A/N: See, I promised it would be finished in three parts! Many, many thanks to everyone who reviewed. I'm seriously overwhelmed by the response this story has received. The bunnies are eating well!

sub•ter•fuge(sub'tur-fyOOj), noun. A deceptive device or stratagem.

Chapter 3: A pilot, a physicist, and a physician walk into a box…

Elizabeth looked up from her desk at the sound of the knock to find Sgt. Bates standing in her doorway.

"I have the team assembled, ma'am. We'll be ready to head out in ten minutes."

She gave him a small smile. "Thank you, Sergeant." With a nod of his head, he was gone and Elizabeth let out a sigh. They were half an hour overdue and given the positive report she had received from Lt. Ford and Teyla the day before, she really couldn't understand why. She had expected the treaty with the Corridons to be signed and delivered hours ago by a disgruntled John Sheppard complaining about having to play diplomat and a disgusted Rodney McKay complaining about the planet's lack of sanitation and a disenchanted Aiden Ford and Teyla Emmagan rolling their eyes at their teammates. More than once, she had seriously considered reassigning the team, just to give them a break from one another, but knew that the uproar that would cause would be worse than the petty bickering that had become the modus operandi for Sheppard's team.

The sound of the gate activating brought her to her feet and into the control room. Well, well, well, maybe they wouldn't have to deploy a unit to go retrieve them after all. The final chevron locked into place and she looked to Peter Grodin to confirm that it was indeed the delinquent group.

Peter furrowed his brow, "No IDC being received."

She frowned and even though the shield was still in place, Sgt. Bates had his men forming an armed perimeter around the gate.

"Atlantis, this is McKay, do you copy?"

Elizabeth let out a small breath at the radio transmission and responded, "Rodney, we were starting to get worried, you were due back half and hour ago."

"Yes, well, we ran into a little snag on our side."

Peter cut in then, "Dr. McKay, we haven't received your IDC."

"That's because I haven't transmitted it. Liz, we're not going to be coming home just yet."

She exchanged puzzled looks with Peter and mouthed the word, 'Liz'. Peter only shrugged in response.

"And why is that?" she inquired.

"Like I said, we've had a little problem and need you to send Carson over."

Well, that request sent the alarm bells ringing. "Rodney, is someone injured?"

"No…well…Major Sheppard has come down with some sort of bug and we don't want to return to Atlantis and expose everyone there to a potential contagion without Carson checking us out first. After all, Carson is our bug expert, you know."

Was she just imagining it, or was he stressing the word 'bug'?

"Very well, I'll have a medical team dispatched immediately."

"No! No, Lizzie, a team won't be necessary." Again with the nicknames; something was definitely not right. "I know how Bates and Markham and all the other medics like to trail along behind Carson, but we really only need him for the time being." Bates and Markham weren't medics, and Rodney knew that very well. "And I know it can be hard to track Carson down sometimes, but if you could just trace him down and have him jump on over here, we would really appreciate it." And there it was again, that small inflection on 'track' and 'trace' and 'jump'. "After all, he's got the best diagnostic skills of any of them; it must be something in his genes."

Okay, there was definitely something wrong. "I understand, Rodney." And although she didn't know why, she thought she did understand what he was asking her to do. "I'll get Carson over there as soon as he can put a field kit together. Do you need anything else?"

"Yes, is Lt. Ford handy?"

Lt. Ford? Well, she thought she had understood. He was still on Corridon. She was just about to say that, when Aiden came across the radio.

"Dr. McKay, I'm here. How are you and the Major doing with the negotiations?"

She heard a sigh of relief from Rodney. "Oh, you know, it was rough there for a while, but I think we've come to at least a tentative agreement. Major Sheppard decided to play hardball on a few key items and that cost him a little, but all in all we've come out of it okay."

"Good to hear."

"Yes, well, I just wanted to make sure you and Teyla had made it back to Atlantis all in one piece."

Elizabeth's frown deepened. This was definitely bad. The team was separated and whoever was monitoring the conversation thought Aiden and Teyla were back on Atlantis, and Rodney and the Lieutenant were doing everything to ensure they continued to believe that.

"We're fine, made one final stop at the Magistrate's office before we left, just to say goodbye to a few people. We found out some interesting things about the residential area of the city, some of the houses intrigued Teyla. She's looking forward to getting back to Corridon and doing a little exploration of the area, you know what an architecture buff she is."

"Really!" He sounded almost excited by the prospect. "It's not Frank Lloyd Wright, but I can see why she might be interested. I think that would be an excellent idea." There was a small, "Ow!" then a hurried, "But of course, that will have to wait until we resolve the issue with Major Sheppard."

"Sure, no problem, Doc."

"Okay, well, I've got to get going here. Liz, just send Carson over and we'll meet him at the gate."

"Very well, Rodney. Weir out."

The wormhole dissipated and Elizabeth turned to Peter. "Okay, either Rodney just sent us a coded message telling us to send Carson over because he needs his ATA gene and we need to bug him so that Markham can fly a jumper with Bates' security team and track him to their location, or one of us is loosing our minds."

It had been Teyla who had eventually put two and two together and come up with the requisite four. The more Aiden and she delved into the work of the Magistrate's daughter, the more obvious it became that she was working with her grandfather.

"Alma," Teyla had finally said with regret, "I am sorry if this offends you, but I do not believe your daughter is in any danger."

Alma had sunk to her seat. "I think you are correct and as relieved as I am that Rowan is probably safe, I cannot help but feel distressed as well."

Aiden could understand that sentiment. There couldn't be much worse than realizing you had been played the chump by your own father and daughter.

They had learned that Rowan had been working at a sort of archeological site on another planet; a temple with several Ancient's artifacts. Through the frequent communications she had with her mother, Rowan had told her that one piece in particular had the team very excited. She had been vague, and looking back, Alma realized that had been odd. Well, hind sight's twenty-twenty, they say. Although, Rowan had mentioned that it could hold the secret to defeating the Wraith threat forever. Over several months time, the excitement changed to frustration. Rowan's weekly visits became less frequent, often going several weeks without contacting home. When her parent's had confronted her with her unexplained absences, she had told them she had been going to spend time with her grandfather, a sort of mini-vacation.

Telmun, it ended up, had always been a kind of archeological buff and his stories and books were probably what inspired Rowan to study antiquities in the first place. He believed that the Ancient's technology would be the only way that the Wraith would be defeated and felt that Cowen's insistence that the Genii build bombs of their own was a waste of time and effort that could be better spent searching out the Ancient devices. His belief in this area seemed to border on religious obsession and his emersion in this pursuit was one of the main reasons Alma had severed her ties with her father.

