ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Fortunate Journey Season 4 Part 6


Chapter 35: It’s not a long term solution

Now that Rodney had cracked the tracking device RepliElizabeth had given us, it provided another means for thwarting the Replicators. Over the following weeks, every off world team became very busy going to human planets in the path of Replicator ships. Before I knew it I’d already done ten missions with Team Lorne and I could see that there’d be many more with no end in sight. We needed to complete the original plan to turn off the attack directive but so far Rodney had been struggling to come up with something, even with the Wraith’s continuing help.

John’s team were off the next day to M9R-373; Team Lorne was scheduled to go somewhere more familiar – M7G-677, more fondly known as ‘the planet with all the kids’. We hadn’t checked in there for a while and Rodney was concerned about the continuing viability of their Wraith shield so we were taking Doctor Zelenka with us to remove their ZPM just in case.

“Have you noticed anything off with Teyla lately?” John asked me at dinner the night before. Usually we ate together in the Mess Hall, making ourselves available to anyone who wanted to sit with us. John had decided that we should eat alone for a change and I’d suggested a picnic on the East Pier.

“She’s been different since they came back from New Athos when her people first went missing,” I replied, sitting cross legged on the blanket.

“I meant health wise,” John clarified. “She’s been late for missions and she looks sick much of the time.”

“Yeah, I did notice that,” I admitted. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious otherwise Jennifer wouldn’t be clearing her to go off world.” I had some vague suspicions as to why Teyla was unwell but it wasn’t my place to raise them, especially not within the context of John’s relationships within his team. “It must be difficult for her being so worried about her people all the time.”

“I guess,” John nodded, letting the matter drop. Handing me a fizzing soda in a fancy glass he held up his own and looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes. “Happy three month anniversary.”

“Really?” I smiled in delight. “Is that why we’re out here instead of in the Mess?”

“It’s been a busy few weeks,” John pointed out. “We haven’t had a lot of time to spend together, beyond dropping into bed at the end of the day already half asleep.”

“True,” I agreed. Tapping my glass against his gently I smiled again. “Happy three month anniversary.”

We each took the customary sip before putting the glasses aside. In unison we wordlessly gathered up the plates and cutlery and other bits and pieces and put everything back in the basket. Setting it aside John turned back to me, stretching out on his side and propping his head up on one arm.

“And are you happy Mrs Sheppard?” he asked in all seriousness.

“Deliriously Mr Sheppard,” I returned just as seriously. “I don’t know if that’s appropriate right now because there are whole communities being wiped out, Teyla’s people are still missing, we have a Wraith in the city, and we know Elizabeth’s gone but ... that’s the way I feel.” John’s expression said he was pleased with my admission, and I knew he understood the mixed feelings in that. “What about you?”

“I agree with everything you said,” John replied. “It’s all been hard to deal with, especially everything to do with finding out Elizabeth’s fate ... disappointment, anger, grief, more anger. Would have been much harder without the good stuff to balance it out.”

“Exactly!” I returned. “I can’t believe it’s been three months already.”

“Yeah,” John got to his feet, holding down a hand to pull me up too. Putting his arms around me he twirled us a couple of times before setting me down again. Brushing my hair back from my face his expression was fondness and love and maybe even a bit of wonder, despite how well we knew each other. “I wasn’t sure how the whole marriage thing was gonna go,” he admitted. “Don’t get me wrong, I was confident we’d make it work somehow but I didn’t expect it to be so smooth a transition. I know that’s mostly because of you.” I was about to protest but John put a hand over my lips and shook his head. “Maybe I haven’t actively acknowledged what you do but that doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed. Checking in on people when they’re sick or injured. Keeping up with morale and doing the subtle heads up with Sam to help her know when there’s a potential problem. Being the first one to turn up and offer help if there's a need. I can see how much everyone trusts you, military and civilian and I just ... I can't tell you how much I appreciate it ... how much I appreciate you.”

“Wow - I can’t believe you’ve managed to embarrass me,” I could feel the heat rising on my cheeks. “When you put it like that it sounds very 'wife' behind the scenes doesn’t it? Not that I set out to be that ... I just wanted to help, to have some kind of role beyond being my own little department of Wraith and Ancient research.”

“Well you’ve certainly done that,” John agreed, hugging me close. Leaning his chin on top of my head he continued. “In fact I think you’ve turned being the only military wife here into a position in its own right.”

“All part of the service,” I quipped, going up on my toes so I could nestle my face into that warm spot just under his jaw for a moment. Leaning back to look at him I tried to explain. “I know how lucky I am to be employed here, how lucky we are to be together. There are a lot of people with spouses back on Earth and it’s difficult for them, even the military guys who’re used to separation.”

“You earned a position here long before you were my wife,” John reminded me. “I hope you don’t think you have to keep earning it because they’re letting us both stay here.”

“It’s not like that,” I explained. “It’s more like I’d never take it for granted ... like I need to do things that show the SGC, the IOA, and I guess every person who lives here too, how much I appreciate it.”

“Oh,” John thought for a moment before nodding. “That makes sense.”

“I know I haven’t mentioned it since but that whole thing with Davos made me think about a lot of things,” my voice shook a bit with nervousness as I decided abruptly that the time was right to raise something with John.

“Only natural,” John agreed. “Anything specific?”

“Children,” I let that one word be the entire conversation, knowing John would understand all the thinking that had gone on surrounding it.

“Are you saying ...?” John looked down at me in surprise.

“That I’m ready to have children right now?” I finished his sentence lightly. “I’m not sure I’d describe it as ready but ... it’s something I’ve discovered I really want, I’m not getting any younger, and, to borrow the words of Davos, the window of opportunity may not be as wide as I’d like it to be.”

“Oh,” John replied somewhat lamely. I had to smile because for the first time that I could recall I’d actually succeeded in making him speechless. I knew that having children had become something important to him many months before but deep down John believed it would be a long time until I reached that same place. That he was willing to wait, to let me get there on my own, meant more to me than I could express and maybe had even helped me get there faster than I otherwise would have.

“What I’m trying to say ... to ask,” I took a moment to think about my words before continuing, "John, will you give me a child? I mean not right this minute or anything, just ... could we just leave it up to fate, at least for the next few months?”

“I like the sound of that,” John replied in a low tone. His eyes had that sparkly ‘holding in strong emotions’ shine and his expression let me know he was well aware of what a big thing it was for me, despite how casually I’d presented it.

“Good,” I said, relieved to have that difficult conversation over for the time being. “Okay enough introspection,” I announced, making him smile. “Give me a kiss.”

“Yes Ma’am,” John agreed promptly. He didn’t move at first, searching my face as though he were painting himself a new picture, and ending with an intent gaze that got me all hot and bothered in seconds. Finally he leaned down, making the journey of his lips to mine slow and deliberate. I don’t know how he made a kiss that added to the thousands we’d already shared into something new. But he did and I was quickly wishing we were somewhere just a little more private.

John,” I broke away, breathless and tingly.

“You’re right,” he grinned mischievously and the next thing I knew he’d swung me up into his arms and started walking back down the pier.

“John - put me down,” my voice shook with giggles as he made like he couldn’t hear me. “John, it’s a long way between here and our room. You can’t carry me all that way!”

“Sure I can,” I should have known he’d take that as a challenge.

We got a lot of looks as John walked us down corridors, into transporters and then back out again. I took to hiding my face in his shoulder in embarrassment while he behaved as though he walked through Atlantis with me in his arms all the time.

“Sir,” the sound of Major Lorne’s voice had me groaning before I reluctantly raised my head to look at him.

“Major,” John greeted him casually.

“Special occasion Sir?” Evan’s lips twitched and I knew he was holding in his amusement with difficulty.

“Three month anniversary,” John shared without even blinking.

“Go on, say it,” I said when it looked like the Major was gonna make some kind of smart remark.

“All I was gonna say was congratulations,” Evan countered. “You’re all set for our mission tomorrow right?”

“Of course,” I relied with a frown. “Why would you ask that now?”

“It’s just that you seem to have something wrong with your legs so I thought ...,,” Evan laughed as I groaned again.

“Oh very funny,” I said with a straight face. “See you in the morning Major.”

John got us moving again and I looked over his shoulder at Lorne’s amused expression as he watched us walk away.

“Enjoy your evening Evan,” I called out, making the next part deliberately suggestive. “We will be!”

I was close enough to see his face redden before he turned and strode away.

“That was mean,” John admonished me, eyes filled with amusement.

“But necessary,” I returned. “You know what it’s like on a team ... you let anyone get the upper hand and you never hear the end of it.”

“True,” John agreed. Eventually we got to our room, but not before it seemed like we’d passed every single person in the city. John wasn’t even breathing hard when he dropped me down on the bed.

“Very impressive display of masculine strength,” I complimented.

“Oh I’ve got more where that came from,” John replied with a suggestive look of his own.

“Show me,” I let the light hearted tone of the last few minutes dissipate, wanting him with the same urgency I’d felt since the first time.

It wasn’t like we hadn’t connected in the intimate sense over the last few weeks ... but we hadn’t taken the time to really do justice to that aspect of our relationship. Being the sole focus of John Sheppard’s attention was still a turn on all on its own. He had me immersed in that other world of touching and caring and giving in an instant, for once neither of us in a hurry to get to the other side.

oOo

Our mission to M7G-677 went off without a hitch, their familiarity with Atlantis personnel making it easy for us to convince them they should relocate for a while. While Radek downloaded everything from their Ancient defence system before removing the almost depleted ZPM, Major Lorne coordinated the rest of us to get everyone Gating back to Atlantis. They were a relatively small settlement so putting them on the mainland of New Lantia seemed the most efficient course of action. Hopefully we’d be able to return them home before too long.

“Good mission?” John was waiting on the steps to the Control Room when I stepped through the gate a couple of hours later.

“Yeah,” I agreed, handing off my weapon to one of the Gateroom marines. “Everyone evacuated without a fuss ... Brown was coordinating that from this end so I assume they’re now safely settled on the mainland. Major Lorne is just supervising Radek’s removal of the ZPM so they should be here in a half hour or so. How did your mission go?”

“M9R went okay,” John offered, turning and motioning me up the steps. “The Sions agreed to head to one of their trading partners, once Teyla talked at them for a while. Unfortunately we lost Lieutenant Kemp’s team and two thousand villagers this morning – Replicators got there earlier than we’d predicted.”

“We can’t keep doing this can we?” I asked grimly.

“It’s not a long term solution,” John agreed, his expression telling me how deeply he felt the loss of those men. “We can’t save everyone but we have made a difference so far. It’s enough to keep us going until we can switch off the directive.”

“How’s that coming along?” I shot a glance at John in time to see him grimace slightly. “What?”

“Rodney’s been given a deadline of 10 hours ... as of a few hours ago,” John revealed. “The Daedalus and the Apollo arrived while you were gone. Colonel Ellis was less than impressed with Rodney’s progress.”

“What happens when the ten hours are up?” I asked worriedly.

“Our ships use their Asgard plasma beam weapons to take out individual Replicator ships,” John revealed. “They’re aware that won’t destroy the Replicator cells but they seem happy enough with the idea of inert cells floating around in space.”

“How did Rodney take that?” I raised an eyebrow in surprise, imagining he’d have been less than impressed.

“He was okay all things considered,” John replied. “It was pretty clear Ellis had no respect for the scientific approach – he was pretty hard on Rodney.”

“This is the same Ellis who thought you should have been in charge instead of Elizabeth?” I confirmed.

“Yeah,” John agreed. “Sam wasn’t impressed ... dressed him down about talking to Rodney like that. It was kinda cool actually.”

“Good for her,” I smiled at the idea. We’d arrived at the infirmary by then so I moved over to one of the beds to wait for my post mission check.

“You’ve got another mission this afternoon, right?” John moved to stand beside me, waiting for my nod before continuing. “I’ll be in with our visiting Colonels, working out Plan B.”

“Do you think Rodney will finish before the end of the deadline?” I asked.

“In a word? No,” John admitted. “I’m not saying that given enough time he couldn’t work out how to turn off this directive but we don’t have that kind of time. We’re already stretched too thin on resources and we’re running out of places to relocate people.”

“Will you be going with them when they head out?” I asked the question even though I was pretty sure I knew what the answer would be.

“For the first mission,” John explained. “If that proves successful then Colonel Caldwell and Colonel Ellis will work out their own strategy to take out as many Replicator ships as they can.”

“Sabina,” Jennifer came over to do my post mission check herself.

“Hey Jennifer,” I greeted her with a smile. “You must be getting sick of all these additional checks by now.”

“It is a little odd seeing the same person more than once in the same day,” Jennifer admitted, quickly confirming all the things on the list they usually checked.

“Unfortunately you’ll be seeing me back here later too,” I told her. “Got just enough time for food and then we’re heading back out again.”

“Well as long as we don’t see you in here for anything else I can’t complain,” Jennifer said with a smile. “Everything checks out here so you’re free to go.”

“Thanks Jennifer,” I hopped off the bed eagerly and moved to John's side. “See you later.”


Chapter 36: Trusting them like this is making me nervous

Rodney’s ten hours expired with him still a long way from resolving his programming issues, bumping plan B into the 'implement now' slot. John headed out straight away on the Apollo with Sam on the Daedalus to take out the first Replicator target. Even though it was late both ship commanders were keen to get their first engagement over with. I guess the Replicators didn’t care whether it was 9am or 11pm so neither could we.

Going to bed without John for the first time in ages made for a restless night. Finally dropping off to sleep in the early hours of the morning I was jolted awake only an hour or so later by John returning.

“You’re back,” I sat up to see him creeping around the room trying not to disturb me.

“Sorry,” John came over to me and sat down. “I didn’t want to wake you.”

“Wasn’t sleeping that well anyway,” I admitted, putting my arms around him and leaning my head against his shoulder. “How’d it go?”

“One Replicator ship destroyed,” John’s tone was relief rather than triumph which seemed appropriate given what was at stake and the inherent problems with the Plan B approach.

