||[Nov. 24th, 2009|10:51 pm]
Fandom: SGA (John/Rodney est.rel)
Notes: Written for Sweet Charity for the most patient person in existence.
Sateda is a nation standing against the Wraith. Once mighty, they now rely on raids to other worlds to fill their military. On Ra-Yeda, circumstance leads to the capture of two men who may be their downfall.
Abscido : to cut off, to separate, take away.
“He’s killing me.”
Brant looked across at his Taskmaster, Ronon Dex and sighed, knowing he was going to be in for a rough night and a pissy commanding officer. He scanned the line of men being ushered through the Ring of the Ancestors and immediately his eyes picked out those his Taskmaster was having an issue with.
“Underneath all the muck, they look like they’re wearing uniforms,” Brant observed and heard a low growl.
“That’s what I mean. Why is Gaston bringing military through? He was only supposed to go to Ra-Yeda. Where the hell did they come from?”
Brant shrugged. “Not sure. One of them’s injured though.”
“Great, that’s just what we need. Is there something you’re both not telling me? Is this a very slow and annoying coup?”
Brant snorted. “Not likely. Look, there’s Gaston now,” he said, inclining his head towards a lanky man loping towards them, grim faced, dirty and favouring his right leg.
“What the hell, Gaston?” Ronon barked, but then his face fell and the anger drained away when the younger man drew closer and it could be seen that he was in bad shape.
“They were on ‘Yeda when we got there, Sir,” Gaston started explaining before he’d even drawn level. “When we tried to take the requisition, they intervened.”
“Looks like they intervened pretty hard,” Brant observed.
Gaston nodded. “Yes, Sir. We lost Britt, Cleo and Tyron.”
“What? Just because of those two?”
“No, Sir. There were was also a woman and another man who got through the Ancestral ring before we could get to them. They had projectile weapons. I’ve never seen anything like them. I’ve got a slug in my goddamn knee.” Gaston sneered in disgust.
Ronon raised his eyebrows, leaning sideways to look past Gaston at the two men that had caught his interest. One of them was wounded and had an arm across the shoulders of the other as they were led towards the holding pens. The wounded one, even being assisted and dishevelled, had the lean, hungry look of a fighter about him. The other one was a curiosity, broader and with a pale face, eyes darting every which way as if cataloguing everything.
He was wearing a weapon holster and although he had the look of someone who could possibly handle himself, he was definitely no soldier and yet…
Both men were wearing the same uniform.
“Ronon?” Brant prodded and Ronon looked at him, brow furrowed. “Sir? What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking those two are going to be more trouble than they’re worth. Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t be done with them now?”
Gaston just smirked, long enough for Ronon to realize what he was smiling about, something they'd been desperate for.
“Gaston, if you’ve brought me a pilot, you can have the last of my Bemal.”
“Get the surgeon. If he’s a pilot, I don’t want his arm dropping off.”
There had been yelling and further fighting when it came time to separate the two new men brought through and even though the injured one looked half dead, he still managed to break two noses, give another man a broken arm and was on his way to chewing right through an ear when he was finally put down.
The larger man had also been difficult to restrain, but much less so, which confirmed Ronon’s belief that he was not a soldier but dressed like them. Ronon had seen that tactic before so he had decided to talk to the uninjured man first, knowing that of the two of them, he would probably be easier to procure information from.
When Ronon slid through the door into the tiny room he saw the man sitting on the cot, head in hands. The only indication that he knew Ronon was in the room was a slight drop in the shoulders.
“I hear you dispatched three of my men,” Ronon said.
If he’d had any misconceptions about the man before him being the weaker link, they vanished when the man looked up. His eyes were hard and he looked angry. His mouth firmed down into a little line and he stood, fists clenched. “I’m sorry, did we get in the way of your kidnapping? How rude of us!” he spat.
Ronon was surprised to find that this man was scared, even though he didn’t outwardly show it at all. What had given him away was when he’d stood, he’d also retreated, as far from Ronon as the small room would allow. He was no coward, but was intimately aware of when he should be afraid.
“What’s your name?” Ronon asked politely and watched as the man looked surprised and then suspicious.
“Doctor Rodney McKay.”
“Doctor?” Ronon was surprised and pleased. They were desperately short of medical personnel and if Gaston had found a pilot and a Doctor then he would be getting everyone else’s Bemal.
“Where’s the Colonel? I demand to see him!” Rodney crossed his arms and jutted his chin, probably trying to look imposing but his voice quavered a little, betraying the true reason he was afraid.
Not for himself but for his companion.
“Ah, is that a rank? I thought he was military but I wasn’t sure.”
“Yes it’s a rank. Where is he? He was hurt.”
“Are you military?”
“Do I look military to you? I’m a scientist. I want to see Colonel Sheppard now.”
“He’s with my surgeon. We’re tending to his injuries,” Ronon assured but the other man didn’t look convinced.
“Look, we’re both very valuable to our people and they will be coming for us. We’re very sorry we got in the way of whatever you were doing. Just pitch us back through the ‘gate to a random planet and we’ll find our way home.”
“Where exactly are your people? I don’t recognise your uniform and we certainly haven’t seen anything like your weapons before.”
Rodney’s lips thinned so much they almost disappeared and Ronon knew he had pushed too far. Rodney had finally realised he was being questioned and he crossed back to the cot and sat down, arms still crossed. “Take me to Colonel Sheppard. We’re done talking.”
Ronon inclined his head. “I’ll see what I can do.”
John opened his eyes slowly, and for a split, blissful second, he thought he was in the infirmary but the lighting was wrong, the equipment looked different and the man at his bedside was definitely not Carson Beckett.
