Disclaimer: Atlantis and its characters don't belong to me, but that's okay as long as I can take them out and play with them whenever I want.
With thanks to my beta chocolatephysicist!


Freaking Pegasus galaxy. Being attacked by the bad guys and taken prisoner was becoming a cliché of the most tired sort. You would think they would have learned to see the signs by now. But no, John just never saw these things coming.

Shivering, laying on the cold stone floor, trying not to move because it hurt too much, John moaned through the pain of almost certainly cracked ribs, among other injuries more and less severe (Please God, don't let them be broken, he breathed silently.). He didn't know where he was. He didn't know where McKay was. And he didn't know if Teyla and Ronon had managed to escape (although he really, really hoped that they had). At the moment it was all he could do to keep lunch from making a reappearance.

And the day had started so well, too.

The sun had been shining as they strolled through the gate and first stepped foot onto M22-430. The birds were singing, the sun was gentle and there was a gentle breeze to keep them cool as they walked. They found the market just as Teyla's contacts had told them they would.

They had been promised a traveling marketplace where you could occasionally find bits and pieces of Ancient technology. From what John could see, it was mostly a hodge-podge of hastily set-up tables and tents that could be quickly disassembled if necessary, meaning if the Wraith showed up. But no one looked really worried about the possibility. The whole thing had a party atmosphere that reminded Sheppard a lot of a renaissance festival that a girlfriend had once drug him to: there were jugglers and musicians tucked away in corners entertaining visitors, the smell of delectable treats that wafted through the air was about to drive Ronon insane, and the wares that were set out everywhere had McKay's eyes glittering with a feverish haze of 'must have now.'

John smiled at him indulgently and waved a hand when Rodney looked over to him, a please, please, please look on his face for an assessment of whether it was safe or not. As Rodney wandered away, his hands twitching because he didn't know what to look at first, John bit back the grin that threatened to erupt. Rodney looked like a kid on Christmas morning who didn't know which package to open up first.

John exchanged a glance with Teyla and Ronon. They both nodded their tacit approval of his own judgement that things were as safe as they ever were in the Pegasus Galaxy. Yeah, those were famous last words. He should really know better than to say things like 'it looks like we're out of the woods now' or 'it looks safe enough.' Things never ended well after that.

They did have a pleasant enough day before everything hit the fan though.

McKay couldn't barter for shit. He was way too eager for the bits and pieces of Ancient technology that was scattered around like it was put there intentionally to reel him in (hindsight being what it was, the tech probably had been placed there as bait for his team) and the merchants could read him like a book. Which wasn't too hard considering the man didn't have a poker face. You could read everything on his face.

They might have taken him for the shirt off his back and the weapon in his holster if Teyla hadn't stepped in and taken over the negotiating. Not that it helped much. McKay stood to the side watching impatiently, calling out to her if things weren't going the way he wanted them to go. The one time Teyla shook her head and began to walk away without the little doodad that McKay wanted, he stepped in and used the last of the medical supplies they'd brought with them to barter with. Yeah, they could have just had 'sucker' tattooed on their foreheads.

Finally, they'd used all their trade goods and McKay snapped his fingers at Ronon impatiently, "give me that necklace thing you wear around your neck." He held out a hand expecting that Ronon was just going to give it over because he'd asked for it, "It's got to be worth something."

Ronon bared his teeth and growled back at him. Sheppard hooked a finger in McKay's tac-vest and pulled him away from the table of shiny trinkets.

"I think that's enough for now, McKay," Sheppard said when Rodney tried to pull away from him. "They have these things once a month. Let's go home, see what you've got and come back next time with more stuff to trade."

Rodney whined, but only a little. Mostly because the empty pack they'd brought with them was stuffed full and he had to carry it on the hike back to the gate.

Shouldering the pack, Rodney huffed, "I don't see why I have to carry the pack. It's pretty heavy and with my bad back…"

"Hey, you bought it, McKay, you get to carry it," Sheppard told him without a hint of remorse. "Let's go home, so we can find out what kind of toys Rodney's got to play with." They set off on the rutted path that led back to the 'gate and home at an easy pace. The sun was still high in the sky and they all wanted to be home in time for dinner.

"They're not toys," Rodney said in his lecturer voice as he walked beside Sheppard. "While it may all look like bright, shiny toys, I'll have you know that what I have in this pack is all highly-advanced technology…" he trailed off as a dozen big, burly men stepped out of the trees that lined either side of the path they were on to surround them. Big, burly men with very deadly looking weapons pointed at his team.

"Shit," was Sheppard's succinct assessment of the situation.

One of the men, the tallest of the lot surrounding them, flashed a smile at them as he stepped forward. A scar marred the side of his face. He wore it like a badge of honor, or maybe as a warning.

"I'll just take that," the man said as he took the pack from McKay's shoulder. "We'll need it for the next fools that we encounter."