“Good,” I said simply. “Do you get to sleep now?”

“Are you taking the morning off?” John countered.

“No mission this morning,” I reminded him. “I could use the sleep too.”

“Okay,” John got up and disappeared into the bathroom. I slumped back onto my pillow, frowning up at the ceiling. Plan B would take the pressure off all the evacuation teams – until the Replicators worked out a way to counter our strategy. I would have preferred the ‘turn them off’ approach instead but in the end at least we were now making a dent for our side.

By the time John reappeared I’d fallen into a semi-dozing state, enough that I was happy to snuggle into him and drop the rest of the way into sleep.

oOo

It took a week of both Earth vessels intercepting the Replicator ships and destroying them before the Replicators responded with a change of strategy. Back on Atlantis we’d been continuing with the evacuation of planets in the path of their ships, only able to do so because the numbers at risk had dropped significantly since our ships had been out there. Apollo had destroyed three Replicator ships and the Daedalus four, leaving a still ridiculously large number of ships left to be destroyed.

“I heard the Replicator ships are falling back to their home world,” I said to Teyla during our yoga session the day after the Daedalus returned.

“Colonel Carter believes they are building more ships in order to move around the galaxy in larger groups,” Teyla replied, sitting up and wiping at her face with a towel. She looked a little pale and tired, even with the respite in off world travel.

“Are you feeling better these days?” I asked her casually.

“The past few weeks have been very difficult,” Teyla replied. “I have not been sleeping well.”

“And the fact that you’re pregnant wouldn’t have helped,” I said matter-of-factly.

“How did ...?” Teyla looked over at me in surprise.

“It wasn’t that difficult Teyla,” I said in exasperation. “You’ve been sick in the mornings, tireder than usual, and I’m sorry but you’re starting to show too. Maybe I notice that more because we do these training sessions but I don’t think I’d be the only one with suspicions.”

“I am expecting a child,” Teyla admitted with a small smile.

“Congratulations,” I returned softly. “I am happy for you Teyla but ... I just don’t get why you haven’t told John and the rest of your team.”

“It is complicated,” Teyla said evasively.

“What’s complicated about expecting a baby?” I countered with a frown.

“Do you think John will let me remain an active member of his team?” Teyla asked me tersely.

“If you’re putting the baby at risk then probably not,” I replied after thinking for a moment. “Surely you don’t want to do that?”

“Of course not,” Teyla returned insistently. “But my people have been missing for more than two months now. If I am not on an off world team then I cannot search for them.”

“You don’t trust everyone else to keep their eye out for leads?” I asked in surprise.

“I do,” Teyla countered. “I would find it ... difficult to sit around and let others search in my place.”

“I can understand that,” I offered, “but it’s not like you can just keep it to yourself indefinitely. You’re already at the edge of everyone working it out for themselves. You need to tell John before someone else brings it to his attention.”

“You are not planning on telling him yourself?” Teyla asked curiously.

“I wouldn’t pass on something said in confidence,” I said with a frown. “Even to John. He wouldn’t expect me to.”

“Of course,” Teyla said apologetically. “I will tell him soon.”

“Don’t leave it too long,” I told her in all seriousness. “John’s gonna be disappointed you kept it a secret for so long ... the longer you leave it the worse that’ll be.”

“I know,” Teyla agreed unhappily. “I wish the baby’s father were here.”

“Is it Kanaan?” I smiled when Teyla again looked surprised. “I heard a rumour you were seeing someone from New Athos by that name.”

“You are remarkably well informed,” Teyla said somewhat irritably.

“Small city, big gossip machine,” I reminded her. Getting to my feet I smiled down at her. “Just hurry up and make this common knowledge, okay? You’ve had more than enough time to think about the problems. I think it’s time you started to enjoy being pregnant. I admit I don’t know anything about baby ... stuff but I’m sure someone here will be able to get us started on celebrating.”

“Thank you Sabina,” Teyla returned softly, putting a hand over her ‘bump’ as though reassuring the little life inside that she was happy to be expecting it.

“Any time,” I waved a farewell.

My next stop was the Ancient library ... the plan to continue my history introspective of Atlantis during the Kirsan fever outbreak. It was the first session I’d allowed myself since the Replicator situation had blown up, so my mind was quickly absorbed in thinking back over what I'd already done.

On the way up the main tower stairs I spotted John, Sam and Rodney talking in her office. Rodney was waving his arms around, clearly excited about whatever he was explaining. I couldn’t tell if he had his ‘I am a genius’ expression on but even seeing him that animated was a welcome change from how he’d been lately.

I’d left my current book in the viewing chamber and happily settled back in to continue reading about the history of the city. And that’s where John found me a couple of hours later.

“Hey,” he drew my attention to where he stood in the doorway.

“Hi,” I withdrew my hands from the chamber and motioned him over. “This book is really interesting ... most of the history stuff has been pretty dry ‘we did this and then we did that’ accounts but this one goes into explaining some of their reasoning for creating devices and what their plans were for future research.”

“Anything useful right now?” John asked curiously.

“Unfortunately not,” I admitted. “Most of the things I’ve spotted are projects we already know about.”

“I’m sure you’ll keep at it,” John smiled when I nodded eagerly. “I wanted to tell you Teyla, Ronon and I are taking a Puddle Jumper off world. We’re taking our Wraith friend too.”

“That’s a surprise,” I replied. For an instant my conversation with Teyla flashed through my mind, including my promise not to say anything about her condition. John’s mission sounded like the kind where problems could easily occur but I had to stick firmly to my word. Maybe I could have thought up some way to warn him without breaking my promise but at the end of the day I trusted that Teyla knew her own limits and would speak up before she took unacceptable risks with her baby.

“Yeah well Rodney finally came up with a plan," John explained, "and in usual McKay style it’s on a mammoth scale meaning we need allies."

“Wraith allies?” I clarified with a grimace.

“At the very least,” John agreed. “Rodney’s plan involves manufacturing his own Replicator cells, something you might have some insight into. He's staying behind to work on that so I’ll let him explain the details to you himself. You wanna walk me to the Jumper Bay?”

“Sure,” I agreed, moving to close off the library systems before following him back down the stairs. “Be careful with this Wraith,” I urged as we walked down the corridor. “He’s more controlled than a lot of the Wraith I’ve come into contact with – that makes him all the more dangerous.”

“We’ll watch our backs,” John agreed. “Don’t forget, they need the destruction of the Replicators even more than we do.”

"That might not be enough to stop them from betraying us if there's something in it for them," I pointed out.

"We'll be fine," John insisted. "I can't imagine anything being more important to them right now."

“I hope so," I allowed. The rest of the way was covered in silence ... when we got to the doors leading into the Jumper Bay we paused.

"See you when you get back,” I glanced around, noticed that the hallways were pretty quiet, and took the opportunity to press a quick kiss to John’s lips. Not that I wasn’t entitled to kiss him goodbye or anything but these days I tried to respect the whole ‘on duty and in command’ thing. John was smiling when I pulled away, as usual too amused with my trying to look after his reputation.

“Be good,” he quipped. “Don’t let McKay do anything stupid.”

Watching him walk away I wondered from that last comment just how wacky Rodney’s plan actually was. After he’d explained it to me ten minutes later I was impressed. Rodney’s ‘super-dense blob’ was truly inspired. It had taken him longer than usual to come up with something but it sounded to me like the wait had been more than worth it. The idea that we could take out all the Replicators in one move was compelling.

“Can I help you with making your own Replicator cells?” I asked hopefully.

“You can stick around, monitor the programming if you like,” Rodney offered.

Grinning happily I took a seat at one of the consoles. We were in a special lab where Rodney had transferred the ‘Replicator making’ machine. Radek was also helping, although it would be clear to anyone stopping by that this was Rodney’s show.

It didn’t take that long to be ready to make a first attempt. Rodney pressed a few buttons on the machine and we all watched eagerly as a silvery substance not unlike liquid mercury appeared and spread to fill the table surface.

“All right,” Rodney looked at the readings carefully. “Basic nanite material has been formed. Let's see if we can get them to interact”. He picked up a small device designed to alter the replicator cell programming and walked to the other side of the table.

“I must say, Rodney, this is quite an ingenious idea,” Radek said admiringly.

“Were you expecting anything less?” Rodney queried smugly.

“Well ...,” Radek hesitated, shooting a glance at me before looking back at Rodney.

“Well what?” Rodney demanded.

“Well, you have been in a bit of a rut lately,” Radek admitted that viewpoint reluctantly.

“I have not!” Rodney denied vehemently.

“Okay, well, like a dry spot, maybe,” Radek offered that compromise.

“That is not true,” Rodney said stiffly.

“Okay,” Radek agreed uncertainly.

“It is not!” Rodney reiterated heatedly.

“Maybe it’s just that this was such a big problem it just took longer to solve,” I offered, not wanting Rodney to go off in a spiral of complaints instead of focusing on what he was supposed to be doing.

“That’s typical,” Rodney muttered under his breath, turning his attention back to the hand held unit. “Just because I couldn’t fix something in less than ten hours suddenly I’m in a rut!”

“Forget I said anything Rodney,” Radek wisely changed the subject. “Are we certain that these nanites will not go beyond simple cohesion?”

“Of course,” Rodney said confidently. “I've disabled most of the normal protocols. It won't be able to do anything beyond form a simple block. All right, here we go.” He tapped a few commands into the unit and the effect was immediate. The silvery liquid drew itself together to form a large block in the centre of the table.

“It worked! You did it, Rodney!” Radek exclaimed.

“Naturally,” Rodney said even more smugly than usual given the previous tone of the conversation.

“McKay's back!” Radek quipped.

“Will you stop that?! I was never gone!” Rodney said irritably. Before he could say more the hand held unit started beeping what was clearly a warning tone. “Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa. Wait a minute. We've got a problem. The cells aren't communicating properly.”

The nicely formed block collapsed back into the formless puddle it was been before. Rodney signed before looking over at Radek.

“This could be tougher than I thought,” he admitted. Radek looked about to say something. “And I don't wanna hear you say anything.”

Wisely, Radek refrained from any more teasing about Rodney having been off his game.

“That device Elizabeth gave us only detects Aurora class vessels right?” I asked. Rodney paused in his tapping, glancing up from his screen with a frown. “I was just wondering if they had other classes of vessels too. Won’t be an absolute victory unless we get all the Replicator cells, will it?”

“As far as we know, based on the intel the Apollo gathered before the first strike months ago, they only have the one class of vessel,” Rodney replied.

“That’s good,” I commented. “Worrying about getting all the Replicator cells brings me to my second question.”

Rodney sighed impatiently, looking up from his screen again. “What?” he demanded impatiently.

“Is there any chance the NAPs I injected into Oberoth could have an effect on Replicator cells?” I rushed on before Rodney could answer. “It’s just that those NAPs were designed to disrupt communication between the host nanites and any external ones. If some of them still exist would that mean they won’t behave the way you’re hoping they will?”

“That’s a good question,” Rodney said thoughtfully. “At a guess I’d say the Oberoth you injected those NAPs into no longer exists. He would have been rendered silent too quickly to adapt, meaning his fellow Replicators would have destroyed him and created a new and improved version. The interesting thing would be if Elizabeth absorbed a small number of the NAPs before Oberoth stopped communicating.”

“Why would that be interesting?” I asked worriedly.

“Because we know she survived for a time and was integrated into the collective before Oberoth destroyed her,” Rodney explained. “If some of her NAP altered nanites survived and were passed along like those human traits Oberoth was so worried about then there is a chance there are some Replicators out there who may not be affected by what I’m doing.”

“How likely is that?” I looked to Rodney, hoping he’d say not very.

“Extremely unlikely,” Rodney returned confidently. “In fact I’d go so far as to say virtually impossible. The Replicator collective picks up differences between individual human forms very quickly. They’d have stamped out any NAP induced differences long before their numbers could get large enough to make a difference.”

“That’s a relief,” I relaxed, smiling thankfully at Rodney. “You can get back to your programming now.”

“No more annoying questions?” Rodney raised an eyebrow, pausing for another interruption. When I waved him on casually he did his usual Mmm before turning back to his work.

I would have liked to stay and help them with their project but unfortunately life on Atlantis continued even during the build up to big events like this was going to be. Team Lorne had been scheduled for a late afternoon resupply mission to one of the planets where we’d relocated a number of refugees. So after watching what seemed like a million failed attempts by Rodney to create a stable cube of Replicator cells I regretfully took my leave and went to get ready.

“Major,” I greeted Evan and the others, the last one to get to the Puddle Jumper. Glancing down at my watch I added “I’m not late ... just.”

“I’ll give you this one,” the Major motioned me into the co-pilot’s chair and quickly powered up the systems. The back of the Jumper was loaded down with boxes we’d have to ferry off at the other end. Hopefully it wouldn’t take that long and I’d be back before John and the others returned.

Conversation was minimal as Major Lorne did the usual pre flight and flight tasks that got us up to the open wormhole and through to the other side.

“What do you think of us forming another alliance with the Wraith?” I asked Evan as he flew us towards the refugee camp.

“That they need it as much as we do,” he replied seriously. “If it helps people like the ones on this planet .... well that’s just a nice side benefit for us.”

“I’m not looking forward to all the missions we’ll have to do to return all these people home,” Brown pointed out.

“Man, that’s gonna take days!” Parker returned. “I hope your legs are up to it Sabina.”

“I can’t believe you told them about that!” I knew immediately that I was being teased and looked across at Evan accusingly as all three of them laughed

“Hey, who said it was me?” Evan denied responsibility, laughing at my frowning face. “You guys walked the entire city. I think Brown and Parker were the only ones who didn’t get a first hand view.”

“That’s okay,” I smiled casually. “If the city gossip is anything to go by none of you is even seeing anyone right now.” There were grumbles of protest I just talked right over. “Come to think of it, why aren’t you seeing anyone? You’re all nice guys ... mostly ... and not unattractive. I could hook you up if you like. It’s the least I can do for my team mates.”

“That’s all right,” Parker said loudly once I’d finished. “We’re good as we are.”

