You've made it to the end of another long one. I guess I'm a close cousin to the Energizer bunny – I just keep going and going and going. Any-hoo, thanks once again for your patience and the many wonderful reviews. You guys make me do a happy dance.
Thanks to Kathy for finally getting chapter 19 to post before I went crazy and for all the encouragement and ideas and the chapters you helped beta. Thank you to Rachel for the ideas, the editing, and the beta work. I couldn't have done it without you guys!
The Day of Reckoning – Chapter 20
Sheppard stepped out of the back of the jumper, squinting against the burst of sunlight as he slid his sunglasses on. The sun felt good on his face and arms after what seemed like an eternity in the infirmary, and he stepped without hesitation off the ramp and walked across the field toward the gazebo. Part of him had been afraid he'd return to find it destroyed or the materials missing, but everything looked as he had left it.
"Colonel, not so fast."
Sheppard sighed as he stopped and turned around, watching Nick hurry to catch up.
"Colonel, I need to review a few things with you before we get started."
"Since my hearing is still in tact and I'm not suffering from amnesia and Beckett just drilled this into my head before we left, I don't think that will be necessary, Doc."
Nick crossed his arms. "Well, Carson thought, given your history, that I might just review the rules one more time once we arrived on the planet. I tend to agree."
"Okay, let me see . . . no heavy lifting or strenuous activity of any kind, no getting too hot, no running or even walking too fast, take a break at least every two hours, drink plenty of water, and, oh yeah, my personal favorite, lay down for an hour after lunch. Does that cover everything?"
Nick smiled. "Almost. No fighting or getting shot, either."
Sheppard groaned. "And I was beginning to like you."
Nick tilted his head. "You don't have to like me, Colonel, you just have to do what I say. I'd kind of like to get you back in one piece this time."
Sheppard turned and started walking toward the gazebo again, Nick keeping pace beside him. "John."
Nick glanced at Sheppard. "What?"
"You might as well call me John. It's easier and, after all, I've been calling you Nick."
"Oh, thanks. I thought you decided you didn't like me."
Sheppard waved his hand at him. "I don't, but you can still call me John."
Nick smiled and nodded. "Well, as long as we're clear on that."
Cowen showed up within an hour of their arrival. "Colonel Sheppard, it is good to see you back on your feet. I would like to offer the apologies of the Genii people. We do not condone the shooting of unarmed men. Commander Kolya will be punished, I assure you."
"Thank you, I appreciate that. We're almost finished. We should be out of your hair by the end of the day."
Cowen frowned at him. "What?"
"Oh, sorry. We should be out of your way by the end of the day."
Cowen nodded. "Colonel, we have an annual celebration tomorrow evening and when the weather is nice, as it is now, we often have it out by the lake. Since you will be finished by then, I think it would be appropriate if we made it a dual event and presented the gazebo to the people. It would be nice if you and your team and, of course, Dr. Weir could join us."
"I will have to check with Dr. Weir, but I think we could do that. I'll have her radio you when we return."
"Good. I hope we will see you there. I'll let you finish your work. I have to admit, Colonel, it's looking quite nice."
"We're doing our best."
Cowen turned and began walking back down the path toward the settlement, while Sheppard took the opportunity to check on his people in the field. He waved at Teyla and Ronon and they waved back. Well, Teyla waved and Ronon kind of nodded. He spotted Lorne across the field throwing a ball for some kids and grinned. Lorne had apparently developed quite a following among the younger Genii. More progress in the truce department.
An hour later, Nick climbed down from the ladder and wiped the sweat from his face. Although it wasn't as hot as the last time they had been to the planet, it was starting to get uncomfortably warm.
"Colonel . . . uh, John, how are you doing over there? You're not trying to move that bench by yourself, are you?"
Hearing no response, Nick walked around to the front of the gazebo. His attention was drawn inside the structure by a wheezing sound and he looked in to find Sheppard on his knees in front of a wooden bench, struggling to catch his breath.
