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Fic: The Talk - Part 1 of 2 (McKay/Sheppard, Keller/McKay, R)

Title: The Talk
Author: tzzzz
Recipient: theninth
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard, McKay/Keller
Rating: R
Disclaimer: I don't own SGA.
Author's Notes: The prompt was some combination of team friendship, action, adventure, non-schmoopy mcshep, Rodney/Jennifer, femmeslash, slash, funny, dark, and gut wrenching. I hope I hit at least some of those. Mild spoilers for Search and Rescue, Trinity, McKay and Mrs. Miller, Epiphany, Doppelganger, The Last Man, Miller's Crossing, The Storm/Eye, Tracker, and Tao of Rodney. Thanks to dossier for betaing.
Summary: Jennifer drags John along on a mission so they can talk about Rodney. Things do not go as well as she planned.


John looked to his side, watching Keller's perfect blond hair bounce lightly with each step, a smile on her face even though they were hiking in the rain and had a few miles to go before they made camp. Sure, the giant redwood-like trees kept most of the rain from reaching the underbrush, but it was a miserable mission nonetheless. He actually missed Rodney's complaining. No, of course he missed Rodney's complaining. He missed Rodney. And it was all the fault of the woman walking next to him.

"I'm glad we got the chance to do this, Colonel," Keller said, her smile turning a little plastic all of a sudden.

"You mean deliver inoculations to the Thesians?"

"No, I mean that we have the chance to talk."

John wanted to protest that he wasn't good at talking. He was the expert at not talking. And if Jennifer wanted to talk to someone, she should torture the guy who was at least getting laid out of it, not John.

"You didn't have to wait for a three day mission to talk to me." Unless Keller expected the conversation to last three days, in which case at least John had plenty of weapons with which to blow his brains out.

Keller rolled her eyes. "You and I have never even been alone in a room together, Colonel."

John begged to differ. He'd spent a lot of time alone with Keller after he got skewered by a piece of a building and just a few months ago, he'd come down with the Pegasus Pox and Keller had been the only one he'd seen while in quarantine.

"When you're either sedated or feverish doesn't count," she added, reading his mind.

John tried his patented Lieutenant Colonel Pout, but Keller seemed immune. Then again, if she could deny Rodney's puppy-dog eyes, she could ignore anything. "Look, John - may I call you John?"

John shrugged. He really didn't think they were that familiar. It'd taken Rodney nearly three years to use John's first name, and they were best friends.

Keller smiled at his indifference, plowing on. "John, I know you and I don't exactly get along, but I think that for Rodney's sake we should try to get to know each other. I'm his girlfriend and you're his best friend and after he asks me to marry him, we'll have to at least pretend to be friendly."

John frowned. Sure, he tended to avoid Keller, especially when she had herself all wrapped around Rodney. But, he was positive that even if Rodney wasn't dating her, he still wouldn't be best friends with her. He thought he'd done his best to be his usual charming self, however, considering that she was Rodney's girlfriend and John's doctor. He really didn't want to annoy her, but apparently she was much more sensitive than he'd given her credit for. "I think we're okay, doc."

Keller kept walking, pushing aside a low hanging branch and letting it snap back in John's face. He couldn't be sure if that was deliberate. In fact, that was one of the things that bothered John the most about Keller. He couldn't tell if she was deliberately manipulating Rodney half the time or just ignorant of how desperate Rodney was to find the perfect girl, even if he had to change his personality to do it.

Well, that was one reason. John tried not to think of the other reason. The stupid crush had grown with time, from a simple appreciation of Rodney's beautiful biceps to encompass friendship and admiration and eventually, though John was loath to admit it, love. And Rodney, the bastard, had done nothing to discourage it, even when he was dating other people. He was jealous and possessive when it came to John's own dalliances with women and he was always touching John, just enough to remind John of the few times they had gotten together and how good it could be.

"Of course you think we're fine. You always think everything is fine. And wWhile you're lucky that Rodney is too thick-skulled to notice, I notice and I think you owe it to me to at least tell me why." She stopped, putting her hands on her hips and looking far too much like John's meanest nanny growing up. "I think I've bent over to try to get to know you and you push me away at every turn. You owe me answers, at the very least."

