Ronon easily – and non-violently, thankfully – eluded Sheppard’s hand. He stopped walking and stood still, stiff and dark-faced.
“We are close,” Teyla repeated, single-mindedly. “We must continue.” She looked at Sheppard for support. “Colonel?”
Sheppard was hot, tired, and pissed off at all three of them right now.
“Let me see the tablet,” he told McKay.
Instantly, McKay hugged the thing to his chest and stuck out his chin. “No? We’re not-”
Sheppard reached out and tried to grab the tablet out of McKay’s hands, ignoring the babbling.
McKay held on, like a child.
“Give it!” Sheppard ordered, pulling with both hands.
This was idiotic.
He was not playing tug-o-war, except he totally was. Abruptly, he released his hold and McKay staggered backwards and almost lost his balance. The man kept his feet, squealing. And then he lunged forward like he was going to smash Sheppard over the head with the tablet.
Sheppard feinted left and swung a hard right with his fist, without thinking. He didn’t hit McKay solidly – his face wasn’t where Sheppard thought it would be – but the blow worked. McKay went flailing to the ground.
Less than a second later, Sheppard heard the hum of Ronon’s weapon. He barely had the chance to look in the right direction, and then everything was red and stinging, and then black.
Sheppard woke up with a headache and the rest of his body instantly uncomfortable and oddly suspended in the air. The first thing he registered was the tight constraint of plastic field restraints binding his wrists behind his back. The second thing was an odor, frighteningly close to his face and horribly familiar: it smelled like the inside of Wraith hive ship.
His eyes not even open, Sheppard arched and twisted, not even knowing what he was trying to escape.
Whatever was holding him fell away, and then Sheppard hit the ground hard and banged the hell out of his hip because his hands were caught. His eyes open before he landed, Sheppard realized with confusion that he was still on Paluthua.
Teyla peered over him, face creased with annoyance.
“Can you walk?” she asked, as if that was the most important question of the moment.
Sheppard stared at her. “What the hell?” he demanded.
“You attacked Rodney and Ronon shot you,” Teyla said, sounding almost bored. “They have left but we must continue. I can carry you but it slows us down. Can you walk?”
“Rodney attacked me,” he corrected her, trying to sit up and failing. “What do you mean they left? And no way in hell can you carry me.”
Teyla leaned forward and pulled him into a sitting position. As she did so, Sheppard caught another whiff of Wraithstink. Coming from Teyla. The sweat on her brow and from where his face had been against his neck.
Sheppard froze and just stared at her. She didn’t look…Wraith-like. But she reeked of it, and the expression on her face was the one that scared the shit out of him, usually, because it meant there were Wraith around.
“Teyla,” he said. “Untie my hands.”
“No,” she said, instantly. “You are violent and ill. We are close and must continue.”
“I don’t think I’m the only one ill,” he said, lowly. “What are we close to?”
Teyla smiled at him, but it was full of teeth and wasn’t her smile. “We are so hungry,” she said.
Everyone except Sheppard had gone completely insane. Ronon and Rodney were gone – separately, according to Teyla’s vague description of their sudden, chaotic departure. She didn’t care because they were going other directions than her destination. Ronon was silent and apparently armed, since Sheppard’s swapping the gun cells hadn’t worked out for him. Rodney had his Earth-issue gun, but Sheppard pegged him as less likely to come in shooting. He also wasn’t quiet, jabbering into the comm. line that he had the Life Sign Detector and could see them coming. And that he’d take them with him.
Sheppard didn’t know who he was talking to. Rodney had no chance against Ronon and everyone knew it. For his part, Sheppard was disarmed and tied up. And Teyla had no interest in McKay’s threats, because she presently thought she was a Wraith.
She’d actually flicked the off switch on her earpiece when Rodney started hissing about plans for guerilla warfare.
Everyone had gone completely insane.
Teyla was strong like a Wraith, too. She ignored Sheppard’s attempt at conversation and managed to haul him up and over her shoulder when he wouldn’t move on his own. She wouldn’t answer his questions. He smelled the Wraith odor again, seeping out of her pores. He struggled wildly and she merely readjusted her grip.
Sheppard didn’t know how long they walked for – she walked, he got carried. He didn’t know how much time had passed while he’d been out. Eventually, though, night fell and Teyla stopped. She dumped him to the ground and stood over him.
“I am so hungry,” she said to him. And then she was reaching down with her hand extended, pressing it flat against his chest. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, face expectant.
She was trying to feed.
