Spoilers: This is set in Season 2, right after Duet.

Disclaimer: I do not own Stargate Atlantis, no copyright infringement is intended.

Paranoiac GQ
by
ga unicorn

Sheppard pulled on his jacket, and then hesitated briefly before picking up his vest and P-90. When had he become the man who never went anywhere without being armed? When he had been stationed in Afghanistan he had to wear a sidearm constantly, but had been happy to be able to give up the habit when he was reassigned to Antarctica. He had never thought he would become a man who didn't leave his quarters without his 9mm, and wouldn't consider leaving Atlantis, even for purely social reasons, without his P-90. He shook his head. It must be paranoia.

He settled the vest comfortably, but held onto the P-90. After a quick glance in the mirror – nope, the five o'clock shadow wasn't dire yet – he headed off to round up McKay.

Sticking his head into McKay's lab, he was unsurprised to find the man hunched over a diagnostic tablet. Wires connected it to a largish gray box with three smaller boxes protruding from the top. McKay pressed several buttons on the tablet then stared at the box expectantly. Whatever response he wanted was apparently not the one he got as he grunted in disgust, whirled his stool around and started typing rapidly on his laptop.

"Rodney." Sheppard waited a few seconds then tried again, "McKay!"

"Yes, yes, yes. With you in a minute." McKay whirled back around to the tablet and started pressing buttons again.

Sheppard gave him his minute, then walked over and placed a hand on top of the tablet screen.

"Hey, what are you… Oh, it's you Colonel. What did you want? While you're here would you mind seeing if you could get this to turn on," McKay said, gesturing at the box. "It's definitely got power, but I can't get it to turn on."

"No, I will not be displaying my superior ATA gene today. And you need to put away your toys for now. We're due on the mainland, remember? Teyla's birthmonth feast? Is this ringing any bells?"

"That's not until the twentieth," McKay began.

"And that is today," Sheppard said. Shaking his head in exasperation, he nudged McKay out off the stool, stripping off the man's lab coat at the same time. "Come on, you can't keep hiding in this lab. Everyone on Atlantis has seen the picture of you kissing Beckett. Get over it."

He grabbed McKay's jacket and herded the scientist out of the lab and toward the jumper bay.

"I did not kiss Carson, that was Cadman. I can't believe Zelenka posted that picture on the intranet. What did I ever do him?" McKay asked in bewilderment, pulling on his jacket and trying to keep his head down at the same time. He just knew that everyone they passed in the corridor was whispering about him.

"Fumbles McStupid," murmured Sheppard, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"I, I wasn't myself. Radek should have realized that and made allowances," McKay stuttered indignantly.

"Well, it's done," Sheppard said. "Let's forget about it for today, shall we?"

He urged McKay up the jumper ramp and moved down the aisle to the pilot's seat. Greeting Teyla and Ronon, he settled in his seat, unzipping his vest and storing the P-90 at his feet. He had brought the jumper systems online and sent the signal to open the jumper bay sunroof when he noticed McKay was still standing in the aisle.

"Are you going to stand all the way to the mainland?" Sheppard asked.

"Can I fly?"

Sheppard felt his lips twitching. "You can be the designated driver, and fly on the way back to Atlantis."

McKay flopped happily into the seat behind Sheppard and began to lecture Ronon on the dangers of eating a large meal before traveling in a jumper. Ronon made non-committal rumbling noises at appropriate intervals, while continuing to consume the large sandwich he had brought onboard.

Sheppard flew the jumper out of the bay and pointed it toward the Athosian settlement on the mainland. After setting the autopilot he reached into one of the vest's pockets and pulled out a gaily-wrapped package.

"I didn't know if there was an appropriate point during the feast to give you your birthday present, so I thought I'd go ahead and give it to you now," he said and handed it to Teyla.

"Thank you, Colonel Sheppard. It is… beautiful," she murmured, stroking the wrapping and turning the box slowly in her hands.

Sheppard smiled, recognizing the slight eyebrow tilt indicating her confusion. "You have to tear off the paper, and open the box."

"Oh. We do not normally give gifts on the birthmonth feasts, but I… Oh," she sighed, "this is very beautiful."

