"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."
Lewis B. Smedes
Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard exited the conference room, his confident pace taking him across the control room towards the back stairs. He tried to ignore the hail behind him, but there was an added level of determination in the repeated call.
He paused a moment before he turned and met Rodney McKay's small smile with an unreadable mask. "McKay."
Rodney's smile faded slightly. He looked around a minute, apparently reassuring himself they were alone.
"Did you want something?" John asked impatiently. His gaze narrowed as Rodney fidgeted slightly.
"Yeah, uh.…" Rodney scratched the back of his neck. "Look, uh, thanks for keeping me on the team for this mission."
A fleeting moment of confusion beat back John's irritation. "What are you talking about, McKay?"
Rodney's squirming intensified. "Well, I mean... you know, since Project Arcturus.…" His voice trailed off.
John's confusion faded away, his gaze hardening as unspoken words floated between them; words like trust, betrayal, ego. A part of John wanted to shoot every one of those words at the scientist, along with a few others, but he settled for cold detachment. "McKay, this isn't the first mission since... that. Why are we talking about this now?" He just stared back, as a glimmer of familiar annoyance returned to Rodney, but, as quickly as it appeared, the irritation fled Rodney's face, only to be replaced by uncertainty.
"Those were routine," Rodney's voice was quiet. "Meet with allies, follow up recon on scouted planets, that kind of thing. This is.… This is different." He looked away, his discomfort clearly increasing. He scratched his head absently and grimaced. "Look, I just wanted to say thanks for keeping me on your team. I told you I'd prove myself.… I meant it."
John silently pondered Rodney's slightly imploring expression. Fresh from the mission briefing where they'd reviewed MALP telemetry on an impressive expanse of ruins bearing similarities to Ancient architecture, John really hadn't had a chance to consider how he felt having Rodney on his team. Okay, he admitted to himself, I have had the time…. He stifled a sigh.
He'd never really spent much time thinking about whether or not members of his team should be on specific missions with him. He'd long ago placed his trust and confidence in the people he'd selected, and that had been enough, up until now. But he'd never faced something quite like this before. Rodney's betrayal of his trust ran deep and John knew it was a dangerous rift to have in an otherwise cohesive team. You had to watch your team's back and trust they were on your six as well; and when they said something with confidence, you had to believe them. Implicitly. But then, there was Project Arcturus.…
"Colonel?" Rodney's voice was hesitant.
Resigned, John shook his head. "You're a member of my team, McKay." His tone was final, as if that one sentence explained everything, but even as he said it John felt the undercurrents of hesitation within him/ From the unconvinced look on Rodney's face, he knew his voice had betrayed him as well.
"Right," Rodney's reply was quiet. Without another word, he turned away and crossed the control room, never once looking back.
John watched him go. Damn it. Rodney had asked John to trust him and John had done it without hesitation, as he would with any member of his team. And yet…
He rubbed his brow wearily. And yet he destroyed two thirds of a solar system and nearly got us killed in the process.
John's thoughts turned to all the times Rodney had pulled their butts out of the fire. The Lagrangian satellite; lightening-powered shields; using his personal shield to walk through an energy creature and coax it through the Stargate….
John's thoughts lingered on that last example. That, more than anything, stood out to him. He'd still been considering his team members at the time, and he'd realized there was more to McKay than just an annoying, self-centered attitude. In spite of his blustering, the guy had chutzpah when the chips were down, and that was something John found essential to anyone on his team. A spark of respect once more glimmered briefly within John, before it was extinguished by the black cloud of distrust he carried.
The discord did nothing to bolster John's confidence. A team had to function as a unit: harmonious in every way. Like a sour note in a concerto, this one waver, and the hesitation it could breed, could ruin the entire unit. Not to mention get us all killed. John tried to put it all out of his mind as he turned and started down the stairs, but the blow to his self-assurance couldn't be ignored.
John stepped through the gate and stopped. He slowly lowered his gun and looked around in amazement.
"Whoa…." Rodney's response echoed what John was thinking.
"Yeah," John agreed quietly. The ruins were extensive. Even in their disintegrating state, they hinted that, in its day, this had been a large settlement. Crumbling spires still stretched high into the sky, and John could only guess at the stunning architecture now reduced to rubble that littered ground all around them.
John walked forward slowly. "Why do you sound so surprised, McKay? You saw the MALP telemetry."
"Didn't really get a sense of this place from video feed. This is… impressive," Rodney admitted. He tapped a few keys on his data pad. "Definitely Ancient architecture, just as the MALP images indicated. Faint energy readings coming from... that way." Rodney pointed towards the ruins of a very large structure.
John nodded. "Okay, good place to start." He turned and tapped his headset lightly. "Atlantis, this is Sheppard. The ruins are pretty extensive; this is going to take a while. McKay's detected some faint energy readings we're checking on now. Will advise when we know more."
"Copy that," one of the technicians responded, "Atlantis out."
"Sheppard out." John turned away and started down the path leading from the gate, leaving the sound of the wormhole disengaging behind him.
"Do you think there could be Ancestor technology here we can use?" Teyla asked quietly. "It has been ten thousand years."
"Doubt any of it is in one piece," Ronon muttered.
"Just understanding how it works could allow us to reverse engineer it. All we need are pieces, functional or not," Rodney responded. "Besides, there's always a chance we could find a Zed PM."
"We already have one," Ronon answered.
"So then we'd have two!" Rodney snapped back. "One more and we could fly Atlantis again." He looked away from Ronon, apparently deciding not to acknowledge the Satedan's unimpressed grunt.