John made to sit up but winced when hot pain lanced through his shoulder and down his arm. He brought his left hand up and gingerly felt the bandaging that was keeping everything pretty much immobilised. The pain receded to a dull throb and he was able to focus.
“Where’s the man I was brought here with?” he asked and the tall stranger at his side laced his hands and dropped into a nearby chair.
“That was his first question too,” The man remarked, putting his feet up on John’s bed and crossing them at the ankle. John didn’t know why, but that small gesture of familiarity rankled and he fought the urge to push the man’s feet off, just for spite.
“That’s not an answer.”
“He’s fine. He’s in better shape than you are, although you are in surprisingly good shape for being outnumbered like you were. There were only four of you and fifteen of us and yet two of your people got away, you wrenched your shoulder and your scientist is completely uninjured. Three of my men are dead.”
“Don’t expect me to feel bad about that,” John snarled. He knew he wouldn’t look very menacing lying in a hospital bed but he still fought the pain long enough to sit up. “The way I see it, your guys were trying to corral some young farmers for god knows what. I’m thinking… slavery?”
The man snorted. “Interesting that’s your first thought. It obviously wasn’t your world and those people not your own… so why intervene when you were so hopelessly outnumbered?”
John went to shrug but caught himself at the last moment, knowing the pain it would cause and instead tipped his head, raising one eyebrow. “Seemed like the thing to do. We don’t have a pesky directive to worry about.”
John waved his good hand. “Never mind. Gotta remember to stop slipping in the pop culture references when talking to aliens.”`John lay back down because his vision was greying at the edges.
The stranger sighed and stood, pushing the chair out of the way. “I came to ask if you're a pilot. If not, then you’re useless to me. Your friend is a doctor so he has a function but what I don’t need around is someone who can handle himself a little too well and will cripple my men every time an opportunity presents. I guess you’ve got to ask yourself, do you want to leave your friend alone? You look like the loyal type to me.”
John winced, watching as the man turned to leave the room and then said, “Wait.”
He turned back to face John with an expectant look.
“Yes, I’m a pilot.”
There had been a time, long ago and far away in the memory, where there was no war and to serve in the Satedan army had been just a way of getting the vote and securing borders that didn’t mean anything anymore. There hadn’t been any real war to speak of, civil or otherwise, for the longest time and those that remembered it were grey and doddering.
They thought they were safe, at the very edge of the galaxy, on the knife’s edge of being in the next. They closed the Ring of the Ancestors and no one came.
For the longest time.
The first dart ship to hit their skies was looked on with awe and wonder.
They had forgotten to be afraid.
The small woman was looking at Rodney expectantly.
“What?” he demanded.
She blinked. “I was told you were a doctor,” she said, looking confused.
“I am,” Rodney said slowly, looking at the sea of cots and the fact that most of them were occupied. They were in a huge structure, what had probably once been a Town Hall and it was filled from wall to wall with makeshift beds. The people that moved between them were hollow eyed right up until the moment that they stopped by a bed, and then their faces came alive with false cheer and assurances of hope.
That was far more chilling.
“Oh no… I’m not a medical doctor,” Rodney corrected, suddenly understanding the woman's confusion. The woman who had introduced herself at Halley, looked at him sharply and then advanced on him, eyes darting from side to side.
“Can you fake it?” she asked in a low voice.
It was Rodney’s turn to blink in confusion. “What do you mean fake it?” he asked a little too loudly and Halley made frantic quiet gestures with her hands.
“I heard Taskmaster Dex talking to the man you were brought in with and he said the only reason you were kept was because you were a doctor. Because you were useful.”
Rodney’s brow furrowed. “You mean if they find out I’m not a medical doctor they’ll release me?” he squeaked, eyes shining with excitement. Halley’s quick shake of the head had Rodney’s hope flicker out and die.
“Not release, no,” she said.
“What? You’re suggesting I pretend to know what I’m doing?” Rodney’s voice was a harsh whisper and his panic was growing.
“Just basic triage. Only… try not to kill anyone,” Halley said, giving Rodney a push inside. He was immediately collected by a harried looking older man who started immediately praising deities Rodney had never heard of that they had another doctor.
Rodney looked back at Halley who had a hand on the door frame and a worried look on her face.
Oh crap, Rodney thought. Why did I always tune Carson out?
“I’m still waiting to see the man I came through with, and the others of that planet.”
The man who had come to his bedside to ask if he felt up to moving rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. “They’re fine. You’re probably the worst off.”
“What’s your name?” John asked and the man looked a little taken aback, as if not prepared for the question.
“Sub-Specialist Brant Araken,” he said, flipping John’s blankets back. John sat up, retrieved the blankets and pulled them back over himself, bringing his hands to rest on the top.
“Well Sub-Specialist Brant Araken, I’m not moving a goddamn muscle until Rodney McKay is brought here, now.” John was pleased to see the note of authority he’d injected into his voice had the younger man turning before he’d thought twice about it. He clenched his fists as he turned back and grasped the blanket, yanking it all the way off the bed and onto the floor.
“When Taskmaster Dex gives the order,” was his reply and John shrugged, lacing his fingers behind his head and crossing his legs at the ankle. The lacing of the fingers was meant to look casual, but it was actually excruciating.
John didn’t flinch.
“Well, bring the Taskmaster here and we can have a little chat about that,” John said, feeling the start of sweat on his brow and hoping like hell that Brant didn’t see it.
“Oh fine, like I have time for this,” Brant snapped, turning on his heel and stalking out of the room.
