ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Fortunate Journey Season 4, Part 2


Chapter 8: What did he do to you honey?

“John?” I waited until he looked up at me, his pupils strangely dilated as he struggled to contain his desire to punish Walker in the most permanent way possible. Walker knelt there silently ... smart enough to realise that he'd become superfluous to the drama taking place around him. My eyes pleaded with John as I shook my head silently, begging him not to do something we’d struggle to explain away. John‘s expression turned mutinous ... he looked down at Walker again before sighing in frustration.

“Fine,” he growled, raising the gun and slamming his target with the handle instead. Watching Walker slump to the ground unconscious he then looked at me again. “Don’t make me regret I didn’t finish that.”

“Can we get out of here now?” I asked, keeping my eyes away from Walker. I’d wanted him dead ... without consequences I would have stood silently and let John shoot him. Now I couldn’t bear to look at him, fearing I’d be seeing a side of myself I didn’t want to acknowledge.

“Ronon, are we clear?” John called for an update before answering my question.

“Looks like it,” Ronon replied. “You should be good to go.”

“Send two marines to the medical lab to secure a prisoner,” John ordered. He held out a hand to me, waiting until I’d taken it and then drawing me close against his side. I'd been running on adrenalin since John had arrived, something I didn't realise until it abruptly left and exhaustion took it's place. I leant heavily against John, letting him take some of my weight ... not sure I could have walked out of there completely under my own steam.

Teyla had remained a silent observer for those last few minutes with Walker. Once we began moving she hurried forward, grabbing her P90 off the table and moving into position in front of us. Once at the front door John sent Teyla back to Rodney’s position – probably a combination of protection in case some of Walker's men had remained undetected and to hurry him along.

I knew it was too good to be true ... the whole way through the house, out the front door, and across the floodlit front yard I’d been expecting something. I’m not sure whether anything would have happened ... whether we could have just walked on by never the wiser. But the faint sound of boots scraping on concrete coupled with the squeak of a metal door drew my eyes towards the shed I’d run to the first night.

“John,” I tugged his hand, urging him to stop. Making a play of stumbling dizzily I leaned closer and whispered in John’s ear. “There’s someone hiding in that shed to your right.”

John nodded, keeping his eyes on mine as he considered what to do next. Our behaviour must have created too much suspicion though because before we could decide we were confronted.

“Stop there.” Of course – it was the gravelly voice of the infamous Mr Brown.

John turned with me until we were facing the shed. Brown strolled out casually, shotgun held resolutely in front of him.

“Figures you’d hide,” I taunted before John could say anything. Drawing on reserves I thought I'd used up I straightened away from John, needing to confront Brown standing firmly on my own two feet. “Not so easy when your victim isn’t restrained is it? I'm surprised you're still here ... surely Walker isn't paying you enough to warrant this much loyalty.”

“So this is your boyfriend?” Brown walked across to us, ignoring everything I said as he look John up and down like he wasn’t what Brown had expected. “She threatened me with you, you know,” he said to John like they were buddies, his whole demeanour arrogance and overconfidence. “Said you’d do to me tenfold whatever I did to her.”

“Interesting,” John’s tone gave nothing away about what he was feeling. “What did he do to you honey?”

I smirked at the unaccustomed endearment, surprised I could find anything even remotely funny given how much I really hated that guy. In fact I discovered in that moment that I hated him so much I was prepared to be completely up front with John about his list of crimes against me. “Let’s see – he drugged me, cut my check and my thigh - twice, let his buddy punch me in the gut, scared the crap out of me, and actively went along with Walker experimenting on me.” I paused to let that sink in before adding the last bit. “On the other hand he turned out to be very ordinary with the fighting sticks so I did get to beat the crap out of him. That’s probably worth a few points.”

John moved faster than I’d ever seen before, ripping the shotgun from Brown’s hands before he knew what had happened. “Let’s make this fair,” he smiled grimly, throwing the shotgun into the bushes.

I moved out of the way as Brown took the opportunity presented to him, swinging at John before he’d fully turned back to face him. John blocked with ease, bringing his knee up into Brown’s stomach. Brown fell to his knees gasping in air, but quicker than I would have expected he surged back to his feet and went at John again. This time John grabbed his left hand, twisting the wrist up painfully. I flinched as Brown screamed in pain and rage before John tossed him callously aside again.

The glint of metal shone before I registered Brown had a blade clutched in his right hand.

John!” I called out sharply. “Knife.”

John ducked Brown’s first swipe, reaching behind him for the knife he always carried at the back of his vest. Holding it so that the blade stuck out from his body John circled Brown, looking for an opening. Brown must have had a death wish because he continued to go on the attack – his second attempted knife strike was blocked by John who took the opportunity to slice Brown’s thigh before he could get clear. Brown tried again and again, each time being blocked and receiving another cut across the leg for his efforts. Blood from a number of deep cuts was turning his pants a dark red black and he was starting to stagger in an uncoordinated fashion but he still kept going. It defied explanation ... that he'd stay and fight and not give up when I'd been sure he was more the type to deal or run. Did he really dislike me that much?

It was pretty clear to me that John was just playing with Brown, making him think he stood a chance when really he didn’t. John proved it when he suddenly grabbed Brown, jerking the other man's arm behind his back and twisting it upwards until Brown dropped his knife. John put his own knife against Brown’s cheek, waiting a few moments as his opponent panted harshly, eyes wild in fear.

“Oops,” John taunted grimly, deliberately cutting a long line across Brown's face.

Brown yelled in rage, trying to get free but held too tightly to be successful. John abruptly let go of his arm, watching dispassionately as Brown slammed into the dirt at his feet. Brown lurched upright again ... I’d give him points for persistence if nothing else but I really wanted him to just give it up already.

“You should learn when to stay down,” John echoed my thoughts, slamming a fist into Browns stomach that sent him straight back to the ground, this time ending the battle. Brown was lying on his back in the dirt, bloodied and bruised while John stood over him having hardly broken a sweat. It was frightening but in a 'God he's impressive and I'm so glad he's mine' kind of way.

John knelt down in the dirt beside Brown, grabbing his head by the hair and pulling up sharply. “This will never be over for you,” he said in a low purposeful voice. “I will personally see to it that every cell mate you get for the rest of your painfully short life makes your existence a living hell. You will never know another minute of peace,” John promised. “And if you ever come near Sabina again ... I will kill you.”

Letting Brown’s head drop back to the ground John stood and walked back to me. Grabbing my hand again he urged me over to the helicopter I’d noticed only on the periphery when we’d first exited the house.

“Let’s go,” he helped me up into the co-pilots seat, taking inordinate care to make sure I was strapped in properly, before getting himself set in the pilots seat.

“John?” The exhaustion was back and I struggled not to let it show, my voice shaking as I tried to get him to look at me.

“Not now okay,” John shot me a dark gaze before looking away. Grabbing his radio he called for an update. “Ronon, Teyla – you guys ready to leave?”

“We believe that all of Doctor Walker’s men have been accounted for,” Teyla reported. “Rodney has completed his work on Walker’s computer and we are currently heading back towards the front of the house.”

“Is Sabina all right?” Rodney broke in to ask in concern.

“She will be,” John promised. “Ronon, leave one team of marines to stand guard over the prisoners - there's another guy in the front yard they'll have to pick up. Have the other team patrol the perimeter. I’ll radio for transport and more men to clean up this mess but for now I want to get Sabina out of here asap.”

“I’m on my way,” Ronon promised.

John put through his requests to the SGC, concentrating solely on what needed to be done to finish it as we waited for the others to get back.

Ronon and Teyla climbed into the helicopter, each acknowledging my presence in the front section before reluctantly taking spots in the back. Rodney wasn’t so easily deterred, insistently strapping himself into the front with us despite John’s pointed glare.

“Hey Rodney,” I greeted him tiredly, surprised at how happy I was to see him. I’d forgotten my voice was so raw and pained until I noticed Rodney wincing as he shot a glance at me before weakly looking away.

“What’d that sick bastard do to you?” Rodney muttered, shooting a worried glance at John.

“I’m okay Rodney,” I said firmly.

“We’ll let the doctors be the judge of that when we get you to the hospital,” John replied.

No!” I swallowed hard at the pain of yelling that. Trying to calm down I tried again. “No hospital.”

Sabina,” John looked at me sternly. “You need to be checked ... there is no way I can take you anywhere else at this point.”

“I’m not going into any hospital John,” I promised grimly. “You’ll have to knock me out and carry me in.”

“Be reasonable,” John retorted irritably. “You look like hell which is a step up from how I found you when you were still screaming because of whatever that guy injected you with. We’re not going anywhere else until you get medical attention.”

“Sheppard,” was Rodney actually protesting on my behalf? I looked at him hopefully, my spirits sinking when I saw the resolute look on his face, and the way he kept his eyes from meeting mine. “Look at her – she doesn't look like she can take much more and we all know she’s not gonna do this willingly.”

John turned a stubborn gaze to me, frowning when he saw the faint tremors I couldn’t hide, the tears welling in my eyes. “What do you suggest then Rodney because clearly she needs treatment?!”

“How about we bring the doctors to her?” Rodney offered. “It’ll take a bit longer of course but in the end it might be the easier option.”

“I am still sitting here you know,” I muttered irritably when they continued to exclude me from their conversation.

“Okay,” John capitulated. “Find me a suitable landing site not too far from here.”

Rodney turned back to his screen. “How about Shiprock? There’s a diner we could commandeer.”

“Fine,” John agreed, getting back on his radio. “Stargate Command this is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard requesting a patch through to General Landry, over.”

I listened in disbelief as John requested an SGC doctor be included in the backup being sent to Walker’s ranch – to be dropped off at Shiprock before they continued on to the ranch. He even asked for someone to contact the diner so they’d be ready to let us in when we got there. He made it sound like I wasn’t up to the two hour flight back to the mountain which might not have been that much of an exaggeration.

“Tighten those straps Rodney,” John ordered. “Teyla, Ronon, secure yourselves for takeoff.”

It was probably really cool going for a midnight flight in that helicopter but I was too exhausted to really enjoy it. I wondered how I'd missed hearing the helicopter approach Walker's ranch but quickly suppressed the thought before it could fully form when I realised that I'd been fully engaged in screaming my head off at the time.

John actually landed right outside what I assumed was the Shiprock diner because it was the only place on the entire main street that had lights on. I'd spaced out for a bit, my gaze fixed out the front window even though I wasn't really taking in what I was seeing.

“Time to get out,” John’s voice was suddenly at my side. Lifting me carefully into his arms he carried me across to the door Ronon was holding open - no protests from me both because I welcomed not having to get there myself and because being carried like that was strangely comforting and made me feel protected. I didn’t get much chance to look around once we were inside, just enough to register the classic ‘diner’ feel of the place, much like a hundred places I’d stopped at in my travels.

Teyla helped John sit me in the largest booth – he wanted me to lie down but I wasn’t ready to let go that much, happy to slouch down resting my head against the back of the chair, leaning my weight against John. It was strange, sitting in that booth with John next to me, Ronon, Rodney and Teyla all sitting opposite. No one said anything but it wasn’t awkward. Finally though I felt there was one thing I could say, one thing I wanted to get out.

“Thank you,” I looked at each of them in turn, ending with my eyes on John. “I knew you’d find a way ... find me ... and ... just – thank you.”

“Never in doubt,” Rodney tried to be light hearted, an effort I appreciated immensely.


 

 

Chapter 9: How long was I asleep?

 

You don’t need to hear the nitty gritty details of what happened next. Suffice to say Dr Lam turned up less than two hours later, took both John and I to task for not going back to the SGC infirmary, and then gave me a very thorough exam, all the while asking detailed questions about what I’d been through.

The rest of team Sheppard cleared the way so that could all happen with relative privacy but John stayed where he was, a constant presence I appreciated, both because him being there calmed my nerves and because Dr Lam’s questions ensured there’d be less to tell him once we were done. Rodney had been right too ... doing all the required medical checks in an atmosphere so very different from Walker's hospital feel lab did make it easier.

“Sabina’s wounds have been well treated. There’s no sign of infection and they should heal with minimal scarring,” Dr Lam reported to John. “She’s a little dehydrated and exhausted and I’m guessing she hasn’t had much nourishment the past two days. Again a couple of days rest and care should alleviate that.”

“What about the serum Sabina mentioned?” John asked worriedly.

“That concerns me just a little bit,” Dr Lam admitted. “We really should have Sabina back at the SGC so we can conduct some tests but given her current level of emotional distress I’m willing to overlook that as long as she does what’s required to recover outside the infirmary. I’ve taken blood samples – along with what Doctor McKay found on Walker’s computer I should have a better idea on whether there are likely to be long term effects from the serum.” When John looked disconcerted at the lack of a real diagnosis Doctor Lam put a reassuring hand on his arm. “I don’t think we have anything to be worried about Colonel. The fact that Sabina has recovered so quickly from where she was when you found her suggests Walker was telling the truth about neutralising his serum. We just have to confirm that and make sure there weren’t any affects he hasn’t accounted for.”

“Okay, thanks Doc,” John stood to the side while Doctor Lam packed up her gear.

"Now remember what I said," Dr Lam looked at John and I sternly when she was ready to leave. "You follow my instructions to the letter .... and no overdoing it. Colonel - I'll expect you to ring in a report daily, at least for the next couple of days. And if there are any new symptoms I expect you back at the SGC infirmary immediately, no arguments."

"Of course," John agreed for the both of us without protest, thanking her again before escorting her back outside.

I slouched back in my seat, mind strangely blank now that all the official business had been completed. The entire ordeal with Walker hadn't been that long ... less than two days during which I'd slept and eaten, although Dr Lam had been right in assuming not as much as normal. Even the after effects of knife wounds and stick fighting were familiar to me, these ones not that much worse than I'd suffered in the past. So the overwhelming exhaustion I was feeling mystified me ... the only thing I could surmise was that the serum had been the kicker - the one thing that had pushed my endurance past it's limits. I knew there were still difficult conversations ahead for John and I and I wanted to get them over with but the tiredness was pressing down on me and I found myself leaning my head back and drifting instead.

oOo

“Sabina?” my head snapped forward and I frowned at John squatting down in front of me. “Time to get you to bed.”

“Where are the others?” I asked, again submitting without protest when John lifted me into his arms and carried me out of the diner.

“They’ve found us a place to stay - the local Holiday Inn equivalent,” John replied. “That’s where we’re going.”

