Leaning against the door with my gun still in my hand, I watched McKay work on the access panel. It was more than a little weird, I had to admit, to have to keep an eye on him for my own protection and not his. What he was doing now… helping me to get away… it had to be a trick. But I just couldn’t seem to figure out exactly how. Rodney was a horrible liar; that’s how I’d ended up with most of his coffee stash in the early days before the Daedalus runs. Poker is not his game. Hell, chess isn’t even his game if you know how to read him. And after all this time working and hanging out with him, I could. Which meant I should have been able to tell what he had planned now. But as far as I could tell, he was actually helping me, saving my ass once again… which was how he had ended up with most of his coffee stash back in the early days. And that just didn’t jive with what I was sure he had been planning with the Genii and that was giving me one hell of a headache.
Evidently it was giving me more of one than I realized, because I only became aware that I had closed my eyes when McKay called to me from where he squatted on the floor. With one hand still in the open control panel, he opened the other to reveal two small tablets.
“They’re just the over the counter stuff, but that’s all I have on me.”
I snorted at the offer. “I’m not taking any drugs from you, McKay.”
“Fine, I could use them myself anyway. My head is killing me.” He popped them in his mouth and swallowed them dry. “Take your own if you don’t trust mine.” Without looking back he tapped the correct pocket on my vest with his penlight. “And give me the powerbar you have in there, too.”
I did my best to ignore the fact that he knew the layout of my gear as well as I did. “Do you think we’re on a picnic here?”
“I think I missed breakfast and most likely lunch because you decided to flip out and take Teyla hostage.” Impatient fingers snapped then wiggled in anticipation. “Now, give me the damn food.”
With a roll of my eyes, I dug out the bar and tossed it to him, then decided a couple of Tylenol probably couldn’t hurt. Between my head and my leg, a dose of the good stuff from Carson would be welcome right about now. Unfortunately, I knew without a doubt I’d wake up a prisoner of the Genii if I gave in to that temptation. “What are you doing anyway? I thought you said you were still in the system and could just open the doors.”
“Throwing the hounds off our trail,” he answered smugly. “I’m making it appear that we’re trying to shut down the security system from a control consol in the old laboratory section of the city… the same one I sent the transporter to when we left it.”
“But you said you couldn’t override security since you don’t have Weir’s access codes,” I challenged.
The grin he gave me around the mouthful of peanut butter and chocolate chips held a certain amount of superior glee. “She doesn’t know that for sure.” A few more changes and he crammed the last of his snack into his mouth and stood. “There. Lorne and his men should be descending on an empty lab in a matter of minutes.”
That was the interpretation of the McKaynian language he spoke, the stuffing-his-face dialect. What came out actually had a lot less consonants and a lot more crumbs falling to the floor. And what did it say about me that I was fluent in just about all of the variations?
It said I was a fool for letting him in, for letting any of them in, as more than just simple acquaintances, coworkers, the type of people you say hello to everyday, maybe email a joke to or grab lunch with, then never think about once it’s quitting time. Problem was, there was no quitting time on Atlantis. There was no going home and forgetting these people because they lived a few doors down and how could you forget someone that had just saved your life?
I shook my head to try to clear away that line of thought, because I’d just been wrong. I’d been wrong about all of them and worse yet, I’d been wrong about myself. I also tried to shake away the dizziness that accompanied the thought. Maybe I’d lost more blood than I thought I had.
“Sheppard?” The second time he said it, the worry was a little stronger. “Sheppard?”
I motioned him with my gun. “Come on, let’s get to the Jumper.”
“We could go see Carson instead,” he offered hopefully. “Get something for your leg, check in on Ronon, that sort of thing.”
I’d shot Ronon. He’d lifted his gun and I’d lifted mine even as I moved Teyla directly in front of me and pulled the trigger. All I could think at the moment was I’m not going back. I’m not going back. I’ll kill every last fucking one of them but I’m not going back.
Rodney had tried to draw me out of my room the night before for dinner… and left with a door shut in his face. But it had been Teyla that had stopped by in the morning to ask me to breakfast. I’d thought of doing the same to her, but actually I was started to get hungry and I figured it would be a good idea to see what they were up to anyway. I’d laid awake most of the night thinking about that. How they were probably sitting in the conference room jumping to conclusions about what I had told the Lenowens, deciding that I had betrayed them all, planning to turn me in to the SGC, plotting how best to get rid of me. And it all made perfect sense that that was what they were doing.