John stopped in front of the building Rodney had indicated and looked upwards, his gaze narrowing. Ten thousand years of exposure to the elements had taken its toll on the structure and, right now, John wasn't sure some of the ruins could stand a strong windstorm. He reached out, running his hand down a nearby column, pursing his lips as the surface crumbled under his touch. His gut instinct shouted out a warning to him. "I don't like this," he muttered.
"It's ten thousand years old," Rodney responded. "What do you expect?"
John turned and briefly eyed the doctor. 'It's pretty fragile." He swung back and flipped on the light on his P-90. Moving the gun in a large arc, he scanned as much of the interior as he could. Several large columns lay broken on the floor, while pieces of the ceiling ranging in size from a basketball to a small car were scattered around the room. From behind him, he heard a loud, impatient sigh.
"We're not going to learn anything from here!" Rodney prompted sarcastically.
John glared for a moment at Rodney. The doctor's expression abruptly cooled and he silently looked away. John resisted the urge to grind his teeth, partly from the uncomfortable strain between them and partly because he didn't feel like doing anything to ease it. The familiar note of discord sounded within him, but he stifled it and focused on the mission. Sighing quietly, he looked back through the open doorway. His instincts screamed at him not to go in, but his rational mind won over. If there's any chance there's some technology we can use… ."Okay, but nobody sneeze."
He slowly entered the building, the rest of the team right behind him, and carefully stepped over a large column to look up at the wide hole in the ceiling. Sunlight streamed through, creating a roughly spherical spot of light in the center of the dark antechamber. He squinted at the bright sunlight. "McKay?"
"Scanning," Rodney's answer was almost immediate. "Energy readings are pretty faint, but," Rodney pointed left and started across the large room, coming from that way."
"Hold on a second, McKay." John waved at the doctor before turning and looking at his other team members. "Teyla, Ronon, stay out here. We'll check in on the radio every fifteen minutes."
Teyla nodded once, but Ronon apparently wasn't so convinced.
"I should go with you," he rumbled.
John shook his head slightly. "Nah, you'll just get bored. We won't be long." He arched an amused brow at Ronon's shrug before he looked back at Rodney. "Lead the way."
He followed along behind as the doctor exited the antechamber through a large doorway.
"It's in pretty bad shape." Rodney flashed his light around, highlighting the cracks running down the walls, as they picked their way through debris and down a long narrow hallway.
"Yeah," John agreed. "So let's just find out if there is anything useful, and then get out of here."
"For once, I agree with you." Rodney looked up, his face lined with tension. "Confined spaces and I definitely do not get along. Especially nearly collapsing, confined spaces.…"
John managed to check his irritation. "I know that, Rodney." He let the silence linger for a moment as he stepped over a large chunk of carved stone. "Just… think about your work."
"Right! Thank you, Dr. Freud," Rodney snapped. He stopped abruptly and stared at the irritated expression on John's face. "Sorry, I uhh... that was out of line..."
John shook his head. "Just go."
Rodney looked at him for a moment longer before once again making his way down the hallway.
John's thoughts dwelled on Rodney's insecurity, and his own frustration, as he followed. He felt in limbo around Rodney: one minute trusting him, and the next not sure if he should trust him at all. John knew his own cold mood had done nothing to help the way Rodney had practically been walking on eggshells around him ever since Arcturus, but, damn it, Rodney's ego had nearly gotten them both killed! A cynical, half-ironic smile briefly tugged at John's mouth as he wondered why he missed dealing with Rodney's sour attitude. He focused his attention once more on Rodney's back.
Before long, the hallway widened into a small room, also littered with rubble.
Rodney immediately made a beeline for a partly concealed control panel on the other side of the room.
While Rodney scanned the panel, John looked around, amazed that the ceiling of this part of the structure was still intact. He eyeballed the cracked walls and disintegrating columns warily and then shook his head. He felt like he was standing in a house of cards…and someone was about to sneeze on it. "Rodney? Do me a favor and don't bump anything."
Rodney glanced over his shoulder, his gaze following John's to the closest pillar. His eyes widened momentarily, before he nodded slowly. "Uh…right." He turned back and continued examining the control panel.
John's headset crackled: "Colonel Sheppard, this is Teyla."
He reached up and pressed the call button on his radio. "Go ahead."
"Is everything all right?"
Even over the radio, John could hear the concern in her voice. "Yeah, we're good. McKay might have found something, but it's too soon to tell. Check in again in fifteen. Sheppard out." His gaze narrowed as he stared at Rodney's back. "Rodney? Anything?"
Rodney sighed. "Maybe. There's just enough power here to maintain the database, that's all."
John slowly crossed the room and looked over Rodney's shoulder. "That's all? Just the database?"
Rodney looked up. "Well, whoever lived here made sure to set up enough power to maintain this database for a long time. At least ten thousand years. There has to be a reason why." Rodney looked back down at the panel. "I just have to find the reason. And for that, I need more power."
John frowned. "Think you can do that without bringing the walls down on us?"
Rodney looked around. "If I only do a partial power up, yes. Full power would probably shake this place apart."
Hesitation flowed through John. "You're sure you can control it?"
"Yes," Rodney immediately answered.
The twinge in John's gut intensified as he cocked his head and stared at Rodney. Rodney looked away. "Okay, no, not a hundred percent sure. This equipment is pretty old. Anything could happen. But the likelihood is pretty low. Besides, without power, we can't do anything anyway." He looked back at John hesitantly.
