Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters to Stargate Atlantis, nor am I making any type of profit from this story. It is a work of fan fiction, for enjoyment only.

SPOILER ALERT: Definitely spoilers for "The Defiant One". This story is set immediately following that episode, and refers to it frequently.

Author Note: Please remember that this story was written almost two years ago, before the conclusion of the first season. At that time, Kate Heightmeyer was just a rumor, so anything about her here was completely imagined on my part. This was originally printed in a zine, but I've had requests to print it online, so here you go!

Survival Course

By KerrAvon

Sheppard winced as he pulled on his shirt, careful to make sure that Beckett was looking the other way. It had been a harrowing two days, and the Major's body was beginning to broadcast the details. He had bruises on his bruises, and his ribs hurt like heck. All he wanted now was to debrief, shower, and crash for a good eight hours. Nevertheless he schooled his face to bland expectancy, turned to Beckett and hinted, "So, doc, am I good to go?"

Carson frowned as he studied the chest films hanging on the viewbox. "Honestly, Major, I'd like to get a CT of your chest and abdomen." He pointed to Sheppard's ribs on the films, "With fractures like those, there's a risk of internal damage."

That was not what John wanted to hear. "Aw, come on, doc," he cajoled. "You already poked and prodded every inch! Except for the arm and the ribs, I'm fine."

Beckett raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Yes, but you've fractured five ribs. You're lucky you didn't puncture a lung."

"But I didn't."

"No," Carson agreed, glancing at the chest film, "you didn't."

"Then what's the problem? If anything happens, I can be back in a flash." John pushed sincerity with every word.

Beckett hesitated, sympathizing with the exhaustion in the pilot's face. "Well...do you promise to come right back if you develop any new symptoms?"

Raising his right hand, John replied, "Scout's honor."

Beckett pursed his lips. He wasn't happy about it, but the Major had a point - he had done a thorough exam and found nothing else wrong. It was just a nagging belief in Murphy's Law that had him on edge. Finally he nodded. "All right, then, out wi' ye. But come back if you have any problems."

Sheppard flashed his patented 'I got away with it again' grin and eased down from the exam table. "Thanks, but I'll be fine. I'm a survivor." With that reassurance and a wave, he gingerly managed to saunter out the door.

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"You know Major, you might be right." Weir narrowed her eyes consideringly. "Something certainly needs to be done." Following the debriefing concerning the deaths of Drs. Gaul and Abrams, the two leaders of Atlantis were having a private discussion concerning ways to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. "We never know who might be needed on any given mission, and we have to make sure everyone can handle themselves in a field situation."

"Well, we don't have to reinvent the wheel; the US military has been doing this type of training for over a hundred years."

"Major, most of the people here are not soldiers."

Sheppard's mouth set into a grim line. "No, but they end up in situations where they need to behave like one. What if Gaul or Abrams had a chance to fire a weapon but didn't due to unfamiliarity? I just..."

Weir interrupted him with a raised hand. "Agreed. Agreed." She sighed, "What do you suggest?"

Sheppard groaned as he straightened; sitting for fifteen hours on the trip back had allowed his abused muscles to stiffen up, and further sitting in the infirmary waiting for Beckett to examine and release him hadn't helped. With difficulty he focussed on his point; "Survival training. Range practice. But first, a team confidence course; too many people here think in terms of 'I' rather than 'we'."

Weir quirked her lip. "The scientific and medical communities are going to be hard to convince."

Shooting her a sly glance, Sheppard waggled his index finger. "I have an idea about that..."

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"A what?" McKay rolled his eyes incredulously the next day as he swung his lab stool around to face the smaller Czech engineer.

Zelenka was momentarily startled by the circles beneath the Canadian's eyes, but knew better than to mention it. It was an unspoken code in Science not to comment on another man's work hours; they might think you were jealous of their stamina. Instead he responded matter-of-fact, "A...survival course. Or contest. At least, that is what I have heard. It is what the meeting this afternoon is to be about."

The exhausted astrophysicist leaned forward on his stool intently, hands on knees. "And what, pray tell, is the point?"

"To prevent another Gaul," replied a hard voice from the doorway. Both scientists turned to see Major Sheppard leaning stiffly against the doorframe, arms crossed. A nasty bruise had blossomed on the side of his face where the Wraith had backhanded him, causing them both to pause.

