Title: Save Your Breath

Author: Titan5

Rating: PG

Warnings: Some violence

Summary: Sheppard's team has a run in with some hostile scavengers.

Author Notes: Written for artisticabandon for Sheppard H/C 2013 Winter Fic Exchange. Many thanks to black_raven135 for the beta.

Save Your Breath

"Doing okay, Doc?" John asked, keeping an eye on the physician huffing and puffing his way up the hill. The man was one of the best doctors John had ever seen, but he didn't go off world often enough to keep himself in shape.

"Aye," Carson breathed out. "This . . . is why . . . I usually let Nick . . . go off world."

John winced. "Yeah, sorry about that." Nick Strauhan was a military physician, so he was trained to go into hostile situations. He'd expressed an interest in going with teams more often after they had lost a man in the field who had needed immediate medical attention. Nick had been putting in extra time training with Ronon and John so he wouldn't be a liability on missions. John had managed to catch him in the side of the head while stick fighting the day before, giving the doctor a mild concussion.

Ronon chuckled. "He should have ducked. He fights too much like you."

John's eyebrows shot up as he looked at the Satedan. "Thanks, Ronon. I'll remember that the next time I'm scheduling babysitting duty for annoying scientists."

"Hey," Rodney complained.

"Present company excluded," said John before adding, "Sort of," under his breath. "We're almost there, Doc. Just over the top of the hill."

"Aye, that's good."

A few steps later, John topped the hill and stopped dead, his mouth dropping open. The Kranesian village they had visited two days ago had been destroyed. The small wood frame homes were decimated and even from the top of the hill they could see what appeared to be desiccated bodies in the street.

"Wraith," Ronon said, his voice bitter and sharp.

"Teyla?" John questioned, never taking his eyes from the wreckage below, searching for any signs of survivors . . . or stray Wraith.

"I do not sense any Wraith. They are no longer here." The sadness in her voice added to weight already pressing down on John. He had never managed to completely rid himself of the guilt of waking the Wraith. Every time they came across a community or planet leveled by the space vampires, it was the same punch in the gut.

Carson's labored breathing was the only sound for a minute while they all processed what they were seeing. "We . . . we were just here," said Rodney.

"Looks like we should have hung around. Or come back sooner," John said, his knuckles white from clutching the P90 so tightly. "Let's see if anyone managed to survive. Teyla, let me know if those bastards come back." John stepped out and headed down the hill, the footfalls of his team behind him.

They searched through the rubble of the village for almost three hours. They found the husks of several bodies scattered throughout the little town, where some of the people had tried to fight back. As they piled the bodies onto a funeral pyre they constructed from the wall of a collapsed barn, John kept trying to match corpses to the villagers he'd met at their last visit. Hanechai, the unofficial leader of the community, had invited them to come back on this day because they would have completed the harvest and would know how much they could afford to trade. John had promised to bring one of their healers to hold a small clinic and see what medicines the people could use.

"That's everyone," said Ronon, nodding toward the ten bodies laid out in a neat row on the platform. "No survivors."

John signed and rubbed the side of his head, trying to ease the tension headache that had been building all morning. "Okay, let's do this." He and Ronon lit opposite sides of the pyre and then stood back with their friends, watching the wood catch and burn. Teyla had her head bowed, whether in grief or prayer John wasn't sure. Carson looked shell shocked and John realized he'd never been on a mission where they had encountered a whole town wiped out like this. Even Rodney looked haunted.

They watched the pyre burn down out of respect to those who had given their life trying vainly to protect their loved ones. Then John figured it was time to get his people back to Atlantis. "Come on, guys. Let's go home."

Halfway to the gate, they rounded a bend in the road to encounter a large group of men. They were dressed in dark clothes, some dirty and ill fitting. Most of them had long hair that didn't look like it had been washed in quite a while. John noted they were armed with a variety of weapons and he tightened his grip on his own weapon, bringing it part way up as the two groups stopped and faced each other.

"If you're looking for the Kranesians, they're all dead. Well, that or in a Wraith food pantry on one of their ships," said Rodney, motioning back toward the village.

The big guy in the middle who appeared to be the leader nodded. "We heard."

John's eyes widened. "You heard? Where? How?" He was hoping to hear that at least some of the people had escaped.

The man shrugged his shoulders, narrowing his eyes at John. The scar that started on his forehead and went down his cheek almost to his chin had apparently skipped over his eye as it appeared undamaged, but it made him look very dangerous. "Guy at the market on Karin. Said he came to visit a friend and found the Wraith had already been here."

Teyla stepped up beside John. "And you also have friends here?" she inquired with a tone of voice that made it clear that wasn't what she thought at all.

The big man laughed. "No, we have come to scavenge." Then he stopped laughing and glared at them. "Unless you have already claimed scavenger rights." It was said as more of a challenge than a question.

Ronon grunted in disgust, an attitude John mirrored. "We don't do that. We came to finish a trade agreement, but the Wraith had already been here. These were good people."

"And now they are dead and have no use for their material goods." The man continued to stare at John, studying him like some kind of specimen. It was beginning to make John nervous.

"Look, we aren't here to pick a fight or cause trouble. The people we came to see are dead or gone, so we're done here. Knock yourselves out doing . . . whatever it is that you do."

As John started to step around the group, the big man stepped in front of him. "Wait friend, what's the hurry? You said you were here to trade. Maybe we could trade instead."

The hair on the back of John's neck was standing at attention and the proximity of this guy was making John's skin crawl. He reeked of smoke and body odor and old food. After the morning he'd had, it made John's stomach roll. "I don't think so, unless you've got some crops in your pocket."

"I'm sure we have something we could trade for those nice weapons you and your friends have. Can I see one?"