“Well, just let me know if you change your mind,” I looked away, hiding my smile with difficulty. They were all confirmed bachelors, none of them eager to give up their freedom.

oOo

Our resupply was pretty routine so a couple of hours later I was back on Atlantis, expecting that John would already be back. Of course that was silly because he wasn’t back, and they would soon be heading into ‘late’ territory.

“It’s a difficult mission to judge,” Sam pointed out when I went up to her office to ask if we were going to send anyone to check up on them. “The Wraith couldn’t tell us how long his allies would need to deliberate before deciding whether or not to help us.”

“Trusting them like this is making me nervous,” I admitted weakly. “You weren’t here the other times we trusted the Wraith and regretted it. In fact there hasn’t been a time when we did something like this where they didn’t betray us in the end.”

“This is the first time they stand to gain so much from cooperation,” Sam replied. “We’ll give John’s team a few more hours before we follow them up.”

“Any progress on Rodney’s side of the plan?” I asked, accepting that I wasn’t going to convince her to check on Team Sheppard any earlier.

“And then some,” Sam said irritably. At my look of surprise she explained. “He couldn’t get the individual cells to hold cohesion because he’d taken away too much of their basic functionality. So he created a human form Replicator, reducing the programming to something incapable of replicating or changing form.”

“Is that safe?” I asked worriedly.

“Rodney assures me it is,” Sam replied. “You have some experience with altered nanite programming. The ones you created were incapable of acting like those we have experience with, weren’t they?”

“Yeah but they were created in a completely different way,” I returned. “We’ve seen how adaptive the programming is. In isolation this Replicator probably can’t do more than Rodney programmed it for ... but in the presence of other Replicators that could change.”

“Then we’ll just have to make sure she can complete her part in this as quickly as possible,” Sam replied.

"She?" I asked in surprise.

"Yes," Sam smiled with faint amusement. “I’m sure Rodney wouldn’t mind if you went down there and checked out the Replicator for yourself. She’s being kept in an isolated lab separated from all the city systems.”

I nodded, getting up to leave.

“I’ll let you know when we hear from John," Sam added before I'd taken more than a couple of steps.

“Thank you,” I said, shooting a grateful smile to her before taking my leave.


Chapter 37: That must have been a sight

I’d checked out Rodney’s very pretty human form Replicator ... he insisted he’d had nothing to do with her looks ... and was finishing up an exercise session in the gym late in the evening when I found out John was back. It was John himself who announced his return when he strode into the gym about two hours after I’d spoken with Sam.

“You’re back,” I smiled in relief. John swiped the door closed without even saying hello and then turned to me with an expression of intent seriousness.

“Did you know Teyla was pregnant?” he asked in a low, even tone. My insides lurched in reaction ... he was angry ... I'd known he would be but I hadn't made the connection that it wouldn't just be at Teyla - that it would extend to me as well.

“Yes,” I went for stark honesty, getting up and moving towards him - only stopping when I was a step away. “Not because she told me though, and only for sure since this morning.”

“And you let me take her on such a dangerous mission?!” John glared at me angrily. “She was stunned by the Wraith today! Who knows what that could do to a baby?!”

“I thought about telling you,” I admitted, “but I’d promised I wouldn’t because I thought Teyla should tell you herself. I urged her to do it when I spoke to her this morning because I knew you’d be upset.”

You should have said something,” John insisted irritably.

“I only had suspicions until today,” I countered earnestly, trying not to get upset at John's continued annoyance.

"You still could have warned me!" John replied, turning away and running an agitated hand through his hair.

"Could I?" I started to get annoyed myself. "Would you break a confidence like that?"

"I needed to know Teyla's situation," John frowned at my question as he tried to explain his reasoning.

"Yes you did," I agreed calmly. "But not from me. Look, people tell me stuff sometimes and they have to trust that I’ll listen without fearing that I’ll pass on what I hear to you. I know most people just come to you or Sam when they need something but for everyone else I’m the only voice they have.”

“I’m sorry - you’re right,” John’s expression lightened suddenly as he registered what I’d said. “I guess I’m angry that Teyla’s known for two months and never said anything. I took her off active duty,” John walked over to one of the benches and slumped down on it, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly. “When I think about all the missions we’ve been on during that time ... all the times she could have been hurt. I can’t be responsible for something happening to her or the baby and clearly she hasn’t been thinking about the risks.”

“She wants to find her people,” I sat on the floor next to him and leaned my back against his seat.

“I know that,” John insisted. “We all want to find the Athosians, but putting herself at risk right now isn’t the way to do it.”

“I agree with your decision,” I looked up at him calmly. “I know Teyla will be upset but she hasn’t had the chance to appreciate what she’s been given because she’s been so consumed with her concern for her people. This way maybe you won’t have to protect her so much because she’ll want to do it for herself. It’s not like you’re saying she can’t leave the city at all.”

“Just promise me one thing,” John put a hand on my shoulder, his eyes intent on mine. “If you ever suspect, if there’s even just a hint that you’re pregnant, you tell me immediately. No waiting until you’re sure, or until the timing’s right, nothing like that. Okay?”

“Of course,” I agreed easily. John nodded wordlessly, squeezing my shoulder firmly before dragging himself back to his feet.

“I have to fill Colonel Carter in on our mission,” he explained. I was surprised he’d come to me first ... he really must have been angry with Teyla to put that ahead of the current plan. “I’ll fill you in later too.”

“Okay, see you in the Mess for dinner?” I asked.

“I’ll find you when I can,” John replied, raising a hand before heading out the door.

I watched him go, thinking about change. Things would be different for his team with Teyla inactive. I wasn’t sure how they’d handle it, especially given her calming influence and her knack with the people they encountered on their missions. Only time would tell.

oOo

I didn’t find out until later that night at dinner that John had come in contact with our old friend Larrin while he’d been out there, that she was the reason they’d been late.

“I can’t believe you neglected to mention that before!” I said irritably, keeping my voice low so the few remaining people in the Mess Hall wouldn’t overhear.

“I was distracted,” John gave that lame excuse. “Besides, it wasn’t like last time. Although she did tie me up again.” Seeing my incredulous expression John quickly backpedalled. “But only for a little while and she didn’t have any goons this time.”

“Well that makes it all better then,” I said snidely. “How come she can’t just say hello like a normal person?!”

“Trust isn’t their strong suit,” John acknowledged. “Look, we got more ships so it was worth the less than friendly reception.”

“I suppose,” I shook my head at where we found ourselves – allies to the Wraith and the Travellers. No wonder everyone was walking around in a perpetual state of worry!

“She’ll be here in a few days,” John added, holding up a hand before I could make any remarks about revealing our location to another less than trustworthy person. “I had to give her that in order to get those ships. Larrin won’t give away our position – they don’t share information with anyone, no matter what the reason.”

“I hope you’re right,” I returned grimly.

oOo

The next few days were a welcome respite from the busy time we’d had beforehand. Now that the Replicator ships were all in the one place all the missions to move settlements weren’t needed and we’d decided to hold off on returning people to their homes until we’d succeeded in destroying the Replicators.

I’d gotten John to agree that I could meet Larrin when she arrived and escort her to the Conference Room. The meeting was going to be Colonel’s only, plus the Wraith and Rodney of course. I was waiting in the Gateroom when the Daedalus beamed Larrin down, and I couldn’t help but smile when her face dropped as she caught sight of me.

“Mrs Sheppard,” Larrin said snidely.

“Now that we’re allies you can call me Sabina,” I invited, not missing her look of distaste.

“We’re not allies,” Larrin denied. “We’re just helping out this time because getting rid of these Replicators will benefit everyone.”

“That’s really generous,” I motioned for her to follow me as I led the way up the stairs to the Conference Room.

“Yeah, well don’t get used to it,” Larrin returned. She might have got that disdainful facade down but I could tell from the way she was glancing around that she was impressed with what she could see. They had an Ancient ship of course but it was nothing compared to the scale of Atlantis.

“John told me what happened when you met up,” my words drew her attention back to me. “Did you have to tie him up?”

“Didn’t want him getting any ideas,” Larrin retorted. “He wasn’t exactly cooperative last time.”

“Be thankful we don’t operate that way,” I said seriously. I don’t know what she would have said in reply because we arrived at our destination. “John and the others are waiting for you,” I said, motioning her through one of the gaps in the open panels. Acknowledging Sam’s thanks, I threw a quick wave at John and then headed back down the stairs.

All the high level meetings were starting to get to me – even with John telling me most of what happened later. I could only imagine how much worse it was for everyone else witnessing the goings on and waiting in vain for something formal to be announced.

That’s why it was such a relief to everyone when Sam made an all city announcement before our ships headed out.

“May I have your attention,” Colonel Carter began. “In just a few hours the Daedalus and Apollo will be joined by seven Hive and six Traveller ships, including an Ancient Aurora class vessel. Our armada will travel to the Replicator planet to hold off the Replicator ships while Doctor McKay activates the changes to their programming which will hopefully see them all destroyed. I will be on the Daedalus. Colonel Sheppard will be operating the Ancient weapons platform on the Traveller ship. In our absence Major Lorne will be in charge of the military and Teyla all other aspects of the city. Thank you.”

oOo

“Did I mention how much I hate waiting?” I asked John. Everything was set so we were taking the opportunity for some alone time in our quarters before he had to leave.

“I’ve lost count,” John quipped, pulling me back down to lie beside him. “It’ll be fine.”

“I wish I was going with you,” I said weakly. I’d tried to come up with a reason why I needed to be on the mission because it was essential personnel only but in the end I just didn’t have anything. It was unlikely they’d need something translated and Rodney had taken the Replicator programming to a different place than where my expertise lay. “I really want to see the Replicators turn into one big blob.”

“I’ll take a picture,” John joked, wincing when I punched his arm lightly in retaliation. “Look, I’m not denying this is a dangerous endeavour. That’s why I’m not disappointed you’re staying here this time, much as I know you’d rather be with me.”

“It’s not that I don’t understand all that,” I explained, sitting up next to him with crossed legs. “I know how important this is for everyone. It’s big ... too big to be sitting around here wondering how it’s all going. Hence my first statement – I hate waiting.”

“You’ll just have to be brave,” John replied with a shrug. “I’ve only got a couple of hours until I have to head out ... I’m sure this isn’t how you’d like to be spending them.”

Throwing myself down on top of him was all the answer he needed. I wouldn’t say that our efforts were any difference since our conversation about babies, but leaving something so enormous up to chance made me feel just a tiny bit reckless. It was quite a shift in psychology to go from doing everything possible to avoid an event to crossing my fingers hoping for it. And wasn’t that an embarrassment in itself because of course Doctor Keller knew all about who had what prescriptions so I’d had to admit when I didn’t go back to fill mine the reason for that.

Our two hours were up too quickly. I watched from the bed as John got dressed, deciding I’d say my goodbye there instead of in the Gateroom where he’d be beaming up from. Once they got to the first rendezvous point he’d be beamed over to Larrin’s ship to travel through hyperspace to the Replicator home world.

“We’ll send word as soon as it’s all done,” John promised. “I know it’ll be hard to just go about your business here but that’s what I need you to do.”

“Business as usual,” I agreed with a deliberate smile. “You be careful ... and make sure Larrin knows up front that she doesn’t get to keep you for her ship.”

“I think she already knows that,” John said with a laugh. Coming over to the bed he leant down cupped my face with one hand, kissing me lightly, and then again more firmly. “I love you,” he ran his thumb softly down my cheek before kissing me a third time. Retreating reluctantly he headed for the door.

“John,” I called to him before he could open the door. When he turned back with a raised brow I smiled. “I love you too.”

And then he was gone. I did what he said, went about my usual daily routine, knowing it would take the fleet a day to get into position, however long it took to enact the plan, and then another day to get back to Atlantis.

The waiting was intolerable but it’s not like any of us had any choice. I spent more time than usual with Teyla, both of us used to being part of the action.

“Are you angry with John?” I asked her the first time I saw her after the fleet had left.

“About what?” Teyla asked serenely.

“About taking you off the team,” I clarified. “From the way he described it, he wasn’t exactly gracious about it. He probably never even congratulated you.”

“He was angry and rightfully so,” Teyla replied. “I should not have left it so long to tell them I was carrying a child. It is only in the past few days that I have come to appreciate the risks I have taken without thought to my baby.”

“I can understand why you wouldn’t have thought about it though,” I told her. “It was unexpected news in the middle of a difficult time.”

“Having this child will force many changes,” Teyla admitted.

“Yeah, but some of them only in the short term,” I pointed out. “I can’t see why you wouldn’t rejoin John’s team after the baby’s born – once you feel ready. He said you were off the active duty list, not off the team.”

“To be honest I have no idea how I will feel when the time comes,” Teyla replied.

“You should start thinking about the things you’ll need for the baby,” I said with a smile. “Plus on Earth it’s kinda traditional to have some sort of baby party before the baby arrives. I don’t know much about it though.” I paused to think and then grinned. “I know – let’s go see Jennifer. She should know all about it.”

Jennifer proved to be a font of information about babies in general but knew nothing about baby showers. Amongst the nurses though there was plenty of experience and we soon had a plan for when we’d have the shower and an idea of what to do. Teyla seemed amused by my enthusiasm but touched as well that everyone was so excited for her.

oOo

When we received the subspace communication telling us the Replicator’s had been destroyed and all our people were safe an atmosphere of relief fed down through the city. And then we all really were going about our usual routines instead of just pretending we could.

It was almost evening before the Daedalus arrived back first from the rendezvous point, quickly beaming down our people including Colonel Carter and Rodney.

Sam immediately disappeared into her office with Major Lorne and Teyla for an update on what had been happening while she’d been away. Rodney was back at work in the Control Room almost the minute after he beamed down.

“So your plan worked just as you thought it would?” I asked, sitting at the console next to him as he tapped away.

