katstales: (Team-nightime on balcony)
[personal profile] katstales
Title: It's The Little Things
Author: [livejournal.com profile] katstale
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!!!
Timeline: Set early season 5, shortly after John's recovery from events in "The Seed."
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!


The beginning of the story is here in Part 01.

Part Three


John found Ronon pacing the hallway off the control room when he finally left Woolsey's office. After checking in both directions, the little guy wasted no time in demanding an accounting of events. "So what'd he say? He agree, or we gonna have to keep dumping the babysitter?"

"Keep it down, will ya? I don't trust him, not yet," said John, careful to keep his voice low. Echoing his friend's caution, he looked both ways down the hall before answering. "He wasn't happy about it, but he finally caved and agreed to can the sitters. In return, we have to stay away from the armory, the labs, the power room, and the lower levels, unless there's an adult with us."

"Why'd you agree to that? Seems like a lot to give up for losing a babysitter we could ditch inside of 5 minutes anyway."

"Ah, but that's not all he gave up. He was planning to ground us for two weeks, too." Seeing the blank look on Ronon's face, he elaborated. "That means he was planning to punish us by restricting us to our rooms without DVDs, Game Boys, or anything else that's fun for the next two weeks."

"Let him. It's not like we can't get out anytime we want anyway."

"I know, but then we'd be on the run again. And I don't know about you, but I kinda like having a soft bed and hot meals. Besides, McKay isn't up to it yet. But don't worry, I made sure Woolsey believes we'd escape before he even had the doors locked, along with a few other things. Trust me, I made sure he thinks he got the best end of the deal. By the time he finds out differently, it's gonna be way too late." John beamed, proud of the deal he'd just brokered.

Ronon wasn't quite so impressed, however. "They still got my blaster. How'm I gonna get it back if we can't go in the armory?"

"Ah," said John. "But that would only be a problem if your blaster was actually back in the armory. Which it isn't."

"Then where is it?"

"Beckett locked it up in the infirmary that first night. It's still there. I checked."

"If it's locked up, then how'd you check?" asked Ronon, suspicion clear in both his tone and expression.

John shrugged. "I went over to the lock-up room to scope things out. For later, you know. I was standing there and then it opened, just like that. So I went in and looked around and there it was."

"When'd you do that?"

Tired of the lingering doubt, he snapped, "Right before I went to see Woolsey while you were getting checked out. Beckett was with Rodney, so I figured it would be a great time to do a little recon. Anymore questions?"

"Just one. How'd you get it to open? It's supposed to be lock-up; seems like it should be hard to get into."

"I don't know," said John. His annoyance was growing by leaps and bounds. "I told you, I was just standing there wondering how I could open it and it...did."

Ronon frowned. "Secure lock-ups don't just open because you think about it. You must have done something else."

"No, I didn't. I told you, I just thought I wanted it to open and then it did."

"Show me."

"No! I'm not gonna show you anything, not yet. I know you well enough to know that if I take you in there now, you won't leave without it and then all my hard work will have been for nothing. Sorry, chief, but you'll just have to wait till the time is right. Now come on, let's go see how Rodney is doing." As far as he was concerned, the discussion was over and he stomped off to the infirmary, not bothering to look back and see that Ronon was following.

~A~



"You jumped off the pier? Are you nuts? Do you have any clue how much force would have been generated by the time you hit the water? I could tell you to the exact measurement, but then none of you would understand it anyway so why bother? I can't believe you! What if you'd all been killed? And trust me, you could have easily broken your necks from that height. And where would that have left me, hm? I'll tell you--alone, that's where. All alone in a city of strangers, all of whom are adults and none of whom are anywhere near as smart as I am! Do you have the slightest idea what a nightmare that would be? Well, do you?"

John rolled his eyes. "As a matter of fact, I know exactly how much force was involved and can calculate it for myself, thank-you-very-much. And no one broke anything, aside from a few stupid rules that Woolsey-guy made. Can you believe that he thought he was actually going to ground us?" He shook his head, still irritated at the attitude of the vast majority of the grown-ups and Woolsey in particular.

Rodney crossed his arms, pouting. "Yes, well, at least you aren't stuck in here with people waking you up at all hours to stick needles in you and suck out all your blood. I haven't had this many tests since that time I nearly died after being sprayed with the juice from an orange my sister was peeling. She said it was an accident, but..."

"Yeah, yeah, you're mortally allergic to citrus. You mentioned that already. Several times. An hour." John cut him off before Rodney could really get going. Afraid he'd go right back to what seemed to be his favorite topic, Sheppard quickly offered a distraction. "Hey, I got something for you."

McKay straightened up in the bed, excitement deepening the slight blush to his cheeks from the fever. "Oh? What is it? And if you say lemon pudding or any other version of citrus..."

Not wanting to listen to the citrus allergy lecture yet again, John tossed a backpack onto the bed within Rodney's reach. "Thought you might be getting bored so I snatched that from one of the labs. It even has your name on it," he added.

Rodney's whole face lit up as he pulled a laptop from the bag. "Yes! I can't believe you did this." He looked furtively around the room, eventually turning his attention back to John. "Where can I hide it? I can't let them find out I have it when they come in to suck more blood and stuff. They'll take it away for sure."

John shook his head. "Nah, I cleared it with Carson. As long as you take a break and rest every couple of hours, he's cool with you having it."

"Are you serious?" Judging by the stunned look on his face, Rodney couldn't hardly believe his luck. "I-I don't know what to say. I can't believe you went to all this trouble for me."

John shrugged. "Well it didn't seem right that you're stuck in here while we're out there having all the fun. It's the least I could do."

