Title: Long Day's Journey written as a pinch hit for the secret santa exchange over at sheppard_hc
Genre: Gen with Team
Word count: ~18,700
Spoilers: Anything through Season 5 but nothing really.
Author Notes: I'll post the prompt from wildcat88</lj> . All I can say is this prompt really needed about 80,000 words to do it justice, so I'm hoping my condensed version still fits the bill else it wouldn't have been done until *next* Christmas. As it is, it's more of a Valentine's present. *G* Thanks as always to Koschka for the beta.
Summary: A Jumper crash leaves the team injured and standed on a planet with no way to contact Atlantis for help.
Long Day’s Journey
"Rodney, we really need the DHD." John gritted out the words as he fought to maintain control of the damaged Jumper while simultaneously outmaneuvering a Dart.
"Working," McKay snapped back from behind him, no doubt swapping crystals.
Sheppard didn’t take the time to look back, just kept his sights on the gate growing closer before them. If they didn’t dial soon he’d have to make another pass and John wasn’t sure they’d get another chance to come around again. "Now, McKay!"
"I’m doing everything I can and you bitching isn’t…" Rodney stopped yelling as the consol lit up before them. "Okay, that’s more like it," he told the Jumper appreciatively.
Sheppard, however, was intent on getting them home. "Teyla."
It wasn’t even necessary to coax her as Teyla was already dialing the newly restored DHD. The entire team breathed a sigh of relief when the gate burst open ahead of them and Teyla entered their IDC.
"Atlantis, this is Sheppard. We’re coming in hot with a Dart on our tail."
Another Dart blast hit the Jumper and the radio cut out, and so did one of the drive pods. "Shit! I’m losing control," Sheppard informed his team.
"Just get us through the gate," McKay ordered, still on his feet and working in the compartments behind John. "The docking field will take over once we’re in the city."
"I’m trying," John told him tensely, straining to get the Jumper to respond and just pull in the drive pods so they could make it through the gate. "This is going to be tight."
Whatever McKay had done, it was enough to retract the pods and they slid through the liquid blue event horizon… and into the inky black of space.
"What the hell?" John demanded when it was obvious they weren’t in Atlantis.
When he looked to Teyla, she shook her head in wide-eyed confusion. "I dialed Atlantis. I am sure of it."
"I saw her," Ronon confirmed. "She dialed the right address."
Rodney was leaning in over Sheppard’s shoulder looking out the windshield. "Well, we sure the hell aren’t on Atlantis."
John asked the question they were all thinking. "Then where are we?"
"No clue," McKay admitted. "Maybe the Dart shot the gate and it shorted out and sent us to a random destination."
John was already attempting to turn the Jumper around to face what had to be a space gate. "Can you get the DHD operational again so we can dial back to Atlantis from here?"
"I’m on it." McKay went back to his panels as Sheppard managed to get the Jumper to respond enough to shift around.
A few seconds later the DHD flickered then faded then flickered again before cutting off and staying that way. Then the HUD came up and Rodney simply said, "Huh."
"What?" Ronon asked.
"There’s an energy reading from the surface. See? It’s right…" The HUD disappeared and the entire Jumper went black.
"You know what I’d like to see, Rodney?" John drawled into the darkness. "I’d like to see an energy reading here in the Jumper."
"Hey, I didn’t let the Wraith shoot the damn Jumper," the scientist grumbled.
The dim light from the sunrise on the planet below lit the interior enough for John to see Teyla’s lips quirk at the way he rolled his eyes in response to Rodney’s barb. And he figured since there wasn’t anything else to do, he might as well make a little small talk. "So when are Kanaan and Torren coming back from New Athos?"
"Tonight. It has only been two days but I look forward to their return."
"You know, you could have gone with them to the birthday celebration," John assured her. "I mean, the guy is practically your brother-in-law."
"Kanaan is a wonderful man," Teyla told him with a smile that quickly dissolved into a slight grimace. "His brother, however…"
John settled down comfortably into the pilot’s seat. "Eh, it happens to the best of us wonderful men."
Now it was Teyla’s turn to roll her eyes but Sheppard could see the worry on her face. "Don’t worry," John promised. "We’ll be home in time for you to meet them at the gate."
Teyla nodded silently with an encouraged smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
"Hell, we’ll even be home in time for Ronon to beat the crap out of someone new," Sheppard commented with a grin toward his Satedan teammate.
Ronon snorted. "Since when is three stitches on the forehead considered beating the crap out of someone?"
"I’m sure Lorne would probably agree if only to save his ego," John conceded. "But Keller didn’t seem too happy about the stitches or the concussion."
"Minor concussion," Ronon corrected. "He was back on full duty this morning."
Sheppard kept the thoughts to himself that Lorne would be the guy coming to save their asses if McKay couldn’t fix the Jumper. That was if Atlantis could even find them. Given the fact that there was no way to track where they’d gone, that was a huge if.
But those concerns faded when the cabin of the Jumper lit up again. "It’s about damn time," Sheppard mumbled loud enough to make sure McKay heard him.
