Genre: Gen with Team and a few surprise guests
Word count: ~19,250
Spoilers: Anything through Season 5 but nothing past The Shrine really.
Author Notes: This was originally written as a submittal for a zine invite, but evidently I have too much of a potty mouth (or at least John and Rodney do) for it to be used in this particular zine. I, however, stand by the T rating. Thanks as always to Koschka for the beta.
Summary: A team road trip back on Earth had seemed like a good idea... boy were they ever wrong.
"Holy sh..." Rodney started to say as he pulled up in front of Sheppard’s family estate. And estate was definitely the only word you could use for it. Hell, mansion didn’t really do it credit what with the stables and the grounds and the massive stone house.
But he was cut off by a chastising, "Rodney!" from Teyla who sat in the backseat of the car with Torren.
"Crap," Rodney amended his response to accommodate the toddler within earshot. "I meant to say, holy crap."
Teyla didn’t seem to be exactly pleased with the lower level of expletive he used, but Ronon agreed with the sentiment.
"No kidding," Ronon said as he leaned an arm on the passenger side door of the rented convertible before taking a sip from his chocolate shake.
"That is the dwelling of just one family?" Teyla’s surprise was interrupted by Torren who was reaching eagerly from his car seat for the Chicken McNugget his mother held. Teyla broke the snack from Torren’s Happy Meal into a smaller bite and handed it to her son who promptly stuffed it into his mouth.
Ronon popped another fry from the bag that was supposed to be Sheppard’s lunch as he noted, "It’s bigger than my barracks were back on Sateda."
"It’s bigger than my freshman dorm," Rodney added before snagging a fry himself. If John was still hungry after eating what was left of his meal, they could always go through another drive thru. Hell, the son of a bitch had probably had filet mignon and lobster bisque for lunch considering the looks of the house before him. If that was the case, McKay had no qualms at all about eating every damn bite of the Big Mac waiting in the paper bag, too. Besides, the more McKay thought about it, it wasn’t safe for Sheppard to eat a sandwich like that while driving, especially with a young child in the backseat. And Rodney had no doubt Sheppard would want to take the driver’s seat as soon as he saw the car.
The rental was an upgrade from the car the SGC had arranged for them. When the Daedalus had beamed them down into the vacant lot on the outskirts of town to find a nondescript four-door sedan waiting for them, Rodney had decided right then and there it just wouldn’t do. It wasn’t every day you got a vacation back on Earth with your teammates. Hell, it was the first time ever that they’d done this, which in McKay’s mind meant they should do it up right. So, Rodney’s first agenda item after turning on his cell phone had been to drive into town to the rental location and upgrade their transportation for the week the four teammates would be spending together traveling down the California coast before heading back to Colorado to catch the Daedalus for the return trip to Pegasus. He had even paid for it out of pocket, but after seeing the estate where Sheppard grew up… correction, one of the estates… Rodney was now considering making Sheppard pay for the convertible instead.
The second order of business had been to introduce Teyla and Ronon to the joys of American fast food. Torren was obviously hungry and Teyla had brought plenty of healthy snacks for him while Rodney went over the rental paperwork. But there was something downright barbaric about eating whole grain crackers and fresh fruit cubes on a road trip, even if it was for a one and a half year old child. The kid needed preservative laden meat and deep fried potatoes doused in about five ketchup packets and a useless plastic toy to play with in between bites. So, as soon as he had the keys to their new ride, he’d taken them to the McDonald’s drive thru. Of course that had lead to Rodney having to interpret the entire menu to Teyla item by item. Ronon had simply asked for the sandwich with the double meat and cheese and the funky sauce with an extra large order of fries and one of those chocolate ice cream drinks, which led Rodney to the conclusion that Sheppard had already acquainted their Satedan teammate with the glories of Mickey D’s. Teyla on the other hand had agonized over every detail until the cars behind them started honking.
"Look, just get Torren the Happy Meal," Rodney had finally insisted impatiently. "It’s an Earth tradition that every child has a Happy Meal at least once in his life."
"What is so happy about these meals?" she’d asked.
Rodney had frowned at her in the rearview mirror. "Well, for one thing, if you order it, the man in the car behind us may decide not to attack us with a crowbar to get us moving through the line."
"I am simply trying to make an appropriate choice for Torren’s lunch," Teyla had insisted.
"There are no appropriate choices at McDonald’s," McKay had retorted. "That’s the whole point of eating here. You just randomly pick something because it all tastes the same and is all horrifically unhealthy."
"Then why would we choose to eat the food they prepare?" Teyla asked in confusion.
"Because it’s the American way!" Rodney snapped. "And we’re in America now and by refusing to eat this food you are insulting Sheppard’s way of life that he puts his life on the line every damn day to defend."
"I am very respectful of this American way of life," Teyla had defended. "In fact, there are many aspects of American popular culture with which Torren is already acquainted. Dr. Zelenka provided him with several DVDs from his private collection featuring the small, blue creatures… the Smuffs?"
"Smurfs," Rodney corrected with a roll of his eyes. "And they aren’t even American, they’re Belgian."
Ronon perked up. "Like the waffles?"
"And Dr. Goossens in xenobiology, neither of which are here now. What is here," Rodney pointed out with a wave of his arm, "is the large menu board with your many choices for lunch."
