Honor Bound by Baroqy

Synopsis: Sheppard is back on Atlantis after going missing for two weeks. No one has any clues as to what happened, let alone Sheppard. Carson Beckett, Rodney McKay, and Kate Heightmeyer try to solve the mystery and in the process uncover a plot that could kill them all.

Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate Atlantis or any of the characters. If I did I sure as hell wouldn't be writing software specifications for a living.

Big Shout Out: To Titan5 for reading my chapters incredibly fast and encouraging me to keep going until the end. To Alleged for making the same point.

Warning: DO NOT READ THIS STORY if you do not like depressing endings. No one dies (it's definitely not a deathfic) but it does feature an ending that is a result of dubious ethical choices made by major characters. If you prefer happy endings, then please save yourself some angst and don't read.


He woke up in a field, cold and wet. The fire was out. Long out. His team mates were gone. His sleeping bag was gone. His weapons were gone. He was fully clothed, sprawled out on the grass in the pale light of an alien sunrise.

Last night they'd all been in the same spot. Teyla, Ronon, McKay and himself. Camping here before making the last push back to the stargate. It had actually been a good trip. Friendly locals. No one trying to kidnap them, or kill them or generally mess with them in all the ways that so mightily put a crimp on an otherwise solid mission. Of course, due to the lack of hostilities it had turned out to be a bust when it came to new tech, or a spare ZPM or even a food trade. The only tradable substance the villagers had was alcohol. Hundreds of barrels containing numerous variations with numerous bases including fermented grain, fermented fruit, fermented honey and some bizarre attempt to ferment a local flower. The guiding principle seemed to be that if it was organic and had any sugar content, they should try and make it into liquor.

Somehow Sheppard didn't think Elizabeth would welcome a trading mission that resulted in Atlantis being able to open its own bar and nightclub.

Still, it was rude to turn up one's nose at the culture of another and a day of sampling drinks was a whole lot better than having to sample boiled sheep head. Which he'd done. Not that most of the sheep tasted bad, it was just strange eating food while the food's shriveled, cooked eyeball stared back.

A day of carousing with the villagers sapped the team's determination to walk five miles back to the stargate in the dark of night. The villagers seemed a tad iffy about having the team stay within the confines of the village. When they'd been sitting in the bar, a long dead piece of Ancient tech had lit up in Sheppard's presence and there had been a collective silence. The villagers were still polite but abruptly there were no spare rooms at the inn, and a tradition of not allowing drunken strangers into your home had popped up out of nowhere. Still, it seemed sensible to Sheppard, who was a little tipsy by that stage. Someone had kept spiking his non-alcoholic drink despite his best efforts. The villagers vouchsafed the idea of camping on the outskirts of town, confirming that there were no predators in the woods and the team decided they could go back through the stargate in the morning.

Seemed like a rational idea at the time. Last night they had been in sleeping bags by a fire on a clear summer's night.

Today he wasn't.

He picked himself off the ground. He was sore. Tired. Achy. Ravenously hungry. But not in the sort of intense pain that indicated he'd been injured. He risked calling out to his team mates.

"Hey! Anyone out there?" The shout he'd intended came out as a rough croak, like he hadn't talked in a while.

He tried again but there was no answer. Just the wind rustling through the trees. The raucous sounds of birds waking up.

He searched in his vest pockets. Still had his GDO. Okay, that was good.

There wasn't much he could do. Just make for the stargate, raise the alarm and hope that he could bring back another SG team for a SAR mission.


"It's Colonel Sheppard's IDC!"

That got everyone's attention. Rodney perked up, so did Elizabeth.

"Drop the shield." She didn't care if it was an ambush, didn't care it was a trap. It was the first inkling they'd had that Sheppard was alive.

There was no hesitation. The shield dropped, the wormhole flung itself into life, the event horizon shining like a pool of water and after a few seconds, Colonel John Sheppard, MIA for the past two weeks stepped into the Gate Room.

He looked like he always did. It surprised her. She was expecting the worse. He caught her eye and she was racing down the steps towards him.

"John! Are you okay?"

He seemed confused by her reaction. "Yeah, but the team isn't. I don't know what the hell happened but they're gone. I'm going to need Lorne's team to go back through the 'gate with me."