"Fine," John acknowledged, feeling trapped. Of course, she had deliberately trapped him, he realized now. The Thesians had an EM shield much like what John called Planet Lord of the Flies, but it extended all the way to the gate. They were willing to trade access to their shielding technology for medical assistance. Unfortunately, the gate was a day's hike away and half the village was sick with the Pegasus Pox. While the vaccine Keller had developed was effective, she had recommended that only John accompany her, because thus far he was the only expedition member who'd suffered through the thing enough to develop a natural immunity. It had sounded a little like b.s. at the time, but Woolsey had bought it, so now John was stuck here with Keller.

Now, John just had no idea what to even say. Keller was a nice enough person. He definitely couldn't tell her about him and Rodney, so the only remaining thing to do was to tell someone who had been nothing but nice to him that he simply didn't like her. "I guess it takes me a while to warm up to people," he hedged.

"You go running with Amelia."

"Only when Ronon wants to leave the two of us in the dust!"

"And you and Kanaan drink beer together on the pier." Because Rodney was too preoccupied with Keller to go drinking with John. Kanaan wasn't Rodney, but he was actually a lot of fun. The Athosians had far too many drinking games.

"That's a guy thing."

"I drink beer too," Keller pointed out.

"Look," John begged. "Not everyone can be best buddies. I like you, but you're my doctor."

"Carson was your doctor and the two of you--"

John was starting to get really frustrated now. How did Rodney even put up with this stuff? Was Keller really that great of a lay? "Do you really think that if your weren't dating Rodney the two of us would be friends?" he blurted out.

Keller looked genuinely hurt for a moment, frowning, but she rallied, fixing him with a firm stare. "As your doctor, I have to object to what you put your body through, but I admire what you do. You're smart and from what little I can tell the few times I've been allowed to come to team night, you seem like a lot of fun. So, yes, even if you weren't my boyfriend's best friend, I'd still want to be friends with you. That means you have some kind of problem with me." Keller let out a defeated sigh, even though she continued to meet John's eyes. "That's fine. I can accept that. I just really love Rodney and he loves me and I guess he loves you too and I don't want any awkwardness between the two of us to hurt his happiness."

She didn't know the half of it, John thought, morosely. He'd always been a little disturbed by Keller, even before she got together with Rodney. He still hadn't forgotten that comment about playing with his insides. And she was always so insecure in both herself and her work. It ruined his confidence in her as a doctor and that was another factor he just didn't need to deal with in terms of command. She was still a child in so many ways and incapable of making the tough choices decisively enough for John to trust her in a crunch. At home and in the military, John had always been taught that indecision came out of weakness, and he honestly thought that Keller didn't belong in Pegasus, though it wasn't his prerogative to reassign her.

The thing that bothered him most, however, was that he might have the clout to get her sent home, if that was what he truly believed, but he'd lost so much objectivity when it came to anything to do with Rodney that he couldn't be sure if he honestly doubted her abilities or if he just wanted her gone. No one else had raised any concerns and Elizabeth had put Keller in charge. John couldn't trust his opinion over Elizabeth's if he already knew he wasn't being objective. The time to object had long passed, anyhow. John couldn't do it without breaking Rodney's heart.

"You don't have to worry about me doing anything to hurt Rodney. Now, if you wouldn't mind, this is a mission, not a therapy session and we need to make another three miles before dark."

Keller looked as though she wanted to argue, but she tightened her jaw and flounced onwards. John had a feeling they weren't done, but he'd take what he could get.

***

The sun had started to set, but Colonel Sheppard showed no signs of stopping. Of course he didn't. The man would walk until his shoes were bloody before he'd stop and talk to her. But Jennifer wasn't about to stop him. She could at least do her job and follow his orders. If he liked nothing else about her, at least he could appreciate that.

Jennifer couldn't help but think about his words. He'd said that without Rodney they definitely had no chance of ever being friends. Jennifer just didn't understand that. She was like Rodney in a lot of ways. She certainly shared his sarcastic sense of humor and she liked beer and football and rock climbing and a lot of the things Sheppard enjoyed on top of that. He kept himself relatively isolated outside of his team, but he'd allowed Carson in. Besides, Jennifer genuinely like Sheppard. He was charming and funny and he reminded her of a lot of the good Minnesota boys she'd grown up with, with a few extra layers of complexity thrown in.

