Note: Last chapter. I hope you have enjoyed the story as much as I've enjoyed reading the reviews. You guys are truly wonderful. I left it open so I could do more with this later if the mood strikes me.

The Gift of Life – Chapter 10

Elizabeth looked down at John and Rodney, dressed out in full gear as they strolled into the gateroom below. She crossed her arms over her chest as she took a deep breath. It was Sheppard's first mission since Kolya had kidnapped and tortured him and she couldn't help being nervous. She wondered if he was.

John glanced up at the sounds of footsteps and voices to see Ronon and Teyla on their way to joining him and Rodney just in front of the gate. To those in the room that didn't really know him, he seemed relaxed. To his teammates, he was anything but. Fine lines of tension radiated from the corners of his eyes and his jaw was clenched a little too tightly. His fingers drummed across the top of his P90 in a light, but nervous rhythm. His team could see the fear in his eyes, but no one else could, so it was not acknowledged verbally.

"Bout time everyone got here. Are we ready?" asked John, his voice calm and easy and in direct opposition to the nervous tremor he felt racing through his limbs.

"We are ready, colonel," replied Teyla, smiling at him in support.

"Okay, let's get this show on the road." John turned to Elizabeth, watching from the railing above, and waved. "See you in a few hours."

Elizabeth nodded and waved back. "Be safe." She turned to the tech on duty. "Okay, dial it up." A few seconds later, she watched the four friends walk through the gate and felt her stomach clench into a knot of worry. Sighing, she headed back to her office and the paperwork she would spend the next several hours staring at aimlessly.

John was almost relieved when they stepped through the gate to see miles and miles of flat, sandy earth with only a scattering of small shrubby bushes. "Nice landscape," he commented, sweat already beginning to run down his face and back as he was reminded of Afghanistan.

"What's nice about it?" asked Rodney, already groaning in the heat.

John smiled as he continued to scan the horizon. "No trees."

Rodney looked around, confused. "What's wrong with trees? I thought you liked trees. They give us really good things like shade to help keep us from roasting to death."

Teyla and Ronon exchanged a look and a sigh before the Athosian turned to Rodney to explain. "Trees also provide cover for those wishing to ambush us."

Rodney snapped his head around and looked at Sheppard's expressionless face. "Oh, I guess I didn't think of that."

"Which direction is the energy reading coming from?" asked Sheppard, as if he hadn't heard the conversation taking place just a few feet away.

Rodney fumbled with his pack as he got out his scanner and studied it for a few seconds. "Uh, looks like it's coming from that direction." He pointed straight head at a right angle to the gate, toward what looked like small hills with slightly more vegetation.

Sheppard rolled his shoulders to adjust his pack and even out the weight. "All right, ladies, let's roll." He stepped forward, heading straight for the hills that looked several miles away.

Rodney grunted as he hoisted his pack up to his back and trudged along behind Sheppard. "This could be a long day."

Ronon grinned as he looked at Teyla, walking beside him. "In more ways than one." Teyla just nodded.

oOo

"Incoming wormhole . . . Colonel Sheppard's IDC," called the tech.

Elizabeth jumped to her feet with such force, she sent her chair rolling back into the wall. Eight hours of having her imagination go wild while her stomach tried out for the Pegasus acrobatic team had left her past nervous. She had seen Sheppard, as well as others, off on missions after recovering from terrible injuries before and hadn't reacted like this. As she stood clutching the railing and watching for the return of her number one team, she couldn't help but wonder if her anxiety had anything to do with the numerous nightmares she'd suffered since watching her friend and military commander tortured. He'd absolved her of guilt over her part in the event, but she had yet to absolve herself.

She was almost dizzy with relief when four people walked unaided through the gate. Rodney's loud, complaining voice echoed through the large room almost the second he stepped through. Elizabeth found herself laughing, the tension rolling away when she had confirmation they were all okay.

" . . . told you we would roast. I probably have heat stroke or worse. Where's Carson and the med team? I know I'm dehydrated since the Colonel insisted we walk all the way back to the gate without a break."

John looked up at Elizabeth and rolled his eyes. "Can it, McKay. We were out of water and the sooner we got back to Atlantis, the sooner we could get something to drink."

All four were sweaty and filthy, their movements sluggish with exhaustion. As Elizabeth walked closer, she could see they also had dirt in their hair and smudges on their faces. "So, when I sent you to investigate the planet, I didn't mean you had to wear part of it back."

"Oh, very funny," said McKay sarcastically.

