A/N: Thanks for all the wonderful feedback on Part 1!
Part 2: There's No Place Like Home
It is full dark by the time we finally reach the Sanctuary and the first tendrils of fog are drifting in from the adjacent river. We shine the beams of our flashlights through the mist and across the wreckage and debris of the building. What used to be one of the most spectacular structures in all of Sateda is well on its way to being nothing more than a pile of rubble. The dome has caved in on itself and the arched entrances are collapsed and barred by the remnants.
McKay steps closer to the fallen column blocking the high doorway and peers into the darkness beyond. "Well, this definitely doesn't bode well for crystal retrieval."
"Evidently the Wraith didn't care much for a Sanctuary dedicated to their mortal enemies," Sheppard observes.
"I don't think the Wraith cared much for Sateda in general," McKay counters. "Compared to most other civilizations we've encountered, it seems that this one was fairly advanced. The Wraith have done everything to make sure it doesn't rise from the ashes, so to speak. That's the only reason I can come up with as to why the destruction here is so thorough and why they bothered to plant the transmitters."
Teyla slumps in my arms, mumbling groggily, "Charin, would you like more soup?"
McKay swings around to frown at us, shining his light in my eyes as he does. "Did she just say who I think she said?"
"Charin," I confirm as I prop her up against my chest.
"And isn't she…"
"Dead," Sheppard finishes as he steps over to look more closely at the Athosian. "Teyla?"
Her eyes clear momentarily and she glances around in confusion. "Colonel Sheppard? This is…this is not the Mainland."
"Okay, I may not have a medical degree, but even I know that when you start talking to dead relatives, you really need to be under the care of physician." With that declaration, McKay starts to climb over the debris in the doorway.
"Rodney, where the hell do you think you're going?"
"We're here, we need to find the crystals, and standing out here isn't doing anyone any good, especially Teyla."
"The building is unstable; the whole thing could collapse…"
"She needs a doctor and the closest thing we have to one is back on Atlantis."
I ignore the argument, my attention drawn instead to a sharp whining in the distance. Teyla raises her head and looks to the sky as well, confirming my conclusion. "Sheppard, the Wraith are here."
The two stop bickering and there it is, louder, closer… the buzzing drone of a Dart. Sheppard's inhibitions about the dilapidated building are overridden by his concern of being spotted by the ship. "All right, move, inside, out of sight."
McKay is already shimmying down the opposite side of the pillar as Sheppard moves to help me with Teyla. Between the two of us we're able to all but lift her up to the top of stone so that McKay can ease her down on the other side. Then we climb and land beside them as the Dart makes its first pass over the area.
"How many?" Sheppard asks as he dares a peek over the stone column.
"I can only hear the one dart," I tell him.
"There are more," Teyla informs us as she places a hand to her head and leans against McKay's shoulder. "Perhaps the Dart has deposited a search party, but I sense several more in the city."
Sheppard considers our options for a moment then directs, "Okay, Ronon, you and McKay go to the last know location of the crystals, see if miracles do happen and they managed to survive. I'll stay here with Teyla and watch the front door. Maintain radio contact."
I nod my understanding as McKay gently shifts Teyla away from his shoulder and over to Sheppard. And once again I find myself alone with McKay as I lead him over the rubble and back to the chamber where the artifacts of the Ancestors were displayed. I hope that the threat of the Wraith will be enough to keep him quiet, but even that isn't enough to stop the mouth that does not rest.
"So, about earlier… when I was saying all this was your fault…well, what I actually meant to say was… it's just that technically you were the one who dialed the gate and so the logical conclusion that one would reach is that you somehow…"
I consider letting him struggle on with his apology then decide that the ominous silence that has been pushing me to the edge of insanity is preferable to his attempted act of contrition. "It's all right, McKay. Apology accepted."
"Oh, I'm not apologizing." I stop in my tracks and stare. The man is unbelievable. When he sees my expression, he quickly amends. "I mean, yes, I could have stated my case a little less cynically, but I have no doubt that you brought us here." At my frown he quickly adds, "Not that you did it on purpose, mind you. But we're here and somehow you were the one that did it. I just can't figure out how you did it and its driving me nuts." He crawls over a large piece of stone and continues. "You ever have that? Something that is just right there buzzing around you like a tiny insect in your peripheral vision and it just keeps bugging you and bugging you and no matter how much you swat at it, you just can't get rid of it? And then you realize that maybe you shouldn't get rid of it because maybe it's the key to the problem you're trying to solve in the first place."
I watch as he brushes dust from his pants, cursing under his breath about a small rip, before shining his flashlight further into the destruction of the building. I can't stop the snort and roll of my eyes. "Yeah, I know exactly what you mean."
He shrugs, "Eh, I'll figure it out eventually."
And I realize that I have no doubt that he will. That none of us have had any doubt that he will eventually figure out a way to get us back to Atlantis. And a part of me wonders when I started putting so much faith in someone who wasn't me…and it's not just McKay that has earned my trust but the entire team. I shake my head, clearing away thoughts that are much too sentimental for a Warrior of Sateda, but maybe not for a member of Sheppard's team.
"This way," I indicate with my own beam of light and we continue on to the chamber.
Once there we move away timbers and stones until we find the shattered display cases, the shards of glass intermingled with the shards of the smashed crystals. With a sigh, McKay reaches out to touch the remnants of one only to pull back his hand with a yelp.
"McKay?" Sheppard's voice whispers across the radio.
"Son of a bitch, I cut myself!" The scientist studies the small rivulet of blood on his index finger in the beam of my flashlight.
"Bad?" Sheppard asks.
"I'm bleeding," McKay counters.
"Profusely?" the voice in our ears inquires.
"Well, I wouldn't qualify it that way, no."
"Good. Stick a Band-Aid on it and shut the hell up. A Wraith just passed by outside and I really don't want to give away our location until you find the crystals."
"We did," McKay whispers back morosely. "They're destroyed. We can't use them."
Sheppard bites off a curse then his voice hardens in resolve. "Okay, that means we're off to Plan B. Ronon, I don't suppose you have a rocket launcher hidden in your hair along with all those knives, do you?"
"You're just jealous you didn't think of doing it first," I snort. "There was a weapons cache not far from here. We might be able to find something to use there."