Being carried like that was beyond comforting – I felt surrounded by John’s warmth, his strength ... I could hear his heart beating steadily, the sound lulling me into full on drifting.

“I’m just gonna ...,” I mumbled, pressing my head up under his chin. And then I finally let myself go, dropping into sleep between one breath and the next.

oOo

I knew it was a long time before I woke up again because, as consciousness slowly returned, it felt like it – both timewise and because the way the room was lit made it clear the sun was again low in the sky. Hoping I’d just lost the better part of one day instead of more I raised myself up and looked around.

“Hi?” my voice came out more uncertain than I would have liked as I realised John was sitting in a chair by the window.

“Sabina,” John got up and came to me, sitting on the bed and putting a hand to my forehead.

“How long was I asleep?” I asked, frowning when I realised my voice was still huskier than usual. I tried a quick swallow, happy to discover it didn’t hurt anymore.

“14 hours,” John replied, looking at me intently. "I woke you a couple of times but you just mumbled you were okay and went back to sleep." Seemingly happy with whatever he’d decided the state of my forehead was gonna tell him, John sat back and watched me, waiting for something.

“Is it just us?” I pulled myself fully into a sitting position, not looking at him but trying not to make it obvious that I was deliberately not looking at him. Glancing around the room provided about three seconds of distraction ... it was a standard motel room with nothing to distinguish it from any other I'd ever stayed in.

“Rodney took Teyla and Ronon out to sightsee,” John explained. "They should be back for dinner in an hour or so."

“I didn’t think there’d be anything to see out here,” I joked, making my hands busy with smoothing the sheets over my legs and tucking them in on each side.

“They wanted to give us a chance to talk uninterrupted,” John brought everything out into the open with that one statement. Moving across to the bed John stretched out to sit beside me, putting an arm around me and drawing me into him. “I need you to tell me everything that wasn’t in your medical report ... anything that’s got you worried because of what happened.”

In the past I would have prevaricated, tried to get him believing the whole thing had just slid off me like water off a ducks back. Since Asuras and what happened to Elizabeth, everything we’d been through and where we’d taken our relationship, I couldn’t do that anymore. Truth was, I didn’t want to do that this time – I wanted to tell John everything, unload it all on him so we could work out how to fix it together.

“Walker and Brown are both in custody?” I checked before beginning.

“I can’t go back and beat the crap out of them again, if that’s what you’re asking,” John retorted.

“Good,” I reached for John’s hand, holding it tight as I took him through all the things that had happened since we’d been separated at the airport. I didn’t leave anything out – not the threats they’d made against John so I’d go without a struggle or the specific details of Brown's treatment, nor the sickening kiss and grope from Smith or the way Walker had treated me like a curious medical specimen instead of a person.

When it was done John gave me all the missing scenes from his side – how an overheard conversation had been the difference between rescue and continuing captivity. He didn’t leave anything out either, including the angry threats that wouldn’t be making it into anyone’s reports.

"You did good," I said softly after we'd sat in silence for a few moments, not sure what else I could say because he knew I'd been on the other side more times than either of us wanted to think about.

"Not really," John admitted, his voice suddenly thick with emotion. "Didn't take long for me to get beyond frustrated. I had this ... energy ... but nowhere to direct it ... if we hadn't found that lead when we did I would have put my fist through something because I was that close to loosing it. And that wasn't even the worst part ... no, that was not knowing what they might be doing to you ... and filling in the blanks from my own imagination so you know how that went."

"I'm sorry," I swallowed hard, struggling with my own emotions again in the face of his.

"No," John said sternly. "It's not your fault ... none of this was your fault. If you could promise that you'll never put me through something like that again I'd take it but we both know neither of us can make promises like that." John's chest rose sharply as he took in a deep calming breath - glancing up at him quickly my eyes were captured by the depth of emotion in his.

"John?" I asked worriedly.

"It's okay," John said quickly, hugging me tight as he buried his face into my hair. "Just let me hold on to you for a while."

"Okay," I whispered, leaning my head against his and closing my eyes with a sigh.

oOo

“How do you feel now?” John asked after we'd comforted each other for a while.

“Better ... detached ... a bit silly for refusing to go to the infirmary,” I admitted.

“It’s not surprising you wouldn’t want to be in a medical environment after what Walker did to you,” John excused. “It would have been easier to just override your fear but in the end I couldn’t do that to you.”

“Thank you,” I said gratefully. “I do feel better now but last night? I was a lot closer to the breakdown edge than I would have admitted at the time.”

“I should have stayed with you,” John said abruptly.

“What, at the airport?” I asked in confusion.

“They got to you because I let down my guard,” John insisted.

“They got to me because someone sold us out,” I denied. “If it hadn’t been then it would have been some other time. There would have been opportunity – unless you’re suggesting you should have gone everywhere with me, including the ladies room.”

“Rodney said the same thing,” John admitted with a weak smile.

“That’s because Rodney probably is smarter than you,” I teased.

“So can we just put this behind us now?” John asked hesitantly, getting us back on topic.

I agreed with the worry behind that – could we just move on from there without the need to delve into anything more than we already had? Strangely for the first time I understood why the psyche people kept harping on about talking things through. Talking to John, telling him everything left me feeling like we’d already made significant progress towards fixing it – for me anyway.

“I’m intending to do just that,” I confirmed confidently.

"You know Dr Lam is gonna suggest you 'talk to someone' about this, right?" John pointed out.

"Yeah, but she can't make me do that," I replied. “If I really need to I'll talk to Kate when we're back home but right now I'd rather just keep it between the two of us. Is that okay?"

"As long as you tell me if you're struggling," John agreed after looking at me closely for a few moments. "I can't let you bury this one Sabina."

"I won't but truthfully I really do feel a lot better already," I countered firmly. "I’m not promising I won’t have the odd nightmare but the fact that you extracted some payback from both Walker and Brown goes a long way for helping me deal with it. And I know that sounds bad. The truth is, right there and then, in the heat of the moment? I wouldn’t have stopped you if you could have shot Walker without it coming back to bite you. I don’t really know how to feel about that.”

“I don’t know if I was really gonna pull that trigger,” John admitted. “Maybe ... I don’t know if I’m even glad you stopped me.”

“You won’t kill for me,” I said starkly. “Especially not like that. Besides, it would have taken a mountain of paperwork to explain away.”

“Do you care that it wasn’t you personally who did the beating?” John asked, looking at me carefully.

“You know, I probably should but strangely no, I don’t care,” I admitted honestly. “That goes against my whole tough girl persona but it’s not like I didn’t help you bring Walker down – I totally fooled him when you were sneaking up on us. I’d rather win by being smart ... especially since I wasn’t really up for anything else.”

“What about the other guy, Brown?” John persisted.

“He bothered me more in some respects,” I admitted. “Walker was a little psycho I think but Brown was just doing it as the hired help. But seeing you beat Brown like that? It’s blood thirsty again I know but that really was much better than beating him myself ... you were scarily impressive by the way.” Before John could comment on that I quickly changed the subject. “I’m glad we don’t have anything like that to have to explain away ... and speaking of explanations, you still owe me a couple.”

“Ah – okay?” John looked uncomfortable, like he already knew what I was going to say. Sitting back from him so I could see his reaction I continued.

“Before I knew what Walker had taken me for I thought it was a ransom thing,” I noticed John raise an eyebrow – clearly that wasn’t the beginning he’d been expecting. “When I pointed out you were career military and wouldn’t even be able to cover what he’d spent on getting me Walker said I obviously didn’t know you as well as I thought I did.”

“That bastard really did dig deep,” John responded irritably. “Don’t worry – I can see why he said that but he was way off base. You already know I’m not close to my Dad or my brother ... part of that had to do with the disapproval I got over wanting to fly instead of joining the family business.”

“Which is?” I asked curiously.

“They’ve got their fingers in lots of different pies,” John admitted.

“So you were well off growing up?” I wasn’t sure how I felt learning that. John was still John so I guess in the end it really didn’t matter.

“Some people would think so,” John agreed. “Depends on what criteria you use. Personally I couldn’t wait to get out of there ... everything they have, the business and all the money? None of it has anything to do with me. I don’t want any of that now any more than I did twenty years ago.”

“Fair enough,” I let that one go with relief. “The other thing wasn’t so much what was said as how he referred to you. He called you my soon to be fiancé – said you’d spoken to the IOA about us.”

“So much for that secret,” John muttered angrily, getting up and pacing around the bed in agitation before stopping at the window.

“John?” I looked at him worriedly.

“Sorry,” John put a hand to the back of his neck, glancing at me before looking away again. “I’m not sure I can retrieve this without screwing it up even more.”

“Retrieve what?” I asked in confusion.

John looked at me for a few moments – I could practically see the wheels turning behind his eyes. The suddenness of his next movement had me blinking in surprise. One second he was standing by the window, the next he was kneeling on the floor beside me clutching my hands in his.

“Sabina, you really have to marry me because the last three days have just confirmed what I've always known - there’s no way I’ll ever be happy without you.” John delivered the words without rushing, his expression determined and his eyes dark with feeling.

“You’re proposing?” I’d known he would eventually – hell I’d practically ordered him to when I told him I wanted the whole box and dice. I just never thought about how I’d feel when he did. My insides had clenched – a large part of that was nerves but the rest was embarrassingly ... intimate. Who knew it’d be a turn on to have John kneeling on the floor declaring himself to me like that (that was definitely one aspect that wouldn’t be making it into future retellings!)?

It was more than that though ... it was a huge rush of love and pride ... and fear because to me John was every compliment I could think of to bestow and he wanted me. I was so not gonna screw it up.

“I guess so,” John looked a little bit lost for a moment before he regrouped. “Not how I’d planned but ... are you gonna say something?”

“I can’t really think of a worthy response, apart from hell yes!” I admitted, smiling madly.

“That’ll do,” John sprang up from the floor, pulling me into his arms and kissing me senseless.


Chapter 10: A Johnny Cash Ring of Fire wedding

I was all for consummating our newly engaged relationship right there and then but John vetoed that, insisting it was too soon and that I needed more time to recover physically. I let it go only because I was still tired and I wanted to know more about what he had planned.

“I’m surprised you did this so soon,” I admitted. “We really only talked about it a few weeks ago.”

“We’ve spent enough time building up to this,” John said insistently. “Besides, it’s not like we can just come back to Earth any time we like and the opportunity was there right now.”

“So how were you going to do the big proposal?” I asked with a cheeky grin.

“We were gonna be in Vegas instead of here,” John waited for me to make the obvious conclusion in my head before laughingly continuing. “And no, not because I was planning an Elvis Chapel of Love quickie wedding!”

“I wasn’t thinking that!” I denied insistently.

“You so were,” John retorted. “I’m kind of insulted that no one thinks I’ve got more class than that.”

“I wasn’t,” I insisted. “I was thinking more a Johnny Cash Ring of Fire wedding actually!”

“Funny,” John smiled, amused at my quick come back.

“So what were you planning then, Mr Class?” I raised an eyebrow expectantly.

“Did you know that the reason you can do a shotgun wedding in Vegas is because they can approve a marriage license in less than fifteen minutes?” John asked.

“Ah, no,” I admitted. “Checking out marriage laws hasn’t exactly been on my list of things to do.”

“Well you can,” John continued. “I was going to take you there, present you with the paperwork and ask if you would sign up for a life with me ... of course there would have been the romantic dinner and all of that as well," John shrugged as he glossed over the planning he'd done for this. "Once we have the legal stuff done we get a year to make if official – although I sincerely hope you won’t want to wait that long.”

“Wow,” I hoped my expression looked as impressed as I was feeling. “That’s pretty good.”

“It would have been,” John muttered, “if the IOA hadn’t gotten in the way.”

“Remind me again why you had to even speak to them,” I demanded.

“Because Atlantis is classed as foreign soil,” John explained. “We might both be US citizens but the air force may still expect a pretty hefty load of paperwork before they can approve us getting married there. General Landry made it quite clear we couldn’t do anything official like that without the IOA approving it too.”

“Did you have to do all this the last time you got married?” I asked curiously.

“No – don’t need to if you’re on US soil,” John frowned before looking at me worriedly. “Does that bother you?” John had never really talked about that aspect of his past before so I could see where that question was coming from.

“That you were married before?” I asked, waiting until John nodded. “Nope,” I replied earnestly. “I’m not sorry it didn’t last and that you had to go though that either – selfish as that sounds. This will last.”

“Fair enough,” John didn’t take offense I’d basically said I was glad he’d had such a tough time because it meant he was free to marry me. “I think I should tell you that Rodney, Ronon and Teyla all know I was going to ask you too.”

“So I really was the last to know?” I shook my head at just how screwed up things had gotten.

“Pretty much,” John agreed glumly. “Sorry.”

“We got there in the end and that’s all that matters,” I excused.

oOo

“You ready to catch up with the others,” John asked me once I’d showered and gotten myself looking somewhat back to normal. The Air force was ever efficient ... John and I had our luggage and instead of the helicopter we had a four wheel drive waiting for us when we were ready to leave.

“I guess,” I said reluctantly. “I don’t suppose you could tell them not to ask me questions about what happened?”

“They won’t do that,” John promised.

“Can we not tell them about the engagement either?” I asked. “I’d like to enjoy the secret for just a little while.”

“I don’t have a problem with that,” John agreed with a grin. He was such a child sometimes – looking forward to hoarding a secret because he knew it would drive Rodney – “Mr I have to know everything!” – mad when he found out we’d kept it to ourselves.

“Let’s go then,” I said resolutely, moving to walk beside him. Halfway across the parking lot I stopped suddenly, pulling John to a stop beside me.

"What?" he looked at me worriedly.

"I forgot something," I said, frowning in disbelief at my omission. "At the end, when I was out of it and Walker was tormenting me verbally, he mentioned the IOA. John - he said he owned one of the committee members ... that I was deliberately targetted because someone on the IOA has a personal grudge against me."

John put an arm around me, rubbing his hand over my back as he pulled out his cell phone. I listened, feeling something clenched relax inside as he spoke with General Landry personally, reporting what I'd revealed and getting confirmation that the SGC would investigate immediately."

"Was there anything else?" John asked once he'd finished his call.

"Not that I can recall," I replied. "They'll find who did this?"

"Don't worry," John reassured me. "I have a feeling IOA membership is about to get shuffled."

