Title: Breakdown

Author: Grey Lupous

Summary: There's a breakdown in communication on Atlantis. (tag for "Runner")

Author's Notes: I know I'm not the only one that did a double-take when Sheppard just basically shrugged after learning that McKay was missing. So this is hopefully something in the way of an explanation, as well as my own speculation for what may be a strain on their friendship. Thanks to Linda and Julie for taking the time to beta this sucker, as it was longer and riddled with more holes than... something with a lot of holes? So yes, thanks to my wonderful betas.

So here he was, hanging upside down after running for his life from his former teammate and friend, after being rescued at the very last second by a hairy stranger, who was now staring at him in what Rodney could only think of as something akin to feral amusement. He wasn't even sure that was possible until just now.

The man studied him from toe to head, apparently not too impressed. If the man hadn't just saved his life, or he hadn't just spent a whole day with Schizo-Ford, he might've said something. As it was, he was too tired and too frazzled to harass the man; instead he just repeated his request.

"Please cut me down?"

The man started to circle him, and continued to stare. It was really unnerving. He stopped when he completed his circle, and took out his box-cutterish knife. It was kind of cool, as far as knives go, except Rodney couldn't help but see the image of 'Dreads' in a factory slicing up boxes with a dull bored look on his face. Oh no, now was really not the time to smile. He managed to turn the almost-laugh into a grimace. He must've been hanging upside down too long and all the blood must have rushed to his head. Otherwise why would he be inadvertently trying to mock another man with a knife? In one quick motion 'Dreads' leapt and grabbed the rope tethering Rodney to the tree and cut it free.

He plummeted to the ground in a sickeningly quick fashion, he didn't even have time to yelp, and found himself with a face full of dirt and leaves. He grunted and heaved himself up, eyes traveling to find the face of his still nameless rescuer, who just stared back at him in that cold but amused fashion.

"Ronon Dex," he introduced himself, the hints of a smile quirking at the corners of his mouth.

What? He really wasn't that pathetic, was he?

Boots crunching on leaves reached both their ears, and they watched as Major—No, Colonel—Sheppard emerged from the foliage. His normally unflappable expression looked shaken, and McKay had to wonder what had happened between him and Ford after they disappeared from sight.

Sheppard's eyes finally focused, and his gaze settled on Ronon, standing tall over a downed McKay. They hardened for a second, and then it seemed that he finally reviewed the scene he came on earlier. He nodded tightly to the tall muscular man. Dex nodded back, but didn't look away. After what seemed like forever Sheppard finally looked at Rodney.

"You okay?" When he asked the question, it was like he was asking Rodney what time of day it was, not like he had just spent several wonderful hours of quality time with a mood-swinging psychopath.

Confused, he nodded once and pulled himself to his knees. Without another look at either of them, Sheppard strode past them towards the woods.

"Let's get back to the jumper, Beckett and Teyla will meet us there."

"Carson? What's he doing here?" Rodney's expression darkened when Sheppard ignored him and just continued walking. "Oh yes, very informative!"

He struggled up to his feet, swaying slightly as lightheadedness overtook him. He blinked once, twice, and finally everything returned to its normal tilt. Dex cocked his head to the side, strangely reminding Rodney of a cocker spaniel with dreadlocks.

"What?" he asked peevishly.

"You may prove to be amusing," a smirk finally lit his naturally perturbed expression, and he turned to follow Sheppard.

"Did I miss something here?" He muttered to himself, stomping after Sheppard and 'Dread-Boy'.

The trip back to the jumper was quiet except for the occasional curse from McKay as a tree branch or twig would leap out of its way and slap him across his face. Dex glanced over his shoulder once or twice. Sheppard paid him no mind other than stopping whenever he lagged too much and giving him an annoyed look. Rodney was willing to grant him a little leniency, seeing as spending any amount of time with "Super" Ford was enough to drive any person to the depths of pissiness, but this was starting to get a little ridiculous.

They finally reached the jumper, and both Teyla and Carson rushed out of the back to greet them. Teyla eyed Sheppard cautiously, before placing a consoling hand on his shoulder. He managed to give her the briefest of sad smiles before he joined the rest of the men at the jumper. She gave Dex a wary, but welcoming look as he stepped aboard. Carson gave the big man a wide berth and stepped up to Rodney, looking him over carefully.

"How ye feeling, lad?" He asked, genuine concern ringing in his voice.

It hit Rodney harder than he thought it would. He'd just spent more than a day with unappreciative Majors, pissy Colonels, and whacked out Lieutenants. He was starting to believe, in the smallest ways mind you, that his welfare was only a secondary concern.

"Peachy," he said with only half the usual snark. "I've just spent over ten hours with our lovely schizophrenic friend, who wants to have beers with me one second and shoot my head off the next."

Carson gave him another once over, but didn't find any holes - bullet or otherwise. "Did he?"