He was walking and heading towards the door out of the Gate Room as he talked. "Get them to meet me here. I'm going down to the Armory."

She put a hand on his arm to slow him down. He jerked away.

"I don't understand what you mean. They're all here," she said.

"What do you mean 'they're all here'? If this is some kind of joke I'm going to be seriously pissed off."

He stopped and sensed from her serious expression that she wasn't kidding. Not one bit. Especially when Rodney joined them.

"Okay, what the fuck is going on?" He pointed to Rodney. "We were waiting to walk back to the stargate. I went to sleep, Ronon was supposed to be standing guard and then I wake up and you've all disappeared."

Rodney shook his head. "No, we woke up and you were gone. Ronon and Teyla were out cold. We've been looking for you for two weeks."


"I said we've been looking for you for two weeks."

She saw him blink, try to process the information. She tapped her radio control.

"Carson, we need a med team to the Gate Room."

Sheppard whirled on her. "I do not need a med team. What I need is an explanation."

"Rodney's pretty much summed it up. You vanished. We had a team scouring the area for a full week and they didn't turn up a thing. The villagers claimed to have seen nothing."

"Riiighht. Okay, I don't know what's going on here but you'd think I'd remember a little thing like being gone for two weeks." Elizabeth watched as Sheppard shifted his weight from foot to foot, his hand reaching for the comfort of his Glock but finding nothing. It was an automatic gesture borne of uncertainty.

Their attention was distracted by Carson and his team hitting the room with a gurney. The doctor took one look at his potential patient and came to a complete stop. Then he smiled.

"Colonel! Good to have you back."

Sheppard did not return the smile. "So everyone keeps telling me."

Beckett snapped back into medical mode; put a hand on Sheppard's upper arm.

"How are you feeling? Any pain? Headache?"

"I'm fine." He shook off Beckett's hand.

"Do you know where you are?"


"Do you know what day it is?"

Weir saw Sheppard hesitate and knew that he didn't have a clue what day it was. By his expression she guessed he was mentally trying to figure it out by adding on fourteen days to the last time he remembered anything.

"I'll take that as a no," said Beckett before Sheppard had a chance to reply.

"I'm fine," said Sheppard again but he sounded uncertain.

"Let me be the judge of that. Jump up on the gurney and we'll go for a ride."

"I can walk."

"Yes, you probably can, but I'm going to be happier if we give you the star treatment back to the infirmary."

Sheppard let out a sigh. Elizabeth tried to be reassuring.

"Hey, let Carson have his way. He'll check you out and then we can try and figure out what's going on. Okay?"

He hesitated before replying. "I'm doing this under protest."

Beckett patted the gurney and Sheppard easily got himself seated, swung his feet around and lay against the propped up back.

"This is stupid."

"Probably, but better safe than sorry. If it'll make you feel more macho, we'll run so everyone thinks it's an emergency." Beckett was trying for humor. He didn't get a response.

It was then that Beckett glanced at her, raised his eyebrow. It was an unspoken confirmation of their agreed upon approach. She nodded and that was all that was needed and luckily, Sheppard hadn't picked up on their subtle exchange.

They left the Gate Room, Sheppard bitching all the way out that his day just kept going downhill.

Elizabeth watched them leave, a cold feeling running down the skin of her back. She shivered. Whatever had happened, it wasn't good and that meant there were going to be causalities. That was the way the Pegasus galaxy worked. It seemed to like collectively punishing them, presumably because they'd made Atlantis their home. Or at least, that was her private theory, one that she wasn't going to share with anyone else.

Rodney interrupted her thoughts. "Two weeks is a long time. Anything could have happened. He could have given away the position of Atlantis. Or Earth."

"Colonel Sheppard is tough. I'm confident that no matter what happened, he protected Atlantis."

"But that's the problem, isn't it? We don't know what happened, we don't know where the hell he was. We don't know a damn thing. He clearly hasn't got a clue. I don't know about you, but I hate mysteries."

Elizabeth didn't answer because, right now, she was in total agreement with Rodney McKay.


