Disclaimer: No, they still don't belong to me!
A/N: Thanks to chocolatephysicist for betaing. She always makes the story better! Any mistakes remaining are my own.
Rodney tramped through the underbrush, swatting at the mosquitoes that plagued him, grumbling under his breath. It wasn't worth the effort to grumble out loud because there was no one there to hear him and respond. He was just affronted that on a strange alien world, where anything could possibly eat or otherwise damage him, he'd been left alone to fend for himself.
"Dr. McKay," Teyla's tinny voice in his ear made him jump and he glanced swiftly around to make sure that his non-manly display of fright had not been observed. Yep, still pretty much alone.
"I'm here, Teyla," he said shortly, "although I wish I weren't. It's hot and sticky, two things I always try to avoid, and I'm chafing in places I'd rather not talk about..."
"I would be grateful if you did not talk about it," Teyla cut him off before he could go any farther with that thought.
Rodney thought he could hear Ronon's snicker through the comm, but it might have just been static.
Rodney just huffed as he shoved a branch aside. He didn't hold onto it long enough and it snapped back to whack him in the head. Really he didn't know how much more of this he could take. He had a delicate constitution and the constant sweating and swatting were bad for him. Then it occurred to him that mosquitoes carried malaria and a new fear seized him.
Before he could work himself into a real frenzy, Teyla's voice in his ear distracted him, "Have you seen Colonel Sheppard? I have not been able to raise him for quite some time."
Rodney had been wondering himself where the colonel had wandered off to. He'd said something about scouting ahead, but that had been 20 minutes before and Rodney hadn't seen any sign of him since. He smacked a mosquito that was burrowing into his neck and likely setting up residence, before he pulled out the life signs detector. It was worse than useless in their present environment. There was so much life that it pretty much glowed all over the whole screen. He was surrounded by a glowing, pulsing mass of life and there was no little dot neatly labeled John Sheppard to tell him where the colonel was.
"You would think that the Ancients would be smart enough to program these things to differentiate between human life forms and other lower forms of life," he muttered as he smacked the little device on its side, as if it were the machine's fault that it wasn't getting with the program and telling him what he needed to know.
"Rodney," Teyla began...
But the blob on the life signs detector and the crashing through the underbrush headed in his direction, grabbed Rodney's attention.
"I'll be right back with you," he hurriedly advised Teyla before he thrust the life signs detector into a pocket. He pulled his weapon, just in case, trying to ignore the slight tremor in his hand as he held it low and at the ready as Sheppard had taught him.
"Colonel Sheppard?" Rodney called. "Is that you?"
The crashing was getting nearer, but Rodney couldn't see what was causing it. The planet was nearly a jungle with overgrown trees and other greenery. He could barely see a few feet ahead of his current position.
"Sheppard? Really this isn't funny," Rodney hated it when his voice squeaked. If it really was Sheppard, he was going to be hearing about the break in his voice for days. But he had a bad feeling it wasn't Sheppard. John Sheppard didn't get his jollies freaking out his teammates, or at least not often, and not off-world where there was too much a margin for error. Like Rodney shooting him in a panic.
Rodney raised the gun aiming it at a break in the foliage in the direction that the crashing was coming from. His hand was still trembling a little, so he braced it with the other. He stood his ground, knowing there was no way he could pull off a stealthy departure, he was just going to have to stand his ground and hope that John was somewhere nearby to rescue him from whatever was going to try and eat him.
The crashing was closer, nearly on top of him and Rodney gulped, his finger on the trigger tightened...
A shape sailed through the foliage as Rodney pulled the trigger. Several large green leaves died a horrible and ignominious death.
"Rodney," Teyla's urgent voice sounded in his ear as Rodney stood rooted to the spot staring at the creature in front of him. "Are you alright? Ronon and I heard shots."
Rodney truly didn't know what to tell her. Should he admit that he'd just shot at a dog?
For there, not five feet away from him, sat a German Shepherd. It sat back on its haunches, tongue lolling out as it panted from the exertion. It regarded him with a curiously intelligent gaze and barked at him once.
"Rodney," Teyla's voice was insistent in his ear.
"I'm... uh... alright, Teyla. I just scared off an animal."
The dog barked and it seemed to be laughing at him. Rodney huffed at it indignantly. That's why he preferred cats, they never laughed at him. Yes, they might be superior and aloof, but so was he.
"Just shut up, you," he told the dog.
It stood expectantly, like it thought he was going to follow it.
Rodney peered into the foliage, trying to see if there was any sign of Sheppard.
"Dr. McKay?" Teyla's voice in his ear made him jump.
"I'm here," Rodney said impatiently.
"I am glad to hear that," Teyla said, "I was worried about you. But I am also growing increasing worried about Colonel Sheppard."
The dog barked and Rodney shot it an annoyed glance.
"I am, too," Rodney admitted reluctantly.
He hated it when things happened to Sheppard. Then it was up to him to save the day and, while Rodney knew he was always up to the task, it just made him feel better to know that he had John to back him up.
"I can see his path through the jungle," Rodney said.
It would be impossible to go through the terrain and not leave a path although Rodney suspected the Sheppard could have done so if he'd desired. The markings had been left for his benefit. He would appreciate it more if Sheppard had taken the time to clear more of the foliage away to make his passing easier. Trust John Sheppard to be a pain in the ass at every given opportunity.
"I'm going to continue following it and see if I can find the colonel," Rodney said to Teyla. "Maybe you and Ronon should head in this direction?" He didn't want to it to seem like he needed them there, but the being alone in the jungle was creeping him out.
The damn dog barked one more time and its tail began to sweep the dirt in enthusiastic wagging. Its attention never wavered from Rodney and its ears were perked up. It really was quite a striking dog with a thick full coat and dark markings interspersed with a golden hue.