She held up a multicolored shawl, the translucent fabric sliding gently through her fingers.

"I saw you admiring it at the bazaar on P3X-993, and made a little trade," he said, thinking how useful chocolate bars were. "I hope you enjoy it."

"I shall. Thank you, Colonel."

"You're welcome," he said turning back to the controls and turning off the autopilot. "All right, everyone. Please return your trays and chair-backs to their upright and locked positions. We've arrived."

"What tray table is he talking about?" Ronon asked McKay. "I didn't have a tray for my sandwich."

"He's trying to be amusing. It's what passes for humor in the military mind," Rodney noticed Sheppard retrieving the P-90 from the deck, and when Ronon stood up saw that the former runner was also wearing his usual sidearm. "Are you two expecting an invasion during the meal or something? What's with the firepower?"

"I do not think you will need your weapons today, Colonel, Ronon," Teyla said. "The feast will be quite safe."

Ronon pretended he hadn't heard her and exited the jumper.

Sheppard hesitated a moment, then finished clipping the P-90 to his vest. He flashed a small, apologetic smile at Teyla.

"Sorry; the way our luck has been running the past few months I think I've become just a little paranoid. I'll try not to be too obvious with it." He amped up the smile, hoping she wouldn't insist he leave the weapon behind.

She stared at him for a moment, and then a serene smile appeared on her face. Nodding, she went to join Ronon.

"You gave her a present," Rodney hissed at Sheppard.

"Yeah. So?" Sheppard had the jumper ramp retract as he and McKay started down the path to the village. He scanned the area as they walked, waving at some of the Athosian children who came barreling down the path to greet them.

"I didn't get her one. I didn't think we were supposed to. It makes the rest of us look bad since we didn't get her a gift. I think someone should have explained that a gift was expected."

The fingers of McKay's left hand moved non-stop during his speech, the right one tucked behind his back. Sheppard smiled. Only Rodney McKay could wring his hands with only one hand.

"She's not expecting a gift. You heard her. They don't normally give gifts at these feasts."

"But you gave her a gift."

"Geez, Rodney. If it bothers you so much why don't you give her some of your chocolate stash? You know she likes it. And don't bother trying to deny that you have one. I know you had an entire crate smuggled onboard the Daedalus."

He left McKay stuttering denials and hurried up the path to exchange greetings with the villagers. They were eager to show off the latest improvements. The village was beginning to have a feeling of permanence to it. There were well-worn paths through the middle of the settlement and between the dwellings. Large standing torches were set up at intervals, there was a cistern where water was collected, and animal barns at the far end of the village. Some of the families had even planted decorative gardens outside of their homes. They had finally found time to build a meeting hall, which was where the birthmonth celebration would begin.

All the Athosians and the representatives from Atlantis crowded into the hall to listen as Holling asked the Ancestors' blessings for the people who had been born during this month. Sheppard leaned against one of the support poles, and listened with one ear while scanning the crowd. Half a dozen of the children had congregated around McKay, who was standing very straight, his head back, and a slightly panicked look in his eyes. The one handed hand wringing had started again. The children weren't saying anything; they just watched him.

Why were children so fascinated with a man who clearly wanted nothing to do with them? And why was McKay so terrified of them? Sheppard grinned and shook his head. He started to push away from the pole to go and rescue the scientist, but Ronon beat him to it. The large man crouched down next to the kids, said a few words, then stood up and left. He didn't look to see if he was followed, but the children stumbled over each other in their eagerness to keep up with him. McKay stared after him with a mixture of relief and resentment.

The ceremony finally ended, the entire village congratulated the birthmonth celebrants, and then people scattered to their homes to get their contributions for the feast.

Teyla approached Sheppard and McKay. "Did you enjoy the ceremony? I thought Holling was very eloquent."

"Oh, yes, very nice," Sheppard said, completely unable to remember a word the man had said. He nudged McKay. The scientist jumped as if startled.

"Yes, yes. Very… uhm… reverent," he said. He looked around at all the activity in the village center. Tables were being set up and food set out. "Is the meal going to start soon?"

