NOTES: Thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed, and/or followed/favorited my other SGA stories. I'm so glad you all are enjoying these additional adventures!

This story starts a little before the end of the season two episode, Michael. Dialogue from the episode Michael was written by Carl Binder.

As always, these scribbles are much-improved thanks to my beta reader, Lyn. Thank you, Lyn!


"Ronon, fall back!" Sheppard ordered as he fired on the Wraith soldiers coming toward them.

Ronon heard the sharp report of a P-90, and another of the drones collapsed and lay still. He ducked a beam from another Wraith staff weapon, slid behind a tree, and fired again. He hit one of the drones still behind them, and Sheppard took out another one.

The remaining Wraith returned fire, the beams from the stun rifles fading into the forest around them as they missed their targets. Ronon counted to five, turned, and fired the particle weapon again, hitting two of the drones chasing them. Ronon heard the whoosh/whine of another stun rifle firing in reply, followed by the rapid fire from Sheppard's P-90.

The echo from the P-90 died away, and Ronon glanced back at the path. He didn't see any Wraith drones and stepped out from behind the tree.

"We're clear," he said.

Sheppard came around the boulder he'd used for cover, the P-90 still raised. Teyla followed him, holding Sheppard's Beretta. Sheppard stopped next to Ronon and lowered the rifle. Teyla handed him an empty magazine, and Sheppard gave her the spare from his vest.

"What happened to Michael?" Teyla asked, looking around the forest as she reloaded the pistol.

"Wraith took him," Ronon replied.

"Alive?" Sheppard asked.

Ronon nodded.

"Damn," Sheppard whispered with a grimace. He scanned their backtrail and the ridge above them. "Ronon, you and Teyla get back to the 'gate. Make sure it's secure. I'll meet you back there once I'm done."

"Where are you going?" Teyla asked.

"Now that the sun is coming up, I'm going to scout those Wraith ships we saw in the valley. It was no accident Michael brought you here." Sheppard glanced at Teyla. "We need to know why they were here in the first place."

"We should go with you," Teyla suggested.

Sheppard shook his head. "I've got this. Get back to the 'gate." He gave Ronon a pointed look, glanced at Teyla, and jerked his chin toward the path leading back to the 'gate.

Ronon pursed his lips but nodded. "Watch your back," he said to Sheppard.

Sheppard reloaded the P-90 and rechecked the path. "I won't be long," he said and disappeared into the trees.

Ronon waited until Sheppard was out of sight, then turned to Teyla. "Let's go," he said, leading the way back to the path and the stargate.

"You found the stone with the 'gate symbols on it," Teyla said as they walked.

Ronon nodded. "That was good thinking. Surprised he didn't try and stop you."

"Michael was … distracted at the time," Teyla replied, her tone a mixture of relief and regret.

"Distracted?" Ronon asked and glanced at Teyla walking behind him.

"Michael stood at the DHD, muttering to himself for some time as if trying to remember something. His hesitation gave me the time needed to note down the symbols as he dialled."

Ronon growled low in his throat.

"What is wrong?" Teyla asked.

"We should have found you sooner," Ronon replied. "He never should have been able to get off the planet with you."

"Ronon -"

"Wraith will always be Wraith," Ronon said over her. "We never should have trusted him."

"You could now know -" Teyla started to say, but Ronon held up a closed fist and stopped walking. "What is it?" she whispered.

Ronon heard more rustling in the trees to their left and turned to Teyla. "Something large is coming this way," he whispered. "Moving fast."

Teyla hissed in a breath and raised the Beretta. "More Wraith?"

"Not sure." The rustling came closer, and Ronon readied the particle weapon. "Stay behind me."

A few seconds later, Ronon heard low grunting and lowered the particle weapon as a large boar trotted out of the trees several feet in front of them. The piebald animal stood as high as Ronon's waist, with a pair of curved tusks curling around its snout.

It stopped and stared at them for a moment, then grunted and lowered its head, pawing the ground with one foot.

Ronon raised the particle weapon and took a step toward the boar.

"No," Teyla said, resting a hand on Ronon's arm. "The animal was startled by something. If more Wraith are out there, they will be attracted to the noise."

