It is three o'clock in the morning when the door to Teyla's room chimes. Torren is screaming at the top of his lungs and she jiggles him up and down in an attempt to soothe him. This is the fifth night in a row that he has woken at this hour and Teyla is beyond tired. With Kana'an off-world, she bears the burden of parenthood alone.
When the door swishes open, she finds John standing in the corridor. His hair is mussed up and he's dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt. Without them ever having had the conversation, she knows that he does not sleep well most nights. If she asks, he brushes it off with an easy going smile and tells her he sleeps fine.
"Hey." He stands there awkwardly and then says, "Can I come in?"
At any other time, she might think it strange that John has chosen to come here at this hour. Tonight, she finds it a small relief.
He crosses the threshold to her room and winces as Torren continues to shriek loudly.
"It is very early, John."
"I know." He bobs up and down on the balls of his feet. "I was just passing and-"
He smiles tightly. "Okay, I was thinking about what you said at breakfast this morning and I thought I could help."
John gestures at Torren.
"That is not necessary."
He looks disappointed. John takes being their team leader seriously. If he's not cajoling McKay out of the lab to get something to eat, then he's scheduling off-world missions for Ronon when the IOA visits and it seems that this time, he has taken Teyla's welfare as his responsibility.
"I did not think you were listening this morning."
"I always listen." He tells her. "You said you were tired."
"I have a baby."
"I had noticed that. He's got a set of lungs on him."
Teyla can't help but smile. That much is certainly true.
"Look, I figure I'm up-"
"You could not sleep again?"
"-Torren's up, so why don't I take him off your hands for a few hours and you can rest up." He smiles. "I don't have us down for a mission for two days so-"
Throughout their conversation they have both had to shout over her sons cries. She has fed him, changed him, sung him Athosian lullabies and still he refuses to settle. She cannot understand why he is not exhausted and yet he continues to scream, fists balled in an invisible fight and face red with exertion.
John is staring at her with a hopeful expression. He is clearly not going to back down and she knows the strength of his resolve. She cannot tell for certain, but if she was to guess, she would expect John does not want to go back to his room and lie awake with his demons.
She knows the feeling. She has often found herself plagued by bad dreams and memories. None if it makes for good company.
John would not normally seek any of them out at this time of night. She has known of his sleepless nights but he has never once come to her door. She hears others talking of his late night stops in the 'gateroom, stock checks in the armoury; some have said he simply walks the darkened corridors of Atlantis until exhaustion forces him to his bed.
When she mentioned her sleepless nights and fierce lethargy caused by Torren waking at two am every morning he had obviously seen it as an opening. Rather than the aimless wandering he could have purpose; company even.
"So whadya think?"
Teyla stares mournfully at her bed and then back at her son. A few hours could not hurt.
"Or I could go. It was just an idea."
Before he can leave, Teyla steps forward and passes Torren over to John's capable hands.
He holds Torren close to his chest and cradles his head with one hand. "You get some sleep. I'll bring him back when he's settled."
Teyla moves towards her bed, torn between the need for sleep and feeling as though she is abandoning her child. "That may be many hours."
"I've fought the wraith. I think I can handle it." John strokes her son's back and she knows he could not be safer. "We'll be fine. I'm just going to walk around a bit."
"Bring him back when you become tired, even if he is still…" she searches for the word and settles on, "Antsy."
"We'll be fine." He points to her bed. "Sleep."
John waves the door open and switches the lights off as he leaves.
McKay is enjoying his favourite time of day, or should he say night, when he hears something loud and annoying coming progressively closer.
A few seconds later and Sheppard is standing in the lab doorway, holding a squirming Torren.
"You're up late," he says as he enters.
Torren is wailing at the top of his lungs and Sheppard seems impervious to the racket. McKay's ears are ringing, but Sheppard is strolling into the lab and bobbing the baby up and down as if he were sleeping peacefully.
"How can you stand that?"
