Entrapment by Espiritu
Summary: What started as a routine exploration of the Atlantis, turns into a life or death situation when two team members are trapped in a remote part of the city.
Categories: Fanfiction Characters: None
Genres: General, Angst, Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 9 Completed: Yes Word count: 32248 Read: 101695 Published: August 28, 2005 Updated: August 28, 2005

1. Best Laid Plans by Espiritu

2. Milk Run by Espiritu

3. Houston, We Have a Problem by Espiritu

4. Under The Falling Sky by Espiritu

5. Search and Rescue by Espiritu

6. My Brother's Keeper by Espiritu

7. Tears You Cannot Hide by Espiritu

8. Come Walk in My Soul by Espiritu

9. Your Heart's an Empty Hole by Espiritu

Best Laid Plans by Espiritu
Title: Entrapment
Author: Espiritu
Rating: PG13
Category: Drama, Angst
Spoilers: Anything from season one to be safe
Summary: What started as a routine exploration of the Atlantis, turns into a life or death situation when two team members are trapped in a remote part of the city.
Author Notes: Thanks to highonscfi to being a sounding board for my plot ideas and for volunteering to be my beta reader. This one is for you my friend!
Disclaimer: I couldn't come up with any money to buy Stargate Atlantis, so MGM & Gekko still have dibs on it and its characters. I can only take them out to play as long as I have them back by midnight.


Chapter 1: Best Laid Plans

The first light of morning was just an hour old as Major John Sheppard stood in his favorite spot on the balcony outside the control room. Enjoying a welcome respite from his normal duties, he rested his elbows on the railing as he looked out over the surrounding ocean and watched the gentle waves lap against the pier below. It wasn't often he had the chance to catch a moment's peace and quiet or even time to himself. When he did, he usually found himself on this balcony being soothed by the tranquil sounds and sights of the endless expanse of sea and sky.

Unfortunately, these infrequent private moments never lasted long. The city's inhabitants invariably managed to track him down with questions that needed to be answered, problems that needed to be solved, missions that needed to be planned, duty rosters to be filled out, or reports that needed to be filed. Not to mention all the scientist geeks that needed protecting from the countless dangers this galaxy had to offer. The job of ranking military officer did have certain drawbacks with its neverending responsibilities and the headaches that came with them. Still, he wouldn't have it any other way. In the many months since they arrived in the Pegasus galaxy and settled in the vast city, Atlantis had slowly but surely become his home and the expedition members a surrogate family.

Lost in thought, Sheppard studied the reflections of the sunbeams on the rippling water as he quietly sipped his still steaming cup of coffee. Their java supply would soon be depleted, so he intended to savor every last drop while he could. While the Athosians brewed a strong tea that packed a fairly powerful caffeine jolt, it still did not compare to the rich flavor of the popular Earth beverage. Even Teyla had to concede that her favorite morning tea couldn't hold a candle to a good strong cup of joe.

He didn't need to turn at the sound of the balcony doors sliding open to know who was interrupting his solitude this early in the morning. It had become an unspoken agreement between them to make this particular balcony their private sanctuary. It was here they found solace from the burdens of command, habitually enjoying each other's company either in silent contemplation or in quiet conversation.

"You're up early, Major." Elizabeth Weir stated in slight surprise as she walked through the doorway and found the major had already claimed her unusual spot at the railing.

"I could say the same of you, Doctor." Sheppard responded in a teasing tone.

"What can I say? I'm a morning person. Besides, I like to come out here to relax for a few minutes before everyone else is up and demanding my attention.” Weir came up alongside him and stretched slightly as she leaned into the railing. "Aren't you off duty today?" She asked, turning slightly to look up at him.

"Yep, the boss finally let me have a day off. No off-world missions, no lengthy debriefings, no reports to write, no impending disasters to save us from--I don't know how I'll survive having a full 24 hours to myself with nothing important to do." The major feigned a long-suffering expression as he replied.

"Oh, I am sure you'll find a way to stave off the boredom. Just promise me you'll try to stay clear of trouble while doing so." Weir tried to sound stern, but the gleam in her laughing hazel eyes gave her away.

"I seem to recall when I became ranking military officer, I warned you that I could get us into all kinds of trouble." Sheppard reminded her.

The leader of Atlantis nodded her head in agreement. "That you did. Since then, you've certainly done your part to live up to that prediction, I must say."

"I don't know whether to be touched or insulted. Though, I prefer to see it as keeping things...interesting around here." The major shrugged before taking a sip of coffee.

"Yes, you certainly do that. I bet you were the type of child that gave your parents gray hair at an early age or at least kept them on their toes. Probably still do." Weir wondered out loud, imagining the major as a rambunctious little boy.

"Yeah, I suppose I gave them no end of worry." Sheppard murmured, looking quickly away to study the calm ocean before them.

The sudden change in the major's demeanor was not lost on his superior. She noticed immediately that Sheppard retreated behind an impenetrable wall at the mention of his family, becoming lost in silent reverie. She did not miss the sadness that briefly clouded his expression before he turned his head to face away from her scrutiny. She knew very little of his past except the basic information in his military personnel files. He never talked about his family or his life prior to joining this expedition. Everyone else on Atlantis reminisced about friends and family back on Earth at one time or another. Even Rodney spoke of his estranged sister Jeanie. The major, however, never once spoke about himself or his family during such discussions, preferring to listen to his colleagues' stories or finding a way to change the topic of conversation if asked directly about his own relatives. She wondered about that, occasionally pondering what past experiences made him so reticent to speak of his family. She tried to imagine what would make her normally outspoken and optimistic second-in-command become so remote and guarded.

Not willing to broach what was obviously a painful subject, Elizabeth nudged him playfully in the arm with her elbow and steered the conversation in a more lighthearted direction.

"So what are you planning to do with all your free time today then? Maybe Rodney could use some help in his lab."

Sheppard turned back to face her before replying with a slight grin. "I think I'll pass on that particular suggestion. Having a root canal would be more enjoyable than acting as McKay's experimental, ATA gene-enhanced guinea pig. Let him kidnap Beckett and drag HIM screaming into his lab to touch Ancient doohickeys for a change. I think I will kick back down near the south pier and maybe read some more of 'War and Peace'."

"Haven't got past page 17 yet, have you?" Weir asked in a mocking tone.

"I'll have you know I am all the way up to page 20. I just like to savor my literature slowly. It's the only book I brought with me so it has to last awhile." The major retorted.

"Wow, a whole three pages in four months. I am so impressed, Major." Elizabeth couldn't resist poking a little fun at Sheppard.

She knew most of his down time was spent training with his team, playing lab rat for McKay, or researching ways to better their defenses against the Wraith. Any spare time after that, she discovered, was filled by coming up with pranks with his partners in crime--McKay, Zelenka, and Beckett. The four friends were under the mistaken impression Weir was clueless about their escapades, but she made it a point to find out everything that went on in the city. She preferred to turn a blind eye and let them have their fun. Lord knows it was good for morale. With the stresses they dealt with on a daily basis, not to mention an uncertain future, the people under her command deserved to blow off a little steam.

"You have been hanging around McKay too much, Elizabeth. His sarcastic wit is rubbing off on you." Sheppard shot back as he rolled his eyes at her.

Weir just grinned in response and deftly changed the subject. "I was about to go grab some breakfast in the mess hall. Care to join me before you're off to the south pier?"

Sheppard looked at his now empty coffee mug. "Sounds like a plan. I am starving, and I heard a rumor that there might be waffles on the menu or at least those toaster Frisbees the military calls waffles."

"Well, shall we then?" Weir turned from the railing and together they headed out through the balcony doors.

"So when is the last time YOU took a day off, Elizabeth?" Sheppard asked as they walked past the gate room.

"I take a few hours here and there. I don't really have the luxury of a vacation as head of this expedition." Weir explained.

"Even the President of the United States takes a vacation. It would do you good to take a break for a day or two. There are enough capable people on your staff that can handle the day-to-day running of the city. It's not like you would be out of radio contact should any emergencies arise." Sheppard urged. He had noticed how tired Weir looked lately and felt she needed to get some rest from the burden of her responsibilities once in a while.

"As soon as I take care of some backlogged paperwork, maybe I'll consider it. But right now, I really cannot spare the time." Weir glanced up at the dark-haired man walking alongside her and added when she saw the look of doubt he shot her. "Okay, I will try to take some time off soon."

"I could get Carson to write you up as medically unfit for command." Sheppard threatened with a devilish glint in his eye. "Seriously, Liz, if you don't give yourself a chance to unwind, you'll drive yourself to exhaustion. Then Carson WILL have a say in it."

"Fine, John. You've made your point. Will it placate you if I promise to take tomorrow off?"

"You promise?" John stopped walking a minute and turned to face her.

"I swear!" Weir held her hands out. "See, I didn't even cross my fingers. Satisfied now?" She asked in exasperation.

"Yes, I am." Grinning, the major nodded his head and continued walking while Weir shook her head and followed along.

They continued along in silence down the corridor leading to the mess hall.
As they opened the door to the mess hall, they were greeted by the sounds of Dr. Rodney McKay in full-volume rant mode.

"I cannot believe your utter stupidity, Kavanaugh. If you had half a brain in that head of yours, you might actually be considered dangerous." McKay was waving his hands in the air as he chastised the other scientist who was attempting to fill his coffee cup.

"I don't need to stand here and be insulted by the likes of you. It was a simple oversight. Get over it. I have more important things to do than to listen to your diatribe." Kavanaugh flashed McKay a look of disgust as he added sugar to his cup.

"You really are a piece of work. If you would get off your egocentric pedestal of self-worship, you would see you are not the only one around here engaging in crucial research. That laptop you conveniently commandeered contains vital data stored on it that has not yet been downloaded to the mainframe." McKay looked ready to choke his colleague as he cornered him next to the coffee dispenser.

"Dr. McKay, Dr. Kavanaugh. Is there a problem?" Weir interrupted the heated discussion before it escalated further.

"Yes, Elizabeth. There is a big problem. Mr. Congeniality, hippy-wannabe here took it upon himself to steal my personal laptop to take on his survey of the northeast section of the city. Then he was careless enough to leave it behind when he came back." McKay sputtered.

"I did not steal your precious laptop, Dr. McKay. Mine was having a defective CD drive replaced so I asked Dr. Zelenka if I could borrow one of his. He's the one who told me to take it from the workstation in his lab." Kavanaugh countered back.

"I spoke with Radek before tracking you down here. I had given him my laptop so he could begin downloading the data. Did you pay attention to which computer he was actually pointing to or did you assume any one of them was being offered to your noble cause?"

"I did take the computer he told me to." Kavanaugh insisted.

"Obviously not, Brainman, since the missing laptop is the one with MY data on it, and Radek would have never loaned that particular machine to you.

"Rodney, it was a simple misunderstanding. Your laptop can be easily retrieved without any harm done." Weir interjected.

"Well, just who is going to go all that way to get it? It's not like that section is conveniently close to a transporter. That is at least a two-hour walk from here, and I am in the middle of writing some critical algorithms that just might help us against the Wraith. He left it behind, make him go!"

Kavanaugh glared at McKay. "I just returned from that area, so I am not walking ALL the way back now. I have to prepare for a debriefing and analyze the information from our survey. Your stupid laptop can wait until tomorrow." Before anything else could be said, he grabbed his rapidly cooling coffee and left in a huff.

"I told you, Elizabeth, didn't I?. Our team could have used an entertainment director, but instead you hired Kavanaugh. What were you thinking?" McKay put his hands on his hips as if he was demanding an answer.

"Let him go, McKay. We can always hang him off a balcony by his ponytail later." Sheppard grabbed the astrophysicist by the arm to prevent him from chasing after the departing Kavanaugh.

"Personally, I would rather stuff him in the stasis chamber where we found Elizabeth's freeze-dried doppelganger and set the controls to release him another 10,000 years into the future." McKay muttered.

"Rodney, I do like how that overactive brain of yours works. Always thinking up a plan." Sheppard stated in admiration.

McKay folded his arms and rocked back and forth on his heels. "Well, yes. I am just full of great ideas for retaliation in regards to that self-important idiot. Aggravation is the mother of invention."

"I thought that was "necessity"?" Sheppard remarked.

"Whatever." McKay grumbled throwing up his hands.

"Though I would be hesitant to dump him on some poor unsuspecting future inhabitant of Atlantis." Sheppard said in retrospect.

"So we'll send him off with a warning label attached to his clothing...translated into every language in our database of course." The scientist added as an afterthought.

"Gentlemen! Do I need to remind you that whatever your personal feelings towards Dr. Kavanaugh may be, he is still a valued member of this expedition. As such, he deserves a modicum of respect." Elizabeth admonished the two men standing next to her.

"Fine, fine. Respect is a relative term. Anyways, aren't you the one who threatened to gate him off to a deserted planet when he ticked you off?" McKay reminded his colleague.

"How did you find out about that?" Weir asked, raising one eyebrow as she regarded the scientist.

Weir wasn't too surprised that the Atlantis rumor mill passed her conversation with Kavanaugh throughout the ranks of personnel. She knew the arrogant, long-haired scientist was not well-liked and news of his dressing down by their leader when they were trying to dislodge the jumper carrying Sheppard's team from the stargate was too juicy to pass up.

"Oh, word gets around." McKay replied back.

"Nevertheless, it was my prerogative to reprimand him during a crisis situation. This hardly compares, so try to be a bit more tolerant of the man." Weir warned her top physicist.

"Besides, Rodney, it's not a big deal. Tell you what, I am off duty, so I'll just go get your laptop, and you can finish your data download when I get back." Sheppard winked at McKay when Weir was not looking to let him know they would plot some appropriately retaliatory prank on the unsuspecting Kavanaugh later. He was, after all, their favorite target.

"Okay, that works for me. You're right of course. I am...erm...just cranky due to low blood sugar. I'll just go get some breakfast before I go into hypoglycemic shock." McKay picked up a tray before heading to the food service line. He took a few steps before stopping and turning to call back to Sheppard.

"Oh, thank you, Major, for volunteering to retrieve my laptop. I owe you one. By the way, I think Zelenka has a little experiment...er...fermenting that should be ready for you to test when you get back." McKay shot the major a significant look to let him know that the latest batch of Czechoslovakian home-brew would be waiting upon his return from his self-appointed errand.

Sheppard gave the departing scientist a knowing nod before addressing his superior. "Well, since I now have something productive to do on my day off, I better get going. Elizabeth, why don't you come with me? It's a long hike out to that section of the city, and it would make the trip more enjoyable to have someone to talk to along the way."

"I really need to finish some reports today, John. And then there is the debriefing I need to sit in on with Dr. Kavanaugh's team now that they are back from their survey." Weir stammered out an excuse.

"Come on, Elizabeth. It won't kill you to get out of the office for a day. Take a break from running Atlantis, engage in some exploration of our mysterious city, and do Rodney a favor by retrieving his precious laptop." A hesitant look appeared on Weir's face as she considered the pros and cons of temporarily leaving her responsibilities in someone else's hands.

Seeing her indecision, the major tried another tactic. "Think of it field work practice without the hazards of off world travel. Which reminds me, weren't you the one who just mentioned at yesterday's debriefing that we all should get some experience out in the field?" Sheppard gave Weir his best puppy-dog look as he coaxed her into accompanying him.

"Oh, all right. I guess I should get out and see more of what Atlantis has to offer. I suppose it won't hurt me to delegate some of my work. A little exploration might be fun." Weir acquiesced.

"Good. You won't regret it. Besides, we're staying within the confines of the city. What could possibly go wrong on a simple milk run?" Sheppard asked innocently as they departed the mess hall to gear up for the trip ahead.

Milk Run by Espiritu

Chapter 2: Milk Run

Sheppard was studying the schematic of the city's layout, trying to determine the quickest and easiest route to the northeast section. Wanting to make sure he had the correct coordinates for the area Kavanaugh's team had just surveyed, he hit the intercom on the wall panel to call McKay and double-check the location. Knowing the workaholic physicist was in the habit of taking his meals back to his lab to eat while he toiled in the name of science, the major was not in the least surprised when Rodney answered almost immediately.

"This better be important. My time is too valuable to be spent answering the phone. I have a critical experiment in process that demands my undivided attention. So if you're trying to sell me something, you called the wrong galaxy." McKay answered the comm signal with his usual sharp-tongued impatience.

"McKay, it's Sheppard. Who're you trying to kid? I can hear you chewing, so I know you're stuffing your face instead of being up to your ears in Ancient widgets, test tubes, or whatever it is you lab rats play with down there."

McKay finished swallowing the piece of muffin he was chewing before he replied in his customary breathless fashion. "Major, don't tell me you retrieved my laptop already? Because if you did, I'll have to seriously reevaluate everything I have ever learned about the relationship between space and time. And quite frankly, devising a way to effectively shield this city against the impending Wraith invasion has pushed writing 'McKay's Grand Unification Theory' to the back burner."

"McKay, what do they feed you? Really, I want to know what winds you up in the morning and keeps you buzzing around like the Energizer Bunny. Is Beckett giving you special megavitamins or is it a cumulative effect of all those Power Bars you consume?" Sheppard was no slouch himself when it came to being energetic, but Rodney made everyone else look like they were moving in slow motion when he was operating at full-tilt McKay speed.

"No, it's just an outpouring of my naturally dynamic and vivacious personality." The astrophysicist replied in a smug undertone. "So do you actually need something, Major, or did you just feel the need for more stimulating conversation than you get from talking to yourself?"

Sheppard rolled his eyes before answering. "As much as I would love to spend time trading witty barbs with you, Rodney, I do have a reason for this call. I want to get the exact coordinates for the location where Kavanaugh left your laptop. The northeast section itself encompasses a good square mile. Call me picky, but I'd like to narrow the search grid a bit, so I don't waste my entire day off on your errand of mercy."

"You mean you haven't even left yet? What are you waiting for? Time is wasting, and I need that data." McKay said in annoyance, giving his patented, rapid-fire double finger snap to emphasize his urgent need.

