Author's Notes: Written for the Fall 2008 Fic Exchange over at the SGA H/C Challenges LiveJournal community.

Written for xparrot, who requested "Rodney gets (badly?) hurt, but has to work despite his injuries to save the team."

Thanks to Sarah, Alana, Karen, and my mom for the beta and moral support.

Disclaimer: I don't own them. And my medical knowledge comes from Wikipedia.

Spoilers: Set in Season Five; character spoilers

Soldiering On

by LilRicki (aka Pansy Chubb)

"Wow, McKay, I haven't seen you move this fast since Earth Desserts Day in the mess."

Rodney didn't deign to spare Sheppard a glance. "Please, Colonel," he scoffed, eyes never leaving the computer tablet in his hands, "men of genius such as myself are always in a hurry whenever great scientific breakthroughs are on the line. Never let it be said that Doctor Rodney McKay failed to be first in line for knowledge or discovery."

"Or chocolate pudding."

That did earn him an eye roll. Teyla's lips twitched into a smile, and John shared a smirk with her as they picked their way across the leaf-strewn ground behind the self-proclaimed genius.

The planet's sun was bright, but the thick forest kept them mostly in shade as they weaved through the trees, for which John was grateful. It was the middle of summer in this hemisphere, and even Ronon had succumbed to the heat and discarded his heavy duster cloak. The tan fabric now hung from his shoulders, camouflaging the runner even more in the dense woods.

"Oh, like you weren't right up there with me, Colonel I'm-Going-To-Pull-Rank-On-Whoever-Takes-The-Last-Piece-Of-Apple-Pie."

"Well, the oak leaves do come with certain privileges."

"Too bad it didn't help you any." Ronon's grin was smug as he called back to them from his position several yards ahead of the group.

"That was a low-down, dirty trick, Ronon, and don't you think I'm gonna forget it!"

"I prefer the tapioca, myself," Teyla interrupted smoothly before the week-old playful squabble could begin again. "I enjoy the texture."

"Really?" Rodney sounded surprised. "See, I don't understand the attraction to tapioca. I could never get over the feeling of all those little globules of flavorless gelatin on my tongue. Which is odd, because I've always liked rice pudding, and it essentially amounts to the same thing."

"So what're we looking for?" Ronon called back again, steering the conversation to a more relevant topic.

"Anything that looks like a doorway to an Ancient compound," Rodney said, gesturing vaguely at his surroundings. "Lorne and his team stumbled across it only a few hours ago, somewhere around here."

"And he means it literally," Sheppard added.

"Ah yes, apparently one of them was daydreaming and managed to trip down the stairs of an underground entrance."

John shot Rodney a scowl. "I'm sure it's a little more complicated than that."

"Was he seriously injured?" Teyla's brow furrowed in concern.

"Nah," Sheppard answered, "it's just a sprained ankle. I stopped by the infirmary before we left, and the sergeant's in good hands." John grinned. "But his team's never gonna let him forget about it."

"Well, his loss is our gain," Rodney said brightly. "If Lorne's team hadn't been put out of commission, we wouldn't be getting the opportunity to have the first look at an Ancient compound that may not have been disturbed in ten-thousand years."

"Since when did you become such an archeology enthusiast?"

"Since we discovered that the words 'abandoned Ancient base' have a strong connection to 'fully-powered ZPM.' Really, Colonel, keep up. Now," McKay continued, waving his hand absently, "don't go spoiling all the fun by accidentally throwing yourselves down a giant hole in the ground."

"Like this one?" Ronon asked.

"Where?" Rodney looked up sharply and nearly collided with the Satedan, who had stopped in a small clearing. When the scientist went to sidestep the large man, his feet slipped and skid at the very edge of a sudden ledge in the middle of the otherwise flat ground.

"Aha!" McKay crowed at the same moment Ronon grabbed the back of his tac vest and bodily hauled him away from the precipice. Disaster narrowly averted, McKay continued as if nothing had happened. "Success!"

John caught Ronon's eye as he and Teyla joined them at the small cliff's edge. All three wore matching exasperated looks while the cause of their expressions obliviously went about shoving his tablet back into his pack.

"It's not that bad," Sheppard observed aloud, peering into the depression. "Whaddya think - ten feet deep at most?"

"And at least twice that across," Ronon added.

Teyla pointed. "Those stones look like stairs. Perhaps they once were."

"And as usual, you're all missing the bigger picture," Rodney grunted as he stood again. He pointed to the bottom of one end of the hole. "Gentlemen - and lady - that's our way in."

An Ancient door lay where Rodney pointed, familiar in its design and yet almost completely hidden by moss and grasses. John could see a raised bump of vegetation on the wall next to it, which he bet was hiding a control panel.

"Nicely done, Rodney," John said lightly. "Now you just gotta open it."

"Right, so," McKay rubbed his hands together briskly, "anyone bring climbing gear?" He looked at his team members expectantly. "What?" he said at their blank expressions. "Safety first!"

Ronon turned and started jogging to the other side of the hole as John spoke. "Climbing gear? No, we don't have any, Rodney, and besides, I could probably jump down this thing and be fine."

"Oh yeah? Tell that to Lorne's team!"

"He was caught off guard!"

"Hey!" Ronon's voice boomed from below them. The former runner stood at the bottom of the shallow pit and looked up at them impatiently. "We gonna open this thing or not?"

"Wha - how did you - did you -"

"Stairs." Ronon jerked his head in the direction of the stones Teyla had pointed out earlier. "You comin' or what?"

In the end, with Ronon's help and after many loud complaints, Rodney managed to get down the steep stairway ("More like a crumbling stone ladder!") and over to the doorway, where he eventually got to work on the interface ("Oh, disgusting - wait, do you think this moss is poisonous?!"). John ordered the Satedan to keep an eye on the vocal physicist while he and Teyla kept watch from above.

"Hey, it's your own fault." John turned his back on Ronon's baleful look. "That'll teach you to go stealing my pie," he muttered.

Rodney's muted exclamations of delight and dismay floated up from the hole as the physicist babbled to himself, following John as he sauntered over to join Teyla on a fallen log.

"This is nice," he said, settling himself down beside her and taking a swig from his canteen. Teyla shifted her position so that they would both have a better view of the surrounding forest. "Summer's day, a walk in the woods, the thrill of exploration."

"The company of good friends." Teyla didn't look at him, but John could see her smile in his peripheral vision.

"Yeah," John agreed softly.

They sat like that for a while, enjoying each other's companionship, listening to the sounds of the forest and the occasional outburst from McKay.

"Is it just me, or is Rodney taking longer than usual?"

"Perhaps the control panel is broken, or the data encrypted," Teyla replied, ever the practical one. "I am sure he will solve the problem eventually."

"Yeah." John stood again. "But when is 'eventually?' Hey, Rodney!" he said, raising his voice and striding the few yards to the hole. "How long before you can open the - " John stopped as he came in view of the bottom.