Sheppard covers Torrens ears and scowls. "Don't listen to him, Torren. He's just a little grouchy."
"A little grouchy? Have you heard him?" McKay retorts. "What are you doing with him anyway?"
Sheppard sits on the stool next to him and McKay has to get up and take three paces back to stop his head from exploding.
"I stole him."
McKay's mouth drops open. "What?" and then to Sheppard's raised eyebrow he says, "Oh right, ha ha very funny."
"Teyla was tired. I was…passing by her room, heard Torren crying and thought I'd give her a break." He shrugs and pats the babies back affectionately. "You saw her at breakfast. I've seen soldiers that have been awake in the field for 72 hours look better."
This whole situation is weird to McKay. He's never seen Sheppard like this. He's used to seeing him covered in filth and armed to the teeth with military paraphernalia. John Sheppard and babies is not something he sees every day.
"You didn't tell her that?"
"Tell Teyla that she looks terrible. I have to spar with her, give me some credit."
"Passing by her room? So, you can't sleep again?"
A look of disgust and then indifference passes across Sheppard's face. "I sleep fine."
"It's 3.30am. Most normal people are asleep at this time."
"Exactly. You're up."
"I have work to do. Important work. Very important-" he pinches the bridge of his nose. "Can't you go somewhere else?"
The colonel looks offended on Torren's behalf.
"I'm trying to calibrate a very sensitive piece of ancient technology. The slightest miscalculation could-"
Sheppard stands up and sighs heavily. "-catastrophic effect, ruin weeks worth of work and research…I've heard it all before McKay. I know you're trying to beat Radek's minesweeper score."
"Just go away."
Sheppard slides off the stool and taps his earpiece. "Hang on." He tells whoever's on the other end and then repositions Torren. "I'm going."
When he's at the doorway, McKay tells him, "Get some sleep."
John waves him off and then disappears from sight distractedly chatting to someone over the radio.
"Finally," McKay mutters as he brings up minesweeper. "Peace and quiet."
Seconds later, there's an explosion.
The ground shakes and dust courses into the laboratory. Flying glass from an LCD screen has McKay diving to the ground. His elbows and stomach connect painfully with the floor. He throws his arms over his head and waits for the world to stop moving – it feels like an eternity.
He can smell smoke.
For a minute, his world narrows and all he hear is white noise. Frenetic chatter over the radio has him tethered back to reality, but he can't put form to the words that he's hearing.
"Sheppard," he says in a small voice and then remembers Torren.
McKay scrambles to his feet and feels blood run down his forehead. He swipes it angrily as he leaves the lab and skids to a stop in front of the destruction. Part of the wall is missing and there are broken chunks of concrete and exposed wires blocking the corridor.
He's looking so hard for Sheppard and the baby that he almost misses the colonel crouched against the wall. He has his hands over Torren's ears. His own are bleeding.
"How did you-" McKay leans against the wall and takes a deep breath. "Are you… is Torren?"
All of a sudden, Sheppard grabs him by the arm and hauls him away from the wreckage. When they're halfway down the corridor McKay demands to know what's going on. Sheppard turns to him and indicates to his ears.
"You can't hear?"
Sheppard rolls his eyes and shoves McKay forward as the wall beside them blows apart. The flying debris pings McKay in the back of his head and his arms suddenly feel as if they're on fire. When he looks, they're covered in dozens of deep scratches.
He chances a look over his shoulder and sees a figure following them.
Sheppard's pushing him again and it's beginning to get tiresome, but he learned long ago to trust his friends judgement and doesn't stop.
"Keep going!" Sheppard snaps. "The-"
A bolt of light whips passed them and the transporter, their escape, erupts in a shower of sparks. McKay dives to the floor. Sheppard kneels and holds Torren close to his chest until the dust settles enough for them to see again.
"The stairs!" Sheppard shouts. "Head for the stairs. Go now!"