“Not exactly,” Rodney admitted. “Fran worked like a charm but the mass took out the power grid before we could overload the ZPMs. Instead we had to dial up the connectivity and take advantage of the high concentration of neutronium in the planets crust. The combined mass sank all the way to the core and imploded. We didn’t hang around to check but it should have destroyed the entire planet.”

“So that’s like ten planets you’ve destroyed now?” I teased.

“This time completely necessary,” Rodney returned without taking offense, still glowing with the success of his genius.

“You did good,” I told him simply. “Any idea when John will get here?”

“They’ve made orbit,” Rodney replied. “The Apollo should be beaming him down any second now.”

It was more like five seconds later when the glowy light of an incoming beam appeared on the balcony across from us.

“John!” I jumped up excitedly, hurrying over for a heartfelt welcome home hug. John grinned, happy to see me and pleased because he could see how happy I was he was back.

“Hey,” he squeezed me hard enough to lift my feet of the ground before putting me down and turning to Rodney.

“Welcome back,” Rodney said simply.

“Good to be back,” John returned, keeping one arm around me. “Didn’t you get back a few minutes ago yourself? What are you working on already?

“Well, you'd be surprised to hear that removing a planet from the database is actually a lot of work,” Rodney explained.

“I thought you'd be pretty good at that by now,” John suggested teasingly.

“You really just can't resist bringing up the fact that I once accidentally destroyed a couple of planets, can you?” Rodney asked irritably, unable to ignore John’s teasing like he’d ignored mine.

“It was an entire solar system,” John persisted while I struggled not to laugh openly.

Rodney shook his head, resigned to never hearing the end of that one. Glancing back at his work he waved a hand at his laptop. “You wanna do the honours?”

“No, go ahead,” John replied.

“All right,” Rodney looked at the big view screen where he had the Replicator planet on display. “M7R-227, you were a constant pain in the ass. It's good to see you go.”

Rodney pressed the Enter key on his laptop. We all watched as on the screen the dot that had been M7R-227 beeped. The planet designation disappeared one letter at a time and then the dot flashed out of existence.

“If only it was that easy in real life,” John quipped.

“Mmm. Area 51's working on it,” Rodney returned. “You guys wanna get a late dinner?”

“Absolutely,” John returned.

“Then you can tell me all the details that won’t make it into the reports,” I added with a mischievous grin.

oOo

I waited until John and I were alone in our quarters before trying to find out how he really felt about the mission.

“Should we be worried that the Wraith never went to the rendezvous point?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” John frowned. “They had plenty of time to get clear before the explosion. Maybe our Wraith friend decided they’d had enough of being our allies.”

“What about the Travellers - how’d it go on Larrin’s ship?” I asked curiously, throwing myself down to sit on our bed.

“I was really only there for the battle,” John replied. “Spent the whole time using the weapons platform. It was pretty crazy there before the Replicator mass got big enough to start sucking individual cells from space.”

“That must have been a sight,” I said, regretful that I’d missed it even more now the whole thing had been a success.

“It was,” John agreed. “Larrin didn’t want to give me a way for us to contact them if we need help in the future but she did agree to keep in touch. How’d it go back here?”

“Very ... very ... slowly,” I said semi sarcastically. “I spent a bit of time with Teyla, planned a baby shower for a few months time. Spent a heap of hours in the Ancient library too. Found reference to something interesting I’ll tell you about later.”

“How’s Teyla taking not being on the team for a while?” John asked reluctantly.

“Divided but I think she understands why you did it, even if she doesn’t completely agree,” I reassured him. “You should probably congratulate her at some stage though. She’s feeling pretty uncertain about the future right now and I know she could use the reassurance.”

“I’ll talk to her tomorrow,” John promised, walking slowly over to me. “Now I think you should welcome me home again ... more personally.“

“Well, since I did miss you so much ...,” I left that sentence unfinished, sliding my hands around his neck and pulling him down to me.

“I missed you too,” John returned before we left coherent speech behind and threw ourselves into the most intimate of welcome backs.

A short while later I was still awake when the thought occurred to me. “You know we missed an opportunity here?” I said aloud.

“Mmm?” John murmured drowsily.

“On the Replicator planet,” I clarified. “There would have been a few seconds there when space was full of deserted Aurora class vessels just waiting for someone to fly them. We should have rounded up anyone with a strong enough Ancient gene – could have beamed them over and scored ourselves an armada.”

“You’re right,” John agreed, suddenly more awake. “We could have done that ... although I don’t think we have anyone apart from yourself and Major Lorne who could have pulled that off.”

“So maybe not an armada,” I allowed, “but even one ship would have been good.”

“Missions where we split our focus in the past, tried to do too many things, always ended badly,” John pointed out seriously, probably thinking mostly about the last mission to Asuras ... with Elizabeth. “So maybe it was an opportunity ... but maybe it was another way the mission could have ended badly.”

“True,” I agreed somewhat dejectedly.

“Hey, the Replicators are gone,” John pointed out. “I’ll take that – lock it in – and worry about the rest another day.”

“Agreed,” I settled back against him in the dark, thinking about what we’d gained instead of what could have been.

Authors Note:

I couldn’t make sense of the ending for this one on the episode. John arrives back obviously some time after Rodney having travelled on Larrin’s ship and asks about the Wraith. But didn’t Larrin go to the rendezvous point just like everyone else? He should have known the Wraith didn’t turn up. And why was Larrin’s ship so slow getting him back to Atlantis? They all managed to arrive at the Replicator planet together. Plus why would John travel all the way back on that ship when he could be beamed back to one of the Earth ships just as easily, saving Larrin a trip to Atlantis? So I changed all of that to make more sense.


Chapter 47: Well that doesn’t make any sense

Just as Lieutenant Parker had predicted, the following few weeks were filled with off world missions to return people and supplies back where they belonged. Most of them were routine, with very few complications. There were a couple that required some additional work, like our return mission to M7G-677.

“I don’t see why Radek can’t go,” Rodney was still complaining to John as we walked down the corridor mere minutes before we were due to gate out. Rodney had been roped into coming with my team to help them reconnect their ZPM because of the problems Radek had when he’d removed it.

“It’s your turn McKay,” John grinned over at me as Rodney made an impatient sound. “Besides, you already assigned Zelenka to help Lieutenant Pierce’s team and they gate out later today.”

“I’m sure the kids will be too happy being home to bug you much Rodney,” I quipped, smiling when he rolled his eyes impatiently.

“Fine, but this better not take too long,” Rodney gave in less than gracefully. “I’ve been trying to track the Wraith ships based on the last readings we had before we left the Replicator planet.”

“With almost nothing to go on,” John reminded him.

We arrived in the Gateroom before Rodney could say anything to defend himself. The gate was already active and the last of the kids who’d been staying on the mainland was about to step through.

“Sir,” Major Lorne greeted us. “Doctor McKay, Sabina. You ready to head out?”

“No time like the present,” Rodney replied, glancing across at me expectantly.

“See you in five hours,” I told John casually, leaning up to quickly kiss his cheek.

“I’ll save you a seat in the Mess for dinner,” John replied, running a hand down my pony tail before motioning for me to get moving.

Glancing back with a quick grin and a wave I stepped through the wormhole.

We were greeted on the other side of the wormhole by Keras, still Eldest of his village. Rodney was keen to get straight to the ZPM and Major Lorne motioned for me to accompany him. The rest of the team proceeded into the village to help with the resupply and reorganisation of everyone back to their homes.

Rodney and I were silent as we walked through the trees to the ancient shield device. Once there Rodney carefully opened the special transport case and knelt on the floor to remove the ZPM.

“How much longer do you think the ZPM will last?” I asked curiously, moving to stand close behind Rodney so I could watch him insert the power supply into its socket.

“It’s close to depleted but they should still get at least another three months, maybe longer,” Rodney replied distractedly. Leaning up slightly he placed both hands on the top of the ZPM and pushed down firmly.

There was a faint clicking sound, followed by an ominous grinding sound.

“What – .” Before I could complete my question the top of the ancient device sprang open, releasing a number of objects that hurtled out at force like some sick version of a Jack in the Box. I only had time to register that something wasn’t right before I felt the impact of a sharp object cutting into my shoulder, followed closely by another impact to my chest. I didn’t register the journey to the ground so it seemed as though I was standing one second and stretched out looking up at the sky the next.

“Well that doesn’t make any sense,” Rodney dragged himself up from the device, looking keenly down at his hand held unit with a frown.

“Rod ... ney,” I tried to get his attention but my voice came out much weaker than I was expecting.

“I can’t believe this!” Rodney exclaimed, looking now at the top of the shield device. “Those Replicator bastards actually booby trapped this, just on the off chance the people came back!” Shaking his head, he turned to get my reaction. It was almost comical the way he looked at standing height, frowned when he didn’t see me there, looking down and doing a very visible double take when he realised I’d been hit.

“Oh my God, Sabina!” Rodney dropped down beside me, scrambling in his vest for his bandages.

I could see enough of myself to know I had two thin metal stakes sticking out of me, not something he was gonna treat with a couple of bandaids.

“Get Major Lorne,” I ground out, hoping he’d remember that Evan had field medic training.

“Right .... right,” Rodney nodded weakly, taking out his radio as his eyes darted from my face down to my wounds and back up again. “Major Lorne this is McKay, over.”

“Doctor McKay,” Lorne replied. “Is there a problem?”

“You could say that,” Rodney replied nervously. “The Replicators stopped in to booby trap the shield device before they left. When I inserted the ZPM it released a number of really sharp projectile weapons.”

“Can you still get the shield operational?” Lorne asked, assuming that was the reason Rodney was contacting him.

“Probably,” Rodney replied, “but I’ve got a bigger issue right now. Sabina was standing right in front of the device when it went off. She was hit ... she, ah, she wants your help.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Lorne promised.

“He’ll be here soon,” Rodney looked down at me awkwardly. “I’m not sure we can wait that long though – you’re losing a lot of blood here. I need to –.”

“Do it,” I interrupted, gasping painfully as he immediately pressed a bandage to my chest wound while carefully avoiding jostling the spike sticking out. Getting that settled Rodney did the same with the shoulder wound.

“Trust you to be standing right there,” Rodney complained. “John is so gonna blame me for this one.”

“Couldn’t ... have known,” I told him with a smile that was more a grimace than anything else. “Why?”

“Why would the Replicators booby trap the shield?” Rodney looked down, waiting for my nod before answering. “Because they worked out we were moving people around to avoid them. They knew we’d be forced to put people back eventually so they set it up to still get rid of some of their intended targets. This is a little personal though, wouldn’t take out more than a few people even if we had a whole crowd gathered here.”

“Not ... target,” I suggested, wincing as Rodney leant in to increase the pressure he was applying. “Ow!”

“Sorry,” Rodney apologised miserably. “You don’t think these people were the target?”

“They knew ... we’d come to fix ... the shield,” I reminded him. “They just wanted ... to cripple us ... by getting rid ... of you.”

“You think I was the target?” Rodney looked at me incredulously. “And you got hit instead ... I am so dead if that’s true when John finds out.”

“My job to protect you,” I said, starting to feel woozy, like everything was moving even though I was still. “Dizzy.”

“Oh God, oh God ... where’s Lorne?” Rodney’s voice was panicky as he grabbed his radio again. “Where are you Major?” he demanded.

“Right here,” Major Lorne ran up to the device, taking in the situation with a single glance. “How are you doing Sabina?” he asked, dropping to his knees beside me.

“I have two metal ... spikes sticking out of me,” I pointed out grimly. “How do you think ... I’m doing?”

“Are you cold? Feeling faint?” Evan persisted, checking each wound by carefully lifting Rodney’s bandages.

“Dizzy,” I admitted. “Really, really hurts.”

“I know,” Evan squeezed my hand reassuringly. “You’ll be all right.”

“Want John,” I looked at Evan pleadingly, knowing that was just one step up from being a baby asking for my Mommy. It was possibly pathetic but at that point I really didn’t care ... I was woozy and in pain and scared and I knew having John with me would make all of that easier to handle.

“We’ll get you home soon,” Evan promised, getting a blanket from his pack and tucking it around me. Standing up he walked over to where Rodney was hovering. “Sounds like we don’t have to worry about shock at this stage,” Evan told him, “but we need to get Sabina to the Gate as soon as possible. She’s already lost a worrying amount of blood.”

“I can ... hear you,” I complained, drawing Evan’s attention back to me.

“Listen,” he began reluctantly. “You know we can’t risk removing these spikes so I’m gonna pack each wound as tight as I can and then we’ll stretcher you out of here.”

“That sounds like ... it’s gonna hurt,” I mock complained. “Maybe you should ... call for Doctor Keller ... before ... you move me.”

“We could do it like that,” Evan agreed, “but we’re an hour away from the Gate which makes it a two hour turn around. I’m not sure we’ve got that kind of time without getting the bleeding under control.”

“Okay,” I agreed reluctantly, tensing myself in preparation for the pain.

Evan had me pale and shaking before he judged the wounds sufficiently packed to allow transport. He and Rodney rigged up a field stretcher from logs and some of the things in their packs and they somehow managed to get me on it without causing excessive amounts of pain.

“Let’s head to the Gate,” Evan announced confidently, motioning for Rodney to pick up his end and start walking.

I think I spaced out a bit here and there as they walked me through that forest on their makeshift stretcher. It felt like the pain wasn’t as bad as when I’d first been hit ... surely that couldn’t be a good thing.

“We’re here,” Major Lorne drew my attention to him with those quiet words. “Parker, dial the gate,” Evan ordered as he and Rodney carefully lowered me to the ground.

Lieutenant Parker darted a quick glance my way before rapidly dialling the correct sequence. The DHD seemed to light up as usual but the same ominous grinding noise began as soon as the last symbol was dialled.

Everybody down!” Rodney yelled suddenly, dropping to the ground beside me and attempting to use himself to provide cover for me. Rather than lethal metal spikes this time the DHD spat out a arc of hot sparks before exploding in a loud assault of sound. Rodney waited for the dust to settle before slowly sitting up. “Oh God,” he muttered sickly, eyes fixed on the spot where the DHD sat.

