Pairing: Rodney McKay/John Sheppard
Disclaimer: Characters and their universe created by writers who are not me.
Summary: Richard Woolsey breaks a dinner reservation.
Although Richard Woolsey was doing his best to concentrate on the quartermaster's thirty-day projections, his mind kept straying todinner tonight at the French Laundry. He had made his reservations six weeks ago, but he still hadn't decided which dinner jacket would best convey his appreciation for the finest nine courses of French American cuisine on the continent. It was hard to go wrong with a simple cashmere blazer, but perhaps the occasion called for something a little more snappy? He hadn't had an opportunity to wear the Robert Graham tuxedo jacket he had picked up in the first flush of exhilaration upon their successful return to earth.Maybe tonight was the night.
Then the control room announced an emergency transmission, as though they were still on the far side of another galaxy, not floating as safe and quiet as houses in the San Francisco Bay. Dr. Rodney McKay's voice spilled over the radio, staccato with anger, and Woolsey jolted to his feet.
"Would you mind telling me how anyone could have expected this in the middle of a trip to the damn farmers' market? What kind of lousy intelligence are my tax dollars funding when no one's around to stop goons from jumping us while Teyla's picking out her favorite color of rainbow kale?"
Major Lorne talked over Dr. McKay smoothly, never raising his voice. "You should be within sight of Pier 41. We've got Marines there. What is your status?"
Richard could hear a child --dear God, Torren? -- wailing in the background.
"We are unharmed," Teyla Emmagen said. "And we have procured a vehicle."
Richard assumed he would have more time than he wanted in the future to deal with the ramifications of Ms. Emmagen and Dr. McKay "procuring a vehicle." For now he let Major Lorne handle logistics without comment.
"All right, then, hold tight, and we'll have support right to you. ETA ninety seconds."
"We're in the red Ford Ranger double parked in the middle of Embarcadero, if the local police don't get to us before your people do," Dr. McKay snapped. Then he said: "OK. There's the marines now. Of course they're almost invisible in their desert camo on the sidewalk." Despite his mocking, the relief was obvious in his voice.
"Rodney--" Ms. Emmagen began, but whatever else she said was lost in a burst of static.
"Get that transmission cleaned up," Major Lorne demanded. He still sounded calm, but Richard saw his fist clenched at his side. Static rose and fell in blasts as Sergeant Campbell's hands flew across the controls. Then silence, shocking after the harsh white noise, before Dr. McKay's fragmented voice broke across the control room, "-- insane? We've got a baby here --"
He was cut off by a volley of percussive snaps like gunshots. Then Sergeant Campbell said, "I'm sorry, sirs. We've lost the transmission."
Parallel parking still didn't come second nature to Ronon, but he had learned the useful art of giving an unworthy adversary the finger long before Atlantis splashed down on earth, so he stuck his arm out the window to deliver his disdain to the driver who honked at him as he straightened Sheppard's truck in front of the market. The wind was cold and unfamiliar on the back of his bare neck when he climbed out. The trees in the forested countryside around him were big ones from what he had seen of earth so far, and their needles and bark were sweet, but even here, the air mostly smelled like gasoline and automobiles. The two-lane highway that cut through this little town was nothing like the asphalt rivers where cars flowed like water out of San Francisco, but it only served to confirm Ronon' s impression that there was no place on this planet that wasn't criss-crossed by roads for personal transportation machines. He and Teyla had reached the same conclusions about that, and both had insisted on driving lessons after their first trip outside San Francisco. Sheppard had been happy enough to oblige.
A bell jingled above the screen door as Ronon let himself into the market. Inside, the shop smelled like refrigerated produce and fresh coffee. A woman wearing a blue apron sat behind the single cash register. She smiled at Ronon. "Afternoon, sir."
"Where's the coffee?"
The woman in the blue apron laughed. "Did you just get in from Palo Alto or from San Francisco?"
Ronon gave her a sharp glance, but she didn't wait for an answer. "The thermos is on the counter there. I get the beans delivered from a little roaster down in Santa Cruz. I think you'll like it."