They move as one, feet pounding on the metal rungs as their pursuer continues to give chase. This staircase only leads to one place, the under structure of Atlantis. McKay knows it's a vastly unexplored area of the city and much of it bore the brunt of the storm damage. They couldn't have picked a poorer route.
They slam an overhead hatch shut as they enter the bowels of Atlantis and start heading down one of the deserted corridors.
After an indeterminable amount of time, McKay asks, "Who is chasing us?"
Sheppard, beside him, doesn't react and McKay abruptly remembers his impaired hearing. "Oh for the love of-" he pinches Sheppard's arm and then when he has the colonel's, albeit pissed off, attention he mouths. "Who is chasing us?"
Torren is wailing loudly and his cries seem to echo all around them. He feels too conspicuous, even more so when Sheppard registers the question and unintentionally shouts his answer.
"Lorne radioed me just before-" he looks back over his shoulder and then attempts to moderate the volume of his voice before saying, "-apparently they found it in one of the abandoned labs."
"What is it?"
Sheppard stares at him and narrows his eyes.
McKay rolls his eyes and says slowly. "What. Is. It?"
Sheppard jiggles Torren up and down. "Experiment gone wrong. They think it's Asuran."
"We need to get out of here!" McKay says, feeling his heart leap into his throat. "We need to…"
McKay stumbles and the colonel somehow rights him without going over himself. Visibility is at an all time low. He can barely make out the path ahead in the dimly lit corridors. At least someone had the good sense to install low level lighting.
"You ordered a lockdown didn't you?" McKay asks, realising the implications.
Sheppard stares at him and then says, "I ordered a lockdown."
"Are you an idiot?!
"I know you probably think that was idiotic but we have to contain-"
McKay pinches Sheppard's arm again.
"You have a baby! We have a baby down here! I can't believe we have … Teyla's going to kill us!"
Sheppard sighs dramatically. McKay knows he can't hear him all that well right now but ranting helps to assuage his sheer terror.
"We'll keep Torren safe. Doctor Zelenka says there's a sub-routine or something to shut it down. He just needs time figuring it out."
"Oh, we'll be here forever then!"
"I'm sure it won't take forever. We just need to keep moving and-"
There's a sound behind them and this time it isn't the colonel doing the shoving, its McKay.
Torren is still wailing and doing a stellar job of giving their position away. Neither of them have any idea where they're going. This isn't an area that's supposed to be populated and for that reason there are no established exits. There aren't long abandoned rooms down here and no exciting discoveries that merit McKay's attention, just rusted metal struts and water damage.
They round a corner and press their backs into the wall. There's a keen in the distance, guttural, inhuman and utterly terrifying. It even has Torren's eyes widening.
McKay's ripped out of his internal monologue of impending doom and panic by Torren being thrust into his hands. Sheppard pushes them back against the wall and McKay suddenly realises that the colonel has a metal pipe in his hand. It's also when he realises that Sheppard isn't kitted out for combat – not unless they were loosening the dress code. He wants to ask why Sheppard doesn't have his side arm, but instead he asks;
"Where did you find that?" And then groans because Sheppard can't hear him.
Sheppard pushes his finger against his lips and says, "Shhhh," as if he instinctually knows McKay would question his choice of weapon. He wields the pipe up as the Thing, whatever it is, comes closer.
McKay doesn't know what Sheppard expects to happen. Pipe versus' explosive laser is a no-brainer. Maybe that blast scrambled his brains?
It never comes to that. The Thing passes them by and moves away from their position.
Sheppard lowers the pipe, indicates for Torren again and then swipes at blood on his forehead. McKay hadn't noticed his head injury. That would explain the logic of the pipe theory.
"You okay?" Sheppard asks in a quiet voice.
McKay investigates the damage to his forearms while answering. "I'm fine….bit shaken but-"
"I was talking to the baby."
"Well that's just-" McKay's irritation fades abruptly. "Oh, hey…you can hear again?"
