Chapter 2

Elizabeth lay in her bed, awake and cold. She was exhausted, but even so, sleep and warmth were elusive. Years of experience participating in long and stressful peace negotiations on earth had taught Elizabeth the importance of rest. Even if that rest only consisted of laying awake, planning the day ahead and replaying the events of the previous day. If nothing else it was a time to reflect on what she had learned that day.

Tonight she found her mind busy with what she may have learned about herself, and it brought more fear than clarity. She had faced terrible men before. In her career she had sat at a table with national leaders whom had committed horrible atrocities in the name of war and self interest, and had helped them to come to tentative agreements in the name of the common good. She was great at what she did. Her skills in negotiation were what had led her to be chosen to lead an international mission requiring scientists and soldiers from so many nations to work for their common interests.

Elizabeth was the leader of this expedition. These people were her responsibility. Here, stranded in another Galaxy, more than ever these people who she chose to come here needed her to be strong! She couldn't afford to be second guessing herself.

Elizabeth had known there would be risks. She thought she had weighed them all before coming. She knew there was a very high chance they'd be stranded in the Pegasus Galaxy. She knew there would be danger. But she hadn't realized that there would be dangers like this. Nothing had prepared her for the violence she'd witnessed today.

Two of her men were dead, along with over sixty of the Genii invasion force that had tried to take control of the city. Should she have been spending more time trying to build positive relations with the Genii after their last meeting? Should she have expected something like this?

Twice today she was frozen with fear, her diplomatic skills left her, and her mind went numb. Once when Kolya had pointed the gun at her, and once when she'd felt Sheppard's bullet fly past her and into Kolya. Both times she'd looked into the eyes of a killer and known the gun would be fired without hesitation or remorse.

Elizabeth huddled further under her blanket, wishing that Simon was there to warm her and comfort her. She still felt cold to the bone from her time in the storm. A hot drink would have been nice, but Elizabeth didn't think she could stomach it. The memory of Kolya's blood, with its coppery smell, spattered against her uniform was still too fresh.

If only Simon were here to hold her. Elizabeth snuggled deeper into her pillow and cried quietly. She wasn't supposed to be this weak. As mission leader, she couldn't afford to allow herself this weakness.

The only good thing about the day had been that none of her own people had been seriously hurt, although she somehow doubted that either of them were sleeping much better. John had been far too quiet while they waited out the end of the storm. He'd been distant, hidden behind a mask of military professionalism. She could only guess at what might be going on in his head. Maybe he blamed himself for the breech in security. Maybe it was just difficult to have all that blood on his hands, even though it had been to protect the city.

Rodney was far more readable. He'd buried himself in his job in much the same way that John had, hiding behind scans and power checks while John 'guarded' Sora. Rodney also seemed to blame himself for the lengths to which the Genii were able to go. But while John's eyes went blank and cold, Rodney had never mastered such self control. It had been obvious that Kolya had actually learned of their plans by threatening to torture Rodney. She was just glad that her Chief Scientist and friend had had the sense to play along and gained no more than that cut on his arm, rather than let himself get seriously hurt.

It bothered her that he seemed ashamed, as though it were a weakness. But he didn't have the diplomatic experience to know that men like Kolya were never going to just leave quietly with what they'd purportedly come for. If the Genii hadn't been given a reason to stay longer, she and Rodney would probably still be prisoners, but on the Genii home world, and Atlantis would have been destroyed.

He had nothing to be embarrassed about. But calling him on it in front of the others only would have made him feel worse. Now that she thought about it, she should have made time to talk to him alone. But it hadn't been possible while they'd all been waiting out the storm in control room. Then she'd been overseeing the return of the bulk of Atlantis staff, and the Athosians, to the City. Temporary sleeping arrangements needed to be made for the Athosians, then arrangements for damage assessment crews to be sent to the mainland in the morning to help the Athosians to rebuild. Rodney was off confirming his own damage assessments of the city.

To be honest, she'd been a little too glad to be distracted from thoughts of how close that bullet had come to her, among other things. But now, alone in her quarters, with all the distractions gone, all the doubts and fears, and the shame, she'd been avoiding loomed in the darkness of her quarters.

The three of them would need to talk to Heightmeyer tomorrow. But for tonight Elizabeth felt she needed to face these fears, and conquer them, alone. She had to be a strong leader.

A polite knock at her door made her jump and stilled her gentle sobs.

"Dr. Weir?" Peter's voice came from the hall.

She quickly wiped away her tears and took a moment to calm herself. It was time to be the pillar of strength again.

"Dr. Weir?" There was a slightly firmer knock as the British Scientist supposed she was still waking.

Elizabeth forced herself not to huddle into the fleece she wore over her pj's. When she opened the door she knew she had a calm and confident posture. Peter, however, looked upset and tired. "Peter? What's happened?"

"Dr. Beckett asked that you and Major Sheppard be informed that Dr. McKay has been taken into surgery." He answered professionally, but there was and edge in his voice.

