Disclaimer: I do not own, nor do I have any rights to Stargate Atlantis or its characters.

Chapter One

John Sheppard looked at his watch as he hurried down the hall. He was ten minutes late and he was quite sure that McKay was going to kill him. As he reached the open door to the lab, he peeked around the corner. Seeing no one in the room, he breathed a sigh of relief. He might just get out of this yet. He walked quickly over to the stool he usually occupied when working with McKay. Just as his seat touched the chair, a voice exploded from the far corner of the room.

"Major!" Sheppard jumped. "I said 8:00 a.m., not 8:10. Do you need a lesson in telling time or just the importance of being punctual? I would have thought military training would have taught you a little something about getting to your post on time. Don't you have to dig holes or clean latrines or something when you're late?"

"Jeez, McKay! Why don't you give me a heart attack next time? It's only ten minutes. Atlantis won't collapse because I'm ten minutes late. Look, I'm sorry. I got...held up."

McKay had walked over to the opposite side of the work bench and began arranging things to his satisfaction. "So, exactly what held you up? Big breakfast?"

"No...I never actually made it to breakfast. Come to think of it, I haven't even had coffee yet. Would you happen to have any here?" Sheppard looked around for the coffee pot he knew had to be there.

"You show up ten minutes late and now you want me to make you coffee? I am NOT you butler. Coffee pot is on the counter over there," he said, waving his hand. "Make your own. What were you doing that you missed breakfast? Carson and I keep telling you that you need to eat. Maybe I should give him a call and let him know your skipping meals."

Sheppard was busy making coffee, but he turned around briefly. "Oh good grief, McKay, you big tattletale. It's one meal. I was running, if you must know. Wouldn't hurt you to try it sometime. I was up early, so I got an early start and the morning was so perfect for running...guess I lost track of time and ran farther that I usually do. Unfortunately, then it took me a little longer to get back than I had planned. I barely had time to shower and change."

"Well, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to shower. I'm sure my nose will appreciate that as the day wears on."

"Hah! Hah!" said Sheppard sarcastically as he hit the on switch to the coffee pot. "I think you and Beckett want me to eat and get fat because you're jealous."

"Jealous of what?" asked McKay increduously.

Sheppard perched back on the stool. "Jealous of the fact that I pretty much weigh what I did in high school. Actually, it's about ten or fifteen pounds less. Basic training shaved a few pounds off, along with a couple of stints in foreign countries with strange food." Sheppard crossed his arms and smiled mischieviously.

McKay began shaking his head. "I don't think so." He patted his stomach. "Carson and I just have a little reserve supplies in case of emergency. We have a lot of those around here, in case you haven't noticed. You, on the other hand, go seriously underweight every time you get injured or sick and can't eat regularly. You have no padding. I bet you're cold all the time too, aren't you. You've always got that jacket on."

Sheppard just sat and looked at McKay for a minute before replying. "So, are we working today or what? If not, I've got several other things I could be doing."

"I guess that's one way to change the subject. Yes, we are working. Here." McKay pushed an object across the table toward Sheppard. It was almost square, about six inches on each side. It was flat with what appeared to be a screen in the middle and colored panels down one side. Sheppard picked it up and touched one of the panels. Instantly, what appeared to be ancient text appeared on the screen. He handed it to McKay.

"Here, McKay. I don't read Ancient." McKay took the device and looked at the blank screen.

"Well, I don't read invisible. Where do you see Ancient writing?"

Sheppard took the object back. He touched the colored panel again and the text reappeared. As he laid it on the table in front of McKay and let go, the text faded.

"Must be some kind of security thing. You have to hold it for it to stay on," said McKay, looking very interested.

Sheppard just sat in stunned silence for a moment. "Are you telling me I have to hold this thing while you translate?"

"That's exactly what I'm telling you. Unless you want to learn Ancient and translate it yourself. You know, that wouldn't be such a bad idea. You do, after all, have the strongest ancient gene and seem to able to activate some things that the rest of us can't get to work. It only makes sense that you be able to interpret what you're doing as you go. I could actually..."