"Just about. My ears are still ringing and everything's pretty much muffled, but yeah." Sheppard checks over his shoulder again.
"Is it gone?"
"For now. Give me a heads up if you hear anything hinkey."
"I thought you said-"
"Just let me know if you hear anything, Rodney."
Now he concentrates, McKay can hear dripping water, whirring machines overhead and the buzz of barely functioning lights. If Sheppard's ears are still ringing, no wonder he's asking for backup.
"We need to keep moving. You've got your radio. It work down here?"
McKay feels for the earpiece still snugly nestled in place and cannot believe he forgot he was wearing it.
He activates it and licks his lips. They taste like smoke. "This is Doctor McKay. Can anyone hear me?"
He watches Sheppard inspect Torren for injury. Obviously satisfied that he's okay he pats Torren's back and when he starts griping, pops his thumb into his mouth. Torren happily grips his finger and quietens.
"This is Doctor – Would you stop that?" he hisses.
Sheppard stands to attention and whips his head up. "What?"
"Who knows where that finger's been."
Sheppard looks confused. "It stops him crying."
"He'll catch something from you."
"If he cries he's going to give away our position."
"No, you speaking at a hundred decibels is going to give away our position."
"Yes, yes just remove your finger so Teyla can't hold us responsible for you giving him cholera or something."
Sheppard stares at him for a minute and then says, "The radio, McKay?"
"Oh right. This is Doctor McKay can anyone hear me?" He waits a beat and then- "Nothing. We need to change location. There are generators above us – they can sometimes affect the comms."
"It can create static and-"
"So we have a black spot on the radios? Thanks for telling me about that."
"People very rarely come down here."
"Whatever. Let's just keep moving." Sheppard tells him, saving that argument for another time.
McKay takes a step and it sloshes.
"Oh, just wonderful."
Ahead of them, there is water everywhere. It's stale and foul smelling. Sheppard bumps into his back and McKay sighs loudly.
"We still don't know the extent of the damage down here."
"Maybe you should fix that?"
"Maybe, if that was my job, but between running Atlantis and running for my life I often don't have time to pick up a mop."
"The floor could be damaged. There's not much separating us and the ocean down here either."
"Again maybe you should fix that."
"I'll pencil it into my diary, colonel. What are we going to do?"
"Can't go back." Sheppard draws in a deep breath and pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Are you okay?"
"Me?" Sheppard peers at him through his hand. "Never better."
"You were just caught up in that explosion. You might have internal injuries or brain damage or something."
"I'll pencil in an infirmary check up between running for my life and babysitting." He looks down at the infant in his arms.
"Teyla's going to kill you."
"Me? I thought she was going to kill us?"
"I just realised I didn't offer to look after her son. You did."
"The kid's fine. Better than fine. He's drooling all over my t-shirt." Sheppard shows how Torren is curled up against him, eyes closed and yes, drooling.
"Okay, so what now?"
"Your radio working yet?"
After another tap and call out, McKay shakes his head.
Sheppard gestures at the water. "After you."
"If I fall through the floor-"
"You won't," Sheppard tells him.
McKay takes a step forward, heel to toe and feels the water seep into his boot.
It's when Sheppard stumbles against the wall that McKay starts worrying. The colonel brushes it off as inbalance caused by his ears, but he's known him long enough to read the signals. They've had to learn the hard way that Sheppard's high pain threshold isn't always a blessing.
Finally, McKay stops.
Ankle deep in water, he reaches out for Torren.
"I'm fine," Sheppard snaps a little too loudly.
"You're going to drop him."
"I'm not going to drop him."
They stare at one another. Neither willing to back down.
"I told Teyla I would look after him."
McKay holds his hands out expectantly. "You're still looking after him."
"You dropped him before."
"That was ages ago and I didn't drop him from a great height. Are you ever going to let me forget that?"
Sheppard gives him a look that says, no.