“I’m guessing ... you can’t fix that,” I quipped weakly, my eyes glued to the same spot where instead of the DHD there was now an electronic stump topped with twisted components still leaking smoke.

“Atlantis will dial in when we don’t return on time,” Major Lorne reminded us confidently. “We should be able to communicate even with the DHD destroyed. They’ll send someone to pick us up.”

“What about Sabina?” Rodney demanded.

“We can keep her comfortable until then,” Lorne said easily.

“But you said before that we didn’t have time for Jennifer to make the two hour round trip,” Rodney protested to Lorne urgently.

“That was when I thought we had other options,” Lorne returned pointedly, his expression exasperated that Rodney wasn’t getting it. Obviously my medical situation was less than ideal but Evan was still trying to reassure me that I’d be fine until help arrived.

“It’s okay ... Rodney,” I spoke up from my position on the ground. “Do we have ... shelter nearby?” I added, feeling exposed and uncomfortable just lying on the ground near the Stargate.

“I’ll go scout out a good spot,” Lorne proposed, turning towards the forest. “Parker, you’re with me. I trust you can look after Sabina until we get back?” Evan looked at Rodney until he nodded his assent, he and Parker then disappearing into the trees.

“They booby trapped ... the DHD too?” I asked Rodney once we were alone, watching him pace impatiently in front of the decimated device.

“And then some,” Rodney returned miserably. “We’ll have to find another DHD to replace this one because there is no way I can fix it.”

“If shield device ... didn’t kill you, this ... was the next best ... thing?” I asked.

“Who knows what the Replicators real motivation was,” Rodney said impatiently.

“They were ... right to ... target ... you,” I pointed out.

“Right? How?” Rodney looked at me with a puzzled frown.

“Was your ... idea that ... wiped them ... out,” I reminded him. “Wouldn’t have ... done that with ... out you.”

“I guess,” Rodney shifted uncomfortably. “Lucky for us we didn’t come back here before now.”

“How far away ... is the nearest Gate?” I shifted to ease the ache in my shoulder, moaning as the movement pulled on my shoulder painfully.

“Can you just not move?” Rodney requested sickly.

“How far?” I asked again, ignoring Rodney’s request as I tried to find a spot that was less painful.

“Doesn’t really matter,” Rodney replied. “Sheppard will send through Doctor Keller to tend to you before he’ll allow them to move you anywhere.”

“He’ll be grumpy ... about the mess ... you got me into,” I wanted to think about when John would arrive but at the same time I didn’t because with the destruction of the DHD I knew that was gonna be a lot further away than it had been five minutes ago.

I got you in?” Rodney retorted. “I didn’t tell you to stand right in front of the device!”

“Didn’t pick up ... it was booby trapped ... either,” I reminded him in amusement.

“So I’m having a bad day!” Rodney complained. “So – “

“I’ve found a spot,” Evan reported as he strode back into the clearing. “McKay, help me carry Sabina.”

The two men lifted me as before and began walking, Evan taking the forward position and Rodney the rear. A few minutes later the trees began thinning and the incline steepened. Another few minutes and Major Lorne was leading the way into a small cave not far from the base of a large hill formation. Lieutenant Parker had been standing at the entrance but Lorne sent him back to the Gate to await contact from Atlantis. Lieutenant Brown was still in the village meaning our team was now split three ways, a fact I knew wouldn’t be sitting well with the Major.

“Is this it?” Rodney looked at the small and enclosed space in dismay.

“It’s not the Hilton but it’ll do,” Evan returned, spreading a blanket on the stone floor before helping me up gently from the stretcher and from there into a lying down position. “How are you doing?” he squatted down beside me, keenly observing my expression.

“I’d much prefer it ... if I wasn’t a Replicator ... pin cushion ... but I guess I’m doing ... okay,” I returned in the same horribly choppy and breathless voice I’d been using since I’d been hit. The voice that made it impossible to pretend things weren’t as serious as they were. “How long ... until we can expect ... Atlantis to call in?”

“Still three hours,” Evan looked at his watch before glancing back at me regretfully. “Do you need any pain killers?”

“Don’t want any,” I carefully avoided commenting on how much pain I was actually in.

“That’s not what I asked,” Evan said firmly. “You know the drill – on a scale of one to ten, where are you sitting right now?”

“Know that’s a ... stupid test ... right?” I complained. Lorne just looked at me, waiting patiently for an answer. “Maybe six.”

“Really?” Rodney looked at me sceptically. “Because that looks really painful.”

“Is,” I agreed with a grimace. “All ... relative. Compared to Walker’s ... drug this is ... mild.”

“Walker’s drug?” Evan asked curiously.

“The guy who kidnapped Sabina back on Earth,” Rodney returned thoughtlessly, glancing across at Lorne casually until he registered Evan’s less than impressed expression. “Wait – she didn’t tell you about that?”

“No she didn’t,” Evan returned grimly. “All we were told was that Colonel Sheppard needed some specialised help to explain why the rest of his team went to join him. When your team got back we were pretty much straight into preparing for Colonel Carter's arrival.”

“Long ... not very interesting ... story,” I excused myself.

“I’ve got time right now and I’m sure there’s more to it than you’re letting on,” Evan insisted, looking at me expectantly.

“Fine!” I grumbled. “Rodney ... can tell you most ... of it.”

Filling Major Lorne in on the full sequence of events back on Earth took a while. True to my word I let Rodney do the talking ... my dizziness hadn’t improved and my shoulder ached right down to the bone. As for my chest ... well I hardly wanted to consider that, struggling to ignore the fact that my breathing was getting more and more shallow and now gurgled faintly in an ominous ‘I’ve probably done something to a lung’ kind of way.

“So Walker injected you with his own home made Wraith DNA extracting drug?” Evan asked when the story was nearing its end.

“Yeah,” I agreed weakly. “Felt like blood ... on fire. Couldn’t get outside ... own skin for ... relief. No ... unconsciousness ... either.”

“And that would be your ten,” Evan concluded.

“Don’t ... know,” I returned. “Maybe ... something out there ... hurts worse ... hope never ... find out what.” Evan nodded, looking down at me with a bland expression that just made me feel guilty. “Should have ... told you.”

“Yes you should have,” Evan agreed. “What if we ran into a situation off world that set off bad reminders for you? I need to know about things that affect my ability to look after you during our missions.”

“Sorry,” I shifted uncomfortably, stifling the urge to cry out at the pain.

“I’m giving you some of the morphine,” Evan announced abruptly, not missing my reaction to even that slight movement.

“Save ... it,” I pleaded when he made a move towards his pack. “Only have ... couple of doses. Might need them ... could get bad ... if have to wait ... longer ... for John.”

“Okay,” Evan agreed reluctantly, “but you tell me if things get any worse.”

Nodding gratefully, I closed my eyes and let myself drift.


Chapter 39: Sir, we have an incoming wormhole

“Sabina!” Rodney’s urgent voice startled me back to reality.

“What?” I grumbled in a low voice. “Can’t a girl ... rest?!”

“Not until we get contact from Atlantis,” Rodney practically ordered. “You need to stay awake until then so you can tell us how you’re doing.”

“Tired,” I complained, “sore ... dizzy. Sleep ... welcome escape ... right now.”

“Not an option,” Evan sided with Rodney.

“Then you guys ... have to ... help ... keep me awake,” I told them seriously. “Everything’s a little ... spacey.”

“Are you up to talking?” Rodney asked.

“Maybe,” I replied uncertainly. “Feeling a little ... breathless for a while ... stake might have ... done something to ... a lung on the way through.”

“And you’re just telling us now?” Rodney demanded irritably.

“Said ... might,” I retorted. “Don’t really know ... but ... struggling beyond ... shallow breaths.” Rodney made to comment again so I headed him off. “What do you want ... to talk about?”

“As a matter of fact there is something I’ve wanted to know for going on a year now,” Rodney replied slyly. Turning to Major Lorne he explained. “Remember the first time we came across Lucius Luvin?” Evan nodded with a look composed chiefly of distaste and embarrassment. “The only reason John and Sabina weren’t affected is because they had that cold ... the one they got on a supposedly tropical planet.”

“John’s ... birthday trip,” I said reminiscently. “Want to know ... how that happened?”

“It’ll satisfy my curiosity and keep you distracted until Atlantis calls in,” Rodney replied complacently.

“’kay,” I agreed after thinking for a few moments about how to summarise things truthfully without going into details. “John got the cold ... because was forced to ... sit in wet clothes ... for a few hours.”

“Why was he forced and by who?” Rodney wasn’t put off by my very brief explanation.

“Didn’t know it before we ... got there ... people in that village had very ... different views about ... things,” I capitulated, deciding there was no harm in telling the story. “One ... about men ... women travelling alone ... if not joined.”

“They were offended?” Major Lorne asked in surprise.

“No,” I returned. “Happy we let slip ... weren’t formally linked. Had ... ritual for unattached men ... women. Anyone could ... claim them if ...satisfied ... few requirements. More than one women ... wanted John. Had competition.”

“What requirements did you have to satisfy?” Rodney asked curiously.

“John had to show ... was worthy,” I revealed. “Had to strip ... to underwear ... then swim across ... huge lake ... island in middle. John waited ... there hours ... for winner to be ... determined. Too long ... no shelter ... wet ... clothes. Made him ... sick.”

“And what did you have to do?” Evan asked with an amused smile.

“Tried to ... explain ... misunderstanding ... John not free agent,” I explained. “Didn’t believe me ... said ceremony announced ... had to be completed. Needed ... formal proof ... we were joined. Didn’t have ... it. Had to compete for ... John with anyone ... interested.”

“You competed to win John?” Rodney couldn't help himself and laughed at the thought. “I bet that went down well!”

“John didn’t get to see ... on the island ... waiting to be rescued,” I reminded them.

“You haven’t told us specifically what you had to do,” Lorne pointed out. “Did you have to defeat the challengers in a fight?”

“Ah ... not exactly,” I admitted, shifting in embarrassment. I’d kept myself pretty still while I’d been telling the story, to the point I’d believed I’d reached a kind of equilibrium on my injuries. I’d gotten used to the level of pain and the mild sensation of dizzy floating consciousness and worked out how deep a breath I could take without causing myself additional pain. That minor movement disabused me of that notion, sharp pain shooting through my chest and causing little spots to appear in my vision.

“Sabina!” Rodney’s urgent voice brought me back to myself. Looking over at him weakly I tried to smile reassuringly in the face of his obvious panic.

“Sorry,” I groaned out. “Shouldn’t ... have moved.”

“I need to check your wounds,” Evan knelt beside me, trying to assess how I was doing without disturbing his previous first aid efforts. He shot a glance at Rodney that pretty clearly broadcast he was less than happy with what he’d seen.

“Still ... bleeding?” I asked weakly.

“You’re doing okay,” Evan replied evasively. “You didn’t finish your story ... if it wasn’t fighting what did you have to do?”

“Series of challenges ... had to prove .. could look after John better ... than anyone else ... competing,” I tried to focus on immersing myself in the memory of something that had been uncomfortable and embarrassing at the time but in hindsight was actually pretty funny. “Protecting him ... was one. Showed them ... stick fighting and the ... gun stuff ... made that one easy to win.”

“What else?” Rodney asked, trying to convince me he was interested in the story more than the fact that I was in danger of bleeding out before someone from Atlantis called in to check on us.

“Four aspects ... protection, physical ... stuff, emotional ... wellbeing, and ah ... future generations,” I rushed out the last two, hoping they wouldn’t ask for details but knowing in the spirit of distracting me they would.

“Did they make you cook something?” Rodney asked with a teasing smirk.

“Basic survival ... training stuff,” I told him, “you know – find food ... make fire ... set up camp. John ... made me do that ... first three months on Atlantis. The other women were ... better but I didn’t ... disgrace myself.”

“How did they judge how strong your children would be?” Evan asked curiously. “It’s not like they’d be able to tell who’d be genetically compatible.”

“Panel of male judges,” I said briskly. “No ... specifics. Just think ... Miss Universe ... be close enough.”

“Did you win that one?” Rodney looked at me expectantly.

“They were ... really attractive ... and young,” I explained reluctantly. “Lucky they took ... John into account ... height and ... physical strength made me the best ... match.”

“So you needed to win the emotion challenge to win the whole thing?” Evan asked.

“Something ... like that,” I confirmed. “Each challenger had to ... decide how they’d ask for John ... to join with them. Went to island ... recite to John ... in front of ... everyone.”

“You had to propose to John in front of a bunch of strangers?” Evan looked at me in surprise, for the first time sympathetic instead of amused by my story.

“I suppose ... I did,” I agreed with a raised brow. “Didn’t see it that way ... but I did treat it ... seriously. Made it sincere. Maybe they couldn’t have enforced ... a match for John without his cooperation but ... there might have been ... some penalty for not ... abiding by the result. Couldn’t risk them ... hurting John because I ... didn’t take it seriously. Didn’t find out until after ... John was only judge. Could have said anything ... and still come out ahead.”

“So you won and they let you leave,” Rodney summarised thoughtfully. “This all happened after your birthday right?”

“Wondered how ... long it’d take you to ... make the connection,” I replied in confirmation. “John ... laughed his arse off ... when he found out ... about the vinculum.”

“Am I missing part of the story here?” Evan looked from Rodney to me and then back again.

“Didn’t Sabina tell you she and Sheppard have been married for over a year according to Ancient custom?” Rodney asked slyly.

“No she didn’t,” Evan looked at me reproachfully.

“That necklace Sheppard gave her was like signing a marriage license for the Ancients,” Rodney explained. “If they’d known that before their little trip to the tropical paradise they wouldn’t have had to do the challenge at all.”

“Not gonna feel ... guilty over a ... 10,000 year old ... obsolete custom,” I retorted at Evan's faintly disgruntled expression, wincing when even that tiny hint of heated emotion send pain lancing through me. “God ... how much ... longer?”

“Still at least an hour,” Rodney admitted after consulting his watch.

“Morphine,” Evan announced, approaching me with the syringe ready to go. “And this time I’m not taking no for an answer.”