"He's been like this for hours," said John. "He's apparently not a big fan of heat and sand." Elizabeth could tell he was tired, but his eyes were dancing and that was worth the hours of endless waiting.

"I'm glad to see everyone made it back safe and sound this time. If there's nothing pressing to report, why don't you see Carson for your post-mission check and get cleaned up. Just let me know when you're ready and we'll have the debriefing."

Rodney sighed loudly. "Not only is there nothing pressing, there's not even anything of importance. It can definitely wait until I've had a nice long shower and about a gallon of fluids."

Elizabeth grinned. "Well, you'd better get to it then. I"ll see you all in a little while."

She watched as the four made their way down the hall toward the infirmary. She knew she was being overly protective as she reached up to her radio. "Carson, it's Elizabeth."

"Aye, lass, what can I do for you?"

"Our favorite team just returned and they're on their way to you now. I think everyone is okay, but . . . I just wanted a confirmation of that when you're done with post-mission exams." She thought she heard Carson chuckling before he responded.

"I'll let you know as soon as we're done."

Elizabeth smiled. "Thanks, Carson."

oOo

The Wraith stood over him, one hand on his neck, pressing John into the dirt beneath while the other hand poised over his chest, ready to strike. "There is no one to restore your life this time. I will savor every year you have to offer."

John struggled to free himself from the creature's grip, but he didn't have enough strength. He watched in horror as the hand came down to his chest and then pain pierced him all the way through. He tried to scream with the agony, but the only sound he could manage was a feeble gasp for air.

In one final surge of effort, he rolled free from the Wraith's claws.

John crashed into the night stand as he rolled off the bed and slammed into the floor, one hand clutching his chest as he struggled to draw a breath. He lay on his side for several minutes, focusing on bringing his breathing under control. When he was able, he sat up and rubbed his shoulder where he'd caught the corner of the now overturned night stand.

"Nice, John," he mumbled. Getting to his knees, he stood the table back upright and picked up the few things he'd scattered on the floor. Fortunately, nothing was broken. Standing, he rubbed his shoulder again. He was now fully wired with a raging case of the jitters and the thought of crawling back in bed gave him the creeps. Pulling on his running pants and shoes, he headed out to work off some of the tension.

He alternately walked and ran for quite a while, not even really sure how long he went. He ended up on the west pier, standing out in the open and looking at the moon and the rolling waves. The light breeze felt good on his hot, sweat-drenched body. His shirt stuck to his back as he stretched out on the hard surface to look at the stars. He lay there appreciating the open sky until he was no longer out of breath.

The edges of the sky were just beginning to gray when he got to his feet for the return trip. He figured he'd run back to his quarters, shower, and then hit the mess hall for breakfast. He should make it just in time to join the rest of his team. Smiling, he figured they could celebrate returning unharmed from the mission the day before.

"Sheppard, what are you doing out here?"

John saw Ronon approaching him as he headed for the door leading to the inner halls of the city. "Hey, big guy. Been out for a run. What about you?"

Ronon nodded. "Yeah, me too."

John shifted nervously under Ronon's heavy gaze. "So, I'm just heading back for a shower and breakfast. If you're going my way, we can run together."

Ronon nodded. "Sounds good to me."

Ronon grabbed his arm as John went to walk past him, spinning the colonel around to face him. "Sheppard, are you okay?"

John looked at the former runner, hesitating as he decided what to say. "Yeah, just couldn't sleep. Guess I'm still kind of wound up from the mission."

"Nightmares?"

John snorted and smiled, shaking his head. Sometimes he wondered if the big warrior was in his head. "Yeah, you could say that. Like I said, I'm just a bit wound up." He walked away from the runner. "Coming?"

Ronon followed Sheppard to the door. "I'm right behind you, all the way."

oOo

The next few weeks saw a gradual return to normalcy for John's team. Each mission had them more relaxed and comfortable with their return to action. There were less tense moments that ended with them pointing their gun at small forest animals or Rodney shooting the bark off trees. John's nightmares slowly decreased in frequency and intensity. He didn't end up rolling off the bed or crashing into any more furniture, although he did spend a few more nights walking and running and staring at the stars.

Six weeks after John's first mission as a Wraith attack survivor, they stepped though the gate to a forested planet that looked very similar to the one he had been captured on. John was pleased to realize that it didn't bother him, at least any more than other planets they had visited. "Okay, McKay, what do you have?"

McKay eyed his scanner. "Faint life signs in that direction, could be human, but it's too hard to tell from here. The Ancient database said there used to be some villages on this planet, so I think it's worth checking out."

