[identity profile] neevebrody.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] atlantisbasics

Recipient:  insight2
Title:  
Pas de Deux
Part 1: Entrée, Part 2: Adagio Part 3: Solo Dancer – Rodney, Part 4: Solo Dancer – John, Part 5: Coda
Author:  
neevebrody
Rating:
(PG-13, maybe R for language)
Category:  (Gen – Slash – Hurt/Comfort – Team – First Time)
Spoilers:  (Season 3 – Up to Sunday)
Betas:  [profile] thepouncer  [personal profile] lavvyan  [personal profile] nora_charles
Summary: John turned to him, “That’s my job, Rodney.” 


Solo Dance  - John

 

“I'm sorry,” Rodney said after they’d walked on a bit.  His words bit into John’s reverie.

 

"Excuse me, what?"

 

"You know, for coming out here after you told me—"

 

"It's all right, Rodney," John said, regarding Rodney with one brow raised, "But that doesn't mean I'm not really pissed about it."

 

Rodney smiled.  "And thanks, too."

 

“For what?” John asked.

 

“For coming to find me.”

 

John turned to him, “That’s my job, Rodney.” 

 

“Besides,” John said seriously, “I think that’s just what someone was counting on.”  And as soon as the words left his lips he stopped short – of course!

 

“What is it?  Why'd you stop?” Rodney asked.

 

Ignoring Rodney, John called for Lorne.  He spun them around to face Teyla and Ronon.   As they stepped up, John was pulling Rodney's arm from around his shoulder.

 

“Ronon, you take McKay.  Both of you get him back to the gate.  Teyla, you get him back to Atlantis.  Ronon, as soon as they’re safely through, you get back here with --”

 

“What, and leave you and Lorne here?” Rodney asked, incredulous.

 

“Don’t you see, Rodney?” John said, “This is too easy.  We aren’t going to make it back to the gate without resistance.”

 

“So we fight.” Ronon said.

 

“Look, someone obviously wanted me here.  When they didn’t see me at first, they took Rodney to make sure of getting me here.  Someone that knew I’d show up to rescue him.”

 

Lorne reached their position.  Before John could continue, his earpiece crackled to life.  It was Elizabeth.  Rodney continued to talk unaware that the others were not listening to him.

 

“Oh yes, it's all about Sheppard.  So you’re saying someone deliberately planned this whole thing just to get you here?  Why?"

 

John tapped his earpiece.  "Yeah, and what did Ladon say?"  For the first time, Rodney realized they were listening to the comm.  He instinctively reached to his ear, wondering why he couldn't hear anything.  His earpiece was gone.  He couldn't remember what might have happened to it.  It was likely that one or two of those punches jarred it loose.  He looked around at the others.

 

"You think the Genii? Ladon?  What reason would they have for kidnapping me?"

 

John's face fell, he looked at the others as if to make sure he had heard correctly.  Each of their faces bore the same look of shock.

 

"There’s only one person I can think of," Rodney continued, "that would want to trap you, and that's--” Rodney jerked his head in John's direction, adjusting so that his good eye met John's.

 

"Kolya," they said in unison.  After that, no one spoke for a long moment.

 

John’s mind was a whirlwind of thoughts.  Why this planet, why would they come here?  Maybe they knew it from the Genii harvesting plants here.  Had they planted something here to lure Rodney?  Kolya had used Rodney and Elizabeth in Atlantis.  Kolya had used Rodney on Dagan.  Kolya had used Rodney and the others in Lucius-ville.  Is it possible? I saw him. But the little voice in the back of John’s mind poked at him.  You just left him there in the street – you didn’t verify the death.

 

Elizabeth’s voice came over the radio, “Colonel Sheppard, is everything okay there?”

 

“Affirmative, we’re fine.  We’re headed back to the jumper now, we’ll keep in touch.  Sheppard out."

 

“But,” Rodney said, “he’s dead – we saw him.”

