Title: A Dragon's Tale

Author: Titan5

Spoilers: Brief mention of scattered events up through Search and Rescue.

Summary: When John gets separated from his team, he meets some interesting wildlife.

Author's Note: This is for Fran, who sent my youngest child a ton of cool stuff from England, making her country project the very best one (not that I'm biased in any way).

A Dragon's Tale

John paused and turned around to see if Rodney was as far behind as he suspected. It was worse, actually, and the scientist looked on the verge of an MI if he didn't sit down soon. His face was beet red and he was sucking in air like it was going out of style. Glancing past Rodney to Teyla, bringing up the rear of their little group, he nodded at her concerned expression. "Let's take five."

Up ahead, Ronon came crashing back through the trees, a clear indication he was annoyed. Ronon didn't do loud unless it was on purpose and to make a point. "We should keep on," the big man said when he reappeared through the foliage. "I'm not tired yet."

Grinning at him as he hooked his thumbs in his vest, John looked pointedly at the Satedan. "Well, some of us are tired and need a break." He could see Ronon looking over his shoulder at Rodney's red face before returning his eyes to John. His only acknowledgement was a grunt.

Satisfied that Ronon wasn't going to stage a mutiny or run off on his own, John allowed himself to sit down on a fallen log and pull out his water. The planet was hot and humid and they'd been trekking through what amounted to a tropical rainforest. They had only been going for a little over an hour, but all of it had been uphill and they were soaked through with sweat.

"How much further do you think?" asked John.

Rodney finished drinking from his canteen and then poured some of the water over his head. "Probably not far but I really don't know for sure. The part of the database we got this address from was pretty corrupted. All we really know is that it was a research station that was abandoned when the war started and it was built into the side of this mountain."

"But they were working on some type of weapon, right?" John asked.

Frowning, Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know for sure. The bits and pieces we retrieved contained some language that could be interpreted that way, but there wasn't enough to be sure."

"So we might be doing all this for nothing," stated Ronon.

"If we find an Ancient research station, it won't be for nothing. We can always learn something, even if it's not weapons related. The Ancients were about more than just war, you know."

The two stared at one another for several seconds before Rodney threw up his hands in disgust. "Fine, yes this could all be for nothing. Happy now?"

"I am if we're ready to go." Ronon stood up and stalked off up the trail. John rolled his eyes and glanced at Teyla in time to see her do the same.

"Okay, I guess the break is over," John said, getting to his feet. He glanced at Teyla, who nodded a silent agreement to keep an eye on their tiring teammate.

"So who died and made him team leader?" Rodney muttered as he pushed off the large rock he'd been sitting on.

Teyla sighed. "Ronon just has trouble sitting still. In some ways he is still very much like a child."

"Not new information," Rodney said, but the corner of his mouth pulled up in a twitching half-smile. That was when John knew he would be okay. The short rest and water break had helped a lot.

"Okay, kids, let's go see what the mighty Ancients left us to play with," John said, taking off after Ronon. As Rodney predicted, they were close, finding the structure ten minutes later. The station was indeed built into the side of the mountain, with the front entrance only protruding about five feet out from the rock cliff.

Rodney rushed forward, his exhaustion apparently forgotten, and began working on the keypad next to the door. Several minutes later, Ancient scanner in hand, his shoulders slumped as he dropped his head forward.

"Rodney?" John said, leaving the question unsaid.

With a dramatic sigh, Rodney turned around to face his team. "No power. We'll have to open the thing manually."

"What about when we get inside?" asked John, his eyebrows already starting to furrow.

"Were you not listening or do I need to talk louder? No power. None. Nadda. Not inside or out."

"You can tell that from out here?" asked Ronon.

"Why do I continue to work with you people?" Rodney complained, stuffing his scanner back in his pack. "Here, Conan, make yourself useful and force the door open because that's the only way it's coming open."

John stared at Rodney for a moment before decided the man was serious and not just making some kind of dramatic play. He opened his mouth to tell Ronon they needed to look for something they could pry the door open with just in time to see the Satedan shoot the door controls.

"Ronon!" A loud pop was followed by a small amount of smoke pouring from the blackened and melted controls. "I was going to suggest we pry the door open."

Ronon nodded. "Now it should be easier," he said as he began searching the ground for a suitable stick. Rodney was trying to calm himself and looking less and less like someone recovering from a wild bear attack, while Teyla just arched one eyebrow and shrugged one shoulder. John couldn't help but think his entire team was crazy as he lowered his pack and dug through it for a moment before finding what he wanted. He'd almost forgotten about the last minute addition to his pack.

"Let's try this," John said, pulling out a long screwdriver and heading for the door. Rodney's mouth dropped open a little before he did a fish impression and then frowned. "Wait, why would you have that?"

John pushed the end of the flathead tool into the slight crevice at the edge of the door. "Because stuff like this always happens," he grunted out through gritted teeth. Pushing against the handle, he was suddenly yanked out of the way and the next thing he knew, Ronon was popping the door open and handing the screwdriver back.

"Oh, thanks," he said, not sure if he fully appreciated being treated like he was more in the way than helping.

"That worked great," Ronon said. "We should always carry one of those."

Rodney watched as John eyed the slightly bent tool before returning it to his pack. "Okay, I have to admit that . . . wait a minute. Where did you get that? Did you take that from my lab?"

"Time to go in and see what the Ancients left us," John said, completely ignoring Rodney's questions, mostly because his lab was exactly where John had gotten the screwdriver. The room was completely dark, validating Rodney's statement about the power situation.

"Oh, this is so not over," the physicist mumbled as he stumbled in behind John.

