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This is a (VERY!) late entry for the 2nd Annual Ficathon over at [livejournal.com profile] sheps_atlantis. As it went rather...epic on me, I'll be posting one part per day over the next six days.

Title: It's The Little Things
Rating: PG (mostly for violence and possibly a wee bit of 'colorful' language on Ronon's part *grins*)
Pairing/Characters: Gen fic with team and no pairings
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em & not making any money off this--if I did or I were, we'd SO be having a Season 6!!!
Prompts: Written for the ever-so-patient and awesome [livejournal.com profile] linziday, who wanted John & Rodney (and/or team) as kids on Atlantis. Detailed prompt will be included at the end of the last chapter.
Timeline: Set early season 5, shortly after John's recovery from events in "The Seed."
Notes: Notes will also be included at the end of the final chapter, as they turned out a wee bit lengthy. Oops! :)
Summary: The team is returned to Atlantis after being regressed to childhood while investigating an offworld Ancient facility. With no memories of their adult selves, the four must work together to not only find a way to cope with their current situation, but to eventually reverse the effects and save themselves from impending death. Chaos, mayhem, and madness occur along the way, of course!
Word Count: 53,678 words (hence why it took six freakin' months to finish--so sorry Linzi!!!)

It's The Little Things


Richard Woolsey leaned back in his chair, stretching after a long session at the computer. He had finally finished his report to the IOA, silently congratulating himself for his efforts at justifying Colonel Sheppard's team's latest...escapade...without compromising their future as a team or his own values.

His good mood evaporated instantly at the sound of the gate activating. Knowing that no teams were due to return or report in, worry replaced pride as he hurried out to the dialing station. "What have we got?"

"Unscheduled contact, sir. No teams are scheduled to return or check in for another half-hour yet. I'm not getting an IDC...no, wait. It's Major Lorne's IDC."

Woolsey frowned. "He's with Colonel Sheppard's team on PMC-908. They aren't due back for another two days yet."

Chuck nodded, though it was obvious that Woolsey was talking more to himself than to Chuck. "Yes, sir." Before he could say more, his hand went to his ear. "I'm getting an audio signal. Shall I put it on speaker?"

Leaning forward over the console to hear better, Woolsey nodded. Chuck pressed a button and suddenly Lorne's voice erupted from the console's speaker. "...need...medical team...standing by. I repeat...situation here. Please ...medical team...standing by."

"Just a moment, Major. Your transmission is breaking up; please try again. What is the nature of the emergency? Where is Colonel Sheppard?" An unpleasant feeling took root in the pit of Richard's stomach. Somehow he just knew this team was in serious trouble. Again.

"He's right here...rest of...team...not hurt, but..." There was a slight pause as the signal again faded, but before he could ask again for clarification, the Major continued. "...Sheppard's team...exploring the ruins as planned...not entirely sure...bright light...not sure you'd believe...best you see..."

Woolsey's frown deepened, partly out of concern for his people and partly due to confusion over what the situation actually was. "Major, your signal is breaking up--please say again what your situation is--what's happened to Colonel Sheppard and his team? What is the nature of the medical emergency?"

"...incident caused...electromagnetic field...interfering with communications...boosted signal as much...no way to...clearer. No danger to Atlantis...my team unaffected...only the colonel's team...regression."

The frown deepened as Richard tried to make some sense of the situation. "Is there any way to boost the signal or clear up the audio from our end?" he asked, looking at Chuck.

"No, sir, I've already done everything I can. I'm afraid this is as good as it's going to get."

Not at all pleased with the answer, he again activated the mike. "Major, we are still unclear as to the nature of your emergency. Are you certain there is no possibility of contamination to the city from this...this situation of yours."

Lorne's answer was swift and sure. "Yes, sir...no residual radiation...not reading any...potentially harmful substances or gasses...didn't affect...only Colonel Sheppard's team."

Still, Richard hesitated. Dare he let them return without knowing what the problem was? Lorne had seemed quite certain that there was no danger. And he had to trust his people or his tenure here was going to end in tragic failure sooner rather than later. His decision made, he at last turned to Chuck. "I want a hazmat team to the gate room, just in case. Also, alert Doctor Keller that there's a medical emergency of unknown origin coming in." He then reactivated the mike to speak with Lorne. "All right, Major. Since there are no physical injuries, can you give us ten minutes to get everything ready?"

Again, there was a slight hesitation in the major's answer. "Yes, sir...can do..."

Before Richard could respond, there was a loud squeal from the console, which to his embarrassment caused him to jump back a step. Lorne's voice came over the speaker, but it was immediately apparent that he wasn't talking to anyone on Atlantis. "Hey! I told..not touch anything...knock it off..." he warned.

Woolsey's jaw dropped at the next sound from the speakers. He would have sworn it was children laughing. Looking to Chuck, he demanded answers. "Am I correct in assuming that earlier noise was not on our end?"

"Yes, sir."

His confusion growing, he leaned forward and activated the mike. "Major Lorne, what's going on there? Who's that with you? Your previous reports confirmed that the planet was uninhabited. Has that changed and will you be bringing along any unexpected...guests?"

Lorne's voice was strained when he finally answered. "No, sir...only my...Colonel Sheppard's. Ow! Hey...told you...cut that out!" There was a slight pause before Lorne again spoke, obviously horrified. "Um, not you, sir...was, well...talking to Ronon. Sir."

Frustrated at the inability to communicate clearly, Richard gave up trying to understand what was going on with the two offworld teams. "Very well, Major. And we're prepared for you now, so you can step through as soon as you're ready."

"Thank you, sir...on...way."

Moments later, the wormhole shimmered and two by two, eight figures stepped through into the gate room. Woolsey stared at the scene below, his mouth open in shock. Likewise, the hazmat team seemed to be frozen in place, not certain what to make of the situation either as the returnees exited the gate.