After they had questioned her about her whereabouts, Rowan resumed her weekly visits to Corridon. They were always short, usually just a few hours at a time; just enough to make contact with her parents and check on her home in the residential district. She maintained the residence for when she eventually completed her work at the temple and permanently returned to Corridon, but had basically put most of her belongings that she hadn't taken with her to the research site into storage for safe keeping. Only the larger furniture that couldn't easily be moved to her parent's home remained.

Rowan's last visit had occurred the afternoon that the Atlantis team had arrived. Her mother had told her about the visitors and how excited Garris was to negotiate trade with them. Her original plans had been to stay the remainder of the week to attend the Founder's Celebration that was taking place, however, something had happened at the temple site and she was called away unexpectedly. The next morning, her parent's had received the letter saying she was being held. At the time, they had assumed Cowen had arranged for her to be called back to the offworld site, but now, they had come to believe she went on her own accord to notify her grandfather that Rodney McKay, someone who knew more about Ancient's technologies than anyone else, was sitting on Corridon.

Teyla considered the information for a moment, then Aiden noticed a look of realization dawn across her face; a real light bulb moment. "Telmun said he was familiar with the residential area" she told Aiden, "when he was making arrangements to meet Dr. McKay."

The light bulb went off for Aiden as well. "Rowan's house. He's holding them at her house."

Teyla turned excitedly to Alma and Garris, "We need directions to your daughter's home and, if possible, clothes so that we may blend with the general population."

"Of course," Alma offered.

Aiden cocked his head in the direction of the two bound Genii that sat on the floor. "What about them?"

"My personal guards will see to them," Garris offered.

Aiden scratched his head sheepishly, remembering the two men they had left unconscious under the tree in the courtyard. "Oh, right, about them…"

Before he could explain further, his radio crackled to life in his ear.

"Atlantis, this is McKay, do you copy?"

"Rodney, we were starting to get worried, you were due back half and hour ago."

"Yes, well, we ran into a little snag on our side."

He and Teyla listened carefully, relieved that Dr. McKay was okay, and understanding that he was requesting backup in the form of Dr. Beckett and a cloaked jumper. Aiden wished he could find out how Major Sheppard was and tell Dr. McKay they had a pretty good idea where he was being held. Then McKay gave him his chance.

"Yes, is Lt. Ford handy?"

He almost missed it, Teyla elbowed him hard and he responded. "Dr. McKay, I'm here. How are you and the Major doing with the negotiations?"

"Oh, you know, it was rough there for a while, but I think we've come to at least a tentative agreement. Major Sheppard decided to play hardball on a few key items and that cost him a little, but all in all we've come out of it okay."

Teyla smiled brightly then and he closed his eyes in relief; they were both alive. "Good to hear."

"Yes, well, I just wanted to make sure you and Teyla had made it back to Atlantis all in one piece."

Now to try to let him know they were on their way. "We're fine, made one final stop at the Magistrate's office before we left, just to say goodbye to a few people. We found out some interesting things about the residential area of the city, some of the houses intrigued Teyla. She's looking forward to getting back to Corridon and doing a little exploration of the area, you know what an architecture buff she is."

"Really! It's not Frank Lloyd Wright, but I could see why she might be interested. I think that would be an excellent idea. Ow! But of course, that will have to wait until we resolve the issue with Major Sheppard."

He frowned at the small expression of pain, worried that Telmun may have caught on to the true meaning of their conversation. "Sure, no problem, Doc." And then, with a final request for Beckett, McKay was gone.

Aiden found he couldn't hold back his grin anymore than Teyla could. "Atlantis is sending backup," she beamed.

"Yeah, let's go stake out this house before they get here."

Carson stood on the stairs to the control room, chewing on a thumb nail as Dr. Zelenka finished the work on his stethoscope.

"It is a simple homing beacon," Radek told him as he snapped the diaphragm and rim assembly back on the instrument. "It is very small. No one should notice it even if they disassemble it. But Sgt. Bates will be able to track you by it, so try to keep it close."

Dr. Weir walked up beside him, "Are you ready, Doctor?"

"No, not really, but no use delaying the inevitable."

She placed a hand on his shoulder. "We could still send someone else; try to pass off Sgt. Markham as you, seeing as he has the ATA gene as well. Hope that whoever is keeping the Major and Doctor from returning won't know the difference."

Tempting, he thought, but shook his head with a sigh. "No, I have a feeling they really do need a doctor. Rodney wouldn't have made the call if Major Sheppard were able to do it himself."

She frowned, "Unfortunately, I agree."

They all looked up as the jumper bay door slid open and Jumper One sunk into the embarkation room. "I have reset Sgt. Bates' radio to Frequency Three." Zelenka informed them. "You will just have to let Lt. Ford know that, so that he can reprogram his radio and hopefully make contact with the security team. No one monitoring Rodney's radio on Frequency One will be able to hear them."

Elizabeth nodded her understanding and Radek keyed his radio. "Sgt. Bates, this is radio check on Frequency Three, do you copy?"

"Reading you five by five, Doctor. We're ready to commence."

Elizabeth keyed her own earpiece. "As soon as the wormhole establishes, you are clear to embark Jumper One. We have no idea what you will find on the other side, but in stealth mode, any one waiting with Dr. McKay shouldn't be able to detect you. Dr. Beckett will follow immediately after."

"Copy that," Markham responded.

"Be careful and bring them home safe."

"That's the plan," Bates assured her.

"Dial the Corridon home world," Elizabeth directed Peter. As the chevrons began engaging, Jumper One wavered, and then disappeared. Carson was always torn whenever he saw that; the child-like fascination that had drawn him to medicine in the first place, the part that just wanted to say 'cool!' whenever it happened, battled with the practicality of his adult self that just wanted to say, 'now that's just wrong, transportation devices shouldn't just up and vanish like that'.

The final chevron locked, and Elizabeth gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Good luck." He gave her a small nervous smile with a nod and received the same in return from Radek.

The wormhole whooshed into existence and from the control panel Peter called, "Jumper One, you have a go."

A small ripple on the surface was the only indication that the craft had exited the room. Elizabeth keyed her radio. "Dr. McKay, this is Atlantis."

"Go ahead, Liz. Is Carson on his way?"

"Dr. Beckett will be there momentarily. We just had a problem with some interference on your last radio transmission and wanted to check Frequency Three. Are you reading us okay, now?"

"Uh, yes, you're coming through loud and clear."

"Great, Carson is heading your way now."

With a final indrawn breath, Carson shouldered his pack and picked up his medical field kit. The only thing he hated more than flying the jumpers was traveling through the gate; quite simply, it made him want to puke. The surface glimmered and rippled eerily before him, waiting to break him down into his individual molecules so that they could be whipped across the expanse of space and reassembled on the Corridon home planet. Again, the thought 'that's just wrong' came to mind. He closed his eyes and stepped into the swirling roller coaster ride that was stargating. A millisecond later, his foot hit solid ground and he stumbled slightly from the disorientation that always accompanied such a trip.