"Thank you," I smiled gratefully, falling back into step with John as he got us heading towards dinner with his team.

oOo

"You are looking well Sabina," Teyla greeted me first when we arrived at their table in the motel restaurant. John and I sat down together, everything looking just like a dinner back on Atlantis ... apart from the unfamiliar surrounds.

"Thanks Teyla," I said, smiling as I added "it's amazing what fourteen hours of sleep will do for you. How was your day? I hope it hasn't been too boring for you."

"Not at all," Teyla reassured me. "There are many interesting aspects of this region. Isn't that right Rodney?"

"Oh ... sure, sure," Rodney smiled unconvincingly. "It's been none stop entertainment the entire day."

"You never could lie very well Rodney," I pointed out in amusement, "but I appreciate the effort none the less."

"You sure you're gonna be okay?" Ronon's expression was stern ... of the three of them he was the only one not glossing over prior events.

"I'm sure," I said softly, putting a hand over where his rested on the table.

"Because I can always go back and punish those guys some more," Ronon offered, looking at me almost hopefully.

"And that would be to make me feel better, right?" I asked, genuinely touched at his obvious show of concern.

"Wouldn't hurt me either," Ronon admitted, finally showing a hint of relaxed amusement.

"Well I'm good for now," I promised. "If that changes you'll be the first ... no wait, the third person I call in, okay?"

John had remained silent, letting his team greet me in their own way. At that comment he actually laughed. "Yeah buddy, get in line ... if anyone gets to beat on Walker's men some more it'll be me - you had more than your fair share as I recall."

Nodding his agreement of John's 'head count', Ronon settled back in his seat ... he seemed more relaxed but I knew he'd be keeping a closer eye on me for a while - they all would. Strangely I didn't mind, the thought comforting me instead of making me feel they didn't trust me to take care of myself anymore.

The ice broken with those opening remarks, dinner turned out to be more relaxing than I could have hoped for as team Sheppard settled into that routine of easy banter they’d perfected years ago. I laughed as Rodney regaled us all with the story of their sightseeing trip, replete with sarcastic remarks about the lack of anything resembling progress and his complete abhorrence for livestock of any description. It felt like any other dinner ... I felt like myself for the first time in days.

oOo

After an afternoon of difficult conversations, not to mention the excitement of getting engaged (the very thought of which still sent my heart racing) I was actually glad when it was time for bed. The night before I'd literally shut down ... so exhausted, if I dreamt I wasn't aware of it. So it really shouldn't have surprised me when I dropped into nightmare territory so quickly after John switched off the lights.

I'm not sure I even really understood what I was dreaming although the images were clear enough.

In the first Walker was standing over me laughing sadistically with dripping syringe held aloft. "This serum will guarantee your eventual death," he promised gleefully.

The scene shifted sharply.

"And now you die," John's face was a mask of grim certainty as he held the gun to Walker's temple, eager to pull the trigger. “No John ... don’t do it,” I cried.

And then it was me holding the gun, only this time no one stopped me and I pulled the trigger, feeling the pleasure in taking Walker's life. Blood sprayed, colouring the whole world red.

And then I was back to the injection again - I felt the pain as the serum coursed through me, searing a path of destruction over my body. I screamed in agony, fighting to get away from the fire that burned me from the inside out.

I woke up screaming and crying. John was already awake and turning on the light to help me. Bolting up from the bed I sprinted to the bathroom and vomited until the dry heaves had my stomach muscles clenched and aching. I wasn't even aware of John kneeling behind me, holding my hair back and rubbing circles on my back, until I was done. Wordlessly John helped me to the sink, watching me wash out my mouth and scrub at my face. All the time I carefully avoided my own eyes, not wanting to see the weakness and torment reflected there. I was still twitching and shivering, just like I had coming down from that drug. In the end John picked me up and carried me back to bed, tucking us both back in and pulling me up tightly against him. He'd spooned us, his front to my back, an arrangement too familiar from all the other times I'd needed his comfort in the dark.

"You want to talk about it?" he asked softly.

"What if there was something in that serum?" I asked hoarsely. "Something that's killing me only we just don't know it yet?"

"You spoke to Dr Lam tonight yourself," John reminded me simply. "She seemed pretty convinced your blood work was back to normal."

"I know," I said harshly. Taking a moment to calm down I began again. "I know ... but Walker was so smug, so knowing when he said you weren't in time to save me."

"The guy was just pulling my chain," John discounted my worries. "He wanted me to react without thinking, to make a mistake so he could save himself."

"Are you sure?" I asked worriedly. “Are you really, really sure?”

"I'm sure," John promised. "But if you want to talk to Dr Lam again tomorrow, if you want to go back to the SGC for more tests, I'd be right behind you."

"No!" I clutched at the arm John had wrapped around my waist. "I don't ... I'm not ready to go back there just yet. Even just being with Ronon, Rodney and Teyla today was ... difficult to handle."

"They care about you," John offered. "They want to help."

"I care about them too," I sniffed as tears started bubbling to the surface again. It made no sense. The worst of the nightmare was over, I'd calmed down - what the hell was I crying over?

"Hey," John turned me around so he could look at me. "I promise you that everything is all right. We'll get past this ... you just need some time."

"I am all right," I buried my head in John's chest, muffling those words against his shirt. Snapping my head back up I shot a determined glance straight into his eyes. "You know what I need?"

"What?" John looked just a bit suspicious at my abrupt change of mood.

"Sex," I said abruptly. "Really intense and hopefully mindless sex. You know the kind I'm talking about."

"Sabina," John frowned at my demanding request, obviously still worried I wasn't physically up to it.

"That's always what they do in the movies when something traumatic happens and right about now I'm thinking I understand why," I said lightly. "I won't break."

"It's not just your physical injuries and you know it," John countered. "We can't make light of the mental impact of what you’ve been through!"

"Please," I kept my eyes on his, watching the thoughts whizzing through his head. I smiled when I realised he'd decided what the hell – he might as well go along with me.

"Fine," John agreed abruptly, rolling us over so he was stretched out on top of me. He carefully avoided my injured leg but otherwise treated me no differently than usual. "I'll give you some intense ...," he leant down, skipping all the usual gentle beginning kisses and moving straight into a heated devouring kiss that went on for several moments until he broke away, each of us panting harshly.

"... mindless," John trapped my eyes with his as he used his hands and his body to imprint himself upon me ... my pulse was racing out of control as I felt each touch magnified by our ATA connection, our emotional connection, and the single minded purpose he was devoting entirely to me.

"... love." I smiled at him replacing my word for his own, all the while gasping as he kissed a heated trail down my neck and onwards, wrecking havoc on my system as he aroused me despite the barrier of clothing between us

"You are such a romantic," I teased, running my hands through his hair and pulling his lips back to mine. "I love that I know that about you," I pressed up, trying to get another kiss as he held himself back just enough to get me really hot for more. "John ..." I demanded, delighting in the game, enjoying the frustration of not being the one in control.

"Do you want more?" John shifted away suddenly, throwing his shirt and boxers off before moving to take care of my clothes. Then he was back, stretched out on top of me, making my awareness fuzzy around the edges because all I could focus on was him and how he was making me feel.

"Yes," I breathed out, shifting impatiently, wanting him to complete me.

"Then say it," John rocked himself against that part of me that really wanted him even closer. I knew immediately what he was asking for and it had my mind abruptly back into focus, but not in a bad way. He wanted that declaration of love, the one I so seldom gifted him with. I was the classic "me too" person, rarely taking the initiative, preferring to ride on the coat tails of his own declarations. Everything froze between us as he waited for me to speak. Raising both hands I enclosed his face, bringing his eyes to mine.

"I love you John Sheppard," I intoned feelingly. "I love your hair, your eyes, your mind, your heart. I love everything about you."

"And you say you're no good at this kind of thing," John raised an eyebrow in surprise, face flushed beyond the physical exertion. I smiled that I'd gotten to him ... I didn't need him to declare anything in return. I wanted my words to be the only ones occupying his mind.

"You inspire me," I pulled his lips down to mine, getting that heated kiss I'd wanted moments before. "Now inspire me some more," I ordered, shifting my hands from his face so that I could use them to pull his lower half closer, making what I wanted next perfectly clear.

"Yes ma'am," John, ever careful of my injuries, still made it as rough and fast and heated as I needed. Again that pause once we were joined ... John leaned down, planting those gentle kisses over my face we'd skipped at the start. "I love you too Sabina Scott," he grinned teasingly before adding "going to be Sheppard."

"We haven't even talked about that part yet," I reminded him breathlessly, somewhat distracted with ... physical concerns.

"I'm sure I can convince you," John shifted back and surged forward just the once ... pausing again he smiled smugly at the glazed expression on my face. "With the right incentive."

"John," I seemed to have lost the power of speech at that point ... just as well because I didn't have any words beyond the feelings that were all screaming Now!

And then the teasing was over ... John led the dance and I reciprocated, neither of us holding anything back until finally John succeeded in short circuiting my mind as I’d asked.

"Thank you," I got out as soon as I'd returned to myself enough to compose a coherent thought. I wasn't in the habit of thanking him for sex but in the circumstances it seemed appropriate.

"Glad to be of service," John arranged us back into the spooned position that was so comforting to me. "Do you think you can sleep now?"

"I'm already half way there," I admitted, yawning tiredly.

"Good," John hugged me close, pressed a kiss into my hair and then fell silent. A moment later we were both asleep.


Chapter 11: We’re going to Vegas

"What's on the agenda for today?" I asked at breakfast the next morning. The diner wasn't that busy, the early morning patrons already done and out to work. Rodney, Ronon and Teyla had stuck around and I felt bad for a moment that they were in a holding pattern, and probably bored beyond description. I'd tried to get them to go back to the SGC after dinner the previous night but they were less than cooperative.

"Please no more sightseeing," Rodney begged. "I don't think I can take another day of cattle watching while trying to explain the colloquial use of language to these two without giving anything away."

"The livestock methods used here are very interesting," Teyla commented, ever the leader of her people even when a galaxy away.

"I'm guessing you were wondering how many stun blasts it would take to fell a cow," I looked at Ronon teasingly.

"Something like that," Ronon agreed.

"Well if no one has anything specific planned I've got an idea," I proposed casually, looking more at John than the others.

"Let's hear it then," John frowned slightly, probably wondering whether he'd be able to go along with whatever I was going to suggest.

"We were going to Vegas right?" I waited until John nodded wordlessly before continuing. "Okay then why don't we just continue with that plan? We’re only a day away by road which isn’t that far. Ronon and Teyla have never been anywhere like it and I'm sure even Rodney can find something interesting to do there. You and I can do that thing we talked about - it'll be like a team vacation for all of you, with me there too."

“What thing?” Rodney as usual showed no respect for the fact that people might not always want him to know everything!

“It’s personal,” I said dismissively, still hoping to enjoy the secret just a bit longer. Of course that was an empty hope ... it was Rodney after all.

“Did you ...?” Rodney raised an eyebrow at John expectantly. Rather than answer, John glanced at me, silently asking me how I wanted to respond.

“Did John ask me to marry him?” I asked blandly, noting how even Ronon looked suddenly more interested in the conversation. “No he didn’t.”

“Oh,” Rodney frowned in confusion over that. John looked at me with a puzzled expression too ... I let them both stew for a few seconds before I continued.

“Did he tell me I had to marry him?” I smiled when all of John’s teammates looked at me expectantly, waiting for the answer. “Absolutely.”

“You told her she had to marry you?” Rodney asked John incredulously. “How do you get away with that?”

“Talent and class Rodney,” John said with a superior tone, taking delight that Rodney seemed almost insulted on my behalf.

“I’m assuming you agreed?” Rodney shook his head when I nodded gleefully.

“Congratulations,” Teyla said graciously, ignoring John and Rodney’s banter with practiced ease.

Ronon rose and pulled John up into one of those big bear hugs he seemed so fond of. John groaned at the overly enthusiastic show of support, rubbing at his ribs when Ronon dropped him back down again. Then it was my turn – I got the equivalent toned down because Ronon would have been worried that I was still injured.

"You're good together," Ronon's voice rumbled low in my ear just before he let me go.

"We are," I agreed enthusiastically. Ronon's eyes twinkled with amusement over my giddiness as he stepped back to let Rodney say his piece.

“You should have made him work harder,” Rodney gave me an awkward hug of his own, patting my back before stepping away.

“Don’t worry Rodney,” I smiled fondly, leaning in closer so John couldn’t hear my murmur. “John was on bended knee so it’s still a tale worthy of telling the grandchildren.”

“Oh ... well good,” Rodney nodded firmly. “So we’re going to Vegas?”

“We’re going to Vegas,” John agreed, giving me his first truly relaxed smile since they’d rescued me.

oOo

"Is she really up to this?" Rodney tried to keep his voice down but I still overheard his whispered question to John. He and Rodney were packing things into the back of the four wheel drive and didn’t notice me approaching. Of course I paused ... because I really needed to know just how worried John was about me.

"We won't get there until at least this time tomorrow," John pointed out. "That's hours of forced rest in the car - probably more than I could get Sabina to have if we weren't going. Besides Doctor Lam assured me physically she's fine. They've found nothing to be concerned about in any of Sabina's test results ... Doctor Lam didn't even see the need to keep tabs on Sabina - apart from a daily phone call she seemed fine with not seeing Sabina again personally until we get back to the SGC."

"Okay, but what about the rest ... the not physical stuff?" Rodney asked in concern.

"Sabina just needs time," John said quietly. "You've been there - you know what it's like."

"I never had a crazy doctor perform his sick medical experiments on me so no I haven't been there," Rodney countered. "And please don't tell me you have!"

"Look - I don't know what to tell you," John said irritably. "Clearly we all need time to recover - a trip to Vegas sounds perfect to me."

"I guess," Rodney agreed uncertainly.

"I'm not gonna go mental on you Rodney," I said, walking up behind them and making Rodney jump. "At least I don't think so ... but if I do it'll be more because I'm stuck in a car with you for eight hours than anything Walker did to me."

"Be nice," John murmured in an undertone, lips twitching as he tried not to smile when Rodney humfed at the insult.

"You're right," I relented, putting a hand on Rodney's shoulder to get him looking at me. "It's kinda nice you're so concerned about my wellbeing but you don't have to be. John's right - this trip is exactly what I need to distract me until I've had the time to put it all into perspective. Okay?"

"I wasn't concerned," Rodney tried to back pedal on the damage to his 'I have no regard for anyone' image.