“That stuff always ... makes me ... loopy,” I complained childishly, glaring at him as the sting of the injection registered.

“I’d rather that than having to put up with your pale martyr act,” Evan rebuked.

“Because whether ... I take pain relief ... or not ... is all about ... you,” I retorted, my voice still choppy and breathless. The effect of the morphine was immediate ... adding more distortion to my already wobbly view of the world. “Not sure how much ... longer can stay ... awake,” I added apologetically.

“Just stick with us Sabina,” Evan’s voice had that order tone that usually had me obeying before I’d fully registered any associated thoughts.

“You gotta stay awake,” Rodney urged. “Just think how much more peeved Sheppard's gonna be if he gets here and finds you sleeping.”

“Trying,” I got out, trying not to get upset at the mention of John's name because he wasn’t there and wouldn’t be for a while yet.

“Tell me how you’re feeling now,” Evan said seriously. “Give me the highlights.”

“Still ... dizzy,” I began my list of current ails. “Sick. Short ... breath. Thirsty.”

“Is that bad?” Rodney asked when Evan sat back with a frown.

“It’s not good,” Evan admitted. “I can’t say for sure but shock would account for most of those symptoms.”

“Which means we need to get her back to Atlantis urgently,” Rodney summarised. “So – no different than five minutes ago.”

“I might ... be ... dizzy, but I ... can still ... hear,” I reminded them. “Your turn ... talk ... distract me.”

“You’ve spent a lot of time in the Ancient library lately,” Rodney tried a new topic. “Find anything interesting”

“Mostly ... history,” I admitted. “Did find a cool ... room the ... other ... day.”

“What makes it cool?” Evan asked curiously.

“Have to tell ... John first,” I smiled weakly when Rodney groaned impatiently. “It’s not ... weapon ... or puzzle ... like in the past.”

“You don’t always have to tell your husband everything before you tell the rest of us you know,” Rodney pointed out sarcastically.

“Don’t care ... if you’re ... grumpy,” I forced out, blinking rapidly as everything started to feel like it was slipping away from me. Suddenly I felt cold ... right down to the core ... enough that I began shivering violently. The involuntary movement jostled my wounds ... I couldn’t help but moan with a pain that even Evan’s prior dose of morphine couldn’t dull.

“Sabina?” Evan picked up on my changed status immediately, putting his fingers to my wrist quickly to take my pulse.

“John? Is ... he here?” I was struggling now ... to keep myself conscious, not to give into the confusion and fear sweeping over me.

“Her blood pressures dropping,” Evan told Rodney. “We need to –“ he paused, holding up a hand as his radio sprang to life.

“Sir, we have an incoming wormhole,” Parker reported.

“Atlantis?” Rodney looked at his watch with a frown. “It’s too early.”

“Wraith!” Parker’s urgent voice issued the warning, his tone a harsh whisper in the quiet of the cave.

“Could this day get any worse?” Rodney complained while manfully raising his weapon to ready position.

“How many?” Lorne demanded over the radio.

“Just one dart,” Parker replied. Funny how we’d gone from one Wraith being almost too much to handle to thinking a Dart wasn’t anything to really worry about.

“Did they see you?” Evan moved to the cave opening, P90 trained down the path leading in.

“I don’t think so,” Parker returned. “I’m hiding in the trees a few metres south of the gate. I’m sorry Sir, they’re headed in your direction.”

“The Replicators must have had some kind of subspace signal attached to the shield,” Rodney spoke in sick horror, his eyes trained on me. “The Wraith picked it up and now they know someone’s here ... someone capable of activating the device.”

“Which means they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon,” Evan concluded.

“This is bad,” Rodney panicked, his movements jittery as he paced in the tight space. “This is really, really bad. That booby trap on the shield affected its operation – it’s not working. The Wraith are free to pretty much go where they want!”

“Contact with Atlantis is still more than half an hour away,” Evan pointed out, “plus we have no way to warn them before they send someone through.”

“What if they find the cave?” Rodney looked worried. “We can’t move Sabina ... we’re sitting ducks.”

“Need to ... leave ... me,” I urged, my voice almost too weak for them to hear. “Now ... so can ... flank them. Only one ... Dart.”

“If you’re suggesting we abandon you here as bait so we can attack them from behind you’re even more nuts than Sheppard!” Rodney retorted grimly. “You’d have no way to defend yourself if they get past us!”

“Rodney’s right,” Evan said firmly. “We need to think of another way to disable that Dart. And we need to do it fast.”

“That’s it!,” Rodney might as well have had a light bulb over his head, the fact he had an idea was so obvious. “We need to capture that Dart.”

“Ah ... why?” Evan frowned in confusion.

“Because it can save Sabina,” Rodney said impatiently.

“Can’t ... fly ... it,” I pointed out weakly.

“I know we can’t,” Rodney retorted. “But we don’t need to. All we need to do is get them to scoop you up before we take them down. Of course we’re gonna have to be careful how we do that last part so we don’t damage their beaming systems.”

“Cle ... ver,” I complimented as understanding of his plan dawned on me.

“You think storing Sabina in their materialiser will give us the time we need to wait for contact with Atlantis,” Evan concluded incredulously.

“It’s worth a shot,” Rodney confirmed. “And it has the added benefit of taking care of the Wraith too.”

“We have no idea what that will do to her!” Evan bit out grimly. “She’s not exactly at full strength McKay.”

“And the longer we wait the worse she’d gonna get,” Rodney retorted. “We both know she may not have time to wait for Atlantis to get here!”

“That’s not a definite,” Evan countered. “But we do know getting rematerialised takes a lot out of a person. You know that from personal experience. How the hell will we explain to Colonel Sheppard the risks we took if this goes badly?”

“He’d tell us to save her no matter what,” Rodney said firmly.

“Guys,” I called out with a groan. When they both looked at me as though they’d forgotten I was even there I had the insane urge to laugh. “Do ... it.”

“You’re agreeing to being dematerialised?” Evan asked in surprise.

“Good ... plan,” I told him firmly. “Not ... gonna make ... it ... other ... wise.”

“Don’t do that!” Evan ordered. “You don’t get to talk like that.”

“Sorry. Rod ... ney,” I called out. “Tell ... John ... no re ... grets.”

“You can tell him yourself when this works,” Rodney said confidently. When I looked at him pleadingly he capitulated, rolling his eyes impatiently. “Fine ... on the very slight chance that this doesn’t work, which is extremely remote because it will, I’ll pass on your message. Okay?”

“Thank ... you,” I relaxed back gratefully. “Go ... now.”

“First we have to get you out into the open,” Rodney looked to Evan for his agreement, even though I’d already said I wanted them to proceed.

“One of us will have to stay with her,” Evan pointed out. “They won’t scoop someone up if they’re lying on the ground obviously injured.”

“You’re right,” Rodney frowned, thinking out the logistics of his plan.

“It’ll have to be me,” Evan added. “We need you to get us out of the materialiser once Atlantis gets here.”

“Then who takes out the Dart?” Rodney looked at Evan with dawning horror. “No, no, no. You do not want to put something that crucial down to my aim!”

“You can do this McKay,” Evan stated confidently. “You know exactly where to target and if you do it the second after they’ve scooped us up they’ll still be close to the ground. Should minimise damage to the Dart when it crashes. The Wraith will be disorientated – you just need to get in there quick and make sure he stays down.”

“You’re right, this really is a bad plan,” Rodney complained weakly, letting himself be dragged along in the wake of Evan’s push for action.

Quickly grabbing an end of my stretcher each they walked out of the cave and into the open. We moved a short distance before I was once again down on the ground.

“There,” Evan pointed to an outcrop of rocks that would keep Rodney close enough but provide cover from the Dart spotting him. “Now remember ... this is just like target practise and you’ve done plenty of that. Keep it steady and controlled and you’ll do fine.”

“Be ... lieve ... in ... you,” I added my vote of confidence.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Rodney muttered miserably, running for his position with P90 poised and hunkering down quickly.

Evan squatted beside me with a hesitant expression. “You realise you’re gonna have to be standing for this one?” he asked in concern.

“Is ... o ... kay,” I got out, trying with the expression in my eyes to tell him I was fine with the course of events.

“Right,” Evan looked at me resolutely for a second before carefully shifting an arm under my shoulders. I think we both groaned as he pulled me upright and from there quickly to my feet.

There was a buzzing in my ears and dark spots in my vision but I was standing ... just barely and with most of my weight being held up by Evan.

“Okay?” he asked softly.

“Not ... real ... ly,” I admitted painfully. “Hope ... they do ... this ... quick.”

“Me too,” Evan muttered under his breath.

I don’t know how long I could have stood there waiting for action but luckily I didn’t have to find out. The unmistakable sound of a Wraith Dart whining towards us came less than a minute later. I had just enough time to ponder the bizarre nature of the world that I’d seek out something that usually spelled disaster before the beam passed over us.


The Other Side of the Story: John's Point of View

Interlude 10: You let the Wraith capture her?


 

When Major Lorne didn’t dial in at the expected time for a routine mission to M7G-677 I couldn’t help but think ‘here we go again’. I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination but it seemed that lately Sabina was the one getting into trouble while I was left to react.

“Dial it up,” I ordered ten minutes after they’d missed their check in.

“Yes Sir,” Chuck punched the symbols quickly but still the time it took to establish a stable wormhole seemed to drag out more than usual.

“Major Lorne this is Colonel Sheppard. Do you read?”

“Oh thank God!” Rodney’s vehement relief echoed through the Control Room.

“What’s your situation McKay?” I asked quickly.

“About as bad as it can get,” Rodney retorted. “The DHD is destroyed beyond fixing so we can’t dial out and the Wraith decided to pay us a visit.” While we were all trying to absorb that Rodney continued. “That’s not the worst of it John.”

The fact that he’d called me by my first name reverberated through me ominously.

Something had happened to Sabina.

I didn't hesitate, moving into emergency mode with too much familiarity before Rodney had even given the details.

“We’ll be right there,” I promised, turning towards the stairs down to the Gateroom. “Organise a medical team,” I told Chuck. The temptation was there to question Rodney because the connection was still open but getting to them had to be my first priority and I focussed everything on that.

“Colonel?” Sam appeared from her office before I’d taken more than a couple of steps.

“Lorne’s team ran into trouble,” I reported rapidly. “I need to ...” I waved a hand towards the Stargate.

“Of course, go,” Sam urged. Tapping her earpiece she checked in with the infirmary. “Doctor Keller, how long until your team is ready?”

“We’ll be there in a minute,” Jennifer’s voice wobbled like she was short of breath. When she ran into the Gateroom less than a minute later the reason became obvious. She’d decided to take this one herself. “Doctor McKay, what are we looking at regarding specialised equipment?”

“Ah ...,” Rodney’s voice shook slightly, “I don’t know ... Sabina has puncture wounds and ... and ... there’s a slight chance you might need to resuscitate although hopefully it won’t come to that.”

Puncture wounds ... that sounded bad, as did the resuscitation comment but not as bad as I’d feared. Although the nervousness in Rodney’s voice made it clear he wasn’t telling us everything.

“Understood,” Jennifer tapped her earpiece and ordered someone to bring down a crash cart too.

They’d still need a couple of minutes to get organised so I stepped through the gate instead of waiting for Keller and her team. Lieutenant Parker was standing guard on the other side when I arrived.

“Status?” I asked quickly.

“Doctor McKay is located about ten minutes walk that way,” Parker pointed to a path that led up towards the hills.

“Where’s Major Lorne?” I frowned in surprise.

“Ah ... I think Doctor McKay should explain Sir,” Parker replied evasively.

“Point Doctor Keller in the right direction when she gets here,” I ordered. “McKay?” I radioed impatiently, already walking in the direction Parker had indicated.

“You’re here,” Rodney stated the obvious, never a good sign.

“Yeah, and I’m heading to your position now,” I replied. “What’s going on? Where’s Major Lorne?”

“He’s ah ... indisposed at the moment,” Rodney reported evasively.

“And Sabina?” I’d avoided asking until then, pretty sure I wasn’t gonna like the answer.

“It wasn’t my fault,” Rodney stated up front, launching into an explanation before I could comment on that. “The Replicators booby trapped the shield device with explosive metal spikes. I’m sorry John ... Sabina took one in the shoulder and another in the chest. She’d already lost a lot of blood when the Wraith showed up ... I had to do something so I ah ... we decided to let the Wraith scoop her and Lorne up in the materialiser.”

You let the Wraith capture her?” I grated out grimly, picking up the pace so I was practically sprinting up the path.

“We couldn’t wait!” Rodney protested. “She was ... it was bad and I couldn’t think of anything else! Major Lorne picked a spot where I could take cover and shoot down the Dart before it could get away. He had to stay with her so they’d be an attractive target for the Wraith.”

“And did you?” I asked impatiently.

“Did I what?” Rodney asked in confusion.

“Did you shoot down the Dart McKay?” I spoke each word with slow precision, like I was talking to a less than intelligent child, which given the stupidity of Rodney’s latest plan wasn’t that far from the truth.

“Of course,” Rodney retorted. “I’m with the crashed Dart now ... the materialiser is showing two life signs all in good order.”

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I replied. “Keller should be a few minutes behind me.”

It actually took less than a minute to get to the clearing ... the sight that greeted me had my insides clenching with dread. The Dart looked surprisingly good for a crashed ship, its hull mostly undamaged apart from the scrapes gouged out of the bottom and up the sides ... and the layer of dirt and grass covering the front of it. Rodney was bent over the back where he’d ripped off the covering to get to the guts. Lieutenant Brown stood guard close by, his face carefully blank as he watched my approach.

“McKay,” I stopped abruptly a few steps away, not sure what I could do. It wasn’t like the situation I’d found Sabina in this time was something I could fix in the usual manner – couldn’t shoot at it, outwit it, or just generally smart arse my way out of it. And that wasn’t even the worst of it. No, that would be the fact that I couldn’t talk to Sabina, couldn’t find out how she was really doing, couldn’t get her input on how she wanted to fix this.