Ronon's aim never wavered as he stared down the boar. The animal pawed the ground and grunted again as it shook its head. Ronon was ready to ignore Teyla's warning and shoot the animal anyway when the boar raised its head, its ears perked forward, and turned toward the trees on the left. A moment later, it shook itself and trotted into the woods to their right.

Ronon pushed Teyla against a nearby tree and glanced back at the path. A few seconds later, a large cat with spotted orange and brown fur slunk out of the trees. It sniffed the ground where the boar had stopped, peered into the trees where the boar had disappeared, then followed in the same direction.

Ronon counted to twenty in his head, then glanced at the path. "It's gone," he said, stepping back onto the trail.

"The animals are skittish," Teyla said, and Ronon nodded.

"The 'gate isn't much farther," he said and led the way back through the trees.

Ronon tried to watch the forest on both sides of the path as they walked, not for more animals but for the Wraith he suspected were still stalking them. He knew the Wraith wouldn't give up so easily, not when there was a ready meal handy.

They know we're here, Ronon thought to himself. So where are they? he wondered as he studied the surrounding woods, looking for the signs the Wraith were about to ambush them.

Birds chirped in the trees as the sun rose higher, and Ronon froze when he heard the skittering of small animals in the nearby underbrush. He waited for the sound to stop, then continued down the path, alert to any indication they were being followed. The trees thinned as they neared the clearing with the 'gate, and Ronon slowed from a ground-eating walk to a slow creep.

"Where are they?" Ronon grunted to himself.

"Ronon?"

Ronon held up a hand, stepped off the path, and readied the particle weapon.

"What is it?" Teyla whispered.

"The clearing with the 'gate is just ahead," Ronon replied, raising the particle weapon.

"Is it guarded?"

Ronon inched forward, pushing aside a low-hanging tree branch. He peered through the branches of the tree, studied the clearing for several seconds, and lowered the weapon.

"It's clear," he said and walked over to the control pedestal.

"This is not like the Wraith," Teyla said as she followed Ronon into the clearing. "Why leave the stargate unguarded?"

"Could still be a trap," Ronon suggested. He circled the pedestal and surveyed the forest behind the 'gate.

"No, the Wraith I am sensing are all some distance away from us."

"Where we left Sheppard," Ronon growled.

"Yes," Teyla replied with a worried glance toward the path. "I do not sense any Wraith near the stargate. I believe we are alone." She rubbed her wrists and wandered over to the control pedestal.

Ronon took one last look at the clearing and the trees, holstered the particle weapon, and joined Teyla near the pedestal. He heard Teyla hissing under her breath as she flexed her wrists and frowned.

"What did he use?" Ronon asked, his tone flat as he examined the red weals encircling Teyla's wrists.

"Zip cuffs," Teyla replied. "Michael took the cuffs along with one of the handguns when he killed the men guarding the stargate at the alpha site."

Ronon dropped her wrist and paced back and forth between the pedestal and the path. "I should have killed him when I had the chance," he growled.

"What is done is done," Teyla sighed and wrapped her arms around her middle.

Ronon looked at her, but Teyla refused to meet his gaze. "What?" he asked and walked over to her.

Teyla looked up at him and shook her head.

"Did he do something else?" Ronon asked.

Teyla gave him a sideways glance, then stared at the stargate. "Michael …" She pulled one arm free of her self-hug and rubbed the back of her neck. "My defences were lowered," she started again, then stopped.

Ronon felt a stab of anger in his gut. What did he do? he wondered and glanced down the path. "Teyla?" he asked.

Teyla ducked her head and blew out a breath. "Michael was able to enter my mind. Control my actions. That is how he was able to get free of the restraints."

Ronon clenched his hands into fists and stormed toward the path. "I knew it," he said, turning toward Teyla. "This plan was never going to work."

Teyla walked over to the stargate and sat on a nearby block of stone. "I, too, had reservations about Doctor Beckett's retrovirus. I had hoped after everything that happened to Colonel Sheppard, he would reconsider the idea. Instead …" She rubbed her hands up and down her arms. "Perhaps we are not so different from Crius after all," she muttered, and Ronon wasn't sure if the comment was meant for him or not.

He waited a few seconds, and when Teyla didn't elaborate, he walked over to her and asked, "Who's Crius?"

Teyla looked up at him with a forlorn expression. "He was one of the Ancestors," she explained. "Before the Wraith attacked Atlantis last year, Rodney was trying to find a way to power the city's shield in a way that did not require using a ZPM. He wanted to build a new generator but needed a special mineral to make it work."