Teyla ignored the prompt to order. "Regardless of their country of origin, Torren enjoys them." With a slight frown, she added, "I must admit that I am a bit disturbed by the apparent lack of females of their species and what that must mean for the lone woman in their village. Although on a certain level, I can easily relate to her dilemma."
Rodney had watched Teyla sigh in a bizarre sororal bond with Smurfette as the lone woman on the team. Having finally had enough, he had demanded. "Just order the smurfing Happy Meal and something for yourself so we can get on the road."
"Maybe you need a Happy Meal, McKay," Ronon had told him from the passenger seat with a warning glare of his own.
What Rodney really needed, he decided at that moment, was Sheppard to help wrangle their teammates, because this whole trip was kind of a boondoggle from the beginning and the majority of it had been finagled by John. That meant the entire ridiculous argument he had with Teyla was, in essence, Sheppard’s fault.
Kanaan had been going on more and more trade missions since he’d come to live in Atlantis, and given his background with Michael, the SGC had decided he needed to run through the same interviews and assessments that Teyla and Ronon had. Of course, Teyla didn’t want to have her family split up for the week of evaluation plus the three weeks to return on the Daedalus, so she had asked to come along. With one teammate down, Sheppard had decided this would be a good time to return to Earth and handle some legal issues with his brother on his father’s trust. That meant no missions for over four weeks and Ronon had no desire to spend a month sitting in the city, so he had asked to go back to Earth, too, especially when John offered to take him surfing in southern California.
Rodney had spent most of the next week sulking about being abandoned by his teammates, although he would never in a million years admit that was reason, until Sheppard had suggested maybe Carter could brief Rodney on the latest updates to the Asgard beaming technology on the Daedalus. McKay had initially balked at the idea that he needed briefing on anything of the sort, especially from Samantha Carter. John had then reminded him it would only take about a day for the briefing, just like Sheppard’s meeting with his brother, and then they’d have almost a week before they had to board the Daedalus. And that’s when John’s smirk had given away that he’d been planning a team road trip from the very moment he’d heard about Teyla’s plans to go with Kanaan.
At the time, it had sounded like a great idea, but if the ordeal to obtain a bag of burgers and fries was any indication of what they had in store for them during the rest of the week, Rodney was starting to change his mind. He was banking on the hopes that John’s addition to the group would smooth the process out since Sheppard seemed to be the one person who kept them all on an even keel with one another. And the sooner Sheppard joined them, the better.
"He said he’d be outside," Rodney grumbled when John was nowhere to be seen on the perfectly manicured lawn. Pulling out his cell phone, he hit Sheppard’s number on speed dial.
"Perhaps he grew tired of waiting for us and returned inside," Teyla suggested as she handed Torren another bite of chicken. "We are almost an hour late."
Rodney felt he exhibited a great deal of restraint when he simply mumbled, "I wonder why that is." When the phone rolled over to the canned voice mail message, McKay flipped it closed. "Great, he’s not answering. Ronon, go tell him to hurry up, already."
"Why do I have to do it?" Ronon demanded.
"Because Teyla’s feeding Torren," Rodney tried to justify with a wave of his hand in an attempt to encompass the passengers in the back seat while simultaneously shooing Ronon from the car.
Ronon, however, didn’t budge. "And what are you doing that’s so important you can’t go?"
Rodney deflected the question. "Christ, what is the big deal about going and knocking on the door?"
"I don’t like Sheppard’s brother," Ronon finally admitted with a shift of his shoulders.
"He probably won’t even answer the door. He probably has a maid or butler or… manservant to do those sorts of things."
Ronon didn’t seem too convinced. "He looks at me weird and I don’t like it."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "From everything Sheppard says, he doesn’t like his brother very much either, and he’s spent the entire day with Dave."
"Then maybe you should go get him so he doesn’t have to spend any more time with the guy," Ronon reasoned.
"Fine," McKay sighed dramatically, snarfing down a couple more fries before finally climbing out from behind the wheel of the car. "Apparently I have to do everything around here."
Ends up Rodney was wrong about the whole manservant thing, because Dave Sheppard was the one who opened his front door. It also ends up Ronon was right, because Dave did look at Rodney with a strange expression.
"Hey, I’m Rodney… McKay," Rodney clarified when the confused look on Dave’s face just grew. "Dr. Rodney McKay. You may have heard of me… I work with your brother."
"I know who you are, Dr. McKay," Dave informed him, still totally befuddled that Rodney was standing on his front porch. "Is there a problem?"
"No, I just wanted to know if Sheppard ready to go? John Sheppard, I mean…obviously. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to go on a road trip with me and the others." Rodney gave a slightly nervous laugh. "I’m not even sure I want to go on a road trip with them." When Dave just furrowed his brow more, McKay tried to look past him into the house. "So, is he here or not?"
"No, he’s not," Dave told him.
Now it was Rodney’s turn to look confused. "What do you mean he’s not here? We’re not even a whole hour late yet?"
"He got a call about three hours ago," Dave explained. "He said his plans had changed and he had to leave a little early and ten minutes later he walked out the door. I assumed he was going with you."
That news had Rodney pulling out his cell phone and dialing Sheppard’s phone once again. When the response was the same voice mail message, his next call was to the SGC. And when they triangulated onto the GPS on John’s cell phone and found it and his duffle bag in an otherwise empty hotel room about an hour away, Rodney decided this wasn’t going to be the relaxing trip to Earth Sheppard had promised.