 

“Did we?" John asked.  "We saw him fall. One shot, Rodney. We just left him there in the street – we let his own men take him away.  What, you think we’re the only people that ever thought of body armor?  Ladon says he's alive.” 

 

“Colonel Sheppard, you cannot believe that Kolya is still alive," Teyla said.  “That is impossible.  As Rodney said, we all saw you shoot him.  He fell, he did not get up.”

 

“I know that, Teyla, but we didn’t hang around to verify he was really dead.”

 

“But he told us, his only plan was to kill you.  If he did not die, why would he abandon his mission?” Teyla asked.

 

Ronon cut across her, “Why not finish the job then and there?”

 

“Because he’s a sadistic bastard,” John replied.  “He likes the game almost as much as he’d like just killing me outright.  Making me think he's dead while he plots another way to kill me.


”Don’t you see,” John said, spreading his hands out to encompass them all, “this is all just more of the game.”

 

“Well, I’m not leaving,” Rodney declared.  “I know I’m not much help, but I can probably shoot, something.”  Rodney looked around at the others. “We’re not leaving you.”  The others nodded in agreement.

 

Sheppard started back in the direction of the jumpers.  He quickly turned back to Rodney.  "Can you walk on your own?" John asked.  John smiled knowingly as Rodney's body immediately slumped a little.

 

"Well, sort of.  I mean it would probably be better if you—"

 

"Ronon, you take over for a while," he called over his shoulder.  Glancing at Major Lorne, he instructed the Major to take the six with Teyla.

 

"Let's stay in a tighter formation from here," John said.  "We don't have that much further to go."  He signaled for the other Marines to move out.  Taking the point, he led the way.

 

 

*******************

 

The crack of gunfire again rang through the air.  The loud buzz in Rodney's ear could have been one of the large insects that had constantly flitted around them and the little breeze of displaced air could have been wings that had gotten too close.  Rodney quickly made the connection.

 

"Jesus, they're shooting again," Rodney's voice a high-pitched shriek.

 

If the bullet had been a foot to Rodney's right, it would have pierced Ronon's left shoulder.

 

John whirled around and ran toward them.  Rodney heard him cry "Ronon!" as he passed them.  Immediately Ronon's arms encircled Rodney and he felt his feet skim over the ground as Ronon carried him forward, his weapon drawn.  Rodney was running as fast as he could, trying to keep up with Ronon's long legs.  The pain in his chest was long forgotten.  There was something about being shot at that made you forget all the extraneous shit and focus on one thing – staying alive.

 

*******************

 

Sheppard joined Teyla, Lorne and the other two Marines as they sprayed bursts of fire into the dense foliage ahead of them.  John didn't spare a look back.  Ronon would get Rodney safely back to the jumper.

 

The shots came at them randomly.  John couldn't see the shooters, but there couldn’t have been more than two or three.  He glanced to his left.  Lorne and one of Major Lewis' men were returning fire.  They were picking their way backwards over the tangled brush at the edge of the path.  John moved farther to the right to partner Teyla, who was also returning fire, along with the other Marine. 

 

There was a flash in his peripheral vision.  Teyla was down.  John reached her in seconds and saw that she had tripped over a vine on the ground.  Not wounded, good.  John lay down covering fire until she was back on her feet.

 

He chanced a glance behind them and saw the edge of the clearing was only about thirty feet away.  He signaled to get Teyla's attention.

 

"Go, get back to the jumper," he yelled.

 

She shook her head and continued firing.

 

John signaled by sweeping his hand backwards that he meant for her to move out.  Giving John a resigned look, she turned and sprinted away.

 

Seconds later, John felt something brush his thigh, like he'd been stung.  He fired into the foliage off to his right.  Suddenly everything was quiet.  Lorne was crouched behind a tree reloading.  More bullets drew cover fire from the Marine nearest Lorne.  John reached down.  His fingers came back red.  He signaled to Lorne and pointed to a mound of earth to his right.  Lorne shot a blast of cover fire as John crossed the path.