"I've looked after him before so just pass him over."
"He's not a football, McKay!" Sheppard wearily scrubs at his face and then stills. "Wait. When have you looked after him?"
"I bring him down to the lab sometimes."
Sheppard gestures for an explanation.
"I thought Teyla could do with the sleep. Look, it's not just me, Ronon does it as well."
The water is now seeping up the fabric of his trousers.
"Yeah, he takes him to the commissary and gives him his night feed now and again."
"Yes Ronon. Look, you're not the only one who thought Teyla could do with a break so just….hand him over!"
"Guess I was slow on the uptake."
"Yes very slow. Now-" McKay wiggles his fingers. "The baby, please."
Sheppard reluctantly holds Torren out. His arms get half way up before he's cursing and McKay's left with a squirming, now awake, baby in his arms just as Sheppard doubles over.
It isn't Torrens wail that draws attention. It's Sheppard yelp of pain that has heavy footfalls coming their way.
"What is it?"
"My side…forget about it. Move!"
"What's wrong with your side?"
"Move, Rodney. We don't exactly have the tactical advantage right now!"
Every corridor has looked the same, but this time they both see something ahead that looks promising.
"Do you see what I see?" Sheppard asks as they increase their pace.
"Stairs! Oh my god! We're saved!"
Predictably, the hatch above the stairway is jammed shut.
They start running, Sheppard lagging behind but still shouting orders as if he were leading from the front.
They're steps are amplified by the water that ripples outwards and creates waves against the corridor walls. McKay forgets about the possibility of the ground caving in and wades into a deeper section to cut under one of the corroded metal beams. Sheppard follows him, grunts when he bends to go under it and nearly goes face down into the murk when he comes out the other side.
"Come on," McKay snaps impatiently. Usually, it's the other way round.
"Go!" Sheppard shouts as he pushes himself up. "Don't worry about me. Look after the kid!"
McKay hesitates, but the burden of responsibility presses him forward. For a minute, he feels a fraction of what Sheppard must feel every day. Fragile life resting firmly in his hands. One false step, one wrong decision and ….
A crash of water behind has him chancing a look over his shoulder. He catches sight of Sheppard lying on is back in the water. The Thing is advancing on him.
Sheppard gets his head out of the water long enough to yell, "Move it, McKay!"
McKay turns on his heel and starts to sprint, mindful not to jostle Torren too much.
"This is bad," he states out loud. "This is bad. Teyla's never going to forgive us."
The water at his ankles makes it difficult to maintain a steady pace and a few times he thinks he'll topple over. Not good when he's holding a baby!
There's an intersection ahead and he instinctually turns left, panting heavily and cursing between panicked breaths.
Every corridor down here looks the same. Tarnished walls and ceilings and there's hardly any light in this section. Maybe he should have turned right.
He can't hear anything behind him and finds himself slowing.
Another crash in the water, the sound of something connecting with flesh and the wall behind him lights up.
Time to go.
He reaches up to his earpiece and tries to make contact with the tower.
"This is Doctor McKay. Can anyone hear me?"
Static fills the line.
"Can you hear me?"
"I'm here. Who is this? We need help! Are you getting this?"
As he's moving forward the voice gets clearer and McKay feels a surge of shortly lived relief. Sheppard's still back there.
At the next corridor a familiar accent comes through loud and clear.
"McKay? Where are you?"
"I'm under Atlantis in the maintenance tunnels. Sheppard's-" he looks over his shoulder, expecting the colonel to be following him but all he can hear is the sound of his heavy breathing and Torren sniffling. "We're trapped. I have Torren and that-"
Zelenka starts to speak over him but the line is breaking up again.
"Was…….unable to stop……..trying to shut down……..okay?"
"Radek! Can you hear me?"
"McKay? Can you hear me?"
"Radek! If you can hear me, send help. Get someone down here! Radek?"