John shook his head and brought the barrel of his gun up slightly. "I'm going with no. We don't trade weapons. We were going to trade medicines from our doctor . . . healer. We've had a long day and we'd like to go home now. Maybe we can talk about trade another day." Everyone knew John had no intention of ever trading with these people but it seemed like the thing to say.

It was ten against five if you counted Carson, which John figured you really shouldn't. So ten to four, or maybe three and a half when you calculated in Rodney. John was pretty sure their weapons were superior, but whether that was enough of an advantage to even the odds out was anyone's guess. He'd rather not find out. His team was ready, though. Teyla's gun was also held at ready and Ronon had his hand on the butt of his gun.

The lead scavenger finally smiled and for just a moment, John thought they were in the clear. "I'm afraid I'll have to insist."

John was wondering what he meant by that when he was hit from behind by a Wraith stunner. In his peripheral vision he saw the rest of his team go down as well. He had just enough time to think about how screwed they were before everything went black.

oOo

John groaned and brought his hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose and try to rub at the ache behind his eyes. He was wondering at the smell of dust in the air when said dust provoked a tickle in his throat that led to a coughing fit, which made his headache worse.

"Sheppard." John barely heard the softly spoken name over his coughing. When he finally sputtered to a stop, he lay gasping, his eyes closed against the pain in his head.

"John." Ronon's voice was still soft, but laced with enough worry that John forced his eyes open. He was lying on his back in the middle of a small, empty room, staring at the ceiling. Rolling his head to the side, he found Ronon leaned up against the wall, squinting in the low light of their wooden prison.

"What's our situation?" John asked, glancing around to find Rodney and Teyla sprawled unconscious just a few feet from him. His heart rate shot up and he pushed himself to a sitting position too quickly, making the room spin around him.

"Settle down, Sheppard. Beckett's over here by me."

Ronon had apparently honed his mind reading skills, because that had been exactly what John had been worried about. Once the room settled down, he could see the doctor lying just beyond Ronon's outstretched legs. John gave a tiny nod, afraid to move any more than he had to right now.

"The headache will fade eventually if you quite moving around so much," said Ronon. "We're in a room I think they normally use for storage based on the marks on the floor and little bits of meal and plant matter near the edges. No windows except for those small ones near the ceiling, one door. It's heavy and bolted so we'll have to wait on them to come to us."

Okay, Ronon had apparently been conscious for a while. John glanced up at the single row of six tiny windows just below the ceiling, the obvious source of light for the room. They were too small to be used for escape unless they all shrunk down to the size of action figures. About the only thing they hadn't encountered in this galaxy so far was a shrinking machine. "Don't suppose you know who they are yet? Or what they want?"

Ronon shrugged one shoulder. "Just what we learned on the planet. Haven't seen any of them since I woke up."

John signed. "I suppose that could be a good thing."

Teyla moaned and squinted her eyes, rubbing at her temple. "What has happened?"

"Teyla?" John shifted and slid a few feet across the floor next to her. "Are you all right?"

Teyla peered up at him through narrow slits. "Everything but my head seems to be fine. We were stunned?"

"Some of them snuck up behind us," answered Ronon. "I think they hit us with Wraith stunners."

John cringed and scrubbed at the side of his face. "I should never have let that happen."

"No, you shouldn't," said Rodney as he pushed himself to a sitting position and groaned. "Gah, I hate those things."

"We all do," John replied. He stared at Beckett's still form for a moment. "You sure Carson's okay?"

Ronon nodded. "Yeah, he's just not used to it."

"And isn't that a sad commentary on our lives," muttered Rodney.

Footsteps in the hall had all of them staring at the door, especially when they stopped just outside their room. The sound of the lock clanging was quickly followed by the door being thrown open. John was on his feet by then, standing between his people and the men that entered.

"You're making a big mistake," John began, pulling all the strength he could muster to sound confident. "Our people will come for us and you're going to wish you'd never laid eyes on us, much less kidnapped us."

The two men stared at John a moment and then laughed. The one who almost as tall as Ronon stepped forward and grinned, showing a mouth full of brown teeth.

"I think you're the one making the mistake. You should have just given us your weapons. Now we have your weapons and you too. Karack just has to decide whether to trade you back to your people for more weapons or sell you. He has a few questions for you. Maybe you can help him decide." The two men laughed again, like that was the funniest thing they'd ever heard.

John grimaced and turned to Ronon. "Watch them," he said, nodding at the rest of his team. "I'll be back."

Ronon didn't look happy, but he nodded. "You hurt him, or any one of us and I will kill you." He was doing that thing where he glared from under his eyebrows that John thought made him look like some evil demon. John had to force himself not to smirk when the two men faltered before pushing him out into the hall.

The door clanged shut behind him and he couldn't resist adding to the situation as they walked. "You should listen to him. He's not joking." Neither of his guards said anything, but they exchanged a nervous glance. Good.

John was led down a long hall with rooms staggered on either side. The corridor ended in a wide, open room with crates stacked against one wall. The wooden structure appeared to be a warehouse. A huge makeshift pile of random stuff took up most of the center of the room and several people, mostly women, were sorting the goods into smaller piles. Apparently scavenged goods were brought here and then organized into smaller groups for sale or trade or distribution. John didn't realized he'd slowed down to stare until one of his guards shoved him forward, almost making him face plant in front of the audience now studying him.

The guards prodded him out the door and into a snow covered courtyard. He shivered as the icy wind hit him full in the face. A few steps later and they entered another wooden building, where he was taken down a flight of stairs to a damp basement complete with moisture shining on the rock walls. A fireplace at one end did little to warm or dry the air in the room.

"Nice place you got here. Do you treat all your guests so nicely?" John knew his smart aleck attitude wouldn't help his situation, but he never could seem to help himself.