Lorne had stepped through first, holding a young boy tightly by the arm. The youngster had a head of disconcertingly familiar unruly dark hair and wore a hugely baggy black t-shirt with equally huge BDU trousers that had been cut off at the bottom of each leg and cinched with a length of rope at the waist. Angry and sullen, the youngster glared up at his escort as they moved away from the active stargate. Though Richard knew little about children, he guessed the gangly boy might be in his early teens at most.

Stevens, the Major's second in command, came through next, holding the hand of a young girl. Long brown hair fell gracefully about her shoulders and fine features held the promise of great beauty in the coming years. She was fairly swimming in an adult field jacket and also appeared to be wearing cut-off BDUs. Calm and serene, she nonetheless looked around as they moved up to meet Lorne and his charge. Woolsey thought she was younger than the boy, but he had the feeling that she had not missed a single detail during her brief inspection of her surroundings.

Next came Jennings, who was half dragging, half carrying another young boy. This youngster was sobbing loudly and trying his best to curl up into a ball as he screamed at the soldier. "Nonono! You can't make me! I won't do it! I won't!" The youngster wore the same baggy adult t-shirt and cut-off BDUs as the first boy, but all Richard could see of his head was a mop of reddish-brown hair. He appeared to be even younger than the first two, but Woolsey wouldn't have sworn to that with such a poor view.

Bringing up the rear, Langly stepped through with his charge. The burly Marine had a pained look on his face as he mimicked his commanding officer's hold on a third young boy's arm, marching the lad up to join the rest of the group. This boy was shorter than the others, but he paused to take in every detail of his new surroundings in a way that none of the others had--almost as if he were casing the joint. Langly prodded him forward, only to be answered with a mischievous smirk. This youngster, sporting a head full of dreadlocks that had yet to reach his shoulders, also wore a baggy adult field jacket. Instead of the cut-off utilities, however, he wore a pair of decidedly unmilitary boxers that were covered with various images of Bart Simpson's head. Despite having to hold them in place by bunching up the excess fabric in his hand, the boy moved with an eerily familiar cat-like grace. Richard thought he might be the youngest of the four, but he wouldn't have placed any money on it had he been the betting kind.

When he finally recovered his senses, Woolsey quickly made his way down the stairs. "Major Lorne, where...what...please explain!"

With an apologetic look, Lorne shrugged. "I'll try, sir, but I'm not entirely certain I know myself. Colonel Sheppard and his team were inside the structure when we lost contact. There was a bright light and..."

Before the major could explain further, the boy next to him suddenly yanked his arm free. "Now!" he yelled, shoving Lorne into the hazmat-suited figure next to him. The move set off a chain reaction that had bodies toppling over in a domino-like effect. The boy took immediate advantage and sprinted for the nearest door.

Two of the three other children reacted instantly, also shoving their guardians into the tangle of bodies and running for the nearest exit. "Stop!" demanded Woolsey. "You children come back here right now! It's not safe for you here without an adult." When it quickly became apparent that the youngsters were not going to listen to him, he tried enlisting help. "Someone stop them! Don't let them get away!" Amid the chaos of tangled humanity on the floor, no one was capable of reaching them.

The dark-haired boy, obviously the leader of the little pack, paused to see that the third boy wasn't following. "Come on!" he called to him. "We're running out of time!"

"I can't! He might break my arm and that will hurt!" The boy continued to struggle, but Jennings managed to hold onto him. He was still crying, his sobs growing louder by the moment even as the strength of his efforts began to wane.

Disgusted, the young leader ran back and pulled an expert fake-out on Jennings, shoving him hard and sending him again sprawling atop the pile of bodies on the floor. He smiled smugly as he watched the progress the group had made in untangling themselves instantly become undone. Obviously pleased with his handiwork, he grabbed the younger boy by the arm and yanked him along as he sprinted toward the others. In a flash, the little quartet disappeared from sight.

Woolsey was furious. "Will someone please tell me what the devil is going on here? Major, who are those children and where did they come from? And where is Colonel Sheppard and his team?"

Lorne finally disentangled himself from the hazmat team and answered as he slowly jogged backwards toward the hallway down which the kids had disappeared. "Sir, those kids *are* Colonel Sheppard and his team. I'll explain the rest once we find them." Without waiting for Woolsey's okay, he turned and sprinted after them.

As much as his mind wanted to deny it, Richard knew it was true. Left to stand and stare after him, the first thing to come out of his mouth was an "Oh." The rest of Lorne's team had at last found their feet and were helping the hazmat team regain their footing as well. With no one else to lash out at, Woolsey quickly took his frustration out on them. "Well? What are you waiting for? Go find those...go help the major find Colonel Sheppard and his team! And you," he said, pointing to the hazmat team. "Get out of those suits and help them. And someone tell Doctor Keller to be expecting some visitors once they're found."

Richard slowly ascended the big staircase and shuffled back to his office, one thought on his mind. How the heck was he going to explain this one to the IOA???

~A~


"They've split up--two of them are headed for the East Pier. The other two seem to be headed for the lower levels."

"Copy that. You and Jennings take the two headed for the lower levels. I don't care how you do it, but do NOT allow them to reach those lower levels. I repeat, DO NOT let them get into the lower levels. Most of the sensors are still offline down there, so if they get past us we'll never find them. Langly and I will attempt to intercept the two headed for the East Pier. Lorne out." The weary officer limped down the hallway toward the pier, on the lookout for further traps set by the pint-sized team. It had been over four hours since the youngsters had made their getaway from the gate room and they were no closer to apprehending them now than they had been while sprawled on the floor among the hazmat team.

Lorne shook his head in disgust. Sheppard's team may have been de-aged, but even in pint-sized form they were a powerful force to be reckoned with--and Lorne's team certainly had the bruises to prove it. So far they'd encountered everything from oil-slicks on floors to booby traps above, below, and inside of doors. His personal favorite had been the transporter sabotage. Somehow, McKay had hacked into the system and re-routed all the destinations. He and Langly had stepped out expecting to find themselves near the physics lab, but instead found themselves on the North Pier. It had taken them an hour to get back and rejoin the search. To make matters worse, Radek was still working to straighten out the mess and having the transporters offline indefinitely was certainly not helping them in their efforts to apprehend the tiny terrors.