Beckett and two nurses swung the gurney into the private room they'd built for Michael. He wanted to give Sheppard some privacy because he had the feeling the next few hours were going to be grueling for both of them. He had a patient who appeared to have experienced anterograde amnesia and his first thought was the use of sedation or anesthesia. Judging by the Colonel's responses in the Gate Room and on the way to the infirmary, he was definitely missing memories but seemed coherent and that seemed to indicate no head trauma. For the most part he seemed to be in good shape physically. Beckett had been quizzing him since they'd rolled out of the Gate Room and down the corridors towards the infirmary and unless the Colonel was lying his head off about any injuries, Carson was reasonably assured that there was no immediate medical crisis to deal with. A more thorough exam would confirm it.

He hit the comms channel on his radio as he parked the gurney. "Dr. Biro, please join me in the infirmary. The prodigal son has returned."

Sheppard instantly got off, stood up. He was clearly agitated by the events and Beckett didn't blame him.

"As far as I can tell, I'm alive," said Sheppard. "Any reason you're inviting a pathologist along?"

There was no use in lying about any of this. Beckett took a deep breath.

"It was an agreed upon approach between Elizabeth, Colonel Caldwell – on behalf of SGC - and Rodney. A new set of security protocols."

"Security protocols. What kind of security protocols?"

Beckett tried maneuvering Sheppard back onto the gurney, but he was having none of it.

"You've been missing for two weeks, Colonel. With the new security protocols, we think it's prudent to, ah, gather as much physical evidence as possible to determine the next course of action."

They were interrupted by the arrival of Biro, eagerly carrying a large case. She plunked the case on the nearest empty bench, smiled in a way that said she liked her job far too much.

"Good to have you back in one piece, Colonel." She smiled again and Sheppard felt an instinctive need to back up. He wasn't keen on the concept of letting a woman with more than a working knowledge of the Y incision anywhere near him. She snapped on a pair of gloves, opened up her case. Sheppard got a glimpse of paper bags, plastic bags, tubes, forceps, more paper, and some utility sheers.

Carson tried to get Sheppard to sit down but he wouldn't and now his arms were crossed, clearly indicating that he wanted some answers.

"Dr. Biro is here because she's the only one with experience in forensic examinations."

"What the fuck is this, CSI: Pegasus Galaxy?"

"Look, I understand you're upset but think about it this way. If we can get soil, fiber, or whatever, we might just be able to figure out what happened to you and just as importantly, if Atlantis has been compromised."

Sheppard sighed, his shoulders sagged. He wasn't one to deny the logic of what Carson and Biro were trying to accomplish. "Okay. Yeah, I guess. I mean, I don't know what the hell I could have said or done."

"We're going to use whatever we can to track down whoever did this."

Sheppard nodded slowly, more than aware that he was giving Carson his tacit consent to proceed. "Let's get this over with."

Biro spread a paper sheet on the floor, grabbed Sheppard by the shoulders and started trying to place him into position. Sheppard resisted, seemed to hate the fact that she was touching him, tried to pull back. Clearly she wasn't used to her charges being conscious.

Beckett shook head in a 'not now' gesture. "I was going to give him a physical exam first."

"And that means he'll have to take off his clothes. Might as well do it straight away. Less chance of contaminating any potential fibers." From her tone, it was clear that Carson was all ready proving to be the least useful member of the team. His empathetic side was definitely winning over the need to collect as much evidence as possible. He got out of the way as she grabbed Sheppard again, guided him back onto the paper. Gestured to the two nurses. Richard Marks and Marcy Bukowitz. Marcy had been on Beckett's staff for over a year, but Richard had just shipped in on the Daedalus. It was his first taste of a medical emergency on Atlantis. Still, Carson never accepted any staff who he felt couldn't handle the unique pressures of working in a galaxy capable of creating weird mutated bugs and aliens that lived by sucking the life out of humans. More importantly, Marcy was certified in forensic nursing before she arrived, and Richard had easily picked up the training.

It had left Beckett conflicted. He was pleased he had a team prepared for Sheppard's eventual return, just in case. But he was appalled at the thought of having to use the team and what they might find.

Biro said, "Everyone know what to do?"

Sheppard held up his hand. "I don't." The response was all sarcasm.

"Sorry, I was a little distracted there." Biro tried for conversation. "Anyway, the first procedure is to make sure we catch anything I can use in the lab for analysis. If you start taking everything off and handing them to Marcy and Richard, they're going to put the clothes into paper bags and label them. It's not going to take long at all."