"As always, Sheppard, I'm two steps ahead of you," the scientist answered, standing next to the now open doorway and studying his tablet.

Sheppard transferred his gaze to Ronon, who was lounging on the stair rocks, looking bored. "Opened it a while ago," the big man grunted. "Says we can't go in yet."

"Rodney . . ."

"It's a transporter," McKay waved his hand in reply, "not a regular entrance. I'm trying to make sure that we pick both safe and correct destinations when we do go in – as opposed to, oh, you know, imminent death."


Sheppard ignored Teyla's call. "And neither of you thought to give us an update?"

"It doesn't really matter unless we can do something about it, does it?" The physicist's tablet beeped, and he frowned at the display.

Ronon just shrugged.


"This can't be good," Rodney said, almost to himself. He keyed a few commands into the computer.

"What? What is it, McKay?"


Sheppard snapped around. Teyla stood directly behind him, eyes wide. He got a sinking feeling in his gut. "Teyla?" The Athosian simply nodded. "Crap."

The whine of Wraith darts buzzed at the edge of John's hearing.

"Gonna have to cut this short, Rodney!"

"No kidding! There are Wraith on the way!"

John didn't have time to wonder at the physicist's intuition. "They must have come through the Stargate," Teyla said as Ronon bounded up the stone stairs, blaster at the ready. "There are a number of small villages in the woods on the other side of it."

"Right," Sheppard said, his mind racing through the strategies available to him as the darts got louder. "They'll have the 'gate blocked. We're gonna have to stay hidden." John ignored the curl of Ronon's lip. "Hunker down in this forest until the culling is over."

"Not gonna work!"

"McKay!" John growled at the scientist, who was still down in the hole. Rodney paced resolutely over the uneven ground, eyes fixed on a small detector in his hand. "We gotta move!" The droning sounded closer now.

"Can't do that, Colonel."

John gritted his teeth as Teyla spoke. "We must find a more defensible position, Rodney." Ronon leapt down the stairs again, as if determined to drag McKay out by the scruff of his neck. "If we stay hidden the Wraith will have no reason to search for us."

"If we activated a Wraith transmitter, then yes, yes they would."

That stopped them all in their tracks.

"What?" Ronon growled, practically in McKay's ear.

"One of the signals spiked when the Wraith arrived. Until then, I had thought it was just another background energy reading from the outpost." As usual in a crisis, McKay spoke louder and faster the more agitated he became. "Which means they know we're here and they're coming straight for us!"

"Did you do something to trigger it?"

McKay actually dropped the detector to his side in order to give Sheppard his most withering look. "No," he said, voice dripping with disdain. "If I had to guess, I'd say it was ATA activated."

"Another one," John grumbled.

"Which means it has been transmitting since Lorne's team was here," Teyla concluded.

John ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "They'll pick us off like sitting ducks if we make a run for it."

"It must be buried," Rodney muttered, going back to the detector. "The signal's coming from right about . . ." He tapped a stone in the side of the pit. "Who knows how long it's been here."

The first Wraith dart whizzed overhead.

"Alright, down we go!" Sheppard ushered Teyla before him as they headed for the stairs.

"Move," Ronon grunted, grabbing McKay's shoulder and pushing him to the side.

"What? What are you - wait!" Rodney's command was too late; Ronon raised his blaster and promptly blew a hole in the wall where the transmitter lay. Pebbles and bits of dirt exploded outward. McKay whirled on the Satedan. "A little late for that, don't you think?!"

Two more darts flew overhead as John and Teyla reached the bottom, skidding the last few feet. "Okay, they can't land in the forest, but they'll be sending ground troops any minute. How's that transporter look, McKay?"

"Like we have a choice," Rodney grumbled as he led them to the doorway. Ronon lagged behind, blaster trained on the ground above.

The transporter alcove was very similar to the ones in Atlantis, except for the interactive map on the wall, which showed a sprawling, asymmetrical complex. "It's bigger than we thought," Sheppard observed as they crowded into the small space.

"Well, we don't know how much of it has survived through the years, but this area" - McKay pointed to a prominent spot near the center - "is the control room, and therefore better fortified. Probably."

Sheppard glanced at Rodney, who merely shrugged. "Ronon! Time to go!"

The team made room for Ronon as he backed into the alcove. Rodney punched in their destination, the transporter doors hissed shut, and they disappeared in a flash of light.


The transporter doors opened on what could have been a lab in Atlantis. Consoles and glass screens in various states of disrepair lined the walls, while a few "keyboard panels," as Rodney liked to call them, stood in the middle. He fidgeted in the confined space of the transporter as Sheppard and Ronon hefted their guns and peered into the dusty room.

"Excuse me," Rodney bit out, squeezed into the corner of the alcove, "but were you planning on moving anytime this year?"

"Just clearing the room, Rodney," John replied patiently as they finally moved out of the way. Dim lights flickered on at their presence. "If the Wraith set that transmitter, they could be in the building, too."

"Hmm, not likely." McKay sidled his way past his companions to set his tablet on one of the panels. "This place was locked up tight when we got here."

"Was?" John's question was more of a statement, accompanied by a raised eyebrow.

Rodney paused in his scramble to connect the laptop to the console. "Uh, yes, I may have had to override certain security protocols to, uh, get the doors to open."

"Oh, great," John said with mock cheer.

"So the Wraith may follow us in here," Teyla said.

"Um, I'd say it's a distinct possibility."

"Empty hallway over here," Ronon announced, peering left and right as he stood in the only other doorway in the room.

"Can you see where it leads?" John asked, joining him.

"No. Too dark and too far. Both directions."

"We do have power," Rodney murmured as he activated the keys. A few more lights switched on. "But not much. And I can't tell where it's coming from."

"Right," John said, turning briskly back to the scientist. "Find the outpost's defenses and activate as many as you can. And when you're done with that, see what state the communications system is in. We're probably going to have to hole up in here for a while, which means missing our check-in, so I want to be able to contact Atlantis when they dial us."

"Oh, yes, with a snap of my fingers I'll simply grant your wishes! Never mind the fact that I have no idea yet if any of these systems are still viable. Is there anything else you'd like me to get you, hmm? Perhaps a tree that grows ZPMs, or the secret to weight loss without diet and exercise?"

"Only if you have time," John said mildly, checking his tac vest pockets and the magazine on his P-90. "But a better map of this place would really come in handy." Satisfied with his supply check, John flipped on the gun's flashlight and jerked his head at Ronon. "You're with me. Teyla, stay with McKay."

"What? Where are you going?" Rodney demanded as Sheppard and Ronon stepped back into the transporter. "Back outside? Are you insane?"

"Nope, just going to the other side of the compound, McKay, so relax. Is the transporter station over there working?"

"Um," McKay stuttered, distracted, as he brought up the relevant screens. "Yes, it looks fine."

"What are you planning to do, John?" Worry colored Teyla's face and voice as she watched John activate the transporter map.