"It should start within half an hour or so. In the meantime, the head animal handler, Atin, asked if you would like to inspect the new additions," she raised her eyebrow at Sheppard and tilted her head toward a tall, heavyset man. "The new avian species - the crall? - that was approved by Atlantis is settling in very well, and he hopes that we will be able to supply you with its eggs and meat very soon."

Sheppard took the hint.

"We'd be happy to," he said, clapping McKay on the back, "wouldn't we Rodney?"

The group began walking toward the far end of the village and the animal pens.

"Oh, yes. There's nothing I enjoy more than standing around in mud, breathing air redolent of animal crap, and staring at… What the hell is that?" McKay ended his complaint in a near shriek.

McKay pointed at a large birdlike creature. It was the size of an ostrich, but with thicker legs, and the mid-leg joint did not bend backward. It also had a large, hooked beak that looked capable of ripping a sizable chunk out of anything it chose. There were a couple dozen miniature replicas gamboling about its large clawed feet, emitting high-pitched croaking sounds.

"That… thing is supposed to be about a quarter of that size. What the hell happened?" demanded McKay.

"We are not sure," replied Atin excitedly. "We have never had a domesticated bird species which grew so large. Perhaps it is the locally grown grains and fruits which we are feeding it. She and her mate settled in with no problems, acclimated quickly, and started producing young ones almost immediately. We are very excited. We hope to have a sufficient surplus of eggs and meat for trade within just a few months." He beamed happily.

"Well, that mega-chicken, what did you call it - crall? – is supposed to be about knee height. Do those things fly? How high can they hop? That enclosure looks completely inadequate." He turned to Sheppard. "We need to get the sides raised to at least …" he gestured vaguely in the air about a foot above his head. "Maybe higher."

"Rodney, what are you so upset about?" Sheppard asked, amused. "So the chi – uh, cralls – are larger than expected. The buffalo wings are going to be huge. What's the problem?"

"Think Australia, Colonel," McKay said impatiently. "Think cute little bunny rabbits escaping from their pens." He dropped to his knees and began inspecting the bottom portion of the fencing. It had been built as a solid wall for the first foot or so, with support poles sunk into the ground. The upper section was open pickets, which stopped at waist level.

Sheppard's expression was blank for a moment, and then a long forgotten history lesson brought comprehension. He looked over at the huge bird, now being joined by its mate. Oh, boy.

"Colonel," Teyla called to him. She and Atin were looking at him with curiosity.

"On earth," he began, "an animal called a rabbit was imported to a country, similar to your bringing the crall to Atlantis. Some of them escaped from their pens, started to breed very prolifically. Since they had no natural enemies to help control their population they soon became a plague on the local environment."

He gestured at the birds behind him. "These cralls, there's nothing on this continent that would keep them in check if they get out and start to breed. They're over twice as large as the largest local species, and that's an herbivore. Rodney, what do you think you are doing?" The scientist had stood up and was currently rattling the sides of the pen.

McKay waved him off and moved to a corner to test the supporting pole. "These walls are totally inadequate. Just look at those things. They could practically step over these walls. And they look like they're plotting an escape."

He gestured at the two larger cralls. They followed the scientist as he moved around the pen, their heads tilting from side to side as he spoke. The female dipped her head to get a closer view as McKay rested his hand on top of the wall. He jerked the appendage back with a squeak.

"Look, Colonel, I think we need to get what's-her-name, the zoologist – "

"Dr. Baxter," Teyla supplied the name.

"– right, Baxter. We need to get Baxter out here to check on this. And we need to have someone keeping an eye on these birds until we decide what to do with them. We might need to go ahead and destroy the lot."

"But Dr. McKay, the birds are very docile, very content where they are," Atin protested. "I do not think that you need to worry that they will suddenly become enraged and attempt to escape. They are very gentle." He reached over the fencing and stroked the male's neck. The bird responded with a rumbling croak.

"Atin, have they ever shown any interest in leaving their enclosure?" Sheppard asked.

"No, never, Colonel," Atin said earnestly.

"Okay," Sheppard said. "McKay, I think this can wait until after the feast. We'll talk to Dr. Baxter about coming over and looking into the situation after we get back to Atlantis. We can help shore up the existing walls before we leave. At the very least, the pen will need to be enlarged. It will never hold all of these cralls if the babies grow as large as the parents."