"No," Rodney half-lied. Ford had tried, he just never succeeded. Carson rested a hand on his shoulder before steering him into the jumper. Releasing a sigh, Rodney felt the last of his energy reserves desert him, and as soon as he hit the seat he felt his eyes start to drift shut.

"Doctor McKay."

He cracked open an eye, to see Teyla smiling sadly at him.

"I am glad you are okay."

He returned her smile, before letting his eyes drift shut again. Oh, how he couldn't wait to get out of this damn radiation suit and see his soft, warm, and inviting bed again. The familiar hum of the jumper's engines warming up soothed his frayed nerves, and despite the inertial dampeners, he felt a moment of weightlessness as they crossed the event horizon.

The problem with gate travel though, was that it was instantaneous, and his reprieve was short lived as they arrived at Atlantis two seconds later. A gentle tap to his shoulder reminded him of that unpleasant reality, and he reluctantly opened his eyes. Carson gave him a sympathetic shrug before motioning to the open hatch.

"Home again, home again."

"Jiggity jog," McKay finished tiredly.

Teyla raised an eyebrow at this and Dex merely gave them a small glance. Everyone else, including the military men, were already standing and moving towards the rear of the jumper. Said military men didn't seem to pay him and Carson any mind. It was a grand conclusion to his shitty day. He used his knees as leverage to push himself to his feet, following Carson and the rest out.

Elizabeth greeted them at the base of the stairs like she always did whenever they returned home from a mission without a stretcher. She looked over their contingent, eyes locking on Teyla and Rodney first.

"It's good to see both of you made it back," the smile and sentiment was sincere. It was nice, just to have the compassion shown. Not that he didn't understand what Sheppard was feeling, but would it kill him to show a little emotion?

Elizabeth turned her gaze to Dex and he could see her adding up the facts she already knew to what she saw standing before her. She looked over at Sheppard, who shrugged lightly. "Dr. Weir, meet Ronon Dex."

"Nice to meet you," she greeted cautiously. He gave her a quick assessment, as if trying to determine if she was worth his respect. When he was done, he gave her a quick nod.

Sheppard turned to two of the marines standing guard. "Take Specialist Dex here to the finest Atlantis has to offer." They moved forward automatically, but their expressions belied their confusion. Word traveled quickly around Atlantis, especially of the troubles of offworld teams.

"Make sure he's got company at his door for a while," Sheppard added, and that seemed alleviate their uncertainty.

"We'll debrief at 0800 in the morning," Elizabeth addressed the main team, and gave a quick glance to Sheppard "And make sure you get some sleep."

Rodney glanced at his watch, which he had adjusted to the Atlantis day. It was almost 1 AM, Atlantis time. Wow, so it was possible to return to home base at approximately the same time they left their mission. Usually the "jetlag" from missions was worse than the missions themselves. He trudged out of the gateroom behind Carson and Sheppard, fully intending to hit his bed and not wake up until half an hour before the debriefing.


As it turned out he was almost ten minutes late for the debriefing, which earned him yet another sarcastic comment from Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard. Seriously, exactly when did he become McKay's personal alarm clock and day calendar? He just gave the Major—damn it!—Colonel a dirty look and settled into standing next to Elizabeth. Since Sheppard and Teyla had apparently bonded over being held hostage, he wasn't about to get into the middle of their little soiree. And the most messed up thing about it, was that Sheppard didn't even notice.

Not that Rodney was jealous, or even put out, it just seemed... out of character for his friend to act so cold. He made a mental note to give Sheppard a supportive but thorough tongue lashing on the subject at a more convenient time. After all, he wasn't the only one having to deal with Ford hopped up on Wraith enzymes.

After Caldwell left the debriefing in his usual dramatic snit, Sheppard fixed him with a hard look.

"What?" He asked, really starting to get tired of this treatment from someone who he had believed to be one of his best friends.

"Ford wasn't that far off."

"Begging your pardon Colonel, but you were with him for all of ten minutes. I had to spend ten hours with him. I think I can be a little positive on the fact that he's more unstable than a kilo of naquadriah in a hyperdrive engine."

"A kilo of what?" Sheppard frowned.

"Naquadriah, a native, but later discovered to be Goa'uld engineered, element derived from naquadah found on the planet Langara," he automatically supplied as he did with any bit of useless trivia. "It was found to be—"

"Never mind," Sheppard muttered and rubbed a hand across his forehead. "Forget I asked."

Rodney shut his mouth, and took a closer look at the Colonel. He looked like he hadn't got a wink of sleep the night before, probably analyzing to death his encounter with Ford. While not completely heartless, Rodney had come to the conclusion that Ford had taken complete leave of his sanity, which managed to earn him at least a few hours of sleep. The bags under Sheppard's eyes indicated to him that he wasn't able to dismiss the events of the previous day so easily.