The line is cut off and a burst of static has McKay wincing and wanting to tear the earpiece out. He endures the continued crackle that's bound to give him a migraine, ducks into a small room and huddles against the wall.
He doesn't know how long he stands there. All he knows is Sheppard should be here now and if he isn't it means…
He squeezes his eyes shut. He needs to be strong. He needs to look after Torren and at any cost get him back to Teyla.
Torren's sniffling turns into choked sobs.
"Oh, shhh," he whispers. "No, no no. It's okay. You're fine. Shush."
Torren grips his t-shirt tightly and tugs at the fabric. Changing and feeding are out of the question. That leaves begging.
"Hey, uh… please be quiet. Pi! 3.1408450704225," he soothes and Torren starts to wail even louder. "Come on, that normally sends you to sleep." He wracks his brain for a solution. "What does Teyla do? She probably sings right? I don't really have the best singing voice and I was never really any good at this and-" He closes his eyes and tries to remember the words to "Hush Little Baby"
Something slamming into the wall beside McKay saves Torren from his probably awful rendition.
"Sheppard! Are you-"
Sheppard is breathing heavily as he slides down the wall to sit next to him. He's guarding his right side and there's a new slash across his cheek that's bleeding. "Lost him for now."
"Yeah," Sheppard nods blankly.
"I guess we should-"
"Keep moving," Sheppard finishes. He goes to get up and then stumbles against the wall.
"What is it?"
Sheppard shakes his head. "Nothing. Not…I'm-"
McKay bounces Torren on his knee. Even he's been subdued.
"It's not nothing." McKay reaches out and tugs Sheppard's arm aside. He's soaked through and shivering and when he looks closer, his eyes are glassy and unfocused.
Sheppard tries to shrink away but McKay's had enough.
"He just caught me in my side. I'm okay. Let's keep-"
"Is it bad?"
Sheppard groans and shuts his eyes tightly. "By the way," he says. "It's hush little baby don't say a word, Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird."
"I had it."
"No you didn't."
"Stop avoiding my quesiton. Is it bad?"
"And if that mockingbird don't sing, Popa's gonna buy you a diamind – ow!"
McKay drops Sheppard's t-shirt. "That's less than okay."
"Look, it's superficial. I've had worse. Any luck on the radio?"
"How long Sheppard?"
"Since the explosion. He hit me when we were heading to the first set of stairs. The radio, Rodney?"
"Zelenka's sending help."
"We're still in lockdown."
"I told him to send help."
"Without my authorisation, we're still in lockdown."
"You can say that as many times as you like but-"
Thumping footsteps have them both looking towards the door. Through sheer stubborness, Sheppard manages to get to his feet. He presses McKay against the wall. Sheppard has an unrelenting ability to put everyone else ahead of his own life even when he's in no postion to do so.
"Do you think-"
Sheppard holds his fist up. It means hold your position. When he does it to McKay it means shut up.
They wait in silence with Mckay willing Torren to be on their side for once. One cry, one sniffle and the game would be up. All he can hear is water dripping in the distance and the whir of the generators overheard.
The footsteps have stopped.
"Maybe he passed us," McKay whispers and Sheppard turns to him and quirks an eyebrow.
The next minute, plaster sprays into the air and two arms are exploding through the wall behind them and Sheppard's being held in a stronghold against the wall.
McKay has managed to sheild Torren's eyes from the debris, but he's useless where he stands. There's nowhere to safely store Torren and with a baby in his arms there's not much he can do but shout for the colonel to do something.
Sheppard kicks back off the wall and as it caves, the Thing bursts through.
Sheppard puts himself in the way of danger. "First chance you get-"
He doesn't get to finish the sentence because he's batted off to the side as if he were a mere annoyance. McKay watches as he connects with the far wall and crumples to the wet ground. Whatever this Thing is, it's formidable and without a weapon they're screwed.
McKay waits for the colonel to get up.