They had already walked far enough that they were out of sight of the market place, not that Sheppard really thought anyone there was going to come to their aid. The whole thing had the stink of set-up to him. Highway robbery. Just another cliché that Sheppard was getting really tired of.

One of the men stepped forward at a nod from the leader and began to gather up their weapons. John didn't like giving up his P-90, but he didn't see that they had much choice. At the moment they were outmanned and outgunned. Ronon growled when they tried to take his blaster. All of the weapons were suddenly aimed at Ronon. The goons just looked like they were itching for a reason to indulge in a bloodbath. John nodded at him to give up the weapon. Sure Ronon loved the thing like it was his kid, but it wasn't going to do him any good if he was dead. Ronon growled, but he let it go.

One of the goons was patting down McKay, trying to see if he had anything hidden away. Rodney slapped his hand away, "Hey, getting pretty personal there, aren't you buster?" He was afraid, Sheppard could hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes; but he reacted in his usual belligerent way. It was going to get him killed this time though.

"Leave the nice man alone, McKay. Let him take what he wants so we can go home," Sheppard said through gritted teeth when what he really wanted to do was break the guy's kneecaps.

The guy had a gold-capped tooth (Where did they get gold in the Pegasus galaxy?). It gleamed in the sun when he pulled the life signs detector from McKay's pocket. He held it up for his fellow ruffians to see, his smile broad.

"Now, what do we have here?" he asked, poking at the device with a meaty finger.

"Give me that back," McKay snarled. He might curl up into a fetal ball when his own life was on the line and the bullets were flying, but don't even try to take his Ancient toys away from him. He'd fight like a mother bear defending her cubs.

The guy held it up just out McKay's reach, taunting him with it. McKay jumped up on his toes and snatched at the life signs detector finally managing to wrestle it away from the other man. It lit up in his hands.

The leader (Sam, Sheppard decided, he looked like a Sam) sauntered over. He surveyed McKay from head to toe with narrowed eyes, his look one of eager calculation. "Now, what do we have here?" Sheppard really didn't like the possessive gleam he could see in the big man's eyes.

"McKay, just give him the damn life signs detector," Sheppard snapped as McKay held the device to his chest possessively. The other guy tried to take it back and the two of them – McKay and the bad guy, had a fierce tug of war going.

Sheppard's insides clenched at the way the leader of the gang was eyeing McKay, like he'd hit the jackpot in some sort of sick Pegasus-galaxy jackpot.

Sam hit his own man on the back of the head, "Let him keep it."

The man gave a startled "oomph" but he let go of the life signs detector. McKay gave a nervous pleased smile and tucked it away carefully inside his vest.

"I'm glad you're seeing sense," he said inanely, edging away toward Ronon as Sam began to move in a little too close for comfort.

Sheppard could see where the whole thing was going and there was just no way he was going to let it happen. He stepped in between Sam and McKay. Teyla and Ronon ranged themselves around him, completing the protective circle around Rodney.

"You've got what you came for," Sheppard said, trying to keep his manner as non-confrontational as possible. They had no advantages whatsoever, they were outgunned and outmanned; he had to keep things from escalating the only way he knew how–by drawing attention to himself. "So, why don't you just let us be on our way?"

The leader of the ruffian band didn't even reply. Without warning, he turned sharply and buried his fist in Sheppard's stomach.

Sheppard doubled over as the breath was forced from his body. Sam followed up with a blow to the back of John's head, his fists doubled together by the feel of it. Pain exploded in Sheppard's body and his knees gave out. When he managed to suck in another breath, he found himself on the ground, eating dirt. There was a viscous kick to his back and he curled inwards trying to protect his ribs and stomach.

"You'll go when I say you can go," Sheppard heard the words distantly through the pounding of his heart and his own labored breathing.

"Why did you do that?" McKay demanded. "He wasn't fighting you!"

John wanted to tell him shut the hell up, but he couldn't find the breath to speak.

"Oh, but he was going to," Sam said. "You see, I've found something better than the trinkets we can take out of your pockets and he was going to try to keep me from taking it."

"Take it," McKay babbled in his fear not thinking through what the other man was saying, "take everything. Just leave him alone."

There was an indrawn breath and he heard twin shouts from Teyla and Ronon but it was too late. There was the sound of scuffling feet and he got his head up in time to see Rodney being dragged away from his team. "Oh, I'll take what I want," Sam said, "I just don't think he's going to be happy about it."

"Hey," McKay said indignantly, struggling against the hand that was locked on his arm, "let go of me."

"But you see," Sam said in a reasonable tone, "you're coming with us. We have lots of Ancient devices that we need to light up like that one there just did. You're going to make them work for us."

Like hell.

John pushed himself up, ignoring the agony in his belly. He swayed unsteadily once he was there, but he stayed on his feet. Teyla and Ronon moved in on either side to offer their support if it were needed. He could feel them coiled and ready to act if an opportunity presented itself. But the gang of thugs was smart. They kept McKay surrounded and separated from the rest of the team and their weapons steady on Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon.