"Secure him."

John turned toward the voice to see the leader he'd exchanged words with on the planet. "You should have listened to me on the planet. There won't be much of this place left when my people get through with you." Ignoring his warning, the two guards who had escorted him grabbed his arms and tied his hands behind his back, securing him to the central post of the room. John tested the ropes when they were done, but they'd left no slack for him to work with.

"I am Karack," the head guy said. "I am the leader of this compound. As I told you before, we scavenge for what we need to live. Sometimes we meet resistance so we need good weapons." He walked over to the table against the wall and picked up one of their P90s. Holding it out toward John, he said, "We need more weapons like this. You will get us some."

John sighed. There was no way this would end well. "My people don't trade weapons. We tried that one time and it came back to bite us in the butt so we have a no weapons policy now."

Karack seemed to consider this. "I understand. However, we still require these weapons. We will trade you and your friends for weapons."

Oh, great. Naturally this guy was one of those people who didn't really listen to what you were saying. Maybe if John spoke more slowly. "Look, you have to understand. The people that are in charge of our base, they made the no weapons trade rule. They will not trade guns for us. Others have tried what you are doing and it does not work. If you let us go right now, I think we can just all go our own way and no one gets hurt."

Karack's face flushed and his eyes narrowed. "Maybe if we inform your people that we will kill you if they do not give us weapons, that will change their mind."

"No, It won't. They will come for us. We don't leave our people behind. And when they do, they're going to tear this place apart. If you think the guns are powerful, you should see what else we have. And it's all going to be aimed at you."

The guards in the room shifted nervously, but Karack just seemed to get angrier. He crossed his arms and smirked at John. "And how will these great people of yours find you? We are not on the same planet as we were."

John let out a slow breath. No use letting the guy know it might be a while before Atlantis actually tracked them down. "We have our ways."

Karack snorted. "You have technology of the ancestors."

John nodded. "Yes, we do. Plus our own technology. You put those together and we're not someone you want to mess around with. You need to let us go. Maybe we can work out a deal for other stuff, like medicines. We have some pretty great medical treatments."

"Karack, perhaps –"

Karack cut the guard off with a quick fist to the man's face. "No. We need weapons and we will get weapons. " He turned back to John. "If your people are so smart, where are they? I do not hear the sounds of attack and you have been here several hours."

John tried not to wince. "They may not realize we've been taken yet. And then they have to connect our technology to the stargate to see where you've taken us. They'll be here."

Karack punched John in the stomach and then the right side of his face. "I do not believe you. You lie to save yourself and your friends. If your people will not trade you for weapons, then you will tell me how to get into your compound and take them. If you do not, then you will die. If your friends do show up, it will not be in time to save you."

John pushed himself upright and glared at the foul smelling scavenger. He could feel blood running down the side of his face from a burning cut on his cheek. "They'll still come. And they won't leave until this entire place is smoking hole in the ground."

John took what little joy he could in the fearful faces of the guards and the moment of hesitant doubt he saw him Karack's eyes. Then the scavenger's face contorted in anger and John quickly began wishing for his people to hurry.

oOo

John shifted his head and groaned at the dagger that seemed to embed itself into the side of his head. His whole body ached and breathing was a real chore, feeling like broken glass shifting in his side.

"Try not to move around very much. They've beaten you fairly soundly." The Scottish lilt went with the pain of injury, but the hard surface he was lying on and musty smells did not.

"Where 'm I?" John began trying to force his eyes open. The right one cooperated, but not the left. The whole left side of his face hurt and felt tight and hot.

"John, we are still prisoners of the scavengers we met on M3R-223. We are all here and everyone is fine." Teyla's voice soothed the rising panic John felt, at least until he focused on her. Her face was bruised and her lip was split.

John moved his gaze to Carson, who sat on his other side. Other than some squinting that indicated a headache, he looked okay. Lifting his head a little, John looked beyond the two. Ronon stood by the door and looked like he'd used his face to stop a few punches. He was also guarding his right side. Rodney sat in the floor, his back next to the wall. He had a black eye and swollen lip, but seemed better off than either of his other two team members.

"You call this fine?" asked John, pushing himself up despite protests from Carson. "You guys don't look fine to me. Did they question everyone?"

"They were pretty hard on Teyla and Ronon. I played the I'm a dumb scientist and don't know anything useful card and it seemed to work, for the most part. A little screeching in terror and they were convinced I'd spill my guts if I knew anything. Carson did a similar act I think and they bought that as well."

"It wasn't hard," said Carson. "I really don't know anything of use to them as far as getting into Atlantis or what weapons we have. I have a feeling they are planning on keeping me alive to be their doctor, as such. I overheard one of the men telling his boss how much they could use a good healer."

"That leader guy, Karack. He seems pretty fixated on you," said Ronon. "What did you do to him?"

"Mostly told him we wouldn't give them weapons and if they didn't let us go, our people would annihilate them when they came for us."

"So you used your standard Sheppard charm," muttered Rodney. "It's a wonder he didn't kill you already."

"I think he plans on making that take a while," said John, wincing as he stood up. "How long have I been out?"

Rodney stood to join him. "They dragged your broken body back in here last night around sunset. Then they took the rest of us one at a time for questioning. They kept you the longest," said Rodney.

John raised his eyebrows and Carson seemed to pick up on his question. "You have a pretty nasty concussion, colonel. You were actually in and out a couple of times during the night, but never really aware."

Well, that explained the pounding headache and the rolling stomach. John was glad there was nothing in his stomach because it was doubtful it would stay there for long. He could use a drink however. He glanced around the room. "Any water?"