"Copy that. Head on back and we'll see what we can find to use there."
McKay bandages his finger and we return to the front entrance to meet up with the rest of the team where Sheppard informs us that the Wraith he had seen had moved back toward the city.
"Good, the weapons were stored a little further down the dock," I inform him before leading us out of the rubble of the Sanctuary and onto the small pier by the river.
The wood of the docks is rotting in places and slick with a layer of slime and condensation from the fog in others, but we work our way around the impediments as quietly as possible. This used to be a walkway popular for strolling on a lazy afternoon, when the sun was warm and the breeze coming off the river ruffled the flags that now hang limp and tattered above us. Where you could buy fresh fish that was caught that morning in the nets that are little more than tangled trip hazards that we step around cautiously. Sheppard watches our backs, looking behind almost as much as he looks to avoid the jumble of shellfish traps that have spilled across the pier. McKay leads a dazed Teyla, shushing her into silence when she begins to mumble incoherently again and catching her when she trips over a fishmonger's basket that splinters under her feet. Finally I see the pylon I have been looking for and call our band to a halt.
I blast away the lock and Sheppard helps me as I begin cranking the pulley, the gears of the shaft nearly rusted tight. The mechanism squeaks loudly as it starts to move and McKay hisses, "Stop, stop, wait," before digging into his pack and pulling out a small can, the contents of which he starts spraying liberally on the gears.
"You carry WD-40 with you?" Sheppard asks in surprise.
"Yes, don't you?" is the scientist's offhanded response.
"No," Sheppard all but winces.
"Colonel, everyone knows that there are only two things you need in the world… duct tape to stop things that are moving but shouldn't and WD-40 to start things that should be moving but aren't."
Sheppard looks between the two of us with a frown as McKay continues to spray. "I'm really starting to feel under prepared hanging out with you guys."
"There," McKay says with smug satisfaction, "now try it."
We turn the crank and it moves much more easily and quietly and within a few seconds a metal sphere emerges from the water.
"You stored explosives in the water?" McKay asks dubiously.
"Sure. Why not? If the seal holds, then they stay dry. If they detonate, the explosion is baffle by the water." I grin. "Besides, who would look in the river for explosives?"
"Well then, there you go. Guess you can't argue with that logic, now can you, McKay?"
McKay scowls at Sheppard's comment. "Give me a minute; I'm sure I can come up with something."
I open the lid and peer into a dry chamber, pulling out a couple of fist-sized mines. Sheppard takes one and studies it. "No time, Rodney. You need to figure out how to launch one of these babies at a Dart passing overhead."
McKay peers over Sheppard's shoulder and I can see the gears already turning in his mind, no WD-40 necessary. "Do they detonate on impact or with a fuse?"
"Either," I answer then go on to explain as both men raise eyebrows. "There's a dual chamber with a thin membrane separating them. With a strong enough impact, the membrane breaks and there's a reaction between the materials inside, or you can destroy the membrane with a fuse placed here for a timed detonation."
"How strong are we talking?" Sheppard asks, handling the explosive a little more gingerly.
"Similar to one of your Earth grenades."
Sheppard looks over his shoulder. "What'd'ya think? Use one to launch another?"
McKay nods his head. "We'll need a tube… a pipe or something, preferably metal and something to use for baffling. It's going to be tricky launching it without detonating it before it reaches the Dart."
"I'll go see if I can find a pipe," I tell them, leaving them to further discuss how to get our weapon to work.
A few minutes later, Sheppard calls me on the radio to tell me they have moved to, the Dart having taken a sudden interest in the area they are currently occupying. From his description, I decide they've chosen the sports complex with its large playing field to take our stand against the Dart. When I arrive with a drain pipe, they are burying a charge in the ground. McKay takes the pipe with a smile.
"Excellent, this should do nicely," then he moves to finish assembly of the launcher.
Sheppard stays and asks, "Any trouble?"
In the distance I can still hear the Dart, but it seems to be concentrating on searching the opposite side of the city. "Three Wraith, but I avoided them. Figure we didn't want to kill them until we were set up to take down the Dart."
"Good. Once Rodney's ready, we'll need to draw them here. It's not exactly mobile."
"Teyla?" I ask, knowing if she wasn't injured she could make a mental connection with the Wraith.
"That's what I'm thinking, if she's up to it. If not, I guess we'll hunt one down and lure them back here. If we kill one, the others should sense it."
"There is something inherently wrong with going searching for Wraith," McKay volunteers as he finishes off his assembly. "Like Dorothy going after the Wicked Witch."
"Well, if Dorothy had had a rocket launcher, she could have blown her green ass out of the sky and the story would have had a slightly different ending."
"Ah, yes. Dorothy Gale, the Warrior of Oz, with her blood soaked pinafore and kerchief tied around her head a la Rambo. Not exactly the beloved childhood character that I remember from my youth."
"Yeah, but just think how cool it would have been to see her pull an Uzi out of her basket and start mowing down flying monkeys."
At the image that conjures, I decide that I really do need to see this movie that they are talking about. McKay only grimaces at the wide smile Sheppard displays. "What's next, 'Snow White' meets 'Reservoir Dogs'? Dopey writhing in agony and a pool of his own blood after being gut shot?"
Sheppard nods slowly in appreciation. "Disney remade by Tarantino, I like it."
"Some adolescent fantasies are best kept to oneself, Colonel." McKay simply rolls eyes. "If you're finished tarnishing some of the most beloved iconoclastic images of chaste purity in western civilization, we're ready to shoot down a Dart and go home."
With a final grin, Sheppard moves to the edge of the clearing where Teyla lies curled on her side, her head pillowed on McKay's jacket. "Teyla?" At Sheppard's touch on her arm, she opens hazy eyes and acknowledges his hail. "Do you think you can make contact? Just enough to let them know we're here and where we are?"
She nods, pulling herself up weakly as we both support her. With eyes closed, she takes a deep breath then exhales forcefully. For a few seconds she is still, then her eyes fly open. "It is done."
"Let's move you inside," Sheppard tells her with a grateful smile and we do just that, leaving her sitting near the door of the sports house with her P90 in her hands. By now, I can hear the buzz of the Dart as it closes in again.