Sheppard acquiesced and undid his boots. Handed them over, one at a time, to Richard and Marcy. Then his socks. Biro stared at his feet. Carson bent down to Biro's eye line, got a sight of feet that had been doing more than walking five miles through mild terrain to a stargate.

"Can you lift a foot for me, Colonel?"

Sheppard did as he was told and Carson noted cuts and bruising to the soles of the feet, and dirt. There also appeared to be ulcers on the backs of both of his heels. Carson couldn't believe that Sheppard wasn't feeling any pain. Judging by the state of his feet it indicated a hard fought race over rough ground in bare feet.

"Huh. I don't remember how that happened."

"Not to worry. We'll fix them up in a few minutes." Carson was trying to keep his tone as neutral as possible. He had the unsettled feeling that the damage to the feet was just the start of it. Noticing that Sheppard was still staring at his own feet, a frown on his face, Carson went for distraction.

"Let's have the rest of your things."

Sheppard took off his jacket, handed it to Marcy. Underneath the jacket he'd worn a t-shirt. It was then that everyone simultaneously noticed the deep abrasions wrapped around Sheppard's wrists. They stopped what they were doing. Sheppard held up his wrists, looked in amazement at the marks.

"When did this happen?"

Beckett shook his head, trying to keep his tone light. "I don't know. Why don't you finish undressing and I can take care of those for you."

Sheppard seemed to be too distracted to do as he was told, instead he gaped some more at his wrists, seemingly fascinated by the new twist in his situation. To Beckett's irritation, Biro took out her digital camera.

"For God's sake Biro, we're not going to be taking the bloody evidence to court."

She gave him a filthy look. "No but we might want to reference them later."

"You can do that after I've examined him and treated the wounds."

"Don't fight over me kids. There's plenty to go around."

Carson mentally berated himself. He was losing his cool under pressure and the last thing Sheppard needed was for Biro and himself to openly disagree during an exam. It was highly unprofessional of him.

"Sorry, Colonel."

"Carson, it's okay. Don't stress on me."

"You don't feel any pain in your wrists?"

"A little but nothing much. I just figured I had bruising."

"Any other aches and pains you haven't mentioned?"

"Yeah, but nothing bad. My ankles. My lower back."

Biro broke in before Carson ruined her collection scene. "You can have him in two minutes. Colonel, if you could just keep going, we're almost done."

Sheppard nodded, pulled off his t-shirt, handed that over. Richard thoughtfully gave Sheppard a hospital gown and helped Sheppard get himself suitably covered up so that he could remove the remaining items of clothing.

The pants came off next and revealed the same circular abrasions looping around both of Sheppard's ankles. They seemed to fascinate him as equally as the marks around his wrists.

"This is weird." Sheppard watched them pack his clothes, stood on one foot so he could lift up the other and look at the marks. "I don't remember any of this."

Carson was beginning to get concerned. Sheppard was repeating the same phrase in a way that indicated he was having difficulty processing the experience.

Biro stood, waiting patiently. "Last item. I need the underwear."

Sheppard stopped staring at his ankles and feet. "I bet you say that to all the guys, Biro."

"Not really. The ones I deal with are usually dead, so I just cut them off."

"There'll be no cutting off of my underwear by you, or anyone else."

Sheppard reached under the gown, stripped off the last piece of clothing from his body. Handed them over to Biro with an evil grin.

"You'd better hope someone was in charge of doing my laundry."

Biro waved a latex encased hand at him as she took the proffered boxer briefs. "Why do you think I wear these?" She went to place the item in a paper bag, Carson noticing that she hesitated as she got a glimpse of the waistband. She turned back swiftly to Beckett with a completely false smile plastered on her face.

"You'd better get to that physical exam. I'll mark up the trauma diagram as you work."

He nodded, moved Sheppard back off the paper and finally got a chance to get the man off his feet and onto the gurney. As Sheppard sat down, Marcy and Biro carefully began folding up the paper that he'd been standing on.

"Are you feeling any more pain, Colonel?"

"No, not really. Just aches a little. I've had worse."

Carson frowned. "Hmmmm."

"I hate it when you say 'hmmmmm'. What's up?"

"You have a ridiculously high pain threshold but that doesn't mean you don't feel pain at all. It just means you tend to ignore it."


"And I'm wondering why you're not feeling more than you are." Carson shrugged, put that thought on the back burner. "First things first though. I want to do a neurological status check."