John heaved a sigh of relief and lowered his arms slowly and carefully, rotating the damaged shoulder that was screaming miserably.
“Are you being a problem?” A voice issued from the doorway and it was the man from the previous night, who John had to assume was Dex. “I’m Taskmaster Ronon Dex and I’m not sure if I made myself clear enough last night, but you are in no position to make demands.”
“Look, we can indulge in this little pissing contest, or you could save yourselves a lot of trouble and just show me Rodney is fine. I’ll be sweet as apple pie as soon as you do.”
Ronon regarded John, one eyebrow raised. “I need a pilot, but do not make the mistake of thinking it makes you valuable in some way. If you prove troublesome, I’m not above tossing you through the Ring of the Ancestors, the wrong way.”
“Well, that’s imaginative,” John sighed, scooching down in the bed and letting his head thump back on the pillow. “I’m not asking for much. Don’t get me wrong, you seem like a real upstanding kinda guy, but forgive me if I won’t just take your word for it that he’s fine.”
Rodney put the back of his hand on the forehead of the man in front of him because he saw a doctor do that on television once. He tried dredging up memories of Carson and how he was with patients but all he could picture was Carson hovering, looking concerned and writing things on clipboards.
He wasn't not sure he'd get away with that for very long here.
The only other memory Rodney had of Carson actually doing something medical was Carson in the field, packing some poor kid's guts back into his stomach and Rodney thought that was probably a little beyond his skill level.
People were roped into doing triage whenever there was a major crisis on Atlantis but he wasn't a botanist for chrissakes, he actually had important things to do when there was a crisis. He was just thinking about perhaps slinking out the back door and trying to find Sheppard when a man appeared in his line of vision on the other side of the bed he was making a show of tending.
It was the tall man with the dreadlocks and the powerful arms that looked like he could twist Rodney's head off his neck without breaking a sweat.
"You have no idea what you're doing, do you?" he asked with a raised eyebrow and Rodney made a tsking noise and slapped his hand back on the injured man's forehead, possibly a little too hard because the man let out a groan.
"Of course I do, you're in my light," Rodney snapped, because sounding like he was too busy to be bothered by trivial matters was something he could do.
"One thing I'm not is stupid. What are you a doctor of exactly?" the man asked.
"Science," Rodney tried in a strangled whisper as he retrieved his hand and wiped it off on his pants.
"You're obviously important somehow and from what I understand you were all walking around with projectile weapons and Wraith stunners. You interrupted recruitment in a time of war," the man continued, ticking off points on his hands. "Just who the hell are you?"
"Recruitment? Is that what you call it?" Rodney snorted and at the larger man's scowl he ducked his head and said, "Fine, whatever. We're peaceful explorers-"
"Don't try and give me the peaceful explorers routine. You might not be a soldier but that other man Sheppard sure is. Currently this is me being interested in what you are and what you have to offer. The moment I'm bored, well..." the man didn't need to elaborate but his hand went up to his throat and squeezed briefly and Rodney thought again about his head being separated from his body in a rather violent manner.
"You'll find me extremely talkative about all kinds of things if I can see the Colonel," Rodney said, jutting his chin, trying to come off braver than he was feeling at the moment. He'd been held prisoner before, more times than he was comfortable with, but there was always an end game that he could see. Even the Gen-I had use for him and a plan, no matter how misguided.
These people were desperate, running out of options.
In short, to he and Sheppard in that very moment, these people are more dangerous than the Wraith.
"Oh my god, what are you doing?" Rodney blurted and John pulled himself out from underneath the monster child of a Chevy and a praying mantis and wiped a hand over his face. He wanted to jump to his feet and crush Rodney in the biggest hug of his life but resisted. These people knowing that he had some kind of stake in Rodney's ongoing existence was one thing, but to see any indication of how much he really cared was a whole 'nother ball of twine.
Instead he cocked his head to the side, did a quick scan of Rodney looking for any obvious injuries and then half-smiled. "Thought you were tending to the wounded."
Rodney waved a dismissive hand. "I tended. I'm done now."
"So do we have to have that talk again about you telling our kidnappers how brilliant you are?" John asked because he'd given up asking to see Rodney and here he was, big as life. Rodney must have offered something valuable or was being brought to the repair yards and seeing John was just a bi-product of that. Either way, John was pretty sure that Rodney was doing fine letting the wrong kind of people know just how valuable he was and how much they wouldn't want to do without him.
John sure knew what that felt like.
"I didn't use the word brilliant," Rodney huffed. John came up and twisted around so he was leaning his back on what he'd been told was a Satedan Stinger and patted the ground beside himself. "It just became pretty obvious that I wasn't Carson," Rodney grumbled as he dropped his butt next to John's.
The last light of the day was fading away and as John dusted off his hands, he leaned sideways and rubbed his forehead against Rodney's shoulder. To the casual observer it would look like John rubbing sweat off but he caught it as Rodney folded a grin away carefully when he leaned away again. "You didn't answer my question."
"I'm fixing this," John said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the Stinger and winced when the movement pulled his bad shoulder. Rodney raised his eyebrows and John was the one to duck a grin. "Okay, I appear to be fixing it. I'm obviously doing a better job than you because no one's casting aspersions on my abilities."
"I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I?" Rodney sighed, rolling his eyes and John chuckled. He saw the man that had escorted Rodney over, not Dex but another of his cronies, edge a little closer when he laughed. He was gripping his weapon like he'd would've really liked to have shot the both of them and been done with it and John angled a little till the man, standing off to his right, didn't have a direct line of fire.
At Rodney at least.
