyches, but in the end he'd had to retreat. Still a coward, he thought ruthlessly of himself. "We should go," he said.

Sheppard turned and finally looked McKay in the eye. "Probably." A thin rivulet ran down his forehead and scuttled down his cheek till it hit the edge of his chin, where it paused and gathered mass till it was large enough for gravity to tug it away from his face. "I wouldn't mind trips like this if we'd only thought to pack an umbrella."

McKay smiled half-heartedly, "Weren't you in charge of the inventory?"

"Maybe…possibly," he answered. Actually, he had been, but the weather had been clear and it wasn't like umbrellas were standard issue anyway. He tightened the straps on his back, and readjusted the gun hanging on his front. "How long do you think it rains around here?" He wondered if they'd be battling the weather the entire way, it'd take an hour to get back to the gate. The ground was turning into a mud hole that only a pig could love, and while he was sure some past girlfriends would accuse him of being a swine, he didn't enjoy wallowing in the mire.

McKay squinted at the sky. It was filled with dark, billowing clouds that covered the area in a promise of bad weather and possible floods. "Think Ark, Major."

Sheppard narrowed his eyes, "As in…"

"Noah's Ark." McKay supplied. "It's going to be raining for a while. Remember that river we crossed?"

Sheppard did remember. The power reading had led them to a shallow river. It wasn't deep or rapid so he'd said to push onward, the hope of finding a possible ZPM dragging them on. "Yes, I remember."

"It's probably not shallow anymore." McKay said.

"Damn," Sheppard berated himself for not considering the ramifications of the rain, "if we hurry it should be okay." He figured the rain had begun after they had crossed the river, maybe thirty minutes ago. They could make it before the river rose to dangerous levels.

John was off his game, and this was a slap in the face proving what he already suspected. He'd fought to recover from recent events and he thought he'd made enough progress. Now he wondered if he had any business leading a team.

Rodney could tell Sheppard was angry with himself. He should have said something earlier. He knew John wasn't quite back to normal and yet he'd agreed to this expedition, recommended it, although he'd managed to convince Elizabeth that the two of them could handle this simple run. He wanted to talk to Sheppard about the balcony scene he had run from. He wanted to give Sheppard a chance to talk about what was eating him because everyone knew something was bothering him, and McKay was smart enough to realize it wasn't his little confession about Brendan. "It'll be fine." That was all he could say.

"Are you coming?" Sheppard's irritated voice caused McKay to realize he'd been participating in an internal monologue and speaking to the air, as Sheppard had all ready begun the trek back.

John wanted to laugh for the first time in a long time at the expression on McKay's face. The man was an open book. He rolled his eyes and suppressed anything further, turning back to the trail they'd left. He heard McKay jog to catch up. He knew McKay had arranged this little trip out together. Male bonding, confessional, whatever it was for, John wasn't going to play along. His demons were just that, his, and he'd keep them that way. "Pay attention," he chastised, feeling an urge to needle the scientist.

"Me?" McKay snorted, "Who walked us for over an hour in pouring rain?"

"Thirty minutes," Sheppard corrected.

"Same thing."

John shook his head. "You are something else, McKay."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Rodney could tell the intent was not complimentary.

Sheppard shrugged. "Forget it."

McKay had had it. "No, I won't." It was time for them to get this out and over with. He'd spent the entire trip walking on eggshells, trying to broach the subject, and being rebuffed at every turn. He reached a hand to stop Sheppard's forward progress, "If you've got something to say, then say it."

John felt the anger and emotion flare. He stopped and turned on McKay so fast the physicist almost fell back.

"You've always got to be right, even when you're wrong." Sheppard didn't care if he said something he knew he'd later regret; at that point, in the heat of the moment, when you throw all caution to the wind and let your heart overtake your mind.

"You're so damn egotistical and selfish that you can't see the sun from the stars, that's what I mean!" he accused.

McKay threw his hands in the air. "That's rich, coming from you. How many has it been Major? Three, four…five?" he demanded, his voice laced with venom from being backed in a corner.

The question threw Sheppard off. "Three what?" he asked, still pissed.

"People dead, Major. People that have died under your command." McKay knew it was now or never. Like a festering wound, the only way to rid the body of the toxin was to painfully rip the scab and let the poison drain. He was going to pick Sheppard's self-imposed scab and force him into releasing the poison tainting his insides.

Despite knowing he was treading dangerous ground, he was unprepared for the swing that hit him head on and knocked him on his ass. He raised a hand to his throbbing eye, hoping nothing was fractured. Damn it! McKay may have been a geek, but he knew how to fight. He jumped up and grabbed Sheppard's shoulders, as the man was turning to walk away. He twisted John around and took a swing at his face, connecting with Sheppard's lip and felt the skin split and the salty blood start to ooze. The momentum from the hit sent Sheppard down this time.