He wanted to say something, but the thought of bringing up a conversation of such a personal nature in front of Teyla and Elizabeth was uncomfortable to say the least. He let the subject drop for now, with every intention of addressing it later. They all had enough angst to deal with from the fallout of the Wraith attack, without inflicting any more on themselves.

The conversation was never meant to be, because as soon as they left the debriefing, McKay was whisked away by one of the new technicians whose name escaped him.

"Doctor McKay!" He ran up to Rodney, breathless, an open laptop clutched in his hands. "We have a slight problem."

For the second time in twenty-four hours he resisted rolling his eyes. "When do we not?" A slight sigh and an impatient snap of the fingers. "Show me."

The laptop was presented, showing a diagram of Atlantis, with the problem area flashing in red.

"What is that?" McKay frowned and tapped on a few keys, bringing up a closer view of the problem. It was located close to the desalinization tanks, right below the area where they tied one of the naquadah generators for Stargate Operations. He almost swore to himself. It was not that damnable communication core again, was it?

"We're not quite sure," the tech replied nervously, "we think it may a glitch somewhere in the hardware for Atlantis's comm system."

"Really?" Though restrained, McKay's sarcasm was creeping up to full force. "What tipped you off?"

The poor tech wasn't used to the awesome force known as the snark, and was taken aback. "I-I'm sorry, it just came up without warning."

A flash of something resembling guilt ran through him, and he awkwardly waved off the stricken technician. "Well it's not that obvious at first. We're probably lucky you caught it at this stage..."

He stopped babbling and glanced back at the technician, who looked a little less cowed now.

"I'll handle it," McKay half-grumbled, half-shouted to the technician, who seemed to be growing more confused by the moment. The tech made a swift retreat, leaving his laptop still in McKay's hand. Rodney heaved a sigh and looked back to the flashing screen. "No problem."

He unfortunately knew the way to the communication core rather well, as it seemed to be one of the testier systems of Atlantis. At least once a month someone had to run a maintenance check on it. He had only run the test himself once or twice, usually being too busy trying to devise ways to save the city from ultimate disaster to bother with such inane things. However the latest brilliant maneuver still seemed to be working, and the Wraith were leaving Atlantis alone for the moment. In short, he had no pressing business to attend to. Besides, it gave him something to do other than annoy one of the military powers on Atlantis.

He grabbed the closest transporter to help him finish the distance out there. He emerged in a dimly lit lower section of the city that was only populated by the occasional scientist running experiments and checks, and the obligatory military presence to make sure nothing leapt out and tried to eat them.

He tapped his radio as he strode past Major Lorne without a word, heading deeper into the city towards the panel containing the glitchy system. "Radek, make sure to cut the power to the communication core. It's on the fritz again."

"Again?" Zelenka's voice echoed back, followed by a series of curse words he couldn't understand. "I just checked it last week."

"Well obviously you missed something," Rodney's gracious mood had just about run its course and he was returning to his normal cheery self.

"You are in excellent mood this morning," the Czech commented sourly. "Tell me, did someone spit in your cereal this morning?"

Rodney wrinkled his nose. "That's just disgusting, and for your information I'm still working my way to the mess hall. Elizabeth needs to stop calling such early morning meetings."

"Yes, because world waits for Rodney McKay."

"Have you been hanging out with Sheppard or something? I don't need this. I'm tired, hungry, and am having to deal with this stupid system that has more bugs than a low-rent apartment. Just turn off the power."

Zelenka muttered a few more choice words before giving a general grumbling of agreement. "There, it is off, may I go back to other work now?"

"Just make sure it stays off until I'm done down here," McKay grumbled as he carefully removed the panel concealing the communications console.

A series of unlit clear slats, wires, and crystals greeted him. Even in his worst mood, the technological beauty of Atlantis could catch him off guard. It seemed the Ancient's were obsessed with making every aspect of their city a shining example of perfection. The only problem with their version of perfection is it didn't have a simple plug and play.

Over the months, they'd devised a way of hooking the Earth computers up to the console, but it required wiring a physical connection to the console. The first person who had tried it had gotten quite a shock. From then on they'd been much more careful. Since it was a recurring problem they had made a semi-permanent port for the little laptops, and it took far less effort to integrate the two than it used to.

After he finished the wiring he sat down on the floor, laptop rested on his knees, as he began the monotonous routine of checking each subsystem and subroutine for whatever problem it was this time. Lazily he scanned the screen as it brought back the status report, suppressing a yawn. He was definitely giving this to someone else next time. He had a theory on how to increase the efficiency of the ZedPM output that he wanted to write out his ideas on before lunch and a whole mess of items to catalogue that Stackhouse's team had brought back a few days before his romp through the wilderness with Ford.

A line of text on the screen jerked him out of his reverie. "What the hell?"

He re-read the report just to be sure, and quickly tapped his radio. "Radek, what kind of check did you run on this thing?"