She'd gotten Rodney to fall in love with her even though she was fifteen years younger and not nearly as smart. She could at least make Sheppard like her if she tried hard enough. "So who do you like for the Rose Bowl this year?" she asked. "USC, like always?"

Sheppard shrugged. "Their new quarterback is still a little green," he answered before moving on, stepping even further away from her.

Of course it wasn't that easy. Jennifer wished, not for the first or last time, that she could just be 'one of the guys.' Men like Sheppard really did bother her sometimes, even when she'd grown up around them. Something about his so-called "womanizing" was off. Rodney was a little bit of a letch, by his own admission, but Sheppard's so-called manliness seemed almost too cliche to be real. Jennifer hated to think it, but maybe Sheppard secretly hated women. He respected women professionally, but he'd been a real jerk about Teyla's pregnancy and had never seemed to give Jennifer a chance.

Whatever it was, she'd have to get it out of the way. She could feel Rodney gearing up to propose. The way he telegraphed his every thought was useful sometimes as well as adorable, but Jennifer just knew that he wouldn't ask without approval from Sheppard and Jennifer couldn't help but blame Sheppard for that. Rodney completely worshipped the colonel. As a man-crush it was kind of cute though Jennifer couldn't help but blame Sheppard for not discouraging it. Rodney had been so sapped of confidence in his own life choices that he couldn't seem to survive without someone's approval and since Sheppard had been the first one to really believe in him and to try to take care of him; Rodney had latched on with his usual tenacity.

But Rodney had grown a lot as a person and it was time for Sheppard to let him stand on his own two feet, especially considering that Sheppard wasn't exactly a model for interpersonal relations himself and often indulged some of Rodney's worse habits. The two of them were a co-dependent mess and if Jennifer couldn't draw Rodney out from Sheppard's shadow, then she could at least try to win Sheppard's approval. Once Rodney was her husband, surely he'd be more willing to seek Jennifer's input than Sheppard's and then maybe one day Rodney would let go of his insecurities. She wanted that kind of happiness for him. She wanted him to be a partner instead of a kid looking for approval and love and throwing tantrums when he didn't get them. Jennifer knew it would be a long road there, but for some reason she loved Rodney and she'd make it work.

With that she decided she'd just have to put her foot down. "The sun is almost down, Colonel. I think we should--"

Jennifer was interrupted by Sheppard falling through the forest floor.

"Colonel!" she yelled, rushing forward to look at the hole in the ground where Sheppard had been standing only a moment ago. There were a few cracked branches around the edges of where he'd fallen through. It looked like a trap, but then the whole thing was overgrown with moss and dirt. Maybe it was a natural block covering the slit between two buttress roots of a massive tree, not anything man made. Ronon could tell if he were here. "John, are you okay?" she yelled. It was dark down there but she could see movement. Jennifer belated reached for the gun Sheppard had insisted she carry.

Over the fast beats of her heart, Jennifer could hear a faint moan. "I'm fine." Jennifer sagged in relief. Something rustled and then Sheppard added. "Light's broken on my P-90. You have a flashlight?"

Jennifer pulled a penlight out of her pocket, wondering why she didn't think of it before. She turned it on and then dropped it down to Sheppard. He'd only fallen twelve feet or so into what looked like a bed of moss, but Jennifer still had no idea how to get him back up.

"Cool," Sheppard remarked. "There's some kind of device down here. Maybe another shield. Hold down the fort while I check it out."

Jennifer had a bad feeling about this. It was more than just the apprehensive flutter in her stomach that she got every time she went off-world, but a sinister feeling. She knew in part that it was because in spite of their differences she really did trust Sheppard to protect her and not being able to see him let all her fears of off-world catastrophe come flooding back. On top of that, historically Sheppard's team didn't have the best of luck with Ancient devices.

"Maybe you should wait for a science team before you touch anything."