Teyla stared down at her hands. "We found a source for the mineral, and when we went to investigate, Rodney discovered one of the Ancestors, a man named Crius, had been experimenting on captured Wraith." She glanced up at Ronon. "At the time, I felt … betrayed. The Ancestors had always been revered by my people. To learn they were capable of committing such atrocities …" She shook her head and rubbed her hands up and down her arms.

Ronon snorted and stared out at the surrounding trees.

"Your people did not feel the same?" Teyla asked.

"The Ancestors abandoned everyone in this galaxy to the Wraith," Ronon replied. "What's to admire about them?"

Teyla sighed, and Ronon glanced down at her.

"I consoled myself that we were better people for not going to such an extreme, even if it was for survival," Teyla said. "But now …" She paused. "Was what we did to Michael any different than Crius and his experiments?"

Ronon wasn't sure if she wanted an answer to that or not. "What was Crius doing?" he asked.

"I do not know any details," Teyla replied. "We found several Wraith skeletons still chained to the walls in one of the labs we searched." She bent and absently rubbed her ankle. "However, Rodney never told me what he found in the data we were able to salvage from the planet."

"This Crius was looking for ways to kill Wraith?"

"I believe so, yes."

Ronon sat beside her on the stone. "The retrovirus was a bad idea, but Beckett didn't want to kill anyone. Not even Wraith."

"I tried to explain that to Michael. That the retrovirus was a more compassionate choice than killing the Wraith outright." Teyla wrapped her arms around her middle. "Michael did not agree."

Ronon shrugged but didn't say anything else. They sat in silence as the sun rose, bathing the clearing in morning light. A low hum filled the air as insects buzzed around the bushes near the edge of the clearing. A rabbit crept into the clearing, nibbling on a grass stem.

Ronon stood and paced between the 'gate and the control pedestal, scaring the rabbit back into the cover of the bushes. "Sheppard should have been back here by now," he said, staring at the path.

Teyla glanced at her watch, then up at the sun. "Perhaps we should -" The sound of an engine firing in the distance stopped her. "Was that …"

"A hive ship," Ronon replied, staring up at the sky.

"It is heading this way," Teyla said as the rumbling noise grew louder.

Ronon noticed the sudden silence in the clearing and drew his particle weapon.

"We must hide." Teyla took a few steps toward the trees then stopped. "Ronon," she called, and Ronon heard the hint of command in her tone. "We cannot fight a hive ship."

The hive ship came into view, floating above the trees, flanked by two smaller cruisers.

"Ronon!" Teyla shouted.

Ronon glared at the ships closing on the stargate for several moments, then growled low in his throat as he lowered the particle weapon and joined Teyla under cover of the trees. They crouched in the underbrush near the stargate, and Ronon watched as the hive ship flew over the clearing and hovered overhead.

The ships hung in place for a few seconds, then the engines roared as the ships climbed into the sky and soon disappeared. Ronon stood and walked back into the clearing.

"I am no longer sensing any Wraith on the planet," Teyla said. She glanced up at the sky and then toward the path.

Ronon grunted and holstered his weapon. "So where's Sheppard?"

"I am sure he will be here soon," Teyla said.

Several minutes passed, and Ronon felt what little patience he had left waning. Something was wrong, he told himself. Sheppard should have been back by now. Had he been captured? he wondered and glanced up at the empty sky.

The image of Sheppard's desiccated body danced in his head, and Ronon was ready to head back to where they had left Sheppard when he heard something running down the path toward them.

"Someone's coming," he said to Teyla. He unholstered the particle weapon and pointed it toward the path.

The running steps slowed to a walk, and Ronon braced his shooting arm against a handy tree. Teyla stood against another tree, the Beretta ready, and glanced at Ronon. Ronon was prepared to open fire when the footsteps slowed to a stop.

"Ronon? Teyla?" Ronon heard Sheppard say over the radio.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Teyla replied, lowering the Beretta.

"Yeah," Sheppard replied. "Clear to enter?"

"You're good," Ronon replied and holstered the particle weapon.

Sheppard walked into the clearing and looked around. "You guys all right?"

"We are well," Teyla said. "You?"

"Fine," Sheppard replied, adjusting his grip on the P-90. "You saw the hive ship?"