"Normal check. Carrier subroutine had problem delivering messages from room to room, and Sergeant Wilmington whispered sweet nothings to whole base."

"Well obviously you were asleep when you ran it, because it just told me that half of the subroutines are gone!"

"That is impossible!" Zelenka sputtered, and Rodney heard the sound of rapid typing over the connection. "This is not good."

"You think? You better let Elizabeth know. I'm going to see what I can salvage."

He began to furiously tap out code, referencing what they had on file when they first encountered the system. His brow furrowed the more he studied the original code. It couldn't be...

He tapped at his radio again. "Radek, exactly when did we backup all of the routines on the comm system?"

"When it was first activated, yes? Peter also found old copy, like technical manual, on database."

Rodney flinched at the mention of Peter Grodin. It had been at least two months, but his death still weighed heavily on McKay. Just like all of his other friends that he had made and lost out here. He shook his head from those thoughts. "Send me a copy of that 'technical manual' if you would."

"Done. What are you thinking?"

"You remember the energy beast?"

"Ah yes, easy thing to forget. Of course I remember."

"Well if you recall," Rodney continued as if Zelenka hadn't even spoken, "it wreaked havoc to Atlantis's computer systems. It even took control of the DHD."

"Yes, but all effects were temporary. They went away with energy creature."

"But the other systems were initialized upon our arrival. When Jinto activated the communication systems, he also released the creature. So if it happened to be near this panel when it was booted—"

"Atlantis does not 'boot up'," Radek pointed out unnecessarily.

"Semantics, whatever. But you know what I'm saying."

"Yes," Zelenka continued without missing a beat, "if energy beast zapped program as it was initializing—"

"And our 'original' was actually the altered buggy version—"

"We have been resetting it to original error. But if that is case, why are errors always different?"

"Well I can't know everything at once, but I think the theory holds up," Rodney switched over to the original Ancient manual, and compared the lines of code. "Oh yeah, definitely holding up. If I can just make these adjustments, we may never have to mess with this damn system again."

"That is good news," Radek agreed, happy with the thought of not having to trudge across half the city to fix a buggy panel.

"Yeah yeah, hush! I'm trying to concentrate," McKay snipped as he continued to pound furiously at the keyboard. "This is going to take a while."

"Then I can return to my work?" Zelenka asked with more than a trace of sarcasm.

"Yes, yes, just shoo!" Rodney's attention was focused solely on the laptop and his new challenge, so he didn't notice the lone light on the panel that glowed brightly for a moment, before dimming once again.


To say that John was in a bad mood was a gross understatement. He'd given up on even attempting sleep when he closed his eyes and he saw Sumner's withered form standing next to Ford. Sumner just gazed forlornly at him, while Ford's Wraith-infected black eye followed him unblinkingly. Lying in bed awake hadn't helped either, because he kept seeing Ford's betrayed look after John had shot him, followed by the young lieutenant running into the path of the Wraith beam.

He finally rolled out of bed at 0400 in the morning, and found his way down to one of the gyms that the military personnel had claimed and proceeded to pummel the crap out of one of the punching bags. Every time his fist hit with the solid force of the bag, he felt a little bit of his anger drain away. By the time he left and showered for the meeting, he was feeling much better.

He'd even managed to keep everything down to a feeling of general numbness, briefing Weir of the events of the planet in a calm and collected manner. Then Caldwell just had to speak up, and the anger started rising to the surface again. He was really starting to actively dislike the man.

"I'll make sure to include your feelings in my report."

And Sheppard was sure he would too. He had made some comment to Rodney, who had been sending him these odd looks that seemed to be a mix of sympathy, understanding, and general annoyance. He really was in no mood to deal with the scientist, who had been more concerned about putting on sunscreen than finding Ford.

After the meeting was dismissed he fully intended to disappear for a while under the pretense of handling paperwork. What he really wanted to do though was return to the gym to work off a little more anger. However as he glanced at his watch, he realized that Dex was probably still under guard without as much as a thank you. With a sigh he hung back until he was alone with Elizabeth.

"Something you need John?" She asked patiently.

"When are we dialing the address Dex gave us?"

Something flickered in her eyes, and he wondered for a moment if she wanted him to say more. Like what? That he'd lost Ford again, this time maybe forever? Her gaze returned to the cool professional expression he was used to and addressed his question without missing another beat.

"I have it scheduled for 1000 hours. I'm assuming you want to be there?"

Sheppard nodded. "Despite his hostage taking ways, he really helped us out back there. He managed to get to Ford before I did."

He stopped for a moment, never having considered the angle that he could have had to make the decision himself between Ford and McKay's life. No, he was more than grateful to Dex for that small reprieve. Seeing Elizabeth's probing look, he quickly continued.

"Besides, any man that can outrun the Wraith for seven years with just a phaser gun and snare traps would be a really handy ally."

She gave him a small smile. "Then be in the gateroom at 1000, and we'll see if we can't return Mr. Dex the favor."

