By Annie and Lyn
Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard gave the collar of his dress uniform a frustrated tug then looked over at his teammate, Dr. Rodney McKay, who was grinning at him smugly. “I hate wearing these things,” Sheppard growled. “At least I didn’t have to wear a tux, I suppose.”
“You get used to them if you attend as many prize winning dinners as I have,” McKay replied smugly.
“The last time you wore a tux was when you came back to visit that guy you said had stolen your best work,” Sheppard observed.
McKay shrugged. “I attended plenty of black tie affairs before I went to Atlantis,” he said, turning to look across the room where their Satedan friend, Ronon Dex was circling the buffet like a hungry wolf in the middle of a hard winter. “I hope he’s leaving some food for the rest of us,” McKay added. “I didn’t have time to eat before we left. Me fainting from hypoglycemia just as they pin the medal on me isn’t going be pretty… or dignified.”
“How come Ronon’s not wearing a tux?” Sheppard asked.
“I don’t think they make them that big,” McKay said with a small smile. “Ah,” he said gleefully as Ronon reached them, a plate piled high with food in his hands. “Thank you, my Satedan friend.”
“Hey!” Ronon grunted as McKay plucked two pieces of chicken and a sandwich off the pile of food on the plate. “Get your own, McKay.”
“Can’t,” Rodney mumbled around a mouthful, “told Jennifer and Teyla I’d meet them here.”
Ronon fingered the bright medal pinned to the lapel of his black jacket. “Never thought I’d be getting one of these,” he said around a mouthful of food.
“Well, you deserved it,” Sheppard said, giving him a grin. “You did kinda help save Earth and the Pegasus Galaxy a few times.”
“Well, I think we all deserved it,” Rodney said, glancing down at his own medal with obvious pride.
“So do I.”
Sheppard looked around Rodney and saw Jennifer Keller looping her arm around Rodney’s waist. Teyla was just behind her, Torren held securely in her arms. He whistled and smiled when both women blushed.
“Who was that for?” Keller asked mischievously.
“Both of you,” Sheppard replied quickly.
“A very diplomatic answer,” Teyla said, as she pulled her own medal from Torren’s inquisitive fingers. “It’s not a toy, Torren,” she said to the baby who gave her a gummy grin in response and reached for the medal again. “Would you mind looking after it for me?” she asked, unpinning it and dropping it into Ronon’s hand.
“Sure,” Ronon replied easily, putting the medal into a pocket. “Don’t forget to get it back from me. I’m sure Kanaan is going to want to see it and show it off to your people when we get back.”
“I’m sure he will,” Teyla replied, smiling wistfully. “I must admit both Torren and I are missing him very much and I hope it won’t be too long before we can return home.
John patted her shoulder and smiled sympathetically at her, tickling Torren’s chin with his other hand. “I… We’ll do our best to get you back to him as soon as we can,” he said.
“Rodney, do you think we could talk… alone?” Jennifer interrupted, smiling apologetically at the others. “I’m sorry to drag him away. Just some stuff I need to… Well, it doesn’t matter. Rodney?”
“Sure.” Rodney waved a hand at the others and followed her from the room.
“She’s gonna break up with him,” Sheppard said knowingly.
“I believe it may be mutual,” Teyla interjected, sadness evident in her eyes.
“Ah, they’ll get over it,” Sheppard said lightly. “Plenty of things to fill their time now they’re back home.”
“Well, now, don’t you all look splendid?” a voice with a broad Scots accent said.
“Hey, Doc. Didn’t think you were going to make it,” Sheppard said as he turned around.
“I thought I was going to have to perform an appendectomy on Major Coburn but it turned out to be just a bit too much celebrating in the mess hall last night that caused the problem,” Carson Beckett said with a smile as Teyla hugged him. “Hello, little man,” he said to Torren who reached out and let Carson take him into his arms.
Carson looked around. “Where’s Rodney? Oh, wait a minute. No Jennifer either. I suppose the lovebirds have gone off for a bit of privacy. Ah, here’s Rodney now.” Carson peered around Rodney as he joined them. “Where’s Jennifer?”
“Um, she went to her quarters. She wasn’t feeling well,” Rodney said quickly though the slump of his shoulders looked more like dejected acceptance than concern.
“Maybe I should go check on her—” Carson said.
“No!” Rodney interrupted. “She said she wanted some time alone.” He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “Look, you’re all going to find out sooner or later. We broke up.” He started to raise a hand to stop the obviously expected onslaught of questions then shook his head. “You’re not surprised. Guess you all wondered how she put up with me for so long anyway.”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Ronon grunted even as he patted Rodney’s shoulder.
“Of course not,” Teyla said, shooting Ronon a glare. “You made a lovely couple. Sometimes people simply drift apart.” She took Torren from Carson and leaned forward to kiss Rodney’s cheek. “I should take Torren and put him to bed. I don’t want him getting out of his bedtime routine now that Kanaan and I finally got him into one. Mr. Woolsey kindly organized for some food from the banquet to be sent up to our quarters so I’ll eat there.”
“Wait a minute,” Ronon said, pulling her medal from his pocket and handing it to her. “Wouldn’t want you to forget this.”
“Thank you,” she said, inclining her head. “Goodnight. Wave goodbye to your friends, Torren.”
The child gave a broad, gummy smile and waved over Teyla’s shoulder as she walked away.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” Sheppard said, turning to Rodney. “No fun being dumped, is it?”
“Oh, like you’d know, Captain Kirk,” Rodney snarked as he grabbed the plate of food out of Ronon’s hand. “Anyway, what makes you think she dumped me? Hmm? Maybe I was the dumper, not the dumpee.”
“And were you?” Carson asked, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“It was mutual, if you must know, Dr. Nosy McParker,” Rodney snapped back. He shoved a piece of quiche into his mouth and chewed it quickly then grabbed the last sandwich and handed the empty plate back to Ronon.
“Glad to see it hasn’t affected your appetite,” Carson said, grinning as a disgruntled Ronon went back to the buffet table.
“Well, even people with broken hearts need to eat,” Rodney mumbled around his mouthful. “Anyway, as I was saying, it was mutual. We both decided maybe we’d rushed into things because of the situation we were in, the life we were living. You know, never knowing whether each day was going to be your last…”
“Aye, my parents got married for the same reason,” Carson said sagely.
“Oh come on, your parents never went to another galaxy and fought life sucking creatures,” Rodney said scathingly.
“No, Rodney, they didn’t. I’m talking about the second World War,” Carson replied, shaking his head. He rubbed his hands together. “So… What’s everyone going to do now we’re back on Earth. I’m off to visit Mum tomorrow but I’m at a bit of a loose end after that.”
“Well,” Sheppard clapped Carson on the back, “I have to go see my brother and I want to go check on Ford’s grandparents but after that…” he waited till Ronon joined them, his plate of food held protectively against his chest, “I thought we’d go fishing. You know we never did get to go fishing with you last time round and I know this little place up near the Cascade Mountains-“
“Fishing? I hate fishing,” Rodney spluttered. “I was thinking Las Vegas, casinos, scantily clad dancing girls…”
“I like the sound of his idea best,” Ronon said, pointing a drumstick in Rodney’s direction. “Did enough fishing when I was a kid.”
Sheppard gave him a none too subtle kick in the ankle and inclined his head toward Carson who was looking crestfallen. “We missed the last chance we had to go fishing with Carson,” he said. “So, who’s in?”