"Very well," Teyla said, "we will begin to 'head' in your direction. Ronon and I will meet with you soon. Was that... a bark?"
Rodney scowled at the dog, "I seem to have made a friend. Lucky me. If I find anything I'll let you know. McKay out."
Rodney headed in the direction that he could see John had gone, giving the dog a wide berth. It waited until he was once again on the generously described path before it stood, shaking itself thoroughly and followed along behind him.
Rodney turned, "Go away, you mangy mutt."
The dog whined and Rodney could swear it rolled its eyes at him.
"Really, I'm sure that Timmy's fallen down the well and needs you more than I do," he told it.
The dog just growled low and Rodney backed up a pace. It bounded past him, then turned to look back. Rodney could practically hear the, "are you going to keep up?" Then the dog led the way down the path that John had taken.
The dog never let Rodney get out of its sight and Rodney began to wonder if the dog was taking him to Sheppard. John had a good relationship with most people and with children, it just naturally followed that he'd be able to ensnare passing wildlife and get them to do his bidding.
Rodney pushed through the foliage going as quickly as he could. He stopped looking for the marks left by John and depended on the dog to lead the way. It kept up a steady pace, but it was far more agile and suited to passage through the terrain than Rodney was. He had to grit his teeth every time he came upon the animal sitting back on its haunches, tongue lolling out as it waited for him. It never let him pause or gave him a chance to rest. It would just rise up, shake itself off and trot on again, glancing back now and again to make sure Rodney was still following.
"This is so humiliating. I'm following a dog now. And it's a dog I don't even know..." at last they broke through into a large grassy clearing. A little stream meandered through the glade and the dog paused to lap up some of the clear liquid before barking at Rodney one more time. The only remarkable thing in the clearing was a large carving in the middle. It looked like a totem that stretched as high as any of the trees.
As Rodney approached he could see that it was carved with the faces of dogs, all breeds, sizes and shapes. In front of it was a small alter. The dog trotted over to the totem and sat next to it, obviously waiting for Rodney to come investigate.
Rodney could see clear footprints in the springy, loamy grass of the glade. He could only assume that they were Sheppard's since they were vaguely boot-shaped like the standard-issue footwear Sheppard wore on missions. They went all the way to the totem where they abruptly stopped. Next to the totem the dog was laying on a pile of clothing and suddenly Rodney knew whose they were.
He tapped his comm.
"Teyla, Ronon? Where are you guys?" Rodney asked, unable to keep the small plaintive whine out of his voice. All he had was a dog for company and he needed help now.
"We are still some minutes away. Have you found the colonel?" Teyla answered patiently. Teyla was always patient. Just once Rodney would like to see her flustered or thrown off by something. It was just entirely unnatural for anyone to always be so calm and collected all the time.
"No, I have not found the colonel. I think I've found where he's been however. Some sort of alter to the Dog Gods of all things. His footsteps end here, and there's a pile of clothes that look a lot like his." Rodney didn't even want to think about the things that could make John wander around an alien planet naked. "I could really use Ronon here to help me track him."
There was a grunt that could have been Ronon, but again, it could have been static.
"We are on our way, Rodney. Do not touch anything before we arrive."
"What?" Rodney's voice rose in indignation. "I'd like to remind you that I'm not the one who has disappeared here, people. Someone should have told Sheppard that before he..."
The dog barked at him.
"Will you just shut up," Rodney shouted at it.
"Rodney," Teyla began.
"Not you, the dog. Listen just get here as quick as you can before I have to shoot Rin Tin Tin."
"We will be there as soon as we can. The terrain is difficult to traverse."
And she had Ronon to clear her path.
"That's just... fine. I'll see you. McKay out."
Wasn't that just fine and dandy? Rodney stood on the edge of the clearing. The dog stared at him expectantly from where it was laying next to the totem. It was practically daring him to come closer.
Rodney took a step and the dog's tail began to wag its approval. He took another step and it sat in a bounding of muscle and fur, gracefully surging up. It barked at him.
"Yes, yes," he said, "I'm walking into the carefully laid trap. Is this how you lured in Colonel Sheppard, too?" he snapped.
The dog just cocked its head, ears perked forward and smirked at him. Rodney had never met a dog that could smirk before.
The totem really was an impressive artifact. Rodney pulled out his work pad and began to punch buttons. Excitement began to grow in him when he realized that the energy reading he'd been following was the totem itself. He'd never been one to even care about archeology, but whatever the thing was, there was something inside it. He began to inspect it more carefully, to see if there was a way to get it open rather than just blasting it.
There was lettering all over it, he realized. And just at his eye level, there was a paw print with a crystal embedded in the center. He reached out to touch it, he was just going to brush the surface, but before he made contact he was suddenly impacted with a furry body and thrown to the ground.
For a moment all he could think was that the dog had suddenly been overcome by rabies and he was about to die a horrible death by having his throat torn out. He closed his eyes tightly not wanting to witness his own demise. Instead, all he felt was the lick of a slobbery tongue across his face.
His eyes flew open, "Eeeeewwwwww, now that's just gross," he told the dog that was sitting on his chest, making it impossible for him to breathe. "Get off me," he pushed at the hairy beast but it refused to move.
It barked again, assaulting Rodney with its doggy-scented breath.
"Oh, now stop that this instance until you've found some doggy breath mints."
The dog patted his vest with a delicate paw. Rodney was startled when he realized that it was the exact pocket where Rodney kept his own breath mints for those times when they visited places where the villagers knew nothing about dental hygiene.
He studied the dog's face more closely. He took in the hazel eyes that tended to the green, the smirk that seemed to grace the dog's mouth. His gaze wandered to the ears that were almost pointed with black fur that stood in spiky tufts. Realization came like a thunder bolt.