He opened his eyes to see four armed Genii standing just off the steps to the gate platform. About ten meters away stood another dozen Genii along with Rodney and a very battered Major Sheppard. He noted several small bandages on his face, quite a bit of visible bruising and a crude sling supporting his left arm. A little further down the road sat a small enclosed conveyance, possible a delivery truck of sorts, with an alien bipedal animal harnessed to the cart and munching on a low shrub near the road. The guards at the steps moved toward him and he lowered his case so that he could raise his hands. McKay started forward then, a life signs detector in his hand, with the Major resting his right hand on Rodney's shoulder, using him as a human crutch.

"Hold it, right there," Rodney told the guards and with a glance at the detector in his hand, they stopped. When he and the Major reached the bottom of the stairs, Rodney punched a few buttons on the device, and with a satisfied, "There!" he smiled. "Glad you could make it, Carson. Just do me a favor and stay within fifteen feet of me at all times. I would hate to explode today." Major Sheppard simply rolled his eyes, but said nothing.

Carson bent and picked up his field kit, "Christ all mighty, Rodney. What have you gotten me into this time?"

John rested his throbbing skull back against the wall of the Corridon equivalent of a van truck, but found the jarring of the cobblestone road only added to his pain. For a second he was tempted to lay his head on McKay's shoulder, but the previous night's shock of waking up to find Rodney leaning over him quickly chased away that idea. Not going there, he thought, before grabbing Beckett's pack as a makeshift pillow and stretching out as best he could on the floor. McKay made room, without comment, by moving over to sit beside Carson.

"Doc, please tell me you brought something stronger than Tylenol with you." He had gone through every one of the little packets of the OTC painkiller McKay had in his pack and he might as well have just been eating the peppermints from the MREs.

He heard rummaging beside him and Carson placed a small pink pill in his hand. "Here, not the strongest I could give you, but I won't pull out the big guns until I can at least examine you more thoroughly."

He washed it down with the canteen Rodney handed him and closed his eyes again. The bumpy road was the last thing his body needed, but the cart was better than the alternative; walking two plus miles to the gate. There was no way in hell he could have done that. Still, McKay had been right. They had to be there when the Doc came through the gate to ensure the Genii didn't try to use him the way they had used John, and he couldn't stay behind if Rodney's little fifteen-foot ruse was going to continue to work. So, the Genii had found a truck, of sorts, completely enclosed so the prisoners couldn't see where they were going, and pulled along by some sort of kangaroo-ostrich-horse creature-thing. It was like someone had taken Garanimal labels and Elmer's glue and gone to town. He had no idea what they called the animal, but was glad Ford wasn't there to give it his own name.

In his shut-eyed darkness, he felt Beckett move over and lift the bandage on his injured shoulder. He flinched away from the touch. "Sorry, lad, I just need to check this out." Oh, how could you not trust a man who calls you 'lad'? The physician continued his probing, complete with mumbled angry curses, and John gritted his teeth through the ordeal.

"Do you really need to do that, Carson?" Rodney asked squeamishly from the direction of John's feet.

"Did you suddenly acquire a medical degree while I wasn't looking, Rodney? Did Hippocrates himself descend and bestow it upon your fat head?"

He knew Beckett was only lashing out because of his outrage over the physical damage that Telmun had done to John's body, but what the good doctor didn't understand was the psychological damage that the knife had carved into the two of them. John shook his head and addressed the physician, "Just let it go, Doc."

Realizing he had ventured into unfamiliar territory, Beckett changed the subject. "Okay, would you like to fill me in on just why you found it so important that I join you in your own personal hostage crisis, now?" John could hear the doctor rummaging through his kit as he asked the question.

"We need a third ATA gene," Rodney told him quietly. John's head was thankful that the conversation had turned to a topic that would require lowered voices.

"So, the Genii are checking DNA before they take you captive these days, are they?" John felt an alcohol wipe on his arm and opened his eyes to see Carson preparing a hypodermic needle. "That shoulder doesn't look good, Major. I'm administering some antibiotics." John nodded then grimaced slightly at the pinprick. Compared to what he had endured the last few days, it felt like little more than the brush of a feather.

"No, they don't know we need a third gene. They just think you're here to take care of the Major."

"As I bloody well should be; the man is a mess. What exactly happened to you anyway?"

John didn't move from his position on the floor. "The Genii and I had a disagreement on whether McKay here should help them or not."

"I take it they won."

"Well, let's just say we called it a draw. Rodney, show him your latest invention. You're going to love this, Doc."

John lay on the pack and waited for Beckett's response. "Is that what I think it is?"

"It's a bomb I made with C-5."

Carson lowered his voice even further to a frantic whisper. "That's chewing gum or I'm the Queen Mum! Have you lost complete use of the good sense God saw fit to give you?"

John started to chuckle, then placed his arm over his face when the thrumming in his head escalated.

"Oh, sure, laugh it up. But I just want to point out one thing, Major, you're still breathing. If it wasn't for my little creativity under pressure here, Telmun would have moved on to demonstrating filleting and you know it."

John removed his arm and lifted his head so that he could regard the sulking physicist. "You're right." And he was. He had no doubt in his mind that he would have been dead within minutes of Rodney arriving if the scientist hadn't come up with his little con game. They would have done it for no other reason than to show McKay that they meant business. He had to admit, the man had cojones of steel to pull off that little Wriggles Spearmint deception of his.

"Well, of course I'm…what? What did you say?"

"I said you're right. You saved my life and I owe you big time."

"Oh…then, in that case, don't mention it."

"I won't. Just try not to let it go to your head; it's crowed enough in here without making room for your ego as well."

Rodney was silent for a minute, then asked with concern, "Are you feeling better, Major? Did Carson's little magical med help?"

Oh, hell, he knew he shouldn't have said anything. The only thing worse than a pouting McKay was a mother hen McKay. He should have known that telling the man that he had saved his life would have made him feel responsible for maintaining it. "Not really, but I don't think it's had time to kick in yet."

"You're probably right. Is there anything I can do?"


"Anything to make you more comfortable?"


"How about propping your feet up? Carson, would propping his feet up help?"

"McKay, I just thanked you for saving me, I would hate to have to kill you so soon after something like that."

Although he still had his eyes closed, he could have sworn he could feel the daggers Rodney was glaring into him. "Fine, you just lie there and wallow in pain. See if I care."

Ah, much better. Once he had successfully pissed Rodney off to a more comfortable emotional distance, he decided to find out how the man's little veiled message had been received on Atlantis. "So did Weir follow what our Navajo code talker here had to say?"