Teyla handed him a canteen. "They brought these so we could have water, but we are almost out." John took the half full container and drank a couple of small sips. She tried to refuse when he handed it back but he pushed it into her hand.

"No, take it. If I drink any more someone's going to end up wearing it."

Understanding widened her eyes a moment and she took the canteen. John noted the muted light coming in through the tiny windows and glanced at his bare wrist. Okay, he should have expected that. "What time do you think it is?" he asked, glancing at Ronon.

The former runner looked up at the row of windows and John could practically see the wheels turning. "Still early, maybe seven or eight?"

They all stilled at the sound of the door opening. Two guards they hadn't seen before entered and motioned to Sheppard.

"Karack says for you to come."

Ronon tried to step between John and the guards, but John stepped around him, placing his hand on the big man's arm. "Ronon, stop. I need you whole to help protect them. Fighting at this point isn't going to help." John nodded toward the guns the two guards were holding, then the two additional armed men in the doorway. "Wait for it," he said softly.

Ronon growled, but nodded and stepped back. John took as deep a breath as his ribs would allow and stepped out into the corridor. "Getting an early start, are we?" he quipped as he steeled himself for round two.

oOo

Carson paced around the small room, pausing to listen at the door. It seemed like forever ago that they had taken Colonel Sheppard and the doctor found himself dreading getting him back almost as much as he wished for it. The colonel was bound to be in a lot worse shape than when he left and Carson didn't have so much as a Band-Aid to work with.

"Pacing won't bring him back any sooner, but it will make you a lot more tired," said Rodney, sitting propped up against the wall.

Ronon pushed off from where he had been leaning and made his own circle around the room. "Maybe not, McKay, but it helps burn off nervous energy. Waiting is hard."

"Yes, yes, I know, I just . . . never mind." Rodney pulled his knees up to his chest and draped his arms across them. "I'm worried too, you know."

"We are all worried," offered Teyla, unfolding herself from her meditation pose. "And we each have our ways of dealing with that worry."

Carson opened his mouth to agree with her but his stomach interrupted, growling loudly. He pressed his hand against the empty cavern that was demanding food. "Excuse me. I think my stomach is nae too happy about the lack of food." He realized it had been almost twenty-four hours since he'd eaten last. As if he'd started a trend, Ronon's stomach was next to complain about the meals they'd missed.

"I know how you feel, doc," said the big man with a grin.

Loud footsteps pounded down the hall, as if someone was running. The door lock jangled for several moments and then the door was thrown open. One of the guards from the day before stepped in, his eyes wide and a little panicked. "The healer," he panted, looking wildly around the room. When he saw Carson, he grabbed at his arm, but Ronon stepped between them and pushed the guard away as another guard entered the room, his gun aimed at Ronon.

"Healer, your friend. There's something wrong with him. You need to come."

Carson stepped around Ronon, his heart beginning to race as the adrenalin hit his system. "What's wrong? What happened?"

"You need to come now if you don't want him to die. I'll explain along the way." The man was grabbing at Carson's arm again.

"Aye, I'll come." He stepped forward and then paused. "Let Teyla come as well. I may need help and I've been training her on some basic field medicine."

The guard looked confused for a moment and then pursed his lips. "Fine, whatever, but come now before he dies and Karack kills me for not moving fast enough."

They followed the guard into the hall and the second guard locked the door back behind them, jogging to catch up.

"What happened?" asked Carson.

"Your friend wasn't cooperating, even after Karack worked him over a while, so we used la'jaeharo serum made from the fruit, leaves, and roots of the plant. It makes a person relax and they can usually be made to tell you things they might not normally tell you."

"A truth serum, of sorts," Cason said to himself.

"Anyway, they held your friend down and poured it in his mouth. He kept trying to spit it out and one of the guys held his mouth shut. I think he choked because he started coughing and then . . . I've never seen anything like it. He started breaking out in red places on his face and neck and his lips swelled and then he started having trouble breathing."

They stepped out into the snowy courtyard, moving toward the other building. "Bloody hell," Carson breathed. "It sounds like anaphylactic shock. He must be allergic to that concoction you gave him. I'm going to need my bag, the one your people took from me."

They rushed down the stairs to see John lying on his back in the middle of the room, his hands clawing at the dirt floor as he gasped for air. Carson kneeled on one side of the colonel while Teyla took the other. John grabbed Carson's sleeve, fear in his eyes as his lips began to turn blue. Red whelps were scattered across his face and neck, along with a myriad of bruises and cuts.

Carson gave John a short nod. "Easy, lad, we're going to get you straightened out." He gripped John's wrist, trying to keep track of the racing pulse. Looking around the room, his eyes finally settled on Karack. "I need my medical bag. I have something that can help him breathe."

Karack shrugged his shoulders. "I've sent a man after it, but it's on the other side of the compound so it may take a few minutes. I gave it to the old woman who acts as our healer. Thought she might could use the things in the bag."

Carson sighed. John didn't have several minutes to wait. His struggles were already getting weaker and his eyes were sliding closed. Carson had no doubt his air passages were swollen closed. He began palpitating John's neck, hoping that the swelling was limited to the upper airway since that's where the contact had been. An EpiPen would have been better, but since he didn't have one, he'd have to improvise.

"Alright, I need a small knife, the sharper the better and some sort of small tube, like a straw. And something to clean everything with. It won't do much good to get him breathing again if we just kill him with an infection." Carson looked up to see the men still staring at him. "Well do you want him to live or not? Snap to it man!"

Carson was relieved when the people began to bustle around gathering things and no one was shoving a gun in his face while threatening to shoot him. A knife with a two inch blade was held out to him and he looked up into the face of the guard who had fetched him. Carson nodded to him and took it, aware of the guns trained on him as he did so. Another man held out a piece of rubber tubing about as big around as a pencil.