John nodded. "Okay, then, let's move out." They walked down what looked like a faint, little used path through the grass leading up to the tree line. John felt a slight pang of fear as they entered the darkened woods, but he shrugged it off, reminding himself that his team was there, watching his back. Listening to their easy conversation, he quickly felt the tension melt away and was soon laughing and joking with ease. They had been walking for almost half an hour when Teyla suddenly stopped, her smile dissolving into fear and tension.

"Teyla?" John asked, already knowing her answer.

Teyla nodded. "It is the Wraith."

"We've got to find some cover," said Ronon.

"I know," said John. "Let's go . . . " John staggered as a wave of dizziness washed over him, along with a cold chill that seemed to run from the base of his skull down his spine. He leaned against the nearest tree for support.

"Colonel?" McKay was next to him in a second, tugging on his arm. "Come on, we've got to find some place safe."

John looked up at his team, his eyes wide. "He's here. I can feel him."

"Who's here?" asked Rodney, still tugging at Sheppard's arm.

"The Wraith."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "You really are delirious, aren't you? We've already established that the Wraith are here, that's why we need to hide."

"No, I mean the Wraith from the planet. He's here."

Rodney stopped pulling and stared at Sheppard. "Oh. Him." Rodney frowned as he looked at Sheppard. "Why haven't you named him yet? It'd be a lot less confusing."

"He didn't tell me his name."

"Didn't stop you from naming the others," Rodney protested.

John sighed. "The others were prisoners. I was showing control over them. This is different. If he wants to tell me his name, he will. I'm thinking we need to get out of here, and now would be good."

"You got that right," said Ronon, just as they heard the whine of Darts flying overhead.

"Okay, let's head for the gate, swinging a very wide path as we go. Be on the lookout for somewhere we can hole up until they're gone." John led the way through the trees.

They spent the next hour dodging and hiding, covering each other when any of them were spotted by the Wraith on the ground. As they neared the gate, the forest became unusually quiet, making all of them nervous. They stopped and huddled, their backs together as they looked around.

"You guys ready for the final push?" asked Sheppard, his heart pounding in his chest.

"Ready," Teyla and Ronon responded.

Sheppard turned to look at Rodney, who hadn't said anything. "McKay?"

Rodney sighed. "No . . . but let's do this anyway. I'm not sure my heart can take much more of this."

John nodded. "I think I know what you mean. Ronon, take point. Teyla, you and McKay go next. I've got our six. Move out." John heard the others follow his instructions as he watched their back. He had just started to back up, when he heard gunfire. Movement in the trees caught his attention before he could move to join his teammates.

A Wraith suddenly stepped out from behind a tree and John hesitated, knowing his Wraith brother was out there somewhere. John realized this wasn't his Wraith about the same time he felt the mind-tingling blast from a stunner. His world faded for a few moments and then he realized he was lying on the ground, looking up at the canopy of trees far above. His mind felt fuzzy and he couldn't move. Someone knelt beside him and he prayed it was Ronon or Teyla, but he knew it wasn't.

The Wraith loomed over him, bringing his hand around to stroke the side of Sheppard's face. "You have much fight in you. I look forward to the strength you will bring me."

John felt cold fear and nausea in his belly like a heavy stone and he wanted to plead with the Wraith not to do it, that he couldn't do this again. He was glad he was paralyzed because he was afraid he'd cry or beg if he'd been able to utter a sound. He prayed it would be quick this time and he was thankful he didn't have an audience. He made himself meet the creature's eyes as the Wraith ripped his shirt and vest back with one hand while raising his feeding hand.

The Wraith suddenly jerked at the sound of a stunner being fired and then collapsed over sideways, his momentum taking him away from John. John was pretty sure he was on the verge of a heart attack as his heart raced in his chest so fast and so hard he could see his chest moving with the effort. He had no idea what had just happened.

"I knew you were here. I felt you, as you probably felt me."

John moved his eyes over to see the Wraith . . . his Wraith, kneeling beside him. He would have flinched if he could have when the Wraith pulled his shirt back and checked for a feeding mark.

"He did not feed. You are safe for now."

John and the Wraith stared at one another for several seconds. Why?

The Wraith smiled. "Because if you had not hesitated, you would have killed him. You hesitated because you thought it might be me. I owed you this much."

John was confused because he was certain he had not spoken out loud. Can you hear my thoughts?

Yes, but only because you are near and you are projecting them toward me. Don't worry Sheppard, I can't normally read them."

