A Habit of Force Part 11

Rodney awoke to something tickling his nose and sniffed – then sneezed!

Opening his eyes to the bewhiskered face of his Satedan mate, he found a stray dread-lock was resting against his right cheek. Rodney blew air from his nose as the end of the lock had somehow gone rogue and managed to nearly wiggle itself part way up his right nostril. Rodney, in the now much more crowded queen sized bed, lifted himself on his elbows to shift his weight and turn over...

And saw that sometime during the night, while his fluffy haired Ronan had returned to their quarters, undressed and slipped into bed next to him, the runner had somehow not disturbed – or evidently even questioned - the interloper Sheppard who was snoozing away on the other side. The colonel was still in fact snuggled against him, his mouth open and snoring softly, his bare ass hanging out over the edge of the mattress.

There was hardly room for two on his bed (his personal bed that he'd had shipped straight from Earth some years back and not one of those sagging in the middle, ridiculously narrow Atlantean torture devices thank-you-very-much), but three occupants was by no stretch of the imagination untenable. One night was behind him –almost – and behind his poor suffering back in which his spine had somehow survived intact, but anymore of these sandwiched sleeps and Rodney was already convinced it would snap in two.

At least Ronan had not beaten the crap out of the colonel for crawling into their bed and thoroughly banging his post-partum mate during his moment of – well, his hour and a half of – sexual weakness. Territoriality was not the Satedan way it seemed.

Rodney managed, with some very delicate balancing of his feet and hands, to spider walk over Sheppard and step onto the cool floor. In the dim light of Atlantis's moons beaming through the window, he searched for and located his discarded uniform from the previous evening and slipped into it sans underwear, hissing when the fabric scraped over his still tender stitches. Considering Sheppard's several subsequent ardent sessions of tangling himself up in his favorite scientist, it was a miracle he had not ripped them wide open. But sacrifices had been willingly made, especially when the reward was a hot fly-boy at the other end taking him on a rocket-flight of deliciously mindless orgasms (stupid hair-cut not-with-standing).

Going commando was not his style but McKay loathed having to sift through drawers of socks to find a pair of boxers only to inadvertently wake up his snoring bed fellows and then be halted in his tracks by Ronan's feral dog stare and/or sternly questioned regarding his night-time activities by Sheppard while the bed-headed colonel fondled his loaded gun.

His metal gun.

What McKay wanted – what he had decided to do – sometime after Sheppard had fallen asleep with one tanned, possessive arm draped over his chest but before Ronan had returned and snaked his hairy, naked, ticklish bulk next to Rodney's colonel-tenderized skin - had come to him in the wee hours of the morning.

Zipping up his uniform pants he then slipped his bare feet into a pair of worn sneakers and, gathering his youngest son from his bassinet and wrapping him in a blanket - while being extra careful not to wake the child (thankfully his youngest shared his birth father's ability to fall asleep pretty much anywhere and almost in any position) - Rodney slipped out of their quarters into the dark and quiet of the city.

XXX

"I want to see him."

Sheppard's soldier boys exchanged looks. "No one talks to the prisoner without proper authorization."

Rodney knew one of the two, which in his definition meant he recalled only one of their nameless faces. "Look, Colebank – you know me, I am proper authorization. And the colonel, in case you're not up on current events, happens to be my commanding officer too. When was the last time I was refused entry to anything by him?"

Rodney could think of one significant part of the colonel's anatomy to which he had been granted full access the previous afternoon. Refreshing, too, since thus far most of his encounters with cock and entailed him splayed out on his back with his feet high in the air. But in his most recent encounter he and the colonel had traded off sex positions which, after three orgasms during varying and delightful contortions, had made the afternoon one of lovely surprises. He'd had no previous sexual experience with fingers.And Sheppard's fingers were nice long ones.

As his multi-tasking mind went back to some memorable moments Rodney's mouth had kept talking. "But if you want I can drag him down here and then you and he can have a little chat about full access."

Some very tight, intensely hot, delightfully wicked access. If he'd had any idea that Sheppard could fuck like that...

"And then you can explain to him why you didn't let his better half in to see the prisoner who happens to be this child's father and my former-" Rodney was about to say the word mate but bit his tongue. Besides it wasn't true. "-host." Not really true either but accurate enough for this bozo.

The taller one, not Colebank but whatever-the-hell-his-name-was, said "We have to be in the room with you."

McKay nodded. "Right...fine...whatever..."