Rodney shoved the dog off him and scuttled backwards in the dirt until he hit the alter and could go no further.
"No, no, no, no, no," he denied.
The dog barked in joyous counterpoint, jumping into the air in its excitement.
Teyla and Ronon arrived at that moment and Teyla rushed to his side as Ronon aimed his weapon on the animal.
"No!" Rodney shouted, "Don't shoot it, it's Sheppard."
Ronon stood as if carved in stone, his weapon trained on the dog. For its part the dog regarded Ronon calmly. It neither moved toward him or away sensing that any unexpected move would be bad on its part.
"Rodney," Teyla's voice was calm and even, "are you injured?"
Rodney laughed a little hysterically, "I'm fine, I think it's Sheppard you should be worried about." He waived a hand to indicate the dog.
The dog sat back on its haunches, patiently waiting for his friends to sort everything out.
"You... think that the dog is Colonel Sheppard?" Teyla asked doubtfully. There was actually a break in the calm façade that she usually exuded. She and Ronon exchanged a glance that clearly said they suspected he had succumbed to a head injury of some sort.
"I know it sounds insane, but really, is it anymore unlikely than a space alien that sucks the life out of you?"
The dog barked once in support of him and its ears perked forward. Rodney could have sworn he saw it dip its head in heart-felt agreement.
"I think we should get you back to Doctor Beckett," Teyla said uncertainly. "I could take you back while Ronon continues to search for Colonel Sheppard." Yes, her calm demeanor had definitely been shaken, and it only took Colonel Sheppard being turned into a dog for it to happen.
The dog barked twice this time, impatiently Rodney thought. It swung its head to look at Ronon, then it padded over to Teyla and put up a paw for her to take.
With an uncertain glance to Rodney, she knelt to take the proffered paw and looked deeply into the animal's eyes. It reared up on its back paws and placed its front paws on her shoulders. It didn't exactly lunge at her, but it dipped its head against hers. As best as it could, the dog mimicked the traditional Athosian greeting.
Ronon didn't like it," Get away from it, Teyla," he growled. He had let his weapon drop, but it was up again, he sighted the animal.
"No!" Teyla moved to stand between Ronon and the dog. "I believe Dr. McKay is correct. This is... John Sheppard."
The dog barked in agreement. It padded over to the pile of clothes and nosed in their folds. When Rodney went to see what it was looking for, he found the colonel's dog tags. The dog barked, its eyes shining, as Rodney picked them up and solemnly looped them like a collar around the dog's neck.
Elizabeth and Carson were just as hard to convince as Ronon had been. Although once he knew the truth, Rodney couldn't believe he hadn't seen it right away. It was so obvious. - the dog moved with John's gait, it had his smirk and it even slouched like him as it sat on the floor at the end of the table while they discussed his fate.
Elizabeth was staring at him wide eyed and struggling with disbelief. Carson was frankly skeptical. They both started in surprise when the room plunged into darkness.
"Holy Crap, what was that?" Carson asked.
"Rodney..." Elizabeth began. But she got no farther than that before the lights were back on. The dog was no longer on the floor. He had jumped up into the chair that Colonel Sheppard usually occupied during their meetings.
"Do you need any further proof?" Rodney asked in triumph. He didn't know why this was so hard for everyone to believe. Surely if he could see it, why couldn't everyone else? The dog whined a little plaintively and laid his head on Rodney's knee.
"I?" Elizabeth swallowed. "John?" She ventured.
Sheppard perked up his ears but didn't move.
"Carson?" Elizabeth did the only thing she knew and passed the buck to the doctor.
"I suppose I could run some tests and see what I can find out," he said doubtfully.
John barked his approval, never moving his head from Rodney's knee. Finding his hand on the furry head, Rodney had to resist the overpowering urge to scratch behind John's ears.
"Good," Rodney said. "Finally you're getting with the program and we can figure out how to reverse this. Although having the head of Atlantis's military contingent turned into a dog might be an improvement."
Rodney felt more than heard the growl deep in the dog's throat. He gave into the urge to scratch the ears. John's head lolled back, happiness evident in the adoring eyes turned up to him.
To cover the surge of affection he felt, Rodney said, "I have video tape of the shrine. It had writing on it that looked Ancient, maybe you can translate it for us, Elizabeth?"
"Why didn't you say that in the first place?" Elizabeth demanded.
"I believe I'm saying it now," Rodney said stiffly handing over the video tape, taking care not to roll his eyes. He tried to limit the number of eye rolls he sent in Elizabeth's direction. She could, after all, send him back to Earth , or worse yet, back to Russia. While he didn't really think she would, sometimes it was better not to take the chance. He let his hand slide absently across the furry head on his knee. It was oddly soothing.
Carson ran every test he knew to run until Sheppard was barking and snapping at everyone in sight. When Rodney entered the infirmary after running to the mess hall to find something the dog version of the colonel could eat, he found the dog backed up into the corner his ears laid back. He was barking at the entire medical staff. They stood back non-plussed, unsure how to proceed.
"Well, obviously there are some basic differences between John the man and John the dog," Rodney commented casually, leaning against the door to take in the floor show. "When John the man bit your head off it was more of a metaphor."
"I dinnae know what is wrong," Beckett said heavily, "everything was going fine."
"Have you given him a break to oh… eat something?" Rodney held up the dish he was holding, waggling it.
John the dog perked up, eyes fastened on the plate. Carson's face fell in guilt.
"I suppose we were nae thinking of the colonel," he admitted. "Usually he's able to tell us when we need to stop."
"And I think that's clearly what he's doing now," Rodney informed the doctor. "I'll just be taking him away now so he can eat and rest a little while without feeling like a freak in a zoo." Rodney's tone was firm. He met the dog's... John's eyes, "John?"