"John! I told you not to carry that in there by yourself." Nick dug frantically through the medical bag for the portable oxygen tank. Grabbing it, he helped Sheppard up to sit on the bench and pressed the mask against his face.
"Breathe, John. Slow, deep breaths. That's it."
Sheppard leaned his head back against the wall and followed Nick's instructions. After a few minutes, he felt the constriction in his chest begin to lessen and the lightheadedness begin to fade. He went to pull the mask off his face, only to have his hand slapped.
"Leave it there for a few more minutes. I'll tell you when you can take it off," Nick snapped. Sheppard surmised from the frown on his face that Nick was pissed off in a major way.
"Sorry," he said from under the mask.
"Quit talking and just breathe."
Okay, he was in big trouble. By the time Nick pulled the mask off his face, Sheppard was almost afraid to say anything. He sat looking at his feet for a few moments before he spoke. "I didn't think it was that heavy."
Nick sighed. "Why do you think we tell you this stuff? We're trying to protect your health. If you had waited just two more minutes, I'd have been over here to help you."
Sheppard shifted his gaze up to Nick. "I'm serious, I didn't think the bench was very heavy and I certainly didn't have to move it very far. I just didn't think there was any way I couldn't move it."
"Ordinarily, I'm sure it wouldn't have been a problem. But you have to remember that right now you're still very weak, you're still healing, and you've been out here working for almost two hours. I was actually just about to tell you that we needed to take a break."
"Now you tell me," Sheppard drawled.
"So not getting you out of the lecture."
"It was worth a try."
"Excuse me, is one of you Colonel Sheppard?"
The two men looked up to find a tall Genii man standing in the doorway of the gazebo. They stood up and Nick put his hand out to steady Sheppard.
"I'm okay," Sheppard said. He turned to the man, who was slightly taller and several years older than he was. "I am. What can I do for you?"
"I'm Galen. I believe you met my nephew and a couple of his friends when you were here before. He said you gave them a . . . soda?"
Sheppard grinned. "Yes, I remember. Are they okay?"
The man nodded. "Yes, they are fine. They were here the day Kolya shot you. They were on their way to ask if they could have another soda."
Sheppard looked down for a moment. "I'm sorry they had to see that. Were they very upset?"
"They were very worried about you. They told me about the fight and how Kolya shot you, even though you were unarmed. They are like many of our people in that they have looked up to Commander Kolya as a hero and a role model for many years. It is somewhat disheartening to find out that your hero is really a coward."
"Yeah, that can be a problem. I guess they aren't too pleased with him being in prison."
"Since they were witness to what he did, they feel he is getting what he deserves. I do believe they feel badly about what happened to you. They have talked a lot about the things you said to them and they have done some thinking about the things they did to you. They have been hard lessons, but I believe the boys have learned much from these experiences."
Sheppard nodded. "I'm sure they have. Tell them if they want to come by, we brought sodas with us and they're welcome to have one."
"We have more than that to ask, Colonel. I know you are still healing and I see you've had a hard time of it this morning. We would like to help you finish the structure. I have helped build several buildings and I know what to do. It appears that you are almost finished."
"We are almost finished. I appreciate the offer, but this is something I wanted to do for your people. I really think I need to be the one to do the work."
"Colonel Sheppard, you don't owe our people anything! I was a soldier when I was younger and I killed many people in my day. I never enjoyed it and I never did it without cause, but nevertheless, I killed people. It was in defense of my people and I was never made to give restitution for those deaths. People die in war, and as a soldier defending your home and your people, you did what you had to do."
Sheppard looked into Galen's face, seeing the sadness in his eyes. "Thank you. I appreciate your saying that."
"I lost two brothers in that attack and it was not your fault. That's why I didn't attend Kolya's retribution ceremony. My people were not justified in what they did to you and I find it a great embarrassment. And now you have been made to suffer unjustly again at the hands of Kolya. Please, Colonel, it is only fitting that we help you complete this. Let me help."
Sheppard stood, still stunned at what the man was telling him. He turned as Nick put his hand on his shoulder and then nodded at him. Sheppard looked back to Galen.