Silence. Jennifer stuck her head back in the hole but even the light was obscured. Her anxiety ratcheted up another notch. "Colonel!"

No response. What should she do? It was an eight hour walk back to the gate, which would be at night unless she was willing to wait another eight hours for this planet's short day to begin again. No, she'd have to go down there and see what had happened. Jennifer steeled herself, moving to dangle her feet down when the light suddenly returned, illuminating Sheppard's face.

"What happened?" Jennifer asked.

"Nothing. It wouldn't activate. I'm going to get some images using the LSD and place a locator beacon." He dumped off his backpack, digging through it before grabbing a length of rope.

Jennifer extended her hand down and he tossed it up to her. "Tie that around something and I'll be up in no time."

Jennifer was too busy being grateful that nothing had happened to the colonel to really wonder, but by the time she finished securing the rope it nagged at her: why had he scared her like that? It had been nearly a minute after she called to him without a response and it wasn't as though the hole was big enough for him not to have heard. Maybe that was punishment for trying to make him talk about his feelings earlier. Sheppard did seem to have the capacity for passive aggression, but she wouldn't be deterred.

Not a few minutes later after Jennifer pulled up his pack, Sheppard was shimmying out of the hole. He had mud and moss stains all over him, but appeared healthy and whole, perky even. He gave her a brilliant smile when she helped him to his feet, stating, "Well, that was an adventure. Not a completely boring mission after all."

"Sure," Jennifer replied, not mentioning that Sheppard had nearly given her a heart attack.

"This is as good a place as any to make camp," Sheppard announced. How about that area between the two roots over there?"

Jennifer had no idea about this kind of thing so she just nodded, letting Sheppard set up the tarp and the tent and build a small fire. The doctor in her couldn't help but noticing his slight limp as he did so.

When Sheppard tossed her an MRE, Jennifer suggested, "Let me check your leg first."

"Busted," Sheppard moaned, but he was cooperative enough, rolling up his pant leg to reveal a hearty bruise forming on his left kneecap.

"That doesn't look too bad, but if you expect to walk on it tomorrow, I'd prefer you ice it a little during dinner then keep it straight and elevated the rest of the night."

Sheppard shrugged. "You're the doc."

Jennifer cracked a cold-pack and handed it to him, surprised when Sheppard started talking about USC's new quarterback and the outlandish claims Mitchell sent about Nebraska with each game he sent John in the data-burst.

Maybe this was how things worked in guy world. You had a fight, one of you fell into a hole, you talked about football and everything was somehow okay. Jennifer sure as hell hoped so, at least.

***

John tossed the cold-pack into the trash pile, looking out into the forest. He could hear night creatures stirring out there - an owl-like thing gently hooter and the soft pitter-patter of rain dropping on big leaves, but there were no sounds of anything loud.

Nothing but John and his own stupid thoughts. Rodney was going to ask Keller to marry him. Keller wasn't a bad person, even though she and John would never be good friends. He couldn't begrudge Rodney that happiness, even if Keller seemed wrong for him.

John looked over at the tent, where Keller was sleeping. Bad enough that Rodney wanted her, but she was changing the dynamic of John's friendship with Rodney and John really couldn't stand that. Sometimes he saw her and wished she was just gone.

A twig snapped somewhere in the forest and John looked around for the direction. Bushes rustled, and not just with the wind. John was no Ronon, but he'd been doing this for years now and he knew this tingle running down his spine well enough to trust it. The sound was close. John flipped on the penlight he'd taped to his P-90 and stalked towards it, gun raised. The light was weak - Keller used it for checking concussions, not seeing well in the dark. It barely penetrated ten feet into the darkness.

It came from behind the tree where John had fallen earlier. He carefully skirted the hole and sneaked around the wide trunk, stumbling a little as he climbed up a massive root. He became aware of movement at the corner of his vision too late, swinging around to find only the lazy swing of an understory bush where something had disturbed it only seconds earlier.

John held still listening for the slightest sound. The weak wind that had tumbled through the forest earlier finally died down and John could hear the weak pant of something breathing. John knew it was just a trick of the mind, but it seemed to be coming from all around him. He advanced cautiously.