"You’re welcome," Rodney responded blandly. "Just take it easy; half the crystals are shot and I’m not sure how long the others will hold."
"No hot rodding. Got it." John gave the slightest tug to the controls to better orient the Jumper. "Teyla, dial the gate."
But before she could press the first tile, the right drive pod kicked in, thrusting the ship into a spiral down and away from the gate. Sheppard desperately tried to regain control of the Jumper as the inertial dampeners did little to control the sickening spinning sensation that had Teyla and Ronon clinging to their seats. He manually ordered the left drive pod to fire, which helped with the spinning but not the fact that they were plummeting backward toward the planet.
"Rodney?" John called and received no answer.
Finally, Ronon provided the reason why. "He’s down. Looks like he was thrown to the back."
"Can you get to him?" Sheppard asked, because if Rodney didn’t do something fast, this trip to the planet was not going to end well at all.
The Jumper bucked wildly when it entered the atmosphere of the planet and John could hear Ronon going down with a grunt.
"Ronon!" Teyla yelled in worry.
"I’m okay," he promised, but even Sheppard could hear the wince in his voice.
Sheppard tried to fire both thrusters at the same time in an attempt to regain altitude and was rewarded with Jumper flipping around then back then around again and he had the sensation of riding on the tilt-a-whirl in carnivals as a kid. All the effort had gained him was facing the planet now instead of the stargate.
"He’s bleeding," Ronon informed them of McKay’s condition. "Looks like he hit his head. He’s out cold."
"Son of a bitch!" John cursed, trying to level the Jumper out as the ground was growing closer at an alarmingly fast rate.
"John?" Teyla’s voice was quiet and filled with dread, and Sheppard could only tell her, tell all of them, one thing.
"Brace for impact."
Sheppard put all his effort into lifting the nose of the Jumper enough that they would hopefully keep from tumbling end over end. He managed that, the initial impact had his teeth rattling and star exploding in his vision, but it wasn’t level enough to stop the craft from rolling to the left when the right pod fired off again. The Jumper tilted up on its side, suspended for a split second as if it would balance on the pod, before crashing down onto its roof and sending John hurtling into oblivion.
* * * *
John woke the touch of a small hand on his neck. "Teyla?" he managed to croak. But when he forced himself to crack his eyes open he saw his Athosian teammate was lying in an awkward heap a few feet away from him. Looking up, the pilot’s seat hung from the ceiling above him and then the curious face of a boy not yet in his teens moved into his field of view.
"My team…" he started, trying to push up to see where Ronon and McKay were. But as soon as he moved, pain seared through his right leg and he couldn’t stop the scream until everything went black again.
The next time he regained consciousness, it was to a crunching sound and the view of pale gray sky above him and the feel of a pile of animal furs pulled up to his chin. Brown grasses frosted with ice passed by his face, being bent out of the way by a man dressed in a similar style as the boy John had seen before and John realized he was being dragged on a crude, handmade litter.
The man looked back over one broad shoulder that was wrapped in an animal fur of his own to tell Sheppard, "Rest easy, brother. You will reach the village soon and all will be well."
"M’kay…" John slurred, raising his head to look for the others and hit was a wave of nausea that him dropping it back again. "R’nnon…"
"Your friends will be there with you," the man assured, his word accompanied by puffs of white as he spoke.
Sheppard could only take the man at his word as he drifted off once more.
It took John a few seconds to realize the screaming that work him was his own. The man who had dragged him through the frozen grass coalesced in his field of vision and squeezed his shoulder. "I have set your leg; the worst of it is over."
Gulping ragged lungful of air, John begged hoarsely, "Please… the people with me…" Because, fuck the throbbing in his entire lower body that was centered on his right leg, his main concern right then was his team. He didn’t even know if they were still alive.
"All will be well." Despite the man’s comforting tone, it did little to make John feel any better.
Fighting to maintain consciousness, John panted out, "Where… where are they?"
"They will join you shortly," the man told him with the same sure tone he’d used all along.
John could only trust that he told the truth.
"Bountiful days, brother." John’s vision cleared to reveal an older woman bowing her head in greeting and he realized he’d evidently passed out again at some point. Brushing back the strand of gray hair that fell forward free of the long braid that hung across her shoulder, woman introduced herself. "I am Kara; I will be tending to you. You are welcome to share the blessings of this home."
Kara’s home was fading in and out of view, but it appeared Sheppard was in a bedroom of a private dwelling. The room was simple, with the small bed he rested on pushed against one wall and another matching bed across the room. There were two of everything in the room… nightstands, lamps, shelves over small tables… and John was struck by how similar it seemed to a college dorm room set up for roommates. But the small personal items on the shelves, including scrolls, homemade wooden toys, and craft items suggested it was probably set up for brothers at one point.
Sheppard’s mind wandered in the fog that was threatening his world once more. Were the brothers moved out of the room to make space for the injured stranger the villagers had found? Maybe the boy John had seen in the Jumper was one of them. Were they Kara’s grown children, moved out and on to families of their own? Were they dead and this room a sort of shrine to what Kara had lost and John was now an intruder into a sacred space?