"Yes you were," I retorted. "It's okay - you can admit that you love me - it won't hurt you."

"Ah - he might," Rodney glanced at John worriedly - John deliberately gave him a stern threatening look in return. "And I don't love you ... unless you can love an annoying itch you can't scratch!"

"Nice," I laughed, deciding to let him off the hook for now. "I don't know what it is with you guys - I mean, you love your sister right? I don't see why you can't feel that way about someone you're not related to. You're like the big brother I never had - annoying, superior, condescending ... but useful when required."

"So you love me too," Rodney pointed out triumphantly, glossing over all the insults I'd just included in that statement.

"I never said that," I protested. I would have said more but John finally got tired of witnessing Rodney and I snarking at each other and called a halt to it.

"You're geek brother and sister - we get it," he drawled. "Now can we get this show on the road? I'd like to get at least half way to Vegas before we have to stop for the night!"

"Fine," Rodney muttered, "but she started it!"

"Did not," I said under my breath.

"And you say I'm a big kid," John threw over his shoulder as he quickly walked out of hearing range. It was childish, but being that petty with Rodney did clear the atmosphere of the concern and tension he’d had been holding around me. If I'd had to put up with that for our entire road trip Rodney's concerns about me having a mental breakdown might not have been that far off mark.

oOo

I could bore you with the details of our almost nine hours on the road, broken in the middle with the time we spent sleeping in a motel over night ... but I won't. Needless to say Rodney found something to complain about at regular intervals, Ronon said little except for when he couldn’t resist taunting Rodney about said complaints, and Teyla acted as the peacemaker when things started to get out of hand. I sat in the front, curled up against the window, alternating naps with listening to my iPod to drown out the sounds of the backseat conversation. John focussed ... grimly ... on driving, eyeing my IPod as if he'd like nothing better than to shut out the noice like I was.

oOo

And then we finally arrived in Vegas. When we took the highway exit and turned off into Las Vegas Boulevard I perked up, looking out the window in interest. I'd never been there before and although it was the middle of the day the place still made an impact.

"I didn't even think to ask where we were staying," I turned to John apologetically. "Did you have any trouble with that?"

"We already had a reservation," John reminded me. "They were pretty understanding on the delay, and happy to fit the others in."

"Good," I smiled excitedly. "So where are we staying?"

"Here," John pulled into a wide circular driveway.

"The Stratosphere?" I laughed. "You picked this just because of the name didn't you?"

"It's a long way from the main Casino strip but since we aren't here to gamble that seemed a positive," John didn't confirm or deny his reasons. "Plus the Clerk’s Office is only five minutes away."

"I like it," I agreed, already unclipping my seatbelt before John had stopped the car. "This is all right with you guys right?" I turned to look back at the others.

"I am very interested in seeing more," Teyla replied graciously. Ronon didn't say anything - I hoped that was because he didn't have anything to say rather than because he was worried about being somewhere so unfamiliar without his usual weapons.

"Maybe Rodney could show you the Casino once we're checked in," I looked at Rodney hopefully, "explain some of the games, why people come here, that kind of thing."

"There's actually a mathematical basis for all of this," Rodney was already off and running, motioning impatiently for Teyla and Ronon to follow him out of the car.

Turning back to John I added "And maybe we could go do the license thing today - if there's still time?"

"There'll be time," John promised. "Stay there," he added when I made to get out of the car. I smiled when he jumped out and strode around to my side.

"I can get out of the car by myself you know," I smiled, taking the hand he offered me and letting him take some of my weight as I stepped down.

"You might be feeling better," John countered, "but you've still got two leg wounds, not to mention I don't know how many stitches. There's no reason to push things ... we're on vacation remember!"

John led the way inside the hotel and across to reception. Everything ran like clockwork and before I knew it I was throwing myself onto the large bed in our very impressive room.

"This is fantastic," I announced, jumping up quickly and walking over to the window. "How high are we anyway?"

"The towers about 1200 feet," John replied, coming over to join me. "We're pretty close to the top so I don't know - maybe a thousand feet?"

"You certainly know how to impress a girl," I turned and wrapped my arms around his middle. Tilting back to look up at him I smiled in apology. "I'm sorry you didn't get to do everything the way you wanted."

"Not your fault," John leaned down to kiss me, a light hearted intention that quickly got out of control.

When the knock sounded at the door John groaned before reluctantly removing his hands from the very exciting places he'd had them. Leaning his forehead against mine he sighed. "Rodney?"

"Rodney," I pressed another quick kiss on him before breaking away to answer the door.

"Sorry - did I interrupt something?" Rodney stood awkwardly in the hallway.

"Yes Rodney you did," I said, knowing full well what he'd assume.

"Oh - ah, I just wanted to let you know I'm taking Teyla and Ronon down to the Casino," Rodney explained quickly. "I've got my mobile ... you've got the number right? So you can call me you know ... if you need us for anything. I'll just be going now so you can get back to ... whatever it was you were doing." Waving a hand vaguely in the air he turned and walked quickly down the hall.

"Thanks Rodney," I called after him, closing the door with a laugh. "I think I actually embarrassed him."

"Not difficult," John looked at me hopefully. "I remember where we were up to if you want to come back over here."

"Sorry," I replied, giving him a hopeful look of my own. "There could be a line up at the Clerk’s Office and I really want to do this today. You did pack the documents we need didn't you?"

"Yes," John gave in without arguing - I know he was puzzled at my hurrying but I couldn't explain it to him. It wasn't that I expected something else to happen to stop us but at the same time I wanted to lock it in ... just in case!

"Then grab them and let’s go," I was practically bouncing with impatience by the time we were finally on our way. "Let's walk," I proposed, grabbing John's hand and dragging him across the foyer and outside.

John smiled as I looked intently at everything along the way. "What are you doing?" he finally asked.

"Memorising everything," I replied promptly. "You know - for when our kids ask about this kind of stuff. I don't want to ever have to answer with 'I don't remember'."

John stopped suddenly, using the hand he was holding to pull me around and into him. He kissed me right there on the street as people drove by, walked by and just generally created the backdrop of detail neither of us noticed.

"What was that for?" I asked weakly when he broke away and got us walking again.

"I love you," John said simply.

"Yes but that was true five minutes ago," I frowned before my face cleared. "You like it when I talk about our kids don't you?!"

"Maybe," John put an arm around my shoulder, urging me to keep moving.

oOo

And then it was done ... ridiculously quickly in the end. We sat through a short wait, filled in forms, paid over our fifty bucks, and walked away with an official looking document that said we could legally get married any time within the next year. And I couldn't have been happier.

 


Chapter 12: Maybe I’m reading this wrong but I think we have a problem

 

"You guys are engaged right?" Rodney asked. We'd met back with the rest of Team Sheppard for dinner in the hotel restaurant appropriately named Top of the World - that aptly described both our location and my mood.

"Yeah," John looked at Rodney clearly wondering why Rodney was questioning something he already knew - something he usually got very impatient about with his own staff.

"Then where's her ring?" Rodney looked at John and I expectantly.

"It is customary among my people to exchange betrothal gifts," Teyla offered.

"Sateda too," Ronon agreed. "Didn't have to be a ring though."

"Does anyone else think this is incredibly bizarre?" I asked in disbelief. "I don't know what's worse - the fact that you're all talking about it or the fact that Rodney thought of something I completely missed."

"You forgot about engagement rings?" Rodney asked incredulously.

"Getting married isn't something I've actively imagined Rodney," I said defensively. "It's not like I don't know people get engagement rings - I just never thought about getting one myself."

"You don't want a ring?" Rodney looked almost flabbergasted now.

"Not everyone does," I looked over at John pointedly. "You know, you could step in any time - help me out here."

"I'm still stuck on the fact that I forgot your ring," John admitted ruefully.

"Wait a minute," I held up a hand to stop any smart arse remarks from Rodney over that. "You've actually got a ring somewhere?"

"You said you wanted the whole box and dice," John reminded me. "To me that includes a ring."

"Oh," I don't know why that surprised me but it did. And then the next thought occurred to me. "So where is it then?" I hadn't forgotten we had an audience ... hopefully John would pick up on my hint that it was time to leave that audience behind.

"Upstairs," John admitted. "It was in my stuff back at the SGC - I wasn't thinking about it that first night because I didn't have it on me."

“Well, let’s go have a look then,” I rose suddenly, grabbing John’s hand and dragging him up from the table too. “Rodney will look after everything here, won’t you Rodney?” And then I dragged John away, ignoring Rodney’s indignant spluttering and Teyla’s amused laugh. “See you tomorrow guys,” I called over my shoulder, still urging John along with me.

“You’re really this keen to see your ring?” John asked in amazement once we were both in the elevator.

“No offense but God no,” I laughed. “Good excuse to get out early though – as I remember it we have unfinished business.”

“Ah,” John smiled, grabbing my hand and pulling me into him. “Now that I understand.” He leaned in and kissed me, walking me slowly backwards until he had me pressed up against the wall.

“Hm-mm,” someone clearing their throat ... loudly ... brought us back to ourselves.

“Here already,” I quipped with an embarrassed laugh, breaking away from John. An elderly gentleman in a very nice suit stood at the open lift doors, thankfully looking at us with amusement instead of embarrassment or censure. He and John exchanged nods before John urged me out and hurried us down the corridor.

It was easy to find our place again once we’d finally achieved some privacy. Every touch, every moment of intimacy meant more to me right then that it ever had before – because we’d signed those papers earlier in the day. And maybe because it was only just hitting me that I’d come so close to being separated from John – I wasn’t going to say forever even though if Walker had been able to complete his plan it would have been.

After only been a couple of days I already felt I’d gone a long way forward in terms of my recovery. Having Team Sheppard there along with all the personal distractions with John hadn’t hurt ... it was just the break my mind needed. Maybe I’d picked up more than just John’s smart arse approach to stressful situations – maybe I’d picked up a bit of his coping methods too.

oOo

"Hey - I was just reading that information they gave us about marriage licenses," I called through to the bathroom where John was finishing up a shower before we retired for the night. "Maybe I’m reading this wrong but I think we have a problem."

"What's that?" John called back distractedly.

"Because we got a license here we have to get married somewhere in Nevada within the next twelve months to make it legal," I explained, getting up and moving into the bathroom doorway. "If that’s true everywhere then I can’t see how we could ever do anything legally on Atlantis."

"That was part of what General Landry was getting Walter to look into," John replied. "It should be possible to get a dispensation for that, as long as we get someone to register it back here once we're married."

"Oh," I frowned. "This seems a lot more complex than it needs to be."

"Sorry," John shrugged dismissively. "I know you wouldn’t have chosen to be an Air force wife but that's what you're gonna be - this kind of thing is par for the course so we might as well get used to it."

"I can do that," I smiled, walking back into the bedroom with a whole host of thoughts running through my head.

oOo

For the next three days we played tourist, sometimes all five of us together but more often than not just John and I. We visited all the casinos ... not to gamble but just to experience the uniqueness of each theme. Well, Rodney gambled and was not surprisingly very good at it. After the first night he too gave it up, telling us it wasn't a challenge and that the mathematics wasn't interesting enough to hold his attention.

As with the airport I was struck by the vast numbers of people living or visiting the city. At odd moments that made me nervous, not enough that I wanted to hide myself away, just enough to know that although I'd recovered alot it would still be some time before I felt completely normal again.

John was like a kid in a candy store, wanting to try everything the hotel had to offer, including the thrill rides. Yes there were rides, the scariest of which was something called Insanity - appropriately as it turned out because you really had to be insane to want to strap yourself into a caged seat and hang over the side of a thousand foot tower while you were spun fast enough to experience three G's of force. I gamely went along with John and ended up feeling pale and shaky while he laughed like an idiot and said he'd had better. Big Shot was no better ... being literally shot almost two hundred feet straight up at a huge speed, over four G's of force for that one ... once I'd escaped back to solid ground I vowed I'd never pay to get the crap scared out of me again and that if John wanted to go on any more rides he'd have to rope Ronon in instead.

I had my payback though, dragging John through the international marketplace fully contained within the hotel. It wasn't the same as actually going to Paris, Hong Kong and New York of course, but I had fun ... and if watching John reluctantly letting himself be dragged from shop to shop with that sexy pout as his only protest added to that enjoyment, well I was only human. I dragged him to the Hotel show as well ... one of those look alike efforts that was totally wasted on me because I wouldn't have recognised half of the real people if they'd stopped by our table to say hello.

The one thing we both agreed was awe inspiring was the observation deck ... to quote the guidebook it was the tallest free-standing tower in the whole of the united states. We could see all of Vegas stretched out around us and began a nightly ritual of spending a few minutes up there just taking in the spectacle of everything lit up with more lights than were anywhere near necessary. It wasn't as pretty or as impressive as Atlantis lit by night but it was pretty close.

oOo

On every one of those three tourist days I'd tried to convince John to take Rodney and Ronon to play golf. There were a stack of courses close by and John should have been all over the idea given his love of the game but he'd declined every time I suggested it. He said it was because he thought all that walking would still be too much for me but when I'd pointed out that he could go just with the others he'd brushed it off, telling me he was happy to wait until we could go together.

But I knew it wasn't just that. It had been six full days since John had rescued me, I was physically almost back to my old self, but he still hadn't left my side for more than a few minutes at a time. So on our fourth day in Vegas I decided it was time for a little chat.

"What's on the agenda today?" I asked casually as we finished up breakfast in our room.

"Not sure," John replied, distracted with the morning paper. Looking up he added "was there something you wanted to do?"

"As a matter of fact there is," I announced. "I want you to take Rodney and Ronon to the golf course. Teyla and I are gonna go do girly stuff."

"I can ... ," John trailed off, obviously realising before he said it how stupid it would sound if he said he could come with us. Frowning he shook his head and muttered "that wasn't fair."

"I know, " I agreed, "but you can't stick to me like glue for the rest of our lives! At some point you're gonna have to trust me to go out there alone."

"I do trust you!" John protested. "It's everyone else I have a problem with!"

"You know you're being just a tad ridiculous, right?" I raised an eyebrow at him expectantly, waiting until he looked away sheepishly. "I thought so."

"So I'm not exactly keen to have you gallivanting around a strange city without me," John said defensively.

"How about this?" I decided to offer a compromise. "You go play golf with the boys this morning while Teyla and I shop. I promise we'll stick to the hotel and that I'll stay close to Teyla the whole time. We can meet back in the restaurant for lunch."