John turned on the light of his P90 about the time Teyla did the same, and they slowly panned the room. It wasn't big, maybe twenty by twenty feet with scattered desks. Some old equipment sat on a counter along the left wall. It looked to John like the office portion of the station. They slowly made their way to the door at the back. Ronon quickly picked up a piece of debris from the floor and used it to pry that door open so they could continue.

They next entered a hall that led to the right, with what appeared to be a small storage closet on the left. Following the corridor, they found three rooms that all appeared to be lab facilities of some sort, with stations scattered around the perimeter of the room. Rodney seemed to get more and more frustrated as they went.

"Can you tell what this place was used for yet?" asked John.

"And how would I do that?" asked Rodney. "There's absolutely no power, so I can't download anything or turn anything on. Although it probably wouldn't matter if there was power."

"Why?" asked Teyla.

"You may have noticed the almost nauseating smell of mold? This place is so damp that everything is corroded. There was no power to keep the air and moisture levels constant and everything is falling apart."

"So . . . waste of time," Ronon said.

Rodney sighed and opened his mouth to retort, only to close his mouth and shake his head. "Yeah . . . probably."

"Might as well finish looking since we're already here," John said. They continued down the hall to the next room, which was twice as large as the others and had completely different equipment. After browsing around a few minutes, Rodney turned around and stared at John.

"I think this is some kind of nursery."

"A what?" John asked, certain his hearing must be going.

"A nursery. Look, these three things over here look like incubators. Very, very large incubators. And those areas over there are almost like warmers."

John looked around the room and then back at Rodney. "For what?"

Rodney looked uncertain and more than a little worried when he returned his gaze to the incubator. "I don't know, but whatever it was, it was big."

"Like T-rex big?" John asked, remembering the planet where he'd almost been eaten by what appeared to be a Jurassic Park escapee.

"Pretty darn close," the scientist mumbled.

"Okay, then," John said, wishing his voice didn't sound so shaky. "Let's finish this and get back." He returned to the hall and continued down it several feet, only to stop and gape. It opened out into a huge cavern too large to see across with their limited lighting. Rodney dug his flashlight out and pointed it up one of the walls. They could see what appeared to be smaller caves within the rock wall of the huge chamber.

"What in the name of . . . " Rodney mumbled. "What were they growing in here?"

"Not entirely sure I want to know," John muttered under his breath. "Okay, let's fan out and see if there's anything else here."

"Fan out?" Rodney questioned in a high pitched voice.

John considered the question, sending the light on his P90 roving slowly around the giant cavern. The beam got lost in the darkness when he hit the middle of the room. "Maybe we should pair off. Ronon, you and Rodney take the right side and we'll take the left."

"On it," said Ronon without hesitation. "Come on, McKay, shine your light this way," he said, grabbing Rodney's back collar and steering him toward the cliffs to their right."

"I'm going, you don't have to shove me. I call Teyla next time and you can have Conan."

Ronon let go of Rodney and threw John and Teyla a smirk over his shoulder without missing a step. John shook his head and flashed Teyla an innocent grin. With a small sigh, Teyla headed left, shining her light at the cliffs. Twenty minutes later, the groups met at the far end of the cavern.

"Can we go now?" asked Rodney. "No power, cold, dark, damp, possibly being stalked by huge creatures wanting to eat us for dinner. Oh, yeah, and I'm hungry."

John rolled his eyes, wishing it wasn't so dark so Rodney could see the level of his irritation. "Fine, let's go. There doesn't seem to be anything here any more anyway. Unless you want to collect mold samples for the mycology department."

"We don't have a mycology department and I wouldn't collect mold samples even if we did," Rodney snapped before stomping back off the direction he came. John exchanged a grin with Ronon, but had to squelch it when he saw the frown on Teyla's face.

"You should not bait him, John," she said patiently.

"Yes, mother," he mumbled as he fell in behind Rodney.

"I'll remember that at our sparring session tomorrow," Teyla said from behind him, her silken voice in direct contrast to the meaning behind the statement.

Clamping his jaw shut so he didn't dig the hole he was in any deeper, John continued to follow close behind Rodney as they made their way out. It was faster going since they were no longer exploring the place and they returned to the entry hallway within a few minutes. Stopping, John noticed a door he was pretty sure they had missed before. It was stuck partially open, so he leaned in and cast his light around the room. "Hey, Rodney, come look at this," he yelled as he squirmed his way inside.

It looked like some sort of control room for the facility, with computer terminals scattered around the perimeter of the room. John stopped his light on a pedestal in the far corner, recognizing it instantly. "Well, now we know why there's no power," he said softly.

"They took the ZedPM," Rodney breathed out from beside him, looking down at the empty chamber. "When they abandoned this place, they really abandoned it."

"Yeah, looks like it," John said.

"Perhaps they knew that the dampness would eventually ruin these chambers and all their equipment," suggested Teyla.

"So why leave behind a perfectly good ZPM," John said, finishing the thought. "Makes sense, really. They couldn't afford to waste energy once the Wraith became a serious threat."

"We're done here," John said, turning around and heading back toward the door. He pushed out through the narrow opening to find Ronon coming quickly toward him.

"We've got company out front," he said, immediately turning to return to the entrance. John followed, having to hurry in order to keep up with the Satedan's long stride. Reaching the front, John took a look through the partially open door. Not seeing anything, he was about to step out when a shot impacted the door facing to his right, causing him to jerk back with a yelp.

"Told you," Ronon said with a smirk.

Flashing him a pained grin, John sighed. "Yeah, thanks. Wonder what they want."