"I'd be honored to have you help us finish the gazebo."
Galen smiled broadly. "Thank you. The boys will be along in a minute. They had to finish up their chores first."
"Why don't we sit down and I'll show you what we lack. Hey, you could try a soda."
Galen nodded. "I'd like that."
Sheppard stood looking at the gazebo. It was finished. "Old man Harrington would be proud."
"Who?" asked Nick, walking up to stand beside him.
"Mr. Harrington, the man I worked for in high school. He taught me how to build these things. I think he'd be surprised to find out how much I remember." Sheppard frowned and rubbed the back of his head.
"Headache?" asked Nick.
"No, I was just remembering. He used to smack me on the back of the head and say, 'Pay attention, Sheppard, you're not listening.'" Sheppard waved his hand as if he was hitting someone and imitated the old man's voice.
Nick laughed. "So, were you? Listening?"
Sheppard grinned. "Not usually."
A soft scraping noise behind them caught their attention and they turned around to see an old woman with a cane shuffling toward them. Sheppard recognized her immediately. "Nick, give me a minute."
Nick began gathering their stuff together as Sheppard went to meet her.
The old woman looked up at him, bringing her hand up to touch his cheek in much the same way she had once before. His mind flashed back to hanging limp from shackles, bleeding and nearly unconscious. And to the unexpected compassion from the woman who lost her grandson.
"It is you, isn't it?" she whispered.
"Yes, ma'am. I didn't forget what you said or the way you treated me. You were the only one that—"
She placed her fingers on his lips. "Shhh. I knew you were a good man. I can tell these things. I knew you wouldn't forget my grandson."
"No ma'am, I didn't. What was your grandson's name?"
"Tobias. He was a good man, too. You remind me of him."
Sheppard swallowed hard, then said, "Come with me. I'd like to show you something." He led her into the gazebo and it only took him a minute to find the right name; he was a little surprised to realize that he remembered most of the names and where they had ended up in the structure. He showed the woman the stone with her grandson's name.
She gently traced the letters with her finger before turning to face him. "Thank you, Colonel. You have honored my grandson and all the others who died that day. What do you call this structure?"
Sheppard led her to one of the benches and then sat down beside her. "We call it a gazebo. They're fairly common where I come from."
"Tobias loved the outdoors and he loved to come to the lake. I will enjoy sitting here and remembering him. Thank you for doing this, especially after the way you were treated."
"You are the reason I did it. I kept thinking about your kindness and what you said. In fact, I should probably be thanking you. I've enjoyed building it . . . I think in a way I needed it. I also believe it may help form a truce between our people." She smiled at him, and he could see wetness in her eyes. "I don't even know your name."
"Omarah. My name is Omarah."
Sheppard smiled. "Omarah, my name is John."
Omarah took his hand in hers. "John, would you sit with me for a minute and let an old woman tell you about her grandson?"
"I'd be honored."
Sheppard enjoyed watching his team at the feast prepared by the Genii. Several large tables had been loaded with almost every kind of food imaginable and people were everywhere, eating, talking, and studying the gazebo. The team from Atlantis had brought two large coolers with sodas, since the drinks had become quite popular with some of the Genii. He was suddenly glad they had come. His team needed something fun to distract them from the brutal tension of the last several weeks.
Teyla and Ronon were laughing and talking to two of the Genii soldiers they had been doing 'guard duty' with in the fields surrounding the lake. If the military forces were getting along, then things were going well.
Farther down the table he spied Lorne, trying in vain to flirt with a pretty young Genii woman. She wanted to respond to his attention, but the children he'd been playing with the day before kept popping up, demanding their fair share. Cute, but not very romantic.
Across the table from Lorne was McKay, arguing with one of the Genii scientists. The man was apparently holding his own against McKay's verbal barrage of tacky comments and insults and returning many of them in kind. If you didn't know McKay very well, you'd swear he was really angry. Sheppard knew, however, that the man was enjoying every minute of it. He soon bored of people who got insulted and clammed up, but this time it was looking like he'd found a worthy opponent.