The prisoner was already awake when he entered. The room lit up for him, as it did for all with the Ancient gene, but most especially for Sheppard – a natural – and himself, not a natural but the man with whom the city had interacted for years, responding to his presence with welcoming lights or sounds too soft for anyone to detect but him, and reacting to his touch like a secret lover. All in all Atlantis, in her way, still loved him, even if she had stuck her nose in where it didn't belong and twisted his insides into something far too feminine for his own liking but a situ he was rapidly growing used to – not like he had a choice!

At least his sex life had never been better...

"Rodney." Kolya stood up.

Rodney was startled to see the man dressed in some rather pedestrian beige colored pajamas, the top of which stretched across his chest as though they had been sewn for a much smaller man, which was probably the case.

"Acustus..." Rodney knew this would bring the ire of the Sheppard-man down on his head but his newest son...Rodney didn't even know how to describe how it felt to be the father to two beautiful little boys. Whenever he thought too much about it, something in his chest got all blocked up and he had to breathe harder to get the oxygen around it to his brain, or to not faint with the light-headedness of it, and dislodge the irksome and overpowering emotion. An emotion he still could neither contain nor express but one he held onto like it was a life preserver. Or maybe - if he allowed sentiment to get in the way of reason - which he wasn't doing, a life affirmer.

Either way it was making him a bit nuts.

Rodney sucked in a hearty breath. "Now don't think I've come here to forgive you or because you deserve it - 'cause basically you're a bastard – but I just thought, I wanted you to know, I thought you should at least be able to see him..." Rodney decided to stop talking; it was just easier when his tongue began its customary stumbling. So he held out the baby, keeping his fingers gripped firmly around the blankets but still far enough out that the other man could see for himself. "This is your son."

Kolya moved toward him until the guards raised their guns in warning. He flashed a look to the guards but then dismissing their threat, his eyes drew back to the child in his lover's arms. A tiny, tiny baby that Rodney claimed was theirs. He knew better than to reach out a hand, still he stared long and hard at the perfect little face. Fast huffs of air went in and out of nostrils so small he wondered how it was possible the lungs could be getting enough. "My son..." He whispered.

Rodney couldn't help but smile and, starry-eyed, studied the baby in his arms. "Yeah...isn't he incredible?"

Kolya nodded with enthusiasm. "Yes, yes Rodney he is. He's...he's perfect." Kolya looked up at the man he had hurt and ultimately had grown to love against all his better judgement. "You made me a perfect son."

Rodney's eyes drifted back down to his baby and smiled in agreement, and then shook his head as though confused by him. "I thought...I thought I would hate him because he was -" He looked at Kolya again, the weight and meaning of his words not lost on the former Genii commander. "Because he was yours, you know? I thought...I wanted to...get rid of him – before - but then when I saw him for the first time, it was like...one minute, before he was here I'd been a crazy person for thinking he wasn't wonderful...and the next, after I woke up, I was suddenly sane again. And I couldn't remember anymore it didn't make sense anymore why I'd hated him...even though it was you who...well, you know what you did. But I can't hardly tell them apart; him and Kellen – they're so alike - they could be brothers."

Kolya watched the serenity on the face of the man he still considered his mate, even though the union was not mutually agreed upon. Rodney who had always been so sarcastic, so angry and rebellious toward almost anything he had desired or even suggested, while holding his child appeared totally at peace. "If I could change what I...did to you, the way I did it, I would." Kolya looked at his son "but I do not regret the child you have given me, Rodney. I thank you for him."

Rodney looked back up at his former kidnapper, the man who had raped him and Kolya saw it clearly. No he had not been forgiven but perhaps, perhaps there was some understanding, some comprehension. Perhaps even some compensation in the fact of the young child in his arms.

Rodney asked "What should we name him?"

Startled and deeply pleased by the opportunity, Kolya answered without hesitation - "Praccus."

"Praccus? Praccus?" Rodney's face twisted. "Why do Pegasus cultures always have the worst names?"

"It was my fathers." But a Genii commander could give in a little he supposed. His tone was actually warm when he asked "What name would you choose?"

"I was thinking Rodney Junior."

"Perhaps we could call him both? Rodney Praccus Junior?"

"If 'Praccus' is in there, there can be no 'Junior'." Rodney said. "But I guess we can skip the 'Junior' part." He rolled his eyes. "'Praccus' - yeesh." Then he relented. "Fine, fine, we'll call him Rodney Praccus McKay."

"McKay-Kolya." Acustus corrected.

McKay glared. "Kolya-McKay."