"Don't get your panties in a wad. You'll get your laptop before the day's out. I'm waiting for Dr. Weir to meet me in my current location before we head out. She had some last minute details to go over with Peter before we left." Sheppard glanced at his watch before continuing. "She's due back here in five minutes. If she doesn't show up then, I will track her down before she can renege on her promise to come with me."

"You're telling me Elizabeth is going with you? As in actually LEAVING her office and venturing beyond the sanctity of the control room into the great unknown?" McKay sounded incredulous at the validity of this piece of information.

"I kid you not."

McKay was still skeptical. "You mean she is really going to delegate overseeing the running of this hallowed city to one of her trusted minions? Our Elizabeth? The Dr. Elizabeth Weir, who never eats or sleeps, but lives and breathes only for the glory that is Atlantis?"

"The one and the same. Didn't think I could convince her to ever take a break from her duties, did you? I'll have you know I used the infamous Sheppard charm. Works every time." The major boasted with a sly smile.

"Who'd have thought it possible? Hmmm...Guess this changes the odds on the current betting pool." McKay mused as his thoughts were momentarily distracted.

"The one on whether or not Weir finally takes a day off before the month is over?" The major inquired.

McKay was interrupted from mentally calculating his future betting pool winnings by the question. "The one what? Oh...erm...yes, sure that one too."

He cleared his throat. "Well, let's get back to the more pressing business at hand, shall we? Give me a second to get you the location of the rooms Kavanaugh checked out."

Faint clicking sounds came over the speaker as the scientist typed away on his keyboard. "According to the information logged into the database, he was exploring the rooms along the main corridor on the second level in that section. That should narrow your search down to about five rooms. Knowing your remarkably bad sense of direction as I do, I've highlighted the exact rooms in red on my computer's schematic along with the best route to get to them in yellow. Sending the data through to the wall schematic above your comm panel...right about now. If you check the city layout at your location, you'll see the rooms as a bright crimson beacon at the end of the pathway I mapped out. So just follow the yellow brick road as it were, and you will get to your destination in just under two hours."

"McKay, my sense of direction is just fine I'll have you know. But thanks for the information. I'll call you when I get back." Sheppard pressed the comm link button to sever the connection as he studied the map to commit the route to memory.

He was turning away from the console and was about to check his watch again when Elizabeth came striding back into the room, carrying a small backpack.

"Oh, there you are. I was wondering if you were thinking of backing out of this little excursion and hiding somewhere in the control room until I left." Sheppard teased her.

"Like you would let me if I tried, Major. No, I was giving Peter some instructions concerning work assignments, and then I stopped by the mess hall to pack us up some food for the trip. After all, we didn't stop for breakfast as we planned." Elizabeth held up the backpack. "I took the liberty of getting us some sandwiches and fruit that we can eat on the way."

Sheppard's eyes lit up at the mention of food as he smiled in gratitude. "You're all right, Elizabeth. I don't care what Rodney says about you."

"Hmmm, I don't listen to what he says about you either so I guess that makes us even, now doesn't it?" Weir responded tit-for-tat with a quirk of her eyebrow and a lift of the corner of her mouth.

"I guess it does." The major winked in reply. "So, shall we head out before Rodney has a typical McKay hissy fit and comes down here to kick our butts to get us moving?"

"I am ready when you are." Weir said as she hefted the backpack onto her shoulder.

"Hold on a minute. Here, put this on first." Sheppard handed her a flak vest that he had already loaded with standard-issue provisions.

"Is this really necessary for a simple walk across town?" Weir asked as she reluctantly put on the garment.

"Humor me, will you? Wearing one is part and parcel of being a member of my team. Since we will be exploring Atlantis on the way, this officially counts as a mission." Sheppard helped her adjust the fasteners. "Besides, all those pockets come in handy for carrying things."

"Since when are you such a stickler for following protocol, Major?" Weir asked of the man she thought of as more of a renegade than a poster child for the Air Force recruitment office.

"I have my moments." He answered as they began walking. "I got the exact location of the rooms Kavanaugh had been checking out from McKay. Anal-retentive personality that he is, he even mapped out a direct route for me."

"He's afraid you'll get lost, huh?"

"I take a few scenic routes on some missions to avoid detection from any unfriendly locals, and McKay gets it into his over inflated head that I have no sense of direction. For the record, I don't get lost. I merely use shortcuts." Sheppard stated matter-of-factly.

"Oh, Rodney has mentioned some of your so-called shortcuts in his mission reports. If I recall, the term he used to describe them was 'circumnavigations of the military kind'." Elizabeth chuckled at the remembrance of certain McKay-isms in that particular report.

The major shrugged. "I prefer the term 'more covert route', but to each his own."

They walked on companionably for the next twenty minutes, chatting about everything in general and nothing specific to pass the time. Once they had left the vicinity of the designated living quarters and were heading into a corridor that branched out from the main passageway, Elizabeth reached into her backpack and pulled out two sandwiches wrapped in wax paper.

"Are you ready to have something to eat?" She asked holding out the food she packed.

"You could say that. The coffee did not do much to fill my stomach before we left. What do you have there?" The major nodded his head at the two wrapped packages Elizabeth was waving in front of his face.

"You have a choice here of either a ham and Swiss cheese on rye or a turkey club on white. I am guessing you'd prefer the turkey." Elizabeth wasn't surprised when the major immediately selected the turkey sandwich before she finished speaking and took it from her hand. "Of course, I may have presumed wrong, and you really wanted tuna salad on wheat."

"Turkey! My favorite. Aw, how did you ever guess?" Sheppard asked as he unwrapped his sandwich.

"What, you mean the sheer quantity of them that you have consumed since we arrived on Atlantis wasn't a dead giveaway? I would think you'd be sick of them by now. What could be so special about a turkey sandwich? Personally, I find they are bit bland."

Sheppard stopped in mid-bite and looked at her in shock. "Elizabeth, do you know it is sacrilege to speak of a turkey sandwich in that way? What's not to like about a turkey sandwich? They're healthy, they're filling, and they taste good."

"So are a lot of other things. Ham and cheese for instance." She replied holding up her own sandwich.

"I'll have you know I have many fond memories of eating myself into a late-night, turkey sandwich-induced coma on Thanksgiving after watching hours of football. My brother and I would be sprawled on the sofa with the empty-plate evidence of our gluttony littering the coffee table." Sheppard smiled briefly at the memory, before his eyes took on the hooded look they did when he seemed haunted by ghosts of the past.

Noticing the look in his eyes, she did not press him for details. She sensed he would volunteer information only when he was ready and not a minute before. For whatever reason, his past seemed to be a closed book that she doubted few ever got a glimpse into. In fact, she was willing to bet that she was the first one on Atlantis to even hear he had a sibling. Hoping he would eventually feel comfortable enough to tell her more about his family, she continued talking about hers.

"Now that must have been a sight to see. Thanksgiving was pretty chaotic when I was growing up. My parents would have a big family dinner with all the trimmings and invite all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. With all those family members, it would get pretty loud and boisterous with everyone talking at once."

"So is that why you become a diplomat? I mean, with such a big family, you probably had plenty of practice mediating disagreements between individuals and breaking up rowdy behavior." The major commented as they continued walking and eating.

"I never thought about it in that way, but maybe it was a factor. My dad worked for the State Department, so we traveled quite a bit and were always going to galas and dinner engagements with dignitaries from all over the world. I have been listening to so many dialects my whole life. I suppose that is how I developed an ear for so many languages."

"So you followed after your father and become a skilled negotiator." Sheppard declared.

"I guess I did. And I never regretted it. So what made you join the Air Force?" Weir asked before taking the last bite of her sandwich.

Sheppard shrugged and looked at her like it should have been obvious. "Simple...flying. I always wanted to fly ever since I was little. Becoming a military pilot gave me the chance to fly aircraft I never would have had the opportunity to otherwise. So as soon as I graduated from college, I enrolled in the Air Force Academy."

"What about your math degree? I read in your personal file that you had earned a Master's degree in mathematics from MIT by the age of 20. Why do you keep that impressive little fact a secret, especially from Rodney? I've always wondered why you didn't use it as verbal ammunition when he was insulting the intelligence of military personnel."

"I might have been born a math geek, but it is not something I am particularly proud of. Besides, I didn't want a life stuck in academia or trapped in the abyss of some corporate think tank. Now flying...flying is sheer joy, is total freedom...is as important as breathing to me. I can't explain it; it's just something I need to feel alive." Sheppard pursed his lips as he attempted to articulate something he tried never to think in depth about.

"And it's escape from all the death around you?" Weir spoke softly without forethought.

Sheppard stopped walking for a moment and looked down at the ground. He had to swallow a few times to ease the painful lump threatening to choke his throat before he was able to utter a reply.

"There is no escape from that." His voice sounded thick and distant as if it were coming from a place inside him he didn't care to dwell.

Cursing her stupidity, Weir stopped herself and reached out to touch his arm. "John, I am sorry. I did not mean to hurt you like that. I wasn't thinking."

"It's okay, Liz. Really." He flashed her a grin, but his misted eyes gave him away.

"No, I should have known you would think of Sumner, Gall, Abrams, and those men who died serving along with you in Afghanistan." Elizabeth let her hand drop as she felt him retreat behind his devil-may-care facade.

"The list doesn't end there, but it comes with the territory. People die. And sometimes, there's not a damn thing you can do about it. So you deal with it and go on. End of story." He shot her a stony look before he wadded the wrapping from his sandwich into a crumbled ball and tucked it into his vest pocket.

"You have to stop blaming yourself for their deaths, John. You shouldn't take it upon yourself to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You can't protect everyone. You're only one man." Weir insisted.

Sheppard focused on the passageway ahead as they continued walking side by side. Normally, she could easily read his thoughts and emotions just by glancing at his expressive face. But right now, he was as impassive and undecipherable as a cold, marble statue.

"You should listen to your own advice, Doctor." He remarked pointedly, using the formality of her title to further distance himself from the topic at hand.

"Touchť, Major. I guess I deserved that. But sooner or later, you'll have to talk about it." Weir was not ready to let the matter drop. Not when she could see that the long repressed emotions were eroding his peace of mind.

"Let it be, Elizabeth. For once, just accept that some things are not open for negotiation." He said tight-lipped.

"John...." She started to reply before he cut her off.

"I said let it go. I don't want to talk about it. This discussion is over as of now." He said curtly, forestalling further conversation on the matter.

"Fine." She retorted, biting the inside of her lip to prevent herself from calling him a stubborn fool. Instead, she shifted her backpack into a more comfortable position and lengthened her stride to keep up with him as he stomped determinedly down the hall.

The next twenty minutes passed in silence, as each of them became lost in their own thoughts. Sheppard, however, was not one to stay angry for any length of time. Before long, he was chatting amiably with her once again though no mention was made of their earlier tiff. Rather than tread on dangerous ground, they kept the conversation to more upbeat topics related to the people and the city of Atlantis.

It took them another hour of walking before they neared the section recently explored by Kavanaugh and his small team of scientists. Looking around at their current surroundings, they were surprised to see scattered evidence of previous flooding in various halls and doorways. Watermarks stained the walls and the air still faintly held the stale odor of salt and long-decayed seaweed. At first thinking they had wrongly detoured into an abandoned sector, Sheppard consulted a nearby wall schematic to check their location against the coordinates given to him by McKay.

"According to the map, we are in the right area. I didn't expect to find any damage in it though, especially since we are above sea level on this floor." Sheppard was a little concerned about what other surprises they might find when they began to search the rooms.

"Perhaps, this area sustained some damage from the storm. If the wind and waves had broken any windows, water could have washed in and temporarily flooded the corridor. There doesn't appear to be any water left standing, so we may get lucky and find the damage is minimal."

"Do you recall if this location was designated as having been especially hard hit by the hurricane?" The major asked as he inspected an archway in a connecting corridor.

"No, but not all the sensors were operational. We had to shut many of the scanning systems down to conserve energy before we evacuated most of the personnel to Manara. If any damage occurred while the sensors were offline, it may not have been recorded in the data once we turned the systems back on." Weir speculated.

The major continued to glance around, taking note of any possible structural problems in the supporting beams. "And I take it scouting teams have not finished inspecting the entire city yet?"

"No, in fact, Kavanaugh's team was the first to investigate this region of the city."

"I was afraid of that." The major hit his radio headset. "McKay, this is Sheppard."

"Back yet?" The scientist could always be counted on to answer quickly.

"No, we are not back yet. We just arrived in the northeastern section."

"So why are you calling me now?" McKay complained at the interruption to the work he had in progress.

Sheppard ignored the astrophysicist's petulant tone. "Did anyone on Kavanaugh's team report storm damage in this location?"

"No, there is nothing noted in the computer files at the moment. But then again, Kavanaugh has a tendency to be lax on filing his expedition reports in a timely manner. With the exception of his dedication and diligence for self-promotion, the man is procrastination personified. Why?" McKay volunteered.

"We're noticing some water and possible lightning damage. I wanted to know if there had been any particular rooms tagged as areas we should avoid for now." Sheppard explained.

"Oh, hmmm. Well, I haven't spoken to Kavanaugh about any details of his survey. You witnessed the only contact I had with him since he returned. Both Sullivan and Turner were with him, but they were needed on another project, so they probably won't get a chance to download any data until later today."

Sheppard sighed in resignation before replying. "Okay then. I guess we will just have to keep our eyes open and check out the area ourselves."

"Good. Good. Good. Let me know what you find. And, Major, just be careful." McKay warned.

"Aren't I always?" Sheppard quipped before cutting the transmission.

"Do you think we should be worried about staying here?" Weir asked with look of concern.

"Well, I think we should stay alert for any possible hazards and not dawdle too long. We can send a better-equipped engineering team out this way later. In the meantime, let's go find McKay's laptop and get out of here." He motioned Weir to follow behind him as they began inspecting the five rooms on their search grid.

The first two rooms yielded no misplaced computer and displayed little hints of water or electrical strike damage and looked relatively unscathed by the storm surge. In the third room further down the hallway, however, they observed signs of potentially severe destruction. Several windows were broken and the remains of the glass lay shattered across the floor. One wall had developed stress cracks where small rivulets of water slowly seeped, indicating that remnants of a floodtide were still trapped between the bulkheads. Several overhead beams were badly scorched, either from the lightning that had been channeled throughout the corridors after the grounding stations had been disabled or from a subsequent electrical fire caused by water hitting the conduits. Worse yet, an ominous metallic creaking noise sounded intermittently and echoed down the hallway.

"I have a bad feeling about this. Let's not stick around here too long. Why don't you stay back in the doorway while I just quickly look around to see if I can spot the laptop?" The major pointed back in the direction they just came from.

Sheppard couldn't shake the sense of foreboding he felt as the hairs on the back on his neck tingled. He cautiously advanced into the room, but he waved his hand at Weir to tell her to remain where she was. If there were any danger of the room collapsing, he did not want her in harm's way. As the feeling of dread grew stronger, he began to have misgivings about talking her into this excursion. He should have known better than to bring her into a possibly dangerous situation. The sooner he got her out of here, the better he would feel.

Making a quick survey of the perimeter of the room, he saw Elizabeth appear at the edge of his peripheral vision as she ignored his warning and stepped forward to move behind him into the room.

"Dammit, Elizabeth. I told you to stay back!" He growled at her to disguise his concern.

"If it's safe for you, it's safe for me. I can see Rodney's laptop from here. It's on the console in the corner." She hurried over to retrieve the computer before he had a chance to head for it himself.

Muttering to himself over her pig-headedness and her blatant disregard of his orders, Sheppard trailed after her determined to watch her back. While she was picking the laptop up from its resting place, he heard the unforgettable sound of weakened metal rending apart. Glancing up at the direction of the sharp and sudden noise, he saw the over-stressed support beams groaning and bending as if under tremendous weight.

"Elizabeth! Look out!"

Sheppard shouted out a warning as he frantically dove in her direction. She felt two strong arms shove her forcefully aside mere seconds before all hell broke loose. A flood of debris rained down as the world shuddered with violent intensity, and then collapsed around them. Weir didn't have time to wonder what hit them before all went suddenly and mercifully dark.

Houston, We Have a Problem by Espiritu

Chapter 3: Houston, We Have A Problem

McKay was muttering to himself as he puzzled over the latest roadblock in the computer program he was writing. Looking up from his laptop's screen, he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tired eyes before checking the time on his watch. Deciding he could use a much-needed break, he rose from his seat, stretched the kinks out of his aching back, and looked around for the Power Bar he had left on his workstation tabletop.

He had been working on computer code for almost two straight hours when Sheppard had called him a second time to inquire about whether Kavanaugh had reported any possible storm damage in the northeastern pier. He was a little concerned to hear that the area appeared to have suffered some water and fire damage during the hurricane that had come close to decimating the entire city. He was even more disconcerted that Kavanaugh did not see fit to relay the problem immediately upon his return. It was typical that the arrogant scientist did not deem it necessary to inform others of potential hazardous areas that should be avoided. McKay swore he would put that egotistical, prima donna on report when he managed to track him down.

He only hoped the damage was minor and that Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir would not encounter any difficulties during their retrieval of his laptop. Still, he trusted that either one of them would notify him or Peter Grodin if they ran in any unexpected surprises. Sheppard may be the resident magnet for attracting trouble, but the man had proved to be extremely resourceful and highly competent when it came to thinking on his feet. Plus, the major had a protective streak a mile wide and would not let any member of his team, especially Elizabeth, remain in any location he considered unsafe.

McKay retrieved the misplaced Power Bar from under a cluttered pile of system diagrams that lay scattered across his desk next to his keyboard. He unwrapped the energizing snack and was about to take his first bite when Dr. Zelenka interrupted him. His frazzled-looking colleague rushed into the lab holding up a portable scanner and was uttering an incomprehensible mixture of English and Czech.

"Rodney! We have a problem. Something has happened in a section of the second level of the northeastern pier. I was checking over the scanner interface with the city schematic when I saw a sensor alert lighting up a particular sector. Let me, yes? See here." The wild-haired scientist politely pushed McKay aside, then reached over and typed a few commands on Rodney's keyboard in order to bring up the electronic map on the computer view screen.