"Ah ...," John thought for a moment, looking like he was trying to work out a viable reason not to agree. But of course he couldn't and was forced to concede. "Fine," he grumbled.

"It will be fine," I promised. "And you'll have fun with Ronon and Rodney."

John wasn't happy but he went along with the plan ... heading out in the car with Ronon and Rodney after telling Teyla repeatedly to look after me. Teyla and I shared an amused glance as the two of us stood at the hotel entrance waving them off.

oOo

I don't know about John, but Teyla and I packed a lot into our morning. A satisfying three hours later we all met up again for lunch, with me smiling as soon as I saw that John looked relaxed rather than stressed as I'd worried he would be.

“How’d it go?” I asked, eager to hear what I was sure was going to be an interesting account.

“Ronon was just as much a natural on a real course as he was on the driving range back home,” John announced. I looked at him carefully – he had just a hint of that little boy peevishness around the edges. I could understand that though. Spending years learning and perfecting something only to have someone come in and do it with no training really would suck.

“What, even putting?” I asked Ronon. “I’m surprised ... given your usual approach to things.”

“It’s a stick and a ball,” Ronon rumbled with an amused twinkle in his eye. He knew how peeved John was and he was enjoying it!

“What about you Rodney?” I looked at Rodney, just waiting for the complaints.

“I never enjoy walking through nature when we’ve got somewhere to go,” Rodney said sarcastically. “It’s even less pleasant when there’s absolutely no reason for it! Why anyone would want to participate in what has to be the most frustrating sport on Earth is beyond me.”

“We had to give Rodney a shot limit,” John shared with me. “Otherwise we’d still be back on the 9th hole.”

“Oh, very amusing,” Rodney said irritably. “Maybe tomorrow we can do something I’ve been practising for 20 years – see how you go when the shoe’s on the other foot!”

“What could we possibly do that you specialise in?” John asked curiously. "They don't have a 'build your own bomb' shop here, do they."

“I don’t know,” Rodney muttered, not impressed, “but I’ll think of something.”

“What about you?” Ronon asked, looking from me to Teyla and back again. “Did you do all that girly stuff Teyla was talking about?”

“We did,” Teyla answered, exchanging a secretive smile with me.

“I’m not sure I like that look,” John said worriedly, looking at me more closely.

“What, you want to hear about manicures and makeup and hair styles?” I joked.

“No, and I’m kinda surprised you did!” John retorted, grabbing at my hand and inspecting my nails curiously.

“Busted!” I pulled my hand away quickly. “We didn’t do all that – only had time to check out all the shops ... and you know, buy a few things.”

“Ah,” John looked at me in amusement. “How many book shops do they have here?”

“Enough, smart arse,” I retorted. “For that you get to carry everything upstairs.”

"You got your stitches out," John commented abruptly, putting a hand to my chin and turning my face up to the light.

"Yeah," I agreed, surprised he hadn't noticed immediately. "Hotel doctor did it - said the wound was almost completely healed."

"No scar," John pointed out, examining the site more closely. I still had a faint red line but it was already looking a lot better than I'd hoped for when I'd first seen the damage.

"The doctor said with any luck it should fade completely within a few weeks," I told John with a pleased grin. "Leg wounds too."

"You got anything other than books in those bags?" John changed the subject, sensing that I didn't want to talk about the remaining evidence of what I'd been through.

"Why don't you pick them up and find out," I challenged, more than ready to head back to our room for a rest.

I had to put up with a few more teasing remarks about the weight of my bags ... once up in our room I threw myself on the bed, exhausted. We'd stayed up late the previous night and I was paying for it after my busy morning.

“I can’t believe I’m so tired,” I complained. “I think I could even sleep for a bit ... if you wanted to join me.”

John let his actions be his answer ... in moments he had us snuggled up together on top of the covers. “Are you enjoying your vacation?” he asked softly, moving my hair aside so he could nuzzle the back of my neck.

“Yes,” I mumbled, hugging his arm against me as I yawned again. And then I let the tiredness take over and dropped quickly into sleep.

oOo

“Mmm,” my awareness returned with the pleasant sensation of someone kissing me. Turning over I smiled sleepily at John. “What time is it?”

“Sixteen thirty hours,” John replied.

“Wow,” I sat up abruptly, rubbing a hand over my face. “I guess I really was tired.” My stomach chose that moment to growl audibly. “And now I'm hungry,” I added with a laugh. “Let’s get dressed up and eat early. The others can do without us for one night.”

Not waiting for an answer I jumped out of bed, grabbing one of my bags from that morning’s spree.

“Did you buy actual clothes?” John looked at the bag with interest.

“I did,” I agreed casually. “After you were so keen on that dress from the Tower I decided I could make a bit of an effort since the opportunity was there.”

“Go on then,” John waved a hand, urging me to get moving.

"If I get dressed up, you have to as well," I told him insistently. "That suit you packed for the dinner we were supposed to have at your Mother's favourite restaurant will do nicely."

Grumbling a bit, John pushed up off the bed to change while I disappeared into the bathroom for my own transformation.

Half an hour later I emerged somewhat cautiously, nervous about John’s reaction.

“Holy ...,” John broke off, getting up and actually walking around me as he checked out my outfit. “Ah ... wow. You look good ... I mean, really, really ... good.”

“Glad you approve,” I self consciously tugged at the bodice of the dress, not used to having something on that felt so ... exposing. My shoulders and half of my back were left bare by the dress design – hence my feeling just a little bit self conscious. The dress was a rich shifting swirl of bronze and brown, form fitting from the halter neck down to my waist and then flowing in a swath of fabric to my ankles. The best bit was the fact that it was actually two layers – underneath solid bronze satin and on top a sheer see through fabric that added the graduation of colours. I’d even gotten shoes – bronze very high heel ones that could only be described as completely frivolous.

“You’re beautiful,” John announced appreciatively, “but you’re missing something.”

“I know I’ll probably be cold but I didn’t have time to get a jacket to go with this,” I excused, adjusting my necklace so the vinculum sat right in the centre of my chest.

“Not a jacket,” John walked up to me with a hand in one pocket. Removing it he held a box out to me. “This.”

“Oh,” I looked down at the box as a bemused smile made its way over my face. “Don’t you have to do the honours?”

“This ring belonged to my mother,” John explained as he opened the box and showed me the simple white gold ring nestled inside. “It was her wedding ring and I’ve kept it with me since she died ... never thought I’d want to part with it for anyone – until you.”

“Okay, now you’re gonna make me cry,” I said tearfully, hardly able to believe how moving him giving me a ring actually was. Without ceremony John pushed the ring up my finger, holding out my hand so we could both see it looking so natural there.

“Do you like it?” John asked uncertainly. “I know it’s not the classic diamond or anything ...”

“I love this one more than anything else you could have given me,” I said with certainty. “This one is me ... and it’s you too. It’s perfect.”

“Good,” John melted my heart even more when he pulled my ring hand to his lips and actually kissed it. Looking from my hand back to him I was rendered speechless. And then I remembered we’d been about to go out. Looking at him all sexy and commanding in his charcoal grey suit I smiled happily.

“Don’t we look impressive?” I said with a giggle. “Let’s go before I get more emotional and end up crying all over you.”

Grabbing John’s hand I urged him to the lift, pushing the button for the very top floor.

“Where are we going?” John asked curiously.

“I discovered this morning that there’s a spot up here where you can eat if you arrange it in advance,” I explained. “It sounded like something we should do so I signed us up – the view should be spectacular.”

I took the lead once we’d got out of the lifts, guiding our steps down the silent corridor to the door at the very end.

“This is it,” I announced, taking a deep breath and then pushing the door open.

There were only two other people in the room but the very layout and set up shouted out what we were really there for.

“Sabina?” John looked at me uncertainly. “Is this what I think it is?”

“If you think it’s a wedding then yes,” I replied nervously.


Chapter 13: This is not a quickie wedding

“You want to get married right now?” John asked in surprise.

“I do,” I announced firmly. “We have everything we need to do this now. And the beauty of it is that the IOA doesn’t get a say in it. It’ll be completely legal and we can do whatever other paperwork we have to do before we go back to Atlantis.” When John looked at me apparently speechless I rushed in to words again. “Look, we don’t have to do this now if you had something else in mind. We can send the celebrant guy home and just enjoy the dinner I organised. I just thought ... when you said you hoped I wouldn’t want to wait that long that ...”

John put a gentle hand to my mouth to halt my rambling speech. “I am ... amazed that you did this by yourself,” John's eyes shone with emotion. “And I'll marry you any time you want ... but ..."

"But what?" I asked worriedly, suddenly nervous that I'd messed the whole thing up.

The fear of rejection surprised me ... I knew John loved me but putting myself on the line was tougher than I'd realised it would be. Only then did I think about how I'd feel if John put this off, if he said thanks but not right now ... because I was feeling it right then. Scared, vulnerable, foundations shaken, pride in danger of being stamped into the ground. It was a struggle but I met John's gaze bravely, trying to show him I was confident that what I'd proposed was the right thing for both of us.

"But I need to make sure this really is what you want," John returned insistently, his expression suddenly serious. "That you're not just doing this because of what happened with Walker."

"Why would that have anything to do with it?" I asked defensively, turning away from him.

"Sabina," John drew me back around, bending his head low so he could see my expression. "Getting married is as big a distraction as you can get!" Noticing my hurt look John squeezed my hands tightly, his expression determined. "You can't blame me for questioning your haste here ... you've gone from hardly being able to say the word 'wedding' without shuddering and describing us getting married as a long time in the future event to wanting to get married only a week after we got engaged!"

"I know it seems sudden," I met his eyes intently, letting him see every expression as I tried to reassure him. "And maybe, indirectly, my experience with Walker has changed my outlook but not in a negative way. This isn't about distracting myself or trying to pretend what happened didn't happen. I just ... I realised when it seemed I might not make it just how important forging a life ... a family ... with you is to me. And I'm certain ... one hundred percent ... that right now is the time for us to get started. I don't want to waste any more time ... do you?"

"We haven't been wasting time," John countered, letting go of my hands and turning to look at the room ... and the setting that awaited us. He stood for a moment, thinking over what I'd said before glancing at me again. "What about our friends? Your team? You sure you want to get married without them here to witness it? We're only gonna do this once."

"They'll understand," I said simply. "Besides Teyla, Ronon and Rodney will all be here in a few minutes."

"You invited them?" John asked, surprised.

"Of course," I returned with a hint of impatience creeping into my voice. "I know I should have asked if there was anyone else you’d want at our wedding but ... there wasn’t any time and I really wanted this to be a surprise.” I gave him a moment to digest than and then spoke. "So - are we getting married or what?"

"Yes," John said simply, taking my hand and pulling me into his tight embrace. We stood united like that until our attention was drawn away and we shifted to greet our guests. Team Sheppard had arrived, announcing their presence by crowding, noisily in Rodney’s case, in the doorway.

“Hi guys,” I greeted them, still feeling nervous. “Teyla – you look fantastic!” I smiled in delight, glad the black dress we’d picked out that morning looked as good as I’d remembered. Even Rodney and Ronon had dressed up, Rodney in a suit and Ronon in a sports jacket that actually fit quite nicely - no idea how they’d gotten that but I was sure it would be thanks to Teyla!

“This is a surprise,” Rodney said with faint amusement.

“Before you say anything,” I jumped in, “this is not a quickie wedding so don’t you dare mention Elvis or any other dead musicians!”

“I wasn’t going to,” Rodney protested. “I was actually going to say I was surprised you didn’t just run off and do this and then tell us about it later.”

“Believe me I was tempted,” I smiled to take the sting from my words. “But we need witnesses – why use strangers when we’ve got you guys?”

“So John has agreed to these arrangements?” Teyla asked.

“I have,” John spoke for himself, thankfully not mentioning the fact that I'd had to work to convince him. “I take it you helped Sabina with all this?”

“It was an enjoyable morning, made more so by the end result,” Teyla excused, glancing around the room happily.

“I don’t mean to rush everyone but I only hired this guy for an hour so we need to get on with it,” I said, smiling weakly when the others laughed.

oOo

Minutes later John and I stood before the celebrant, Teyla, Ronan and Rodney forming a half circle behind us. It was a standard ceremony with standard, traditional words because I hadn’t had time to think about tailoring anything, but it was perfect.

I’d managed to find a simple wedding band for myself, my tastes ensuring it would look good with John’s mother’s ring even though I hadn't seen it beforehand. I'd also decided to get a matching ring for John – I had no idea if he’d want to wear one but the whole idea of a ceremony seemed to call for it and in the end it didn’t really matter if John’s ring ended up in the top draw.

We exchanged our rings, each of us unable to contain our smiles at the joy of what we were doing. When the celebrant announced that John and I were husband and wife I couldn’t contain the huge grin that took over my face. I threw myself into that first kiss as married people too, not caring about any etiquette associated with the tradition of it.

Breaking away I smiled up at John. "You're mine now," I told him in a low tone, well pleased with that fact.

"Back at you," John returned with a grin, leaning down to press a firm kiss to my lips.

And then it was time to get the kudos from our witnesses.

“You did good,” Ronon hugged me close, giving his approval not just to the marriage but also to the way I’d gone about it

“Thank you,” I squeezed him tight. Ronon moved on to the usual ‘lift him off the ground’ bear hug with John as I turned to Rodney expectantly.

“Congratulations ... Mrs Sheppard,” Rodney grinned smugly, knowing he was the first person to refer to me like that.

“I still haven’t decided about that,” I murmured as Rodney hugged me quickly before stepping aside to let Teyla have her turn.

“Is it not customary here for a woman to change her name after marriage?” Teyla asked.

“I’m impressed that you know so much about Earth customs,” I complimented. “These days women don’t always change their names – it depends on the circumstances.”

“And are you gonna change yours?” Rodney asked curiously.

“Like I said, I hadn’t thought about it,” I looked over at John with a raised eyebrow, remembering how he’d joked earlier about giving me the incentive.

“It’s entirely up to you,” he replied to my unspoken question. “I don’t mind admitting that it’d be nice but I’d understand if you wanted to keep the Scott.”

“I rarely even think of myself as anything other than just ‘Sabina’,” I said thoughtfully. “Sabina Sheppard does have a nice ring to it though, doesn’t it? I guess I could get used to that.” I looked at John, returning his silly pleased grin with one of my own.

“It might cause confusion on Atlantis if someone’s yelling out ‘Sheppard!’,” Rodney quipped, making John’s name sound like a reprimand.

