There was a nervous energy in the labs that was wholly unlike anything John had seen before. It lacked the manic, medicated feel of the labs at crunch time, was lighter than the heaviness that descended after another scientist was lost. It was almost as if everyone was holding their breath. Waiting.
John didn’t need to ask what they were waiting for. Instead, he leaned against the doorframe and called out McKay’s name.
Rodney’s head whipped up from his laptop and John watched his eyes narrow as the movement caused every other scientist there to avert their eyes and pretend that they hadn’t been staring at McKay. Staring and waiting.
“Geez,” John commented, trying to lighten the mood. “You’d think it was a full moon or something.”
Radek’s little snort of laughter felt like a little victory but what really felt like a win was the way Rodney glared at them both.
“For the last time, Colonel, this is not a Hammer horror movie and I am not Lon Chaney Jr.”
“Actually,” Radek said, “The Wolf Man was not a Hammer horror production. They only made one werewolf film, many decades after the Lon Chaney film.”
“Well thank you for that bit of useless information,” Rodney snapped. “The fact remains that moons and wolves have nothing whatsoever to do with anything that may or may not be going on tonight.” Rodney closed his laptop with a sharp movement and picked it up as he started to storm towards the door, his shoulders brushing against John as he barged past.
“Werewolves,” John stage whispered to Radek, “what are you gonna do?”
“For the last goddamn time,” Rodney’s voice yelled from halfway down the corridor, “I am not a damn werewolf!”
“They’re werewolves?” Rodney screeched in what he probably thought was a whisper. John would normally remind him that the ‘they’ Rodney was screeching about were waiting patiently outside the jumper to begin negotiations but he was a little too busy being just as incredulous as Rodney at what Ronon and Teyla had only just bothered to tell them about the people of PT9-4FR.
“I have no idea what a werewolf is,” Ronon shrugged, clearly not caring.
Teyla, who had been forced to watch more Earth movies that Ronon had, sighed heavily. “The other form that the Freian people can take walks on all fours, has fur, and moves in packs but those are the only similarities with the wolves of Earth. Also, I do not believe that the change is effected by lunar activity so, no, they are not werewolves. They are, however, a much-needed trade partner so perhaps we can discuss the passing similarity to your werewolves at a later date?”
John had agreed despite Rodney’s sputtering and the negotiations had gone well with copious quantities of fresh deer-like meat being exchanged for Rodney and the rest of the science team’s engineering skills.
Medicines had been offered and politely refused due to the Freian people’s exceptionally cool ability to heal almost any injury and high resistance to almost any form of illness.
“Werewolves,” Rodney had hissed at Teyla halfway through negotiations when that little fact was discovered. This had led the Freian pack leader to ask Rodney what werewolves were which had gone much better than John imagined it going. Luckily for everyone, the idea of werewolves seemed to amuse the Freians and Rodney had spent much of the remaining negotiations being forced to regale the younger members of the Freian pack with every werewolf tale he could remember.
Kids always loved Rodney and it turned out that kids who spent part of their time as a four-legged, furry animal that looked exactly like a wolf despite Teyla and Ronon insisting that they were a Pegasus animal called an Onawat, were no exception.
Onawats didn’t just look like wolves, they also lived in large family groups that they called packs, and although they could change form at any time, even the Freian pack leader admitted that the urge to change was stronger when the tidal pull was at its peak.
“Tidal pull is related to the stages of the moon, ergo, werewolves,” Rodney had gleefully remarked.
John agreed. All of this added up to werewolves as far as he was concerned which was possibly the coolest thing he’d ever seen.
Then the bridge that Rodney was inspecting the structural integrity of had collapsed and everything had changed.
John looked at the “room” that Jennifer had prepared for Rodney and tried hard not to flinch.
“It’s, ah, well, it looks - “
“It’s a prison cell,” John said bluntly, cutting off Rodney’s attempts not to sound horrified.
“We’re simply taking precautions,” Jennifer said. “We don’t know how it will behave once it’s -“
“ He ,” Teyla interrupted sharply.
John hid a smirk as Keller’s eyes went wide with shock. It took a hell of a lot for Teyla to be sharp with anyone, even he had only seen it happen twice in all their years as team. He bet Keller didn’t even know Teyla could sound that cold.
“Excuse me?” she stammered.
“ He ,” Teyla repeated. “You were referring to Dr McKay as ‘it’. I was correcting you.”
“I didn’t mean...I know Rodney is a he, of course, he is, but this change, the creature that - “
“I’ve heard enough,” Ronon rumbled, “time for plan B.”
“Plan B?” Rodney said, still staring at the caged, empty room with wide, scared eyes.
“Yeah,” John said, clapping him on the back and leaving his hand there for support. “Plan B. Let’s get out of here.”
Everything had happened so quickly.
John had barely had time to react to the loud crash of the collapse before the Freians were mobilised, already working to move the large pieces of wood that had once been a bridge, freeing those that had been trapped underneath.
Relief had flooded John’s body, calming his racing heart as he watched everyone they uncovered walk away relatively unscathed. Miraculously, the collapse didn’t seem to have been serious. It wasn’t until they uncovered Rodney’s crumpled, far too still form that he remembered the healing factor that everyone who had been by the bridge had.
Everyone except Rodney.
The collapse was catastrophic. Rodney was - - the jumper was too far away, the gate was even further, it was - -
“Colonel Sheppard, do we have your permission?”