Movement exploded out of the brush to his left and John barely had time to fire before whatever it was bowled him over. It looked like a black mass for all he could see, but the pain in his arm was evidence enough of its solidity. Maybe John had managed to wound it, because it gave off a pathetic, almost human-sounding yell as it passed, running off into the night.

John was only stunned a second before he exploded to his feet, ignoring the throbbing in his arm to rush back towards camp and the tent where Keller was sleeping. She'd turned on a flashlight and John could just make out the silhouette of the creature that had attacked him against the glow. It was dense, maybe crouched down, ready to strike. John fired a warning shot, not wanting to risk hitting Keller. The creature turned to him and John raised his P-90 to catch it in the light, but it ducked to the ground, rolling in a mass of black behind another bush, then off into the night. John gave chase, but the damn thing was fast and he found himself stumbling over another root and banging his already-bruised knee. When he looked up again, he'd lost the thing and the wind had picked up again, masking the sound.

"Colonel!" Jennifer shouted, running up behind him, gun not even out of her holster. "I heard shots fired."

"Something attacked me," John panted, hand going to his right arm now and feeling the warm trickle of blood. "Could've been an animal. Maybe a person. It was quick, though."

"The Thesians said there were no large predators in the forest," Jennifer said, helping John to his feet and back to their camp.

"Well, either that's not a predator or the Thesians were lying to us. Either way, we should head back to the Gate."

Jennifer shook her head. "We can't. Without treatment or vaccination Pegasus Pox is lethal in 25% of cases. If we don't get the medicine to them, people will die."

"People who are lying to us?" John grunted as Keller helped him sit down on a log they'd placed by the dying embers of the campfire.

"We don't know that. It could be something they don't know about. The Thesians only discovered this planet and its shielding system ten years ago. It could be their version of bigfoot. Or worse, a Wraith."

John shook his head. "Didn't move like one. Could've been bandits. If this world hasn't been historically populated then maybe someone else is staking their claim."

Keller nodded, dropping her light on the ground. "Now let me take a look at you."

John kept his P-90 raised and his eyes peeled as she stripped off his jacket. It felt weirdly intimate to have her leaning into his space. She smelled sweet, even though he could see a nervous sweat building on her brow. Her touches were gentle, too, when she tisked at the bloody gash on his bicep right over the two bullet scars he already had there. "What is it with you and this arm?" Keller asked.

John didn't bother shrugging, just gritting his teeth when Keller started to clean and bandage the wound. "Dawn will break in another two hours," Keller noted, glancing at her watch. "You didn't wake me for my watch," she scolded.

"I couldn't sleep. Figured there was no need to wake you. What's the damage?"

"It's a tearing wound, like the others on this arm. But you didn't hear a shot fired, so it can't be a bullet wound unless you shot yourself."

"Definitely not. Might've hit the thing, though."

"Could it have ricocheted?"

"Maybe, if it had some kind of chitinous hide or a human with really advanced body armor."

"Then it's most likely claw marks. It's too jagged for a knife. If you hit it maybe we can find blood or something at daybreak."

John nodded. "When Atlantis radios in, we'll get backup. I'd really like to have Ronon here right about now."

"I second that." Keller finished bandaging John's arm easily, moving on to wrap his already-swelling knee in an ace bandage and applying another icepack. John tossed back a few ibuprofen and leaned back against the tree trunk while Keller packed up camp. They resolved to push through to the village tomorrow, leaving the tent and all non-essential supplies to allow them to move faster.

After sitting in awkward silence for an hour waiting for Keller to try "talking" again, it was almost a relief when she tentatively asked, "So, are we good now?"

"We're fine."

"Then why do I get the feeling that you're just humoring me?"

John sighed. It was his ex-wife all over again. "I'm not. Look, there's some creature out there, possibly hunting us and you want to talk about relationship problems that you and I don't have because you're in a relationship with Rodney and not me. So what if we're not best friends? What difference does it make?"

Keller's voice wobbled, like she might be crying, even though John couldn't see her in the darkness. "Because if he has to choose between you and me, I don't know who he'll pick."