“If they say it in that tone I’ll know straight away it's John,” I smiled in amusement. “He’s the one always getting into trouble.”

“I am sure we will all adjust once you have taken John’s name,” Teyla said simply, bringing my attention back to her.

“Thank you for helping with this,” I told her gratefully.

“It was my pleasure,” Teyla reached out and drew me down to her for an Athosian forehead embrace. Straightening she added “you made a wonderful bride.”

“And you made a wonderful brides assistant,” I replied. “Thank you for being our witnesses,” I encompassed the three of them in that statement. “I guess we should move on to dinner.”

I didn’t keep any of the other wedding customs either – no bouquet to throw, no wedding cake to cut – and it was the best wedding dinner I’d ever gone to. And not just because it was my own! John and I had people there important to both of us and we’d focussed on the essentials. I'd have to make it up to Major Lorne and the others when we got back to Atlantis but I knew in the end they'd just be happy for us ... after they'd finished pretending to be mad of course.

It had been a big day and despite my afternoon nap I found myself running out of steam earlier than I would have expected.

“Time to go,” John announced when he caught me yawning for the third time in as many minutes. “Feel free to hang around,” he told his team, putting an arm around me and guiding me towards the door.

“Bye,” I called out to them, gratefully letting John support me into the corridor and all the way back to our room.

“What are you doing?” I yelped in surprise when he stopped at the door and then picked me up.

“It's tradition,” he laughed, carrying me over the threshold.

“A very strange one,” I mumbled, giggling when John dropped me down on the bed before throwing himself down beside me.

“Hello Mrs Sheppard,” he leant over me with serious intent, pressing light kisses across my cheek.

“Hello Mr Sheppard,” I replied, pushing my hands into his hair so I could make those light kisses into something with more impact.

Should I resort to cliques and tell you our first married sex really did have that extra edge because we’d made the ultimate legal commitment?

It did.

Something of that must have come through because the Ancient necklace I still wore glowed it’s blue light into the darkened room right at that key moment – it hadn’t done that since we’d completed the vinculum and I could only surmise that somehow it knew we’d finally lived up to the connection we’d made all those months ago.

oOo

“You got married and you didn’t invite me?” Daniel tried to look affronted by that. His team were still off on individual assignments and he was still looking for that elusive Ark, a project that was clearly going to take him a long time to complete.

I could hardly believe our holiday was over and that we’d be heading back to Atlantis that afternoon. We’d returned to the SGC the day before after finishing up in Vegas and making a trip of the drive back. I'd tried to catch up with Daniel as soon as we'd arrived but he'd been out of the mountain and in the end I only had the hour before our scheduled departure to say my goodbyes.

“It was spur of the moment,” I excused. “You can come to the reception thing we’re having back on Atlantis – assuming General Landry approves the extra gate travel.”

“Smart,” Daniel said approvingly. “Holding a big party back there should divert everyone away from the fact that you got married without telling anyone.”

“It was John's idea,” I admitted, falling silent as Daniel looked at me. “John told me how you helped him when I was ...,” I stopped, not sure what word to use, not that it mattered because Daniel knew exactly what I was talking about. “I know I didn't say much the day after when I called you ... but it wasn't because I didn't appreciate it. Thank you.”

“I only wish I could have done more,” Daniel excused the need of thanks. “How are you doing – really?”

“Better than I could have hoped for,” I said honestly. “I have moments, flashes of memory but already I can feel it sinking into the background.”

“Having the perpetrators punished, not to mention going off and getting married, would have helped,” Daniel suggested.

“The break did me good,” I agreed, getting reluctantly to my feet when I saw the time to depart was fast approaching. “As always these visits never seem long enough. I really hope you can come to Atlantis soon.”

“Me too,” Daniel stood and actually pulled me into a hug before stepping back. “Take care.”

“You too,” I smiled and then turned to leave. “Good luck with the Ark ... Indiana.”

oOo

“Colonel,” General Landry stood at the bottom of the Stargate ramp to see us off. “We should have a decision from the IOA within a few days regarding the new leadership. Until then, you remain in charge on Atlantis.”

“Yes Sir,” John replied with a slight grimace.

“Walter, dial the Gate,” Landry called up the control room. Turning back to us he added “congratulations once again on your marriage. I’m sure that’ll make your return home interesting.” The faint sparkle in his eye reassured me that he really did approve the sudden turnaround from us wanting things done on Atlantis to doing them on Earth. And I’m sure the fact that Richard Woolsey had tried to find some kind of loop hole to give the IOA approval rights ... and failed, had nothing to do with it.

“I’m sure it’ll cause a stir for a few days,” John dismissed. “Until something more interesting comes along.”

“Of course,” Landry agreed. We all turned as the wormhole stabilised. “Ronon, Teyla, Doctor McKay – thank you for coming here on such short notice to assist us,” he nodded to each of them in turn, and then to John and I. “Colonel Sheppard. Mrs Sheppard.”

I did one of those little ‘yes I am awake’ jolts when he called me by my new name, all legal and everything. “Gotta get used to that,” I muttered, before pasting a smile on my face. “Thank you for everything General,” I said gratefully. “I hope you’ll be able to make it to Atlantis for the reception – once we’ve organised it.”

With all the pleasantries concluded and nothing further to say we all picked up our bags and walked through the Stargate.

oOo

“Welcome home Colonel,” Major Lorne said respectfully, waiting near the Gateroom stairs for our return. “Colonel Caldwell is readying the Daedalus for takeoff and said he’ll meet with you at fourteen hundred hours.” Glancing at me he smiled. "Sabina - you look ... relaxed."

“Thank you Major,” John looked at me with a mischievous grin.

John,” I tried to put a warning into my tone because I knew he was about to spill the beans, big time.

“Yes Mrs Sheppard?” John asked, taking delight in the open mouthed surprise that overtook Evan’s face. “That’s right Major – you haven’t been introduced to my wife.”


Chapter 14: Colonel Carter, welcome to Atlantis

"You two got married?" Evan asked incredulously, looking from John to me and back again.

"Vegas style," Rodney quipped, pushing past us, impatient with the chit chat and keen to leave the Gateroom. "It wasn’t even that bad," he called out over his shoulder before disappearing down the corridor.

"Don’t listen to him Major," Teyla drew up alongside us. "It was a special event. I was pleased to be able to attend my first Earth wedding."

"What she said," Ronon rumbled, taking Teyla’s arm and escorting her across the Gateroom after Rodney.

"You invited them but not your own team?" Evan's eyes narrowed and he gave me his ‘I am not impressed’ look.

"It was a spur of the moment thing," I retorted defensively. "I had no choice!"

"And this after you said you hadn’t known each other long enough," Evan teased pointedly.

"When was that?" John asked, glancing at me curiously.

"Months ago," I dismissed. "A lot’s happened since then."

"At least tell me you got photos," Evan kept up with the teasing, even though he could see I was uncomfortable.

"Ah ...," I looked at John uncertainly, vaguely recalling something about that in the arrangements I'd made. I'd vetoed the whole 'pose for photos' thing but hadn't dismissed candid shots being taken ... with the uncertainty before John's agreement to proceed and my overall nervousness I hadn't given it a seconds thought.

"Don’t worry Major," John answered for me. "There were a few photos ... the hotel promised to send them through to the SGC. Someone will pass them on to us eventually."

"You were so into the whole thing you didn’t notice someone taking photos of you?" Lorne shook his head with a fond laugh. "Why doesn’t that surprise me?"

"Yes – ha ha," I retorted irritably. "Just watch it Major or else I might decide not to invite you to the reception either."

"You’re having a party?" the Major perked up immediately. "Why didn’t you say that in the first place?"

oOo

The news of our marriage got around Atlantis faster than even I could have imagined. But as John had predicted, the unusual level of interest in our relationship died down just as quickly. Apart from having to put up with the traffic of people stopping by to congratulate me the first full day we were back, I was pretty much free to continue along as always.

With John in command of the entire city, including the military, team Sheppard was grounded until a new leader could be appointed. The flow on effect was that Major Lorne was fully engaged with command duties too, seconding John with the military side of things and taking as much of the load as he could. That meant team Lorne was also grounded ... part of me was keen to get back out into the field but the rest was just relieved that John had Evan helping him, since there was no way he could do everything he'd done before as well as Doctor Weir's job, even a scaled down version of it. Evan had loaned Lieutenants' Parker and Brown out for support duty with other off world teams but I decided to stick around the city, concentrate on documenting what I thought we'd learned about the NAP project before I consigned it to the abandoned basket.

"Finally," I looked up from my solitary table in the Mess Hall to see all three of my team mates converging on me.

"Hey guys!" I smiled, happy to see Colin and Alex for the first time since we'd returned. "How've you been?"

"Don't 'hey guys!' us," Alex returned indignantly, throwing himself down in the chair opposite me and glaring reproachfully.

"What?" I looked from him to Colin, watching the other man settling himself next to Alex, leaving the seat beside me for Major Lorne. "What'd I do?"

"What did she do?" Alex looked at Colin and shook his head sadly. "How about running off and getting married without having your team present?"

"Didn't Major Lorne fill you in on the specifics?" I raised an eyebrow at Evan, who was looking back at me with amused innocence. "It all happened really quick ... and I couldn't leave it for the IOA to control. Who knows how long it would have taken them to approve something happening here."

"We're your team," Colin said sternly. "First rule: the team sticks together. Second rule: members of the team don't go off getting married with another team present without said team also present." Looking back at Alex he continued. "Maybe it's our fault ... we haven't properly indoctrinated her on correct team procedure."

"Yes, John's team was present," I agreed. "And if you guys had happened to be on Earth at the time I would have invited you too."

"Come to think of it," Evan spoke for the first time since they'd all sat down, "you never explained why Teyla, Ronon and McKay joined you on Earth."

"John needed some help tracking someone down," I said evasively, not meeting his eyes. "I guess General Landry thought having the whole team there would make everything go faster."

"That's it?" Evan asked, frowning when I shrugged rather than replying. I could have told them all about Walker and my treatment at his hands but that was a can of worms I wasn't quite ready to open to the general public. "And that new scar you're sporting?"

"Huh?" I put a hand to my cheek, surprised I'd almost forgotten the mostly healed wound was there. "Oh this ... I had a slight ... run in with ... someone," I explained somewhat lamely. "So anyway, am I forgiven about the whole marriage thing?" I quickly changed the subject.

"Should we forgive her?" Alex, Colin and Evan shared a look, all of them deliberately teasing me with their silence.

"There's a party?" I offered that carrot hopefully. "You're all invited to that."

"You're forgiven," Alex let his stern mask drop, laughing at my exaggerated sigh of relief. "Seriously Sabina, congratulations."

"Thank you," I smiled across at him.

"Yeah, we're really happy for you," Colin added. "Hope Colonel Sheppard knows how lucky he is!"

"Oh he does," John's voice came from directly behind Colin. It was comical the way Parker froze, his expression panicked. Turning reluctantly he acknowledged John's presence.

"Sir," he tried to smile in the face of John's stern expression. "I ah ... I didn't mean anything by that Sir."

"Of course not Lieutenant," John let the amusement show on his face, smiling as Colin visibly relaxed. "Sorry to interrupt your conversation ... I just wanted to tell my wife not to wait up for me."

"More meetings?" I watched with concern as he drew a chair from the adjoining table next to mine and slumped into it wearily. He was tired and grumpy because he'd much rather be out there doing something that stuck in Elizabeth's office or the Conference Room talking to people all day.

"Apparently it's extremely urgent that we talk about acquiring more plant samples from M5T-899," John quipped. "Unless Doctor Parrish is gonna find me an enormous Venus fly trap that eats Wraith I can't see the point." Sending a stern glance at Lorne and the others he added "don't tell him I said that."

"Of course not Sir," Evan kept the smirk off his face with effort.

"Any news on when we're getting a new leader Sir?" Alex asked curiously.

"Unfortunately not Lieutenant," John replied, glancing at his watch with a sigh. "Duty calls," he announced, getting up reluctantly. "Sabina," he let the way he said my name be his goodbye, running a hand down my hair before turning to the others. "Gentlemen. Carry on."

I watched him walk away with a frown. Elizabeth's capture had an immediate effect on us in obvious ways ... it was only as time passed that I appreciated the not so obvious effects, the ones created by the many ways Doctor Weir had influenced the city and everyone in it.

"You knew he was there didn't you?" Colin asked weakly, drawing my attention back to the table.

Evan and I traded glances before turning back to the other two with almost identical grins. "Sure did!"

oOo

John was still hopeful the IOA would make a quick leadership decision now we were back in the city. I wanted that too to take the load off John ... but at the same time I didn’t, because welcoming a new leader was the final nail in the coffin of my hopes for finding Elizabeth.

"I just spoke to Stargate Command," John announced a few days after our return. "They’ve decided on a new leader ... finally."

"Are you allowed to tell me who?" I asked, looking up from our bed and checking out his demeanour – did he seem happy or not? It was hard to tell which made me just a little worried.

"I can’t see why not," John decided. "She’ll be taking over in a couple of days."

"She?" I raised an eyebrow in surprise. "I thought for sure they’d take the opportunity to put a man in charge – and I don’t mean that as any kind of sexist remark."

"I think the IOA are very concerned about the dual threat of Wraith and Replicators, both of whom have shown more than a passing interest in Earth," John explained. "They’ve gone with someone who’s military but also expert as far as Replicator tech goes."

"Colonel Carter?" I guessed, not that difficult since I couldn’t think of anyone else with that combination of skills.

"Yeah," John admitted.

"And you’re not disappointed it wasn’t you?" I asked curiously, pretty sure I already knew the answer but wanting to give him the chance to acknowledge it out in the open.

"Like I said before, I wasn’t looking for more responsibility," John said with an easy casualness. "I watched Elizabeth grapple with the politics, the red tape and the double standards for long enough to know I’d suck at that."

"You would not!" I protested. "Just because you don’t want to do it doesn’t mean you couldn’t, if you had to."

"Well thank you for the vote of confidence Mrs Sheppard," John smiled.

"You’re welcome Mr Sheppard," I replied solemnly before ruining it by laughing. "How long do you think it’ll take us to get sick of that?"

"I’m not there yet," John admitted freely.

"So what’s Colonel Carter like?" I asked. "I know Daniel was on her team for all those years – he mentions her a lot but it’s more the friendship stuff and how he misses her now they’ve kinda gone their separate ways."