“Yeah, all right, I’ll go,” Rodney agreed reluctantly, “but we head for Vegas on the way back.”
“Sure, why not. They should have cleared all the Wraith out of there by now,” Sheppard said, grinning as Rodney paled.
“Fine, Hollywood, New York, somewhere besides a cold lake with slimy fish,” Rodney said.
“Ronon?” Sheppard asked.
Ronon nodded. “Yeah, okay, for the doc.”
Carson beamed broadly at them then looked sidelong at Rodney. “If you’ve something better to do… I don’t want you to come out of a sense of guilt, Rodney…”
“It’s fine. Fishing, it is.” Rodney winced as Ronon nudged him. “Yeah, okay, Conan, I get it. I’m not completely without feelings, you know.” He turned to Carson. “I want to go,” he said. “I mean, look what happened last time you couldn’t find anyone to go fishing with you.” He shuddered. “Worst time of my life.”
“Why, thank you, Rodney,” Carson said.
“You Scots are seriously weird, you know that, right?” Rodney held up a hand as Carson opened his mouth. “Rhetorical question. So,” he looked around the group, “I’m exhausted and I’ve got an early start in the morning.”
“So you heading off to see Jeannie?” Sheppard asked.
“Yeah, Madison’s taking me for show and tell at school,” Rodney replied glumly. “Jeannie’s promised me lunch at a decent restaurant afterwards though,” he said, his mood suddenly brightening.
Ronon snorted a laugh and Rodney glared at him. “What?”
“Only you’d agree to do something if it involved the promise of food,” Ronon said, stuffing a piece of pie in his mouth.
“Look who’s talking.”
“Children!” Carson remonstrated but he was smiling as he placed a hand on each of their shoulders. “Fishing!” he said as he wandered off towards the buffet table with Rodney hot on his heels. “You’ll love it, Rodney. I remember when I was a boy of around ten…”
Sheppard shook his head then smiled at Ronon. “It’s a nice thing to do. So what are you going to do before we leave?”
Ronon shrugged. “It’s not like I’ve got anyone here to visit. I’ll find something to keep me out of trouble.”
“You could come with me when I go see my brother. It’s not like he hasn’t met you before.”
“Nah. He’s likely to get the wrong impression if I show up at his house with you again,” Ronon said.
“What wrong impression?” John asked suspiciously.
“You know, that we’re sharing a bedroll,” Ronon said easily, grinning broadly.
“Oh,” John said, “well, have fun anyway.”
“I’ll hang out with Teyla, maybe babysit Torren for her, let her have some time to get adjusted to being on Earth,” Ronon said easily.
“There’s a total mushball underneath that barbarian exterior,” John observed with a grin.
Ronon shrugged. “I like kids.”
“Okay, well, I’m heading off. Got an early start tomorrow. I’ll see you when I get back. How about we head off Sunday morning around 0530.”
Ronon shrugged. “Fine by me but McKay’s gonna kill you for making him get up that early.”
“Ah, he barely sleeps anyway. He’ll be fine.” John took a last look around the room and waved goodbye to Rodney and Carson who were still standing at the buffet table then he headed for his quarters and a much needed night’s sleep.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Carson Beckett announced to his reflection in the bathroom mirror, “so why on earth are ye putting off going?” He should be excited at seeing his mother again but there was a niggling doubt in the back of his mind; something he still hadn’t entirely been able to erase, despite the fact that the Atlantis team appeared, mostly, to have accepted him as Carson. Well, that was who he was, anyway, except he wasn’t… and the whole problem was giving him a headache and not making him any more eager to be heading off to see his family again. He hadn’t told his mother what had happened to him.
It had been bad enough that the dear old love had almost had a stroke when she saw him standing on her doorstep the last time. She’d recovered quicker than he’d thought she would, berating him and giving him a decent whack on the behind for scaring her half to death. That settled, she made them both a cup of tea and sat, filling him on the details of his funeral.
This time, she was expecting him and there would be no nasty surprises in store, but he couldn’t help feeling as though he was deceiving her somehow by not explaining just exactly how he’d managed to come back from the dead. Granted, she hadn’t seemed to be the slightest bit interested in the finer details but still there was a small part of him that insisted on reminding him that one didn’t lie to one’s mother. He argued silently that since he was a clone, she wasn’t actually his mother and therefore that negated that little bone of contention but in the end, it all boiled down to the fact that no matter what anyone said, he was a fake.
Now he was feeling more depressed than nervous, which wasn’t boding well for his visit. “Buck up, laddie,” he chided himself. “Make the most of your stay. God knows when you’ll see her again.”
That said, emotions firmly in check, Carson picked up the box of chocolates he’d bought and headed out the door.
This was probably the first time in a long while that John was looking forward to visiting his family. He and Dave had banished a lot of ghosts from their pasts the last time they’d met and John was finally able to remember the good times they’d had as kids. He knew there would probably still be some mending of fences to come, and he wasn’t naïve enough to believe that they would suddenly become best buddies again overnight but some of the easy familiarity they’d had growing up had returned and he was anxious to see his brother again.
First though, he had a less pleasant visit to make. Aiden Ford had been reported as MIA for three years now. While the team had encountered him from time to time in the years since, his grandparents had no knowledge of that nor of what had happened to their grandson in the first place. John had no idea if Ford was still out there. It had been sometime now since he’d been seen, and while he’d been a resourceful and cunning adversary and sometime ally, there was no telling if he was still alive or dead. John was determined to allow Ford’s grandparents to hold onto the hope that Aiden would come home one day, at least until there was irrevocable proof that he had died.
Wanting to get the difficult part of his trip over, he grabbed his gear and went in search of McKay.
Sheppard gaped as the door to Rodney’s quarters opened. “McKay?”
Rodney turned from perusing his reflection in the mirror. “What?”
Sheppard waved a hand at the immaculately pressed dark suit and grey tie Rodney was wearing. “What’s with the get up? I thought you were visiting Jeannie.”
“I am. I told you last night, didn’t I? Madison wants to take me to her school to show me off.”
“You’re trying to impress a bunch of seven year olds?”
“Why not?” Rodney visibly preened. “I guess Madison’s told everyone her uncle is a world-renowned scientist, doesn’t hurt to dress the part.”
“Here.” Something white was tossed past Sheppard in McKay’s direction and John looked over his shoulder to see Ronon standing there with a smirk on his face.
“A lab coat?” McKay shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“You sure there’s not someone else you want to impress?” Sheppard asked cynically.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Sheppard shrugged. “Just wondered if maybe you’d had second thoughts about you and the doc breaking up.”
“It was a mutual decision.” Rodney turned back to the mirror and straightened his tie. “Jennifer and I agreed that a relationship that began under such stressful conditions didn’t have much to build on. Anyway, can’t anyone have any privacy around here?”
“Maybe he wants to impress Madison’s teacher,” Ronon said with a grin.
“Okay, that’s it!” Rodney spun on his heel, grabbed a small package from his bed and strode past them both. “If you’re done with discussing my attire and my love life, I have to be at Jeannie’s in a couple of hours. Can we go now?”
Sheppard trailed behind McKay with Ronon at his side. “You sure I can’t convince you to come with me?” he asked. “I’m going to see Ford’s grandparents first. Let them know we haven’t stopped looking for him.”
“You think he’s still alive?”
“He’s managed to survive this long.” Sheppard sighed. “Who knows? But until I’ve got proof one way or the other, I’m not gonna give up on him. So, you wanna come?”