 

He scuttled over until his back was against the mossy-covered earth, and reloaded.  A bright spot of red bloomed underneath his BDU’s.  Flicking the torn cloth aside, he saw it was just a nick, but it was bleeding like a bitch.

 

Lorne crossed the path and joined John as he finished tying a field dressing around his thigh.  

 

Silence again.  "Same as before, sir,” Lorne said, “couldn't have been more than two or three – if that many.  I'm pretty sure I hit one of them.  You okay?"

 

"Yeah," John answered.  "The last time I saw Kolya, he only had a handful of men with him.  Ladon seems to think he doesn't have many now."  John shrugged, crinkling up his nose.  "It sure would be nice to know."

 

"Recon flight?"

 

"You read my mind, Major," John said as he stood.

 

******************

 

 

John and Lorne returned to the jumpers followed by the other two Marines.  Major Lewis and his team had already made it back safely.  John glanced into the rear of Jumper 1.  Rodney was seated in back being treated by the medic, Corporal LeClaire.

 

"McKay!" John barked.  "There'd better be a damn good reason for why you're not back in Atlantis."  Rodney ignored him.

 

“Ronon?”  Ronon just shrugged and turned to glare at Rodney.

 

Corporal LeClaire kept her head down and focused on Rodney's injuries.  Teyla was nearby, stowing and rearranging gear.

 

"Somebody tell me there's a problem with the gate – the DHD isn't working – something, because that's the only reason why McKay should be sitting here right now."  He turned and looked inside, "Teyla, why isn't McKay back in Atlantis?"

 

Teyla came forward into the stream of sunlight filtering through the hatch.  She, too, glared at Rodney before turning to face John.  "Colonel Sheppard, he refused to go.  I am sorry."

 

John drew in a deep breath and exhaled through his nose.  "Rodneeeeey?" 

 

Rodney had to turn around to be able to see him.  John must have looked silly standing there with his hands on his hips, his mouth drawn tight into a single line, because Rodney gave a quick little snort.

 

"Sheppard relax, I'm perfectly fine.  Nothing some real food and a few stitches can't fix, according to LeClaire here."  Rodney paused to eye Corporal LeClaire and smile.  "I don't need to go back to Atlantis for that.  I'm sure there are plenty of MREs around here," Rodney said as Sheppard stepped into the back of the jumper.

 

"Well you can eat your MREs walkin', 'cause you're going back – now!" John said, the color rising in his face.

 

"Sorry to disappoint you, Colonel," Rodney said, "but I'm staying right here.  I might be needed."  Rodney's chin rose in that familiar gesture of inflexibility.

 

"I think we'll do just fine without you McKay.  Do I have to get Corporal Torres to help persuade you?"  John asked.

 

Rodney ignored John but winced as LeClaire began stitching a cut over his swollen eye.

 

"Ow, son of a… hey don't you put some kind of deadening stuff on there first?  Ow."

 

The Corporal stared blankly at Rodney and continued her stitching.

 

John stepped further inside so that Rodney could see him easily.  "I'm serious, Rodney.  Don't make me—" 

 

"Let me tell you something, Colonel -- Ow.  That stings.  Can you just – Jesus, I never thought I'd actually wish for Carson Beckett to be here to jab me with needles, but -- ", Rodney glanced back to Sheppard, "what the hell do you teach these people?"

 

John shrugged and gave LeClaire one of those "whad’ya gonna do?" looks.  Then he watched in silence as LeClaire completed her treatment and attempted to clean the pulpy skin.  Given Rodney's current temperament, the best she could do was wipe off the blood and place suture strips on the few broken skin areas.  John politely requested the Corporal to excuse them and thanked her for her help.

 

"Yeah, thanks," Rodney muttered.  LeClaire glared at him, snatched up her kit and exited the jumper.