McKay glowered at him, "Like you could have done any better."

Actually, he doubted that he could have, but after the last response he had gotten for giving Rodney a compliment, he'd be damned if he would admit it.

"She got the gist of it," Beckett informed them. "As we speak, there is a cloaked security detail tracking a little beacon Radek slipped into my equipment. If Lt. Ford understood the message, he should be changing radio frequencies and talking to Sgt. Bates right now."

"How many men?" John asked.

"Six in the jumper."

"And if they can meet up with Ford and Teyla, they'll have a force of eight." John considered the team's options.

Rodney must have been thinking along the same lines as John, because he asked him, "Will that be enough to secure the building or will they just come in for a rapid extraction?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure how many guards are in the building we're being held in and who exactly the Corridons are backing in this whole mess. Without their support, or at least non-involvement, there is no way our guys will be able to openly attack the house, which would mean in and out as quickly and quietly as possible."

"That means we wouldn't be able to take the box with us." Rodney seemed more alarmed by that possibility than a small battle taking place outside their prison door.

"In all likelihood," John agreed.

"Well, that's unacceptable," Rodney told him. "We can't just leave it for the Genii."

"Leave what?" Beckett asked.

John ignored Carson's question. He knew exactly where McKay's train of thought was heading and didn't like the destination. "We don't even know where it goes, exactly, or even if the Genii could use anything they find if they could get it to work."

"Get what to work?" the physician asked again.

"That's not the point, Major. It may be the key to defeating the Wraith. I won't let something this potentially important just slip through our fingers."

Carson looked from Rodney to John to Rodney again. "Let what slip through our fingers?"

"So what do you suggest we do, McKay?"

"We do what we had planned to do to all along; we find the 'well of thought'."

"What's a 'well of thought'?"

John shook his head. "That was the plan before it looked like we might get out of here. We have a strike team ready to break us out and take us home. I won't risk your and the Doc's lives for a maybe."

"Major, if we don't go and at least see what this is, you are risking all the lives on Atlantis."

"Okay, I'm very fond of my life," Carson told them, "How exactly are you risking it?"

John let out a frustrated growl and regretted it the instant hammers pounded behind his eyeballs. Leave it to McKay to play the save Atlantis card. "Fine, but we do it fast, before the team has time to hit. I figure they will at least wait until dark if they are coming in covert."

Rodney smiled smugly, "Of course, Major."

"I'm serious, McKay, in and out, a quick look around and then we're out of there."

"I wouldn't want it any other way."

Carson massaged his temples. "Would someone please tell me what you are talking about?"

Rodney continued to grin, "Carson, you are going to love it."

John couldn't hold back his own smile at Beckett's worried scowl, "Oh, bloody hell, I am so completely screwed."

Teyla inclined her head in greeting at another person on the street then leaned in close to Aiden. "Stop fidgeting with the shirt, we are trying to blend in."

Aiden adjusted the billowing mass of fabric around his shoulders trying to make it sit properly. "I can't help it, I feel like a parachute. How can these people wear clothes like this?"

Teyla really didn't understand Aiden's anxiety, she actually found them quiet comfortable. The Corridon dress consisted of flowing long pants, a fitted sleeveless undershirt and billowing open overshirt that acted almost as a jacket. Aside from the fact that her pants were a little more snug around the waist and her shirt was more form fitting, there was little difference between the men's and women's attire.

"It does not matter how you feel, what matters is that you do not draw attention to yourself."

The Lieutenant nodded with a sigh and tried to walk as casually as he could down the street. Teyla knew the strange clothing was not the only reason Aiden was uncomfortable. Given the garments, they had been forced to leave most of their gear behind at the Magistrate's home, as a P90 was not a common accessory to their outfits. They had been limited to their sidearms, which were concealed under their outer shirts and two knifes each, one on the hip and one in the boot. They also still wore their radios, which were hidden by the hats they wore; hers was more of a floppy sunhat and his was a brimless cap.

Lt. Ford had transferred his radio over to Frequency Three when the message came from Dr. Weir, and he had made contact with Sgt. Bates soon after the team came through the gate. The troops from Atlantis were waiting in the jumper near the gate, as there was really nowhere in the city to set down during the day without notice. Even cloaked, if someone runs into an invisible wall while walking through the park, it tends to attract attention. So, they were monitoring the signal from Dr. Beckett and waiting to see if Ford and Teyla made visual contact.

They had followed the directions provided by Alma to Rowan's house and had been casually strolling the streets in the area for almost and hour. They had observed several Genii entering and exiting the house, so that she believed there were possibly twelve to fifteen men stationed inside the building. A carriage of sorts, pulled by one of the beasts of burden she had observed several times throughout the city, came around a corner and disappeared into an alleyway beside the house.

She placed a hand on the Lieutenant's arm and nodded toward the transport. They crossed the street then and ducked into an alley of their own, one they had scouted earlier and found that they could observe the house from relative seclusion. The late afternoon shadows darkened the alley with the truck so that they couldn't see exactly what was happening, but a call from Sgt. Bates indicated that the signal from Dr. Beckett had stopped.

"It's them," Aiden told her, then he called back on the radio, "Bates, follow the signal so you can see where the house is located. We're in an alley across the street."

"Already ahead of you, Lieutenant; we're right on top of you. By the way, nice threads. Think I can get a set of those? I was thinking of taking up skydiving."

Aiden decided then would be a good time to scratch the top of his head with his middle finger. His action was met with a chuckle from Markham and some of the other men in the jumper. "Markham, see if you can find someplace nearby to set the jumper down. The sun should set in about another hour. The streets stay pretty dark, so you should be able to move back to our location without being seen. We'll rendezvous three blocks north, then move in from there."

"Copy that, Lieutenant. See you in a few."

Teyla leaned back against the wall of the alley. They were so close, every muscle twitched to burst in and break her team members out of their prison. But she understood the need for caution. An additional ten men had come back from the stargate, bringing the number of Genii in the house close to two dozen, give or take. Even with the reinforcements from Atlantis, they were outmanned, three to one. The superior firepower of the Earth weapons would give them an advantage, but they would still need the element of surprise and stealth to make sure everyone got out and back to Atlantis safe.

Aiden looked over at her with a grimace and she knew he was feeling the frustration as much as she. "So, now we wait."

"Yes," she agreed with disappointment, "we wait."

Carson rotated the Major's shoulder at best he could then with a sigh released it. John's hand went instinctively to the injured appendage and he released his own held breath. "Well, it looks as if you've torn the rotator cuff. Its going to take surgery before you get full movement back."

From his table of scattered papers, Rodney mumbled, "He didn't tear it; the son of a bitch cut it."