Ronon shook his head. “I promised Teyla I’d watch Torren for her. She’s missing Kanaan, not that she’d admit it, and Torren’s teething so she hasn’t had much time for herself.”
Sheppard nodded. “She looks a little tired, but then again, we all are. That’s why we all need this time out before we have to worry about what we’re going to do next.” He nudged Ronon with his shoulder. “I didn’t know you had such a soft spot for kids.”
Ronon shrugged. “I like kids. They’re less complicated than adults. If things had turned out differently on Sateda….” His voice trailed off and he slapped Sheppard on the back. “You have a good visit with your brother. I have to admit I wouldn’t have minded going with McKay. Somehow I get the feeling that he’s not big on kids.”
“You got that right,” Sheppard said with a grin.
“Sheppard! Today would be good,” McKay shouted back at them.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Gotta go. See you tomorrow.”
Sheppard looked up at the control deck where McKay was bent over a computer screen. “I thought you were in a hurry, McKay,” he called.
“Hmm? Oh, just a little anomaly we picked up,” McKay replied somewhat absently. He muttered something incomprehensible then shrugged. “Probably nothing.”
“Are you sure, Doctor McKay?” Woolsey asked, walking over to stand at Rodney’s shoulder. “I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but we are on Earth now. Is this something that could be detected—“
“We’re shielded, remember?” Rodney rolled his eyes. He sidled past Woolsey and headed down the steps. “Honestly,” he said to no one in particular, “you’d swear I was the only scientist on Atlantis. Every time there’s some minor glitch, some teensy little spike in energy readings, who do they call?”
“Well,” John drawled with a grin, “who are you gonna call?”
“What?” Rodney stared at him as though he’d grown another head.
John sighed, too antsy to get going to worry about explaining Ghostbusters references to someone who probably wouldn’t get it anyway. He looked at Woolsey who’d followed Rodney down. “Thought you might make the most of the opportunity of being Earth-side to visit your family, sir.”
Woolsey shook his head. “I have reports a mile high to complete. I want to make sure the IOA doesn’t find a single spelling error.”
Sheppard grinned. “Lucky you’re writing those reports then and not me. I was wondering…”
“Well, Teyla mentioned that she’s concerned about what happens to her if we have to stay on Earth… Kanaan’s back with the Athosians and they probably have no idea what’s going on.”
Woolsey held up a hand. “Honestly, Colonel, I don’t think the authorities have thought as far as what happens to the city, let alone anyone on it. Frankly, the whole situation is a nightmare. One, unfortunately, that we have little say in. I’ll drop in on Teyla, see if I can put any concerns she has to rest, at least for now.”
“No use borrowing trouble,” Sheppard said.
“Indeed,” Woosley agreed. “Enjoy your time with your families,” he said, nodding over at Rodney and Carson.
Sheppard nodded. “Thank you, sir.” He waved a hand at Rodney and Carson. “Jumper bay, guys, and I’m driving.”
“Mum, I canna fit in another bite!” Carson held up his hands in protest as his mother slid another slice of cake onto his plate.
“Ach, nonsense,” she chided. “You’re fading away. Don’t they feed you at the hospital?” Her eyes narrowed and she laid a hand against his forehead. “You’re not sick again, are you?”
Carson caught her hand and held it in both his own, squeezing gently. “I’m not sick, Mum. I’m a wee bit tired, that’s all. I’ve had a busy couple of days.” And that was an understatement, he thought to himself.
Mary Beckett pursed her lips in what Carson recognized too well as disapproval. “They work you too hard, bairn,” she said as she topped up his cup of tea and added milk and sugar. “I don’t know why you don’t come home and work at Glasgow Hospital like your cousin, Terence. He gets plenty of time off and he has a wonderful pension plan too.”
“I like where I work, Mum.” Carson crumbled the cake on his plate. “I have a lot of wonderful friends, and I love my job. The patients need me.”
“Almost got you killed, didn’t they, those friends of yours?” Mary had her arms crossed over her ample bosom now and Carson knew things were going downhill fast. “Said you’d been killed in an explosion and there you were, lying mortally injured in the hospital all that time. Fine friends they were. Didn’t even recognize you; almost put your poor mother into a grave alongside the poor man who did die.”
Oh dear. Carson stood and helped his mother to her feet. “Why don’t you show me the garden? Didn’t you say Terry and Sally were calling in? What time are they coming?”
“Don’t change the subject,” Mary scolded but she went willingly enough and led the way to the back door. “The roses aren’t doing as well this year. Would you have time to prune them before you go?”
Carson drew her into a one armed hug. “You know I will.”
“I’ve changed the sheets on your bed,” Mary replied with a smile. “Terry and Sally will be here for tea.”
“I can’t stay, Mum. I’m sorry. I have to be back on At— at the airport by 2000 hours.”
“Fine. I’ll call Terry, tell them not to bother.” Mary pulled away from him and turned back toward the house but Carson grabbed her hand and gently turned her around to face him.
“I’ll call the hospital, see if one of my colleagues can fill in for me,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine. I can catch a plane out first thing tomorrow.”
Mary’s face creased into a wide smile. “I’ve got a wee dram or two of whiskey in the cupboard I’ve been saving for when you came home.”
“That’d be lovely, Mum.” Leaning close, he kissed her cheek. “I’ve missed you more than you know.”
Mary wiped at her eyes with her free hand. “Get away with you. No whiskey for you if you don’t get those roses pruned. And don’t let Terry have more than two drinks. He gets cranky when he drinks too much.” Bustling off, she headed back inside the house. “And you need to eat more, Carson Beckett.”
Carson grinned and shook his head. “Yes, mum.”
John had to admit it was a relief to bid goodbye to the Fords. As always, they’d been more than hospitable, asking after his wellbeing, offering him coffee and freshly baked cookies, but the glimmer of hope in their eyes when they saw him at the door caused a lump to rise in his throat, knowing he was once again the bearer of bad news. No news really, and somehow that seemed worse than telling them that their grandson was dead. Until he could find Aiden and bring him home, one way or another, there would be no peace, no closure for his family.
He’d stood, sipping his coffee and admiring the large collection of family photos on the bookshelf. Aiden’s photo sat proudly front and center.
“He was so proud when he got accepted,” Aiden’s grandfather, Bob, said, tears glistening in his eyes. “All he ever wanted to be was a soldier.”
“He was… is a good soldier,” John said. “One of the best.”
“His grandmother has given up that he’ll come home,” Bob replied softly, casting a glance toward the kitchen where his wife bustled about. “Me….” He shook his head. “I can’t. We raised that boy. He was a good boy, never any trouble. I won’t give up on him now.”
“Neither will I,” John vowed.
Bob nodded. “I know that, son, and I want to thank you for taking him under your wing, looking out for him. He was lucky to have you as his commanding officer.”
Except I wasn’t there when he needed me, John thought bitterly. I failed him. “Aiden’s my friend,” he said awkwardly.
“Brothers in arms,” Bob said in understanding. “It’s as close a bond as family, sometimes more so.”
After that, there’d been nothing more to say, except to assure them that they hadn’t given up on finding Aiden, though now, with Atlantis stranded on Earth, he didn’t know if any of them would ever get back to the Pegasus galaxy, and if they didn’t, Ford was on his own.
He’d made his goodbyes with a heavy heart, a mixture of eagerness and regret spurring him on his way.
“Mer?” Jeannie gaped at Rodney in much the same way Sheppard had that morning.
