Stargate: Atlantis

The Enemy You Know


"Offworld contact!"

Dr. Elizabeth Weir swung around sharply at the announcement, coming closer to the gate tech.

"Teyla?" she asked tensely, and after a moment received a sharp nod in return. Weir tapped her earpiece. "Teyla, this is Weir, come in."

"We have found Colonel Sheppard," the voice of Teyla Emmagan was somewhat distorted, but intelligible. "We will need a medical team to meet us at the Gate when we arrive."

"Consider it done," Weir lifted her head slightly. "Carson?"

"Already on m' way," Carson Beckett's Scottish brogue answered her.

"Teyla, there's a med team on standby," Weir informed, and there was a long pause. "Teyla, Ronon. Do you copy?"

"…trying the…disable…getting to him…"

"Teyla, you're breaking up. Say again."

"Contact…reach Gate…"

"We've lost 'em," the tech reported the moment Weir glanced back at him, and she swore softly.

Long minutes passed, and Elizabeth paced slowly back and forth, glancing every so often at the Gate, waiting, willing it to activate and bring her people home. While she waited, there was a flurry of motion down below, Dr. Carson Beckett and his trauma team arriving with a gurney and emergency equipment. The Scottish doctor paused, looking up over his shoulder at Weir, a worried look that must have mirrored her own.

Suddenly the sound Elizabeth had been praying for came, the Gate sequence.

"Unscheduled offworld activity," the tech reported again; all protocol despite knowing it was most likely Teyla. "I've got an IDC…It's Teyla, Dr. Weir."

"Lower the shield! Let them in," Weir ordered anxiously, and she was already moving, leaving the control consoles and hurrying down the stairs toward the Gate. "And be ready to put it up the moment they come through! They may be coming under fire."

Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex all but ran through the event horizon, and the shield snapped up behind them, in time to block several blasts of fire.

"Sweet Mary mother o' God," Carson murmured.

Cradled in Ronon's arms as if he were no more than a child, lay the battered, bloodied figure of Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard.

"He's breathing and he has a pulse," Teyla informed quickly. "But he was unconscious when we found him."

"Dunna just stand there; get 'im over here," Beckett snapped, even though Dex was already carrying the injured Sheppard to the gurney. Carefully Sheppard was placed on it, and Beckett checked for himself that the colonel's life signs were stable enough to move him. "Let's go, people, now," he ordered and just that quickly the trauma team was moving.

Elizabeth turned to Teyla and Ronon, was slightly surprised to see Ronon swallow tightly.

"He's in good hands," she reassured instinctively, although her own worry had multiplied many times over. "You two did a good job."

"Not good enough," Dex grunted darkly, and folded his arms across his chest. Weir hesitated.

"Why don't you two come up to my office for a few minutes? It'll give us a chance to debrief, and give Carson some time." It was the last thing she wanted to do; she wanted more than anything to go straight to the Infirmary, but she also knew that the last thing Beckett needed was a half dozen people underfoot while he was trying to treat his patient.

"Ronon," Teyla simply spoke his name; it was her expression that did most of the convincing. With a sharp inhalation, Ronon finally uncrossed his arms and shrugged a bit, motioning toward Weir's office in acceptance.

The threesome climbed the stairs and made their way from the control room back to the office space that Weir had created during their time in Atlantis. Despite the urge to resume pacing, Elizabeth moved to her desk and sat down, and indicated with a gracious wave that the other two sit as well.

Ronon, however, was having none of that. He remained where he was; feet planted nearly in the center of the room, once again both arms crossing the broad chest. Teyla sat down across from Elizabeth, though, and Weir exhaled slowly.

"Let's start at the beginning," she finally said her tone deliberately calm. "How did you find him?"

Teyla shifted a little, reached into a pocket of her field jacket. Producing a field patch, she handed it over to Weir. It was John's shoulder patch and Elizabeth did not miss the bloodstain upon it.

"We found that upon one of them. Apparently he had been bragging about the Colonel's capture to some of his drinking companions. Ronon rather…persuasively convinced him to tell us everything he knew," Teyla said simply, without going into the details. Details that she was certain Weir would not particularly care to know.

"I…see," Elizabeth replied, grasping those details without them being spoken, and she flicked her gaze up to Ronon.

"We needed to find Colonel Sheppard. Our time was limited," Ronon did not elaborate further, but he had learned over the years that quite often explanations were an unnecessary waste of time. Weir frowned only slightly, but before she could respond, there was a flurry of motion behind Dex and then Dr. Rodney McKay was hurrying into the room despite sporting a sling on his right arm.

"I heard that Colonel Sheppard's been found?" the astrophysicist blurted out as he moved around Ronon to better see Weir at her desk. If not for the seriousness of the situation, McKay's nearly frantic expression would have been amusing.

"Yes, he has, Rodney," Weir answered first, understanding the scientist's anxious demeanor all too well. "He's been taken to the Infirmary."

"Thank God," McKay exclaimed, heeling around sharply in almost the same breath to leave, presumably for the Infirmary.

"Rodney," Weir's voice stopped him in mid-step and McKay turned around awkwardly to come back into the doorway. She exhaled slowly. "He's in bad shape."

"He is?" Rodney blinked several times, as if he had been spoken to in a foreign language, and he looked from Elizabeth to Ronon and then Teyla, both of whom nodded silently to confirm what he'd been told. "How…how bad is bad?" He stammered.

"We don't know. Yet." Weir folded her hands on her desk, again resisting the impulse herself to rush to the Infirmary. "I decided it would be a good idea to give Carson some room to work."

"Of…of course," McKay's gaze fell, his expression betraying the rush of thought that was going on in his mind. "Of course it is." The physicist swallowed tightly.

"How is the weapons upgrade going?" Elizabeth decided to distract Rodney's attention away from his anxiety, but he didn't respond. "Rodney?" She prompted.

"What? Oh," Rodney registered the question a half second later. "Oh, good. Better than good, really. The more we translate from that section of the Ancient database, the easier it's becoming." He waved his left hand dismissively. "I expect we'll have a working prototype in a few days."

"Weapons upgrade?" Teyla asked, drawn away from the matter at hand long enough to be curious.

"Yes, while you and Ronon were gone, I've had Rodney and Dr. Zelenka working on something we stumbled across in a portion of the Ancient database that might give the puddlejumpers a bit more bite," Elizabeth explained. Unspoken was the fact that it was mainly to give Rodney something to do, as a separated shoulder had prevented him from going with any of the search teams.

"The trick is going to be making it work without overloading the jumpers' power grid and rendering the cloak useless," McKay tacked on. "According to my calculations, we should be on track for that," McKay shifted uneasily. "I was going to have Colonel Sheppard take it up for a test flight."

"Well, that can wait. For now." Weir said gently, and Rodney nodded a little.

"I…I guess I'd better get back before Zelenka blows something up down there," he said awkwardly, and again started from Weir's office, only to pause and lean on the doorjamb. "You'll let me know…? How he's doing?"

"As soon as I hear from Carson. I promise," Elizabeth said firmly, and having secured her word, McKay was finally gone. She sighed softly, and looked back up to see the other two quietly watching her. "You two have had a rough time. Go get some rest, clean up. We can take this up again later. I'm sure it will be awhile before we hear anything on John."

A pair of reluctant nods answered her, but then Teyla and Ronon left as well, leaving Elizabeth to sit back in her chair with a long, slow sigh. After a few moments' thought, she forced herself to shift attention to some of the work waiting for her on her desk. An hour passed before Elizabeth could no longer stand it and she closed her laptop and made her way down to the Infirmary.

"Carson?" She spied the physician bent over a display, and crossed toward him, trying to resist the impulse to look around anxiously. Beckett straightened up, and his expression was solemn.

"Elizabeth. I was gettin' ready ta call for ye," the Scottish accent reflected soft concern. "We're doin' our best ta keep the Colonel stabilized." Beckett's voice took on a sharp, bitter edge. "The bastards beat 'im ta a bloody pulp!" Elizabeth could count on one hand the number of times she had seen the medical doctor so angry. It did little to calm the icy feeling growing in her stomach.

"How is John?" she asked directly, watching her head of medicine closely, and Carson's expression softened once again into gentle concern.

"I'm afraid his condition is critical," he finally answered with a soft sigh. "Colonel Sheppard suffered multiple traumas. He has a fairly serious concussion and five fractured ribs. Three were clean breaks and two are hairline. His abdomen is a mass o' bruises; it's a bloody miracle there's no indication o' internal bleedin'. He's got a bruised kidney, a fractured wrist, a sprained knee, numerous lacerations and contusions." After detailing Sheppard's injuries, Carson exhaled slowly, "And that's not the worryin' part."

"It's not…?" Weir echoed her tone disbelieving. Beckett shook his head just slightly.

"They injected Colonel Sheppard with some sort o' neuro-toxin; somethin' I've never seen before."

Elizabeth's brow furrowed in worry, "Interrogation drug?" she inquired anxiously. Carson's head tilted slightly.

"Aye, 'twas my first thought as well," he agreed. "Until he wakes up, though, I will no' know what kind o' damage they've done or how much."

The silence that fell between them was tense, and Weir folded her arms across her chest. Oh, John…what happened out there? "Bottom line?" she cut to the chase; she had to know. Beckett blinked, and then frowned.