"You did one of those on the way over."

"Humor me with another one. If you seem okay, that means we can forgo a scan." Beckett took his pen light out of his pocket.

Sheppard complied. Beckett held up a forefinger.

"How many?"

"You're holding up just the one, Carson. Are you sure you don't want to try this test with your index finger?"

"My mother raised me to be polite, Colonel."

"Explains why you never joined the military then."

"Follow…" Carson moved his finger to the left and right, checked that Sheppard's eyes were tracking correctly.

"Focus on the wall."

Beckett checked the pupil response as he had Sheppard refocus on his finger. Then dimmed the lights in the room and shone the penlight into each eye, checking for pupil contraction response. Normal and reactive in both eyes. He moved his hand over the skull, checking for any obvious signs of contusion or cuts and got nothing.

Beckett held out his forefinger again.


Sheppard smiled despite it all. "I'm waiting on the day you say 'pull my finger'."

"Never going to happen but you can dream."

Beckett had learnt several years ago never to offer his entire hand for a strength test because some testosterone charged marine with a point to prove had thought it was funny to try and crush his metacarpals. He watched as Sheppard squeezed and winced slightly for some reason.

"That hurt?"

"No, just a twinge."

Sheppard knew what Beckett was going to ask so repeated the procedure with his right hand. Beckett nodded approvingly. Strength was bilaterally equal. Verbal responses were appropriate, no sign of double-vision, no signs of motor problems or behavioral changes.

"What's the verdict?"

"At this stage, you're good. Let's make sure there's nothing else wrong and then clean up those wounds."

Biro was hovering. She put the clipboard down, the one with the trauma diagram on it, went and fetched another piece of equipment out of her casing of tricks.

Carson got out his blood pressure cuff, smiled as reassuringly as possible, patted Sheppard's arm, nearly missed the small wince from Sheppard at the touch. He hurriedly grabbed his stethoscope and put the cuff on, pumped it up and was relieved to find the systolic sitting at 120 and the diastolic at 80. Normal for most people and on the high side for Sheppard, but at least it implied there wasn't any internal bleeding to worry about. He took a pulse. A little fast but not abnormal. Easily chalked up to the stress.

He turned his attention to the lungs, listened carefully for any crackles, or rales. Everything seemed clear. He checked the reading on the ear thermometer. A little elevated, around ninety-nine Fahrenheit but temperatures fluctuated wildly over the course of a day and with the amount of physical activity and stress, so again, he wasn't overly concerned. Regular monitoring over the next twenty-four hours would tell him more.

"So far, so good."

"Great. At least I have one decent piece of news in this otherwise lousy day," said Sheppard.

Biro was hovering again, clutching something that looked like a cross between a dust buster and a camera, a pair of tinted orange glasses on her face. "Just wanted to run the omnichrome over you using the UV filter. It's completely painless."

Carson turned to her. He'd thought the forensic collection was a sound idea at the time, but he was running out of patience. "Can I get my blood samples now?"

"Give me a minute. We do the skin check, and he's all yours. I can do the nail scrapings while you set up. Richard, can you get the lights?"

The room went dark and the light from the omnichrome was a bright blue. Biro began down at Sheppard's feet and started to work her way up with the light. Carson stuck his hands in his pockets, trying to remember that Elizabeth had ordered it, that it was for the best, and feeling useless. He glanced down at Sheppard, noted the blank expression on the man's face, and didn't blame him for adopting a posture of total non involvement. Still, this amount of disengagement wasn't a good sign.

"You okay, Colonel?"

"Yeah, I'm good." Carson watched as Sheppard closed his eyes and he pretended to be somewhere else.


Rodney McKay was not the calmest person in the Milky Way or the Pegasus galaxy. In fact, his behavior at times was so problematic that he had his own chapter in several books that carried titles such as, How to Get Along with Difficult People.

When he'd woken up on the planet, tucked in his sleeping back and feeling like he'd been parked on rocks the entire night, his initial thoughts had been around how pleasant it was not to be chased, shot at, stunned, kidnapped, tied up, threatened or tortured. Those thoughts didn't make up for his back but it did mean he could probably tolerate the discomfort until he made it back to his quarters and could stand under a hot shower for half an hour.