McKay gave the wall one last shake, then turned to rejoin the group. His foot slipped in a patch of unidentified muck, flying out from under him and sending him crashing back into the fencing. At first it looked as if the wall would hold, but, with McKay struggling to remain upright, it fell over into the pen. The pickets, McKay's weight added to it, landed on the female's foot.

Sheppard heard McKay's yelp as he fell against the fence and turned in time to see it hit the ground. He started back to give McKay a hand up just as all hell broke loose.

The female emitted a shriek that rivaled McKay's. She tried to pull the pinned foot out from under the pickets, but succeeded only in stepping on one of her own children and stumbling against the male. The distressed cries from the baby caused the female to renew her struggles to get free. The male stomped around her in agitation, adding a bass bugle to the bedlam.

McKay huddled on the downed section of fence, arms over his head, legs thrashing as he tried to wriggle back out of the pen. One of his gyrations brought him too close to the edge, and his forearm was raked by the male crall. He screamed and curled up into a ball.

The female finally managed to extricate her foot, and began stampeding hysterically around the pen, joined by the male.

Sheppard cursed and threw himself over McKay just as the male's foot swung toward the scientist's head. He grunted as the claw scraped along the back of his neck, and then his left shoulder was used as a stepping-stone in the cralls bid for freedom.

By the time he managed to lever himself off of McKay both adult cralls were out of the pen and trotting toward the woods. Atin attempted to herd them back toward the pen. He was knocked down by the male, then trampled by the female as she bawled her continuing distress.

Sheppard pulled the P-90 to his shoulder and got off two shots before the birds disappeared in the tree cover. The male staggered but didn't drop. Sheppard cursed and went to help Atin. He dug a field dressing out of his vest and tossed it to Teyla who was crouched by McKay.

"McKay, once you're bandaged I want you to go back to the jumper and contact Atlantis. Get Baxter out here. And Beckett, if Atin needs him," he added, checking over the Athosian who was sitting up with his hand pressed to his chest.

Ronon appeared around the side of one of the barns, his blaster already in his hand as he scanned the area for danger.

"Sheppard?"

"Ronon, you and I are going hunting," Sheppard said. "Teyla make sure all those baby cralls are still in that pen and get the wall back up."

"Colonel, there are hunters in the village who can track the crall," Teyla said. She knotted the dressing on McKay's arm, ignoring his complaints about it being too tight. She patted his shoulder and stood up to go to Atin. The animal handler had made it to his feet and was leaning on a support pole of the crall pen, hands still pressed to his ribcage.

"They can catch up to us when they can, but I don't want those birds getting too far ahead of us," Sheppard said, checking the fastenings on his vest. "You ready, Ronon?

He took off at a ground-covering jog, the former runner right behind him.

"Be careful, Colonel," McKay yelled. Sheppard raised one hand in acknowledgement, but kept going.

"Atin, can you keep an eye on the little ones, while I go get the hunters to follow after the Colonel and Ronon?" Teyla asked. At the man's nod, she smiled reassuringly. "Do not worry. I will be back in a few minutes with help to repair the pen. Do you want Dr. Beckett to come look at your ribs?"

"No, Teyla, I will be fine. I am sorry – "

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Atin. It was an unfortunate accident. I will be back shortly."

She and McKay had not gone far when villagers coming to investigate the commotion met them. Teyla quickly organized the hunters and a repair crew.

McKay continued on to the jumper. Once inside he made short work of contacting Atlantis. After explaining about the crall and their escape, he asked for Dr. Baxter to come out to the Athosian settlement.

"She has really got to have a look at these birds. They are huge. A decision needs to be made about the immature ones. I don't know if we want to chance them getting out. Oh, and could you send Carson, too? Atin said he was all right, but that bird stepped right in the middle of his chest. And those birds must weigh…" Rodney stuttered to a stop, then blew out a breath. "Well, I don't know how much they weigh, but they are huge."

He held his arms out to indicate the size, forgetting for a moment that Weir couldn't see the gesture.

"Okay, Rodney," Weir said, signaling the communications specialist to call the chief medical officer. "Is there anything else you need? Does the colonel have his comm-unit? Can you communicate with him?"