John drew himself up, "You don't want McKay," he said, desperately trying to think of a plan that didn't include the three of them dead and McKay taken by the bad guys.

Sam looked Sheppard up and down before he put his own weapon away, depending on his men to keep watch. "Oh, yeah. Seems to me I do."

John took a shaky step forward, drawing himself together, "He complains all the time, you have to feed him six times a day or he gets sick. He's bad with people. He's just way too much trouble."

"Hey," Rodney protested, but then he subsided when Sheppard shot him a 'shut the hell up' glare.

Sam smiled, but it held no warmth. He was playing a game and it was a game he intended to win at any cost. "So, what's your solution to this problem?" He crossed his arms and regarded Sheppard with an upraised eyebrow.

"Take me," Sheppard offered spreading his arms wide, offering up himself.

There was an instant protest from McKay, "What? Are you an idiot? No, wait, don't answer that…"

John continued, allowing his voice to rise above Rodney's, "The Ancient stuff responds to me better. I'm the leader, you should take me."

It made his skin crawl as the other man walked around him, looking him over like a side of beef, "You know what?" Sam drawled out. "I think you want to keep this guy too much. I think he must be pretty important. I think we're going to keep him."

Sam turned away and his team took the moment that presented itself. But no sooner did Teyla and Ronon take a step forward than the other man whirled with his gun back in his hand and it was aimed straight for Rodney, "You take another step and he dies right here, right now."

John would have ordered them on, but the momentum was lost. Acting now was only going to get them all very, very dead. He shook his head and they relaxed only a little.

Sam let his weapon drop. "You made the right choice, friend. Now I'll tell you what's going to happen. You good people are going to accompany us to the ring. We're going to ring out of here and then you can go anywhere you want."

Sheppard didn't argue with him. He was in no position to argue, but he could feel Teyla and Ronon poised next to him, ready to act on his signal.

Unfortunately another moment never presented itself. They walked all the way to the 'gate surrounded by Sam's men. McKay and Sam walked behind them; John could hear McKay complaining bitterly the entire way. If the situation wasn't so dire it would have made him smile.

"Alright then," Sam said when they reached the 'gate, "now you and your people are going to wait over here while me and mine, including your friend, go through the ring. Once we shut it down, you're free to go wherever you want. Don't try and follow us because we won't be there when you get there." He nodded at one of his guys to dial.

John ached pretty much everywhere, but the walk had helped him work out some of the stiffness in his body. He was as good as he was going to get. Because there was just no way Sam and his gang of thieves and ruffians was going to take McKay alone through the gate. He slid a glance at Ronon and the big man nodded. He didn't know what John was planning, but Ronon could be counted on to follow his lead. He didn't even have to look at Teyla to know that she was ready for anything.

When the gate initiated, Sam took McKay through first. The men guarding them left one by one until there was only one guy left on their side of the gate, his weapon trained on them. He made the fatal mistake of glancing away to watch the man before him disappear through the 'gate. John felt more than saw Teyla and Ronon tackle him as John launched himself through the still open 'gate after McKay and the escaping gang.

He landed with an 'oomph' face first in the dirt. There was the sound of laughter then a blow to the head from one of their own weapons he suspected. His head exploded in pain before he slid into darkness.

--SGA--

John awoke to find himself hurting and alone. He refused to think about his various injuries because there was nothing he could do about it at the moment. There was nothing serious enough to keep to keep him from doing what he needed to do in order to find Rodney and get home to the infirmary where Carson could take care of whatever ailed him. At least that's what he kept telling himself.

His immediate concern was Rodney and why he was alone in his dismal, grey cell. John had found over the years that cells looked the same everywhere; it didn't matter if they were in Afghanistan or the Pegasus Galaxy. They were all depressing as hell. He had to use the wall to lever himself to his feet and then he had to wait for the room to stop spinning before he tried to move.

He suspected that he was on a ship of some sort. He could feel the thrumming of engines through the souls of his feet. The air that tickled his nose and made him want to sneeze (Which he devoutly hoped he didn't do, because it was going to hurt if he did. A lot.) was flat and odorless like recycled air.

While it was most probably useless, he paced the cell tapping on the walls testing for weak spots or a way out. He tried not to think of where McKay might be or what the bad guys might be doing to him (although that was relatively useless because it was all he could think about). Teyla and Ronon had gotten away, and they would go for help. He had no doubts about that.

But chances were good that the bad guys had gone through the gate again before they'd taken off in their ship (space, boat, plane – he had no idea, just his gut telling him ship, ship, ship). He hoped that the bad guys hadn't sold him off to slavers (or something equally reprehensible) before taking off with McKay for parts unknown.

He didn't find an obvious door or any other way out of the cell. After an undetermined amount time wandering around in a circle in the very small cell, John decided that his best options was to rest and conserve his energy in case the opportunity for escape presented itself (But not without McKay. No way in hell was he leaving without Rodney McKay.).