Keeping a wary eye on the medical personnel, Sheppard crossed the room. His body language was subdued, with his tail tucked firmly between his legs. He shoved a cold nose into Rodney's hand when he reached him. Rodney picked up a lump of meat from the plate and held it for him. John picked it up delicately, not even nipping Rodney's hand to get to the morsel.
Rodney took John out to one of the balconies so he could eat in peace. Rodney had seen everyone sneaking surreptitious glances at the colonel as they passed. He also noticed that the dog didn't wander from his side, he just followed Rodney and let himself be led.
The sun on the balcony was warm and the breeze welcome. Rodney sat, leaning against the wall just watching as Sheppard ate. He tried to be careful and eat neatly, but he was hampered by dog teeth and no hands. There was strangle little growls and moans as he ate and once or twice he turned up liquid green eyes to Rodney. When he finished he padded over and stretched out beside Rodney, basking in the sun.
"Do you mind?" Rodney asked hesitantly, a hand held out.
Sheppard seemed to know what he was asking, because he bumped Rodney's hand with his head, tacit permission to pet.
Rodney scratched behind the ears and John's eyes rolled back and he whined approval in the back of his throat. Rodney felt a little bolder then and swept his hands down John's thick coat. The fur flew everywhere and Rodney sneezed.
"Oh, trust you to turn into a dog I'm allergic to," he said disparagingly.
John just laid his heavy head on Rodney's knees. He closed his eyes and drowsed. It was a pretty good idea actually, Rodney thought. The hike through the jungle and then the shock of finding out his best friend had been turned into a dog had left him feeling thick and muddle-headed.
"Man's best friend," he murmured as his eyes closed.
John whined softly in agreement.
It took a few days but finally Carson reluctantly admitted that the dog might be John Sheppard. It wasn't so much the tests that convinced him. Those proved conclusively that the dog was actually a dog, a german shepherd just as he appeared to be, albeit with a strange canine version of the ATA gene. It worked as well as the human gene and whenever the dog padded down the halls they lit up in welcome just like they did for the human version of John Sheppard.
What really convinced everyone was when Radek cobbled together a computer keypad that would work for the dog-sized paws and the dog typed for everyone to see, "Get over it, Carson, I am John Sheppard."
Rodney felt a little like a father who's child had just passed their first test with flying colors.
"Oh, bloody hell," breathed Carson who hadn't really believed it up until that point. True they'd seen some strange things since they'd come to the Pegasus Galaxy, but to have a human turned into a dog? It was genetic manipulation on a level he'd only dreamed of before. "Just think what we can learn by studying him."
The dog yelped and moved to stand with Rodney.
"Let's hold off on the experimentation, Doctor Mengela," Rodney growled. He dropped a hand to the colonel's head protectively.
"I don't mean to hurt him, Rodney," the doctor protested feebly.
"And I don't mean to let you," Rodney asserted stubbornly. John wasn't in a good position to protect himself at the moment. Rodney felt his responsibility to his friend keenly. "What we should be concentrating on is trying to find a way to turn him back into… himself."
The dog Sheppard barked his approval of that plan.
Rodney turned to Elizabeth, "Have you found anything in that writing?" he asked.
"It is difficult," Elizabeth said hesitantly. She tapped a finger against the notebook she'd been writing on, "I've only been able to translate a little bit of it."
"Yes, yes, yes, tell us what you've got," Rodney snapped his fingers impatiently.
Elizabeth was taken aback at being treated like one of Rodney's scientists. He just regarded her expectantly with a lifted brow, the dog wore a similar impatient expression, its tongue lolling incongruously out of its mouth.
"It talks about the nobility of the four-legged beast," she began slowly.
Dog Sheppard laid his chin on the table, regarding her with solemn eyes.
"It says that only the most worthy could aspire to such nobility," she continued.
The dog let out a small whine. Rodney put a calming hand on his neck and slowly stroked through the fur.
"But that for a season one could walk in the paws of the beast," she finished slowly. "That's all I've been able to translate so far," she admitted.
"A season?" Rodney asked, excitement coursing through him.
Sheppard turned his head to peer up at him.
"What sort of a season? A turning of the season? A rotation of the planet around the sun? Is it a day, a week, a year?" he bombarded them all with questions that none of them had answers for. He looked at them in turn waiting for someone to answer them.
Teyla answered slowly, "For my people a season is the passing of one time to the next – three or four months I think in your terms."
"Yes, yes, yes, but would it be the same for a dog?" Rodney asked impatiently, his mind was already racing ahead seeking its own answers. "If we're talking a dog here, dog years are like seven for every human year, right?"
The people around the table exchanged dubious glances as he rushed on, "so we could be talking only a couple of weeks here before Sheppard turns back to normal on his own."
"Or he could be like this permanently," the doctor asserted stubbornly.
Sheppard growled his disapproval of that thought.
Rodney agreed, "Oh, now why did you have to say that? Why couldn't you just let us live on the bright side for just a couple of minutes? It doesn't happen often for me, and he," Rodney waived a hand at the dog who sat beside him, "could really use some good news right now."
Sheppard whined this time, his liquid eyes telegraphing his agreement with Rodney.
"I'm sorry, son," Carson's forehead was furrowed with his concern. He paused a little, surprised at realizing he'd called a dog 'son.' But then he continued determined to make his point, "we've got to face this. We can't have our chief military officer as a dog."
"Carson," Rodney's voice dripped with is disdain, "I never knew you would be bigoted."
With that Rodney rose and stalked from the room, with Sheppard padding after him.
Rodney knew they were right. He sat in his bed with Sheppard stretched out at his feet watching him with his startling expressive eyes. He looked depressed. Rodney knew how he felt.
