Moving right along... Cohesion - Part II
Part I is here.
Time to stop messing around.
Like all good predators, Sheppard knew his prey’s habits. He waited until had come and gone before creeping into McKay’s lab. As he’d expected, the scientist was the only one present, head bent over his laptop and fingers moving swiftly. They froze when he registered John’s approach, then started again more tentatively. His eyes stayed on the screen.
“What can I do for you, Colonel?” Rodney wasn’t nearly accomplished enough to keep the nerves from his voice, but John gave him points for effort.
“Well, first of all, I’d like the thing back. Then I’d like to know how you got it in the first place. Then I’d love to know what you used to get my second in command in on it.” Sheppard kept up the steady prowl forward.
“Huh-uh. All’s fair in love and war, Sheppard. Don’t even pretend you didn’t get to Zelenka.”
John shrugged a shoulder negligently. “Okay, we’ll call that even. That still doesn’t tell me how.”
Rodney stopped typing entirely to invent something new and interesting to do a few feet farther away from Sheppard’s advance. “Not all that difficult, really. Remember when you used the transporter on Level 3 in the southwest corridor?”
The faintest hint of smugness made its way across McKay’s face. “I just programmed the system not to transport anything with the molecular makeup of the matter destabilizer. You went, it stayed.”
Sheppard wasn’t about to admit to being impressed. “Huh. Interesting. Now give it up.”
“Oh, please. You don’t even really need it. The transporters are a perfectly adequate means of… well, transportation.”
Sheppard snorted. “That’s like saying the subway is as good as a Porsche.”
Rodney’s chin went up. “Aha! See, you admit it. It’s all about the status symbol.”
Sheppard shook his head and squinted at him. “No, Rodney. It’s all about the walking through walls.” He put on his best flyboy grin. “The status symbol is just a perk.”
Rodney stared at him for a second. Then he shook himself and focused back on whatever task he’d been busily creating for himself. “Yes, well, unless and until you can come up with another master plan, you’ll just have to settle for the subway.”
“I’m thinking I’ll go the direct route instead.” Sheppard eased around the worktable, movements all fluid and smooth.
By now, Rodney was looking at him out of the corner of his eye, realizing Sheppard was still coming. Finally, he couldn’t ignore it any longer and looked directly at John. “What are you doing?”
John didn’t answer immediately, just took another step into his personal space.
Rodney backed away from him, stuttering a little. John followed, herding him into a corner. He smirked. “Taking what’s mine.”
Rodney’s back hit the wall. John placed a hand on either side of Rodney’s head and leaned forward a little, upping the intimidation factor. Whatever good that would do him. He figured he had about a minute before McKay pulled himself together and unleashed the tongue legendary in two galaxies. He needed to use his window of opportunity wisely and frisk Rodney before the man’s brain engaged.
In fact, just now Rodney was… Rodney was pressing up against the wall as far as he could go and looking far more nervous than he should. His breathing was fast and his eyes were wide and John thought maybe he’d missed something. He’d honestly thought he was one of the few things in the universe Rodney was completely incapable of fearing. He was just about to pull back when Rodney’s shoulders went down and his chin rose. John realized the window had slammed closed just as Rodney’s hands grabbed his jacket and pulled him forward the last inches between them. He had just enough time for a what the hell? before Rodney’s lips were on his.
It was sudden and over and John was still blinking as Rodney pulled back and gave him a look that screamed victory. “Nice try, Colonel, but I left it in my sock drawer. Better luck next time.”
He brushed John’s arm aside and left the lab. John barely managed to catch himself before he hit the wall, and then rolled so that his back was against it to stand staring into the empty room and licking his lips.
Seriously. What the hell?
Rodney spent a good two days panicking. Given that he spent quite a lot of his time this way, no one seemed to notice.
He’d kissed John Sheppard. Really and truly gone out of his mind and done it. Now he was just waiting for the - in all probability painful and messy - backlash. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to be coming. Rather than hunting him down, Sheppard was quite obviously avoiding him. Rodney wasn’t sure which was worse.
