Three Small Words by AndromedaMarine

Just friends? They'd done that dance to death, and John knew it. Even after slight involvement for a few months, the woman he was "just friends" with refused to say what she meant. They had been perhaps overly concerned for each other's safety off-world (her more so than him as she didn't get out much) and senior staff had been downwind for the same few months. They respected their leaders and turned their heads, not saying a word. They did nothing more than smile at each other and become more concerned than usual when something happened.

John found himself thinking about her on a mission, which wasn't a good thing. When she'd said the two words to him, "just friends," he felt as though he wanted to explode. A ripple from a Wraith stunner flew past his head and his attention returned. "Rodney, dial the gate!" he yelled, and started running behind the Athosian and Satedan. He was fifty feet behind his teammates when the gate activated, spewing the vortex out.

Rodney, Teyla and Ronon stepped through – and the gate deactivated. His gut turned to ice and his military training kicked in when another Wraith blast flew by. The colonel dove into the side bushes and made himself as hidden as possible. It was a long shot, he knew, but it was his best (and only) plan. The life-sucking half-Iratus beings stalked around, knowing that at least one of SGA-1 was still lurking, hidden.

John remained in his hiding place for hours, avoiding and eluding the Wraith who gave up after two.

--

Ronon was the last through the gate and Elizabeth's breath caught in her throat when the wormhole deactivated, not allowing John Sheppard to appear. Rodney swiveled around and was breathing heavily after running so hard. "Where's Sheppard?" he asked no one in particular, although he was staring at Ronon and the conveniently empty gate that stood behind him.

Teyla had the look on her face that everyone had learned wasn't a good thing. "He must have been cut off from the gate."

"We have to go back," Ronon said, approaching Elizabeth. "We can't just leave him there."

As much as Elizabeth wanted to kill herself over her next words she had to say them. "It's not safe, and I can't willingly put you in danger." Rodney saw the unshed tears begin to build in his leader's eyes.

The Satedan stood right in front of Elizabeth, glaring down at her. "You would sacrifice him?" he accused, his eyes not merciful.

Elizabeth drew herself up to her full height – which didn't make much of a difference considering – and spoke. "One loss is less painful than four," she said quietly, staring into Ronon's dark eyes. "In one hour we will send another MALP through to check the area. If it is not clear we'll keep sending them until it is. Do you understand me?"

Ronon didn't bother to answer her. He knew she was doing what her training said was right, but he couldn't accept that the man who'd been his friend since he arrived on Atlantis was going to be left for dead. He walked away, glancing at Teyla before making his way to his quarters. The Athosian nodded, understanding what the Satedan felt.

Rodney's expression indicated that he was about to go into a serious hissy-fit if Elizabeth didn't allow them to go back at once. He opened his mouth to begin arguing, but he caught the deep hurt in her eyes from what she had to do. Rodney realized that Elizabeth didn't have a choice in the matter – she had to follow procedure and wait. Rodney wisely closed his mouth and gave Elizabeth one last look before heading to his lab.

--

Rodney bounced on the balls of his feet while waiting to enter Elizabeth's office. Some slow and most certainly unqualified botanists were boring her with some "amazing" flower that could cure cancer or something and the Head of Science couldn't sit still to save his life.

The botanists finally left after what seemed like an hour (five minutes) and Rodney bounced in. "Elizabeth, it's been an hour – send the MALP."

"I was just about to, Rodney. I'm just as anxious as you are." Rodney was in full gear ready to barrel through and retrieve the second in command. Elizabeth looked down into the gateroom as she left her office with Rodney and saw Teyla, Ronon and Evan Lorne walk in, also in full gear. A technician was prepping the MALP.

"Chuck, dial the gate."

The leader watched, nervous, anxious and hopeful as the MALP rolled through the event horizon. The camera feed came on and her heart shattered as a Wraith took aim and fired. White noise filled the air and the four who were ready to rescue John became visibly frustrated.

Elizabeth's heart was in her throat when she said, "Another hour."

--

Realizing he had the irresistible urge to sneeze, John pinched his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. The feeling passed and the colonel couldn't help but curse his apparent allergy to the brush in which he was hiding. He'd been sitting still and quiet for an hour. When he heard the gate activate his heart leapt and he twisted to get a better view of the ancient ring. The MALP meandered through and John felt like cussing when a Wraith blew it to bits.

The anxious colonel had half a mind to take his P90 and pepper-spray the life-sucking alien bugs to hell. But he knew he had impossible odds to overcome and Elizabeth must be doing everything in her power to save him. Or was she? Had she pronounced him KIA? Was there no hope left? Perhaps she did think of them as "just friends." John bit back another string of bitter swear words and he remained hidden.

--

This time Teyla was at Elizabeth's office when the two hour mark approached. "Dr. Weir? I believe it is time to send another MALP." The Athosian realized Elizabeth's eyes were partially bloodshot and she stepped fully into the room. "Dr. Weir? Are you all right?"

Elizabeth wiped her eyes and stood. "Yes, Teyla. I'm fine. Let's go find Colonel Sheppard."

The gate activated and another MALP went through.

The same thing happened.

Rodney left the gateroom kicking at imaginary rocks and fuming. The look in his eyes alone suggested he was about to chew out some inexperienced scientist for no reason besides the fact that he was angry. Elizabeth heard him mumble something as he passed. It sounded suspiciously like, "She loves him for Christ's sake and she won't even let us save him. 'Just friends' my brilliant ass."

--

By the second hour John Sheppard's legs were slightly cramped and there were considerably less Wraith trying to find him. He was a bit father from the gate – he thought it best to hide somewhere the evilly disgusting aliens had already looked – but he could still see the giant ring of naquadah. He was tired from sitting still and keeping lookout. He'd moved a few times, running as fast as he could at one point.

He heard the gate activate a second time and he saw the second MALP meander through. He almost threw a fit that was Rodney-worthy when another Wraith blasted it away. Almost.

Twenty minutes later every Wraith was gone from view – but John remained concealed just to make sure. When he heard the darts fly away another twenty minutes later he knew he was free. Dirty and scratched from sneakily invisible thorns Colonel John Sheppard ran to the DHD. He dialed Atlantis as fast as he could and punched in his IDC.

--

"Dr. Weir!" Chuck yelled as the gate began to spin. "Dr. Weir!"

Elizabeth flew out of her office and was immediately behind Chuck. "What is it?"

"It's..." he looked at the computer screen. "It's Colonel Sheppard's IDC!"

"LET HIM THROUGH!" she bellowed and tore down the steps into the gateroom. Elizabeth paced in front of it and chewed at her fingers.

When John – a bloodied and dirty John – stumbled through the gate she embraced him with a fierceness and strength only a desperate woman could possess. It had truthfully been the longest two hours and forty-five minutes of Elizabeth's life. The colonel weakly hugged Elizabeth back and smiled. "I'm sorry," he said softly.

"I love you," she whispered, still holding on to him for dear life. The three small words John had been sure Elizabeth didn't feel for him spilled out of her. "I love you."

"I love you too."

Their fates were sealed.