"Gonna check out the place, set up a perimeter. See if there are any other ways for the Wraith to get in."

"And if there are?"

"Then we'll take care of them," Ronon answered, twirling his gun with a feral grin.

"As fun as that might be," John said dryly, "we're also going to check out a possible escape route, if we do encounter a worst case scenario."

"Escape route?" McKay piped up from behind Teyla.

"Call it a hunch," John said. "Oh, and Rodney? Disable the transporters when we're gone." He punched in the coordinates and smiled grimly at Teyla as the doors began to slide shut. "Wouldn't want any Wraith coming through this way."

And then he and Ronon were gone.

"Huh," Rodney said, more to break the silence than anything. "That was . . . abrupt." Teyla simply raised her eyebrows and gave a small shrug.

McKay's tablet beeped across the room. "Ooh!" The physicist hurried to the console. "My preliminary diagnostic is complete."

"What have you learned?"

"Hmm," Rodney frowned at the display. "Well, for starters, this place isn't powered by a ZPM, which means this is a complete waste of a death-defying mission. But . . ." He toggled a few keys. "Ha! Communications are up and running. We should be able to talk to Ronon and Sheppard now."

"Were we not able to before?" Teyla asked. "Is the building shielded from radio transmissions?"

"Oh, um . . . I didn't think to check. But if it is, it won't be a problem now." Rodney's hand flew to his ear to activate his radio. "Ronon? Sheppard? Are you there?"

"Rodney." John's voice came through loud and clear. "We've only been gone sixty seconds. What's wrong?"

"Nothing, John, we are fine," Teyla answered. "But it is good to hear you made it to your destination safely."

"Just a bunch of dark corridors so far," Sheppard answered. "No sign of Wraith. How are those defenses coming, Rodney?"

"Oh, uh, well, I got communications up."

There was a pause. "Okay," came the skeptical reply, "but I distinctly remember telling you to find the security programs first."

"Yes, I know, but it's going to take some time to determine if the configuration - "

"Just get it done - now."

"Well, I'm sorry, Colonel, but I can only work so fast, and nothing you say can make - "

"Chop chop, McKay, Wraith are on the way," Sheppard singsonged.

"You – you little – fine! I'm working on it!"

"And who says you can't hurry genius," Sheppard said smugly. The pilot continued to talk over McKay's indignant spluttering. "Do what you can to help him, Teyla. Regular radio check-ins every ten minutes."

"Understood," the Athosian replied, amusement in her voice as Rodney went furiously back to work. "Teyla out."

McKay continued to mutter to himself as he explored the outpost's database, vaguely aware of Teyla taking a slow stroll about the room and surveying the equipment. Apparently, she knew better than to interrupt his work.

The transporter doors hissed open as she passed, reacting to her presence. "Rodney," she said, pausing in front of them, "are you not supposed to disable - "

"Yes, yes, I'm searching for the subroutine now." The transporter doors hissed closed.

Teyla turned back to him and smiled, hands resting on the P-90 clipped to her vest. "Well done," she said, managing to sound encouraging and not indulgent.

"What?" McKay asked, distracted by his work. "I haven't done anything yet." He looked up as the transporter doors hissed open once more.

Rodney felt the blood drain from his features. Teyla noticed his change in expression and whirled around to come face-to-face with a snarling Wraith.

Though quick to raise her P-90, the monster was quicker. In a flash of billowing black leather and flying white hair, the Wraith launched itself out of the transporter. Teyla's shots, deafening in the confined space, went wide as the Wraith knocked the gun to the side. Before Rodney could so much as unholster his nine-millimeter, his teammate was hurled through the air by a monstrous blow. She flew through the open doorway and into the hallway beyond; Rodney heard the sickening thud of her body impacting the opposite wall.

"Oh crap oh crap oh crap," Rodney chanted as he backed away, gun trained on the Wraith. It turned its attention to him and began its menacing advance.

McKay fired, lodging bullet after bullet in the creature's chest. He could have been shooting Nerf balls at it for all the effect it had. And, just like a toy, the gun went skittering across the floor when the Wraith knocked it from his hands. It came to rest near the opposite wall, quite useless to him now.

Weaponless and with nowhere to run, Rodney slapped at his ear. "Sheppard! There's a Wraith that got - " He never finished his sentence; the Wraith backhanded him, its unnatural strength sending him sailing into the far wall.

Rodney hit the consoles with such force that glass and crystal shattered all around him. His head slammed into a panel and everything went gray for a moment. When the world came back in focus, he felt only pain - a ringing in his head, a tight ache throughout his torso, and a blinding fire in his left thigh.

Dimly, he saw the Wraith approach him, a leering smile on its tattooed face. It raised its feeding hand.

P-90 fired exploded throughout the room, bullets ripping through the Wraith's body, causing it to jerk and howl in rage. It fell to its knees, and still the gunfire continued.

Lying on his back, McKay turned his muddled head and saw Teyla on the floor in the hallway, P-90 muzzle flashing in the relative darkness as she shot through the doorway. She looked unharmed, but she stayed on her side, propping herself up on her elbows. The submachine gun's racket didn't stop until the Wraith gurgled, slumped to the floor, and went limp.

"Huh," Rodney exhaled in relief. He groaned as the adrenaline rush left him and the pain in his body really began to make itself known.

An alarm began blaring. Lights flashed on the walls. Tandem hydraulic hisses echoed as both the transporter and hallway doors slid shut.

McKay winced at the noise and tried to sit up. The wave of dizziness he felt was completely drowned out by the white fire that exploded in his leg. Gasping, black spots dancing before his eyes, he slumped back and into darkness.


"McKay, come in. McKay, please respond."

A tinny voice in his ear. A louder, pulsing noise everywhere else.

"Teyla. Teyla, are you there? This is Sheppard. Respond, please."

The voice sounded tight with worry and frustration.

"Rodney, answer me. Damn it . . ."

McKay opened his eyes. Orange lights flashed on the wall and ceiling. The outpost's alarm continued to blare, each burst adding to his worsening headache. The physicist winced and rolled his head to the side.

The slitted yellow eyes of the Wraith met his own, its pallid skin glowing strangely in the emergency lighting, grotesque teeth bared in a horrific grin.

McKay could literally feel the adrenaline flood his veins. He jerked upright in a panic, hands scrambling to pull himself along as he scooted backward, away from the ghastly sight.

He made it to the other wall before his body decided the fight-or-flight response wasn't going to keep the pain at bay any longer. Something like a small explosion went off in his leg, whiting out his vision. When he came to this time, he was slumped against the wall, panting shallow breaths and swallowing against nausea.

"Teyla, please respond. This is Sheppard. Rodney, come in."

The Wraith hadn't moved. It lay on the floor, black coat and white hair fanned out. Its sightless eyes continued to stare at nothing. Rodney's head fell back against the wall in relief as his racing heartbeat came down from its jackhammer pace.

"You know, you're really starting to tick me off, here."