So when Teyla showed up at my door, I’d opened it just enough to see her smile falter slightly when she saw me. “John, did you not sleep well?”
“Well enough,” I evaded shortly.
Pushing on uncomfortably, she tried to look past me into my room. “Rodney said you skipped dinner last night. I thought, perhaps, you would like to join me for breakfast.”
“Sure, just give me a minute.” I shut my door before she could say anything more, and bit at my lower lip while I tried to decide what I might need. Nothing to raise any flags, but enough to protect myself in case they tried anything. I settled for my field vest, my sidearm, and knife. The P90 would have to stay where it was.
Teyla’s eyebrows rose when she saw how I was dressed. “Are you planning on going somewhere?”
“I thought I might stop by the shooting range after breakfast,” I lied, not that it was any of her business anyway. But she wouldn’t have asked unless she suspected something so I had to cover my tracks somehow. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“N..no.” She recovered her smile quickly. “Maybe I can join you? That is if you do not mind the company.”
“We’ll see,” I dismissed and started down the hallway so that she had to jog to catch up with me. “Where are the others? I’m sure you’ve worked out some buddy system for this operation.”
“Operation?” Her confusion seemed genuine enough but I was sure it was all an act.
“You know, Operation Keep the Colonel in Check.”
“We are only worried for your well being.”
“Yeah, well, so am I,” I accused before demanding, “Now, where are the others?”
Her brow furrowed in worry. Evidently she hadn’t thought I would catch on so quickly. “Ronon is planning to join us after his morning run. Rodney was in his lab but was called to the control room by Elizabeth.”
“Why?” I asked suddenly suspicious. What were the two of them up to?
“I am not sure,” the Athosian blinked back at me. “She had received a communication and wanted Rodney to hear it.”
A communication. A goddamn communication, probably from the SGC. Elizabeth must have contacted them last night and now she wanted Rodney to hear what they recommended. More than likely to send him back to Earth where I wouldn’t be a risk to her precious expedition. Turning on my heels, I changed course and headed for Control. There was no way they were shipping me back to Earth without a fight. Ends up they got their fight, just not about sending me to Earth. The communication was from the Genii and Elizabeth and McKay were already discussing turning me over to them by the time I arrived.
When my arguments not to help those bastards were met with Elizabeth pleading, “John, please, you’re misunderstanding what we’re asking you here,” I knew there was only one thing to do.
My gun was at Teyla’s head before any of them could react. Of course, the security team on duty in the room reacted just as they’d been trained to do and I found myself surrounded by P90s. Elizabeth raised a halting hand to keep them from coming any closer.
“John, there’s no reason to do this. If you don’t want to help Ladon, we’ll find another way. Just let Teyla go and we’ll talk about it. All right?”
I shook my head violently, tightening my grip on Teyla’s throat. She calmly called my name and I knew she was planning to try to disarm me. If anyone could, it would be her. We sparred together enough that she knew all my weaknesses, but I knew a few of her own.
“If you try anything,” I whispered quietly in her ear, “the first shot isn’t going in you; it’s going in one of them.” And I tilted my head slightly toward Rodney and Elizabeth who stood staring dumbstruck at my actions. “Do you understand?”
She nodded minutely before saying loud enough for the others to hear, “It is fine. I am sure we can work this out.”
“She’s right. We can work this out, as soon as I leave the city.”
“Colonel,” Elizabeth reasoned, “I can’t allow you to leave Atlantis. You know that.”
“I didn’t figure you would see me off with a smile and a wave.” I started moving us toward the door. “But I’m not just going to stand here and let you willingly send me to my death at the hands of the Genii either.”
“John, you aren’t making any sense. We would never…”
But I cut her off by firing several shots at Rodney who had moved to sound the general city alarm and put Atlantis on lockdown. I hit the screen he disappeared behind and the squawk of the signals started sounding. I knew it was just a matter of time before my security codes were locked out of the system, so with my hand clamped down on Teyla’s arm I headed for the nearest transporter and got the hell out of Dodge.
As I pulled Teyla out of the transporter, I could hear Rodney complaining through my radio, “Damnit, I wasn’t fast enough. They’re down near the storage docks on Level 8.” Evidently he’d ducked faster than I gave him credit for, though. Then again, McKay was all about the self-preservation. Some of that must have finally rubbed off on me.