"Yes, well, that's true. I mean, if you're going to insist on jumping off the pier into freezing-cold water until you break your neck, thereby leaving me alone to fend for myself among all these...grown-ups, then you certainly do owe me. A lot, in fact. And the laptop was a good start, by the way. But don't worry, I'm sure I'll think of a way for you to fully make it up to me before your eventual demise." Already engrossed in booting up the computer, Rodney was practically bouncing with excitement.

"Actually, we've been banned from the pier." John's pout went unnoticed as the newly-acquired machine took priority for Rodney. "So congratulations, you're in total agreement with the grown ups on this one."

That finally got Rodney's attention and he looked up. "Hey! There's no need to get insulting about it. Just because I, unlike some people, happen to have a healthy sense of self-preservation..."

"Yeah, sure, whatever. Listen, I promised Ronon and Teyla that we could go do something after I dropped the computer off, so, y'know, have fun and all. We'll be back after dinner. I hear they're having meatloaf tonight," he offered.

"Really? I love meatloaf. Wonder if they can get mine a little early. I mean, they wouldn't want me to go into hypoglycemic shock, right?"

"Bye, Rodney," called John, already heading for the door. He'd heard more than enough about the other boy's health issues for one day. He'd promised Ronon and Teyla an outing and he knew just what he wanted to do. "Have fun--I'm sure we will."

~A~



"This isn't going to work," said Ronon, kicking the fallen stack of crates in front him. "We're not tall enough."

Though John was loathe to admit it, the other boy was right. "Yeah," he said, disappointed. "Sure would have been fun though." He looked wistfully up the side of the central tower, imagining what it would have been like to scale those walls. There were plenty of hand and foot holds, but none of them were tall enough to have any hope of successfully negotiating the way to the top.

"I am certain we can find something equally exciting and challenging." Teyla seemed to enjoy the role of peacemaker, he thought. She was always trying to smooth things over. He'd be willing to bet a month's allowance that she'd end up being a diplomat or something.

John thought for a moment. A wide grin split his face, telling his two companions that he'd come up with an idea. "Come on, I know just the thing. You're gonna love it."

The two followed, but not before exchanging an uncertain look. Ronon had shrugged and immediately followed along, though Teyla had hung back a moment longer. Though she hadn't said anything, John had the feeling that she wasn't as enthusiastic about their little 'excursions' as he and Ronon were. Maybe it was just a guy-thing, he thought. After negotiating a maze of hallways, careful to avoid notice wherever possible, they finally arrived at their destination.

"What are we doing here?" asked Ronon, looking confused. "We can't fly these things." He paused a moment then looked hopefully at John. "Can we?"

John shrugged. "Well, we probably could, but I think we should wait to try that for another time. Besides, I have something else in mind for today. Something that won't get us into nearly as much trouble," he added.

"Yes," said Teyla. "It would probably be best not to antagonize Mr. Woolsey any further. From what you have told us, he was quite unhappy about our swimming adventures."

"Yeah," agreed John. "As much as I'd love to really teach him a lesson, he's the guy in charge around here, so if we want any freedom at all, we better at least try to stay on his good side. Within reason, of course."

Ronon shifted from foot to foot impatiently. "Okay, so what are we doing here? And where are all the grown-ups?"

More than happy to get to the fun part, John smiled and pointed to the jumpers in front of them. "Who cares where the grown-ups are? As long as they aren't here to stop us, that's all I care about. And I don't know about you, but I'm thinking a multi-level slide ought to be interesting."

Looking skeptical, Ronon tilted his head and stared at the ships. "How we gonna do that?"

"Leave it to me," answered John. "You guys wait over there while I set it up."

After sharing a look that said they thought he was nuts but were willing to go along with his wishes anyway, the two backed away and allowed him go to work. It didn't take long for him get the jumpers into position, maneuvering them the exact way he needed them, and soon he was beckoning his cohorts to join him. "Follow me!"

He climbed to the top of the highest jumper and waited for his two friends to catch up. Once they were all gathered, he pointed to the sloped window. "Who wants to go first?"

"It was your idea. I believe that should warrant you doing the honor," said Teyla. John could tell by her posture that she was anxious to have a turn herself and he appreciated the offer to let him have first dibs.

Ronon, however, wasn't so magnanimous. "I wanna go first this time. He got to go first for swimming. It should be someone else's turn."

John rolled his eyes. "Fine, go for it. And for the record, I only went first for the swimming so I could show you guys how to do cannon balls the right way."

"The more time spent discussing it, the more likely that someone will come in and stop us even before we start." Ever the practical one, Teyla quickly put an end to the discussion by pointing out the obvious.

"Right. Okay, Ronon's first, then you can go, Teyla, and I'll go last." John really didn't mind not going first; what he minded was the implication by his friend that he'd been selfishly trying to hog the inaugural runs for himself.

Ronon didn't need to be asked twice and immediately sat down at the edge. He took a deep breath and pushed off, sliding down the glass. He slowed up when he reached the end of the glass, though not enough to upset his balance, again speeding up upon making it to the second windshield. Springing to his feet when he reached the floor, he turned to wait for his teammates, whooping loudly. "That was awesome! Hurry up so we can go again," he called.

Grinning, Teyla quickly followed his lead and was shortly thereafter standing at the bottom, her face flushed with excitement. "Your turn, John. Ronon is correct--this is quite fun!"

John needed no further encouragement and was soon at the bottom with the other two, laughing as they unanimously voted for another round. "Come on, Teyla's turn to be first this time," he called, already halfway up the side of the top jumper.