Sheppard looked at his watch again to confirm the time. "That's in ten minutes."

"All the better reason for you not to be late."


Lunchtime had come and gone, but finally Rodney was pretty sure he had everything reset to the original Ancient version of the system. With a satisfied smile, he typed in the command for it to start uploading. He leant back on his arms, and rested his eyes.

"Rodney, you are still working on communication system, yes?"

Zelenka again. McKay sighed and opened his eyes. What more could the universe throw at him today?

"Yes, I'm still here," he droned.

"Are you rewriting Ancient code to your own unique style?"

"Uh, no," McKay drew out the 'no' so that it stretched into a three-syllable word. "I just painstakingly restored everything to its original grandeur, no artistic license taken."

"Are you sure?"

"No wait, I may have put a little limerick in there... of course I'm sure!" He snapped. He so was not in the mood for this.

"I only ask, because if you are not rewriting routines and deleting safety protocols, who is?"

"What?" McKay brought up the readout of the current programming, finding that not only was it refusing to revert to the code he had just transcribed for almost two hours, it was having its own nervous breakdown. Lines of code were inverting in on themselves, spitting out unwanted characters, or just dropping out all together. It was like another version of the Wraith virus, except where that one acted with some semblance of intelligence, this one was just... stupid.

"Can it do that?"

"Apparently so," Radek's voice drifted back. "It needs to be shut down now, before it spreads to other systems."

"Already on it," McKay's fingers resumed their furious pace of before, as he tried to shut it all down. Tiny error messages mocked him, and he had to resist the urge to throw the laptop against the wall. "It's not responding."

"Shut it down manually."

"I just tried!"

"Try console on wall," Zelenka supplied helpfully.

"Okay," McKay muttered, looking at the panel with trepidation. "It's off, right?"

"Yes, it is off. Would I electrocute you?"

"That depends on if you're still trying to steal my position."

"I never—" Radek sputtered.

"It was a joke, funny ha ha. Okay, yeah, bad time to make jokes," McKay chattered to himself as he studied the panel once more. It seemed to be out of power. "All right, here I go."

He touched the smooth surface of the crystals, and let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. No shock, no unpleasant tingle that raced from his head to his toes. Atlantis didn't run off the kind of electricity that they used on Earth, but power was still power. He'd been struck by lightning once, which was not a fun experience he wanted to repeat.

"Okay, it's off," he confirmed and let his fingers roam over the crystals, trying to find the one housing the problem backup routines. Finally his fingers closed around it, and he gave a triumphant cry. "I got it!"

"Good for you," Zelenka said tiredly. "My life is complete."

"You know you don't have to be so sarcastic. I could have easily sent you down here to handle this. Out of the pure kindness of my heart—"

"Please, that is like telling walrus..." Radek stopped short, and the sound of computer keys being hit too hard and too fast echoed over the line.


"I don't know there is odd reading in code, it..." He stopped short again, and McKay was starting to lose patience.

"Radek, if you can't finish a simple thought—"

"Rodney get away from panel now!"

He moved to comply, but all of the sudden he couldn't loosen his grip on the panel. A red hot jolt raced up his spine, and then back down. His teeth ground together as tiny spurts of energy leapt from one nerve ending to the next.

"It is powering—"

He never got to hear Radek finish his sentence as sensory overload took over and a heavy black curtain dropped over him.


"He's alive," a voice announced somewhere above him. It sounded relieved and a little breathless.

Despite the fact that he was lying on his back with his eyes closed, Rodney could still feel the world spinning around relentlessly. He wanted to crack his eyes open, but something started to tug him back down. He tried to grab a hold of something to stop his fall, but the pull of unconsciousness was stronger than his desire to figure out what was going on.

"This is Major Lorne, I need medical assistance on level—"

The rank was right, but the name was wrong he thought distantly before the blackness overtook him again.


"Damn lucky you were near him when the little Czech guy started freaking out."

He couldn't identify the voice right away, but from the gravelly and uncultured tone he was sure it was military.

"Damn lucky," another voice agreed, it was almost familiar, in the way two people from the same area have similar inflections to their voice. "Sheppard's not doing a very good job keeping track of him."

Rodney managed to open his eyes into tiny slats, able to make out the blurry shape of Major Lorne and another military goon hovering above him. His frazzled mind couldn't figure out why it was wrong, and so he let his eyes drift shut. Apparently neither of the men noticed, because they kept on talking.

"Barely blinked when I told him McKay was missing out there."

What? His awareness, though muddled and fuzzy and best, perked up at that.

"Well he really was second priority, seeing as Dex was holding the woman hostage."

That wasn't right. Sheppard just wouldn't leave him out there. Lorne was probably still addled from the Wraith stunner.

"True," Lorne admitted, but paused. "How long did that surgery take anyway? It was still daylight when Sheppard brought Beckett back."