John drummed his fingers on the console for a moment before nodding once, curtly. "Do it."
"Doing it." Rodney knelt and pulled off the cover of an access panel on the console.
John stepped away and walked along the wall, scanning his light over various control panels and artwork that surrounded him.
"Got it!" Rodney suddenly exclaimed.
John looked around as a few dim lights came on, casting an eerie faint yellow glow over them. He nodded to himself. "Good. What…?" His voice was cut off by sparks flying from the console. Abruptly, a vibration went through the wall as a whine from the control panel gradually grew in pitch. John stared at the cracks in the pillars. "McKay…?" His voice trailed off in the wake of a low rumbling sound. At first it was faint, and he felt it under his feet more than heard it, but the rumbling quickly gained intensity.
"Crap!" Rodney jumped back, shielding his eyes from more sparks. He risked a glance back at the console. "Manual override's failed! Power levels are rising to full capacity!"
John's head shot up, and he watched, wide eyed, as a crack in the wall before him expanded at an alarming rate. He ducked when a piece of the wall landed only a foot away from him and looked at Rodney, who stumbled back from the control panel. "Go! NOW!"
A falling chunk of stone slammed into John's shoulder and sent him staggering. Another one rolled into his legs and he was powerless to stop himself from falling. He struggled to stand, only to be hit in the back of the head and knocked to the ground again. He saw stars as he threw his arms over his head, trying cover himself as debris rained down on him.
It seemed like forever while he laid there, praying nothing large would land on him, powerless to do anything but flinch every time something hit him. It took a long moment before he realized the dangerous rain had stopped. Carefully, he pulled his arms away from his head and shook off the grime and small fragments of masonry that coated him . As he looked up, his lungs protested the thick dust in the room and he coughed loudly, sending a spike of pain through his chest and head. He carefully touched the back of his head, wincing as his had came away wet. "Damn it." He blinked hard, his eyes watering from the dirty air, and squinted around. It was pitch dark, and the cynical side of him couldn't believe that the ceiling still held together.
"McKay?" John coughed. "Rodney?" he croaked again. He listened in silence for a moment, waiting for an answer. When he didn't receive one, urgency gripped him.
He shifted his weight and pushed off a large piece of rubble resting against his side. He winced and groaned quietly as his left rib cage protestedat the movement but, after a couple careful breaths, decided the ribs weren't broken. Cracked maybe, but not broken. He gently poked at some tenderness in his thigh, reassuring himself it wasn't broken either. Miraculously, he'd managed to come through the ordeal relatively unscathed.
He cleared his gravelly throat and nce again called out to the doctor,only to be met with more foreboding silence. Coughing again, he pursed his lips and rubbed his eyes still trying to clear the dirt from them, as he slowly stood. He could tune out the pain from his ribs, but the tilting jar to his balance that followed refused to be ignored. His hand flailed, latching onto a piece of rubble, as he closed his eyes against the vertigo washing over him. Taking a couple breaths, he collected himself and overcame his nausea, before he slid his foot across the floor, relieved when his toe hit the hard surface of his P-90. He carefully bent over and grabbed the gun. Praying the light still worked, he flipped the switch and smiled briefly as a small stream of light cut through the dark, dirty air.
He scanned the light over the piles of rubble that surrounded him, momentarily amazed that he hadn't been killed. Then his gut clenched again, this time in alarm. "Rodney!" He called more loudly, provoking another coughing fit, while he looked around, intently searching for the doctor. Abruptly, his light caught on something and he froze. Protruding from a nearby pile of wreckage was a limp hand,pale in comparison to the dark jacket cuff that bordered it.
"Crap!" John struggled through the rubble to reach Rodney and called again. "McKay? Talk to me!" He lurched to a stop, his light following the arm back into the ruins to where he could just about make out Rodney's face through the dirt.
Setting his P-90 on the rubble, he dropped to his knees. He hastily cleared dirt from around Rodney's face. "Rodney! Can you hear me?" He threw aside a small chunk of rubble and pressed his fingers into the doctor's throat. "McKay! Wake up!" He briefly closed his eyes in relief as he felt the strong beat of Rodney's pulse. Holding the back of his hand close to Rodney's nose and mouth, he waited a tense moment before the faint warmness of Rodney's breath flowed over his knuckles. He reached for his radio. "Teyla, this is Sheppard. Part of the ruins collapsed. McKay's pinned and unconscious. Dial Atlantis. get Beckett and some help out here!"
"I'm on it." Ronon's terse voice cut in.
"Colonel? Ronon is returning to the gate as we speak to contact Atlantis. We heard a loud rumble even from here. Are you all right?"
John stared down at Rodney's unconscious face. "I'm okay." He coughed, turned and shone his light across the room. "Damn."
"Colonel?" Teyla's questioning voice answered him.
John shook his head at the massive twist of rubble that blocked their escape. "The entrance is blocked. We're definitely going to need some help to get out of here."
"I understand. I will contact you again when Ronon and help returns. Teyla out."
John sighed, and focused his attention back on Rodney. He shook his head in concern as he scanned the unconscious doctor. He couldn't see most of Rodney's legs, which were covered by a large column. Managing to worm his hand into the tight space between Rodney's legs and the column, he nodded in slight relief as he discovered that, as far as he could reach, the doctor's legs weren't pinned or crushed by the column's weight. Miraculously, it must've caught on something else, stopping it a hairsbreadth from landing on Rodney. The relief was momentary: he winced as his gaze travelled up Rodney's body to the unnatural bend in the doctor's left forearm. He finished his cursory exam by noting a large and rapidly discoloring cut that dominated Rodney's forehead, and which was still bleeding freely, obscuring the blood from numerous scratches on his bruised face.