Okay. Thanks, for saving my life again. I guess neither of us is very good at this 'all bets are off' thing.

The Wraith chuckled. "No, I guess we are not. I guess I have your answer now. I have never felt such a bond to a human before. Truly, we are much alike. It will not be easy to be brothers on different sides of a war. There may come a time when one of us must kill the other. But until that day, I am honored to be your brother, Sheppard."

John went to nod, but was quickly reminded that he couldn't. He was having to concentrate to keep conscious, but he wasn't ready to let go yet. Do you have a name?

"You may call me what you like."

John could feel himself slipping away. Gelar . . . means . . . a brother.

The Wraith nodded silently and then looked up, noting the sounds that were coming closer. "Your friends are coming. I will lead the others away so that you may get safely through the gate. Take care, Sheppard."

The last thing Sheppard was aware of was a flash of movement as the Wraith disappeared from his line of sight. Take care, Gelar.

oOo

John became aware of the pounding in his head about the same time as he recognized the sounds of the heart monitor. There was a slight delay in the sound recognition and the realization that he was the one being monitored. The image of a Wraith poised to feed off him suddenly flashed in his mind and he sat straight up, forcing his eyes open as he held one hand out in front of him and clawed at his chest with the other.

"Colonel, settle down, you're all right." Beckett and Marcy were at his side almost immediately, pulling his hand away from his chest and pushing him back down in the bed. "He didn't feed off you lad, you're fine. You were just stunned."

Sheppard could hear the heart monitor racing away and he closed his eyes, concentrating on calming himself down. A few moments later he had his breathing slowed and the monitor no longer sounded like a runaway train. He opened his eyes to look at Beckett, who smiled down at him reassuringly.

"Good, lad. Just take it easy." Beckett checked Sheppard's IV and the monitor leads while Marcy checked the pulse-oximeter clipped to his finger. "Marcy, why don't you tell the crowd waiting outside that the colonel has regained consciousness and they can see him for a few minutes."

Marcy nodded and disappeared as Carson poured John a drink of water. After raising the head of the bed, he handed his patient the cup.

John noted forlornly that the cup was only half full, but drank it all anyway. He was still thirsty, but he knew better than to ask for more just yet. "Why all the monitors?" He remembered what had happened very clearly now, and he knew he usually didn't warrant all this equipment for a simple stunner blast.

Carson set the cup on the table by the bed. "You've been out for almost six hours, Colonel. I was beginning to get a bit worried. This reaction is somewhat extreme for a mere stunner blast."

John was shocked. Six hours? He was still trying to figure out why he would be out for six hours when his team plus Elizabeth filed in around his bed, smiles breaking out when they saw him awake and propped up.

"Hey guys, I see you found me and got me back in one piece."

"Naturally," said Rodney smugly.

"We found you unconscious lying beside a Wraith who was also unconscious," said Teyla. "The Wraith had been stunned and since you do not have a stunner . . . "

"We wanted to know who stunned him?" finished Ronon.

John tried licking his lips, but his mouth was still dry so it really didn't help. How was he ever going to explain this one? How could he make them understand something he wasn't sure he really understood?

Rodney's eyes suddenly widened and he snapped his fingers. "It was him, wasn't it? You said that brother Wraith from the planet was there. Did he stun the other Wraith, because your shirt was all torn like someone was getting ready to have you for lunch."

John shivered at the abrupt memory of the Wraith above him and the fear that had filled him. "Yeah . . . guess he saved me again."

Carson looked worried. "Oh, my, Colonel, you don't mean that other Wraith fed off you, do you?"

John, realizing what the doctor thought, shook his head and thereby aggravated his headache. "No, Doc, nothing like that. I, uh, well, I hesitated when I saw the Wraith. I guess I subconsciously wondered if it was Gelar and – "

"Gelar? That's his name?" asked Rodney.

"Yeah . . . well, it is now, at least for me."

"You named him? I thought you said you weren't going to name him?" Rodney was frowning, now totally confused.

"I asked him his name and he told me just to call him whatever I wanted, so I picked Gelar . . . it means a brother. And don't say it, McKay."

McKay held his hands up defensively. "Not saying anything. Someone please note that for future reference."

"I thought the added DNA kept other Wraith from feeding on you, at least the ones your . . . friend . . . was around."

"Yeah, I think it's supposed to. But I guess they'd have to start feeding before they'd detect it, and even then there's no guarantee they'd stop." John grimaced at the thought of how close he'd come to living through that nightmare again.