"I forgot you didn’t get to meet her when she was here before," John sat down on the bed, putting an arm around me as he thought about his answer. "She’s very smart, capable ... got loads of experience fighting alien enemies including the Replicators. This is her first big command."

"Does this mean your role will be different now?" I suddenly worked out the ramifications of there being a higher ranked military officer than John on the base.

"I don’t know," John admitted. "I’d have to say yes because it won’t be like with Elizabeth where I could override decisions if I thought the situation called for it from a military standpoint. I won’t be able to do that with Colonel Carter – although hopefully I won’t have to because she’s military. Elizabeth never gave me orders or expected me to blindly follow everything she said either."

"It’s a big job to run the civilian side of the city as well as the military," I said worriedly.

"We’ll still have that split of duties," John explained. "It’ll just be at crunch time where I’ll probably notice the difference. I felt free to argue with Elizabeth – I’m not saying I won’t still speak up if I think there’s a need, but the chain of command is clear and in the end that will take precedence."

"It’s a lot to take in," I commented. "I guess we just have to give it time?"

"Don’t worry," John reassured me. "This isn’t the first change of command I’ve lived through. Remember too this is the military we’re talking about – it’ll go like clockwork."

"I hope so," I replied. "I don’t know how receptive people are gonna be to Colonel Carter taking over. Everybody liked Doctor Weir. That along with the decided lack of support from Earth for a mission to go find her might make the first few weeks of the transition ... awkward for the Colonel."

"I’m sure she can handle it," John reassured me again. "On a completely different topic, how’re the plans coming for that party we promised everyone?"

"Um," I grimaced slightly before admitting I’d made no progress. "Are you sure we still have to do it? We’re old news now so everyone’s probably forgotten about it, especially once they learn we’ve got a new leader."

"Not likely," John laughed at my crestfallen expression. "I’m sure Teyla will help you if you’re struggling."

"Fine," I muttered. "It’s only the fact that you’ve been so busy keeping everything going here that I’m letting you off having to do something to help."

"And I appreciate that," John replied, letting himself flop back on the bed tiredly. "Colonel Carter taking over can’t come soon enough because I am heartily sick of all the requests, mostly from the science staff, for things I just can’t justify granting. I don’t know how Elizabeth put up with that for three years! If that’s not bad enough I’ve got a heap of reports to get ready for when Colonel Carter gets here too. Did I mention I was tired?"

"You didn’t have to. You sleep – I’ll let you know if someone needs you," I promised, smiling as he turned over and burrowed into the pillows with a mumbled thanks.

oOo

"Are you coming?" John stopped in at my lab on his way to the gate room.

"Mm?" I looked up from my laptop distractedly.

"Colonel Carter’s about to dial in," John reminded me. "It’d be good if you could be down there with me."

"Oh, ah ... sure," I replied, shutting off my laptop reluctantly. "Although I don’t really think she’d notice if I waited till later to meet her."

"You don’t want to meet the Colonel?" John stopped and looked at me in surprise.

"I don’t not want to meet her," I admitted. "I just ... it’s just ... permanent, you know? I can’t help but think of Elizabeth."

"You won’t be the only one," John promised. "That’ll be the same no matter when we do this so ..."

"Might as well get it over with?" I asked with a faint smile.

"Exactly," John grabbed my hand and urged me down the corridor.

And then there we all were, gathered around the Stargate, up the stairs and even on the balcony – one big picture of welcoming support. I stood back with most of the staff as John stepped forward to greet our new leader, flanked closely by Rodney and Radek.

"Colonel Carter, welcome to Atlantis," John said formally.

"Thank you," Colonel Carter said with a smile. "It’s nice to be here." Turning her gaze away from John she extended that smile to greet all of us, John and the others remaining at her side in a silent show of support. "Uh, I want you all to know how honoured I am to accept this appointment. I’ve come here fully committed to this expedition, to Atlantis, and most importantly, to each and every one of you. I look forward to working with all of you. Thank you."

That was a very clear signal that the official welcome, thankfully brief, was over. I moved to head off with the others but John motioned me over, grabbing my hand as soon as I was close enough and pulling me the rest of the way in.

"Nice speech," Rodney complimented Colonel Carter.

"Thank you. I also do weddings and award shows," the Colonel quipped. "Book early to avoid disappointment."

"Before I show you to your new digs," John began, "I’d like to introduce you to my wife, Sabina Sheppard. Sabina, this is Colonel Samantha Carter."

"Colonel Carter," I smiled and held out a hand in the standard greeting, trying to hide the nice little tingle John’s use of the word ‘wife’ had caused. Man it was hard to get used to hearing myself introduced like that!

"Daniel told me you’d gotten married when I got back from area 51," Carter said with a genuine smile, shaking my hand in return. She had a purposeful, confident handshake that probably said a lot about her character. "Congratulations! Actually I spoke to General O’Neill just before I left – he said he hopes his reception invitation doesn’t go to the same address as his wedding one."

"Funny," I smiled, pleased that the General had even remembered me to Colonel Carter. "I’m still kinda working on the whole reception thing."

"Well, I’m sure everyone will look forward to it when you get there," Colonel Carter replied with another, friendly smile.

"Do you want to get settled in your quarters first?" John got things back to business.

"Yeah," Colonel Carter agreed. She and Rodney then did a little head nod, first name greeting to each other before she followed John from the Gateroom.

I couldn’t help but notice Rodney doing the once over on Colonel Carter’s ... assets as she walked away.

"Rodney," I frowned sternly, "you didn’t just check out our new leader’s backside did you?"

"I knew her before she was even a Colonel," Rodney tried to excuse his behaviour.

"That only makes it worse," I shook my head. "What about Katie, huh?"

"I’m a guy – we look!" Rodney said with that whine in his voice. "What – you don’t think Sheppard looks?" Rodney swallowed nervously at the glare I gave him before rushing back into speech. "Besides it’s not like I’d ever go beyond that!"

"Well if you know her it stands to reason Colonel Carter knows you too," I relented with a cheeky grin. "I bet she’s well prepared for anything you could dish out."

"Probably," Rodney muttered miserably.

oOo

"First chance I got, I spoke with Colonel Carter about Elizabeth," John told me later that night.

"And she said no too?" I asked in resignation, not expecting anything different.

"Not exactly," John admitted. "What she did say is that if I can bring her a plan that has some chance for success, she’ll consider it, which is more than we’ve had from the IOA since we lost Elizabeth."

"Oh," I raised an eyebrow in surprise. "So now we just have to devise a plan?"

"Easier said than done," John replied somewhat sadly. "Trying to come up with something this afternoon made me realise why the SGC and to a lesser extent the IOA said no in the first place. On paper, every plan I come up with looks like a suicide mission. After all these weeks none of us have been able to work out anything even remotely doable."

"So we really are giving up?" I asked weakly.

"Not giving up," John countered insistently. "Bidding our time ... trusting that something will turn up we can use to our advantage."

"Okay," I agreed with a sigh. "I guess I can go with that."

"Me too," John gathered me close, the two of us together enough to smooth out the emotional rough edges.

Author’s Note:

I feel compelled to remind you all that Team Lorne is made up of Major Lorne, Lieutenant Colin Parker, Lieutenant Alex Brown, and Sabina herself. By this stage Sabina would be referring to them all by their first names ... hence the 'Colin' and 'Alex' used here.


Chapter 15: He called them family

“Ronon and I came across some Satedan survivors on M5G-899 yesterday,” Teyla told John and me at breakfast the next day. She and Ronon had gone off world following up a rumour that suggested some of Ronon's people might be there, but noone had actually expected the rumours to prove true.

“Really?” I asked in surprise. “He must have been excited!”

“More than,” Teyla said with a frown. Turning to John she added “He is thinking of leaving Atlantis and joining them.”

“They have a settlement?” John asked curiously. “How many survivors made it?”

“They are only three,” Teyla explained. “And from all accounts, on the run from the Wraith but still they carry out irresponsible strikes in an effort to seek revenge.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” John admitted.

“Ronon was on the run for too many years,” I commented worriedly. “Surely he doesn’t want to go back to that kind of life?”

“Do not underestimate the power of a shared past,” Teyla advised. “These are not just people from his planet – they are his friends. He grew up with them and fought beside them for many years before the Wraith destroyed their planet. He called them family.”

“I’ll talk to him,” John promised.

I didn’t give it another thought, sure Ronon was too attached to Atlantis, too attached to the friends he’d made to just leave us behind. Even when John took his team to talk with the leader of these Satedan survivors, Tyre, about a possible joint mission I wasn’t worried. And then they returned to Atlantis and I knew things were much worse than I could have expected.

oOo

“Ronon says he’s leaving after this mission,” John paced around his office in agitation. He’d called me down there a short time after their return already angry and it hadn’t gotten better after I arrived because now I was agitated too.

“You have to tell him he can’t go!” I retorted.

“I already tried to change his mind,” John bit back.

"How?" I demanded, still thinking that if we only said the right words Ronon would reconsider.

"Told him the past isn't somewhere he can go back to, no matter how much he might wish otherwise," John replied, rubbing a tired and frustrated hand over his face. "Ronon wasn't listening Sabina ... I'm sorry but I don't think we're gonna influence him on this.

"Did you tell him we need him here?" I persisted.

"Yes!" John returned. “He seems to think things won’t change here even if he’s off with his Satedan buddies, who by the way I don’t exactly trust.”

“Why not?” my anger dropped by the wayside to be replaced by that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach ... the one that said things were about to get a whole lot worse. I was too used to John’s instincts on things like that to discount them.

“Tyre is hiding something,” John replied. “It may be nothing to do with why he’s so keen to get Ronon back with them ... but why is he so keen to get Ronon back with them?”

“They’re friends,” I pointed out the obvious.

“Yeah, but they’ve heard stories of a Satedan runner for years,” John explained, “and yet they never looked for him - never tried to find out who it was. That doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe they just assumed it wasn’t anyone they knew personally,” I suggested. “Only now they know it’s their own friend do they want to do anything.”

“Maybe,” John allowed the possibility. “Anyway, Colonel Carter approved the joint mission – we head out in a few hours.”

“Should I ... can I talk to Ronon?” I asked quickly. “Not that I think I can change his mind but ...”

“I already spoke to Colonel Carter and she’s gonna talk to him too ... it can’t hurt if you want to have a go,” John agreed. “But be prepared for Ronon to be stubborn and closed off about this Sabina – he may cut you out before you can say anything.”

“Thanks for the warning,” I got up, turning to look at John. “I’m sorry this got dumped on you, on top of everything else. You're already under a lot of pressure.”

“I’ve officially handed over the reigns ... along with all those files and requests,” John excused with a casual wave of his hand. “I was starting to feel a bit light anyway.”

Smiling at his attempted humour I turned and headed for the section of the city housing the living quarters.

oOo

Before I was ready I stood nervously outside Ronon's door, waiting for him to answer my chime.

"Not you too," he greeted me irritably, turning to stride back inside, assuming I'd follow rather than inviting me in.

"Yes - me too," I said firmly. "I might have a different perspective ... if you'll listen?"

"I'm not gonna change my mind," Ronon cautioned, picking up things and throwing them into a carry bag – that alone was a pretty clear message he wasn’t open to being convinced but I persisted anyway.

"I understand what it's like to be alone in the world," I began, "to have nowhere to belong and no one waiting when you get there. Sure, not to the extent that you do, but more than the others. I get what your friends mean to you ... if I had the chance to see people that I thought were lost to me I'd jump at it too. But it's not like you to be so trusting."

"You don't know who I used to be," Ronon rumbled. "I did trust Tyre, Ari, Rakai and the others. We grew up together, fought together ... it's more than just friendship. We're family!"

"Then why did they never search for you?" I asked simply, borrowing John's argument as my starting point. "You were a runner for seven years and you've been here on Atlantis for another two."

"Because they thought I was dead," Ronon replied.

"And yet Tyre had heard of Atlantis, of the runner who lives here," I pointed out. "Surely they would have wondered, even just a little bit, who that runner might be. Enough to at least explore the rumours. It wouldn't have taken much for them to find out it was you. But they didn't. You heard of three people who just sounded a little like Satedans and you were there, trying to find out more."

"You don't know them so I don't expect you to trust them," Ronon evaded commenting on what I'd said. "Just wait - in time you'll see why I need to do this."

"I know John said you can't go back because the past is gone," I moved closer to Ronon, putting a hand on his arm, frowning when I realised how tensely he was holding himself. "I'm sorry for the truth of that ... and I'm scared you're gonna find out in the worst possible way just how true that is."

"I'll be fine," Ronon insisted.

"Do you promise?" I asked sadly, knowing in that moment that nothing I said was going to make a difference, just as John had warned.

"I'm not leaving for good," Ronon pointed out. "I'll visit, help out when you guys need me."

"It's not the same," I was surprised to feel the tears rising inside me as I realised the truth of that. Ronon was my big brother but in a different way than Rodney. He was the one who'd seen the worse of me and stood by silently supporting me, the one who truly seemed to understand the enormous value I placed on being on Atlantis, on being with John. "I'm sorry - you don't need me getting upset and making this harder for you." I turned to leave, thinking that I couldn't have messed up the conversation any more than I had. I tried not to let him hear that I was upset but my voice shook and I knew I hadn't been successful.

"Sabina," Ronon's voice stopped me cold.

"You said they're your family," I said thickly, quickly swiping at an escaping tear before dropping my hand back to my side. I didn't turn back to look at him, even more determined he wouldn't see me cry. "But we're you're family too and we love you as much as they ever did. They were just lucky enough to be there first." Not waiting for him to reply I hurried from the room.

I ended up back at my lab, hoping work would help take my mind off what was going to happen once Ronon and the others had completed their joint mission. It didn't, and I spent the remaining time until their mission lost in my own troubling thoughts.

oOo

"We're heading off," John stopped in to say goodbye a few minutes before they were due to depart.

"Be careful," I said, trying to put a bright face on but failing miserably.

"You spoke to Ronon," John stated, "and I'm guessing it didn't go well."

"Not especially," I admitted. "It could have gone worse - I could have stayed and cried all over him at the end instead of retreating back here."

"Ah," John moved into the room and across to my side. "We'll still see him you know."

"That's what he said," I said in a voice that made it clear the statement didn't cut it for me. Getting up from my chair I paced to the window and then back to John. "Aren't you angry about this too?"