"We'll figure this out," he told his friend. Rodney stretched out on the bed and the dog laid his head on Rodney's leg. Rodney had to remind himself that the dog was really a man, but he didn't have the heart to make Sheppard move. He wondered what it was like to be a dog.
It was obvious that Sheppard was aware to some extent. But how much was Sheppard and how much was dog? The scientist in Rodney wanted to find out, just as much as Carson did. But the friend in Rodney wouldn't let him, Sheppard was traumatized enough without having to be the focus of all of the scientific enquiry. There would be time enough to answer questions later if it turned out that Sheppard's change was a final one. Rodney's fingers clenched in the dog's warm fur at the thought.
He fell into a restless sleep with the dog lying beside him.
Their days fell into a regular routine. Rodney found that german shepherds needed plenty of exercise or they became restless and would act out by chewing on things. Rodney really didn't think John would start to chew on the random Ancient artifact, but he thought it best not to take a chance. So John started out his day running with Ronon. Dog and man returned to Rodney's quarters in time for breakfast, then John was off to the infirmary where Beckett ran tests until John was tired and snappy. Rodney tried to always be on time after the day he got there to find John backed into the corner growling with his teeth bared and the doctor holding a syringe behind his back. It was an impasse with neither man nor beast giving an inch.
They both looked relieved when Rodney harrumphed and took John away.
The marines set up an obstacle course in an empty room and John liked to go there sometimes in the afternoon and run off some of his excess energy. Rodney would sit in the window working on his laptop while John ran like a mad thing through the course. He was graceful and elegant as he wove his way through obstacles. His legs bunched powerfully as he ran up ramps and leapt over bars. Rodney would find himself watching instead of working. More and more people found their way into the room to watch with him. At first he would throw them out, but then he realized that they needed to see that John was alright and doing well as much as he did.
John liked to pad through the halls with the marines at night on patrol. Rodney worried that they might not get that it was John Sheppard inside the furry hide of the dog, but they talked to him with respect. They were quiet and gentle with him and welcomed his company. When he was done, most days John would make his way to Rodney's lab and curl up in the corner until Rodney was ready to call it a day. Then they'd go to Rodney's room together. John would sleep curled up at Rodney's side where Rodney could feel him pressed up next to him.
As popular as John the man was, John the dog was even more popular. The cook always had a special treat for him. Markham would take him as copilot on trips to the Athosian mainland and the children there were wild about him. John the dog loved the kids as much as John the man and would spend his time with them in wild, abandoned play. He would return home to Atlantis exhausted, he would just flop in the corner of Rodney's lab and sleep until Rodney was done for the night. Elizabeth liked discuss things with him. He listened with his head cocked, he would bark once for yes and twice for no to questions. If needed he could drag up the keyboard that Radek had put together for him. But mostly he got along with a wide range of barks and head cocks. Rodney could tell his mood just from the way John padded down the hall – fast and smooth when he was in a good mood, eager to be where he was going. He was slower and more deliberate if he was on patrol, his head in constant motion.
As the days wore on, Rodney could see that John was getting depressed. His tail would droop and his eyes weren't as alert. He still went on his runs with Ronon, but mostly he took to just lying in the corner of Rodney's lab not doing much but watching Rodney with anxious eyes. He would wag his tail in a desultory manner when Rodney called to him, but he didn't move, just whined low in his throat. Rodney fretted over what to do about it, but he came up with no answers. He just kept hoping as the days wore on that somehow John would change back on his own and life would return to normal, or what passed for normal in the Pegasus galaxy.
One evening in the lab Rodney was so intent on the problem, that he failed to notice the ancient artifact on his work table that was beginning to glow an ominous red. His first indication that there might be a problem was when the dog lifted his head with a puzzled growl. Before he knew what was happening, Sheppard was up and across the room in a bound. Rodney saw him gather himself into a ball before he launched himself into Rodney sending them both crashing into a ball onto the floor. They rolled once before coming to rest in a tangled heap with John's solid weight right in the middle of Rodney's chest. Before Rodney even had time to splutter, the lab was filled with a bright flash and a concusive blast that pressed them to the floor like a hand. Everything whited out for a time.
When Rodney became aware again, he was sliding across the floor. Around him the room was in flames. The ceiling looked the mouth of a malevolent fire demon that was breathing heat and flame down upon him. He felt himself slide again and realized that John had the collar of his jacket in his mouth and was pulling Rodney by slow tugs toward the door. An alarm was going off and the halon would begin spraying in the room any moment. Rodney knew they had only seconds before they were overcome by either the smoke and flames from the fire or the gas from their own fire suppression system. They were still a long way from the door.
He rolled and rocked unsteadily onto his knees. Sheppard whined and thrust his nose into Rodney's neck snuffling softly. The dog was injured, Rodney could see ragged burns and blood in the fur. John had born the brunt of the blast when the device blew. Rodney laid a hand on Sheppard's neck, ruffling the fur lightly.
"Go," he said, "I'm with you."
The dog limped slowly toward the door, Rodney moved with him, pushing himself with his free hand and his knees. The smoke was now beginning to fill their lungs. Rodney had to pause to cough and John gave a strange dog cough and then they continued. The door seemed just as far away as ever. Rodney wasn't quite sure how they were going to get it open. The door would be sealed because of the fire. He might be able to get it open if he could get to the access panel, but he didn't think he could stand. John could reach it if he stood on his back paws, but he wasn't particularly well suited right now to the manipulation of Ancient technology.
He decided they'd cross that bridge when they got there.
It seemed to take forever. Rodney was glad of John's presence, because the dog seemed to know which direction they should take. The room was now so full of smoke and flam that Rodney had no idea which way they should go. He just kept his hand on John's neck and let the dog lead them both.