Good. John had the same fear. Keller had already gotten Rodney to do so much - leave work at reasonable hours, be nicer to his lab assistants, wear an argyle sweater on one memorable occasion before John took pity on him and spilled coffee on it. If she could do that, then she had enough power to get rid of John. Rodney loved her and he definitely didn't love John.

"What makes you think he'll pick me anyway?" John snapped. "You're his girlfriend."

"He's had other girlfriends."

"Look, I don't want to fight anymore. Let's just promise each other that we will never make Rodney choose between us and get back to hunting monsters in silence."

"Fine. I agree never to make Rodney give up his friendship with you to be with me."

"And I promise never to tell Rodney that being with you will cost him his friendship with me. Are we good now?"

"We're good."

John almost fired his gun when her hand came out of the darkness to pat him on the arm, but he wasn't about to tell her that.

***

Dawn broke with news on the radio that Atlantis would be sending through two more teams as backup. Ronon and a team of the fastest marines would double-time it over to meet up with Jennifer and John to accompany them to the village. Rodney, Teyla, and Teldy's team would check out the ruins they'd found yesterday.

Early on, Jennifer began to doubt that they would make it to the village before sunset. Colonel Sheppard's sprained knee kept the pace down. Jennifer could practically feel his frustration. If he were her only patient, he'd be on a stretcher back to Atlantis, but she'd learned long ago that she couldn't out-stubborn him when there were lives at stake and in this case she actually agreed - making it safely to the village was important enough for Sheppard to be off his feet for a week from overworking his knee.

"Let's take a break for a second," Jennifer suggested, exaggerating her own exhaustion.

Sheppard waved her away when she moved to help him sit down.

"Why do you do this to yourself?" Jennifer blurted out.

"What do you mean?"

"You're clearly in pain, yet you keep going and you refuse pain medication."

"We have to get to the village."

"I can go on my own. If I run, I can make it by nightfall."

"No." Jennifer wasn't expecting any different answer. "We stick together. We have no idea if that thing is even nocturnal. I can't let you go alone."

"So you're the only one who gets to put his neck on the line? Only you get to fly suicide missions. Don't think I haven't heard Rodney complain about it. You know he wakes up nights calling your name, asking you not to go. Before I was there to tell him it was just a dream, he'd walk by your quarters with a lifesigns detector to reassure himself you hadn't died in a suicide mission."

"I go because it's my job and my responsibility to protect people and I can't let them down. I'm the one with the least to lose, and I can't ask any of my subordinates to do something I wouldn't do myself."

Jennifer had predicted that answer. She remembered her psych rotation well enough to know John's type - ostensibly an altruist, but deep down insecure, feeding the insecurity both with the belief that only he is capable of saving people and the belief that his life was worth less than others, because he was guilty about something. The question that had always trouble Jennifer was what Sheppard had to be guilty for. For every life lost on his watch, he'd saved at least ten. Utility-wise he was probably the second most valuable person in the city after Rodney.

"You don't have the least to lose, John."

"I don't have a family who would mourn me."

"You have friends who have nightmares about you dying."

John shook his head. "I'm just another guy with a special gene. Now, I think this break is over."

Jennifer didn't try to stop him from rising stiffly to his feet, but she wouldn't let the discussion end there. "After all the times you've saved the city and the galaxy, you couldn't possibly think that."

"So I'm lucky. There's no way to know if someone else wouldn't have done as well. Hell, in another reality, I'm a scientist and Sumner still runs the military and they were in less of a mess than we are."

Jennifer had read the report on Rod's universe, but that was just one. "With all your knowledge and experience and your gene, you can't honestly tell me that you think that we're better off losing you than one of the marines who is barely out of high school and only does right by following your orders."

"They have more potential. I didn't even think I'd live this long and I haven't done anything to make my life valuable. I--"

That's when the attack happened. A black figure bowled into Sheppard and before Jennifer could raise her gun or call on the radio, it was upon her. She fell back against a log and felt pain exploding at the back of her head. Then everything went black.

***

"What does it say?" Mehra asked for about the thirtieth time. Why did he have to be trapped in a hole with the most annoying woman ever? And how in the hell had John even found this place? Only Colonel Klutzy-pants could possibly fall into the one secret ancient device hole in a forest full of perfectly safe ground.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "For the last time, I'm not a linguist. Something about a secret. Revealing secrets, something. We're waiting for the linguists to dial back with a translation."