He wasn't going to listen to this anymore. He wanted to tell them to shut up, but whenever he tried to work his tongue it felt thick and heavy. So he did his best to ignore them. Without anything to anchor him, he found himself drifting off again.


Major Lorne was not a particularly soft man and he didn't have much patience for fools, or scientists for that matter. They considered tiny little plants or wobbly energy signals to be more important than their own personal safety or that of their team. However, he was still in the infirmary almost an hour and a half after rescuing McKay from the possessed panel.

He watched the unconscious form, trying to figure out if it truly was his genius that made Sheppard keep him around. After the events of the recent mission, he surmised maybe that was all there was to it. He had actually been under the impression from their voyage on the Daedalus that the two were close friends and had been waiting for the Colonel to lay into him for losing the scientist.

He shook his head lightly. Colonel Sheppard's personal feelings weren't any of his business. However the scientist had managed to survive several hours with a very unstable super powered Marine and had emerged without so much of a scratch. To Lorne, that said a lot about him.

So why was he here? Well, he had never woken up in a hospital alone, and he was damned if he was going to let a fellow teammate, even if it was only for one mission, wake up disoriented and alone.

The door to the infirmary swished open, and he found himself mildly surprised to see a sweat soaked Colonel Sheppard stride in. He scanned the room before catching Lorne's gaze. Lorne watched his superior closely as he closed the distance between them. His lips were pressed into a thin line, and he didn't look pleased at all. Sheppard took in the pale form on the bed and addressed Lorne.

"What happened?"

"Not sure, the little Czech guy—"

"Zelenka," Sheppard corrected automatically.

Lorne took in a deep breath to control his annoyance before continuing, "—said that McKay was working on the communications systems when they powered up on their own. Something about a pseudo-virus running amok."

Something that Lorne could only identify as guilt flashed in the Colonel's eyes as he looked over the scientist's sleeping form, and then noticed Lorne's slightly fried hair. "You got him out?"

"Yes sir."

"Thank you," Sheppard nodded and indicated the chair that Lorne had just vacated. "I'll take over if you don't mind."

Lorne considered this for a moment. If Sheppard really cared so much, why he was here hours after the fact? He slowly stood, and indicated McKay. "He's been in and out. Doc thinks he'll wake up soon."

"That's good," Sheppard took a hold of the chair, and Lorne couldn't help but notice the tight grip.

He felt like he should say something, but he was never good with conversational niceties. Instead he just tipped his head towards the bed. "Tell him I said to stop sticking his fingers in light sockets."

Sheppard managed a smile at that. "Sure thing. I had something similar in mind to mention."

Lorne turned and beat a hasty retreat out of the infirmary, now more confused about the dynamics of Sheppard's team. Whatever. He still had to write up his report on yesterday's mission.

Sheppard flopped into the seat that Lorne had vacated, far too familiar with bedside vigils, especially with McKay. The man attracted trouble like a mosquito to a bug zapper. He winced at the comparison, which rang a little too true at the moment.

"What're you trying to do to me Rodney?" He asked the sleeping figure quietly. "I've already lost one of my guys. I know you're going to be fine, probably going to wake up any moment now, but come on, give me a break here."

Not surprisingly McKay remained silent.

Sheppard scrubbed his face, feeling fatigue wear at him. He hadn't gotten any sleep since before the mission to P3M-736. He wasn't sure if he was going to get any for a while yet, what with McKay attempting to be the first human Christmas tree and the constant nagging of ghosts brought up by their last mission.

He spread his fingers apart and peeked at the sleeping form on the bed. God damn it... he hated to admit that Ford was unstable, it was like giving up on his 2IC in some way. He wasn't thinking straight, certainly. He just couldn't see Ford gunning down any of them in cold blood though. His friend would never do that.

He closed his eyes, as the unwanted reminder that Ford and the desperate man he encountered yesterday were not the same. They might be able to bring the real Ford back, but he would never be the same grinning kid that Sheppard had grown to know and trust. He hadn't realized it really until Ford chose a Wraith dart over returning to Atlantis.

A sick feeling settled in his stomach as he realized who he'd inadvertently left McKay with for several hours. Ford wasn't a threat to Atlantis; Sheppard knew there was still enough of his loyal lieutenant left to keep him from betraying them to the Wraith. However, he may have been more of a personal threat than Sheppard had wanted to originally consider.

He rested his head in his hands, trying to think of something other than damning thoughts. They were giving him a headache, and if they didn't stop soon he might just let himself drown in them. Instead he focused on McKay's breathing, finding the sound soothing in some strange way. Before he knew it he had matched McKay's rhythm, and drifted off into a light slumber for the first time in days.


He was back in the forest, fighting both the darkness and the stray branches as he desperately tried to follow the sound of the P-90 he heard earlier. It was so easy to get lost in here with no moonlight or stars overhead to provide any kind of guidance. He had stopped to find his bearings when he heard the retort of the gun again. It sounded close, and Sheppard dashed through the trees, emerging on another path.