"Aye, that will do nicely." One end had jagged edges where it had been hastily cut off with a knife, but Carson could easily use the other end. "And what about something to clean all this with?" John's wheezing was getting thicker and slowing down. He didn't have much time.

"Here, use this." A woman rushed in the door with a bottle of clear liquid. "We use this to clean wounds and keep away the infection."

"Carson, John is not breathing," said Teyla, an undercurrent of fear pitching her voice higher than usual.

Carson nodded. "Okay, pour it over my hands and the knife and tubing." He held out the instruments and turned his hands over as the woman poured. The liquid smelled similar to alcohol, so Carson was hopeful it would do some good. "Now Teyla's hands."

While they disinfected Teyla's hands, Carson found his landmarks on John's throat and began making the incision after passing the tubing to his impromptu nurse. Fortunately the knife as sharp as it had looked and made a clean cut.

"What are you doing?" asked Karack as he peered over Carson's shoulder.

"It's called a tracheostomy or sometimes a tracheotomy. His upper air passages are swollen shut because of an allergic reaction to that concoction you gave him. I'm cutting a hole in his trachea, uh, windpipe . . . " He trailed off as he widened the incision and put out his hand for the tube, which Teyla handed him. "Teyla, put your finger here to help hold the skin back. Anyway, I'm inserting this tube hopefully below the area of swelling so the colonel can get air to his lungs. There we go," he said as he slid the tube into place.

Carson held the tube in place and put his ear down next to it. He thought he heard air passing through it. He watched John for a few minutes as the blue seemed to fade from his lips and his chest rose and fell in a regular rhythm. He let out an audible sigh and bowed his head a moment. Lifting his head, Teyla gave him a relieved smile.

"Do you have bandages? I'll need to secure the tube into place until the swelling goes down."

Karack stared at John like he'd seen someone rise from their grave. "How did you know to do that? Is he going to live? I've never seen anything like that."

Carson let out a deep breath. "Where we come from this is a common procedure. This is the kind of medicine we can trade with people, knowledge of procedures that can save lives as well as medicines that can do the same. But you weren't interested in medical knowledge to save lives, only weapons to take them."

Karack's expression tightened and his face reddened, letting Carson know he probably should have left that last part out. He decided it would be wise to shift things along in a different direction, so when one of the guards held out some strips of cloth that looked fairly clean, he nodded at Teyla.

"I'll hold the tube in place if you'll secure it. We need to keep it stable for the colonel to breathe properly." Teyla looked a little shell shocked, but her hands were steady as she wound the bandages around their patient's neck.

"He will live?" asked one of the guards, his eyes wide.

"He's got a fighting chance now," replied Carson. "I can't say for sure if he'll recover because I have no idea what all you've done to the lad or when he'll receive proper medical treatment. But he seems to be stable for the time being."

"You . . . you could teach us to do that? And things like it?" The same guard, his eyes still wide, was staring at John as if he'd seen a ghost.

"Enough!" said Karack. "We can –" A loud explosion rocked the building, sending dust and debris sprinkling down on them.

Carson looked at Teyla, who was staring at the ceiling. She shifted her eyes to Carson and mouthed, "Atlantis," where only he could see. He gave a brief nod and smiled. Who else could it be.

Karack began barking orders to his men as Carson checked John's vitals. Mentally he urged the man to hang in there just a little longer because he was almost certain he heard the automatic fire of P90s. All but Karack and one guard ran up the stairs to join in the fight. Carson looked up toward Karack just as the man backhanded him so hard he saw sparking flashes of light for several moments.

"How did they find us? What did you do?" Carson opened his eyes to find Teyla beside him and Karack standing over the two of them, blustering and yelling. Teyla's eyes narrowed and her lips thinned out into her I'm going to kick your butt expression. The one guard that was left was distracted, his gun aimed at the top of the stairway where he obviously expected enemy forces to appear.

Teyla moved so fast, Carson almost missed it. She launched herself at Karack, knocking the gun from his hand as he tried to bring it around. His movements seemed slow and sluggish next to Teyla's rapid fire moves. Carson saw a few hits and kicks before she came up with an iron bar from somewhere and used it to break his arm before knocking him in the head. The guard couldn't decide whether to help his boss or keep watching the stairs. By the time he decided he needed to pay attention to Teyla, she had him on the floor unconscious as well.

After retrieving both of the guns from their captors, she handed one to Carson. He looked at it a moment before sighing and taking the weapon. Hopefully Atlantis personnel would come rescue them before he had to use it. Glancing down at his battered patient, face swollen and bruised and covered in red welts, he knew he would do whatever it took to protect the downed pilot.

Teyla handed him one of the spare bandages and he looked up at her, confused. "What is this for?"

"You are bleeding from a cut on your head." She nodded toward the right side of his head and put the rag up to a spot at the edge of his hairline that stung only to pull it away bloody. His face must have shown his surprise because the corners of Teyla's mouth turned up. "John would say that is the wonder of adrenalin."

Carson nodded in understanding as he dabbed at his head again. The bleeding was sluggish, thank goodness and although his head ached, he wasn't dizzy or nauseated, at least not yet. That was good since he didn't really have time for any of that right now.

"Prepare yourself," Teyla said, scooting over to take up a kneeling position between the two men and the stairs. "Someone is coming."

Carson readied his weapon at the sound of footsteps hurrying along the wooden floor overhead. When the footfalls began coming down the steps, he saw Teyla lower her gun, her head shoulders slumping in obvious relief. A few seconds later, Lorne hit the bottom of the steps with Ronon and Rodney right behind him.