He was just beginning to think he’d pulled off the half-assed deflection better than he’d thought when their next mission was announced. When
He watched Sheppard as they suited up and gathered weaponry. He watched Sheppard as they strolled up to the gate and out the other side into rolling hills of sandy dirt and scrub brush. He watched Sheppard as the Colonel took point along the narrow path that would lead to the Ferimuns, a people the Athosians had been friendly with for generations. The only time his eyes actually left Sheppard was when the sand on either side of them sprang up and became men. Men with very many, very large weapons focused directly on the four of them.
Teyla, Ronon, and Sheppard closed ranks around him instinctively, and if he hadn’t been busy dividing his efforts between gratitude and terror, he might have been a bit offended. As it was, he hadn’t had time to clear the holster, and the apparent leader of the newcomers tsked when he tried to do it stealthily. The man was large and ugly, wearing the latest in homeless chic, and Rodney decided not to push it.
Teyla tried for reason. “I am Teyla Emmagen of the Athosians. My people and yours have long been friends. We mean you no harm, and come seeking only further prosperity for all.” Rodney noticed she kept her weapon up and trained.
The leader chuckled darkly. “My people don’t know you. My people know only hunger and need. Your people seem to know neither. I believe your people will prove most helpful to mine.”
Sheppard snorted, eyes still sighting down his P-90. “Where are the cops when you need ‘em?”
Rodney’s eyes flickered over the men surrounding them. “This galaxy really needs a highway patrol. Preferably with very large guns and strange headgear.”
He caught the dangerous smile on Sheppard’s face out of the corner of his eye. “How about a citizen’s arrest?”
It was all the warning he got before the world went to hell. It was enough to let him pull his own gun and begin firing on anything that wasn’t one of his teammates. Some part of him was rather proud of that.
They’d been outnumbered at least four to one at the start; by the end, the odds were better, but not good enough. Their opponents seemed to have stun technology, and only needed to catch each of them with a lucky shot. Teyla and Ronon were each quickly surrounded by their own personal guard. Rodney couldn’t see much of either of them through the legs.
Beside him, enclosed by a circle of bodies, Sheppard groaned and made a valiant attempt to sit up. Rodney stayed on his back, content with letting his head do all the movement. Around them, their own weapons were being passed about for inspection.
The leader towered over them. In one hand, he carried one of their handguns. Rodney hoped fervently he’d shoot himself. Instead, he pointed it at the ground and pulled the trigger, watched the puff of dirt that rose, and then looked at the gun appraisingly. Just their luck they’d get a savant.
The leader put the other hand to his upper arm and drew back blood, then raised his eyebrows and nodded appreciatively. “Not bad. A fairly competent assault, really. Not good enough, but I commend you for trying. Now, let’s get down to business.”
He raised the injured arm and calmly shot Sheppard.
Rodney could distantly hear Ronon bellowing and Teyla protesting sharply. There were sounds of a struggle in their direction. Somewhere much closer, someone was cursing loud and long. He was too busy trying to hold the blood in Sheppard to think too hard about any of these things. The sound of another gunshot brought everything to a standstill again, although his hands stayed clamped to the hole in Sheppard’s thigh.
“Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s set some terms.” The man lowered the gun from its position above his head. “One of you will go back to your people and gather what I ask for. Don’t worry, it will be a simple enough list. The rest of you will stay with me and mine until the other returns. You will make three trips. For each successful run, you will get one of your people back. If you do not come back, I kill them. If you do not bring the supplies, I kill them. If you bring anyone else, I kill them. Understood?”
His voice remained oddly pleasant throughout, and Rodney wanted very much to hurt him. “Fine. We’ll drag Sheppard to the gate with the list, he can tell them where to send it, and you let the rest of us go when it gets here.” Sheppard drew breath to protest and Rodney closed his hands tighter on the wound to prevent stupidity.
It was a wasted effort. The leader laughed. “Oh, no. That would defeat the point of putting a hole in him to start with. He’ll be the last to leave. No, I think you’ll go.”
Rodney was nothing if not quick on his feet, metaphorically speaking. “Fine, then. Just let me wrap the injury and I’ll scamper off.”
The leader shrugged and waved a hand to hurry him along. While Rodney pulled out the field dressings, he could feel Sheppard’s eyes on his face. He didn’t look up.