"I canna tell ye," he admitted. "He lost a fair amount o' blood and the head injury is pretty serious. I dunna know when he'll wake up. If we can keep him stable, get him past the next forty-eight hours, I'll feel much better about his chances. But for now…he's pretty touch-and-go."

"May I…" Weir hesitated. "May I see him?" Beckett nodded and motioned for her to come along.

"Over here," the physician led Elizabeth back to an area set up for the most seriously injured or ill patients. Weir couldn't help the soft gasp she sucked in as they arrived.

John lay motionless in the bed, his face badly bruised. His right eye was blackened and swollen, his lower lip also swollen, and split. The dark head was bandaged and his left forearm was in a cast; the fractured wrist Elizabeth surmised. An oxygen mask covered the colonel's nose and mouth and both arms sported IV's. A nearby monitor beeped along with the rhythm of his heart.

Elizabeth slowly approached the bed, standing at its foot and swallowing hard. Beneath the bruises on his face, John was frighteningly pale. Quietly she reached out to briefly touch the covered feet. "You have to stay with us, John," she murmured, and then glanced over her shoulder to Beckett, who hovered nearby. "He looks like he's lost a lot of weight." she commented and Beckett nodded.

"A good ten ta fifteen pounds, I'd wager. I dunna think they were all that generous when it came ta food and water, either," Carson's tone was again taut. "He's vera dehydrated; I'm pumpin' the fluids in ta 'im as fast as his body can handle 'em."

Elizabeth frowned and turned her attention back to the unconscious Colonel. Even in this state, Sheppard's face was faintly pinched in a vague expression of pain. For a long moment the only sound between them was the beeping of the cardiac monitor and the faint sounds of breathing beneath the oxygen mask.

"I want to know when he wakes up," she finally said, softly, before facing Beckett. "We still don't know enough about what really happened out there."

"Aye, but 'twill be quite some time before he wakes, I'd imagine," Carson cautioned. "And when he does, I highly doubt he'll be in any condition for a debriefin'." Elizabeth tilted her head slightly, her bearing taut.

"I understand," she replied, but her shoulders remained tense. "Still, we need to investigate fully how and why this happened to John. I need to get to the bottom of this so that I never end up with another one of my people in this situation."

"I promise ye'll be the first ta know," the physician nodded. Offering Carson a faint, but grateful smile, Elizabeth glanced back once more at Sheppard's stilled features before leaving the infirmary. The further she got, the faster she walked; she intended to discover the motivation behind this attack on her team, and specifically, John Sheppard.

Teyla prowled around the sparring circle, rolling one of the fighting sticks over her knuckles, watchful, tense. Moving in even steps across from her was Ronon, his own sticks at the ready. Neither of them had felt like taking the break suggested to them by Dr. Weir, and had by mutual consensus come to the training room.

Neither combatant flinched, as they warily circled; when Teyla finally launched out into an attack, no flicker of motion, no expression in her eyes gave her away before coming at Ronon in a flurry of offensive maneuvers. Ronon in turn met stroke for stroke; the crack of wood meeting wood echoed in the room and was complimented only by soft grunts of exertion as they threw themselves into the match.

In a lightning quick twist, Ronon turned and grabbed Teyla's wrist long enough to fling her around and follow up with a string of blows of his own, that Teyla barely managed to repel. Each of them seemed equally eager to work off the tension that had built up over their search for and subsequent rescue of Colonel Sheppard.

At last Ronon managed to get under Teyla's guard and he landed a blow across her right forearm, her left side and behind her left knee in quick succession, causing her to stumble. He followed up with a quick jerk on the stick that landed her flat on her back. Unlike their first attempt at sparring, however, he simply backed off, allowing Teyla to scramble back to her feet. The tension, however, instead of dissipating, seemed to build as Ronon whirled around, launching into a series of his own attacks without giving her much of a reprieve.

For several moments they battled, Emmagan managing to hold her own despite Dex' superior height and physical strength. At last she managed to score a few blows of her own and then backed off into a ready stance. It was met by a frustrated, nearly feral growl from Ronon.

"Hold!" Teyla called out, backing up another step and lowering her hands, although she remained watchful; Ronon was still learning control over his battle tendencies. For a moment it appeared that he would move to attack again, but finally he simply hunched his shoulders and began to pace. The Athosian waited several moments before moving again, this time to put away her fighting sticks. "The idea behind this was to release our anger, not to build it," she explained as Ronon stopped pacing to stare. "I can see that is not happening here."

The tall Satedan resumed pacing, as if to wear the proverbial hole, and eventually he tossed aside the fighting sticks he held. They could be put away later; right now that was merely a nuisance. When nothing more was forthcoming from Teyla, he stopped again, looking up. "What?"

"Perhaps it would help if we talked about what happened," Teyla suggested, despite the fact that Dex was not well known for his communication skills.

"What good is that?" Ronon shrugged. "What's done is done. Can't change it." It was, perhaps, the longest string of voluntary conversation Teyla had ever gotten out of him. "Won't fix Colonel Sheppard."

"No, that is true," Teyla replied evenly, coming several steps closer to Ronon. "But it would allow you to come to terms with what has happened. Dr. Weir was correct in that this has been an extremely difficult time for us all." She looked up patiently into the fierce face of her teammate.

"I don't need to come to any terms. I'm fine," Ronon answered her gruffly. Shrugging aside, he moved past Teyla and stalked from the training room, leaving her to gather up the discarded fighting sticks. Bending down to retrieve them, Teyla exhaled slowly, thoughtfully.

"But perhaps I am not," she admitted aloud to herself, now that no one else was present. Putting away the other pair of sticks, she too exited the room and headed for her quarters. Dr. Weir might well have been right after all; maybe all she needed was some sleep.

For his own part, Ronon strode down the hallways, not particularly watching to where he was going, or particularly trying to avoid people in his path. A few toes were stepped on, quite literally, and a stack of three-ring binders went flying from somebody's arms, but he didn't feel like stopping. Nobody actually tried to make him.

The tall, muscular fighter finally stopped walking, and found he was standing a few feet away from one of the many balconies that overlooked the Atlantean ocean. It was one of Colonel Sheppard's favorite places to come and think, not far from the control center of the city. Hesitating, and glancing about, Ronon took the few steps necessary to come out onto the balcony.

The tangy scent of saltwater was in the air, and the breeze was just stiff enough to blow back a few of his heavy dreadlocks. Ronon stood stock still, looking out over the massive expanse of water, arms across his chest. The sound of the waves lapping up against the base of the city could be heard even up here. It would be dusk, soon; already the far horizon was hazier as this balcony was situated toward sunrise rather than sunset.

Despite the tension that seemed to almost physically emanate from him, Ronon realized he could see why the colonel liked it out here. There was something peaceful about the sound, the scent of the salt air. Slowly he uncrossed his arms and stepped further forward, resting his hands on the balcony's wall.

"No! No, no, no…if you run it like that, the jumper'll blow itself up before anything else. Run those numbers again…something's got to be backwards in there, like your brain," Rodney snapped, his good hand pointing to a set of computations on one of the computer screens.

"JÁ vůle ukazovat tebe kdo is dozadu, osel!!" I will show you who is backwards, jackass! The string of Czech that followed could only be even more derogatory, and McKay declined to ask for a translation.

"Yes, yes I'm sure that works for you," Rodney dismissed the incomprehensible rant from Radek Zelenka. "But what would really work for me is getting these figures right."

"They are right!" Zelenka's accented protest drew the attentions of the handful of scientists assisting them with the puddlejumper modifications. "It is you who are making the mistake here." Zelenka turned away to pick up several pieces of paper; as much as he relied on the computers there were just times that he needed to scratch his way through a problem with pencil and paper. "Borscht do mozeček!" Borscht for brains!

"I heard that," Rodney accused, despite having next to no idea what Radek had said.

"Look. Look at this," Radek pointed along a series of calculations. "That is the power curve from the drive pods. This is what we get when power is diverted. If we decrease the ratio any further…"

"Right, right, we run the risk of losing the cloak. I get it. But if we increase it as much as you're saying we should, we'll blow the freaking pods off. And what good will that be, hmm? Maybe if they're running a suicide mission!" McKay started to walk around Zelenka, but the Czech turned at the same exact moment, resulting in a minor collision. It was enough of one, however, to jostle McKay's injured shoulder, and his face scrunched up in a pained wince. "OW!" He exclaimed a few seconds later.

"I am sorry, Rodney," Radek apologized, his hand moving to Rodney's good arm to steady him. "Are you all right?" He watched, concerned, as Rodney slowly sat down on a nearby stool.

"I'm fine. Really. Just feels like my arm is about ready to fall out, but yes I'm all right, thank you very much," McKay muttered, before very gingerly adjusting the sling just a bit. Tiredly he reached up with his left hand and rubbed his eyes. "Look, Zelenka, just take a break, okay? Take off for a while. We'll get back to this later."

"Are you sure?" Zelenka asked, still hovering. "It is not that late, yet."

"I'm sure," McKay waved the other scientist away. "We've been at it all day, and I don't know about you, but being this brilliant makes me hungry. Go get some supper…do…do whatever it is you do when you're not down here. And no, I don't want to know about it." He turned his head slightly, directing his voice to the rest of the team. "That goes for the rest of you, too. Out, out, out."