Ronon headed to the indicated counter, figured out the thermos after a moment of experimentation, then filled a paper cup two-thirds. He added sugar and plenty of milk as the woman in the apron went on, "I just mean, you high pressure folks need to learn to relax once you get into the mountains. Enjoy the fresh air. Do you more good than another cup of even very good coffee. Are you up here with your family?"
"Yep." Ronon drained his cup in one long swallow and allowed himself to enjoy the slight uptick in his heartbeat, the momentary sharpening of his senses. It was no wonder McKay liked coffee so much.
"You got more of this?" he asked the woman in the apron.
"If you want to take some home with you, the bags are right behind you there on the shelf."
Ronon picked up a small, sealed brown package, feeling the beans slip around under the paper. "These haven't been smashed up yet."
"The grinder is right beside you."
There were written instructions as well as little diagrams on a metal plate mounted on the machine. Ronon considered them, wondering brieflyif being unfamiliar with a machine like this made him noticeably unusual to the shopkeeper. But the woman in the apron didn't seem particularly surprised or interested, and besides, Ronon reasoned, there would hardly be instructions if everyone from earth already knew how to use a coffee grinder.
It proved fairly simple in the end. The mechanism growled and spit black grounds into the bag he balanced under the metal spout.
Ronon closed the paper bag and threw it into his wire basket. Then he made his way down the aisles. The market had a lot of food in boxes and cans, but there was also a see-through cabinet at the end of one aisle with fresh bread. Ronon picked up a couple of long, narrow loaves, as well as a dozen or so of the pastries, white with sugar.
Boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables were stacked along one wall, the produce as over-sized and garishly perfect as usual. He chose stuff he recognized. There was no identifiably butchered meat in the store, just the rubbery, thin slices packaged in that ubiquitous, clear wrapping. Ronon thought it was about as flavorful as its packaging, but McKay and Sheppard both liked the stuff on bread, so he picked up a couple of packets.
There was a better choice in cheeses. Ronon had learned to look for goat cheese, which actually tasted like something, and he liked the soft varieties flavored with herbs. By now his basket was getting full. Sheppard had warned him not to pick up medical supplies, but as he approached the counter, he saw a display of boxes labeled with the red cross half of the Pegasus galaxy had learned to recognize as the mark of medical supplies from Earth. The shopkeeper saw him looking.
"I think those are a real good idea," she said. "Keep an extra kit in your car, especially if you have children."
"Hmm," Ronon agreed. He put the red and yellow box beside his basket in front of the cash register.
"Where are you folks staying?" the shopkeeper asked as she began to ring up his purchases.
"Up a ways."
"You up here for a little vacation?"
"You must be a lawyer down in San Francisco," she said triumphantly. "The only people I know who are so careful about keeping their business to themselves."
Ronon shook his head. His neck still felt naked with no hair touching it. "You got me," he said, and started to carry out his supplies. Before he reached the door, though, his attention was caught by a rack of clothing. Tunics with short sleeves, woven from a thin material that was somewhat yielding. The sort of thing Sheppard wore most days, except these were decorated in bright, primary colors with the names of geographic locations or pictures of non-domesticated animals. They were marked on sale. Ronon picked out half a dozen and carried them back to the cash register.
"These are a bargain," the woman in the blue apron approved. Ronon counted out his paper money to pay for them, and after the shopkeeper gave him his change in a combination of more paper and a little handful of metal disks with ridged edges, she insisted on refolding each of the garments one by one. Ronon curbed his impatience.
"Did you realize these are all xx large?" she asked.
"They're all for me," Ronon said, escaping at last.
He piled his purchases behind the driver's side seat after deciding the bags would protect the food and shirts from picking up too much sand from the carpet on the floor of the truck. As he climbed in, he glanced around himself one more time, but if anyone was watching him, they were doing a good job of hiding the fact.
He waited until traffic cleared enough for him to pull onto the highway, and then he drove about two miles westward, roughly in the direction of the ocean. He pulled off into the empty parking lot of a building made of unfinished logs where a sign advertised Michelangelo's fine Italian cuisine. Ronon parked under the trees that shadowed the restaurant and the empty lot and watched the traffic on the highway flash by. When an occasional lull came in the rush of vehicles, Ronon could hear the babble of water running over stones somewhere behind him, deep under the trees.