Zelenka pointed to a flashing dot highlighting several rooms in the main corridor at the far end of the pier. "There. Readings on the panel indicate a catastrophic structural malfunction in these rooms. This is where Dr. Kavanaugh just surveyed this morning, yes?"

"What? Are you sure? Oh God, I should have known something would happen!" McKay quickly cross-referenced the area surrounded by the blinking light with the route he mapped out for Sheppard that morning. Just as he feared, the section of rooms flashing such an ominous warning on the screen was located in the very area that the major and Elizabeth were known to be in during their earlier radio call.

The astrophysicist looked up at Zelenka and asked him with a worried expression on his face. "Radek, this is important. When did you first notice the alarm lights on the schematic? Are you absolutely sure these readings indicate a structural problem in these rooms?"

The Czech scientist straightened up from where he was hunched over the keyboard and pushed in his glasses with his index finger. "I am positive. Would I be here using up your precious time, if I were not? When I saw the sensors light up about ten minutes ago, I first ran a systems diagnostic to rule out a computer chyba...er how you say, glitch. Yes, glitch. Then I asked Dr. Kavanaugh if he noticed a problem when he was out exploring the same areas."

"What did Kavanaugh have to say?" McKay inquired as he frantically searched the database for any reference to the alarm systems codes.

"Ah, he is an ill-tempered and mean-spirited man. I think his ponytail is pulled too tight, yes? Maybe it gives him a headache and makes him not nice to talk to." Zelenka cleared his throat before continuing when he saw McKay's look of impatience. "He said he did notice some trouble spots, but he was not concerned since no one was living or working in that section. He said he would put his findings in his survey report at later date after he finished a more important experiment. He was very rude when I asked. Like I said, not a nice man."

"Oh, this is not good. This is a serious, serious problem." Rodney looked up from his computer. "If I am interpreting the Ancient database files correctly, these sensor readings indicate not only a collapse of those rooms, but also possible flooding within them."

Not comprehending the look of panicked shock on McKay's face, Zelenka remarked. "Rodney, this is a bad problem, but we will just make that sector off-limits until our engineers can make repairs, yes?"

"Radek, you don't understand. Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir went to the northeastern pier to retrieve my laptop that Kavanaugh left behind." Rodney explained in horror.

McKay jumped up from his desk and rushed over to the intercom panel. Entering the frequency codes for the radio channel Sheppard had previously called him on, the physicist tried to remain calm as he attempted to contact his friends.

"Major Sheppard, come in. John, can you hear me?" A panic-stricken Rodney tried again. "Elizabeth, if you can hear me, please answer."

The only reply was the soft sound of static coming over the airwaves followed by a deathly silence.

"Oh damn! This is so not good." Exchanging worried glances with Zelenka, McKay called Peter Grodin in the control room.

"Peter, this is McKay. We have a dire emergency."

"Rodney, this is Peter. What seems to be the problem? Should I contact Dr. Weir?" Grodin answered the intercom.

"You won't be able to reach her. Unfortunately, that IS the problem. We're getting indications that the rooms located in the northeastern pier, which Major Sheppard and Elizabeth were searching, have apparently experienced a structural failure due to storm damage. If you look on your computer's schematic, you will see the area lit up brighter than a Christmas tree." McKay explained in a breathless rush.

"Have you attempted radio contact with either of them, Rodney?" Grodin inquired as he pulled up the schematic on his display and saw the flashing alarm beacons covering several rooms in the northeastern pier's main corridor.

"What part of 'you won't be able to reach her' did you not understand in my previous statement? Of course I tried contacting both the major and Elizabeth! Neither of them is answering. Call me paranoid, but I think that the combination of a room collapse and no response to radio contact cannot bode well for the safety of either of them. We have to do something now!" McKay vented his frustration and concern as he yelled into the intercom.

"Dr. McKay! Please calm down. Panicking will not help the situation. I will notify Lieutenant Ford and Sergeant Bates and have them assemble a search and rescue team. In the meantime, you contact Dr. Beckett and have him get an emergency medical team ready. You can meet us in the control room." Grodin instructed.

"Right. Okay. Sorry, you're right. I am just worried...er...not to say that you're not...but...erm. Right. I will see you in the control room in five minutes. I am calling Carson now." The astrophysicist rambled as disconnected the call to Grodin and then patched in a call to the infirmary.

The amiable Scotsman answered the summons in his usual brisk, yet cheery manner. "Medical Bay. Dr. Beckett here."

"Carson, I need you to assemble your medical team and meet me in the control room on the double." McKay spoke with more than his typical haste. Wanting to cut to the chase, he dispensed with any normal pleasantries; not that snippy scientist was in the habit of observing the rules of social etiquette in most of his conversations.

"Snappy, Rodney, very snappy. Sounds like someone is a wee bit more testy than usual. Are you sick then, lad?" The doctor asked in his customary brogue.

"No, Carson. I am not sick. We think that Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir are injured." McKay told him.

"What do you mean, you think? Don't you know for sure, son? What is the nature of their injuries?" Beckett asked in reply.

"Carson, I don't have time to go into lengthy explanations. So suffice it to say, we have discovered that there has been a recent structural collapse in a portion of the northeastern pier. Long story short, we have strong reason to believe John and Elizabeth were trapped in a cave-in of one or more of the rooms. That's all we know at this point."

"Bloody hell! Why didn't you say so?" The doctor exclaimed in surprise.

"I just did. Look, it is going to take us close to two hours just to get to that section, so we don't have time to waste chatting. Get your trauma team together and meet me in the control room as soon as you can."

"Aye, lad. I will be there right away!" Beckett promised before cutting the transmission.

McKay grabbed his radio headset, BDU vest, and a backpack he hastily stuffed with a variety of electronic devices and tools from his workbench. He motioned to Zelenka who had been monitoring the sensors on the computer and sending data to the Engineering Department.

"Radek, see if you can get the head of Engineering to join us in the control room. What's his name? Jones? Tell him we need as much detailed information on the structural design and layout of the rooms in that section as he can get us." McKay waved his hand and briskly snapped his fingers at the Czech scientist as he walked towards the doorway.

"His name is Johnson, and I already asked him to bring us the data and meet us there. I am very good at anticipating plans. And, I am coming with you. Two heads are better than one to solve a problem, yes?" Zelenka was already picking up his scanner and heading in Rodney's direction.

"Okay, good. Yes, come on then. We can use all the help we can get." McKay replied as they rushed out the door and headed to the control room.

They almost literally ran into Ford in the hallway right outside the control room entrance. The young soldier was already geared up and speaking with Bates on his headset as he jogged down the corridor. Intent on his conversation with the sergeant, the lieutenant did not immediately notice the two scientists until they practically collided.

"Dr. McKay! Dr. Zelenka! Any further news regarding Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir?" The eager young man could not hide his anxiety over the health and safety of his Commanding Officer and the head of Atlantis.

"Nothing yet. I have been keeping my radio headset on and periodically attempt contact. We can probably assume they are too badly injured to respond." McKay let the thought that the two leaders may already be dead remain unspoken. Until they had concrete evidence to prove otherwise, he was determined to stay hopeful that they would be found alive.

"Yes, Doctor. Sergeant Bates has his team ready to go. He said Dr. Beckett's team is already in the control room too." Ford said as they walked through the doors and headed for the stairs that lead to the upper floor where the rescue personnel were assembled and waiting.

"Great. Where's Teyla? She will want to join in the search." McKay asked the lieutenant.

"She's on the mainland handling a minor dispute among two families. Major Sheppard had flown her there yesterday and was planning on picking her back up later this evening. I didn't want to contact her until we had more news to report. She cannot do anything to help where she is, and I didn't want her to worry needlessly."

"Okay. Good thinking, Ford." Looking at his watch, McKay tried yet again to contact his missing colleagues as they hurried up the staircase.

"Major Sheppard, can you hear me? Elizabeth, please respond." He repeated in a futile attempt to reach his friends.

Amidst the intermittent static coming over his radio headset, McKay finally heard a familiar voice urgently call out in response to his repeated broadcasts over the radio frequency Sheppard had been using at their last contact.

"Rodney! We're trapped in the northeastern section. Notify Carson we have a medical emergency. Get down here as fast as you can. We need help now!"

Under The Falling Sky by Espiritu

Chapter 4: Under the Falling Sky

One by one her senses began to awaken, registering slowly but surely the jumbled input of data from the world around her. First came the sounds of dripping water coupled with the soft moans emanating from her own throat, then came the cloying smell of dust mixed with the faintly coppery scent of blood. Third came the sensation of pain and an awareness of the cold, wet floor below her and scattered pieces of debris covering her. Finally came the first fuzzy rays of light that filtered into her heavy-lidded eyes and gradually focused into a kaleidoscope of Kafkaesque images of a world turned upside down.

Shaking off the bits of ceiling tile and plaster dust that lay across her back and shoulders, Elizabeth eased herself up into a sitting position and tried to break through the haze of confusion that clouded her thoughts. She tentatively moved her limbs as she attempted to access her injuries. Grateful to discover she luckily escaped with only minor cuts and bruises, Elizabeth tried to comprehend where she was and what had happened. With the full return of consciousness, the fog finally lifted from her memory. She suddenly remembered the collapse and realized just how and why she managed to survive without any serious injury. Her last conscious recollection was of Major Sheppard shouting out to her before he forcefully pushed her out of harm's way as the ceiling gave way and crashed down upon them.

"Oh God! John! Where are you?" Elizabeth stumbled slightly as she stood up and looked around for signs of the major.

Instinctively, she reached for her radio headset to call for help, only to find it had come off during the cave-in and most likely was lying buried amidst the rubble. However, her first concern was locating Sheppard. Finding her radio would have to wait. As Elizabeth began moving some larger ceiling fragments out of the way, she spotted a patch of gray out of the corner of her eye. Quickly turning her head in that direction, she noticed an arm and part of a leg sticking out from under the demolished remains of the bulkhead wall. Fear stricken, she rushed over to the fallen man and began frantically clearing whatever debris she could from his body.

"Major Sheppard! John!" Getting no answer, she dug faster, hastily removing pieces of rubble from his torso.

As the wreckage was cleared away, Elizabeth saw that her ranking military officer was unconscious but still alive. Breathing in a sigh of relief, Weir checked him over for injuries with growing apprehension. Even with her limited first aid skills, she could see his condition did not look good. A deep gash cut into his left temple, leaking a steady stream of blood down the side of his face and into his unruly hair. The blood mixed with the plaster dust coating his hair and added to the wetness caused by the gush of trapped water that released when the walls collapsed. In sharp contrast to the dark bruises already marring his face, his skin was starkly pale and slightly covered in a fine layer of sweat.

After opening his BDU vest, Elizabeth was dismayed to discover more blood seeping from a penetrating puncture wound and drenching the side of his jacket and shirt. A twisted piece of metal stained with blood was lying next to him indicating it was the most likely cause of the jagged injury. Worse yet, one of his legs was still pinned under a heavy beam trapping him in place. Knowing its weight was probably more than she could lift, she nevertheless struggled to raise the unwieldy metal joist in a futile effort to free him. After a few attempts to lever the beam off him with other pieces of debris, she gave up and instead focused her attention on staunching the bleeding wounds.

Weir searched through the various pockets of her flak vest until she found some pressure bandages and field dressings to cover the deepest, more serious cuts. As she opened the packets containing the first aid supplies, she gave a silent thanks to the major's foresight in making her wear the fully stocked vest. After cleaning and bandaging the gash on his head as best she could, Elizabeth cut open the major's shirt so she could care for the laceration in his side. Pulling the blood-soaked fabric aside, she was shocked by the sight of ugly purple contusions along his ribcage. Gingerly pressing her hands along the bruises, she felt several broken ribs and hoped none of them had punctured a lung. With shaking hands, Elizabeth finished dressing the injuries and gently tucked her rolled up jacket under his head to elevate it off the wet, dusty, and hard floor.

Seeing that his radio headset was still intact, Weir eased it off his head and placed it on her own. No sooner was the radio in place, than she heard it miraculously come to life.

"Major Sheppard, can you hear me? Elizabeth, please respond." She heard McKay's anxious pleas filter through the static on the radio just as she was about to open a channel to send out a distress message. Relieved to hear the scientist's voice on the line, she answered with utmost urgency.

"Rodney! We're trapped in the northeastern section. Notify Carson we have a medical emergency. Get down here as fast as you can. We need help now!"

"Elizabeth! Oh thank God you finally answered. Sensor readings indicated a structural collapse and possible flooding in your location. And when neither of you responded to radio contact, we feared you were dead. You had us worried sick! Why didn't you reply earlier? Are you okay?" Where is Major Sheppard? The astrophysicist's words spilled out in rapid succession as his evident relief was heard in his voice.

"Rodney, I need you to take a deep breath, focus, and listen to me. Yes, the ceiling and bulkhead of the room we are in has collapsed. There's not much water left on the floor so I assume it flowed out into other areas. I am fine, but Major Sheppard is badly hurt and pinned underneath a metal support beam. He's unconscious and needs immediate medical attention!" A worried and distraught Weir explained.

"We have assembled a rescue team and are on our way now. Don't worry, Elizabeth, we will get you out of there. I promise. Hold on, Dr. Beckett is here and wants to get some information on Major Sheppard's condition." McKay assured her.

"Elizabeth, it's Carson. Can you tell me more specifics on the major's injuries, lass?" Dr. Beckett joined in on the radio conversation.

"Carson, it's good to hear your voice. The major is still unconscious. I found him buried under some rubble when I came too. His right leg is still trapped under a beam and I cannot get him free. I cannot tell if that leg is injured. He has a deep scalp laceration near his left temple, a penetrating wound in his side, heavy bruising on his torso and I think some broken ribs. I cannot tell if there are any other injuries. He was bleeding heavily from both lacerations when I discovered him, but I managed to bandage them and get most of the external bleeding under control. But I'm not a medic, I don't know what else to do." Weir updated the doctor.

"Ah, you're doing just fine there, lass. Does he seem to have any trouble breathing? Can you tell me what his pulse rate and respirations are?" Beckett prompted, forced to rely on her as his eyes and ears.

"His pulse seems rapid and thready. His breathing is somewhat shallow, but his respirations do not appear labored at the moment. He is also very pale and his skin feels cool and clammy to the touch." Elizabeth stated, trying to remember the correct medical terminology from the first aid course she once took.

"It sounds like he's going into shock. Elizabeth, I need to keep pressure on the wounds. Do you have an emergency survival blanket in your first aid kit?" The doctor inquired.

Elizabeth searched the pockets of her BDU vest until she located the correct item. "Yes, I have one."

"Good, keep the major covered and calm. We are heading out to the northeastern pier now with a mobile trauma unit. Let me know if Major Sheppard regains consciousness. I will radio you periodically to get regular updates on his condition. Hang in there, lass. We'll get there before you know it."

Beckett tried to offer encouragement to his superior and managed to mask his concern until after he ended the transmission. If the major was to survive, they needed to get him back to the infirmary as quickly as possible. As he hurried along with the rest of the rescue team, he found himself praying that they would.

After the radio contact was cut off, Elizabeth finished unfolding the ultra thin and light survival blanket and draped it over the major. Feeling frustrated and helpless that she could do no more, she sat back down next to Sheppard's recumbent form and tried to calm her frazzled nerves. She knew now it had become a waiting game. A life or death situation with the final outcome yet unknown. Elizabeth glanced down at the critically injured man next to her before looking around the ruined room and hoped their salvation would come in time.

Search and Rescue by Espiritu

Chapter 5: Search and Rescue

While waiting for the rescue teams to arrive in the control room, Peter Grodin had used the recently discovered biometrics sensor to locate the exact position of Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir. Fortunately, the readings had also indicated that both were still alive much to Peter's relief. That McKay finally made radio contact with Elizabeth was even more welcome news. As soon as Rodney and Carson had spoken with Elizabeth, they hurriedly apprised the rest of the gathered personnel of the situation at hand. Along with Dr. Beckett's trauma team and the military contingent lead by Lieutenant Ford, a team of hastily assembled engineers lead by their department head, Dr. Johnson, was ready and waiting to help their trapped teammates. McKay was glad to see that the engineers came with an assortment of excavation equipment and gear they would need to access the collapsed section of the city.

"Ah Dr. Jones. I trust you are familiar with the structural design of the northeast section? It will help immensely if we have an inkling of what problems we might run into down there so we can plan for any unforeseen contingencies." McKay asked the Chief Engineer.

"It's Johnson. Yes, I downloaded all the available schematics and architectural data into a handheld PDA. We'll be able to refer to it in the event any electronic wall maps have been disabled by the collapse." The engineer explained.

"Yes, Johnson. Sorry, I am bad with names. Hmm...Good. Good. Good. Excellent thinking." McKay replied impatiently as he got the groups ready to move out.

The trauma, engineering, and military teams were packed, ready, and under way in record time. Knowing time was of the essence, the expedition members hustled along at a brisk pace. Even the added burden of carrying backpacks and pushing carts loaded with essential medical supplies, electronic gear, and digging equipment did little to slow them down. Not one of them wanted to be the reason for not reaching their destination in time.

They had been on the move for approximately a half hour when the Scotsman's radio signaled an incoming call from Dr. Weir. Tapping his receiver, the doctor answered promptly. "Dr. Beckett here. Elizabeth, how are you holding up? How's our patient doing?"

"Carson, the major just regained consciousness." Weir's voice sounded anxious and fatigued as she updated Carson.

Relieved that his patient had awakened, Beckett was eager to know Sheppard's neurological responses to a few basic questions. "Good to hear. Is he lucid?" He told her what questions to ask the major.

Elizabeth conferred with the injured man before coming back online. "The major doesn't seem to be suffering from any memory loss. He knows who he is, what day it is, and he remembers everything that happened. He's in extreme pain though. There are some ampoules of morphine in the emergency field kit. Should I give him some?"