He didn't want to look. "Oh no," he breathed aloud, fighting not to make it a whimper. The pain continued to radiate outward, and he felt a warm wetness making the fabric of his pants stick to his skin. Slowly, he let his gaze drift downward.

The biggest shard of broken console McKay had ever seen had embedded itself in his left thigh. At least three inches of it stuck up from the top of his leg, almost halfway between his knee and hip. The whole side of his BDUs was a sticky crimson. Rodney thought the shard might be made up of some kind of Ancient glass, or crystal, or who cared because it was in his leg and he was going to bleed to death.

"Rodney, Teyla, I don't mean to alarm you, but Ronon is this close to blasting his way through all the doors out here, and since I'd rather it not come to that, one of you better answer us right damn now!"

"Okay, okay, okay," Rodney mumbled to himself, barely hanging at the edge of hysteria, "'s'not that bad, 's'not that bad. You've had worse. Way worse, in fact. 'Cause you're tough. You're a survivor, and . . . and one little Wraith isn't going to take you down, no sir, not Doctor Rodney McKay! You just - ah!" Rodney gasped as a sharp flare of pain shot through him.

"Okay, guys, Ronon says this is your last warning. We don't know what'll happen if we try to break out of here, so if you don't want us triggering any more hidden security protocols, now would be a good time to answer!"

"Oh," Rodney said in surprise, as if just now hearing Sheppard's calls. Breathing hard, he raised a shaky hand to his ear. "That's always his first instinct, isn't it? Doesn't like it, he shoots it, blows it up, or rips it apart with his bare hands . . ."

"Rodney!" The relief in John's voice was thick before the persona of team leader took over. "What the hell happened?"

"I was disabling the transporter," McKay grunted as he tried to shift into a more comfortable position without inciting further agony, "but a Wraith got through it. Threw us around like rag dolls before Teyla took it out. She - " He stopped short and looked around the empty room. "Teyla? Teyla!?"

"She's not with you?" Ronon's voice joined John's, accusation in its tone.

"No! Why else would I be calling her name?!"

"We can't reach her on the radio, either," Sheppard said grimly. "Where did she go?"

"She didn't. I don't know . . . she was right - oh."

"McKay . . ."

"The hallway," Rodney said, leaning his head back against the wall, eyes on the door across the room. "The Wraith threw her into the hallway. She was fine when I last saw her, but now - well, I can't see her. The door's closed."

"Yeah, they're all closed, McKay," Ronon said with obvious irritation.


"Base is in some kind of lockdown," Sheppard answered. "We're stuck in a small room just off the 'jumper bay. You know, when I said to arm the security systems, I didn't expect you to take it this far."

"I didn't do it!" McKay said indignantly. "The presence of the Wraith must have activated some kind of automatic containment protocol to - wait, 'jumper bay?"

"Yeah, I thought the layout looked familiar on the transporter map. Turns out the Ancients built a parking garage for this place."

"Really? Why didn't you tell me?!"

"Well, no use telling you until we could do something about it, was there?" John said lightly, continuing before Rodney could come up with a decent retort. "And we still can't do anything about it now. So why don't you get to work unlocking the doors and turning off this damn alarm so we can find Teyla, make a daring escape, and all go home?"

Rodney couldn't help a small laugh of desperation. His tablet, which he'd need to override the lockdown, was on the other side of the lab. He looked at it as a fresh wave of pain rolled through him. It might as well have been a ten-mile hike over rough terrain. In full gear. During an earthquake.

Ronon spoke before Rodney could tell them just how ridiculous John's demands were. "If this place is protected against Wraith, how'd one get to the control room?"

"Ten-thousand year old equipment," Rodney gasped, unable to resist answering the question. "Bound to be a few glitches . . . oh . . . crap . . ." He breathed noisily through his nose.

"McKay?" John said, worry edging into his voice. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong is . . . my leg has been shish-kabobed, and . . . " He couldn't help a slightly hysterical chuckle. "And that means I can't fix the systems now, Colonel, so sorry to disappoint!"

"You mean you're injured?"

"No, Colonel, I was just tossed into a wall of shattered glass by a life-sucking vampire with super-strength and I've come away from it miraculously unharmed, just like in those stupid action movies you make us watch. Of course I'm injured!"

"McKay . . ."

"There's a giant piece of shrapnel sticking out of my thigh and - oh no, it's going to cause permanent muscle damage, isn't it? I'm going to have to walk around with a cane for the rest of my life, just like that creepy guy who lived down the street when I was a kid!"


"No, who am I kidding, I'm going to bleed to death, bleed out right here on the floor, lying next to a dead Wraith for the rest of eternity!"

"Rodney!" The physicist clamped his lips and eyes shut. "You need to calm down. Take some deep breaths." He obeyed, albeit shakily. "Now, I need you to describe your injuries to me exactly."

"What? But I just - "

"You tend to exaggerate," John interrupted wryly. "Now come on. As accurate as you can be."

"Um, okay," Rodney said, no energy to argue. "Uh, well, I'm pretty sure I hit my head, because I've got a worse headache than usual. And my chest hurts, too, so, you know - cracked ribs. Most likely broken."

"No speculation, McKay - just facts."

Rodney took a breath through his nose. "Right. Well, next . . ." He forced himself into a kind of clinical detachment. "There's a shard of glass - or something - that's penetrated my left leg, almost in the middle of the front of my thigh. Impossible to tell how deep it goes, but a good few inches are sticking out. It's still bleeding, I think . . . not gushing, but not what I would call slowly, either. The blood has soaked my pants from hip to knee, and - the artery! Did it hit the femoral artery?!"

"No," John answered quickly and firmly, cutting off the scientist's impending panic attack. "If it had you'd be dead right now."

"Oh," Rodney said, calming a little. "That's . . . comforting." Then a thought hit him. "How long were you trying to reach us?"

"It's been - " there was a pause and Rodney imagined John checking his watch - "eight minutes and thirty-three seconds since the lockdown went into effect."



McKay felt his lips curl into a brief smile before he was forced to concentrate on suppressing another bout of nausea. "So," he said when he could, distracting himself by talking, "given the blood already lost in that time period and . . . and the current rate of bleeding . . . how bad, do you think?"

There was only the slightest pause before John spoke, a minute hesitation Rodney would never have noticed had he not known the man for years. "You're gonna be fine, Rodney. Trust me, I've seen much worse. So has Ronon."

"Seen worse. Had worse." There was actual pride in the runner's voice.

"See? Nothing to worry about."

"Sheppard, I don't - "

"You're going to be fine, Rodney," John said, and this time it was more of an order than a reassurance. The lieutenant colonel's tone brooked no argument, and before McKay could raise one anyways, Sheppard spoke again. "Do you have your field dressings?"

"Field dressings?" Rodney repeated dumbly.

"Upper vest pockets, left and right sides."

"Uh . . . got 'em. Oh, crap, please don't tell me I have to pull this thing out of my leg."