"Colonel, here it comes," McKay calls anxiously from his position by the pipe. He's already lighting the fuse as the ship glistens in the moonlight, a silver streak growing larger by the second.
"You need to adjust the trajectory, McKay," Sheppard warns as he takes up a position to the side and several feet in front of the launcher. His own P90 is raised and preparing to fire.
From my mirror position on the opposite side, I look back to see McKay already making the corrections. "Thanks for pointing out the blatantly obvious, John." His voice is tight as he twists the pipe and lowers the angle before dashing off toward the building himself with a final "Fire in the hole!" warning.
I can feel the thud of the buried charge through the ground and the launched explosive goes screaming through the air to impact the Dart and detonate against the night sky. "Damn, Rodney, direct hit!" Sheppard declares cheerfully when the distinctive whine of the ship sputters and flounders. But his smile dissolves as the Dart banks and heads toward us.
"Uh, Sheppard?" I look to my team leader as the Dart grows larger still as it gets closer…and lower, much lower.
"Oh, shit!" Sheppard exclaims even as he starts running, which is all the motivation I need to join him as we attempt to outrun a Dart that is pretty much intent on crashing on top of us. The impact of the craft with the ground knocks us both from our feet and all I can do is lift my head and watch as time seems to slow and the ship scours deeply into the dirt. Sheppard's eyes widen as he tries to scramble backwards on the grass and away from the speeding debris closing in on him before finally curling into a ball as the wreckage overcomes him. Faintly, in the far distance I can hear McKay yelling through the radio but the roar of metal scraping against solid earth drowns it out. With a final groan and spray of turf, the ship comes to rest and I try to make out Sheppard through the settling dust.
"Colonel!" McKay is already running toward the wreckage and I gain my feet and quickly outpace him. "Ronon, the pilot!" I glance over my shoulder to see him pointing frantically at the cockpit. "Don't let him self destruct!" He doesn't slow and neither do I as I leap up on one of the wings and stare down through the dome of the Dart.
The Wraith inside is stunned by the crash, but I can see him twitching. "He's alive," I call out, trying to pry the hatch open to get a clean shot.
McKay is on his knees, trying to see under the wing opposite the one I'm standing on. "Sheppard? John?" He throws chunks of dirt and grass out of the way and I can see one partially buried black boot dimly in the darkness. "Sheppard, can you hear me?"
"Rodney?" a muffled voice calls in return.
"Oh, thank God," the scientist exhales even as he keeps digging.
I continue to pry at the hatch, but it won't budge, evidently damaged in the crash. The Wraith pilot's head lolls and I know he's moments from regaining consciousness. "McKay, the hatch won't open."
"What?" he demands, barely slowing his effort to reach Sheppard.
"The hatch is damaged and the Wraith is still alive," I repeat.
"Oh, son of a fucking bitch!" he exclaims as he stands and climbs up on the wing. "Get Sheppard out," he orders, frantically digging through his backpack and pulling out a small tool kit.
I hop down and take up his place, exposing Sheppard's leg before peering under the wing and shining my flashlight in the other man's face. "You okay?"
"For having a Dart crash on top of me, I'd say I'm doing pretty good. What's going on?" he asks in confusion.
"McKay's trying to get the cockpit hatch open so we can kill the Wraith before he self destructs," I explain simply, working to clear more of the muck away so I can get him clear of the ship.
"What?" he exclaims in a near identical tone to the one McKay used before. "Rodney, you and Ronon get the hell out of here before the ship blows."
"Shut the hell up, I'm working here," McKay spits back.
"McKay, I'm serious, get clear of the Dart."
Evidently the scientist ignores him because the only answer he receives is, "Come on you piece of shit, open."
"Ronon, can you get him out yet?" The question is frantic and I can hear the edge of panic in his voice.
"Almost." I dig faster, exposing an edge of the wing that has partially ripped from the craft forming a small pocket that has provided Sheppard a refuge from the crash.
"Oh, shit, he's moving more," McKay grits out before, "Fuck you, open!"
"Ronon," Sheppard tells me calmly, "go and take Rodney with you."
"Not happening," McKay barks, "and you're making it hard to concentrate with all this self-sacrificing bullshit. So get the hell out from under there and make yourself useful, why don't you?"
I only shrug in agreement. "You heard the man," I tell him as I get fingers under the wing and lift with a grunt.
The wing moves a fraction and the motion nearly causes McKay to topple from his perch. "Whoa! Christ, Ronon, could you make this any more difficult?"
"Sorry," I grind out between clenched teeth even as Sheppard starts to wiggle free.
He is half out when McKay exclaims, "Yes!" and the hatch opens with a whoosh. "Shit!"
I look up to see the Wraith lunge toward the scientist and I'm helpless to assist. I have both hands and all my strength concentrated on holding the wing up so that Sheppard can crawl out without being crushed by the debris. McKay topples backward and lands in a heap on the ground a few inches from Sheppard's feet, his hand skittering to pull his sidearm from its holster. The Wraith is standing now, preparing to climb out and attack when he staggers back in his seat, his chest filled with bullets from Teyla's gun. Both McKay and I look back at the woman in surprise. She continues to fire until he slumps lifeless in the cockpit before she herself slumps to her knees. McKay scrambles over to her on all fours and catches her before she collapses all the way to the ground and Sheppard slithers the rest of the way out of the wreckage. I drop the wing with a groan to match Sheppard's, feeling the muscles in my arms and back twitch from exertion.
From his seat on the ground, Sheppard takes in the image of me panting with hands on knees, a similarly panting McKay supporting a semiconscious Teyla and the dead Wraith in the cockpit. "Well, not exactly how I pictured it, but all the right people are alive and the one Wraith is dead and we have a DHD. I'd say that constitutes a successfully executed plan."
"Jesus," McKay exclaims, settling back on his haunches. "Are you all right?"
With a hand shaking more than he'd admit to, Sheppard brushes clumps of mud and grass from his hair. "Yeah, I'm sure I'll feel this in the morning, but no permanent damage. Don't even need a change of underwear," he grins as he tugs at his vest and more of the playing field drops from his body. "Although a shower sure would be nice."
"Help me get this DHD out of the Dart and I'll see what I can do about that."
