Hell of a Way to Spend a Thanksgiving

Season/Episode: early season 4

Feedback: is always appreciated

Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis is not owned by me, nor do I make any material profit from this story.

Summary: Just one easy mission in the morning, then back in time for the holiday dinner, he thought.

"Come on, McKay!" Sheppard yelled, dodging trees and low-hanging branches. Bullets whistled by, and he tried not to flinch every time he heard one impact with the trees around him. Each thunk of a bullet led to a cloud of bright autumn leaves falling from the trees, mixing with the light snowfall to create a strange blizzard of crimson, saffron, gold, and white. The colorful foliage blanketing the ground muffled their footsteps, but the damp snow melting on them was making the footing treacherous. He fought to increase his speed without slipping.

"I'm right behind you!" Rodney panted. "Did you see? Those were Genii guns."

"Yeah, I saw," he replied. "Gonna have to talk to Ladon," he paused for a breath, "about who they're sharing weapons tech with." They crashed through the underbrush, hearing shouts and the rapid staccato of automatic weapons behind them. Ahead, Sheppard could see Ronon and Teyla flitting through the trees with an ease that made him momentarily jealous.

"Hell of a way to spend Thanksgiving," he muttered. Just one easy mission in the morning, then back in time for an early dinner, complete with turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, courtesy of the 'McKay-Carter Intergalactic Gate Bridge'. Up until the guns came out, McKay had been gleefully reminding John that the Americans in Atlantis owed their Thanksgiving celebration to him, while at the same time complaining that the Canadian version of the holiday, over a month earlier, had gone by virtually unnoticed.

He risked a glance back to see how close their pursuers were. The kaleidoscopic swirl of snow and leaves helped to put off the aim of the gunmen, but they were still too close. A passing bullet lopped off a tree branch right next to his head, and he ducked under a shower of flame-colored leaves. Rodney stumbled into him, knocking him down. The scientist's boot impacted heavily with John's leg just below the knee, and pain burst through the joint along with a sickening sense of something moving inside in a way that it shouldn't be moving.

He pushed himself to his feet and almost screamed when his knee popped back into place by itself, but he forced his legs to move. He blinked away involuntary tears and his gaze fell on McKay. Rather than running, which he should have been doing – or even helping John, which the soldier would have appreciated – Rodney had stopped beside him and was clutching at a tree.

"Damn it, McKay, run!" he gasped. Desperation and a surge of adrenaline fuelled by pain and anger gave John the energy and determination to grab the scientist by the shoulder of his tac vest, pull him away from the tree, and resume running – or rather, limping swiftly – toward the Stargate.

He maintained a grip on McKay's sleeve, both to keep the other man moving and to steady himself. But Rodney wasn't moving fast enough even to keep up with John. "Move it, McKay," he snarled. He could hear their pursuers closing in on them, could hear Rodney gasping for air. "You're too slow, you're gonna get us killed if you don't hurry the hell up!"

In moments, the clearing that housed the Gate was visible through the dappled leaves that still clung to their branches, and Sheppard could see Ronon at the edge of the forest, firing his gun at their pursuers. Teyla was at the DHD, dialing Atlantis, and the event horizon burst into the chill air. Behind him, John heard shouts of anger and frustration, and a renewed volley of gunfire was aimed at them.

They were only yards from the Stargate and safety, but John's knee was burning, and Rodney was still too slow. He pulled hard, each step feeling like someone was jabbing at his knee with a red-hot skewer. McKay staggered, almost knocking him down again, and John shoved the scientist toward the event horizon.

The chill tingle of the passage through the wormhole eased the fire in his knee for a moment, long enough for him to shout, "Shields up!"

The shield shimmered into existence over the Stargate, and the impact of bullets against it rattled through the Gate Room of Atlantis. Then the wormhole dissolved, and the entire room breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"Damn it, Rodney!" John rasped, the sudden change from chilly, damp autumn air to the warmer atmosphere of the city making his breath catch in his throat. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Hearing a clatter of boots on the main stairs, John looked up, half expecting to see Elizabeth Weir coming to meet them and demand an explanation for their precipitous return. But the woman running to meet them was blonde rather than brunette: Colonel Samantha Carter.