"They are probably scavengers, searching for anything they can use or sell. There are many such groups across the galaxy, people who are too lazy to make a living for themselves," said Teyla with a disapproving frown.

"Yeah, we have those people too," said John. "They rob banks or mug people or convince the government to give them a handout."

"How dangerous are they?" asked Rodney.

Teyla shrugged her shoulders. "Some are harmless, but others are very dangerous, unafraid of killing anyone in their way." Just then a series of shots hit the front of the building.

"I think these are the dangerous kind," said John.

"There's a back way out," said Rodney.

"Yeah, McKay and I found a tunnel that looks like it leads out the other side of this mountain," agreed Ronon.

Movement caught John's attention and he looked out the door to see several men emerging from the trees, weapons that looked similar to those of the Genii held out in front of them. He stuck his P90 out the door and did a quick burst in front of their feet, leading them to turn and run back for the cover of the trees. Watching them long enough to be sure they weren't going to charge the place, John turned back to his team.

"Okay, you three take the back way out and head for the gate. I'll fire at them enough to keep them busy. With any luck, they'll think we're trapped in here until you've had time to get to the gate."

"What about you?" asked Teyla. John could already feel his teammates bristling at his suggestion and he was both annoyed and greatly touched by it.

"I'll be fine. Once you guys have a good enough head start, I'll throw a grenade or two out and then make a run for the back door. They'll have to approach carefully because they won't know if we're still here or not. That will give me time to get out the back and head for the gate."

"I'll stay and help you," offered Ronon.

"No, there's no need. Only one person can fire from this door and there are no windows. Good thing is they can't sneak up on me that way. You guys go and radio me when you get close."

"Colonel . . . " Rodney started, trailing off with a worried frown.

"Thanks, guys, but really, I'll be fine. This one is a no-brainer."

"Then you'll be fine because you're certainly qualified," said Rodney.

John grinned and was happy to see Rodney grin back, even if it wasn't completely sincere. "Gee, thanks McKay. Now go." Not waiting for an answer, he turned and fired a few rounds out the door to let his company know he was still watching. Ronon clapped him on the shoulder and Teyla came up beside him to give a small nod when he looked her way.

"Be safe, John," she said before following Ronon out the door. He flashed her a quick smile before she turned away and then he glanced at Rodney.

"Uh, don't wait too long. It's chocolate cake night and you know how your marines are about chocolate cake."

"We'll be home in time to sneak doubles," John promised.

"I'm holding you to that." Rodney stared at him a moment before hurrying out the door to catch up with his teammates. "Wait on me," John heard him call as he cleared the doorway.

Forty minutes later, John was nearly out of ammunition. The raiders had been getting braver and braver, making him have to fire at them more often. He sighed with relief when his radio activated.

"John, we are nearly to the gate and have encountered no resistance. You should leave now."

"Music to my ears, Teyla. I'm pitching out the grenades and heading out the back door. By the way, where exactly is the back door?"

"Follow the path Rodney and Ronon took around the cave. About halfway around you will encounter an opening in the rock wall. It is easy to miss, so stay close to the cliff. Follow the passage and it will lead you to an entrance. A rock fall has covered much of it, but you should have no trouble getting through. Rodney was able to get past." John thought he heard Rodney's voice in the background asking if that was supposed to be a fat joke.

"Will do," John answered with a laugh. Reaching into his vest, he pulled out two grenades, throwing one out the door to the right and the other to the left as he pulled the pins out. He ran for the door, reaching the hall as the first one exploded. A few steps later, he heard the second one go off, followed by people yelling. That should keep you guys busy for a few minutes.

Once he reached the cavern, his light again seemed pitifully inadequate and he made a mental note to get some stronger lighting for the future. He hurried as fast as he dared along the wall, wanting to put as much distance between him and the raiders as possible, while hoping once they discovered he was gone, they would be so happy to have control of the facility that they wouldn't pursue him. A few minutes later, he came to the hole in the rock face of the cliff. He'd almost walked right past it.

The sound of angry voices and crashing furniture from the front of the research station put a bit of hurry in his step and he jogged down the dark corridor, light from his P90 bouncing along in front of him. After a few minutes, there was a slight incline that led through a narrowing of the passage and then his way was filled with skinny steps carved into the rock. The stairway wound around in a spiral and the narrow steps were slippery with moisture, which was why after the rough equivalent of three flights he slipped and fell forward.

His knees and shins slammed into the rough front edge of the steps, as did his chest when he continued forward at an alarming rate of speed. Sprawled across the cold uneven stone, he lay panting and gritting his teeth in pain for a moment before twisting around to sit with his back to the wall. Listening for his pursuers, he tried to be quiet, but his quick breaths seemed loud in the narrow stairwell. When he was convinced no one was coming for him, he pushed himself to his feet and continued the long climb out, reaching an opening several minutes later. His radio activated and he plopped down on the top step, soaking in the sunlight while letting his eyes adjust to the change in brightness.

"John, we are approaching the gate. Where are you?"

"Just now finding my way out. You guys could have warned me about the steps," he said angrily, unsure of why they would not have relayed that important piece of information.

There was an uncomfortable pause before Rodney broke into the conversation. "What steps?"

John sighed and tapped his radio a little harder than was necessary. "You know, the million or so steps that are about five inches wide and slick as oil?" He was getting a bad feeling about this. How could Rodney not know what steps he was referring to?

"There are no steps, Colonel. Where the heck are you and why can you not follow simple instructions?"