For his part Sheppard took advantage of their momentary silence to critically examine McKay. Since they had returned from the planet near the satellite, Rodney had been driven like a man possessed, and looked like he hadn't slept in days. 'Maybe he hasn't...' the soldier suddenly thought. He knew the scientist hadn't been to bed the night before the mission (nervous) after working a full day (which for McKay was at least 18 hours). The trip itself had been 15 hours there, 4 or 5 on the ground, 15 hours back (he flew both ways). It had been 20 or so since they returned home, during which Sheppard had himself finally managed a good night's rest...that added up to 78 hours awake minimum. Sheppard's eyes narrowed consideringly; Rodney's uncombed hair, rumpled shirt, dark caverns beneath his eyes, the fine tremor in his hands from caffeine toxicity; yep, all indications that the man had given up sleeping for the duration. Again. Softening his tone, the Major jerked his chin in Rodney's direction. "When did you last catch some shut-eye?" he asked roughly, moving into the room. He had to concentrate on keeping his movements fluid; he was still quite stiff from the pummeling he took back on the planet, and his arm ached despite, or perhaps because of, the thorough cleaning Beckett had given it.

McKay turned back to his computer as he replied in his characteristically higher 'I'm lying through my teeth' pitch, "Oh, last night."

"Uh-huh." 'For about 30 minutes,' John added mentally. Sheppard looked askance at Zelenka, who shrugged incrementally, eyebrows raised. Sheppard decided to drop it for the time being and let the scientist face his demons on his own terms. Still, he'd keep an eye on him, and the first sign that McKay needed outside help, he'd get it.

"Anyway, this exercise is meant to demonstrate the importance of training, both for military and non-military individuals. The idea is to have everyone on base team up randomly in groups of four, be dropped off with basic survival gear a day's hike from the Gate on PXZ-459, and make it back without assistance."

McKay turned back to face the pilot, exhausted eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Sounds too easy; what's the catch?"

Sheppard flashed his brilliant grin; he knew better than to try to put one over on Rodney. "For each exercise, there will also be a group of people pretending to be Wraith. Their job will be to intercept and eat as many of the team members as they can...figuratively, of course. Both groups will be armed with paintball guns; the 'Wraith' can get up again 1 minute after being shot while the 'Humans' have to remain stunned for five minutes." He smirked, "How's that for a catch?"

McKay had visibly paled during his description, then turned away with a dismissive air. "Well, I'm too busy to be playing stupid games. Forget it."

"Weir's making it mandatory for everyone on base, including herself. You think she's not busy? I'll be happy to tell her you said so."

McKay dropped his forehead to his hands. "No, no," he groaned in defeat. "Fine. I'll do it." He raised his eyes in a glare. "But I don't have to like it."

Sheppard held his hands out, palms up. "No," he agreed smilingly, "you don't. See you at the briefing this afternoon then." As he turned to go, he made a mental note to tweak the team memberships just a bit. Even names being drawn from a hat could be 'misread'. Rodney clearly needed to discuss recent events with a trained professional, but would cut off his right arm before he went to see her voluntarily, so... 'Hey, might be a good time to deal with a few other personality conflicts while we're at it.' Whistling to himself, he limped out to rig the draw.

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McKay squinted up at the departing jumper before he turned to his 'team' and shouldered his pack. Not only had the groups been drawn from a hat, the position of 'Team Leader' had been randomly selected as well. Somehow he ended up not only participating but being in charge. He turned a critical eye to his 'team', who stared back at him expectantly.

Teyla stood with her usual calm acceptance of the scenario, patiently awaiting instruction. She clearly agreed with Sheppard's thinking on this and was waiting for Rodney to assume command. McKay was internally grateful that he managed to be paired with someone as self-assured as the Athosian, and whose reactions he could predict and rely upon.

Sgt. Bates he wasn't so sure of; while the man certainly seemed capable, he was far from being 'Mr. Personality'. 'Of course', Rodney admitted wryly to himself, 'I'm pretty far from that myself'. Bates stared unblinkingly forward as he stood at parade rest.

Dr. Kate Heightmeyer was a wild card; all he knew of the blonde was that she was a member of Beckett's medical team. Her intelligent eyes seemed warm somehow, as if she were wise beyond her years. Rodney thought dreamily that he could get lost in...then rapidly shook his head. 'Oh no; I am NOT going there...' he thought to himself.