He waited about five more minutes, then started the engine and pulled back into traffic, going back the way he had come. He drove through town again, passing the market where he had shopped, one eye on his rear view mirror, and headed up into the mountains. Another ten minutes of driving, and he turned at an intersection where a small vineyard grew in a rare sunny lot. The road narrowed as it curved away, and Ronon was soon driving in shadow again. On one side of the road, the land dropped down to a creek. Ronon could hear the rush of water he couldn't see behind the row of houses that lined its banks. On the opposite side of the road there were no houses, just the tall, red-trunked trees that littered the ground beneath with soft needles.
The next turn took him down a slope so steep that Ronon couldn't see the road beyond the hood of Sheppard's truck. He crossed the stream on a one-lane bridge, after waiting for the oncoming traffic to clear. The next turn took him uphill again. The road itself was no longer wide enough for two vehicles. When he encountered another truck coming down the hill, he had to back up several hundred feet before he came to a turnoff sufficient to allow the other vehicle to pass him.
Another turn at a battered sign nailed to a tree trunk warning that the road was private. The trees had long since closed in overhead. Eventually, the road curved in a long, wide bend, and to his right, the trees fell away. A slope covered with rocks and spiny shrubs dropped from the road. The ocean shone blue in the distance.
The unending spider web of distant streets was hidden from this height by trees and, closer to the coast, by buildings constructed cheek to jowl like Sateda's greatest cities all tumbled together and then reflected endlessly across the entire planet. Sheppard had told him there were places on earth that were honestly remote, but Sheppard had also shown him pictures of the settlement at the southern pole of the planet where he and McKay had first met, so Ronon had his doubts about that. Sheppard's cabin certainly wasn't remote. At best, it was merely... out of the line of immediate sight. For now that would have to be good enough.
The road swung back into the trees. Ronon slowed to a crawl to navigate the steep switchbacks. It had been half an hour since he had seen another car. Off to the left another stream spilled over rocks. Ronon suspected it would flood in the spring, when the snow melt came.
Finally, Ronon took a sharp turn onto a road even more steep and narrow than the last. The woods so quiet Ronon heard nothing but the engine of his own vehicle, so he turned off the ignition before going any further.
Nothing but the stream behind him and the wind in the trees. He waited a few moments longer, and a shift in the wind brought a whisper of traffic from the distant highway.
A bird of prey screamed somewhere overhead. Ronon started the engine again. The road curved so precipitously around hillside boulders Ronon had to stop and back up from time to time to navigate the turns. Sheppard would give him a hard time about that. Around another boulder taller than a puddlejumper, and then a stand of trees growing so close together only Teyla could have made her way between their trunks, and the road dead-ended in a loop in front of a small house. It was built in front of an uphill slope too steep even for trees. Though the hill behind it rose straight up into sunshine, the house itself was shadowed by the trees before it and the hill behind. Not defensible at all, although it gave the illusion of being hidden and safe.
Ronon parked behind the big red vehicle Teyla had stolen in San Francisco. Sheppard was already coming out the front door. Both the surf boards were propped on the front porch, garish curves of primary colors against the weather-faded wooden siding. The wet suits suspended beside them looked like hanged men.
"Any trouble?" Sheppard's eyes were dark after a long day of worry and anger.
"No." Ronon handed him the box of medical supplies from behind the seat. "Shopkeeper sold me this. Said it was a good idea to keep an extra one in the car."
Sheppard smiled, tight and unamused. "Can't hurt."
Ronon passed over one of the bags of groceries and carried the other two himself.
There was no window in the passenger side of Teyla's stolen red truck. The seat was still covered in pebbly fragments of glass.
Inside the house, Teyla herself was curled up on the worn checkered sofa with Torren at her breast, though it looked to Ronon like the little fellow was more interested in sleep than food right now. Ronon put his bags of supplies on the kitchen counter and went to kneel beside Ronon and Teyla, gently dropping his hand on top of Torren's warm head. His slack mouth tightened momentarily, but then Teyla's nipple slipped out of his mouth altogether, and Torren made no effort to retrieve it, laying his head on his mother's breast with a sigh.