Sheppard stared, horrified. Then he took advantage of the moment. He got his legs out in front of his body, wrapped them around her lower half, and took her down. Tangled up between his knees, Teyla looked more confused than alarmed. Sheppard’s arms were still trapped and suddenly she was on top of him and he was the one pinned.
Teyla leaned down again. This time, Sheppard felt burning, stinging pain explode in his right shoulder. She was biting him.
Sheppard arched and kicked and rolled. He didn’t know how, but suddenly her weight was off of his body. Moving so quickly he almost lost his balance, Sheppard struggled to his knees and took off in the direction he happened to be facing by the time he stood upright.
And then he ran, as fast as he could, into the outstretched darkness.
Time seemed to warp, after that. Sheppard didn’t stop running until he had to choose between going forward and breathing, coming to a crashing halt in scratchy, thorny under brush. He heard how loud his landing sounded, twigs and shit cracking and crunching under his body. Fuck. He had no delusions about Ronon being able to track him, but even McKay would have recognized that.
But when he flipped around and came up in a crouch, no one was behind him.
Trying to be quiet, Sheppard hunkered down amidst the tall grass and bushes. Hiding wasn’t his first choice, but it was the only thing he could do. His hands were still caught behind his back. He could feel the plastic cutting painfully into his wrists. The bushes had thorns that had pricked his exposed skin. He was stinging all over, but especially at the junction of his neck and shoulder, where Teyla had fucking bitten him.
Teyla was a Wraith. Or she thought she was a Wraith. Fuck. Either way, once he got his hands free, he was going to have to kill her. Even though she was strong as hell. Strong enough to carry him like a bag of potatoes. And he had his hands tied.
Sheppard stayed in his crouch, went up on his tiptoes. He tried to drop his hands below his heels, hook them underneath. His back cracked in objection as his shoulders strained. He almost, almost reached, then suddenly over balanced and flopped backwards on to his ass. His arms ached and his wrists were almost certainly bleeding now. He wasn’t flexible enough to pull that move off. Dammit.
Somewhere in the chaos, he’d lost his pack and, of course, his weapons. Unlike Ronon, he didn’t carry sixty-gazillion blades secreted under his clothes. Right now, he kind of wished he did.
There wasn’t any way to get his hands free. No conveniently pointy rocks lying on the ground. The thorns on the plants were sharp enough to slash his skin, but not plastic. Sheppard tried that, anyway, succeeding only in bloodying his palms.
For a while, Sheppard sat in the brambles. Stewing, a little. He was helpless. It was only a matter of time before Wraith-crazed Teyla followed his incredibly obvious trail. If Ronon had lost his mind, too, Sheppard was completely fucked. Even McKay had the advantage with Sheppard bound like this.
He didn’t hear anyone approaching. But it was hard to tell over the volume of his own fast breathing and pounding heart.
It was hard and stupid, but Sheppard gave in and called for help.
“McKay,” he hissed into his ear piece, hoping Teyla still had hers off. Silence answered him, but he knew McKay had to be listening out of paranoia. He waited a second.
“What?” McKay answered, predictably unable to stay quiet. “What? I’m not coming back, you violent lunatic-”
“Teyla’s a Wraith,” Sheppard interrupted. “She’s a Wraith and she tried to feed off me.”
“Yeah,” McKay began, tone already obnoxious. “Uh-huh?”
“Listen!” He tried not to yell but probably didn’t succeed. Now Teyla could just follow his voice. “She’s thinks she’s a Wraith. She tried to feed off of me, then she bit me. I got away but I’m tied up. I need –” he paused, took a deep breath – “I need you to come back here and set me free.”
“Right,” McKay said, sarcastically. “I’ll do just that. That doesn’t sound like a trap, at all.” Then he started yelling. “I’m not going to fall for that, Sheppard! How stupid do you think I am? I have the lifesign detector! I can see you coming. I don’t want to hurt you but I will!”
“You’ve lost your goddamn mind, McKay,” Sheppard snapped back. “You know that? I’m not the threat here.”
“You’ve wanted to kill me since we got here,” McKay interrupted. “Don’t deny it.”
“You’ve been annoying as all hell since we got here,” Sheppard told him, honestly. Smug silence answered him and he scowled. “So, not going to come back, then?”
“Any one of you gets within a five klick radius of me,” McKay answered, “you’ll regret it.”
Sheppard snorted. “What are you doing, building landmines?”
“I’ve reconfigured the-” McKay began, flaring. Then he stopped himself. “I am not telling you. Just stay the hell away.”