I’d pretty much just slapped at the screen in the transporter and ended up wherever it took us, which ended up being where cargo was stored that had come off the Daedalus or that was waiting to go back on the ship bound for Earth. As hiding places go, it was a pretty good one; large storage containers, stacks of smaller ones, lots of cover. Hunkering down behind one, I zip-tied Teyla’s wrists and set to reloading my gun.
“You shot at Rodney,” the newly bound woman accused from where I had shoved her to the floor.
“What? You didn’t believe me when I told you I would?”
They’d underestimated what I was capable of; I doubted they would do it again. Which meant I just had to be ready for them. Through the radio, I could hear the security teams being deployed by Lorne. Normal protocol would be to change frequencies. Of course, I had established the protocol so it would do little good and they knew that. Still, they were doing their best to maintain radio silence, and even though I might not know exactly what they were doing, it just meant the individual teams didn’t know what the others were doing either.
“If you had hit him this time, it would have been him, John. Not an illusion of someone else, but Rodney. Have you forgotten how it felt to shoot your friend, even if it was an accident?”
There was a sickening churning in my stomach at the memory. The realization of what I had done when I walked out of that cave with the disabled Wraith device and saw McKay bleeding on the ground instead of a Taliban fighter. Teyla had been there and seen the look of horror on my face when I caught sight of him, had dropped beside me as I dug in my vest for a field dressing to press against the wound, had eventually sent me and Ronon in search of Carson while she continued to care for him until we returned.
Rodney had called me every name he could think of… forget cursing like a sailor, curing like a wounded astrophysicist is the real gold standard in foul language… stopping every now and again long enough to observe in awe that I had shot him while I babbled a stream of profanities and apologies myself as I willed my hands to stop shaking long enough to open the goddamn bandaged.
And that’s when McKay had gone quiet before looking between his teammates, the three of us gathered around him, and asked, “Are you guys okay?” before returning to the cursing when I pressed the bandage against the bullet hole I had put in him.
Was I guilty? Hell, yes, I was guilty. No one knew that better than McKay himself and no one used that guilt against me better than the man. “Oh, is that the last piece of chocolate cake on your tray? That’s fine; I probably couldn’t eat it anyway. That place where you shot me is bothering me today.” “ Yes, I remember that you’ve already helped me in the lab three times this week. Tell me, Colonel, do you also remember shooting me a couple of months ago?”
Yeah, no one could lay on the guilt like Rodney, although Teyla was better at it than I had thought. But that was in the past. What Rodney was planning… at that moment I only wished I had aimed a little higher back then and saved myself the trouble today. And the threatening nausea at that thought could only be a result of realizing how wrong I had been about McKay and the others and nothing to do with the thought of killing that lying son of a bitch.
I had turned my attention back to the woman sitting beside me and could see the anger at my actions competing with her worry for me. “I evidently don’t have friends any more,” I told her as I slammed a new clip home. “I’m not sure I ever did.”
She reached out confined, sympathetic hands for my arm and I pulled away and pointed my reloaded gun at her once again. “Don’t.” The warning in my voice wasn’t exactly what I had intended it to be because it was spoken a little thicker than I had wanted it to come out. Pushing down the emotions I didn’t want to deal with at the moment, that I couldn’t deal with if I wanted to get out of this thing alive, I cleared my throat. “I didn’t have any qualms about shooting McKay in the control room, and I don’t have any about shooting you here.”
“I do not believe that.” She spoke the words simply and confidently and maybe she was right, maybe I did have a few misgivings about shooting them. But I’d get over them.
Through the radio I could hear the security teams moving into our vicinity and I yanked Teyla to her feet. “Come on, time to go.” I had no doubt I could stay one-step ahead of the teams, what I had forgotten about was Ronon. He was on his run, Teyla had said so, and in my rush to get out of the control room, I had forgotten that. More importantly, I had forgotten that the piers near our current location were some of his favorite places for his morning workout. He had his radio, he always had his gun, and when I stood and turned to leave, he had it leveled on me.
“Sheppard, let her go.” By his tone, he might as well have been asking me to pass him the salt, but I wasn’t fooled for a second. For Ronon, killing held about the same emotional impact as asking for the saltshaker.