 

"Rodney –"

 

Rodney's eye was unyielding.  "Listen, John, just go ahead and do your worst – what part of I’m not leaving don’t you understand?"  John could see Rodney’s chest heaving.

 

John felt like he'd been punched in the stomach by Corporal Torres.  Rodney's words stung.  Didn't Rodney understand?  Didn't Rodney know why John wanted him off of the planet?  Why was it that Rodney would only use John's first name if he was incoherent or pissed?  Why the fuck did John care?  Was he going insane?

 

John let out a long sigh and sat down beside Rodney.

 

"Rodney, listen, you're hurt.  You need Carson to take a look at you.  I'd consider it a personal favor if you'd –"

 

Rodney’s attention was focused on John's thigh.  John looked down as Rodney reached out and placed his hand over the field dressing on John's thigh.  John pulled away like he’d been hit with a taser.  Rodney pulled his hand away sharply.

 

Their eyes met.  Suddenly Rodney was out of focus, his outline became dimmer and more fragmented.  John felt a warm, arousing sensation ripple through his body. 

 

"Oh, God, I'm sorry," Rodney was saying.

 

Rodney's voice brought John back to himself.  "What?" John asked blankly.

 

"You're bleeding?" Rodney asked.

 

John said nothing.

 

"Are you all right?  Sheppard?" Rodney asked.  He looked worried. Rodney had been beaten, shot at, had made it back to the jumper under less than perfect circumstances, his face looked like a prizefighter and yet he wanted to know if John was alright?

 

John stared at Rodney for a long moment, his lips pressed together.

 

"Yeah Rodney, 'm fine."  John got up from the bench and walked out of the jumper.

 

****************

 

 

Marines guarded the perimeter of the clearing.  John's territory was the edge nearest the stargate.  As he stood there on watch, his eyes sweeping the area for any movement, he realized that the planet was beautiful at night.  The sky was a deep indigo.  The stars appeared as glitter against it.  Such a contrast to the planet itself, which was bathed in an eerie glow from the planet's very large moon.  Larger than the planet itself, the pale yellow moon cut through the indigo sky in a wide arc.  It seemed so close, John actually reached out as if he could touch it.

 

After another sweep in the jumper to try and locate Kolya, they had eaten and put in a status call to Elizabeth.  She had not been at all happy to learn that Rodney was not returning to Atlantis and neither, John suspected, had Carson – even though they were finally able to convince Elizabeth that Rodney seemed fine.   John had even been able to take a short nap before taking up his post.

 

The recon flight had been successful.  According to the HUD, a large structure was located not very far from the shack where Rodney had been held, behind the arc of clearings they had picked up upon arriving.  The jumper had been too low to see it before.  The jumper's sensors had picked up about a half dozen life signs moving about within the building. 

 

John looked at his watch.  It was late.  He had just over three hours to go.  He imagined what would happen next.  He'd have breakfast and be off to meet Kolya – if it really was Kolya.  And this time John would do what he had failed to do in the past.  This time he would finish it.  No questions.  No ambiguities.  Just Kolya – dead -- finally.

 

Brush rustled nearby and John spun around, his weapon at the ready.  A pale figure was walking toward him with their hands up in mock surrender.  John rolled his eyes – McKay.

 

"Dammit, McKay, that's a good way to get yourself shot.  Haven't you had enough abuse for one day?"

 

"Sorry, sorry.  I figured you'd at least find out if I was friend or foe before you started shooting." Rodney said.

 

John made a low grumbling noise.

 

Rodney walked over and stood beside John.  "I couldn't sleep," he said.  "Can't seem to get comfortable, imagine that?  I finally had to get one of the sleeping bags and put it on the floor in the front of the jumper.  If I had to sleep on that thing in the back, I don't think I'd be able to walk at all tomorrow – you know, my back…" he trailed off.

 

"So you thought you'd just come out here and compromise my position?" John asked, cocking his head to one side.