John returned his attention to Rodney's legs. He carefully prodded the left leg, feeling for any breaks, before gently shifting it slightly. He pursed his lips as the leg refused to move, apparently trapped further down than he could reach. Not knowing the extent of Rodney's injuries, and not willing to exacerbate them, he relinquished his hold on Rodney's leg.
He swallowed hard against another a wave of nausea, before he squatted and slid his hands under the column. He grunted loudly as he tried to shift it but it was too heavy and refused to budge. Pain spiked through his left side again, and he hissed in response. "Damn it!" Dark spots danced through his vision, while his head pounded in splitting pain. Panting slightly, he let go and sat back.
He curled one arm around the left side of his ribcage and rested his other arm on his knees as he took a couple shallow breaths and bit back his frustration. He knew the column was most likely too heavy for one man to lift, but he still felt like his injuries were stopping him from helping his teammate, and that grated on him, leaving him with the bitter taste of guilt.
He looked down, his attention captured by a quiet moan. "McKay?" He watched as the doctor's face twitched and Rodney let out another soft moan. "Rodney?"
Slowly, Rodney's eyes opened, his expression groggy. "Wh… what happened?" He tried to move his arm and cried out loudly in pain.
His own arm pressed hard against his side, John knelt next to Rodney. "Take it easy. Don't try to move."
"Oh God," Rodney's face contorted in agony and he squeezed his eyes shut against it.
John pursed his lips and put a strong, reassuring hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Easy."
"Yeah," Rodney hissed through clenched teeth, "that's definitely broken…."
"Yep," John responded softly.
Rodney opened his eyes and stared up at John. "You could at least have the decency to be hurt," he snapped, before grunting against the pain.
John was surprised by the dark amusement flowing through him. For a fleeting moment, he welcomed the normal snappy reply, in spite of the circumstances. "I bruised my thigh pretty good, have a hell of a headache and probably a couple cracked ribs," he pointed out.
Annoyance flickered in Rodney's pained gaze. "Oh, that's great," he grunted. "I'm sure you're just going to… die on the spot!" He looked around, the annoyed sneer disappearing as something akin to fear took hold. "Wha…what happened?" he asked again.
John's gaze narrowed as he stared intently at Rodney's glassy eyes. "How much do you remember?"
Rodney coughed against the dust and grunted in pain. "I found the power source... then you shouting something about getting out of here." His eyes squeezed shut, his expression turning tragic. "Damn it," he muttered. "I did it again. It's my fault…."
As much as he wanted to blame Rodney for the situation, John's sense of fairness wouldn't allow it. "Not completely." He sighed. "You said there was a slight chance this could happen."
"Leave it to us to defy the odds," Rodney muttered. He shifted slightly and winced. "Maybe if I would've…."
"McKay," John cut him off abruptly. He waited until Rodney looked at him. "This isn't going to help us get out of here." He clenched his jaw and stared coldly back at Rodney's hesitant gaze. Unbidden irritation pushed at his control. A small part inside screamed at him to blame Rodney, never trust him again, boot him off the team…. John turned away from it and took a careful, deep breath.
"Right," Rodney responded quietly. He looked around again. "Care to fill in the blanks?"
John swept his light around the room. "It was some sort of collapse…."
Panic cracked Rodney's voice and John abruptly shone his light down again. "McKay…?"
With his good arm, Rodney pushed on the pillar trapping his legs. "You… you have to get this thing off me!"
John's irritation rose. Claustrophobia wasn't high on his list of desirable traits for a team member and that only further fueled his irritation. "Rodney, take it easy." He forced a measure of calmness to his voice, but the injured doctor would have nothing to do with it.
"You don't understand! We're… I'm… I can't get out!" Rodney's panicked voice rose with each word.
John's temper snapped. "God damn it, McKay! Get a grip!" As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them. He watched as Rodney's panic intensified, made worse by his anxiety over John's reaction.
"I… I'm sorry… I didn't mean to… I can't stay here! I…." Rodney's voice trailed off as he winced in pain, his breathing abruptly turning shallow and fast.
John leaned forward. "Rodney?"
"Please… get…me…out…of…here…," Rodney gasped, as any shred of calmness he had was utterly overwhelmed by terror.
Alarmed, John watched Rodney's condition deteriorate as panic settled in. Inwardly, he berated himself for letting his emotions get the better of him. Claustrophobic or not, Rodney had pulled their butts out of the fire enough times to earn a little leniency. John pushed his emotions down. With one hand, he reached out, grabbing the side of Rodney's face. "Rodney, look at me." His voice was firm, but calm. "Look at me," he repeated, his voice slightly louder. He held his intensity as he locked gazes with Rodney. "We're going to get out of here, but you need to get a hold of yourself and calm down." He held Rodney's attention until the doctor nodded slightly, the fear leaving his eyes.
"Right… of course. I just… have a problem with…."
John let go of him and sat back. "I know." He watched as Rodney again winced. "What is it?"
"Beyond the obvious?" Rodney snapped, somewhat back to normal.
"Yes." John stared at him. "How are your ribs?"
Rodney squinted at him. "How'd you know?"
"I've seen a few broken ones in my time. How bad?"
"Bad enough!" Rodney flinched again.