Kolya smiled, enjoying the moment like no moment before. Even his reluctant mate's characteristic chin-lifting, nostril-flaring stubbornness was nothing but a joy because he had a son. Rodney had made him a beautiful strong boy. His brilliant self-determining mate had even defied orders and proudly brought the child to his sire father. Jails cells, restrictions, uncertain future, he did not worry for any of it. None of them mattered compared to this. All he knew is he had to be near his son, and perhaps someday again, his mate. The world could make its demands. He would yield. "As you wish."

XXX

Sheppard was anxious to get the goodbye-and-good-riddance over-with so he could hunt up Rodney and ask him why he decided to defy a direct order in the middle of the night.

But first rebels first. "Well, Todd, while I can't say it's been fun, it has been...interesting."

"I know what you think of me John Sheppard, and as former Wraith food I suppose I can comprehend your reluctance to take me at my word."

"Glad you're being so understanding about it. We food types have a little hang-up about being on the menu."

"But thanks to Doctor McKay's work I and my Hives have a chance to survive as you do. I have come to learn at some expense that the intelligence of some of you humans is almost equal that of ours."

Sheppard smiled wryly. Rodney's ears must be burning. "Perhaps it's a philosophy you'll be good enough to share with the rest of your kind?"

"That would not be advisable. The other Hives would assume Atlantis survives and hunt you down. They do not share my views." Todd raised his right hand. "Goodbye John Sheppard. Perhaps we will meet again."

Sheppard only nodded. "Right. See ya'," and then under his breath "Maybe in another life." Thank god his charitable work for the month was done. It was time to hunt up and have a heart to heart with his sneaking off in the night boyfriend.

XXX

"You defied my direct order to stay away from him." Sheppard tried to keep his voice calm as Rodney was still holding his littlest one – now named Rodney as he had been informed – and the baby was thankfully sleeping.

"I don't recall you announcing a blanket restriction. Besides how the hell else was I supposed to talk to him?" Rodney ground out between pursed lips. "He is my baby's father."

"His rapist father." Sheppard decided to remind him.

Rodney lifted his chin at that. "Well, even so. Look - as hard as it is for you to believe me, I did what I had to do to survive and -"

"And what Rodney?" He wasn't so angry anymore, not when McKay was baring his soul and not when he was looking so...so vulnerable.

Rodney sniffed as though fortifying himself. "And not every minute was...awful okay? Sometimes the man was..."

Sheppard sucked in a breath, waiting for what he did not know.

"He was sometimes...sort of okay." Rodney ventured, his eyes locked on Sheppard's as though waiting for the hurricane he figured was about to break. "Sometimes Acustus was even...you know, nice to me."

Sheppard nodded, hardly believing his ears. "Nice..." He looked away, shaking his head. "I see."

Rodney set his jaw. "I doubt it."

"Acustus." Sheppard repeated the name. From his lips it sounded like a disease but he couldn't fault Rodney for trying to make the best of what he saw as a possible long term incarceration with the Genii underground. Besides he had been given no choice.

Rodney sighed weary of the whole argument. "Look, you can't keep him locked up in there forever –right?"

Sheppard assured him "Try me." Yes he felt sorry for Rodney, although he wouldn't make the mistake of saying so, but he sure as hell felt no sympathy for the Genii leader who had kidnapped and raped his best friend.

His friend who had just recently become his lover.

When Sheppard next look up, McKay had eyes for only his sleeping child. "This is his son. I had to at least show him."

"Then why didn't you ask?"

"Oh like you would have given me permission."

Sheppard was still a little angry, he knew that for sure but what he didn't know for sure was all the reasons why. "We'll never know now will we?" He sat stiffly in his office chair, no longer looking at Rodney. The fight had suddenly drained out of him.

But McKay was not going to let it drop yet. "So what are you going to do with him?"

"I haven't decided that yet."

McKay bristled. "It's been months already and I think its punishment enough being locked away...alone all the time, with no one to talk to. And not knowing whether... you'll...see home or...or...a-anyone again. That's, well, pretty hard actually in case you didn't guess. It can drive you crazy John...m-make you agree to a-almost anything. Make you accept things. Make you need things..."

It occurred to Sheppard that Rodney was no longer talking about Kolya. His heart was beating so hard in his chest he thought it might kill him.

"And so you start to make compromises. You start to believe that...that you may as well make the best of it or...go crazy..."