Then, somehow, he sent a blast of static feedback over the comm. line so loud it hurt. Sheppard, of course, couldn’t pull the thing out of his ear, either.
Teyla was crazy. McKay was crazy. Ronon…Ronon sure as hell wasn’t normal.
It was worth a shot, anyway.
“Ronon,” he said into his earpiece. “I don’t know if you heard all that.”
“Anyway,” Sheppard continued. “Teyla thinks she’s a Wraith and tried to kill me. McKay’s gone looneytoons.” He paused. “That means crazy, by the way. He could be out there building nukes to use against us, for all I know.”
There was a muffled shriek of indignation on the comm. line, but it was definitely McKay, not Ronon.
“I am tied up here and could really use some help,” Sheppard went on. “I promise it’s not a trap. I promise I’m not crazy-” McKay snorted sarcastically into the comm. line, at that, so Sheppard had to talk over him – “and I’m not going to hurt you, in case you’re having any paranoid thoughts along those lines.” He paused. “Unless, of course, you’re planning on hurting me first, in which case, well, I’m gonna give it a go.”
If Ronon was out there, he didn’t answer.
Sheppard tried to stay awake through the night. He’d decided to stay put, mostly out of the belief that everyone – including McKay thanks to the lifesign detector – could easily track him if he started moving. He had no idea where McKay was, too, and was somewhat seriously concerned what kind of technological death might be in store for him if he crossed into that forbidden radius.
For those reasons, Sheppard stayed ensconced in his thorny, brambly hiding place. He tried to be alert for any approaching psychotic teammates. But at some point he gave in to fatigue and must have fallen asleep. He only knew that because he was suddenly waking up, waking up to a drenching downpour of cold rain welcoming the dawn.
Startled by the sudden temperature change and almost instantly soaked to the bone, Sheppard struggled to move. His legs squelched in puddles of mud forming on the ground and by the time he stood, Sheppard realized he had no shelter to run to, anyway.
Spitting a curse, he dropped back to the swampy ground. His arms were stiff and uncomfortable behind his back; he couldn’t even hug himself for warmth.
The rain, at least, provided some drinking water. Sheppard caught some in his mouth and swallowed. It didn’t taste fantastic, sort of bitter and unclean. But he was thirsty and it would do. And from the way it was coming down, he’d hear anyone nearby sinking into the mud.
No one came.
Sheppard stayed put until the sun was fully in the sky. Then, he decided to move. He had no idea where. The ‘Gate was three or so days back. He had no idea where his team was. Not that he wanted to find them, right now. Wet, glistening shrubs and tall grasses stretched out before him, leading up slopes to the gray mountains rising towards the sky. Mountains full of places to hide, places to lie in wait.
He decided not to go there.
The rain had stopped, leaving Sheppard uncomfortably damp all over. He tested the restraints, hoping the water had slicked his skin. It had, but not enough. And it also felt like his wrists were swollen from his earlier efforts
He crawled into a new tangle of bushes, feeling helpless and exposed when he was standing.
Sheppard kept drinking rain water, suckling it off the oval-shaped leaves of the brambles that had caught tiny puddles. It wasn’t enough and he knew he was getting dehydrated, anyway. He was hungry, too, but had nothing to eat. And, of course, he was still tied up.
Teyla started talking into the radio, sometime in the middle of the day. Half-taunting, half-pleading for her teammates to come back. It was Teyla’s voice, but she wanted them to come back so she could try to eat them. And then she started making a strange, sort of chittery noise that was freaky as hell.
It was probably tactically stupid, but Sheppard used his shoulder and sturdy bramble branch to knock the radio out of his ear, so he wouldn’t have to listen to that.
Night fell again. It was warm, at least, but in the darkness and with his hands trapped behind him, Sheppard felt vulnerable as hell. He couldn’t defend himself if one of his psychotic teammates showed.
Well, he knew how to break a person’s neck with his knees.
But he really didn’t want to.
Sheppard was exhausted. He suddenly felt drained. Not just physically, as he should from exertion without enough food and water. Emotionally, like an edge he hadn’t even noticed had suddenly vanished from his mind. The tension, the aggression, the constant violent impulses he’d been trying to ignore…all gone.
He wished he hadn’t tossed his earpiece, now, so he could ask the rest of the team if they’d had a sudden return to sanity, too. But he wouldn’t be able to find it, and the rainwater must have fried it by now.