"Know how you feel," Ronon agreed. Teyla smiled wanly. The scratches on Torren's face were scrabbing over cleanly, but the bruises were coming up now, red turning to blue. "How are you two doing?"
"Torren will be fine," Teyla said. "I -- am very angry."
There was no need to agree with that. "McKay been awake?"
"No," John answered from where he was unpacking supplies. His voice was clipped with rage he probably thought he was doing a good job of suppressing.
"I got something for you and Torren." Ronon told Teyla. He stood up and pulled the stack of folded shirts from one of the grocery bags. Teyla raised an eyebrow at him as he shook out the first one. "Alcatraz?" she read from the front. "Isn't that the prison island in the Bay?"
"Didn't buy them for what they said. Sheppard was afraid me getting baby supplies would be too conspicuous, so I thought these would work as diapers until you can get out." He looked over his shoulder at Sheppard. "That is, if Sheppard doesn't think a mother buying diapers is too conspicuous, too."
Unsurprisingly, Sheppard didn't see the humor. "Look, you think I don't know how fucked up this is? We don't know who's after Teyla and Rodney, we don't know how much they know, except it's obviously too damn much. I don't even know if we wouldn't have been better off just checking into a hotel in San Francisco. At least McKay would be in a hospital--"
"Hush," Teyla said sharply.
Sheppard hushed. Just to be on the safe side, Ronon kept his mouth shut, too.
"No irrevocable steps have yet been taken. Ronon, thank you for the shirts. I believe they will make serviceable diapers."
With her free hand, the one that wasn't cradling Torren's head, Teyla gestured Sheppard over to her. He moved with alacrity, and didn't protest when she handed Torren up to him. He grappled the baby to his chest as awkwardly as usual, but Torren was so exhausted that for once he didn't mind being handled like a twenty pound sack of tava beans. Teyla got to her feet and adjusted the blanket woven with the silhouette of a grazing animal with large antlers over her shoulders. She took Torren back from Sheppard with a small smile of thanks. Torren slumbered on.
"It is difficult to be surrounded by such a wealth of resources and at the same time, to not be able to safely avail ourselves of them," she said gently. "Torren and I are going to sleep now."
She carried him to the bed at the back of the room where McKay lay with eyes closed, breathing though his open mouth. Teyla crawled into bed beside him, arranging Torren in the curve of her body between them.
Ronon shrugged and went back to the counter to finish unpacking the groceries. After a moment Sheppard joined him. They didn't speak until Sheppard picked up the stack of t-shirts. "Think we should go ahead and cut these into big squares or something?"
"I think we should wait until Teyla tells us what she wants us to do with them," Ronon said, and Sheppard didn't disagree. "I'm going to walk back the road a few miles," he told Sheppard. "Just to be sure nobody followed me."
Maybe he felt a little bad about leaving Sheppard alone to stew, but not sorry enough not to go. He did wait until Sheppard gave him a tight nod of approval. It was tough enough being the leader in these circumstances. Ronon was glad these lousy decisions weren't on his shoulders.
As he had expected, there was no sign anyone had followed him, but as Ronon had also known before he left, there was no such thing as solitude here. If their enemies were lying in wait, there would be little chance of picking them out from the mass of humanity all around them. This shelter of trees and hillside was a very thin one.
Still, he felt a little more relaxed by the time he returned. The sun had sunk so low that the cabin itself was in darkness. Sunlight still touched the top of the hillside behind, while the light shining yellow out the windows and the open front door was as bright as a beacon.
Sheppard was right. This was a damned strange kind of hideout.
Ronon had been able to smell cooking from a mile out, but in all honesty, he hadn't been sure which smells had been coming from their cabin, not in the melange of scents that hovered over this forest. Burning fuel and oils everywhere, even when Ronon was certain there was no gasoline-powered vehicle running within five miles of them now.
Sheppard was standing over the stove when Ronon came in. From the look of things, he was preparing that great favorite of American scientists and servicemen alike: thin, bland dumplings, served with vegetable paste. Plenty of quick energy; not a lot of staying power.
Teyla greeted him, and Sheppard looked over his shoulder to say, "Welcome back, buddy. You're just in time for spaghetti."
Something had obviously happened while Ronon had been away to improve Sheppard's mood. "McKay awake?"