John arched his brows. "Then I guess you really need to stay calm, don't you?" He smiled cynically as Rodney glowered at him. Reaching behind his back, he grabbed his canteen, grimacing at the wetness his fingers encountered. Unhooking the flask from his belt, he brought it into the light and examined the hole in the now empty bottlecanteen. "Great," he muttered. He glanced at Rodney. "Yours?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "I expect the puddle I'm lying in means mine is about as well off as yours."
John stood and scanned the room. Debris lay scattered everywhere, and he was again amazed that either one of them were still alive. He paused in his scan, his light settling on the shattered console. It had taken a direct hit in the center, with pieces of the casing splintering under the impact.
He picked his way through the rubble towards it, all the while fighting a small smile at Rodney's normal snappy attitude. Injured and probably more scared than he'd ever admit, Rodney didn't have the extra strength to tread lightly with John, so he'd fallen into his normal behavior. In a way, John welcomed it. He relished the normalcy, but hesitation still haunted him, robbing the smile from his face. A part of him frowned on the shred of normalcy, and demanded that he deny it, and turn away from it… turn away from Rodney. He shook his head. Hesitation or no, he was determined not to let it show. Not now, not while Rodney's life could depend on his cool head. His well-practiced detachment took over and, like any career soldier, John pushed away his feelings and focused on the situation.
"Colonel?" Rodney's quiet voice drifted to John.
"Sit tight McKay, I'm investigating." John stepped over a large column.
"'Sit tight', he says," Rodney muttered. "Like I have a choice."
The sound of the Stargate activating distracted Elizabeth from her work. She rounded her desk and headed into the control room. Stopping next to one of the control consoles she looked inquiringly at Radek Zelenka who was seated behind it.
"Incoming wormhole," Radek confirmed. He glanced at a nearby and shook his head. "No IDC."
Elizabeth nodded once, curtly. "Keep the shield up." Her hand unconsciously found her headset when static briefly preceded a deep, determined voice.
"Atlantis, this is Ronon. One of the buildings collapsed and trapped Sheppard and McKay. We need some help."
Elizabeth's jaw dropped in shock for a moment, before she recovered. She glanced at Zelenka. "Lower the shield." Elizabeth tapped her radio call button. "Ronon, this is Weir. Are Rodney and the Colonel all right?"
"McKay's unconscious, but Sheppard's okay. He says their way out is blocked."
"Copy that," Elizabeth nodded. "The shield is down, come through."
"No," Ronon's response was absolute. "You know what's going on, just send help. I'm staying here."
Elizabeth arched her brows at his attitude. He hadn't been with them long, but she'd already come to realize that politeness wasn't one of Ronon's strong suits and he definitely had little use for command protocols. More than once, Elizabeth had let it slide, and this time was no different. "Copy that. We'll get things organized and send help as soon as possible. In the mean time let me brief Beckett and send him through immediately." She hardened her voice slightly. "Wait for him please."
"Okay," Ronon complied, his voice gruff.
Elizabeth smiled slightly despite the urgency she felt. "Thank you. Weir out." She waited a second before tapping her headset again. "Beckett, this is Weir."
"Yes, Elizabeth?" Carson replied casually.
"Carson, we have a medical situation off world. Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay are trapped in a building collapse of some sort. Rodney's unconscious but we don't know the extent of any other injuries right now. I need you geared up and in the control room immediately. Ronon's waiting for you on the other side."
"Aye," Carson responded, "I'll get a kit together and be right up. Beckett out."
Elizabeth looked down at Zelenka. "Radek, I trust you know what personnel we need to bring in on this?"
Radek nodded. "Yes. I will get them together in the conference room immediately. There are also some US Army engineers on the Daedalus. It would be helpful to bring them in as well."
Elizabeth nodded. "Inform Colonel Caldwell of the situation and request his assistance. I'm sure he'll help however he can." She smiled thinly at Radek's nod.
It wasn't long before Beckett, decked out in full off-world gear with a large backpack on his back, trotted into the gate room. He waved up to her and she nodded at the gate technician. "Dial."
She turned back, watching as the gate dialed and the wormhole flushed into existence. Her gaze fell on Carson in the moment before he confidently strode through the gate and disappeared. Her thoughts turned to John and Rodney and her mind begged for answers. How did this happen? Were they okay? Her grip tightened on the railing. She knew things had been tense between them since Arcturus. John seemed on the verge, more than once, of cutting Rodney off his team, but something always stopped him and she was glad for that. They'd worked closely for over a year, and while Rodney's attitude could drive most people crazy, John's laid-back manner seemed the perfect counter for it. It was an amazing, if not unusual, pairing, with each of them augmenting the other's strengths and that blend was something Elizabeth was reluctant to let die so easily. Not that she had any say in it, not really.
If Rodney regained consciousness, the two of them would have to put their differences aside and work together. Deep down, she hoped they could.
Ronon stood silently in front of the active gate. He glared once more at the wormhole, his irritation increasing. What was taking them so long? After seven years of running from the Wraith, he was, admittedly, short on patience, and who could blame him?
His mouth twitched as he fought a small, wry grin. A few months ago, he would've never seen himself allying with anyone. Being hunted by the Wraith, knowing that anyone around him would be in danger, had led him to be a loner. He was used to it, and in some ways preferred it.
But, then there was Sheppard and his people. They'd removed the transmitter and freed him, without demanding anything in return… except the safety of Teyla, someone he really had never had any intentions of hurting, unless forced to. They'd tried to help him get home, and when that wasn't possible, they never asked him to leave, never made him feel unwelcome. Yeah, he'd had a guard escort for a while, but that had never bothered him. He was a soldier. He expected that and approved of it.