"No, he doesn't have a radio with him. He brought his P-90 to the birthday party, but not his comm. God knows what he and Ronon are doing right now. Two or three of the Athosian hunters followed them into the woods. I just hope they're not all shooting at each other."

"Calm down, Rodney," Weir shook her head with a smile. "I'm sure they'll be fine. Drs. Baxter and Beckett should be leaving in about five minutes. Let me know if you need any further support. Weir out."

McKay grabbed the first aid kit and headed back to the village.

OoOoO

"I knew I wasn't just paranoid," Sheppard muttered, cradling his P-90 against his chest.

They had reached the edge of the woods. Sheppard crouched to examine the crall prints. The damage to the underbrush caused by the dinner-plate sized feet was clearly visible, along with the beginning of a blood trail.

"I knew I'd hit it," he said, getting back to his feet. "I just wish I had done a better job of bringing him down. Don't like to leave an animal suffering."

Ronon started scouting further into the woods. "If it is any consolation, at the rate he is bleeding he won't have gotten far."

Ten minutes later, a quarter mile into the woods, they found the carcass of the male crall. He had fallen across a game trail near a shallow creek.

Sheppard knelt beside the crall, checking to be sure it was actually dead. The bird's eyes were open, staring sightlessly at the forest floor. After more than a minute there was no sign of it trying to breath. Sheppard sighed and patted it on the leg. "It's the barbeque for you, big fellow."

He reached out to touch a nearby tree for balance as he stood up. A hiss of pain escaped as his shoulder protested the movement.

"You okay, Sheppard?" Ronon asked. He stood up from where he had been inspecting tracks on the far side of the creek, then jumped back to Sheppard's side of the water.

"Yeah, just sore muscles. I got stepped on during the great escape." Sheppard rotated the sore joint.

"You've got blood on the back of your neck."

"I do?" Sheppard asked, surprised. He grimaced as he used the wrong hand to reach back and feel the area in question. "Just a scratch, I think."

"The female is headed in that direction," Ronon said, pointing in a westerly direction. "She's still running."

"Great. I'd hoped she would have calmed down by now. Looks like she's starting to head back in the general direction of the village, at least. I don't suppose you thought to bring your comm with you?"

When the former runner shook his head, Sheppard cursed softly. "Something else I need to add to my list of 'must haves' for the well-dressed paranoiac."

At that point the three Athosian hunters trotted into sight, and he moved to meet them.

"Errak and Mala, would you get the body back to the village, please? I suspect Dr. Baxter is going to want to have a look at it. Beyra, why don't you come with us? Ronon says she's still moving fast and curving back toward the village. Let's see if we can catch her."

When they started off again Ronon took point with the middle-aged Beyra several yards behind and to one side. Sheppard brought up the rear.

They had only gone a few paces when every mutant creature movie he had ever watched flashed into his head, especially the inevitable 'surprise' ending. "Ronon? Beyra? I don't think she's slowed down long enough to do it, but let's keep an eye out for crall eggs, shall we?"

For twenty minutes they followed the female's tracks. Abruptly, both Ronon and Beyra halted. Ronon held up a hand for silence, and then pointed off to the right.

"She's not too far away now. Sounds like she may be caught in something over that way," Ronon said quietly, gesturing again.

"Her path has been fairly erratic, as if she was taking the easiest path, but generally toward the village. She has been slowing down for the last half mile, and she may be trying to find her way back to her pen," Beyra spoke for the first time. He pulled a rag out of his pocket to wipe his forehead.

Sheppard added a bandana to his list of 'must haves' as sweat stung the abrasions on his neck. He stared in the direction Ronon had indicated but did not hear anything. The ex-runner's hearing was phenomenal.

"Isn't that where that large windfall occurred during the storm?" he asked Beyra.

"Yes, this is the far edge."

"There was a hurricane about six months ago," Sheppard explained to Ronon. "We think a tornado probably touched down here. There's a swatch of fallen trees about 400 yards long."

Beyra took a drink from a water skin, and then offered it to Ronon. "We have used much of it rebuilding the village, houses, furniture, firewood, and so forth. Most of the larger trees have been cleared. But there are still many saplings, branches, vines laying around for her to get tangled in."