"They're desperately short of pilots but it turns out their planes have about as many holes in 'em. I'm supposed to patch this up and then take her up. I'm taking my time about it."
"I appreciate the notion, but these people aren't very patient."
"Well, now you're here you can fix it and I'll fly us out of here."
"I'm having flashbacks about this plan," Rodney mused, scratching at his chin but John could see he was already mulling it over, eyeing the Stinger and probably cataloguing every fault and imperfection just like John had done when Rodney approached. "It's a short-range only," Rodney said, pushing himself to his feet.
"We only need to get through the 'gate," John pointed out.
"The 'gate that's guarded by a whole bunch of these guys and has random Wraith popping through every few hours. Yes, brilliant."
They're hunkered over unappetising looking slop at the end of a long table while the sun dipped low when John said, "I heard that they're dialling out as often as possible to stop anyone coming through because they don't have an iris. The only thing we'd need to do is make sure they can't shut it down when we're flying towards it, because that would be anticlimactic."
"Why don't they have an iris?" Rodney asked, but John just folded his lips down instead of answering that meant he'd understood that Rodney's question was to himself and not to the person he was speaking to. "I guess they wouldn't have any way of checking who's coming through on the other side and might accidentally be killing innocent traders but I'm sure I could work something out and-"
"Rodney, are you planning on helping them?"
Rodney blinked for a second and then glanced sideways. John looked tired and a little mystified but strangely good. He could be lying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of everywhere and still look good.
It was tragically unfair.
It was also something Rodney worried about, John looking good. It was the same as the way John worried about Rodney being smart whenever they found themselves captured, like someone would want to keep him.
Fingers clicked in front of his eyes made Rodney snap back out of his musing.
"Oh, what, no of course not. Except, maybe, yes?" Rodney answered and when John gave him the patient face Rodney grimaced. "I mean, this dreadlocked guy-"
"Ronon," John supplied.
"Whatever. He seemed pretty on the level, as far as kidnappers go. Maybe we can make a deal with him."
"Instead of my brilliant escape plan?"
"There was a plan?"
"Yes, there was a plan. I just told you my plan," John snorted, putting down his spoon with an aggravated clatter and Rodney rolled his eyes.
"What you just said didn't sound like a plan, more like a really good way to get me killed, which, funnily enough is what all your plans sound like. Can we maybe just try the non-certain-death way?"
"Rodney," John said slowly. "I just don't like our kidnappers knowing that you're that valuable. We offer them this, they say sure, they'll let us go and then there's the inevitable double-cross and me having to kill a bunch of people to rescue you. That kind of thing always makes me grouchy."
"Okay, how about we work on your plan while we make a deal with them. Then they won't be expecting us to flee because they'll think we're pinning all our hopes on being released and as soon as they do the whole bad guys thing and tell us that now they have what they want we'll never see daylight, cue evil laugh, blah, blah, blah, we can still escape."
"That's... really devious of you," John said, a little admiration in his voice.
"What can I say?"
"I could kiss you."
"When we're offworld or captured or in public I keep count."
"You... what?" John asked, looking mystified.
"I keep count of the various things you owe me. There's a kiss now and... two other things."
"I haven't told you I want to do other things," John said, but he was grinning.
"Yeah, well, I've learned to read the signs, and the looks."
"You're not very good at it, then," John said and Rodney frowned.
"How do you figure?"
"Well, your count is a little, nah, a lot low," John clarified with a laugh.
"I must admit, I've never seen a doctor who can fix ships before," Ronon said. Rodney and John were both lying on their backs under the Stinger and Rodney slid out to squint up at him.
"I'll have you know-" Rodney started to say but John interrupted, saying as he unearthed himself from underneath the ship, "He's just passing me tools."
Rodney fumed, but he was quiet about it because John was right. He tended to let kidnappers know how much they'd like to keep him far too often. He remembered the Gen-I and where that had gotten him. Rodney shuddered and John's shoulder where it was leaning up against him, pressed a little closer.
"I can't really figure you two out," Ronon said. His eyes skipped sideways to their guard who was keeping a wary distance and then back again.
"We're an enigma wrapped in a mystery," John offered a wry grin and Ronon rolled his eyes.
"Felix said you had something to trade?"
"Ah, yes," Rodney said, getting up and dusting off his pants with brusque movements. John followed, keeping within an arm's length of Rodney but trying not to be obvious about it. Rodney noticed, but he'd gotten pretty good at noticing John so he just assumed that John's stealthiness no longer applied to him.
John couldn't even sneak up on him anymore which was saying something.
"We noticed you dialling out to try and keep the Wraith from dialling in. We've had a similar problem in the past with unwelcome visitors on... our home world and we have a solution."
"You do?" Ronon asked. His tone was incredulous but his eyes had brightened and Rodney knew he was hooked.
"We can place a shield, what's known as an iris over the gate. It'll let stuff through but not be able to reintegrate properly. Anything trying to come through without the iris open will be destroyed."
"You can do that?"
"Yes, it's quite easy once you think about it. You can utilise the gate's own energy to make an iris that's like a force field. It won't take me very long to calibrate."
"What do you want in return?" Ronon asked, starting to look suspicious.
"To be tossed back through where you got us from," John said, stepping forward. He didn't move Rodney back but Rodney understood his body language and tucked himself behind John's shoulder. If any part of the negotiation was to go badly, it was now and Rodney was very aware of who was better equipped to get them out of any sticky situation, even with John injured.
"Look, you said it yourself, we're more trouble than we're worth. I know your guys are pretty thin on the ground and yet you have to expend manpower just to keep an eye on us." John flicked a hand at their guard and then away. "Plus, with the iris, you have the added benefit of knowing we're not going to bring a bunch of guys through to kick your asses as soon as Rodney and I hit home."