Sheppard looked down at his desk littered with paperwork that suddenly didn't seem important anymore. Nothing really was, when you were on your own in the Pegasus galaxy, cut off from home. Nothing but the people stuck there with you. "Yeah, I think I can see...I mean I think I get it Rodney." Suddenly Sheppard felt like an idiot. It had not crossed his mind that Rodney might still be smarting from his experiences or that he was even...maybe trying to forgive Kolya for what happened – for his son's sake if not for his own. He bit his lip and nodded at Rodney. "I am sorry Rodney..." For not being able to protect you, for letting Kolya do...things to you, that the bastard kept you to himself, for not being able to show you how much I care or how badly I missed you...for every fucking miserable minute you've endured the last year, for all of it.

But he did not know how to say it. Sheppard sighed. God he was tired. And he still needed to make a decision about the Genii commander. Pelloski had been kept incarcerated for six months and stripped of rank. Sheppard had offered him the choice to stay in Atlantis as a laborer or go through the Gate to the nearest peaceful world and take his chances. Pelloski had opted to stay.

"What do you think I should do with Kolya?" He asked, suspecting what Ronan might say had he put the question to the Satedan. The runner would definitely want the man dead.

But what Ronan wanted wasn't paramount. And maybe neither was what he himself wanted. "What should I do with him Rodney? If you have any good ideas I'd like to hear them." Because basically he was at a dead-end when it came to the hated Genii. He understood Rodney's apparent lack of boiling hatred for the man, but it still mightily grated on him.

McKay bit his lip. "I'm not sure. Maybe he could be put to use right here."

"You think Acustus Kolya would agree to sweeping floors or scrubbing toilets?"

McKay shrugged. "I don't know but why does it have to be those jobs? He has knowledge of Pegasus; maybe he can help us find good trading planets or uninhabited planets – maybe a few different planets so we'd have daylight access all the time? We could grow crops all year around."

That was actually not a bad idea, not giving Kolya any access to the Gate of course - unless it was one-way trip to oblivion – but using the variant daytime hours of other worlds to grow their crops beneath other suns twenty-four-seven; fresh vegetables all year long and no more food rationing. Given a list of variables McKay could calculate which disclosed worlds might be to their advantage in, he was confident, about two minutes.

"He..." Sheppard had almost said the R word but settled with "hurt you, Rodney, and he should be punished."

"Of course he does. But keeping him in a jail cell for –what - twenty years? What good is that going to do?"

It'll help me feel better, Sheppard thought. Letting him out and having to send guards around with him everywhere he went just to be sure he stayed in line would be a waste of manpower. What they needed was options.

Rodney lifted his chin, always a warning sign to Sheppard to set a little more stiffness in his already stiff posture in response. "I think we should take a vote." McKay suggested.

"Sure...when this becomes a democracy."

"Well it almost should anyway. We're cut off from Earth; we're isolated from most other inhabited worlds, most of them our former trading partners - even the Athosians don't want anything to do with us. The closest thing to a pal we've attracted lately is Todd." Rodney rocked baby Rodney in his arms. The child had awakened and was fussing.

"Well I guess it's a whole new world Rodney but this is still a military installation and I am still her military leader, and that means what I say, for now, goes."

McKay's face fell a bit and Sheppard could see disappointment there and to his surprise it made his heart ache a little. As much as it left him feeling vulnerable in a way he hadn't really expected, he did want Rodney's approval. But there were things Rodney just didn't understand, even with all his experience and suffering in the name of exploring Pegasus, still there were decisions within circumstances that McKay had never had to make himself; like who lived and who died and why it needed to be so.

Rodney swallowed, and Sheppard could see the wheels in his head having already turned and it meant Rodney was capitulating. Whatever decision Sheppard would make regarding the Genii prisoner, even if it was one he didn't like, he would accept. If nothing else when it came to his first loyalties, Rodney was unmovable. "Okay, fine; if you need to pull rank, if that's the way you want to play it...so what do you say about Acustus?"

Acustus. Sheppard did not like the way the name fell from Rodney's lips. The scientist had said it so naturally, as though it had become a familiar thing, like the way any one of his team might mention the name of another member. Workmates, pals, friends. What was Kolya to Rodney and how long had it taken the bastard to finagle his way into the bosom – and pants - of their resident physicist? It seemed the various parts of the equation of Kolya plus Rodney had been put together during the scientist's stay with the murdering commander and his Genii-cum-Nazi wannabe's.

It was Rodney who had wanted Kolya to live after all, and had all but begged them not to shoot the bastard. Sheppard had seen and felt the connection between them in the Gate-room that day, and the memory was still a living fire in his soul, a burn on his heart and a heat of anger and jealousy in his mind that he couldn't put into words. The question of why Rodney cared for the man, and it was clear that in some fashion he did - was a question Sheppard had yet to put to McKay. Secretly he was afraid of the answer.