Ronon nodded. "And the two cruisers. They left a few minutes ago."

"The Wraith took Michael with them?" Teyla asked.

Sheppard nodded. "I caught up with the Wraith as they carried Michael aboard the hive ship. He was unconscious. And from what I could see, it looked like he had completely reverted to being a Wraith."

"That's a problem," Ronon said.

"Yeah," Sheppard agreed and walked over to the control pedestal. "But there's nothing we can do about it now. The Wraith are gone, and so is Michael." He pressed one of the symbols on the pedestal, and the lights spun around the 'gate. "We need to head back to the alpha site. Get Beckett's team packed up and head back to Atlantis. Doctor Weir needs to know what happened." He finished dialling and stepped back, tapping his earpiece, as the wormhole whooshed into existence.

"This is Sheppard calling Alpha Base. Come in." Sheppard paused, and Ronon tapped his earpiece.

"I read you, Colonel," Beckett replied. There was a brief pause over the radio, then Beckett asked, "Did you, umm, did you find …"

"We've got Teyla with us, and we're heading back," Sheppard replied.

"Oh, thank god," Beckett said. "Is she all right?"

"I am well, Doctor Beckett," Teyla said.

There was another pause over the radio. "And what about Michael?" Beckett asked. "You didn't -"

Sheppard motioned Teyla toward the 'gate. "We'll explain when we get there," he said. "Sheppard out." He glanced at Ronon and Teyla and added, "Time to get off this rock."

Teyla nodded and disappeared through the 'gate.

Ronon stopped at the edge of the shimmering event horizon and turned. "You coming?" he asked Sheppard, still standing near the pedestal.

"Yeah," Sheppard replied. He glanced around the clearing, then up at the empty sky, as he walked over to Ronon. "Let's go."

Ronon stepped through the 'gate and saw Teyla waiting for them near the control pedestal. Early afternoon sunlight shone on the clearing with the 'gate, and Ronon quickly checked their surroundings as he walked over to her.

Sheppard came through the 'gate a moment later, and the wormhole shut down. Sheppard glanced around the clearing, frowned, and tapped his radio. "Sheppard to Beckett."

"Yes? I'm here," Beckett replied.

"Where are you?"

"In the medical tent. I wanted to review my notes on Michael's treatment. See if there was something I missed."

"That'll have to wait, Doc," Sheppard said. "Ronon and Teyla are heading to you. Start packing up the camp. We need to get back to Atlantis."

"Colonel?" Beckett asked. "Is everything all right?"

"Not really," Sheppard replied. "Sheppard out." He tapped off the radio and turned to Teyla. "Get back to camp. Let Beckett take a look at your wrists, then start clearing the camp."

"You are not coming with us?" Teyla asked.

"I need to tell Weir what happened," Sheppard replied and walked over to the control pedestal. "I'll be right behind you."

"Come on," Ronon said as Sheppard started to dial the 'gate.

The wormhole formed, and Sheppard tapped his radio. "Sheppard calling Atlantis base."

Ronon ignored the rest of the conversation and gave Teyla a helping hand as they climbed up the steep incline, following the path back to Beckett and the medical camp. They walked into the clearing ten minutes later, and Ronon saw the Marines loading the transports.

Two of the large, inflatable tents, structures Sheppard had called Quonset huts, still stood along the rocky shore of a stream. As Ronon watched, a group of Marines struck the third tent and stored it in one of the large crates.

Another group of Marines passed crates of supplies out of a second tent, adding them to the neatly stacked pile of stores in the middle of the clearing. Another of the Marines backed one of the expedition's motorised transports near the supplies, and two others started loading the stacked crates onto the vehicle.

Two more Marines stood guard over a pair of shrouded bodies lying under a nearby tree.

Beckett stood outside the large medical tent, watching the Marines strike the camp. As Ronon and Teyla entered the camp, Beckett looked up and raised his hand.

"Ronon. Teyla," Beckett greeted as he walked over to them. He glanced behind them and frowned. "Where is Colonel Sheppard?" he asked and clicked his tongue when he saw the red welts on Teyla's wrists.

"Reporting to Weir," Ronon replied. "He'll be here soon."

Beckett nodded and took one of Teyla's hands. "Are you injured anywhere else?" he asked as he examined her wrists.