For the first time that I could recall her fate was entirely in my hands ... the tough, life threatening decisions, if there were any, would be mine to make. Don’t get me wrong, I was fine with that and I knew Sabina trusted me implicitly to have her best interests at heart as well as to not let them do anything she was opposed to. I was fine with it ... I just preferred having Sabina’s input and for the first time I truly appreciated how much I liked it that way.

“John,” Rodney looked beyond relieved to see me ... clearly being the one to make decisions about Sabina’s fate was something he couldn’t wait to hand over to me.

“You’ve really outdone yourself this time haven’t you,” I looked at him grimly before turning my eyes back to the crashed Dart. “What the hell were you thinking using the Wraith like this? Just when I think I can trust you to live up to that genius tag you’re so fond of reminding me about you do something so stupid I wonder how you have brains enough to walk and talk at the same time.” Rodney opened his mouth as if to defend himself but I was on a roll so I just kept talking. “Did it occur to you that you might not have been able to shoot this thing down? What were you going to do then, huh?! And why the hell did Lorne agree to go along with this? I might have to rethink the whole second in command thing if this is a sample of his intelligence under pressure. What if ...,”

My tirade was interrupted by the sounds of rustling in the trees followed quickly by the arrival of Doctor Keller with Lieutenant Parker in tow carrying her supplies. Another nurse from the infirmary brought up the rear. The expressions on their faces made it obvious they’d heard at least part of my shouting one sided rant at Rodney.

“Colonel, Doctor McKay,” Jennifer greeted us with her usual professional tone, looking around the clearing curiously. “Where’s my patient?”

“In there,” Rodney pointed reluctantly to the Dart.

“You dematerialised Sabina when she was injured?” Jennifer looked at Rodney in horror. “What were you thinking? You know how that can affect even a healthy person!”

“I already had that conversation Doc,” I told her, just in case she hadn’t heard the whole thing on her way up the path.

I had no choice,” Rodney stood up, crossing his arms resolutely as he prepared to defend his actions. “Sabina was badly injured ... we agreed the Dart was the only choice or ... she wasn’t gonna make it long enough to wait for Atlantis to contact us.” Rodney looked at me pleadingly as he added “she agreed to this John ... in fact she insisted. If I hadn’t come up with this plan she was determined to use herself as bait to lure the Wraith to the surface so Lorne and I could flank him.”

“Was she?” I shook my head grimly, not really surprised Sabina would act that way.

“Before we can rematerialise them I need more information about Sabina’s injuries,” Jennifer insisted. “You mentioned a puncture wound?”

“Ah, two actually,” Rodney admitted. “She took a metal spike to the shoulder about here, and another to the chest here,” he gestured to the corresponding locations on himself as he explained. “Lorne packed the wounds but she was still losing blood ... plus she was having trouble breathing deeply and she was making a kind of gurgling sound so she might have some sort of lung damage too.”

Oh God. That sounded bad ... really bad. Everything felt kind of frozen as I silently stood there listening to Rodney's responses.

“Did Lorne check for signs of shock?” Jennifer queried.

“Yeah,” Rodney nodded. “She was fine to start with but just before the Wraith showed up he thought she might be showing signs – she said she was feeling dizzy and sick and ah ... thirsty, she said she was thirsty.”

“Hypovolemic shock,” Jennifer commented. “Not unexpected given the obvious level of blood loss. How did she seem just before you materialised her? Was she lucid, aware of what was going on around her?”

“Surprisingly yes,” Rodney replied, “but she was drifting a bit at the end there. She was in a lot of pain too ... Lorne gave her morphine but it didn’t seem to be doing much for her.”

“Sabina let Evan give her pain medication?” I heard my own voice speaking but everything felt like it was coming from a great distance, background sounds drowned out by the sudden thumping of my own heart in my ears. I didn’t make an active choice to sit down ... I had to because my muscles felt weakened by the anxiety clawing its way over my entire body. Leaning back against the nearest tree I concentrated solely on controlling the panic.

“Colonel?” Jennifer knelt down beside me in concern.

“She hates pain medication,” I commented in a low tone, looking up at Jennifer in time to see the understanding dawning in her eyes. If Sabina had willingly taken morphine then it was a given that she was in bad shape ... really, really bad shape.

“We’ll fix this,” Jennifer said reassuringly. “For now she and Major Lorne are both fine and the good news is that her condition can’t deteriorate while she’s in the materialiser. We have time to work out the best approach and prepare to treat her the instant she’s out of there.”

I nodded wordlessly, rubbing hands over my face to shake myself out of it before getting back to my feet. Glancing at the others I grimaced to find myself the focus of all their attention.

“I’m really sorry John,” Rodney said miserably. “I should have worked out sooner that the Replicators messed with the shield device.”

“You couldn’t have known,” I acknowledged, everything in my tone letting him know I’d gotten over my earlier anger at his actions. From what I’d just heard he’d saved Sabina’s life ... well, given Jennifer the opportunity to save it anyway. That was a battle we still had before us ... don’t go there John!

“How do we get them out of there Rodney?” I asked instead.

“I’ve accessed the subroutine to rematerialise them,” Rodney was all purpose now I’d let him off the hook, so to speak. “All I have to do is activate it as soon as Jennifer’s got everything set up.”

“No,” Jennifer held up a hand sternly. “Sabina’s condition is likely to be too unstable for me to be able to treat her effectively out here. We need to do it back on Atlantis.”

“The Dart won’t exactly fit through the Gate you know,” Rodney pointed out sarcastically.

“Then you’ll have to use that renowned genius to make the parts of it we need fit,” Jennifer said firmly.

“Oh easy for you to say!” Rodney retorted incredulously. “Do you have any idea of the level of effort required to dismantle a Dart and then put it back together? Don’t even answer that because you couldn’t possibly or you wouldn’t be asking me to do it so cavalierly!”

“We need to give Sabina the best chance possible which means being back in the infirmary,” Jennifer said softly, looking across at me before pinning Rodney with her pleading gaze. “You can do this Rodney.”

“I can,” Rodney agreed abruptly. “But if I’m gonna do it quickly I need help.”

oOo

A tense five hours later we were finally back on Atlantis, the bits of the Dart needed to operate the rematerialiser all put back together like some bizarre jigsaw puzzle. Rodney and Radek had commandeered a small team of workers on M7G-677 ... the buzz of activity around them like some choreographed geek dance. Ronon had come through with Rodney’s requested equipment to provide guard duty ... I suspect moral support for me was his major motive, not that he would admit it. I’d spent the whole time pacing around impatiently, trying not to think of all the things I couldn’t help but think about. It was like when someone tells you not to look down – of course you’re going to just as soon as the words get spoken!

It was hell ... my own private, personal hell.

The only thing that had changed back on Atlantis was the location of my pacing. I knew Sabina could survive indefinitely inside the materialiser so we weren’t in a rush to get her and Lorne out. But for myself the slow pace and all the talking about every endless scenario was driving me insane, to the point I had to take a breather or risk hitting something ... or someone.

“Where’re you headed?” Ronon fell into step beside me as I strode quickly from the room.

“Nowhere ... anywhere,” I returned impatiently, taking random turns and corridors until I felt sufficiently removed from the general population to relax a little. Spying a small balcony just ahead I headed towards it, leaning out against the railing and taking deep, even breaths as soon as I was outside.

“You okay?” Ronon asked from beside me.

“No,” I returned shortly. “Rodney must have been desperate to come up with such a crazy solution ... you know he only gets that way when he thinks he’s about to die ... or someone else is.”

“Keller will fix her,” Ronon said with confidence.

“If she survives the rematerialising,” I pointed out. God, what was I doing being so pessimistic? The look I was getting from Ronon made it clear he was thinking the same thing. “You’re right,” I nodded even though Ronon hadn’t actually said anything verbally. “Rodney will get Sabina out of the materialiser and then Jennifer will patch her up. It’s all the waiting – it’s driving me nuts.”

“Now you know how Sabina’s felt every time it was you lying in the infirmary too out of it to reassure her,” Ronon replied.

“That’s it,” I admitted. “I never realised before today how much I’ve relied on her always being there to talk to me. Not that she hasn’t been unconscious before but not like this, not for so long when I wasn’t sure she’d be okay.”

“She will be okay John,” Ronon reiterated firmly.

“She better be,” I didn’t need to tell him how I’d be if she wasn’t.

Turning back to the ocean we settled into a companionable silence ... that was the good thing about Ronon – he never felt the need to fill up the silences with meaningless chatter.

“Colonel Sheppard,” I straightened abruptly when Jennifer’s voice issued over the radio.

“Go ahead.”

“Rodney says we’re as ready as we’re gonna be,” Jennifer reported. “I assume you want to be here?”

“I’ll be right there,” I looked over at Ronon after signing off. “You coming too?”

Nodding, Ronon fell into step beside me again, letting me maintain the silence which was a good thing since I had no idea what I’d say should he ask me how I was feeling.

Relieved.

Hopeful.

Nervous.

If I was honest I’d have to add reluctant to that list too ... while she was inside the materialiser Sabina was okay. Outside of it there was no going back should anything go wrong ... part of me wanted to delay the conclusion even though I knew more time wouldn’t change it.

Jennifer greeted me with a nod when Ronon and I returned.

“Okay Rodney,” she motioned for him to activate the rematerialiser. A clear space had been set up surrounded by medical personnel and equipment. Choosing a spot close by but not in the way I crossed my arms over my chest and waited.

Rodney typed in his commands and the familiar beam shot out of the Wraith device, sweeping from ceiling to floor. It dissipated, depositing its contents in the room. Major Lorne, arm around Sabina who was leaning on him in such a way that I knew she hadn’t been able to stand without his aide. Everything was frozen for a second and then Major Lorne reacted, looking around quickly and visibly relaxing when he realised he was back on Atlantis surrounded by every medical advantage needed.

“Sir,” he greeted me even as he helped a medic get Sabina on the waiting gurney.

“Major,” I replied distractedly, moving closer so I could see Sabina.

When I did all I could think was ‘oh God’.

She was too pale and too still ... I think I was actually shaking as I watched Jennifer’s controlled movements, praying like hell that Sabina was alive because she sure as hell didn’t look it. My eyes were drawn to her wounds, two vicious looking metal spikes sticking out of shoulder and chest, surrounded by so much blood soaked fabric I wondered how she could have still been conscious when the Dart scooped them up.

“She’s pale and cold,” Jennifer commented as she began assessing Sabina’s condition. She attached the blood pressure band and quickly got a reading. “Blood pressure is low too. She’s probably already suffering the mid stages of hypovolemic shock. Bronwyn – blood transfusion. She’s O neg so we don’t need to match ... we can use the emergency supplies. Let’s start replacing some of what she’s lost. Lucy, get her on a 7 percent hypertonic saline drip solution. Once you’ve got that set up administer alginate and Hextend. If we can increase her arteriole blood flow we should be able to maximise the efficiency of the drip and the transfusion.”

Both nurses moved into action, swiftly carrying out Jennifer’s orders. I watched, helpless to do anything but hover, probably looking stern and unforgiving rather than what I was feeling – panicked and frankly scared because this was all a lot more serious and confronting than anything I’d experienced before.

Jennifer hooked up a heart monitor next and the sound of Sabina’s heartbeat filled the room. I couldn’t help the relieved smile that appeared on my face, even though it was much more rapid than I’d been expecting given the circumstances.

“I need to check her wounds,” Jennifer carefully lifting the packing from around Sabina’s chest wound first. Sabina moaned softly, a pained frown appearing briefly. I leant forward, hoping to see her awake but she remained unconscious.

“She’s still bleeding here - we need to establish haemostasis stat,” Jennifer turned to one of the nurses. “Bronwyn, start her on r seven.”

Things progressed at the same frenetic pace for a few minutes without any visible effect. And then the heart monitor broadcast the change in Sabina’s condition, shifting from its worryingly fast rhythm into one long and ominous beep.

“Sabina!” I moved forward instinctively, putting a hand over hers and frantically searching for some sign that she was still there.

“Colonel, move!” Jennifer ordered, pushing me aside so she could begin CPR. One of the nurses shifted the crash cart into position and quickly started it charging for operation while another removed Sabina’s oxygen mask and began forcing air into her lungs with the oxygen bag.

“Clear,” Jennifer ordered when the machine was ready, placing the paddles on Sabina’s chest herself.

Was this how Sabina had felt when she’d watched them shock me with a defibrillator? The sight of her body arching painfully before slumping back to the bed was sickening.

It was worth it though, that one shock enough to get her heart back into action, this time with a rhythm that sounded a little closer to normal.

“She’s back,” Jennifer removed the paddles and used the stethoscope to listen to Sabina’s heart.

“Doc?” My voice croaked as I asked for some kind of update.

“She’s holding her own John,” Jennifer replied, fitting the oxygen mask back over Sabina’s face, “but she’s lost a lot of blood. We need to get her to the infirmary asap for another transfusion and then we can get her under the scanner - assess how much damage those spikes have done. Once we start fixing things she’ll be able to make use of all the fluids we’re pumping into her. I’ll let you know as soon as we know more.”

Everything was a swirl of activity as Jennifer and part of her team wheeled Sabina away, followed by the rest of them carrying all the medical paraphernalia. The science team followed suit, leaving only Ronon, Rodney and Major Lorne behind.

Staring stupidly at the spot where they’d been I jumped when Rodney put a hesitant hand on my shoulder.

“She’ll be all right,” he said softly. Major Lorne moved to stand next to Rodney, adding his own nod of agreement.

"I'm really sorry Sir," Lorne began before I cut him off.

"Rodney told me the details Major," I said. "There wasn't anything you could have done to prevent this and it sounds like using the Wraith gave us the time we need to save Sabina."

"Thank you Sir," Lorne replied, his whole demeanour still broadcasting how tense and worried he was. Not just because he'd always take responsibility for any person under his command getting hurt, but also because he and Sabina had forged a strong friendship in the years since she'd joined his team.