I placed Teyla directly in front of me as a human shield. “Not happening, Ronon.”
If anyone could understand what it felt like to be betrayed by someone you trusted, it would be the Satedan. He’d killed a man for his treasonous acts, and I’d do the same if I had to. He knew it, too. I could see it in his eyes as they narrowed fractionally in preparation to fire at me. So I fired first.
Teyla’s scream of Ronon’s name as his body twisted and his gun flew from his hand was accompanied by a sharp elbow to my ribs as she pulled out of my grasp. My gun moved from Ronon to her and I knew if I didn’t act fast, she’d have me pinned to the floor with my M9 at my head in a few seconds, regardless of the restraints. Brown eyes widened as I squeezed the trigger again, only this time, my shot went wide and nailed a storage box as one of Ronon’s daggers impaled my thigh. Once again, I turned my attention to the Satedan who sunk to his knees behind a cargo box with a hand to a growing bloom of red on his side.
Teyla dared to glance up from behind the box she had dropped behind when I shot at her. “John, stop!”
It was enough to keep me from finishing off the wounded man. It was also enough to draw my attention to the marines that had finally arrived. I dove for cover behind the same box where Ronon was just as one of the security team fired a Wraith stunner at me.
“Stop shooting,” I yelled, “or I finish off Ronon!”
I held my gun on my teammate… former teammate… to make sure he didn’t add another knife to the one I already had sticking out of me.
“John, Ronon needs help,” Teyla tried to reason.
“Is she right?” I asked with a growl. “Do you need help?” I touched delicately at the blade in my leg, hissing at the sharp pain that accompanied it.
“Not as much as you,” he answered and slumped further to the floor.
“He says he’s fine,” I shouted back.
“No, he is not,” the Athosian countered. “He needs to see Dr. Beckett. If you will let him go, I will stay with you instead.”
I laughed at the idea. “I don’t fucking think so.” With me injured, Teyla would have me hogtied before the stretcher even arrived for Ronon. Besides, brawn wasn’t going to get me off of Atlantis, brains were. And that meant only one person. “Send me McKay and you have a deal.”
“No…” Teyla protested.
Rodney, who had obviously been listening through the radio, called in my ear, “I’ll be right there.”
“I’ll be waiting,” I informed him with a wince as I shifted and the pain in my leg spiked again.
The knife had to go, no doubt. And I also had no doubt it was going to hurt like a motherfucker when I removed it. Grasping the hilt, I looked down on Ronon lying on the floor beside me in a spreading stain of red. “You’re a piece of shit, you know that?”
“You’re welcome,” he grit between clenched teeth, pressing harder at his side. But I barely noticed as the world went gray around the edges when I yanked out the knife and tossed it aside.
And now, standing here outside the Jumper bay with McKay trying to talk me into skipping the trip off-world and instead go see Carson, it was down to a throbbing ache that ran from my toes to my hip. But it was bearable and would eventually heal. The real wounds I’d suffered from these people may never heal, but the one in my leg would.
Using my sidearm, I waved the scientist through the door again, blinking to bring him back into focus when I stood straighter. “Jumper, McKay. No field trips along the way.”
“Your loss.” The door slid open and he stood back with a flourish. “After you.”
With a fist in his field vest I shoved him forward. “There are marines in there,” I hissed at him.
“Yes, most likely,” he whispered back over his shoulder, “and I don’t want them to accidentally shoot me instead of you.”
“What happened to not leaving me?” I asked with another push to keep him moving.
“I’ll be the first face you see when you wake up in the infirmary.”
Pulling him into the shadows along the wall when I heard footsteps, I shushed him by placing the barrel of my Baretta to my lips. He nodded in understanding of the threat and I did my best to concentrate on exactly where the creak of gear and fall of boots was coming from. The problem was, it seemed to be echoing all around me, just like the room seemed to be spinning around me. I placed a hand out to steady myself against the wall and it found McKay’s arm instead.
“Don’t shoot!” Rodney’s shout to the marines was enough to slow the room. “Don’t shoot; he has a gun on me!”
I did my best to pretend the grip I had on McKay was to keep him from running instead of to keep me from falling and that my inability to focus had more to do with the lights from the P90s in my eyes than the dizziness I couldn’t seem to shake.
“Dr. McKay, are you all right?” the nearest marine… Sgt. Warren, I thought … asked.