And now, being on Sheppard's team gave Ronon a place to belong, and it'd been a long time since he'd had that. Ronon looked back at the wormhole as Beckett emerged.
"Ronon," Beckett nodded. "Dr. Weir briefed me on the situation. Where am I going?" He looked around, before looking back at Ronon.
"I'll take you," Ronon muttered, dubious of letting the doctor go anywhere on his own. He turned only to be stopped by Beckett's voice.
"Hold on. I can find it. Ye should stay here and help the rescue team when they come through. Dr. Weir and Dr. Zelenka are organizing a team right now, including some engineers from the Daedalus. Just point me in the right direction."
Ronon ground his teeth in irritation. "Doc…."
"Ach! Don't ye 'Doc' me," Beckett interrupted. "'Tis the right thing to do and you know it."
Ronon half sighed, half growled but acquiesced. "Straight down the path. You'll see Teyla."
"Aye." Beckett stepped around Ronon. "Thanks lad."
Ronon watched the doctor' retreating back. At first, he'd thought Sheppard's people were soft, even weak, but the more he was around all of them, the more he doubted it. He nodded slightly in approval, a small smile warming his features slightly. He was glad he'd been wrong.
His smile faded as his gaze settled on the not-so-distant ruins. More than once, he admitted to himself, he'd read Sheppard's people wrong, but this time, with the strain he could feel between Sheppard and McKay, he knew he was reading them right. The working relationship, the ability of each man to trust the other, was damaged; as a career soldier, Ronon knew the dangers of that. In some ways, Sheppard reminded Ronon of himself. A fighter, tenacious when he had to be and ruthless when needed; unlike Ronon, Sheppard was easy going most of the time. Didn't spend seven years running from the Wraith, or lose his home world and everything he loved to them…. But it was that easy-going attitude that kept Sheppard from outright killing McKay, something Ronon thought he might have done a long time ago without Sheppard there as a buffer.
Ronon's thoughts turned to McKay. Unlike with Sheppard, Ronon had absolutely nothing in common with the scientist. He was soft, mostly defenseless, and completely the opposite of Ronon. Yet, he was smart. Ronon ground his teeth. Damn smart. The one redeeming quality McKay had, and the one thing that kept him alive. Ronon sighed. Not to mention us…, he reluctantly conceded. McKay, for all his shortcomings, had saved their butts more than once.
Ronon paced. Once again he reflected that sometimes he just didn't get Sheppard's people. The strain between them was distracting, and Ronon chafed against it. Distraction got you killed. Distrust got you killed. Anything but absolute harmony in your team got you killed. He knew Sheppard knew that; they were alike enough that Ronon could be certain. But he was baffled as to why they didn't air it once and for all.
"Deal with it! Fight it out! But never let it fester, or you'll die from your mistakes, and so will everyone around you!"
Kell's words rang in Ronon's ears and he smiled a dark, malicious smile in response. Odd that he should remember Kell's advice, when he could still see his Task Master's dying expression.
Ronon allowed himself to look past Kell's deception and cowardliness to find the truth in what he'd taught in Ronon's younger days. Ronon briefly closed his eyes and let the memories flow through him.
The training sword was light in his hands as he squared off with Kell. Anger clouded his thoughts but he parried every blow Kell sent his way.
The Task Master stepped back. "You're not focused, Ronon." His gaze narrowed harshly. "Who clouds your mind?"
"No one," Ronon spat.
At that moment, Kell attacked and Ronon abruptly found himself flat on his back, with Kell's training sword at his throat. "A warrior trusts in himself first, Ronon. Give your trust cautiously, but when you do, give it fully. If it's betrayed, deal with it! Fight it out! But never let it fester or you'll die from your mistakes and so will everyone around you!"
Ronon's mirthless smile pulled him back to the present. Kell had betrayed his trust, and Ronon had dealt with it in the only way he knew how. His thoughts turned back to Sheppard and McKay. Killing McKay was out of the realm of possibility for Sheppard, but part of what Kell had told him still rang true. The distrust between them festered and would not go away unless dealt with. Ronon sighed. He wondered if either one would ever see that or do anything about it before it was too late.
John stopped before the console. He ran his hand over a large splinter of the casing about two inches wide and roughly two feet long. "Perfect, if there's another one…," he said absently.
"Perfect for what? You're not doing something stupid that's going to bring the rest of this building down on us, are you?" Rodney questioned.
"No, McKay, although I'm not the one that got us into this mess in the first place." John pulled hard on the splinter, only stopping when it cracked and came loose. He looked up, noticing the silence. "Rodney?"
"I'm fine…. Well, fine all things considered."
"Good." John reached under the shattered panel and jerked loose another piece, roughly the same size as the first one. He carefully made his way back to Rodney and knelt next to him. He set the two panel pieces on a nearby chunk of rubble and his P-90 next to them. Reaching into his vest pockets, he pulled out a sturdy roll of bandage wrap from one pocket and his Swiss army knife from another. He looked up to see Rodney eyeing the supplies suspiciously.
"That's not…?" Rodney started.
"I have to set your arm," John interrupted, leaning back on his heel and resting his elbow on his bent knee. "You know that."
"Oh…." Rodney's voice wavered, "Great." He turned his head away and closed his eyes.
John's gaze narrowed in concern. "Rodney?"
"I'm fine…." Rodney paused and then sighed. "Why do I keep saying that? I'm not fine. I'm having problems with the thought of excruciating pain."