"I followed directions," John said in a forceful whisper, still afraid to make much noise. "There must be two passages or at least two branches. How was I supposed to know that? I could barely see my hand in front of my face. Look, are you guys at the gate yet?"

"Ronon is dialing," Teyla said. "But we will stop and wait for you to catch up."

"Nah," John drawled. "You guys head back and I'll be there shortly."

"Sheppard, we aren't leaving you here," Ronon said.

John rubbed his face and let his hand drop to his side. His knees and shins ached, as did his hands, which he now noticed had been scraped up in his attempt at catching himself. "I appreciate the sentiment, big guy, but there's no need. Our friends don't seem to be after me, so they probably found the right way out, which means they might be on their way to you. I can pick my way back to the gate. Since I know those guys are out there, they should be easy to avoid."

There was another long, awkward pause in which John figured they were discussing their options. Finally Rodney came back on the radio. "Look, Colonel, we've been . . . what is that . . . is that the OW!"

"Rodney!" John called, pushing himself to his feet in spite of the fact that he was too far away to help.

"Sheppard, there's a couple of those guys headed this way and they're firing on us. They must have sent some back to keep an eye on the gate," Ronon said.

"What about Rodney? Is anyone hurt?" John asked anxiously, pacing around in front of the cave opening.

"A bullet grazed Rodney's hand, but we are alright for now. I am afraid we must go to avoid further injury."

John nodded at Teyla's assessment. "Go! This will be good for me because they'll think we're all gone, which means they won't be looking for me."

"But John, we cannot just leave you here," Teyla said. John could hear gunfire in the background and he knew they needed to get out of there.

"You aren't. Look, give me two hours and if I'm not back, send a rescue team."

"That's too long," said Ronon, the whine of his gun filling the spaces between his words.

"No it isn't. I still don't know where I am and I'll have to move carefully. Now go, that's an order," John barked.

John could almost hear the reluctance in Teyla's voice. "Be careful, John." Rodney screamed, "Remember the cake," in the background, making him smile as his radio went silent.

With a sigh, John finally looked around to see where he'd come out. He appeared to be at the top of the mountain. The ground was rocky, but shrubs and trees appeared farther down the slope. He walked around the area, trying to get his bearing so he'd know which direction to head. With no desire to listen to Rodney gloat about how he'd gotten lost twice on the same mission, he didn't start down until he was certain of his direction. Once that was settled, John began to make his way down the steep, rocky slope. A loud and bizarre roar made his head snap up as the sound seemed to vibrate through the trees below him. He waited for a while, but the sound was not repeated, so he slowly returned to his descent, now a little more nervous about what he might run into.

He was just entering the area where the concentration of trees was beginning to pick up when the cluster of stones beneath his feet gave way and sent him tumbling head-long down the hill. The world spun as sharp rocks jabbed and cut at him and the rough bark of a tree occasionally clipped his flailing arms. Then his head impacted something hard and the rest of trip went on without him.

oOo

John's first awareness was that everything hurt. Absolutely everything. From the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. He didn't really want to move, but his arm was smashed underneath him and his watch was jabbing him in the sternum. Taking stock of himself, he realized none of the pains were sharp or severe, more a collection of aches and bruises. With a groan, he pushed himself over on his back and squinted his eyes against the sun streaming through the breaks in the trees.

Lying still for several minutes, John finally forced his eyes open a little further and stared up at the canopy above. After a few minutes, he moved each limb in turn to check for broken bones and was relieved to find none. His right knee felt like he'd twisted it good, but it didn't seem to be anything severe. With a grunt, he levered his arms underneath him and pushed himself up to a sitting position. The flaring pain in his head combined with the dizziness that assaulted him told him one thing – concussion.

"Well, crap," he muttered to himself. When the forest stopped doing its impression of a tilt-a-whirl, John glanced at his watch to see how close to the two hour mark he was, but all he could see was the crushed glass covering the face. He wasn't surprised as much as he was disappointed. The adjacent cut on his forearm that was still bleeding made him pretty sure that he hadn't been out too long. With a sigh, he took out a field bandage and proceeded to cover the wound while marveling at his growing expertise at bandaging injuries one-handed.

When he was finished, John put his hand to his ear to look for the radio he knew wouldn't be there. As expected, he was two for two. A quick glance at the ground around him did not reveal the missing radio, but a long glance up the hill he'd just tumbled down did reveal that he wouldn't be searching for it. He figured he might as well head for the gate.

Using a large rock that was probably responsible for some of his bruises, John pushed himself to his feet and wobbled for a few moments. His body protested the vertical position with a bout of nausea and dizziness that any self-respecting concussion would be proud of. John gave himself his standard "buck up" speech, reminding himself that he was basically behind enemy lines with no backup for a while. The world finally settled and he stepped forward to his right knee reminding him that it was twisted and really didn't want to do the hiking thing right now.

"I could use a break here," John pleaded to no one in particular. A few limping steps later he had his gait established and was happy to find there were no sharp pains in his leg, just a heavy, abiding ache. He could do this. He'd walked further with worse before. Not lately, but he knew he could still do it. "Piece of cake," he muttered to himself. "And when did I start talking to myself?"

He moved at a pretty steady pace, following the side of the mountain as the rocky soil gave way to larger and more trees. The steep slope on his left evolved into a sheer cliff face until John stopped, staring at a large cave opening in a small clearing. The smell of death permeated the air and he could see scattered fragments of bones near the entrance, still twenty feet away. Looking up, he noticed the edge of the tree tops facing the cave looked scruffed and broken, making him shudder. He listened for several minutes, but could only hear the breeze through the trees and the sound of his own breathing. Shaking off the sense of foreboding, he decided now was a good time to veer away from the mountain and head for the gate.