"No! Don't you remember anything from intro to emergency field medicine?"

"Of course I do! Just . . . very distracted right now!"

"Pulling it out could do more damage than when it went in," Ronon informed him. "Gotta wrap it up tight so it can't move."

"See, McKay? Even Ronon was paying more attention than you."

Rodney failed to rise to the bait. He eyed the wound with dread. "I don't think I can do this."

"Yes, you can, Rodney, 'cause if you don't, you're gonna die."

"You are a horrible motivational speaker, you know that?!"

But Sheppard's continued encouragement and taunting did the trick, and ten agony-filled minutes later, Rodney's leg was bandaged as best he could manage.

"That was one of the most awful experiences of my life," McKay mumbled, exhausted. "And that's saying something."

"Rodney, come on, you can't rest now. McKay!"

"Hmm," Rodney answered. He just wanted to sit and not move for a few minutes - or days. The pain was still strong, but he didn't have the energy to care. Soft grayness crowded the edges of his vision.

"I mean it, McKay. You've got work to do. Gotta lift this lockdown."

"Just . . . few minutes."

"Do not fall asleep!"

Rodney groaned. He thought about how nice sleep would be.

"Teyla could be hurt, Rodney. We need to help her."

The scientist sighed in resignation and opened his eyes. The fog retreated. "Oh, so if it's not insults about my low threshold for pain, it's a guilt trip? Who do you think I am, Colonel - you?"

"It's the truth," John replied, ignoring McKay's jab. "We're stuck in an abandoned outpost, surrounded by Wraith, with two injured team members - "

"But Teyla - "

"And," John emphasized, "that big brain of yours is the only thing that can save us." Rodney didn't respond to the snarky compliment. "McKay?"

"My computer's on the other side of the room." Rodney didn't care if it came out like a whine.

"Well," Ronon said after a pause, "guess you're just gonna die right there." Rodney could just imagine Sheppard giving the Satedan an approving nod.

"Alright, fine! If you two are done with your sadistic game of 'mock the wounded genius' . . ." Rodney gazed at the workstations across the lab. "Crap," he muttered, and braced himself.

Grunting, using his arms and good leg, McKay dragged his body around. The small movement left him gasping, but the bandages held, even if they were already pinking through.

"What's happening, Rodney?"

"Moving," he groaned, no breath left for a witty response. He pushed himself backward toward the consoles, sliding on his backside. The fire in his leg grew worse with each movement, and he found himself whimpering. And he didn't care if his teammates thought it was unmanly, because he was a scientist and he wasn't trained for this and it hurt.

"Hey McKay, why shouldn't you ever have beer at a math party?"


"Why shouldn't you ever have beer at a math party?"

"Have you . . . gone insane?"

"Because you should never drink and derive."

There was a long pause.

"Heard that one . . . before . . . forgot it 'cause . . . so stupid."

"Hear that Ronon? He doesn't appreciate my jokes. And I even made it a math one."

Rodney managed a snort with what limited breath he had left. He was leaving a wide smear of blood in his wake.

"How many pilots does it take to change a light bulb?" Ronon asked.

"What?" John snapped.

"Only one. He holds the bulb and the world revolves around him."

Rodney felt a smile curve his lips even though he couldn't laugh. Sweat dripped into his eyes.

"Okay, first," Sheppard said indignantly after a few stunned moments, "who's been teaching you light bulb jokes?!"

"Some of the marines. I got more, if you want."

"I think that's - "

"Yeah," Rodney panted before the pilot could object, "what else . . . ya got?"

"What's the difference between a pilot and a jet engine?"

"What?! We fly in 'jumpers! You've barely ever seen a jet engine!"

"Don't know," McKay strained, ignoring John's outburst, "what . . . difference?"

"Jet engine stops whining after it lands."

Rodney's back hit the row of consoles, surprising him and sending jolting pain throughout his body. He leaned to the side and promptly threw up.

Eventually, he realized his teammates were calling to him. "McKay! Stay with me. Talk to me, buddy."

The scientist groaned, leaned against the console, and tried to be very still. Now that he was no longer moving, at least the pain in his leg was diminishing from burning-in-acid agony back to the good old knife-in-the-eye kind. But his ribs had definitely not enjoyed his little bout of sickness, and Rodney concentrated very hard on not vomiting again.

"Rodney, c'mon, where'd ya go? Ronon's hurt that you didn't laugh at his completely inaccurate and slanderous joke."

"Still here." He sounded utterly exhausted. "Made it." He wiped a shaky hand over his face.

"Hey, that's great buddy." Sheppard's tone took on the faintest hint of pleading. "Now just override the lockdown so we can come and get you."

Rodney let out a sigh of mixed desperation and hope. He almost cried in relief when he spotted the cords from his tablet hanging off the edge of the console. The physicist tugged on them, and didn't even curse when the computer crashed loudly to the floor. The equipment was in a protective black casing, after all, and he was just grateful he didn't have to stand to get it. Then, as usual when he was trying to ignore pain, Rodney immersed himself in his work, deliberately not looking at the crimson spreading through his bandages.

"Well, you're right, the whole place is sealed up tight," the scientist announced after a few minutes, wincing as the pain spiked slightly.

"Already knew that," Ronon grunted impatiently.

"We assumed that," Rodney snarked back, though his voice was too weak to put much bite into it. "And you know what they say when you 'assume' . . ." he muttered.

"Focus, McKay."

"I was right; it's an automatic defense mechanism. When the outpost sensed the Wraith inside, it locked all the doors and transporters to keep it from moving around."

"That sounds dumb," Ronon observed. "How could the security teams kill it if they're all stuck?"

"Hmm, apparently they had a way of getting around it, and before you ask" - McKay raised a finger to halt Sheppard's interruption even though the pilot couldn't see it - "I'm already on it. But first . . ." He keyed in a few commands.

The still-blaring alarm, which had faded into the background of Rodney's mind, cut off abruptly. The sudden silence was surprisingly eerie. After a moment, the emergency lights also stopped flashing.

"Better," Sheppard said over the radio. "Now how about getting these doors open?"

"I didn't override the lockdown, just turned off the alarm, so - oh, no. Of course."


"The self-destruct's been activated."



"Rodney! What did you - "

"Wasn't me," McKay said lazily, continuing to fiddle with the tablet. "Part of the protocols. If the threat isn't neutralized and . . . and a command code entered, the Wraith gets blown up."

"Along with everyone else!"

"Yeah, the Ancients were dumb as toast, weren't they?" Rodney said, almost giggling. His eyes drifted to his leg. A small red puddle was growing underneath it.

"Rodney? You okay?"

"Um . . . no." The grayness was back at the edges of his vision.

McKay heard John take a deep breath. "You have to stay alert, Rodney. Can you disarm the self-destruct?"

He snorted faintly. "Please . . . do you remember who you're talking to?"

"Alright, Doctor Genius, so how much time do we have?"

