A snap of a twig from behind caused him to spin and drop on one knee, his gun pointed in the direction of the sound. There standing in the early sunlight stood one Commander Noda.
"Major Sheppard," the sneering little man drawled, "leaving so soon?"
For one fleeting moment of insanity, the major's finger twitched over the trigger. He fought back the overwhelming urge to pepper the little bastard with enough fire that even his own mother wouldn't be able to recognize him. Features set in stone; he rose slowly to his feet, his gaze never wavering from the other man. "Ford, turn on the shield!" he shouted out over his shoulder.
The commander chose to ignore the activities within the jumper, clearly focused on his closest prey. "I can't let you leave, Major."
"Well, that's just too damn bad cause we think your hospitality sucks." He smiled inwardly at the prickling sensation against the back of his neck from the shield being activated, "And a piece of shit dictator, who lets his people die needlessly, doesn't really have a big say in what we can and can't do."
Noda remained smug, his eyes tightly fixed on his opponent. When his head dipped a fraction, a shot rang out from the edge of the field, smacking into the shield, directly above Sheppard's head, but to his chagrin, the Atlantis officer didn't flinch.
With deliberate slowness, the commander turned his back and walked towards the rear of the now hidden jumper, cautiously extending his hand to test the shield. "I had this field mined after your previous departure, knowing you would return for the remaining offworlders."
Sheppard scowled, his eyes raking the snow-covered ground looking for proof. "Why?"
"Because I can. This is my planet, these are my people, and you," gesturing to those safely tucked away inside the jumper and then Sheppard, "you, have interfered."
"In what? You single handedly caused the destruction of a city. A city! You killed thousands of innocent people last night, and I still don't understand why."
The others inside the jumper had stopped to listen to the argument beyond the shield.
The stiff back on the small man appeared to straighten even more, a sinister smile lighting his eyes, knowing they were watching him. Clasping his hands together, he pulled off his gloves to rub some semblance of warmth back into his chilled fingertips; the palmed control to the minefield went unnoticed. "And how is Mister McKay? All rested up? No more headaches, I hope. Although… it looked like a headache was the least of his worries."
When the Major didn't make a move, but instead assumed a stance of indifference, the commander's smile slipped. Without warning, he tapped the small device in his palm, causing a violent explosion behind the jumper to rock the small craft, knocking all who were standing inside, off their feet.
"Enough!" Sheppard yelled, imagining the havoc it must have caused to his team. "Either tell me what the hell you want or let us go."
Noda now assumed the closest personification to evil that Sheppard had ever seen, the sneer that filled his face held no recognizable humanity. "Colonel Grose and his team infiltrated my city and turned my people against me."
Sheppard's gaze shifted to where the jumper sat, before returning to Noda, "You mean, Dr. Mika?"
"She came to me with accusations that I was failing my people. She demanded change. She. Demanded. Change." Eyes filled with hatred focused on the major, "No one tells me what I should do."
"You had her killed, didn't you?" Pieces began to come together of how insane this little man truly was, "Maybe not by your own hand, but by the man from the picture."
"My son," Noda gloated, nodding towards the hidden sniper, "he understands what it takes to run a strong city."
"I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, huh?" Shifting sideways to put himself within a few meters from the jumper, he continued talking, "So why go after Dr. McKay?"
A second explosion ripped the ground off to Sheppard's left, knocking him unexpectedly from his feet. "Don't move again, Major, or there will be no pieces of you left to take back to your precious Atlantis."
"I asked you," he gritted out, signaling Ford behind his back to let him know how many people were in the vicinity, "why Dr. McKay?" Three short bursts of static broke over his radio. A subtle nod, he continued, "Why did you let him escape with Grose?"
Noda advanced towards the fallen major; he clearly was enjoying his advantage, "I knew you would return for the others." Absently fingering the small control, his dark eyes now mere slits, he leaned closer, "And now, I will keep him to rebuild my city."
"You see, there's the problem in your logic. You think taking McKay is what you want, but once you learn about his temperament and feeding schedule, he always ends up coming back."
Tired of the insubordinate wit, Noda gestured impatiently towards the shielded jumper, "I want Mr. McKay."
"Yeah, well, it ain't gonna happen. He's injured." Making a small snowball, Sheppard tossed it towards the ship, watching it splat against the shield. "And I imagine the only reason they're still hanging around, is so that they can see me kick your ass before we go."
The commander aimed the handheld device at the major's chest, "Get up."
Sheppard could feel his sidearm pressing against his leg. Amazed that Noda hadn't disarmed him before now, he made his way to his knees, pressing his hands against his thighs to rise. In one swift move, he slipped it free from the holster, aiming squarely at the spot where Noda should have a heart.