Ronon took a long pull on the skin, tossed it to Sheppard, then pulled a powerbar out of his duster pocket. The lt. colonel squirted some of the warm, leather flavored water into his mouth, watching the other man chewing the bar. He shook his head. Ronon was picking up habits from McKay.

"Let's go bag our bird. Ronon, I want you to try and stun her if possible. I don't want to have to put her down unless it's necessary. If we truss her up, I think the three of us can haul her back to the pens."

Ronon nodded in acknowledgement. The three resumed their previous positions, and headed toward the windfall.

Five more minutes travel and the fall was in sight. Even Sheppard could hear the bird now. The sound of her tenor croak was underlined by loud rustling noises. These were not the hysterical squawks heard earlier, but sounded almost as if she was confused.

When the men rounded the exposed root ball of a downed tree they found the crall standing in the middle of a tangle of branches and bramble vines. One of her legs had a vine twitsted around it. Every few seconds she would give a hop and shake the leg, trying to free it. Then she would lean over and nibble at the dark berries growing on the vine.

Beyra snorted in amusement. "She found the cosberries. No human likes the sour flavor, but Atin says the cralls are very fond of them."

"At least she's happy now," Sheppard said. "Ronon, go ahead and stun her."

He had barely finished speaking, before a stun blast hit the crall mid-chest. The bird wavered briefly, then toppled onto her side in the middle of the brambles.

The men watched her for a few moments to be sure she was out. Sheppard pulled out his combat knife and went over to cut her free of the vines. Crouching near the knee and lifting the foot, he looked for the best place to cut away the foliage.

"You sure are tangled up," he muttered. He tucked the leg between his body and arm, freeing a hand to hold the vines as he cut them. He had just severed the final one when the crall's leg twitched. Looking up, he saw her head lift and her beak open in an agitated bawl. He flinched and tried to back away. Her leg abruptly jerked out from under his arm, then just as quickly straightened out catching him in the side and throwing him up and back.

He flew backward hearing shouts and Ronon's weapon firing. A burning pain stabbed through his thigh as he landed heavily in another pile of branches. He tried to roll to his knees and bring up the P-90, but his leg wouldn't move. He settled for pushing up into a sitting position.

The crall had fallen back onto her side. Beyra was binding her legs together, while Ronon stood nearby, blaster aimed at the bird. The Athosian finished with her legs then took the rag out of his pocket and wrapped it around her head, covering her eyes.

"Maybe if she can not see, she will not become so agitated," the hunter said, getting to his feet. He looked over at Sheppard. "The village is just over there. I will go and get some others to help move the bird."

As the hunter ran off, Ronon moved over to where Sheppard was seated.

"You okay, Sheppard?"

"No," Sheppard sighed. He gestured at his leg. A spreading bloodstain encircled a wooden splinter emerging from his thigh. "I can't move the leg. I think the shaft is caught on something."

Ronon crouched down next to the lt. colonel and slid a hand under the injured leg. He located the splinter where it emerged from the other side of Sheppard's leg, and then followed it down as far as he could without moving anything. He removed the blood-covered hand, sat back on his haunches and regarded Sheppard.

"I can't feel where it's caught. You want me to lift you off of it?"

"No! Hell, no," Sheppard rubbed a hand over his face. "It's bleeding enough already. Let's not encourage it. Is it any thicker on the other end? Do you think you can cut through it?"

Ronon thought for a moment, then reached over his shoulder for his blade. "This isn't going to feel very good," he warned.

"I know," Sheppard said. Bending his left leg he wrapped an arm around it. "I'll try to hold the splinter still on this end. You want my knife? It's smaller."

Ronon dropped to his belly and started clearing away as much extraneous foliage as he could. "No. Mine's sharp."

Sheppard sucked in a sharp breath as the wooden sliver was jostled. He stared at the top of Ronon's head, wondering if he should feel insulted. "Mine's sharp, too."

The larger man snorted and shot a quick glance at Sheppard. "If you call that sharp. Okay, I'm ready to start this."

He picked up the long, curved blade and slid it under the leg.

Sheppard wrapped his right fist around the wooden spike emerging from his leg. Breath hissed between his clenched teeth. Leaning his forehead against his drawn up knee, he tightened the encircling arm.