"Rodney! Just translate the text. I don't want to sit and hold this thing all day." Sheppard had picked the device up and activated it, bringing the Ancient writing up on the screen once again.

"Oh...well, okay." McKay tried twisting his head around to see the text. "Look, I have trouble reading English upside down, much less Ancient. Could we get on the same side of the table?"

Sheppard put the device on the table. "Right after I get my coffee. I have a feeling I'm going to need it."

Almost three hours later, they had finally finished scrolling through all the Ancient text. Sheppard laid the device down and walked around the room shaking his hand. "I think I've lost all feeling in my hand. Break time!"

McKay rubbed his tired eyes. "Sounds good to me. How about..."

Just then, Dr. Kavanagh walked through the door. Sheppard and McKay glanced at each other, suprise on both of their faces. McKay resisted the temptation to throw Kavanagh out on his ear. There was an obvious rise in the tension level of the room.

"Dr. Kavanagh, what a suprise. Can I help you with something?" McKay asked, trying his best to be civil.

Kavanagh smiled in a way that made McKay nervous. His eyes moved from McKay to Sheppard. "Actually, it Major Sheppard I need. Would you mind helping me with something? It'll just take a minute."

Sheppard cocked an eyebrow in shock. "You need me?"

Kavanagh walked over to the far end of the bench, away from the area where McKay was working. He set a small, round container that reminded Sheppard of a margarine container on the table. Sheppard walked over to stand by Kavanagh and McKay, trying to act disinterested, began pecking away on his computer.

Kavanagh opened the dish and removed a small, smooth stone. It was turquoise blue with tiny black and gold flecks. Except for the color, it reminded Sheppard of stones you found in a fast flowing stream.

"What is it?" asked Sheppard, picking it up and rolling it around in his hand.

"I'm not sure, actually. It came with some Ancient text, but it's taking me a while to translate it. Linguistics isn't my forte." McKay snorted from across the room, but Kavanagh ignored him. "Anyway, no one else with the gene has been able to get anything out of it. Word is that you have the strongest ancient gene, so I figured if anyone could get it to activate, it would be you. Can you tell if anything is happening?" Kavanagh was watching Sheppard so intently, it made McKay nervous. He had the feeling Kavanagh was up to something. He was being far too nice.

Kavanagh watched Sheppard for any reaction. He hadn't really lied. He didn't know what the stone did and he didn't have all the text translated. What he didn't tell them was that he had found the stone in a hidden lab. The part of the text he had translated indicated that several ancients had an ongoing disagreement with the leaders of the city. They were working on a way to incapacitate the leaders so that they could take over. The work had abruptly come to a stop when the city had been evacuated in order to flee from the wraith. Whatever happened, if anything happened, probably would not be pleasant. He couldn't think of anyone better to use as a guinea pig than the major. He was an arrogant, in-you-face soldier, and this would be a good test of his abilities to handle stress situations. Kavanagh almost laughed out loud.

Sheppard turned the smooth stone over in his hand. It felt...comfortable. "Hey, I think it's getting warm."

Kavanagh looked excited. "Good. Keep holding it and tell me if you notice anything else. Let's see how long it stays warm." He glanced down at his watch, noticing the time.

Sheppard was looking at his hand, the stone cradled gently inside his grasp. "Definitely warm. It's kind of...soothing."

"Wow," said McKay from across the room. "You've discovered an ancient hand warmer. We're all set for winter now...or at least Sheppard is. Great work, Kavanagh."

Kavanagh merely smiled. "We'll see, McKay."

Sheppard finally put the stone back on the table top. "It's gone. It's cooling off now. Have any idea what the point of that was?"

"Hand warmer." came the sarcastic remark from the other end of the table.

"No," said Kavanagh in an annoyed tone of voice. "But you'll be the first to know when I figure it out." You'll be the first to know, all right. "Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go make a note of these results. Thank you major." Kavanagh plopped the stone back into the container and hurried from the room.

Sheppard walked back to his stool and sat down. He sat in silence, watching McKay type for several minutes before McKay finally looked up in exasperation. "WHAT?"