"No, I am afraid not, lass. Pain meds are not advised in cases of possible head injury. Is the major experiencing any nausea or dizziness?" Beckett replied.

As Elizabeth paused, the doctor could hear the muffled sounds of the major vomiting in the background. "That's an affirmative on the nausea."

After another brief pause, she responded to the rest of his question. "Yes to the dizziness too."

Trying to refrain from causing added worry, Beckett instructed Weir on how to care for the concussed man. "Well, Elizabeth, it certainly appears Major Sheppard has a concussion at the very least. Listen, lass. This is very important. I need you to keep him awake. We need to prevent him from possibly slipping into a coma. And keep him from moving too much in case he has broken ribs. We wouldn't want him to be puncturing a lung or vital organ."

He could hear the unvoiced fear in her next question. "Carson, what if he's bleeding internally?"

Beckett knew in all likelihood the major was experiencing internal bleeding, but did not want to unduly alarm Elizabeth. At any rate, there was nothing that could be done to repair any internal damage until they got the man to the infirmary.

"Well, let's just hope that is not the case. Best to stay steady and deal with one problem at a time. Are his wounds still bleeding?"

"They haven't stopped completely, but they have slowed considerably."

Carson was glad for at least one positive bit of information. "Aye, that's at least a hopeful sign. You're doing fine, lass. Just keep him calm and awake as best you can until we get there. I will be a radio call away if you need me. We are making good progress and will get there soon."

Hitting his headset to shut it off, Beckett glanced over at McKay who returned his concerned look. "Rodney, if you happen to find in your wee bag of tricks a way to get us there quicker, you'd best be using it now. It doesn't sound like the major is doing well at all. I don't like the sound of his symptoms from what the lass is telling me."

"If I could change the immutable laws of physics, don't you think I would do so? I would so just love to be able to wave my hand to make John and Elizabeth rematerialize in the infirmary. Even better, I'd just snap my fingers and turn back time so we would again be in the mess hall this morning. Then, I could use my precognitive capabilities to prevent them from even heading out on this ill-fated trip. Yes, Carson. Believe me when I say I would love to pull either one of these abilities out of my so-called bag of tricks!" Rodney snapped at the physician striding purposefully alongside him.

"Aye, Rodney I am as worried about them as you are. So I won't be having you all peevish with me, son. I was just thinking out loud, really. I dinna expect you to be able to change the circumstances." The Scotsman replied.

The look on the doctor's face reminded McKay that he did not have the monopoly on concern for their friends. Every member of the rescue party wanted nothing more than to reach their two leaders as expeditiously as possible.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to snip at you, Carson. It's just...well...the major's the closest thing to a best friend I have ever had, and I am the reason he is even in this predicament. If he doesn't survive, it will be my fault." McKay stated.

"Now I know that overactive, genius brain of yours employs some interesting logic, but just how do you come by that line of reasoning, laddie?" Beckett was not about to have Rodney blaming himself for the tragedy.

"Let's see, shall we? The only reason Sheppard went to that remote location was to retrieve a laptop that belongs to yours truly. If I hadn't taken such umbrage over Kavanaugh leaving it behind, the major would have never volunteered to go all the way to get it. I could have waited for it, but did I? Did I? No. No. No. I had to gripe so much about some inconsequential data that I had stored on it, that John thought he'd do me a favor. Jesus, Carson, he was off duty for the first time in weeks. He should have been using his day off for some much-earned down time. Some rest and relaxation he's getting now, isn't he?" McKay retorted in self-disgust.

Dr. Beckett shook his head as he admonished the scientist for his self-recrimination. "Oh, did you cause the walls to come tumbling down, Rodney? Did you whip up the hurricane that caused the damage in the first place and send it on the collision course with our fair city? Did you force Major Sheppard to volunteer? No, I don't think so. You are intelligent to know you cannot control every circumstance. Sometimes, these things just happen, son."

"Carson, Sheppard called me when they first arrived in the northeast location. He told me they noticed some storm damage, yet did I check the database thoroughly for any indications that the area was unsafe? No, not me. Not Mr. I-Know-Everything-So-Spare-Me-The-Details McKay. Oh no. Uh Uh. Nope. I let the information go in one ear and out the other and left them to their own devices. I'm the resident genius. I should have been able to extrapolate that the whole situation had the potential for calamity when I factored in the presence of the major in combination with an area displaying observable structural damage. I should have known it was a disaster waiting to happen." McKay seemed determined to not let himself off the hook.

"You are a stubborn bugger, you are, Rodney! It's not your fault, and I will not be hearing any more of this foolish talk." Dr. Beckett insisted.

Coming up behind the two men, Lieutenant Ford overheard the last part of their conversation and felt compelled to add his two cents worth.

"Dr. Beckett is right, Dr. McKay. No one can predict these things, and Major Sheppard himself would not want you to blame yourself. He would tell you to get over yourself."

"The lieutenant is right, Rodney. Don't be such an hlupŠk. Such a big brain and can't see the forest for the trees. Always you make it about yourself. It's better to use your overabundance of energy to solve the problem instead of moaning about the past you cannot change. Unless you have been building a time machine in your spare time, you can only act in the now to maybe influence the future, yes?" Dr. Zelenka chimed in. The Czech scientist had been trotting along next to Ford, trying to keep up with the taller soldier's longer and more determined strides.

"Well, yes. It still remains to be seen whether we will be able to affect a positive outcome." McKay muttered.

"Think positively, lad. Think positively." Beckett added as the four continued down the hallway.

The search and rescue team continued to make good time. Over the next hour and a half, they marched without stopping once for a breather. There would be plenty of time to rest once they had extracted their teammates and delivered them to the medical facilities for proper treatment. Periodically, Dr. Beckett contacted Dr. Weir to obtain updates on the Major Sheppard. As time passed, the injured man's condition steadily deteriorated, making the doctor grow increasingly apprehensive. The longer it took to get to the major, the greater the chance his injuries would prove fatal.

Finally they arrived at the passageway leading to the five rooms that had been on Sheppard's search grid. Checking the lifesigns detector, McKay located the exact room where Elizabeth and John were trapped. They double timed their way down the hall and turned the corner into the corridor where the collapsed room was located.

"Oh bloody hell!" Carson lamented when they came to the end of the corridor and finally reached the entrance to the room where their colleagues lay trapped. "We best have the engineers get their equipment up here right away, Rodney. We have to clear this mess out of here as soon as possible if we are to get to the major before it's too late.

Rodney took one look at the seemingly insurmountable obstacle that blocked their path. The doorway was obstructed by a tangle of toppled beams, wall and ceiling debris that prevented them from gaining easy access to the demolished room before them. McKay swallowed and tried to ignore the nagging feeling of despair. A nervous glance at his watch made him all too aware that the swift passage of minutes had left them precious little time to save their critically injured friend.

"Oh no. This is not good. Not good at all."

My Brother's Keeper by Espiritu

Chapter 6: My Brother's Keeper

Elizabeth had lost track of time since the first radio contact with Rodney and Dr. Beckett. It could have been ten minutes; it could have been several hours. Time seemed to have stopped, and her world felt as though it was condensed into a microcosm consisting only of this room. In reality, it had only been a scant thirty minutes since she spoke with the rescue team. Thirty minutes in which the major still lay unconscious by her side, oblivious to her ministrations as she rechecked his bandages and used a pad of gauze to wipe as much of the filth from his face and forehead as she could.

Needing to feel in someway useful, she once again took inventory of the meager med kit as if expecting its contents to have magically transformed into a fully stocked trauma center. Finding only the same bare bones medical supplies, she put the kit aside and ran an anxious hand over her troubled brow, pushed a wayward lock of hair out of her worried eyes, and let out a sigh of despair. Not knowing what else to do, she got up and stepped gingerly over the rubble, carefully negotiating her way through a minefield of broken rafters, tottered wall supports, and crushed ceiling panels. The doorway they have previously entered was no longer recognizable, having been blocked by collapsed beams that crisscrossed the former passageway and turned it into a tangled jumble of metal and stone. If the rescue team were ever to get to her and John, they would have to dig their way in.

A soft moan coming from across the room suddenly yanked her attention back to the man lying in the corner. Returning quickly to his side, she bent over him and gently touched his shoulder.

"John, can you hear me? It's Elizabeth. Please wake up." She softly urged as she watched his eyes slowly open and blink several times as he struggled to regain consciousness.

"What?...hmmm...Where am I?" The major answered groggily as he tried to focus on his surroundings and comprehend what had happened.

As awareness set in, he suddenly started as he remembered the walls tumbling down around them and recalled the imminent threat to Elizabeth's safety. Not yet registering the full extent of his injuries, Sheppard called out her name and tried to raise himself up in an effort to make sure she was unharmed. The abrupt movement sent a swift wave of agony rolling through his body, making him gasp in surprise.

"Ah, Christ!" He fell back hissing in distress as he gritted his teeth against the intense, stabbing pain.

Elizabeth tried to comfort the groaning man, wishing there were some way she could ease his suffering. "Shhhhh. Take it easy, John. I'm here. Try not to move or you'll begin bleeding again."

"Elizabeth? Are you all right?" Sheppard asked as he squinted up at her and took in her disheveled appearance.

"Don't worry. I'm fine. Thanks to you. You know, you really have to stop making a habit of saving me, Major. It's not healthy for you." She tried to use humor to distract him from the pain.

Sheppard's brief snort of laughter dissolved into a choked fit of coughing as he wrapped his arms around his midsection to ease the painful spasms.

As she helped settle him back down, he looked at her and asked. "How bad is it?"

"It's bad, but nothing Dr. Beckett can't fix." She tried to reassure him.

"Well, that man does love a challenge."

The major tilted his head back down against her folded jacket as the pain gave way to dizziness and nausea. He could tell she was lying through her teeth and that his injuries were life threatening. In all the times he earned himself a trip to the infirmary, he had never felt such unrelenting physical torment. Not to mention, one of his legs was painfully wedged under a beam, effectively preventing his escape. He wasn't in good shape, and he knew it.

As soon as Sheppard settled down, Elizabeth keyed her radio headset to call Beckett and inform him that John was now awake and alert.

"Dr. Beckett here. Elizabeth, how are you holding up? How's our patient doing?" The doctor asked as he responded to her call.

"Carson, the major just regained consciousness." Weir informed the physician.

"Good to hear. Is he lucid?" Beckett inquired before he requested that she check the major's responses to a few simple questions to determine his neurological status.

"The major doesn't seem to be suffering from any memory loss. He knows who he is, what day it is, and he remembers everything that happened. He's in extreme pain though. There are some ampoules of morphine in the emergency field kit. Should I give him some?" Elizabeth asked.

"No, I am afraid not, lass. Pain meds are not advised in cases of possible head injury. Is the major experiencing any nausea or dizziness?" The Scotsman replied.

As if on cue, the major started retching. Easing him over to his side until he emptied his stomach, she spoke into the mike as she rolled him back to prevent pressure on his damaged side. "That's an affirmative on the nausea."

She turned to the injured man. "John, are you feeling dizzy?"

When he nodded weakly, she informed Carson. "Yes to the dizziness too."

"Well, Elizabeth, it certainly appears Major Sheppard has a concussion at the very least. Listen, lass. This is very important. I need you to keep him awake. We need to prevent him from possibly slipping into a coma. And keep him from moving too much in case he has broken ribs. We wouldn't want him to be puncturing a lung or vital organ." Beckett instructed her.

"Carson, what if he's bleeding internally?" Elizabeth asked the doctor, almost afraid to hear his response.

"Well, let's just hope that is not the case. Best to stay steady and deal with one problem at a time. Are his wounds still bleeding?"

Elizabeth performed a cursory inspection of the dressings on his side and head before answering. "They haven't stopped completely, but they have slowed considerably."

"Aye, that's at least a hopeful sign. You're doing fine, lass. Just keep him calm and awake as best you can until we get there. I will be a radio call away if you need me. We are making good progress and will get there soon." Carson stated before they ended the radio transmission.

"They're coming, John. They're coming." Weir didn't know whom she was trying to assure more, herself or the major.

"I know they are. You're all doing the best you can. Thanks for being here." John was leaning back with his eyes partially closed, trying to save his strength.

"Where else would I be?" Elizabeth was concerned that Sheppard was slipping back into unconsciousness when the last part of his reply grew slurred and trailed off into a whisper.

She tapped his cheek slightly to rouse him again. "John, don't fall asleep on me. Come on, stay awake for me. You don't want me to have to talk to myself now do you?"

"Hmmm...What did you say?" Sheppard was momentarily disoriented as he was forced to become alert by the repeated soft slaps on his cheeks.

"I need you to stay awake for me, John. Talk to me." Elizabeth urged.

"About what? The weather? The weather's nice outside. I shoulda went to the south pier to read. Might have made it up to page 25 by now." The major was
rambling somewhat incoherently. But as long as he stayed conscious, Elizabeth wasn't about to complain about the topic of conversation.

"Well, when we finally get out of here, I will tell Carson to keep the nurses from bothering you. That way you can read your book while recuperating." Weir suggested.

"Actually, that sounds like a plan. Looks like I will be stuck in the infirmary for a while this time. Carson will put a name plaque on one of the beds to designate it as my own personal space after this visit. I know he will. That concerned and dedicated physician persona is just an act. I know from experience the man has a twisted and sadistic sense of humor."

"Why do you say that?" Elizabeth asked puzzled.

"Because he won't let me sleep. I am so tired right now, and he's making you keep me awake. You're sadistic too. I just wanna sleep...so tired." The major's mumbled reply faded off as he lapsed back into unconsciousness.

"John, wake up! Come on. Don't fall asleep on me." She shook his shoulder.

Elizabeth worriedly tried to no avail to keep him from succumbing to the darkness, but her efforts failed. She could only watch helplessly as his eyes closed and he lay still, leaving only the soft sound of his breathing to keep her company.

An hour had passed in which Elizabeth held vigil over the injured man. Periodically she tried again to wake him, but he continued to remain unnaturally still. During that long hour, Carson checked in several times, worried himself that his patient was unresponsive to any stimuli. But just when Elizabeth thought the major would never again awaken, she heard him begin to stir.

Sheppard announced his return to consciousness with a groan. "Crap, I was hoping this all was just a bad dream."

Elizabeth leaned over to meet the major's sluggish gaze. "John! Thank God you're finally awake. You had me worried when you would not respond. You need to stay alert."

"Remind me again why that is supposed to be a good idea?" He muttered. The throbbing in his skull was growing worse and the rest of his body felt on fire. It was getting harder to fight the pain.

"John, I wish I could give you something to help with the pain." Weir never felt so helpless in her entire life.

"Yeah, I hate to admit it, but I would give anything for one of Beckett's super potent pain pills right about now." Sheppard's face was sweaty and pale from the effort it took talk through the discomfort.

Seeing her look of distress over his condition, Sheppard tried to steer the conversation in a different direction. He couldn't stand watching her grow
increasingly worried about him. It was his job to worry, not hers.

"Elizabeth, you know, I never thanked you for giving me the opportunity to come to Atlantis for a fresh start. I don't think I ever mentioned how much I appreciate you taking the chance on me."

"I have not once regretted the decision to have you on my team, Major. You are an invaluable and integral part of this expedition. Don't you ever forget that. Many of us owe you our lives, myself included. In fact, it was my fault you are now laying here. I should have never run into the room. If you hadn't come after me, you would not have been caught in the collapse." Elizabeth stated in self-recrimination.

Grimacing with pain, the major spoke with as much force as he could muster. "Nothing is your fault, Elizabeth. Nothing! I'd do it again in a heartbeat. It is my job to protect you, no matter what. Even if it wasn't in my job description, I'd still do it."

"Yes, when we get out of here, we need to talk about this over-protectiveness of yours. Why are you so willing to put yourself on the line for others?" The leader of Atlantis asked her ranking military officer.

"I told you. It's my job to look out for each and every member of this expedition and keep them safe." Sheppard answered as though the question was unnecessary.

"No, there's more to it than that. Most people would not be as self-sacrificing as you are."

"I protect what I care about. What is so wrong with that?" Sheppard said defensively.

Elizabeth shook her head. "Nothing up to a point, but you need to take care of yourself too."

"I do. If nothing else, I am a survivor." The last part was stated with a touch of self-reproach and guilt at having survived situations others hadn't.

"Many would say you tend to throw yourself in harm's way too quickly as if you have no sense of self worth." Elizabeth pointed out.

When the major remained silent and did not respond to her last statement, Weir decided to press the issue further.

"I am serious, John. You are incredibly driven to make sure no one gets left behind. Why is it so personal?" She asked.

"Because when people get left behind, they are in essence being sentenced to die. You don't let people die if you can help it. You just don't." Sheppard looked away, but not before Elizabeth saw the flicker of pain in his eyes. Pain this time, she suspected was more emotional than physical.

"Is that why you did what you did in Afghanistan? I read your military records. Up until that little black mark you earned with your actions, you were on the fast track to a stellar career. Why would you throw away everything by disobeying a direct order to rescue two men you didn't even know? Why you, why not let someone else go in to get them?"

"Because it was easier for me to go. If anything happened to me, no one would be left grieving." The major admitted.

"Why would you even say that, John?" Weir tried to understand his reasoning.

Again the major fell silent. For several long moments, only the raspy sound of his breathing was heard as he found it increasingly difficult to draw breath against the pain of his injured ribs. As time passed, his breathing was becoming somewhat labored, making Weir suspect there may be damage to one of his lungs. Elizabeth sat quietly next to him trying to keep the worry from showing on her face and wondering if he had noticed the fear in her voice.

He sounded tired and weak, the words barely a whisper when he next spoke. "Because they're all dead."

"Who, John? Who're all dead?" Elizabeth asked in confusion.

"My family. My father. My mother. My brother. They are all dead." Grief tinged his quiet voice as he answered.

"Oh, John. I am so sorry. Is that why you never mentioned your family before?" Elizabeth said.

"There didn't seem to be any point. They're dead. They have been dead a long time, and nothing I can say or do will change that fact."