* * * *
As soon as Rodney notified the SGC that John was missing, the Daedalus had tried and failed to lock onto the tracking device they all carried just beneath their skin. They were, however, able to provided the location of John’s cell phone along with several security personnel to assist in the search. Teyla had requested Kanaan be allowed to come and take Torren back to the SGC. It was one thing to expose her son to less than appealing food products in the name of Earthly traditions, she had eaten far worse in the name of diplomacy over the years, but it was another entirely to take him into what had the potential to be a hostile situation. Teyla had, technically, only been to Earth once before and that trip had been limited to the SGC. There had been that time she had tagged along with John’s mental trip back to Earth and experienced shopping in the Earth market places, but even with that limited familiarity, the planet could be overwhelming. There was a sense of motion everywhere she looked… automobiles rushing past, flashing lights, people all around, and with it all were the accompanying sounds that were overriding everything. When Kanaan arrived to take their son, he was even more in awe than she had been the first time she had seen the controlled chaos around them, and he seemed almost relieved to be leaving with Torren in his arms just a few minutes after his arrival.
With Kanaan and Torren safely back at the SGC, Teyla strapped on the gear the security detail provided and prepared to enter the hotel with her gun drawn, all the while dreading what they would find. From near the back of the press of uniformed men, Teyla exchanged a worried glance with Rodney, his own fear of what lay on the other side of the door palpable. Ronon was up in front of the marines and he burst into the room as soon as it was opened with the rest of John’s team following quickly after, only to find John’s suitcase on the floor and his cell phone lying on the neatly made, if garish cover on the bed.
The momentary relief of not finding John injured or worse was short lived as Rodney voiced all their concerns. "Where the hell is he?"
Agent Barrett, who had been sent to assist with the search, looked as frustrated as Teyla felt when he called back to the SGC to report, "The cell phone was a dead end."
"Why would Sheppard have a room here if his brother lives in a house as big as he does?" Ronon asked, as he glanced around the well-kept room. It certainly did not appear that anyone had been staying there.
"Maybe he and Dave had a fight," Rodney proposed. "I mean, it’s a mansion but sometimes having your own wing of a building isn’t enough distance."
"Or perhaps it is not John’s room," Teyla suggested. "After all, it is unlikely that he would have disabled his own subcutaneous transmitter."
Rodney snapped his fingers as something dawned on him and he flipped open John’s cell phone before moving to the phone beside the bed. Turning the small communication device around, he showed them all. "The last incoming number before my attempts to call him was from this room. Whoever called him is our best chance of finding Colonel Sheppard."
Agent Barrett nodded in understanding. "I’ll find out whose name is on the registration."
Barrett left to find the manager, followed by the strike team who set up a perimeter around the building, which left Teyla, Rodney, and Ronon alone in the room. When Ronon opened the closet to reveal nothing more than empty hangers, Teyla decided a bit of investigating might be worthwhile. Besides, there was nothing else to be done for the time being. She chose the bathroom, noting the neatly folded towels on the racks, the glasses by the sink with the odd paper hats on top, all the packages of soaps and lotions were still sealed, even the toilet paper was folded into a precise triangular point. It was obvious that Teyla had been correct all along− Earthlings truly did have some odd customs and rituals. It was also obvious no one had made use of this room for anything beyond a meeting place.
Rodney was standing from where he had been looking under the bed, wiping his hands with a grimace when he did. "Did you know that the only thing in most hotel rooms with more germs than the bedspreads are the television remotes?"
Teyla and Ronon exchanged a slightly amused glance before she noted, "Then it is fortunate we do not plan to watch television."
"Actually, it’s not. Because if we did plan to watch television, then that would mean Sheppard hadn’t just disappeared into thin air." Apparently Rodney’s concern with the hygiene of the bedding was not enough to stop him from sitting on the foot of the bed with a sigh. "Not exactly what I had in mind when he invited us on this vacation."
"Nor I," Teyla agreed with a sigh of her own.
"I’m starting to think we shouldn’t come back to Earth anymore," Ronon noted from where he was surveying the parking lot from the window. "Nothing good ever seems to happen when we do."
"John was very enthusiastic for this trip," Teyla reminded them, which just convinced her even more that he must be in some sort of danger for him to miss out on it. He had talked almost nonstop about the beaches, the shorelines, the mountains… all the beautiful places of his home world that he wished to share with his teammates. So far, Teyla’s exposure to Earth’s scenery had been limited to a plastic panel into which Rodney had yelled their lunch requests and a poorly decorated room with no sign of their missing friend.
The sound of Rodney’s cell phone ringing had all of them jumping. Pulling it out of his pocket, he studied the incoming number with a confused frown before answering with a hesitant, "Hello?" The bafflement quickly changed to relief. "Sheppard! Where the hell are you?"
Teyla and Ronon both moved quickly to crowd around Rodney, eager to hear from John.
But Rodney’s expression was already back to confusion. "What? Who is she?"
"What’s he saying?" Ronon demanded.
Rodney waved him off irritably as he plugged his other ear with a finger. "You don’t even know her?"
"McKay, tell us what he’s saying," Ronon growled in warning and Teyla was ready to do the same.
Rodney was frowning at what he was hearing as much as the irritation of the other two. "Wait… Sheppard, slow down… I’m going to put you on hands free so Teyla and Ronon can hear."
Rodney pushed a button and held up the phone so they could hear John’s distressed voice on the other end. "… don’t know who she is or where she came from. All I know is that she has been shot dead and I woke up in a fucking motel room standing over her body holding a goddamn gun."