"Ooof!" Lorne doubled over in the middle of the hallway, his face twisted into a grimace. He looked over at Langly, one eye still closed. "Okay, that's a new one."

"Yeah," agreed Langly, staring down at the metal pipe that had just connected with the major's midsection. His eyes tracked the path it had taken when it swung down from a railing above. "They may be smaller, but they're still good. Damn good."

"Trust me, I noticed that." The wry reply came as major rubbed his stomach, trying to ease the sting of his newest bruise. Having finally caught his breath, he waved his subordinate on. "Come on. If we don't have them in custody inside the next thirty minutes, I don't care what Keller says, we're breaking out the stunners."

The two men's footsteps echoed down the hallway as they cautiously headed for the East Pier. Several long moments passed in silence before two small dark heads poked out of their hiding place to make certain they had left. "They gone?" asked the shorter one.

"Yeah," answered his companion. "Told ya they'd fall for it."

Ignoring the jibe, Ronon pointed down the opposite end of the hall where Lorne and his subordinate had disappeared. "We should go find the others now."

"Not yet. We need a few more surprises for the grown-ups first. Grab that rope and bring the pipe--I know the perfect place we can use it next." John finished zipping the overstuffed backpack and dragged it along the floor behind them; an earlier raid on the mess hall had left it far too heavy for either of the small boys to carry it as intended.

"Okay. That was a good idea you had to throw them off our trail."

John shrugged. "Thanks. You've had a lot of good ideas for the booby traps, too."

As the two of them set off, Ronon turned to his partner in crime. "How come the grown-ups call you Colonel instead of John? They call the rest of us by our names, but not you."

"How should I know? They're grown-ups--it's not like they make any sense most of the time, you know."

"Yeah. I guess."

John pointed to a nearby stairwell. "Let's set up the pipe over there. That leads down to the hallway to the control tower."

"Okay. Then maybe we can go find the others--I'm hungry."

"Yeah, yeah, we'll find the others and eat soon. Now let's do this."

The trap was set in record time and the two set off. A short time later, John stopped suddenly in the middle of the hallway. "This is a good spot for oiling the floor. You still got some left?" Waiting for his buddy to find the oil, he surveyed the surrounding area, looking for additional opportunities.

Ronon, however, was not in the mood to be put off any longer and stubbornly planted himself in the middle of the hallway, arms crossed and clearly not intending to budge--or look for the requested oil.

"Okay, fine! We'll do this one last thing and then go find the others. McKay's probably scarfed down all those powerbars we left with them already anyway." Dragging his own heavy pack out of the way, he turned to help Ronon. "Now come on; we need to get this stuff done."

Mollified at finally having his unspoken request addressed, Ronon reached for the pack and quickly got down to business.

~A~



"Should we not be moving on to another station now?" Teyla leaned against the doorframe, looking nervously down the corridor in each direction while still attempting to remain out of sight.

"I already told you, I made sure the sensors can't locate us so we're perfectly safe right where we are. And besides, that John kid told us to wait here." Rodney didn't even look up, absorbed in the display on the computer in front of him.

"Yes, so you have said. But it has been some time since the others left; it is not good to stay in one place for too long a time. The longer we stay, the more likely it is that someone will find us."

"I'm telling you, keeping ahead of these bozos is, well, child's play. Makes you wonder who they've got running this place." Rodney abruptly abandoned his calculations, jumping to his feet as he turned to face her. His eyes were wide with fear, his beloved computer instantly forgotten. "W-w-wait a minute! You-you think those big red scary...things might find us here?" His eyes frantically searched the room for a hiding place.

"I do not know." She turned back to her surveillance of the hallway, almost as if the mere mention of them might bring the odd-looking man-like creatures to their current hiding place. "Unlike yourself, I am not a genius and do not pretend to have all of the answers."

"I'm not pretending! I AM a genius and when it comes to math or science, I DO have all the answers," he said, pouting. "Just not so much with the fighting and brave-hero-saving-the-day kinda stuff."

Teyla couldn't help but smile, though she was careful to keep her face turned so that he couldn't see it. "Then I suppose that shall be my task."

"You?" Rodney snorted in disbelief. "You're a GIRL. Everyone knows that girls can't fight monsters. Or bad guys. No, we'll have to wait for that John kid--and pray he shows up in time."

Her mood instantly changed. When she turned to face him, her eyes were cold and hard. "Perhaps you would like a demonstration?"

His mouth fell open and he stumbled backward until he hit the wall. "No, um, no. That's okay. I-I believe you. I guess your parents never got the memo or something, that's all."

Her features softened somewhat, a look of confusion taking hold. At last, she shook her head and returned to her watch. "You are a very strange boy, Rodney McKay."

~A~



Woolsey marched into the conference room and took his seat. He leaned forward, folding his hands on the table in front of him as he looked pointedly at each person seated around the large table. "All right, people, this has gone on long enough. Will someone please explain to me why we are having so much difficulty locating and retrieving four ten-year-old children?"

After a quick glance at the others for support, Lorne cleared his throat. "Sir, while it's true that they appear to be children and have no memory of their grown-up selves, they seem to have retained all of the abilities of their adult selves. They've set up booby traps and snares all over the place. The colonel and Dr. McKay know this city better than anyone. Add in their expertise, as well as Ronon's and Teyla's and it's not surprising we're experiencing a lot of setbacks."

"I don't understand. If they've lost their adult memories, how are they able to remember what to do--and how to do it--in a situation that requires their adult knowledge?"