He must have dozed off, despite his best intentions not to, when there was a gentle pat on his cheek. He was on his feet without even thinking about it, his assailant up against the wall, his arm pressing hard against his wind pipe.

"No, no, you idiot, it's me." Hands were pushing against his chest, creating waves of pain, dimly John thought he recognized the voice. "I knew it; you are brain damaged from that blow to the head."

John eased up on his choke hold and backed away warily.

"McKay?" He had to squint to get to his eyes to focus. There was two of him, but it was definitely Rodney McKay–A blessedly unharmed, very alive Rodney McKay.

The relief was just too much for him, and Rodney caught Sheppard as his knees buckled and helped him to drop gracelessly to the floor.

"Yes, it's me. As if it's not patently obvious," Rodney babbled as he propped Sheppard up. His tone was impatient and rough, but his hands were gentle as he inspected the bump on Sheppard's head.

It didn't keep it from hurting, however. "Would you stop?" John hissed as Rodney probed at the egg-sized lump on his head. "The bad guys hit me, it hurts. Can we just leave it for now?"

Rodney humphed but he backed away. Even blurry and unfocused, John could feel his worried gaze.

"What's the situation?" he asked, hoping to distract the other man.

"The situation?" Rodney's squeaked out, disbelief evident in his tone. "We're FUBR that's what. You can't stand up. I'm freaking out. We're in the middle of fucking-Pegasus nowhere with the Apple Dumpling gang. That's the situation. Are you happy now?"

John winced as Rodney's words sliced right through his head. "Can you freak out quieter?" he begged. "I have a monster headache."

"You're going to die, aren't you?" Rodney demanded. Suddenly he was down and in John's face, peering at him closely. "Your eyes are all wonky. Carson says when your eyes are wonky that it's bad."

John pushed him away, struggling not to laugh. He had a feeling that laughing was going to hurt, too. "Wonky, McKay?"

"Oh, shut up," Rodney snapped at him. "You're going to die and leave me here alone. Then what am I supposed to do?" He sounded so plaintive and sad. John rarely heard that tone in Rodney's voice. He was really worried.

John reached out and clumsily patted where he thought Rodney's shoulder was. He had a 50/50 chance to get it right with two Rodney's wavering in front of him.

His hand hit empty air.

Oh, well, it was the thought that counted, right? On his second attempt he found Rodney's shoulder. He squeezed it in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.

"I am not going to die," he told Rodney in his most positive manner. It might have possibly been spoiled by the fact that he couldn't sit up straight and kept sliding to the left.

It seemed to reassure Rodney somewhat though.

"Die? Of course you're not. Who said anything about dying? We've just got to get you out of here and home to Carson. He'll get you fixed up so you can do something stupid and die next week."

And oh, there was a world of bitterness in Rodney's voice. But John let it go. There was only so much a man could deal with at one time. They weren't having that conversation as prisoners on an alien space ship with his head pounding and feeling like he was going to toss up his cookies at any time. Right then calming Rodney's freak out and sitting upright were at the top of his to-do list. And escape.

"Alright then, no dying. That's good," John squelched the inclination to nod. Nodding, like laughing, was bad when you had a concussion. "Okay, then first things first. What do these guys want you for?"

Rodney did him the favor of not pacing around their little cell. There were two Rodney's weaving around in front of him, having them move about would make him hurl. Rodney frowned down at John as if Sheppard was one of his more stupid minions.

"Why do you think?" He paused for half a beat, but John was decidedly not at the top of his game and he just stared up at Rodney waiting for his answer.

"I'm waiting for the movie, Rodney. Just tell me the damn answer."

"You were lying when you said you could have been Mensa, weren't you? They want my brain, of course. Why else does anyone in the Pegasus galaxy want me? They never want me for my body." He sounded so disgruntled and put out that John couldn't hold in the snort. And yes, it did make his head hurt more.

Rodney's frown grew even deeper. "What? Are you saying that no one would ever want me for my body? I'll have you know…"

John cut him off before he could start into a full-blown rant, "No, no, I'm sure there's someone out there who wants you for your body and once we're out of here, I'll make it my personal mission to find them. But can we just get out of this first?"

Rodney crossed his arms and glared down at John. The force of Rodney's glare made his head pound even harder. "I'm open to suggestions," he said snidely.

Oh, great, he'd incurred the wrath of McKay. His day was complete. And to think he'd actually dived through that damned wormhole with the intention of helping McKay. At the moment he was thinking of killing him which was definitely counter productive.

"I was actually hoping you would have some suggestions," John admitted at last, defeated.

Rodney tapped his foot, "Well, isn't this typical? You force your way into my kidnapping and then I'm the one who has to save the day?" Rodney actually managed to sound offended.

