A/N: This was written for a Secret Santa ficathon last year. The recipient wanted the perspective of an OC. I've never published it anywhere else until now, because I think the character slips into "Mary-Sueness" sometimes. However, since I found it while cleaning my hard drive, here goes!


An absolutely dreadful noise reached me in the pleasant darkness and rudely yanked me from sleep. I've been on Atlantis for three months now, and I still can't get used to that damned alarm clock. It doesn't even have the Ancient equivalent of a snooze button!

"I'm up, I'm up," I muttered under my breath as I gave the thing a mental command to turn off. I was confused for a minute as I looked at the display, then my brain kicked in and made the translation to Earth time. 0500 hours. I gave what I'm sure was a heartfelt groan.

If I hated mornings so much, why had I joined the military? Seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess. But I'm not at all sorry; it's absolutely amazing here. I just wished I could go off-world at some point.

I pulled my curls into a loose ponytail and pulled on my sweats. If I hauled ass, I could have my run, shower, and be in the mess hall by 0615. Plenty of time to eat before our 0700 briefing. More importantly, it was also plenty of time to let a dose of coffee take effect.

I left my quarters and started on my usual route through the city. It wasn't long before my path intercepted that of Ronon Dex. I see him like this pretty much every morning. Sometimes Colonel Sheppard runs with him, sometimes not.

The colonel wasn't here this morning, so I just nodded politely to Dex. He grunted back at me. Believe it or not, that's the most interaction we've had to date on our runs. He must be warming up to me or something.

I stopped thinking for awhile and just concentrated on my feet slapping against the corridor floors. The lights automatically came on in front of me and extinguished themselves after I passed. They would have done so even if I didn't have the ATA gene, but I was glad I had it anyway; it gave me the ability to control the intensity of the light. I hadn't even needed the gene therapy, either. The gene was 100 my own, and the good news was that it allowed me to use the technology more easily than most. (The bad news was that it had led to multiple requests from Dr. Beckett for "just one more wee blood sample." Something about improving the success rate of the gene therapy. When he turns on the Scottish charm, who can say no?)

As I got back to my quarters, I glanced down at my watch. 0555 -- perfect. I stripped as soon as the door closed behind me and flung myself into the shower. The showers here are incredible. I can adjust the water temperature with a thought and can use any of a combination of water jets to get really clean. I'm terribly spoiled, now -- I'll never be able to take a shower on Earth again.

Unfortunately, the food is a different story. Nothing being served this morning was appealing. When I sat down at a table with my tray, I could see that my friend Laura Cadman agreed with me. She was glaring at the contents of her plate, which consisted of a lump of yellow stuff and a piece of mystery meat.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say your boyfriend was trying out some weird nutrition experiment," I said lightly.

"Jill, this is definitely not food. I don't think the medical staff would argue with that," Laura replied. She started to grin, though. Nothing keeps her upset for too long.

I took my fork and poked gingerly at my own piece of meat. "Do you know what Colonel Sheppard has planned for us today?" Although we're the same rank, she's a few months ahead of me in seniority and hence often knows more of the gossip. Plus, it didn't hurt that she had an inside source.

Laura's smile became secretive. "Gee, I'm not really sure. A little birdie told him you're doing pretty well, so he may have something interesting planned."

"No way!" I said. "You told him that? Thanks!"

Laura got serious for a minute. "I meant it. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either. I overheard Major Lorne say the same thing, and Zelenka was thrilled when you were assigned to help in the lab."

That had been Dr. Weir's idea. All of the scientists, as a matter of course, got basic self-defense training Therefore, she reasoned, why not have the military personnel learn some of the science? It might turn out to be helpful in an emergency. I didn't mind. My undergraduate degree was in electrical engineering; hence, Dr. Zelenka's enthusiasm. Colonel Sheppard agreed. I think he was secretly amused at the thought of certain people being assigned to Dr. McKay.

Speaking of McKay, there he was walking through the doors of the mess hall. Looking bleary-eyed, he dragged himself to the serving line. As he passed our table, he grumbled something at Laura. She, in turn, blew him a kiss, which caused him to turn a lovely shade of crimson. Giggling, she turned back to me. "Even McKay said you weren't a complete idiot, which for him is an incredible compliment. You keep this up, and you'll soon have to start getting used to hearing 'Captain Preston.'"