Kara sat on the edge of the bed and lifted John’s head so he could sip from a cup. "Drink; this will help with the healing." The concoction was sickeningly sweet with an underlying bitter aftertaste, but it was warm and almost instantly transferred the heat to the rest his body in a way the small fireplace in the room couldn’t.
"What… what happened?" Sheppard wasn’t sure if he was asking about the boys who had resided in the room at some point or to him and his team or the effects of the drink, because he suddenly had a severe case of bed spins.
"There was an accident and you were brought here to be cared for."
"Who…?" John tried to ask about his rescuers, even as he tried to focus on the old woman’s kindly face. "The boy…" he slurred, finally giving up the fight to hold his eyes open since it just made his stomach roll as much as the room seemed to be.
"The Providers have delivered you and it is our duty to care for you. Now you must sleep to heal yourself."
"Friends…" he tried once more, "…hurt…" but he couldn’t be completely sure he even spoke the words aloud before the drugs and his injuries pulled him under once more.
Sheppard wasn’t sure how long he plunged in and out of consciousness. He felt like a drowning man surfacing long enough to gulp air, beg for information about his team, be fed a few spoonfuls of broth, drink more of the ultra sweet elixir, and then be dragged back down into the murky depths only to repeat it all over some unknown time later. Sometimes it was the throbbing agony in his leg that had him breaking into awareness again, the intensity of the pain having him gasp and lift off the bed so that Kara would have to push him back down against the pillows and hold the cup because his hands were trembling too severely to grip it on his own. Other times it was because he could have swore he heard his teammates, calling his name or the names of the others, pleading for information just as he did. But every time John opened his eyes, the relief he had felt at the sound of their voices was replaced by disappointment to find he was alone with only Kara in the room.
So when he woke again, feeling drained and weak, but saw McKay sleeping in the other bed in the room, John didn’t trust his eyes at first. Blinking, he looked again, and Rodney was still there, with a bandage on his head and a scruffy beard growing on his face. John dared to drag his hand across his own face to feel the same week’s worth of growth on his jaws.
"When you are stronger, I will bring you a razor if you like," Kara told him. "Although I find it quite becoming. Then again, men wearing beards is our way and perhaps I am just accustomed to seeing men that way."
Kara had stepped into Sheppard’s field of vision and John was ready to push her out of the way so he could keep McKay in sight. When she noticed John craning his neck, her pleasant smile transmuted into a frown of bewilderment until she realized what John was looking for and moved aside.
"We brought him in here today," the older woman explained. "We were going to wait until you were both feeling better, but he was becoming increasingly agitated and we felt it was best to bring him here in hopes that he would calm himself. It appears that it has worked as intended."
The bruising on McKay’s face was almost hidden by the scruffy beard, but the ugly purple around the eye below the bandage was still visible, as was the swelling on that entire side of his face. "How bad is he hurt?" Sheppard asked, trying to prop up, but stopping as a sharp pain shot through his leg.
Kara’s eyes widened in alarm as soon as John moved, then she clucked in annoyance. "You must not move like that else you will undo all the hard work in setting your leg, Sheppard John." When John crinkled his brow in confusion, Kara actually blushed. "Forgive me. Perhaps I was too forward in calling you by your given name, brother."
"No, no, it’s okay. You just have it backwards. It’s John Sheppard."
Kara seemed relieved that she hadn’t offended her patient, then went on to clarify with a bit of puzzlement, "I am sorry, it is just that your traveling companion called you Sheppard more often than John and the chain around your neck listed Sheppard first…"
John reached up and felt the dog tags beneath the course weave shirt he was wearing. "Really, it’s fine. And an understandable mistake. Just… how bad is Rodney hurt? And the other two people who were with me, where are they?"
"The other man and woman are being cared for here in the village. Both have injuries similar to yours… broken bones, bruises… the man had a large gash that was sewn closed and an injury to his back, the woman a shoulder out of socket. Wounds that will take time, but they will mend. Rodney," Kara seemed to be trying out the name, "has only minor wounds to his body, but the injury to his head has caused his mind to become…clouded on occasion."
Sheppard fought to control the panic her words brought. "What do you mean by clouded?"
"Confusion as to where he is even though he was coherent a few moments before, fear of those around him to the point that he was found cowering in the corner, even violent outbursts." Kara looked over to where Rodney lay sleeping. "This is the calmest he has been in days."
To a lesser extent, any of those could be used to describe McKay under certain circumstances, but never to those extremes. Christ, he could have a skull fracture or swelling of the brain or, hell, a dozen other things the medical team back on Atlantis could handle but these people probably had no fucking clue about.
"I need to go back to my ship…" Sheppard was already throwing back the furs on his bed, which just had Kara lunging forward in alarm to keep him from attempting to stand. But he needed to get back to the Jumper and try to reach Atlantis, try to let them know they needed help. As soon as he tried to shift his body, however, stars exploded behind his eyes.
"John Sheppard, you must not do that again," Kara chastised once more. "Your leg is set but has much further to go before it is healed enough to stand."