He could feel the oxygen disappearing from the room and the heat was now bearing down upon them like a blanket, searing them. Rodney kept beating out little patches of flame that popped up on both of them. His lungs felt like someone had been sand papering them and breathing became more and more difficult between the bouts of coughing. But they didn't stop their slow trek and at last they reached the door. Rodney almost cried when he saw it there, rising up in front of them. They'd made it this far and now they were going to die because they couldn't get the damn door opened.
Then it just opened, just like that, and the dog gave Rodney a little side-ways smirk that told him that Atlantis still loved John Sheppard whether he was a man or dog. Already there were people arriving to respond to the emergency. Rodney collapsed with the dog half on top of him, content to let other people deal with the ruin of his lab.
They were both quickly taken to the infirmary where Carson and his team swiftly took care of their injuries.
"I'm not a veterinarian, you know," he said as he surveyed John's injuries.
Normally Rodney might have had a snappy comeback to that, one actually flashed through his brain, but he wisely let it go. He was in a lot of pain from the myriad of burns that he'd suffered, he knew that John must be, too. And he had no way to let them know about the extent of his injuries except in the low keening half-growl that he kept emitting. Which probably wasn't too different from normal. John was always reticent about being a patient and didn't share half of what ailed him with the doctor anyway. Carson usually had to treat John with guesses and assumptions from his visible injuries.
"Don't you have anyone on your team, Rodney, that might be able to help?" Carson's face told how worried he was, his forehead was creased and a deep line was etched between his eyes.
"None that I'd trust more than you, Carson," the compliment wasn't lost on Carson, he raised as surprised brow as Rodney continued, "seriously, how different can this be than sheep?" He couldn't resist one little jab, otherwise Beckett might think Rodney was more seriously injured than he really was.
"I'll do my best here, but I can make no promises," it was a measure of how worried he was that he didn't respond to Rodney's sheep jab. Rodney lay back a little disappointed. He pulled his own oxygen mask back into place and watched as the medical staff took care of John.
They rigged an oxygen mask for the dog and then settled in to treating his wounds as best they could. One of the doctors did what research he could to find a pain killer that wouldn't hurt John more in his present condition before they began to clean and treat his burns. The dog lay limply on the infirmary bed. He would yelp sometimes when they hit a particularly painful place but mostly he just shut his eyes and tried not to move.
Rodney had his own team working on his burns. He fought the sedative they gave him, but it was too much and soon he floated into sleep.
He woke from a dream that he was Timmy and he'd fallen into the well again and Lassie was refusing to go for help.
He blinked his eyes to find Carson peering down at him.
"How are you feeling then?" Carson asked. He had dark circles under his eyes and from the stubble on his chin, Rodney judged that he probably hadn't been back to his quarters for sleep in a while.
"Like I was the main course at the Atlantis bar-b-que," his throat was dry and raspy, but the oxygen mask was gone.
Carson produced a glass of water and helped him sit so he could drink. "Small sips, now," he advised.
Rodney knew the drill. He turned so he could see the dog and spewed the water back out when he saw that John was gone.
"Where is he?" Rodney's gut twisted at the thought that John had died. Even as a dog he was risking his ass to save Rodney McKay's life.
The doctor just rolled his eyes and pulled another pillow around to help support Rodney better, "He's alright lad, he's very resilient, even as a dog. He was driving everyone crazy, so Ronon came by to take him for a walk."
"Walk?" Rodney couldn't imagine leaving the bed for any reason short of Wraith attack and John was walking? "Huh," was all he could get out as he laid back against the pillows and went back to sleep.
The next time he woke up there was a comforting weight on his knee and a furry body pressed against his, so he let himself drift back to sleep knowing that everything was alright.
Somehow, probably due to John's getting them out of the room so quickly, Rodney had escaped serious injury. He just suffered from numerous little burns on his hands and face, that, while painful, weren't severe. They were more annoying than anything and after two days of dealing with a bored Rodney McKay, Beckett released him to his quarters.
"I want you to come back here three times a day so I can change your bandages and clean your burns," Carson instructed as Rodney dressed in clean clothes.
"Yes, mom," he said for what seemed to be the tenth time. John barked in agreement.
"And you come with him," the doctor frowned down at the dog wagging a finger. "I know you're healing quickly, but I want to keep an eye on you."
John rolled his eyes. Rodney couldn't help the bark of laughter that escaped and the doctor turned his scowl back to the scientist.
"And I want you in your quarters resting, not in your lab working."
Rodney crossed his fingers behind his back as he replied with, "Yes, Carson."
Carson handed him a bottle that rattled, "Take these if your burns get too painful and drink lots of water and juice, I do nae want you getting dehydrated on top of everything else."
Rodney tucked the bottle into a pocket, grateful that Carson had included it. "Yes, mom," he repeated again. He tied his shoes which did kind if hurt because he had to stretch his arms down to reach his feet. He jumped off the bed and bounced, "Now, can we go?"
Carson didn't bother answering, he just waived a hand and both his patients were out of the door in a flash.
Rodney didn't know what harm stopping by his lab for five minutes would be, but when he started in that direction, John barked, short and angry. He padded over to Rodney and taking Rodney's wrist carefully between his teeth, tugged him in the directions of Rodney's quarters.
"What? Are you Carson's watch dog now, too?" He demanded.
John couldn't bark with Rodney's wrist in his mouth, but Rodney could feel the low growl and John's eyes said, "If I need to be,"
"Fine," Rodney gave in, secretly a little pleased at having his own personal Nana dog.
At his quarters he flopped across his bed and John jumped up beside him, resting his head on Rodney's stomach. His hazel eyes bored into Rodney and Rodney shifted uncomfortably, he could see the question there, the need to know if Rodney thought his condition was going to be permanent.