"You guys okay?" Lorne called, reaching for his radio as soon as he saw John. "Lt. Camden, I need a stretcher down here now. We're at the bottom of the stairs." He nodded toward Carson. "You okay, doc?"

"Aye, just a bump on the noggin. I'll be fine once we get Colonel Sheppard home."

"What happened?" demanded Ronon.

"They tried to give him some truth serum potion made from a local plant and the colonel was apparently allergic to it. His airway closed off and we had to do a tracheotomy. Rodney, see if you can find a sample of what they gave him."

Rodney's eyes widened. "What? How do I know what to look for?"

"I will help you," offered Teyla, getting to her feet. "I believe they tried to make him drink it so look for a cup or something with liquid they could have poured from."

"Okay, right," Rodney said, but he continued to stand in one place, staring down at John. "Is he . . . is he going to be all right?"

Teyla followed his gaze. "Now that Atlantis has found us, I believe he will." She put one hand on his arm. "Carson will care for John. Let us find a sample of what was given to him so that we might do our part."

Rodney nodded. "Right."

Two men hurried down the steps with a stretcher and set it down next to John. Carson double checked the tube in John's neck to be sure it was stable before they began moving him. "Okay, he's ready. Watch his neck when you move him." As the doctor stood so he could get out of their way, the room seemed to tilt to the left. Carson felt like he was falling and powerless to do anything about it since he was having a hard time telling which direction was up. Fortunately he weaved into someone who grabbed onto his arm and supported him until the world stopped spinning.

"You okay, doc?" asked Ronon as he supported the physician.

Carson grinned sheepishly. "Aye, I think I am now. Thank you for keeping me from crackin' my noggin again." Ronon let go of his arm and Carson watched the two soldiers lift the stretcher with Colonel Sheppard and start up the steps. "Did you bring a jumper?" he asked Lorne.

"Ready and waiting topside," replied Lorne. "You guys ready to get out of here?"

"You have no idea how ready," said Rodney as he returned with Teyla. "We think we found what they used," he said, holding up a cracked clay cup.

"The cup only has a small amount of liquid in it, but we think we have located the original jar it came from," said Teyla, holding up a pint sized jar almost half full of a greenish liquid. "This looks very similar to the small amount left in the cup."

"Good," said Carson. "Bring them both."

Lorne nodded. "Well, as Colonel Sheppard likes to say, let's blow this popsicle stand."

Carson was three stairs up when he heard a commotion behind him. He turned around just in time to see Karack lurch to his feet and come after Major Lorne, yelling as he wielded a knife he'd picked up from somewhere. Ronon and Lorne both got in a quick shot and the scavenger dropped at the foot of the staircase. Lorne checked for a pulse and shook his head.

"He's dead."

Teyla sighed. "I do not meant to sound heartless, but I think that may be for the best. For us as well as these people. With the proper leadership, perhaps they can support themselves in a less violent manner."

Lorne nodded. "I'll talk to Dr. Weir. For now, though, we have other priorities."

"Yes," agreed Teyla. "We do."

oOo

Carson had about reached the end of his patience. His head had been stitched and scanned. His vitals had been checked numerous times and blood had been drawn. He needed to check on his patients and make sure the serum they'd brought back from the scavenger planet was being properly tested and –

"Okay, Dr. Beckett, it looks like you're ready to go," said Kelly as she came into his little cubicle. "Nick said everything looks good, no concussion. Just take it easy a day or two and come back if –"

"Aye, aye, I'm a bloody doctor so I think I can figure the rest out," Carson said, sliding off the table. "I need to know what's going on with Colonel Sheppard."

Kelly nodded. "Nick said he'd be out in a few minutes to update everyone and for you to . . . " She paused to add air quotes to the next part. ". . . cool your heels with everyone else in the waiting room."

"Cool my heels? Really? Cool my heels? Well I'll be telling Nick a thing or two when –"

Kelly put her hand on Carson's arm, drawing his attention to her and making him loose his train of thought and trail off. "He's got this, Dr. Beckett. You saved Colonel Sheppard's life under extreme conditions and he's going to be fine. It's your turn to rest and let others take care of his team, and that includes you. Go sit with them. You're one of them for this mission."

Carson gaped for a moment, trying to put what she'd said into context. It sounded completely wrong and completely right, all at the same time. He was the doctor who liked to stay home, not go planet hopping and getting into trouble. And yet she was right. He'd been there this time, part of the action and in the end, part of the solution.

"Doctor Beckett?"

Carson shook off the musings and looked at Kelly frowning at him in worry. He smiled and patted her hand. "I'm fine, lass, just thinking about what you'd said. I'll go wait with the others. Can I relieve their mind that the colonel will be all right?"

"Yes, Nick said to assure you that Colonel Sheppard will recover. He should be out in a half hour or so to give you details."

Carson nodded and headed for the area set aside for waiting. Kelly followed him a few steps, no doubt to make sure he was doing what he'd been told. It was remarkably hard to give up control of the infirmary. He wondered if he was getting a taste of what John Sheppard went through every time he was laid up injured and out of action. He'd have to remember to be more patient with the pilot.

Suddenly he was surrounded by a crowd of people calling his name, asking him questions, and helping him to a chair as if he hadn't just been walking under his own power. He was getting the impression they might have been a little worried.

"What took so long?" asked Rodney. "We were beginning to think you were dying and they just didn't want to tell us."

"Rodney," said Elizabeth, in that voice the scolded and calmed all at the same time. Atlantis' leader turned back to Carson. "Are you all right?"

Carson sighed and nodded. "Aye, I'm right enough. Picked up a few stitches and a bit of a headache, but no concussion. I'll likely be off duty a day or two. Nick sent word that the colonel should recover and he'll be out in a bit to give us the whole story."