John had his eyes clenched tight against the pain, his jaw locked to keep from crying out and that kept him from being able to explain that he needed to get back to the Jumper and try to contact Atlantis. But it didn’t stop him from resisting Kara’s small hands that were trying to push him back down, not until another set joined them along with a familiar voice.
"Sheppard, take it easy," Rodney ordered. "Christ, you’re going to blow a gasket and I know they sure the hell don’t know how to handle a stroke or aneurysm around here. Their idea of inside plumbing is a bucket in the corner and the same guy who empties those is the one the one who brings the meals, which doesn’t make me feel very good about their hygiene practices much less their medical capabilities."
John went limp at the sound of McKay’s diatribe, forcing his eyes open past the pain and looking up into Rodney’s bruised face… bruised but lucid. "Hey. You’re okay."
"I’m okay," Rodney confirmed with his own sense of relief. "At least as okay as you are."
"Your head…" Sheppard left unsaid what Kara had told him, still panting his way through the throbbing in his leg.
"Hurts," McKay provided. "Sometimes it hurts a lot. Kind of like your leg when you do something stupid like try to stand up when it’s obviously broken."
"Was just…" Worried, scared, freaked out, hell, all of the above. Sheppard dismissed all of those choices with a shake of his head. "Have you seen Teyla and Ronon?"
"No." McKay frowned at their care giver as if she represented the entire population of the planet. "They just keep telling me they’re being cared for, same with you, until I finally… convinced them to let me see you." Rodney lifted his chin as if defying anyone to question exactly how he had accomplished that feat. But the slight flush to his face suggested he wasn’t exactly proud of his methods.
"We need to contact Atlantis," John told him.
"How?" Rodney demanded. "The gate was in orbit so it’s almost impossible to think there might be one on the planet. At least none of the people I’ve talked to know of one."
"Rodney, they won’t know where we are if we don’t find a way to contact them."
"I know that!" McKay snapped, placing his palm to his forehead with a wince. "Don’t you think I know that? That’s all I’ve been able to think about for days!" His second hand went to his head and Rodney bent at the middle as if he might not be able to stand for much longer.
"McKay?" John called in worry.
Rodney ignored him, staggering backward until Kara wrapped an arm around his shoulder to lead him back toward his bed. Only Rodney’s reaction was explosive and he flailed away with a scream. "Don’t touch me! I told you people not to touch me!"
John’s stomach clenched tight at the memories the episode recalled from McKay’s regression from the parasite in Rodney’s brain, and he did his best to use the same tone of voice he had used to use to sooth his friend then.
"Rodney! Rodney! Calm down! It’s John! Okay? It’s John!" The yelling quieted and when McKay finally looked at him with confused blue eyes, Sheppard continued in a lower volume. "It’s John. All right? You’re safe. We’re both safe. So just calm down."
McKay blinked, as if seeing his friend for the first time. "Sheppard? Where…?"
John did his best to keep Rodney focused on him and not the room that his eyes were darting around in growing panic. "We were in a crash. Remember? The Jumper crashed and you hit your head but these people are taking care of us. So we’re safe."
Kara gave him a sweet motherly smile and Rodney looked from her to Sheppard. "The Jumper crashed. We came through a gate we weren’t supposed to and I couldn’t fix the Jumper…" Rodney closed his eyes again with a grimace of pain.
"McKay, come here. Sit down." John patted the bed beside his leg, gritting his teeth as he moved it over enough to make space for Rodney to sit.
Rodney did as he was told, shaking his head as if he was trying to work through a thought that just wouldn’t come. "If I can reroute the power from coms… or maybe the warp core… no wait, we don’t have that do we?"
Sheppard did his best to give McKay an encouraging smile. "No, buddy, we don’t."
"God, that’s so stupid of me!"
John reached out and grabbed Rodney’s arm before he could stand and start ranting again. "No, you just hit your head and you’re a little confused right now. But you’ll figure it out. We have time. You just need to get some rest and you’ll feel better."
McKay stared at Sheppard’s hand and for a second John was afraid Rodney was going to start screaming at John about touching him but he only looked up as if for reassurance. "Maybe I should take a nap?"
"That’s a good idea," Sheppard agreed. "Kara can help you back to your bed."
The older lady helped a dazed McKay across the room, practically tucking him in and humming what had to be an old lullaby. "You are good for him," Kara told John when Rodney was sleeping.
John didn’t answer, only lay back against his own pillow and thought about how he wasn’t doing anyone any good laying in this bed.
* * * *
It was another week before Teyla was brought to see John and Rodney. She walked with a slight limp and her arm was in a sling, but even the fading bruises on her face couldn’t hide her joy and relief to see her teammates. She told them of visiting Ronon, that he was unable to walk because of a back injury. Sheppard’s fears of paralysis were alleviated when Teyla told them Ronon was able to move his extremities, although it was very painful and Ronon was doing his best to deny that it was.