Now it was my turn to blush. A promotion would definitely be nice, but it was too soon. Practically speaking, Laura would need to be promoted before me, since she has more experience. But it was good to know that it wasn't completely outside the realm of possibility.


Every morning, Colonel Sheppard holds a briefing with the military personnel. All of us, not just the officers. If something's going wrong, he wants to know about it. He also uses the time to give out daily and weekly assignments.

Laura and I were among the first to arrive, and we took seats close to the back of the room. From there, we could see everyone else as they came in. We watched Major Lorne tease Sergeant Millhouse about something. (Millhouse is the Canadian guy who usually works in the control room. It took me forever to remember his name.) Two of the corporals were having a heated discussion about baseball. All of it was the good-natured bantering you see in a smoothly functioning unit.

We all started to stand up when Colonel Sheppard entered the room, but he waved an "at ease' before half of us were out of our chairs. He's laid back about many aspects of military protocol, but can go absolutely ballistic about others. For instance, he has zero tolerance for any abuse or harassment of junior officers by more senior ones, and he's much stricter than he has to be about that.

"Problems, people?" he asked.

No one said anything, and I could see a few people shaking their heads. There usually aren't any difficulties, so this part of the briefing tends to go quickly. He continued by making several announcements about directives from Dr. Weir, and then proceeded to assign tasks. My most recent assignment had been in the armory, but if Laura was correct, I would not be going there today.

Sure enough, the colonel ended the briefing by saying, "Cadman, Preston, stick around for a bit." When the room had emptied, he turned to Laura. "Lieutenant..." he drawled.

"Sir?" she asked with a faint smile.

"So this is the Lieutenant Preston I've heard so much about."

"Yes, sir.'

"And you really think she's that good." Colonel Sheppard looked at me with a glint of amusement in his eyes.

"She's adequate," Laura said with the same amusement.

He then turned to me with a wolfish grin. "All right, let's see you in action."


Colonel Sheppard proceeded to test me for the rest of the day. He drilled me on weapons -- P90 and 9-mil. He also had me demonstrate a few self-defense moves. But the best was when he tried to teach me some of the basics of flying a puddlejumper.

"You want me to fly that, sir?"

He gave me that grin again. "Why yes, lieutenant. Hopefully you don't get airsick." I must have had an interesting expression on my face, because he continued, "Don't worry. If Beckett can do it, so can you."

Laura cleared her throat behind him, and Colonel Sheppard froze. "Err... don't tell him I said that."

"Of course not, sir," she smirked.

He sighed and returned his attention to me. "Since I'll probably be a human porcupine by the end of the day, we might as well get started now."

I watched as he showed me how to initialize the puddlejumper's systems. He put his hands on a panel in front of him and closed his eyes. A second later, the main display lit up. "It's hard to describe how to do it. Some people visualize things turning on. Others think "start" or "on." McKay says he thinks "get your stupid ass moving," but I'm not sure I believe him. You try it now."

We switched places and I placed my hands on the panel. Nothing happened.

"No, no. Put your hands like this." He gently grasped my wrists and repositioned them slightly. This time the response came instantly. The dashboard, for lack of a better word, lit up and I simultaneously felt a welcoming touch at the edge of my mind.


"Cool, isn't it?" said Colonel Sheppard. "Now remember, this technology is extremely thought-sensitive, so you have to be very focused. I once got a turkey sandwich shoved in my face because the thing thought I was hungry."

I nodded, not quite trusting myself to speak.

"Relax, lieutenant. It really isn't that hard." He proceeded to instruct me on how to activate systems such as the inertial dampeners and external sensors. With a slight grimace, he also showed me how to extend and retract the drive pods from both the front and rear ends of the craft. Each time, using the interface got easier until it almost seemed like the jumper was an extension of my body.

Eventually the colonel said, "Okay, that's almost it for today. I'm just going to show you one more thing, but this is probably the most important system. It's the auto..." His voice trailed off as I activated the autopilot before he even finished mentioning it. "Whoa! Have you been holding out on me, lieutenant? Forget to tell me you're a master pilot already?"

"No, sir!" I said. "I just sort of... guessed what you were going to say and the jumper picked up on it. This will take the jumper right through the gate back to Atlantis, right?"