The next day, Sheppard actually went looking for his team. He turned around and went back, or at least he thought he did. He wasn’t sure if he was going in the right direction. His head felt clearer, but his memory was clouded. The landscape all looked the same and was too overgrown for him to see the city from here. He only knew to go away from the mountains.
He didn’t find anyone. And he really wasn’t confident he’d reversed course. Who knew if his team was staying put, anyway? Maybe they were looking for him. Sheppard wandered back towards the base of the mountains.
The rainwater was evaporating pretty quickly. Sheppard’s mouth was dry and his stomach hurt from hunger. He hadn’t had anything to eat in a while and his water source was running out.
He didn’t have much time left.
That thought angered Sheppard again. But it wasn’t the strange, foreign emotion that had invaded his mind for the past few days. It was genuine and his own: he was pissed he was going to die here like this. He was pissed at the sinister alien shit that had driven his team crazy – and no, he had no proof of anything, but now that it was gone, he sure as hell knew something had been there.
Maybe it was gone because it had worked. Separated his team, alienated them from each other, ensured they’d kill each other or die from exposure.
But Sheppard wasn’t so sure. Himself, yeah. He was done for. But Ronon, Teyla, and Rodney should have their provisions. Even separate, they should be okay. Ronon, he had no doubts about. And Teyla – if her Wraith insanity was over – could take care of herself. Even Rodney could survive. He might be having panic attacks over it, but he could build a water filtration system out of a shoe and a bullet. Rodney would be fine.
Sheppard really, really wanted to find his friends. But he was having trouble moving, now. Standing made him dizzy and walking didn’t work so well. He staggered to the dampest bush he could see – shining in the sunlight – and chose to drop there.
He tried to be glad he was going out like this. Even with evil alien shit swimming in his head, Sheppard had won out. He hadn’t acted on the violent impulses or the insane thoughts. He hadn’t hurt anyone, hadn’t killed his friends. Sheppard hung on to this, as he fell into a dry, dizzy sleep.
Voices woke him from a heavy deep. Unfamiliar voices, such that Sheppard almost shut his eyes to them and stayed hidden. But when he opened his eyes and blinked into the green thorny bushes surrounding him, he couldn’t move anyway. Too tired and too gone.
But then a U.S. Marine-issue combat boot crashed down onto his left shin and an involuntary cry escaped Sheppard’s parched throat.
In an instant, the voices were all around him. Marines. Sheppard’s eyes had trouble focusing by he found the right patches on their uniforms. Marines from the Daedalus.
They were all talking at once, while several arms pulled him up to standing. That wasn’t going to work. His legs went out immediately, dangled uselessly below him.
The Marines were a little concerned about the field restraints, because they didn’t cut him loose. Sheppard couldn’t follow the conversation, not even questions he was pretty sure were being directed at him.
“My team?” he asked, hearing it come out thick and unintelligible. “My team?”
One of the jarheads finally realized he was almost unconscious from dehydration and shoved a canteen between his lips. Sheppard would have drunk the entire thing, but the same jarhead had enough medical training to take it away before Sheppard puked it all back up.
Another one made the observation that he was weak as a kitten and sliced the restraints off. Sheppard’s arms swung free with a vague, distant tingling.
The world turned sideways and Sheppard realized he was being heaved over a very large Marine’s back into a fireman’s carry.
He wanted to know why the Daedalus couldn’t just beam them up and he wanted to know where the hell his team was, but before he could figure out how to ask, his body decided to pass out.
The next time Sheppard woke up, he was in the blue-lit Daedalus infirmary and he felt much more alive. A bag of fluids hung off his IV-poll and he could feel gauze bandages on his hands and neck. Exhaustion still coated him, but it wasn’t all-consuming and he didn’t hurt. There must have been some morphine, earlier. He wasn’t in restraints, which was nice. Then again, he wasn’t sure he could get out of bed, either.
He knew what was wrong with him, but the medical staff used their words to tell him he was hungry and thirsty. Also, though he hadn’t really noticed, he scraped the skin off his hands and the side of his face in the briars. The restraints had cut into his wrists. And he had a human bite on his neck.
“Teyla,” Sheppard said. “My team? Are they okay? Do you have them?”
“They’re in the same shape as you are,” the CMO said, and he didn’t say Teyla thought she was a Wraith or the other two were violent and paranoid. So, everyone was better. “Get some rest.”
Sheppard didn’t get to see them. He didn’t even see the captain of the Daedalus, Colonel Stephen Caldwell. He spent the entire journey back to Atlantis asleep, waking up long enough to pee or get his bandages changed. The fact that he was almost too out of it to fight with the medical staff was a little scary.