Because he loved Rodney more than anyone or anything he had ever loved in his life, including flying. Sheppard bit his lip so hard it hurt. "I say nothing about him...yet." He shifted his shoulders, trying to relax the strung-out tension between them and in himself. "Now come on, we've got a pre-mission briefing. Beckett already let me know that you're cleared for duty off-world."

McKay nodded, willing to drop the Kolya question for now. "Yeah, he did thank god. I've been cooped up in Atlantis for eight months. Look, I've got to take little Rodney back to Ronan. He can drop him and Kellen at the nursery and meet us back here."

"Sounds good."

XXX

They were off to PVH-472 the next morning. It would be Rodney's first "post-natal mission" as Beckett had put it; at the time the words had made Rodney cringe and Sheppard smile. McKay had made it clear he hated all the "natal-this" and "natal-that" associated with his new "condition" –another of Beckett's favorites. And yet the physicist seemed to be making a more than passable father to his kids.

"I'm glad to get back in the field," Rodney remarked, "believe me."

Hoping to repair the emotional gap their earlier conversation had carved out Sheppard dropped his P-90, letting it dangle from the hook on his vest, and stretched his arms luxuriously. "This is nice," he said keeping one eye on Rodney who was keeping his own attention on his scanner. The pleasing greenery seemed to have no effect on the scientist nor was he tipping his face to the warm sun shining down on the group. Off world missions to Rodney did not mean skipping over green hills, it meant finding some cool technology. The man was a geek to his bone marrow.

But walking on the grass was a luxury he had lately missed. Not that he'd trade time in Atlantis (and especially bed-time with Rodney of which he hoped there was many more opportunities in his near future), for a hundred grassy worlds. Atlantis was a place apart from any other, even in this new era of pregnant men and in particular a pregnant Rodney. Seeing his under-belly swell over the months following what Sheppard assumed had been the repeated invasions of Ronan's cock – if unfortunately not yet his own – had been a thrill that had left his almost breathless.

And exceptionally horny. "Isn't this nice Rodney?" He asked again, dragging is eyes and his mind away from McKay's lovely round ass.

Rodney only grunted. The scientist wasn't pregnant now of course, unless he and Ronan had been at it. Atlantis had run out of condoms weeks ago so there was a good possibility of it if McKay and the runner weren't being careful, Sheppard thought.

His own penis, envious as hell, had yet to be allowed access to Rodney's most intimate place. Maybe the science department could come up with a condom substitute. Surely there had to be tech' in Atlantis devoted to birth control. He decided to approach Zelenka about it upon their return to base.

Sheppard dropped the pretense that this could be a combo' mission of explore a new world and get on Rodney's good side so they could schedule in another afternoon of sex. "Anything on the scanner?" He asked, not all that interested. They could always use the place to grow the crops – Rodney's idea - and one the agricultural department were having wet dreams over considering its potential to provide Atlantis with fresh food every week of the year.

"Same readings as when we came through the Gate," Rodney pointed with a jerk of his sharp nose. "Due west of here. Has to be more than residual power sources."

"ZPM level?"

McKay shook his head. "Electro-magnetic and something else..."

"What else?"

"If I knew that I would tell you. My scanner is...confused, give me a second."

"You've had a second."

"Okay, then give me a few minutes."

"Who discovered this planet anyway, if it's not in the Data-base?"

"Zelenka was sending scans through the Gate to random addresses and got back some respectable power readings from this one."

"Oh." The MALP they had subsequently sent through had confirmed a breathable atmosphere and livable conditions. Sheppard didn't know it had been Zelenka's project but since Rodney had discovered fatherhood and all its responsibilities he'd grudgingly granted Zelenka greater freedom to pursue his ideas. Sheppard suspected however that Rodney was irritated with himself for not thinking of it first.

"We're about a hundred meters away now." McKay announced and the team, consisting of McKay, Sheppard, Ronan and Corporal Stalles to stop and look around. But within sight there was nothing fields of grass spotted with dwarf purple colored shrubbery.

"Maybe whatever it is is underground?" Sheppard voiced rhetorically, knowing Rodney would already be scanning for that possibility.

McKay frowned, and it was not his this is a cool mystery frown, it was his hey this is a little unexpected frown, the one that always made the hair on the back of Sheppard's neck stand up. Casting aside the peace he had been feeling he was instantly more alert. "What is it Rodney?"