Rodney smoothed a hand down his furry snout causing John to sneeze.
"I really don't know," Rodney confessed. "I would have thought that if you were going to turn back into a human on your own, it would have happened by now," he said. Rodney had done a lot of thinking in his infirmary bed. He had come to a few conclusions.
The thing that worried Rodney the most was knowing that a dog's life span was so much shorter than a human's. How was that going to affect John when, Rodney refused to think the if,John turned back to himself? Was he going to have aged that time as a dog or would he return as the John Sheppard they all knew and loved? He didn't say any of those things to the dog. There was something else that he thought his friend should hear.
"I just want you to know that if this," he gave a wave of his hand to indicate John's furry body, "is permanent," John gave a low whine of fear, "I won't let them send you back to Earth. That would be the worst thing for you they could do. I'll fight it," he promised.
John licked Rodney's hand and for once Rodney didn't complain or tell him it was gross.
"But I did have an idea," Rodney said.
John's head lifted and his ears perked forward.
"I wandered what would happen if we went back to the planet and you touched that crystal in dog form, maybe it would turn you back into a human?"
John cocked his head, considering.
"I don't think it could hurt," Rodney insisted, "and it might actually work."
John barked his agreement and tensed to jump off the bed, ready to go immediately test Rodney's theory.
"Let's wait until we're both ready to go back," Rodney said wryly. In just the short walk back to his quarter he felt weak and drained. There was no way he was ready for a hike through the jungle in his current condition.
John whined anxiously.
"We'll go just as soon as Carson clears us both," Rodney assured his friend.
He felt the dog relax muscle by muscle. He laid his head back on Rodney's stomach. Rodney buried his fingers in the fur of John's neck and scratched absently until they both fell asleep.
It was going to be at least a week before Carson would approve them for off world travel, and Rodney was already bored. One more day of just hanging around his quarters watching John sleep was going to make him crazy. The control room had been experiencing intermittent power failures in non essential systems, nothing serious, just a flickering of the equipment on and off from time to time. Rodney thought it was a short somewhere but he hadn't had time to check on it.
Now he had nothing but time.
Reasoning that it wasn't his lab so Carson couldn't object, he headed for the control room with John following along behind.
He found the cause of the short easily enough, but it wasn't often he was in the control room with nothing but time to tinker with the Ancient systems. John seemed content enough with the control room personnel petting him and feeding him treats when they thought Rodney wasn't looking. So Rodney spent the evening under the console, happily testing systems.
It wasn't until the alarm sounded, signaling an off-world activation that he pulled himself out from under the console.
"Unscheduled off-world activation," the tech announced. Elizabeth was there in a second, tension written on her face.
This was the thing they always dreaded, that they never knew how to plan for.
"Are there any teams out?" She asked.
"Major Lorne's team is in the field, but they're not due back for hours," he said.
Rodney felt the press of John's body against his legs as John now joined the group around the control console. He barked anxiously. The marines, on duty for just this purpose, took their place, weapons ready.
There was a pause as everyone held their breath, waiting.
"I'm receiving an IDC, it's Major Lorne's, ma'am," the tech announced, his tone relieved.
"Well let them in," Elizabeth shouted as she raced for the rail overlooking the gate. If the major was returning early something might be wrong. She did, however, gesture for the marines to stay where they were. Lorne's team was returning early and things didn't feel right. It was always wise in the Pegasus Galaxy to err on the side of caution.
Rodney heard a low growl from Sheppard, indicating his agreement with Elizabeth's actions.
The tech hit the control that released the shield over the gate. Everyone waited anxiously to see what condition Lorne's team would come through the gate in. There was a wet slurp and a metallic thump as something came through the gate and hit the floor.
Rodney had time to hear John's pained yelp and then John was tackling him again, shoving him behind the console. It was just in time as there was a bright white light that lit up the gateroom. Rodney peaked over the console to see that everyone was now on the floor unconscious. Using the console, Rodney levered himself to his feet to see Major Lorne and his team step through the gate, but they weren't alone. There were held by four men using them as shields.
Without even thinking Rodney hit the control for the shield and it sprang into place. There was several hits as something impacted it from the other side. The men holding Lorne's team started.
"What the.." the one holding Lorne began, but he didn't get any farther before Lorne used the moment of inattention to swing his elbow back into the man's ribs. The rest of his team was also waiting for their moment. Soon the gate area was filled with bodies flying.
Rodney saw John move, he tried to stop him, but he was too late. The dog was in the fray working to protect his people any way he could. Snarling he threw himself on one of the men who was trying to choke one of his people. The interloper went down under John's teeth and paws and didn't get back up.
John was up though, shaking himself off and moving on.
Lorne's attacker drew a weapon and aimed it at Lorne. Rodney watched horrified as John again leapt for the man, aiming for his throat. The man saw his danger at the last minute and swung the weapon, firing just as the dog leapt.
The bullet struck. Rodney saw the impact and the spray of blood, but John was already launched and he took the man down. They rolled across the floor. When at last they came to rest, the man's neck was canted at an unnatural angle and the dog lay still, blood spreading in a pool from underneath him.
The fight was all but over when Rodney made it down the stairs screaming for a medical team. Kneeling next to John's still body, he ran a hand down the fur trying to find a pulse.
The dog opened his eyes and whined softly. Rodney's hand shook as he reached up to scratch behind the ears.
"It's going to be okay," he said.
John howled then and Rodney fell back in fear. It was a heart-rending howl full of fear and pain and grief. John's body seemed to melt and blur like a water color painting left out in the rain. The howling continued as the fur disappeared and was replaced with pink skin, the dog's legs stretched and elongated and eventually grew into arms and legs. The furry head under Rodney's hand became larger, more angular, smoother, until at last Rodney's hand was resting on John's cheek.