Caldwell came down to greet him and escort him down to Atlantis. It was only a day or two, but Sheppard felt like a whole new man.
“Colonel,” Caldwell said, casting an amused eye at Sheppard’s patient scrubs. His BDU’s had vanished.
“Colonel,” Sheppard replied. He hopped lightly off his gurney. “Thanks for the back up.”
Caldwell inclined his head, lightly. One thing Sheppard liked about the man was he didn’t gloat. “Glad we made it in time,” he said, and Sheppard couldn’t disagree. “We were halfway back to Earth when we got the message.”
For a second, Sheppard blinked. He thought he remembered the Daedalus arriving around the time they’d begun this awful mission.
“Thanks,” he said again, and followed Caldwell out of the infirmary.
The Atlantis infirmary was the first place Sheppard saw the rest of his team, all of whom had beaten him off the Daedalus. He and Caldwell beamed straight there, mostly so Dr. Jennifer Keller could uselessly put her hand on his forehead and determine the Daedalus medical staff had done their jobs.
“How are you feeling?” Keller asked, taking it upon herself to undo his bandages so she could see what was underneath.
“Okay,” Sheppard told her, trying subtly to twist out of her grip. “All better.”
“I know you need to look him over,” Caldwell said, with the authority that usually worked. “But as soon as the debriefing ends, I can leave. The Daedalus is eight days off schedule. I’ll bring him right back.”
“Hey,” Sheppard began, objecting to that promise.
“All of them,” Keller instructed. “Immediately.”
Hearing that, Sheppard looked around. He saw Keller make a beckoning motion past the curtain.
“Finally!” He heard Rodney McKay’s familiar, grouching voice. Completely unexpected relief filled Sheppard’s chest as Rodney walked into view.
Someone had punched Rodney, the left side of his face swollen and purple. He was in patient scrubs like Sheppard but didn’t seem injured, otherwise. His eyes landed on Sheppard and he froze.
“Hey,” Sheppard said, aware it sounded weird.
“Hello.” Rodney glanced from him to Caldwell and back again. “Oh, so you’re alive. That’s good.” He was going for snide, but there wasn’t any power behind the words. Mostly he sounded tired and not thrilled to be off his game in front of Caldwell.
“John?” That was Teyla, coming up behind Rodney. She was in scrubs as well, but didn’t have any obvious injuries. She looked small, though, padding across the floor in too-long pants rolled up around her ankles. Her face almost crumpled, recovering when she noticed Caldwell. “It is good to see you,” she said, formally.
“Yeah,” Sheppard said. “You, too.”
Teyla nodded awkwardly, arms crossed around herself.
“Where’s Ronon?” Sheppard asked, glancing around for the last piece.
“He already left,” Keller said, sounding annoyed. “Tell him he has to come back, too.”
“He okay?” Sheppard asked, suddenly worried.
“Yes,” Keller reassured him. “But he still has to come back.”
The trip to the conference room was completely silent. Sheppard found himself glancing at his teammates, unable to stop checking them over. Other than Rodney’s bruised face, they looked normal. They really did. Too quiet and too stiff, but like themselves. Nothing like what they’d seemed on that goddamn planet.
Ronon was indeed already in the conference room with Woolsey and Evan Lorne. He looked okay, too, sprawled in the far chair in his usual display of total disinterest in any kind of meeting.
He sat up a little bit when Sheppard entered, put his elbows on the table.
“Hey,” Sheppard said, taking the seat next to him. Ronon nodded, eyes on Sheppard’s face with concern. He touched the bandage self-consciously. “I’m okay,” he offered, quietly. “Are you?” Ronon nodded again, face too firm and still for that to be entirely true.
Sheppard nodded in return, then turned his attention to the rest of the table. Teyla took the seat next to him with Rodney after her. This left Woolsey, Lorne, and Caldwell on the other side of the table. It felt a little like squaring off.
“Welcome back,” Woolsey said, with genuine warmth. He frowned awkwardly. “I wish this could wait, but Colonel Caldwell has to leave as soon as possible.”
“About that,” Sheppard jumped in. “How did-”
“I sent a transmission,” Woolsey said. “Once the situation was explained to me.”
“I didn’t want to risk any more boots on the ground,” Lorne offered. “I thought they could beam you guys up.”
Since Sheppard distinctly remembered being found by a Marine patrol, he blinked in confusion.