“What?” Rodney glared back at her and then realized that he wasn’t even in the front door yet and they were sniping at each other already. “Thought I’d make myself presentable if I’m going to school with Madison,” he added. “Do I have food on my tie or something?”
“No!” Jeannie ushered him into the house. “It’s just… You look very nice, Mer. Handsome, even.”
“Really?” Rodney waved the compliment away self-effacingly. “I’ve had the suit for years. Not many good tailors in the Pegasus galaxy.” He frowned. “Tie doesn’t clash, does it? I haven’t had much occasion to get dressed up lately.”
“It’s fine.” Jeannie led him into the living room. “Maddie’s just brushing her teeth.” She turned toward the stairs. “Madison,” she called. “Your Uncle Meredith- Rodney is here.”
“Uncle Meredith-Rodney?” Rodney raised an eyebrow. “Bit of a mouthful for a child, isn’t it? I know, I know,” he added quickly before Jeannie could respond, “Uncle Rodney is fine. Great, in fact.” Jeannie smiled. “What now?” Rodney asked.
“I’m just finding it difficult seeing you as uncle material, that’s all,” she replied. “It’s lovely, really,” she hurried on as though realizing her gaffe, “just rather strange.”
“I have to admit it feels somewhat weird from this end too,” Rodney admitted. He looked over as Madison clattered down the stairs. “Ah, there she is! Don’t you look pretty?”
“Thank you,” Madison said with a sweet smile.
Rodney held out his hand. “Ready to go?”
“To school?” Madison asked.
“Well, of course to school,” Rodney said. He took a slow breath. This uncle thing wasn’t coming easily. “Where else?” he asked with a smile that felt the slightest bit strained.
“But you’re not dressed properly,” Madison protested.
Rodney automatically checked his fly. He looked at Jeannie in puzzlement. “Am I missing something here?”
Jeannie shrugged. “Uncle Mer- Rodney got dressed in his best suit especially to take you to school, sweetie.”
Madison looked as though she was about to cry. “But where’s your white coat?” she asked. “How will everyone know you’re a famous scientist if you’re not wearing your white coat?”
Then and there, Rodney vowed that one way or another he would find a way to get them back to the Pegasus galaxy.
Richard Woolsey was headed back to his office and his interminable mountain of reports but detoured when he heard the rumbling sound of laughter coming from the gymnasium. Pausing in the doorway, he watched as Torren crawled over Ronon, who lay on his back on the floor.
Torren gurgled and reaching out a chubby hand, grabbed at Ronon’s beard.
“Ouch!” Ronon lifted Torren into the air and jiggled him gently from side to side. “Not the beard, little one.” Torren just gave him a gummy smile and drooled on Ronon’s face. “I give up.” Sitting up, Ronon sat Torren on his lap and tousled his hair.
“I’m not sure who’s having more fun,” Woolsey said.
Ronon looked up at him. “Definitely Torren,” he said, wiping the drool from his cheek with a grimace. “I don’t know how Teyla does it – being on the team and looking after this little one.”
“She certainly has her hands full,” Woolsey agreed, “as do you at the moment.” He watched in amusement as Torrin twisted in Ronon’s hold, in an attempt to crawl away and explore.
“Something you need?” Ronon asked. He stood and settled Torren on his hip.
“I was looking for Teyla actually.”
“She’s on the balcony,” Ronon replied. “Thought she’d like a little time alone. She’s a little worried about what happens now.”
“Precisely what I wanted to talk to her about. This involves you too,” Woolsey said. “Why don’t you accompany me?”
They found Teyla standing at the balcony railing, looking out at the San Francisco Bay bridge.
“So, what do you think of your first glimpse of Earth, Teyla?” Woolsey asked.
Teyla turned and acknowledged their arrival with a nod of her head. “It is certainly very different,” she said. She took Torren from Ronon, giving the baby a gentle kiss on the top of his head. “I have never before seen a bridge such as that. I would like a chance to explore further at some point but I’m not sure if that would be allowed,” Teyla said. She waved a hand at her Athosian attire. “I would certainly stand out.”
“I’ll see what I can arrange. I can’t see that it would do any harm and we can certainly arrange some clothing for you,” Woolsey said. “I can imagine it must all seem somewhat overwhelming right now,” he added.
“I… had wondered…” Teyla began then paused.
“Honestly, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen,” Woolsey said, guessing her intent. “It appears even the IOA is stymied. Of course, they never had a situation as… unique as this one, but rest assured I will ensure that your needs and wishes aren’t ignored.”
“Thank you.” Teyla smiled but she seemed uncharacteristically uncertain. “If it is at all possible, I would like to return to the Pegasus galaxy. Torren’s father will be worried about us by now.”
“Me too,” Ronon interjected. “I mean, this has been interesting but my place is there. It’s where we’re needed.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Woolsey said. “However unless, or until, we can find some way of renewing our power, Atlantis is effectively stranded here on Earth.”
“McKay’s working on it,” Ronon said. “Don’t tell him I said this, but if anyone can find a way to get us back, it’d be him.”
“I must agree,” Teyla added with a smile. “I’m sure he and Radek will do everything in their power to get us home. I wondered, Mr. Woolsey, about your plans. Now that you are back on Earth…”
Woolsey shook his head. “There hasn’t been much here for me to return to for quite some time.” He smiled at her. “I must confess to thinking of Atlantis as my home for a while now.” He glanced at his watch. “Well, I must go. I have a mountain of reports to finish.” He turned to leave then stopped. “Actually, I could use a break myself right now. Anything to get away from the paperwork for a while. I’d be delighted to show you both the sights of San Francisco.”
Teyla gave him a small smile and bowed her head. “We would like that,” she said, “wouldn’t we, Torren? Will you come too, Ronon?”
Ronon grinned and nodded. “Gotta be better than hanging around here with no Wraith to fight.”
Woolsey clapped his hands together. “Then it’s settled. I’ll organize for you to be sent some suitable street clothes. Let’s meet at the Jumper bay in an hour.”
“Rodney.” John made his tone sharp enough to give Rodney fair warning then walked across to stand next to him at the console when Rodney didn’t answer. “I wanted to get an early start,” John said, looking over his shoulder at Ronon and Carson and rolling his eyes in mock-exasperation.
“Yes, yes, just give me a minute.” Rodney activated a couple of switches on the console then shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe you should go without me. It’d be just the city’s luck for Zelenka to screw something up while I’m miles away freezing my ass off on the banks of a chilly river.”
“Why, thank you for the vote of confidence, Rodney,” Zelenka put in, pushing Rodney away from the console so he could sit down. He muttered something incomprehensible in Czech as he deactivated the switches Rodney had turned on and pressed a couple of other buttons.
“Well, I have every faith in you,” John said staunchly, grabbing Rodney by the arm and hauling him over to a corner of the Gateroom. “You do remember what happened the last time you welched on a deal to go fishing with Carson, don’t you?” At Rodney’s sheepish nod, he grinned broadly and slapped Rodney on the shoulder. “Good. We’re out of here then.” He turned Rodney around and, with a hand in the small of his back, pushed him over to where Carson and Ronon waited, bags and fishing equipment at their feet. “Okay, everyone grab their gear. Let’s go fish!”
Carson smiled beatifically as he picked up his knapsack and quickly checked it one last time. He held up the small first aid kit he’d placed inside. “Not that I think we’ll need it but always be prepared, my mum says.”