Ronon didn't protest this time, but made certain he was second in line after Teyla. Run after run they took turns without complaint, until in the middle of their dozenth or so trip down they heard an almost-familiar voice behind them swear in a foreign language. John somehow knew it was Czech, though he had no idea how he knew that. "You! Come down from there. It is dangerous game you are playing. Come!" demanded the intruder, gesturing wildly and muttering more Czech swear words.

The three youngsters stood atop the jumper, arms folded as they looked down on the spectacle of Radek Zelenka. The longer they ignored his instructions, the more animated he became--and the more fun to watch. At last Ronon leaned over toward the other two, keeping his voice only loud enough to be heard over the commotion below. "Think he's gonna call Woolsey?"

"Probably, answered John. "That or a unit of marines, in which case we'll be right back where we started again."

"We should probably do as he asks," suggested Teyla. "We cannot go back on the run and leave Rodney to their mercy."

"Yeah, there's that." John was silent for a moment as he considered their options. This list was a short one, unfortunately. Teyla was right; they couldn't leave Rodney, especially after his little speech when John gave him the laptop. That left surrender, as much as the thought stuck in his craw. The only real decision was the how of it. An idea began to form in the back of his mind and, grinning at the others, he scrambled over to the front edge of the jumper. With a wicked gleam in his eye, he pointed to their make-shift slide. "He said to come down, but he didn't say how." Letting out a loud war cry, he enthusiastically jumped down onto the windshield and began the sliding trek downward. Grinning madly, Ronon and Teyla eagerly followed.

Once the trio were on the ground floor, a furious Zelenka marched up to them, waving his arms and trying in vain to make the words come. At last, he took a deep breath and held his finger up, half in warning and half to point at the wayward group. "You. You will come with me. Now. You will not say a word and you will not touch anything. At all. You will walk and you will breathe, but you will do nothing else until you are told otherwise. Rozuměl?"

Looking contrite for all of the few moments it took for Radek to turn his back, the trio followed as instructed. The Czech continued to mutter to himself, prompting John and Ronon to exchange a look and snicker loudly. Zelenka stopped abruptly and turned back to face them, glaring and pointing. "Walking and breathing!" he warned. "Nothing else--do not tempt me further or there will be no more breathing and the devil with the consequences!" He did not wait for their answer, stomping off and again muttering in Czech under his breath.

Sharing a triumphant look, the two boys strolled along behind him, still snickering despite the threat. Teyla rolled her eyes at their antics and John mentally added a disgusted "Boys!" to go along with it. She followed them though, and the little group was soon standing in front of Mr. Woolsey's office door.

John couldn't help but feel more than just a little satisfaction at the boss man's expression when he looked up and saw them. While there was a tiny flash of fear there, it was almost instantly hidden by a surge of pure dread. Woolsey quickly slipped his commander's mask in place and put forth a more confident air, but the damage had been done. John had seen his true feelings and was eager to butt heads with the man again--he just knew better than to let that fact show, at least not too early.

Woolsey motioned them inside and Radek held back, shooing the trio of troublemakers in first. The three of them stood in a straight line in front of the desk, waiting for the adults to take the lead this time. "So. You're back again, I see," said Richard.

John stepped forward and hopped up to casually perch on the edge of the desk. "Yeah, so we are. Apparently the crazy mad-scientist-type over there has issues with our choice of recreational activities." He shrugged, giving Woolsey the angelic look that nearly always got him what he wanted and rarely failed to get him out of trouble.

Being called a crazy mad scientist didn't sit well with Zelenka, who immediately started on another tirade of Czech. Woolsey immediately held up a hand to stop him. "Doctor Zelenka, in English please?"

The amount of effort it took for Radek to calm himself and speak in English was so great that everyone in the room could see it and for a moment John actually felt a pang of remorse. Though it took a great deal of concentration, the scientist finally spoke. "I found them in Jumper bay. They-they were sliding down windows! We are lucky no damage was done to them," he added indignantly.

"We knew what we were doing," grumbled Ronon, crossing his arms as he glared at the Czech. "Nobody got hurt and nobody was gonna."

Zelenka nearly snarled at him. "I was referring to jumpers, not to-to willful...children!"

The corner of Ronon's mouth twitched as he tried not to smile, but John didn't think anyone besides himself noticed. Woolsey was rubbing his forehead as he studied the desktop in front of him and definitely hadn't caught it. Radek was too focused on his boss while waiting for an answer to see it either. Still, it would be best to divert attention so he quickly jumped into the fray. "We were just trying to have a little fun and besides, it wasn't very high up, not really."

Woolsey pinched the bridge of his nose for a long moment. "Yes, well be that as it may and height issues aside, surely there are far more appropriate and safe things for you to occupy yourselves. A jumper may not be all that tall, but a fall from the top of one would still be quite painful, I'm sure."

"Two!" snapped Radek. "They lined them up to make two levels."

Richard turned a suspicious eye to John, who simply shrugged. "We like a challenge," he answered casually.

Again pinching the bridge of his nose, Woolsey lowered his head. "Yes, I've noticed that," he quipped, finally looking up. "However, I'm afraid I cannot allow this to continue. I'm going to have to insist that you have adult supervision at all times. You've gone too far this time."

John spared a quick look at his teammates and saw that Ronon in particular was about to let Woolsey have it, verbally if not physically. Teyla didn't look happy either, but John knew she'd keep her head and not say things they'd all pay for later. He jumped off the desk and placed both hands on it, arm's width apart. Eyes flashing, he met Woolsey's gaze with a cold stare. "Like I said, we love a challenge. Go ahead and try it. We'll lose whoever you assign within the first half hour--probably less."

His point made, John crossed his arms and relaxed his stance. "Look, we don't want to be unreasonable or anything," he said, cutting Woolsey off before he could even begin. "We will agree to certain...parameters regarding our activities. But that's as far as we'll go. Take it or leave it."