"According to this the power source should be right here." He answered, pointing almost at his feet but his tone was more irritated than puzzled. "Like, twenty feet away. This has got to be a scanner malfunction or-" He dropped one hand away from the scanner and waved it around to the group. "Trust Zelenka to screw up something so simple as-"

But a bright flash in front of Sheppard's eyes and a sudden flash of intense pain stole Rodney's words away, and then everything else.

XXX

Sheppard tried to shift the burden off his shoulder but it persisted.

"Hey, wake up."

Sheppard opened his eyes to Ronan's meaty hand shaking him. He sat up too quickly and had to wait out the spots before his eyes as his blood pressure equalized inside his skull. "Christ, what happened?"

Ronan pointed over to their right. "They did."

With a pull from Ronan's strong arm Sheppard got to his feet and tried not to instinctively ball his fists. Six men in Genii uniforms stood off to one side, weapons raised. Sheppard didn't have to look down to know that his P-90 and his side arm were both missing. Ronan's holster was likewise empty as was Stalles, who was just waking up himself, rubbing his fingers across his eyes and staggering to his feet.

Sheppard sighed. "I'm beginning to really hate these guys." He then noticed one member of their party was missing and his blood pressure shot up while his heart skipped a beat or two. "Where's Rodney?"

One of the Genii stepped forward, the man Sheppard immediately recognised as Ladon but unfortunately he did not step close enough for Sheppard to get his hands around the man's scrawny throat. "He is safe." Ladon said. "He is on our ship."

Aside Sheppard muttered to Ronan "Cloaked ship?" And the Satedan nodded with a jerk of his thumb to the odd shaped little craft sitting on the grass not fifty feet away.

"Been stealing ships have we Ladon?" Sheppard asked. "Looks like Asuran design."

Ladon looked proud of himself. "The cloak we installed is pure Ancient, but how we acquired the ship itself is, well, quite a story..."

"Another time maybe." Sheppard interrupted. Under the present circumstances he figured it was better than saying he didn't give a shit how Ladon did anything with an exception being their current predicament. But it explained why they had seen the unidentified power readings with nothing to account for them. It was probably Laden who had set it up to make sure the readings got through the Gate to Atlantis, not an unreasonable strategy since most worlds were not using their Gates anymore for travel anywhere. The virus was most likely spreading and people were hunkering down on their own worlds to haul it all alone.

"We do what we have to survive, Colonel Sheppard, which brings me to the point. We have taken your Doctor McKay for a good reason."

Sheppard didn't try to speculate why although he had a good idea, but that Ladon had taken McKay in the first place was enough to earn him first place on Sheppard's shit list. "And that is?"

"We require the return of Acustus Kolya whom you are holding prisoner."

Sheppard almost did a double-take. "So basically what you're suggesting is a prisoner exchange?" Halleluiah. "No problem, just let McKay go and we'll send the ol' salt through directly."

The man shook his head. "We would prefer to do the exchange here and we would appreciate it if you brought Kolya to us first."

Sheppard almost laughed. "Look, I don't exactly have a problem with sending Kolya off to whatever fate you have in store for him so basically you have my blessings but there is no way in hell you're not giving me my man back first or at least at the same time. And we want our weapons back right now."

Ladon's face showed a quick and unexpected comprehension. "Your man?" He said, narrowing his eyes, and gathering the unspoken meaning behind the colonel's words. "Mm, yes, I think I see..."

The prick was actually commiserating and Sheppard's nostrils flared at the man's cheek. "Deal or no deal Ladon?"

"That sounds...equitable." Ladon said. "Be it said I do not wish to come between a colonel and his man, therefore I will accompany you back to the Gate while the rest of my people and yours wait here. Is that satisfactory?" He gestured to his men to return the confiscated weapons to Sheppard's team, which they did while keeping their own trained on them unwaveringly.

Sheppard checked for ammo' in his side arm, switched the safety off and then aimed the pistol at a bare piece of ground nearby, pulling the trigger once. A single shot buried itself in the soil in a tiny spray of dirt. He smiled falsely at Ladon. "Just checking."

Sheppard glanced at Ronan who was checking and then holstering his own weapon. "Looks okay." The runner agreed.

Ladon had also not missed the other silent exchange between the two 'Lantean soldiers. "No harm will come to your doctor, Colonel Sheppard, you have my word."

Ladon's assurances were about as reassuring as a Wraith's mercy. "Well, as much as I'd like to put faith in every syllable that dribbles from your mouth I'm going to trust Ronan here to make sure you keep your side of the bargain...won't you big guy?"

