"Oh my god, Colonel. That's him!"
"That's who? And keep your voice down, McKay."
John risked another quick glance over the slab of rock behind which he and McKay were hiding. The black-clothed figure was still there, making its stealthy way along the tree line, less than twenty yards away.
"That's him; that's the Wraith."
The steady rain caused a small movement in the undergrowth and the Wraith's head snapped round alertly. John ducked back down behind the rock.
He frowned, "Which Wraith?"
"What do you mean 'which Wraith'?" McKay's hissed whisper sounded incredulous.
"Oh... Are you sure? They all look the same to me."
"Of course I'm sure, Colonel. I'm not likely to forget that face, am I?"
Sheppard checked the life-signs detector. The Wraith appeared to be alone, but that was the limit of their luck. It was only a matter of time before it noticed them as it prowled around the edge of the clearing. Already it was between them and the cloaked Jumper, blocking the only way back.
It had been three weeks since John and his team had returned in the Puddlejumper from M4A-635. Elizabeth had met them in the Jumper bay, with Beckett and a medical team waiting in the shadows. Seconds after the rear hatch had opened, John and his team were grounded. Elizabeth hadn't even waited for his report; one look at their haggard faces had been enough.
Beckett soon cleared them all as physically fit; it was Heightmeyer who had kept them off active duty.
Ronon and Teyla's sessions with the psychologist hadn't lasted long. Neither of them remembered much, and the revival by the Nox seemed to have left no long-term effects.
John's own sessions hadn't gone so well. He remembered one vividly.
"So, you felt powerless." Heightmeyer's tone was professionally detached, inviting rather than requiring a response.
He responded anyway. "Damn right I felt powerless! I lay on the ground, useless, and watched a member of my team being sucked dry by a Wraith!"
"Is that really what you saw?"
Sheppard hadn't understood the question.
She rephrased it for him. "You said 'a member of your team' rather than 'McKay' or 'Rodney', why was that?"
He didn't have an answer; at least, not one that he would admit to out loud. Even to himself, he found it difficult to acknowledge the truth; he could just about live with losing a team member, but he wasn't sure that he could survive losing a friend.
Heightmeyer hadn't pressed him further, so he'd sat in silence for the remainder of the session, head lowered.
John didn't know what the psychologist had put in her report to Elizabeth after that session, but eventually his team had somehow found themselves back on the active service list.
Now, three weeks after their return to Atlantis, he and Rodney were trapped behind a boulder by a Wraith. Not just 'a' Wraith, but 'the' Wraith.
"So, what are we going to do?" There was more than a hint of panic in McKay's voice.
The Wraith was closer now, less than ten yards away. It was keeping to the shadows as it made its careful way around the edge of the clearing, each step bringing it nearer to their hiding place.
John drew his 9mm, checked the clip, chambered a round, reversed the pistol and offered it, butt first, to McKay. "I'm not going to do anything, Rodney, but you're going to take out the Wraith."
Rodney looked down at the gun as if he had just been handed a live snake. Frightened blue eyes darted back up to Sheppard's impassive face. "What? Are you insane? I can't take out a Wraith on my own!"
"Yes you can. You just keep pulling the trigger until he stops moving. And when the clip is empty, remember to reload." John kept his voice neutral in contrast to McKay's high-pitched whisper.
Rodney looked back at the loaded gun. Sheppard could hear his ragged breathing slowly coming under control as the scientist made his decision. McKay's hand was steady as he took John's pistol; he waited until the Wraith was looking away from them, and then stepped out from behind the rock.
Behind him, Sheppard quietly swung his P-90 round and manoeuvred himself into a position that gave him a line of sight on the Wraith. He had a good reason for playing it this way, but he wasn't going to take any more risks than were absolutely necessary.
McKay's first shot took the Wraith high on its shoulder and it turned, eyes wide in surprise. The next four slammed into its chest, stopping it dead in its tracks. The Wraith raised an arm, weak sunlight glinting off a metallic bracelet, as the scientist's next shots also found their marks. The Wraith dropped to its knees and Rodney stepped forward, closing the space between them. McKay emptied the clip into the kneeling Wraith then calmly reloaded. By the time the second clip was empty, the Wraith was face down and still.
McKay continued to look down on the fallen Wraith as John walked up to stand beside him.
"That was a test, wasn't it, Colonel?" Rodney's voice was soft and pensive. "You needed to know if I could take out the Wraith on my own." McKay turned to face Sheppard, his eyes sombre.
John snorted, "There was never a doubt in my mind that you could take out the Wraith on your own, Rodney." He watched the physicist's face split into a pleased grin before continuing to himself, "I just needed to know that I could let you."
Sheppard started back to the Jumper, McKay falling into step at his side.
"You know, Rodney," Sheppard's voice drifted back as they walked away, "You could have used your own side arm, too, or even a P-90."
McKay seemed to consider the idea. "I never thought of that, Colonel. I suppose it would have been easier." He decloaked the Jumper and stepped inside, "I'll try to remember it next time."