"I've found no matter how deep you bury grief, it will come back to haunt you unless you talk about it. Maybe it's time you talked about them to someone, don't you think?" She advised.

If he were in less pain, he would have shrugged. "Playing shrink now, Doctor? I didn't think your PhD was in psychology."

"It's called being a friend, John. Don't try to play it formal with me, either. Haven't we been through enough together that you can trust me with the story of what happened to your family? I can see how much it still hurts you. The grief will only continue to eat at you unless you face it and allow yourself to go on."

"You know I trust you, Elizabeth. I trust you more than anyone, even more than Rodney, and I count on him to watch my back."

"Then trust me on this, John. Talk to me. Tell me about your family." Weir quietly insisted, not wanting to let the matter drop.

The major coughed painfully before clearing his throat. "Fine. I can see you will not give up on this, and I don't have the energy to argue. My parents died when I was seventeen. My brother, Thomas, was fourteen. I had graduated from high school a year early, so I was already enrolled as a freshman at MIT. My parents had come to Boston to visit me on campus. Luckily my brother stayed home with a friend. We were heading out to do some local sightseeing when a drunk driver crossed the median strip on the highway and slammed into our car. We never knew what hit us."

"Oh my God, John. That's horrible." Elizabeth exclaimed.

"My mother was killed instantly. My father lingered in a coma for three days before he joined her." Sheppard tightened his jaw at the still raw memory.

"What about you?"

"They told me I was the lucky one. I was knocked out and had a few broken bones, but I survived. Like I said before, I am a survivor. Lucky me." The major winced as he shifted slightly to ease the growing ache in his side and abdomen.

He continued after taking a wheezing breath. "After I got out of the hospital, the task of settling my parent's estate fell to me. My grandparents had all died either before I was born or when I was a baby, so my brother and I were all that was left of our family. I went back to MIT, and my brother enrolled in a private boarding school nearby so I could look out for him. He was a senior in high school when I joined the Air Force."

Elizabeth watched the emotions play across his face as he recounted his past tragedy. "You said your brother was also dead. What happened to Thomas?"

"For some idiotic reason, he tended to follow big brother's example. He never learned how much that was a bad idea until it was too late. He decided to also join the military after graduation." Sheppard answered.

"So he enrolled in the Air Force too?"

"No, he signed up with the Marines and became a regular grunt. He was killed in action in an ambush outside Kabul."

"I'm sorry, John." Elizabeth touched his shoulder in sympathy.

"That's not the half of it. He should have never died. He was trapped behind enemy lines, and his CO left him when he ordered a retreat. That gutless son-of-a-bitch left my brother to die." Sheppard clamped his eyes shut against the hot tears that burned them as his voice choked on the long-repressed grief and anger.

"So that is why you are so adamant about never leaving any of your men behind." Elizabeth could now understand what caused this particular code of honor to be so ingrained in the major's personal makeup. Sheppard never wanted another soldier's family to experience the loss that he did.

Sheppard's voice had a hollow ring to it as he answered. "I couldn't be there to save my brother. I will damned if I will let somebody else's brother or sister die if it is within my power to help."

Elizabeth was about to comment when the major was wracked by a fit of violent coughing that momentarily took his breath away. Struggling to take in enough oxygen, he attempted to sit up. It was a mistake. The added movement only served to increase the discomfort until his entire body felt tortured. An agonized cry of pain escaped his lips as the protracted bouts of hacking overcame his debilitated body. As the spasms finally passed and he was able to catch his breath, Elizabeth held his shoulders and eased him back down to rest.

"Don't you give up. You're a fighter, so just keep fighting! You're the strongest person I have ever known, John. I know I haven't told you, but I rely so much on your strength. I don't think I could lead this expedition without you. You're my rock. I need you." Weir choked back tears as she spoke.

Biting back the pain, Sheppard tried to make light of the situation for her sake as he managed to softly quip. "I am not going anywhere. Besides, I couldn't at the moment even if I wanted to. I lay before you as your captive audience."

Smiling in spite of her tears, Elizabeth gently chided him as she patted his arm with one hand and held fast to his hand with her other. "Gallows humor is so not funny, John."

"But I made you laugh anyways. You need to smile more, Elizabeth. Whatever happens, promise me you'll still laugh and smile. I want you to be happy no matter what. Promise me." Sheppard tried to shoot her a reassuring grin, but a sudden spike of pain lanced through his gut and made him reply with more asperity than he intended. Wincing in agony, he grasped her hand back as he looked at her intently with pain-ravaged eyes.

Choking back an unrelenting feeling of trepidation, she caressed his cheek and pushed back the sweat-dampened hair off his brow. "I will only be content when you are healthy and whole again. If you think for one moment I can be happy otherwise, you are sadly mistaken, Major. So if you want me to be happy, you have to concentrate all your energy on getting well." Elizabeth turned her head to the side, trying to hide the tears she quickly wiped from her eyes before she turned back to look at him with a forced smile on her face.

It was breaking his heart to see her so upset, especially when her emotional distress was on account of him. She deserved so much better. He just wished he had swallowed his pride sooner and let her know how he felt. He wished he had told her earlier how much she meant to him. Damn his stupid, foolish pride and his fear of letting anyone ever get too close. Damn the walls he built around his heart after everyone he ever loved had died. Only now he could finally see those walls had never protected him, but only served to trap him in a self-imposed emotional prison instead. She'd never know she alone held the only key to unlocking the prison and setting his lonely soul free.

Now he was running out of time. He could feel it. He regretted not having the chance to explore their relationship further. He so wanted to know her better. He cherished the time they already had, however short a span it was. He treasured their quiet moments on the balcony, their private talks, their silly jokes, the meals they shared, the challenges they faced together, even their infrequent disagreements. But those were all the moments they were ever going to have. Unless a miracle happened, he was not getting out of this. The major had been caught in many predicaments in his lifetime, but this was ultimately one situation he knew he was not walking away from. His strength was sapped, and he was growing weaker by the minute. But he had to tell her one last thing, before it was too late.

Sheppard closed his eyes briefly as he fought down the pain. Then gazing back up at her, he spoke with a sudden intensity. "Elizabeth, there's something I have to say..."

She interrupted him just as she had on a similar occasion. That time, he had been trapped in the jumper that had gotten lodged in the stargate while his life was being drained away by the wraith-tick clinging to his neck. She hadn't wanted to hear his deathbed confession then, and she didn't want to hear it now.

"Don't say it, John. Please."

"I need to. I may not get another chance." He took a deep breath to try to ease the pain before continuing.

"You will. You're going to get through this, John. We're going to get through this together. I am right here, and I won't leave you. Not now, not ever. So you just stay with me. Please stay with me." Elizabeth pleaded with weakening man lying alongside her.

"I just want you to know that I love you, Elizabeth Weir. I will always be with you. Always and forever." Sheppard's voice dropped off as his eyelids fluttered while he tried not to surrender to the encroaching darkness, and he fought a losing battle to keep his mind and body from sinking back into oblivion.

Frightened by how rapidly the major's condition was deteriorating, Elizabeth gripped the wounded man's hand tightly and closed her eyes as if to will her own strength over to him and keep him alive.

"You hang on, John Sheppard. You hear me? Carson will be here any minute. You just keep hanging on. I...I love you too." She uttered the words almost as a personal mantra, hoping against hope that help would arrive in time.

The jagged sound of his breathing gave a little hitch and then grew softer. So gradually at first, she did not immediately notice when it finally trailed off completely. Opening her eyes at the deathly silence, she noticed his eyes too had closed. But it was the stillness of his face and the cessation of the normal rise and fall of his chest that truly alarmed her. Quickly releasing her grip on his now limp hand, she placed her hand over his heart and then checked the side of his neck for the pulse that was no longer there.

"NO! Don't you dare do this to me, John. Don't you dare! I will not let you die on me. I will NOT!" Elizabeth cried out before frantically beginning CPR.

She bent over his motionless body while she performed several rounds of rescue breathing. Then changing position, she determinedly started chest compressions. As she pushed down on his chest, she fought back the fresh tears that threatened to spill down her face.

"NO! Breathe damn you! Don't you leave me like this. Not like this, John. No. Not now!" She sobbed out in fear as she continued to work on him and fervently prayed Carson would come.

Tears You Cannot Hide by Espiritu

Chapter 7: Tears You Cannot Hide

As soon as the rescue team arrived at the location of the collapsed room, Dr. Johnson's group immediately began shoring up weakened beams and started excavating through the rubble. As they dug, they handed off wall panel shards and ceiling tile fragments to the line of team members standing behind them. Luckily the debris covering the doorway was not as deep as they first feared, and they made excellent progress tunneling their way into the room. The engineers had just broken through the wreckage that blocked the entrance to the collapsed room when Dr. Beckett's radio headset suddenly came to life. Keying his mike, the doctor heard Elizabeth's frantic call.

"Carson, John just stopped breathing, and he has no pulse. Oh God! Where are you? Please hurry!" Her voice took on a pounding rhythm in time to each chest compression as she continued CPR.

"Hold on, lass. We're at the doorway now. We are coming through right away!" The Scotsman exchanged a quick, horrified look with McKay. "Rodney, Major Sheppard is in cardiac arrest. I've got to get in there now!"

Beckett pushed the engineers out of the way and poked through the opening before turning to collect the portable defibrillator from the medical technician behind him.

"Hurry, laddie. Grab the drug box and come with me. We've haven't time to be wasting."

The doctor squeezed the rest of the way through with the medic in quick pursuit. Stepping over the rubble strewn across the floor, he spotted Elizabeth in the far corner performing CPR on the major's still form. Rushing as fast as he could over the scattered debris field, he knelt over Sheppard and quickly hooked him up to the heart monitor. The med tech simultaneously charged the defibrillator before handing the paddles to the doctor. Elizabeth moved out of the way as the medical team took over, watching the proceedings with apprehension.


Beckett applied the paddles to Sheppard's chest and hit the button. The major's body arched up as the jolt of electricity coursed through it. The doctor glanced at the flat line still lighting its way across the heart monitor's display.

"Recharge to 400!" The Scotsman mentally counted the seconds as the machine came back up to full power with an insistent whine. Again, he positioned the paddles on the soldier's still chest.


For a second time, the major's body stiffened momentarily as the paddles activated with a dull thud before it relaxed limply back against the floor. This time, however, the doctor's efforts were rewarded with a slow, but steady blip on the monitor to indicate the return of a sinus rhythm.

Exhaling noticeably in relief, the doctor announced. "Okay, I've got a pulse. It's weak and thready, but there."

Turning his attention to the major's labored gasps for breath, Beckett inserted an esophageal airway to ease the stress on Sheppard's injured lungs and bagged him to assist the major's breathing. Handing off the task of manning the ambubag to a member of his staff, the doctor started an IV along with a transfusion line to begin replacing the blood Sheppard had lost.

While the medical team had been working to resuscitate the major, the rest of the rescue team busied themselves with enlarging the hole they had dug in order to fit the rest of the equipment through the shattered doorway. McKay and Ford had worked their way into the room and joined Elizabeth in quietly watching the doctor work over their friend. Crouching on either side of the kneeling woman, they exchanged troubled glances over the worrisome turn of events. Elizabeth did not even acknowledge their presence as she kept her eyes locked on Sheppard's recumbent and pale form, her face a stoic mask that did little to hide her true emotions from those who knew her best. As the medics worked feverishly trying to stabilize the major for the long trip back, the three teammates stayed together and offered each other silent support as they prayed the medical team would pull off a miracle and save Major Sheppard's life.

Once Beckett succeeded in restarting the major's heart and getting his patient breathing once again, he set about treating his other injuries as best he could under the less than ideal conditions. After re-bandaging his wounds, the doctor turned his attention to the leg stilled pinned under the fallen beam. The offending piece of metal would have to be lifted in order to extricate the injured man before they could get him back to the infirmary. Carson looked up from his inspection of the major's leg and called for help.

"Okay, get me the portable hydraulic jack. We need to get this beam off Major Sheppard's leg so we can get him out of here."

Taking the requested tool from one of the engineers, McKay came over with Ford in tow, both eager to finally lend some assistance in the rescue attempt. The two men positioned the jack under the beam and slowly began to raise the heavy metal support until they had enough clearance to slide the leg out from under it. As the scientist and the lieutenant pried the beam up, Becket and his staff carefully pulled the major out. Once the leg was free, the medical team was able to assess clean breaks of both the tibia and fibula. They quickly splinted the leg to immobilize it, secured him to a portable backboard to stabilize any possible spinal injuries, and lifted the unconscious man onto the waiting gurney.

"Aye, that's it then. Let's get the major to the infirmary on the double!" Beckett urged as they maneuvered the injured man and assortment of monitors over the rubble and through the entranceway to the hall beyond. With McKay and Ford hanging by Elizabeth to offer support should she need it, the group began their long journey back.

The engineering team and military team headed by Sergeant Bates stayed behind to make some temporary repairs to the area and further survey the damage while the trauma team rushed to get the major back to proper medical facilities. Followed by McKay, Ford, and Weir, the medical staff continued to monitor Sheppard's vital signs as they pushed the gurney and wheeled carts holding the medical equipment along as fast as their legs could carry them. They stopped only when necessary to inject various medications into the IV line and to replace the ambubag with a portable respirator. The major remained comatose during transport and therefore was unaware of the frenzied, determined activity around him. But somehow, he managed to cling weakly to life as his teammates worked to save him.

As they finally reached the medical bay, Beckett's team moved like a well-oiled machine as they worked over their critically injured patient. Presiding over his staff, the doctor ordered MRI and CAT scans along with X-rays of the major's leg, ribs, and spine. They continued to pump drugs, fluids and replacement blood into his system to fight the effects of shock and bolster his vital signs prior to surgery. Sheppard's blood pressure continued to drop and his heart rate grew erratic despite their efforts to stabilize him. They could not risk waiting any longer to get him into surgery. They needed to stop the internal hemorrhaging, and they needed to stop it now.

As Beckett left to follow the major as he was rushed into surgery, the shell-shocked trio of Ford, McKay, and Weir stood together for several long minutes in numbed silence.

It was Lieutenant Ford who spoke first. "Someone should go get Teyla. She would want to be here. She would want to know what happened."

"Hmmm?...Yes, yes of course. Sergeant Markham should be available to fly a jumper over to the mainland." McKay answered when it appeared the still-dazed Weir was too lost in thought to respond.

"I should be the one to tell her. She should hear it from a member of our team. I will go find Markham. I shouldn't be gone long. Let me know if...if anything happens." Ford met McKay's glance as he prepared to head out the door.

"Yes, Lieutenant. The quicker you can get her, the better in case...well...in case." Rodney cleared his throat. "I will keep you informed of any updates on the major's condition so go on and get Teyla."

After Ford had departed at a quick jog, the astrophysicist turned back to Weir and accessed her emotional and physical state with a critical and probing look. She seemed to have aged a dozen years within only a few short hours.

"Elizabeth, are you all right?" McKay asked his friend and colleague, concerned by her frozen, blank expression, pale skin, and red-rimmed eyes.

"No, I am NOT all right. I am far from being all right. I just watched John die in my arms not too long ago. How do you think I am doing after that?" Elizabeth cut short her sudden outburst to rub her eyes with shaking hands.

McKay watched her with a mixture of concern for her emotional state and fear for the major's physical state mirrored in his blue eyes. He may have had the tendency to ignore most subtle social cues, but he was not totally blind. He had seen the relationship between the expedition head and her second-in-command spark practically from the day they met and slowly, but surely, grow over time. It also did not surprise him that the two people in question chose to hide their true feelings from each other. McKay knew each of them well enough to understand that they both put duty before personal desires, preferring to deny the steadfast bond developing between them.

"I'm sorry, Rodney. You did not deserve that. It's just been a very difficult day. He was in such pain, and there was nothing I could do for him. I had to sit there and watch his condition steadily decline for two hours. I felt so helpless." Weir stood rubbing her arms as if suddenly chilled.

Elizabeth took a deep breath to try to calm her nerves and regain control of her emotions. She was their leader. She had to remain strong. She could not break down. Not yet. Not in front of her staff. There would be time for that later when she could be alone.

The normally loquacious scientist for once was at a loss for words. He did not know what to say to ease her distress. He was as worried as she was about the major. The only thing that would make them feel better would be for Carson to come back through the doors to the surgical suite and tell them John was going to be fine. They just would not accept any other news than good news. They wouldn't. They couldn't.

For now, McKay simply held Elizabeth's hand, silently offering a measure of comfort as they sat down and waited. Weir turned to the astrophysicist sitting just as grief-stricken next to her and nodded in appreciation as she gripped his hand tighter.

As the pair began their long vigil, McKay spoke softly while looking intently at the operating room doors.

"I should have never let him go retrieve that laptop. It is not worth a man's life. It is especially not worth John's life."

"Rodney, you had no way of knowing this was going to happen. No one did." Weir said tiredly.

"I could have found Kavanaugh to get his survey data when the major called and told me he noticed storm damage. I could have told him to stay away from the area until I confirmed it was safe. But I was too busy to bother. I was careless, and my negligence endangered Sheppard's life. I may as well have pointed a gun at him and fired." McKay muttered miserably.

"And I ignored his warning and foolishly put myself in harm's way. My stubbornness caused him to be under that bulkhead when it gave way. John was injured saving me. So who is more at fault? Answer me that, Rodney. Tell me why it had to be John." Elizabeth shot back.

"Because he puts all of us above himself, that's why. Because he looks out for his friends. He looks out for us all. I should have gone instead. I am supposed to watch his back as much as he watches mine. But where was I? Where? I was in my lab eating a Power Bar. That's where." McKay said in anger.

"Rodney, trying to assign blame is not going to help matters. Carson is right. No one is to blame." Weir shook her head. "Arguing about it is not going to help John."

Their conversation was interrupted when a nurse came up to Elizabeth and handed her a set of scrubs. "Dr. Weir, why don't you go take a shower and change out of those dirty clothes? You'll feel better if you do. Once you're done, we'll check you over and clean up those abrasions. A couple of the lacerations look like they may need stitches."