John was really tired. He just wanted to curl up in the corner and sleep. But he couldn't do that, not yet. They weren't going to escape this time by brute force. The guys that had taken them were all Ronon-sized big. They'd taken down his team in an impressively quick way. The only way they were going to gain their freedom was with Rodney's brain. So, it was John's job to keep it focused and freak-out free. He'd become surprisingly good at it over the years.

"Yes, Rodney, you do. Now, do you have any ideas?" There was silence for a moment and John could nearly hear the wheels turning in Rodney's head.

That was the thing, Rodney was always thinking and usually he was thinking about a dozen things at once. It kind of diluted his thinking power. But when he focused truly impressive, nearly miraculous things happened. John just had to get him to focus all of that impressive thinking ability on getting them out and they'd be as good as free.

A couple of minutes of silence passed before Rodney snapped his fingers and the words started spilling out like he couldn't get them out fast enough, in true Rodney fashion, "Okay, I've got something. The thing is, these guys take this stuff but they don't know how to actually use it beyond on and off and go and stop. Take this ship for instance,"

John had a moment's satisfaction at having confirmation that they were on a ship. Then his satisfaction turned to despair. How the hell was anyone supposed to find them?

"Sheppard, are you still with me?" Rodney's irritated voice interrupted his musings.

"What?" John had to squint up to see Rodney. There were three of him now and that just couldn't be good. "Yes, I'm with you. Bad guys don't know shit. We're on a ship. Go on." He gave a little wave of his hand to encourage McKay to continue.

"Okay. So, to recap for the brain damaged among us, beyond being able to tell the ship to stop and go and maybe to fire the weapons, these guys really don't know how it works. They have no idea what its internal workings look like."

From his tone of utter satisfaction, John surmised that Rodney had something up his sleeve. "And you do?" he asked, just to get Rodney going again.

Rodney rocked back on his heels, the very picture of smug satisfaction, all three of him. "You'd better bet I do. I found the internal schematics of this thing while the thugs were convincing me to improve its engines so it would go 'faster.' What is it with some guys and the need to go fast…?" He gave a pointed look at Sheppard before he continued. "Anyway, there's a maintenance crawlspace into this room, right here." Rodney placed a hand on a panel that John was sure he'd inspected and thought it was solid. But if Rodney said there was a maintenance crawlspace behind it, then there was a maintenance crawlspace behind it. "So, we can escape through there, make our way to the auxiliary bridge that I found, lock ourselves in and take over control of the ship from there, then," he snapped his fingers, "we just fly home."

Rodney made it sound so easy. As if anything was ever that easy for them.

"The ship isn't exactly Ancient," Rodney explained as he pressed on the panel he'd identified as concealing a maintenance crawlspace. "But whoever built it took some cues from the Ancients. For instance, many of its key functions can be set to respond to certain individuals using their DNA as a key. So I set the ship to respond only to me."

"Very clever, Rodney," Sheppard nodded thoughtfully. Rodney smiled smugly and rocked back on his heels. "But don't you think the bad guys will notice when their ship stops responding to them?"

Rodney's smug grin turned into a disparaging frown. "Do you really think I'm so stupid I wouldn't think of that?" He didn't wait for Sheppard to answer, he just continued on, "They still have control of the things they're used to, but I've keyed everything else to respond to me." He'd gone back to pressing the wall around the panel. He must have found whatever he was looking for because the panel slid aside to reveal a dark, small crawlspace. "Now are we ready to go?"

Sheppard eyed the small space doubtfully. Rodney must have been able to read his thoughts.

"Oh, no, no, no, no," he declared. "There is no way I'm leaving you here while I escape in there. You weren't willing to let me be taken prisoner alone. Well the same goes for you, too." Rodney crossed his arms in his most infuriatingly stubborn way.

John sighed, defeated. He had been about to suggest that Rodney go on alone. But the man was stubborn as a mule. John could argue until he was blue in the face that it just made sense tactically for Rodney to go on alone – John was injured and would slow him down. But Rodney would argue right back, using John's own words against him until the bad guys returned. He gave in, nodding wearily, "Okay."

On his hands and knees he shuffled over to the entrance of the space. It was only about waist high and only wide enough for them to navigate one at a time. It was going to be hell.

He took a deep breath and gestured to Rodney, "You first?"

"No," Rodney answered. "I need to shut the panel behind us so they won't know how we got out."

It made sense, so John didn't waste time trying to argue that he should bring up the rear so he could watch their six. They had no idea when the bad guys were coming back for Rodney. It was a good idea to get as much space as possible between them before they returned. He crawled awkwardly into the darkness of the cramped space, feeling it close in around him. He was already having trouble breathing, feeling the walls close in around him didn't help.

He paused when he considered himself far enough inside that McKay would have room to do what he needed to do to close the panel. He knew the second the panel was closed when the little bit of light that had spilled in from their cell disappeared, plunging them into total darkness.

"McKay?" John called anxiously.