 

"Uh, no that wasn't my intention at all.  I—oh, I see, kidding, right?"

 

But John didn't smile.  "You should go back." John said firmly, hoping Rodney would pick up the tone.

 

Rodney turned and walked a few paces toward the clearing.  He appeared to be looking out over the clearing at the sky.  John wondered if Rodney could see the same beauty in it.

 

"God, look at that moon," Rodney said softly.  "You know, under other circumstances, this might not be a bad place.  Well, except for the sweltering heat.  Not so bad at night, though, huh?"

 

"Yeah." John said, although it was just as bad.  Sweating after dark was not something John was used to, or wanted to get used to.  He moved closer to Rodney.  After a few moments, Rodney's voice broke through the silence.

 

"So, you're really going to do it this time, aren't you?"

 

"If by 'it' you mean kill Kolya, then yes Rodney, I'm gonna do what I should have done a long time ago,” John said flatly, “what I thought I'd already done."

 

"Hmm.  Do you have a plan?"

 

Rodney's question caught John off guard.  John figured the toughest part of the plan had already been accomplished – locating Kolya.  Find Kolya.  Face Kolya.  Kill Kolya.  What more of a plan did he need?

 

"Sure," was all John said.

 

"Yes, well, I'm sure it's a good one."  Rodney didn't sound too convinced.  "I think you do have an advantage, you know," Rodney mused.

 

John turned to Rodney.  "Right now, Rodney, the only advantage I see is that I know where the bastard is."  John shrugged, "What do you see?"

 

Rodney turned to John.  He smiled.  His face was pale in the glow from the moon – the untouched side shone.  The same glow made the other side darker, almost grotesque from the bruising.  It made John think of the old horror movies he loved as a kid -- the old B-movies where people turned into monsters because of atomic radiation.  But, Rodney was no monster.  John shook his head slightly, aware of Rodney speaking.

 

He sounded like he was quoting.  "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you needn't fear the result of a hundred battles."  Rodney paused.
 
When John just blinked at Rodney, he said, "I knew you wouldn't see it.  I figure you pretty much know Kolya by now, and I would hope that you know yourself – what you’re capable of.  You've saved Atlantis a dozen times over-- "
 

John turned and regarded Rodney for a long moment.

 

"What?"  Rodney asked in that irascible tone.  "You’ve never read The Art of War?”.

 

“Yeah, I’m just kinda surprised you have,” John replied.

 

“Well, I’ll read just about anything – when I have the time.  Not that I actually finished it, but--”

 

John held Rodney’s gaze.  “I just didn’t know that kind of thing interested you is all.” 

 

“I think it’s fair to say, Colonel,” Rodney stated, “that there’s a lot about me you don’t know.”

 

A twinge of unexpected excitement fluttered in John’s belly.  A tiny smile tugged the corner of his mouth.  “Yeah,” he agreed, “I just bet there is.”

 

“Funny thing about me, though," Rodney said.  He turned, looking in the direction of the moon again.  "All you’d have to do to find out is to ask.”

 

“Really?” John asked.

 

“Really.

 

“Or, I could just show you," Rodney said softly.

 

Even though the night air was just as thick and sweltering as it had been all day, a chill ran through John.  His arms broke out in gooseflesh.

 

“What?”  Not sure he’d heard correctly, John thought the voice might have come from somewhere else, someone else, but there was no one there.

 

“I said," Rodney turned his body to face John, "I could just show you a few things you don’t know about me.”

 

John hadn’t actually seen Rodney move; perhaps it had been John that had moved.  However it happened, Rodney’s face was inches from John’s.  John’s heart began to pound.  It was that feeling from earlier, in the shack, all over again.  All he had to do was to turn his head just a fraction, and maybe--

 

Rodney didn't wait for John.  He leaned forward and brushed his lips over John’s ever-so-lightly.  Rodney's hand caressed John’s upper arm, then Rodney pulled back, his look expectant.  John stared at him.