"I'm fine. I really think I should stay here in case Carson comes back with news about the major." Elizabeth informed her. "Dr. Weir, the major will be in surgery for quite a while. If Dr. Beckett has any updates, I will come find you. Please go so I can do my job and get you taken care of. You don't want to defy Dr. Beckett's orders, now do you? He can be quite prickly when his patients don't listen to him." The nurse held her arm, urged her to stand and prodded her in the direction of the medical bay showers.

Elizabeth turned back to McKay before she numbly let herself be led off. "Rodney? Will you wait here until I get back in case Carson returns?" She asked.

"Go on, Elizabeth. I will stay here and hold down the fort until you get back. I am not going to move from this spot. I promise. Go on. Go. Go. Go."

McKay waved his hands at her as he nodded. As soon as she walked away with the nurse, he sighed deeply, bent forward in his chair, rested his elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands.

The nurse showed Elizabeth the way to the showers, gave her some toiletries and towels to carry along with the scrubs. She told Weir to meet her back in the triage area when she was through. Thanking her, Elizabeth went into one of changing rooms before entering an empty shower stall. Turning the spigot on full blast, she angled the shower head so it pelted her neck and shoulders with a steady spray of hot water that eased some of the tension from her stiff, aching muscles. She slowly sank to the shower floor, sitting with her back against the smooth tile. As the shower rained down forcefully upon her, she finally let her defenses down and dropped the tight control on her emotions. Now that she was alone, she gave in to the heartache and despair as her anguished sobs filled the confined space. As she sat there crying, the steaming jet of water mingled with the hot flood of tears flowing down her face and washed the salty tang of them away.

The twenty or so minutes that Elizabeth was gone felt like an eternity to Rodney McKay. Never a patient man, the repeated stretches of waiting following intervals of anxiety and fear were beginning to take their toll on his already tense nerves. Not able to sit any longer, he got up and began pacing back and forth in restless agitation.

"If you do that long enough, you'll wear a path in the floor."

Rodney was momentarily startled out of his reverie by the quiet voice behind him. Spinning around, he saw Elizabeth had returned. Freshly showered and dressed in a pair of scrubs, she looked even more pale, the bruises more noticeable now that the dirt had been cleaned away.

"Sorry, nervous habit." He gestured towards the chairs. "I find it hard to just sit and wait. Patience isn't a virtue I have in great abundance."

She allowed herself a small smile. "No? I would have never guessed." Glancing at the operating room doors, she asked. "Any word yet?"

"No. But I am more than willing to go with the assumption that no news is good news in this case."

Just then, the nurse who previously suggested that Weir take a shower returned to follow up on her promise to treat her minor wounds.

"Oh, Dr. Weir! Good, I see you're done with your shower. Why don't you come with me, and I'll get those lacerations looked at and give you a complete check up. From the looks of you, you could also probably use a bite to eat."

As Weir stood up to go be treated, McKay offered to run down to the mess hall to get her a tray of food.

"Elizabeth, while you are in with the nurse, why don't I go get you something to eat from the mess hall and bring it back here. I am willing to bet you haven't eaten all day. Take it from someone who knows, you don't want to fool with low blood sugar. We wouldn't want you passing out on us, now, would we?" The scientist was actually relieved to have an excuse to stretch his legs and have something useful to do to distract his mind from worrying.

"Thank you, Rodney. I would appreciate that." The truth be told, Elizabeth had absolutely no appetite, but was too tired to argue that fact with either the nurse or Dr. McKay.

"Great! I will be back in no time at all. You just go get fixed up, and I will have a hearty meal served up when you are done." McKay replied as she nodded in thanks as she followed the nurse to the treatment area.

McKay was halfway to the mess hall when he ran into Dr. Zelenka returning from the northeast pier where the Czech scientist had stayed to assist the engineering team in their assessment of the structural damage in that area. Lost in thought, the astrophysicist did not notice the item Zelenka carried. 

"Oh Rodney, I was just heading down to the infirmary to find you! How is Major Sheppard doing?" Zelenka asked. The Czech not only liked the major, but admired his optimistic and humorous attitude under adverse circumstances. The ranking military officer reminded Radek of many of his fellow Czechs who grew up under harsh political conditions, yet remained cheerful regardless of their lot in life.

"He's still in surgery. There's been no word yet from Carson, but we expect he'll be in there for awhile yet. I was just going to get Dr. Weir something to eat." McKay explained.

"Do not worry, Rodney. The major is young and healthy. A strong-willed fighter, yes? And Dr. Beckett is very skilled. We must believe the major will pull through this." Zelenka stated emphatically.

"Yes, he'll be fine. Nothing can keep Sheppard down for long, right?" McKay was still trying to convince himself that was the case.

"I also wanted to give you this. We recovered it from the wreckage after you left with the major. I thought you would still need it." Zelenka held up the object he was carrying. Handing the battered and scarred laptop to the astrophysicist, the Czech quietly commented. "Such a small thing to have caused such a big problem, yes?"

McKay wordlessly took the computer from Zelenka and watched in silence as the Czech walked down the hall on his way back to the science department. As soon as Zelenka disappeared from sight, McKay looked for several seconds at the scuffed laptop case, then rubbed his eyes quickly before he reversed direction and detoured back to his lab.

It only took him a few minutes to reach his lab. Entering his domain, McKay crossed the room and placed the laptop on one of the workstation countertops. Pausing before he turned to leave, he opened the battered computer's cover. Amazingly, the laptop lit up and activated. Staring at the laptop for a few seconds, McKay stood contemplating the glowing view screen as he tried to ignore the lump forming in his throat. Reacting to the repressed emotion, he abruptly slammed the lid down, then scooped up the computer and forcefully threw it against the wall. As it smashed to the floor, he spun on his heel and headed back out the door.

He strode down the corridor in frustration, having vented only part of his anger and guilt. By the time he reached the mess hall, he appeared outwardly in control, but inside he was a churning maelstrom of rage, fear, and remorse. Trying to calm himself, he picked up a cafeteria tray and headed to the food service counter. He was selecting some silverware when another person bumped into his arm. Looking up, he came face to face with Dr. Kavanaugh. The other scientist simply acknowledged his colleague with a brief nod and a single word.


Fuming, Rodney tugged on Kavanaugh's arm until the other man turned back around with an impatient sneer.

"What can I do for you, Rodney?" Kavanaugh feigned interest.

In his anger, McKay waved a fork at the pony-tailed chemist. "Kavanaugh, do you realize the trouble your little oversight caused? Do you? DO YOU?" The astrophysicist demanded.

"Oh, are you still ranting about my leaving your stupid laptop behind? I told you I will get it for you tomorrow." Kavanaugh rolled his eyes with a look of disgust.

"You arrogant, self-centered, sniveling little twit! Don't tell me you have no idea what has been going on around here today. Don't tell me you are that stupid. Have you been hiding in a vacuum or did you gate off the city for the last several hours? Just where the hell have you been, Kavanaugh, while the rest of us were trying to save our friends?" McKay was ready to throttle the bastard.

"McKay, what are you talking about?"

"I am talking about what happened when Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir went to the northeast pier to recover the laptop you left behind. I am talking about the storm damage you so conveniently neglected to report. I am talking about the room collapsing on top of them because of said damage. I am talking about the major barely being resuscitated after going into cardiac arrest due to his injuries. I am talking about my FRIEND who even now is fighting for his life in the operating room while you blithely go about your business. THAT is what I am talking about." McKay practically spit as he raged at his colleague.

Kavanaugh looked stunned at the news before he stammered a reply. "I am sorry. But since I did not cause the damage to the room nor did I cause the walls to fall down around them, I cannot see how you can hold me responsible. I admit I forgot the laptop, but any survey data is in the report I just filed. I saw no indication the damage was severe enough to cause a collapse. I saw only a broken window and some evidence of previous flooding. Nothing more. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

"Do you ever think about anyone other than yourself, Kavanaugh? Do you even feel a smidgeon of concern for the major's health in that miniscule, hard heart of yours?" McKay asked.

"What do you take me for, McKay? Of course I am concerned. I hope the major recovers like everyone else presumably does. With the threat of a Wraith invasion over our heads, we cannot afford to lose any more of our military grunts. After all, they are only here to ensure the safety of the scientific members of this expedition. They came to Atlantis knowing they are expendable." Kavanaugh haughtily replied.

For McKay, that was the final straw. Slamming the fork down on the counter, he let loose with all his pent-up anger. He wasn't even aware of punching Kavanaugh until he felt his fist make contact with the other scientist's jaw. The long-haired scientist was knocked backward onto the floor as a result of the rage-fueled force behind the blow coupled with the added element of surprise. As he sat in shock rubbing his throbbing jaw, McKay hissed at him in distaste.

"You conceited, heartless son-of-a-bitch. I find it repugnant to have to consider you a part of this expedition. Major Sheppard, that so-called 'expendable military grunt', is worth 100--no, make that 10,000 of you. And the really sad thing is, Kavanaugh, the truly incomprehensible thing is that John wouldn't see it that way. Nope, he would agree with you that it is his job to protect you. In a dangerous situation, he would put his life on the line to save your sorry, cold, worthless little ass. And he wouldn't even expect any thanks for it. Because he is a far, far better man and human being than you could ever hope to be. You just ponder that fact in that supposedly superior brain of yours and pray to whatever deity you may believe in that the major survives." Shaking his head in total disgust, McKay picked his tray back up and headed off to finish getting Elizabeth's meal, leaving Kavanaugh still sitting stunned and embarrassed on the cafeteria floor.

By the time McKay returned to the infirmary, Ford had already arrived with a worried Teyla accompanying him. The Athosian woman had been shocked by the news of what had transpired in her absence and was sick at heart that she had not been with her teammates to help in the rescue of their CO. Rodney walked in to find her sitting next to Elizabeth speaking in soft tones while holding the leader's hand. As McKay placed the tray of food down on a bedside table, Teyla stood up and came over to him.

"Dr. McKay! I am glad you are back. It is best if we all wait together for news of the major."

"I take it he is not out of surgery yet?" McKay asked the group.

"No, and I am getting concerned that it is taking so long. What could be happening in there?" Elizabeth answered, voicing the thought shared by all four of them.

"Dr. Weir, you should stay optimistic. The major had a lot of injuries Dr. Beckett has to repair. It is going to take time. As long as he is in there, at least we know he is still alive." Ford offered.

"I know, Lieutenant. But, it doesn't make the wait any easier to bear. I just want to know that John will be fine. I just want to see him open his eyes and talk to us again." Elizabeth softly sighed.

"Aiden is right, Dr. Weir. Major Sheppard is going to be fine. He would not give up that easily. He is too stubborn a warrior." Teyla said in encouragement as she sat back down next to Elizabeth.

"Elizabeth, I brought you some food. Why don't you try to eat something?" Rodney pointed to the tray on the table.

"I will in a little while, Rodney. I just am not too hungry right now. But thank you for getting it." She looked up at the astrophysicist and noticed his bruised and bleeding knuckles. "What happened to your hand?"

Too enraged earlier to acknowledge the sting of the scraped skin, McKay was a bit surprised to find the injury on the hand that had connected with Kavanaugh's jaw. Shaking the still smarting appendage, he replied.

"Oh, that? It's nothing really. I just found out the hard way that certain chemists don't have much give to their pointy chinny chin chins." McKay shrugged off the minor wound.

"What?" Weir asked confused?

"Maybe you should have a medic look at it?" Teyla suggested.

"It's a long story. Believe me, it can wait. It's fine. I will put a band-aid on it later." McKay answered.

He sat down next to his three friends and together, they continued to wait, and hope, and pray. The next few hours passed with excruciating slowness as the group held vigil. Both Ford and McKay were beginning to dose off while Teyla focused on the far wall. Weir pulled her legs up on the chair, wrapped her arms around them and rested her head against her knees. As she sat with her eyes closed, her mind replayed John's last words to her over and over again.

The sudden sound of the operating room doors opening caught the awaiting team members by surprise. They looked up to see a somber and weary Dr. Carson Beckett come out of the surgical suite. Removing his surgical cap, he paused at the doorway as he sighed tiredly and ran his fingers through his mussed hair. Still wearing the soiled and bloody surgical scrubs, he slowly made his way towards them.

As they all stood up to hear what Beckett had to report, Elizabeth felt her heart leap into her throat. Her eyes searched the doctor's for some sign that all was well before asking him quietly.

"Carson? How is John?"

Come Walk in My Soul by Espiritu

Chapter 8: Come Walk in My Soul

Dr. Beckett looked over the group of people standing anxiously before him before he answered Weir's hesitant question. "Aye, I bloody don't know how, but the major is still with us. He gave me quite a few scares on the table, but he survived the surgery. It was like putting Humpty Dumpty back together." The doctor shook his head slightly in disbelief as he spoke.

At the team's collective sigh of relief, he continued as he held up his hand to temporarily halt the flood of responses. "Aye, but he is far from being out of the woods just yet. His injuries are quite severe, and the long wait he had until he received medical care have taken a toll on his body. The next 48 hours will be touch and go. If he can make it past this window, I will have a better idea of the prognosis for his recovery. At this point, it's up to him, and we'll have to wait and see."

Beckett looked drained from the efforts it took to keep the major alive this far. The doctor needed sleep, but the group knew he would not truly rest until his patient was past this critical period without developing complications that might further jeopardize his health.

"When can we see him, Carson?" Elizabeth asked the question foremost in the assembled teammates' thoughts.

"You can shortly. Dr. Hornbeck, the orthopedist is setting his leg now. Then he'll be moved into the intensive care area where we can monitor him more closely. He's still unconscious, and I suspect he will be for a while due to a severe concussion. But I will let you see him once we have him settled." Beckett assured the group.

"Carson, do you think there will be lasting repercussions from his heart stopping? I'm no medical expert, but it seems to me for a person to clinically die for several minutes cannot be a good thing." McKay asked still unsettled by the memory of his friend's condition when the rescue team broke into the room.

"Luckily, Elizabeth started CPR right away, and we were able to resuscitate the major quickly before there could be any long-term brain damage due to oxygen deprivation." The doctor replied.

"What about his other injuries, Dr. Beckett?" Teyla asked.

"Well, he has a nasty head wound, but there is no indication on the scans of either a skull fracture or subdural hematoma. The major has several broken ribs, along with the leg fracture. He also had a ruptured spleen, which we had to remove, and a lacerated liver and kidney, both of which we managed to repair. Between the internal injuries and the external wounds, Major Sheppard lost a significant amount of blood. Added to those injuries, the shock and subsequent cardiac arrest have weakened his body considerably. We have him on a ventilator to help him breathe too since he appears to have inhaled quite a bit of plaster dust along with suffering severe bruising to his lungs. The ventilator will take the stress off his lungs so his body can concentrate all it's energy on healing." Beckett explained.

Ford blew out a breath. "Sounds like it's a miracle the major is even alive."

"Aye, he's a tough one he is. Even after what he's been through, he's still got some fight left in him. Let's hope it's enough to get him on the road to a full recovery." Beckett wanted to be able to give them a more definitive answer, but it was still too early to predict how well Sheppard would respond to treatment.

Beckett gestured for the four people to sit back down to wait until he gave them the word that it was okay to visit Major Sheppard in the SICU area. Then he crossed the room to clean up at an examination cubicle before rejoining them.

Removing the surgical scrubs he was still wearing over his clothes, he tossed them into a nearby laundry bin and retrieved his lab coat from the hook on his office door. Pulling the coat on, he walked back over to the waiting area where Weir, McKay, Ford, and Teyla quietly sat. Upon his return, he told them he expected it would not be much longer before they would be able to briefly see the major.

He noted Elizabeth had not even looked up but remained sitting with her eyes locked on the door she last saw John brought through. He knew nothing short of an armored tank would remove her from the medical bay. His practiced eyes could tell she was keeping a tight rein on her emotions for the benefit of the others. Carson observed her for a few minutes, silently assessing her physical and psychological state. She looked totally spent, yet he knew she would not rest until she was able to check on her ranking military officer.

"Elizabeth, I would like to keep you in the infirmary overnight for observation as a precaution since you were unconscious for a few minutes following the collapse. I suspect you'll be wanting to stay near Major Sheppard, so I'll have my staff get you settled into the bed near his." Carson said.

"Thank you, Carson." Elizabeth answered absent-mindedly, still keeping her eyes trained on the intensive care section of the infirmary.

Carson was about to go back into the surgical area to check on the orthopedic staff's progress. As he turned away from Elizabeth, he saw that the knuckles on one of McKay's hands were bloodied and bruised.

"Rodney, what happened to your hand, laddie?" Carson exclaimed when he noticed the scraped and raw skin on the astrophysicist's knuckles. "Come with me so I can clean and bandage those abrasions before they get infected." The doctor beckoned McKay to follow him into the treatment area.

Once Carson had Rodney sit down on one of the beds, he pulled over a portable supply cart and took out some antiseptic wash and some gauze pads.

"Now, are you going to tell me how you skinned your hand, son?" Beckett asked again.

"Oh, there's nothing to explain really. I just found a rather unique method of determining the Rockwell Hardness of a certain self-centered chemical engineer's jawbone." McKay shrugged as Carson motioned for him to put his hand out for closer examination.

Beckett gave McKay a look that conveyed part admiration, part amusement, and part admonition. "Well, you don't say now. But you should know that since the jawbone is connected to the skull bone, the jawbone would be just as hard as certain thickheaded skulls. Let that be a future reference to you the next time you are so inclined to punch someone's lights out."

"Did they teach you that important fact in what passes as medical schools in Scotland, Carson? Or did you read that in your copy of 'The Chanter's Guide to Healing Spells and Incantations'?" Rodney quipped.

"No, son. I learned it through painful trial and error during a few skirmishes in rowdy pubs after Happy Hour in my wayward youth." Beckett answered as he wiped the scrapes with an antiseptic swab causing the scientist to yelp in pain.