"What happened?"

"Apparently the Frenocks have been too busy making friends with the Genii to be interested in being friends with anyone else," John told her sourly. "They had Genii-made guns and were much too eager to give us a demonstration of how well they work." He wobbled, trying not to put weight on his injured leg.

"You're hurt?" Carter asked, too experienced to miss the spasm of pain that flitted across his face before he could suppress it.

"I was fine until McKay ran into me," he said pointedly, loud enough for Rodney to hear. The scientist had staggered to a halt a few feet away, wheezing slightly.

Ronon came up beside him and pulled John's arm across his broad shoulders, steadying him. "Infirmary," the Satedan ordered in his usual succinct manner.

"You and Teyla?" He felt ridiculous hopping on one leg, but by now any use of the other one was absolutely excruciating.

"Fine," Ronon answered. "You're too slow."

"It wasn't me, it was – "

"Rodney?" Behind them, Teyla sounded concerned. "Rodney, are you – "

John heard a grunt and a thud, and turned to see Rodney sitting awkwardly on the floor, as if his legs had suddenly given way.

His face was pale and troubled. He pressed a hand to his lower back, and when he brought it back to hold in front of his face, it was stained bright red.

"I think…I think I'm hit," Rodney said softly, his voice shaking.

Teyla and Carter converged on him swiftly, the former supporting Rodney as he began to fall backwards, the latter peering at his back to find the wound. "Medical team to the Gate Room!" Carter yelled.

John tried to hobble back towards them, but Ronon held onto him. "You can't help, Sheppard," he rumbled quietly. "They know what to do."

So all he could was stand there while Carter carefully stripped off Rodney's tac vest, her hands smeared with red; while Rodney laid his head on Teyla's shoulder and shivered, his own stained hand clutching convulsively at hers as she murmured reassurances in his ear; while the emergency medical crew finally arrived, barking out vital statistics and orders for medication and bandages at each other.

He kept hoping Rodney would hurry up and pass out, but he stayed conscious even when they were lifting him carefully onto the gurney. He let out an awful sound, a small whine of pain that made the hairs on the back on John's neck stand up. Then the medics were rattling down the corridor from the Gate Room towards the infirmary.

They left blood-stained footprints all over the floor in front of the Gate, like scarlet leaves scattered by the wind. John stared at them until Ronon pulled him away to meet the wheelchair waiting for him, Teyla volunteering to stay behind and brief Carter on the total loss their mission had been.

An hour or so later, John was reclining on a bed in the infirmary, chemical cold packs around his knee to take down the swelling. He'd expected to be handed something like Tylenol with codeine, and his knee had been hurting enough that he'd have taken it even though he hated the fuzzy, half-drunk feeling it gave him and the headache after it wore off. But Doctor Keller had just sprinkled a few little white pellets that looked like ice crystals, but were dry and sweet-tasting, under his tongue. About ten minutes later, the burning and throbbing in his knee rose to an agonizing crescendo for a nearly intolerable couple of minutes before easing off, and now all that was left was a slight, dull ache and a strong desire to close his eyes and take a little nap.

But there was no way he could sleep – no way he could allow himself to sleep – until he found out if Rodney would be okay.

He tilted his wrist so that he could read the dial without lifting his hand from its resting place in his lap. It seemed like every time he blinked, several minutes would pass by without his being aware of it. He blinked again, and suddenly Keller was beside him.

"Hey, Colonel, how are you feeling?"

"How's McKay?" The question burst out of his mouth almost before she had finished talking, and he flushed when Keller grinned at him.

"He just came out of surgery a few minutes ago," she said. "Luckily, his vest slowed down the bullet enough so that it didn't penetrate very far. There's some internal swelling, so we'll have to keep a close eye on that, but his prognosis is excellent."