The commander, in return, completed a back roundhouse that would have made Chuck Norris proud, knocking the gun away. His open right palm shot out, connecting painfully against the major's windpipe.
Falling to his knees, Sheppard gasped for breath, before sacking Noda at the knees, bringing the smaller man to the ground hard enough that he lost his hold on the detonator. A quick kick to the commander's chest gave the major enough time to reach out and grasp the device, tossing it towards the shield.
Noda was not about to be beaten. Years of doing anything and everything to get to the top had made him a skilled fighter, especially against those who were larger than he was. Once again, his hand shot out, this time in a tight fist connecting with Sheppard's unprotected kidney region.
The major dropped, clutching his side in agony. Seeing Noda's foot about to swing in for the final blow, he ignored the pain and grabbed the commander's leg, flipping him onto his back. Quickly straddling his adversary's chest, he put everything he had into his punch, feeling the commander's jaw shatter like glass.
The clatter of P90 fire close by startled him, causing him to jerk and look up. He had never heard Ford and Grose come to stand on either side of him, weapons raised, firing into the tree line.
Sporadic return fire bounced off the shield surrounding the jumper as his friends grabbed him under the arms, rushing him back towards safety. A second volley had Ford drop to his knee, effectively spraying the woods until only silence filled the meadow.
"Ready to go home, Sir?" Ford asked, gently pulling the major's arm over his shoulder.
"More than you can imagine," Sheppard whispered hoarsely, his bruised side and throat stealing his breath away.
The unmistakable slide of a round being loaded into a chamber caused all three men to drop simultaneously to the ground. This time it was Grose spinning smoothly about, his sharp aim planted a bullet between Noda's eyes, killing the man instantly before his body could even twitch on the ground.
Unfortunately, the Pennatrocan leader had also fired one final shot, hitting his target before he died; Major Sheppard.
Rodney lay on his stomach, medicated to the point of being pain free, listening to the bits and pieces of conversation about him. He heard Carson speaking softly to Zelenka, something about stopping the bleeding. The Czech scientist's reply was too quiet for him to understand. Sequestering the minute dregs of energy still harbored within his battered body, he mentally cajoled his eyes to open in search of the other missing voice.
"Dr. McKay?" A young man he didn't know leaned in front of him, making eye contact. "How are you feeling?"
Rodney studied the unfamiliar face, trying to come up with a name. "Who are you?" he tried to say, his thick cottony tongue getting in the way.
"I'm Cagen Grose. Colonel Grose is my father."
"Oh." He blinked owlishly, thinking he should know the name but came up blank. "Cars'n?"
He must have closed his eyes again because the gentle brush of a hand across the side of his head startled him. "Come on, lad," the Scots lilting brogue urged, beckoning him like the quiet ring of a harbor bell to a fisherman in the fog. Following the sound, he discovered that his friend had replaced the stranger.
"Atlantis?" he whispered.
"Nay, not yet lad. We're waitin' on the Major." Recognizing the flash of panic in Rodney's face, Carson stepped back to give his friend a view towards the rear of the jumper. "You can see him from here. He's just outside havin' a discussion with Commander Noda."
Rodney blinked several times, trying to bring the images around him into focus. Finally able to make out the heated discussion between the two men outside the jumper, he watched the commander wave something and then felt a terrible thundering jolt. Carson lost his balance, falling against him, and both men cried out in renewed pain.
He wasn't sure how long it was before he could breathe again. Hesitantly reopening his eyes, he discovered that he was still inside the jumper, only now an IV was poking into his arm and an oxygen mask covered his face. The comforting heavy warmth of a blanket draped over him and the numbing effects of Carson's magic happy drugs pulled him back towards sleep when a second close explosion shook the ship.
The voices had grown louder and he was certain he'd heard his name. Trying to see past the backs of Ford and Grose standing in the rear hatch of the jumper, he could barely make out the shapes of two people fighting. Suddenly the Lieutenant and Colonel ran from the ship firing their P90s at some unseen foe. Within moments, the scuffle had ended and he was able to make out the three men walking back in his direction.
Something must have spooked them, because they all suddenly dropped to the ground. There was more gunfire and only Sheppard seemed to fall face first, not moving.
Time stood still as he watched everyone run from the jumper and surround the fallen man. Fearing the worst, and not wanting to lose one of his two best friends, he fumbled with the oxygen mask, shoving it off his face before painfully pushing himself to his feet. The IV line snagged, tearing out of his arm as he stumbled out the ship, landing in a heap in the snow beside the major's limp form.
A multitude of hands grabbed him, voices calling his name, but he chose to ignore them, focusing entirely on the closed eyes of the self assured, cocky American. Willing him to open his green eyes, Rodney held his breath, reaching out to touch his friend, his brother.