"What about you?" Radek pressed, and Rodney resisted the impulse to shrug in the wake of the jarring his shoulder had just received.

"I'm just going to turn things off down here first, and then I'll worry about that," he replied, and got to his feet, moving to his own equipment and powering it down.

"Tomorrow morning?" the Czech confirmed, and Rodney nodded without looking up. "Good night, Rodney."

The small laboratory emptied out, and Rodney exhaled slowly as he moved about the room, turning off monitors and other equipment. Predictably his thoughts strayed and he scowled briefly at the sling in which his injured arm rested. He should have been out there, helping the rescue effort. The throbbing ache in his shoulder reminded him insistently why he had not been allowed. I really need to learn how to swear in Czech. Wonder if Zelenka would teach me?

Oddly enough, that single thought was enough to make Rodney chuckle briefly. You are tired, McKay if you're laughing about something that juvenile. He looked around the lab, satisfied that everything was where it ought to be for the night. His gaze fell on the sheaf of papers that Zelenka had dropped on the floor when they had bumped into each other, and he bent down to pick them up. At first he just gave the computations a cursory glance, when something caught his eye, and he wandered back over to one of the nearby stools and sat down.

The side notes in Czech were of little consequence as Rodney couldn't read them anyway, but the mathematics and graphs, formulas and other theoretical material were easily enough deciphered. Turning a bit on the stool to lay the papers out flat on a nearby table, he fumbled across the table with his good hand to pick up a pencil and another few sheets of blank paper.

"All right, then…let's just see who's got it going on here." After a quick look to make certain Radek had begun with the same starting information, Rodney settled down and soon the pencil was making quick scratches on the paper. One hour passed…then two. Partway through the second hour, Rodney powered up one of the data tablets to double-check some of his work. "Okay, wait," he mumbled to himself, tapping the touch screen and comparing the results with what he'd written out. Frowning slightly, he flipped through the papers Zelenka had left behind.

Not finding what he was looking for right away, the astrophysicist leaned back and absently tapped the eraser end of the pencil on the tabletop. He knew why he was still here; of course he did and it had absolutely nothing to do with proving or disproving Zelenka's conclusions or his own. It had everything to do with the avoidance of other trains of thought, particularly those revolving around Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. More to the point, the last conscious memory he had before waking up in the Infirmary himself. Sheppard, calling his name, with a sort of panicked undertone that Rodney couldn't recall ever hearing from him before. Rodney!

McKay's eyes narrowed in thought. "That must've been right before I passed out; he must've thought I was dead. Or going to be," he murmured, abruptly ceasing to tap the pencil and tossing it on the table. "I thought so too," he admitted to himself. Absently he reached up and carefully readjusted the sling strap resting on his good shoulder. Swallowing tightly, he reached for the pencil again and a fresh sheet of paper.

This was going to be a long night.

The infirmary was quiet. Quiet and softly lit as dusk began to give way to night, and the night watch began to take over for the daytime personnel. Aside from the Colonel, there were a few other patients. One of the Athosian children who had been brought over from the mainland, very sick, who had turned out to be in need of an appendectomy, and Kayla Miakis, a botany PhD who had joined the Atlantis expedition not long ago. Her condition was much improved after a cardiac event triggered by a rather…aggressive and poisonous vine on M6D-8R3. Carson had to admit that he was more than relieved that there had been no permanent damage to her heart.

A soft whimper drew Carson's attention away from the display he had been studying, and he looked up, instantly glancing over at John Sheppard, but the Colonel remained quite unconscious. A soft worried frown over his most critical patient gave way to an expression of forced calm as he made his way over to the bed in which the little Athosian boy lay.

"Wickley?" He laid a hand soothingly against the child's forehead. "Are ye awake, laddie?"

"Yes." The boy—only ten years old according to Halling—opened his eyes and looked up. "It hurts," he muttered. Carson smiled reassuringly at the child.

"It will be a wee bit sore for a few days, but I promise ye, it'll get better," he stroked his hand along the pale forehead. "I'll get a little somethin' ta make you feel better, all right now? And then ye need ta rest."

"I am thirsty," Wickley said next, and Carson nodded.

"Aye; that we can help too," he said and moved a few steps away to retrieve some water for the boy, and some mild pain medication. Coming back, he handed the two small pills to the child. "Ye canna chew 'em; I want ye ta swallow 'em whole with some water." Shifting the cup of water to his left hand, Carson slipped his right one behind Wickley's shoulders and very gently lifted him up enough to take the medicine before handing the boy the cup.

Wickley however hesitated, blinking. "What is it laddie?" Carson frowned slightly.

"What happened to Colonel Sheppard?" Wickley whispered softly. "Did…did the Wraith hurt him?"

Carson mentally kicked himself. When Wickley had been placed into this bed, it had been more of a matter of convenience in taking care of him. Carson certainly had not intended for the seriously injured colonel to be within view of the boy.

"Nay, laddie. The Wraith did no' do anythin' ta 'im, I promise." He shifted just slightly, partly blocking Wickley's line of sight and nodding toward the cup and pills the boy held. "C'mon now, take your medicine." After another moment's hesitation, Wickley obeyed; he did hurt.

"Will Colonel Sheppard get better, too?" the child asked after he had swallowed the pills and almost half the cup of water. Carson gently eased Wickley back against the pillow and brushed back the longish black hair that had tumbled into the boy's face. He felt his heart drop at Wickley's innocent question; the latest difficulty in treating the colonel revolved around trying to stabilize his heart rate. The concussion was severe enough that it could produce a slowed heartbeat. However, for reasons Carson had yet to pinpoint, John's heart was fluctuating between extremes and proving quite difficult to regulate.

"That's what we all want, Wickley," Carson gave the child his best bedside manner smile as he checked the young one's vital signs. "We're takin' extra special care o' 'im."

"He has to get better," Wickley insisted as Carson pulled up the blanket just a bit. "Colonel Sheppard promised to…" He paused, trying to remember the word. "Coach…coach us."

That caught Beckett's attention, and the doctor's eyebrows lifted slightly in curiosity, "Coach ye, now? What would he be coachin' ye for?"

"Something he called 'football,'" Wickley said with an excited smile. "He said there are enough of us to make two teams."

"Aye, did he? Well then, that'll be a sight ta see," Carson chuckled slightly despite his concerns over the colonel's condition. "But, laddie, 'tis one that will have ta wait until both o' ye are well. And that means ye need ta rest. Can ye do that for me?" He ruffled the boy's dark hair and Wickley smiled up at him.

"Thank you, Dr. Beckett," the boy remembered his manners.

"Ye are quite welcome, Wickley. If ye need anythin', Dr. Suhaila and I will both be here." Patting the Athosian boy's shoulder, Carson waited until Wickley closed his eyes before crossing back over to the monitor he had been studying. Checking it briefly, he walked around the table into the critical care suite.

The physician's gaze moved first to the cardiac monitor; he was pleased to see that currently John's heartbeat was approaching something a little closer to normal. Taking out his stethoscope, Carson leaned down and carefully listened to the colonel's lungs. So far there had been no indication of respiratory complications despite the broken ribs, and Carson was more than grateful for that. The last thing John Sheppard needed right now was more complications.

"Dr. Carson?" a lightly accented voice inquired, and Carson looked up from his check of Colonel Sheppard to see the slender, shorter figure of Dr. Suhaila, the head of Carson's night staff. Suhaila was a Malaysian born woman who had studied at St. Thomas Hospital in London as well as at Johns Hopkins and whom Carson considered extremely qualified despite her diminutive stature; she barely stood at five feet tall. But the Malaysian physician was adept at her work and had one of the best pairs of surgical hands he had ever seen.

"Good evenin', Siti," Beckett greeted her politely as he pocketed his stethoscope and checked the IV dripping into Sheppard's right arm.

"How is Colonel John?" Suhaila asked as she came closer. Her dark hair, which reached nearly to her waist, was bound in a single long braid down her back. "I was told only a minutes ago that he is rescued."

Carson felt a smile tease his lips despite the seriousness of the situation. Perhaps Siti's English wasn't quite perfect despite all her time in England and the States, but her skills more than made up for it. And she had the perpetual habit of addressing everyone by their title and given name, rather than their surname, which was somewhat endearing.

"He's still in bit o' rough shape, I'm afraid," he answered as he left John's bedside and joined the slender Malaysian. "But given the injuries he took, the colonel's a wee bit better off than I might've expected of 'im." The two physicians stood to the side as Carson updated John's chart and handed it to Siti. She skimmed through it, her dark head nodding slightly as she did so.

"What on the world did they do to him?" she muttered, clearly displeased with what she was reading. "Another galaxy maybe we are coming from but human is human. I will never get it why people do these things to each another."

Carson nodded his agreement. "Ye will get nary an argument from me there, lassie," he said emphatically, and he reached up to rub his eyes despite the fact that it wasn't all that late. "The cruelty of others never fails ta surprise me, no matter how often I see it."

"You should take a rest," Suhaila said, looking up from the handwritten notes Beckett had added to the margins of John's chart. A moment later, her dark brown eyes narrowed slightly. "Have you even eating today?"

"I had breakfast," Carson defended himself, but Siti's sharp gaze kept him pinned down and he exhaled a little. "Colonel Sheppard was brought in near ta noon and I dinna get a chance ta eat," he admitted.