Kelly and Nick were a bit farther down the table, but as near as he could tell, they only had eyes for each other. They definitely had it bad. He wasn't completely sure they even knew what planet they were on.
He had a good team. They had banded together to save him from himself, and for that, he would be forever grateful. It occurred to him that if they hadn't stuck it out, he would currently be headed back to Earth. Just thinking of how close he'd almost come to losing everything that mattered to him made him shudder.
"You okay?" He turned to face Elizabeth, sitting next to him. He hadn't wanted her to come, fearing for her safety, but now he was glad that she had.
"Yeah. I was just thinking that if things had gone differently, I'd be sitting on the Daedalus on my way back to Earth right now. Kind of scary."
"I'm glad you're not. I'm proud of you, John. You've overcome a lot and turned it around to make a truce with the Genii. I'll make a diplomat out of you yet," she said, grinning at him.
Sheppard choked on his drink. "I wouldn't get your hopes up. One time accident, Elizabeth."
As they spoke, a man hurried up to Cowen and whispered in his ear. Cowen closed his eyes and bowed his head, shaking it slowly. After a few seconds, he spoke to the man and got up, walking toward the two leaders of Atlantis. Elizabeth and John looked at each other uneasily and stood up to meet Cowen.
"Dr. Weir, Colonel, I'm afraid I have some bad news. I've just been informed that Kolya has escaped. We don't know if he's armed, so it might be safer if you go back to Atlantis."
Elizabeth nodded. "I think that would be best. I'll get our people together."
Cowen looked at Sheppard. "I am sorry, Colonel. Everything will be done to find him, I promise you that. He is a dangerous man. Now, please excuse me as I must see to the search."
Within a few minutes, they had the rest of the Lanteans rounded up and everyone headed for the jumper. Elizabeth walked with Sheppard, who remained quiet during the trek. When they reached the jumper, Elizabeth oversaw getting everyone and their supplies into the back of the ship. After a few minutes, she looked over to see Sheppard standing several yards from the jumper, staring into the dark forest. She walked over to stand by him.
"He's out there, Elizabeth. Watching us. Watching me. I can feel him." He peered intently into the dark.
"John, you need to come into the jumper. It's not safe out here. He'll be after you more than ever now."
Sheppard never moved his eyes. He put his hand on the butt of his sidearm and gripped it. "I can take him. I can end all of this tonight."
"No! You can't. You're still healing, John. He'll kill you."
"He's healing too, remember? I know he's here and I know he's watching me. Now is the time." He rubbed his hand along the butt of his gun, desperately wanting to kill Kolya. How could he explain to Elizabeth how much he hated that man, how much he needed him dead? Because of him, Kolya was running from his own people and that meant he'd be out for blood like never before.
"He's on his home planet. He knows this area and it's dark. Kolya has the advantage. There'll be another day, John. Not tonight. Please, come to the jumper. Please."
Sheppard hesitated, hearing Kolya laugh in his head. That's right, Sheppard, run. He gripped the gun again, part of him not caring how smart it was, aching to go after Kolya.
He heard someone come up to stand beside Elizabeth as he continued to stare into the dark, struggling to see his enemy somewhere besides in his head.
"Everyone's loaded Elizabeth. We're ready when you two get in the jumper."
"Thank you, Rodney. We'll be right there." He felt her hand on his arm, pulling him by the elbow. "Come on, John. Let's go home. You'll get him another day."
Sheppard stumbled backwards a couple of steps. He gave in to the other part of himself, the part that recognized the wisdom of Elizabeth's words, and allowed himself to be guided into the back of the jumper, never taking his eyes from the darkened trees in the distance.
As the hatch closed, Sheppard finally settled on the bench in the back compartment. Elizabeth sat next to him and patted his arm. "You did the right thing. You'll see him again some day."
Sheppard stared at the floor, wondering if Elizabeth understood just how true those words really were. He knew he'd be seeing Kolya tonight--knew that he'd be seeing him every night, every time he closed his eyes, until one of them was finally dead.