He gave me an odd look. "Interesting. I can pilot the jumpers easily. Beckett uses the medical equipment instinctively but sucks at flying or using the control chair. Now you seem to have an aptitude for the jumpers. I wonder if the doc ever did any tests on why people with the natural gene gravitate to different types of technology."

Imagining another session of being poked and prodded, I sighed. The colonel laughed. "Not today, although you will need to go to the infirmary for a pre-mission check."

My heart started to pound. "You mean..."

"Yup!" he said cheerfully. You finally get to go off-world. There'll be a briefing tomorrow morning about it. Nothing too complicated for your first time out, though."

"Will I be able to actually fly the jumper, sir?" I knew I sounded like a little kid on Christmas eve, but I didn't care.

Colonel Sheppard snorted. "Are you kidding? Do you know how long it took before I let McKay fly her? And he's a genius, or so he says. Don't worry, there'll be plenty of time for you to practice. For now, it's enough that you know how to bring the jumper home in a hurry."


I was a little nervous as I sat down at the conference table. It seemed like most of the expedition's top brass was there. Dr. Weir was sitting at the head of the table, trying not to look annoyed at Colonel Caldwell. Colonel Sheppard, McKay, and Dex were there, as was Teyla. Laura and Beckett were sitting on either side of me.

With all the talent and authority in the room, what did they want me for? As it turned out, they wanted me for my body.

Sort of.

The Atrigians were a matriarchal society, and they had a strict code of conduct. They were known for producing medicines that Beckett was dying to get his hands on, but they would only trade with other women. Therefore, Dr. Weir would be leading the delegation herself. Teyla was going along as leader of the Athosians and Dr. Biro was representing the medical staff. Laura and I were to be the military escort on the ground. Colonel Sheppard would be piloting the jumper, but he would have to remain in orbit until we called for pickup. He was definitely not pleased about that.

I could see why he wanted me along, though. Obviously I'm a woman, but I'm also the only one in the group with the ATA gene. (To Laura's disgust, the therapy hadn't worked on her. And she'd tried twice -- once at the SGC and again when she arrived in Pegasus.)

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" the colonel asked for the third time. "I'd feel a lot better if I could stay in radio contact. Or, better yet, if I could come with you."

McKay snorted at that. "What are you going to do, go in drag?"

Dr. Weir's lips twitched, and it was all I could do to keep a straight face myself. Beckett laughed out loud, but stopped himself when he caught the identical glares that Colonels Sheppard and Caldwell were shooting him.

Colonel Sheppard gave McKay a sarcastic smile. "That's helpful, Rodney. Any other brilliant suggestions?"

Before things could escalate into a reenactment of the War of 1812, Dr. Weir interrupted both of them. "Gentlemen. The Atrigians were very firm about the rules for this negotiation. We want those medicines, don't we?"

Dr. Beckett spoke up, concern in his blue eyes. "Aye, that we do. But not if it jeopardizes anyone in the process."

"I appreciate that, Carson. But we have no evidence to suggest that the Atrigians are anything but a peaceful society..."

"I've got one word for you," muttered Colonel Sheppard. "Genii."

Dr. Weir was starting to look annoyed. "Agreed, nothing is certain. But I think the risk is worth taking."

McKay folded his arms across his chest. "This is ironic. Usually I'm making that argument."

A ghost of a smile finally touched her face. "Yes, and I'm the one who ends up agreeing. So let's just get this done. We'll go, and you'll remain in orbit and in radio silence until we signal."

The colonel was obviously still upset, but he subsided. A few minutes later we all stood up to leave. Beckett squeezed Dr. Weir's shoulder. "Take care of yourself, lass."

She nodded, but I could see his look. It said, "Famous last words."


I'd never actually been through the Stargate before this. I hadn't been part of the SGC for very long before shipping out to Atlantis on the Daedalus. Therefore, I wasn't sure what to expect, although I heard a rumor that one of the original expedition members had jumped ass-backward through the gate. (He must have had one heck of a landing on the other side.) In the end, though, there really wasn't much to it. Convincing my brain that I wasn't walking into a pool of water, I stepped through. There was an instant where I felt like I was on Space Mountain at Disneyworld, and then I was walking onto a large flagstone courtyard on a different planet.