Carson blanched at that, feeling a little weak in the knees himself. What had Rodney gotten him into, indeed? He had only had the distinct displeasure of meeting Telmun briefly at the gate, then he had stopped by again once they had been ushered into their current holding room. He had never threatened him, or anyone else in the room for that matter, but Carson could tell by the confidence that exuded from the man that that could change at the drop of a hat. He had done little more than ask after Major Sheppard's health which had received no more than an icy glare from Rodney and then he inquired about Rodney's progress. Rodney had managed to avoid any answers by criticizing the shoddy work by the Genii researchers and complaining that he basically had to start from scratch. Telmun had assured him that he had every confidence that he would figure out how to operate the device and soon; the unspoken 'or else' lingered dangerously in the air when he left.

Carson cleared his throat and continued briefing the Major on his condition. "Other than that, a mild concussion and the obvious cuts and bruises, some of which will probably leave some rather sexy scars, I think you are okay, relatively speaking. If we were back on Atlantis, I would have you confined to the infirmary with a nice supply of pain meds to keep you comfy and quiet, but here, all I can do is offer some more potent pills than I already gave you. They should help with the pain but they will really knock you for a loop."

"That sure is tempting, Doc, but no can do. Not with a jail break in the near future and a trip through Rodney's magic box."

"I figured as much. Did the Darvocet help any? It was a rather low dose, but better than the over the counter meds you were taking." He helped the Major into a new sling he had produced from his field kit.

"Took the edge off. Don't worry; it's the best I've felt in days."

He tried to smile at the positive spin the Major was putting on his help, but really couldn't. The whole situation was abysmal, from the treatment John had received at the hand of the Genii to the treatment he was denied until Rodney stepped in and demanded it with his fake grenade and genuine outrage. Carson watched the scientist as he shuffled through the papers as he had been doing for almost the whole hour they had been in their storeroom holding cell. He wasn't sure what Rodney was doing, although it had obviously been as much a ruse as his bomb, as Carson had caught him several times intently watching his examination of the Major.

"Major," Rodney directed him without looking up, "take the drugs. You and Carson can stay here. I'll go by myself."

"Not just no, McKay, but hell no. No one is going to any strange planet by themselves."

"Oh, and just what do you plan to do, topple over on anyone who attacks us? Make them dizzy while you sway precariously where you stand?"

"It's more than that, Rodney," Carson told him, "what if Telmun or one of his cronies comes back while you're off traipsing about the galaxy? Kind of puts a big hole in your story if you're gone and there's no explosion."

Rodney frowned then looked at Sheppard who was smirking at the point Beckett had just made. "Hey, you're the one who came with exploding Double Mint, not me."

With a mumbled, "Fine," he went back to his papers.

John leaned back against the wall. "So, McKay, you figured out how to get us back from Ancient Neverland once we get over there?"

"I think so."

"Think?" the Major asked.

"Yes, think, as in use your brain to logically work out problems and come to reasonable solutions. Don't worry, I won't hold it against you that you aren't familiar with such an alien concept."

"And," Carson cut in, "what have you come up with?"

"There are six symbols on the box. I believe those are part of the return address."

Carson furrowed his brow. "I thought we needed seven symbols."

"We do, six symbols to represent the home address and the seventh is the point of origin."

"So, have you figured out the point of origin?" Sheppard asked.

"Maybe, but I need to try something first. I need you two to take your places by the handprints on the box." The two men moved into position as Rodney continued to explain. "There is a passage of text that says something about 'looking to the center in order to begin your return'. I can never tell if these things are just bad interpretations or the Ancients just got their jollies playing elusive and mysterious higher beings. Either way, I have an idea what it might mean."

He nodded and all three touched the handprints before them. As before when just John and Rodney had activated it, the glass box glowed blue and a puddle formed on the side no one was touching. But this time, something was different. In the center of the box, seemingly hovering equidistant between all sides, glowed a seventh symbol.

Major Sheppard let out a breathy, "Cool."

Rodney gave a wide eyed grin. "My sentiments exactly."

And all Carson could think was, Oh, that's just wrong.

Aiden poked his head around the corner and watched as Bates led the security team through the shadowed streets of the residential district. Only a few locals remained on the avenue and those that noticed the men glanced around worriedly then quickened their pace. He waved them into the alley and they crouched in the darkness.

"Welcome to Corridon," he told them.

"Thanks," Bates replied, "looks like a nice place if it wasn't for all the damned Genii running around."

"Yeah, let's see what we can do about that."

He filled them in on what he had Teyla had learned. Alma had provided them with a rough layout of the house. A foyer on the entrance level led to a hallway, with a kitchen and dinning area to the right and a large open front room to the left. Upstairs were three rooms that Rowan used as sleeping quarters and home office space. Below the staircase leading to the second level was a door to the basement level. On that level was a layout similar to the upper story of the house with three rooms; a large storeroom, a laundry room, and a small food cellar. Aiden assumed the basement level was where they were keeping them, it only had the one way in or out through the stairway, and anyone trying to penetrate the house would have to go through most of the men stationed there to reach it. Given the number of men they were talking about, they figured more than half of them were probably bunked in the parlor on the main floor.

"The way I figure it, we've got two choices." He and Teyla had stripped off their outer shirts to give themselves freer movement during the incursion. The evening air was cool but not uncomfortable against the skin of his arms and shoulders exposed by the lightweight undershirt. He and Teyla had chosen the darkest colors available for the clothing in anticipation of their nighttime endeavors. "We can either wait for them to bed down, take out any guards and subdue the remaining sleepers, or we can attack now with a full frontal assault. Either way, we should have surprise and superior firepower on our side."

He looked around the group, to see if anyone had any input for or against either option. Bates, he notices, seemed to be distracted, tapping on the side of a small monitor he was carrying.

Teyla evidently noticed it, too, because she asked, "Sergeant, is there a problem?"

"Yeah, I just lost the signal tracking Dr. Beckett."

For the first time in his life, Rodney was the first to step out of the worm hole and onto an alien planet. He had come to accept his position nestled safely in the middle of the group, knowing that tactically it made the most sense. After all, the others had reams more combat training than he did. Still, it grated him that his team felt they would always need to surround him in a sort of human barrier against attack. Today, however, that position was reserved for Major Sheppard, and Rodney instinctively reached out and steadied the wobbly man as he stumbled through the gate. He was quickly followed by Carson, not exactly the best person to watch their sixes, but the way Rodney had figured it, if anything jumped out at them on the other side of the puddle, it would be too busy devouring him to bother with the others.