He could make out the familiar form garbed in camo with a spent cartridge lying at his feet. Sheppard found his steps slowing on their own accord as he approached Ford, who hadn't even turned to acknowledge his presence.


The lieutenant twisted so his scarred side faced Sheppard. He said nothing, but Sheppard could see some emotion lurking in that soulless black eye. Hesitantly he stepped forward, not knowing why a sense of dread was mounting in his stomach.

"We've been looking all over for you, Dr. Beckett has—"

Ford shook his head slightly and stepped out of Sheppard's way, revealing the dangling bullet-ridden corpse of McKay. His stomach churned as he whipped back to Ford, who now stared back at him with a fully transformed face; two soulless, emotionless black eyes gazed at him unblinkingly.

"He tried to take me back."

Sheppard tried to work his mouth, but found the words wouldn't come.

"I won't go back," he growled to the corpse. He turned back to face Sheppard, his scarred face lit up in a bright smile. "So how about that promotion? Ain't that wicked?"

Bile rose up in Sheppard's throat as he closed his eyes, not able to watch as he emptied his clip into Ford. When it was spent he let the gun drop from his hand, rage and guilt washing over him. He turned around and opened his eyes so he could apologize to McKay properly ...

...and found his head pillowed on his arms which currently rested on the infirmary bed with a very alive but slumbering Rodney McKay. He blinked away the disorientation and let blessed reality sweep over him. Both Rodney and Ford were still alive, he breathed a sigh of relief as he pushed himself up.

It didn't take Heightmeyer to tell him what that dream meant. He shook off the vestiges of sleep and glanced at his watch. It was almost dinner time. The next shift had started, but he could see a light on in Beckett's office. A small smile lit John's lips. The physician always left the midnight oil burning whenever any of Sheppard's team ended up in the infirmary.

He briefly considered going and asking Beckett for an update, but the shifting on the bed negated any need for that. He watched as Rodney slowly opened his eyes, gaze roaming around the infirmary before finally settling on Sheppard.

"Hey, it's about time. You've been napping all day," Sheppard grinned.

"What...?" McKay croaked, and licked his lips.

Sheppard looked around and found a tepid glass of water someone had thought to leave on the bedside tray. He grabbed it and helped McKay take a few cautious sips.

McKay grunted a thanks and shifted his weight on the bed, looking at Sheppard with a confused expression. "You're here?"

Sheppard frowned, caught off guard by that. What kind of question was that supposed to be? "When am I not?"

"Right." Rodney's gaze drifted upwards to the ceiling. It certainly wasn't the most confident statement.

"You feeling all right?" He asked cautiously. Lorne didn't mention how big of a jolt McKay had received. He looked around for a convenient physician, but couldn't catch any of their eyes. Damn.

"Dunno," Rodney finally answered his question after a moment's pause. "What happened?"

"You found Atlantis's very own giant bug zapper," Sheppard smiled at his bad joke.

"Damn Czech, I told him to shut off the power," McKay glared at the ceiling.

Sheppard really had very little clue to what happened, but felt the need to defend Zelenka anyway. "The panel powered up on its own according to Lorne. Some sort of bug in the system."

"They made any progress on it yet?"

"How should I know? I got a call after leaving the gym that you'd managed to land your ass in here."

"So that wasn't you," he muttered, frowning, and Sheppard felt himself mirroring the look.

What the hell was he talking about? "What?"

"Nothing," he continued to stare at the ceiling.

"Look at me," Sheppard ordered, tired of this round-a-bout. Rodney continued to stare at the ceiling and John felt a growl rising in his throat. "Damn it Rodney, just look at me!"

After a moment, he finally leveled his gaze at Sheppard. "Happy?"

"No," John admitted, not understanding the conflicting emotions he saw in the physicist's eyes. "What the hell is your problem?"

"Well I just woke up to find myself in the infirmary of all places with only a cranky lieutenant colonel who isn't blonde and brainy—"

"What's your problem with me?"

"I've got no problem with you." The response was automatic, too defensive.

"Bullshit." Sheppard watched as the infamous McKay pigheadedness settled in. "We've done this whole routine a thousand times. Don't think you can fool me."

McKay stared through him for a few moments. Sheppard's patience was frayed almost to its limit. He really hadn't rolled out of bed ready to deal with McKay's bullshit.

"Ford said that Dex guy captured you and Teyla."

"He did," Sheppard confirmed, wondering what that had to do with anything.

"But you managed to bring Beckett through the gate and perform miraculous surgery?" McKay asked, from what he could remember of the briefing.

"Beckett did the surgery."

"And exactly when did you find Lorne and discover me missing?" McKay's voice remained steady, but his gaze steeled.

"Before I returned to Atlantis," Sheppard pursed his lips together. "He was still holding Teyla hostage. I had to save her."