Although inaudible, there was almost a collective sigh of relief from John's friends. Elizabeth smiled and bowed her head a moment before looking back up at Carson. "I was afraid . . . The others gave me a run down on everything that happened. I'm sorry we didn't get there sooner, but we were having to go through the last fifty addresses in the DHD database, looking for your transmitter signals on each of the planets. It took a while."

"I understand. We knew it might take a while for you to find us. We were just trying to hang on until then."

"And we did," said Rodney.

They talked about what had happened to them when separated from the others and Carson explained about having to do the tracheotomy when John stopped breathing until Nick finally emerged from the treatment area. He motioned for them to stay seated while he pulled up a chair to join them.

"First let me say I believe Colonel Sheppard will be fine, eventually. We successfully treated him for the allergic reaction and we've been able to remove the tube. The hole should heal up in the next couple of weeks. We're watching him to make sure there isn't a secondary reaction, but everything looks fine for now. Other than that, he's got cuts and bruises from the beatings. We've put in a few stitches. He's got a bruised kidney and a little internal bleeding we're keeping an eye on, a concussion, a few cracked ribs, and hairline fracture of the zygomatic bone. All in all, he's going to be sore, grounded, and probably pretty cranky for a while."

Rodney huffed. "Cranky indeed. He hates being grounded. On the plus side, he'll lay off teasing me about allergies for a while. What was that stuff they gave him?"

Nick shook his head. "Lab is still analyzing it. All I know is that we need to keep the colonel away from it."

"Amen to that," said Carson.

"Dr. Beckett was able to make John breathe again," said Teyla. "I have truly never seen anything like it. I believe the guards were amazed as well."

Carson rubbed the uninjured side of his face. "It was my first emergency tracheotomy in the field, and without proper instruments or anything resembling sterile conditions. We'd better keep a close eye out for infection."

"Good job of improvising," said Nick. "I don't know what kind of tubing that was, but it did the trick. We cleaned the wound out, but it didn't look too contaminated. I've started him on a broad spectrum antibiotic just in case." Nick grinned at his boss. "Sure you don't want to be the one training for field work?"

Carson gave him his best glare. "Keep it up laddie. There are some double shifts in your near future."

oOo

John went from that drifting on a cloud sensation to his whole body aching in what seemed like an instant. Voices spoke softly around him and there was a brief feeling of motion before someone was poking him. Something brushed across his lower neck and it hurt enough for him to jerk his eyes open. He blinked a few times, trying to rid his eyes of the sticky film that seemed to cover them.

Carson stood there grinning at him with Rodney and Ronon just beyond. After a moment, he noticed Elizabeth and Teyla on the other side of the bed. Studying them, he noted they looked a little better with their injuries cleaned and treated. He didn't remember Carson having the cut that was now stitched on one side of his head. Actually, he didn't remember them getting rescued either.

Carson offered him a sip of water, which he gratefully accepted. That was when he noticed someone had raised the head of the bed. There was an ache at the base of his throat he couldn't explain, so his hand came up to touch a bandage there. Carson intercepted his hand just as it reached its destination and lowered it back to the bed.

"Don't be messing with our handiwork, colonel. Do you remember what happened?" asked Carson.

John thought back to Karack's last interrogation session. As his mind cleared, he remembered Karack's thugs trying to pour some kind of drug down his throat to get him to tell them about Atlantis. "They gave me . . ." John paused and tried to clear his throat. His voice had been so low as to be barely audible.

"It's all right, lad," said Carson with a small smile. "Your voice might not have much strength for a few days as the incision heals." At John's confused frown, the doctor continued. "Don't worry, I'll explain in a moment."

John gave a tiny nod and tried to put a little more force into his voice. "They gave me something, some kind of alien truth serum stuff that made my lips tingle. I kept trying to spit it out until they sat on me and held my mouth closed . . . I was choking on it and then . . . all of a sudden I couldn't breathe." He looked up at Carson. "I couldn't breathe, no matter how hard I tried. They thought I was faking at first, then one of them noticed my lips were turning blue. I kind of faded out after that. I thought I was dead."

John managed to minimize the shudder that told how true that statement was. When he'd finally lost consciousness, he hadn't expected to ever wake up. There weren't a lot of times he'd faced his death with that amount of certainty and complete hopelessness. When you were fighting or engaged in battle, you didn't have time to think about your overall situation. Lying on a dirt floor unable to pull in oxygen while five enemies stood around watching you die was not how he'd planned on leaving this life.

"Welcome to my world," said Rodney, his expression somewhere between a smirk and a grimace. "Keep that memory in your head the next time you threaten me with a lemon."

John frowned and returned his gaze to Carson. "What?"

Carson sighed and rubbed the top of his head, making his hair stand on end. "You had a severe allergic reaction to their little potion. Your air passages swelled, closing them off. Since you ingested very little of it, the main part of the reaction was in your mouth and throat so that was where the swelling was the worst."

"In other words, you're lucky even when you're unlucky," said Rodney with a slight shake of his head.

Carson glared at the scientist a moment before continuing. "What Rodney is trying to convey is that there was very little swelling in the air passages of the lower respiratory system, so I was able to do a tracheotomy to restore air flow. Major Lorne's rescue forces attacked about that time and liberated all of us. We got you back to Atlantis and Nick was able to properly treat you, which allowed us to remove the trach tube fairly quickly."

John's mind struggled to make sense of everything he was being told. "Wait," he tried to say, but very little sound came out. Carson offered him water and he took several slow sips.

"Perhaps we should explain everything that happened," said Teyla, making John grateful for the way his team sometimes read his mind. So the next few minutes, John sipped water as they took turns explaining what had happened. Elizabeth filled in what was going on in Atlantis and how Lorne had taken three jumpers loaded with marines to rescue them since John's team would not have taken off for parts unknown on their own. Carson assured John that injuries to his team were minor.