 

“I’m sorry,” Rodney said pulling back a bit more, the corners of his mouth turning down.  “I suppose I must have misread a few--”

 

But John couldn't hear the rest of what Rodney was saying.  John was in a vacuum. No sound.  No air.

 

John’s hand clutched at the back of Rodney’s neck, pulling him closer, finding Rodney’s mouth with his own.  Rodney’s lips were soft against his, but strong.

 

John blinked.

 

He was not kissing Rodney.  Rodney was not kissing him.  They were not standing hips pressed against one another, yet John could feel his cock hardening.  In reality, John was standing there mute and Rodney was retreating.  Before John could stop him, before he could maybe salvage something, he realized why.

 

“Teyla?”  John’s voice was raspy like he hadn’t used it in a while.  He had to clear his throat before continuing.  “Everything okay?”

 

“It is not,” Teyla said scolding.  “I went to check on Dr. McKay, only to find him gone.”  She spoke directly to Rodney, “I was worried until Lieutenant Stockton told me he had seen you walking toward the Colonel’s post.  You should be resting and it is time for the pain medication Corporal LeClaire has given you.”  She stood directly in front of Rodney and held out her hand.  She wore a look, John thought, that no man would be wise to argue with.

 

“I’m fine, really, Teyla, thank you.  Just a bit restless, maybe,” Rodney said.

 

“Teyla’s right, Rodney,” John said.  You need to sleep if you can."  He felt Rodney's gaze on him, but John kept his eyes straight ahead.

 

John watched as Teyla circled one arm around Rodney’s waist and pulled his arm across her shoulder with the other.  Since Rodney had walked out there on his own, John wondered if Teyla realized Rodney didn’t need her help.  He watched them walk back to the jumper, his heart still pounding, the warmth of Rodney’s lips still fresh on his.

 

John leaned against a moss-covered outcrop of earth jutting up from the floor of the clearing.  He listened.  He heard wisps of Rodney and Teyla arguing as they made their way back to the jumper.  Gone were the buzz and drone of the daytime insects, replaced by the chirps, grunts and buzz of nighttime ones.  The occasional trill of birds rang out staccato in the still night.  Rodney was right – under other circumstances, this really wouldn’t be such a bad place.

 

Rodney was right about another thing.  John had certainly not expected anything like that kiss.  Or had he?

 

While he and Rodney had become fast friends quickly, the last eight or nine months had seen them become much closer.  His team members and others in Atlantis were the nearest thing to a family John had.  But it was Rodney's company that he sought out most often.  The ease between them was something John hadn't experienced since he was a kid – probably not since Tyler.  It had always been hard for the adult John to get close to people, but he and Rodney had just clicked.

 

Several months back, when the ancient device had altered Rodney's DNA and put him on the fast track to ascension, John had been forced to admit to himself that losing Rodney would have been a major blow.

 

From the time he was awakened from his nap back in Atlantis – it seemed like days ago now -- something had been different, something John couldn't name.  Of course, it wasn’t every day John had to run off to another planet and rescue his best friend – although in Pegasus it was certainly more likely.  John thought again of that moment earlier in the shack.  He thought of Rodney acting so defiant in not wanting to return to Atlantis.  John knew Rodney hadn't wanted to come right out and say that it might be the last time they'd ever see each other, but he was thinking it – John was sure.  There had been that touch in the jumper.  Now this.  Rodney had kissed John and John had responded by standing there gaping like a fish out of water.  He had wanted to grab Rodney, kiss him back.  Why hadn’t he?


John sighed heavily.  All that was well and good, but he had a job to do first, something he had to take care of.  Maybe the words of SunTzu could prove to be John’s biggest advantage.