"No," Teyla replied. "Michael did not seem interested in hurting me."

"Only in turning you over to the Wraith and feeding on you," Ronon said in a low growl.

"He tried to …" Beckett stopped speaking, and Ronon saw the guilt mixed with concern in Beckett's expression.

"Ronon and Colonel Sheppard arrived before Michael could do anything," Teyla assured Beckett.

"Still, I am sorry, my dear," Beckett said. "I never expected something like this to happen."

Ronon snorted. In his opinion, changing the Wraith into humans was misguided at best and downright dangerous at worst. Considering what had happened in Atlantis, what had almost happened to Teyla, he didn't see how the retrovirus had done anything to make the Wraith less dangerous.

Beckett glanced at him, and Ronon saw another flash of guilt in his eyes before he gave Teyla a gentle smile and guided her toward the medical tent. "Let's get those welts cleaned up," he said, holding open the flap of the remaining tent.

Ronon stood watching the Marines clearing out the supply tent until Sheppard jogged into camp a few minutes later.

"What did Weir say about the Wraith hive ship?" Ronon asked.

Sheppard stopped next to Ronon and glanced around the camp. "She wants us back in the city as soon as possible."

Ronon saw the concerned expression on Sheppard's face and frowned. "Something else wrong?"

Sheppard shook his head. "Not sure. Elizabeth seemed distracted. The news that Michael had reverted to a Wraith didn't seem to be a priority." Sheppard looked around the camp again. "Where's Teyla?"

"Medical tent," Ronon replied and jerked his chin toward the large tent near the two Marines standing guard over the bodies.

Sheppard walked over to the medical tent and lifted the flap. Teyla sat on one of the gurneys lined along the wall to the left of the tent flap. Beckett stood in front of her with a tray of medical supplies at his elbow.

"… something different about Michael," Teyla said as Sheppard and Ronon entered the tent. "I could sense that his mind was less Wraith-like compared to the others."

"I suppose that's something, at least," Beckett replied with a sigh. He finished taping a bandage around Teyla's wrist. "Did he …" He dropped the roll of tape on the tray, cleared his throat, and tried again, "After he reverted, did he -"

"Remember me?" Teyla asked, and Beckett nodded. She gave Beckett a sad smile as she rubbed the bandage on her wrist. "Yes. He did."

"Which means he probably remembered everything else," Sheppard said, stopping next to the bed. "Including the fact that Atlantis wasn't destroyed." He blew out a breath. "We need to get back to the city."

Sheppard turned toward the tent flap, and Teyla hopped off the bed. "I will assist with the packing," she said.

Sheppard nodded, then glanced back at Ronon standing near the exam bed. "Coming?" he asked.

"In a minute," Ronon replied. He jerked his chin at Beckett, and Sheppard nodded.

Ronon waited until Sheppard and Teyla were gone, then walked over to Beckett, standing near an open crate of medical supplies.

"I really thought I had the retrovirus sorted," Beckett said in a near-whisper as Ronon stood behind and to Beckett's right. "Everything went well in the last simulations I ran. The human-specific alleles were dominant in every test." Beckett closed the crate and glanced at Ronon. "I don't understand what went wrong."

"You can't change someone's nature," Ronon replied. "They are Wraith. No amount of this," he waved his hand at the array of medical equipment on the counter beside him, "will fix that."

"I refuse to accept that," Beckett replied, his expression closed. "Michael was a kind and pleasant man for the first few days after the treatments. No. My fundamental theory is sound," Beckett muttered more to himself, and Ronon was reminded of McKay at his most stubborn. He never listened to reason, either, Ronon told himself.

"The problem has to be the need for continued injections," Beckett continued. "If I can solve that …" Beckett stared at a microscope sitting on the counter. "There must be a way."

Ronon shook his head. Why couldn't Beckett see the truth? he wondered. Wraith would always be Wraith, no matter how much Beckett changed their appearance.

"Doc -" he started to say but stopped when Beckett looked over at him with a frown.

"I know the Wraith did terrible things to your people," Beckett said. "But I truly believe there is a way to help them live the lives they were meant to have. We have to at least try."

Beckett picked up a laptop computer and stowed it in the backpack sitting on the counter. "It's going to take me weeks to go through all the data I collected while Michael was with us. Once I do, I'll be able to formulate a more robust version of the treatment." He zipped the backpack and set it aside.