"I believe I have an explanation." Radek Zelenka pushed up his glasses and opened the folder in front of him. "Dr. Callavetti has been able to translate a great deal of the information that Major Lorne's team brought back from the planet. It would appear that the ruins are that of an Ancient lab, one where the focus was on ways to more quickly achieve ascension. It is my belief that this was one of their earliest attempts, both because of the dialect used and also because of the different projects described in the database that Captain Stevens downloaded from the main control room of the structure in question. The one where Colonel Sheppard's team was affected," he clarified.

A signal from Lorne to the scientist prompted Radek to move quickly to the heart of the matter. "From almost the beginning, it appears that the Ancients were convinced that the need to let go of their earthly burdens was the key to success. This lab was built to explore various ways to help achieve that goal. The purpose of the device triggered by the colonel's team was to help the user regress to a more simple, uncomplicated period in their life. The intention was for only the mental aspects of the user to be affected, but obviously they were completely unsuccessful. In fact, the device ultimately altered both the physical appearance and memory centers of the brain, yet it appears to leave all instinctual aspects of the user intact. They had not yet found a way to correct this when the lab was abandoned."

"I see." Woolsey quickly turned to the medical expert present. "Dr. Keller, I realize you have not yet been able to examine them, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this as well."

Jennifer shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Oh. Well, you understand that I can only speculate on what the effect of this might be on them. The possibilities range anywhere from unstable DNA to organ failure to any number of complications involving the brain, not the least of which is a harmful alteration of brain chemistry. Or they could be perfectly normal in every way, aside from the fact that they have regressed to the approximate age of ten. There's really no way for me to tell what's happening to them without an exam or tests."

Before Woolsey could speak up, Lorne intervened. "Sir, it would help matters greatly if we could just stun them. I can guarantee we'd have them apprehended within the hour."

"No, you can't do that! The effect could be disastrous--fatal even. If their DNA is unstable, or if they're in the early stages of organ failure...we could lose them for good." Keller was adamant.

"Well, Major, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to defer to Dr. Keller under the circumstances. Permission to use stunners denied. Let's get back out there and find them, people. We need to see this situation resolved--for their sakes as well as our own. Dismissed." Without waiting for a response, he gathered his paperwork and turned to leave.

To his surprise, when the doors opened he found a familiar form pacing the floor. "Doctor Beckett. I know it's been several weeks since your return and I'm sorry I haven't been by to ask how you've settled back in. I've been a little busy, and now we're in the middle of...well, I suppose you've already heard about that. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Aye, that ye can. Ye can call off this so-called search and let me talk to them. Over the city-wide, I mean."

"Excuse me?" Richard couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Look, I know that you're friends of theirs, but you cannot just come in here and start making ridiculous demands. Surely you don't expect us to call off the search--we need to find them and get them medical attention as soon as possible."

"But it's not a search--it's a bloody manhunt! These people are your friends, or at the very least, your colleagues. Put yourself in their place. How would you feel if ye suddenly found yourself in a strange place with no memory of anyone around ye. Then you're taken through a strange puddle of water and find yourself on the wildest of rollercoaster rides, the likes of which is beyond anything ye could ever imagine. And then you're spit out into yet another strange place with even more strangers waiting for ye. Is it any wonder they ran? Have ye given even the least thought to what those hazmat suits must have looked like to a child? The poor things must have been scared half to death."

On a roll, Carson didn't stop there. "And you!" He looked around Woolsey, pointing directly at Lorne. "What in bloody Hell were ye thinking, man? Bringing 'em back like that without making certain that everyone knew what to expect. And now you're conducting this so-called search more like a bloody search and destroy mission! They're not the bloody enemy, son. Is it any wonder they're trying so hard not to be found? Can ye really blame them?"

"Well I guess when you put it that way," said Lorne, looking distinctly sheepish. "I guess we could have handled things a little better--but in my defense, I did try to apprise everyone here of the situation. I can't help that the electromagnetic field was garbling the transmission. How was I supposed to know what information was getting through and what wasn't?"

Woolsey cleared his throat, re-establishing his authority. "Yes, well I think we can all agree that things might have been handled...differently, but the fact remains that we cannot allow them to remain at large unchaperoned. There's no telling what they might take it into their heads to do next, not to mention the issue of medical attention. Evaluations and assessments can wait until the situation has been resolved; right now locating them is the most important issue at hand."

"Well your search is obviously not working now, is it? It's been what, six, seven hours since they came back? It's time to try another way. Let me talk to them, see if I can persuade them to come to the infirmary on their own. They've got to be getting tired and hungry by now. If I can promise them that no one will try to stop them or follow them, they just might be willing to come in."

They waited while Woolsey considered his options. Before he could come to a decision, however, there was a knock at the door. "Excuse me, sir." Chuck hovered near the doors, his face grim. "We've just had a report from the armory. Colonel Sheppard and Ronon were just there and managed to escape with Ronon's blaster and a stunner. I thought you'd want to know right away."

"How long ago was this?"

"The report just came in, but the two of them managed to stun the sergeant on duty. He reported the incident as soon as he came to, but I'd say they've been gone for roughly half an hour. Maybe more."

"Very well. Keep me informed." The technician took the dismissal for what it was and headed back to his station. Woolsey pinched the bridge of his nose, factoring the latest developments into his decision.

When he lifted his head, he looked immediately to Keller. "You're certain that it's too dangerous to stun them?"

She didn't hesitate, nodding emphatically. "Yes, without question. There's just no way to tell what kind of damage it might cause without at least a preliminary examination, or better yet, running some scans and tests."

Nodding, he next turned to Carson. "I assume you agree with Doctor Keller?"

"Aye, it's far too risky."

Woolsey considered the matter for several more moments before finally issuing his decision. "Very well, Doctor. You have my permission to attempt to contact them. But if they have not turned up in the infirmary to be examined within a reasonable period of time, then I'm afraid we're going to have to consider...more drastic measures."

Though the Scot was obviously not happy about it, he nodded. "Very well. I'll see to it now, then; the sooner the better and all." Without waiting for a dismissal, he headed for the control room.