"Colonel, if you had been stunned, how did you talk to him?" asked Carson.

John hesitated again, knowing they weren't going to like this. "I, uh, just thought things to him and he heard me . . . in his mind . . . kind of like mind reading I guess. Look, I know it's weird, but he said it's only in close proximity and only if I project my thoughts for him to pick up."

Elizabeth exchanged a worried look with Carson and then with Teyla. Yeah, he was pretty much the freak of the month. Maybe he could charge admission and retire early. Come see the Wraith-Ancient man who survived being fed on.

"John, why don't you just tell us what happened," said Elizabeth calmly, her face neutral once again.

"Uh, yeah, okay. I guess these guys have already told you about our circumstances, with Wraith all around, and that I sensed the Wraith from the planet was there. I was bringing up our six when I saw a Wraith come out from behind the trees. I guess I hesitated about firing and that gave him a chance to hit me with a stunner. He was about to feed off me when Gelar showed up and stunned him. We talked for a minute, well, he talked and I thought." John ran his hand through his hair. That sounded weird even to him.

Teyla reached out and laid a hand on his arm, smiling at him when he looked up at her. "It is all right, colonel. We are just curious about what happened and glad that you are unharmed."

John nodded and made a feeble attempt at returning her smile. He was pretty sure he failed. "We talked for a minute. He saw me get shot because I hesitated and so he returned the favor by saving me from the other Wraith. We decided not to kill each other unless we absolutely had to. We did the name thing. When he heard you guys coming, he said he'd try leading the others away from the gate so we could escape."

"That's why it was so easy to get you out of there," said Ronon.

"Easy?" said Rodney in amazement. "You call that easy?"

Ronon grinned at him and crossed his arms. "Yes, for a planet full of Wraith, that was an easy escape."

Rodney just looked at Ronon wide-eyed for a moment. "Oh."

"How bad is the headache?" asked Carson.

John stopped rubbing his temple as he realized what he was doing. "I think we're approaching wall-banger status."

Carson nodded. "I thought as much. Probably a combination of the stunner blast, the lack of sleep, and the connection to the Wraith. I suspect that's why you were out so long. I'll get you something for that in a minute, just as soon as I run these people out of here so you can get some rest."

"Don't," said John. He looked decidedly uncomfortable as he twisted the sheet in his hand. "Don't make them go."

Carson frowned a little in concern before his expression lightened and he nodded. "All right, son, they can stay. I still want you to get some rest."

John nodded. "I will. I just . . . don't feel like being alone right now." He stared at his feet, unwilling to make eye contact with anyone and a little embarrassed at his confession. He felt a bit like a six year old just waking from a horrible nightmare and crawling into bed with his parents. He just wasn't embarrassed enough not to ask.

"Well, that's good, cause I think you'd have to call in the marines to drag us out of here anyway," said Rodney, his defiance making the corners of John's mouth turn up. He looked at the others. "I don't know about you guys, but wild horses couldn't drag me out of here."

Teyla and Ronon looked at one another questioningly. "We have no idea to what you are referring, but we will stay also," said Teyla. Ronon just nodded.

"Thanks, guys," said Sheppard. "When can I get out of here? I was just stunned, not really injured."

"I know, colonel, but I'd like to monitor you over night just to be sure, especially since you were unconscious so long. I'll release you in the morning if everything looks good. Now, I'm going to get you something for that headache and then I expect the rest of you to let him rest. When he gets to sleep, I want all of you to head back to your quarters for some much needed rest of your own."

John relaxed his head back against the pillows, content to have his team around him and to be home in Atlantis. He'd have to find a way to come to grips with the Wraith DNA thing without letting it drive him crazy.

"Hey, if having Wraith DNA makes this guy your brother, does that make Teyla your sister?" asked Rodney as he plopped down in a chair and propped his feet up on Sheppard's bed.

"Only if my having human DNA also makes me your brother," replied John.

McKay pulled his lips up in a look of mock horror. "Now there's a scary thought."

oOo

John punched the pillow a few times in a feeble attempt at puffing it up. He then stretched out on the sleeping bag and looked up at the night sky. It was dark on the west pier because it was so far from the inhabited portion of the city. No power meant no lights in this section and the sky above him was alive with a myriad of stars. John studied them for a long time, connecting the dots in some sections to make his own constellations.