A string of Czech--John was fairly certain it was purely swear words--reminded them that Zelenka was still in the room. "Hooligans! Surely you are not going to allow them to speak to you like this."

"Thank you, Doctor Zelenka, but I can take it from here. I'm certain you have more pressing matters that require your attention?" Though framed in the form of a question, the dismissal was clear even to John.

Far from his usual courteous manner, Radek glared at the three de-aged members of the team, pointing as he backed out of the room. "Keep. Them. Away. Or I will not be responsible for my actions!"

Richard waited until the scientist had gone before returning his attention to the three youngsters. "Now then, where were we? Oh, that's right," he said, not waiting for an answer before continuing. "You were attempting to deliver an ultimatum and I was about to counter with one of my own. So here it is: either you three accept the supervision or you will be confined to quarters for the duration, the exception being those times when Doctor Beckett requires your presence in the infirmary."

"We ain't gonna be treated like helpless babies. Or criminals either." Ronon started toward Woolsey, but John put his arm out to block him, leaving it there to hold his angry teammate back. "And last time I checked, you ain't my father--don't look a thing like him--so you can't tell me what to do."

Woolsey's mouth dropped wide open at the outburst and took a moment before he came back to his senses. His mouth shut with an audible clack of his teeth. Shaking his head as if he were clearing his thoughts, he straightened up, puffing his chest out in a show of strength and power. "Now listen here, I will not stand here and be spoken to in such a manner by-by children!"

"We're...ow!" John kicked Ronon in the shin, effectively stopping him from digging them into a proverbial hole so deep they couldn't get out again. Scowling, the youngster half-limped, half-stomped over to a nearby chair and flung himself in it to sulk.

Once John was certain the other boy was going to keep to their unspoken agreement that John be the spokesman for the group, he turned his attention back to Woolsey. "Okay, let's start over here. Ronon is real sorry for any disrespect he may have shown you." As he spoke, he shot the youngster in question a look that dared him to contradict and Ronon wisely remained silent--aside from a loud snort, of course. John ignored his sulking and continued, knowing he had his work cut out if he were going to have any prayer of salvaging their freedom. "We're all real sorry for any...difficulties...that may have resulted from our...activities. I'm not trying to be a smart ass and I swear I don't mean any disrespect. I'm just being realistic here. You and I both know that it doesn't matter who you try to assign to watch us. We'll lose 'em faster than you can assign 'em. That's not me braggin' or anything, that's just fact. I'm only trying to offer a solution that will save us all the time and aggravation of the babysitter crap since it won't work anyway."

Woolsey was peeved to no end, that much was obvious not only from his expression but from his rigid stance as well. At first John wasn't certain he was going to be reasonable, but then Richard's lips thinned to nearly nonexistent. The look on his face reminded John of someone who'd just eaten a large lemon and it was all he could do to keep from laughing out loud. Schooling his features like a seasoned pro, he waited for the head of the expedition to speak.

The man in question opened and closed his mouth several times before he finally got any words out. "All right then. If we can come to a suitable arrangement, I will consider amending my initial decision to order constant adult supervision for the three of you. But I warn you--all of you--this is your last chance. Assuming we can agree to terms, if there are any further incidents the three of you will be confined to quarters until further notice. Do I make myself clear?"

Ronon had jumped from the chair, obviously intending to argue, but Teyla held him back while John shot him a look that warned of dire consequences should he ignore the unspoken order to back off. To John's relief, he yanked his arm away from Teyla and flopped back into his chair, muttering under his breath about power-hungry dictators. Teyla signaled her agreement with a nod, but he had to wait a moment for Ronon's assent, unsure if the boy was going to make any further trouble.

Once he finally had it, John turned his attention back to Woolsey. "Crystal. Now as to those terms," he began. "I-we would like to propose something of a compromise. We will agree to inform Doctor Beckett where we plan to go and what we plan to do when we're not visiting Rodney or having more testing stuff done on us. And while we don't see what the big deal was all about, we are willing to agree to a no-swimming-off-the-pier or playing-around-by-the-jumpers clause. And we're willing to consider any other stipulations you would like to put forth. Within reason, of course. Right guys?"

A sharp nod signaled Teyla's agreement. A very tense moment later, Ronon more reluctantly nodded his assent as well. Slowly letting out a deep breath, John turned his attention back to Richard Woolsey. "So that's our proposal. That work for you?"

He had to nearly bite his tongue to keep from laughing at the look on Woolsey's face. It was obvious that the man was rattled, almost stunned even. But there was a still an undercurrent of anger that John wanted to be careful to avoid bringing to the fore. Pole-axed was a good word for that expression, he decided.

To his credit, Richard appeared to be seriously considering the proposal. He might be a bureaucrat, thought John, but he was apparently smart enough to realize the truth in John's words. He really hadn't been trying to brag; facts were facts and the fact was that the three of them could and would lose anyone the administrator assigned to shadow them almost instantly.

"I want your word that you will not deviate from the agenda once Doctor Beckett approves it. And I must stipulate that should the good doctor decide your proposed activities are unacceptable for any reason that you will agree to abandon those plans and forego said proposed activities." Woolsey watched him intently, waiting for an answer, but John knew the decision wasn't his alone to make.

"Guys?"

Teyla nodded. "I believe we can agree to those conditions."

John could tell from the look on Ronon's face that he wasn't quite certain what had been proposed and clarified. "He says that we have to agree that if Beckett says no to the stuff we wanna do, then we can't do it." The explanation was accompanied by a look which clearly said that John thought it was an acceptable compromise.