Within moments, Carson's voice echoed throughout the city. "John, this is Carson Beckett. I know ye probably don't remember me, but I promise ye that I am your friend. I've just finished speaking to Mr. Woolsey and he has agreed to call off the marines that have been searching for ye. Now, I know ye must be getting tired and hungry, so I would like to invite ye to come to see me in the infirmary. There will be hot food and a bed waiting for each of ye, and I promise ye'll not be separated. No one will interfere with ye in any way, I promise ye. Please, John. We only want to help."

Releasing the button for the mike as he stepped back, Carson gestured to Chuck that he was finished.

"Now what?" asked Woolsey, followed closely by the rest of the group from the briefing.

Beckett shrugged, a grave look on his face. "Now we wait, Mr. Woolsey. Now we wait."

~A~



John and Ronon ran down the hallway, having made their escape from the armory a short time before. The blaster was heavy, but Ronon insisted on carrying it himself. John had offered to take the heavier, larger weapon and leave his companion the stunner, but Ronon was having none of it. With no time to argue, John had no choice but to capitulate and allow him to have his way--for the time being.

Their progress had been slow, in part due to avoiding all the traps they'd set for the marines and in part because of Ronon having to practically drag his heavy weapon. John was about to suggest for the millionth time that they switch--just until they reached the relative safety of the lower levels, of course--when they heard a voice behind them. "Stop right there," called a somewhat familiar voice. "Drop the weapons on the floor and turn around, nice and slow."

The two boys exchanged a meaningful look as they slowly turned to face Sergeant Jennings. The man was wary, watching them intently for any sign of resistance. "Drop 'em," he repeated. "I'm not kidding around here."

John did as asked and dropped the stunner, also letting go of the heavy pack he'd been dragging. Slowly he raised his hands, his face the picture of defeat. Ronon was a step or two behind Sheppard and bent slightly, appearing to be placing the blaster on the floor as well. Jennings relaxed for a fraction of a second, reaching for his comm to report their capture. It was all the boys needed as, without a word, John dropped to his hands and knees. Before he even hit the floor, Ronon was using both hands to raise the blaster. Despite his small size, he didn't falter for even a second, expertly bringing it to rest on Sheppard's back and firing with his customary deadly accuracy.

"Oh crap!" Jennings had no time to take evasive action, cursing as the flash from the weapon lit up the immediate area. The words had barely left his lips when the blast hit, instantly sending him to the floor in an unconscious heap.

John jumped up, grinning from ear to ear. The blaster slid off his back as he offered his hand for a high-five. "Nice shot."

Ronon shrugged. "Thanks." He gestured with his chin to the unconscious marine. "Should we check him?"

"You got it set on stun, right?" John bent to pick up his own stunner.

"Yeah, why?"

"Then he should be fine. Eventually. Right now I think we should get out of here before someone else comes."

"Okay," agreed the Satedan. "Works for me."

The two carefully proceeded to the room where they had left Rodney and Teyla, avoiding several additional marines along the way. There were also a few close encounters, but the two youngsters had managed to lead their pursuers to some of their various traps, leaving them there struggling to escape. Exhausted, but still excited from the thrill of the chase, the two finally reached their pint-sized teammates.

"Hey, Teyla. Where's Rodney?" asked John, scanning the room for their missing member as he dragged his heavy pack to the center of the room.

"He is behind the tall station over there," she informed him, rolling her eyes.

Frowning, John called out to him. "Rodney, we're back. We've got sandwiches and juice and stuff to eat." Certain that the lure of real food would quickly draw the arrogant little guy out, he waited.

"I believe he finally fell asleep a short while ago." Teyla's tone clearly said that she had not enjoyed herself while they'd been gone.

"What? Why'd you let him do that? He's supposed to be keeping the sensors and stuff offline so they can't find us!" Irritated at the seeming failure of half of his team, John stormed over to the console.

"He claims that it will take them weeks to figure out what he's done and correct it," she offered. "Besides, he did not seem to be feeling very well."

John stopped short at that, turning back to face her in alarm. "Why? What's wrong with him?"

Teyla shrugged. "He did not say, but he was looking rather pale and his hands were shaking. I think he was simply exhausted."

"Did he eat those powerbars we left?"

She nodded. "Yes, he ate at regular intervals. He also explained with each bar his need to keep his blood sugar up so that he did not develop hypoglycemia. Several times," she added, again rolling her eyes.

Still uneasy, John bent down to shake the boy in question. "Hey, Rodney. Wake up, we brought food."

"Go 'way. 'M tired. Sleepin'," he mumbled.

"You can sleep after you have a ham sandwich and some juice. Now come on. Or do I have to make you?" John stood up, his arms crossed as he waited for Rodney to move.

"Said go..." McKay suddenly sat up, instantly awake. "There's ham?" he asked eagerly. "Real ham?"

John shook his head, jogging over to the pack and rummaging through it. Finally locating what he sought, he pulled out the sandwich and tossed it over to the pint-sized scientist. "See for yourself. I've got juice, too. Apple or grape?"

Rodney already had the plastic wrap off and was noisily chewing away. "Apple," he said, still chewing.

"Teyla, what about you?" he asked, tossing a carton of apple in McKay's direction.

"I suppose I shall have the grape."

"You sure? I also have orange," he offered. "And we have tuna, turkey, and peanut butter sandwiches."

Her face brightened. "In that case..."

"Hey!" Rodney interrupted. In his outraged panic, he almost forgot to swallow. "You didn't let that orange juice anywhere near my sandwich or juice did you? Because I'm telling you, one drop of that stuff and..."

"We know, we know," said John, cutting off his tirade. "You're mortally allergic to citrus. For your information, I put the orange juice in a separate pocket, even though it's in sealed cartons like all the other stuff. Okay?"

Only slightly mollified, Rodney returned to scarfing down his meal. "Well, okay. I guess. But you can't blame me; I'm not kidding--one drop of that stuff and I'll..."