"He will keep awhile with me," Suhaila challenged. "Go."

Carson hesitated. Heaven knew he was ready for a small break, but even as confident as he was in Dr. Suhaila's abilities, he was reluctant to leave Colonel Sheppard.

"Dr. Carson…" Siti said warningly, and Carson sighed.

"I promise, love, that I'll get somethin' in a little while," he said seriously. "Presently…I need ta stay right close." He hoped that the Malaysian would not misunderstand his motivations and was relieved when Siti gave in and handed back the chart. "Thank ye, Doctor. However, I think a little lad will be happy ta see ye the next time he wakes up," Carson indicated the bed in which Wickley dozed. "He's doin' quite fine. No indication o' secondary infection."

Suhaila smiled widely at that; when the Athosian boy had first been brought in, not long after dawn, she had not quite gone off duty. As she had grown up with several brothers and sisters, she had taken an immediate liking to Wickley and Carson had to admit, it was just the right sort of charm to help calm the rather sick and frightened boy.

"That is good," she agreed wholeheartedly. "Anything else you should telling me?" She glanced around as they stepped from the critical care suite and her eyes alighted upon the botanist a few beds away. "Dr. Kayla?"

"Resting comfortably," Carson was also pleased to report that. "Cardiac function is approachin' normal, respiration is good. Poor lass has had a nasty headache, but given the circumstances, I think she got off pretty easy. I dunna know how I'da gotten out o' that one with a five inch thorn in me chest." He exhaled in a long sigh. "This whole Pegasus deal is turnin' out stranger every day. A sentient plant…creepy bugs…creatures that suck your life away with their hands like drinkin' soda through a straw…" Carson shook his head slightly. He could not have explained exactly what it was that continued to draw him to Atlantis if someone asked. Examined from such a stark viewpoint as the dangers he'd just mentioned, one might certainly consider him a bit off his rocker, but Carson also realized there was so much more to it than that.

He could not deny that despite disliking Stargate travel itself, he still felt a sort of professional awe to be part of something this historic, this grand, even if the at-large population of Earth was unaware of it. Of course, it also had a great deal to do with the growing cohesion and camaraderie among the expedition members. Despite a few personality quirks and some rough starts, the operations of the Atlantis base were becoming a little more routine and a little less desperate. This, Carson had to admit, was a good thing given that one never knew when they'd be faced with, say, a sentient hunter-plant with five-inch thorns and the capability to stop one's heart.

Or a terrible beating at the hands of one's abductors.

"I am over here if you needing me," Dr. Suhaila was saying, and Beckett blinked himself away from his rambling train of thought.

"Aye, that'll be just fine," he acknowledged, well aware that the Malaysian woman was watching him with a somewhat mothering expression. "I'm all right, lass. Just thinkin'."

"Got it," Suhaila replied with a slight shake of her dark head, and walked away to look over Dr. Miakis' chart. Beckett watched her go, and then glanced back toward his most worrisome patient. His expression settled into a concerned frown as he returned to the diagnostic display where he had spent most of the afternoon.

Sitting down, he tapped the screen and returned to his current task, trying to pinpoint the key identifiers that would allow him to hopefully create a treatment for the toxin that had been given to Colonel Sheppard. Despite not having enough information—he really needed John to wake up so he could gauge what sort of harm it had done—Carson was gleaning what he could from a blood sample taken earlier. It was entirely possible however that the toxin, rather than the head injury, was keeping the colonel from regaining consciousness. Neither option particularly suited the physician; both had their dangers. Still, all he could do was be patient, and wait for John to awaken. That, and work.

And pray. Carson could very nearly hear his grandmother's voice actually say it. He was not necessarily that much of a praying man, but had been raised Scottish Catholic and his grandmother, bless her soul, was fairly devout. Almost instinctively, Carson began to recite under his breath, "Hail Mary, full o' Grace…"

It couldn't hurt.

Elizabeth leaned back in her chair, rubbing her eyes and then her forehead in slow succession. She had spent the last several hours debriefing the remaining search teams upon their returns to Atlantis, in hopes of gaining any other intelligence that might help with the investigation into the events surrounding John's capture. She had followed that with a review of mission reports submitted by the various team leaders after each operation.

That meant, she realized suddenly, it was now very, very late. Despite the fact that her mind had not stopped racing the proverbial mile a minute, she was abruptly tempted to fall asleep right here in her chair. After toying with that idea for a few brief seconds, Elizabeth forced herself to sit up straight and take a deep breath.

Weir knew she should sleep. Knew it would not help John Sheppard a bit if she ended up exhausted herself, but somehow…she couldn't let herself give in to the temptation to find her pillow. Drawing in a deep, fortifying breath and releasing it slowly, she returned her attention to the screen where she had been reading the mission log turned in by Major Lorne.

Suddenly, with the abrupt flash of mental clarity that comes to the adrenaline-driven, Elizabeth realized why she would not sleep tonight, and she nodded to herself slightly. More than just worry about Colonel Sheppard, or any of her other people, it was the simple knowledge that, were their positions reversed, John would not sleep either.

"It's my understanding that your office is the last best hope for a cup of coffee this late at night."

Elizabeth glanced up and blinked, startled, at the familiar voice from the doorway.

"Colonel Caldwell," she greeted, her forehead drawing itself into a frown of confusion. "What are you doing here? I thought the Daedalus wasn't due back here for another two weeks." Caldwell shrugged slightly as he stepped through the door into Weir's office, and settled down into a chair opposite her.

"Well, we completed our repairs earlier than anticipated, and the SGC considered it prudent to send us back your way with a supply run," his answer was simple and straightforward. "And…to give you an enhanced military presence considering your…situation."

Weir's eyebrows shot up at that. Tact, whether it was actually attempted or not, did not wear well on the commander of the Daedalus.

"Situation?" She leaned back again and regarded the Colonel frankly. "Just what 'situation' would that be?" Elizabeth knew she was spoiling for an argument, but at nearly two AM Atlantis time, she wasn't in the mood for any false pleasantries.

Now it was Caldwell's turn to look a little affronted. "One of your people goes missing—not just anyone, mind you but your ranking military officer—and you're asking me what situation? Come on, Elizabeth, we're both adults here. There's no reason to treat me like a ten year old."

"Then perhaps you should stop acting like one," Weir shot back, a little heat in her voice now. "Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of you breathing down my neck every time something happens with Colonel Sheppard."

"Frankly, the SGC is a little tired of 'something happening' with Colonel Sheppard every time they hear from you," Caldwell replied calmly, and simply held her gaze. Elizabeth leaned forward.

"Well for your information, Colonel Caldwell, Colonel Sheppard has been rescued."

"Good for Colonel Sheppard," Caldwell said dryly, and then inclined his head slightly. "But is it good for Atlantis?"

Weir exhaled slowly, working to maintain her composure. "I suppose you're about to tell me just what is good for Atlantis."

"Tell me this," Caldwell leaned forward now, one hand on his knee. "Do you know why he was taken in the first place? Stop and think about it. As your ranking officer, John Sheppard has access to Atlantis' strategic information including weapons, tactics and defenses. Until you can account for what happened to him and why, I don't think we can sit here and be all comfortable about it."

Elizabeth drew in a measured breath. "You think I haven't thought about that already?" she replied evenly, "Atlantis is my responsibility. You bet I've thought about it. But I also have a responsibility to my people, and you and I both know that John Sheppard is one of the best I have. I am not going to sell him out for the sake of your ambition."

"We're not enemies, here," Caldwell's jaw tightened slightly. "In case you've missed it we're on the same side. Whatever my ambitions may or may not be, they have nothing to do with this. The security and defense of Atlantis does. The SGC agrees. And that's why I'm here. To investigate exactly what happened and take the appropriate course of action."

Elizabeth's shock was ill concealed, and she knew it. She gaped at Caldwell momentarily before regaining her equilibrium. "We've already begun an investigation," she defended, and Caldwell nodded in a conciliatory manner, knowing he had caught her off guard and rather pleased with himself.

"I expected that you would. We can work together on this, Doctor, or we can work apart, but be aware that the SGC has requested this inquiry. I'm sure you can understand that it's in the best interests of both Atlantis and Colonel Sheppard that we cooperate with each other."

Elizabeth bit back a sharp response, and leaned her elbows wearily on her desk, thumb and forefinger pinching the bridge of her nose to stave off the headache she felt coming on. "It's two-fifteen in the morning, Colonel. Do you mind if I cooperate later?" The sarcasm wasn't lost on the colonel sitting across from her, and he reacted with a slight lifting of his eyebrows.

"That's quite acceptable, thank you," Caldwell kept his tone calm, watching Weir closely a moment before getting up from the chair and starting for the door. "I know you don't like this and I can appreciate that. My purpose here is not personal." He paused in the doorway much as he had upon entering, and glanced back. "Whether you believe that or not is none of my concern, but this investigation is. I'm not willing to sell out Atlantis for the sake of any misplaced loyalties."

Before Elizabeth could deliver a scathing retort, Caldwell was gone, and she simply shook her head. Despite Caldwell's assertion that this was not to be taken personally, she was smart enough to know when her toes had been stepped on. This was something she intended to take up with the powers that be; if that meant going over the head of the SGC to call in a few political favors, then so be it.