"Hold on," Rodney answered from somewhere behind him. His voice was a little breathless and John remembered that he was claustrophobic. Before he could say anything to reassure Rodney, a dim blue light sprang up around them.

"Is this safe?" John whispered.

"I think so," Rodney whispered back, his voice close behind John. "The panels to these crawlspaces are all shut, I checked that. Besides do you really want to crawl around in here blind?"

"Not really, no," John admitted.

With no other direction to choose from, he began to move forward. He ignored the pain of his injured ribs and a head that felt like someone was driving a spike through it. There wasn't anything they could do about it the moment. "You managed to find out an awful lot even with the bad guys watching you." Not knowing if the sound in the small space would travel or where, John kept his voice low.

"Genius," came Rodney's succinct reply. John just knew he was grinning that smug grin of his.

"Anything else I need to know?" he asked, concentrating on moving forward.

"Oh, I'm sure there's a lot of things you need to know," Rodney answered.

"Smart ass. About the bad guys," John clarified. He would turn around and hit Rodney on the back of the head, but he wasn't coordinated enough at the moment to accomplish it without falling flat on his face. He made a mental note to do it later when they were safely home on Atlantis.

"They're just your average-run-of-the-mill thieves," Rodney said. "They get by stealing from others–not just technology but whatever they can get their hands on. Left," Rodney instructed without missing a beat when they reached a junction with two other crawlspaces intersecting with theirs. "It's such a waste. Just think of what they could accomplish if all these little splinter groups worked together instead of fighting amongst themselves and stealing from each other."

John didn't answer. He let Rodney ramble on concentrating on his words instead of his own injures. Soon the words lost meaning and it was just the sound of Rodney's voice that kept him moving. He retained enough awareness to recognize the occasional whispered direction – "Go right here," "Keep on straight," "Left, I said left. You know left don't you?" The rest of the time Rodney's voice washed over him, providing an anchor in the strange blue place that was his world. He had to keep going because Rodney wouldn't go on without him, and he couldn't allow the bad guys to recapture Rodney because of his weakness.

He might have gone on crawling forever; it felt like it had already been forever, when there was a hand on his ankle stopping him.

"Colonel?"

It took him a moment to remember where he was. Oh, yeah, crawling through the inner workings of a space ship trying to escape from mobster wannabees. Check.

"Yeah?"

"We're there."

"Oh." John swayed. "Okay."

"Here."

John heard Rodney scooting around and heard more than saw him pressing against the panel that would let them out of the crawlspace. John felt a flood of relief when the panel slid back to reveal a well-lit room beyond.

For once it really did look as if it was going to be as easy as Rodney said it would be.

Rodney crawled through into the room and turned back to help John. John let him, he wasn't sure he was going to be able to stand, but he didn't tell Rodney that. He was a little surprised when Rodney manhandled him to his feet and dumped him into the nearest chair. John wasn't going to complain (too much), he was just glad to get out of the crawlspace.

The room they entered was roughly circular with a central work station that looked very technical and official. There were other work stations that lined the walls. Everything was dark and quiet when they entered (crawled in), but it only took Rodney a couple of minutes of work to bring the place to life around them.

John liked watching McKay in his element. Too often they were rushing to save lives and Rodney didn't get to enjoy what he did. This time it was clear from his delighted laughter and the bounce in his step as he moved from monitor to readout to work station that he was having a hell of a good time (Even if they were rushing to save their lives. Sometimes you just had to stop and smell the roses… Or something like that. John was really too tired to come up the appropriate cliché. He was just glad that for the moment no one was threatening them.).

"Having fun?" John asked, content to sit in the chair where Rodney had parked him while Rodney poked and pushed and hummed happily.

"Oh, yes," Rodney answered. "This is fun for me – being kidnapped, seeing you beat up, having to save our lives again. It never gets old." Rodney stalked over to where John was sitting and picked up his hand and pressed it against a hand-shaped indention on the workstation. "There," he said, "I've just given you access to all the systems, too."

Oh, yeah, he was having fun.

"So, what's happened to the bad guys?" John asked. He hadn't seen any of them since waking up in his cell. He could almost be convinced that he had imagined them if it weren't for the whole being kidnapped, being beaten up and having to be rescued again thing.

"I've locked them all in wherever they were when I took control of the ship." Rodney rocked back on his heels in smug satisfaction. "Look you can see," he pointed vaguely in the direction of a monitor at the station where John was sitting. Rodney pushed a couple of buttons and the screen sprang to life. It flickered from scene to scene within the ship of the bad guys trying to get out of wherever they were currently being held.

"It's a good thing this thing doesn't have sound," John observed. "They don't look too happy."

"Good for them." Rodney frowned. "I'm just giving them a taste of their own medicine."

The screen flickered past a view of the space outside the ship. "Stop it," John said sharply, adrenaline kicking in. "Back it up," he ordered impatiently as the view moved on to another scene of dangerously disgruntled thugs taking apart a room. "I hope you're right that they can't get out of there," he observed. "How do I control this thing?"