"We know!" The thrill of the chase was rapidly passing and John wasn't in the mood to listen to yet another lecture on the effects of citrus on someone who was allergic, mortally or otherwise. "Just eat your food and go back to sleep already, will ya?"

After seeing that everyone else had something to eat and drink, he sat down and eagerly tore into his own turkey sandwich. Halfway through, a voice sounded overhead. "John, this is Carson Beckett. I know ye probably don't remember me, but I promise ye that I am your friend. I've just finished speaking with Mr. Woolsey and he has agreed to call off the marines that have been searching for ye. Now, I know ye must be getting tired and hungry, so I would like to invite ye to come to see me in the infirmary. There will be hot food and a bed waiting for each of ye and I promise ye'll not be separated. No one will interfere with ye in any way, I promise ye. Please, John. We only want to help."

Food and drink were promptly forgotten as silence descended upon the room. After several moments, Rodney offered his opinion. "I think we should listen to him and do what he says," he said quietly.

John considered his opinion, looking to both Teyla and Ronon for their input. Teyla shook her head, but said nothing. Ronon shrugged, tearing open his second sandwich and digging in. John shook his head. "No," he finally said. "We can't risk it."

"I think we should trust him. I don't know why, but I think he's telling the truth. I believe him when he says he's our friend," countered Rodney.

Again, John shook his head. "I don't know why either, but I agree that he's a friend. But I can't take the risk that he's telling the truth about the marines and stuff."

"He wouldn't lie to us!" Rodney was on his feet now, fists clenched in anger.

"He would if they made him," challenged Sheppard. His anger disappeared as quickly as it had come, his voice softening as he continued. "And you know it."

"John's right," said Ronon. Still munching away at his tuna sandwich, he conveyed no trace of hostility in his tone.

"I agree." Teyla was sympathetic, her eyes filled with regret.

Finding himself outnumbered, Rodney looked like he was about to cry at any moment. Angrily swiping at his eyes, he scooted over to again hide behind the console where he'd been sleeping. "Fine. But I still say we can trust him, even if I'm outnumbered." He sniffed loudly, but before anyone could reply he ended the discussion. "I'm tired and I'm going back to sleep now."

Intending to go talk to him further, John stood. Teyla called him back before he'd taken more than a few steps. "I believe it might be best to allow him to sleep for awhile," she urged. "He does seem very tired. Perhaps he will be more reasonable once he has rested."

After thinking it over, he shrugged and headed back over to his own unfinished meal. "You're probably right. Can't hurt anyway," he added, digging back into his abandoned turkey. By the time he'd finished, Ronon was already sacked out in a corner and John himself was beginning to feel rather sleepy. "You should take a nap for awhile, too," he told Teyla. "We're all pretty tired."

She nodded, looking pointedly back at him. "And you as well. You and Ronon were much busier than I, but I will rest if you will."

"I will, later. Someone needs to keep watch."

"Then I will watch first and you can take over when you awaken."

"But you..."

Her eyes blazed as she cut him off. "If you are about to say that I cannot because I am a girl, I strongly suggest that you reconsider."

John blanched. "I was gonna say that you had to watch the whole time Ronon and I were gone. And that you could probably use a break from it," he said defensively. "But if you insist, I'll be glad to let you go first."

Teyla smiled, though her expression made it clear she wasn't buying it for a moment. "Of course you were. Sleep now--and before you ask, yes, I promise to awaken you the moment anything happens."

Tiring rapidly, John nodded and curled up on the floor. "Okay," he mumbled. Within moments, he was fast asleep.

~A~



"Jennings! Where the hell have you been? Didn't you hear the order to report to the command center?" After his subordinate's failure to answer the summons or acknowledge his orders, Lorne had been ready to send someone after him.

"Sorry, sir. I'm pretty sure I was a little busy being unconscious at the time." As Jennings approached, the major could see that he was pale and having a difficult time walking a straight line. "They got away. I had 'em cornered down near the armory, but they got away."

"So I gathered. Why don't you tell me exactly what happened? Though I think I probably already have a pretty good idea," he added dryly.

"It was the damnedest thing you ever saw, sir. Oh, they've got a stunner and Ronon's blaster..." Upon seeing Lorne's lack of surprise, the soldier continued. "Though I'm guessing you already knew that. But I'm telling you, it was the craziest thing I've ever seen. I ordered them to halt and drop their weapons. Sheppard dropped his and raised his hands. Dex could hardly carry that big ol' blaster of his, so when he bent down I assumed that he needed both hands to lower it to the ground. Sheppard was standing in front of him, blocking my view. I reached for my radio to report in and that's when it happened." Jennings shook his head, as if he was having a difficult time believing it himself.

"What happened?" Lorne got a sinking feeling in his stomach, not entirely certain what to expect.

Jennings leaned heavily against the wall. "I never seen anything like it," he repeated. "Neither one of 'em said a word. Didn't make a sound--not so much as peep out of either of them. But all the sudden when I reached for my radio, Sheppard dives down, dropping onto his hands and knees. Dex was raising the blaster before Sheppard ever hit the floor. Like a pro, he hefts it onto Sheppard's back and takes aim. Then there was a flash and the lights went out. Shrunk or de-aged or whatever you want to call it, even with the damn gun being practically bigger than he is and too heavy for him to hold it, Dex is still damn impressive with that thing. Sir," he added hastily, as if he only then remembered who he was addressing.

Lorne shook his head, no doubt in his mind that the story was true. "So I hear. But right now, I want you to get yourself down to the infirmary and get checked out. You okay on your own or do I need to call for a med team?"

"I'm good, sir. Maybe a little slow, but I can make it." Moving away from the wall, Jennings paused and shook out his hands.

"Pins and needles?" asked Lorne.

"Yeah," agreed Jennings. "I think it's starting to wear off a little though."

Lorne lightly clapped him on the shoulder. "That's good to hear. Now go on, get yourself checked out. Once they've cleared you, I want you to go get some rest. It's been a long day."