If Caldwell came here to play hardball…well, then, all right, Elizabeth mused. I can swing a bat, too.

Realizing that there was little more to be accomplished by sitting there and stewing over Caldwell's 'investigation,' Elizabeth tried to refocus her attention on her own efforts. Returning to the mission summary on her screen, she began to read again. Before long, however, the words began to blur together and she had to stop.

Picking up the mug nearby, Elizabeth absently swirled its contents briefly before taking a sip. The coffee within was still fairly warm, if not hot and so she didn't mind it much and drank a little more. Leaning back in her chair once more, she rubbed her forehead and stared tiredly at the computer screen without distinguishing any of the words. Her sight was turned inward, and what she saw was John's bruised, battered body lying in that bed in the Infirmary.

"Well it's pretty obvious to me, anyway, that these people have done whatever they can to survive after the Wraith cullings," John declared as he shifted a bit in his seat. "I think we can establish relations with them, maybe do a little trading. Their leader, Yin'e, seems to be very open."

"…But?" Elizabeth could sense rather than actually hear the hesitation in the colonel and she had learned rather quickly to trust his instincts. She knew she was right as Sheppard moved again in his chair, this time somewhat uneasily.

"Well…" he sighed softly before continuing. "There is this little matter of convincing the rest of his Council that it's a good idea. Seems they're a little suspicious of outsiders, that kind of thing."

"After centuries of culling by the Wraith, can you blame them?" McKay piped up from the other end of the table. "Hate to tell you, Colonel but that charming smile doesn't work on everybody, y'know."

Sheppard grinned mischievously and leaned closer to Weir, but spoke just loudly enough for the rest to hear, "He's just jealous 'cause Yin'e's daughter ignored him the whole time."

On John's other side, Teyla bowed her head slightly, trying to hide a smile but was not completely successful. Ronon just looked on impassively, but he did raise his eyebrows a little when John looked his way.

"Jeal—you're dreaming, Colonel," McKay sputtered, and John just leaned back in his chair, grinning the grin of the self-satisfied. Weir just shook her head.

"Not to interrupt your egos, gentlemen, but can we get back to the matter at hand?"

John dropped the grin, and sat up again, leaning his arms on the table.

"I think we should go back," Sheppard recommended firmly, a slight nod backing up his words. "It would gain us another ally and I don't think I need to make a really big pitch for that."

"I agree with Colonel Sheppard." Teyla put in now, glancing at the others. "The Isturans may be wary but I see the same potential for good relations and mutual aid for us all."

"The more, the merrier…" Rodney remarked with a slight shrug. "I don't think they have anything of technological merit to put on the table, but I suppose a Wraith culling every few centuries would make it difficult to climb out of the Stone Age."

"I'm sure they'd appreciate your vote of confidence Rodney," John's expression was as deadpan as his tone of voice, and this time it was Elizabeth whose expression was somewhat amused, but she then turned to Ronon, who had hardly spoken the entire meeting.

"What do you think, Ronon?" she prodded, hoping to glean whatever point of view the former Wraith "runner" might have to offer.

"Dunno. Seems okay," He shrugged a bit, but there was a fleeting expression of discomfort that crossed his features. "I don't like it," he finally declared, which took John by as much surprise as it did Elizabeth.

"Anything in particular you don't like?" Sheppard asked guardedly and Ronon exhaled before shifting and tossing something out into the middle of the table.

It was one of the photographs of John Sheppard that had been distributed by the Genii throughout the near side of the galaxy, inscribed in several languages as a 'wanted poster' of sorts. Elizabeth exhaled sharply and leaned back a moment before glancing at Sheppard.

"Do you still think it's a good idea to go back?" she asked pointedly.

"I should have stopped it there," Weir murmured to herself very softly over the rim of her coffee cup.

John, with his usual boyish charm, had pressed for their return, and Ronon confirmed that the picture had been the only one he'd encountered during the handful of visits made by reconnaissance teams. As the discussion continued, John defended his position by declaring that if they started tiptoeing around because of the Genii, they might as well pack their bags, go home and wait for the Wraith to show up.

While Elizabeth had agreed with the colonel—and still did, for that matter—she could not help but wonder briefly if Caldwell's mandate from the SGC was justified. She couldn't deny that she felt responsible for what had happened. And it was not the first time her leadership had been called into question, either, given the detailed and nauseating reports filed by Kavanagh with the SGC.

Swallowing tightly, Elizabeth set aside the coffee cup and rubbed her eyes with both hands. Well one thing was for certain. She made her decisions with the greater interests of Atlantis as well as her people in mind. If the SGC couldn't—or wouldn't—accept that, she would have to live with the fallout, but she would not just lie down for it. She intended to unravel this herself.

Reaching over, Elizabeth closed down the laptop. All of it would have to wait for later; whether she slept or not, her mind was not making much sense of any of it at the moment. Rising to leave, she closed her eyes briefly in self-recrimination. After having promised to let Rodney know about any update on John's condition, she realized that she had forgotten it completely in the focus on sifting through the information from the search teams.

Slipping from her office, Weir headed off toward the research lab that Rodney McKay nearly regarded as a second home. Certainly there would be no logical reason for McKay to still be working, but given the current circumstances, she rather highly doubted he was asleep, either.

Ronon's head jerked upright, and he blinked, momentarily disoriented. He had settled onto the floor of the balcony some hours ago, sitting and staring until the night had grown dark enough that he couldn't see beyond a few inches. He did not know what time it was, although that didn't greatly matter.

Blinking again, he realized he must have dozed off, despite the restlessness that had plagued him from the moment Colonel Sheppard had gone missing. The sound of the ocean below could be hypnotic, and he must have been tired enough to be lulled by it. Stretching slowly, almost like a cat, the tall Satedan climbed to his feet, a deadly sort of grace even in getting up.

The activities within the control center were muted, like the lights. The night watch had long settled into their routine, and there were only a few people visible as Ronon stepped into the hallway from the balcony. The breeze had grown a bit chillier as he'd slept; he could feel it at his back although he did not shiver.

His gaze roved around the area, taking in who was on duty. He still did not know all the people under Colonel Sheppard's command but many of the faces were now familiar, and he was growing accustomed to the indications of rank among them. Movement caught his attention to his right, and he saw Dr. Weir making her way into one of the hallways leading out of the control tower. From the appearance of all around him, Ronon concluded the hour was much later than normal for the expedition leader.

Perhaps she was restless, too.

His stomach growled unexpectedly, and Ronon realized that he had not eaten all day. The search for Colonel Sheppard had taken precedence over breakfast, and after his rescue, food had been the last thing on Ronon's mind.

Easing into the hallway, he went back the way he'd come, only this time walking a little slower and without the amount of traffic coming the opposite direction. The quiet was eerie, almost, something that as a "runner" he had hated with a passion. The stillness that meant death could be sneaking up on you in your sleep. At least with a fire, there had been the crackle of flames to keep him company in some of the more desolate places he had holed up in over the years. Atlantis, this late at night, was nearly silent and with that silence, Ronon could almost feel the hairs stand up on the back of his neck, as if he still half-expected a Wraith to come around the next corner.

Not that he would have admitted it to anyone…except perhaps a certain Lieutenant Colonel who had gained Ronon's trust faster than anyone—including himself—would have thought possible. Sheppard seemed to almost instinctively understand him, and Ronon appreciated that considering that the rest of the Atlantis personnel were still trying to figure him out. It suited him, usually; he would prefer not to reveal too much of himself. It made him vulnerable, and the one thing Ronon refused to be was vulnerable. Yet he did not get that feeling from John Sheppard. The colonel didn't patronize him, for one thing. Better yet, Sheppard had accepted him as an equal; a comrade in arms, right from the start and that too suited Ronon just fine.

The long strides abruptly stopped; however, as Ronon realized that instead of to the mess hall to see if anything was still available, he had unconsciously wandered down to the infirmary instead. He hesitated for several moments before finally stepping quietly into Dr. Beckett's domain, a place he'd normally avoid at all costs.

"Ronon?" Carson approached with a slight frown upon his face. "Are ye feelin' aright? What brings ye down here so late?" The Satedan hunched his shoulders a little.

"How is Sheppard?" he finally asked, as if it was being pulled from him. The Scotsman nodded a little, as if having expected that to be the real reason for Ronon's appearance.

"Still unconscious, I'm afraid," Carson answered now, motioning for Ronon to come along. "He was hurt vera badly, as ye well know." Ronon grunted slightly; the physician had touched on the current of anger that he continued to harbor toward Colonel Sheppard's captors. "'Tis a good thing the two o' ye found him when ye did; another few days would a' killed 'im for sure."

Beckett's assertion caught him off guard, and Dex looked up sharply as if to ascertain the truth of the physician's words. He'd known the moment he and Teyla found the colonel that the beating Sheppard had taken was bad, but somehow he'd missed just how close a thing it had been. "Seriously?" He knew it sounded ridiculous; there was no reason for the doctor to exaggerate. He simply did not know what else to say.

"Aye; I'm convinced, Ronon. Ye saved his life," Beckett said firmly as he stood aside to allow the taller man access into the critical care suite. The Satedan frowned slightly as he passed by the doctor, his mind chewing over that bit of information. He was not as certain as Beckett seemed to be of the merit of their actions; Colonel Sheppard should never have been taken in the first place.