With a final swipe at the mud on his face, Sheppard nods. "You've got a deal, McKay."
The two men work for the next hour, Sheppard holding a flashlight for McKay to see by as the scientist squeezes himself under the consol of the cockpit. I stand watch for the other Wraith… or sit as the case may be… with Teyla's head resting in my lap. She murmurs in her sleep and I can't help the frown. Of all the people I have met since coming to Atlantis, she is the one that I find it easiest to be around. The others, they're strangers to our way of life; a life lived under the constant threat of the Wraith that goes back countless generations. They're soft in a way that the woman using my leg as a pillow will never be. Despite the feminine curves, she is as hard as any warrior I have ever served beside, and the speed at which she had one of her blades at my throat can attest to that. On top of that, she has a killer right hook.
I shake her shoulder gently. "Teyla?"
It's time to wake her once again. Sheppard has said it's important so that she doesn't fall asleep and not reawaken, that this is what Beckett has told him. And if Beckett has told him this, then I'll believe it. I owe the man my freedom for removing the tracking device. More than that, I owe Sheppard. He could have easily left me where he found me, taken his people and returned to Atlantis, but he didn't. And even after bringing me back to his home, he could have turned me out and left me to my own devices. But he didn't do that either. Instead, he offered me a place to live, a place on his team, a place to fight the Wraith with more than just my sword and my gun. And as a result he offered me a glimpse of something I haven't seen or wanted in seven years. And if he would just let up about using a fork to eat, I wouldn't have a complaint in the world.
Another gentle shake and Teyla opens her eyes and blinks up at me in the darkness. A small smile comes to her face as the confusion clears and recognition dawns. "Ronon. I have fallen asleep again, I am sorry."
I let a small smile of my own show. "Don't be. You probably need it."
"I feel I have not been contributing as I should have during this mission."
"You saved our asses with the Wraith; I'd say that's contributing."
She chuckles softly. "You three seemed a little preoccupied at the time."
"Just a little," I agree.
She glances over to the Dart where Sheppard and McKay continue to work, the scientist directing the military officer to move the light and hand him a tool. "Have they been able to remove the DHD?"
"McKay thinks he's found it, now they're just trying to get it out."
From across the clearing I can see McKay's head pop up out of the cockpit and into the beam of light. The fog bank is moving inland and even though it hasn't set in over us just yet, the two men are hazy and the light haloed. "How the hell do the Wraith work on these things? I've yet to see one less that two meters tall and there is no way that someone of that stature can fit in this compartment."
"Maybe there's an entire crew of short little mechanic Wraiths running around," Sheppard offers. Smoking cigarettes, eating donuts, demanding their fifteen minute union-sanctioned breaks."
McKay considers with a small nod of his head. "I can see it, the Intergalactic Brotherhood of Life Suckers, their dental coverage leaves something to be desired but they've got amazing hair-care benefits."
Sheppard leans back and frowns in thought. "Munchkin Wraith. And to think, I always found the members of the Lollipop Guild disturbing."
"It was the shoes…and the hair. When you have matching curly-q's on your head and your feet, it's a dead give away that you're up to no good."
With a snort, Sheppard asks, "Speaking of breaks, do you need one?"
"Yes, I need a break, as well as a nice long shower and a chiropractor, but seeing as I'm not going to get those until I get this damn thing out, a break doesn't seem like such a good idea."
"They have an interesting dynamic," I observe.
Teyla gives me a suspicious look. "That is a very diplomatic statement, Ronon Dex."
I shrug. "Weir keeps trying to have conversations with me in the cafeteria. I think some of it may be rubbing off."
"Perhaps that is not such a bad thing. Sometimes it is better to negotiate with words instead of knives," she gives me a meaningful look and I smirk. "But regardless of its diplomacy, it is also a very accurate statement. They have been through much together… we all have."
"So their arguing is evidence of how much they respect each other?" I ask sarcastically.
"No," she corrects, "it is evidence of how much they like each other. Their accomplishments are evidence of how much they respect each other."
I shake my head. "These Earth people are a strange group."
"In many ways, yes. But give them a chance and I think you will see that they are not nearly as different as you think." She suddenly perks up, raising her head slightly and peering into the darkness.
I am instantly alert, raising my gun as I ask, "Wraith?"
"Yes, it is near." She pushes herself up further and takes her P90 that is lying beside her on the ground.
"Sheppard," I call quietly through my radio. "We have company."
At my warning, both men look around. "Rodney, can you…"
The scientist yanks the flashlight from the other's hands and disappears back into the cockpit. "Go, go, I think I'm almost done here."
Sheppard leaps down and creeps across the field to where Teyla and I are now standing. "Do you see it?"
"Not yet," I squint into the night, the half moon and the obscuring haze providing only a small amount of illumination to see by but my eyes have had time to adjust, unlike Sheppard who has been holding a flashlight for the past hour. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flutter of movement, so slight that for a second I think it is just a wisp of the thickening fog. "There," I turn to face the grandstands behind us. Two other guns train in the same direction as my own and I do my best to make out the shape in the darkness.
A harsh beeping cuts through the silence and McKay's voice accompanies it. "Oh, shit. I think the Wraith just activated the self-destruct on the Dart."
"Rodney, get the hell out of there, now," Sheppard commands as the speed of the beeping increases.
"Almost have it," he answers back.
"McKay, that is an order. Get your ass out of that Dart."
I see another movement and fire at the phantom shape. Teyla follows my lead and fires as well.
"Without this DHD, we're dead in the water, Colonel," the scientist insists.
"Without you, we're dead in the water," Sheppard counters.
A shimmer of pale skin flickers against the seating and I adjust and fire again. This time I'm answered by a screech of pain. But the sound of the ever increasing beep sends a chill down my spine to rival the scream of a Wraith.
A frustrated, "Fuck!" is followed by the sound of McKay climbing out of the Dart. I close the distance between me and the injured Wraith, noticing with a glance over my shoulder that Sheppard is no longer even looking my direction but is intent on the man running across the field. I fire the fatal shot into the downed Wraith at the same time that the Dart detonates.