The pout deepened as Ronon looked from John to Teyla and back again. John held his breath, waiting for the little guy to finally speak. "Yeah, okay. I'm in."

Hiding a sigh of relief, Sheppard turned back to face Woolsey. "All right, we will agree to your stipulations. So do we have a deal?"

Woolsey sat down in his chair, leaning back as he regarded each of them in turn. By the time he finally spoke, John had begun to worry that he'd changed his mind but had not allowed his concern to show in any way. "Very well then. But I must caution you once again, this is your last chance. If I hear even the slightest hint that you have been up to more mischief, I will confine you all to your quarters."

The three nodded and Ronon climbed out of the chair. "Fine, can we go now?"

"As soon as I have your solemn word that you will abide by our agreement," answered Woolsey, a stern look firmly in place.

John rolled his eyes, but gave his word without further antagonizing the man. "Yeah, sure. We promise."

"Very well then, you may head back to the infirmary now. By the time you arrive, I will have informed Doctor Beckett of our arrangement." With his piece said, Richard opened the folder in front of him and began to read.

Glaring at the man for the abrupt dismissal, John motioned for the other two to follow him and headed for the door. Before he reached the exit, Woolsey's voice drifted after them. "Remember, you gave your word on this. Do not make me regret it."

John ignored him and kept on walking.

~A~



John trudged on through the halls, leading the way to the infirmary. He didn't want to worry the other two, but in truth he wasn't feeling all that well. The beginnings of a headache had started on the way to Woolsey's office and had grown steadily worse as the discussions went on. He'd have to figure out a way to get something from Carson for it--without prompting an entire battery of tests and landing him in a bed next to Rodney's, of course.

At that moment, a group of scientists blocked their path, pushing a large piece of equipment that did who knew what and an even larger skid full of boxes and other containers. John, Teyla, and Ronon were forced to move off to the side as the adults reached them, having to back up flush against the wall as the group drew close.

A loud curse came from the leader of the group as a box went flying off of the second skid, scattering papers and files across the entire passageway. A second box followed, this one containing crystals and other mechanical-type bits and pieces. John banged his head against the wall, realizing they were stuck until the mess was cleaned up.

"You kids stay where you are," instructed one of the men. "We'll have this cleaned up in a jiffy--just don't move or you might step on something and hurt yourselves."

"We're supposed to go straight to the infirmary," snapped Ronon. "You're gonna get us in trouble."

One look at the startled scientist and John stepped in to head off the potential shouting match. "Look, just call Woolsey and tell him what happened and that we're gonna be a little delayed getting to Beckett's office."

"Oh, right, of course. Yes, I can do that." He quickly tapped his earpiece, but John toned out the conversation, trusting that the man would take care of it. Instead, he leaned his head back against the wall again and waited. As the moments passed, John began to wish more and more for that tylenol. He ignored the pounding in his skull as best he could and tried to think of other things. The harder he tried to think, the worse the pounding became. He sank to the floor, propping his arms on his knees and resting his aching head on them.

He could hear the conversations going on around him, the words no more coherent than the annoying buzz of an insect. He didn't bother try to follow any of it, instead retreating to a place in his head where the noise did not exist. The ever-present feeling in the back of his mind was still there, but it was separate and distinct, not at all part of the headache or its cause.

"Colonel Sheppard!" John was brought out of his thoughts by the head of the scientists. John thought his name was Markowitz but he had no idea how he knew that; regardless of what his name was, he was kneeling on the floor in front of John, shaking him until John thought his teeth might start rattling.

John pushed him away, an angry frown crossing his face. "Knock it off! What did you go and do that for anyway?"

"I'm sorry. It's just that you were, well, I'm afraid you zoned out on us for a moment there. And your teammates couldn't rouse you, so we were all a bit worried you see. Are you certain you're all right?" The man looked genuinely worried, which was a good thing really. Because otherwise John was pretty certain that Doctor Markowitz would have found himself a victim of Ronon's blaster. Not right away, of course, but it wouldn't take much effort at all to liberate the weapon from lockup.

"I was just waiting for your people to get done with the cleanup, that's all," he answered testily.

"That is what we were trying to tell you. The work has been finished and it is time to go." Teyla's expression was a mix of worry and exasperation. A quick glance over at Ronon found the youngster echoing the concern.

John was certain that they were teasing, but when he looked around he found the hallway empty, with no sign of the accident or the people and equipment involved. Stunned, he pushed himself to his feet and attempted to brush off the incident. "I knew that," he lied. "I was just...resting. That's all. Come on, if you're so worried about getting in trouble then let's get going." Without waiting for them to answer, he pushed himself away from the wall and resumed the trek to the infirmary. No one saw his grimace as the throbbing in his head continued unabated.

The rest of the journey was uneventful and the trio soon found themselves entering the medical wing. John knew his companions expected him to head straight for Carson but instead of turning off to head for Beckett's office he kept right on going.

"Hey, this isn't the way. We should have turned back there." Ronon wasted no time in calling him on it, which didn't surprise John in the least given what had transpired in Woolsey's office.

Smirking, John looked back over his shoulder. "You can go that way if you want. I'm going this way."

"Beckett's office..."

"Isn't where I'm headed. I'm going to check on Rodney first. You can come with or not, your choice."

Ronon shrugged. "Works for me. I'm not in a hurry to get yelled at again either."

Teyla looked a bit uncertain, but nodded her agreement also. Smiling, John waved them forward and made his way straight to McKay's bedside. Unsurprisingly, they found him industriously tapping away on the screen of his computer. "Hey," called John, expecting a snarky comeback.

Rodney kept on working, however, not acknowledging him at all. Concluding he hadn't heard him, John tried again. "Hey, how's it going?"