He'd wandered the unexplored section of the city most of the day since being released from the infirmary. After desperately craving company last night, he just as desperately craved solitude and quiet today. He'd told Elizabeth what he was doing so she wouldn't worry and she'd promised to keep his secret. He'd have to thank her somehow for keeping her word. He'd needed this time to think more than he could ever have imagined and it had been good for him, helping him come to terms with recent events. John had considered going back to eat in the mess hall with his team and bed down in his quarters, but he just wasn't ready to leave this place yet. The stars seemed to beckon him.

Part of him was surprised to hear the door to the pier open and part of him had been expecting it for a while. He knew his team would have begun to worry by now and he'd half expected them to seek him out. Looks like the half that had expected them had won.

"What are you guys doing here?" John had yet to take his eyes from the stars and was gauging their location by their footsteps.

"What are we doing here? We're looking for you, of course. What are you doing out here? Aren't you supposed to be resting?" No one could miss the irritation in Rodney's voice, even if it was dark enough to make it hard to see on his face.

John smiled. "I am resting. I thought you were a genius."

Rodney snorted. "You had to get all the way out here somehow and I doubt you took the Atlantis express. See, I am a genius."

John tilted his head back so he could look up at Ronon. "You ratted me out, didn't you Chewy?"

Ronon shrugged his shoulders. "Teyla and Rodney were worried."

Rodney dropped a sleeping bag, pillow, and bag down a few feet from Sheppard. "How do you know I didn't find you with the city's life sign detector?"

John let his head roll to one side so he could grin at Rodney. "Let's just say Atlantis and I had a little talk this morning."

"I knew it!" said Rodney. "I knew that's why I couldn't find you. You and that stupid gene."

John chuckled. "Genes, Rodney. I'm developing quite a selection."

There was no sound but rustling as Teyla and Ronon deposited their sleeping gear strategically around Sheppard. John watched with amusement until everyone was settled, Rodney on his left and Teyla on his right and Ronon near his feet. He was surrounded and it was strangely comforting. "So, when are you guys going to stop hovering?"

No one answered for a while, until Rodney finally broke the silence. "As long as it takes for us not to see you in that chair having the . . . you know . . . and that may be a while."

John did know, unfortunately, and he agreed with the time estimate, at least from his end of things.

"How did you know what that name meant? I mean, you don't seem like the kind of person that goes around studying name meanings."

John laughed and glanced over at Rodney. "Well, you're right about that. One of the people I was stationed with once had a thing about names. She made a point to research everyone's name and tell us the origins and meaning. I guess a few of them stuck with me."

Rodney had stretched out on his sleeping bag and was propped up on one elbow. "I don't guess you know what Rodney means?"

John's expression was serious as he deadpanned, "I'm sure it means pain in the butt."

"It does not," sputtered Rodney. "It doesn't, does it?"

Ronon and Teyla were both snickering, which further infuriated the scientist. "Oh, very funny, colonel. I hike all the way out to the middle of nowhere to keep you company and this is how I'm treated."

"Rodney?"

"What?" Rodney snapped angrily.

John looked at Rodney, his form eerily visible in the moonlight. "Thank you."

Rodney squirmed, uncomfortable with the sudden positive attention. "Uh, it's okay. You're welcome."

John looked to Teyla and then to Ronon, managing to make contact even in the dark. "I need to thank all of you. Teyla knows that . . . I'm not good at this kind of stuff . . . but you guys are like family to me. I just think maybe I should tell you that . . . I couldn't have made it through this without you."

"No big deal, Sheppard," said Ronon, obviously as unfamiliar with expressing his feelings as Sheppard. "We watch each other's back. That's what friends and family do."

Teyla touched John lightly on the shoulder. "I am proud to be part of your family, John. And I am proud to have you as part of mine."

"Okay, now that all the mushy stuff is out of the way, let's get some sleep," said John. He smiled as the three people around him settled down on their make-shift beds. He was lying out in the open and yet he felt safe because his team was around him. He knew it was a mirage, that they weren't really safe anywhere in this galaxy. But he didn't want to think about that now. He wanted to enjoy the first time in a long time that he was relaxed. He trusted these people with his life and he knew they trusted him with theirs. There was no better feeling as far as he was concerned.

John felt himself drifting off, and he silently thanked his Wraith for the gift of life. Because it had given him time to realize he had an even better gift . . . that of a family.

THE END

Note: I meant to explain something last chapter. The comment about Tigger came, of course, from an episode of Winnie the Pooh. Tigger made the comment that a character was one taco short a combination plate and that always kind of stuck with me (probably because I love Tigger). What do you expect from someone with three kids? I've seen a lot of cartoons.