His path began to slope downhill, which he saw as a good sign since their trail to the Ancient lab station had been uphill. His head was throbbing double time now and he kept swallowing to keep the bile at bay. The bobbing motion of walking was not helping either one and the uneven ground was giving his knee fits. John finally had to stop and lean against the trunk of a large tree. He twisted a little to reach for his water and that was enough to send the world spinning around and around until it finally just went dark.

oOo

John woke to something wet sliding across his cheek and he absently slapped at it with a groan. It seemed like only moments later that the wet feeling reappeared and this time he waved it away using his whole arm. When his hand struck something rough on the surface, yet soft and giving underneath, at about the same time as a high-pitched squeal cut the air, he jolted awake. Automatically scrambling back from whatever had been touching him, his back quickly met up with a tree trunk and stopped his progress. He sat panting for a moment, returning the stare of some kind of huge lizard. He rubbed his face vigorously when he realized the thing must have been licking him while he was out.

Staring at the animal, he slowly came to realize it wasn't a lizard. It was as big as a good-sized German Shepherd and covered with green scales that looked almost iridescent when the sun hit them. The snout was kind of blunt, with two little whisker looking things hanging down from opposite sides of the lower jaw. Ears were laid back low, like an animal that was nervous. The body was long and lean, almost like a mountain lion with scales, and a long tapering tail. A small row of ridges ran from between the creature's ears to about halfway down its tail. But the thing that really had control of John's attention was what appeared to be a pair of wings folded neatly over the creature's back.

Oh my god, it's a dragon. A real live wing-bearing dragon. What the crap? I've got to be dreaming . . . or maybe hallucinating. Yeah, it's the concussion.

Not daring to take his eyes from the creature, John leaned forward, trying to get a closer look. The animal's ears slowly rose until they were pointed at the sky and then it began to inch forward, its neck extended as far as possible. Hardly breathing, he watched as the creature crept forward until it could sniff of his boot. When John inadvertently moved a little, it jumped back and stared at him, making a small whimpering noise. It was the liquid green eyes and the whimpering that got to him.

"Hey, hey, it's okay," he said softly, extending his hand like he was trying to attract a small puppy or kitten. "I'm not going to hurt you." He sat like that until his arm was tired, but about the time he thought about giving up, the baby dragon began to creep forward again. What in the world am I doing, he asked himself. And then the animal licked his fingers and made a low growling sound in its throat before rubbing its head against John's chest. He couldn't help the broad grin that spread across his face.

He found himself petting the dragon. He was sitting in the middle of a forest, petting a baby dragon. How weird was this? "Need something to call you, girl," he said. She was a girl. Pausing, he thought about that. He knew, without a doubt, that she was a girl and he had no idea why. This was getting weirder and weirder. She licked him in the face and he turned away, chuckling as he pushed her out of his lap. "Okay, girl, enough of that."

Pushing to his feet before she had a chance to climb back in his lap, he stood staring down at the small green animal. She looked up at him like a family dog would and he shook his head in wonder. That was followed by a flailing grab for the tree to keep him from toppling over when the world stood on end. Oh, yeah, concussion. No more shaking my head. You'd think the headache from hell would be a constant reminder.

"Em," he said. "You're kind of an emerald green, so we could shorten that to Em . . . or maybe Emma. Yeah, I like Emma. Well, Emma, I've got to get back home before they send the troops after me. It was nice meeting you." With a final pat to her head, John began limping forward. His time on the ground had let his muscles stiffen and his aches take hold, including the one in his knee. After a few stumbling steps, he loosened up a bit and made better progress. At least until he realized Emma was following him.

When he stopped, the dragon ran forward to jump around at his feet, making squeaky growling noises. "You can't follow me home," he said, pleading with the animal. "I don't see Woolsey letting me keep you. I can see it now. Hey, Mr. Woolsey, this dragon followed me home, can I keep her?" John laughed thinking about the expression that would probably be on the man's face. "On second thought, it might be fun to try just to see the look on his face."

A roar from across the forest made the ground rumble and the trees around him seem to tremble. John swallowed hard. "Uh, would that be your mom? Because I really, really don't want an angry mother dragon after me. You'd better go home before we both get in trouble. Shoo!" John waved his arms at Emma, causing her to scramble backwards away from him. "That's right. You get home before mom gets upset."

Turning away, he began walking as fast as his sore knee would let him. He staggered a few steps when he turned too fast, but quickly regained his balance and surged forward. The sound of crashing leaves and brush behind him made him glance over his shoulder. Emma was running to catch up. "Damn it, Emma, you need to go home," he snapped, now beginning to worry. He stood there, watching her for a minute.

"It couldn't be that easy," he mumbled. Looking around, he stooped over to pick up a large stick. Breaking off a side branch so that it was straight, he threw it a short distance. Sure enough, Emma ran after it, returning it a moment later. "Good, girl, Emma, good girl." He threw it again, a little further. The next time Emma returned the stick, he threw it as far as he could in the direction they had just come. The instant the dragon went after it, he turned and ran, ignoring the complaints from his knee and his head and hoping like crazy he didn't have to stop to puke. He ran for several minutes before dropping down behind a large cluster of rocks. After a few moments, he peeked over the top, but there was no sign of Emma. Guilt pulled heavy at his heart as he got to his feet and continued on his way. "I had to do it. I'm sorry, Emma."

The next ten minutes, John tried to concentrate on getting back to Atlantis, but a small, green dragon kept popping into his head. He almost turned back to check on her, but then reminded himself that momma dragon was looking for her and it was best if he wasn't around when she found her. He wasn't sure what dragons ate for dinner, but he didn't want to chance it being him.