Ronon wanted to argue but could tell it would be pointless. Scientists, Ronon grumbled to himself. Can't see the truth when it's right in front of their face. He liked Beckett and respected him, but there were times when his frustration outweighed such considerations. Maybe he would have better luck convincing Sheppard they needed to stop Beckett's research.

"If you would take those crates out to the transport," Beckett said, pointing to three crates waiting on the floor next to the tent flap, "I'll start packing the more sensitive equipment."

Ronon picked up two of the sealed crates of supplies and turned toward the tent flap, grumbling under his breath.

"Everything all right?" Sheppard asked as Ronon walked out of the tent.

Ronon hefted the crates onto one of the waiting transports. He noticed the two shrouded bodies on another transport and glanced at the medical tent. "Beckett's idea is never going to work," he said.

"We can't know that," Sheppard replied. "And if Beckett's cure makes the Wraith less of a threat, it's something we have to pursue."

Ronon crossed his arms over his chest and jerked his chin at the transport holding the bodies. "He killed several of your men."

"I'm aware," Sheppard replied, and Ronon saw a hint of censure in his expression. "But there's more than one way to win a war."

Ronon dropped his arms and stalked back to the medical tent. Beckett refused to listen to him. Sheppard refused to listen to him. What would it take to prove to them that he was right and all of their science was wrong?

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

John watched Ronon walk back to the medical tent and shook his head. He glanced at the two shrouded bodies on the transport, and a part of him understood Ronon's point of view. After his experience with the Other, he had his share of doubts about Beckett's project. He also knew that everyone would win if they could neutralise the Wraith without the bloodshed of a drawn-out war. He'd fought in enough skirmishes and battles that he was willing to look at any options presented to him to avoid more deaths, even of those that he may dislike.

"Lesser of two evils," he muttered and watched as the Marines finished loading the second transport.

He stared at the bodies of Whitaker and Morris and remembered Cole lying on a slab in the medical lab. Three dead Marines, an unstable retrovirus, and a Wraith who now knew about the existence of Atlantis. Was Ronon right? he asked himself. Was all of this too high a price?

"The first transports are ready to return to Atlantis," Teyla said, shaking John out of his contemplative mood.

John glanced at the two Marines seated at the controls for the transports and the two men standing at attention next to the transport with the bodies. "Head back to the 'gate," he ordered. "Sullivan, you and Takar are to stay with the bodies until relieved."

"Yes, sir," Sullivan replied.

Sullivan nodded to Takar, and John stepped back as the engines started and the transports rumbled down the path. The transport with the supplies disappeared down the trail, while the second followed more slowly, allowing the honor guard to keep pace.

John waited until the second transport was out of sight, then turned to Teyla. "Let's start getting the next load ready to go."

Teyla nodded and followed him into the supply tent.

The sun was setting behind them as the last transport left the empty campsite two hours later. The only thing left showing there had been anyone on the planet were the depressions from the tents and the tire tracks from the transports. John made one last check of the site and nodded. If Michael were to somehow lead the Wraith back to the planet, there was nothing left to indicate the expedition had ever been there.

Hopefully, that will be enough to make the Wraith suspicious of anything else Michael might tell them, John thought. Like the fact that Atlantis wasn't destroyed after all. He saw Teyla and Ronon waiting near the head of the trail leading back to the 'gate and helped Beckett struggle into his pack.

"Ready?" he asked Carson.

Beckett adjusted the weight of the pack on his shoulders and nodded. "I suppose so," he said with a sigh.

"You all right?"

Carson smiled and shook his head. "Not really, no. Three men are dead because -"

John stopped him with a raised hand. "You can't blame yourself for this."

"Elizabeth said the same thing," Carson replied.

"Well, she's right," John said.

"I'm not so sure about that," Carson muttered.

John wasn't sure if he was meant to hear that or not and chose to ignore it. "Come on," he said. "Time to go home." He waited for Carson to fall into step beside him and led the way back to the 'gate.

They entered the clearing for the stargate as the last rays of sunlight disappeared behind the hills. John stayed near Beckett and nodded to Teyla.

"Dial it up," he said.

Teyla walked over to the DHD, and John watched as the lights ran around the edge of the stargate. The wormhole formed a moment later.