"Oh. You're back," replied the other boy, still not looking up from his tablet for even a moment. "Press the button and call the minions, will ya? I'm kinda busy at the moment and they wanted to know as soon as you showed up again."

Crossing his arms, John glared at Rodney. He made no move to comply with the request, but that didn't seem to phase the boy in the least; Rodney just kept right on tapping on his computer. Moments passed until finally Rodney broke the silence. "Fine, but just remember I'm not the one who's in hot water around here again. I mean really, what did you expect when you decided to turn the jumpers into playground equipment? Personally, I'd press that button if I were you."

John wasn't impressed with the speech and continued to glare at him, arms still crossed as he tried to ignore the constant pounding in his head.

"I'll do it." Ronon nimbly hopped onto the bed and pushed the button, grinning down at him. "Might as well get it over with," he explained.

In truth, John had figured Teyla would be the one to step in and smooth things over. He hid his surprise well though, which wasn't hard given how irritated he was at both the situation and at Rodney for being so...Rodney. And at Ronon, too, he thought. For butting in and forcing John's hand, but mostly for being right about it. Massaging his temples, he decided not to push it, knowing he'd need his energy for facing Carson. "Fine. If you're so anxious, you can just do the talking this time."

Much to John's irritation, the youngster shrugged, grinning. "If that's the way you want it. I'll have to tell them about what happened in the hallway on the way here though."

"What? What happened in the hallway?" Ronon's threat finally prompted Rodney to look up from his computer.

"Nothing," said John tersely. "Bunch of scientists spilled papers and stuff all over the hallway so we had to wait for them to clean it up. Then we came here. End of story."

"You forgot the part where they all left and you just stayed sitting there with your eyes closed and wouldn't look at us when we told you they were gone."

"I told you, I was resting my eyes," snapped John, shifting his glare from Rodney to Ronon.

"Then why didn't you answer anybody till that science guy shook you hard enough to scramble your brains?" Ronon hopped down from the bed, going right up to John and standing toe-to-toe.

"He didn't have to do that! He could have just, you know, tapped me on the shoulder or something."

Teyla firmly but quietly pulled Ronon back before the situation deteriorated any further. "But he did, John. Several times," she added. "And so did we. You did not respond to any of us. We were becoming quite concerned."

"All right," interrupted Rodney. "'Fess up. What was really going on with you? And don't even try to gloss over it. This could be important--I really need to know what was happening so I can determine if it's related to what I found or not."

Rolling his eyes, John finally confessed. "All right, all right. I was just resting my eyes, like I said. And I started thinking about this kinda weird thing that's been going on ever since we got here. It's kinda like a...tickle...sort of. Like inside the back of my mind."

Rodney immediately went back to his computer, instantly engrossed in whatever it was he had been doing before they arrived. "Oh, that. It's nothing really. The other two probably have no idea what you're talking about, but that's because it doesn't affect either one of them. It's because you're the magic-gene man...er, boy." Rodney tossed out the explanation as casually as possible.

Unimpressed with the explanation, John crossed his arms petulantly. "I have no idea what you're talking about. What the heck is a 'magic-gene man/boy--whatever?" he demanded, shooting a piercing look at Rodney.

McKay paused a moment, looking up from his keyboard. "Well, while the three of you were off causing your usual unique brand of chaos and mayhem, I was actually working here. And I've found some very interesting things along the way, let me tell you." Grinning smugly, he stopped, obviously waiting for someone to beg him to explain further.

John, however, wasn't in the mood for petty games. His headache was growing by the moment and he wanted answers before Beckett got there. "Spill it, Rodney. We don't have time for games. What have you found and where? And what the heck is a magic-gene-whatever?"

Rodney crossed his arms, looking very unhappy about losing the upper-hand. "Fine, but first I want you to answer a question for me. Do you feel in any way older than you appear to be? I mean, do you just somehow know stuff that you probably shouldn't know, given that you appear to be ten? Or less, as the case may be."

"Enough Rodney! Didn't I just say we don't have time for this?" snapped John. His headache was making him irritable and he definitely wasn't in the mood for playing twenty questions. "And what do you mean 'appear to be ten'? I am ten."

Ronon, for a change, was more than willing to play along with McKay. "Sheppard does. Knows stuff that he can't explain, I mean. He said he just thought that he wanted the secure lockup in the infirmary to open and it did."

Squirming uncomfortably, John wasn't ready to admit anything just yet. "That's not what he means."

Ignoring his protest, Rodney nodded. "I'm not surprised. That would be his uber-strong magic gene at work."

"Hello! HE is right here, you know. And he doesn't appreciate being talked about like he's not. Now are you going to tell us what's going on or what? And for the last time, what's all this crap about magic genes?" Rubbing his temples against the increasingly severe pounding, he waited for the explanation he'd requested before the discussion had gone off track and out of his control.

"Fine," said Rodney. His tone said he was clearly affronted, but he couldn't resist the temptation to brag about his genius and answered anyway. "The truth is, we aren't kids. Not really. You are actually Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, an officer in the USAF and military commander of this facility. And you're not ten, you're over forty years old. We're all adults, all four of us. We were transformed into children while investigating an Ancient facility on another planet. And before you get all argumentative, that thing they pulled us into to bring us here? That's called a stargate and it instantly transports people from one planet to another via means of a stable wormhole. And what's even more incredible? We're not on Earth. We're not even in the Milky Way galaxy. We're in the Pegasus galaxy and those two are natives. And what's more, this city? It's the lost city of Atlantis!"

"McKay," warned John. "So help me..."