Teyla had never heard John so agitated and called to him as calmly as possible. "John, we are here with Agent Barrett and a team from the SGC. We will bring them to where you are…"
John was not pleased with her suggestion. "No! No SGC team! Something… something isn’t right."
"Which is why we should come to where you are," Teyla argued.
"You guys come, but no one else. Understand? No one else."
Rodney stepped in to back up what Teyla was saying. "Sheppard, I really think Teyla’s right. Just tell us where you are…"
"McKay, either you promise me that you’ll come alone or I’m hanging up this phone right now and getting the hell out of here."
The three of them exchanged worried glances. It was not like John to be so agitated and… panicked. That was the only word Teyla could use to describe his emotional state. She had seen John worried in the past, and on a few rare occasions even frightened. Usually those were reserved for moments when he felt helplessly unable to do anything to rectify a situation. When they believed Rodney would die from the parasite was one moment that stood out most vividly and she had felt the same way. When Ronon had been taken by the Wraith was another, and she could only assume John had been similarly concerned when Michael had kidnapped her. When his team was in danger it came through, but not for himself.
Never for himself.
That could only mean that either John felt his team was in danger or something was influencing his behavior because John was also never one to try to hide from the consequences of his actions.
"Rodney…" John called desperately through the small phone. Desperate for them to come, desperate that they do it under his conditions, desperate for help.
And none of them could refuse him that.
Rodney hesitated a second before putting the phone back to his ear and moving to the desk. "Tell me where you are." Taking up a pen, he wrote on the pad of paper there. "I don’t know where that is." Given the way Rodney attempted to cut into the conversation, the news seemed to have upset John even more. "Sheppard…. Shepp… John, we’ll find it. Okay? We’ll find you." Apparently that worked to soothe John since Rodney was also calmer when he spoke again. "Okay. We’ll be there as soon as we can."
He closed the phone again, and immediately pulled out a large book from the nightstand and began flipping through it. "He’s at the Scrub Oak Lodge," Rodney told them, ripping a yellow page from the book victoriously and immediately heading for the door.
"Where’s that?" Ronon asked as he fell into step beside Rodney and Teyla had to practically jog to keep up.
"I have no idea," Rodney responded, "but we have an address and a navigation unit in the car and that’s all we need."
Teyla, however, was thinking more practically. "What do we tell Agent Barrett? We cannot simply vanish as did Colonel Sheppard."
Rodney stopped in the hallway with a frustrated frown before brightening. "We’ll tell him we’re going to go back and talk to his brother some more, see if he remembers anything else that might help us."
When they stopped by the registration area of the motel to tell Agent Barrett their fabricated story, he handed over a printout of a photograph and copy of the motel rental agreement. "The security cameras captured this image of the woman who checked into the room this morning. Her name on the registration is Carla Marshall."
"I’ve never heard Sheppard mention her," Rodney told Barrett and Teyla and Ronon quickly agreed.
"We’re having the SGC run her name and photo now through the federal databases."
"Can I take this?" Rodney asked of the printout. "You know, to… uhm… to show Dave Sheppard. See if she looks familiar."
Rodney really was a horrible liar, but fortunately the agent didn’t catch on. "Of course. I’ll contact you if we find anything else about her."
"Yeah, same here," Rodney promised before turning abruptly for the exit and heading for the car. As soon as they were out the door, he told his teammates, "Come on, let’s go find Sheppard."
Teyla was more than happy to oblige.
* * * *
Ronon had decided that trips to Earth were never a good thing. His first time back had been to escort Carson’s body back to the SGC, his second had been when McKay’s sister had been kidnapped and they ended up losing Rodney for a while, too. Then there was the replicator they’d had to track down during Sheppard’s father’s funeral and the attempted Wraith invasions, and now there was this. Earth had become a place of death or near death in Ronon’s mind. Sure that wasn’t that much different than the Pegasus galaxy except at least there he didn’t have to wear stupid earth clothes that, while comfortable in what was known locally as cargo pants and a t-shirt, would offer practically no protection in a sword fight. Although the slightly garish overlapping leaf pattern on the short-sleeved, button-down shirt McKay was wearing might be able to scare off any potential foes. Still, at least back in Pegasus, he didn’t have to wonder if McKay was going to kill him before the bad guys did.
At least not usually and not with his driving.
Rodney swerved back into his lane of traffic as both Teyla and the large truck’s horn warned him he was on a collision course with the vehicle.
"Rodney, if you will allow me to program the navigation equipment…" Teyla tried to reason only to be ignored as McKay attempted to push buttons with one hand and steer the wheel of the car with the other.
"It will take too long to show you how," he argued, swerving back yet again when the car hit the rippled pavement on the edge of the road.
At least he was going forward for the time being. McKay had managed to have the car careen backwards into a trash container when they first climbed in it to leave the hotel, which hadn’t exactly been his plan considering he’d been facing forward when he stepped on the accelerator.
Having finally lost her patience, Teyla slapped McKay’s hand away from the small computer on the dash. "We will do John no good if we are killed attempting to reach him."
"You want me to drive?" Ronon offered from the backseat as he checked over their weapons.
"You don’t know how to drive," Rodney snapped, still attempting to program the GPS much to Teyla’s growing frustration.
"From what I’ve seen, neither do you," Ronon noted, slamming a clip back into the nine millimeter.
