Stealth Dragon

Rating – T, because I be wicked mean to Shep, and some language.

Disclaimer – I do not own Stargate Atlantis. If I did, there would be more whump, and Sherbet.

Synopsis – Vacations usually don't involve attacks by space pirates, emergency crash landings, wild fires, and saving the day when you're already injured. Team fic minus Teyla but plus that ever insufferable little alien rodent Sherbet. Written for challenge #7 down at the Sheppard H/C in LJ. I normally don't take part in challenges but the prompts had slapped a pretty nifty idea in my head that I couldn't resist, and I've been rather unhappy with the fics I've been writing lately. All too dark and I'm a bit jaded on the dark fics.

Challenge #7 prompt – Element: Fire. Line: Where the hell are you going with that, Colonel? Theme: Blood & broken bones. Yummers.


"Where the hell are you going with that, Colonel?"

John both winced and cringed. It wasn't because he'd been caught, but because he'd been caught by McKay who always managed to sound smug even when he was scared or pissed. He was particularly thick with the self-satisfaction whenever he thought he'd caught John doing something he wasn't supposed to. It was a little juvenile, and it wasn't even that Rodney liked a reason to rat John out. The physicist just liked to think he had John pegged; on what, exactly, John wasn't sure.

"Well?" McKay pressed in that wheedling voice of his – condescending and know-it-all. "Because the Daedalus doesn't exactly have any ideal spots for a picnic."

John jerked his arm adjusting the satchel full of fruit higher up his shoulder before turning around to face Rodney with much forced patience. A man could only take Kirk-related accusations so far.

"Rodney," John said, giving him a blistering grin. "Do you really think so little of me? Ever think all this is just for lil' old me?"

McKay folded his arms. "No."

"That's because you suck," John said. He adjusted the strap again when it tried to slide down his arm. The bag thumped against his ridiculously tender ribs and he clamped his mouth shut to stifle a yelp. "And proves that you think so little of me. You didn't even take into consideration that I might have a vitamin deficiency."

"No, but I have taken into consideration that birds have been eating more than you, lately, giving sudden changes in dietary habits cause to be suspicious over. Fess up, Colonel. I've seen you sneaking food you barely even touch out of the mess. Are you hording for the winter or developed a sudden aversion to eating in public?"

John made his gaze go hooded. "Anyone ever tell you that you talk too much, McKay?"

"All the time. Spill it, Sheppard. What are you up to?"

John thumped his casted arm against his thigh, then gave the relatively empty Daedalus corridor a surreptitious once over, craning his neck to peer over Rodney's shoulder to see if anyone was coming. "Since I know you're just going to keep riding my ass about it," John said, peering over his own shoulder, "I'll level with you." He moved forward and leaned in toward Rodney's ear.

"Sherbet snuck on board."

The response from Rodney was predictable – a toss up of the hands and a roll of the eyes. "Of course. See? This is why we had the cat cage brought in. Cat cages are a hell of a lot harder to open than Atlantis' doors..."

"I put him in the cat cage," John said.

Rodney's eyebrows arched. "Oh. Well, then, we need to have animal tranquilizers brought in – the small stuff, pill form or powder to mix into his food... Where's the little pack rat now?"

John jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "My quarters. Rodney, I'm trusting you not to tell anyone he's here, Caldwell especially."

"Well, you do know that with his penchant for imitating Houdini, Sherbet's going to get found out eventually. Then there's also that little set back of bringing him to a planet that tend to be tightwads about people stowing foreign animals on board."

The blood rushed from John's head to his feet. "You don't think they'd kill him?"

"Well, the SGC isn't exactly an airport, but still..." Rodney paled slightly. "The local zoologists might take a keen interest in him."

Which was why they always tried to make sure Sherbet was left locked in someone's quarters during away missions. The biologists had been circling like vultures ever since Sherbet was taken in. It wasn't everyday that Elizabeth caved to the age old 'can we keep him.' Actually, it was the only time, since there was actually no reason not to keep the mir'ka. The biologists only got to keep what they found if they vowed to return it to the wild or dissect it. And since Mir'ka's were so blasted easy to domesticate and get attached to, Sherbet was the only one permitted in Atlantis.