John stared at McKay in shock. His head had been given a serious blow and his ears were ringing from the impact. The rain was mixing with the blood from his busted lip, causing saliva, blood and water to merge and diluted, fall to his shirt. Sheppard angrily swiped the liquid with a wrist. "You son of a bitch!" he swore, and leapt up with a jump and drilled McKay in the stomach with his head, and both men fell hard to the ground. Sheppard quickly righted himself, and straddled McKay across his chest, yanking McKay's arms to either side of Rodney's head, immobilizing the man. "Take it back," he threatened.

McKay stared at him defiantly, "You need to talk about it, Major, or it's going to continue to eat you up and reduce you to an ineffective blob of humanity stuck in Heightmeyer's office and being good for nothing more than Wraith bait."

Sheppard's grip lessened as he tried to digest the words McKay had fired off in his rapid manner. "Wraith bait?" he echoed, with a hint of a smile, anger draining away as quickly as it had arrived.

Rodney sensed the Major's lessening hold on his arms, and surged up, shoving John to the side, where he fell, not resisting. McKay rubbed his arms and sat there, soaking wet, covered in mud. "Wraith bait." he repeated.

John pushed himself up into a sitting position beside McKay; his hair plastered to his forehead, swollen lip a compliment to McKay's black eye. "Did you mean it?"

"Mean what?"

"That you couldn't handle losing another so soon after Gaul's death?"

McKay blanched. "You heard?" He had said those words to Sheppard when John had lain unconscious in the infirmary after Beckett had revived him from the treatment to rid his body of the Wraith virus caused by the Tic-Wraith.

John nodded, scrubbing a hand across his face, wincing as he rubbed his lip inadvertently. "I can't do this, McKay. You're right, you know. Look at how many people have died…Gaul, Abrams, Sumner…and not even all on our side. I've had to kill. Wraith, Genii…ending lives isn't what I thought I'd signed on for."

"They'd kill you. You're only doing what we have to." McKay found it ironic that he was the one reassuring the soldier that killing was necessary, but he knew Sheppard was the optimist. He'd had a carefree nature, and he knew from the first time they'd met the Athosians and Sheppard offered friendship to Teyla by offering to have a cup of tea, that he'd believe in the best before he'd expect the worst.

"I know," Sheppard said. "I do, really. Especially the Wraith, but when I was changing…" John paused, searching for the words to describe what it'd felt like. The Wraith were like them in more ways than he'd have believed. He'd had all the same feelings but he'd also been driven by a hunger that had made everything else seem unimportant. It had made him think of a wounded animal. They'd turn on their beloved masters out of fear and pain. It was exactly what it'd been like lying in that infirmary bed. In one moment he could remember the friends around him, but the next he would've struck out with all he had to end that awful pain inside that begged to be satiated.

"You wouldn't understand," he finished lamely.

"You were one of them." McKay supplied, "You know what it feels like and you have a sympathy for them." Sheppard nodded. "It's the Stockholm effect." Rodney continued, "Or close to it, really."

Sheppard started to shake his head no. "Get real," he stood up, trying to brush off as much mud as possible.

"I'm serious," McKay insisted. "You wonder if you'll be able to face them again and fight effectively."

John offered a hand to McKay, pulling him to his feet. He wanted to deny Rodney's theory but found it was what he feared and it rankled him that McKay had so easily read him. Talk about open book, he'd thought McKay was one and now here he was being read just as easily.

"What if I can't? What if I hesitate, and it's just enough to cost a life?" Sheppard said, his voice barely more than a whisper in the wind, the downfall of rain threatening to drown out his admission.

Rodney stared at him hard, grabbing both his arms in a fierce grasp, "You can, Major. You won't. I promise." McKay knew that was it, he had broken through Sheppard's defenses and now hopefully John would begin to heal and recover.

Sheppard stood awkwardly, "You can let go."

McKay let his hands drop, "You won't try to hit me again?"

"Try?"

"Funny."

Sheppard grinned. "I thought so," he said, moving on the trail towards the river. It was now ankle deep mud and not a lot of fun slogging through. He knew they'd have some explaining to do when they got back to Atlantis. "Do you think Beckett would believe a run-in with a tree did this?" He gestured at the damage to their faces.

"Only if we could show him a tree with knuckles." McKay pointed at some telltale bruising already breaking out on Sheppard's chin area.

Sheppard winced, remembering the hit, "Yeah, about that, how did you learn to hit so hard?"

McKay had stopped listening to Sheppard, his attention drawn by the roaring in his ears, coming from ahead. He was looking at what had been a shallow meandering river earlier and now was a huge hungry monster clawing at the countryside. "Oh no."

John puzzled at McKay's response before he realized the cause. He stared in dismay at their only way back to the gate. The river had to have doubled in size and how deep it was now he could only begin to guess, probably four feet if he judged from the landmarks he remembered from earlier, up three feet from when they crossed before. Four feet was bad news. Four feet was going to carry some current, and probably enough force to yank them off their feet. This was going to be tricky, very tricky.