The tension rushed out of him in a wave, and he slumped back against the pillows. Checking his watch again, he was mildly astonished to find that several hours had passed without his being aware of it. "What was that you gave me?" he drawled. "It works a hell of a lot better than anything else I've ever had."

Keller smiled, her eyes lighting up. "Just a homeopathic remedy, Colonel. I'm glad to hear it did the trick. Let me or one of the nurses know if the pain comes back." She lifted a few of the cold packs away to examine his knee.

"Considering you dislocated your knee, that looks pretty good," she pronounced. "You're lucky it fixed itself. Dislocations can be pretty tricky to reduce."

"Hey, shouldn't the bruising be worse than that?" John inquired, peering down at the afflicted joint. "I mean, the whole thing should black and blue at this point, shouldn't it?" He'd had a dislocated shoulder once, and the bruising had been almost frightening to look at. But the skin of his knee was more blue than black, red at the edges, and not nearly as swollen as he would have expected.

"Homeopathy is really great for this type of trauma," she told him. "I've seen bruises that would normally last for days disappear within twenty-four hours. If you take it easy and don't overdo it, you may be back on your feet in a few days."

A huge yawn forced its way out of him, almost stifling his reply. "Sounds great."

"Sleepy, huh?" Keller lowered the head of his bed, rearranging the stack of pillows propping him up. "That's good, it means the remedy I gave you is working. Go ahead and take a nap, Colonel. By the time you wake up," she spread a light blanket over him, "we should have Doctor McKay settled in right beside you."

John wanted to question her further, but he really was extraordinarily tired, and it was getting harder to keep his eyes open, and the ache in his knee had almost completely faded, and Rodney was going to be okay…

The first thing John noticed, before he even opened his eyes, was that his knee was painfully cold and beginning to throb again. The second thing he noticed was the whispered conversation taking place nearby.

"Ronon! Leave him alone."

"He hurt his knee, not his head. He's been sleeping for hours. What the hell did she give him?"

"Doctor Keller said the medicine she gave him would make him sleep. Now leave John alone. He'll wake when he is ready. If you're bored, I suggest you 'meditate'."

John could almost hear the quotation marks around the last word – Ronon couldn't meditate for five minutes without falling asleep – and couldn't keep a grin from spreading across his face. "And when you're done 'meditating'," he said, opening his eyes, "you can come and show me the bruises from Teyla beating on you for snoring."

"Like the bruises she gives you for not practicing with those sticks?" Ronon shot back, but the smile on his face was big enough to light up the room. He was sprawled in a chair that seemed too small for him. Then again, most chairs seemed too small for Ronon.

"I guess I'll get a little reprieve from that, huh?" His leg gave an involuntary twitch and one of the cold packs slipped off and slid to the floor. Fumbling for the controls, he raised the bed to a sitting position and looked for Teyla.

He found her beside his bed as she stood up, the retrieved cold pack in her hand. She began to replace it on his knee, but John grimaced and shook his head, reaching down to remove the rest of the chemical pouches. He tossed them at Ronon, who caught them easily and dumped them on a shelf.

"Hey, where's Rodney?" he asked, looking around.

Teyla moved aside, and John looked past her to see McKay tucked into the bed next to his. The scientist's face was nearly as white as the sheets. A blanket had been draped over him, but had slipped down to show his bare chest. Teyla reached over to draw it up to his shoulders.

"Damn," John whispered, "he looks awful."

"Tha's prob'ly 'cause I feel awful," Rodney muttered without opening his eyes, startling them. "Ugh. Mouth tastes like sumpin' died in 't."

"Doctor Keller said you may have ice chips, if you wish," Teyla offered, picking up a plastic cup from the tray table beside the bed.

She spooned up the ice, and he opened his mouth and accepted it with the air of a hungry chick being fed by an attentive mother bird.

They watched him anxiously as he sucked on the ice, knowing that it wouldn't keep him quiet for long.

Sure enough, as soon as the ice had dissolved, Rodney asked, "Wha' happ'ned?"

"You got shot," Ronon replied succinctly.

"Oh." His eyes opened and he stared muzzily at them while he thought about that for a few seconds. "Am I okay?"