They seemed to be in a dark room, with only the rippling glow of the stargate to illuminate the way. But as they stepped off the platform, lights snapped on in rapid succession to reveal an enormous warehouse-sized space. The walls were lined with screens similar to those on Atlantis, the bizarre Ancient symbols scrolling lazily across the light blue surfaces. Periodically spaced around the room were control stations, at least fifty of them, each with a smaller display apparently for personal use that showed the same data that slid hypnotically across the larger screens.

Sheppard stepped down two steps then decided to sit. Carson put his field kit down and helped the injured man to the floor. Rodney studied his teammate with concern. He was pale, slightly shaky, possibly feverish, and Rodney realized that neither of them had really slept in at least thirty-six hours. Combined with his injuries, he knew the man was literally on his last leg.

The Major noticed the look and scowled at him with a wave of his hand. "Go. Figure out the mysteries of the universe. You've got ten minutes. That should be more than enough time for the whiz kid you're always claiming to be."

Rodney continued on into the room, noticing a large line of text carved into the floor. "I knew they had to have gotten it wrong."

Carson looked up from his seat next to Sheppard. "What is it?"

"It's not the 'well of thought', ridiculous use of poetic license. It's the 'repository of knowledge'."

Rodney looked around the room in awe. It couldn't be. It just couldn't. Then again… "Oh. My. God."

He moved quickly to the nearest station and whipped out his laptop.

"McKay? Something wrong?"

"No, Major, everything is right. Very, very right."

He quickly interfaced the Earth computer with the Ancient's data port as he had done numerous times on Atlantis and scanned the information spooling rapidly across the screen. He had linked to an index of sorts, a listing of data sources available for retrieval. The list seemed to be never ending, rolling by so fast that he couldn't even read it and after a whole minute, it was still going. He let out a childish giggle of delight.

"Rodney," Carson asked, "what have you found that's got you so giddy?"

"It's an archive. No, no, it's THE archive."

"You mean like the database on Atlantis?" John asked.

"Major, this place makes the database on Atlantis look like the CliffsNotes on Ancient knowledge."


"Wow? Wow? Sheppard, I don't think you realize exactly what this place could mean for us. We could literally find the user's manuals for every piece of equipment we have come across. We could study every tactical strategy the Ancient's employed against the Wraith. We wouldn't have to find a ZedPM, because somewhere in here is how to build one ourselves."

"That'd be cool."

"Oh, you're just trying to piss me off now. But it won't work. I will not let you ruin this discovery for me. I will not, no matter what you do."

"You've got five minutes, McKay, then we have to head back."

"Okay, you just ruined it."

"Sorry, but Ford and his posse should be showing up soon and I really hate being late when people are coming to rescue me."

He knew the Major was right, knew he couldn't stay it this room of wonder. Still, the possibilities, the hope, the…everything that this place offered; it was absolutely mind-boggling. With a final sigh, he peeled his eyes from the still tumbling list of data and began disconnecting and gathering up his belongings and repacking them.

"Okay, as soon as we get the box back to Atlantis, I need to put together a team. I'll lead it of course, and I should probably bring Radek, although someone should stay on Atlantis to make sure everything stays up and running and Kavanaugh doesn't stick his nose into anything important. Maybe we'll rotate through…"

He reached the DHD and started to dial in the address as revealed on the box when Carson reached out a hand and stopped him. "You know, we could just dial straight home to Atlantis, they never took my IDC. The way I had it mixed in with all my other equipment, I don't think they realized what it was." He rummaged in his kit and pulled out the devise.

Rodney shook his head violently. "Oh, no. I will not leave the box now. Not after what I've seen. There is no way I'm letting this baby out of my sight."

Carson seemed to be ignoring him as he continued to stare into his field kit. He pulled out his stethoscope with an embarrassed grimace. "Oops."

"Oops, Carson?" Rodney asked.

"I don't suppose they would be able to track my homing beacon over here would they?"

"No, Carson, it would have pretty much stopped transmitting the second you stepped through the gate."

John shook his head in disbelief and threw up his good arm. "Well, hell, if they loose the signal, they're going to assume the worst. They're probably about to storm the house right now, if they haven't already. Dial it up, McKay, we need to get back."

With a terse nod, Rodney dialed the address. As the wormhole established, the lights clicked off behind them. Carson stepped through the gate, followed by Sheppard. With one final, longing look back, Rodney stepped out of the find of a lifetime and into the line of fire of Telmun's gun.

To his right, he saw two guards each holding Carson and the Major. Two more men stood behind Telmun. Without a word, he fired the gun, and pain exploded through Rodney's lower right abdomen. With wide eyed shock, he collapsed to his knees as Sheppard yelled out, "God damnit!" Carson struggled futilely against his guards, but gave up when they pointed their own revolvers at him.

With slow deliberation, Telmun walked the few steps over to Rodney and picked up his life signs detector. "Don't worry, Doctor, I'm not going to kill you, yet."

No longer able to stay upright, Rodney crumpled the rest of the way to the floor. He pulled his hand up from the wound, staring in wonder at the blood. All he could think was, I can't believe that son of a bitch just did that.

Telmun signaled the two guards behind him. "Activate it." The two men moved to the box and each touched a side, the box glowed to life and as soon as the event horizon formed, Telmun tossed the fake bomb through the gate. He stood so that he was looking down on Rodney's prone form on the floor. "Now," he told him with a smile, "I'm going to kill you."

John watched in horror as Telmun moved the gun up so that it was pointing at McKay's head. Rodney just stared at their captor as he cocked the hammer on his pistol.

"Wait!" John yelled. "Just…wait, I'll show you how it works."

"Major, don't you dare," McKay gritted out between clenched teeth.

John ignored him. "Just let the doctor take care of him, and I'll show you how it works."

Telmun lowered the gun. "Very well, Major. It is so nice to see that at least someone has come to his senses."

The guards released John and Carson and both men skidded to their knees next to McKay. "I need my kit," Carson told him and John turned and retrieved the required equipment. "Rodney, you need to move your hand, lad, so I can see the entry."

Rodney lay and breathed raggedly through his nose, his jaw locked against the pain. When he didn't respond to the Doctor's request, John pulled it away. The bloody hand flew to John's shirt, forming a red fist print as it grasped at the fabric. "You cannot show him the archive, John. You can't. Son of a bitch! Did you see what he did to me?"

John pried the hand away from his shirt and grasped it in his own. "Rodney, calm down. Carson's going to take care of you." Good advise, if only he could follow it himself. His own heart was racing as he looked over at Beckett as he worked. The physician's mouth was tight as he applied a pressure dressing to Rodney's wound.

Carson rolled him over slightly to get a look at his back. The pressure tightened on John's hand and he squeezed back when Rodney gasped in pain. "It looks like the bullet passed through, but he's loosing blood. We need to get him back to Atlantis, now." And he went to work applying another bandage on the exit wound.