"They wouldn't need much of an excuse to grab him," Rodney went on. "Check for alien diseases and what not."

John perked and snapped his fingers. "Ah! But he's already been checked over. No diseases, not even any damn alien fleas. They've got nothing on him."

Rodney snorted. "Oh, yeah, like that's going to stop them. If you want my advice, Colonel, I'd confess and plead diplomatic immunity for the little guy. I mean he's just as much a Pegasus galaxy representative as Ronon – despite his inability to speak any English. And you don't hear the SGC demanding paperwork proving that Ronon's had all his shots. Having four legs and a tail should not exempt him from being shown the same courtesy that we show the majority of lifeforms who drop by."

John straightened as much as his ridiculously tender ribs would let him. "Yeah, exactly!"

"Sherbet has every right not to be tested and dissected."

"Damn straight."

They both fell silent for a drawn out moment.

"Soooo..." John said after that moment. "We tell them tomorrow?"

"And make sure to act all surprised, like you just found him."

John pointed at Rodney. "Gotcha." He then turned to continue his mission of providing sustenance to one over intelligent and high-maintenance mir'ka. His limping gait jostled the satchel. The bananas prodded John's wounded side through the beige canvas material. He winced, trying to adjust the satchel without the use of his casted hand, when he had the satchel snatched from his shoulder.

Rodney slung the bag over his own shoulder. "You're going to break something again."

John sagged in relief. "Thanks Rodney."

"Yeah, thank me after we're not thrown in the brig for organic contraband."

On arriving at John's room and entering they were greeted by a hyperactive fur-ball ablaze with the colors of red, orange, and yellow. Sherbet leaped up a good five feet off the ground at John, then at Rodney, his bushy lemur tail twice the length of his little body silently slapping the floor on landing. He yeeped at them as he bounded back and forth while they made their way to the bed. Rodney deposited the satchel on the mattress, and John deposited himself on the edge, rubbing his sore chest.

"You all right?" Rodney asked. He opened the satchel that released the faint sweet oder of fruit, pulled a banana from it, and peeled it to break off chunks that Sherbet caught when tossed.

John shrugged, and winced for it. Carrying the satchel had been a bad idea and his body was now letting him know it. Not just in aches and pains but also a struggling heart and slightly labored breathing as though he'd return to his room at a run. "I'll admit I've had better days. But worse days too. I'm kind of somewhere in between." He was startled by having an apple shoved into his hands.

"Eat," Rodney commanded, dropping onto the edge of the bed on the other side of the satchel. He tossed a chunk of banana into the air that Sherbet leaped up to catch. "Your appetite is half your problem right there. Seriously, you go weeks half-starved longing for a Happy Meal then come home and refuse to take more than three bites of a power bar. Maybe it's just my naivety concerning the eating habits of skinny people, but that's just messed up."

"It is messed up." John took a small bite of red apple. "Even Carson says so. Not exactly in those terms, though. The way he puts it, it's like my body doesn't know what it wants anymore. It needs food but doesn't want to put up with the whole tiresome digesting process." John rubbed at the ache accumulating between his eyes. "Sleep now, eat later, that's what it's telling me."

Rodney huffed. "All you do is sleep."

"Yeah. Walking in the equivalent of the Bataan Death March for nearly three weeks will do that to you."

Two weeks and four days to be precise, and a hell of a two weeks and four days they had been. Stops had been only two hours during the night, and a half an hour during the day to dish out watery curds and way that sustained the body enough to keep it going.

It had all been one big setup. The Fadeeshans had heard from the Genii and other sources that the 'Lanteans had Ancestor technology and the means by which to use it. They'd been open to trade to see if these rumors were true, then sprung their true nature when they found out it was. All it had taken was for the leader casually toying with what looked like a decorative knick-knack to toss the piece of junk in John's direction. John had caught it on instinct. The device then reacted on its own mechanical instinct by starting to glow and hum. John had tossed it back, negotiations continued, and all hell didn't break loose until the team had been heading back.