“I need to ...,” I gestured to the doorway and the direction the medical team had gone. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see her, probably not for hours, but I couldn’t be anywhere else.

“I’ll go with you,” Ronon had been silent during the whole thing. Now he moved to stand beside me again, as ever the solid support that never demanded any kind of response in return.

“We’ll all go,” Rodney announced, motioning for me to get moving.

Authors Note:

My information on treating for blood loss came from an article titled “Treatment For Severe Blood Loss: Less Is More” released in ScienceDaily (May 13, 2008) on www dot sciencedaily dot com. r seven (rVIIa) refers to Recombinant factor VIIa, a universal agent to reverse or prevent haemostatic failure – from the Critical Care forum on ccforum dot com. Some of the things I used aren’t approved/standard treatments but I liked the sound of them and decided on Atlantis they’d have up to the minute information on the best methods. Other haemostasis information and details on medical shock came from Wikipedia. Re the O neg comment and emergency supplies, in Australia anyway all ambulances only carry O neg blood because it takes too long to type match and O neg is the universal doner so every person can be transfused with minimal risk. The only thing I couldn't really confirm was whether they'd use the defibrillator in this type of situation - so apologies if that's off.


Chapter 40: I really didn’t know what hit me

The only good thing about spending the rest of that mission in a Wraith materialiser was that I didn’t have to be there when John walked through the Gate.

Atlantis dialled in on schedule, by which time Rodney had successfully shot down the Dart, killed the Wraith and then hooked up his laptop to confirm that the two life signs stored inside the buffer where both undamaged. I heard from Lieutenant Parker later that he was there at the Gate when John came through with Doctor Keller a few minutes behind. Rodney had only given them the bare bones of what had happened when they’d dialled in so John hadn’t known about the Wraith Dart plan until he was halfway up the hill towards us. The way my teammate told it he could hear John yelling at Rodney from halfway up the hill for thinking up such an asinine plan, following that up with less than complimentary suggestions about the inadequacies of both Rodney’s and Evan’s mental capacity.

Parker said Doctor Keller had interrupted John’s tirade when they’d all arrived in the clearing. When she’d questioned Rodney on the specifics of my condition, what he’d conveyed had been enough to apparently send all the blood rushing out of John’s face to the point he’d actually had to sit on the ground before he fell down.

Doctor Keller had been worried enough about my status and the unknown effect the materialiser might have had that she’d insisted the Dart had to be brought back to Atlantis before they could risk rematerialising us.

Of course I knew none of that until much later, my first recallable aware moments taking place in the familiar atmosphere of the infirmary.

“John?” I forced my eyelids open the moment awareness returned, knowing that he was nearby.

“Hey,” John tried to smile but couldn’t pull it off, raw emotions shimmering too close to the surface.

“It worked!” I acknowledged, squeezing the hand John had clasped around mine weakly. “I’m back.”

“You are,” John said seriously. “But it was touch and go. I thought for a while that ...,” he broke off, swallowing hard as he let me read the rest in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I said miserably, tears suddenly welling up as I realised just how bad it had been from his side.

“It was nothing you did,” John told me simply. “Just another one of those ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ moments.”

“I really have to stop doing that,” I quipped with a watery smile.

“It would certainly make my life easier,” John agreed more easily. I could already see something inside him relaxing as we spoke ... those first moments of waking when you finally believed the person you loved really was all right pushing everything back into the normal more rapidly than you would have thought possible beforehand.

“Is Evan all right?” I asked. “And the others? Rodney, Parker, Brown. Did they all make it okay?”

“Rodney proved all the hours I’ve put into improving his aim weren’t wasted,” John explained. “He got the Dart in the first pass and took out its Wraith pilot. All the rest of us had to do was work out how to get it through the Gate without risking the materialiser power supply. Radek brought a whole team of geeks through to help with that.”

“I guess Rodney’s previous experience with Laura would have finally come in handy for something,” I smiled ruefully.

“I did hear comments to that effect,” John agreed, reaching out and smoothing a strand of hair beside my face as he waited for my next question.

“How long?” I asked, knowing it was pointless avoiding the information.

“You don’t remember it but you have been awake here and there,” John commented. “It’s been three days since we got you out of the Dart,” he added grimly. “Three long, confusing days, most of it where I didn’t know if you would come out of this in one piece or not. It was bad Sabina. Keller said one of the spikes affected your lungs and that you were lucky to even be breathing so many hours after the fact. She had to operate to fix your shoulder too – there was damage to the tendon you only made worse when you stood up.”

“Oh,” I looked up at him mutely, not sure how I felt about so many things taking place without my awareness. “But I am gonna fully recover right?” I finally asked uncertainly.

“Yeah but it won’t be next week,” John replied, concern etched on his face. “You’re gonna be out of commission for at least a month and you’ll have to do some rehabilitation for your shoulder. But you’ll be back to normal before you know it ... something that looked less than likely when they first brought you out of that Dart.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again, my mood dropping into the despondent when I realised I wasn’t getting out of this one as easily as in the past. “It all just happened so fast ... I really didn’t know what hit me.”

“Rodney went back,” John revealed. “Fixed the shield so at least they’re protected while we keep a look out for a new DHD. He told me what you thought ... that the Replicators were after him specifically.”

“It was the only thing that made any sense,” I explained. “Of course they would have known what we were doing. They had no idea how we were tracking their ships but they know how brilliant Rodney is with their code. They would have just assumed if they got rid of him we wouldn’t be able to track them anymore.”

“It does make sense,” John agreed.

“You didn’t get mad at him did you?” I asked with a stern look.

“Of course I did,” John shrugged at the open admission. “But I apologised later and he said he was kinda glad I went off at him ... meant he could stop feeling guilty for letting you get hurt.”

“He didn’t let me get hurt,” I protested, wincing at the pain in my chest reminding me I wasn't actually recovered even though I felt surprising alert.

“Well, for whatever reason you’re looking at another week in the infirmary,” John held up a hand when I made to complain. “No I’m not going to talk Jennifer out of that. You’ve only just woken up properly and you’re still weak. You’ll stay until she says you can come home. Sam won’t be clearing you for active duty either until Keller says you’re up to it.”

“I never understood the attitude you’re giving out,” I took the opportunity to get my own view in. “After all, I’m the one hurt and in pain here. You should be nice to me and give me whatever I need to feel better.”

“Nice try,” John said with a genuine laugh. “You’ll stay here like a good girl and I don’t want to hear another word about it. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of visitors to help with the boredom.”

“Now I know I really am out of the woods,” I quipped, “otherwise you’d be much more sympathetic.”

“Like you always are when I’m injured and stuck in here,” John pointed out. “Payback is a bitch, isn’t it?”

“Well after this performance I’m gonna be even less inclined to smuggle stuff in for you in the future,” I told him glibly.

“Whatever makes you happy dear,” John quipped in return. I had to laugh, just as he’d intended with his smarmy endearment.

“God, don’t make me laugh,” I put a hand to my chest in protest. “That actually does still hurt.”

“I nearly lost you,” John was suddenly all seriousness again, his teasing of the last few minutes gone as if it had never happened.

“I know,” I agreed easily, “but you didn’t and in the end that’s really all that counts.”

Wordlessly John nodded once before leaning in and carefully resting his cheek against mine. I felt the faint brush of his lips at my temple before he abruptly stood up. “I need some air,” he announced in a strangled voice that didn’t sound like his own.

“John?” I frowned as he turned his back to me.

“I’ll be back,” John promised, rapidly striding from the room without a backward glance.

“Give him time,” Jennifer approached silently, her words indicating she’d witnessed at least some of my talk with John.

“What?” I asked in confusion, still looking to where John had gone.

“It’s been a difficult few days,” Jennifer explained, her words drawing my attention back to her. “Your condition was critical when we brought you in ... John hardly slept the first 48 hours and even after we had everything under control he didn’t relax. He just needs some time to get his equilibrium back.”

“Oh,” I raised an eyebrow at the explanation. Should I be concerned that John was suffering but clearly didn’t think I could help?

“He’ll be fine,” Jennifer promised, “and back in here giving you grief before you’re ready. You’ll be fine too ... with time and effort.”

“Thanks Jennifer,” I said gratefully.

“You’re welcome,” Jennifer smiled gently before leaving me alone with my thoughts.

I’d only been awake a short time but already the brief conversations had used up my energy. Against my will I felt my eyes closing and sleep overtake me.

oOo

“I have to go on a mission,” John was back at the infirmary an hour later, nothing apparent to indicate he was anything other than his usual self. I must have been drifting on the edges of waking because I snapped to alertness as soon as he walked in.

“Okay,” I looked at him closely before continuing. “You okay?”

“Better than,” John said sincerely, “now I know you’ll be fully recovered soon. Look, I’m sorry about before ... it was just ... I’m just really, really glad you’re okay.”

“I understand,” I conceded, shifting carefully so I could raise the bed up a little. “The relief can be overwhelming sometimes ... believe me I know! So, what’s the mission?”

“We’ve been keeping an eye on a Wraith hive ship for the past day,” John revealed. “The sub-space tracking device our Wraith friend used has been broadcasting from the same position in the middle of an empty region of space. Could be a distress call or something else. In any case it’s an hour away from the nearest Stargate by Jumper so we’re gonna go check it out.”

“It could be some kind of trap too,” I pointed out.

“Yeah I know,” John agreed. “That’s why I’m taking Lorne and the rest of your team with me.”

“This is an odd kind of coincidence,” I raised an eyebrow as the thought occurred to me. “You’ve got Teyla temporarily grounded from your team and now I’m grounded from Evan's.”

“Yeah, well the reason for yours is obvious but I’m fully expecting a few choice words from Teyla when she hears we’re heading off without her,” John admitted.

“You haven’t spoken to her yet?” I asked in surprise.

“I’ve been kind of busy,” John said defensively. “She understands that. They’ve all been here you know, sitting with you – keeping me company.”

“Oh,” I hadn’t thought about that, only having been awake for the two brief conversations with John so far ... that I remembered anyway.

“Lorne said he’d stop by before we head out,” John offered. “Rodney would be here already if he wasn’t keeping an eye on the Hive ship to make sure it doesn’t move before we can get there.”

“Well since I’ve only been awake a few minutes I won’t take it personally,” I quipped.

“I’ll be here as soon as we get back,” John promised intently, his reluctance to leave evident. Was he still feeling so insecure about my condition that he was worried about being away?

“You don’t have to worry about me,” I said earnestly. “I really am better ... well, not jumping out of bed better obviously but I’m okay now.”

“I know that,” John said somewhat defensively, “but it’s my job to worry about you ... you’ve given me too much practice lately so I’ve gotten really good at it.”

“You have,” I agreed apologetically. I smiled when he glanced at his watch discretely. “I saw that – if you have to go, go. Jennifer will look after me while you’re gone.”

“Okay,” John leant down and kissed me gently, still with that ‘she might break’ attitude I’d have to do something about when I wasn’t feeling so weak. He walked away quickly, pausing at the door to throw me a wave before disappearing from sight.

oOo

“Rodney,” I caught sight of him hovering almost out of sight a few minutes later. “What’re you doing out there?”

“I ah ... I didn’t want to wake you if you were sleeping,” Rodney said awkwardly.

“I’m awake,” I gestured for him to sit down, frowning when he perched on the edge of his chair.

“So Jennifer says you’ll be back to normal in a few weeks,” Rodney commented after a short, uncomfortable silence.

“Yes,” I dismissed, turning my attention back to him. “Are you okay because you’re broadcasting a lot of nervousness, even for you?”

“I’m just really sorry you’re lying there,” Rodney admitted weakly. “I should have seen that booby trap and then the whole Wraith materialiser plan? It was a –,”

“A successful plan,” I interrupted firmly. “You’ve got nothing to feel guilty for Rodney. You saved my life because you gave me time – time I wouldn’t have had if I’d had to wait for Atlantis to contact us.”

“Oh,” Rodney seemed surprised by my heartfelt praise of his actions.

“I hear your shooting skills were pretty impressive too,” I tried for a lighter tone.

“I can’t believe I made that shot,” Rodney admitted. “It was nerve racking – I mean I’m used to the life and death pressure but I usually get to resolve it with brains, not weapons!”

“Well you did good,” I insisted, looking at him intently. “Thank you Rodney.”

“You’re ah ... you’re welcome,” Rodney replied with a pleased smile. “I gotta head out with the others so ah ... just concentrate on getting better.”

“Be careful out there,” I said softly, watching him leave with a fond smile.

oOo

“Hey,” I opened the eyes I hadn’t realised I’d closed to see Major Lorne standing by my bed probably only a few minutes later.

“Hey,” I smiled at him happily. “Good to see you alive and you know ... all there. Don’t you have a mission to go on?”

“I’ve got time,” Evan replied. “You had us all worried you know.”

“I heard,” I told him. “Been awake a couple of times today ... enough to even remember what they tell me this time.”

“That's good. I just wanted to stop in before we head out,” Evan explained. “Just in case you were wondering where everyone was. Parker and Brown wanted to come too but Jennifer restricted visitors to one at a time for now. They said to say they’re glad you’re awake and they’ll be around later to help you fight off the boredom.”

“Sounds good,” I agreed. “You be careful out there ... and watch John’s back okay?”

“Always do,” Evan quipped. He turned to leave, stopping with his back to me for a few seconds before facing me again. “I’m really glad you made it through this,” he said with eyes full of more emotion than I’d ever seen from him before. “There aren’t that many people I’d count as true friends ... I couldn’t afford to lose one of them.”

Before I could say anything in reply he’d spun around and quickly strode from the room, leaving me sitting there feeling shaky but overall touched ... and appreciated. It would have been nice if Evan could have declared me a true friend before I'd become a Replicator pin cushion but in the end I guess you had to take these things where you could get them.

Jennifer came by to check on me shortly afterwards, scolding me for lying there thinking instead of sleeping like I was supposed to. When I commented that I’d done nothing but sleep for days and that my head was too full she responded by giving me something that had me nodding off before I could protest.

On to Part Seven