I was immediately alert to the possibility of danger and did a 360-degree scan of our surroundings. At first all I saw was the empty courtyard and several tall structures in the distance. Then I saw movement, which resolved into a group of five women dressed in flowing robes. The woman in front, whom I assumed to be the leader, wore a white robe, while the others were garbed in bright colors.

The women approached as far as the edge of the flagstones and then stopped. Apparently it was protocol that we meet them the rest of the way. Dr. Weir also took the lead, followed closely behind by Teyla and Biro. Laura and I fanned out a little bit to either side. Neither of us was holding our weapons, but I had my hand very close to my holster.

We stopped in front of the other delegation. Dr. Weir spoke first. "I am Elizabeth Weir of Earth. This is Teyla Emmagan of Athos and our healer, Dr. Biro." She did not introduce Laura or me; the military were nameless in this society.

The woman in white nodded. "I am Mirandele of Atrigia. These are Elenak and Gordina, both of them healers." The unnamed two were obviously our counterparts. "We welcome you to our world."

We followed them as they lead us to one of the tall structures. About halfway there I began to feel an itch between my shoulder blades. It wasn't anything specific, just what the colonel might refer to as my "Spidey-sense." Dr. Weir, Mirandele, and Teyla were engaged in conversation, and Dr. Biro appeared to be in seventh heaven as she examined a device that Elenak had given her.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but I still didn't like it. I was even less happy when we reached our destination and I saw how the walls of the building were constructed. They were made of a stone composite with a mesh of thin wiring covering the inner surfaces. I remembered something like this from my engineering classes. This was a crude Faraday cage, a type of shield against electromagnetic radiation.

Perfect for blocking radio signals. I surreptitiously flicked my earpiece, and sure enough it was dead. Not even static. I wanted to tell Laura, but I couldn't figure out how to alert her without arousing the suspicions of Warrior Princess One and Warrior Princess Two.

Both delegations entered what look like a corporation's boardroom and shut the door behind them. That just left myself, Laura, and the two Atrigians to stand guard. Our counterparts looked tense, which made me even more nervous. But every time I tried to talk to Laura, one of them placed her hand over her own weapon, which looked like a bulky pistol. They didn't trust us any more than we trusted them.

Something else didn't make sense to me, either. If the Atrigians had behaved like this when Teyla had made an earlier scouting visit here, Dr. Weir would never have agreed to the conditions of this meeting. Therefore, they had to have presented a different facade back then. Had they been hiding something at that point, or were they hiding something now?

Frustrated, I jammed my hands into my pockets. My fingers scraped on something hard, and I drew out a plastic fastener that I had pried from a box of ammunition. Huh. Maybe I could use this...

Feigning an attitude of boredom, I started tossing the fastener from one hand to the other. Laura looked at me as if I were crazy, but the Atrigians just smirked. I could see their disdain for my seeming incompetence written on their faces. "That's right, I'm a newbie. Just keep thinking that," I prayed silently.

After a few minutes, I judged that the Atrigians had sufficiently lost interest in me and my new toy. Deliberately fumbling, I threw the thing in Laura's direction and it clattered at her feet. They jumped and one half-drew her gun, but they relaxed when they saw my sheepish grin. "Sorry!" I said, shrugging as they glared.

I walked over to Laura and bent down as if to pick up the fastener. As I was leaning over, I whispered, "Radio's dead." Her eyes widened as she realized what I had been doing, and she nodded fractionally. As I pretended to stand and dust myself off, she tapped her own earpiece. Her expression spoke volumes.

I forced myself to think logically. In theory, this could still be perfectly innocent. Heck, for all we knew they considered the mesh to be the latest fad in interior design. But then why try to intimidate us into not talking to each other? What didn't they want us comparing notes about?

I had a bad moment when one of the guards noticed Laura giving me a hand signal. The guard immediately reached for her weapon, but was stopped by the other one. The two women whispered furiously for a minute, then one of them gave me a fake smile. She held out her hand and I noticed a previously unseen device strapped to her wrist. "Would you like to see...?"

I never found out what the Atrigian woman wanted me to see, because Laura drew her gun in one smooth motion and pointed it unerringly at her head. "What the hell is going on here?" Laura demanded. "I recognize that wristband. It's Genii!"

And then all hell broke loose.