The high pitched scream startled him so much he almost tripped over the fallen limbs he was currently walking through. Freezing in his tracks, he shifted around and listened. A few moments later, the call was repeated, followed by a panicked trilling sound. He knew it was Emma. He felt her fear and it unnerved him slightly as he ran back the way he had come, all the while mentally telling her he was coming.

A few minutes later, he came upon two men wrestling with the terrified dragon. They had her pinned to the ground, laughing and hitting her as she struggled. "Let her go!" John yelled, bringing up his handgun to point at the men. Glancing at each other, the men complied, letting Emma go and bringing their hands up. The dragon scampered off to hide in some low brush while John dealt with her would-be captors. One of the men smiled and John swung around, catching the man behind him off-guard when he brought the gun around to the side of his head. He went down quickly, but before John recovered, he was tackled to the ground, the gun skidding through the leaves when he lost his grip.

Rolling away from the man who pummeled into him, John was halfway to his feet when the kick caught him in the right side, just under his ribcage. He was thrown to his back, the wind knocked out of him. Gathering his wits, he was just able to bring his knee up as one of the men jumped on him and kick the man in the chest, pushing him back. When the second man tried to attack, he rolled to the side and brought his leg around, sweeping them under the thug and knocking him down. A swift kick to the side of the head ensured the guy stayed down and left John going after the last raider.

Unfortunately, the man got in a shot to John's jaw as soon as he turned, making him stagger back. He expected another hit to follow, but instead he heard the guy yell and begin blabbering in another language. When John's head cleared, he saw Emma chewing on the guy's leg. With a big grin, he belted the distracted man as hard as he could and sent him sprawling in the dirt. Emma looked up and made a combination growl-purring sound that John took as her being pleased.

"Thanks for the assist. I guess we make a good team." Emma rubbed her face against John's leg.

Ten minutes later, John had all three men tied up and their weapons thrown as far into the forest as he could. They were still unconscious for now, but John wanted to be away from this place before they woke up. He glanced down at Emma, rubbing his aching head as he did so. His whole body seemed to throb in time with his heartbeat with his head hurting the worst. He really wanted to be in Atlantis, but he couldn't bring himself to leave the small dragon out in the open. He was fairly certain that the cave he had passed a way back was probably her home.

"I guess I'll have to take you home so your mom can protect you and hope we don't actually run into her." Emma seemed to know he was talking to her and jumped up a couple of times, chirping like a huge bird.

"Right. We'll just head that way then." He began walking toward the cave and Emma followed as he knew she would. "You do realize you're probably going to get me eaten, right? I mean your mom is probably going to think I dragon-napped you and be very angry. And I don't exactly speak dragon to explain everything to her, you know?" John glanced down at the beast and sighed. "I'm starting to ramble like Rodney."

His stomach twisted tighter and tighter as they got closer, until he was pretty sure he was going to puke after all. Stopping behind a tree, he could see the cave entrance thirty feet ahead. The stench of decay was heavy in the air, making his already unsettled stomach begin to buck. These guys weren't vegetarians, that was for sure. Studying the entrance, he saw no sign of movement. Emma scratched at his pant leg.

"Don't guess you'd just go strolling back in there for me, would you?" Emma just sat there looking at him. "No, I didn't think so. Well, here goes." With a deep breath and a slow swallow, John stepped out and slowly walked toward the cave entrance. Pausing in the doorway, he let his eyes adjust to the low light. Relieved when he still saw no signs of mother dragon, he walked in, Emma close at his heels. Ten feet in, the cave wall curved around to the left and revealed what looked like a huge nest of grasses and moss.

"Home, sweet, home," John muttered, walking up to the bedding. A slow scan of the cave revealed no sign of momma dragon, so John picked up Emma and set her back in the nest as far as he could reach. "You need to stay here, Emma, okay? It's dangerous out there. Stay here and wait for your mom. Please, Emma . . . don't follow me this time." She cocked her head at him and he thought maybe she frowned. Then her head jerked up and John felt the ground around him shake. Oh, crap.

John turned around very slowly, having no doubt that momma dragon was behind him. He was expecting her to be large and yet he was still surprised at her hugeness. She towered over him, her scales darker than that of her young, but still green. Her enormous snout was poised over his head, her breath stirring his hair. The adrenalin rush was so acute he thought it might cause his heart to explode for a moment. He'd been afraid when he flew the nuke into the hive ship. He'd been afraid, lying in the back of the jumper with the iratus bug attached to his neck. He'd been afraid when Todd was feeding on him. And none of those times could compare to this. Pure naked fear, through and through.

He envisioned the thing chomping his head off, like he'd seen in so many movies. Those same movies provided his imagination with a view of his headless body spurting blood everywhere before finally falling over. Would his team find his decapitated corpse or would the dragons eat him so that they never found anything? A loud snort brought his attention back to the moment at hand, along with the hot breath of the dragon as she bowed down closer. This was it. Maybe if he timed it right, he could roll forward and run through her legs and out of the cave. Right. Too many scifi movies. Still, he had nothing to lose by trying. Bracing himself, he crouched down and got ready to move.

He jumped back at the sudden motion in front of him, and momma dragon stepped back as well. Emma stood between them, jumping up and down and making strange chittering noises, punctuated by little high-pitched growls. He noticed momma dragon was paying close attention to her daughter and seemed to be ignoring him. Testing that theory, he slowly took a couple of steps back. There was no change in the large dragon's demeanor, so he took another step to the side. Engrossed in baby's story, she never seemed to notice John creep around her one step at a time. He was almost to the turn in the cave when he felt her eyes.