John pressed his lips into a thin line for a moment. "It'll feel better when I'm done," he offered.
"Somehow, that's less than comforting right now," Rodney answered.
He stared silently at Rodney for a moment,until the scientist nodded. "I know. Has to be done."
John gave Rodney's good arm a brief squeeze of reassurance and nodded silently. He jumped as his radio chattered at him.
"Colonel Sheppard, this is Teyla."
John tapped his radio call button. "Go ahead, Teyla."
"Colonel, Dr. Weir is organizing a rescue team as we speak. Engineers from the Daedalus are being brought down to supplement the crew from Atlantis. They should begin arriving with equipment shortly. Dr. Beckett is here and wishes to speak with you."
"Copy that, Teyla. Put Beckett on."
"Colonel?" Beckett's voice held it's usual businesslike tone. "Are you all right?"
"I'm a little banged up, but okay. Rodney's injured though."
"Aye, I heard. Is he conscious?"
"Yeah, stand by." John looked down as Rodney reached up with his uninjured arm and tapped his radio.
"Carson? It's Rodney."
"Rodney, how are ye?" Beckett's voice was calm but serious.
"Been better." Rodney winced as he shifted against the rubble.
"Rodney, I need to know exactly what's wrong with you, all right?" Carson questioned. "Tell me what hurts."
"Everything!" Rodney snapped.
"McKay," John interrupted quietly. He hardened his expression and arched his brows slightly.
"I need ye to be a wee bit more specific, Rodney," Carson answered patiently.
Rodney stared at John for a moment longer before nodding. "My left arm is broken right below the elbow, at least I'm pretty sure it's broken…."
John clicked his radio on and interrupted. "It's broken, Doc."
"Do you mind?" Rodney glared briefly at John before returning his attention to the radio. "Sheppard has this notion that he's going to set it for me."
John made a face at the lack of trust in Rodney's voice but said nothing.
"Aye," Carson answered, "The Colonel knows what he's doing, and it needs to be done."
John smiled slightly at Rodney's glare.
"Fine," Rodney snapped. "My head is killing me and I think it's bleeding, but I don't know from where."
John interrupted again. "He's got about a two inch laceration on his forehead, Doc. Looks like the bleeding's stopped, but he's got a hell of a goose egg from it."
"Aye. He sounds lucid for now, but keep an eye on that, Colonel."
"Copy that," John responded.
Rodney winced again. "It hurts to breathe, so I think I broke some ribs… and I think my right leg is bleeding."
"What?" John sat up straight. "Why didn't you say something?"
"I didn't notice it until now!" Rodney shot back. "But… I can feel the blood." He blanched and let his head fall back against the piece of rubble behind him.
"Colonel," Carson prompted, "can you tell me how badly he's bleeding?"
John sighed and shook his head in frustration. "No. His legs are blocked by a large pillar. I tried to move it but, no dice."
"Rodney?" Carson asked. "Can ye move your legs?"
Rodney grimaced and then nodded. "Yeah, but something's got my feet."
"Colonel, is there any way for you to tell where and how bad he's bleeding?" Carson urged.
John sighed. The doctor sounded calm, but there was an added tension to his voice. "Stand by, Doc, I might be able to slip a hand under the column."
"Copy that." Carson responded.
John stood and stepped over Rodney. He knelt, wincing slightly at the pain from his ribs and placed a supporting hand on the top of the column. He closed his eyes for a moment as a wave of dizziness passed over him, before he glanced at Rodney. "You don't have any diseases I should know about, right?" he quipped darkly.
Rodney glared back. "Funny, " he snapped. "I should tell Carson about your ribs for that. Don't get fresh while you're down there."
John rolled his eyes. "You're not my type." He bent over and squeezed his hand between the column and Rodney's right leg. Carefully, he pushed his hand in further and made his way down Rodney's leg. Abruptly, his fingers encountered something warm and sticky. He frowned. "Found it." He felt Rodney flinch.
"Sorry." John pulled his hand out, and held it up in the narrow stream of light from his P-90. His eyes widened as he took in the amount of blood that covered it. He swallowed. He didn't need to see the gash to know it was deep and hadn't stopped bleeding. He looked at Rodney, whose gaze was fixed on his hand.
"Oh no," Rodney muttered.
"Take it easy, McKay," John answered quietly. He clicked the call button on his radio. "Doc? I found it. Pretty good sized gash above his knee, and its still bleeding."
"Can ye get a bandage to it?" Carson responded.
"Sort of," John sighed. "I could get one to it, but there's no way I can maneuver my arm to wrap a pressure bandage around his leg. All I can do is cover it."
"Aye," Carson responded, "do the best ye can, and get his arm set. Contact me when you're finished. Beckett out."
"Copy that, Sheppard out." John absently wiped his hand on his pants and reached into one of his vest pockets. He pulled out a thick bandage and glanced at Rodney's closed eyes. "How ya doin' Rodney?"
"Just peachy," Rodney muttered. "I'm going to bleed to death before they get us out."
John rolled his eyes. He's enough to try anyone's patience…. He pursed his lips and held onto his air of confidence. "You're not going to bleed to death." He knew his voice was slightly patronizing, but he continued anyway. "They're going to get us out of here and we're both going to be fine." He folded the bandage in half, trying his best to keep the wound surface clean, and slid his arm back under the pillar. The space was small, barely large enough for his hand to fit, much less have any room to maneuver. It took him a few tries, but finally he managed to twist his wrist and work the bandage open. Pressing it over the wound's surface, he elicited a hiss of pain from Rodney. "Sorry."