With John and Ronon both immobile, Teyla and Rodney became their eyes and ears for the rest of the village. There were around one hundred of them in the small agrarian community and they had no knowledge of any other people on the planet or stargate. They didn’t even have a name for themselves as a collective group since they had never had a need to interact with any other people besides their own. There were legends among them that ages before a race of people they called the Providers had come from the stars and lived among them protecting them from another race called the Wraith. But in their minds the Wraith were little more than ghost stories told to frighten unruly children.
The Providers, however, were real to them and had, on occasion, shown themselves. Although, the appearance of John and his team were the first signs of the Providers the people had seen in a very long time. That drove McKay nuts. The people that had taken them in to care for them apparently had no concept of time. Weeks, months, years… all of those were foreign concepts to them. If Rodney asked them about how long they had been there, the answer was many days. If Rodney pushed them for exactly how many days, they looked at him as if he were asking them to calculate the square root of Pi in their heads. It wasn’t that they couldn’t count or do math, it was that they had never thought to apply the concept to the passage of time.
McKay had even tried to coax them with questions. How many times has the sun risen? How many seasons have passed since the Providers have been here? How many harvests have you had? How many generations of people? And the answers were always an ambiguous several, many, it has been a while. But a while could mean the time between breakfast and lunch or the centuries since the last Wraith culling. Eventually, John made him stop pestering them. Not so much because he wasn’t curious about the same things, but because when Rodney became flustered his headaches would come on if full force and temper tantrums would start again, and nobody liked those. It was also why Sheppard had banned McKay from going to the crash site after his first visit.
Teyla and Dalen, the head of the household were Teyla was staying, had accompanied Rodney to the Jumper a few days after Teyla had first come to see them. John hadn’t been crazy about the idea of them going at all given McKay’s condition that didn’t seem to be improving as quickly as anyone had hoped. But Teyla was desperate to try to contact Atlantis. Not that the others on the team weren’t, but Teyla had Torren waiting for her to return.
"I don’t know if he can handle that kind of pressure right now," John had told Teyla in a low voice when she had first suggested the idea.
"There is no pressure," Teyla had assured Sheppard with a smile John could see right through.
John sighed. "Look, I know you want to get back. We all want to get back. And Atlantis is looking for us, you know that…"
"Then why have they not found us?" Teyla had snapped. "They do not even know where we went, nor will they be able to determine it since we did not use the DHD on the ground." Seeing the way Sheppard was frowning at her reaction, she had tried to ease off and pleaded. "It has been fifteen days, John."
"What do you expect Rodney to do?" Sheppard had asked. "Last I remember the Jumper was upside down and even before the crash the systems were barely functioning."
"Perhaps he can at least restore communications, boost the emergency signal so that Atlantis will have something to look for." Teyla stood abruptly, spreading her arms. "We do not even know how extensive the damage is to the Jumper. At least let us assess its condition and retrieve our gear."
John looked over to where McKay sat working diligently at the small desk across the room, the remnants of his breakfast sitting beside him. It’s what the scientist tended to do when he wasn’t sleeping. Some days he would produce mathematical proofs that Rodney claimed would solve the slow power drain in the outer edged of the city that had been vexed the science staff for years. Other days he couldn’t even remember how to calculate the area of a cube. Those days McKay would throw the pencil down in frustration, return to his bed, and pull his knees up in the corner, refusing to talk even to John. Today seemed to be a good day and Sheppard sure didn’t want to ruin that.
"Teyla…" John started sympathetically.
"He is not improving," she pointed out quietly, following John’s line of sight to where Rodney sat. "Ronon is also slow to recover. The longer we are here, the less likely it will be that the medical team on Atlantis can help them."
John couldn’t deny that he had been having the same thoughts and it was what finally had him relenting. "An hour, and that’s it."
Teyla had smiled and agreed, "No more than an hour."
But it was after dark before they returned, Rodney pale and gripping tight to his electronic pad and his backpack as he went straight to his bed and started dumping the contents on the blankets.
"Where the hell have you two been?" Sheppard demanded in as much worry as irritation.
Teyla looked as worn and exhausted as McKay. "Rodney thought he could restore power to the emergency beacon and had some difficulties." The distressed look on Teyla’s face let John know the difficulties had not been pleasant. "He was very resistant to leaving."
"And the two of you couldn’t make him leave?" John asked in disbelief.
"Not after he located his sidearm." Teyla’s eyes flicked toward Rodney, who hadn’t looked up from his recovered belongings.
"Jesus." John ran his fingers through his hair and fought to decide if he wanted to yell at Teyla or Rodney first.
"I was able to disarm him eventually, but it took a while to calm him afterwards." Teyla straightened her back as if putting a bad experience behind her. "He finally agreed to leave when the sun set and he could not see to work anymore."
Sheppard did his best to put his frustration behind him. As much as he wanted to yell ‘told you so’ at Teyla, it was obvious she’d been through hell that day, too, and that was lesson enough for her. Besides, he also knew if Rodney had refused to come back when he lost his light, she would still be out there with him.
Instead, John turned his attention to McKay. "Hey, buddy. What’ve you got there?"
Rodney didn’t stop his connection he was making between the cables and electronic pad. "I’m not a child, Sheppard and I’d appreciate it if you stopped talking to me like I was one."