The explosion is intense as is the fireball that accompanies it. Chunks of dirt and Dart rain down around us, so that I throw up arms and try to protect myself from the deadly debris. When the parts stop falling around us, I take a mental tally…Teyla a few feet behind me, Sheppard still standing where he was trying to get McKay out of the Dart…McKay…McKay… McKay… I scan until my eyes adjust to the bright light of the fire and I make out a dark form on the ground.
"McKay!" Sheppard bellows as he tears across the field.
Teyla actually breaks into a weak jog herself with a mumbled, "No." And I'm moving as well, with a tightening panic of my own.
We reach where Sheppard has already dropped to his knees next to McKay who lies crumpled on his side. Sheppard is still calling his friend's name as he runs hands over his unmoving body in search of wounds. Teyla stumbles beside him and asks worriedly, "Is he…"
"He has a pulse, he's breathing," Sheppard reassures tensely even as he continues to check over the unresponsive man. "Ronon, shine some light so I can see."
I turn on a flashlight and Teyla says, "He is wearing his vest. That would protect him some, correct?"
"Yeah," Sheppard breathes almost gratefully, "Yeah, it would. It should."
I shine the light down to a large red stain on his leg. "Sheppard," I say to draw his attention to the wound.
The blood has obviously seeped through the fabric of his pants and our team leader swallows at the sight of it. "Okay, let's roll him over." Teyla braces his neck, and Sheppard moves him gently to his back. I use the light to trace the trail of blood from the back of his leg to the middle of his thigh where a jagged piece of metal the size of my fist has cut raggedly into him.
"Oh, Christ," Sheppard exhales and reaches out a hand to touch it gingerly. The scientist cries out and Sheppard pulls back quickly. "It's, uh, it's not coming out… not easily anyway."
"What's not…coming out?" McKay's voice startles all of us and I shine the light toward his face. Even in the artificial light I can see he is pale and clammy and that can't be good.
Sheppard moves so that he is in his line of sight, placing a hand on the injured man's chest. "You hurt your leg," he explains generically.
McKay licks his lips and closes his eyes. "Ah, yes…well that would explain the… the excruciating agony… I'm experiencing." His words are forced out between rapid breathes. "What is it?"
"A piece of Dart," Sheppard tells him.
McKay releases something between a choked sob and a laugh. "Well, get it out."
"Rodney, if I take it out I'm afraid it's going to start bleeding…a lot. Beckett needs to take it out."
"Carson's not here, now, is he? And let's see, I'm…I'm assuming the DHD was destroyed along with the Dart." His voice cracks and he opens his eyes to look at Sheppard. "So, we have no way to call him, now do we?"
"Rodney…" Sheppard starts quietly, but McKay cuts him off.
"Or maybe the DHD wasn't destroyed; maybe it's embedded in my fucking leg."
"Rodney, you need to calm down," Teyla tries to reason with him.
He ignores her and keeps his eyes locked on Sheppard's. "Take it out."
"Rodney, I can't."
"Take it out, now!"
With a final glare at Sheppard he turns desperate eyes to me. "Shoot me with that damn stunner of yours."
I pull the gun, figuring it sure as hell couldn't be worse than the pain he is already in. Sheppard places a restraining hand on my arm. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"He's in pain, at least unconscious he won't feel anything," I reason.
"Ronon, he is in shock," Teyla explains, "there is no telling what a blast from your gun could do to him."
"I don't fucking care," McKay chokes out. "I don't do pain, okay? I go to the infirmary over a goddamn splinter and I having a chunk of fucking Wraith technology sticking out of me. You have to do something."
Sheppard fishes into his vest and pulls out a small vial. "I've got something to take care of you."
"What? What is that?" McKay demands as Sheppard injects the contents into his arm.
"Morphine." Sheppard rubs the sight of the injection and smiles down reassuringly at the other man. "Feeling better?"
The lines of pain ease almost instantly and his breathing evens out. "Where did you get that? Carson won't issue it."
"Yeah, Carson won't, but the United States military does."
"Do you have more?" McKay asks anxiously.
"Can I have it now?"
"Later. In four hours."
McKay swallows and his eyes dart drunkenly among us. "Four hours? That's a really, really long time."
"No," Sheppard mumbles worriedly, "it's not. Not nearly long enough." And I understand instantly what he means. At most McKay has eight hours of relief. Then what? Remove it ourselves and hope he doesn't bleed to death or die of infection? We have no way to call for help, no crystals, no DHD and the one person that might be able to come up with some other way to repair the existing DHD is wounded and unable to help.
"This stuff is great," McKay informs us with a glazed expression. "Better than the Warp Core Breaches at the Star Trek Bar in Vegas." He giggles lightly. "Remember that Klingon female that was flirting with you?"
Sheppard grabs his pack and starts rummaging for the first aid supplies. "Yeah, and I also remember the Ferengi male that was flirting with you."
"He wasn't flirting. Was he?"
At the uncertain look on McKay's face, Sheppard grins. "Oooooh, yeah, he was. But that's okay; don't expect you to remember it. You were on your second fish bowl of smoking alcohol by then."
"Wow, those were great." McKay sighs contentedly. "But this stuff," he gestures to where Sheppard injected him with the drugs, "this stuff is amazing."
"I hope you think so in a few minutes." He pulls out dressings that seem rather lacking compared to the injury he's treating. "Let's get you bandaged up."
"'Kay," McKay agrees amicably as he closes his eyes.
Sheppard sets his jaw then looks to Teyla and me. "Ronon, I need you to elevate his leg while Teyla wraps it. Try to hold it steady, the last thing we need is him flailing and causing more damage."
"What about you?" I ask in surprise that he would trust me with this task.
He takes a deep breath. "I'm going to hold him down." I nod in understanding and he moves up to McKay's head, placing hands on either shoulder.
At the touch, the scientist opens his eyes and smiles up hazily at Sheppard. "Hey. What's up?"
Sheppard ignores the question, instead nodding to me and Teyla and increasing his weight on the shoulders. "Okay, ready."
"Ready for what?" McKay asks then sucks in a ragged breath when I lift his leg. "Okay…" he gasps, "you need to stop that."
"Be done before you know it, Rodney," Sheppard promises, leaning forward to hold the man down.
