As always - many thanks to Jayne Perry for the beta-ing, all leftover mistakes and spelling errors are mine! Many thanks to Mirth (aka Ferryman) for the idea :)

The air rushed from his lungs, bending double against the pain. His legs wobbled, and then his knees gave out, sending him crashing to the ground. His forehead touching the sun-baked earth as he rode out the pain.

Rough hands grabbed his shoulders, hauling him back to his feet, before slamming a fist back into his stomach, sending him back to the ground in agony.

He heard the mocking words of his attacker as he circled around him, addressing the crowd that had gathered.

"The Ancestor's chosen ones! Look at this one, cowering in the dirt, weak ..." the voice droned on, but Rodney drifted away, to another time and place. To another time of humiliation and pain. The words might have been different, but the pain was the same.

"You really are a girl aren't you Meredith."

"What a loser."

"Whose smarter now, egghead."

"Oh! Are you crying, Meredith."

"Baby, baby, baby, baby."

He'd been a child then, always surround by those years older then him. He use to fight back, but as he skipped grades, the other students got big, taller, and broader them himself, he hadn't stood a chance. He would lay in the dirt, as they walked in triumph around him, saying their dirty, demeaning, humiliating words. He would lay there till they got fed up of beating on him, tired of spitting out their vicious words and after they had gone, he would drag himself to his feet and stagger home.

He wasn't that friendless child any more, pushing away the pain and anger with sarcasm and arrogance. He was an adult now. It may have only been for the last few of years, but he had friends now. They had taught him about true friendship, that he didn't need his arrogance, his sarcasm, well, not so much of it. They showed him that he had worth and value and somewhere deep down inside him, they were starting to chip away at the walls he had raised so many years before.

They taught him their skills as well. How to track and hunt, to fight with knife and gun and sticks, to defend himself. He was slow and uncoordinated, but they never gave up. They showed him how to be a team player, and the joy of friendship.

Rodney pulled himself up, his hands clenching into fists. He was not going to go down as easily as he had all those years ago, this time he would fight. His actions caused his attacker to pause in his speech, curling his lip in contempt.

Rodney stood his ground, focusing on all the lessons Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon had given him over the years. He would never be a true warrior, like them, but he was no longer that skinny child, who would curl into a ball on the ground and take every word, every hit. He was a member of a team, trusted, respected, liked, and he wasn't about to let them down.

He looked at the bully, who was taller and broader than Ronon and whose fists were as hard as iron, the words he had sneer out had meant nothing, Rodney had heard far worse from those meant to love and protect him. A strangers words were of no consequence. Rodney wasn't sure he would win this fight, but if this goliath beat him into the hard earth beneath his feet, he knew his team would avenge him. Ronon would take this overgrown bully to pieces, if he managed to beat Teyla and John to it. The knowledge gave him courage; he squared his shoulders and sneered at the bully.

Ronon tossed aside the spectators as if they were slightly built children, Teyla and Sheppard following in his wake and stopped dead as they breached the inner circle.

McKay stood swaying on his feet, his eyes never leaving the prone man laying a few feet away, his fists up and ready. His uniform was torn and dirty, his face covered in blood, bruises and dirt. He stood gulping in air, unaware that the crowd had fallen silent and that his team stood staring at him.

"McKay!" Ronon growled, stepping forward, his gun already out and pointing at the prone man.

McKay swung his head round at his name, his whole posture relaxing as he noticed his team heading towards him. Teyla and Sheppard moving in on either side of him as he started to sway alarmingly.

"Hey, steady there, buddy," Sheppard said, taking a firm grip on McKay, taking the opportunity to get a closer look. Sheppard winced as he studied McKay's face. A cut above his eyebrow slowly dripped blood down his face; one side of his face was a massive bruise, the eye rapidly swelling shut. The lip split and dribbling blood down his chin. All in all McKay was a mess. Sheppard hated to think what the Doc would find once they got McKay's shirt off.

"Told you," McKay suddenly snarled at the man laying in the dirt, before looking across at Ronon, his hand flickering between Ronon and the bully, the movement threatening to send him tumbling, and would have, except for Sheppard's grip. "Tear him to pieces," he growled out.

Ronon looked at McKay in amusement, holstering his gun. "Think you done that yourself McKay," he replied.

"He is unconscious Rodney," Teyla said, having moved to the man's side to confirm her suspicions. She looked at the crowd, no one having moved away. "This man needs a healer," she stated, as she stood up and moved towards Rodney, uncaring if her words were heeded.

She gently touched Rodney's shoulder with one hand, while she looked at his injuries. Rodney stood there blinking owlishly at her. "When Ronon's finished, you can beat him some more with your stick thingy's," he said to her, his arms moving to mimic the movements of the bantos rods, making him sway, causing both Sheppard and her to tighten their grips.

"There is no need, Rodney," she smiled gently, slowing releasing her grip. "You have defended yourself well."

"Now I've got to keep an eye on you and Ronon," Sheppard quipped. "Going round, picking fights!" he finished with a smile and a shake of his head.

"ME!" Rodney squawked indignantly, bringing his arms back up to demonstrate his innocence. But using them instead to latch onto Sheppard and Teyla as he swayed again.

"He started it," he protested.

"And you finished it," Ronon replied, looking back over his shoulder, as some of the crowd carted the other man away. Ronon nodded his head. "I'm impressed, McKay."

"You are?" Rodney asked earnestly, looking at all three.

"Big sucker too," Sheppard said. "Bet you fought dirty. Hitting below the belt and eye gouging is really bad form." Sheppard smiled.

"I did what you and Ronon showed me," Rodney said bewildered.

Sheppard and Ronon shared a grin, as Teyla rolled her eyes and shook her head. "You fought well Rodney. He was a far bigger opponent, you would have needed to use every advantage," Teyla said smoothly.

"But I won," Rodney said, suddenly realizing that he had fought and won, all by himself.

Ronon clasped his shoulder, nearly sending him flying. "You won, but you need to protect yourself more," Ronon said, looking at Rodney's swelling face with a practiced eye. "Got to move quicker."

"Quicker," Rodney repeated, as his knees gave way and he passed out. The three of them grabbing him and lowering him gently to the ground. Teyla quickly checked him over.

"His injuries do not appear serious," she said, looking up at the other two. "He has passed out from fatigue."

"Let's get him back to Atlantis," Sheppard said, making room for Ronon to scoop Rodney up from the ground.

"Do you see the size of that guy?" Sheppard suddenly asked as they headed towards the gate.

Ronon smiled proudly, looking down at the man he was carrying.

"We taught him well," Teyla said.

The other two nodded in agreement.