The umpteenth miracle happened on Pennatroca that day when Sheppard briefly met the Canadian's gaze, both sharing the hint of a lopsided smile before passing out.
Carson sat in his office chair between the two beds of Sheppard and McKay, waiting for signs that his friends would soon wake up. It had been three days since they'd returned and he was growing antsy.
Three days since he'd piloted the jumper back while having a broken wrist. He couldn't wait to share that story with Rodney, to see the look on his face when he told him how he scraped the side of the jumper coming through the gate.
It seemed as though every person from the medical team was standing by when the jumper had landed. Led by Dr. Derek Lawrence, the bedraggled group was triaged, with McKay and Sheppard being top priorities. Then came the agonizingly slow wait while they were examined, x-rayed, and put back together.
Glancing about, he realized this was one of the 'thankfully rare' moments when all the beds in the infirmary were full. Radek's shoulder was stitched, Stackhouse's foot set, and he had received his first ever cast for a broken wrist. He wouldn't allow anyone to sign it until the other's had first dibs. He could wait.
Of course, Weir and the others had been in countless times, standing silently in the doorway: watching, praying, and offering moral support while staying out of the way.
One of the things that truly surprised the physician, although after reflecting on it later, he knew it shouldn't have, was the night he came back to find Colonel Grose sitting in his chair keeping watch. How many times had he found the major in the exact same position, waiting for his teammates to recover? Grose and his team waited two days before deciding that they needed to return to their own home world, promising to maintain relations with Atlantis.
And now, here he was again, sitting between both men, who were laying flat on their stomachs, facing one another. Derek had threatened him before to get some rest, catching him numerous times earlier, pacing back and forth between the beds, fussing like a mother hen. Nevertheless, the surgeon eventually gave up, saying something about washing his hands of stubborn Scottish blokes who had nothing better to do than question his every judgment. Instead, he wheeled out the chair with a pillow, merely pointed, and then walked away.
It was Sheppard who first opened his eyes. Blinking heavily through the sedation, his gaze fell on the smiling face of the Scotsman who sat eye level to his position. Quirking a brow, he waited for the report on his condition.
"You were lucky, lad. The shot bruised your spine when it stopped against your vest, causin' a bit of swellin' that we were concerned about, but it appears that you're gonna be fine. Your responses are returnin' to normal, but don't be thinkin' you're goin' back on duty any time soon."
Seeing the raised eyebrow and a glance towards McKay, Carson sighed. "He's gonna be fine, also. His broken ribs pressed into his diaphragm but didn't puncture it. Bloody miracle if you ask me. He'll need time to rest."
The penetrating green eyes locked on to the Scotsman, silently demanding more information.
"Everyone's here. We all made it back safely," he assured. "Rest now."
Reassured, the sleepy gaze shifted back over to the other bed, a slight smile curling up the corner of his mouth.
Carson spun around in his seat to see a hint of blue watching them. "Welcome back, lad," he whispered, sliding his chair back so that all three could see one another.
Two days later, Dr. Lawrence stood outside the infirmary doors, listening to the laughter emanating from inside the room. Rolling the three different colored Sharpie markers back and forth in his palm, he took a deep breath and plunged in through the doorway.
"Well, it's about time," Rodney snapped, holding out his left hand for a pen while his right still wrapped protectively around his middle.. "I want the blue one."
Sheppard reached out from his bedside, catching Derek by the lab coat, and snagged the desired pen first, "McKay, I told you, I get the blue one."
"No," the physicist objected, cautiously swinging his legs sideways over the edge of the bed, "you said you wanted the red one and Sgt. Stackhouse wanted the black one."
"Gentlemen," Carson placed his hand on Rodney's arm, effectively pushing him back onto the bed, "you could share."
The room remained silent an entire second before their resident genius huffed indignantly, "Oh, yeah, right. Like I want to be like everyone else."
Sheppard winked at Carson, knowing exactly how to push the scientist's buttons. Uncapping the marker, he waved it just out of reach, "McKay, no one could ever compare to you."
Rodney glowed smugly a moment before frowning, watching the major place a smiley faced wraith on Beckett's wrist, "Wait, is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
A/N First and foremost, thanks to Gaffer for her patient betaing. Also, thanks to Elyse who helped with the first half of this story. Betas are an awesome thing!
Secondly, thanks to all of you who took the time to comment. I know how easy it is to read something and not leave a note, so I greatly appreciate your thoughtfulness.
This is the longest story I've ever written! Whew! I'm glad it's done!
Take care and God bless, Jen
P.S. A favorite line of mine from the movie "Without A Clue" seems to fit right about here… "There are more surprises yet to come." So until next time…