"He won't be the only one awake if you people don't keep your voices down," came a harsh whisper from the bed. McKay was still lying on his back with his eyes closed, but his unbandaged arm was curled loosely around Torren at his side. As if on cue, Torren's eyes opened, big and brown, and he made a questioning noise.
"Oh god, here it comes," McKay muttered, and he fumblingly patted at Torren's belly. Torren scrunched up his face and wailed.
"Come on, little brother, no need for that." Ronon crossed the room in long strides and swung Torren up in his arms. "Everything's good."
Sometimes it worked. This time, Torren stopped crying long enough to blink solemnly up into Ronon's face. Then he went right back to it.
"That's the way he sounds when there's an issue with the plumbing," McKay said, still muttering. "Heaven help that child if I'm the only one who can tell what his problem is."
"Nothing surprising about that." Ronon could feel himself grinning at McKay awake, cranky and lucid. "Until Torren came along, you were the biggest complainer on the team." Torren's diaper was, in fact, wet. Ronon laid him down on the coffee table and dropped to sit cross-legged beside him. "What do you think about Alcatraz on your butt, little man?"
Teyla perched on the side of the bed next to McKay. "Do you feel like getting up?"
"No. Go away." Then McKay remembered he was talking to Teyla. "Please."
"Not even for spaghetti ala Sheppard?" Sheppard was sounding practically giddy. "Fit for a king. Or even an astrophysicist."
"Yeah, um, no. Tempting as it is." Besides being soft, McKay's voice was a little shaky. "I'm not sure I could keep anything down right now."
"Just a bite or two?" Teyla urged him. "You need to take some nourishment, Rodney."
"Anybody tell you I picked up some of those butter pastries when Sheppard sent me into town this afternoon?" Ronon asked. "Croissants, right? They had chocolate and almond ones. Plus I got coffee."
"Don't get too excited about the coffee," Sheppard cautioned, but he was already pulling out one of the chocolate pastries for Rodney and putting it on a plate. "The only coffeemaker I've been able to find here is a percolator of Mom's that must date from the nineteen-sixties. I don't even know how to put it together."
"Perhaps we could just boil some water in a pan," Teyla suggested.
"Oh my god, I've been cast away with the crew of the S.S. Minnow. Teyla, help me up. Sheppard, bring me the percolator. "
Teyla shared a quick, broad smile with Sheppard and Ronon before she helped him sit.
"Ow, damnit, careful. I've still got a bullet in that arm," he complained shakily.
"I am unlikely to forget it," Teyla advised McKay, which shut him up until he was sitting on the edge of the bed. He didn't look so hot. The bandage around his head where a bullet had creased his scalp needed to be changed. Ronon also wanted to check under the bandages on McKay's arm, because at the first sign of infection, they would have to reevaluate their whole game plan here.
But for now, Ronon simply finished knotting the t-shirt around Torren's rear end and taped up his plastic shorts. He scooped Torren himself under one arm and tossed the soiled diaper into their makeshift diaper pail. Although Torren was still crying, his sobs had quieted down to questioning little hiccups that Ronon interpreted as a call for Mother. Teyla evidently agreed, appearing at his side to shift Torren into her arms.
Sheppard had carried his own armload of pieces from the apparently obsolete coffeemaker to McKay's bedside, where McKay had started fitting them together with the muffled clatter of cheap metal and an ongoing monologue about coffee-making.
"You seem to have all the pieces, for a wonder. You'll want to put the coffee in the basket here, like this. Thirty grams per .2 liter of water."
"Uh huh. How about giving me that in American, McKay? I seem to have left all my lab equipment back on Atlantis."
"Could have been MENSA, my ass. One cup water. Two tablespoons coffee. Start timing when the water boils -- you'll see it in this little glass bubble, here. Seven minutes and take it off the heat immediately--"
"--before exotic particles from another dimension start rocketing around the kitchen. Got it."
McKay snorted. Then he froze and got very quiet. Sheppard eased the coffeemaker away and put his hand on McKay's shoulder. "Just breathe. Can you tell me what's wrong?"
"Choose one or the other," McKay finally gasped.
"Okay, for now just breathe."