"Yes, sir. And thank you." Grimacing, Jennings staggered off toward the medical wing, still shaking his tingling hands.

~A~



John's heart was racing. His surroundings were dark and dank and he couldn't tell if he was in a room or a hallway. His back was against the wall and he had nowhere to run as the monster approached. Its hair was snowy white, hanging in long stringy clumps that swayed as it staggered toward him. Its skin was pale, almost as white as its hair, and while its features were somewhat human in appearance, its rows of small pointy teeth and claw-like fingernails marked it as anything but. The creature extended its hand toward John and he knew instinctively that he had to get away--and fast. He tried to run, but before he could take even a step, vine-like tentacles sprouted from the wall to hold him firmly in place.

He screamed as it approached, knowing with certainty that if it reached him he was finished. Almost immediately, the vine-things wrapped themselves around his head, covering his mouth and leaving him mute. Time slowed to a crawl as the hand snaked toward him inch by agonizing inch. His eyes bulged with terror as the claws extended, eagerly reaching for him. He struggled to break away, knowing he needed to run as far and as fast as he could, but the tentacles were too strong and he was helpless to do anything save to watch as the hideous appendage drew ever nearer to his chest.

It seemed an eternity had passed by the time the monster's hand finally touched him, but there was no mistaking when contact was made. Pain blossomed, spreading like lightning throughout his body. He could feel the life being drained from him, years of his future existence flowing through his limbs and pooling in his chest before being sucked out through the creature's palm. His body jerked and spasmed, finally free of the tentacles, but he barely noticed through the all-encompassing pain. Likewise, he hardly felt the blood-curdling scream when it tore from his lips.

"John! John, please! You must wake up now," urged Teyla.

He opened his eyes to look at her, and to his amazement, he found himself suddenly back in Atlantis. Teyla's hand had replaced the monster's on his chest and he realized that she had been trying to awaken him. He went limp with relief, breathing heavily as he tried to shake off the remnants of the nightmare. "Sorry, musta been dreaming," he whispered hoarsely. His throat burned, raw from the scream that he now realized hadn't been simply part of the dream. He shuddered at the realism of the whole thing.

Ronon appeared next to Teyla, still lugging the blaster that was nearly as long as his entire leg. "You awake?"

Raising an eyebrow, John sat up straighter against the wall. He was still shaking all over as he tossed a barb at Ronon. "No, I just like sitting up and talking while I sleep."

Not appearing in the least offended, the little guy dragged himself and his weapon over and dropped down to sit on the floor next to John. "Yeah, that's what I thought."

Irritated at both his apparent physical weakness and his failure to get a rise out of his Satedan companion, John snapped at him. "Aren't you supposed to be asleep?"

Dex shrugged. "Was until you started screaming loud enough to wake the Ancestors."

John did a double take. "The who?"

"The Ancestors. You know, the people who fought the Wraith a way long time ago. They're like gods, almost." Ronon looked to Teyla for confirmation, receiving a nod in return.

"Oh yeah? Never heard of 'em." Feeling stronger, John looked around for the one missing member of their little group. "Hey, where's Rodney?"

"He has not yet awakened," answered Teyla. "He has also been dreaming a great deal, though how he was able to remain asleep through some of them, I do not know." She looked over to the corner he had claimed after their disagreement, a worried expression on her face.

That got John's attention in a big way and he scrambled to his feet, swaying slightly before recovering his balance. "Did you check on him?" he asked, heading over to see for himself.

"Of course. I chose not to awaken him because he had seemed so tired earlier."

John watched the slumbering youngster for a moment before attempting to wake him. He appeared to be breathing well enough, but there was something that was just...off. Grabbing Rodney's shoulder, he shook him. "Wake up, Rodney."

McKay didn't rouse at all, so John tried again. "Come on, Rodney, wake up and talk to me," he insisted.

Rodney whimpered, but didn't open his eyes. "'M cold. Go 'way, don' wanna talk."

Frowning, John placed his hand on Rodney's forehead. "Geez, you're burning up. I'll get you some juice and some tylenol."

"Don' wanna drink," whined McKay. "Leeme 'lone."

"Sorry, can't do that. You're sick--you have to drink some juice and take some tylenol."

Teyla grabbed another bottle of apple juice from the bag and took it over to the two boys, handing it off to John. "I am unfamiliar with this 'tylenol' you speak of, but if you tell me where I can find it I will gladly bring it to you."

"Thanks," he said, twisting the cap off. "The tylenol should be in the front pocket, the little one. You're looking for the small red and white packets that have the name on them. I'm pretty sure I grabbed some."

He carefully placed his hand under Rodney's head and lifted, bringing the juice to the other boy's lips. "Here, drink this while Teyla gets the pills."

Whimpering in protest, Rodney nonetheless did as instructed and swallowed. He'd barely finished when Teyla returned, packet of tylenol in hand. "Is this what you need?"

"Yeah, thanks." John set the bottle of juice aside, but was reluctant to allow the boy to lay down again. "Can you open it and give them to him, please?"

Smiling, she did as asked and helped Rodney get the pills in his mouth. John quickly provided the juice to wash them down and once the pills were swallowed, McKay pulled away. "Now go 'way and lemme sleep," he groused.

"Okay," agreed John. "Go back to sleep now and we'll check on you later."

As he and Teyla stood and turned to go, Rodney whimpered pitifully. "'M cold."

John looked around, but saw nothing that would serve as a blanket. He thought for a moment and then peeled off his over-large t-shirt and placed it over the shivering McKay. "Sorry, buddy, but that's the best I can do for now."

Rodney snuggled down into it, drawing the garment tightly around him. "'S okay, 's better."

"Good. Better's...good." John stood there for a long while, simply watching as the ailing youngster drifted ever-deeper into sleep. When it became apparent that he wasn't going to move on his own, Teyla took him by the hand and guided him back across the room. He continued to look back at Rodney the entire way, finally whispering, "He'll be okay."

It was Ronon who spoke up to disagree. "He needs a doctor. And a bed. A real one, not a spot he claimed on the floor in the corner."