Ronon snorted. “As long as McKay stays away from bees and keeps feeding his face, we’ll be fine. Not like we’re bound to run into Wraith where we’re going.”
Well,” John said, leading the way to the jumper bay, “we do have some pretty vicious predators of our own here on Earth.”
“Oh god,” Rodney muttered, trailing reluctantly behind them, “it’s bear country. I just know it.”
John just laughed and kept on walking.
“Oh no!” Rodney grabbed the car keys John had just tossed over to Ronon. “No way is he driving. He doesn’t even have a licence. He can’t even fly a jumper, for crying out loud.”
“I could learn,” Ronon said laconically, winking at Sheppard. “Doesn’t look too hard.”
“Yeah, well, learn some other time when I’m not in the car and once we’ve had time to warn people to stay off the sidewalks,” Rodney said. “Carson will tell you that stress is very bad for people with hypoglycemia.” He arched an eyebrow at Carson who just shook his head and tossed his bag into the back of the 4WD.
“We’re just yanking your chain, McKay,” Sheppard said as he caught the keys Rodney threw back to him. He walked around to deposit his bags in the back then climbed into the driver’s seat. “Anyway, I’m the only one who knows exactly where this fishing spot is,” he added.
“Well, let’s go then, shall we?” Carson said, climbing into the back seat and rubbing his hands together gleefully. “Fish awaiting, you know.”
Rodney put his own bags in the trunk and got into the seat next to Carson.
“Sure you don’t want to sit up front, McKay?” Ronon offered.
“No, thank you. I read somewhere that backseat passengers are more likely to survive a car wreck than front seat passengers, and if Sheppard drives the way he flies, I’ll feel much safer back here.”
Ronon shrugged and got in, pushing the seat back to make room for his long legs.
“Oh right, just make me sit with my knees up under my chin, why don’t you, Goliath?” Rodney grouched.
“Rodney, am I going to have to sedate you for the rest of the car journey?” Carson asked, grinning broadly.
“Might not be a bad thing,” Rodney replied, staring morosely out of the window as John pulled the car out of the rental lot and onto the street. “I also read that if you’re asleep when you have an accident, you’re more likely not to be injured.”
Carson sighed and shook his head while John simply leaned forward and put a CD into the player then cranked up the sound. “Now that’ sounds better,” he yelled over the strains of Johnny Cash belting out ‘I Walk The Line’.
Rodney heaved a disgruntled sigh and closed his eyes.
Carson grinned broadly and began to sing along.
“I knew it, I just knew it!” Rodney kicked out at the nearest tire then yelped in pain and hopped back, his injured foot held protectively in one hand. “Ow, ow, ow!”
“Calm down, Rodney,” John said, pulling out his cell phone. “I’ll call for roadside assistance and we’ll be on our way in no time.” He dialed a number then pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it, frowning. “Oh oh,” he said.
“Oh oh? What do you mean ‘oh oh’?” Rodney asked, grabbing the phone from Sheppard’s hand. “Great,” he said, “no signal.” He pulled his own cell from his pocket and checked it. “Mine’s dead too. Carson?”
Carson looked at his and shook his head ruefully. “Dead as a dodo, I’m afraid.”
Rodney raised an eyebrow at Ronon and held out a hand expectantly.
“Don’t have one,” Ronon replied.
“You don’t have a cell phone? You’re on Earth. Everyone has a cell phone,” Rodney replied incredulously.
“No one to call,” Ronon said succinctly with a shrug.
“So now what?” Rodney asked, looking at Sheppard. “Can’t you fix it?”
John held up his oil smeared hands. “Already tried. You feel free to have a look though,” he offered.
“I’m an astrophysicist,” Rodney said. “What I know about cars would fit on the head of a pin.”
“Wow, there’s a first,” John said sarcastically, “Rodney McKay admitting he doesn’t know something.”
“Boys, boys!” Carson interjected. “Enough now or I’ll have to put you in the naughty corner.”
Ronon snorted a laugh at that while Rodney looked affronted and wandered around to the front of the car and began fiddling with various wires in the engine. Eventually he gave up and walked back to where the others were standing. “What now then?” he asked. “It’s past lunch time and I’m hungry. You promised me food with this trip,” he said accusingly to Sheppard.
“That was when I thought we were going to a nice, comfy campsite with barbecue amenities,” John replied.
“Everybody stop talking for a minute!” Ronon held up his hand to command silence then cocked his head to one side. “I can hear a river,” he said.
“”See,” John said as he followed Ronon who’d run off the side of the road and down a steep embankment, “we can still fish.”
A few minutes later they were both back and John began hauling their gear out of the trunk, handing off bags, packs and fishing equipment to their respective owners. “We can set up camp on the banks of the river,” he told them.
“How are we going to be able to eat?” Rodney asked. “In case you’ve forgotten, we brought barbecue meat and cans of beans.”
“We’ll build a fire,” Ronon put in. “Come on, McKay, don’t tell it’s the first time you’ve camped out in the woods.”
“Of course not,” Rodney began then added, “Well, yes, okay, it is actually.”
“You’ve roughed it on missions before,” Carson pointed out, “and managed perfectly well.”
“Yes, well, that was because I had to,” Rodney replied, grumpily following them all down the embankment.
“We have to now, too,” John said, setting his load down under some overhanging trees a few feet back from the rushing waters. “Hey, you can sleep in the car if you want.”
“You mean we’re sleeping down here? Surely someone will come along soon and take us into the nearest town.” Rodney looked so appalled that John took pity on him, assuring him that they’d flag down the first vehicle that came along.
“Oh no, I vote we just stay here for tonight,” Carson said, his eyes drinking in the beauty around him. He rubbed his hands together then bent to unpack his bait. “So, let’s get some fishing done. Last one to catch a fish cooks dinner.”
“Ow, ow!” Rodney dropped his fishing pole into the river and hopped about on the rock he was standing on, his injured finger in his mouth.
“Are you all right, Rodney?” Carson called.
“Oh yes, just fine, thank you,” Rodney mumbled around his bleeding digit. “The hook bit me.”
“You’re supposed to put the worm on it, not your finger, McKay,” Ronon said from his own rock, looking completely at home, Rodney thought, as if he spent every day standing on rocks above a raging river, casting a line into the rushing waters. Well, Rodney amended, considering he’d been hunting since he was six years old, he probably had.
“We can’t all be Roland Martin, you know,” Rodney bit back, watching as Ronon hopped down from his rock and waded through the waters easily, retrieving Rodney’s pole and handing it back to him then heading back to his own rock.
“Why, Rodney, I do believe you’ve been doing research,” Carson said, grinning.
“Who’s Roland Martin?” John asked, tossing his third catch of the day into the basket at his feet.
“He hosts a fishing show on television,” Carson explained. “He’s what’s known as a bassmaster in the fishing world. I’m impressed, Rodney.”
“They actually make TV shows about doing this?” Ronon asked.
“You’d be surprised what they do make TV shows about,” Rodney muttered, turning to step onto the rock behind him and then to the riverbank where he tossed his pole on the ground in disgust.
“Giving up already?” John called. “That means you get to cook. It’s getting dark anyway. We should probably call it a day and get a fire started.”
“I need to use the amenities,” Rodney snapped. “What amenities there are,” he added in a sulky undertone. “If I get bitten you know where by a snake, you’ll all be sorry.”
“Want me to go with you, Rodney?” Carson asked.