"All right everyone, now that we all know what happened from every possible point of view, the colonel needs some rest. Actually, all of you could use some down time, so off with you for now. You can come back and visit tomorrow. The colonel will be my guest for a couple of days until I'm confident there'll be no nasty after effects."

John was touched when his team began protesting, but after studying each of them he decided Carson was right. They had each been roughed up by the scavengers and kept watch all night while he'd been out of it. They needed rest as much as he did.

"Guys, as much as I appreciate you wanting to stay, I think Carson is right. Go get some rest. I'll be fine by myself. I'm just going to sleep anyway, so might as well get some shut eye of your own. Then you can come back and entertain me tomorrow when I'm bored."

Ronon chuckled. The bruises across his face made John wince in sympathy. He'd suggest the big guy use an ice pack or three but he knew he'd be wasting his breath. There were a few loud minutes of good byes as everyone but Elizabeth drifted away. She stood looking at him until he began to get uncomfortable.

"What's up?" asked John, trying to analyze his boss's excellent poker face. She finally let out a deep breath.

"Are you really all right?"

John quirked one side of his mouth up in a half smile. "Yeah, I'm good. To be honest, it's really good to be home."

Her shoulders seemed to droop a little and her face relaxed. "It's good to have you home. All of you. Get some rest and I'll see you tomorrow." With a nod and a smile, she left. It was then that John realized he hadn't been the only one who thought he'd been a goner.

oOo

John sat straight up in bed, gulping air in an attempt to ward off the feeling of suffocation as his hands gripped the blanket and his eyes darted around the room, looking for some landmark that would tell him where he was. His heart was racing and he was beginning to get light headed.

"The trick is to slow down your breathing, to realize that you aren't about to suffocate and convince your lungs that you're getting plenty of air."

John jerked his head to the left and there was just enough light to make out Rodney sitting in a chair beside his bed. The scientist shifted forward so he could rest his hand on the side rails. "You're okay. You're in Atlantis and you can breathe normally. Just try to take in a slow deep breath and then blow it out slowly." He then proceeded to demonstrate.

John was beginning to remember where he was and what had happened, so he tried what Rodney was suggesting, slowing his respirations over the course of the next minute which in turn slowed his heart rate as well. He lay back against his pillows, feeling foolish for his reaction to a dream.

"The first time is always the roughest," said Rodney, sitting back in his chair. "I remember my first time. I was at a birthday party for a classmate in the fifth grade. Levi Barrett. He hated me but his mom made him invite everyone in the class and my mom made me go because she said I needed to expand my social network." He chuffed and crossed his arms as he brought his eyes up to meet John's.

"Sounds very . . . parent-like," commented John in a near whisper.

"Yes, yes, on both counts. Anyway, Levi and his buddies surrounded me and insisted that I drink a cup of punch. Punch that they knew contained orange juice. When my throat began to swell and I tried to go for help, they knocked me down and stood around and laughed while I flopped around gasping for air like a fish of water. I vaguely remember one of the parents discovering what was going on just as I passed out."

John frowned and clutched the blanket in his fist, wishing he could have been there to protect Rodney. No one deserved to be treated like that. And he was pretty sure he understood the mentality behind the brutal behavior, which just made him more angry.

Rodney gave a half-hearted smile and shook his head. "Ironic, don't you think? You're sent into anaphylaxis by enemy soldiers who immediately get you medical help. I'm done in by a bunch of spoiled kids who stand around hoping they can watch me die."

John tried to clear his throat, a painful action that really did no good. "Yeah, but what are they doing now? In prison? Working some meaningless job? I'm betting none of them have saved the world even once."

Rodney straightened and a broad grin spread across his face. "I never thought of that, but you're right." He rubbed his hands together. "I'll have to look into that next time I'm on Earth. I'd love to find out ole Levi is the local bum with no job and no life while I'm out there saving humanity, or at least a part of it."

"Either way I'm sure you'll have the last laugh," John said. "Why are you here? It's the middle of the night."

"No reason. Can't sleep so I thought I'd check on you."

John studied his friend, noting the way he refused to look him in the eye. "You're still a bad liar, Rodney. What's up?"

Rodney sighed and rubbed the top of his head. "Fine. I was . . . concerned. There's nothing quite so terrifying as not being able to breathe. It sticks with you, that rising panic when you're getting less and less air and you can't seem to do anything about it. I always felt unsettled for a long time afterward and sometimes . . . it gave me nightmares. I'd wake up . . . " He waved his hand toward John as he trailed off.

"Gasping for air," John finished. "Yeah, I guess I know the feeling." And Rodney had hit the nail on the head. John had felt a completely different kind of terror than he did when going into battle or taking a nuke to a hive ship. On those occasions, he had at least some control and he was making a sacrifice for a reason. He hadn't seen any reasoning or control to floundering around on the floor suffocating in front of the enemy.

"Anyway," Rodney continued, "I'm here. You can go back to sleep and I'll keep watch." He looked right at John. "I've got your back."

John hadn't even realized how tense he was until Rodney's statement released it. He felt the muscles in his back and shoulders relax into the mattress. "Thanks," he said, his voice barely audible. At Rodney's nod, John closed his eyes and smiled as he slid into a dreamless sleep.

The end

Prompts (**I focused on the first one, but I tried to get elements of the other three in there as well.):

1) tracheostomy, with credible events leading up to and after (I like my whump detailed with lots of after care) :)

(2) "homemade" things - weapons, treatments, whatever: "Invention is the mother of necessity"

(3) Snark. Banter. Friendship.

(4) Sheppard being the Colonel.

"