“We could,” Caldwell said. “But my people said that planet’s atmosphere combined with high concentrations of some mineral in the surface interfered with our sensors.” McKay was making a ridiculous face during this explanation, which made Caldwell smirk and shrug. “Am I right, Dr. McKay?”
“No,” snapped Rodney. He opened his mouth as if to correct Caldwell, then shook his head. “Whatever.”
“Fortunately,” Caldwell continued, “Dr. McKay had already disabled the device causing all the problems-”
“What?” Sheppard interrupted. “Did I miss something?”
“Yes,” said Rodney. “There was a great big installation of Wraith tech. I ran into it –” the half-grin on his battered face made Sheppard think he meant literally – “figured it probably wasn’t doing anything good, so I deactivated it.”
“How?” asked Sheppard.
“His gun,” answered Caldwell, sounding impressed.
McKay didn’t look too proud. “And some improvised C-4 grenades,” he muttered. “Just to make sure.” He tapped his fingers tensely on the tabletop. “Shortly after that,” he said. “I started feeling a little less destructive, which was probably that thing’s fault.”
“Yeah,” Sheppard whispered in agreement.
Caldwell continued: “Dex had relayed the events to Mr. Woolsey by then and the Daedalus arrived shortly.”
“Huh?” Sheppard interrupted. “Ronon was with us, right?” he looked at the man in confusion.
“I came back to Atlantis,” Ronon said, flatly. “After you attacked McKay.”
“I didn’t attack McKay,” he denied, the words coming out of his mouth before he fully thought about it.
Rodney snorted, touched his face gingerly. “Yeah, you did.”
Sheppard remembered resisting the urge, the powerful urge to do something hateful and violent to Rodney. He didn’t want to think about it too hard, didn’t want to remember the part where he might have given in. Pointedly, he changed the subject.
“How did you?” he began, to Ronon. “It took us days to reach…” he turned and looked from Woolsey to Caldwell and back again. “Where was the Daedalus?” This didn’t make any sense. He shook his head. “How long were we gone for?” he asked Woolsey. It hadn’t been long enough for Ronon to make it back to the ‘Gate after they all lost their minds. Hadn’t been long enough for the Daedalus be halfway to Earth.
“Two and a half weeks,” Woolsey said, neutrally. His face spoke volumes about how he hadn’t enjoyed that time. “Eighteen days.”
Sheppard stared at him.
“It did not feel that long to me, either,” Teyla spoke up, softly. She fiddled with her hair. “I do not understand how that could be.”
“Presumably,” Woolsey said. “The Wraith tech influencing you was responsible for that.”
“Presumably,” Rodney sneered, looking for all the world like he wanted to go destroy it again. It was a strange thing to see, reminded Sheppard of those past eighteen days of crazy.
“You came back,” he prompted Ronon, who nodded. “How?”
Ronon looked at him like he was a moron, which was a nice change towards normal. “Ran,” he said.
Sheppard found himself staring again. He did remember Ronon vanishing, but it hadn’t even occurred to him that it was to go home.
“I thought you were stalking m-, I mean us,” he said, embarrassed.
“Me, too,” Rodney volunteered. “I gave myself an asthma attack trying to get away from you.” He was squinting at Ronon and looking deeply unhappy. “Or a really scary tree, possibly.”
Teyla didn’t say anything at first, her eyes miserably on the table top. “I am grateful that you went for help,” she said, which was a thousand times more gracious than Shappard was being.
“He looked like hell when he got here,” Lorne said.
“Like Pheidippides at Marathon,” Woolsey said, going for admiration. Ronon just glanced at him with both no recognition for and no interest in the reference. “He told us everyone had gone crazy and then locked himself in Isolation for three days.”
Ronon shrugged. “I felt better, but I didn’t know.”
“We appreciate your caution,” Woolsey said, but he was touching his forehead like maybe he hadn’t appreciated it so much at the time.
Stuff was starting to make sense. Really shitty, evil sense.
“Wraith tech,” Sheppard said. “Proximity?”
Rodney shook his head yes. “Probably.” He shut his eyes briefly. “The closer we got, the more batshit.”
Lorne coughed lightly, while Caldwell gave a tiny grin.
“Could you clarify ‘batshit,’ please,” Woolsey requested, without any reprimand in his voice.
“Crazy,” said Ronon.
“Violent,” said Sheppard.
“Like one of them,” Rodney said, pointed towards Sheppard and Ronon accusingly. “Paranoid and with a sudden need to shoot people and blow things up.”
It was kind of funny, but not really.