John pulled his gaze from Rodney long enough to glare at the Satedan. "I thought we agreed that it was too dangerous," he challenged.

Ronon shrugged. "Probably is," he agreed. "But still needs to be done."

"Perhaps if only one of us went out to check for signs of a patrol?" suggested Teyla.

"And check out that doctor," added Ronon.

John didn't answer immediately, busy running through all of his options. The others didn't push him, allowing him the time to come to a decision. John both appreciated and resented it at the same time. Why did he have to decide? How come he had to be the leader anyway? He certainly didn't ask for it. Just because he was the oldest? That was no reason. Besides, he wasn't even certain that he was the oldest. It's not like they'd had time to sit around trading vital statistics info or anything. Still, someone had to take care of the others and for whatever reason, the others had unanimously chosen him. How and why that had occurred, he didn't know. They hadn't voted or anything. Heck, no one had even brought it up at all. It had just...happened. Whenever there was a decision to be made, they had all immediately looked to him to make it, and then obeyed when he'd told them what to do. It was, well, freaky.

But freaky or not, a choice clearly needed to be made here. And sooner rather than later. Sighing, he gave them his decision. "Okay, here's what we're going to do. You two are going to stay here and watch Rodney. If he wakes up or seems restless again, you should give him more apple or grape juice. NO orange though," he reminded. "I'm going to head out for a little bit of recon and see if I can find Beckett."

"I should go with you," said Ronon. "You need someone to watch your back."

John rolled his eyes. "You just want an excuse to shoot someone again. Besides, this calls for some serious stealth, my friend. And you lugging that big honkin' gun of yours isn't going to cut it." When he saw that Ronon was about to protest, he held up his hand to forestall him. "And besides, I need you to help Teyla. She can't take care of Rodney and watch the door at the same time. And there's the whole issue of what happens if they're lying and I get caught. You're going to have to help her move him to another secure location. So save it, will ya? We have to do it my way this time, chief. End of discussion."

The other two shared a quick look and then nodded. "Okay," agreed Ronon, though his expression clearly conveyed how unhappy he was with the situation.

"We understand," said Teyla. She looked no happier than Ronon, but at least she didn't argue.

"Good. If I'm not back in two hours, assume I've been caught and get Rodney somewhere safe. I'll find you as soon as I can escape. If I'm not back within four hours, give Rodney another packet of tylenol and juice--wake him up if you have to. Repeat that every four to six hours until he doesn't have a fever anymore. Got it?" He took a deep breath, relieved when the two of them nodded in agreement. "Good, then I guess I'll be leaving now."

Teyla quickly stepped in front of him, blocking his path. She placed one hand on each of his shoulders, pausing only a moment before touching her forehead to his. John wasn't quite certain what to do, so he decided to allow her whatever it was that she needed from him and went along with it. Besides, it felt...right, somehow. Then she pulled back, leaving her hands on his arms. "Please, John, be careful."

Flashing her a cocky grin, he shrugged. "Always am." Waving, he took off down the hallway. Never once did he look back.

~A~



"Well, Doctor Beckett, it's been several hours. How long do you expect us to wait to resume the search for Colonel Sheppard and his team?" Woolsey again sat at the head of the conference table, his hands steepled in front of him as he waited for the Scot to reply.

For his part, Carson didn't hesitate to speak his mind. "Ideally, I'd like to give them until tomorrow morning." Seeing that Woolsey was about to object, he quickly qualified his statement. "But I'll settle for a few more hours if I have to. We have to give them time to accept that we're not their adversaries. I'm certain that they'll be out checking for patrols and search parties soon, if they're not already. Once they see that we're telling the truth, they'll come around. I know they will."

Woolsey considered his words, then looked pointedly at Major Lorne. "I gather there haven't been any further incidents since they liberated those weapons?"

"No, sir, there hasn't been a peep out of them. No one has seen hide nor hair of any of them since they stunned Jennings. Either they've gone to ground or..." Though he didn't finish the sentence, everyone there seemed to understand the implication, given the looks on their faces.

"So you don't agree with Doctor Beckett that they've been out doing surveillance?" To his credit, Woolsey was doing his best to understand all sides of the equation--even though he was clearly out of his league in this instance.

"Oh, I have no doubt they've been out checking for any signs of deception on our parts." Lorne was quick to put that doubt to rest.

"But you just said there has been no sign of them."

"There hasn't. Sir, they may be ten years old now, but they're still Colonel Sheppard and his team. If they don't want to be seen, they won't be seen. Period."

Woolsey took a moment to digest his words and then turned to Radek. "Has there been any progress on getting our internal sensors back online?"

Zelenka had bags under his red-rimmed eyes. "No, I regret to report that there has been no progress in that area at all. We have the transporters all back online, but the scanners are proving to be quite difficult. For every step forward, we wind up taking three steps backward. At this rate, it will be weeks before we are able to get them back online and fully functional."

"So in other words, we are no closer to finding them now than we were eight hours ago?"

Lorne, Zelenka, Keller and Beckett all exchanged a knowing look. "That would be correct, sir," answered Lorne.

"Agreed," said Radek.

"Yeah, me, too," added Keller. "And I have to stress here again how disastrous it could be for them to remain without medical care. We need to examine them as soon as possible to determine what, if any, side effects the device is causing. Aside from the obvious, of course."

Woolsey looked to Carson, who appeared to have no intention of speaking. "Doctor?"

Beckett folded his arms across his chest. "I've said everything I have to say already. I don't see any point in repeating it."

"Very well then." Woolsey paused, appearing to consider their input further. "All right, Doctor Beckett, you have another four hours. If they haven't made contact by that time, I'm calling out all available personnel to mount a city-wide search. One way or another, we are going to find them," he vowed. "Dismissed."

"I'll be in my office if anyone needs me," announced Carson. Gathering his papers, he hurried off without so much as a backward glance.

~A~


Part 02

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