"Where is home, exactly?" Ronon asked, raising an eyebrow. It was the first time he'd actually asked them straight out.
"I'm not at liberty to divulge that information," John said with a smile on his face. The kind of smile that might as well have been a middle finger.
Ronon looked between them, something thoughtful on his face. "Why do I get the feeling I'm getting a bad deal here?" Ronon mused, more to himself than either of them.
Rodney shrugged and spread his hands, never one to leave a rhetorical question unanswered. "What choice do you have?"
He'd learned a little bit about bravado from a particular silly-haired Colonel over the years.
John figured it was only a matter of time before someone came for him. It didn't mean anything that it was a guy he didn't even recognise because while Rodney might have not thought about it, John had killed some of the Satedan people before they were captured and his only surprise was at how long it had taken for someone to attempt to corner him alone.
"I killed your... friend?" John hazarded at the advancing man who was of a height with Ronon but without the dreads. Instead the man was bald as an egg and had an ugly scar that yanked half his face upwards in a sneer.
"Brother," the man grunted.
Okay, right," John nodded, looking around himself. He'd been heading to the hole in the ground that was the men's room of all things when his present babysitter had disappeared. John had turned when the tenor of the footsteps behind him had changed. John supposed it was lucky the Satedans seemed fairly honorable, other than the enforced military service. He'd been too busy thinking about needing to piss than being jumped and the guy could have clocked him over the back of the head.
"Look, time's like these, it's nothing personal," John said, putting his hands up and starting to sidle sideways. He was between two cloth tent walls but didn't know what was on the other side of either. "Your guys were following orders and I was trying to stop an attack on a peaceful settlement."
The guy telegraphed his swing so John was able to duck sideways and to the left, thanking Teyla silently for all the stick practice that had sharpened his reflexes like nothing else he'd ever done.
It was either that or be a large walking bruise for his entire stay in Atlantis.
The guy's honor seemed to run out shy of attacking an unarmed man with a weapon because he pulled a knife from one of his boots and lunged at John again. The jab was short but brutal. John managed to deflect it, gaining a graze to his forearm instead of the blade sinking into his sternum which had been the intended target. John twisted sideways again, one of his feet getting tangled briefly in an anchor rope at the bottom of one of the tents and his stumble resulting in the second knife jab meant for his side missing him.
John folded his arms in front of him, dropped his good shoulder and charged, catching the man off guard who had obviously been expecting someone unarmed to fall back. He rode the man to the ground, managing to get a knee pinning the man's knife-hand into the dirt. The man bucked and almost dislodged John given his greater weight but John had not only been sparring with Teyla but with marines often much larger than himself and he was able to anticipate the man's thrashing and merely move with it while keeping the man on the ground.
"Well, I was expecting to see something completely different," a voice observed from above them and John looked up and around, seeing Ronon behind him. John's current and until up at that point mysteriously missing babysitter was being towed along by the back of the neck like an errant puppy.
Rodney appeared behind Ronon's shoulder, an anxious look on his face that melted into frustrated affection when he saw John with his attacker pinned and now red-faced.
"Picho, do you promise to play nice if the man who is somewhat smaller and injured man releases you?" Ronon asked.
The now named Picho grimaced but nodded stiffly and John tilted sideways enough that Picho could roll out from underneath him. John stood as Picho did and the man glared at him before turning on his heel and disappearing between the tents. John turned his gaze back to Ronon who moved aside enough that Rodney was able to squeeze by him and reach John's side. From the way his fists were clenched, John knew Rodney was resisting the urge to reach out and touch him, perhaps assure himself with his hands that John was truly whole.
"You're bleeding," Rodney pointed out mulishly and John twisted his arm so he could see the graze.
"It's only shallow," John dismissed but Ronon pushed the man he was holding forward.
"Take them to the healing tent," he instructed gruffly. Before they were able to leave, Ronon caught John's uninjured arm and John paused. "I apologise. Picho has always been a few Narnecks short of a full Huam."
"I have no idea what you just said," John said with a wry grin.
Ronon looked to the sky, thankfully at that moment free of Wraith darts. John knew that wasn't going to be a permanent state, that the fragile peace was just that, fragile.
"I apologise," he repeated, voice low. "I know what you must think of us and believe me, sometimes I find myself thinking it too, no matter how honorable our original intentions were."
Before John could respond, Ronon was gone and Rodney was finally free to clasp his elbow and tug him along.
Rodney was pretty sure that, despite the number of times he'd been captured by evil doers bent on destroying him, it would be John Sheppard that would ultimately be the death of him.
He told John as much as he watched a kid who looked barely twelve competently wrap John's arm tightly after bathing it in something orange and toxic smelling. John crossed his legs underneath him on the cot and shrugged. "Y'know, I rarely, if ever, actually go looking for trouble," John said with a put-upon sigh.
"Yeah sure, it just has a way of finding you," Rodney snorted and John looked up at him, gaze steady.
"Our last mission, you and Teyla were missing for three days," John pointed out. His voice was quiet so as not to carry to the patients lying around them but was also restrained like he really wished he could yell.
"Oh my god, would you just let that go?" Rodney snapped. "It's not my fault they were insane and quarantined us because I sneezed."
"How about you quit with the casting of stones then?" John prompted and at Rodney's confused look he sketched the space around Rodney with his good arm. "You're living in a big ol' glass house at the moment when you're telling me not to get into trouble."