 

****************

 

Sergeant Garcia had been right on time to relieve John, and he made his way back to the jumper.  Over the hours John had walked his post, he had made his decision.  His conversation with Rodney, and maybe even that kiss had convinced John that it was the right thing to do.  Standing just inside the back of the jumper, he looked around cautiously.  Teyla was asleep on one of the benches to his left.  He looked at the Empacs hanging in the gear compartments at Teyla’s feet.  After John had been rescued from the time dilation portal, it was mandatory to have an emergency pack for each team member on a mission.  He lifted one of the packs slowly from its hook and took a step back.  He looked at Rodney, asleep on the floor.  Turning, he crept out of the jumper. 

 

****************

 

Loud voice gradually roused Rodney from the depths of sleep.  Snippets of sentences, pieces of words caught on the edges of his consciousness.

 

“Why did none of the sentries see him?”  It sounded like Major Lorne’s voice.

 

“—skirted the perimeter, sir.”  That was a voice Rodney didn't recognize.

 

“If we go straight through on this path, we just might intercept him.”  Lorne again.

 

Then a much sweeter voice, Teyla’s, “Why would Colonel Sheppard do this?”

 

“-- Sheppard going off alone surprise you?”  Ronon’s low rumble jarred Rodney a bit closer to wakefulness.

 

“I’ll get another couple Marines and meet you two outside.”  Lorne.  “Five minutes.”

 

The words Sheppard and alone poked at Rodney like annoying fingers – and someone was leaving in five minutes.  Rodney’s eyes shot open.  He bolted upright and groaned.  He laid a steadying hand on his head against the dizziness. 

 

"Major?”  Rodney called before Lorne could exit the jumper.

 

“Dr. McKay?  Sorry to wake you.”

 

“What’s going on?  Something about Sheppard?”  Rodney was trying to extricate himself from the sleeping bag.

 

“It’s nothing, we’ll take care of it.”  Lorne turned to leave.

 

“Major?”  There must have been something in Rodney’s tone that forced Lorne to turn back around.

 

“Colonel Sheppard's gone," Lorne said.  "He left right after he was relieved at his sentry post.  Now if you don’t mind, I think we can intercept him, but we have to leave right now."

 

Rodney grabbed Lorne's arm.  "Sheppard took off on his own?"

 

"He must have been planning this all along.  Don't worry, we'll catch up to him in no time."  Lorne turned to leave.

 

"Well, no, wait.  I'm coming, too.  I'm fine now." 

 

"Oh no, McKay.  Absolutely not.  The Colonel would have my head if he saw you out there."

 

"I'll take full responsibility," Rodney said, "tell him I forced you."

 

Lorne’s lip wrinkled.  Rodney had the impression Lorne was trying not to laugh.  "Doctor, as ranking military officer in Colonel Sheppard's absence, I'm ordering you to stay put."

 

"You can't order me, Major.  I don't answer to you."

 

"Dr. McKay," Lorne said patiently, "with all due respect, you're in no condition to go searching through that jungle out there.  At best, you'll only slow us down.  Worst -- you could get yourself hurt even more or get someone else hurt trying to protect you.  Now, I'm asking you nicely – stay here.  You can monitor us over the radio; you can even monitor our every move on the HUD.

 

"Or," Lorne added in a pointed tone, "you could go back to Atlantis."

 

"And what are you going to do Major, dial the gate and have Ronon, or Corporal Torres throw me into the wormhole?"

 

"If that's what it takes," Lorne said dryly.

 

Rodney stared.

 

"Look McKay,” Lorne’s voice grew tighter and lower.  “Give me a break here.  Listening to you in the first place is what got us in this mess.  You owe me.”  Lorne narrowed his eyes and took a step toward Rodney.  “Now, promise me you'll keep your ass right here.  Or—" Lorne cocked an eyebrow and jerked his head toward the back of the jumper at, what Rodney assumed meant the stargate.

 

"Okay, Major, you win."

 

Lorne made it to the back of the jumper before McKay called to him.

 

"Yeah, Doc?"