Ronan didn't by any measure crack a smile. "I'll make sure we get McKay back," His eyes roamed over each Genii soldier, having already sized each of them up as vastly inferior to his own skill and speed at the art of the swift kill, "because if we're betrayed I'll kill them all before any of them can twitch a finger."

Sheppard clipped his P-90 back in its rightful place and tucked his Berretta neatly in its black holster. He looked at Ladon placidly, confident of Ronan's ability to do exactly what he'd just promised. "Ready Ladon?"

Ignoring the Satedan's threats, Ladon turned and lead the way as they walked back to the Gate.

XXX

After what seemed like sufficient time, Ronan tapped his own ear-"bug" and was about to call Sheppard when instead his own earpiece crackled in his ear. "We're on our way back."

Ronan sighed, quietly relieved to hear from his colonel. "I was about to make good on my threat." Which in Ronan-talk meant Hurry your ass up. The runner eyed up the Genii soldiers as a marksman would eye up a row of sitting ducks and he estimated that taking them down would require about seven seconds on the clock, too short a time for any of them to react quickly enough to raise their weapons to eye-level, take aim and fire. What was that other phrase he had heard Sheppard use? Shooting fish in a barrel.

"Easy big guy, we'll be there in a jiffy." Sheppard and Landon walked on either side of Kolya, who had his hands cuffed in front and kept his eyes on the scene ahead which was Sheppard and Landon's men all standing around glaring at each other with weapons raised.

Sheppard switched his radio to an open channel so Ladon and Kolya could hear their conversation. "Good. Rodney's probably getting hungry." Ronan quipped, as near to a joke as the sober runner ever came.

Sheppard smiled to himself and was righteously annoyed to see Kolya's lip turn up as well. "Yeah, well, he'll be eating his face off soon enough."

When the two groups were in proximity once more Landon jerked a chin to two of his soldiers who steered Kolya over to their little camp. "Thank you Sheppard and now-" From his pocket Ladon brought out a small box that for all things looked like harmless deck of playing cards but then he pressed a button and it was just too quick and too unexpected for even Ronan to do anything about it.

Instantly the group of Genii, and their captive Kolya, disappeared in a flash of light. When Sheppard's eyes cleared enough to look, their little ship had also vanished. They all stood there frozen in time for a few seconds before Sheppard, knowing it was futile, slapped at his radio. "Sheppard to Ladon you son-of-a-bitch-what are you playing at?"

When Ladon didn't answer Sheppard figured to hell with diplomacy. "Ladon, if anything and I mean anything happens to McKay – if he so much as stubs his little toe - I will hunt you down and kill you even if it takes me the rest of my natural life."

But it was useless, the Genii had their own brand of communication devices and even if they didn't, Ladon had no reason to comply or answer.

Sheppard turned to see Ronan's face grow dark with fury and scolded himself for being so stupid as to trust the shifty-eyed Ladon. "Goddmanit!" Sheppard said. He had been ready for a stand up fight but disappearing was just cheating.

Half way back to the Gate, Ronan heard it. A soft whine that grew louder. He stopped and looked up, brushing his hand against Sheppard's shoulder to get his attention and both the colonel and Stalles raised their eyes skyward.

It was the little Asuran-Genii ship, its cloak down, and weaving wildly through the air like a drunken seagull, its bulky rear power nodules tilting this way and that, as though there was no one was at the controls.

Suddenly it turned and was headed straight for them at a terrific rate of speed. "Oh shit – run!" Sheppard shouted. Each man ran a different direction but all three as perpendicular as possible away from what they hoped was the roughly straight path of the shuttle. Just before the thing plowed into the ground, where it would surely have broke into a hundred pieces, it slowed dramatically in the air, wobbled for a few seconds and then dropped two hundred feet from the sky in a sharp free-fall.

But, as much as it had slowed its momentum, it was still a hard crash, though one with greatly reduced collateral damage to what it could have been. And as Sheppard watched with baited breath there was at least hope that its occupants might survive. Or at least the right occupant.

By the time they shook of the shock of what had just happened and reached the craft at a dead run, its nose was already buried four feet into the hard ground, the impact having lifted a spray of spoil over the fuselage, turning the white material of the alien cockpit to grey. Ronan arrived first and was swiftly circled the craft searching for an access point or a hatch.

"They're going to be hurt." Sheppard said.

"Don't care about the rest," Ronan said, "just as long as Rodney's okay."

Sheppard had no argument with that. If all the Genii had perished he would chalk it up as a pretty good ending to a very bad day.