The frown deepened as he came to stand near Sheppard. The stillness was the first thing that struck Ronon as he looked down at the bed. Like the silence of Atlantis at night, the sight of the colonel's motionless form was unnerving. Ronon noted the stark bruises, realized how much darker they looked now that Sheppard had been cleaned up. The lack of light in Sheppard's containment cell, along with the dirt, had hidden some of them.

"Here!" Teyla hissed sharply. "He's in here!"

Ronon hurried down the dank underground hallway, to the holding cell that contained John Sheppard. "Keep watch," he grunted as he set about finding a way to circumvent the security seal and containment field that separated them from Sheppard.

Teyla nodded with her P-90 held at the ready and her senses alert. Still, she could not help but glance back over her shoulder every so often as Ronon worked, worry clearly displayed in her features. As quickly as Ronon tried to dismantle what seemed to be the miniature field generator in the wall, he too could not help but look at the object of their rescue effort.

Sheppard was lying on his side, facing away from them. He was curled in on himself, one arm cradled around his stomach. His hair was longer, and matted in places. Even through the energy field that held Sheppard prisoner, Ronon could smell sweat and blood, along with other, more unpleasant, odors. He could feel his fury rising as he worked.

"Hurry!" Teyla urged as she looked over. "We do not have much time." She tapped her earpiece, using the relay signal through the Stargate to contact Atlantis, "Atlantis Base, this is Teyla Emmagan, come in."

"Teyla, this is Weir, come in," Weir's voice came back over both their earpieces.

"We have found Colonel Sheppard. We will need a medical team to meet us at the Gate when we arrive."

"Te…ed…team on standby…" Weir's voice crackled a bit as the planet's natural magnetic field caused some disruption. "Teyla, Ronon…copy?"

"We are trying to reach the Colonel, Dr. Weir. Ronon is attempting to disable the energy field that is preventing us from getting to him."

Ronon did not add anything; he simply continued to work. A shower of sparks and a green arc of energy jolted the Satedan, staggering him back several paces. Anyone else would have been immediately dropped, unconscious or perhaps even dead; Ronon simply shook his head a little, blinking a bit to clear his vision. He vaguely heard Teyla asking if he was all right.

"Fine," he grunted as he shook his head again. "It's rigged to deliver a charge if tampered with."

"They will know we are here!"

"They already do," Ronon spit back. "This was done knowing we would come for him." He simply drew his weapon, and aimed at the offending mechanism. There was not enough time for finesse. Likely whoever was watching this cell was already on the way. The field crackled, then dissipated and Ronon charged into the small room.

Ronon was already kneeling beside the semi-conscious colonel when Teyla entered the cell, still keeping her weapon at the ready. "John?" Teyla said anxiously, dropping to one knee briefly to press the fingers of her free hand to Sheppard's throat. "He is alive," she breathed out, relieved, but immediately stood up again, both hands on the P-90.

Ronon could see fresh blood in various places, dried blood in others, including some of the matted patches in Sheppard's hair. The colonel's black tee shirt was ripped and stained, and his face tight with pain. His head rested on his left arm, which stretched away from him, the hand lying at an odd angle. His right arm was wrapped protectively around his midsection, and through the torn shirt deep bruises were visible; it was no wonder that Sheppard was holding his stomach.

Impulsively he laid one of his large hands on Sheppard's forehead; he was startled when the colonel sluggishly flinched. A faint, but very painful sounding groan followed.

"We are getting you out," Ronon promised the battered man, although he could not be sure Sheppard could hear him, let alone understand him. Carefully Ronon worked his arms beneath Sheppard's back and beneath his knees. Another very faint—but slightly more urgent—cry of pain emerged as Ronon began to cautiously move him. Abruptly Sheppard went limp, the pain overwhelming his last shred of consciousness.

Ronon nearly cringed as he made his way to his feet, bearing the colonel in his arms. Despite being careful, he had felt broken bones shifting in Sheppard's ribcage. It was also more than apparent to him that Sheppard was far too thin; it was a much simpler thing to lift him than Ronon might have otherwise expected.

"Get back!" Teyla yelled suddenly, darting into the hall briefly to exchange fire with whoever was coming down the hall. She ducked back in, glancing at Ronon and his unconscious charge before running back out and firing again. This happened once more before she called "Come on! We must get him back to Atlantis."

"Ronon?" Carson's hand was on his forearm, Ronon suddenly realized, and he glanced up, somewhat annoyed. "I lost ye for a spell. Are ye all right, honestly now?"

"He was too light," Ronon explained, his attention focused back on the unconscious figure before him. "It was too easy to lift him." Carson seemed slightly startled that Ronon would answer him at all, let alone with something like that, but the physician nodded sympathetically.

"The important thing is that ye got him here, son," Carson said quietly, but emphatically. "Ye did ye'r part, and I swear ta ye that we're doin' ours." Ronon looked at the physician, taking stock of the shorter man's earnest expression. He nodded shortly after a moment, indicating he trusted Carson's word.

"Take care of him," Ronon's charge was both gruff and direct, and then the Satedan did something he had never shown another living soul in Atlantis. He curled his fingers into a loose fist over his heart, and after a short pause, moved his hand palm out to rest carefully against John Sheppard's chest. It was a gesture of kin among his people, or more often, a sign of respect between soldiers fighting the Wraith.

It had been a very long time since Ronon had felt like he knew anyone worthy of that respect. Standing here, next to the first person in years who had invested time and trust in him, Ronon vowed silently that he would not fail that trust again as he gathered his hand back up to his own chest in tight fist. Without another word, Ronon slipped past Carson and strode from the infirmary, leaving the doctor to wonder at what he'd just witnessed.

Teyla turned over restlessly, seeking a more comfortable position on her bed. She was learning to master the disturbing connection with the Wraith; the nightmares did not plague her as they once did. No, these dreams were much different in nature, though no less unsettling.

At last Teyla simply opened her eyes, staring into the darkened room around her. Each time she closed her eyes it seemed, she was confronted with nightmarish images of John Sheppard's battered body lying in that stark, cold cell. Her mind even went so far as to manufacture his attackers, although her dream did not reveal their faces; she could only see merciless hands reaching menacingly.

Teyla rolled over now, lying on her back and staring upward briefly before reaching for the small lighting device of her people, igniting a nearby candle. It cast a warm glow about her room, and she watched the small flame flicker along, allowing it to calm her thoughts in the aftermath of the chilling dream. Relaxing at last, Teyla sat up, drawing her knees up and clasping her arms around them.

After all she had seen at the hands of the Wraith, all she had seen in her life, Teyla could not have said what it was in particular about John Sheppard's situation that so deeply affected her. Troubling dreams had followed the loss of her parents for several months when she was young, but it was a rare thing after that. Even with the awakening of her ability to hear the Wraith, she had not experienced any nightmares revolving around people to whom she felt connected.

It matters little whether there is an explanation or not, Teyla mused as she turned her head in such a manner as to both rest it on her knees and still see the candle burning cheerfully along, the fact still remains that you fear for him. That much was very true. She could feel it, the tight knot of anxiety that had formed when the return mission to the Isturans went so terribly wrong, and still remained within her despite finding and rescuing John alive. Something is wrong.

"Something is wrong!" Ronon shouted to be heard over the rising wind and Teyla edged closer to speak with him. The firestorm was bearing down on them, and on the orders of Colonel Sheppard they were doing their best to get the Isturan villagers to the safety of an underground tunnel system the recon team had discovered only two days prior. "Sheppard and McKay should have returned by now!"

Teyla made a quick sweep of the area around them with her eyes, even as she urged a family with two small children to hurry into the complex below. She coughed a bit; even from here the smoke was growing thicker.

"They will be here!" she shouted back; the wind and the approaching blaze were louder than she could have imagined. "We must give them a little more time!"

"I don't think we can!" Ronon hunched his shoulders briefly; stinging eyes blinking hard. "The fire is moving too fast!"

The winds had picked up and shifted, sending the ravenous wildfire toward the Stargate. Uncertain of the Gate's survival, John had devised a plan to use the puddlejumper—originally brought on this visit to ferry some supplies as a sign of goodwill—to blast out a firebreak around the Gate. John's orders to Ronon and Teyla had been to continue helping Yin'e to get his people into the underground complex.

Still, Teyla felt nearly as uneasy as Ronon at the fact that the other half of their team was unaccounted for in the face of a firestorm of the likes she had never seen. Teyla pressed her earpiece, activating the channel.

"Colonel Sheppard? This is Teyla, come in." Only static answered in both their earpieces. "Dr. McKay? Colonel Sheppard!"

"Something is wrong!" Ronon shouted again and Teyla had to agree with him. She turned quickly and caught the sleeve of Yin'e, the Isturan Prime Voice, turning him to face her.

"Do you think you can get the others below without us?" she shouted, and Yin'e's open features creased into a deep, concerned frown.

"The fire is upon us!" he called back, his other hand coming up to clasp Teyla's shoulder. "You will not be safe out here!"

"We do not have time to argue," Teyla replied firmly. "Our people are missing and we are unable to contact them. It is not safe for them, either! We must find them." Teyla turned Yin'e now, and nudged him toward the people still streaming toward the entrance of the complex. "We will be careful!" She promised, and with that turned away with Ronon to head back in the direction of the jumper.