When Teyla starts wrapping, McKay's hands grasp at the wrists on either side of his head, squeezing so hard I can see them quake. I hold his leg firmly so that he can't pull it away, even though he's giving all he has to do just that. "Stop…now!"
"Almost done," Sheppard assures him.
McKay changes tactics, moving from demanding to begging. "Please, Sheppard, please stop. Okay? Just stop."
Once again, Sheppard chooses to ignore him. "Be sure to get it tight, Teyla. We need to control the bleeding." Teyla pulls the bandage tighter, wrapping it close to but around the metal piece and McKay abandons words and lets out a scream. Sheppard looks like he's on the verge of joining him. "Faster," he coaxes through gritted teeth although I can barely hear him over the man flailing against us. Finally, she finishes, tying off the bandage with trembling fingers. I lower his leg onto the backpack Teyla places under his ankle, realizing I'm almost as winded now as I was after getting Sheppard out from under the Dart. Teyla lies back on the grass in exhaustion, before rolling to her side and brushing harshly at wet eyes.
Sheppard stays leaning over McKay, hands still on his shoulders, speaking words of reassurance as McKay shudders and gulps air. Over several long minutes, the scientist calms and Sheppard sits wearily beside him. With one hand still on his shoulder, he squeezes. "You did good, Rodney."
"Son of… a bitch," McKay snaps back, but his hand still maintains its hold on the other man's wrist.
"Yeah, that's me," he agrees then pats McKay lightly. "Why don't you try to rest?" McKay nods silently and closes his eyes.
I stand and drape my coat over Teyla, who is already sleeping where she collapsed on the ground, before moving to squat beside Sheppard. "There are still Wraith out there," I remind him quietly, trying not to disturb the man drowsing beside us. "And with this fire, there's no way they won't find us. They're also probably calling in another ride home."
"Yeah, I know, but there's no way we can move either one of them right now. We'll hold the fort for as long as we can. Hopefully until I can give McKay the other morphine dose, then we'll move to the gate."
"What good will that do us?"
"Well, I was thinking, if the Dart comes through the gate, maybe we can follow it out and dial Atlantis from wherever it goes."
"And if it opens onto a gate in orbit?"
"Yeah, that would kind of suck," he admits. "But if we don't get them back to Atlantis and soon…" He leaves the rest unspoken and I simply nod in understanding.
"I'll stand watch," I volunteer and take up a perimeter patrol around the grounds. A few hours pass and there is still no sign of the Wraith or a new Dart. The crashed Dart is nothing but cooling metal in a charred crater and any warmth from it is long gone, swallowed up by the fog that has finally settled in at our location. The damp air leaves me almost wishing I had the coat I left with Teyla. But I've been worse, much worse, and she needs it more than me. As I pass by, I stop to check on her once again. Sheppard has been taking care of both of our injured teammates, but I feel the need to do it myself nonetheless. McKay is awake again, the flaring pain evidently overriding the sleep inducing effects of the drugs.
"Is it time for more morphine?" His voice quivers with the question and Sheppard sighs as he checks his watch.
"Close enough," he admits and retrieves the tube from his vest. McKay exhales audibly with the injection and Sheppard pats his shoulder.
"I should have been able to get the DHD out of the Dart," the scientist confesses quietly and after a few minutes of silence, so long that I had thought he had possibly drifted back to sleep.
"You should have gotten clear of the Dart as soon as you knew the self destruct had been activated," Sheppard advises in return. "You can't do everything, McKay."
"But I'm supposed to. That's my job. That's why I'm on the team, right? All things technical fall to me. I'm the Tin Man, remember? I have a flair for all things mechanical."
"Maybe you aren't the Tin Man. Maybe you're the Lion."
"The Lion? You mean the Cowardly Lion? Gee, thanks."
"Yeah, the Cowardly Lion that thought he needed courage and had it all along. That was pretty damn brave what you did, Rodney. Stupid as hell, but brave all the same."
"Stupid but brave, I've evidently been spending way too much time with you." Sheppard snorts and McKay continues. "So if I'm the Lion, what does that make Ronon?"
"Who knows? Maybe he's Dorothy." Sheppard glances in my direction and smirks and I just roll my eyes.
McKay continues to stare up into the night sky and giggles a little drunkenly. "Clicks his heels, says 'there's no place like home' and transports us magically back to Atlantis?"
In the dim moonlight I can see Sheppard shrug. "It could happen."
"Yes and winged monkeys could fly out of my butt."
"Those hats might be a little uncomfortable if they did."
"You are one demented bastard," McKay informs him and both men chuckle before falling silent for a few second. Finally McKay speaks, his voice little more than a whisper, "How are we going to get back to Atlantis?"
Sheppard looks to me as if in search of an answer and I drop my eyes, unable to give him one. Because, honestly, I'm wondering the same thing. I've spent seven years not caring where I slept, how long I stayed on any one world, where I would be tomorrow. It didn't matter. Run, kill, survive. That was my life. But looking around at the battered and worn people with me, looking at my team, I realize that's no longer the case. And I'd even take eating with a fork while Weir makes small talk if it meant we could get back to Atlantis and get the help that Teyla and McKay need.
Sheppard forces a grin. "You'll think of something, McKay."
"I think we're screwed," he croaks out. "I think I'm screwed."
"Nobody's screwed, Rodney, especially you. You couldn't get screwed in a state with legal prostitution; you're definitely not getting screwed here. So just shut up and get some sleep. We're moving to the gate in a few hours and you'll need your rest."
"What good will that do?" the scientist demands. "I can't fix the DHD. We can't go home."
"Ronon brought us here, he can take us home." I look down to see Teyla staring up at me, her eyes glassy, and I'm not sure she's even aware of what she's saying.
"I didn't bring us here," I tell her. "If I did, I didn't mean to."
"Perhaps not intentionally, but you wanted to come to Sateda, did you not?"
"No," I insist. "Not really."
"Wait a minute. What do you mean, 'not really'?" McKay props himself up woozily on his elbows and regards me. "Were you thinking about Sateda when you dialed?"
I think back, trying to remember what I was thinking. The fire, the memories of the Wraith attack… "Maybe," I admit.
"Oh my God," McKay exclaims, plopping back on his back. "She figured it out. Teyla's the goddamn Scarecrow."