The only reason he'd managed to wake up was that he needed to take a leak and it was then he noticed it was broad daylight and that Ronon was also asleep, propped against a tree and that Sheppard was missing.

At first he hadn't been concerned. Sheppard was probably missing because he was answering his own call of nature. The Satedan sleeping was a different matter. It was his turn to be on watch and he wondered why Sheppard had let him remain asleep. Sheppard was a laid back guy for the most part but he didn't stand for people not pulling their share of the work. Then again, the planet, so far, had been as non threatening as they came. Maybe the team leader has just figured they could all do with a break.

Rodney waited for about ten minutes, not really wanting to encounter Sheppard during his search for a tree that he could pee against. He waited another five minutes and then he started worrying. Another five minutes and he was struggling out of his sleeping bag, almost tripping over a slumbering Teyla and heading towards Ronon.

"Hey, sleepy head. Wakey, wakey!"

To his increasing alarm, Ronon did not move. Ronon had the reflexes and hearing of a cat. He'd been known to wake up if Rodney turned over in his sleep, let alone Rodney yelling at him.

Rodney crossed to the tree, put a hand on Ronon's shoulders and shook him. Hard. That seemed to do the trick and the Satedan blearily opened his eyes.

"McKay, you'd better have a good reason for touching me."

Rodney removed his hand, suddenly worried about getting punched.

"Sheppard is missing."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean he's missing. Gone away. Doesn't appear to have come back. Absent. Not here."

The news seemed to snap Ronon back to a state of full alert. He quickly got to his feet and headed for the empty sleeping bag. He crouched down, checking the area.

Rodney always wondered whether Ronon actually knew what he was searching for, or whether he just did the whole crouching and tracking prognostication for show.

"Any ideas, Tonto?"

Ronon scowled, didn't answer. Instead slipped a hand inside the sleeping bag.

"He's been gone for a while. Sleeping bag is cold."

"I could have told you that."

The taller man stood up, walked around the area, carefully peering at the ground.

"No signs of a struggle, but someone's definitely been here. Possibly more than one."

"Great. Fantastic. We know he's been kidnapped. No surprises there. I could have told you that too."

Ronon appeared to be ignoring him because he didn't reply. He walked a few meters towards the forest, seemingly following footprints that Rodney couldn't make out no matter how intently he looked at the ground. Ronon abruptly stopped.

"I've lost them. They must have gone in there." He pointed at the forest and began running determinedly towards the thick clutch of trees.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Rodney ran after the warrior, managed to only just catch-up before taking a chance and once more grabbing an arm.

"What?" Ronon's eye line was firmly on Rodney's hand and he was making it clear that Rodney was five seconds away from getting pounded.

Rodney snatched his hand away and then shoved them into his pockets. "Look, we don't even know what we're dealing with. Or how many. Doesn't it make sense to get some reinforcements from Atlantis and then go and look for Sheppard? Preferably with a wide range of weapons?"

Ronon took a deep breath, seemed to consider McKay's idea. "I hate to say this but I think you're right."

Rodney nearly fell over from the shock. Rodney was right when it came to equations and calculations and science based solutions but he was never right when it came to tactical decisions.

"Me? Right? Really?"

"Yeah, don't let it go to your head. Let's get Teyla and head back."

Ronon turned back from the forest, took two steps forward and fell face first into the dirt, out cold.

Total and utter panic set in.

"Shit! Shit! Shit! Crap!"

It occurred to him to check for a pulse, which he did and he found the Satedan very much alive. He rolled the big guy over, no small effort, and then ran back to fetch Teyla.

Also unconscious.

McKay started yelling again. "Shit! Shit! Shit!"

He was still cursing up a storm when he came back through the stargate and alerted Elizabeth to the fact that SGA-1 was in big trouble. And as he sat in his lab, and waited for Carson to complete the exam, he wasn't doing any better. His mother would be shocked if she could hear how badly his language had deteriorated while he'd been stuck on Atlantis.

Personally he blamed Sheppard and the marines. Potty mouths, every one of them.

He slammed the side of his laptop. He'd been part of the team that tried to find Sheppard and he was part of the team that failed to find Sheppard. It had driven him crazy because failure always drove him crazy.


If anything bad had happened to Sheppard, McKay was never going to forgive himself.