"He is correct about one thing, John," offered Teyla. "I am from the Pegasus galaxy. I have not heard of this place Earth of which he speaks. Nor am I familiar with a galaxy called the Milky Way."

"Yeah, what she said." Ronon, like Teyla, appeared more curious than flustered by the mind-blowing revelations.

John was about to question them further, but caught movement at the end of the ward out of the corner of his eye and cautioned them to silence. "Beckett's coming, so cool it for now."

Moments later, Carson approached his bed. "I heard ye finally made it back. So. Using the jumpers for a slide, were ye?" Beckett shook his head. "What were ye thinking? Ye had to know that there would be trouble over a stunt like that," he admonished.

"We already got the third degree and smack-down from Woolsey, so spare us already. We agreed we'd clear our plans with you and everything, which I'm sure you already know." His bad mood was doing nothing to alleviate the pain in his head. Without even realizing what he was doing, John reached up and rubbed his forehead.

"What's this now? Ye look a wee bit pale there, lad--are ye in pain?"

He thought about denying it, but the pounding in his head begged for a good dose of painkillers. "Some," he admitted. "It's not too bad though."

Frowning, Beckett sought clarification. "All right, well, on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst possible pain ye can imagine, what number would ye give it now?"

"Two." John didn't hesitate in his answer, though he did shave a few numbers off of the true rating.

Carson looked skeptical, but didn't argue with him. "Oh, well then I don't expect ye'll need anything for the pain, will ye?"

He thought about saying no, but need won out over the temptation to spite the doctor. "Well, I guess I could take some tylenol or something. In case it gets worse or anything."

"Hm. Well, as a rule, I don't like to medicate unless it's absolutely necessary. So maybe we should just wait and if it gets worse then we can give ye something to help."

Scowling, John retracted his earlier assessment. "Okay, so maybe it's really a three." Carson raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. "Fine, but four is as high as I go," insisted the youngster. "So can I have some tylenol or not?"

The doctor appeared to consider the question for a moment, but agreed to the request, much to John's relief. "Aye, if it's that bad then we'll get ye fixed right up with something as soon as we do a quick vitals check." Gesturing to the bed next to Rodney's, he waited for John to hop up and get settled. He then quickly set about gathering the needed information, frowning at the thermometer reading as he jotted some notes. "Well, it appears ye've got a wee fever going here. But not to worry, I'm certain it's nothing serious. The medication should help with that also. Now if ye'll excuse me, I'll go see to that for ye."

Moments later, a nurse appeared with the prescribed dosage. "Doctor Beckett said to tell you that you're to wait right here for him and that he'd be back to see you in a few hours. He was called away on an important matter," she explained.

John obediently downed the pills and handed back the empty cup. She remained by the bed, as if waiting for something, so he obediently lay down on top of the covers and smiled up at her before closing his eyes, pretending he was going to sleep. Moments later, he heard her speak to Rodney. "Doctor Beckett also wanted me to inform you that he's going to confiscate the computer if you don't live up to your agreement and get some rest. Your fever is up slightly again and he doesn't want you overdoing it."

"Fine," grumbled McKay. John heard him power down the computer though, so Rodney apparently wasn't arguing for once.

John waited for what seemed like a long time for someone to sound the all clear. Finally, Ronon's voice broke the silence. "Okay. She's gone."

Immediately sitting up, he motioned for Ronon and Teyla to pull the curtains around the beds. Once that was accomplished, he got straight down to business. "Okay, Rodney. For now let's just assume what you've told us so far is true--tell us the rest of it. I'm still waiting to hear what all this magic-gene stuff is about. And no games," he warned. "There's no telling how long till we get more unwanted company."

McKay was already re-powering the notebook. "All right, but give me a minute here. I need to look at the files again and then I'll tell you everything," he said ominously.

"What files?" asked John, his suspicion levels rising rapidly.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Woolsey's, of course. I've already had a look at the personnel files, too. Beckett's will be next."

"Mr. Woolsey will not be pleased if he finds out we have been accessing his files," warned Teyla.

"Gee, no kidding. I would have never thought of that myself, what with me being a genius and all," he snapped. "Of course he wouldn't, which is why I made sure to cover any trace of my activities. No one will suspect a thing or my name isn't Mer...Doctor Rodney McKay."

A sudden beep from the machine saved Rodney from further inquires about his apparent near slip, but John made a mental note to pursue the matter at a more opportune time. "Aha, there. I'm in. It's like taking candy from a baby, I tell you. Now let me just finish reading this last report..." McKay's eyes flew rapidly back and forth over the screen as he scanned the contents of the file.

John's patience was nearly at an end when Rodney suddenly turned to him, his face paler than the sheets and his eyes wide with fear. "He's-he's...th-they're going to send us back to Earth. You and me, I mean. Because obviously there's no reason to send the others...John! Th-they think we're-we're gonna...die! F-from what the machine did to us. This can't be happening! I-I'm not ready to die yet. I-I've barely started down my list yet. I mean I haven't won the Nobel Prize or-or made a discovery that's changed life as we know it or anything! And-and there's other stuff, too. I haven't even...well, actually I might have but I just don't remember it, but I should at least remember whether or not I ever..." He stopped long enough to look over at Teyla, blushing profusely as he did so.

Having heard enough of the rant, John seized the opportunity to take control of the conversation. "Focus, Rodney! Why do they think we're going to die? Does it have something to do with the fevers or is it something else? We need more intel, buddy. We have to make some plans here--and the sooner the better, from what you've told us so far."