Elizabeth took a moment to register that. It had almost been too good to be true when she and Rodney had escaped virtually unscathed. What was Rodney even still doing up at this hour? Had he worked himself to injury? "What happened?"

Peter didn't answer, as his look of concern shifted over Elizabeth, and the fleece sweater she wore. "How long did you say you were outside in that storm?"

"Quite some time." She answered shortly with a diplomatic smile that showed appreciation for his concern without giving away too much of herself. "How was Dr. McKay injured?"

"I gather it was during the storm. We don't know the details." Peter surprised her by reaching out and laying a hand against her cheek, and his look became accusing. "You're hypothermic!"

"No." She was a bit cold but it had been so many hours since the storm, that had to be an exaggeration. "Peter, I'm just having a little trouble getting warm."

"That's hypothermia. Your core body temperature has dropped and needs help to warm back up. You need to go to the infirmary. Did none of you get yourselves looked at?" He didn't wait for an answer as he put an arm around her and lead her out of the room.

"There wasn't time." She explained slightly defensively, "I had other responsibilities and I felt fine. I don't feel that bad now!"

"You can explain that to Dr Beckett," Peter scolded uncharacteristically.


John sat forward in the infirmary bed, cradling his throbbing hand, while a nurse wrapped his elbow. Once the rest of the city was all tucked in he'd gone to the training area to blow off some steam. He'd forgotten how well the punching bag could hold it's own in a fight, and he determined that the next time he needed to blow off that much steam he'd go for a run.

Dr Elizabeth Weir was huddled under a pile of blankets in the bed next to his, surrounded by hot water bottles and nursing a mug of hot chocolate.

Elizabeth, with her calm diplomatic smile and confident posture as she looked over the gate room, had been covering symptoms of hypothermia. He could see now that she was pale without her make-up on. And now that he thought about it, standing next to her he could feel the cold coming off of her. But she had seemed so normal, and was already wearing a sweater so he presumed she was taken care of. The truth was, John had been too preoccupied with trying to seem calm and in control so that Elizabeth would feel safe.

He could feel Carson's eyes burrowing into him as he berated the two of them. He could understand why Carson was angry. He could see now that it was a really bad idea to avoid the medical team the way he had, and that he'd failed to ensure that Elizabeth and Rodney got themselves looked at.

It was just one failure to add to the list. There hadn't been enough security around the gate during the cities most vulnerable time. His attempt to keep more of his people safe by getting as many of them as possible out of the city had only resulted in getting more of them killed and the two people he needed to protect the most getting captured. He'd let his guard down.

When he'd been sure Elizabeth had been killed, he'd snapped. All his advanced ops training had kicked in and all that mattered was making sure the enemy didn't succeed. No hostages were going to get in his way. He would have let the city be destroyed, taking the Genii and Rodney with it, and stranding everyone else. That single-minded kill or be killed focus wasn't him. It was like being taken over by some alien monster every time and he hated it. He was a weapon. Elizabeth and Rodney had looked at him with awe, and more than a little fear.

He could never tell them that it scared him too. They needed to know this weapon was confident, in control, and on their side to protect them. That was his job.

But, in the end, it was Rodney who had faced down the barrel of a gun to save Elizabeth when John had been powerless to do so. 'Hail Mary,' John thought ruefully.

"Are ye even listening to me!?" Carson snapped.

And John was reminded that he was supposed to be being scolded.

"Aren't ye a bloody idiotic pair?!" Carson scolded openly. "Being mission leaders does not mean ye must be invulnerable. But it does mean that ye are expected to have better judgement than this! Yer human beings! Ye have emotions. Ye have fallible bodies. And ye need to set a better example than this to everyone on this expedition!"

Sheppard looked down at his bandaged wrist and winced as he tried to flex it, as though to confirm that his body was indeed fallible, before looking up at Carson with a small pout. It was a move calculated to gain the sympathies of the physician. Carson had devised the cruel and unusual punishment of withholding information about Rodney until they'd been looked after and heard him out. Sheppard looked up at the physician with penitent puppy dog eyes, "We're really sorry."

But Carson was unrelenting, "Ye agree that ye were so busy trying to be strong for each other that ye completely missed that ye all needed help?!"

Elizabeth winced guiltily, "I think that's a fair assessment."

"Ye agree that all three of ye should have escorted each other to the infirmary as soon as the crisis was over and an able medical team was back in Atlantis? And that ye should have had a debriefing?" Carson glowered directly at Major Sheppard now, "They're for more than just sharing information. They're t'help ye emotionally decompress. And they're a darn sight ore effective than injuring yourself on a punching bag!"

Elizabeth and John exchanged a look before nodding.