"Do you think this has anything to do with the creature that attacked the Colonel?"

"How should I know?"

"You are a genius. Or is this another one of your slumps?"

"You know what, if you had even a fraction of my genius I would-- Oh, just go over there. Guard, or something."

Rodney had every faith that Mehra would obey him, but Major Teldy shouting down from above certainly helped. "Dusty, if you're bothering Doctor McKay again, I'm overriding my movie night veto and letting Allison pick the 'Hours.'"

Rodney shuddered. That sounded like suitable punishment to him. In fact, he liked Major Teldy. He could see why John was always hanging around her.

Rodney looked down at the readings on the device once again, trying to puzzle them out. The EM field was different here. It completely disabled most Earth tech, but it seemed to supercharge some of the Ancient devices. Luckily, they all carried the Ancient radios Radek had discovered not long ago.

The device was ATA controlled. Rodney recognized some of the sensor inputs, but the question was what actually activated it. He and John had spent hours in the lab trying to identify a way to determine which mental commands activated a device by looking at its programming, but ultimately you needed someone like John, who could receive mental feedback from the device if you wanted to know and only some devices gave the operator mental feedback. Others were meant only to be activated by a specific mental intention and Rodney suspected that this was one of them.

"It looks like we're in the realm of the linguists," he complained under his breath.

***

Ronon loped through the forest, having left his team of marines behind half an hour ago. He was getting close and it felt good to stretch his limbs and just go all out, the sweat on his brow, the soft soil of the forest soft beneath his feet. And that sweet shot of adrenaline pushing him harder than he could ever go running through the sterile corridors of Atlantis.

He'd done this for seven years on the run, but now instead of being the hunted, he was the hunter. He'd find Sheppard, who had gone off radio a half hour ago, and then he'd hunt down whatever had tried to hurt his team leader. Ronon's blood boiled with anticipation.

Something rustled in the underbrush up ahead. Movement. There was a low whining whimper accompanying the motion, like an animal. Ronon drew his blaster, listening for the familiar cadence of Sheppard's gate, but the thing was tearing through the underbrush, wild.

It made so much noise that Ronon didn't bother with a silent approach. He simply burst through the bushes into a wide clearing, gun drawn.

"Sheppard?" he asked, lowering his weapon.

Sheppard held Keller tight by the hand and was yanking her through the forest, his eyes dark, pupils blown wide. She appeared to be the one whimpering.

Sheppard didn't answer.

"Did you lose your radio?" Sheppard didn't have his tac vest or his gun either.

Sheppard didn't even stop. He was moving back in the direction of the gate now, when he'd said that he and Jennifer would be moving towards the village.

"You're going the wrong way, buddy," Ronon admonished, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Something was very wrong about this situation.

He tightened his hand on the gun but didn't raise it, striding forward to grab Sheppard and make his stop, talk, give Ronon something.

When his hand closed on Sheppard's arm, he wasn't expecting the inhuman growl that answered him or the swift blow to the jaw before Ronon could block him.

Ronon stumbled back, raising his gun. "John? Don't make me shoot you."

The violence had caused Jennifer to stumble also and now he could finally see her face he froze. Her mouth was gagged with a field bandage and her eyes were scared. Blood dripped down her face like tears from the weeping wounds that crisscrossed her cheeks. They were jagged, not like the clean edge of a knife wound. Sheppard's hands were bloody. Something had happened to him and Ronon wasn't going to wait find out what. He fired his weapon, set to stun, but Sheppard didn't drop. It appeared to pass right through him. He smirked then, lifted Jennifer up and continued onwards.

Ronon followed, flipping his weapon to kill but not willing to use it just yet. Sheppard didn't seem to object to him following and so long as he and Jennifer were safe, Ronon could afford to wait to hear what McKay had found. He activated his radio.

***

( The Talk - Part 2 of 2 )
Tags: genre: het, genre: slash, pairing: keller/mckay, pairing: mckay/sheppard
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