“What?” John blinked, surprised to realise that Teyla and Ronon were with him, that the pack leader was in front of them, that Rodney was - - oh, god - he was crushed, he was dying, he was - -
“They can make him like them,” Ronon said. “Give him a chance.”
“We cannot move him and help from Atlantis would not make it in time,” Teyla added.
John nodded his permission, of course, he did. What the hell else was he gonna do? He watched as the pack leader brought Rodney’s arm up to his mouth and bit down hard.
“Now what?” he asked shakily.
The pack leader smiled sadly. “Now, we wait to see if it will take.”
John promptly turned around and threw up.
Nobody stopped them as they made their way to the jumper bay. If Rodney was shocked to find the jumper fully stocked for an overnight trip he didn’t show it. John suspected his mind was still back looking at the cage that Keller had readied for him.
“Are you taking me back to them?” Rodney asked quietly once they were settled.
“Same deal as before, buddy. Not unless you ask us to.”
Woolsey’s voice sounded over the comm, his voice steady. “Allow me to ask one last time, Colonel Sheppard. Are you sure about this? We do not know how he will react to any of you once he is changed. The Freians warned us that - “
Teyla and Ronon’s answer was the same as John’s, the three of them joined in this.
John heard Woolsey sigh before ordering the jumper bay doors open.
“Good luck from all of us.”
Rodney choked at that, John could tell he was about to do something stupid so he reached over and grabbed at Rodney’s neck, looking him directly in the eye. He smiled, putting every ounce of belief he had in his voice. “We won’t need it,” he promised.
Rodney nodded tightly and sat back in his chair, looking less like he was about to bolt. Satisfied for the moment, John focused on taking off.
He held his breath as they headed out the jumper doors and soared high above Atlantis, letting it out as he set a course for the mainland.
Rodney’s body started to heal.
John, Ronon and Teyla had barely got done hugging each other when the Freian’s dropped another bombshell.
“Like hell are you keeping him here,” Ronon said, his gun already drawn.
“Your weapons cannot kill us. You are not Onawat. You cannot understand. You cannot provide what Dr McKay needs. Pack. Family.” He looked at John with pity. “Mate.”
Their weapons may not have been able to kill the Freians but they could temporarily incapacitate them and they made it back to the jumper, back to Atlantis. John found himself fighting a panic attack as the medical team rushed an alive and unharmed Rodney to the infirmary.
Rodney was safe, Rodney was home.
Now all they had to do was hope that they had made the right decision.
Plan B had been in preparation ever since they brought Rodney back. The tidal pull of Lantea had been mapped when they first settled there so they knew they had three weeks before Rodney would be forced to change.
Three weeks was more than enough time to realise just how uncomfortable some of the expedition was with the fact that Rodney was now a little more super than natural. Radek had assured John that the scientists were more wary than outright scared but not everyone was that cavalier.
John hoped that once this was all over, that they had proven Keller’s jail cell as overkill that things would work themselves out.
The possibility that the Freians were right, that Rodney would be uncontrollable without the stability of a pack, a family, a - a mate...John couldn’t think about that. None of them could.
The jumper landed on the mainland an hour before the tidal pull would reach its crest. Rodney didn’t speak much in that hour, just sat, hunched on the ground not far from the jumper while they all waited.
“You’ve got your gun set to stun, right?” was the only thing he said, nodding as Ronon assured him that he did.
The change, when it came, was beautiful. John had expected something akin to body horror, thinking back on the way An American Werewolf in London had terrified his kid brother back in the day. It wasn’t like that at all. It was fluid, graceful even. One moment there was Rodney and the next there was - - the onawat stalked over to them and rose up, resting his front paws on John’s shoulder. Ronon’s gun twitched but John shook his head, no.
This wasn’t a creature, wasn’t an ‘it’. It was Rodney .
Rodney’s tongue laved a bath over John’s face, causing John to bark out a laugh, groaning in mock disgust. Teyla and Ronon got the same treatment before Rodney dropped back to all fours and started to run.
He’d barely gotten twenty metres away when he turned around and John swore that he saw him roll his eyes before jerking his head.
“I think he wants us to run with him,” John said.
“Hell, yeah,” Ronon grinned, holstering his gun. “Think I can outrun him?”
Teyla laughed. “I think this may be the one time when you are outpaced.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Rodney howled as Ronon ran past him and then started to chase.
John drew in a shaky breath as he watched them play.
“You were unsure you had made the right choice,” Teyla said, a statement rather than a question.
“No,” she smiled. “The Freians told us what Rodney needed. We were already pack, already a family.”
John nodded. No arguments there.
“And the mate thing?”
Teyla laughed again. “Oh, John. Perhaps this is the push you both need to - how is it the marines put it? - pull your heads out of your ass?”
John laughed, grinning as Rodney stopped chasing Ronon and turned around to glare at him, chuffing with displeasure that John and Teyla weren’t joining in.”
Yeah, he thought, no arguments there.
Rodney woke up the next morning, naked and exhausted. Blushing, he hastily clothed himself with the clothes that were within arms reach of where he lay. He could see the jumper a few hundred metres ahead of him, hear the sound of John, Teyla and Ronon making breakfast, talking and laughing.
It was a good sound. It was the sound of pack, the sound of family. And, the pull he felt towards John? Rodney smiled.
The Freians were wrong. He had everything he needed. They were also wrong about something else.
"Hey, guys?" he called as he approached the camp. "Guess what? I was right. The Freians? Totally werewolves."