When he looked back, she was watching him over her shoulder. He waited, barely breathing, expecting her to come after him. But then the weirdest thing happened. She bowed her head, as if nodding at him, and then turned back to Emma, leaning over to lick the baby dragon until it squealed. His heart hammering away in his chest like he'd just run a marathon, John continued to walk out of the cave. As soon as he cleared the entrance, he began to run. Fifteen minutes later, he tripped over a tree root and went sprawling, giggling like some goofy kid that had just gotten away with the prank of the year. Then he was on his knees puking up the small amount he had in his stomach.

When he was finished, he crawled several feet away and then collapsed on the ground, laughing and panting and trying to catch his breath. When he'd finally stopped shaking, he lay there looking at the clouds through the canopy overhead. He'd thought nothing could shock him any more, but he'd been wrong. Very, very wrong. He thought about the dark green dragon and her apparent nod. Had he imagined that? Had it meant anything? Her eyes had looked intelligent, like she understood. Sitting up, he rubbed the side of his face. It didn't matter. He was leaving and he'd never see either of them again. Either Emma or . . . Ivy. Yeah, Ivy. She had been the color of the ivy growing on side of their neighbor's house when he was growing up.

He laughed as he got to his feet. Rodney would no doubt make fun of his names, insisting that dragons should have majestic names, not simple ones like Emma and Ivy. John didn't do complicated names. And he was the one who found them, so he got to name them. Suddenly he wondered if they already had names. He hadn't exactly thought to ask. What am I doing? I have totally lost my mind. I have got to get back to Atlantis while I'm still at least partially sane.

He staggered around for a few minutes like a drunk. If this day didn't end soon, he wasn't going to be able to move. Everything hurt and he briefly considered finding a sheltered place to rest and wait for his rescuers, but with raiders around, he knew that wasn't smart. He'd just have to keep going a little longer. He'd swung wide to go around the men who had attacked Emma, but apparently he didn't swing wide enough. He was halfway across a little clearing when six men came out of the trees and surrounded him. The guy who'd put the gun to his head before was in front of him now, rubbing his chafed wrist and not looking very happy.

"Friend, we meet again." His eyes narrowed as he studied the pathway behind John. "What did you do with the creature?"

John grinned. "I returned her to her mother. And mother dragon is huge, so I wouldn't mess with her if I were you."

"We want the animal back. We can make quite a profit off her in the right market. You will get her for us."

John's expression hardened and he clenched his fists. "No, I won't." He started to say more, but the raider hit him in the jaw, knocking him down. Two of the other raiders took turns kicking him several times before grabbing his arms and jerking him up to his feet. When the world swam back into view, the head raider hit him in the stomach and his legs gave way, sending him to his knees. Blood ran down his face from a cut over his eyes, mixing with sweat to partially blind him for a moment. When his head cleared enough he could see again, he was looking into the barrel of his own gun. How ironic.

"Since you will not help us, you are of no use. And you have caused us enough trouble. It ends now." He brought the gun to within an inch of John's forehead and the pilot realized there was no escape this time. His body was barely upright and he didn't have the energy or a clear enough head to get away. He might be able to fall over at the last minute, but that would only delay the inevitable. Glancing at the trees, he hoped for one of his team's last minute rescues, but nothing seemed forthcoming. Maybe his luck had finally run out. Looking back up at the beady-eyed thug, he decided he could at least greet death with attitude.

"Go to hell," he mumbled. The man grinned and tensed, readying to fire the gun. Then something huge and green dropped from the sky right behind the man and the next thing John knew, the guy had no head. Fascinated, John watched as bright red blood spurted up like a fountain. The body fell forward, spraying John with blood from the last couple of contractions before the heart registered that the man was dead. He couldn't move, just staring at the gory scene before him and thinking about how different it looked from the movies.

As he looked up at Ivy, she stared down at him. For some odd reason, he wasn't afraid. She wasn't here to hurt him, of that he was certain. She leaned forward and touched her snout to the top of his head and then sprang up into the sky. The bottom of her wings was a light greenish-silver color, shining metallic in the bright sun, almost blinding him for a moment. He watched her beautiful form until he could see her no more and suddenly wondered what it would be like to fly like that.

The sound of gunfire jerked his attention back and he looked around to discover that all of the raiders had fled. He was still on his knees, now covered in blood and he was simply too tired to move. Hearing a crashing sound, he looked up to the treeline to see Ronon come running out with Rodney close behind. Rodney stopped after a few feet and stared at him.

"Oh my god, he's bleeding out!"

John looked up at Ronon, who was now standing beside him. Ronon looked from John to the body and back to John. "Your blood or his?"

"His."

Ronon nodded as Rodney came up beside him and then gasped at the state of the body on the ground. "You cut his head off? How did you do that? That's just gross."

John looked at the headless body lying in a pool of blood. He could see muscles and bone and even the man's spinal cord. It was gross and yet he couldn't seem to look away. "Not me. Dragon."

"Did he say dragon?" Rodney's voice was the last thing John heard as the world darkened around him until it was no more.

oOo

John opened his eyes to Teyla's face smiling down at him. "John, how do you feel?"

"Kind of like I rolled down a hill, hit my head, and then got beat up. How are you?" After briefly arching one eyebrow, Teyla smiled and patted him on the arm. He was lying on the ground at the edge of the clearing. They had moved him away from the body and into the shade and someone's jacket was currently acting as his pillow. John pushed himself up to his elbows, then Rodney and Ronon were there, helping him sit up.