The Fadeeshans moved damn fast when they wanted to. They'd hit John with a poison dart that laid him flat. He woke up in a dungeon only to be immediately hustled into a vehicle smaller than a VW Bug, and driven out into the Fadeeshan waste lands to march and march until his feet started to bleed. John had to grudgingly admit it hadn't been a bad ploy. With John out of the city, his team couldn't find him to rescue him. Elizabeth was forced to negotiate, then used the negotiations to keep the Fadeeshans busy while John's team sought him out.

It wasn't John's team that had saved him, it had been his gradual deterioration in health, and a completely idiotic mistake on the Fadeeshans' part.

Someone had gone a little heavy with the poison that had knocked John out. The poison had made him sick, and with no chance to make a full recovery, he'd been thrust into a march - ill and disoriented - meant to wear criminals down to docile levels. The prisoners had taken advantage of him, attacking him, stealing his jacket and shoes. Stumbling into nettles and bear rocks cut up his feet, leading to infection, increasing his illness. John had pretty much been dieing on his feet, although he wouldn't deny that it wasn't a bad way to go. When the Fadeeshans had finally gotten their greedy heads out of their asses to take notice, John wasn't even on his feet anymore. He vaguely recalled having been dragged, then left for dead until a guard was sent to retrieve him. Bargaining chips weren't much use if they weren't breathing.

The Fadeeshans had panicked and, thinking that a beating heart meant all bets weren't quite off, handed John back with a thousand apologies and excuses concerning desperate times and desperate measures. And so concluded John's adventure in Fadeesha. The rest had become lost in a drugged haze that pushed back the agony of numerous broken bones and sliced up feet. All he knew, and needed to know, was that he was home and safe.

Rodney's eyes went glassy. "Obviously." He tossed the remainder of the banana to Sherbet. "Which is why the mandatory vacation thing is a little premature. Elizabeth should have pushed us all into it when you were more self sufficient. Sayyyy... when you don't need to shower with a plastic bag over your arm."

John smiled around his next bite of apple. "Stay honest, Rodney, and just say you didn't want to come."

"I did, she didn't listen, and it's all the fault of your invalid condition. Does she honestly believe you'll heal any better on Earth?"

"This vacation isn't just about me, Rodney."

Rodney grunted something unintelligible, then dug through the bag for an apple of his own. Elizabeth had been talking earth-side leave time way before the incident with the Fadeeshans. Camping on the mainland wasn't enough, according to her, and Heightmeyer had backed her up. John suspected Elizabeth had a secret paranoia of the senior staff developing resentments toward earth that would eventually build toward alienating themselves. The SGC had been giving Elizabeth and the rest enough grief to make the paranoia reasonable, were that the case. But if that were the case, then she really needed to take into account fast food, movies, video games, skate parks, and oceans full of already known dangers easy to avoid. John may not have anything in terms of a life on earth to go back there permanently, but there were plenty of reasons to still think of it as home.

The apparent reason for a vacation was the Fadeeshan incident having brought everyone to their breaking point. John had heard Carson chewing Rodney up and spitting him out about his coffee consumption leading to no proper sleep.

"So," Rodney flatly began. "You never told me if you had any particular plans you'd like to see come to fruition during this vacation. So what'll it be – hobbling around Disney World staring at the rides in longing, or along the beach staring at the ocean the same way?" His tone of voice clearly implied his disfavor at having been forcefully volunteered into being John's and Ronon's 'baby-sitter' for the duration. John wasn't exactly in any condition to be getting around anywhere on his own, and it was common consent that staying at the SGC tended to be rather depressing – like living in an over-sized bomb shelter.

"Neither, seeing as we'll be staying at your place," John replied. "Hope you have a damn good movie collection beyond Star Trek, because I doubt I'll be up for any sight seeing."