Sheppard’s voice caught him by surprise. “Just what is it you’re looking for? We’d probably be willing to establish trade with you, maybe even overlook all this.”
Rodney wasn’t sure how much of that was a bluff – he, for one, had no intention of giving these people anything – but the leader chuckled. “Do we seem as though we have goods to spare? The strong rarely wish to share with the rest.”
Sheppard’s tone had a bit more of an edge. “We share a lot better when we aren’t getting shot.”
Rodney leaned a little farther over him.
Tall and Ugly grinned. “You will forgive my skepticism.” He held up the gun. “We will want more of these. Will you share these willingly as well?”
“Sure. Why not?”
Sheppard’s tone was far too flippant, and Rodney flicked a look at his face. He saw an understanding there that he didn’t like.
He could hear Ronon and Teyla being herded closer, and glanced up. Teyla’s expression of worry and anger he expected; Ronon’s look of barely controlled rage made him falter, mainly because it was aimed directly at Rodney himself.
He’d managed to pull his eyes back down to his hands when the snarl came. “Go ahead. Run away. Go hide somewhere safe. We’ll deal with it.”
Rodney froze. Sheppard’s voice was slower than it should have been on the rebuke. “Ronon.”
Rodney forced himself not to look up, and made his tone as light as possible. “Well, be that as it may, I’ll need help to wrap this. Why don’t you stop grumbling and get down here. He’s not exactly light.”
The muttering that ‘he’ was right there was comforting.
The leader gestured Ronon over with apparent amusement. Rodney kept his eyes on his task, and they had the bandages in place around the entry wound quickly. There was no exit. They were just propping Sheppard against Ronon’s arm when Rodney felt a hard edge against his fingers behind Sheppard’s back. His head snapped up, and he saw something hiding in Ronon’s expression beyond the fury. He inhaled quickly and dragged his eyes away, palming the knife pressed into his hand.
Sheppard whispered urgently at him, too pale and face drawn. “Get out of here. Bring back everything they want, and throw in a little extra. Just to show our good will.”
Rodney nodded. Message received.
He stood to go, and the ranks of guards closed around his team. A few went with him to the gate, where he dialed the first uninhabited planet’s address he could remember. He walked through the wormhole without looking back.
By the time he’d redialed and sent his code through, the plan was already set in his mind. He came out the other side calling orders and running for his quarters.
John had been in worse situations. He wasn’t sure whether that knowledge was encouraging or depressing, but it was the truth.
Their current captors were ruthless and fairly intelligent, but they had nothing on the Wraith. Although, when he thought about it, that would be some impressive irony. Surviving the scourge of the galaxy, only to be knocked off by a bunch of glorified highwaymen. As a rule, John liked irony. Just not when it was pointed at him.
At the moment, he was propped against a wall in their cell in what was obviously the robbers’ camp. It looked suspiciously like a minimally redecorated ruin, complete with drafty stone architecture and the odd gaping hole. Their particular room had no door, and guards were stationed on either side of the entryway. The people who occasionally passed by seemed gaunt and worn, and John might have felt some sympathy toward them if he weren’t bleeding.
Ronon prowled back and forth in what space they had, and Sheppard wondered if he should warn their guards not to feed the lions. He decided it would be more fun to leave it a surprise.
Teyla crouched beside John and did what little she could to keep him comfortable. It wasn’t much more than a hand in his own and a scrap of cloth across his brow, but he appreciated the effort.
By his count, they’d been there for just over three hours when the ugly son of a bitch in charge came in, flanked by a few others. Ronon made a low sound and Sheppard called his name warningly.
“It seems you are men of your word. The first shipment has arrived. No weapons, but we will let that go for now. Time for one of you to go home.” He looked among them almost benevolently.
Teyla tried. “Colonel Sheppard –“
“Will be staying for the duration. But I’m not a man lacking all compassion. I believe I will send you home first, little one.” John tightened his hand on Teyla’s, anticipating her reaction to that assessment. To his left, Ronon just smirked.
“Go with it,” John whispered. “We’ll be right behind you.”
She looked doubtful, but nodded and stood. Her eyes locked on Ronon’s for a long moment as she followed their jailers from the room.