“The device influenced me differently,” Teyla spoke up, in the silence.
“Yeah,” Sheppard agreed, nodding. “No kidding.”
“At first, I felt agitated like they did,” Teyla continued, sounding like she was forcing every word to come out even and level. “Later, I started feeling a great need to reach a destination outside the city, but I did not know why. I was also very hungry, but food was not satisfying. I thought that I was feeling better the farther we got from the city, but that was not the case. After a certain point, I was no longer myself.” She shuddered slightly. “I cannot remember exactly what happened.” She looked over at Sheppard. “When Rodney deactivated the machine, I was unsure if I had killed you.”
“Nope,” Sheppard said, quickly. “You didn’t.”
“But I tried.”
“Not really.” He shrugged. If she didn’t remember trying to feed off of him, he wasn’t going to tell her.
“Well,” Caldwell took over. “Everyone was back to sanity by the time my ship arrived. We couldn’t locate you due to the sensor issue, but we were able to communicate with Dr. McKay via radio and send down search teams. They built signal beacons that were strong enough to actually detect and we used those as beam out points.”
“You’re welcome,” McKay added, like he’d had something to do with that.
Caldwell gave him a tolerant grimace. “You must have taken off your radio at some point,” he said to Sheppard.
“Yeah.” Everyone was looking at him. “It seemed like a good idea at the time?”
“You gave us a scare,” and Caldwell actually sounded almost reproachful.
“I told them I may have killed you,” Teyla said, unhappily.
“It took a very long time for the Marines to find you,” Rodney added, like it was Sheppard’s fault.
“No one killed anyone,” Sheppard said, leaning forward. “We were stronger than whatever that thing was trying to do.” It sounded convincing, at least.
“Before I go,” Caldwell continued. “My people recovered the wreckage of two puddlejumpers and six bodies belonging to the Pegasus expedition while they were searching for your team.” The table was silent. “I understand two people are unaccounted for.”
“Yeah,” Sheppard said.
“They’re probably dead,” Rodney said, bluntly. He went to rest his face against his fist, then jerked back when it hurt.
“How did they die?” Teyla asked, abruptly. “In the crash, or…” she trailed off.
“That’s a question for the autopsy doctor,” Caldwell told her. “I don’t know.”
“Oh.” Teyla nodded. “Of course.”
Sheppard got her line of thinking, though, and imagined those feelings – those violent, awful feelings – in the cramped space of a puddlejumper. While flying a puddlejumper.
“Colonel Caldwell,” Woolsey was saying, “Thank you for your help. Obviously, we appreciate it. But you can return to your ship now.”
Caldwell rose, inclined his head at the table. “Try to stay away from Wraith tech, yeah?”
“Like we went there on purpose,” Rodney snarled, but it was mostly half-hearted.
“Yeah,” Ronon said, “We did.”
“What?” Rodney turned to look at him. “No.”
“Yeah,” Sheppard said, following Ronon. “The energy readings. We were walking right for it.”
“We didn’t know it was Wraith!” Rodney yelled. “It could have been…something cool. We didn’t know it was, you know, it was a Wraith make-the-food-supply-insane-o-matic.”
“Try to be more careful,” Caldwell said, with a polite smile as he exited. He didn’t sound like he expected them to even try.
“Very well,” Woolsey said, concluding the meeting. “I look forward to your reports on the mission.” He paused. “I’m also going to encourage you all to speak to the psychiatrists –”
Rodney interrupted him, snorting. “Yeah, that’ll help.”
“Make me,” Ronon said.
“Pass,” added Sheppard.
“I prefer the ways of my people,” Teyla said, considerably politer.
“Right,” Woolsey said, sighing. “Anyway, Dr. Keller says every single one of you is spending the next few days in the infirmary, just in case.”
“In case what?” Ronon asked.
“In case we relapse into crazy,” Sheppard guessed.
Sheppard was actually the worse off of his entire team, Rodney’s battered face aside. He’d been stranded without food or water and rolled around in thorn bushes. And after all that time in restraints – he sincerely didn’t know how long – his arms did not feel good. Really really not good. Keller put him on another IV and gave him a gigantic glass of juice to drink.
“You’re still dehydrated,” she said, when she caught him glaring at the IV. “Keep that in.”
“Okay,” Sheppard said, since unlike Ronon he didn’t generally rip IVs out the moment he was left alone
His team got an entire quarter of the infirmary to themselves. Rodney did some mild complaining about the lack of privacy, but he dropped it pretty quickly. For his part, Sheppard didn’t mind. It felt good to have his teammates – his normal, sane teammates – around. It was reassuring to see them like they should be and reassuring to be reacting to them like he should be.