"Ouch! That stings for Christ sakes. I am missing some skin there if you haven't noticed. Geez Carson, is that stuff flesh-eating acid disguised as antibacterial ointment?" McKay winced as he pulled his hand back out of Beckett's grasp.

"Don't be carrying on like a wee whimpering bairn, Rodney. I need to clean these knuckles properly so you will be able to box another day. Not that I would officially condone relying on fisticuffs to settle disagreements." Carson mildly scolded as he grabbed the hand back to finish cleaning it.

"I'd usually agree wholeheartedly, Carson. But Kavanaugh's callous attitude and comments in regards to Major Sheppard's accident were enough to make me want to experience firsthand the cathartic benefits of a good right hook to someone's face." The scientist commented still fuming inside when he remembered the long-haired scientist's reaction to news of the day's events.

"Aye, well there is that I grant you now. And given why Dr. Kavanaugh was at the receiving end, I can understand why you would want to clout the arrogant bugger. I've been sorely tempted to take a whack at him myself on occasion. But you did not hear that from me." The wily Scotsman admitted.

"Did you say something, Carson? I'm sorry, I must be so distracted that I already have forgotten your last comment." McKay exchanged a look with Beckett to let him know that he would not repeat anything the doctor said in regards to Kavanaugh.

Beckett finished securing the gauze bandage with surgical tape before sending McKay on his way. "There you go, laddie. Try to stay out of trouble if you can. I have enough to keep me busy for the time being tending to the major."

"Hmm, well yes. Carson, I just wanted to let you know you pulled off a miracle today. I mean, bringing Sheppard back from death's door, then getting him through the trip back and the long hours of surgery was nothing short of phenomenal. I know I tend to equate medical science with voodoo, but it took a lot of skill, perseverance, and determination to do what you did today. So, thanks for saving John." Rodney stated in a quiet, somewhat subdued voice.

"Aye. I hope it was enough, laddie. He's still got a rough road ahead of him." The doctor cautioned.

"Well, we'll all be there for him every step of the way." McKay cleared his throat and glanced at his watch. "So, do you think it is safe to assume the rest of your medical staff is done poking and prodding the poor major so we can finally see him?"

Beckett checked the time on his watch also. "Aye, I think they should have Major Sheppard settled by now. Come on, Rodney. Let's go see how he is faring." The Scotsman tipped his head in the direction of the SICU and headed out of the examination room towards the waiting area to get the rest of the group with McKay following closely behind.

When the four were finally ushered into the intensive care unit and brought to the major's bedside, they were shocked by the number of monitors and equipment hooked up to the injured man. Lying unnaturally still and pale, Sheppard had a myriad of wires and tubes connecting his body to the various medical equipment. An IV line trailed down one arm while a transfusion line went down the other. Various catheters and drainage lines also snaked out from beneath the blanket covering his prone form. Monitors surrounding the bed displayed EKG, EEG, and blood pressure readings with a steady, reassuring cadence of sound. Most disconcerting was the respirator hose that partly obscured the major's face as it did its job of breathing for the unconscious man. Although Beckett had assured them the ventilator was only to ease the stress on Sheppard's injured lungs, it unnerved them to not see their friend breathing entirely on his own.

What little of Sheppard's face they could see around the respirator and the bandage covering his head wound was discolored by bruises and scratches. The pallor of his skin only served to emphasize the dark circles under his eyes, which were only a few shades lighter than his tussled hair. One of his legs was propped up by an extra pillow and covered in a cast that extended to just below his knee. Never in all the times the team had seen the major in the infirmary had he ever looked so frail and broken. His present condition was in such contrast to his normal vitality and vigor that the four visitors practically let out a collective gasp when they first approached his bedside.

"Don't let all the bruises and swelling bother you over much. They may look a wee nasty, but they should heal quite nicely in no time. It is the injuries you cannot see that are the most worrisome." Carson informed the group when he noticed their startled expressions as they surrounded the bed.

"He looks so weak Dr. Beckett. It is disheartening to see a warrior such as the major like this." Teyla said in concern as she looked upon her team leader.

As he watched his CO, Ford added. "I know what Teyla means. I have to keep checking the monitors to remind myself he is still alive. It's hard to see a man usually so full of energy lying so still."

"Carson, John is going to be fine isn't he? The fact that he made it this far has to be a good sign doesn't it?" Elizabeth looked up at the doctor hopefully.

"There's always hope where there is still life, lassie. The major won't give up too easily. We just have to be patient and give his body the time it needs to heal. If we can keep any complications from setting in, he has a fighting chance." Beckett answered.

"Carson is right. Sheppard always ends up smelling like a rose no matter what the nature of the trouble he finds himself in. He'll pull through. You cannot keep a man like the major down for long." McKay reassured the others.

"Aye. Now I don't want to spoil the party, but now that you have seen him, it would be best if you all would go get some rest yourselves. You all look done in, and if you don't get some sleep, you won't be any good to anyone. There is nothing you can do for the major for the time being. He needs peace and quiet in order to heal. I will let you see him again in the morning for a wee bit. Now be off with you. Doctor's orders now." Carson ignored their mild protests and started shooing all but Elizabeth out of the infirmary.

Seeing the logic in Beckett's request, Teyla urged Ford and McKay along also. "Dr. Beckett is right. The major needs to rest and will be monitored closely. I am sure the medical staff will notify us if there is any change in his condition. Come. Let us get to bed ourselves. I think it is best that Dr. Weir be allowed to have a few minutes with Major Sheppard alone."

As Ford and McKay filed out of the room followed by Beckett, Teyla turned back briefly to Elizabeth and touched her gently on the shoulder. "Who is to say whether the major cannot still sense that you are here? Why don't you talk to him, Dr. Weir? I think it would be beneficial to his recovery if he could hear your voice and know that you are near."

Elizabeth looked up and met the knowing gaze of the Athosian. Nodding in appreciation of her support and friendship, she patted the hand resting on her shoulder before Teyla too took her leave. "Thank you, Teyla. Don't worry, I will stay here with John so he is not alone through the night."

A few minutes after escorting Ford, McKay, and Teyla out of the SICU, Dr. Beckett headed into his office to grab a much-needed cup of coffee and finish up his patient's medical charts when he spotted Kavanaugh as he came charging through the medical bay entrance. The scientist had cornered a nurse and was demanding that she locate Dr. Weir immediately. Not wanting to witness the conceited man harangue a valued member of his staff, the doctor rushed over to intervene.

"Look here, Dr. Kavanaugh, I will not be having you disturb my patients or harass my staff. So if you are not in need of medical attention, laddie, I strongly suggest you leave my infirmary." Beckett warned the haughty scientist.

"I have a right to speak to Dr. Weir. I have a legitimate complaint to file against Dr. McKay for bodily assault against my person." Kavanaugh whined.

"Aye, you can do that later through the proper channels in Dr. Weir's office. It can wait until she is released from my care." Carson insisted.

He certainly did not want the annoying man in front of him to unduly upset or anger Elizabeth with his petty grievances. Normally, she could easily put Kavanaugh in his place, but the day's emotionally traumatic events were more than enough for her to handle right now in the doctor's professional and personal opinions. Beckett would do anything to see that she was allowed privacy and not be distracted from her time with the major.

Kavanaugh persisted nonetheless. "With all due respect, I feel differently, Dr. Beckett. What I have to say to Dr. Weir is of the utmost importance and cannot wait until later."

Carson was about to lose his patience with the man. He was exhausted and concerned for the welfare of his gravely injured friend and colleague who was lying comatose in the next room. He had no time or energy to deal with the trumped up allegations of this disagreeable, self-righteous narcissist. He could see why Rodney had lost control and decked him in the jaw.

"Listen, laddie. I won't be asking you politely again to leave my patients alone. Either you go quietly and take your complaints elsewhere, or I may be forced to use the biggest enema I can find to remove whatever obstruction is lodged up that skinny arse of yours."

Kavanaugh opened his mouth to protest further but quickly closed it again when he noticed the Scotsman was staring him down as if daring him to continue so he could make good on his threat. Glaring back momentarily at the usually mild-mannered doctor, the chemist evidently decided not to pursue the matter. Instead, he cut short his tirade and turning abruptly, he strode out of medical bay. Before he left, he shot a parting retort in Beckett's direction.

"Fine! But mark my words, Doctor Beckett. Dr. Weir will hear all about this in my report. I promise you!"

"Aye, and I am sure it will make interesting reading at that, laddie. Good day to you." Carson cheerfully called out in reply. He chuckled slightly to himself as his response caused the departing scientist to throw him a disgusted look before he disappeared out into the hall.

Oblivious to the heated discussion going on between two of her colleagues in the next room, Elizabeth sat quietly alone with John. The only sounds that filtered to her ears were the soft, incessant beeps of the cardiac monitor next to the bed and the regular rhythmic hiss of the respirator. Looking at the man lying in the bed next to her, she thought about their final conversation with its emotional revelations. She reflected on the surprising confessions that passed between them before John's life had slowly slipped away while he was cradled in her very arms.

When did this one man become so important to her? When did her feelings change from friendship to something deeper and more profound? In the months since they first arrived through the stargate, she learned to trust his instincts and rely on his counsel. She depended on his quiet strength, and acknowledged his sharp intelligence. She also had come to enjoy his sardonic wit and devil-may-care attitude. At times she almost envied his innate ability to balance work with play even under the most stressful circumstances. He challenged her to be a better leader by showing her that listening to one's heart was just as important as using one's head.

She valued his friendship and worried about him most of all each time his team left on a mission. He always departed with a wave and a smile aimed up at her in the control room, and hers was the first face he looked for when they returned. When the major was off world, she never fully relaxed until he came back to Atlantis safe and sound. When he came back injured or sick, she was fraught with worry and heartache until he once again was well.

Elizabeth could not recall exactly when her feelings changed. It seemed as if her heart always beat a little quicker in his presence right from that fateful day he sat in the Ancient's chair in Antarctica. Whenever he was near, her spirit soared a little higher, and her soul felt that much more complete. Yet, until John Sheppard walked into her life, she did not even notice something had been missing. She not only had a fulfilling career that kept her challenged and busy, but also a relationship back on Earth that she once thought made her happy. But when the opportunity to find Atlantis was handed to her, she jumped at the chance to venture to the Pegasus galaxy without once looking back.

Elizabeth knew Simon deserved a better goodbye than the videotape she left him. But because part of her could sense their rapport was becoming strained even before she abruptly departed, she decided to avoid any possible tearful or angry goodbyes and make a clean, if not cowardly break. If she were honest with herself, she would admit she never truly loved Simon. She tried to convince herself that she did, but when they were together she still felt a vague, nagging emptiness within her. Nothing seemed to fill the void. Not work, not travel, not family, not friends, not even Simon. Nothing or no one ever completely made her feel whole. Until now.

Elizabeth never gave much credence to the idea of soul mates until this maverick pilot entered her life and took a walk in her soul. With his cocky grin, his permanently tousled hair, and his warm green eyes, he stole his way past her defenses and captured her heart in ways no one ever had before. Yet, she still was hesitant to act on her feelings. Elizabeth rationalized all the reasons why a relationship between her and the major could not work. She was civilian, he was military. She was his boss, he was her subordinate. Technically, there were no written regulations that banned such alliances, but open fraternization was frowned upon. As leader of this expedition, she took her responsibilities seriously. Elizabeth convinced herself that she could not afford to do anything that would undermine her authority or create a conflict of interest where team members were concerned. So she hid her feelings and kept their relationship on a purely professional level as did he.

Elizabeth did not know what the future held for their budding relationship if John recovered. Not if, when...WHEN he recovered she mentally corrected. Maybe he would regret his declaration to her. After all, he admitted his feelings under great duress. She would not hold him to any promises given under those conditions. Not when she herself was unsure of the next step that they should take. Part of her so wanted to throw caution to the wind and explore what they could truly mean to each other, especially in light of how close she had come to losing John for good. But another part of her--the more rational part--was still reluctant to take their relationship to the next level. Theirs was not a safe or secure existence. They were still strangers to this galaxy. They were cut off from Earth and surviving by only sheer luck, perseverance, and their own ingenuity. The never-ending threat from the Wraith made it difficult to plan too far ahead or even think about an uncertain future. Yet, perhaps this was the very reason that they should make the most of every moment and enjoy what they had. Maybe it was time to live for today for tomorrow might never come.

As Elizabeth sat quietly holding John's still hand, she made a promise to herself and to him that she would no longer fear getting hurt. She would no longer wait for someday, because someday was now. Who knew if they would ever have another opportunity to share something so special. She did not intend to waste another chance. So Elizabeth heeded Teyla's advice and spoke to the unconscious man before her. Not sure if he could somehow hear her words, she nevertheless told him how much he meant to her. She talked about how she appreciated everything he had done, even the little gestures he probably thought had gone unnoticed. She mentioned how much she enjoyed their balcony chats, the funny jokes he told her, the stolen glances and touches when they thought no one was watching, the way he stood beside her no matter what. She even told him she found their infrequent differences of opinion stimulating and the banter between him and Rodney to be at times quite amusing. Most of all, she told him how much she needed him and how alone she would be if he were gone. She didn't know how long she continued, nor did she care. All that mattered was that she finally found a way to open her heart and let John know just how she felt.

When Carson came into the SICU unit later that evening to check on both his patients, he found Elizabeth asleep in the chair at John's bedside with her head resting on her arms, one hand still clasping the major's arm. Quietly approaching so as not to disturb the slumbering woman, he carefully placed a blanket over her shoulders. A quick glance at the monitors by the bedside assured him the injured man was holding his own. He smiled knowingly as he looked one last time at the sleeping couple before he turned and walked softly out of the room, leaving the pair alone in peace.

Over the next few days, Elizabeth rarely left John's side. Only when one of the major's team members came to hold their own vigil, did she leave and only then to quickly shower, eat, or relay instructions to Peter and the rest of her staff. Every other moment was spent in the infirmary sitting at his bedside. They all were greatly relieved when Sheppard made it past those critical first two days with his vital signs slowly growing stronger. On the third day, Beckett was able to remove the respirator and replace it with a nasal cannula. Although Sheppard still remained unconscious, his body continued to gradually heal. They were elated when Carson pronounced a day later that the major should eventually make a full recovery. His brain scans showed normal activity and indicated a return to consciousness could be expected any day now. At this point, it was up to John to decide when it was time to wake up.

It was sometime in the early evening five days after his surgery that Elizabeth was dozing as she sat in her usual spot by the bed. She had fallen into a light sleep while going over some daily reports and schedules. As she rested in the chair, her laptop remained propped against her knees, the data she had been scanning still displaying on the monitor. She was roused by a soft moan emanating from the patient lying next to her. Quickly putting her laptop aside, Elizabeth got out of her chair and leaned over to check on the injured man as he slowly regained consciousness. Peering down at his face, she smiled when she saw that his eyes were finally open, and he was looking at her.

Your Heart's an Empty Hole by Espiritu

Chapter 9: Your Heart's an Empty Hole

John blinked slowly against the harsh glare of the infirmary lights as his weary green eyes met her tired yet relieved hazel ones. It felt like he had come full circle. The last thing he remembered seeing before sinking into unconsciousness had been her eyes, and now they were first thing he viewed upon finally awakening.

"Hey you. You're awake." Elizabeth said softly, the relief evident in her voice.

His voice sounded gravelly and slightly hoarse from disuse, as it came out no louder than a whisper. "Apparently."

Elizabeth smiled at the typical John Sheppard remark. It never failed to amaze her how the man managed to respond with sardonic wit no matter what the circumstances. Even still groggy from sleep and pain medication, his quietly drawled reply hinted at the sarcastic sense of humor that was so much a part of him.

"Let me guess, I'm in the infirmary, aren't I?" He asked, slowly becoming more aware of his surroundings.

"Yes, you are." Elizabeth replied.

"Thought so. I'd recognize those ceiling tiles and annoyingly bright lights anywhere. How long have I been here?" The major tried to shift into a more comfortable position. His efforts were rewarded with a throbbing pain that rolled across his midsection, causing him to wince as he spoke.

Noticing his look of discomfort, Elizabeth adjusted the bed controls to ease his upper body into a more upright position as she answered him. "Almost a week. You have been unconscious for five days now. How are you feeling?"

Sheppard nodded his thanks as he settled back down wearily against the pillow. "Doubt I'll be running any marathons any time soon, but I guess I could be worse. I didn't think we'd be rescued in time. I really thought I was a dead man."

Elizabeth inwardly cringed at the sudden reminder of how easily the outcome of this disaster could have been so very different. Her dreams were still haunted by visions of a bloody and battered John lying cold and dead among the rubble. She didn't think she would ever forget that horrible moment when his heart stopped and his last gasping breath faded into utter silence.

Her throat felt constricted as she started to speak, making her voice sound strained and distant. "You were. You were clinically dead for several minutes until Carson was able to get your heart beating again. We thought we lost you."

Noticing the forlorn look in her eyes, Sheppard reached over and touched her arm. "Hey, I'm still here. I told you I would never leave. I meant it."

Elizabeth blinked away the tears that had welled up at the memory of his death. But he was here now and that was all that mattered. She smiled at him to reassure him that she was okay and gripped his hand back. His green eyes studied her intently for a moment before he flashed a small grin back. There was a minute or two of awkward silence while each of them tried to think of a way to broach the topic that both of them had been dancing around since they arrived in Atlantis, but neither openly spoke of until five days ago.

John had lost consciousness before he saw Elizabeth's reaction to his declaration of his true feelings. He had no idea what she felt for him if anything. For all he knew, she only thought of him as a friend. Nothing more, nothing less. In the past, he walked away from relationships before they got too serious, preferring to keep himself from becoming too emotionally involved. By staying detached, he was able to perpetuate the love-them-and-leave-them flyboy image. He thought it was better to disguise the true depth of his emotions and hide from any possible heartbreak. But Elizabeth made him want to change all that. He wanted her to know the real John Sheppard for better or for worse, whatever the consequences.