"Rodney, I think maybe the morphine is confusing you a little."
"No, no, no, Sheppard, don't you see? That's it. The extra crystal I couldn't figure out on the podium. It must have read Ronon's subconscious thoughts and overridden the address he was dialing with the one he was thinking about."
"Can it do that?" I ask, thinking Sheppard was right about the medication.
"It's Ancient technology," the scientist justifies, "it can do any damn thing it wants to."
"Have you ever seen anything do that before?" I still can't believe that the gate could sense where I wanted to go.
"The personal shield," Teyla offers.
"That's right," Sheppard brightens at the recollection. "It stayed on even when McKay tried to turn it off because it was sensing that he was scared and didn't really want it off."
McKay frowns as he insists, "I wasn't scared."
"You were scared, Rodney," Sheppard insists right back.
"What happened to being the Cowardly Lion who is really brave?"
"You lived up to it… eventually," Sheppard hedges.
Teyla reaches a hand out and touches my leg. "Ronon, dial the gate so we can go home."
I look to Sheppard who only shrugs. "It can't hurt, would definitely be better than following a Dart into outer space."
"So I just dial the gate to Atlantis and that's it?"
"No, not Atlantis, not from here," McKay corrects. "Dial back to the planet with the podium of crystals then dial the gate to Atlantis…and think of Atlantis this time."
I stand and regard my three teammates for a few seconds before finally saying, "Okay. I'll be back in a little while."
And then I do what I've spent the last seven years doing… I start to run.
I run through the darkness, feeling the cool air rush over my bare arms, tasting the fog that is rolling in from the river as my breathing accelerates along with my body. I run past the empty buildings that once housed businesses and schools and families. I run through the plaza, weaving my way among the bodies of the dead in a city of the dead. On the outskirts of town, I kill a Wraith, barely slowing as I fire a fatal blast from my gun into his chest and another into his head. He topples in my path and I simply hurdle over his fallen body and let it join the others in my wake. And I continue to run. I run over the bridge and past the trader's booth and onto the broken path back to the gate. I run and I run and I run… and for the first time in what seems an eternity I'm actually running toward something instead of away from it.
I dial the gate back to the world where we had started our mission and step through as soon as the liquid silver surface ripples to rest. It is still daylight here and I squint against the glare of the mid-afternoon sun, which is why it takes me a minute to realize that ten or so natives are milling around the DHD. They let out a war cry at my appearance; spears lifted above their heads, they charge my position on the gate platform. It's too late to draw my gun, and the close quarters are not really conducive to its use anyway, so I draw my sword instead, twirling it in my wrist before settling into a comfortable two handed stance. The first attacker falls to an up swing of my blade, the second to a hilt in the nose, the third I elbow in the chest before spinning and slicing him through the middle. The others are running before the last body hits the ground.
Without bothering to resheath my blade, I step from the platform and begin dialing Atlantis. Before entering the last symbol I pause, remembering what McKay told me… think of Atlantis this time. I look down to my feet, noticing the ruby red blotches of blood on my boots and can't help the smirk as I tap my heels together. "There's no place like home," I murmur and punch in the last symbol. When the gate flashes to life I enter my IDC and step through… and I'm finally back in Atlantis.
The Marines on guard duty eye me warily and I realize I still have my sword in hand. I run it across my thigh, giving it a cursory cleaning before returning it to its usual place on my back.
Dr. Weir steps down from the control room with a concerned frown. "Ronon, where are the others? You were due to check back in over two hours ago. Major Lorne's team was just about to go look for you."
I turn to Lorne who is adjusting the cap he is wearing as has walks up behind the expedition leader. "Get your team in a Jumper. Teyla and McKay are hurt and they can't make it back to the gate. Oh, and you need to cloak it, there may be Wraith. I'll be right back, don't leave without me."
I start to walk out of the room and Weir tries to keep pace with me, almost jogging to keep up with my strides. "Ronon, what happened? How did you run into Wraith on M4X668?"
"We didn't. The Wraith are on Sateda, along with the rest of the team."
"Sateda?" She demands, "Why in the world were you on Sateda?"
"It's a long story. I'm sure Sheppard will explain it all to you when we get him and the others back."
I give her a look that says this conversation is over and she ducks her head. "Very well, the details can wait until the mission debrief. I'll have the gate technician enter the coordinates for Sateda."
I nod and pick up my pace, leaving her to return to the gate room. A few turns later I'm entering the infirmary, ignoring the looks of alarm on the nurse's faces as I walk into Beckett's office. "Doctor?"
He doesn't immediately look up from his computer. "Ronon, I was expecting you a few hours ago for your post mission physical…" He finally glances up, sees me and stands from his desk, his forehead creased in concern. "Dear God, man, what happened to you?"
I simply walk around and take him by the collar of his white coat and start pulling him along. "Teyla and McKay need you. They're off world, so grab your stuff."
"What?" he demands, tugging me to a stop long enough to grab his field kit by the door. "It looks like you need me right now, lad."
I realize he's talking about the blood that is still on me. "Nah, this isn't mine."
He pales. "Rodney and Teyla's?"
"Not theirs either."
"Well, then, I suppose I should be feeling relieved to hear that." I continue to drag him through the infirmary and out the door. "I wonder why I really don't?" he adds dryly.
I only shrug, pointing out a bloody footprint that I had left behind on my way in. "Careful, don't slip."
He steps around the track with a whimper. "I could have been an anesthesiologist, you know. Good pay, low stress, probably never dragged off to another planet by a blood-drenched alien."
I grin at him. "Where's the fun in that?"
"There are other ways to have fun, Ronon, many of which do not involve the risk of loss of life or some of the more useful body parts."
With a snort I lead us on to the Jumper bay. "I know that. There's also drinking and talking about loss of life and the more useful body parts."
The door to the hangar opens and we enter the waiting ship. Within minutes we're back on Sateda, flying over the dark city that is hidden under the thick fog below. An alarm sounds and Lorne brings up the visual displays to show a Dart circling over the city.
"Hold on," the Marine directs, even though the sharp turn he makes in pursuit of the Wraith ship isn't even registered by my body. Regardless, my stomach lurches anyway. What if I didn't get back in time? But if the Dart is still here, that has to mean that it hasn't found them yet. Right?