"It's my head." As his pain subsided, the words came easier. "Feels like it's trying to run off and start a new colony. Right now, I'd be willing to let it."
"That's what comes of trying to use those amazing brains of yours to deflect bullets."
When McKay finally opened his eyes and raised his head, Sheppard got up, patting him carefully on the knee. "Coffee cures everything, right?"
"Not nearly as well as morphine," McKay muttered.
"Fresh out," Ronon said. McKay blinked at him as though he were having trouble focusing. Then he said, "Oh my god. What happened to your hair?"
"Got it cut yesterday before Sheppard and I left Half Moon Bay."
McKay had seen him last night and again this morning, but Ronon wasn't surprised that he didn't remember. McKay had barely been conscious when they first arrived, and earlier today he had still been too groggy with pain and shock to process his surroundings.
"Huh. You look almost respectable."
"The shopkeeper in town thought I was a lawyer."
McKay snorted again. Grabbed his head. "Oh god," he whispered. "You and Richard Woolsey. It's like the end of the world."
"Still want that croissant? Be glad to take care of it for you."
"Hand it over, you thief."
"I like your idea of gratitude, McKay." Ronon said as he moved the plate within reach for him.
"Spaghetti's ready," Sheppard announced from the stove. "Coffee's on the way. Can I fix you a plate, Teyla?"
"Thank you, yes," she said from the sofa where she had settled with Torren.
"You can get your own," Sheppard told Ronon. "McKay, I'm bringing you some and you can do what you want with it."
"Are you watching the coffee? Percolator coffee is bad enough without you burning it, too."
"Jeez, McKay, chill. I think I can handle it."
"Oh, and you're surprised that I'm a little worried about your alleged multi-tasking skills? The man whose response to an assassination attempt is to squat his whole team down in a cabin in the woods?"
John's face went very blank and very still. He handed Teyla her plate without a word.
Nobody else said anything either, until McKay hemmed and hawed and finally tried, "Of course, it's a very interesting cabin. Sort of the Great Society meets VH1."
That must be a reference to the decor. Large, crisp, black-and-white photographs of dramatic landscapes were carefully framed under glass. And then there were the posters in over-saturated colors pinned to the backs of doors, the edges of the paper ragged with age and wear. Most depicted young men on surfboards, except for the ones of airplanes.
Ronon dropped onto the sofa next to Teyla. "Want me to hold the little guy for you while you eat?"
She smiled wanly and handed Torren over. He accepted the change in handlers with equanimity.
A buzzer went off near the stove. "There, is that the coffee?" McKay said, because the man just couldn't help himself, but Sheppard relaxed his shoulders.
"VH1?" he said. "I was strictly hard rock."
"Sure, if you consider Billy Idol a hard rocker," McKay said.
"Hey, White Wedding was a great song." Sheppard said, coming to sit next to McKay, spaghetti and the promised coffee in hand.
McKay finished his croissant with greedy haste and grabbed for the coffee cup. He took a long pull, pleased as a drunkard with a swig of rum. "Well, have you thought about a red crew cut? It could hardly be more outrageous than your hair is now." Another swig of coffee. "So. Do we know who know who was shooting at me and Teyla?"
"No." Sheppard looked unhappy again. Ronon could hardly blame him. "McKay. We don't have any contact at all with the SGC right now."
McKay took this in without comment, which was a little alarming in and of itself.
"I think it's that new crop of marines," Ronon said. "Lorne told me there were a whole group of them who are into that Fourteenth organization. They never would have been transferred into the SGC if some congressman hadn't been leaning on General Landry, claiming discrimination on religious grounds."
Sheppard stared at Ronon. "Since when do you and Lorne spend discuss interagency politics?"
"Since we got a squadron of zealots forced down our throats." Ronon said. That should have been obvious.
"The fourteenth what? What are you talking about?" McKay had demanded.
"Just The Fourteenth," Sheppard said. "They're a right-wing political group a little hung up on the fourteenth amendment to the constitution."
"Let's pretend I don't carry all the articles of American government around in my head, and tell me what this has to do with men in marine uniforms shooting at me?"
"Immigrants," Ronon said, skipping to the heart of the matter. "They really don't like immigrants."
"You're kidding me," McKay said. "No, you're not, are you?"