“I’ve been peeing on my own all my life,” Rodney said. “I’m sure I can manage.”
“Suit yourself. Oh, will you look at this beauty?” Carson whooped as he netted a large, plump trout. “Hurry back, Rodney, it’s going to take you a while to cook all the fish we’ve caught.”
“Nag, nag, nag.” Rodney headed off for a clump of bushes he could see about twenty feet away. There looked to be small clearing in the midst of them where hopefully he’d be hidden from prying eyes.
He’d just zipped up when he spotted an inquisitive nose peeking out from behind a bush a few metres away. Caution made him hesitate but then the animal poked its head out further and Rodney saw it was just a cat. A bell tinkled around its neck, telling him it was obviously a pet and not feral and so he walked slowly towards it, half-bent in a crouch, hand held out in front of him as he crooned, “Here, kitty, kitty.”
The cat turned and ran a few steps away, looking back over its shoulder as Rodney continued to approach. It looked rather like his own cat that he’d had to leave behind when he’d gone to Atlantis, Rodney thought, regretting now that he hadn’t gone to visit Cat and see how he was doing. He’d go when they got back from their fishing trip, he decided, as he continued to follow the cat stealthily. Better yet, he’d make Sheppard stop by on their way back. He clucked at the cat, snapping his fingers then yelped as he tripped over something he hadn’t seen in the gathering dusk. He went down, his head impacting on something hard and the lights went out.
“So, how was your mom?” John asked as they stood around watching Ronon build a fire.
“Oh, she was very glad to see me,” Carson replied. “Of course she blames all of you for letting her think I was dead but she’ll forgive you eventually now she knows I’m not. And your visit? With poor Aiden’s grandparents. How did that go?”
“I told them we hadn’t given up on him,” John replied.
“Fire’s ready,” Ronon said, standing up. “Hey, where’s McKay? I thought he was cooking.”
Carson looked off in the direction Rodney had gone in. “He has been gone a lot longer than he should have been,” he said worriedly.
“He’s just trying to get out of doing the cooking,” John replied with a shrug. “I’ll cook. That’ll bring him out of hiding soon enough. Besides, have any of you actually tasted Rodney’s cooking? I, however, am a dab hand at cooking fish. My dad taught me when he used to take Dave and me fishing when we were kids.”
Carson sat down on a fallen log and watched John and Ronon clean the fish. “You and your Dad were close then?” he asked. “I don’t remember much about my Da. He died when I was a wee bairn and Mum raised me by herself.”
“Must have been tough on her,” John said. “Dad and I were close when I was a kid. Once I decided to join the Air Force though, it was a whole different matter.”
“And you, Ronon, you don’t talk much about your family,” Carson asked, picking up a fish to clean as well.
“My mother died when I was a kid. My father was always around though. He taught me to fish and take care of myself.” Ronon looked over at them, a hint of sadness in his eyes. “He was a good man.”
“Aye, I can tell that,” Carson replied softly. “It’s obvious he raised you well. Ach, listen to the lot of us. Here we are in this beautiful place, supposed to be having a grand old time and I’m getting misty-eyed over past memories.” He looked around the clearing again. “Perhaps we should go look for Rodney.”
“If he’s not here by the time we’ve finished eating, we will,” John said. “But I think the minute that fish is actually cooking, he’ll be back here like a flash.”
“Aye, you’re probably right,” Carson said. “We’ll save him some fish anyway.”
There was an annoying tapping on Rodney’s cheek and he flapped a hand in its general direction. Go ‘way,” he muttered.
The tapping continued and Rodney gave up hope of being left alone and opened his eyes. There was a blurry figure sitting above him and he blinked a few times, trying to bring it into focus. “Who are you?’ he asked when the blur finally coalesced into the grubby face of a small boy.
“Who are you?” the boy asked.
“Uh uh, I asked first,” Rodney said as firmly as his croaky voice would allow.
“I’m David,” the boy replied. “Who are you?”
“Dr. Rodney McKay.” Rodney managed to sit up, headache from hell notwithstanding, and looked around. He was still near the river but when he looked downstream, he couldn’t see any sign of the campsite or his friends. “Did you see any other people around here?” he asked, rubbing at his aching head and then looking in horror at his hand when it came back bloody.
“Nope, just you and Molly.”
David pointed at the cat Rodney had been following, now laying close by. “She’s my cat. I’ve been looking for her.”
Rodney peered at his watch. “Typical. I’ve been gone for over an hour and they haven’t even come looking for me.”
“Who hasn’t?” David asked.
“My friends. We were fishing down there.”
“Can’t be very good friends then,” David said with a hint of pity in his voice. “Molly’s my best friend and I came to find her as soon as I knew she was gone.”
“Yes, well, good for you.” Rodney held out a hand to the boy. “Can you help me stand up? I need to get back to our campsite, get the doctor to check me out. I probably have a concussion or something even more dire.”
“I thought you said you were a doctor,” David replied, tugging manfully on Rodney’s arm and finally helping him to his rather unsteady feet.
Rodney bent forward, hands on his knees, trying not to throw up. His head pounded even harder now he was upright. “I’m not that kind of doctor,” he said through the lump in his throat that he was trying to choke back down. “Look, can you help me back down to where my friends are?” he asked.
“Okay,” David agreed readily, placing a small arm around Rodney’s waist. “Oh wait, I need to get Molly.”
“Fine.” Rodney watched, wobbling a little as the boy bent to pick up the cat.
Everything after that seemed to happen in slow motion though it was over with in a few short moments. As David went to grab Molly’s collar, a bird screeched overhead as it swooped towards the water. Molly took off after the bird and Rodney instinctively grabbed for the cat. He knew the minute his feet slipped on the damp grass at the river’s edge what was going to happen and that he was powerless to stop it. His feet flew out from under him and the ground and the sky changed places as he flipped over and then slid, on his back, down into the rapidly flowing water. He scrabbled for a handhold on a tree, a rock, anything, scrambling to get his feet under him to gain purchase on the sandy bottom but the river was flowing too quickly, and before he had time to do anything but let out a startled yell, he was being carried downstream.
He managed to do a clumsy dogpaddle, doing his best to go with the current rather than fighting against it. Water invaded his mouth and nose and he gasped for air, turning his head toward the bank in an effort to keep from swallowing the water. The river carried him swiftly round a bend, and when he managed to get his head up more, he saw Carson, Ronon and John standing on the bank, shock etched on their faces as he filled his lungs with air and shouted for help.
“What the…” Sheppard gaped as Rodney whooshed past them, arms flailing, struggling against the current’s pull.
“Rodney!” Carson yelled, already scrabbling for the med pack.
Ronon took off at a run for the river’s edge, pausing only to yank off his shoes before diving headlong into the water and striking out toward their stricken friend.
The first shock of the icy water stole his breath and he gave a whooping gasp that sucked in as much water as air. Choking momentarily, he could already feel the strong current dragging him downstream. He drove his arms through the water, kicking powerfully, seeing McKay just ahead of him, and then suddenly, Ronon was almost on top of him. He reached out, grasping desperately at McKay’s sodden clothes, feeling the material pull through his fingers. He grabbed at McKay again and this time, his hand bunched in the collar of Rodney’s jacket and Ronon gathered his strength and dragged him close.
McKay was a limp weight in Ronon’s arms, his head lolling back against Ronon’s shoulder. There was a bloody gash on his forehead and he was shuddering violently with cold.