They had to make the way back carefully; some places along their original trek to the village from the jumper were already ablaze, ahead of the main path of the wildfire. The smoke was growing thicker, and the hike more perilous.

"They may have taken shelter in the jumper if they could not take off," Ronon noted, and Teyla nodded her agreement.

"Perhaps," she replied but despite the growing heat she felt something akin to a chill travel up her spine. She pressed her earpiece again. "Teyla to Colonel Sheppard, come in! Colonel Sheppard!"

"This way." Ronon pointed out another path upward, around another hot spot in the fire line.

Suddenly, there was a faint crackle over their earpieces. Despite time rapidly dwindling away, Teyla and Ronon both paused, listening carefully. "Colonel Sheppard?" At last, a faint groan could be heard.


"Dr. McKay?" Teyla glanced at Ronon when there was no further response. "Dr. McKay!"

The two of them moved even faster now, scrambling up the slope toward the Stargate, where they had left the puddlejumper for the walk to the Isturan village. When they arrived, the jumper was unseen, still cloaked as it turned out. Not far from the Stargate, however, lay the crumpled form of Rodney McKay.

Instantly Ronon had his weapon out, watchful, while Teyla knelt beside the physicist, and gently turned him over. Rodney's face was deathly pale, except for a long thin gash seeping blood along his temple. Thankfully, the scientist was breathing. "He is only unconscious."

"Where is Sheppard?" Ronon ground out, his eyes already scanning around them, looking for signs of the Colonel's whereabouts. Teyla looked up as well, that cold feeling returning despite the perspiration trickling down the back of her neck. The fire was close, too close.

"We have to get McKay into the jumper," Teyla urged. "He is hurt and the fire is getting closer." She looked up; Ronon was heading toward the Gate. "Ronon!"

The Satedan abruptly knelt down on the ground, perhaps three or four paces from the DHD. Despite her better judgment, Teyla rose and joined him, coughing a bit as she did so.

"They were here." Ronon said simply, his hand passing just barely above a set of several footprints. One set distinctly belonged to Colonel Sheppard's military boots; Teyla knew that signature tread just as well as Ronon did. "Over there, look."

Teyla's breath caught in her throat as she saw the dark stain in the grass; there was no question that it was blood. Beyond it, there was evidence of someone being dragged—through the Stargate.

Teyla sighed softly; they had been fortunate the capricious winds had shifted once more, allowing them to dial the Gate and carry the injured Rodney back to Atlantis, as well as to send a team back to help the Isturans, retrieve the jumper, and carry out Sheppard's firebreak plan. Upon regaining consciousness in the Infirmary, suffering a badly separated shoulder and mild smoke inhalation, Rodney couldn't remember having called out Teyla's name.

What he had remembered had been far more important. The search for John Sheppard was on.

The candle continued to burn; the tiny flame danced along, casting shadows along the far wall. Teyla frowned just slightly as she watched the flickering light, and gradually she lifted her head, staring as realization broke over her.

"The fire was deliberately set," Teyla murmured thoughtfully. Why it hadn't occurred to them before now, Teyla wasn't sure, but the longer she considered it now, the more certain she became that the wildfire that had destroyed the Isturans' village had been purposefully started.

Quickly and quietly, the Athosian rose and extinguished the small candle, and then left her room.

Nearly four in the morning local Atlantis time saw more than just Teyla roaming the halls; Rodney was making his way to the Infirmary in a near daze. When Elizabeth had arrived at the lab some two hours prior, his efforts at distraction had resulted in papers covering practically the entire work area, the figures not only involving the puddlejumper project, but some others as well. It was enough to prompt Elizabeth to comment that it looked like a paper blizzard had attacked the lab, as quite a number of crumpled versions also littered the floor directly around him.

McKay's response had been to ask if she'd heard anything further on Colonel Sheppard. To which Weir had simply nodded and launched into telling him what she knew of Sheppard's condition from Beckett so far, and then practically ordered McKay to bed. The blizzard, she said, would keep until he'd had a few hours' rest.

He'd tried; honestly he had, to sleep. It quite simply refused to come, and coupled with the limited ability to get comfortable thanks to the shoulder, it had finally driven Rodney from his quarters in a distracted sort of wandering. Well, perhaps not quite wandering; after all, he did have a chosen destination.

A destination that, he realized with a start, he had now reached. Blinking away the brain fog, Rodney slipped into the Infirmary, somewhat awkwardly and definitely not silently as he nearly tripped over his own two feet. Definitely tired, some part of his mind seemed to tell him.

"Rodney?" Carson's soft brogue interrupted his thoughts, and Rodney looked up to see the physician approaching him, a concerned look on his face despite their occasional sparring matches over medicine as a science. "Are ye alright? Shoulder keepin' ye up?"

"No," Rodney answered first, then frowned, and shook his head slightly. "Well, yes but…no." He realized he was making no sense whatsoever, a rarity to be sure and he explained himself, "I normally sleep on my right side. Little difficult to do at the moment."

"Understandable." Carson agreed, although the doctor was already ushering Rodney over to a gurney. "Let's take a look, hmm? Are ye in much pain?" He patted the thin mattress, indicated that Rodney should get up onto it.

"Do you have any idea how much work this is with just one hand?" McKay grumbled as he pushed himself up onto the gurney. Beckett nodded just a little.

"Perhaps a wee bit o' effort," He couldn't resist the slight dig. "Sit still a minute and let me take off the sling." Carson very carefully worked the supportive sling away from the injured arm, and motioned to McKay to unbutton the top portion of his shirt. The few button-down knit shirts McKay owned composed his entire wardrobe at the present; he didn't even want to think about having to deal with a pullover. Rodney fumbled awkwardly with his left hand to undo the buttons.

"Oh for pity's sake," McKay groused unhappily. "We can't all be right-handed."

"Rodney…aren't ye right-handed?" Carson pointed out as he gently pulled back the shirt in order to examine the physicist's healing shoulder.

"Only on a normal day," Rodney flinched a little, hissing sharply. "Except I'm not having any of those for the next six months. Ow!"

"Take it easy, Rodney. I've barely even touched ye." Carson chided lightly, reaching overhead to pull an extendable lamp closer from the wall where it had been mounted for better light. "Well, the bruisin' is breakin' up."

"That's just great for the photo spread in GQ," McKay quipped blandly, but he winced as Beckett began to check him over in earnest. "But it hurts like crazy."

"Inflammation, most likely. Ye need ta let ye'r shoulder rest. And I dinna mean just cartin' it around in a sling. Ye need ta go easy, Rodney," Carson pressed. "Have ye been takin' the pills I gave ye for the pain and swellin' like I told ye?"

"What is that…blue pills every four hours and the white ones every six? Or was that the other way around?"

"If it was the other way around, ye'r blood would be so thin ye would a' bled ta death by now." Carson rolled his eyes. "The white ones are anti-inflammatory and the blue ones are for the pain. I'll get ye somethin' for the ache, but come mornin' I want ta run another scan on ye, check it over thoroughly." The physician shook his head slightly. "I swear ye must a' been takin' lessons in stubborn from Colonel Sheppard. Take the medicine." Carson's last comment was spoken almost instinctively; Sheppard was notorious for being a rebellious patient.

McKay, however, did not miss the slight frown that crossed Beckett's face as the doctor pulled the shirt back up over the shoulder, and carefully settled the sling back into place. Despite the occasional yelp, hiss or insult to Carson's parentage during the relatively short process of settling the limb back into the sling and swallowing the pain pills, the scientist did not detour from the question most on his mind now that the door was open.

"Colonel Sheppard wake up yet?" Rodney asked as casually as he could while fussing with the buttons of his shirt; fastening the buttons with only his left hand was proving just as frustrating as unfastening them.

As with Ronon earlier, Carson had expected it. In fact, he expected that the shoulder had simply been a convenient excuse for Rodney to make a "subtle" attempt at checking on the injured colonel. Exhaling slowly, Carson reached over to help with the last pair of buttons.

"Nae yet, Rodney."

The simple answer produced an immediate reaction in McKay; the scientist's crestfallen expression ruining any semblance of "casual concern," and he didn't even respond to Beckett buttoning him up like a five-year-old.

"What…what does that mean?" Rodney sputtered at last, looking around them now in an unashamed attempt to locate the patient in question. "That he's more brain-damaged than usual now, or what?" The attempt at sarcasm to cover his obvious anxiety was blunted by the tense look that now appeared on Carson's face. "Oh, no…" Rodney swallowed tightly, a precursor to blossoming into a full-blown panic.

"Calm down, Rodney," Carson cautioned, raising one hand to the physicist's good shoulder. "I dinna mean ta worry ye more than ye already are." The doctor paused a moment. "Colonel Sheppard does have a pretty nasty concussion…"

"…But?" Rodney interrupted, watching Carson's face anxiously. "There's always a 'but' to these things…I think it's part of the Hippocratic Oath or something."

"But," Carson continued with a look that clearly said be quiet and let me finish, "I dinna think the head injury itself is the reason he's still unconscious." Carson waited for that to sink in with Rodney before continuing, "He was given a type of drug, likely somethin' ta break down his resistance ta interrogation."

Rodney swallowed hard once more, staring openly at Beckett as if the physician had grown a second head. "You don't know what it is, do you?" He asked at last, his voice having gained nearly a fourth of an octave, ratcheting upward along with his burgeoning panic attack.