Ah. So it was one of those moods. John shifted the tenor of his voice accordingly and snorted. "Never said you were, McKay. Although sulking instead of sharing your plan of action isn’t helping your case much."
Rodney gave an aggrieved sigh. "It’s just very complicated and I’d rather work on the theory than waste my time trying to explain it to the likes of you."
John shrugged in feigned indifference. "Suit yourself."
As expected, Rodney couldn’t stand the fact that no one was interested in his brilliance. "If you must know, I’m trying to configure a distress beacon on the electronic pad, honed in to the frequency of our subcutaneous transmitters so that if the Daedalus or other Earth ship is looking for us, or if Radek is attempting to locate us using subspace, they’ll pick up on it sooner."
Sheppard perked up at the news. "You think you can do that from a computer?"
"If I can tie it into the Jumper’s communications system it might be enough to boost the signal and basically use the Jumper itself as a giant antenna."
John looked excitedly to Teyla who subtly shook her head no. John furrowed his brow at her reaction until she inquired, "I believe you told me earlier that the communications system was completely destroyed in the crash."
McKay rubbed at his forehead in that way Sheppard had learned was leading to trouble. "Well, yes, but I simply need to replace a few control crystals and we have plenty of those lying… around here…" Rodney looked around the room as realization dawned on him. "We’re not on Atlantis are we?"
"Don’t worry about it, McKay," Sheppard tried to appease while hiding his disappointment. "Just keep working; you’ll come up with something."
Rodney, however, wasn’t having any of that. "How the fuck am I supposed to come up with something when we’re stuck on this backwater planet?" With a sweep of his arm, the majority of the gear on his bed dropped to the floor.
Teyla took a step back, still not familiar with the outbursts. But Sheppard had seen them several times a day since McKay had become his roommate.
"Rodney," John tried calmly, "you’ve had a really long day. You just need to eat some dinner, get a little rest, and you’ll be good to go in the morning."
Lying down and turning his back to his teammates, McKay mumbled, "I’m not hungry."
John decided he’d fight that battle a little later. For now he’d settle for a quiet, sulking McKay.
"He doesn’t go back out there until I can go with him." Even though John spoke in a whisper, he made it clear to Teyla that he wasn’t going to stand for any argument on the matter.
"Of course, John," she agreed. "I will see you in the morning."
When she left, Sheppard took turns staring at McKay’s back and staring at his busted leg, wondering how much longer it was going to be before he could get Rodney back to the crash site. Because as much as he’d meant what he’d said to Teyla, he also knew Rodney was their only hope for finding a way off this planet.
* * * *
The people who had taken them in may not have been keeping track of the passage of time, but Sheppard and his team were. After nearly four weeks, Teyla and Rodney returned to John’s room after a morning out in the village with two surprises for Sheppard. One was as set of crutches and John could have wept for joy to be able to do more than hop from bed to chair to chamber pot in the room. The days had been growing warmer, evidently the first signs of spring on the planet, and that just added to the boredom of being trapped in the room, especially now that Sheppard’s leg was finally starting to heal to the point it wasn’t a constant source of pain.
Dressed in the simple home-woven baggy pants Kara had given him to allow more coverage than the nightshirt he’d been wearing while accommodating the splint on his leg, Sheppard gladly followed Teyla and Rodney out into the sunlight and through the winding streets of the village. Teyla greeted several people they passed with a friendly smile, and what he’d come to learn was the traditional greeting of, "Bountiful days." She then introducing them to John with name and profession. Peran the seamstress, Phelps the butcher, Lorris who ran the common house and her daughter, Bessa, who wasn’t yet in her teens. After a while they just became a jumble in John’s head and it was obvious Rodney felt the same way. Sheppard couldn’t help but wonder if it was the confusion from his injury or McKay’s normal oblivion to anyone who Rodney deemed not worth his time to bother with. Besides, John was hoping they were taking him to see Ronon who was still unable to walk more than a few steps on his own. Ends up they were, but the surprise was more than just that.
"Well, here we are," Rodney announced as he opened the door for John to enter a small house near the market place. "It’s not much, but it should do for a while."
"Do for what?" Sheppard asked as he hobbled around the living room with its adjoining kitchen area.
"For us to live in," Rodney told him as if he were an idiot.
Teyla decided to step in and explain. "The villagers have agreed to allow us to live here until we can return to Atlantis. There are several houses in the settlement that sit empty and are appropriate for our use. Now that you are able to move about on your own it seemed a reasonable time."
John could read the disappointment on Teyla’s face even as she tried to be positive about the move. Because he felt the same way… settling into a house of their own kind of felt like they had given up on ever getting back to their real home.
But a voice from a room down the hall had John pushing those concerns to the backburner. "Is that Sheppard?"
"Ronon!" John smiled happily as he tottered his way down to see his friend.
The Satedan pushed himself up with a grimace that had Teyla fussing at him. "Ronon, you know better than to exert yourself too much. Or must I remind you what happened last week?"
Ronon dismissed the concern with a grumpy frown. "If Sheppard can get up, I can get up."