"I think you've been spending too much time with McKay," he managed to say. He sucked in another breath, and pounded his left hand against his knee. "You're starting to make sarcastic comments. Dammit! Aren't you fin – ARGH!"

With a final snapping sound Ronon completed cutting through the wood. Sheppard lay back on the ground, panting as if he had been running, his face damp with sweat.

Ronon sat back on his heels and surveyed the other man. "That's got to hurt. You sure you don't want me to pull it out?"

Sheppard opened one eye to check to see if the other man was serious. A wry grin pulled at his mouth as he remembered that Ronon was always serious. Maybe he should spend more time with Zelenka, instead of McKay. He sighed and sat up.

"No. I'd probably pass out, and then you'd have to haul my butt back to the jumper. Besides, Beckett would kill us both if I let you do that. Or at least get out the really big needles. Give me a hand up."

Before Ronon could get to his feet, the female crall suddenly lifted her head from the tangle of vines on which she lay. The blaster was instantly in his hand, pointed at the bird. But she only turned her cloth wrapped head, and let out a puzzled sounding croak. After a moment she laid her head back down, still clucking under her breath, but showing no inclination to get back to her feet.

"Crap." Sheppard let the P-90 drop, allowing it to dangle from its clip. "I've had too much birthmonth festivities. Let's go home, Ronon."

Ronon draped Sheppard's arm over his shoulder and the two of them started walking toward the village. As they reached the end of the windfall, Beyra and five other Athosians appeared. Sheppard waved away their offer to help get him back to the jumper.

The two men limped along in silence for a few moments. Sheppard finally broke the quiet.

"So, Ronon, I've been meaning to ask. Do you carry your blaster with you when you visit the men's room? Because I've been thinking of about it, and I think I should start taking my P-90 with me. What do you think?"

OoOoO

Sheppard stabbed at the hospital bed's controls, trying to find a position that didn't cause him to put too much pressure on his bruised shoulder or ribs, rub the abrasions on his neck or make his heavily wrapped thigh start to throb. He finally threw his hands up and flopped back on the pillow.

"You keep waving your arms around and tangling up your IV's you're never going to get out of here. Carson'll strap your arms to splints so you can't move."

McKay set down his laptop and helped Sheppard rearrange the clear tubing. There were two lines going, one for antibiotics (the cralls claws had not been very clean) and one for a transfusion. McKay readjusted his own IV line before propping his feet back up on Sheppard's bed and picking up his laptop.

"It's not like he's going to let me out of here today anyway," Sheppard said grumpily. He started to cross his arms, felt the tug of IV needles in his forearm and dropped them back to his sides. "You might at least bring me a pair of sweats, so I don't have to wear these stupid pink scrubs. And my book."

"Carson won't let you have the sweats. He wants to make it harder for you to escape," McKay said. He sighed, and closed the laptop again. "Did you really tell Ronon that you thought he was spending too much time with me?"

"Rodney, the man's been on Atlantis just a couple of weeks, and you already have him addicted to powerbars. And he's starting to sound smart alecky. I just suggested he might want to expand his horizons beyond thrashing my men in the gym and having lunch with you, when we aren't on missions."

"So you sent him to Zelenka? Mr. Whoopy-cushion? Dr. Moonshine?" McKay threw his arms up in frustration, only to jerk the injured one back to cradle it against his chest. He glared at Sheppard in resentment. "Ouch."

"Oh, crap," Sheppard said, rubbing a hand over his face – okay, the five o'clock shadow was definitely out of hand now. "I hadn't thought of that. That could be a very scary combination. Maybe I should steer him toward Heightmeyer?"

The two men stared at one another for a moment, and then both burst into laughter.

After being shushed by a passing nurse, Sheppard leaned back against the pillow and decided to try a nap. McKay tapped on the casing of his laptop, but didn't open it.

"Colonel?"

"Hmmm?"

"I've been noticing a trend lately, and frankly it has me a little worried," McKay began, and then stopped talking.

Sheppard finally opened his eyes and turned toward the scientist. "What's up, Rodney?"

McKay fidgeted with the laptop for a few moments, then sighed and looked up. "I've been wondering if I should start wearing my 9mm more often?"

the end