"Good," Carson sighed tiredly. "Then I'll trust that this won't happen again. Most likely neither of ye were thinking as clearly as ye thought ye were. Certainly not with hypothermia or coming down from all that adrenaline. That's why it's so important to follow procedures rather than personal judgement when it comes to yer health and well being. I'd like ye both to spend the night here for observation, and ye'll be talking to Dr. Heightmeyer tomorrow before I release ye."

It was a measure of how effective the scolding, or perhaps the blackmail, had been that neither leader protested. It was never a nice to be on the wrong side of Dr. Carson Beckett. The man had needles, and he wasn't afraid to use them.

A nurse walked in from the direction of the operating room, with an air of controlled calm, and whispered something to Carson.

John strained his ears, hoping to catch some news about Rodney, but whatever she'd said whatever she'd come to say and hastened back in the direction she'd came.

Carson turned back towards the two errant leaders and spoke quickly.

"Now I need ye to answer some questions about Rodney." John and Elizabeth sat up a little straighter hoping that what they'd been waiting for, information about Rodney, was at hand, "Can ye tell me at exactly, or as closely as possible, what time Genii stitched his arm and what sort of equipment they had? Were there any needles, any vials of liquid, any…." He trailed off when he saw the blank and alarmed looks on both their faces, and backed the conversation up a few steps, "What do ye know about how the Genii learned of the plan to save the city?"

Elizabeth sat up, knocking a few of the water bottles aside, "Oh my god. They really tortured him, didn't they!?"

"I thought McKay told them so that we'd have a chance to implement the plan before the storm came." Sheppard bit out in an angry tone as he turned to Elizabeth. That had been what he'd been told while they were waiting out the storm. He'd joked that McKay needed more training, and to work on his timing, before he should try anymore impromptu escape attempts.

This only seemed to irritate Carson, "Were ye even aware his arm was injured?"

"They tortured him!?" Sheppard's voice sounded steely, even to himself, and his heart threatened to pound into his ears again. He was dimly aware that he was now clenching his injured hand.

"Now, calm down Major." Carson admonished, "Hurting yourself again isn't going to help him, answering my questions just might."

"What did they do to him?" Sheppard snapped stubbornly. He was kicking himself for not demanding to see what was under that ridiculous bandage that he'd actually thought was amusing. He'd thought it was just Rodney being Rodney, Rodney over-reacting. Why hadn't he known better? He'd been distracted, but that was no excuse.

"I can assure ye he wasn't grazed during an escape attempt." Carson answered evasively, "It would be helpful to know precisely how long ago it happened."

Elizabeth sat up and answered calmly, "After Rodney used the sound system to send John a warning, to tell him what the Genii were after, we were separated for about an hour."

She threw John, a guilt ridden look, "I stalled to give you time to stop the Genii from getting what they wanted. When we got back to Rodney he was holding his arm. I knew they'd probably threatened him and ruffed him up a bit, but he didn't seem seriously hurt. Rodney said it would be fine, and well, it's Rodney so I believed him. He was using his arm to work all night, he even stopped favouring it after a while."

"The Genii went for the C4 at around 16:00 hours." Sheppard completed the answer for her.

Carson wasted no time, immediately turning to two of his staff who had been waiting nearby. He pointed to each in turn, "Exposure began anywhere between 16:00 and 17:00 hours. Go, tell Dr Biro now. And inform Dr Tremmell immediately, he's moved to chemlab one."

"Beckett," Sheppard's militant voice snapped, calling his attention back to the two beds.

Elizabeth regarded the physician with her own stern, controlled expression. She was the diplomat leader again. "We need a full medical report, now."

Carson seemed to realize that it was time to once again address his patients as leaders, albeit reluctantly, "A series of precise surgical incisions were used to peel away the outer layers of the patient's upper forearm, exposing muscle, tendons, and nerve endings without doing damage that would inhibit the functioning of the limb. Once exposed, pressure was placed on the nerves and precise incisions made into the muscle tissue. Again, the muscular incisions were made so as not to overly impede motor functioning. The wound was then closed and stitched with a thread designed to dissolve into an anticoagulant within a day. Bruising and some tearing in the stitching suggests that the wound was roughly handled post surgery. Once dissolved, the anti-coagulant seems to have spread through his system, causing other, more innocuous, injuries to erupt into internal bleeding. Dr Biro and her team are relieving the pressure and replacing his blood as quickly as they can."

He sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck, "To be honest, we're running out of ideas. We've tried running his blood through a filter to remove whatever it is, but some of it has broken down too far. Knowing the compounds approximate rate of degradation will help us to identify it and its properties. If only we could have removed the stitching before it dissolved to this level, but what's done is done."

Elizabeth lowered her head in shame. All that time that Rodney had been protecting her, Elizabeth we certain it should have been the other way around. She was leader of this expedition. She had brought Rodney here.

John could only blame himself. He was the one charged with protecting the two civilians. He lay back against the bed and stared up at the ceiling, "He seemed so normal."

"Aye," Carson agreed, "Ye all did." But he couldn't help but feel that even with his concussion he should have realized all was not right with the three of them.