John turned to Telmun. "Look, I'll show you how to activate the box, but you have to send Beckett and McKay back to the stargate and let them go back to Atlantis."

"Tell me how to activate it."

"Major, don't do it."

John let out a sigh and squeezed Rodney's hand again. "Sorry, McKay."

"Sheppard, don't."

He ignored McKay and turned back to Telmun. "You need two people to touch the sides."

"We have done that, it doesn't work. Now don't waste my time, or I will shoot the medical doctor as well." He pointed the gun with deliberate calm at Carson.

"No! It only works if you have the correct genetic code. You have to be a descendent of the Ancients to get it to go to the right place. If two people with the Ancient's genes touch the sides, it dials the correct address." He could feel Rodney freeze beside him and he glanced down into eyes widening in realization of what John was doing; sending the bastard into the god damned Roach Motel, that's what.

"And you went there? Did you see the weapon?"

Oh, the man was nuttier than a fruitcake and John planned to play that to his advantage. "We saw it," he lied. "We all have the gene, two of us can activate the gate and you can go see it yourself."

"And how do I get back?"

"We have the return address. I'll write it down for you."

"How can you be sure it doesn't need an Ancient gene to return? No, I think I will take Dr. McKay with me, just to be sure."

"In case you haven't noticed, you shot McKay. He's not going anywhere, and Beckett's staying here to take care of him. If you take anyone, you're taking me."

He seemed to consider for a moment, then nodded. "Very well, activate the devise."

The grip tightened on his hand again and Carson let out a strangled, "Major."

He looked down at McKay with a smirk, "Told you I owed you big time, this should make it even." He lowered his voice to a whisper, placing Rodney's hand back on his chest with a final pat. "Besides if anyone can find a way to bring me back it's you, McKay."

Unless of course it really was a trap and it opened on a gate in orbit or Rodney's pit of poisonous snakes. No use thinking about that now. He had made his decision. With Telmun gone, Rodney and Carson would be fine, that's all that mattered. He stood and went to one side of the box. "Carson, if you would do the honors."

"John, don't do this," Rodney pleaded.

John ignored him. "Carson?"

Beckett looked between the two men, "Are you sure about this, lad?"

Again with the 'lad', he thought, could you make it any more difficult? With an indrawn breath of resolve he nodded. Carson frowned but stood and placed his hand on the box. John placed his on the other side and it glowed to life. He noted with irony that Rodney's blood on his hand formed a visible handprint to mimic the invisible one on the glassy surface.

Telmun ordered the first guard through the portable gate then motioned to John. He suddenly felt glued to the spot, unable to move forward. A second guard pulled him by the arm so that he stood before the opening. He avoided looking at both Rodney and Carson and prepared to step through when he heard a commotion from outside the door.

The guard that stood behind him turned as well, and John heard a muffled "Fire in the hole."

Ford! Talk about perfect timing.

The charge was small, just enough for the door and frame to explode inward. The form of Sgt. Bates appeared through the dust, P90 raised and the order of "Down! Down! On the ground!" sprung from his lips.

The guard that was now in front of John raised his gun and Bates fired a short controlled burst into his chest. The man toppled backward so that John had to raise his good arm to block the body, and instead caught it in his decent. The weight of the man crashed into him and his already wobbly legs could no longer support both himself and the guard.

Somewhere off to his side, he could hear Rodney chanting "No. No. No, no, nonononono!" As if by repeating the denial progressively faster and louder he could stop the inevitable.

But John couldn't seem to cease his backward momentum. With an exclaimed, "Oh, Shit!" he staggered back and was swallowed by the shimmer of the event horizon.

He was just amazed how quickly things tended to go all pear-shaped when he spent any amount of time with John and Rodney.

When the explosions and shooting started in earnest, Carson didn't know whether to cheer or scream. He had compromised by throwing himself to floor and curling up in a ball next to Rodney. But when the injured man had started yelling "No," next to him, he decided he should probably see what immediate concern had him all riled up. He looked up to see Major Sheppard and the Genii guard disappear into the stargate. Well, that definitely wasn't good.

The shooting had stopped, although there was a lot of yelling going on on the other side of the room. With a quick glance over he saw Lt. Ford and Teyla had entered the room, guns in hand, and two other Atlantis personnel were standing just outside the doorway. They appeared to be in some sort of standoff with the remaining Genii. On the floor beside him, Rodney had managed to roll to his stomach and was half crawling, half pulling himself away.

"Carson, help me."

He got on all fours and placed a halting hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Just stay down. It will all be over shortly," he assured him.

"No, help with the legs."

What? Then he realized that Rodney wasn't trying to make it to the door, he was heading for the stargate and the booted feet of the Genii guard who Sgt. Bates had shot that were sticking out of the watery surface.

With monumental effort, Rodney heaved himself up to his knees. He hissed in pain and clutched at the bandages on his side, then grabbed one foot and started to pull with a groan. Carson crawled around to the other foot and started pulling, as well.

"Would you mind telling me why we are doing this?" The guard's hips appeared, freakishly suspended in the middle of the puddle, as if he were going through the gate doing the limbo.

Rodney released his hold on the boot, leaned forward and grabbed a handful of Genii pants. "Because, Carson, matter that enters a wormhole in a discreet package…" He leaned back, biting down on the moan of pain, and using his own weight to pull the body further out of the event horizon.

Carson pulled as well, and watched as the man's upper body came into view, and then he saw his answer for why. Major Sheppard's arm appeared wrapped around the guard's chest. "Bloody hell," he breathed and resumed his hold on the Genii. With a final tug, John plopped out and tumbled forward along with the guard's body to land in a heap on top of Rodney and Carson.

"…exits in a discreet package," Rodney finished as he lay panting on the floor. Behind them, the wormhole flashed out of existence, leaving the solid glass column.

Sheppard looked around for a second in bewilderment then rolled off the pile of people to land prone on his back next to Rodney. He winced as he jarred his injured shoulder. "Damnit, McKay, I just even up the score and you have to go and put me in debt again."

Carson pushed the dead body off of him and Rodney with a shiver of what could only be described as the willies. Rodney grimaced in pain and stared at the ceiling in exhaustion. "Oh, God…no one every told me…physics would be…so death defying."

Carson laughed, wondering if maybe he had lost his mind, but he was so pleased to have Sheppard back he didn't really care. John and Rodney chuckled as well, but soon stopped with mirrored exclamations of "Ow!"

From across the room, a very angry Teyla demanded, "Where is Major Sheppard?"

Still flat on the floor, John raised a hand, as if answering roll in a classroom. "Here."

Then everything went pear-shaped again.