Sheppard just smiled. "Get's 'um every time. Hey McKay, do you ever wonder about fate?"

McKay rolled his eyes. "You're not about to wax philosophical, are you? Baby-face air force pilots should not get philosophical. It just so...wrong."

Sheppard looked hurt. " I am not baby-faced and why can't pilots be philosophical?"

McKay stared at Sheppard for a moment "You should walk behind yourself down the hall one day."

Sheppard looked at McKay like he'd lost his mind. "Walk behind myself...Do you hear yourself?...That doesn't make any sense at all...even for you."

"Okay, stay with me a minute. Just think about the last time you walked down the hall and passed...say...two or more women walking together...no men...just the women. Did you hear giggling or whispering when they got past you?" Sheppard didn't answer, he just sat there with his mouth slightly open. "By the way, close your mouth or you'll start catching flies. Anyway, if you turn around real quick, you'll probably catch them looking back at you. Some of them like the going away view almost as much as the front view, if you get my drift."

"You're making this up," Sheppard said uncertainly.

"I most certainly am not. You listen next time...and then turn around really fast. You'll see. Of course, none of them look at you quite the way a certain someone does...now there's some real passion brewing there, not just eye candy or lust."

Sheppard could feel the red creeping up his neck and spreading across his face like an out-of-control wildfire. "McKay...you're crossing the line here!"

"Not that I haven't noticed you looking at her the same way," McKay continued.

"McKay, don't go there."

McKay looked at Sheppard and grinned. "Oh my God, you're actually blushing. Where is Radek when I need him. I TOLD him something was brewing there, but he wouldn't listen. He just kept saying..."

"McKay! We are dropping this NOW!" Sheppard roared.

McKay rolled his eyes. "Fine. Fine. Fine. Whatever. Personally, I think more power to you. If you and Elizabeth want to snuggle, what business is that of anyone else?"

"McKay, I swear if you don't shut up right now, I'm going to shoot you." Sheppard was so taken aback by the whole conversation, his head was beginning to throb. Surely McKay was making the stuff up about women watching him in the hall. He didn't mind partaking in a little innocent flirting ever so often, but the thought of half the women of Atlantis sneaking peeks at his butt gave him the creeps. Kind of undermined the whole authority figure thing he thought he had going too.

The thing that had really grabbed his attention was the part about Elizabeth. They had very carefully never voiced anything about their feelings. They sometimes exchanged looks or light touches, but had never expressed anything beyond friendship. They couldn't. He'd found himself caring for her more and more each day. So much so, in fact, that it scared him. He was pretty sure that she cared for him as well. Since they had never actually spoken or acted on their feelings, it shocked him to hear McKay act as if it were common knowledge. Part of him wanted to question McKay, but he was afraid to. He would practically have to admit to his feelings and he wasn't ready to do that yet.

"I'm starved. How about we break for lunch. I think it's meatloaf day and I actually like their meatloaf."

Sheppard's mind drifted back to the present. "Okay. I could eat."

As they stood, Sheppard swayed slightly and put his hand on the table for support. He felt McKay's hand on his other arm, helping to steady him. "You okay?"

Sheppard relaxed as the dizziness passed. "I'm good. Stood up too fast and gave myself a head rush."

McKay sighed. "I told you you should have eaten breakfast."

The two men headed out of the lab and down the hall. About halfway there, they met three women scientists walking towards them from the mess hall. McKay leaned over and whispered, "Remember, after they pass us listen, then turn around quickly."

"McKay," Sheppard whispered sternly. As they passed the three women, he nodded his head toward them and said, "Ladies." A few seconds later, he heard their antimated whispers coming from behind him. He looked over at Rodney, who was grinning and motioning behind them with his head.

"Now," he whispered.

Sheppard had not planned on turning around, but at the sound of McKay's voice, he spun around on his heels to see three faces watching him over their shoulders. All three women immediately jerked their heads around and began giggling like teenage girls as they hurried down the hall. Sheppard just stood in the middle of the hall watching them. "Holy crap," he whispered to himself.