"Oh, so now that Sheppard isn’t here you’ve apparently decided to take over his job of insulting my skill behind the wheel?" Rodney glared at him in the rearview mirror and drifted off the road once more.
"No one is taking over Colonel Sheppard’s responsibilities as there is no need for anyone to assume those duties," Teyla stated defiantly and both Rodney and Ronon fell silent at the implications of her words.
Finally, Ronon grumbled, "We should have asked for more guns." They only had three Earth handguns and an extra clip each that had been issued to them by the strike team. For some reason the SGC wouldn’t allow Ronon to bring his gun, apparently they thought if anyone saw it the entire top secret program would be uncovered. Ronon never understood why they wanted to keep the whole thing a secret in the first place. He had grown up knowing other planets with other people were spread across the galaxy and there had been no widespread panic or mass hysteria on Sateda or any other planet with a gate that he’d heard of.
"And exactly how were we supposed to explain that to Barrett? That we suspected Dave Sheppard of hording weapons of mass destruction in the stables of his estate?" Rodney scoffed as he finally put both hands on the wheel of the car. "Besides, we’re going to help Sheppard, not shoot him."
"That’s not Sheppard," Ronon noted simply. "I mean it’s Sheppard, but it’s not him… not really."
He couldn’t exactly put his finger on it, but he knew in his gut that the man on the phone, the man who was frazzled and practically begging for help wasn’t the man they had last seen on Atlantis. John Sheppard was a lot of things, but he wasn’t going to risk his teammates if there was danger or pull them into a heap of trouble if he could avoid it. And the only time Sheppard had ever come close to begging for anything was when he’d been trying to get Ronon to leave him buried in Michael’s collapsed building. So as much as it had sounded like John, the person who had called them wasn’t the John they knew. But he probably damn well knew where that Sheppard was, even if he was locked somewhere in his head.
"I know," McKay admitted. "Something’s not right with him. Maybe… maybe he was drugged or someone had a gun on him…"
"He would not have made the call if someone was threatening him," Teyla pointed out as she brushed a strand of hair back that had blown free of her hairclip and Ronon was glad to see he wasn’t the only one who felt there was something off about this whole thing.
"I know," McKay repeated in even more frustration with a rub of his thumb just above his sunglasses. "But it was him on the phone, don’t you think? I mean, physically at least, it was him. Right?"
Ronon could understand Rodney’s wish for it to actually be Sheppard who had called them, because that meant they would be getting him back sooner rather than later. Because they would get him back; there was no other alternative out there.
"I certainly hope it was," Teyla told Rodney with a sigh as she looked at the readout on the GPS. "We will know for sure in forty-three miles."
McKay hit the accelerator to eat up as much of that distance as quickly as he could and the increased wind in the convertible had even Ronon tying back his hair.
Thirty-eight miles down the stretch of smooth black pavement, a chipper simulated voice directed McKay to turn right. That road wound away from the main thoroughfare up and over undulating hills covered with pale green grasses and large weather-smoothed boulders and the occasional tree. They continued to climb gradually in elevation, turning once more off the smaller road to a gravel pathway that led up into a thickening growth of trees with a small canyon carved by a stream on one side of the road. Eventually the path ended at a large house made of logs encircled by a handful of smaller cabins visible in the surrounding trees. From the limited number of vehicles, it appeared only two of the cabins had occupants.
"So which one is he in?" Ronon asked, handing Teyla her gun before securing his own in its holster.
McKay picked up the registration slip the woman had completed at the first hotel and scanned the information. "She was driving a green Explorer." The name meant nothing to Ronon so he had to wait for Rodney to point to the cabin setting furthest back in the woods. "There. That’s the one."
"You believe the dead woman of whom John told us is the same woman who rented the room where we found his belongings?"
Ronon didn’t miss the way Teyla had skimmed over the idea that Sheppard had been the one to kill the woman and Ronon would have done the same. There was no way Sheppard would have knowingly killed a woman, not unless there was a damn good reason to do it.
McKay shrugged. "It’s looking more and more likely."
When Rodney started to ease the car forward, Ronon put a hand on his shoulder. "We’ll walk in from here." He stressed his idea by handing McKay his sidearm.
McKay took the gun and the clip and nodded with a bit of dread. "Yeah, good idea."
They split up and came at the structure from the back and sides, eventually working their way around the small railed porch to the only door. Ronon glanced into the window by the door, the view was obscured by sheer curtains, but he was able to make out Sheppard’s unmoving form sitting on the edge of the bed staring at the floor before him. He signaled McKay to open the door, waiting for Rodney to silently count down from three. Why the Earthlings were fascinated by the number three was beyond him, but he figured it was a cultural thing and just let it go. Rodney twisted the doorknob quietly and pushed it open enough for Ronon to burst through followed quickly by the other two.
Sheppard stood instantly, the gun he held pointed unwaveringly at Ronon in the lead. Ronon paid it no mind, his attention was on the room and anyone else who might be there. He moved deliberately to the opposite side of the room where the closet was and opened it, all the while aiming his gun at Sheppard who aimed his at Ronon. Confirming no one was hiding in the closet, he looked quickly into the open bathroom door and saw nothing there either. In fact, the only other person he saw besides his teammates was a dead woman on the floor with a bullet in her head.