Aiden turned his head as the door exploded down the hall. Bates rushed the room first, yelling for the Genii to drop, then released a short burst of gunfire. He and Teyla entered behind the Sergeant, with Markham and Smith providing cover from the door. The rest of the team was covering the remaining Genii on the first floor and the stairway leading down into the basement.

Aiden looked to his right, seeing Beckett and a bandaged McKay on the floor beside a…mini-stargate? He scanned the room quickly for the Major, but couldn't find him. To his left five Genii were standing, still holding weapons. Bates was yelling for them to drop the guns and the four younger Genii were looking to the older one for direction.

"I said, drop your weapons!"

The men held their ground .

"You're not going anywhere," Aiden told them, "Just put down the guns and we can all walk out of here."

With a smirk, the older man dropped his firearm and the others followed suite. Telmun, Aiden thought.

Evidently Teyla had come to the same conclusion because she advanced on the man, "Where is Major Sheppard?"

From off to the right, he heard the Major respond, "Here."

Everyone turned to the voice in surprise. When had he just magically appeared?

Teyla lowered her gun and took a relieved yet shocked step toward the men on the floor, "Major, are you all right?"

With a speed Aiden never would have expected from someone so old, Telmun grabbed Teyla and put a knife to her throat.

"Now, I think you should drop your guns," he told the Atlantis team as he moved her toward what had been the miniature stargate but which now looked like a big chunk of glass.

Aiden had finally had enough. First Telmun had tortured Major Sheppard, from the looks of it he had also gone to work on Dr. McKay, and now he was threatening Teyla. Right then and there, he decided the mother fucker had messed with the wrong team and the wrong marine. He held his sidearm with steady resolve. "Let her go."

Telmun flashed a smile. "I'm sorry, but I don't think that would be a wise decision on my part."

With a sneer, Teyla grumbled, "Foolish old man," then in one fluid move pulled the blade at her hip and plunged it behind her and into Telmun's side. The man's eyes widened and his grip on his own knife loosened so that his hostage pushed his arm away. Teyla pivoted, planted her foot on his stomach and yanked her knife free.

Seizing the opening, Aiden fired his 9mm, taking deliberate steps forward with each squeeze of the trigger. He could hear Dr. McKay yelling for him to stop shooting, but he couldn't seem to comply with that request until he emptied his clip and the action locked in place.

Teyla's kick combined with Aiden's gunshots had pushed Telmun back against the glass column. He seemed to hang suspended for a few seconds then slumped lifeless to the floor, leaving behind a bloody smear and the radial crack of bullet holes on the previously flawless surface.

"Rodney, for the last time, the medical staff is not here to act as your personal courier service. If you try to send any of them on an errand again, I swear I will loose your last blood workup and require a new set be drawn…with a very thick needle."

Rodney sat in his bed in the medical bay on Atlantis and glared at Carson. "I wouldn't have to ask any of your staff to help me if you would just give me back my radio. I swear, Carson, even prisoners get to make one phone call."

"One, yes; twenty-three in an hour, no."

"Then, just let me go down to the lab, just for a little while, long enough to check and see if Radek has had any luck getting the box to work."

They hadn't been able to get the box to function since the one side had been damaged by the gunshots three days prior. In what had so far been a futile effort, Rodney had the science team attempting to figure out how the box was programmed so that they could download the addresses that it automatically dialed. He had never been so frustrated in his life. Just knowing that the answers to just about everything were out there in a very specific, yet hidden, somewhere was slowly driving him insane.

"Rodney, you were shot. Did you hear me? Shot. A little piece of metal, traveling at an alarming rate of speed, tore completely through your insides, causing all sorts of mischief along the way, and exited violently out the back of you. Not only was that a very traumatic event for me to witness, it was a very traumatic event for your body to experience."

"But I feel so much better. You've done a great job patching me up…"

"Do you think I like having you here? Do you think I like having my nurses drawing straws to see who has to come look after you? All you do is cause chaos whenever you are in here and we all look forward to the day when you can finally be set loose out into the wilds and become a burden on the general populace again. So, believe me when I tell you, the second you are fit enough to be released, you will be released. But, not before."

Rodney opened his mouth to speak again, but was interrupted by a sleepy giggle from the bed next to his. Major Sheppard regarded him with slitted eyes, "The wild Canadian McKay as part of the Atlantean catch and release program." He giggled again and Rodney turned back to Carson.

"Okay, I know I'm not the medical doctor here, but Carson, seriously, you need to cut back on the pain meds for Sheppard."

"He just came out of surgery on his shoulder two hours ago. He's going to be a little disoriented, it's to be expected."

"Disoriented is one thing, but this? The man is an amazing pilot, but even he usually needs a jumper to be flying this high."

John let out a contented sigh. "I love to fly. And I love the jumper." He smiled drunkenly at the two other men, "And I love you guys, too."

Rodney raised his eyebrows and pointed at Sheppard in a silent gesture of 'you see what I mean?' Carson crossed his arms and grimaced. "Maybe I should go and check the dosage of those pain killers." And he left the room with a final warning, "I'm serious, Rodney, leave my staff alone."

Rodney raised his voice to be heard by the retreating doctor. "Who would have ever guessed that the sheep drenched hills of Scotland could have produced such a totalitarian individual?"

John turned back to Rodney. "Pain killers are my friends."

"Sure they are," Rodney patronized as he leaned back in his bed. "There's nothing like morphine to make the day disappear in a psychedelic haze."

"You're my friend, too, McKay."

"After all the crap we've been through, I should hope so."

"You saved my life. Twice." As if to stress the point, he held up two fingers.

"Yes, well, I only had to do it because you were attempting to save my life. I suppose I should thank you for that. Although, ultimately you were unsuccessful and I had to bail you out, but…A for effort, I guess." He awkwardly gave the Major two thumbs up with a tight smile. He was rewarded in turn with a jaunty two finger salute from Sheppard.

He just stared at the man, unsure how to respond to such a gesture. The whole conversation was making him uncomfortable. Not that he was the touchy feely type, but Sheppard was never this open emotionally and he hoped to hell that he wouldn't remember it after he roused from his drug-induced stupor. John's eyes drifted closed and he was silent for moment and Rodney hoped he had finally slipped back off into sleep and would wake his normal cranky, argumentative self. That he could handle; actually enjoyed.

Satisfied that the Major was asleep, he turned his thoughts back to how to escape the infirmary and visit the lab. Ford or Teyla should be coming by to visit soon; maybe he could get one of them…

"McKay?" called the drowsy voice from across the way.

With a feeling of dread he responded, "Yes, Major?"

"Are you sure you've never been to Mardi Gras?"

(A/N Complete! Also, sorry, but to paraphrase a slogan I'm very familiar with, "What happens in New Orleans, Stays in New Orleans!")