Much to his relief, Rodney latched onto the opportunity to channel his fears into a more productive outlet. "Beckett's files," he mumbled. "We need to get into...there, that's one...oh for the love of...remind me to have a talk with a certain someone about passwords when I'm...me--the older me...again...and then we just need to..." With each pause, Rodney tapped on the screen, moving ever-closer to his destination. Once the last layer of security had been breached, he looked up at the others triumphantly. "I'm in! And don't even say it--of course I made sure no one will ever know I-we were there."

"That's good, Rodney," enthused John. "You did real good. Now what's it say about us?"

"Oh, right. Let me just..." Muttering to himself as he went, Rodney set about locating the files they wanted.

"Ronon, you and Teyla should keep watch. We can't take the chance that someone might walk in unannounced while we're...investigating--and don't look at me that way," he snapped. "I'd do it myself, but I think my being out of bed would probably end up drawing the exact attention that we're trying to avoid."

Dex scowled, but moved to the opening in the curtains as instructed. "If you'd grabbed my blaster from the lockup, there wouldn't be any question of anybody getting close enough to hear anything," he grumbled.

"Ronon, you cannot go around stunning everyone you meet," scolded Teyla. "And in any case, eventually the stun would wear off and your blaster would be confiscated--again. It would serve very little purpose other than to cause us more trouble."

"Thank you, Teyla. I'm glad someone around here can be logical besides me." Before John could say more, a panicked Rodney interrupted.

"Oh no. No, no, no, no, this cannot be happening." His eyes even wider with fear than before, he delivered the rest of his findings in true Rodney-fashion. "We are so screwed! According to Beckett's files, I've only got a few more days left--tops. And you, my friend," he said, pointing at John. "You are not far behind. He thinks Teyla and Ronon might have a few more weeks, but he doesn't know for sure why it's not affecting them as acutely. For the moment, he's operating on the assumption that it's tied to the ATA gene somehow, though he hasn't been able to pinpoint the correlation just yet. Because let's face it, yours is a lot stronger than mine, or so this says. And if that's true, then you should be the one on the oh-so-minute short list of impending death here instead of me. Not that it really matters all that much--bottom line is that we're all gonna be dead within a couple of weeks, and some---namely me and John--sooner than others."

Ronon shrugged, continuing to watch for possible threats. "So fix it. You're supposed to be a genius; figure out how that machine-thing changed us. Then we go back and make it undo it."

Rodney crossed his arms petulantly. "Oh, yes, of course it's just that simple. Why hasn't anyone thought of that before? Oh wait, my mistake--they have. That's why an entire team of scientists has been studying and working on the thing ever since they brought us here and, by the way, they've made virtually no progress on it. At all. But hey, no sweat, I'll just snap my magic-gene-fingers and..." His eyes went wide and he stopped mid-sentence, snapping his fingers several times before going back to the computer. "Unless..." He tapped the device, his hands rapidly manipulating the screens as he went through the data displayed.

John tried to allow him the time to work, but his patience had finally reached its limits. "Talk to me, Rodney. What's going on? And you still haven't told me what this magic-gene crap is about--and what's this ATA thing? I need some answers here so I--we--can figure out what to do next."

"Hm?" Rodney finally looked up from his computer, appearing to have forgotten that anyone else was in the room with him. "Oh, um, well, it's actually the same thing. ATA means 'Ancient Technology Activation' gene. Basically, it allows a person to control the Ancient--that's the name of the race, by the way, not a descriptor of age, though I suppose both would probably be accurate..."

"Rodney," warned John.

"Oh, right. Um, anyway, as I was saying, it's a very rare and very special gene that allows a person to mentally activate and use or control Ancient technology. And you, my friend, have it in spades. Which is so not fair, by the way. Beckett has apparently used your gene as the basis to engineer a gene therapy treatment which has only been successful in about half the subjects he's administered it to--including yours truly, which is why I can do almost anything you can do, just not as...hey! Wait a minute--that means that technically you're responsible for my imminent demise!"

"Can we just stick to the explanations and figure out what course of action we need to take here?" asked John testily. "You can lob accusations and play the blame game after we figure out a way to save ourselves, okay? Now let's get back to business. I know that look you got a few minutes ago, so tell us what you were working on."

"Yes, well, before I was so rudely interrupted," said Rodney huffily, "I got to thinking that maybe the machine needed that ATA gene that I was just telling you about to activate. From what I can tell, they haven't really taken that into account in their study yet. Well, I mean they did, just not...look, do you really want the technical explanation or will a simple 'I think I know how to fix it' work for you? Because the more time I waste explaining things that you won't understand anyway, the less likely it is that I'll actually be able to finish writing the program I'll need to fix us before I...die. Which I'd really, really rather not do just yet, if it's all the same to you."

A stern glare let Rodney know that John was not amused at his antics, but he let the matter drop and got straight down to business. "Okay, Rodney, you work on the program to reverse the machine; Teyla, Ronon, you guys need to keep watch. Somebody comes, Rodney, you toss me the computer and pretend to be asleep. Open that chess game you have on there and I'll act like I've been playing it."

"What? No! This a delicate piece of equipment, not some sports object that you can toss around with little regard for its integrity, I'll have you know."

"I know that! But if it gets confiscated then we're totally screwed because you won't be writing anything to save anyone--yourself included there, buddy. And as you so politely pointed out, we don't have a lot of time here, so powering down and rebooting who knows how often isn't exactly going to improve the odds now, is it?"

"Well, no," conceded Rodney. "All right, I'll toss it to you--but just...be careful with it, will ya? If it's dropped and we lose whatever I've managed to accomplish..."

"Fine, I'll be careful and so will you. Now you get to work writing that program and we'll...we'll be here if you need us." He half-expected Rodney to argue, but much to John's relief, the other boy simply nodded and got down to business.

~A~


Note: Rozuměl = understood?


Part 04

Part 01
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