McKay grabbed one arm and spun him back around. "Told you! This way...food...remember? Let's go eat." McKay proceeded to lead a somewhat confused major to the mess hall.

They got their trays and sat down at an empty table, eating in silence for several minutes. McKay finally paused and looked up at Sheppard. "What did you mean about fate?"

Sheppard had stopped eating and sat pushing his food around his plate with his fork. He looked troubled. "It's not important. Besides, pilots shouldn't be philosophical, remember?"

"Oh, get over yourself, major. You know I was kidding. I seriously want to know what you meant."

Sheppard continued to look glumly at his plate. "It really wasn't that big a deal. I just sometimes think about the fact that the only reason I'm here is because of that gene. Everyone else was handpicked to come because of their record or talent. I snagged a spot at the last minute with a luck of the draw gene. Maybe I'm not supposed to be here."

"Well," McKay began, as he really seemed to be thinking over what the major had just said. "I don't really believe in fate. I think we end up with a random assortment of actions, each with its own set of consequences. That usually leads to more actions and so on. Stuff just happens and we have to sort it out and deal with it. But if fate did play a part in all of this, you just happening to fly General O'Neal and just happening to sit in the chair with the right gene at just the right time...I'd say fate wanted you here. What do you..." McKay drifted off as he noticed Sheppard looking down with an expression of growing panic. McKay followed his line of sight down to his hand, which was shaking so hard his fork was clinking against the side of his tray. Sheppard dropped the fork and held out both hands in front of him and watched them shake violently.

"Major?" said McKay, not trying to hide the concern in his voice.

Sheppard just stared at him blankly. "Can't stop...shaking."

McKay jumped to his feet and grabbed Sheppard's arm. "Come on, we're going to the infirmary - NOW! And do NOT tell me you are okay. People who are okay don't shake like this."

Sheppard staggered to his feet with McKay's help. Once there, he swayed sideways with enough force that he almost sent them both toppling to the ground. People at the tables around them turned to see what the commotion was. A few wondered if they were drunk. As the made their way to the door, Sheppard grabbed the door frame.

"Wait." He snagged the garbage can and pulled it out into the hall moments before leaning over it and losing the food he had just eaten. Then he dry heaved a few extra minutes for good measure. When he finally stopped, McKay began dragging him down the hall. They only made it a few feet when the cramps hit Sheppard's legs. The most stabbing, excruciating muscle cramps he'd ever experienced seemed to hit almost every muscle in both legs at the same time. His legs folded up underneath him as he cried out in pain and crashed to the floor. He immediately pulled his legs up to his chest and began trying to knead the pain out, not realizing he was groaning out loud. He became aware of McKay's frightened face hovering over him.

"Major, what's wrong?"

"Cramps," was all he could get out as the wave of hot pain rolled up through the muscles in his groin and down across his shoulders at the same time. He curled up into the tightest ball he could form as he moaned and tried to catch his breath. "Kay...help...me...hurts..." He was cut off as the wave moved across his abdomen and up into his chest. He tried to curl up tighter against the pain, but he couldn't. His eyes squeezed tightly shut and his jaws clenched hard against the pain, he tried to ride it out as it ebbed and flowed and moved around his body. But there was no pattern to the way it moved, so he could not anticipate and adjust to its flow. There was no relief. As soon as the pain began to subside, it came crashing down in another area of his body, rolling through until he wanted to scream.

McKay watched helplessly as Sheppard writhed in obvious pain, curling up in the tightest fetal position he had ever seen. "Major, talk to me. What's happening?" Even as he asked the question, he knew Sheppard was in too much pain to talk. He wasn't even sure he could hear him at this point. He put his hand on Sheppard's shoulder to let him know he was not alone and was suprised to find Sheppard's whole body shaking uncontrollably, much like his hand had been shaking in the mess hall.

McKay hit his radio link. "We have a medical emergency in front of the mess hall. I need a medical team immediately! Carson, if you can hear me get down here NOW! Major Sheppard just collapsed and it's bad...it's real bad."