"Maybe . . . twenty minutes? That is, if I . . ." He blinked a few times.

"What? If you what, McKay?"

The pain wasn't so bad now. Kinda distant. Like John's voice.

"Oh, don't you dare! Don't even think about it!"

He couldn't stop staring at his leg. At the shard still sticking out of it. At the growing pool of blood.


And it was all fading . . .


He could feel everything slipping away. It was like falling slowly down a dark hole. A soft, peaceful floating . . .

"Damn it, Meredith, wake up!"

He frowned. "Huh?" His eyes had drifted closed. When did that happen?

"I've had enough of this, Doctor Meredith Rodney McKay!"

"John?" Rodney asked. The pilot sounded angry. Why was he angry?

"You're always ignoring my orders, always being lazy, and always slowing us down!"

"But . . ." Rodney trailed off. He couldn't think of a response.

"And now you're just giving up, is that it, huh, McKay? Just gonna let your whole team die - all because you'd rather take a nap than do your damn job!"

"No . . ." Rodney groaned. It wasn't true, it wasn't . . . was it?

"Are you hearing me?!"

"Yes," he managed, somewhat desperate, "yes, I can - "

"Then shut up and open your lower right vest pocket."


"That's an order!"

McKay fumbled with the velcro, fingers thick and clumsy. He removed the pocket's contents, stared at it, and said the first thing his muddled mind spat out. "Citrus?"

"Good, now give yourself the shot like a good hypochondriac."

Rodney turned the EpiPen over in his hand. "Why?" he asked. Was he having an allergic reaction? He didn't think so.

"You insist on carrying that thing with you everywhere because of all the allergies that you never shut up about," Sheppard growled. Rodney took a few deep breaths and looked around in confusion. John was yelling. Why was he yelling so much? It was frightening. John only yelled when things were really bad. "Well, it's finally come in handy for something, so give yourself the shot already!"

Rodney flicked the cap off the autoinjector. He'd done something wrong. He must have. Why else would John be so mad at him? "Okay," he replied meekly. He must have failed the team. Something big. Where were they?

McKay raised the EpiPen and, with the last of his strength, brought it down on his right thigh.

There was a click, a stinging as the spring-loaded needle tore through fabric to pierce flesh, and a harsh intake of breath as the adrenaline flooded his system.

"Uuugghhh," he groaned, gasping and throwing his head back. He didn't loosen his hold on the pen.

"McKay? Rodney!"

It was like plunging down a roller coaster and being jolted out of a sound sleep and flashing back to five days of non-stop stimulant-induced university midterm studies all at once.

"I really," the physicist gasped, breathing like he'd run ten miles, "really hate these things." His heart hammered in his chest at a pace that was high even for him.

"Hey, good to have you back, McKay," Sheppard said in obvious relief. "See, Ronon? I told you we wouldn't have to fight to the death."

Rodney thought the hormone might be making him hallucinate. "What are you two talking about?"

"Open the doors, McKay," Ronon growled instead of answering. With Rodney's newly heightened senses, he could practically hear the Satedan pacing the room, like a lion in its cage.

"And shut off the self-destruct, or we're all dead," Sheppard added helpfully.

"Right right right," McKay muttered, pulling his tablet to himself. "It's not enough that I save the galaxy on a regular basis back home, or that I got us into this outpost and away from the armies of Wraith outside, or that I provided a very necessary distraction while Teyla took out the one that got inside, oh no! I have to outsmart Ancient security protocols and save us all from imminent fiery doom, too!" The words came fast and loose. He couldn't help it; the epinephrine always made him jittery.

"Well, if you would prefer fiery doom, be my guest."

"Ha! You think you're so funny, Colonel," Rodney shot back, furiously punching keys on the computer, "but you're locked up all nice and tight, aren't you? Meanwhile, I've been thrown around, punctured, lost pints of blood, vomited with broken ribs - do you know how much that hurts?! And, and now I'm all shot up with epinephrine and I feel like I'm going to crawl out of my skin and I hate this!"

"Don't hold back, Rodney. Tell us how you really feel."

"I really feel like you should stop interrupting me so I can go about saving our lives!"

"You're saying you can?"

"Yes yes yes," the physicist said, waving a twitching hand at the empty room, "I'm writing a workaround to the necessary command code now, which it turns out isn't so much password-based as it is ATA-based and, wouldn't you believe our luck, I have the Ancient gene!"

"So you can do it in time."

"Plenty, plenty of time. Well, not plenty. Sufficient time. Sufficient to avoid explosion. The bulk of the adrenaline will probably wear off first, but even then, yes, there's still enough time."

"Okay. That's good." And, amazingly, John stopped talking and let Rodney work. But he only got a few minutes of silence before it was broken by a most unexpected voice.

"John? Are y- . . . -ere? Rod- . . . -non?"

Ronon answered the static-filled radio call before Rodney could react. "Teyla? You okay?"

"Ronon! Yes, I - " - more static - "-each you for some - . . . am trapped in the hall- . . . room."

"You're breaking up," John replied. "Did you just say you were trapped in the hallway?"

"Affirm- . . . my radio . . . damaged, and I ha- . . . repair it."

"Wait wait wait," McKay interrupted, looking up from his work and trying to ignore the way the room spun, "you managed to repair a damaged radio? How?"

"Rodney! It is goo- . . . your voice."

"You've got more important stuff to think about right now, McKay," John interrupted shortly. "Teyla, we'll explain everything later, but Rodney has work to do."

"But that's just it, I don't!" the physicist cursed in frustration. "It's a surprisingly simple program, and I've done everything it requires for lifting the lockdown and deactivating the self-destruct, but it just won't work!" He rubbed at his eyes in an attempt to stop the numbers on the screen from blurring.

"That's not what I want to hear, Rodney," John said tightly, obviously trying to avoid shouting.

"Well, I'm sorry, I can't give you anything else!" Rodney closed his eyes to stop the walls from wavering in his vision. The epinephrine was wearing off, and he was crashing hard. That, combined with the ever-present pain and threat of imminent death, meant that the scientist was feeling like crap and in no mood to deal with over-demanding lieutenant colonels.

"The Wraith!" John snapped, like he'd just had an idea. "You said there were two conditions to be met before the lockdown was lifted, right? One was this command code, and the other . . ."

"Was the elimination of the threat," Rodney finished, catching on to the idea. "You think more Wraith got into the outpost?"

"I am sensing Wraith," Teyla joined the conversation, the transmission slightly better this time, "but I do not kno- . . . inside or outside."

"Right, so how do we tell if any got inside?" the pilot wondered aloud.

"And how do we kill them?" Ronon added with dark excitement.

"McKay, can you bring up the base life signs detectors from there?"

"Of course, but . . . what good will it do us? If there are more Wraith inside, we can't get to them."

"Humor me."

"Right," Rodney sighed in resignation. This next part was going to suck. "I suppose it would be better to know why we're about to be blown up," he conceded. Then he began to stand.