Rodney started moving toward the nearest Jumper and I found myself moving that way, as well. “What do you think?” the irate scientist snapped. “I have a gun to my head… chest… stomach.”
Realizing I was slacking at my hostage threatening, I fought to raise the gun a little higher. Rodney, not the least bit impressed with my attempt, pushed on anyway. He was never one to let an uncooperative piece of the puzzle stop him and now was no exception. I had a feeling he probably cut his jigsaw puzzle pieces to fit as a child, and who cared if Darth Vader’s left eye and nose were reversed? If it got him what he wanted in the end, he’d take a slightly skewed version of reality and he was busily shaping me and the marines into that reality as we stood there.
“Either way, I have a gun pointed at vital body parts. So, no, I’m not exactly all right.” An erratic hand shooed the men away. “Just clear a path and let us reach a Jumper before he loses it entirely and kills me on the spot.”
The men parted before us and I tripped as I walked, my hand on Rodney’s arm the only thing keeping me from going down entirely. “Christ, Sheppard, a little help here would be nice.” The arm I was holding looped behind my back and moved me a little quicker to the craft as my gun dropped limply to my side.
“Dr. McKay?” Warren was evidently catching onto the fact that Rodney could have pretty much pushed me over and made an escape. He hadn’t, though. The son of a bitch hadn’t made a run for it; instead he was helping me run. And I started wondering if maybe I had been wrong about him after all.
Not answering the marine, McKay activated the back hatch to the Jumper and pushed me inside with a testy. “Go, go, go.”
“Dr. McKay, stop!”
But the physicist was already closing the door and moving to the pilot seat. I slumped in the co-pilot’s chair, the vertigo lessening now that I was off my feet. “Why did you do that?”
The ship hummed to life when he touched the controls and he ignored the marines banging at the back hatch. “Because I promised you I would get you out of Atlantis and that’s exactly what I’m doing.” Wary blue eyes slid my way as he divided his attention between me and lifting the Jumper from its docking bay. “You aren’t going to puke are you? I’ll help you escape but I draw the line at cleaning up after you when you toss your cookies.”
“I can’t… you don’t… this doesn’t make any sense.” I settled on rubbing at my eyes again to try to clear the fog.
“It sure the hell doesn’t,” he agreed as the hatch opened below us into the embarkation room.
Elizabeth’s voice came through the radio in the Jumper. “Rodney, what are you doing?”
“Hopefully putting an end to this mess,” he told her as he dialed the gate.
“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?”
I sat up a little straighter myself. “Where are you taking me?” Crap. How could I have been so stupid? I’d walked right into his trap. I knew he had been springing one and now it all fell together. He had me in the Jumper, all he had to do was dial the gate and hand me over to the Genii.
“Relax, Sheppard.” He continued to press tiles on the consol.
Just as Elizabeth tried to hail him again, I once again raised my gun. “You’re taking me to the Genii.”
He rolled his eyes at the gun, but his hand didn’t press the last symbol. “Colonel, if you had really wanted to hit me when you shot at me in the control room, you would have. If you had really wanted to shoot Teyla, Ronon’s knife wouldn’t have stopped you. You probably wouldn’t have even hit Ronon, except, knowing him, he didn’t move when you pulled the trigger. I mean, he’s a big target and you barely clipped him.” He snorted in something between embarrassment for me and disappointment. “The fact is, you didn’t want to shoot us, just like you really don’t want to shoot me now.”
We stared at each other for a few seconds and I searched for any sign that he was lying. And I couldn’t see a damn thing that said he was, about any of it, including my motivations. Smug, annoying bastard. Smug, annoying bastard and with good reason. I sat the gun down on my good leg and leaned my head back against my seat. If he was going to give me to the Genii, then so be it. I doubted seriously that I could stop him and I deserved it if I let him fool me yet again. “You’re impossible. You know that?”
“Just one more thing in an endless list,” he agreed with a sigh as he pushed the last tile and the Jumper dropped down in front of the gate.
I could just make out Teyla and Elizabeth through the front window… two each actually until I blinked rapidly and the double vision cleared. “Rodney, I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” Elizabeth shook her head in disapproval.
“Don’t wait up,” he told her, before amending, “Actually, if we’re not back in an hour, send a rescue party for me.”
Then the universe started swirling faster as we entered the wormhole.
x x x x