"I've been studyin' its chemical composition, but it's unlike anythin' I've ever run into," Beckett confirmed, and was treated to a patented McKay wave-off as the physicist's mind rolled into high gear.

"What about the Ancient database? Have we checked in there? This is another galaxy, after all, with who-knows-what kind of poisons and chemical compounds. I need to get a research team down here; there might be…"

"Rodney!" Carson exclaimed with an exasperated sigh, and the physicist shut his mouth sharply.

"I…I'm just worried about getting him through this." Rodney finally replied, although his voice had lost none of its nervous energy. "Preferably as the John Sheppard we know and not…permanently weird or something. More than he usually is, I mean."

"So 'm I," Carson assured firmly. "Trust me ta do my job."

"Right…right." McKay waved him off again, but this time it was less impatience than it was resignation. "Witch doctors and medicine men." However, there was none of the usual bite in the remark, and Beckett recognized it as the truce it was.

"I've already begun ta search the Ancient database for anythin' that might help," The doctor added his own peace offering. "I'll know a lot more what we're up against when he does come 'round."

Rodney looked up, then, and saw the truth of it in Carson's eyes.

"If he does," he said quietly, adjusting the sling in a nervous gesture. "Can I…?"

"See him? Of course ye can, Rodney. C'mon, then," Carson motioned for the Canadian physicist to follow along. Rodney hesitated briefly, pulling in a fortifying breath before sliding off the gurney and trailing the Scottish medical doctor to the bedside of John Sheppard.

Despite the deep breath, Rodney was completely unprepared for the sight that met his eyes; bruises and bandages, oxygen and IV's… "Good Lord," he murmured softly, almost unaware that he'd spoken aloud. "He looks terrible." Rodney's eyes were locked on the bruised, stilled face. "I mean, Elizabeth said he was in bad shape, but…" He closed his eyes briefly as he realized Sheppard must have looked far worse on first arriving. When he looked back over at Carson, the doctor wore a sympathetic expression.

"I know."

"Is it okay if I stay here awhile?" Rodney asked; his attention back on John. "I mean, you might need some help translating stuff from the database." A faint smile crossed Carson's features; intent on the colonel, Rodney missed seeing it.

"That would be quite alright, I'm sure. I'll get ye a chair."

The moment the chair was available to him, Rodney pulled it close and settled down beside John. For a long moment, he simply stared at the unconscious colonel before he glanced away.

"I'm sorry," Rodney murmured, fidgeting slightly. "I mean…they say people in comas can hear what's going on around them, so I'm counting on that because you know you're not getting this out in front of anybody else." Silence. Rodney cleared his throat slightly. "I mean, after all, it wouldn't be a good idea to start something. Because then you'd be expecting it all the time, and why should I apologize for being smarter than you?" Looking back up at the motionless pilot, Rodney sighed softly. "Well…for what it's worth, I'm sorry. You'd better just wake up and talk to me so I can go back to being brilliant. I have important work to do around here, you know."

Back at the workstation where he'd been laboring over the puzzle of the mysterious toxin, Carson glanced up, wondering if Rodney was aware that John was not the only one possibly overhearing him. Settling down to work once more, he had to wonder briefly at the strange friendship that had sprung up between the maverick military pilot and the nearly neurotic astrophysicist. While Carson worked, Rodney talked. Silence was far too uncomfortable, sitting there next to his unconscious companion, so McKay filled it with a running, one-sided conversation.

He was explaining some obscure permutation in quantum theory that would render some idea of Zelenka's useless when the first light of dawn began to break over Atlantis nearly two hours later. Pausing in his monologue, McKay exhaled softly and reached over, clasping Sheppard's right wrist with his good hand. "C'mon, Sheppard. The least you can do is look at me and tell me how badly I'm boring you," he grumbled lightly, but his attention was focused on the colonel's slack features, the soft sound of breathing beneath the oxygen mask. Unbelievably, Rodney felt a slight twitch beneath his fingers, and he breathed in sharply, uncertain if he had truly felt John stirring or if he was imagining it. "Wake up, wake up…" he breathed out.

A faint moan answered him, almost too faint to be heard beneath the plastic oxygen mask, but it was followed by a slight tightening of John's features into a vague expression of pain. Rodney released his grip on John's wrist and shot up from the chair, anxious energy propelling him to find Carson.

"Rodney?" Beckett on his feet instantly, feared the worst, until he caught sight of McKay's grin.

"He's coming to," Rodney declared, and Carson quickly joined him in the critical care suite. Sheppard's expression had relaxed once again, but the evidence of Rodney's assertion was there; the colonel had turned his head very slightly on the pillow.

"Colonel?" Carson prompted gently. "Colonel Sheppard, can ye hear me, laddie?" The slight frown returned, and was accompanied by another soft moan, this one a little more audible. Carson glanced at Rodney, who was wearing an incredibly hopeful expression, and then leaned in a little, laying his hand on John's shoulder. "Come on, now, try ta open those eyes; we want ta see ye."

"He's right, y'know," Rodney chimed in. "I'm tired of you ignoring me." That drew another pained moan, a tight wince. Carson glanced up at McKay and made a small shushing motion.

"Soft, now. He's liable ta have a rotten headache." When Carson glanced back down, he found one hazel eye cracked open and blinking dazedly, the right one still nearly swollen shut, and a right hand impatiently pulling at the oxygen mask.

"Rotten…is…an under…statement," Sheppard murmured weakly. Relieved to see him conscious, Beckett smiled at his patient and helped take off the irritating mask. Now that Sheppard had regained consciousness, a nasal oxygen line would work as well.

"We were beginnin' ta think ye might sleep for a week," he said warmly, but he kept his hand at John's shoulder, a calming gesture. "Aside from the headache, how d' ye feel?" Carson knew it sounded like a very stupid question, given the circumstances, but gauging a patient's condition involved the patient's input as much as anything.

"Like…like I killed…the bird," Sheppard swallowed thickly, trying to get a handle on the various aches and pains screaming at him all at once. "Where…am I?" He tried to lift his head, got a simple, gentle push back into the pillow and stabbing pains in his chest for his effort. "Ohhh, crap, that hurts."

"Easy, now. Ye'r in the Infirmary, son. Ye have a concussion and some broken ribs, so I want ye ta lie still. Breathe as deep as ye can, but take it easy. Nice, even breaths." Carson instructed.

"Killed what bird?" Rodney wanted to know, puzzled by Sheppard's confused answer to Beckett's question.

"Chopper," John murmured as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Please…tell me…I didn't. Bad enough…I'm being…shipped…off to…McMurdo…" His breathing grew a little ragged, and his face screwed up into a sharp grimace of pain.

"Shh, now, Colonel," Carson interrupted, despite being unable to keep the worry off his face. "Ye need ta rest. No more talkin' for now, if ye please."

"Major, Doc," John interrupted back; blinking dazedly, and swallowing back a wave of nausea. "Major John Sheppard." Carson felt his throat constrict; this wasn't exactly what he'd expected of Sheppard's waking, and as he glanced up to see Rodney standing there open-mouthed as if to catch the flies, he knew he wasn't the only one.

"John," Carson felt a little safer with that at the moment. Despite his injunction to the colonel to rest and not talk, he had to know. "What's the last thing ye remember clearly, son?"

Sheppard's eye closed, the pale face drawing into a frown of concentration, before the left eye opened dazedly again, seeking the doctor's face. "Takin' up…Apache…Ringer wanted…engine…repair tested."

"Not good…" Rodney mumbled at last, and Carson shot him a look that said not now.

"John," Carson continued gently, "When are ye s'posed ta report ta McMurdo?"

"Two…two weeks," Sheppard answered softly, tiredly and Carson knew that was all he'd get from the injured pilot for now. He patted the colonel's shoulder lightly.

"Well, we will no' worry about that right now," The physician promised with as reassuring a smile as he could produce. "For now, ye need rest and plenty of it."

"Hurts…to breathe," John mumbled to Carson, a sure sign that the pain was indeed considerable if his most stubborn patient was admitting to it. Sheppard's respiration was a little shallow, a natural reaction to the sharp ache as the damaged rib cage was forced to expand and collapse with each breath.

"Aye, that it will for awhile, Col—Major," Carson caught himself for the moment; they needed to deal with one thing at a time. "I'll get ye somethin' for the pain. Try ta breathe a little slower and deeper if ye can; it'll help the hurt not ta be so much." Carson moved now to replace the oxygen mask with the nasal line. John weakly tried to bat the doctor's hands away, but the Scotsman was getting quite experienced at dealing with this particular patient. "Dunna fight me on this, laddie; ye will no' have ta work so hard ta breathe."

Those seemed to be the magic words; Sheppard stopped resisting, another indication of how much pain he was in, and despite still looking a little like a fish out of water, McKay couldn't help but wince sympathetically. Beckett worked the oxygen line behind his patient's ears and slipped it into place. By the time he returned to add pain medication to one of the IV lines, the eyes were both closed and the colonel was noticeably concentrating on getting air into his lungs in a less agonizing manner.

Rodney had taken up his place beside the bed once more.

"Now…" McKay said, very quietly as he watched Beckett administer the painkiller, "…we know what we're up against."

"Aye; that we do."