Knowing there was no time to waste, Ronon allowed himself to go with the current, hoping to find something to hold onto that would slow their rush until the others could get to them.
A small crop of boulders appeared in front of them so quickly, he had no hope of avoiding them. Reaching out his free hand, he attempted to fend off a disastrous collision that would likely kill them both and grunted when he was buffeted into the rocks. Sharp pain sliced through his arm and he fought not to let go of McKay. He scrabbled at the rocks, finally finding purchase on a craggy spur. Exhausted, he dragged himself and his heavy burden as far up as he could manage and hung on for all he was worth.
“Oh my god.” Carson was off and heading for the riverbank, slipping and sliding on the damp grass. Sheppard reached out and snagged his arm, pulling him to a halt. Carson struggled to free himself. “We’ve got to help them,” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how long they can hang on for! I think Rodney’s unconscious and Ronon doesn’t look much better.”
Sheppard stared out at the river. “They’re too far out for us to do any good without equipment.” He snapped his fingers. “Rope! There’s some in the back of the SUV. I’ll get it.”
“What can I do?”
“Get as close as you can and see if they can hear you. Tell them help’s on the way.” Carson nodded and headed off. “Take it easy,” Sheppard called after him. “I don’t want to have to rescue you too.”
Carson got as close as he could to the river, balancing gingerly as he watched the water swirl by. It hadn’t seemed this rough earlier, then again, they’d been concentrating so much on the fishing and banter, he doubted any of them had paid it much mind. “Ronon, can you hear me?” he shouted, cupping both hands around his mouth. Ronon looked up and over at him, though it seemed to take some effort. “Colonel Sheppard’s gone to get a rope. We’ll have you out of there in no time.” He thought Ronon nodded though from this distance it was hard to tell.
“Are they gonna drown?”
Carson turned to see a young boy standing behind him, a small cat cradled in his arms. “Who are you, laddie?” he asked. “Where’d you come from?”
The boy waved a vague hand over his shoulder. “I live over there. I was looking for my cat and the man found him but then he slipped and fell in the river.” He took a shuddering breath. “Are they gonna drown?”
“No, of course not.” Carson stripped off his jacket and stepping closer, wrapped it around the boy’s shoulders. “What’s your name, son?”
“David. This is Molly.” He gave his cat a pat on the head. He looked toward Ronon and Rodney. “How are they gonna get out? My dad always tells me not to go near the river because of the current but when Molly ran away, I had to find her.”
“My friend has a rope— Ah, here he is now. This is David,” he said to Sheppard as the other man ran toward them with a rope wrapped around his shoulder. “Seems Rodney slipped and fell.”
Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Figured that much. Where are your folks?”
David again pointed behind him. “We live a little ways over there, through the trees.”
Sheppard nodded. “Carson, why don’t you go with David, use their phone, if they have one, call the SGC. Let Landry know we need medical help.”
“911,” David said as he led the way. “That’s who you call, not SGC.”
“Well, ye see,” Carson said as he cast an anxious look back at the river, “we’re not from around here, but we have some friends who can get here very quickly.”
“Do they have a rescue chopper?” David asked. “Last year, my Uncle Pete fell in the river and they had to get a rescue chopper. He broke his leg.”
“Aye, they do, laddie.” Carson gave the boy a gentle push to hurry him along. “The quicker we get to your house, the quicker we’ll get them fixed up.”
“Ronon!” Sheppard yelled, pulling the rope from his shoulder and feeding it out. “I’m going to throw the rope. Get ready to grab it.”
It seemed to take a moment for Sheppard’s words to register then Ronon shook his head. “Can’t,” he called back. He nodded down at Rodney’s limp form. “If I let go of him or the rock…”
“You have to,” Sheppard insisted. “I’m going to secure this end to a tree. If you can grab the rope, I can pull you in before you get swept away. You can do it, Ronon.”
Sheppard was sure Ronon rolled his eyes. “Enough with the pep talk, Sheppard. Throw the rope already.”
Sheppard secured the rope to the sturdiest tree he could see, took a moment to judge distance and aim then tossed the rope through the air. It felt just short of the two men and Sheppard cursed in frustration and dragged it back in. Trying again, he held his breath as it landed in the water just beyond the rocks. Dragging it back slowly, he inched it closer to Ronon, who grabbed it and wrapped it around Rodney’s inert body, tying it off before pushing away from their safe haven. The rope went taut as the current threatened to take them away but Sheppard put all his effort into pulling strongly toward the bank, relieved to see Ronon hanging onto Rodney with one hand and managing a somewhat awkward Australian crawl with the other.
It seemed to take hours, the current winning the struggle for dominance whenever Sheppard’s energy flagged. He didn’t know how much longer he could hang on. The muscles in his back and shoulders were screaming with tension and he could feel the slick wetness of burst blisters on the palms of his hands. He worked his way closer to the river’s edge, hand over hand, never losing contact with the lifeline until he knew he was close enough to reach out and snag Ronon’s hand. Ronon bit back a groan and Sheppard saw the ugly gash on his arm. The moment’s hesitation had the river almost taking control again but Sheppard yanked hard, apologizing silently for the pain it must have caused his friend, knowing that was better than death. Another strong tug and both men were dragged free of the grasping tide, laying gasping and shivering at Sheppard’s feet.
Michelle Barton gaped in shock at the stranger standing at her front door. “Someone’s in the river?”
“My friends,” the man said. “Look, I need to call for help. Can I use your phone?”
She took a step back. They were fairly isolated and her husband was at work. She knew better than to allow a stranger into her home. She looked at David, who stood at the man’s side, clutching Molly. “David? What on earth do you have to do with all this?”
“I didn’t push him in, Mom,” he exclaimed, pushing past her and dragging the stranger along with him. “He slipped and fell. Come on, Doctor Beckett has to phone SGC!”
She trailed along into the kitchen. “911, you mean. Umm, the phone’s there on the wall.”
“Thank you. Oh, aye, I’m Carson Beckett.”
Michelle nodded mutely at him and watched as he picked up the phone and punched in a number then asked for a General Landry. General? Who on earth was this man? She turned back to David who’d opened the refrigerator and pulled a bottle of milk out for his cat. “I think you have some explaining to do, David Barton.”
David finished pouring the milk for Molly then poured himself a glass, taking a big swallow before recounting his story.
When he was finished, Michelle planted her hands on her hips. “I thought I told you not to go down to the river by yourself. You know what happened to your uncle last year.”
“I know,” David replied, “but what if Molly had fallen in the river? Cats don’t like water.”
“We’re going to be having a long talk about this over dinner tonight, young man.” She waited until Doctor Beckett finished his call before speaking again. “Doctor Beckett? Shouldn’t you have phoned 911? I mean, we have a rescue helicopter nearby.”
“Aye, lassie, I know,” the doctor said in a broad Scots brogue, “I’m with the Air Force and they’re going to coordinate the rescue with them. That way, my friends can be taken straight to the Air Force base hospital.”
“Right. Of course.”
“I need to get back to my friends,” Beckett said, heading for the front door. “I thank you for your help. You too, David. Don’t punish him too badly,” he added in a whisper. “If he hadn’t happened along, my friends could have drowned. He’s quite the young hero.”
“Thank you,” Michelle said with a smile. “I’ll go easy on him.”
“Can we go watch the rescue chopper, Mom?” David asked.
“You might get in the way, laddie,” Beckett said. “Best you stay here with your mum. I’ll let you know how they are.”