"Stop whining." Rodney moved to stand behind John's shoulder. "I'm busy, you know, trying to save our asses…: Oh, I really hope they can't get out of there," he said after he had stopped the flickering display. "Oh, wait." He tapped a few more buttons and typed something into the keyboard. Suddenly the guys tearing apart the room they were imprisoned in crumpled to the floor, lifeless.

"Sleeping gas," Rodney answered John's unvoiced question. "This ship is equipped with some awesome defenses against intruders. Now, what were you…?" his voice trailed off abruptly when he saw what John had seen in the space outside the ship.

"Oh, crap," he said as the ship they could see hanging low in the space beyond them fired a shot that rocked them roughly from side to side. Rodney hadn't been prepared and was thrown across the room. He crashed into the wall with a sickening thud that John heard from where he was sitting, hanging onto the console in front of him for dear life. Rodney slid down the wall to lie in a motionless heap.

Before John could go to his aid, a voice from the other ship spoke. "Alright, Mallise," the voice came over some sort of open comm system. "That was just a friendly warning. Give my ship back now or I'll take it back."

Rodney was on the floor unconscious, out for the count. He'd done what he promised – he'd gotten them out of the cell and in the control center of the ship. The rest was going to be up to John.

He studied the control board in front of him. The systems were copied from Ancient systems; he recognized most of the layout from the Orion. John pushed the button that he thought would open return communications.

"Hello?" he said tentatively feeling a little foolish talking to thin air not sure that he'd actually pushed the correct button.

"Mallise?" The voice from the other ship answered immediately. "Is that you, you son of a Wraithworshipper?"

"Sorry," John answered. "Mallise is currently unavailable right now. Can I take a message?" As he talked John continued to scan the board trying to figure out if the ship had weapons. Rodney had said there was weapons, John just had to figure out how to use them.

"Who is this?" John could hear the suspicion in the Voice.

"Well, if I told you, then I'd have to kill you," he drawled. There was a moan from Rodney and he stirred weakly, but he gave no sign of waking up any time soon. John found what he thought were weapons, or it could release the sleeping gas (or worse) in the room that he and Rodney were currently occupying.

"What have you done to Mallise?" the Voice demanded sharply.

"What do you care?" John asked. He couldn't help himself, he was curious. "After all you were just going to blow him up."

"Mallise and I have a history. If anyone's going to kill him, it's going to be me." There was a definite hint of threat in the Voice.

"Well, with friends like you…" John said.

"I'm asking again, who is this?"

"Name's John," John answered lazily. Despite the gravity of the situation he was enjoying himself. "John Cash. Some people call me the man in black."

"Never heard of you," the Voice said sounding definitely unimpressed. "I'm giving you one chance to give up before I blow you out of the sky."

"What about Mallise and his guys?" John couldn't help asking.

"As you may have surmised, he's not a good friend, but I'll miss him. So you giving up?"

"Sadly enough, no." John answered. He pressed what he hoped were shields and weapons.

He was half right.

On the monitor in front of him, he saw weapons fire from the other ship even as his own ship fired on it. He heard multiple explosions over the connection with the other ship at the same time as the ship he was currently on shook like a giant hand was shaking it. Showers of sparks sprang up around him.

Desperately John pushed the other button that he thought might be shields. Instantly the buffeting stopped. "Yes!" He targeted the other ship and let another volley of shots fly.

He watched in satisfaction as each shot hit home.

"Had enough?" John asked, not bothering to disguise the smug satisfaction in his voice.

"I will kill you, Black," the other Voice screamed.

"Better men than you have tried," John told him. "Stay out of my way or next time you won't escape with your life." He turned off the com and waited tensely to see what the other ship would do.

Slowly, ever so slowly, it began to navigate in a ponderous arc and pulled away. He kept waiting just to be sure it wouldn't suddenly turn back and attack when they thought Sheppard might have relaxed his guard. But no, it continued on its way gaining speed (but not much) until it disappeared from the screen.

John exhaled the breath he hadn't even known he was holding, hardly daring to believe that he'd managed to scare off the other ship with a few well-placed shots. As the minutes ticked by he allowed himself to relax a little and believe that his bravado had worked. One problem down. Which still left him with a ship full of thugs, an unconscious McKay and how to get them home on a damaged spaceship because there was no way they'd escaped unscathed from the hits they'd taken before he got the shields activated.

First things first – the best person to help with all the other problems was Rodney McKay. The fact that he was still unconscious was also worrying. John hadn't liked leaving his friend lying unconscious on the floor but when there was a ship shooting at you, you had to deal with it.

John turned to push himself out of the chair and nearly fell on his face. The adrenaline that had kept him going through the confrontation with the other ship was completely depleted. In its place was a blinding headache and ribs that were screaming at him for all the crawling through the ship. Like he had a choice. Very carefully he pushed himself up and tottered over to Rodney feeling like a 90-year-old man. And he actually knew what that felt like.