Xena #1 drew her gun, but Laura shot her before she could do more than aim. Xena #2 lunged at me and I had to sidestep quickly. As the woman rushed past, she hooked a leg out, tumbling me to the ground. Behind me I heard shouts from the conference room and the sound of another weapon being discharged.

"Damn!" Laura swore, obviously hesitating between coming to my assistance and seeing what was going on with the rest of the team.

"Go!" I yelled. "I can handle this. Get the others and then get out of here so you can use your radio again!"

She whirled around without another word and headed towards the door our teammates had gone through. This distracted me enough that my attacker was able to regain her feet. And when I also tried to get up, she kicked me savagely in the side. Pain blossomed through my whole body, and I could hear several ribs crack. "Bitch!" I ground out.

The Atrigian jumped back as I tried to tackle her legs. Again, I couldn't believe the pain that accompanied the failed maneuver. After several more false starts and attempts to kick me in the head, I managed to stand, but immediately had to jump back as my attacker tried to get me into a half-nelson. She was stronger than I was, and I knew I couldn't let her physically overpower me again. In the condition I was in, she'd be able to kill me in a matter of minutes. Similarly, I didn't think I would be able to draw my gun and fire before she either wrestled it away or fired her own.

Misdirection was the only thing that might work. I faced her and made several feints in her direction. I telegraphed them so much that she would have needed to be blind to miss them. Then I allowed myself to stumble slightly so that my body was twisted away from her. Using my body as a cover, I drew my gun. But I didn't plan on shooting it.

Grinning, the Atrigian soldier made what she probably thought would be her final lunge. At the last minute, I ducked under her swing and came up behind her. With my remaining strength I pistol-whipped her behind her left ear and she dropped like a stone.

I ran as best as I could to the conference room, wincing at the agony that was shooting through my ribs. Laura was still grappling with an assailant, and the other three were crouched behind an overturned table. From the several unconscious forms on the ground and an obvious bruise on Teyla's cheek, I could tell that the Athosian had given a good account of herself.

We seemed to be holding our own, but backup would be decidedly welcome. I quickly ran out of the building and crouched down out of sight of the main entrance. Then I tapped my earpiece and was rewarded by the wonderful sound of Colonel Sheppard's angry voice. "What the hell is going on down there, lieutenant! Your life signs vanished and I couldn't reach any of you."

I tersely explained what had happened so far. "What I don't know is why they lured us here. I'm not sure what they were trying to gain."

"We'll figure it out later, Preston. I'm on my way down now, and I'll be there in ten minutes max."

Relieved, I ran back inside to offer whatever help I could. It turns out I wasn't needed. The only ones still alive and/or conscious were Laura, Teyla, and Drs. Weir and Biro. Echoing Colonel Sheppard, I asked, "What the hell happened?"

"The Genii happened," Dr. Weir said bitterly. "Between the time Teyla first met them and now, the Genii made the Atrigians an offer they couldn't refuse. The Atrigians would get all the computers and chemistry equipment they needed for drug synthesis, in return for us."

Teyla continued. "It turned out that 'Elenak' was a Genii plant. Almost as soon as we left you, she made her move. If the commotion outside hadn't distracted everyone..."

"We should go," Weir interrupted. "Cowan and his men could be on their way even now."

I nodded. "I've already contacted the colonel."

Laura went out first, alert for any ambushes outside. When she gave the signal, I ushered Drs. Weir and Biro out. Teyla followed next and I brought up the rear.

Things slowed to a crawl as I looked over at the woman I had fought. No longer unconscious, she had propped herself up and was aiming her pistol at Dr. Weir. She fired even as I shrieked a warning, and I knew Weir would never be able to get out of the way fast enough. I tackled her, shoving her aside and to the ground. I then had the satisfaction of seeing Laura shoot the bitch as I landed.

I lay there for a minute to catch my breath. Suddenly I was very tired, and I figured it was the aftereffects of an adrenaline rush. The room had grown very quiet, and I closed my eyes to enjoy the respite.

After a while, I heard voices again. "... Jill, are you awake?"

"What happened?" A man's voice.

"She's been hit!" Who's been hit, I wondered. The guard? Oh yeah, Laura had nailed her but good.

A hand gently shook my arm and a different voice -- Biro's? -- said, "You have to stay awake, lieutenant. We'll be through the gate in a few minutes."