 

"You'll make sure Sheppard doesn't do this alone, won't you?"

 

The Major stared at Rodney for a moment.  "We'll do our best, Doc," and with that he was gone.

 

 

 

***************

 

While Lorne and the rest set out to intercept him, John was about a hundred yards from the shack where they’d found Rodney.  The path behind it would lead him to the spot where the HUD had picked up the life signs.  There was no way of knowing if Kolya was really there, and if that had to be determined by attrition, John thought, then so be it.

 

It was still fairly dark under the canopy.  Faint beams of light from the dawn cut through the trees like lasers through fog.  John could already feel sweat dripping down his neck and a few phantom trickles over the small of his back.  His knees began to ache from crouching.  To avoid his own men from detecting him, he had moved out in a wide arc perpendicular to the paths and had much more undergrowth to navigate.  This area was particularly difficult because of low hanging vines.  The ground cover beneath him was littered with thick rope-like creepers and barbed briars, quite a contrast to the relatively smooth underbrush they had gone through the day before.

 

A sound in the distance stopped Sheppard in his tracks: leaves rustling, but it was impossible to tell if it was human or animal.  John sunk lower.  The sound was not the soft pad and graceful movement of an animal, but heavy lumbering footsteps, two-legged footsteps.

 

John continued on his way as silently as he could.  He could tell that his path was converging with the intruder.  John crept along a few more feet to the edge of a glade.  The trees and vines were even thicker overhead, but the ground was clear, free of obstacles, and covered with soft green moss.  John thought he heard the sound of water, too – a spring or small rill, maybe.

 

Sheppard stopped before entering the open area.  In the distance, he could just make out the source of the footsteps.  One of Kolya’s men.

 

John crept to a large tree at the edge of the path where the other man was traveling.  The trunk of the tree was wide enough to prevent the man from seeing John, but John wouldn’t be able to see the man enter the area until it was too late.  John pressed his back against the tree and gripped his P-90.  Closing his eyes, he listened.  He held his breath and listened.  He listened for the exact moment the crunch of the brush underfoot would give way to the quiet of the carpet-like moss.  Now!

 

John wheeled around and thrust the butt of his P-90 into the throat of the intruder.  The man fell back with a thud, clutching his neck, his weapon gone into the foliage.  John pulled him off the path and removed his heavy jacket, then pushed him over onto his stomach.  The man coughed and spluttered.  John pulled a length of rope from the Empac, tied the soldier's hands behind his back, then went to work on his ankles.  Satisfied the man wouldn't be going anywhere, John took his canteen, held the man’s head up and offered him a drink.  The soldier wrenched his head out of John’s grasp and tried to spit at him.

 

“Now, that’s a poor way to show your appreciation,” John said.  “After I was considerate enough to remove that heavy-ass jacket so you don't die of heatstroke.”  John shook his head.  “I guess somebody wasn’t taught any manners.”

 

John trickled a little of the water over the back of the man’s neck to cool him.  He bent low to the man's ear.  “If you manage to work your way out of those ropes, you can probably use this.”  John set the canteen down on the ground where the man could see it.  He got up, retrieved the fallen weapon and continued on his way.   

 

John knew he had to keep moving - it wouldn't take Lorne and the others long to figure out what he was planning and then they would be after him.  Backup would be a great thing to have, but this was personal between him and Kolya.  John wouldn't want anyone else to get hurt.  He knew it wasn't good policy to think that way.  He also knew that even if he succeeded, his latest stunt would cause a stir back at the SGC.  His ability to make prudent decisions -- his fitness for the military leadership post, blah, blah, blah.  Well, he'd be damned if he was going to let General Landry, the SGC or anyone else second guess this decision.  John made it and he would defend it if he had to.  He'd been up against worse odds than these. 

 

As he made his way past the little shack, he pulled a hand-drawn map from his pocket.  Not much further now.

 

****************

 

 

 

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