Colonel John Sheppard was once again himself, lying naked and bleeding on the gate room floor. Rodney didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
John fell back shivering and moaning.
With shaking hands Rodney fumbled with the zipper of his jacket. At last he got it undone and he pulled his jacket off, spreading it across John's body.
Rodney shouted, "Where in the hell is that medical team? We have injuries here, people."
Rodney satwatching Sheppard sleep. It was good to see the man's chest rise and fall in a regular rhythm. It had been touch and go after he'd been shot. The stresses his body had been under where just too much and they'd almost lost him once or twice. But John was too stubborn and so was Carson, and so, eventually he'd taken the turn and was recovering. Which relieved Rodney to no end. He couldn't imagine his life anymore without John Sheppard in it. His friend.
That just sounded so weird. Rodney had gone through so much of his life denying that he needed friends. Friends were just encumbrances who expected things of you, who thought you should share your research and your glory and they were offended when you didn't. Rodney understood now that those people never really wanted to be his friend, because he hadn't learned about true friendship until he came to a new galaxy.
He'd found so many people here who put up with his bullshit and liked him anyway. There who people with minds who matched his own and they didn't want to take what was his, but add their own ideas so that they came up with something new and different. It was something quite unexpected and exhilarating. There were people that Dr. Rodney McKay actually called friend – Radek, Beckett, a few others. But the most unexpected friend of all was Colonel John Sheppard.
John just liked him, there were no expectations, no need to be anything else. When they reduced to their most basic selves of Rodney and John they still got along just fine. It frightened Rodney in a way that the Wraith and the Genii did not, because he was so afraid of pushing John away, of ruining their friendship because he just didn't know how to be friends. But he was learning from John Sheppard.
There was a change in the heart monitor, that Beckett had told him would probably happen when John was ready to wake up. Rodney stood and hovered anxiously over John as he watched his face for any sign that he might, at last be finally regaining consciousness. Rodney was tired of sitting next to him holding one sided conversations.
There was the twitch of an eye and then Rodney saw a sliver of hazel as John tried to get his eyelids to cooperate. At last the eyes opened all the way and took in Rodney. John opened his mouth but words were not forthcoming.
Knowing what John needed, Rodney held the cup of water for him to take little sips. John smiled gratefully and licked his lips before trying again.
"Hey," he managed at last.
It was only one little word, but it was enough for Rodney to know that John was really John. He'd been harboring some worry that when John woke up from his ordeal that he wouldn't be the John Rodney remembered, but it was alright. He was alright.
Rodney put a hand on John's shoulder, feeling the muscle and sinew, the humanness of his friend.
"Glad to have you back," Rodney said nonchalantly as if it was common place to wake up a human after being a dog for weeks. The hell of it was, was that it really wasn't that weird for things that happen to a person in the Pegasus galaxy.
"Glad to be back," John whispered. His eyes were closing, the brief conversation more than he could handle at the moment.
Rodney began to pull away, to let John sleep, but John forced his eyes open again. "Hey," he said, "thanks."
Rodney had gotten good at reading the unspoken word from John Sheppard over the last few weeks. Rodney knew that he meant more than thanks for sitting next to his bedside waiting for him to wake up. Rodney knew he meant thanks for being there when John needed him. Thanks for being a friend.
Rodney patted the shoulder his hand was resting on, but John had already drifted back into sleep.
It was a couple of days before John was up to more than one word conversations, but by that time, Rodney's scientific curiosity had kicked in and he was wildly curious to find out about John's experiences as a dog.
He sat on the edge of John's bed eyeing the uneaten pudding cup on John's dinner tray longingly. "So, what do you remember as a dog?" he asked.
Carson was going to come kick him out at any moment, Rodney knew. It had been a long day and John's eyes were almost closing on their own, but Rodney couldn't bring himself to leave. He'd grown so used to John the dog at his side, it felt wrong to leave his friend John alone.
It took a long time for John to answer, and Rodney thought he really had gone to sleep. He was just reaching for the pudding cup when John spoke.
"It was weird," he said.
"Oh, now that's so scientific," Rodney scoffed, picking up the pudding cup and peeling the lid back. He was just being helpful.
John smiled at him, but didn't object when Rodney picked up the spoon and took a small bite of the pudding.
"I was me, but I think I processed things like a dog. I had a great sense of smell, you need to shower by the way," the non-sequitor made Rodney pause, spoon half-way to the mouth. John smirked then and Rodney knew he was teasing. Rodney just rolled his eyes.
"I don't know how to tell you about it," John said finally frustrated. "Kate Heightmeyer wants me to write it all down so I don't lose valuable experiences." He made quote marks around the words.
Rodney took another bite thoughtfully and John shifted uncomfortably in the bed, wincing when he pulled stitches.
"I just wanted to thank you, you know," he began not looking at Rodney.
"Really, it's okay," Rodney rushed to assure him, but John held up a hand.
"I do remember that you were pretty quick to believe me that I was a… dog, I was freaking a little myself and I couldn't figure out how to convince you that it was me and get you to take me back through the gate. I was so afraid I was going to be stuck on that damn planet for good."
Rodney forgot about the pudding, he'd never thought about the transformation from John's side, what it must have been like for him.
"But you figured it out almost immediately. I was so damned…" the word stuck, but then John swallowed the lump in his throat and got it out, "grateful. And then you treated me like a person when everyone else was still freaking out about it. It helped me cope, you know. Thanks," he said again, shyly.
Rodney set down the pudding cup and blinked away the mist that threatened to develop into something more.
He cleared his throat and patted Sheppard's ankle. "You're welcome," he said, "but you know, that's what friends are for."
Then he picked up the pudding cup and snarfed the rest of it down before John could decide he wanted to eat it after all.
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