Elizabeth felt at a loss for words. Fluent in several languages and well versed in discussing a wide range of topics with people from many nations and even a few planets, she nevertheless had no clue where to begin. What was easy to say while John was unconscious proved difficult now that he was awake. He had told her that he loved her, but did he say the words impulsively, meaning only to reassure her when he thought he would not survive? She wasn't sure if he had heard her admitting to feeling the same way before he slipped into unconsciousness prior to their rescue. Even if John had, he probably no longer remembered it.

"John, about what you said earlier...." Elizabeth started to say.

"When?" He asked slightly confused.

"When we were still trapped and you thought you were dying...when you said that you loved me." Elizabeth hesitated, not sure how to continue.

"Oh, that. Well, I...." John was about to cut in when he saw her uncertainty. Unsure how to interpret it, he started to falter himself.

Before either of them could say anything further, they were interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Beckett coming to check on his patient. John glanced at Elizabeth, giving her a look that said they would talk about this unfinished business when they were alone again later.

"Aye, I see you finally decided it was time to wake up now. How are you feeling, son?" The doctor asked as he looked over his medical chart and compared the vital statistics noted with the current readings on the monitors surrounding the bed.

"Other than it hurting when I move or breathe, I'm doing good. But I am pleasantly surprised to find I am still here." The major replied.

"Laddie, I think we all are happy you are still here. It was a close call, it was. I know you like to push my skills to their limits, but I could do without you adding to my stress levels on such a regular basis." Beckett continued with his examination of his patient, testing the major's neurological responses before checking on the progress of his healing wounds.

Giving a satisfied nod, he adjusted the drip on the IV and then injected some pain medication into the line. "There, this should make you feel a wee bit better and help you rest."

"Thanks, Carson, for everything." Already feeling drowsy, the major's eyelids began to droop as he gave in to the effects of the drugs. The expedition head and chief medical officer watched sleep overtake the recuperating man before they spoke next.

"John's going to be okay, isn't he Carson?" Elizabeth asked the Scotsman.

"Aye, he's healing well. I don't anticipate any problems with his making a full and speedy recovery. He'll be up and back to his mischief-making self in no time. We should let the major rest for now. I gave him enough of a dose to keep him under for several hours. Why don't you go to your quarters and get some real sleep yourself, lass? You look done in." The doctor suggested to the tired woman.

"Well, these chairs of yours don't lend themselves to a comfortable night's sleep. I suppose Peter can handle things for a few hours while I catch a few winks." She followed Carson out and headed to her room to heed his advice. Now that John was out of danger, would she allow herself to sleep in the comfort of her own bed. When she reached her quarters, she lay down still in her clothes and slept soundly for the first time in five days.

It was early morning when Sheppard awoke for the second time. Opening his eyes, he turned his head slightly and saw Rodney McKay occupying the chair next to his bed. His attention focused on the laptop screen in front of him, the astrophysicist had not yet noticed the major watching him.

"I see you found another laptop." The major said softly.

McKay looked up from his computer with a slightly startled expression. "Major! You're awake." The scientist put his laptop down on the bedside table and approached his friend.

"You're ever so observant, McKay. Don't let anyone tell you different." Sheppard mocked.

"Well, I see you haven't lost your incredibly poor sense of humor. I thought we asked Carson to remove it when you were in surgery, but I see our pleas fell on deaf ears." McKay countered.

"Don't make me laugh. It still hurts when I do." The major grimaced while he gingerly held a hand to his healing ribs as his short-lived snort of laughter dissolved into a bout of coughing.

"Ah, sorry." McKay hastily reached for a glass of water on the nearby table and offered it to the major. "Here, take a drink of this."

Sheppard took a few sips from the straw before leaning his head back against the pillow. "Thanks, McKay. I mean for getting Elizabeth and me out of there in time."

"Radek was the one who noticed the sensors indicated a structural collapse where you were. I just sounded the alarm. It was my fault you were even in that situation anyways." McKay said.

"What are you talking about?" Sheppard inquired.

"Maybe the concussion you suffered robbed you of recent memories, but I recall my whining about my lost laptop is what sent you on your mission of doom in the first place."

"See, that's where you've got it all wrong, Rodney. Seems to me I volunteered on my own accord. And I didn't see you knocking down any walls in that room. They fell without any intervention from a scientist on a guilt-trip." The soldier insisted.

McKay tapped his head with his finger. "There's nothing wrong with my memories, Major. Hello? Genius brain here with total recall. But I don't expect you to be able to relate to such talents being a military jock."

"Seeing who they allow into their membership, you had to ask me why I didn't join MENSA?" Sheppard muttered dryly.

"I stand corrected, you're a military jock with delusions of grandeur. But, that is something I really would like to discuss at length some other time. Now, I just want to say I'm sorry. I should have never demanded the immediate return of my laptop. It could have and should have waited." McKay apologized.

"Did you just actually admit to making a mistake? Okay, what have you done with the real Rodney McKay? Seriously, what happened is not your fault so stop with the blame assigning right now."

"You know, that sounded like an order. I'm not military so technically you can't order me to do anything, Major." McKay grinned as he folded his arms.

"Yes, you remind me of that fact quite frequently. So take it as strong advice from a friend then." Sheppard suggested.

"Fine. We'll consider this matter dropped."

"Except I didn't manage to retrieve your laptop for you. It's probably still buried under a pile of debris. The data you needed from it might be totally destroyed." The major noted.

"Water under the bridge, Major. Elizabeth's and your safety is far more important than one computer. Besides, Zelenka managed to locate the laptop after we extricated you from the bulkhead wreckage. I should be able to access the data still stored on the hard drive." McKay explained.

"Still? Didn't you tell Kavanaugh you couldn't wait for that data? I seem to recall you were spitting mad when he said he would recover it the next day." Sheppard reminded the astrophysicist as he shifted into a more comfortable position.

"Ah, I see that head injury of yours has indeed impaired your memory. The fact is I was simply reprimanding Kavanaugh for being careless with other people's property. I will use any opportunity at my disposal to drill a lesson in consideration for one's fellow man into that reprobate's self-centered skull from time to time." McKay shrugged.

"Is that right?" Sheppard replied with a hint of skepticism in his voice.

"Do I detect a bit of cynicism, Major? You must be feeling more like your old self."

"I must be."

"Oh, speaking of teaching Kavanaugh a lesson, I have some ideas to discuss with you regarding some retaliation on our favorite chemist." Rodney looked almost gleeful as he thought about the plan he was about to share with the major.

"Do tell, McKay. I'm all ears."

It was about half an hour later when Beckett came to check on Sheppard and had to shoo the astrophysicist out of the infirmary. Telling McKay that the major needed to rest, the doctor escorted Rodney out of the medical bay and made him promise to not come back until tomorrow. By the time the Scotsman walked back to his patient's bedside to dispense his scheduled pain medication, he discovered the recovering man had already fallen fast asleep. It might have been a trick of the lights above the bed, but Carson could have sworn the major had a devilish smile on his face.

Elizabeth nodded hello to various personnel as she made her way towards Major Sheppard's quarters. Doctor Beckett had just released him from the infirmary this morning with the major's promise to confine himself to bed rest only for the next week. Beckett begrudgingly allowed Sheppard to complete his convalescence in his own room provided he adhered to the doctor's strict orders. To make sure the officer complied with his instructions, Carson sent various staff members to check on the major at regular intervals. The Scotsman was determined that nothing impede his patient's recovery.

In the past week since the major regained consciousness, she had been unable to steal any time alone with him. Whenever she managed to tear away from the mountain of paperwork that had accumulated on her desk and sneak down to the infirmary, she found she had to share John's attention with other visitors. Now that the major was out of the coma and on the mend, it seemed a steady stream of people stopped by to check on his progress. Elizabeth was willing to bet that most of the expedition members and even a few Athosians found time to visit his bedside. Much to Carson's dismay, his infirmary was turning into Grand Central Station. That is, until he decided to enforce stricter visiting hours to prevent the well-wishers from taxing the recuperating man's strength.

Now that John was back in the relative privacy of his own quarters, Elizabeth thought she would stop by to see him. It was time to finally finish the discussion they started earlier. Standing outside his door, she paused for a moment before hitting the door chime to try to calm the butterflies in her stomach. She scarcely had time to steel her nerves before a muffled "come in" granted her entry. The door whooshed open, giving her a clear view of the major sitting up in bed, his back cushioned by pillows propped against the wall and his leg stretched out and laying slightly elevated on another pillow. He was attempting to make a dent in 'War and Peace', but his distracted look suggested he hadn't gotten very far. Looking up to see her standing just inside the doorway, he smiled as he closed the book and put it on the nightstand.

"Hi there. What's up?" He asked as she stepped into the room.

"Oh, just thought I would stop by to see how you were settling in. But if you'd rather catch up on your reading, I can come back." She pointed to the book he had just set down.

"No! You just rescued me from falling back into a coma--this time induced by literary boredom." Sheppard blew out a breath and folded his arms.

"But it is such a classic novel, John." Elizabeth said.

"The thing is the classics are always so dry and dull. I tried to convince myself that if I just try, I could get through it. But it just isn't happening. I knew I should have brought a Tom Clancy novel instead." The major sighed in reply.

"Well then, maybe it's a good time to talk." Elizabeth pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down.

"Okay. What's on your mind?" John asked looking directly at her.

"Us. I mean where our relationship stands with each other. You did confess certain feelings when we were still trapped. I think we should talk about it." Elizabeth began hesitantly.

"Listen, Elizabeth. If you are uncomfortable with what I said to you when we were stuck in that room, I understand. Really I do. I mean, I know you have someone back on Earth." John stammered.

"I did, but it is over. He is there, and I am here. I told him not to wait for me when I left for the Pegasus galaxy. We'd grown apart before I even went to Antarctica. On some level, I probably came here to escape what had basically become an empty relationship. Simon deserves better than what I could give him." Elizabeth admitted.

"And you deserve better than what I can offer you. You should have so much more." He whispered softly as he looked away not wanting to meet her gaze.

"What about you, John?" Elizabeth wondered aloud.

"I got more than I ever thought I would. You gave me the chance to make something better of my life. I'm more grateful for that opportunity than you know. I thought what remained of my career would slowly dead end at McMurdo Base. I never expected to find a place I belonged." Sheppard told her.

"Maybe we both found that. Funny how we had to travel to another galaxy to find it. But we did. Atlantis is now our home and the people in it our family."

"Yep, life has a way of throwing you a few surprises. I always expected to be alone. I used to think it was better that way." John reminisced.

"Well, if anyone had ever told me I would fall for an Air Force flyboy, I would have never believed them. I always distrusted the military. Most of the time with good reason. I still tell myself there are so many reasons this cannot work."

"Elizabeth..." John reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her down to sit next to him on the bed.

"I'm willing to take a chance and see where this goes if you are." He looked into her eyes as if he might try to reach her soul.

"We'll still need to be discrete. After all, as leaders we need to set good examples...

Her weak argument was cut off as John leaned over, cupped the sides of her face with both hands and kissed her deeply. Stunned at first, she didn't resist, but instead moved her arms up around his neck and pulled him closer.

The hell with what people thought. The rumor mill would exist no matter what their relationship. Let people think what they wanted. So what if it undermined her authority. She was willing to take the risk to see this through, and the consequences be damned. They almost lost their chance to finally have something special. She almost lost John for good. The most unlikely of circumstances had brought them together and now they were being given a second chance. Both of them meant to take it, for they might never get another. Finally separating, they each pulled back a moment to catch their breath.

"Wow. I guess it was worth the wait." Elizabeth grinned at him, her hazel eyes full of emotion.

"You guess? You mean, you don't know? Maybe we ought to try again just so you can be certain." John smiled as he teased her.

"You're right. I really should make sure." She reached over and brushed her lips gently over his.

As she pulled back a second time, she looked at him intently before speaking. "Yes, I am sure."

"Good, because I've never been more certain of anything in all my life. I love you, Elizabeth. Don't ever doubt that." John leaned back against the wall behind his head and pulled her close to nestle against his shoulder.

Resting her head against his chest, she snuggled closer as she replied. "I love you too, John Sheppard, and always will."

It felt so natural to be sitting together, talking about everything, sharing their hopes and dreams with each other. After coming so close to losing it all, they were happy to finally be able to openly and freely express what they felt. Nothing could be more right than what they had together today. Starting now, they planned to not waste any more of their tomorrows.

Several weeks later Rodney was coming out of his lab with Radek when they saw Weir and Sheppard walking along together further down the corridor. The major was leaning heavily on a cane while Elizabeth strolled next to him. Rodney knew that Carson had prescribed daily walks as physical therapy to build up strength in John's healing leg now that he was out of the cast. Since the pair was heading away from the science lab, they were unaware of McKay and Zelenka watching their slow, but steady progress. As he studied his friends as they made their way along the hall, Rodney noticed Elizabeth supported Sheppard gently with an arm around his waist. The major had his head angled towards Weir, gazing at her as she looked back up at him and laughed softly at something he was saying.

Tapping Zelenka in the arm, Rodney stated with a smug smirk on his face. "Pay up, Radek."

"Rodney, what are you talking about? Zelenka asked in confusion.

"Last month's pool. Remember you bet me that there was nothing going on between Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir, and I told you they were destined to become an item? Well, I win. Pay up." McKay insisted.

Zelenka pushed his glasses up his nose and squinted as he scrutinized the departing couple as they turned the corner and headed out of sight.

"Hmmm. Ah, they do look close now, but how can you be sure there is a relationship there? Have they admitted it? Do you see them on a date? Could be just very good friends, yes?" Zelenka was hedging.

"Radek, come on. Are you blind? Does your eyeglass prescription need updating? Have you not been noticing how much time Elizabeth and the major spend together? Hello? The significant looks they give each other? It is so obvious to anyone with half a brain." McKay stated confidently.

"Give yourself more credit, Rodney. You must have a whole brain to be as smart as you say you are. But I will give you benefit of doubt. It was three Power Bars, yes?" The Czech scientist replied.

"I distinctly remember the deal was for four, not three." The astrophysicist answered.

"All right, greedy man. You drive a hard bargain. Come by my lab later to collect your spoils." Zelenka rolled his eyes before taking his leave and walking down the hall back to the science lab.

Rodney smiled with smug satisfaction as he snapped his fingers and clapped his hands together. Then turning in the other direction, he headed off to find Ford, Grodin, and Stackhouse. He had more betting pool payoffs to collect before the day was done.

A few days later, Elizabeth was meeting with Dr. Kavanaugh and a team of scientists to discuss their latest analysis of the composition of several Ancient alloys used throughout the city. The longhaired scientist sat down at the conference room table after setting up his laptop to display flow charts and test data on the room's viewer screen. The rest of the group settled in the remaining chairs around the circular table.

As soon as Kavanaugh opened his laptop and turned it on, an unexpected sound began emanating from the computer before it filtered through the network connection into the city's speaker system, loudly broadcasting to the far corners of Atlantis. It was a song. Instantly familiar to those who celebrated the spirit of Christmas, the odd little melody spoke of a certain green Dr. Seuss curmudgeon with a heart three sizes too small.

'You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really are a heel...'

All eyes were drawn to Kavanaugh as he frantically tried to shut the music off. Even though he was currently more red than green, the similarities to the well-known children's book character were all too apparent to everyone in the room.

"Dr. Kavanaugh, are you having a problem with your laptop?" Elizabeth asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Uh, no. Yes! Give me a minute to put an end to this infantile farce, Dr. Weir." Kavanaugh sputtered as he hit different combinations of buttons on his keyboard.

"Maybe we can continue this presentation at another time?" Weir suggested, trying to keep a straight face while the others chuckled.

The music continued over the loudspeaker...'Your heart's an empty hole'...

"No, no. I should be able to stop it momentarily."

...'I wouldn't touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!'...

Kavanaugh's efforts had absolutely no effect. Once channeled into the speaker system, the song took on a life of its own, not stopping at the command of one scientist with a less-than-loveable personality. Nothing worked-not rebooting the laptop, not disconnecting it from the network, not even shutting it down and unplugging the power supply. Much to Kavanaugh's chagrin and everyone else's total enjoyment, the song continued to play in full stereophonic sound.

Frustrated, the hapless chemist pounded the desktop next to his computer with his fist. The last refrains of the familiar tune wafted out of the speakers and finished echoing down through the gate room.

...'The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote, "Stink, stank, stunk"!'

As the music died away amid the chortles and now unrestrained hoots of merriment, Kavanaugh pursed his lips as his face, already red with embarrassment, contorted in anger. Steaming, the scientist picked up his laptop and bolted out of the conference room, the raucous laughter of his fellow teammates heralding his hurried departure.

Elizabeth looked away, biting her lip to hold in the laughter threatening to erupt. Turning towards the glass wall that looked out to the observation deck above the gate room, she spotted Sheppard, McKay, Zelenka, and Beckett hanging oh so nonchalantly by the balcony rail. Noticing her watching them through the window, they flashed her what they thought were their most innocent looks. Trying her best to hide her amusement, she leveled a stern look back at them, noticing each failed miserably at disguising the guilt in their faces. She almost lost it entirely when the four of them abruptly disbanded and headed quickly in different directions, suddenly anxious to leave the scene of the crime. None of the co-conspirators wanted to experience the wrath of Kavanaugh. Nor were they eager to stick around to see the rest of Elizabeth's reaction. They might be certifiable, but they certainly weren't stupid.

Elizabeth managed to maintain her disapproving stare until they all disappeared from sight. Carson shot down the stairs as if his life depended on it. Zelenka walked as fast as his legs could carry him out of the gate room, suddenly intent on the data readout on a portable scanner. Rodney lingered for a split second, but his fear got the better of him, and he made himself scarce. Major Sheppard was the last to vanish from view, though even he made steady progress for a man still hampered by a limp and a cane. Watching their retreating backs, she finally lost her composure and dissolved into a fit of giggles.

Bickering and childish pranks aside, Elizabeth was happy to see things were finally getting back to normal. Yes, her boys will be boys and she wouldn't have it any other way.

The End
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