"We don't actually know anything yet," Sheppard cautioned. "I just hope it's low level ideologues out of the chain of command, because then we can go home as soon as we get word they've rounded up the shooters. But if it goes any higher up--"
"You mean nobody knows we're here," McKay said slowly. "Because you don't trust anyone right now."
"So how will we know when it's all wrapped up?"
"Cam Mitchell. I told him how I used surf Mavericks in the old days at Stanford. I'm pretty sure I mentioned that Mom had a cabin off Highway 92. He'll be able to find me."
McKay dropped his head. "Or we'll all get old and gray waiting out here among the redwoods."
"Could be worse," Ronon said. "This a good time to change your bandages, McKay?"
McKay flinched. "What? No. I'm still eating."
In truth, of course, he had put the plate of spaghetti aside almost untouched. Ronon handed Torren back to Teyla, gathered up their supplies of gauze and medical tape, and went to sit next to McKay, who regarded him warily.
"Head or arm first?"
"How about neither one? Didn't I just mention that I'm still eating?"
"Head it is," Ronon said.
Sitting on McKay's other side, Sheppard put one hand on McKay's leg and one on his shoulder as Ronon cut through the stained gauze at McKay's temple. McKay's lower lip was trembling as Ronon peeled the bandages away, and Sheppard was telling him some bullshit story about surfing Mavericks that McKay clearly wasn't listening to. That was okay. Some time while Ronon cleaned the matted hair and blood from the side of his head, McKay had turned his arm and now was grasping Sheppard's hand with his own as tightly as he could. He kept holding on as Ronon dressed the wound on his head again, and then peeled the gauze away from the worse injury on McKay's arm.
McKay glanced at the naked hole in his forearm, swollen, dark and supurating, whimpered and looked away. Sheppard looked longer, then met Ronon's eyes. "Twelve hours?"
"Twenty-four if we have to," Ronon said reluctantly. "No longer than that."
"Twenty-four hours what?" McKay demanded, voice trembling. "Oh my god. Before you dig the bullet out yourselves?"
"This isn't Gunsmoke, Rodney," Sheppard said, sounding both exasperated and tender, the way he only got with McKay. Ronon noticed he kept holding his hand. "If Cam hasn't gotten in touch with us by then, Ronon or I will be taking you to the hospital, that's all."
"Even if we don't know who's trying to kill me yet."
"Honestly, Rodney, by that point it'll be a better idea than letting them succeed."
"Oh," he said very quietly, obviously terrified.
"Which isn't going to happen," Sheppard announced firmly. "Don't be an idiot."
"I like that, coming from you," McKay whispered. "You know, I didn't really want to die protecting children."
Then he bent over double and threw up undigested coffee and chocolate croissant all over the rag rug beside the bed.
He slipped away into sleep again while Ronon helped Sheppard clean up. Teyla drowsed with Torren on the sofa, and Ronon put on a coat to take first watch outside the cabin. Around 0200 hours the front door opened. At first Ronon thought Sheppard taking an early watch, but then he realized, with some surprise, that he had McKay with him.
"It's OK," Sheppard called to him quietly. "McKay wanted to watch the Perseids."
"I ought to get something out of being stranded here in the wilderness." McKay grumbled shakily. Ronon went to give them a hand. McKay wasn't moving very steadily, but he seemed a little stronger than before. Maybe Sheppard had convinced him to eat some cold spaghetti.
They walked together in small, careful steps, no artificial light to spoil their night vision. When they had climbed a short distance up the hill behind the cabin, Ronon helped Sheppard spread a blanket on the ground and settle McKay under a sleeping bag to watch the meteor shower. McKay was right about one thing. The view was far better up here than it was in the San Francisco bay. Between the fogs and the city lights, Ronon felt trapped under a dome. Up here, he was still aware of the press of people, made somehow even more ominous by their illusory solitude, but there was no question the night view was magnificent. The moon had set hours before, and the sky was raining with streaks of white.
Tears of the patriots, one of Sateda's jingoistic poets had called meteors. Seed of the Ancestors, the religion-besotted Athosians called meteor showers. The first time Sheppard heard that, he had blushed like an adolescent. McKay had shaken his head, grinning, and said it explained Sheppard's genetic makeup, didn't it?