Ronan drew his blaster and aimed it at a spot he hoped was a panel that hid the controls for whatever hatch there might be but before he could fire, a loud hiss erupted and he backed away from the ship. A wide door slid aside to reveal a bleeding Kolya. His face was stained with what Sheppard hoped was his own blood and not Rodney's. He stumbled and was obviously in pain but held no weapon in either hand. Still when he caught sight of Ronan's fully charged weapon he raised his arms wincing as he did so and fell to his knees on the ground a few feet from the shuttle.

Ronan kept his weapon trained on the hated former Genii while Sheppard holstered his sidearm and stepped into the craft.

"Rodney's alive" Kolya called to Sheppard from outside. "But I think he's hurt - help him." Kolya said to Sheppard when the 'Lantean had disappeared inside the shuttle. And then, used to barking out orders to those he figured were moving too slowly, Kolya shouted "Hurry up!" before collapsing on the ground, unconscious.

Ignoring Kolya Sheppard screamed "Stalles!" and scrambled over obstructions inside the craft, most of them bodies which had been tossed hither and thither during the violent crash. But Sheppard recognised that each body had at least one bullet wound so it was a good bet some had died before the crash or that their deaths had caused the crash.

Stalles followed him, efficiently checking bodies for vital signs and shaking his head each time one came up dead. Sheppard located Rodney slumped in a heap against one alien looking wall. He cradled Rodney's head in his hands and looked over. "Anyone else?" He asked and could not help feeling gratified at Stalles head-shake.

Even Ladon, one side of his head flattened against the thick view-shield, which hadn't given a millimeter upon impact, was very obviously dead. A large puddle of blood had drained from his cracked skull. Stalles hadn't bothered to check those vitals, knowing it was futile.

"Help me with McKay." Together they lifted him to clear him of the jumble of bodies and lay him down flat. Sheppard placed the back of his hand near McKay's nose and breathed a sigh of relief to feel soft respirations against it, but other than that Rodney remained unresponsive. Sheppard did a quick assessment. There was blood on the right side of Rodney's face but it appeared to have come from a gash on the crown of his scalp. Upon impact he had probably been tossed in the air like a cork and slammed his skull into something sharp before landing. The scientist looked unhurt otherwise except for his left arm that looked like someone had popped it off and then put it back in its socket facing the wrong way. Shoulder dislocation probably. Maybe torn tendons too.

Sheppard tried to untangle the limbs of another very dead body from where they were lying beneath Rodney's legs – there was little room in the craft, far less than even in their Jumpers - and the two of them managed to lift Rodney up without jostling his badly broken arm too much preparing to wrestle him through the doorway. Suddenly Ronan appeared at his side and said to Stalles "Watch Kolya."

"Yes sir." Stalles said and left the carrying of the little physicist to his closest friends.

Ronan glanced at Sheppard "Don't worry, Kolya's not going anywhere. His ankle is broken."

Sheppard nodded, grateful for the little things.

"Let me..." Ronan bent down and hooking his powerful hands under McKay's belt, hoisted Rodney onto his shoulders not unlike he might a sack of grain. Sheppard did not fail to note how carefully Ronan accomplished it. However much the Satedan did not know his own strength – or perhaps because he did – when it came to handling Rodney he was unfailingly gentle.

Sheppard was sweating though he suspected it was more from adrenalin than exertion. "Thanks."

Sheppard silently cursed his own conscience as he for the last time checked the throats of the Genii soldiers – even Ladon's – for any sign of life that Stalles may have missed. Finding none he followed Ronan out of the mangled ship and they made best time for the Gate, Ronan carrying their unconscious mate and Sheppard helping Kolya stumble along on what was a swollen, and what Sheppard secretly hoped, a broken and painful ankle.

Kolya began to speak, shocking Sheppard out of his silent, hurried march to the Gate and safety. "I am not as familiar with the design as I would have liked. Once I got hold of a sidearm and shot the others I thought I could just disable the navigation or the cloak but instead one of my bullets went astray and damaged the flight controls. I managed to reduce the air speed but there was no way to stop the crash."

As he spoke quickly, trying to keep up with his escort Stalles Kolya kept flashing looks over his shoulder to Ronan's human burden. "Is he all right?" Kolya asked, "Is Rodney okay? Answer me Satedan!"

"Shut up Kolya!" Sheppard barked. It was, after all, the Genii's fault and Kolya was a Genii. "Ladon was one of your pals so as far as I'm concerned Rodney had better be all right for your sake."

Other than their boots moving over the hard ground the rest of the hike to the Gate was silent.

XXX

Part 12 asap