When he reached Rodney, he carefully lowered himself to the floor hoping that they weren't attacked again anytime soon because he wasn't really sure that he'd be able to move to deal with it. He checked Rodney's pulse to find it strong, if somewhat fast, under his fingertips. He was breathing and there was no blood that John could see. He was going to take all of those as positives.

"McKay, come on it's time to wake up already." John tried patting him on an exposed cheek pretty sure that Rodney wasn't going to react the same way he had.

"Just five more minutes." Rodney moved sluggishly to bat his hand away.

John grinned, relief flooding through him. "Wish I could let you have 'em, buddy, but I don't think the bad guys are going to be that cooperative."

"Bad guys?" Rodney opened his eyes to peer up at John. "Sheppard." He groaned. "I was hoping it was all a bad dream."

"Hey, glad to see you, too."

"No, no," Rodney waved a hand, "really glad to see you, and all that. I was just hoping to wake up back in Atlantis in the infirmary."

And just like that, with absolutely no warning they found themselves on the command deck of the Daedalus.

"Well, gentleman," Caldwell greeted them, "are you ready to go home?"

John looked around in astonishment, not quite certain that he wasn't hallucinating from his head wound. "Where did you guys come from?"

"As soon as Ronon and Teyla returned without you, Dr. Zelenka," Radek himself waved at them from behind the console he was monitoring, "configured our sensors to look for your transponders, much as Dr. McKay did when Ronon was taken by the Wraith again and made a runner. Once we located you it was just a matter of the time it took to get here."

"Way to take your time," was Rodney's snarky comment.

"We could put you back on ship, let you make it home by yourself." Radek offered.

Rodney pushed himself up for that, "I'll have you know that we were doing very well on our own…"

Radek looked completely unimpressed, "Yes, it looks that way. Medical team has been alerted, by the way," he added.

"We are very grateful to see you, guys," John jumped in before the two men could start up again. "Listen, there's are a whole ship of bad guys back there, don't you think we should..."

"Colonel," Caldwell sat in his command chair like a throne, "we're not Pegasus security here. What would we do with them if we took them into custody?"

"You could drop them off on a planet without a stargate." Rodney could be downright vindictive when you kidnapped him. "But you do need to do something about them. That ship they're on has some pretty advanced tech that we could use. And right now those guys are all locked in. If we don't do something for them soon they'll likely die on that ship. And it'll be my fault."

Caldwell wasn't happy, but he couldn't deny Rodney's point. Just knowing that made John feel better.

The medical team arrived then led by Carson who clucked and fussed over their condition. Soon they found themselves ensconced in the Daedalus' infirmary where they spent the rest of the trip home. John didn't really mind, it had been a tough day all the way round.

John did protest loudly when Caldwell wouldn't let them go back with the Daedalus to 'rescue' the bad guys on their ship. But Carson didn't play fair, and sedated him so he slept through the whole thing (Carson claimed it had something to do with possible internal injuries and a wee bit of exploratory surgery. It was still playing dirty in John's book). But the time he woke up, the bad guys had been located and the Daedalus was on its way back to the Milky Way with a cool space ship in tow.


It was a week before Carson let John leave the infirmary for his own quarters. It took that long for the headaches to subside to the point where John didn't feel like there were little guys with pick axes in his head trying to excavate their way out.

Gratefully he took his leave promising to come back if the headaches returned, if he experienced any dizziness or nausea, basically if he felt off in any way, which would mean whatever Carson wanted it to mean. He promised to get plenty of rest and to go straight to his quarters.

After he was released John headed straight for the nearest balcony. He'd been cooped up for days and he needed to breathe fresh air, feel the salt sea wind on his face.

He stood at the railing just watching the sun and the water. He wasn't too surprised when he heard the door open behind him and Rodney joined him at the rail.

"Hey," he said by way of greeting.

"Hey," Rodney answered. "So, Carson sprung you?"

"Finally," John gave a huff of annoyance. "I thought I was going to have stage another jail break. I was getting ready to recruit you. You're pretty good." He watched out of the corner of his eye as Rodney's mouth opened and then closed without anything coming out.

"Well, thanks," he said at last.

"No, thank you," John said with a smile.

"And thank you for coming after me." Rodney's fingers drummed restlessly on the railing. "I… might have been a little less than at my best and I was really glad you were there."

"Well, you're welcome," John answered seriously, "but I really didn't jump through that wormhole to rescue you."

"What?" Rodney turned on him. Indignation was written in every line of his body.

"Hey, I knew you could take care of yourself. I was a little worried about the bad guys. Let's face it, once they took Rodney McKay, they didn't stand a chance."

"Oh." It was fun to watch Rodney deflate and blush all at once. "Uhm… thanks."

"Don't mention it."

They stood and watched in companionable silence as the sun danced on the waves.