"Yeah, but Ronon will and I'm not taking that trigger happy gorilla out by myself. We'll keep things simple, go to the movies and whatever cow-farm-harvest festival that happens to be going on. I've done enough traveling to know there's some fair going on somewhere. Not usually my cup of tea but the funnel cakes are always worth it. Oh, and every one I've driven past always had a ferris wheel or two. A ride you can actually ride without worrying about your spine dislocating, and your favorite as you like to remind us over and over – so score one for you."

John grinned. Behind all the obnoxious yammering and self-righteous know-it-allism, Rodney really wasn't a bad guy. The guy cared, he just didn't like anyone knowing it.

John polished off the rest of his apple and set it on the floor for Sherbet to gnaw on. Truth be told, John was looking forward to this little respite trip. He could use the distraction of Earth-made trivialities such as movies and ferris wheels. A little fantasy to numb the majority of his reality. His mind kept trying to drift back – awake and in dreams – to the endless march over ground that had been cold beneath his bare feet, then warm when his feet wouldn't stop bleeding. In dreams he felt the fists that had pummeled him just to take his boots, and the cold, ravenous gnaw in the pit of his hollow stomach. The hunger had hurt, but not as bad as the thirst, and the vomiting the product of a severe infection.

John's skin twitched in a shudder as though a fly had landed on his back. He'd thought every organ in his body was going to be expelled as he puked up his eating attempts and acid.

"We'll see what I'm up to when we get there," John said. "Right now I just want to get there, and spend the first couple of days crashing on anything soft."

"So pretty much do what you're doing now?"

John shrugged. "Pretty much. It's not the same when you're on a spaceship tripping through wraith infested space. There's always that nagging concern of something popping up in hyperspace to give everyone a bad day."

"You worry too much," Rodney said, though the conviction behind the words was incredibly lax. He bit off the last area of apple still covered by skin and stood. "I'll leave you to your nap time. And don't worry about Sherbet. As long as he doesn't bite anyone then he won't end up with the 9th grade biology-happy zoologists."

John lifted an eyebrow. "9th grade? Frogs?"

"Try fetal pigs."

John grimaced. "Oh yeah."

"Just keep the little spaz out of sight until you're either up to confessing or I finally break and do it first."

John gave him a thumbs up. "Will do."

Rodney headed out in the wake of the crunch of a bitten apple. John scooted back and swiveled around to lay himself out gingerly on his bed. He closed his eyes, then snapped them back open on realizing that his room had gone too quiet. He rolled enough so he could turn his head for a look at the floor without putting pressure on his flank. He saw the half-gnawed apple core, but no Sherbet.


Technically, Rodney wasn't on vacation until he was beamed from the Daedalus to Earth. So technically, he wasn't on vacation. If he could contribute in some way to the smooth running of the Daedalus, then he would, since technically he could. The only set back was the Daedalus didn't exactly need any assistance. So, technically, he was currently useless.

McKay didn't do useless. If he could wheedle Hermiod into increasing power output to get this billion dollar space bucket moving faster, then he would. Hermiod was a tight wad when it came to power consumption. His condescending refusal to 'step on the gas' kept sending Rodney into flashbacks of family vacations and his father's cold refusal to turn on the A/C. If the man had just done the math he would have realized that air conditioning was a hell of a lot cheaper than stopping at every gas station and fast food joint for water.

"Hermiod!" Rodney said, striding up to the Asgard's station. "If it isn't my favorite Martian."

Black almond eyes narrowed at Rodney's approach. "Dr. McKay, this is the third time I have had to remind you that I am not from the world your people have deemed 'Mars'."

Rodney flapped his hand indifferently. "Figure of speech. So, how're the engines?" He folded his arms on top of Hermiod's station and smiled pleasantly.

Hermiod's eyes were black slivers of indignation. "The engines are fine. No need to increase power output and put undue stress on the hyperdrives."

Rodney's smile remained plastered while his body went rigid. "Two percent is not going to..."

"Dr. McKay, there is no reason to increase power even to one percent. Our current speed is regulation level, and unless Col. Caldwell sees it necessary to go above that for emergency purposes, I have no intentions of increasing power, not even to point one percent."