I lean forward in my seat and point when I see the arrow of silver cut across the night sky. "There."
"Got it," Lorne acknowledges as he launches a weapon from the Jumper. The missile flies across the night sky, its path curving unnaturally as it locks onto the Dart. It finally impacts the ship and explodes, the fiery pieces falling and disappearing through the fog and into the river below.
"Oh, please tell me that was a drone that just took that son of a bitch out," Sheppard requests across the radio frequency.
"Colonel Sheppard," Lorne calls, "it's good to see that we got to the Dart before it got to you."
I direct Lorne to the sports complex and the three people squinting up into the ship's spotlight that shines through the mist. Sheppard sits in the grass keeping watch over his team. He has one arm around Teyla who slumps against his shoulder, the other hand on McKay's chest, whose head is resting against his leg. A few feet away I can see the body of another dead Wraith.
"Lorne! It's good to see you, period. The fog definitely helped but he's been buzzing us for a while now. Is Ronon with you?"
I key my radio. "I couldn't find any flying monkeys, Sheppard, but if it's any consolation, Lorne is wearing a hat."
He lets out a laugh and through the front window of the Jumper I can see him smile as he gently jostles his injured charges. "Look, kids, Ronon's home."
Lorne lands the Jumper and Beckett is moving before the hatch is even open and I can't stop the smile that breaks across my own face. Because Sheppard's right, I really am home, and it has nothing to do with being on Sateda.
Hours later I sit in the gym on Atlantis cleaning my sword. The orange and gold light cuts through the windows and washes over me in a way I have always found sad yet soothing, but could never put my finger on why… not until the memories those colors evoked came back to me today in a deserted home on Sateda. And even though those recollections still tighten my chest, I almost welcome them and the way they've found a home here in Atlantis much the same way I have…without even realizing I've done it.
The door slides open and Sheppard walks in. He raises his eyebrows when he sees me sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor with my sword across my thighs. "Hey," he says simply in way of greeting.
Dressed in clean clothes and his hair still damp from a recent shower he moves to a corner and sits on a bench. I simply nod a greeting and continue working on my blade. "Everything okay in the infirmary?"
"Yeah, as far as I know." He leans a weary head back against the wall and closes his eyes. "Teyla was resting comfortably and Rodney was going into surgery when Beckett sent me to clean up. He has a thing about anyone soaking in alien grime for too long." He falls silent and for a minute I think he's fallen asleep, until he opens his eyes and leans forward to scrub his face with his hands.
"You heading back soon?" I ask him.
"Yeah, in a minute. I just needed a little time away from the infirmary."
I smirk and take out my stone to run along the edge of my sword. "Long shower."
He frowns in confusion. "What?"
"I was there when Beckett sent you to your quarters. That was over an hour and a half ago, but you haven't been out of the shower more than ten minutes." I don't even look up from my work. "Just saying it must have been a long shower."
"Oh, well." He lowers his voice conspiratorially. "I kind of snuck back and sat with McKay until they wheeled him off to the operating room. Then I went to check on Teyla for a while."
"And now you're sitting here with me," I observe.
He eyes me warily. "I just needed a break from the infirmary…too many people, too many questions."
With a snort and a disbelieving shake of my head I glance up at him. "You're a real Tin Man, Sheppard."
"I really do need to get that movie for you to watch." He gives a small grin. "By default I guess I am the Tin Man, seeing as all the other characters have been taken. And it is pretty heartless of me to be taking a little time for myself when half my team is stuck in the infirmary."
I shake my head again, this time in denial of his statement. "No default about it. You've been him all along, had the heart all along. All you've done this whole mission is watch over your team, it's all you ever do… even now."
"I told you I was just taking a break," he scowls and leans back with crossed arms.
"In the one room where you knew I would be," I challenge.
"I like the gym," he defends. "It's very relaxing when you or Teyla aren't kicking my ass into the mats." I raise an eyebrow and he finally accepts defeat. "Okay, I admit it, I was looking for you. I know you weren't injured physically but it must have been rough seeing everything you did, seeing your home that way."
I assess my handiwork by looking down the line of my blade; it's a good way to avoid looking at the man waiting for my response. "Sateda's not my home anymore, Sheppard. Don't worry about it."
"You know, there're a lot of us here in Atlantis that didn't have homes… until we came here."
With my sword still extended before me, I lift my eyes and meet his with a concurring grin. "Yeah, I know."
"Good," he tells me with a gin of his own and a slap of hands on knees.
The radio activates and Beckett's accented voice come across. "Colonel Sheppard, do you copy?"
The grin disappears and a frown of worry takes its place as he responds. "Carson? What's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong, Colonel," the physician reassures, "I just wanted to let you know that Rodney is out of surgery and in recovery."
"And everything went okay?"
"Everything went fine, lad. He'll make a complete recovery and be up and about annoying the living bejesus out of everyone who crosses his path soon enough…only this time on crutches, so he will be twice as troublesome I'm afraid. I may have to prescribe valium to the entire science staff as well as the poor souls pulling cafeteria duty during his recuperation."
Sheppard smiles broadly. "That's great news, Doc. I'm on my way back down there now."
"Yes, I figured as much, Colonel," the doctor sighs. "Your usual chair will be waiting. Beckett out."
Sheppard gives me a torn look, clearly wanting to return to the infirmary and wanting to make sure I'm fine as well. "So, you're good?"
"Good," I confirm with a nod. And it's been a really long time since I said that and actually meant it.
With a nod of his own he heads for the door then stops when I call out, "Wait up," as I start packing my things away. I stand and sheath my sword, holding it loosely in my hand as I join him at the door. I simply shrug when he raises eyebrows at my actions. "They're my team, too," I justify.
He grins happily and places a hand on my shoulder as we enter the halls of Atlantis. "Good, you can help be blow up surgical glove balloons for decorations, then."
He just grins wider at my incredulous tone. "With the glow sticks, they can also double as night lights," he reasons. "Besides, it gives the hospital room a nice homey feel."
"Well," I concede as we make our way toward the infirmary, toward our team, "there's no place like home."
And it's true; Atlantis is one of a kind.