"The Phesians weren't trying to stab me," Rodney argued, his voice going shrill with indignation. The boy gave him a stern glance and Rodney cleared his throat and then continued in an overly loud whisper, "Your trouble is worse than my trouble any day of the week." Rodney glared at John for a moment when he started to smile. "What?"
John waited until the boy, now seemingly satisfied with his work, had moved away before answering. "You always do that."
"Pick a fight with me when you're really worried. It's cute."
"I don't... are you calling me cute when I'm haranguing you for almost getting killed?" Rodney demanded incredulously.
"Oh absolutely. Your face goes all red, you sweat and your mouth becomes this thin little line."
"Stop describing me," Rodney griped, turning his back and crossing his arms.
"Rodney, if I didn't think they would use it against us if they thought we were more than just soldiers together then I would really owe you a big one right now."
"A big what?" Rodney asked, turning, only looking slightly mollified.
"Whatever you want to add to your list," John said with a wicked grin.
John had to admit that he'd enjoyed his short-lived stint of being the one to be handed tools over being reduced to the hander. He watched Rodney working, looking for all the world like he was in any lab, the highest authority in existence. Rodney ordered people around and they automatically responded, looking mostly confused about it. John mostly tried to keep out of the way or hold things when Rodney needed him to.
He was joined in his all but audience member role by Ronon midway through the second day of Rodney tinkering with the gate. John had made the mistake of actually calling what Rodney was doing tinkering to his face and had been put in what he could only describe as a naughty corner.
"Who are those people?" Ronon asked, watching Rodney loading some unfortunate soul up with an armful of cables while simultaneously telling a harassed-looking woman where exactly she could stick the concoction she'd brought to him when he'd asked for a coffee. There were various others buzzing around, looking in parts terrified and mystified.
"Yours I'm assuming," John answered. "Probably anybody standing still long enough for Rodney to recruit. He's good at that."
"Obviously," Ronon agreed with something like respect in his voice that made John glance at him. "I'm not really clear who's the higher ranked between you two. I keep changing my mind."
"Oh yeah?" John prompted, trying not to sound too interested. He supposed it would really blow Ronon's mind to find out that Rodney was actually a civilian.
What irked him about the whole situation was that Ronon seemed like a decent guy, someone John could like if he weren't being held against his will. He resented when the delineation between captor and prisoner wasn't clear and that Ronon, in all other respects, was a fairly reasonable person.
"I guess I shouldn't bother, right? You're going to be gone in a matter of days anyway."
"You really going to set us free?" John asked slowly. He wasn't sure why he did it or why he thought Ronon would give him a straight answer but his mouth often ran away from him.
Ronon turned his head and looked at John. He had strong features and looked a little different to most of the Satedans John had seen. John wondered what kind of nationalities they had on the planet, whether they had different customs and languages like earth.
Whether they had wars amongst themselves and only pulled together because of a greater external threat.
"Like you said, you're more trouble that you're worth," Ronon finally said after an almost too-long silence and then he switched his gaze back to Rodney who had approached them, looking tense.
"I know you're dialling out to stop the Wraith dialling in but I need to actually get at the gate to finish what I'm doing."
"Meaning?" Ronon raised an eyebrow.
"I need to pull one of the panels off which will deactivate the gate which will be good, but I need you to stop dialling out for a few minutes to do the work and..." Rodney made a helpless gesture with his hands.
"That'll give the Wraith time to dial in," John finished for him grimly.
"They could bury their gate," Rodney said. John had been trying to sleep but Rodney's voice yanked him back from the edge. He raised his head and looked around the long tent they were housed in with about a dozen other people recruited from different worlds. Most of those they were bunked in with, John was assuming, proved more useful in capacities other than military. The kid that fixed his arm and the woman Rodney pointed out had asked him to play at being doctor were three beds over, talking quietly.
"They won't stop the Wraith by dialling out over and over again. That'll just make the Wraith eventually make the trip in person," John pointed out. "Plus, a lot of planets around here rely on the Stargate for trade. These planets all evolved with an active gate system and aren't as insular as we are as a world."
John heard the rustling that meant Rodney was getting out of his own cot and then his dipped at his hip and he shuffled sideways enough that Rodney wouldn't tip off if he moved. "Where'd you get that from?"
"I've been reading some of Doctor Jackson's papers that came through with the last shipment from Earth," John admitted sheepishly and even though it was dark he just knew Rodney was pulling a face. "What? I ran out of spiderman comics."
"I have real books," Rodney pointed out huffily and John laughed.
"By that you mean all those physics books you've scribbled all over?"
"Scribbled?" Rodney squeaked. "I'll have you know I've been making very important notations. Some of the equations in those books are just plain wrong and I need to tell everyone I've ever met."
In the darkness, John risked resting a hand on Rodney's upper thigh and squeezed. "These people are in a bad situation but what they're doing isn't right. I don't... I don't want to leave all these prisoners behind."
Rodney sighed and his hand came to rest on top of John's. "We'll come back."
"Shield or no shield, this place will most likely be a smoking crater by then."
Rodney didn't respond and he didn't need to. John could hear his agreement in his silence.
"Sometimes I'm so brilliant that I go right back around to being stupid again," Rodney huffed the next morning. John had woken up and seen Rodney was still sitting on the edge of his cot, but his hair had been standing up on end like he'd been yanking at it.
"Have you slept at all?" John asked worriedly because a sleep-deprived Rodney was often a crazy, world-destroying Rodney.
"Sleep is for people less smart than me," Rodney dismissed, standing and pacing the small distance between his cot and John's. For his part, John raised his head enough to see that the tent had cleared out and that they were the only ones left. He'd crashed and crashed hard the night before and his body clock was all screwed up as a consequence.