Tonight the two men just watched the rain of stars without conversation, at least at first. Ronon moved a short distance away, but he was still on watch, so he didn't leave. And then out of nowhere Sheppard said, "So what were you doing at a farmer's market with Teyla anyway? The last I heard you were going to be out at Ames, lording it over your old colleagues yesterday."
"It's not lording it over people if you really are doing work light years beyond what their puny minds can comprehend," McKay informed him loftily.
"Uh huh. And yet you decided to go lord it over asparagus spears instead."
"Teyla was going to have her hands full with Torren and whatever produce she decided she couldn't live without. I could always drive out to Ames some other day."
"Rodney, you're turning into a regular marshmallow. Jeannie must be so proud."
"Jeannie will never, never hear of this. Not if you value your life."
Another silence fell, broken at length when Sheppard observed, "You're shivering. Let's get you back inside."
"Yeah, alright." Neither man moved though, and then McKay burst out all at once, "They were aiming their guns right at Torren and Teyla. What kind of insanity is that?"
"You got me," Sheppard said, but Ronon thought he understood it. He felt more hemmed in by the press of humanity out here than he had ever dreamed possible. It was easy enough to picture the diseased imaginations who felt the same way, who believed a fertile woman and her child from another galaxy were more weight than this crowded planet could bear.
Ronon felt the cold in the air more keenly. The slashes of light across the star fields overhead were ice in the sky.
"They told me to step aside," McKay confessed, his voice shaking. "But I was frozen. I couldn't move a muscle. John, I feel like I still can't move."
"Hey, hush, easy." Sheppard's voice dropped to a murmur that Ronon didn't try to follow.
"Then when we stopped and threw away our cell phones and whatnot before driving up here, I fainted dead away," McKay blurted. "I passed out and left Teyla alone with a wounded baby there on the side of the road. After all those years in the field with you guys, and I still couldn't tough it out."
For a smart guy, McKay was pretty much an idiot sometimes, Ronon thought. Teyla had told them about that stop. McKay had passed out while Teyla cut the tracking device out of his arm with a knife she'd sterilized on the cigarette lighter.
"As far as Teyla is concerned, you put yourself between her baby and a bunch of guns. Hell, McKay, that's exactly what you did do. You don't have to prove anything to anyone."
McKay muttered something Ronon couldn't hear, and he thought Sheppard probably kissed him, then. Then Sheppard said, "Hey, big guy, do you mind giving us a hand here?"
He helped Sheppard maneuver McKay to his feet while McKay blustered and complained about things that weren't really the problem. Inside, they put him to bed and Sheppard went out to take the watch until morning.
"What?" McKay demanded, still shivering and irritable when he realized Ronon was watching him.
"You never get tired of telling us you're the smartest man in two galaxies, but you don't recognize courage even when it jumps up and bites you on the ass."
"What are you grunting about now?" McKay complained, but he wouldn't meet Ronon's eye as he said it.
"And you might give Sheppard a break too while you're at it."
"I might if I had any idea what you were talking about," McKay shot back, defensive and scared. Ronon sighed to himself and put his hand on McKay's back to calm him and in apology. He stayed there until McKay slept.
By morning, their options, (already few) had all withered away. McKay was feverish, so there was no time for sitting in the woods any longer. Sheppard was nearly frantic with worry, which he disguised as tight, precise action. He had McKay bundled in the front seat of the truck when Ronon held up one hand to stop him.
Sheppard froze, looking like he could commit murder in that instant without turning a hair. Ronon made sure he was out of range. He had no doubt he could take Sheppard, but there was no point jostling a sack of blasting caps.
"It's only one vehicle."
Then as the sound of the engine grew louder, relief washed through Ronon, so vast he realized that perhaps Sheppard wasn't the only who had been a little tense. "Wait. It's OK. That's Sam Carter's hog."
"How can you possibly know that?" Sheppard was close to shouting.
"Because Colonel Carter's been teaching me to ride," Ronon said. "You know. When she has time on this side of the galaxy."
The first rays of sunlight spilled down the hillside behind the cabin while Sam's engine roared in the distance, uneven and defiant, through all the throngs of a crowded world.