"John does not have a spinal injury," Teyla reminded.
"Lucky you," Ronon quipped at John with a roll of his eyes at Teyla, but the pain the act of sitting caused was evident.
"Don’t push it, Chewie," Sheppard told him, sitting gratefully after even the short distance he had walked on the crutches. "Believe me; I know."
"So did you get the boot from your place, too?" Ronon asked, attempting to find a comfortable position that just didn’t seem to exist.
Sheppard frowned at the question. "Kara kicked us out of her house?" Because the woman sure didn’t seem like the type to throw invalids out on the street.
"No one asked anyone to leave," Teyla corrected as she shifted a pillow behind Ronon. "I saw the empty house and merely asked if we could make use of it. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to meet Vellia at the market. She has offered to assist with the food choices as I am still unfamiliar with the produce here."
The three men watched her go to meet the woman who had shared her house with Teyla for the past month. Rodney waited for her to leave before he told them, "It’s the kids. Vellia and Dalen have three young kids."
Ronon didn’t seem to understand what the problem was. "Teyla likes kids."
"Yeah," Rodney pointed out. "One kid in particular who isn’t here and is about the same age as their youngest."
John knew Teyla was missing Torren desperately, but he hadn’t thought what it would mean to her to live in a house surrounded by memories of her son. When Sheppard had been trapped in the time dilation field, he had been homesick for Atlantis, for the people there, for his team. And, sure, he was still determined to make it back to the city, but with his team here, the anxiety was a little less than it had been before. But Teyla’s main tie to Atlantis was still back there, and no amount of team love was going to replace the mother love she felt for her child.
"We’ll get her back to Torren. McKay always comes up with something." Ronon’s confidence faded slightly. "Right?"
"Of course we’ll get back," Sheppard confirmed, looking warily to Rodney whose forehead was crinkling in the onset of worry and frustration that he hadn’t found a way to get them home yet. "One way or another we’ll get back." Standing again, he prodded, "Come on, McKay, let’s see our room."
Sheppard hadn’t even considered the option that they may each have a room. Even if there was enough space, John had no intentions of leaving McKay alone until he was acting more like himself. And seeing as he’d already been doing it for weeks now, John seemed the most natural choice to continue the job as roommate.
The distraction worked to pull Rodney out of his growing funk. With a pat to Ronon’s shoulder, and promise to be right back, Sheppard followed McKay down to the next room, the largest in the house, and a bedroom set up almost identical to the one they had been living in for the past month. In fact, the entire layout of the house was the same as Kara’s and Sheppard decided the village as a whole probably used the same design in all of their homes.
"Not bad," John commented with an appraising eye. "You and Teyla did a good job scouting out the new digs."
Rodney crossed to sit on his bed, the one he’d already claimed with his backpack of belongings. "I get the whole needing to get away from babies thing with Teyla, but I’m going to miss Kara’s place… especially her cooking. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t notice a microwave in the kitchen and I don’t think they’ll be selling Big Macs in the market place."
"Eh, we’ll manage," John told him, glancing out the window at the street outside. Two women stopped to speak briefly before continuing on with baskets of goods they’d bought at the market. "I’m just grateful that they’re willing to give us a place to live and food to eat for nothing in exchange."
"Well, it’s not like they’re going to give it to us for free," Rodney corrected, pulling out his electronic pad and settling back in the bed like he usually did. "We have to work for it."
That little tidbit of information had John turning away from the window in surprise. "Work?"
"Yes, as in earn those blessings of the house Kara was willing to share with us. And being a jaunty flyboy isn’t going to pass for that around here." With a shake of his head, Rodney grumbled. "Apparently neither is being a brain damaged astrophysicist."
Sheppard ignored the jab McKay had made at himself, instead asking, "So, what do we have to do?"
"You and Ronon are going to continue to heal up. Teyla and I find out our assignments tomorrow."
"Who makes the assignments?" Sheppard wasn’t sure he liked the idea of either Teyla or Rodney doing much of anything seeing as neither of them was fully healed either.
McKay looked up at the question and blinked. "You know, I have absolutely no idea."
* * * *
Ends up, it was a council of elders who made the work assignments whenever it was necessary. Most people either followed in their parent’s footsteps or were taken as apprentices when they were children and their talents started to show. But sometimes there just wasn’t enough work to support an entire family in the same trade or there was a falling out among family members or a particular tradesman didn’t have children to take over when he grew too old, and that’s when the elders stepped in and held council near the fireplace of the large open room of the common house to dole out new job assignments. Sheppard had joined his two teammates for their appointments to get out of the house as well as see how the process would work once it was his turn. He sat at a table in the corner, close enough to hear but far enough away to provide the privacy the others in the tavern were allowing even as they ate their midday meals.
Kara was one of the three who sat on the council, along with Jebish and Ellana, and the assignments for the strangers they had taken in were not easy ones. Rodney’s extensive educational background had Jebish suggesting he teach in the primary school. But even with the head injury, McKay was lucid enough to realize working with small children wasn’t exactly his forte. When the position was offered to Teyla instead, John watched as she visibly paled, and it was Kara who stepped in and thankfully recommended work in the dairy for the Athosian. John hated the thought of Teyla, leader, warrior, diplomat, being relegated to the likes of milk maid, but it wasn’t like they had need of her other skills. And she graciously accepted the position.