Picking himself up off the floor was a mind-numbingly painful experience, but it wasn't altogether as horrible as he'd imagined. Yes, his arms shook as he pulled himself up by the edge of the console, and yes, his leg screamed in agony as he did so, but it all felt kind of far away. Rodney supposed he was going into shock - unsurprising, seeing as how the entire left leg of his pants was now soaked with blood, dripping from the cuff into the red pool already on the floor.

The worst part was when he finally got himself upright. The head rush from the combined forces of blood loss and the epinephrine crash threatened to send him all the way back down.

"Don't pass out, don't pass out," Rodney chanted, slurring and unable to feel his lips. He couldn't feel his arms, either, but he was pretty sure he was leaning over the console and holding on for dear life. "Don't pass out, don't pass out."

Eventually, the gray fog retreated once again. McKay swayed dangerously on his one good leg, staring in confusion at the controls and trying to remember what he was doing when he became aware of his teammates' radio calls.

"What just happened Rodney?!"

"Rodney! Rodney, are y- . . . -right?"

"Yeah," he forced out, blinking to stop all the little lights from swimming around, "'m here . . . just . . . had to stand to . . . " - his lips and tongue felt funny, like they belonged to someone else - "get to life . . . signs detector."

There was a slight pause. "Good job, buddy," Sheppard said, his voice oddly thick. "Don't worry, this'll all be over soon."

"One way or 'nother," McKay chuckled softly. "'kay. Bringing up the . . . life signs grid." And then he heard a noise behind him.

It was one of those moments when Rodney knew without a shadow of a doubt what was about to happen. It had happened only a few times in his life. When he was eight years old and his parents had told him he was going to be a brother, he knew the baby was going to be a girl. When he was seventeen and the phone in his dorm room had rung at two in the afternoon, he knew that his grandmother had suddenly died. When he signed the non-disclosure agreement in Cheyenne Mountain nine years ago, he had known that they were about to tell him that aliens were real.

And he knew now that he was about to come face-to-face with a starving, severely wounded, and extremely angry Wraith.

Rodney turned around. The monster snarled at him, one hand clutching its torso as black blood seeped down its coat. It raised its feeding hand and staggered toward him.

Adrenaline, this time naturally produced, kicked Rodney into overdrive for the third time that day. Acting on pure survival instinct, he backed away, realizing too late that there was no way his injured leg was going to hold up under his weight. He crashed to the floor, agony blinding him and taking away all awareness, but when it subsided, he found that his body had continued moving, the animalistic flight response propelling him backward across the floor.

The Wraith followed, waiting until the scientist had literally backed himself into a corner. Then, with a look of pure predatory hunger, it advanced.

This is it, Rodney thought, unable to process anything but his rapidly approaching death. I'm going to die, fed on by a Wraith. After all I've been through, all I've survived - hardly a fitting end! And then my team's going to die, too, because I couldn't fix the equipment, and I believed that a Wraith couldn't survive that much gunfire, and I was too stupid to put a bullet in its head just to make sure, and now they're all as good as dead because of it, and -

"No," he panted, unsure if he was pleading or defying, "no!"

The Wraith crouched beside him, leering, black blood on its teeth. A harsh growl sent fetid breath into Rodney's face. It raised its feeding hand.

And then a miracle happened.

Rodney felt his fingers close around cold metal. He raised the gun, knocked from his hands so long ago, and brought it under the Wraith's chin. Before either of them realized what was happening, the physicist squeezed the trigger.

The shot rang loud in the enclosed space. Black blood sprayed everywhere, mixing with Rodney's own. The Wraith's yellow eyes continued to stare, unblinking, until, slowly, it crumpled to the side, finally dead, draped across Rodney's legs.

The falling body jostled the shard in McKay's thigh. He felt something tear, and his nerves were on fire. He screamed.

There was nothing he could do now to stave off the darkness that was coming for him. His mouth tasted sour, and his nose filled with the smell of blood. He heard a hissing sound, and a woman's voice. Soft hands on his face. Voices calling his name.

And then blackness.


Ronon and Teyla came barreling out of the transporter, the limp and bloodied physicist cradled in the Satedan's arms, running for the puddlejumper as fast as they dared. One of Rodney's hands dangled, swinging loosely with each step, his face a ghastly pallor under smears of red and black, and all John could think was, He's dead. He's dead and I killed him.

Sheppard turned around in the pilot's seat, not even waiting for Ronon and Teyla to lower Rodney to the floor before closing the hatch and putting the 'jumper in motion. Time was of the essence now; they still had to fight their way to the Stargate, and for McKay it might already be too late.

"How is he?" the pilot asked, voice rough, as he waited for the ceiling hatch of the bay to spiral open. He kept the spacecraft back from the opening as dirt and rocks and the occasional tree poured in from above. The HUD showed him no sign of enemy activity; the Ancient parking garage was apparently far enough away that they weren't on Wraith radar. Yet.

"He needs medical attention," Teyla said, not answering his question. John spared a glance behind him. The Athosian was furiously ripping open packets of gauze, while Ronon looked like he was using all his strength to put pressure on the leg wound without unduly disturbing the crystal shard.

The huge, jagged, bloody crystal shard. Sticking out of Rodney's leg. Who wasn't moving. Whose head lolled to the side with the tiny movements of the 'jumper. Who looked already dead.

Sheppard forced himself into pilot-mode, cloaking the ship and focusing only on evasion tactics, strategies for engaging the darts, and getting them through the Stargate in one piece. He actually startled a little when Teyla came to stand beside him. Her hands were bloody.

"There is nothing more Ronon and I can do; we must get him to Atlantis immediately."

"Yeah, I'm working on it," John replied, studying the enemy dots on the HUD, grateful that there were fewer than he'd thought. "So, did he just collapse?" he found himself asking before he even knew the words were out of his mouth. "I mean, did I - did he push himself too hard?"

John didn't think for a second that Teyla had missed his slip up, but she had the grace to ignore it. "No, I do not think so." She took a deep breath. "From what I saw when I was able to enter the room, the Wraith had attacked him again. That is when I called you to send Ronon to help move him."

"Wait - the same Wraith? But I thought you killed it."

"Evidently not." John didn't miss the way the Athosian's mouth tightened and her gaze remained resolutely straightforward.

The HUD flashed at him, bringing the pilot back to the task at hand. "You might wanna hang on," Sheppard said absently, preparing to engage the Wraith. "This could get bumpy."

"Colonel Sheppard?"

John woke with a harsh intake of air, the Atlantis infirmary's sights, smells and sounds rushing back to him. "Yeah?" he mumbled, sitting up quickly and wincing as the muscles in his back complained.

"Oh, those chairs aren't really meant to be slept in," Doctor Keller said, somewhat apologetically. "I'm sorry - did I startle you?"

"Uh, no," John replied, scrubbing a hand over his face and through his hair. "What time is it?"