"Yes," Teyla answered soothingly. "Doctor Keller said that you will be fine."

"Listen, Rodney – " John had to say the words that had been niggling at him since McKay's collapse in the Gate Room. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. I didn't realize you'd been shot."

The high forehead furrowed in confusion, and Rodney slowly turned his head to look at Sheppard. "Yelled at me? Don't 'member that. Why'd you yell at me?"

John drew in a deep breath, then let it out. "I – you – it's a long story. It wasn't your fault, though, okay?"

"What wasn' my fault?"

"It was just an accident, Rodney. My knee was hurt, and you kept slowing down, and I yelled at you. And I shouldn't have."

The scientist's eyebrows drew together, his voice taking on a bewildered tone. "Wha'd I do?"

"You didn't do anything, Rodney, that's what I'm saying!" John's voice rose in frustration.

"Then stop yellin' at me!"

"I wasn't!"

"Both of you, hush!" Teyla commanded, glaring from one to the other, then at Ronon, who was unabashedly sniggering.

McKay's eyes were opened wide and fixed on her, staring in befuddled dismay. "Rodney, you did nothing wrong. Go back to sleep," she said gently, and he obediently closed his eyes and seemed to fall asleep almost immediately.

"John," she turned to Sheppard, frowning, then sighed. "It is admirable that you wish to apologize to Rodney, but I fear you will have to wait until he is more lucid to do so."

"Yeah," he agreed, scrubbing a hand over his face. "It's just…"

Teyla smiled. "I know. It is difficult for you to say that you care. Rodney knows that, too. Now, we will leave you both to rest. I will return later with a plate from dinner. I know you were looking forward to it."

She turned, giving Ronon a significant look, and he obediently pushed himself out of his chair. "See you later, Sheppard, McKay," the big man rumbled as he followed the tiny woman who had wrapped them all around her finger so effortlessly.

John settled back against his pillows after they left. His knee felt achy, but not too bad. Maybe he should ask Keller for more of those little white pellets that had worked so well earlier.

He glanced over at Rodney, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest. It was just too easy to yell at Rodney sometimes. John had already been disappointed and frustrated that their mission had gone so terribly wrong, the injury to his knee had been the crowning glory on a bad day, and Rodney had been…convenient.

He closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift back to that morning. They'd stepped through the Stargate into a perfect fall morning, the forest around them ablaze with color. It had seemed, for a short while, like the universe itself was conspiring to add to the holiday mood. John and Rodney had discussed apple cider and the merits of pumpkin pie versus apple pie; John waxing rhapsodic over winter squash while Rodney gave Ronon and Teyla a brief lecture that meandered through Pilgrims and Indians and school plays that taught fallacious history. John wasn't sure that Pocahontas actually had anything to do with Thanksgiving, but was willing to let it go in favor of enjoying the crisp air and the contemplation of a good dinner.

And then it had all gone to hell, and it had just been such a disappointment…

"Sorry, Rodney," he whispered.

A few minutes later, he heard a soft, slurred voice say, "You c'n find a way to make 't up t' me. Extra slice of pumpkin pie's a good way t' say sorry."

John opened his eyes and stared over at McKay, who appeared to be sound asleep.

"I think I can manage that." Slowly, he smiled. "Happy Thanksgiving, Rodney."

The grunt that answered him didn't sound anything like 'Happy Thanksgiving, John', or 'Apology accepted', but that was okay. He knew what it meant, and John lay back and closed his eyes, and fell asleep again thinking about the swirl of autumn leaves falling in the bright morning sunlight.

Author's Note: The stuff about homeopathic remedies is real. I've used them myself, and they can have astonishing results. It's best, however, to consult an experienced practitioner before using them, and you should still take serious ailments to a doctor or hospital.

I've been looking out the window all afternoon while writing this, and watching the snow mix with the falling leaves, providing the inspiration to finish this story. Snow for Thanksgiving is unusual weather here! It makes me feel glad to be snug and cosy at home. I hope your holiday is just as nice as mine has been.