Teyla was the first to lower her weapon. "John, you have blood…"
"It’s not mine," he informed them of the splatter of blood on the front of his shirt and on his cheek, his gun still trained on Ronon. The blood might not have been his, but bruising on his face was a different story.
He’d fought back. Even if he couldn’t remember it, Sheppard had fought back against whoever had brought him here. From everything that Ronon was seeing, that had to have been Carla Marshall since the woman on the ground looked exactly like the woman in the photograph.
"Why don’t you put your gun down?" Ronon suggested casually seeing as Sheppard still held it pointed at the Satedan.
"Why don’t you put down yours?" John challenged in return.
Rodney was looking nervously between the two men, trying to decide if he should lower his gun or not. Teyla was the one who finally stepped in to put an end to the standoff.
Placing a hand on the arm Ronon was using to hold the gun, she told them, "Enough of this. We came as you asked, John. We’re alone. We mean you no harm. Lower the gun and tell us what you remember."
Sheppard hesitated for a few seconds before finally shaking his head in frustration as the gun dropped to his side. "Nothing. I don’t remember a damn thing. One minute I was at my brother’s house, the next I was here with… her." He waved the gun haphazardly at the body before sitting heavily on the bed.
McKay crossed the short distance and handed Sheppard the picture. "Her name is Carla Marshall. We think she called your cell phone earlier today from a hotel room about forty miles north of here where we found your phone and duffle bag."
"I’ve never seen her before." John looked at the picture in confusion. "I don’t remember any call or other hotel room."
"Do you remember who hit you?" Ronon asked, not really buying into Sheppard’s story. Something just wasn’t right about any of this, which was why he still held his sidearm instead of putting back in his holster.
"I told you, I don’t remember anything since Dave’s house." Sheppard’s tone was on the verge of anger.
"Which is why we need to call in the SGC," Rodney tried to reason.
"No!" John insisted, standing once more and moving away from McKay.
Rodney waved his arms. "Sheppard, you didn’t do this. But someone has abducted you, beaten you, and is now attempting to frame you for murder, not to mention wiped your memory clean. We need the SGC’s help if we are going to find out what happened."
"I said, no, McKay, and I meant it." John gripped his gun a little tighter and Ronon found his own hold shifting up.
Teyla stood between the men. "John, you know we have only your best interest at heart. We would never jeopardize your safety. You believe us do you not?" John nodded silently and sat near the head of the bed again. "We should remain calm, clean the blood from you, and discuss our course of action in a sensible manner. Agreed?"
"Yeah, you’re right."
Satisfied with Sheppard’s answer, Teyla started into the bathroom. Ronon’s brow furrowed when he saw John’s lip twitch in mild humor and something akin to… arrogance as Sheppard watched her go. Something was definitely wrong here. From the bathroom there was the sound of running water followed by Teyla’s gasp of surprise and a glass smashing against the floor.
Ronon lifted his gun to point at Sheppard once more even as he called in worry, "Teyla?"
Ronon let his gaze flicker toward the bathroom for just a second, but that was all it took for Sheppard to pull a Goa’uld weapon from beneath the pillow, the one they called a ‘zat, and aim it at Ronon while he held the handgun on Rodney.
"I believe she may have found your new gods," Sheppard told him with a pleased smile.
Then John’s eyes flashed gold, and before Ronon could get off a shot, his body was burning in a field of sparkling blue energy.
* * * *
John’s body pivoted as soon as Ronon hit the floor and the ‘zat caught Teyla before she had stepped foot out of the bathroom. That left Rodney with a wide-eyed expression on his face as he held his Baretta on Sheppard with a less than steady hand.
"Shoot me, Rodney. Shoot me!" John screamed, but McKay couldn’t hear. No one could hear him except Ba’al who only found Sheppard’s request amusing.
"Oh, you’re not going to shoot me, are you Dr. McKay?" Ba’al taunted smoothly with John’s voice, and Sheppard knew he was responding to John’s request as much as Rodney’s hesitance.
"Put down the ‘zat and the gun or you’re going to find out your answer," McKay threatened, but John could see he was scared. Scared of what he’d come up against but more scared of what he might have to do.
"For God’s sake pull the damn trigger, McKay!" Sheppard knew with Rodney, any shot could either go wide and hit the lamp or nail him dead on in the chest, and either one could be an accident or intentional. But John also knew Ba’al’s plans for not just him but all of them and Atlantis and there was no way in hell he could let that happen.
John’s shoulders shrugged. "Colonel Sheppard’s a little worried about what might happen if you did shoot. He’s not sure he’d make it out of this situation alive."
"You son of a bitch," John growled to the entity in his head. "It’s a lie, Rodney. Shoot!" He knew it was futile to even try to talk to McKay, but maybe, just maybe it would throw off Ba’al.
But Rodney already knew Ba’al was just screwing with him. "You may be in his head, but you sure don’t know Sheppard if you think I’m going to believe that he’s worried about himself."
"Perhaps," Ba’al conceded. "But he certainly isn’t happy right now." With a tap to John’s head, the Goa’uld continued. "He’s just screaming away."
"Who are you?" Rodney demanded, eyes flickering between his teammates unconscious on the floor and the one possessed by a Goa’uld before him. "What do you want with Sheppard?"
"Actually, it’s not just him I’m interested in. It’s all of you. I need to make an escape… well, four of me need to make an escape to be precise… and you and your friends are my getaway cars."