Sheppard was very good at going to places in his head when needed. Right now he was lifting off from McMurdo and flying over the pack ice, the last of the autumn days signaling the return of the Emperor penguins.

When he wasn't playing taxi driver to the various brass and science teams flying into the so-called research post he wasn't supposed to ask about, he was also tagged to airlift the biologists to the penguin colonies while they still had weather that let the helicopters fly.

Being able to help out the biologists was something he got a kick out of. Mainly because the biologists loved the penguins to the point of obsession and were happy to answer questions and let anyone else expressing an interest hang out.

Theoretically he was supposed to drop the biologists off and then pick them up a couple of days later but rather conveniently he experienced the odd problem with radio communications and the rotor blades temporarily freezing up. He also had an advantage created by his fall from grace and his banishment to the South Pole. No one cared much what he did as long as he did what he was told and kept out of the way.

That meant he could spend a couple of hours wrapped in the winter gear he kept stowed in the back of his helicopter, standing on the ice and watching the penguins waddling their determined way across the terrain.

Had to admire them. Talk about drawing the short end of the evolutionary straw. There was no other species on Earth trying to breed and raise chicks in negative sixty Celsius.

The day he'd helped one of the biologists catch a penguin for marking was one of the best days of his life.

Light abruptly filled the room. Seemed Biro had finished running over every inch of his skin with the magical blue UV light. His skin was clean but she'd picked up a small needle mark on his right arm, and some bruising under the skin around his shoulders that hadn't made itself known.

There was also the other matter that they'd discovered when he'd been rolled onto his side.

Carson had taken a look and Sheppard could tell by the way he'd put his voice into an even more hearty version of, "Well, you've got a wee bit of a problem" that it wasn't good. Seemed a characteristic of all doctors – the more cheerful they became, the worse the news was. Therein followed a long explanation of the fact that he had a stage three pressure ulcer over the sacral area, and Sheppard had eventually worked out meant they were talking about the bony part of his lower back. At that stage he was just grateful they weren't telling him that he had an ulcerated wound on his butt or anything else more sinister.

"That confirms that the wounds on the back of your heels are also ulcers."

"Well, that's nice to know."

Carson patted his arm again. Sheppard just wished Carson would stop touching him because it was starting to creep him out.

"Marcy, setup a 16-gauge peripheral IV line for me. Richard, get me a CBC, Chem-7, and a tox screen. Swab the ulcers for bacteria. Oh, and before I forget, run a blood sample down to the lab for sequencing."

It was clear to Sheppard that Carson had assumed control. Biro was standing off to one side with a trauma diagram, noting down the wound sites with red pen. It was like she was drawing in a coloring book for grown-ups and Sheppard did his best to ignore her and the way she was creating red circles around the ankles and wrists of the generic picture of a human. She put down the diagram while Marcy and Richard started on him and he caught her coming back with more tools. Looked like a nail file or something, but of course, it wasn't.

"I'm just going to do a nail scrapping and that's it…" Her voice had changed. Even Biro could sense how much the tension had ratcheted up since the whole situation had begun.

He sincerely hoped that everyone would go away, but both Marcy and Richard were each trying to find a vein. Marcy in the back of his left hand, and Richard in the crook of his right arm. Beckett was methodically cleaning the wound on his left ankle and he found himself wanting to do nothing more than hit them and make them go away.

He bit his bottom lip. An action not unnoticed by Carson.

"You're doing fine, Colonel. Not much longer to go."

It was then that everything hit him at once. He'd been feeling sore but now it seemed to ramp up, and he ached, ached like he'd been swimming in ice cold water and his body was trying to warm up. The ulcer on his lower back hurt like hell, his feet hurt, everything throbbed and protested and on top of it all, the hunger he'd been able to ignore was back. He made himself ride it out until Richard and Marcy finished and then he twisted abruptly, trying to shift himself into a more comfortable position, yanking his foot from Carson but Carson was fast and held on.

Carson stopped cleaning the abrasions on his ankle. "You starting to feel this?"

"Yeah. Kind of."

Carson just shot him a look. "Typical. You're the grand master of understatement. I just want to wait until I get the tox screen back before I give you anything. Until then, can you just bare with me?"

"Sure." He opted to distract himself by going back to the ice. They could do whatever they wanted to do because mentally… he was leaving.