“Aye.” Beckett reached out and ruffled David’s hair then turned and ran back the way they had come.
He was relieved to find Ronon and Rodney safely on dry land when he arrived back at the river. John had wrapped both men in sleeping bags and was kneeling beside a pale-faced Ronon, bandaging a nasty looking gash on his arm. Carson had a quick look at the damage. “Chopper’s on its way.”
“Don’t need a chopper,” Ronon protested. “I’m fine.”
“You’re going to need stitches, laddie,” Carson advised as he made his way over to Rodney, “and Rodney’s got to have a nasty concussion at the very least.”
Ronon rolled his eyes. “How is he?” he asked hoarsely.
“He’s conscious,” John said. “Muttering something about algorithms so I think he’s mostly okay. I got him wrapped up and he threw up some water when he came to. Got a gash on his head. Best you check him out though, Doc.”
“Aye.” Carson knelt down in front of Rodney, who sat, or rather, sagged back against a tree trunk. “Rodney, how are you feeling?”
Rodney stared at him dully for a moment then blinked and gave him a lazy smile. “Carson! When did you get back?”
“Just a minute ago. How’s your head?” Carson gently lifted the gauze pad taped to Rodney’s temple and examined the injury. “You’ll need some stitches too.”
“Okay.” Rodney reached out and prodded Carson’s chest. “Huh. Feel real but you’re not.” The smile dropped from his face. “You died, Carson, and it’s all my fault because I wouldn’t go fishing with you.”
“Definitely a concussion,” Carson said with a sigh. He wrapped the sleeping bag more securely around Rodney’s shivering body and nudged his shoulder when Rodney’s eyes drifted closed. “No sleeping until I’ve run some tests.”
Rodney muttered something incomprehensible but opened his eyes obediently. He smiled again. “Carson! You’re back.”
Carson sighed and plopped down to sit beside his friend, feeling suddenly exhausted. Rodney’s brain was in a rewind loop. He hoped it was only a temporary condition but there was nothing to be done until they got them back to the SGC. He would have preferred to take them straight to the local hospital but there would be too many questions asked. He heard the welcome sound of a helicopter approaching and felt Rodney’s head settle on his shoulder. Giving him another shake, he smiled at his friend. “Aye, Rodney, I’m back.”
Woolsey crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his battered premiere team. “I’m assuming there’ll be no argument to my order that everyone remain in the city for the foreseeable future.”
“Oh come on,” Sheppard protested as he perched on the edge of Rodney’s bed, “it was just a fishing trip! Not our fault if Rodney decided to take a dip in a raging river!”
“I didn’t decide to do anything,” Rodney groused. He slapped Ronon’s hand away from his food. “I rescued a cat from certain death. Not my fault I slipped.”
“Anyway,” Sheppard continued. “We did it for Carson. He still hasn’t had his fishing trip.”
“Ach, trust me,” Carson said as he picked up Ronon’s sling and held it out to him, “I’m happy to wait. Maybe head off on a little solo jaunt later, though I’m not sure I should be taking my eyes off any of you.”
Ronon settled the sling over his shoulder with a grimace. “Frankly, I think I’d rather babysit Torren again than go anywhere with you guys.”
“Started out okay,” John grumbled, “until the engine gave out.”
“Maybe next time you’ll make sure it's in tip-top condition and has a warranty,” Rodney said.
“No next time,” Woolsey ordered firmly. He turned to Teyla who stood beside Rodney’s bed and hadn’t said a word. “At least our sightseeing trip was pleasant and without problems.”
“It was indeed but I must admit you’ll have no protest from me about remaining on Atlantis, Mr. Woolsey. The cities here are too noisy and busy for me. I found myself needing an extra long meditation when we returned.”
“Ah, you get used to it,” Sheppard said. He stood and gave Rodney a wave. “I’m gonna grab something to eat, since we left all the fish behind.”
“At least you caught some,” Rodney retorted.
“I think you should get something to eat and a good night’s sleep,” Jennifer Keller said as she entered the room. “Including you, Carson. You look exhausted.”
“I’m all right, lassie,” Carson replied. “I didn’t take a swim in the river.”
“I’m on duty,” Jennifer said. “Doctor’s orders… all of you.” Rodney pulled back his covers and swung his feet over the side of the bed. “Not you!” Jennifer added sternly.
“I can rest in my quarters,” Rodney said, “and I want some real food.”
“You suffered a severe concussion and hypothermia,” Carson interjected. “Jennifer’s right. You’re here till at least tomorrow.”
Ronon slapped Rodney’s shoulder. “I’ll eat some of that roast beef you like so much.”
“Gee, thanks,” Rodney replied. He waited until they’d all left before turning to Jennifer. “Well, this is a little awkward.”
She smiled at him. “I’ve been wondering about that. I spoke to Mr. Woolsey about possibly staying here on Earth, if you go back to the Pegasus Galaxy.”
“Why? We need you!”
“You have Carson back,” she said. “He’s meant for this job. Me… I’ve been a less than adequate temporary replacement.”
“Now who’s selling themselves short?” Rodney reached out and took her hand. “Look, you’re a great doctor. Carson can’t do it all on his own.”
“And what about this?” Jennifer waved her hand around the infirmary. “Is it always going to be awkward if you end up in here and I’m on duty?”
“I trust you to keep your professional and private lives separate,” Rodney said sincerely. “Besides, we said we’d stay friends, didn’t we? Who knows what will happen down the track? Please, Jennifer, reconsider.”
She stared at him for a long moment then smiled and shook her head. “You won’t leave it alone until I agree, will you?”
Rodney grinned back at her. “Nope.”
Jennifer held up her hands in surrender. “All right. I’ll reconsider.”
“Anyway,” Rodney added glumly. “There’s more chance of us staying on Earth than there is of us going back home.”
“Home?” Jennifer asked.
Rodney shrugged as he settled back onto his pillows. “It’s been more home to me than Earth ever was.”
“Can I get you anything?” Jennifer asked as she picked up his dinner tray.
“Actually, two things. Any chance you could see if the commissary does have roast beef on the menu for dinner?”
“I’ll see what I can do. And the second thing?”
“I’ll tell you after I’ve eaten. I need someone to run an errand for me.”
“It can’t wait a couple of days till you’re feeling better?”
Rodney pulled a face. “Confined to the city, remember?”
Jennifer patted his shoulder in commiseration. “Right. I’ll see what I can do about dinner and then you can tell me what you need.”
“Thank you,” Rodney said around a yawn.
“David?” Michelle Barton walked over to where her son was hunched over his homework. “A package arrived for you today.”
“For me?” David took the parcel from Michelle’s hand. “Who’s it from?”
“Open it and see,” she suggested with a smile.
Eagerly he tore open the envelope and peeked inside then pulled out a narrow, gaily wrapped object. He tore the paper off and held it up for Michelle to see. “What’s this?”
Michelle laughed. “It’s a kitty harness. You put it on Molly and you can take her for a walk safely so she can’t run off.”
“It’s from Doctor McKay,” David said, reading the gift card. “Thank you for helping us. This is to make sure Molly doesn’t get lost again. No going near the river though. Sincerely, Doctor Rodney McKay.”
Michelle ruffled David’s hair. “That’s a very thoughtful gift.” She picked up the package and turned it over. “No return address. That’s a pity. You could have written him a thank you note.”
“He won’t mind,” David said, climbing out of his chair and scooping Molly up from her cozy perch in an armchair. “Want to go for a walk, Molly?”