"Understandable," his tone said that he agreed with Sheppard one hundred percent, but McKay's tightening brow said otherwise. "I mean, you know where Teyla is, and she's obviously in the hands of someone armed and dangerous."

"Every man was looking for you and Ford." Sheppard felt his annoyance rising. There was no reason for this to turn into a game of favorites. "I didn't know he was that unstable."

"Oh yeah, he only tried to choke the life out of Beckett before strolling through the gate."

"He's not thinking clearly."

"Well that's a big fricking duh," McKay spat and pushed himself up, sending his head spinning. "Oh bad idea."

Sheppard gently pushed McKay back down. "Then don't sit up, idiot."

"Message received, but thank you for the reminder." McKay returned to glaring at the ceiling.

"Beckett was supposed to knock Dex out with the drugs right away. I didn't think the guy would be able to withstand surgery without going under that long." And he'd had to rescue Teyla. He knew Rodney wasn't trying to belittle her importance.

"He shot at me twice." The muscles in McKay's jaw tensed as he glared at the ceiling. "He actually fired a gun at me. And he meant to hit me both times. Tell me Colonel, did he manage to get a shot off at you?"

"No." John felt his own hand clenching tighter and tighter into a fist. He didn't want to hear this. He really didn't fucking need this right now. He just lost Ford, and could've lost Rodney, and now he was being accused of not caring. That wasn't the problem at all. He cared too much, despite everything he had done to keep his distance, he cared too damn much.

"I didn't know," John's voice was hard, with barely contained emotions threatening to bubble up again. Rage, fear, guilt, and anger combined in deadly amounts. Guilt over failing both Ford and Rodney, anger at McKay for abandoning all hope in Ford, and now definitely rage for the monster wearing his friend's face who had almost slaughtered his other friend. He was going to need to return to the gym soon, just so he could hit something hard and unrelenting.

"Yeah," McKay swallowed and closed his eyes.

Rodney's color was improving from that dangerously pale color, but exhaustion lined the man's face. The anger directed at McKay drained away. This was two days in a row now the man had escaped death. He did have a little right to be pissy.

"You know that I would've searched the whole forest top to bottom if I thought you were in any real danger." He hated big shows of emotion, but he'd just lost Ford. He wasn't sure he could lose McKay's faith in him too.

"I know," Rodney mumbled, his face already buried in the pillow.

The words sounded sincere, but he wasn't sure he believed them now. A hand dropped on his shoulder and he nearly leapt out of the chair.

"Easy lad," Beckett soothed, and Sheppard had to wonder exactly how much of that the Scot had overheard. "Looks like he's sleepin' again. His system got a good shock today, his body needs to recuperate."

"Yeah," John agreed uncertainly. "How bad was it?"

Beckett's gaze hardened for a moment. "His heart didn't stop."

"And I know that's a good thing, but this wasn't that serious right?" He had been pounding his frustrations out on a punching bag, and Major Lorne, scientist-hater extraordinaire had to rescue his geek. Maybe Rodney had good reason to question his trust in Sheppard.

"He was electrocuted Colonel," Beckett's tone hardened. "It's not a bloody paper cut. It could have been a lot worse, especially if Major Lorne hadn't arrived when he did."

"Sorry," Sheppard let out a shuddered breath. This was all just too damn much to take in within a forty-eight hour window.

"It's all right," Beckett's tone gentled.

"No, it's not," he admitted quietly. He didn't show his weaknesses to many people, but Beckett was almost as good a friend to him as Rodney was. Or that Ford had been. "It's all falling apart."

"You've had a rough couple o' days John, but that doesn't mean the world is ending right here and right now. We've survived one apocalypse, I think we can weather this one too," Beckett said confidently as he paused in jotting down Rodney's vitals to look at the exhausted Colonel.

"I don't think he trusts me," Sheppard studied McKay's sleeping face. Rodney's unwavering faith in him was slipping, and he wasn't taking McKay at his word anymore. "What in the hell happened?"

Beckett raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "Somehow I doubt that. Even so, just give it time."

Right, time.

"Elizabeth stopped by during your little nap. She said she expects you to get a full night's rest before you think about reporting back to duty. If you're intent on staying..." Beckett motioned to a conveniently placed cot that John was sure wasn't there when he first arrived.

"I'm staying," John asserted with a trace of his familiar stubbornness.

Beckett smiled at that. "And if he wakes up again before I get the chance to talk to him, Radek is on top of the problem, so there's no need for him to get all antsy about micromanaging."

"I'll pass the message on," he tried to return the smile, but it was forced. Beckett gave a supportive squeeze to his shoulder as he moved off to check on the next patient. Sheppard settled back into the chair, mulling over Beckett's words. Time was supposed to make all this better. In time they were supposed to find and cure Ford. In time this strange tension between him and Rodney was suppose to go away.


Until then, he was going to have to watch as everything broke down before his eyes.