McKay had never determined if the little Asgard's talent for sarcasm was a personality trait or the negative side-affect of hanging around humans for too long. Rodney recalled having seen O'Niel do a double take at one of Hermiod's caustic responses. Humans were a bad influence on the rest of the galaxy – two galaxies.

Hermiod ended the conversation by reverting his attention back to the console.

McKay could have gone the stubborn route and wait the Asgard out, staring, drumming his fingers loudly on the console, making obnoxious humming noises. Instead, Rodney decided to be the better species and back off. That, and being annoyingly persistent didn't work as well on alien life forms. They either passively ignored it or promised violence.

Rodney turned with the intent to leave in a huff. He saw Novak backed into a corner with both hands raised like the victim in a holdup, minus a gunman. She was wide eyed, shaking, whimpering and her body kept jerking with the hiccups. Her assailant was sitting back on his tiny haunches, whipping his ludicrously long tail back and forth. Sherbet answered each of Novak's hiccups with a yeep like a verbal game of catch.

Rodney's heart shot up into his throat. "Oh crap." He hurried over and snatched Sherbet up into his arms. "Damn it, Novak! If you're going to let yourself be cornered by animals no bigger than your foot, you can at least scream or squeal or something to make the rest of us aware. Crap, I would honestly hate to see the outcome of you being cornered by a kitten or a rabbit."

Novak, apparently, hadn't heard a word Rodney said when she pointed a pale, rigid finger at Sherbet. "Wh-wh-wh-wha... Wha... What is... that..."

"Novak, will you relax. He wasn't going to latch onto your face and lay eggs in your chest if that's what you were worried about. And, seriously, no one's going to come to your rescue every time you freeze up in a panic. I..."

Sherbet leaped from Rodney's arms to go bounding with ribbony grace down the hall, leaving McKay gaping.

"Sherbet, what...?"

"Dr. McKay," said Hermiod. "The creature has escaped and is now in the corridor."

Rodney shot Hermiod a withering sneer as he rushed by. "You think?" He was pretty sure the Asgard had been goading him, as he'd never seen Hermiod grinning before.

Rodney tracked Sherbet down by following the trail of yelps, screams, and people pressing themselves into the wall. He saw Sherbet's blazing bright body dart around a corner. Rodney puffed out a frustrated breath and increased the speed of his stride.

"Sherbet! If you don't get your furry little ass back here now..." On turning the corner, Rodney skidded to a halt in time to avoid plowing into Sheppard's semi-broken body. Sheppard mimicked with a loud "Whoa!"

"Dang! Sheppard! Have you seen..." he looked down at the ball of fluff cradled to John's chest. "Oh, you have, never mind."

"I swear I didn't see him get out," John breathlessly explained. He was pale, breathing hard, and a little on the moist side around his hairline. "I just looked down and he was gone."

"Well, yeah, you so much as blink and he vanishes into thin air. Look, just get him back into your room before Caldwell sees him."

John nodded, then looked up, and his face went another shade whiter. "A little premature with the warnings, Rodney."

Rodney swiveled around and felt his own face turn the color of snow. Murphy's Law had screwed them again – Caldwell as standing there with arms folded and stance rigid as rock.

"Gentlemen," he said. "A word." He made it a command, not a request.



A/N: What you think? Exciting things will soon be afoot in the next chapter. Have patience, kiddies. And just so you know, I am not a technician, and technical things tend to make my brain fall asleep. I do not know the precise layout and workings of the Daedalus, so chances are good I might be off about something. Bear with me on it. It's not like we get a whole lot of the Daedalus on the show. The show is supposed to be about Atlantis, not the Daedalus.

Also, I do not use betas, but I do go over the chapters several times before posting. Yet I have found that, even with betas and several edits, there are the one or two spelling mistakes that always manage to slip by. That can be said of just about any story – even published works. Seriously, published works! Unless the mistakes are all over the place and horribly distracting, just try to ignore them.