"A little after dawn," Jennifer answered, checking IV lines and monitors. "The city's just waking up. Well, the civilian portion, anyways." She smiled. "I heard a platoon run by earlier."

Sheppard returned the doctor's smile, the expression fading when his eyes fell on the occupant of the infirmary bed. McKay slept the heavy sleep of anesthesia-induced unconsciousness. The shard that had impaled his leg was gone, replaced by swaths of clean white bandages, though he still wore an oxygen mask, at Keller's insistence. Sheppard let his eyes rove over the multitude of softly beeping monitors and various bags of saline, blood, and unidentified drugs slowly emptying into the physicist.

"Hang in there, McKay," Sheppard said, squeezing the wounded man's shoulder as the 'jumper hatch lowered. He could hear the medical team fussing outside. "You hear me?"

Unexpectedly, Rodney opened glassy, unfocused eyes. "Sorry," he mumbled, lids already sliding closed again. "'m sorry . . ."

And then the medics were shouldering John aside and lifting Rodney onto a gurney and rushing him into surgery and the lieutenant colonel was left standing alone, unable to think of a response.

"Colonel?" For the second time, the young doctor interrupted Sheppard's reverie. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah," John answered, pasting on a breezy grin, "just a little disoriented. Didn't mean to fall asleep."

"I've been there," Keller said in sympathy, making one last note on McKay's chart. "I was going to tell you that you don't have to stick around. He'll be waking up soon, but probably only for a minute or so, and he most likely won't remember it."

"Mm," Sheppard said noncommittally. "Ronon had a sparring class this morning, and Teyla went to go feed Torren. I'm supposed to meet them for breakfast later."

Jennifer simply smiled. "Alright. Well, let me know if anything changes."

"Will do," Sheppard said, offering a smile and a fake salute as the doctor left in the direction of her office.

John waited until she was gone before scooting his chair a little closer to the bed. He leaned down to rest his elbows on his knees, then quickly sat up and scanned the area, twisting his head to look over both shoulders. When he was satisfied no one was within hearing distance, he resumed his forward position.

"Sorry, McKay," he said softly, "must have dozed off there. Hard to imagine, huh? What with such stimulating company you've been." John smirked at the joke even though the physicist gave no indication he'd heard. "But listen, like I was saying earlier . . ." Sheppard paused, rubbing his hands together awkwardly. "You know that I only said all that stuff because . . . because I couldn't let you pass out, right? I was just providing proper motivation. Plus," John grinned, "I really, really didn't want to get blown up." The pilot's smile faded at the continued lack of response from the scientist. "So, uh . . . if you can't tell that I was just riling you up, then you're not the genius we all thought you were." John grimaced and leaned back. "That's not what I meant. It's just . . . it's just that you're a valuable member of my team, and - "


Sheppard very nearly bolted out of his chair. "Mister Woolsey!"

The expedition leader approached the bed awkwardly, though John couldn't tell if it was because he'd overheard something or he still wasn't used to the red-paneled uniform. The man looked downright awkward out of his suit and tie. "I was on my way to the control room and thought I'd stop by to see how our Chief of Science is doing."

If Woolsey had heard anything of Sheppard's one-sided conversation, he wasn't showing it, so John relaxed slightly. "Yeah, he's pulling through. Keller says he should wake up soon."

"Hmm, that's good news." The leader allowed himself a small smile before turning his attention on the military commander. "I also wanted to congratulate and thank you for a job well done in getting him and the rest of your team back safely. I know it wasn't an easy task."

"There were fewer Wraith than we anticipated," Sheppard replied, shrugging off the compliment. "Plus, we had a cloak and the element of surprise."

"Still," Woolsey continued, "I've read reports of your flying expertise. Your escape must have been impressive."

"To tell you the truth, it's a little bit of a blur right now," John confessed, gaze drifting to the bed. "But," he said suddenly, straightening and looking his commander in the eye, "I'll have the full report on your desk by this afternoon."

Woolsey's lips twitched slightly. "I look forward to it." The infirmary doors hissed open. "And now," he said, glancing at the three people who had just entered, "I should be getting to the control room. Colonel." John nodded as his remaining two team members walked toward them, awkwardly balancing three trays of food and one baby. "Ronon. Teyla." Woolsey nodded to each of them in turn on his way out before the doors swished closed behind him.

"Hey, thanks, guys," John said, circling the bed to help relieve his friends of their burdens.

"Thank you," Teyla breathed as John took her tray, helping her settle into another chair before pulling the bedside table closer. Torren's alert eyes peered up from the shoulder sling in which Teyla carried him, intently watching his surroundings. John let the little guy wrap a tiny hand around his finger and wave it about.

By the time he finished, Ronon was sitting in a third chair at the foot of the bed and had already eaten half his food. John snatched the final tray and set it on the other table, lest the runner get any ideas.

"He wake up yet?" the big man asked, mouth full. Teyla looked up expectantly, and Torren gurgled.

"Not yet," Sheppard answered, getting ready to sit down again, "but Keller said - " A flash of blue eyes stopped him mid-sentence. "Wait a second, I may have spoken too soon."

"Rodney?" Teyla asked, sitting forward in her chair. Ronon stood while John leaned over the physicist.

Slowly, McKay's eyelids blinked, lifting heavily and revealing a glassy blue stare.

John couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. "Hey, Rodney. Good to see you again."

"Hey McKay," Ronon said, also smiling. Teyla reached forward and took the scientist's hand in her own.

Rodney took them all in, blinked once, and promptly fell back asleep.

Sheppard snorted a laugh and heard his teammates do the same. Ronon meandered back to his seat. "Well, isn't that typical," John said, feigning indignation. "We stay with him all night, and when he finally wakes up, he doesn't even have the decency . . ." The pilot's voice trailed off.

McKay's eyes had opened again, this time wide and full of an emotion John wasn't quite ready to identify. The physicist stared at him, blinking and fighting the sleep that obviously still threatened to drag him down.

"What's wrong?" Teyla asked softly, still holding Rodney's hand. Her eyes were on the scientist, but her question was addressed to Sheppard.

"Nothing." John cleared his throat. "Nothing's wrong. You did good, Rodney," he said, doing his best to meet the blue eyes. "You did fantastic."

The scientist blinked once, twice, and though his eyes went to half-mast, he still didn't close them.

"You're fine, McKay," Ronon said, catching on. He put a large hand on a blanketed ankle. "We're all fine."

"Thanks to you, Rodney," Teyla added, as if speaking to a small child. "Thank you."

McKay's eyes rolled to each of them in turn as they spoke, then drifted back to Sheppard's face. "Really," the pilot confirmed, smirking slightly. "Go back to sleep."

Another blink, a deep breath, and the scientist was out.

John waited a moment. When it was clear that Rodney was truly asleep, he pulled up his chair, set his tray in his lap, and ate breakfast with his team.


Author's Note: Feedback, of both the positive and constructively critical kinds, is much appreciated.