The phone call John had received at his brother’s house had been cryptically suspicious. The woman on the other end had told Sheppard he needed to follow her directions, don’t let Dave know that anything had changed with his plans, and meet her at the hotel room just outside of town. When he pushed her for why, she had told him ominously it involved his friends. It’s funny where a person’s minds goes when he hears something like that. Maybe it was because he’d been wondering if McKay could find the house just a few minutes before the call. Maybe it was because he was anxious to get out of Dave’s space, regardless of the fact that they had both lived there as children it still felt more like his brother’s property than something they legally owned jointly, and back to something he considered his own. Maybe it was because he’d been thinking about how nice it was going to be to get behind the wheel and just drive away into something he knew and trusted instead the last time he’d left the house while his father was still alive and he hadn’t known exactly what the hell he was going to do with his life. Maybe it was because he had been so looking forward to this trip with his team that his first thoughts had turned to disaster and his stomach had twisted sickeningly.
"Was there an accident? Are they okay?" he’d asked in dread.
"They’re fine… for the time being. But that could change if you don’t do exactly as I say. There’s a taxi waiting for you outside."
So John had left, made up an excuse that the others had arrived early, and rode in the cab wishing like hell he had a gun with him because maybe then he wouldn’t feel so fucking helpless. Dave had made some smartass comment about not wanting to keep John from his fun with boring legal documents and John could have laughed at the irony of the situation. Here he had once again pissed off his brother and he’d done it for the only people who had ever felt like real family in his life. If for some reason he never saw Dave again, it would be a shame, because as tense as their relationship was now, it was still the best it had been in years. But if he never saw Teyla and Ronon and Rodney again, that would be… something he couldn’t even consider.
John had tried to call Rodney’s cell phone, just in case, and ended up with voice mail. Now he knew it was because his team was still at the SGC or on the Daedalus where they wouldn’t receive a signal. But then he’d believed it had confirmed his fears that the mystery woman was serious with her threats. When Sheppard knocked on the hotel room door, he didn’t know what to expect, but it sure the hell wasn’t to be pulled into the room by an attractive woman and into a deep kiss. Not that stranger things hadn’t happened in the past, but he usually had a little more warning than a death threat against his team. When she held him securely in place when he tried to pull away, John had an idea he was in trouble. When he felt something pass from her mouth into his causing him gag and choke, John knew he was in trouble. When he felt his consciousness be pushed aside as blinding pain shot through is entire nervous system, John knew he was screwed.
Ba’al had tested out his new accommodations with a sense of appreciation John could feel coursing through his body. That had to be the strangest goddamn thing about the whole experience; being able to feel his own emotions and Ba’al’s, being able to sense Ba’al’s thoughts almost as well as his own, being able to know Ba’al’s plan that he was now explaining to Rodney.
"Four of you?" McKay’s eyes narrowed then opened wide as that genius brain of his put two and two together and came up with four of one person could only mean one Goa’uld. "Ba’al!" When John’s lips curled into an appreciative smile, Rodney shook his head. "But SG-1 destroyed the last of your clones months ago."
"Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
"Stop talking to him, Rodney, and shoot!" If Sheppard had any control over his own body, he would have reached out and shook McKay. As it was, he could do nothing more than watch as his friend fought an internal battle over what to do.
"But why do you want…? Atlantis. You want Atlantis."
"Nothing nearly that lofty, Dr. McKay. Well, not yet anyway. No, I only want to take me and the other remaining clones and leave this galaxy for someplace where I can stretch my legs again. Pegasus seems as good a place as any. And since you’ll be returning there shortly, I thought we might just hitch a ride."
"You can’t let him do this," John pleaded helplessly. "You have to stop him."
But Rodney still wouldn’t shoot. Instead he hitched his chin toward the dead body on the floor. "Did you hitch a ride in her, too?"
"As a matter of fact, I did. Agent Marshall was very useful for her purpose, but, unfortunately for her, she fulfilled it too well."
Sheppard had stood by helplessly as his own body had betrayed him by refusing to listen to him when he tried to stop Ba’al from killing the woman. She’d managed to fight back; apparently the Trust trained their people well. But in the end, John couldn’t stop his own damn finger from squeezing the trigger.
Just like he couldn’t stop his hand holding the ‘zat from turning on McKay.
John knew it wasn’t his desperate scream that made McKay pull the trigger, but he liked to think it was what he’d managed to teach Rodney over the years about both handling a gun and handling John Sheppard. The wild shots flying around him didn’t say much about Sheppard’s lessons on the firing range, but the fact that Rodney had been willing to do it regardless of the risk to John’s body spoke volumes about how well Rodney knew this was exactly what John wanted.
Rodney was backing toward the door, eyes squeezed nearly shut as he emptied his clip. Ba’al had at least dived to the side, tripped over Ronon’s body in the process, and went down. That’s when John realized one of those shots hadn’t missed. The bullet had hit right above his hip and he hissed at the burning sensation that radiated through his entire left side. It wasn’t enough to stop Ba’al from dragging John’s body back to its feet; he could already feel the healing effect of the Goa’uld going to work to repair the damage.
Sheppard could sense Ba’al contemplating what to do; give Ronon and Teyla their own Goa’ulds to help track down McKay or go after Rodney now on his own before he got away. Ba’al had chosen this place because of the remote location and because it was a cellular dead zone. There would be no calling for backup since he had cut the phone lines leading to the cabin and main lodge.
"He’s faster than he looks," John goaded.