John hadn't slept much beyond sunrise for more years than he could count.
"You tend to lose your grasp on grammar when you're tired," John observed, easing himself up and dropping his feet to the floor. The clunk of his boots was hollow in the empty space.
"I was thinking about what you said," Rodney continued as if John hadn't spoken.
"Which bit of sparkling insight exactly?" John asked as he lifted his arms one by one to do a sniff check. He was definitely getting on the ripe side so he thought about asking for a shower. He was pretty sure the facilities would be about as primitive as the hole in the ground that passed for a bathroom but John would take a bucket of tepid water at that point.
"How it would be better if the Satedans could bury their gate and how we can't leave all the prisoners behind."
"That's a lot of thinking."
"We needed something big enough that the Satedans could release anyone they've conscripted."
"Are you going to blow up the planet?" John asked, only half-joking. Sometimes Rodney's brainstorms were completely outlandish and it was John's job to reel him back to a happy medium that didn't involve burning a hole in the galaxy.
"Better," Rodney said with a clap of his hands like an excited six year old girl.
"Blow up the Wraith?"
"Yes John, I'm going to blow up the Wraith, all of them. I'd actually figured out how, I just didn't tell you," Rodney snorted with an impressive eye roll.
"Well then, what?"
"It's actually an idea that Radek and I have been tossing around," Rodney admitted. "A way of... privatising a gate."
Ronon and Elderman Tark, apparently the only authority figure left after a whole slew of government types were killed in one hit, were both watching Rodney warily. From what John could glean, Elderman Tark's situation was the equivalent of the Secretary of Agriculture suddenly finding himself the President of the United States.
"So, the simplest thing to do would be to bury your 'gate but I understand there are enough gaps in your infrastructure to make that only a short-term solution. You rely on trade with other planets."
Both Ronon and Tark nodded slowly.
"And yes, I could put in place a shield like we have where... we come from but... shields aren't infallible. Our home world has a physical shield that's been breached on a number of occasions and while an energy shield is far superior, again there are ways around it."
"So what are you proposing?" Tark asked. He was a heavy-set man with what seemed to be a permanently baffled expression and nervous hands. John was made uneasy by his very presence because Ronon, a military leader, he could understand but a bureaucrat tended to put him on edge.
He didn't have a great track record with them.
"We had this idea for our own current gate although it was purely theoretical and a nice to have when we were stuck concentrating on only had to haves," Rodney explained.
"Rodney," John said, warning in his tone because Rodney had a tendency to talk around his solutions, never getting to a real point if he wasn't brought back on message.
"Right, anyway, I can possibly make your gate an unlisted number."
"What does that mean?" Ronon asked.
"We can program it to only accept other gates in the system dialling to your gate that have been preset. You have a list of friendly worlds you're in regular contact with, we can make only those able to dial in. Plus, any gate addresses can be easily added or removed." Rodney holds up one finger, eyes dancing. "The best thing is, your gate goes dark. To the gate system at large, it reads as no longer even existing."
"The Wraith know they're here," John pointed out, not really wanting to play devil's advocate but also not wanting Rodney to put something in place that will get everyone killed through complacency.
"Yes, but, I was talking to your man Felix," Rodney continued and at that Ronon frowned. "You haven't been regularly culled like most planets we've been to. Your race has evolved to a point similar to ours technologically speaking and that's almost unheard of in this Galaxy. The plain and simple fact is, you're just too far out."
Rodney was pacing now, totally in his element. "Sateda is on the very edge of Pegasus and the Wraith's hyperdrive technology is not nearly as advanced as the Ancient's was. They could travel here but it's a giant pain in the ass."
The Elderman and Ronon were looking keen now and John glanced from them and back to Rodney again. No one was asking the question that was important.
Why, after being relatively left alone, were the Wraith so keen to get through to Sateda all of a sudden.
John bit his lip because distance would not stop the Wraith for long anymore, not when there were so many mouths to feed. They were all awake, something that hadn't happened before and Human Happy Meals were running thin on the ground. Sateda being a relatively untouched planet, would have been too tempting even if it took the Wraith longer than usual to get there.
The Satedans weren't going to be culled, they were going to be obliterated.
John's gaze went back to Rodney and he started thinking maybe Rodney had come down on the planet destroying side of the fence.
"You'll have to eventually relocate, of course," Rodney said and John blinked, Ronon and Tark also looking mystified.
"Relocate?" Tark asked slowly, like if he sounded out the word, it would make more sense.
"Don't get me wrong, my brilliant plan will buy you weeks, maybe months but the Wraith are going to come here and, what is that saying Sheppard, take no prisoners?"
"You're expecting us to evacuate the planet," Tark demanded, sounding aghast.
"You'll have to. You were going to get to that point anyway," Rodney said and his eyes settle on Ronon. "I'm sure your Taskmaster here already knew that. You can dial out at the moment but I noticed that your little party bringing me and Sheppard in was the last one through. You just can't take the risk for anyone else to dial in and I'll bet you have other people still out there."
"He's right," Ronon agreed with a heavy nod. "We're losing."
"But... we've been holding them off," Tark insisted, face going redder by the moment.
"We've been coping, and that's only because we've only had a couple of darts make it through and that's it. If the Wraith got through with any kind of real numbers, or worse came here in force..." Ronon took a second to look towards the gate and grimace. "We need to leave Sateda and I'm starting to think that this is the only way."
"You know, this is the eighth planet we've been to that has to get completely evacuated right after we turned up," John said, sounding contemplative. Rodney twisted from his already pretzel-like position under one of the gate's control systems and eyed John.