Shouldering his pack, he began speaking as he withdrew the Ancient scanner from his vest pocket. "Listen up. As you are all well aware, my name is Dr. Rodney McKay, and I will be your guide on this little exercise. We have been set down a day's hike from the Gate on what is believed to be a relatively safe planet. Make no assumptions. We are to traverse some undisclosed geographic features, camp out overnight, and make our way back to Atlantis while avoiding the people who are pretending to be Wraith. You will be able to identify these people by their red armbands, so watch for them. They do not know where we are, and they will be trying to capture members of other teams as well, so if we're careful and work together we stand a good chance of successfully completing this assignment." Scanning for an energy signature that corresponded with the Gate, he rotated 30 degrees to his right and pointed, "That way." They set off through the woods at a steady pace.

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Sheppard, despite dripping sweat as he hacked through the tall reeds with a machete, felt unaccountably content. He paused a moment to wipe his forehead with the back of his hand. Nevermind that they were slogging determinedly through a swamp that probably could have been avoided; the sun was shining, the weather pleasant, and for once he wasn't in charge. Not that he really minded command that much, but the responsibility weighed more than he liked to admit. Still, due to the relatively random nature of the scenario, Dr. Zelenka ended up supervising this expedition, so Sheppard was off the hook. He had felt it unfair to 'fix' his own draw, so it had truly been arbitrary. He paused a moment to wonder how Rodney was getting along with the psychologist. Grinning, he recalled that the 'random' members of that group had been Teyla and Bates; he didn't envy Rodney one bit. Actually, he suspected that Dr. Heightmeyer had her work cut out for her.

For his group, the Major, along with Sgt. Markham and Dr. Grodin, were to follow Zelenka's lead. Right now, they were wading through a swamp to avoid the 'Wraith'. Sheppard's stomach roiled uneasily as he noticed a mild constant discomfort in his left side. 'Now where did that come from?' he puzzled, before shrugging and resuming work with a vengeance. 'Must be coming down with something. Wonder if it was something I ate?' His arm was beginning to throb pretty steadily as well; he made a mental note to clean and redress the wound at their next rest break, then lost himself in the mindless work of clearing a path.

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Dr. Kavanagh had been the most outspoken opponent to the 'survival course' from the beginning, a fact that actually quelled a number of other potential objectors - no one wanted to be seen agreeing with the obnoxious man. His complaints ceased, however, when the names were drawn. His eyebrows shot up in pleased surprise as he was designated a group leader; a frank grin assaulted his visage when Dr. Weir was randomly assigned to his team. Lt. Ford and Dr. Beckett were the other two members pulled. Aiden just dropped his head and groaned in defeat as Kavanagh bounced on his toes excitedly; it would be a long two days.

As the jumper left the group near the top of a hill, Kavanagh instantly took charge. "Attention, everyone. Attention!" He clapped his hands authoritatively, as if addressing a second-grade class.

The group immediately turned towards him and waited. Kavanagh smirked superiorly and continued, "The time has come to demonstrate what a real leader can do. To that end, I propose we be the first team back to the Gate tomorrow morning."

"This isn't meant to be a race..." began Elizabeth, only to be rudely interrupted by the scientist.

"Well, some people might not understand the strategic importance of winning..."

Ford, who had literally bitten his tongue at the implied aspersion towards Weir, blurted, "Oh yeah? And how do you suggest we do that, genius?" before he could stop himself. However, he was more chagrinned by Elizabeth's small frown of disapproval than Kavanagh's sneered reply.

"We do that by hiking through at least part of the night." The chemist's expression reflected his unshaken belief in his own brilliance. Condescendingly, he continued, "Or would your poor little footsies get too sore?"

Fire raged in Aiden's eyes, only to be stifled by Beckett's whispered, "Don' worry, lad. T'will only be for a day."

Ford forced himself to take a deep, calming breath before answering, "I can handle the hike, day or night. But in the dark someone could fall and hurt themselves." He grinned ferally, as if to imply that he would happily help facilitate that 'accident', but Beckett interrupted before hostilities could escalate.

"Now, he has a point then. It would be safer to travel during the light."

"Then we'd better get moving, shouldn't we?" Kavanagh answered in a tone that brooked no further discussion, and gestured down the hillside.

"Aye, that we should." Beckett sighed as he came to the same conclusion Aiden had in the briefing room; this was going to be a long couple of days.

Weir wisely remained silent and followed the men down the steep slope.

TBC...

Author's note: Sorry this is taking so long to post; ffnet wouldn't let me upload the thing! Finally someone on the SGAHC list told me to save it as 'text only' and then try...