"Right." Rodney's voice was terse.
John stood, breathing lightly through the protest from his ribs. He took another shallow breath and stepped over Rodney so he could kneel and look at Rodney's broken arm. "We need to get that set." He allowed some compassion into his expression as Rodney clenched his jaw and nodded slightly.
"Why couldn't this be you? You handle pain much better than I do. I hate pain."
John carefully ran his hand under Rodney's wrist and slowly moved his arm into a position where he could set it. "And I don't?" he commented absently in response to Rodney's hiss.
"You're… military…." Rodney clenched his teeth. "You're… used to it."
John subtly tightened his grip on Rodney's wrist. "I swear, McKay, you and your ideas about soldiers." He shook his head. "Besides, you wouldn't have the stomach to do this."
"Now wait just a min…."
John quickly and firmly pulled Rodney's wrist and twisted. He clenched his teeth, trying to tune out Rodney's loud, agonized scream.
Rodney's yell died out, replaced by labored pants that were punctuated with grunts.
John held firmly to Rodney's wrist. "Take it easy, it's over." With his free hand, he grabbed the first splint and placed it, securing the top with the roll of bandage wrap. "Deep breaths. You're gonna be all right."
"Don't… do that… again," Rodney gasped.
John pursed his lips and secured the bottom of the splint. No matter how pissed he was at Rodney, he still felt compassion. Begrudgingly, he had to admit that under the circumstances, Rodney had taken his arm being set pretty well. "I won't. Promise." He grabbed the other splint and repeated the process, before sitting back and nodding in satisfaction. He took a moment to lay a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "We're done, Rodney."
Rodney's eyes never opened. "Good," he said quietly.
John clicked his radio call button. "Beckett, this is Sheppard. It's done."
"Aye, good." Beckett responded. "How is he?"
John watched Rodney for a moment before answering. "He's conscious, but not really up to talking at the moment."
"Copy that," Carson responded. "Watch him, Colonel and check in with me routinely. Oh, and it's best if he stays conscious."
John sighed. "Copy that."
"Colonel?" Teyla's voice broke in. "The engineering teams should be arriving soon. We will contact you when we know something."
John nodded to himself. 'Tell them to get a move on it," he replied.
"I will do so, Teyla out."
"Sheppard out." John reached up and switched off the light on his P-90, plunging them back into darkness.
"What? What happened?"
Rodney's voice reached John's ears. "Nothing, just saving the battery." He sat down and leaned his head against a piece of rubble. "Feeling better?"
"As opposed to feeling like you were tearing my arm off? Yes." Annoyance returned to Rodney's tone.
"Sorry. There's no nice way to do that," John responded. He heard Rodney's shallow sigh.
"But hey," John brightened, "the cavalry's comin'. Shouldn't be too long now."
"Then why did you turn off your light?" Rodney immediately answered.
"Dunno, must be the soldier in me," John quipped lightly.
Rodney's halfhearted reply put a worried crease in John's brow. His voice sounded flat, and the general tone of apathy didn't reassure John of the stability of Rodney's condition one bit. He let the silence linger a few minutes before lifting his head off the rubble he'd rested it on. "Look, McKay, Doc seems to think it's a good idea if you stay awake and talk to me."
"Yeah, well, Carson's a worrier," Rodney responded. "Besides, we don't have much to talk about these days."
John frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Please. Ever since Arcturus you haven't said two words to me… well out side of official business and this…."
John sighed, his pent-up anger pushing against his control. "Now's not the time for that, Rodney."
"Oh really? When is it the time? When we're back on Atlantis and you're avoiding me again? That is, if we even survive!"
"We're going to survive!" John raised his voice slightly. "Now knock it off!" He took a deep breath, grunting quietly as his ribs protested. He let his head fall back against the rubble behind him, wincing as his scabbed over wound met hard stone. He fought the low boil of his anger. McKay was reading the situation right and, inside, John knew it. Ever since Arcturus, he had been avoiding Rodney, not wanting to face the loss of trust he was struggleing with.
Carson's warning pierced John's thoughts.
… It's best if he stays conscious…
"McKay?" John ventured quietly.
John's brows furrowed at Rodney's short reply. "Just checkin' if you're still awake."
"Present." Rodney snapped.
John shook his head, relatively sure that one word replies from Rodney wasn't what Carson had in mind. He grimaced. "Look, I'm sorry for snapping at you." Silence lingered for a moment before Rodney responded.
"Huh. That's surprising."
John lifted his head. "What are you talking about?"
"You've been short with me ever since…. Well, why should this be any different?"
John gritted his teeth. "What do you want from me, McKay?"
"How about a chance to make up for my mistake?"
John's retort died on his lips. He lowered his head and remained silent. Sure, he was pissed, but the more John thought about it, the more he realized that his anger was more directed at himself than Rodney. But, he realized, he'd done a fair good job of taking that anger out on Rodney. For a moment, Rodney's insight surprised John. Then Rodney's voice grabbed his attention.
"It really is irresistible to me," Rodney said quietly.
John's brows furrowed. "What?"
"Technology… the opportunity for learning. You know, quest for knowledge stuff. I've always found it irresistible."
John's quiet grunt was non-committal. No kidding, McKay. You nearly got us killed over it…. Well, that and your damn ego….
"I need to know things, to understand things," Rodney continued, "to be able to explain anything. I just… I have to."
"Like Project Arcturus?" John ventured.
Rodney's voice grew quiet. "Especially Project Arcturus."