"I sincerely doubt that, Colonel Sheppard."
The creature in his body might be able to heal him, but the bullet hole still hurt like a son of a bitch for the time being and he was bleeding, so Sheppard found himself stepping over Teyla’s unconscious body and into the bathroom to grab a towel and press into the wound. As if sensing one of their own, the Goa’uld in the bathtub started screeching and writhing in the liquid there. John could tell Ba’al was leaning toward giving Teyla hers right then. Given the head start Rodney already had, Ba’al was already thinking he probably wouldn’t catch him.
"You might as well give it up now. He’ll be calling in the cavalry within a few minutes. He doesn’t even have to wait for them to come. As soon as he makes contact you’re plan is shot because the SGC will never let us go back to Atlantis unless they’re sure we’re snake-free." As much as he hated the thought of Ba’al hunting down McKay, he also knew that it was better odds than three Ba’als hunting down McKay and losing Teyla and Ronon to the same fate as John. That’s when he let slip something about Rodney. "Of course he’ll have to make it to the car and survive his crazy driving." Sheppard did his best to try to make it look like he’d not meant to let that information out.
Apparently it worked, seeing as Ba’al moved him to the front door to see Rodney was just reaching the car he’d parked at the bottom of the hill by the main lodge. John’s thoughts that the SUV was much closer apparently sealed the deal and his hand closed around the keys. Within a few seconds he was walking out the door, casually noting the empty clip from Rodney’s gun on the ground before he climbed behind the wheel of the truck. Through the windshield he could see McKay clamor into the convertible and fumble with his keys.
"Hold it together, McKay," John found himself thinking in all honesty and Ba’al seemed even more convinced that he would have all four of them for hosts. Because Rodney was throwing the car into reverse, running up over the curb of the flower bed in front of the lodge, before slamming it into drive and peeling out on the gravel and fishtailing wildly.
Ba’al had taken advantage of the panicked driving to nearly catch up with McKay, accelerating and bumping Rodney’s car from behind. Rodney swerved from the impact, his taillights indicting he’d hit the brakes in an attempt to maintain control and Ba’al used the decrease in speed to move the SUV beside the convertible and bash it from the side. John snickered to himself internally at the pissed off glower Rodney shot in his direction before cutting the wheel hard to the right and bashing back.
Ba’al’s irritation had Sheppard’s back molars grinding as he tried once more to run Rodney’s car off the road with a hard bump. This time it worked, causing the convertible to skid off the gravel and down the grassy shoulder of the road that plunged into a twenty-foot-deep ravine carved by a stream flowing down the side of the mountain. It was also enough to have the SUV bouncing back into the opposite ditch as he slammed on the breaks, causing John’s neck to snap painfully. He climbed out and walked stiffly to the edge to look down and see that the airbag in Rodney’s car had deployed on impact.
John watched anxiously for any sign of life in the car below him. "Get up," he urged. "Move!" Because Ba’al was already going back into the truck for the ‘zat and something worse… a Goa’uld hand device.
By the time he walked back to the edge with his weapons, McKay was raising his head sluggishly to try to reorient himself.
"Go, Rodney. Run!"
"I think you may have been overestimated exactly how fast your friend is, Colonel." Ba’al’s gloating tone changed to a grimace of pain when he started down the incline.
"And I think you may have overestimated exactly what you can do with a bullet wound."
"It’s only a matter of time, a short time at that, before this body is completely healed."
The bastard was right; John could already tell his body was mending itself. But hopefully it would be slow enough to give Rodney time to get away. McKay had already staggered out of the car, gun in one hand and cell phone in the other. As soon as he looked up and saw John heading his way, he started up the other side of the ravine, slid once, but managed to crawl up the opposite side of the stream and stumble his way across the grassy meadow toward a stand of trees.
Ba’al halted his pursuit, watching Rodney just as closely as Sheppard was. John couldn’t figure out why he was stopping, why he wasn’t continuing to chase after McKay, but then he felt it. A probing of John’s memories and thoughts related to McKay. Where was Rodney going? Would he go down the hill in search of a cell signal to call in assistance from the SGC or back to the cabin to help Teyla and Ronon? How would McKay’s logic run in a situation like this?
Sheppard did his best to try to seal off his thoughts, to keep Ba’al from accessing the facts about Rodney that had let John reach the point where he knew what McKay would do before the scientist even did. As hard as he tried, it didn’t work. Ba’al weaseled in and saw it plain as day. Rodney was hurting from the crash, he knew it was miles down to the main road and any chance for help was almost an hour away even if he could get a signal. But Teyla and Ronon might be awake from the ‘zat blast by now or if nothing else he could destroy the Goa’uld in the tub, so that was his best bet.
"Thank you, Colonel, you have been a great deal of help."
John groaned in frustration as Ba’al had him get back in the SUV only to find that the truck wouldn’t move when he pressed on the gas pedal. He tried again and growled angrily when still nothing happened beyond the sound of the engine revving. Climbing back out, he bent to see that truck was high-centered on a large rock on the shoulder.
Sheppard’s glee at the predicament had Ba’al even angrier. It also had him slipping the hand device into place as he started back up the gravel road toward the cabin.
"We’ll see how happy you are when I fry Dr. McKay’s brain to a crisp, Colonel Sheppard. I know I, for one, will be very pleased to see him grovel for mercy before me."
For some reason, that threat squelched any cheer John had been feeling.
* * * *Part 2.