"Sheppard!" he calls out. "Get up!"
His back bumps into the cold stone wall and he realises he has nowhere to go.
This is the first opportunity that McKay has had to really look at their persuer. It looks just like a man, only there is something mechanical about it's movements that tips it off as being inhuman. His eyes are just the whites, shiny like marbles and unnervingly pointed at him. The side of his face is torn open but there are no exposed wires or blood, only smooth metallic plating. His arm and chest are in a similar state. Somehow, Sheppard had managed to make a dent, just not enough to stop it.
"Sheppard!" he calls out again.
The colonel is stirring, but not quick enough.
He turns his attention back to the Thing. It cocks it's head in one fluid motion and regards Torren. There's a flicker of emotion, a half crooked smile and then there's a blinding flash of light.
McKay feels something smash into the side of his face. As he falls, the weight in his arms is taken away before he can react.
He hits a wall of ice and swallows down some of the fetid water. Something in his wrist snaps on impact. The pain is overwhelming and just like earlier his world narrows.
"Doctor Mckay, we are on our way. We've managed to get the communications link up now and-"
"Wha-" McKay can't thrink straight. His wrist it's broken, the bone is visible and –
"Rodney! Please respond!"
The agony of his broken bone pales to the agony of memory. "It has Torren!" he shouts, as he crawls over to Sheppard.
He slaps the colonel's cheek and his eyelids flutter.
"Get up!" he demands. "I need you to-"
Sheppard's eyes snap open, but he's confused and un-coordinated. McKay helps him sit up against the wall then gets to his feet and heads out and into the corridor, cradling his injured arm and panicking because he can't see any sign of the Thing. The Thing that now has Teyla's only child.
"We are sending help! Where is Torren?"
"I don't know. It just –"
"We're working on disabling it's weapon capabilities."
"Don't tell Teyla. Not yet. Please, I'll get him back."
"Rodney, are you okay? You sound-"
"I'm fine. I'm – " he staggers against the wall and holds his wrist against his chest. "I'll get him back," he says in a tiny voice.
He has no idea how. For once, for all his intellect he just cannot see the solution.
"We'll get…him back."
McKay looks up and through the blurred edges of his vision he sees, "Sheppard?"
The colonel is leaning against the wall and looking as if he's about to drop but he's there, a tether to his drifting resolve.
"Are you?" Sheppard asks, taking a step forward with his hand pressed into his side.
"I broke my wrist," he tells him. "I lost Torren."
"I know, buddy." Sheppard winces and takes a stuttering breath. "We'll get him back. Ready?"
They regard one another for a split second before pushing off from their respective walls.
Despite everything, McKay can't help but think that this isn't him. He's not as brave or as strong as Sheppard is but he's still running.
"We'll get him back," Sheppard tells him again.
The colonel has a freaky ability to detatch himself from…well…himself. McKay had seen the wound in his side. He's been bleeding out for a while now and yet he's not going to give up until Teyla has her son back. It's a strange moment for McKay to realise that this was no different from being off-world and that the team or he hadn't changed as much as he thought. They just had a new team member now.
They run and they run, water coated floors give way to dry floor and marginally better lit hallways.
Their task seems impossible and yet they round a corner and find the Thing crouched down against a wall with Torren cradled in it's arms.
They both stagger to a stop, leaning on one another for support. It's the strangest sight. The man, robot, A.I, whatever it was, all 7 foot of it hunkered down next to the wall and softly cooing to a baby.
Sheppard is the first to mutter, "What the-"
When they approach it lifts it's head and stares at them with those unseeing white eyes. It holds one hand up. "Stop!"
"We're here to get the kid," Sheppard tells him.
McKay's earpiece crackles to life. "Rodney. We have disabled it's weapons. Just working on last sub-routine."
"That still doesn't help, Radek! Turn it off!
The colonel is still inching forward as the Thing answers. "Cannot comply."
Sheppard clears his throat. "Hand him over."