Gate? Hadn't I just been lying on the floor of that building? Opening my eyes, I found that I was now lying on one of the side benches in the jumper. Colonel Sheppard was piloting it like a bat out of hell. Dr. Biro was hovering over me looking worried. I was about to ask her why everyone was fussing, but then I was dually assaulted by the pain in my ribs and a new, very sharp pain in my right thigh. I think I screamed, and then everything blacked out.


I wasn't aware of anything for a long time after that. I just remember snatches here and there.

First I was in the jumper bay being transferred to a gurney. That made the pain flare up again, and now I could feel wetness under my leg. After experiencing a stinging sensation in both arms, I heard a voice say, "Two large-bore IV's in place, Dr. Beckett. Run lactated-ringers wide open?"

"Aye. And call up two units of O-negative blood! There's no time for a crossmatch."


I was lying on a table staring up at a very bright light. The pain wasn't so bad anymore, and I recognized the floating feeling of a dose of morphine. I didn't think anyone heard me when I tried to call for someone, but suddenly a gowned and masked figure appeared in my field of vision. The intense blue eyes gave away the identity of their owner.

"Jill, love. Just relax, you're back on Atlantis. We're going to start surgery in a few minutes, and I promise you'll feel a lot better the next time you wake up."


"It's going to be fine. Trust me, okay?" Beckett looked up and motioned to someone behind me. A column of milky-white liquid traveling down the IV into my arm was the last thing I saw before I lost consciousness again.


I was lying on a bed in a darkened room. I felt nothing at all below my waist now, and the absence of pain was wonderful. I drifted off to the sound of faint beeps and someone snoring.


The next time I awoke my head felt considerably clearer. I could still hear the faint beeping and snoring, which amused me. Where was I? Oh yes, the infirmary. I wasn't sure what was supposed to have happened to land me here, but I was curiously undisturbed about it. (That let me know that I was still on a fairly high dose of happy meds.)

I looked around to identify the noisy sleeper, and found to my surprise that it was Dr. Zelenka. "Radek," I said, then grimaced. My voice was horribly raspy and my throat hurt when I spoke.

He heard me anyway, though. Waking up, he blinked at me a few times. "You're awake!" he finally said with a grin. "I call Dr. Beckett, yes?"

"In a minute. What happened?" I was touched that he had stayed at my bedside; surely he had work he needed to do.

Radek has no poker face. Normally I find that cute, but not today when he unsuccessfully tried to hide his worry. "You saved Dr. Weir's life during your mission to Atrigia. You pushed her out of the way of a bullet. Very heroic; the colonel is very grateful. Oh, um, of course I am grateful, too. And Rodney! You know what he say? He say..."

Gently, I cut him off. "Radek, please. Tell me what happened to me."

He swallowed and looked at me mournfully. "I think that is for Carson to tell. I am not familiar with multisyllabic medical terms." Before I could protest, he hurried off. I closed my eyes with a feeling of dread.

I must have dozed off, because the next thing I saw was Dr. Beckett sitting where Radek had been earlier. He was doing paperwork; I could see several requisition forms where they had fluttered away and landed on the floor. After a minute, he saw me looking at him and smiled, setting aside his papers. "Good to see ye awake again. How are you feeling?"

"Scared," I said honestly. "Radek wouldn't tell me what was wrong, and I know that's never a good sign."

"How much do you remember?"

"Not much," I confessed. "I remember being in surgery for something, and Radek told me that I prevented someone from shooting Dr. Weir. But the rest is fuzzy."

"You were shot in the leg," Beckett said matter-of-factly. I respected that he didn't pull any punches. "The bullet shattered your femur and tore up many of the surrounding blood vessels. We didn't have to amputate, fortunately, but you now have a lot of hardware in that leg. Is it paining you any?"

As we talked, he gently pulled up the covers and started examining the injury. Truth be told, it hurt quite a bit. My entire leg up to my hip was encased in a rigid cast and seemed to throb with every heartbeat. I wasn't going to say anything, but one of the spots he touched had tears springing to my eyes.

Dr. Beckett nodded as if expecting it. "That's going to be more than a wee bit sore for awhile. But you need to begin physical therapy soon so that you can regain as much function as possible. I won't lie to you, lass; it's not going to be fun."