Once the quiet had settled back in, John squinted up at the other man. “So, you two. I’ve been meaning to ask about that…”
Ronon was on a slow burn. He’d had no intention of leaving Sheppard behind. Had planned, in fact, on staying until the third shipment came through and carrying Sheppard out himself. The note that their captors brought when they came for him after the second group of supplies arrived forced him to reconsider.
It was in McKay’s handwriting, according to Sheppard. Just two words. “Trust me.”
The gun the leader pointed at Sheppard’s head helped make up his mind. Ronon didn’t know how many bullets were left in it, or whether the bandits had learned to reload, and he couldn’t afford to test them. Instead, he’d looked long and hard at Sheppard, and made dire promises inside his own head as he stalked from the compound. Killing a man was easy. Saving one wasn’t.
McKay was waiting for him by the gate, hands wringing anxiously. As they dialed an address that definitely wasn’t Atlantis’, Ronon spoke out of the side of his mouth. “You’d better be right. They’ll kill him.”
Just as they entered the wormhole, he heard, “I know.”
On a planet he didn’t bother to identify, Rodney dialed Atlantis’ coordinates. “Thanks for the knife, by the way.”
Ronon shrugged. “Shouldn’t be unarmed. Isn’t safe.”
When they reached the Atlantis gateroom, Ronon wasn’t surprised to find Lorne’s team and Teyla waiting with a jumper.
John was well aware things weren’t looking good. He was shot and bleeding on an alien world, with only the nasty bastards who’d shot him in the first place for company.
To top it all off, he was pretty sure infection was setting in nicely. The room felt warmer than he remembered it being, except when the chills stole over him. Yep, much better days.
And so when Rodney appeared suddenly in front of him where previously there had been no Rodney, John thought he could be forgiven for not instantly catching on.
As it was, Rodney had John’s arm slung over his shoulders and was levering him to a standing position by the time John managed, “What took you so long?”
If the tone was a little less flippant than he’d aimed for, Rodney didn’t call him on it. He grunted. “Traffic.”
He held out the kooshball in the hand not locked around John’s waist. John looked at it suspiciously. “Not that I’m complaining, but is this going to work?”
He felt Rodney’s shrug under his arm. “No idea. Just, just try to think outside, okay?”
What John actually thought was, Oh shit.
After that, he wasn’t sure it could be classified as thinking. The hazy, disconnected feeling he’d come to associate with being destabilized was there, but it was accompanied by an entirely new sensation. It was like being very, very drunk, when mind and body weren’t parts of the same whole. It was like being pulled apart.
He decided, rare as the event was, Rodney had been wrong. John didn’t need to think anything. John needed to stop thinking entirely and just let himself go. Once he did, the tearing sensation fell away and it was only a matter of moments before they were rematerializing in the middle of an empty gully just a few hills over from the compound.
He was depending on Rodney to hold him up, which turned out to be a mistake since no one was holding Rodney up. John hit the ground hard enough to jar his leg badly. The last thing he saw before blacking out was Ronon and Teyla stepping from thin air. People really needed to stop doing that to him.
The first time John came to, it was in the midst of the typical pre-surgical chaos of the infirmary. He could hear
When he opened them again, the infirmary was much quieter.
John opened his mouth to speak, but Beckett cut him off with the ease of long practice. “Before you go making yourself hoarse, let’s get you a drink and I’ll fill you in.” He spooned a few ice chips into John’s mouth. “You’re going to be just fine. You’ll make a clean recovery, so long as you do as you’re told and stay off that leg for a bit.”
By then, John was ready to contribute, albeit scratchily. “Rodney?”
“Is going to be fine as well.” Seeing that that wouldn’t be sufficient to end the questions,
He patted John’s shoulder. “Now, it’s the dead of night and I’ll thank you to get some rest so the rest of us can do the same.”
He smiled gently, and John relaxed. He was asleep again almost before his eyes closed.
When he left the infirmary a week later and hobbled back to his room, John found the destabilizer on his pillow. Under it was a note in a familiar script.
“Until you can learn to dodge better, you should at least be bulletproof.
P.S. – I’ll expect you to save my ass next. It’s your turn.”
John smiled to himself as he sat on the edge of the bed and rolled the device through his fingers.