“Keep your orange juice away from me,” Rodney ordered, setting up what looked like a barricade of pillows around his bed.
“How are we going to tell if he gets paranoid again?” Ronon asked, too sly to be innocent. Rodney threw a pillow at him, but it sailed harmlessly by and landed on Teyla’s bed. She took it and placed it firmly behind her head.
“This is mine now, Rodney,” she told him.
“We start throwing stuff worse than pillows,” Sheppard said, answering Ronon’s question. “We should probably tell a nurse.”
“I feel good now,” Ronon told him. “I feel okay.”
“Yeah, okay. But you never went too far gone, either. Keep an eye on the rest of us.”
Ronon shook his head, like Sheppard’s first statement wasn’t true. “I was gone, if you’re calling it that.”
“You were able to think clearly enough to get help,” Teyla said. “None of us were.” She sounded almost jealous.
Ronon just shook his head again, began kicking off his boots. “I’d never have left,” he muttered, “if I was thinking clearly.”
And that was true, Sheppard realized. Ronon had saved them all by going back to Atlantis, but he’d also left them to tear each other apart while he was gone.
“Just be glad your instincts, even when crazy, aren’t to start killing your friends, huh?” Sheppard said.
Flopping heavily on to his bed, Ronon gave Sheppard a look that said are you so sure about that?
“Oh,” Sheppard said. “Well.” That reminded him of something, of the part that he actually remembered. “I thought I broke your gun. I took the powercells.”
Ronon nodded. “I took them back.” He must have had secret pick-pocketing skills.
“I was building a device that would electrocute you all through your headsets,” Rodney announced, loudly. “Fry you all crispy.”
“Building with what?” Ronon asked, doubtfully.
Rodney made a face. “I could have done it,” he said. “Believe me.” Sheppard did, both from the horrified expression Rodney wore and past experience.
“Why did you not do it?” Teyla asked.
“None of you got close enough to me,” Rodney mumbled. “And then I found the evil Wraith tech and realized, oh wait, that’s insane.”
Keller walked into their little area then, heading towards Sheppard.
“Antibiotic cream,” she said. “For your neck. Human bites are extremely prone to infection.” Sheppard sat up, let her apply it even though it stung a little.
“Get some rest,” she told the room. “Your bloodwork is coming back clean, which is a good sign.” She turned the lights down, but not off. Presumably so medical staff could still watch them.
“Who bit you?” Rodney demanded, after Keller left.
If Teyla didn’t remember, Sheppard didn’t want to remind her.
But she did: “It was me,” Teyla said, sounding enormously embarrassed. “I am so sorry, John.”
“You could have done a lot worse,” he said. That was true. She’d been armed with a P-90. In the darkness, he could see Teyla’s twisted face. She didn’t agree. “You didn’t actually want to hurt me, Teyla. You were really confused.”
“I thought I was a Wraith,” she spat, softly.
“That device must have been designed to attract Wraith,” Rodney mused out loud, which probably wasn’t very helpful to Teyla.
“Why?” asked Ronon.
“The guys on the Daedalus said the farther from the mountains, the less interference there was in sensors,” Rodney replied. “The Wraith probably dropped that there to make the people move away. By, you know, driving them insane and making it ground zero for Wraith attacks.” He paused. “Darts would be flying blind in that area, though, probably crashing, too. If it worked like that on Teyla just because she has some of their DNA, imagine what it would be like for a Wraith.”
“I prefer not to,” Teyla announced.
“So,” Sheppard said. “The people –”
“Paluthuans,” Ronon said.
“Moved away from the mountains because it made them nutty, right up to the ‘Gate where the Wraith had easy access for snacktime.”
“Hm,” Sheppard said. And like everything in Pegasus, knowing the full story didn’t help at all.
He glanced over a Teyla, who was still staring angrily at the ceiling.
“Torren not joining us?” he asked, trying to get her mind off of it.
“I do not wish to be around my son while there is any danger that I will behave like that again,” Teyla answered. He didn’t think she believed any of them would, but he got it.
“Hey,” he said, to all of them. “Nobody successfully killed anyone else, right?”
“Because you didn’t get close enough,” Rodney said.
“Because I left,” Ronon said.
“And because Teyla tied me up and took my gun away,” Sheppard said, since they were being honest. “It doesn’t matter why, but we won.”
~Please Feed the Author~