"Stop!" the Thing says again. "Maintain distance."
Sheppard turns to McKay and he isn't sure what he's thinking, all he knows is he's about to do something extremely stupid.
"Maintain distance." The Thing demands and then he's upright in the blink of an eye. With Torren tucked up against his inhuman body he holds out his hand.
McKay can't see Sheppard's face but he can imagine the nuetral look. Even to the end, he never gives anything away.
On realising that his weapons have been disabled, the Thing, angry grips Sheppard by the throat and holds him up in the air.
"Radek! Turn it off!"
"We are trying……….ca……."
Sheppard's feet are hanging off the floor and he's choking.
There's a strange clicking noise and then a whiring similar to the generators over head. Sheppard drops to the ground, Torren starts crying and the world stops.
When Sheppard wakes up, he can't really remember much of anything so when he hears someone announce his consciousness he's even more confused.
The voice sounds familiar but it takes a minute to place it. When he does, a pervading sense of guilt coupled with the undeniable sourness of failure has him wanting to retch.
Memories are like ghosts. They will haunt you forever. "Teyla?" he opens his eyes and sees the bundle wrapped up in her arms.
"Torren is safe," she says with a small smile. It doesn't seem disingenuous.
"McKay?" He searches the infirmary and sees that Rodney is sat up in bed with a cast covering his wrist. "What happened? Is he okay?"
"I'm fine. Bit shaken but-"
"I was talking about the baby," Sheppard tells him.
Teyla reaches out and places her hand over his. "He is unharmed. You were extremely lucky. Both of you."
"What are you-" he looks to McKay for support. "What the hell happened?"
McKay goes to cross his arms and then curses when he remembers the cast. "I'm never babysitting again."
He doesn't know what to say. How she will ever forgive him?
"John," she says, her tone light and without a hint of malevolence. "Thank you."
"I told you I'd look after him. "
"And I am sure you could have predicted the rampage of a thousand year old ancient experiment." Teyla chides. "You did not fail me John."
Sheppard pushes himself up to his elbows and a distant tug to his side reminds him of the injury he had sustained. Last thing he remembers was that Thing trying to kill-
"That thing wasn't trying to kill us." McKay informs him sullenly.
Sheppard looks between Teyla and McKay and back to Teyla. "I'm … confused."
"No change then," McKay snarks.
"It was trying to protect Torren."
"From us," McKay tells him. "It was trying to protect Torren from us."
"Are you? Am I on some really strong drugs?"
McKay sighs heavily, as if he's already explained this to Sheppard. "It's an ancient prototype. One of my minions accidentally activated it." He rubs at his face wearily. "It's an AI engineered to seek out the youngest members of the expedition and protect them in the event of attack."
"But we weren't attacking Torren."
"It didn't know that. It's not like we were formally introduced." McKay is in a worse mood that normal.
Teyla pats his arm. "They are supposed to protect children."
"And he thought we were a threat?"
"Apparently so. Charming isn't it?"
"So-" Sheppard is beginning to understand the implications.
"Yeah, if we'd just handed over Torren in the first lace, nothing would have happened."
"Like I was going to do that."
"And I thank you for that, John." To McKay's snort. "And Rodney of course. I only feel guilt that it was I that dragged you into this."
Sheppard lies back and grouches, "I volunteered."
"Well, I promise you that I will never moan about sleepless nights again."
McKay taps away at his laptop and doesn't look up when he informs her, "By the way Teyla, I'm never babysitting again."
Sheppard agrees with that sentiment. In the future, he'll deal with the ghosts he knows. "Yeah, Teyla, I think I'll pass as well. No offence."
"None taken. Now, John perhaps you will sleep this night."
"I sleep just-"
He looks between Teyla and McKay and sighs. Escaping from his demons, lying, hasn't got him anywhere.
"Yeah." He tells them, eyes already drifting closed. "For once. I think that I will."