Then the deliberations began over where to place McKay. Sheppard listened closely, still not convinced Rodney was ready for anything where he wasn’t supervised given the lingering effects of his injuries, but John’s attention was drawn to a boy watching from near the backdoor. It took John a second to realize the boy was the same one he’d seen in the Jumper when he first regained consciousness. When the child noticed John looking at him, he slipped out the door. Sheppard stood, took up his crutches, and hobbled out into the alleyway to find the boy. If it wasn’t for the boy finding them and bringing help, chances were his team would be dead by now. But glancing down the street, John sighed in frustration that he’d missed the kid. That was until he turned around to go back in and find the boy standing at the back of the alley.
"I did not mean for you to see me," the boy admitted and John assumed he had slipped away from his assigned chores.
"Playing hooky, are you?" John grinned and hopped around to face the child. "Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you’re here."
"Your friend in there, he is hurt quite badly," the boy observed.
"Yeah, he is," Sheppard agreed. "But he’ll get better. Thanks to you we all will."
"I was not supposed to be there," the child admitted. "But when I noticed your ship… I just did what I could."
"You did plenty," John assured him. "What’s your name?"
The child hesitated before finally telling him, "Jaris."
"Well, Jaris, I’m John. It’s nice to meet you."
Jaris gave him a shy smile, brushing dark brown bangs from his face. "Do you like it here?"
Now it was Sheppard’s turn to pause. It sure the hell wasn’t Atlantis, but he couldn’t complain about the hospitality they’d received. "Yeah, I do. Your people are nice and friendly and have done nothing but help us. If I had to crash land on a planet, I couldn’t have chosen a better one."
The smile grew at the acknowledgement. "You will have a good life here, John. It is a nice place to live and grow old."
Sheppard felt his stomach clench at the thought. He still hadn’t given up on the potential of a rescue and he’d been able to stubbornly deny the chance that they wouldn’t be rescued when Teyla had broached the possibility before. But the sincerity of the boy in front of him had the weight of the truth settling on John heavily. They could be stuck here for the rest of their lives. There was the possibility that Teyla would work the rest of her life in a dairy and never see her son again, that Rodney would never be the genius scientist again, that John would never fly or command another mission again, that they would never set foot in Atlantis again.
Evidently Jaris saw Sheppard’s concern, too, because the boy’s face fell. "You do not like it here after all?"
"No, no," John tried to make amends and cover his sinking hope of rescue. "It’s not that. I’m just worried about where they’re going to stick McKay for his work assignment. Like you said, he’s hurt pretty bad."
Jaris seemed to consider Sheppard’s quandary before nodding in certainty. "The fields would be good for him."
"The fields?" Sheppard almost laughed at the idea of McKay as a farmer.
"Fresh air is beneficial for a person," Jaris informed him with a definitive nod before giving a less than confident grin. "At least that was my mother’s belief."
John snorted. "Your mother obviously hasn’t met Rodney McKay." Then it dawned on Sheppard that Jaris had used the past tense and he asked hesitantly, "What jobs do your parents do?"
"They are gone," Jaris told him simply. "For a very long time now. When the sickness came, many were lost. But my parents thought they could help."
"What sickness?" John asked in concern. Just because the inhabitants of this world hadn’t seen Wraith in a very long time, however the hell long that was, it didn’t mean that Michael hadn’t poisoned this population like he had so many others throughout Pegasus. It would also explain why so many houses were currently sitting empty.
"It is a coughing sickness with fever." A coughing sickness, just like Michael’s plague. Carson would definitely want to visit this planet. That is, if they ever got a chance to tell Beckett about it. "My parents tried to help those who became sick but they could not find a way. They told me they would be home soon, but then they never came back."
John suddenly had a flashback of his own childhood, his mother in and out of the hospital, and then the time when she didn’t come home, just like Jaris’s parents. "Yeah, that kind of sucks, doesn’t it?"
"They went in search of a cure with my brother. I was too young to go with them and they told me to wait here for them." Jaris shrugged again in that way young boys did to dismiss what they don’t want to accept as the ugly truth. It was a habit John had carried into his adulthood. "I keep thinking they will come back, but I am starting to think they will not."
It wasn’t uncommon for the caregivers to become infected with the disease they were trying to treat. In an alternate reality, Jennifer Keller had fallen victim to the virus she had tried to keep from spreading like wildfire through the Pegasus galaxy. Sheppard figured the same thing probably happened to Jaris’s family.
"Hey," John tried to cheer him as best he could. "You said it yourself, this a great place to live and grow old. Right?"
"Right." Jaris gave a small smile before looking around. "I have stayed too long, but I will see you again, John."
"Sure thing," Sheppard confirmed and watched the boy run down the street with a wave, leaving John to ponder the fact that he and Jaris may have a lot in common, because Atlantis may not come for Sheppard and his team either.
* * * *