"I am," John agreed with just a hint of frustration in his voice, "but I have to respect Ronon's wishes and let him do what he feels he has to do - even if I don't agree with it. He trusts these people Sabina ... I might not see why that is yet, but I owe it to Ronon to give them the benefit of the doubt, because I do trust him. Wouldn't be much of a friend if I acted otherwise."

"It's really not fair that they get to be his family just because they knew him years ago," I complained. "It's not like they’re blood relations or anything. We should get to keep him because we've been there for him the past two years! And I know how childish that sounds okay."

"You don't like changes," John put an arm around me and drew me into his side.

"I don't like losing people!" I said angrily, looking down at the floor. "This is what happens - you let people get close and then they leave."

"Sabina," John put a hand under my chin and brought my eyes up to meet his gaze. "You're not losing Ronon ... or anyone else. We'll get used to this. Plus we'll make sure we keep track of Ronon just in case he needs us, okay?"

"It's not okay but I know nothing's gonna change it so ...," I trailed off, sniffed a couple of times and then just let my head drop down to John's chest. He let me rest there for a few moments before I straightened up. "You have to go ... just ... be careful."

"I'm always careful," John smiled, pulling me up into a more intense than usual goodbye kiss. "See you later," he looked at me a moment longer before turning and striding away.

oOo

Of course I should have known things wouldn't go as planned. Obviously my break away from Atlantis had given me amnesia about the whole Team Sheppard easy mission turns to disaster rule. When I heard Ronon was back alone I ran down to the infirmary to find out more.

"I said I’m fine," Ronon was grumbling at one of the medical staff. Colonel Carter and Radek were already there, waiting to hear more about the status. "I tried to radio Sheppard but got no response from him, Teyla or McKay," Ronon admitted.

"And what about the Satedans?" Radek asked.

"We got separated," Ronon replied. "I’m guessing the Wraith got to them too."

"And John said this was going to be an easy one," I commented in frustration.

"Okay, we’ve gone from support to rescue and recovery," Carter announced. "Doctor Zelenka, ready a Jumper."

"Yes, Colonel," Radek turned to organise that.

"They’ll be expecting us," Ronon warned.

"Make that two Jumpers," Carter told Radek.

"Colonel - did you have any Jumper pilots in mind?" I interjected, trying to be casual and hoping Colonel Carter wouldn't see how much I wanted to go on the mission.

"I assume you're offering your services?" Carter returned. She had a good poker face - I couldn't tell whether she thought that was a good idea or not.

"Yes I am," I agreed confidently. "I've got experience with Wraith facilities too - it's not personal. Well it is, but even if it wasn't I've got skills that could be very useful for getting our people out of there."

"Agreed," Colonel Carter nodded her understanding. "Go help Doctor Zelenka get ready."

"Thank you," I smiled, hurrying away before she could change her mind.


Chapter 16: I won't pretend I’m not really glad you’re staying

Fifteen minutes later we were in a cloaked Jumper waiting for our decoy Jumper to lure the Darts guarding the facility away. They buzzed past the entrance, making a show of it to get the most attention. The plan worked like a charm because two Darts took off after them, leaving us clear to proceed.

"Okay, they’re moving away," the pilot of the other Jumper reported in.

"Thank you, Jumper Two," Colonel Carter replied. Turning to me she gave the order. "Take us in Sabina".

"Yes, Colonel," I flew the Jumper quickly down to the facility – a massive dome like structure that had 'Wraith' stamped all over it. It was surrounded by a thick forest of tall trees that made landing close to our target entrance a challenge. Guiding the Jumper slowly down through a small clearing I brought us to a stop ... close but still a short walk to the facility itself. Creeping through the trees with little sound it took another ten minutes before we had the facility in sight.

“We’ll take out the guards with grenades and then split up inside to cover more ground,” Colonel Carter explained the strategy as we hid in the trees as close as we could get without detection. “Sabina, you’ll stay with me, Radek you too,” She gestured to the Marines, allocating them to each team as well. “Okay, let’s move out.”

We dashed to the entrance, hanging back as Ronon activated the exterior door. Everyone ducked low as Colonel Carter rolled a grenade down the corridor. The resulting explosion was loud and destructive, taking out several Wraith guards. Ronon and Carter then each took one direction and fired rapidly through the smoke, making sure no guards would be left standing.

Radek strode purposefully forward, no longer the nervous and timid scientist he’d been the first time I’d gone off world with him. He scanned the walls quickly, looking for something we could do to make our passage easier. The scanner beeped and he stopped, motioning Carter over.

“There’s a power relay behind this wall here,” he pointed to the spot directly in front of him.

Colonel Carter nodded, motioning everyone to stay back as she fired at the relay, taking out the power and hopefully causing enough confusion to occupy at least some of the Wraith. Ronon’s team headed out first, quickly disappearing from sight. Radek and I followed Carter and the other two Marines.

“I’ve got two stationary life signs in that direction,” I pointed in the opposite direction to the one Ronon had taken, looking back down at my detector before adding “One of them is John.”

“I thought those scanners didn’t distinguish between races,” Carter commented.

“They usually don’t,” I admitted, somewhat embarrassed at the idea of having to admit that John's signal felt different to all the other signals ... that I could always tell which was his no matter what tool I was using to do the actual life signs detecting. Instead I gave Colonel Carter a condensed explanation. “Let’s just say I’ve got a special affinity for getting that little bit extra out of sensors when it comes to locating Colonel Sheppard and leave it at that.”

“That way it is,” Carter signalled for our marine escort to take point with me walking close behind them to give directions as needed.

The facility was quiet in a nerve wracking ‘I’m expecting something really bad to happen’ kind of way. It looked like any other Wraith made place I’d ever seen ... unfortunately it smelt the same too which was not a compliment. I had yet to understand why Wraith technology had to be so squishy and ugly and could only assume it was because of the biological aspects. Regardless, being back inside Wraith territory left me feeling unsettled in an all too familiar way.

We met no resistance as I guided our team to John’s position. There were guards in the corridor, easily taken down by Marine gunfire. John and Teyla walked to the doorway as soon as the way was clear.

“You all right?” Carter asked as she got Radek to open the door.

“Well, it’s about time! Any longer and we would have had to save ourselves!” John quipped.

Noticing me for the first time he frowned ... I could almost see the thoughts going through his head. Why is she here? I’m not happy about the risks. What if something happens? Oh yeah, I agreed not to be so uptight about all that. Maybe I am glad to see her. “Hey,” was all I got.

“Hey yourself,” I replied with a relieved smile. “It’s good to see you’re okay - you too Teyla. Where’s Rodney?”

“They took him away some time ago,” Teyla admitted, taking the weapon John handed her. “Did Ronon manage to make it back to Atlantis?”

“He did,” Carter replied.

“Where is he?” Teyla asked in concern.

“We’ve split up to cover more ground,” Carter explained. Turning to the marines she added “Secure the entrance,” before turning back to us. “Let’s go.”

John and Teyla led the way in the direction they’d seen Rodney taken. The corridor was deserted until we turned a corner and discovered a Wraith guard about to fire a stunner inside a room. Rather than wait to find out who he was shooting at John quickly opened fire and took him down.

“All clear,” John announced.

Rushing inside the room after them I felt that familiar sense of relief rush through me when I spotted Rodney standing inside. Once again the membership of Team Sheppard had survived unscathed ... realising Ronon's plans would change the team had me quickly backpedalling in my head. No point in thinking about Ronon's imminent departure before I absolutely had to.

“All clear?!” Rodney asked John incredulously. “You could have shot me!”

The room Rodney was in was some kind of lab and I wondered what they were trying to get him to help them with ... until I spotted a Replicator floating in some kind of force field.

“Rodney, why is there a Replicator here?” I asked weakly.

“Because the Wraith know how to turn off the attack command,” Rodney replied grimly. “Turns out they were the ones to turn it off before. Only this time their little virus isn’t working because of the changes I made to the Replicator base code.”

“And they want you to change it back,” I concluded.

“Something like that,” Rodney agreed. “I didn’t do anything though – at least nothing they can use.”

“Is that force shield secure?” I asked, watching the Replicator as I moved closer to where Rodney was still taking cover.

“It should be,” Rodney glanced up at it casually, the expression on his face freezing when he got a good look at the way it was shifting and stuttering. Before he could do anything to fix it the shield disengaged and the Replicator dropped to the floor.”

“Oh, no. Oh, no,” Rodney muttered sickly, pulling me down to his hiding spot with urgency.

The Replicator straightened and looked around, before heading straight for where John, Teyla and Colonel Carter held their weapons ready to fire. They fired multiple rounds that had no effect, the Replicator easily fixing the damage to his chest as he continued to advance. Seeming to find us all of no interest though, the Replicator ignored us in favour of the Wraith guards running down the corridor towards us. They tried to stun him but he didn’t even pause, easily disarming the Wraith before slamming them both to the ground. Continuing on with his mission to destroy the Wraith, the Replicator disappeared down the corridor.

“That was lucky,” I mumbled to Rodney under my breath, both of us straightening up from our crouched positions.

“Let’s go find Ronon,” John suggested after doing a quick visual inspection to make sure everyone was good to go.

We continued on our way down the corridor until we began to find the gruesome evidence of the Replicator’s passage in the form of dead Wraith guards. Rodney started, raising his rifle and pointing towards the shadows. John instantly did the same, everyone waiting to see what was going to happen next. When Ronon appeared a moment later weapons were lowered as everyone visibly relaxed.

Ronon had obviously been in a battle – his face was covered in blood from a number of minor wounds including a cut to the face that made it clear where at least some of that human blood had come from.

“Ronon, where are your friends?” Carter looked down the corridor Ronon had come from in confusion. Ronon however made deliberate eye contact with John, Rodney and Teyla, and me before answering, the whole time moving wearily towards the exit.

“They’re right here,” he said seriously. “Let’s go home.”

My heart sank as I realised the complete story Ronon had told with just those six words. His Satedan friends had let him down and from the wounded blankness on his face it had been much worse than any of us could have predicted. The way Rodney, John and Teyla were exchanging glances told me they at least knew some of the background behind that.

Everyone was silent as we made our way back to the Jumper. Ronon sat in the back, letting Teyla apply some first aid to his face without a sound. I sat in the co-pilot’s chair, instinctively assuming John would want to fly us home, not sure if I should say something to Ronon then, or wait until we were all safely back on Atlantis.

Ronon disappeared the instant the Jumper rear hatch opened back in the city – he was in with one of the nurses getting his face looked at when the rest of us turned up for post mission checkups. Jumping up as soon as the nurse had given him the all clear it seemed Ronon wasn’t even going to acknowledge us. Stepping into his path I put a hand on his arm and waited for him to look at me.

“I’m sorry Ronon,” I said softly.

“I should have known,” Ronon said bitterly, looking away again.

“I hate how it happened,” I continued hesitantly, “but I won’t pretend I’m not really glad you’re staying. We all are.”

“Thanks,” Ronon forced a small smile, meeting my eyes with a steady glance that said he really did appreciate the sentiment. Without another word Ronon turned and strode quickly from the infirmary.

“He’ll be fine,” John came up and put a hand on my shoulder.

“Is he gonna tell us what happened?” Rodney asked.

“When he is ready,” Teyla replied sadly.

oOo

A few hours later I walked the long route to our quarters, needing the exercise and the quiet to help clear my mind. Seeing how easily things could change, and how quickly plans could be ruined only made me more grateful for everything I had. John had filled me in on Rodney's story - how he'd seen Ronon's friends betraying us and working with the Wraith. No wonder Ronon had been so emotionally wounded - the very idea that a Satedan could be a Wraith worshipper was almost inconceivable ... that it had been his own friends, the people he grew up with and fought beside was inconceivable ... and yet it had happened. It troubled me that Ronon had gone through something difficult alone, made worse by the fact that he was determined to recover alone as well. But at least he was here where we could help by just being his friends ... and his family.

I was halfway home when I noticed a lone figure standing out on one of the larger public balconies. Recognising Colonel Carter I decided now was as good a time as any to say something I’d been thinking about since her arrival.

“Colonel Carter, do you mind if I join you?” I asked hesitantly, standing just inside the doors.

“Not at all,” the Colonel replied with what seemed to be her customary friendly smile. “I was just admiring the view.”

“It’s certainly worth admiring,” I agreed. “I just wanted to say that I appreciate you letting me go on the rescue mission. In the past sometimes I’ve had to argue to be included because ... ah ...”

“Because of your personal connection to Colonel Sheppard?” Carter finished. I nodded, watching with curiosity the almost knowing look that appeared on her face. “I’ve seen enough in the past to know that personal connections can be the difference between a mission failing and succeeding – in the positive sense.”

“Oh,” I thought about that for a moment. “Well I hope there’s enough detail in the mission reports for you to be confident I can handle it without jeopardising anything.”

“I’m sure there is,” Colonel Carter said reassuringly.

“John told me what you said about a mission to rescue Doctor Weir,” I changed the subject abruptly.

“Are you going to try to change my mind?” Colonel Carter asked almost curiously.

“No,” I replied simply. “I wanted to say thank you for giving us some hope that if the right set of circumstances occur you won’t just say no without considering it.”

“As I said to Colonel Sheppard, I don’t like leaving people behind,” Carter explained. “If we get the chance to find out what happened to Doctor Weir without risking the city or our personnel, we’ll take it.”

“It must be difficult to take over a leadership because the previous occupant is missing in action,” I began. “But it’s also tough for us to have to accept a new leader when we still feel so unsure about what happened to the last one. I was prepared to like you just because Daniel speaks highly of you and I respect him,” I smiled as I admitted that, “but the way you handled Ronon wanting to leave, and the mission to rescue everyone ... well, I already have hope it won’t always just be about that.”

“I could say the same for you, only it was General O’Neill doing the speaking,” Colonel Carter smiled back. “I understand the issues with Doctor Weir and I’ll try to give everyone the time they need to adjust, but at the end of the day I’m here in charge of this city and I intend to give that the best I’ve got.”

“If half of what Daniel’s told me about SG1 is true then we’re lucky to have you instead of some starched suit from the IOA,” I replied.

“Ah,” Carter laughed. “I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not.”

“Definitely a compliment,” I replied, turning to leave. I stopped, and turned back to add “Welcome to Atlantis Colonel Carter.” It had to be said, no matter how reluctant I felt over letting go of my hope.

“Thank you,” Carter turned back to her view of the ocean as I walked away.

On to Part Three