"We are cleared to return to the city," Teyla said.

John nodded and motioned Ronon and Teyla ahead of him. He waited until Beckett walked into the event horizon and, with one last glance at the clearing and the sky, followed the rest of his team. He walked into the gateroom in Atlantis a few seconds later and winced when he felt a familiar itch crawl up the back of his skull.

Elizabeth stood at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the control room, watching them. John looked around with a frown when he realised Rodney wasn't in the gateroom to greet them. What the hell happened while we were gone? John wondered, rubbing the back of his head as he walked over to Elizabeth, waiting at the bottom of the steps. We were only gone for a day.

"Colonel," Elizabeth greeted, and John noted that her welcoming smile didn't reach her eyes.

He remembered how distracted Elizabeth had sounded when he reported they had found Teyla and felt his worry notch up a level.

Elizabeth nodded to Ronon and Beckett and turned to Teyla. "Are you all right?"

"I am fine, Doctor Weir. Thank you," Teyla replied with a tiny smile. "Though it has been a long day."

"That it has," Elizabeth replied, and John narrowed his eyes when he saw her clasp her hands in a tighter hold. "All of you, get cleaned up, find something to eat. We'll debrief tomorrow morning."

Ronon glanced at Elizabeth and gave John a puzzled glance.

He sees it too, John thought as he shook his head at Dex.

Ronon shrugged and followed Teyla and Beckett out of the gateroom.

Elizabeth turned toward the steps, but John stopped her with a tap on her arm. "We need to talk," he said.

"Yes, I think we do," Elizabeth replied. "Come to my office."

John followed as Elizabeth led the way up the stairs and across the bridge to her glassed-in office. She sat behind the desk and clasped her hands together. She waited until John unclipped the P-90 from his vest and sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk, then asked, "Teyla is really all right? You didn't really say much when you reported earlier."

John nodded. "Like she said, she's fine. Beckett checked her over once we were back at the alpha site."

Elizabeth stared at her hands for a moment, then glanced up at John. "And you're certain Michael was captured by the Wraith?"

"And taken back to their hive ship," John confirmed. He glanced down at the stargate and frowned.

"Colonel? What haven't you told me?"

I could ask you the same question, John thought and blew out a frustrated breath. Mission report first, he told himself. Then find out what trouble Rodney managed to find while you were gone. He shifted in the chair and focused on Elizabeth.

"There was something else going on on that planet," he said. "A hive ship was waiting when Michael and Teyla arrived. That can't be a coincidence."

"No," Elizabeth agreed.

"After we rescued Teyla, I followed the Wraith who captured Michael," John continued. "The hive had landed in a valley, and it looked like it had been there for a while. There were also a couple of cruisers. From what I could make out, they were in the process of building something, but I couldn't get a good look at what."

"Some sort of outpost?"

"Maybe," John replied. "The structure was mostly hidden behind the hive ship."

"You said the Wraith left the planet soon after they returned to the hive ship with Michael."

John nodded. "Teyla didn't think there were any other Wraith on the planet, but if they are building something, they aren't going to leave it unguarded for long. As much as I'd like to find out what they are up to, I don't think it's a good idea to send anyone back to that planet."

Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Agreed." She picked up the stylus for her computer and twisted it through her fingers.

"So," John said into the sudden silence. "You know what we've been doing." He waited for Elizabeth to look at him. "You want to tell me about whatever happened here while we were gone?" He rubbed the back of his head. "Maybe something involving McKay?"

Elizabeth set the stylus on the desk and blew out a breath. "Come with me." She stood and led the way out onto the balcony outside her office.

John followed her and felt his stomach lurch when he saw the wisps of smoke rising from one of the buildings out on the distant pier. "What happened?"

"Rodney and Radek were testing Rodney's prototype emitters and …" Elizabeth paused. "Something went wrong."

John stared at the smoke as he digested what Elizabeth said. There's just the itch, he reminded himself. No headache. Which means he wasn't hurt that bad. He rubbed the back of his head and stepped back from the balcony railing. Unless he's unconscious, he reminded himself.

"He's in the infirmary?"

"Yes, but - " Elizabeth started to say, but John didn't wait to hear anything else.

"I'll see you later," he replied and opened the sliding door.

He walked out of the office, ignoring Chuck's quizzical glance as he left the control room, and headed for the nearest transporter.