Okay, I could handle that. At least it sounded like I'd eventually be able to walk again. "When do we get started?"

He considered it. "Well, the Daedalus will be here in a few days, so I'd say you could start as soon as you get back to the SGC. It should be long enough after surgery at that point."

"You're sending me back to Earth?" I whispered.

"Aye," Beckett said, looking surprised that I would even ask. "We don't have the proper facilities or personnel here. Jill? Is something wrong...?"

But I had tuned him out. In a single instant, my life and career had been ruined. Once back on Earth, they'd never let me return to Atlantis. Probably give me an honorable discharge and leave me to rot in a limbo of red tape. "No!" I cried out. "Please, don't send me back."

He looked at me compassionately. "We have to. It would be gross negligence on my part to deny you the treatment you need." He didn't say it, but I knew he also had to be thinking that I'd be a liability to the expedition if I stayed. Couldn't very well run from the Wraith now, could I?

I turned and buried my head in the crook of my arm. "I don't want to go. I'll always know what's forever out of reach."

I could hear Dr. Beckett get up from his chair. He gripped my hand firmly. "Get some rest, love. Things may not seem so bleak after that."


I was allowed visitors over the next few days, but I wasn't able to get up enough enthusiasm to carry on a decent conversation. Laura came by and apologized for not shooting the Atrigian soon enough. She also told me how incredibly proud she was. I smiled vacantly and nodded, but didn't say much. Eventually she left, looking frustrated. It was the same with Radek. I was a little more communicative with Colonel Sheppard since he was my CO, but I mostly gave him one-word or short-sentence answers. Dr. Heightmeyer was sent to see me; I didn't even pretend to pay attention to her.

Finally, the night before I was scheduled to leave, Dr. Weir came and sat down next to my bed. Neither of us said anything at first, but she was the one to break the silence. "Lieutenant Preston, I wanted to thank you for saving my life. You did it at great cost to yourself."

What could I say to that? Certainly not, "It was my pleasure" or "It was nothing." I settled for responding, "You're welcome, ma'am."

"Elizabeth, please." She smiled faintly. "I'd say the woman who took a bullet for me is entitled."

"Oh. Err... I'm Jill, then." Oh, very smooth there.

Elizabeth nodded. "I understand you're in for a lot of physical rehabilitation. I spoke with Dr. Lam, the chief medical officer at the SGC, and she said that you'd be able to have it done right there."

I was surprised. I thought for sure I'd be hanging around VA hospitals for the foreseeable future. As if reading my mind, Elizabeth said, "They have much... newer techniques there." Probably something from the Tok'ra or the Asgard, if my guess was correct. Maybe things wouldn't be quite that bad.

"Thank you," I said. I wondered if she had to pull any strings to get that to happen.

"My sister was in a terrible auto accident when she was younger," Elizabeth continued. "She was in the hospital for almost a year, and it took almost another year of outpatient treatment for her to recover."

I wondered why she was telling me this.

"Sometimes I think the only thing that sustained her was knowing that she had a life waiting for her."

It burst out of me before I could stop it. "I don't! I don't have much of a family, and I never wanted any career other than this." I could feel a tear rolling down one cheek and was disgusted with myself. "I've got nothing to go back to."

Elizabeth just looked at me. Her gaze felt like it was seeing directly into my soul. "You do have something to go back to, Jill. You have us." She put her hand over mine. "While you're at the SGC, I suggest you look up a Sergeant Bates. He was very seriously wounded while fighting with a Wraith saboteur and was sent home on the very first trip the Daedalus made back from this galaxy. We wanted him back, and we want you back when you're ready."

"But..." What if I never regained full function of my leg? What would I do when I returned?

Again Elizabeth seemed to read my thoughts. "If you're not able to resume your previous job, I'm sure Dr. Zelenka would love to have you working with him. I've never heard him wax so eloquent about anyone else. And Dr. McKay would no doubt enjoy having another person on staff who can manipulate the Ancient technology so easily."

I was stunned. I had absolutely no idea what to say. Finally I managed to whisper, "You'd do that for me?"

"Absolutely. As Colonel Sheppard might say, we don't leave anyone behind." With that, she stood up and said goodnight.

Like I said, I didn't have much of a family at home. But I seem to have found one here.