"You're not seriously saying this is our fault?"
"No, just... it's the bad kind of coincidence," John sighed after a too-long pause and Rodney knew that John did think it was their fault, or at least his. He was never going to stop feeling responsible for the Wraith being awake in force and the thousands, if not millions of people that were suffering as a consequence.
Guilt like that was a little awe inspiring.
"Sheppard, I'm going to say this only once so you better listen," Rodney said, holding a hand out. John took it as the cue it was meant to be and leaned over to assist Rodney off his knees. John's hands lingered on Rodney's shoulders and then ghosted down his sides before falling away and Rodney tried to stop swaying forward. The Satedans were cooperating but it was still too dangerous to give away any kind of deep personal relationship.
They might decide just to make them do what they want instead of holding up their side of the bargain.
"If you're going to say none of this is my fault you can save it," John warned.
"Maybe I was going to remind you that the people had been living under unrivalled tyranny basically ever since the Ancients abandoned this place. How we're pretty sure the Ancients had a hand in creating the Wraith. How maybe if you're looking for someone to blame, you're looking in completely the wrong place."
"I can't really..." John walked away a little, opening and closing his fists in a helpless fashion. "The Ancients are gone so it's useless being angry at them."
"It's useless being angry at yourself and it's fruitless waiting for other people to be. I see the way you throw yourself at danger, like you have something to make up for. Maybe it's time to stop trying to punish yourself."
"That's not why I do it."
"Oh really?" Rodney asked, raising an eyebrow. "Maybe you could have mentioned how self-destructive you were before I started caring about you so much. Might have saved me some heart attacks."
John chuffed a laugh then and Rodney relaxed, feeling the serious mood dissipate with his words. John might have been able to defuse a hostile situation, but over the years Rodney has learned how to defuse John.
He kinda liked that he was the only person that could.
Someone cleared their throat politely nearby and Rodney and John turned as one to see Ronon standing behind them.
"Sorry, just wanted to check how it was going?" he asked, looking tentative. Rodney was amazed that the man he'd been sure would be the death of them both now was pretty much the only reason they were going to taste freedom again. It was a little confusing.
"Nearly finished," Rodney said, waving a dismissive hand. "I just have to talk your technicians through adding addresses and we're done."
"I'll understand," Ronon said and when Rodney gave him a confused look and saw John do the same, Ronon chuckled. "If you somehow rig this to destroy our planet after you leave I mean."
"I wouldn't-" Rodney started to splutter but Ronon held up a hand.
"I'm just saying, I'd be pissed and if I somehow survived I would find you and make you wish you'd never been born, but I'd understand."
"That's... disturbing," Rodney said with a loud swallow.
"I'm not going to try to explain," Ronon added. "I know you think we're monsters but sometimes... you just do whatever you can to save the things that matter, even if it's not..." Ronon didn't finish, probably having realised that he had started to try to explain after he had said he wouldn't. Instead he clasped his hands behind his back, rolled onto his toes and then back to his heels and sighed deeply.
"When will you start releasing the people you took by force?" John asked.
"Soon as you're through," Ronon answered with no hesitation. He half-shrugged. "No reason to keep 'em if we're eventually fleeing. Just another couple of thousand mouths to feed."
"You think your people will stay together?" Rodney asked, not able to fight his morbid curiosity at the upcoming fate of the Satedans.
"Not likely," Ronon said with a slow shake of his head. "There might be large clusters of us at first but I imagine without a home, we'll scatter like kale in the breeze."
"I wish..." John started and then grimaced at Rodney before turning his gaze back to Ronon. "I wish we'd met under better circumstances."
Ronon looked at them both for a few moments, John to Rodney and back again. He half-smiled. "My people have a saying. It's kind of a goodbye. Till better times bring you to my door again."
Rodney could see John hesitate but then his expression firmed and he held out his hand. Ronon looked confused for a moment before he took it, and bemused when John shook firmly before releasing.
"Right back 'atcha," John said and Rodney couldn't help but laugh.
"Don't wake me unless the city is sinking, and I mean it has to be partially immersed before you even think about disturbing me," Rodney said, mostly into his pillow but partially into his headset.
At least, John assumed that it was meant for Zelenka who he could hear spluttering tinnily. John removed his own headset.
They'd both been set upon as soon as they'd stepped through the gate and after the mandatory debrief and Carson's very special brand of poke and prod they'd both tried to make their way to their respective rooms. Rodney had been ambushed a corridor down and two over by what seemed like every scientist and engineer in the place and John had had to outrun several marines and three pilots.
They'd hit a transporter and John had closed his eyes before punching a destination. It was a dangerous move since there were still areas of the city that remained closed off or unexplored to conserve energy and resources but they'd lucked out, finding a deserted living area.
Rodney had promptly face-planted on the first miraculously dust-free bed he could find and John had felt like doing the same although he was willing to delay that long enough to find out if the showers were hooked up.
"It's like everything just falls apart when we're not here," Rodney grumbled, turning over and eyeing John like he couldn't believe John was still upright.
"Don't give me that," John dismissed. "You love it."
"I love being harangued at every turn by people who don't have the collective sense enough to change a light bulb?" Rodney demanded indignantly and John just smirked and nodded. "Fine, have your little delusions."
John decided the shower could wait and instead crawled his way up onto the bed Rodney was trying to commune with. "Shove over," he said and nudged Rodney's hip gently with his fingers.
Rodney grumbled but rolled sideways, vacating enough space for John to curl up.
Neither of them even got their boots off before they were both asleep.