"Would you like some water?" When the world stopped spinning, John took the canteen from Teyla and drank a few sips. He was really hoping his throbbing head didn't explode because he'd had enough gore for one day. "Does anyone have a Tylenol?"

With a nod, Teyla pulled a blister pack from her vest and peeled the pills out for him.

"Thanks," he said, swallowing the pills with some more of the water. "I take it I took longer than two hours?"

"It's been more like four," said Rodney. "You didn't come back to Atlantis and then you wouldn't answer your radio. We got worried."

Rubbing his face, John realized someone had cleaned the blood from his face and hands, Teyla most likely. A bandage covered the cut on his head. "Yeah, I had a little accident involving the side of a hill and lost my radio." Movement caught his attention and he looked up to see Lorne joining the group.

"Colonel Sheppard, Sir. It's good to see you awake."

"Yeah, it's good to be alive to be awake. Kind of a surprise, too," John admitted. "So, what's going on?"

"We tracked you using your transmitter, but we couldn't bring a jumper because of all the trees. We ran into some gunfire just before we got here, but they seemed to be in a bit of a panic, so were easy to overcome." Lorne looked at the decapitated corpse in the clearing. "What happened here, Sir?"

"Did you say a dragon did that?" Rodney asked.

"Yeah, I did. Long story," he sighed. It really was going to be a long story and he was too tired and dirty and in pain to go into it here.

"We should get you back to Atlantis, sir," said Lorne, studying John closely. "You can fill us when after the doc takes care of you." Lorne was once again affirming himself as a really good second in command.

"I think I like that idea, Major," John said. "Help me up."

Ronon pulled him to his feet a little faster than his aching head could keep up with, but then steadied him when he staggered. After a few moments, he took a tentative step. "Okay, thanks. I'm good now." Ronon let go of his arm and they started forward with Ronon behind him and Rodney and Teyla beside him. His limp was a little more pronounced now that he'd spent the day further abusing his knee. His shins were also aching again, along with his side. Where was an infirmary bed when you really needed one?

"Seriously, a dragon?" Rodney questioned, obviously in disbelief.

"Yeah, that's what I said, a dragon." John glanced down, noticing the bandage around Rodney's left hand for the first time. "You okay?" he asked, pointing to Rodney's injured limb.

Rodney lifted his hand to look at it. "No, but Jennifer claims I will be eventually. Got grazed by a bullet while we were waiting for you at the gate." The scientist glanced at John and frowned. "You hit your head, didn't you? That must be it because there's no such thing as dragons."

"I would not be so sure," said Teyla. "My people have many stories about such creatures existing long ago on many worlds."

"No offense, but your people worship the Ancients too," said Rodney.

"My people have stories of these creatures as well," piped in Ronon.

"Well, we have myths about dragons in all kinds of cultures on Earth, but that doesn't make them real."

"Maybe we should keep an open mind about it, Dr. McKay," suggested Lorne. "The Colonel isn't exactly known to make stuff up."

"I'm not suggesting he is," said Rodney. "I think his head injury may have lead to some hallucinations."

John let them argue and discuss around him, their voices fading into the background as he concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Someone was doing demolition work inside his skull and between the fall and the beatings, his bruises had bruises. He just wanted a hot shower . . . a really hot shower and some pain medication and a bed. Maybe something to eat. His stomach alternately growled and threatened to expel everything again.

"We're here," said Rodney. John looked up to see the stargate and the relief felt like a weight lifted from his shoulders. Looking around, he realized they had picked up several soldiers on the way back and he hadn't even noticed. Not a good thing. Glancing at his team, he fidgeted at their worried looks. One of the marines was about to dial the DHD when Lorne pointed up to the sky.

"We've got something incoming."

All eyes went to the sky. Within moments, John knew what it was and smiled. "Stand down," he said to the men pointing their guns up to the approaching figure. "it's just Ivy coming to say goodbye."

"Who?" Rodney asked. Everyone but John stepped back when a huge green dragon dropped down in front of them.

John walked up to her as she dipped her head in greeting. The pain in his head was momentarily replaced by a tickle that was almost like an itch just beneath his skull. Ivy lowered her body to the ground and a small figure dropped off her back and ran to him. John bent over as Emma leaped into his arms, partially spreading her wings as she did so. Catching her, John snuggled her to his chest in a way that never felt comfortable with humans. She made that low growl-purr noise in her throat as John scratched behind ears. After a moment, he put her down. "You be good and mind your mom, you hear me?" Emma jumped around like an excited lemur for a moment and then scrambled back to her mother. Ivy helped her climb to her back and then turned to face John.

It seemed natural to walk up to the dragon and John wondered why he had ever feared her. He could feel her presence almost like he could feel Atlantis and it was comfortable and natural. She nodded at him again, like she had in the cave, but this time he felt no uncertainty about her meaning. Leaning down, she allowed him to touch the side of her snout. Their eyes met and he felt himself drawn into them.

"Thank you," he whispered. "And you're welcome. You and Emma keep safe."

She moved her face sideways, gently connecting with his arm and shoulder. Smiling, he patted her head and she snorted at him, blowing his hair back away from his face. "Me too," he said. Stepping back several steps to join his team, he stood with them as Ivy jumped up and took off, flying gracefully up to the clouds. For a moment he seemed to be one with her and John could feel the wind at his face and weightlessness of flight. "Bye," he whispered.

"There really is a dragon," Rodney said, his eyes wide as he continued to watch the sky.

"Yeah, Rodney, there really is. Let's go home." The sound of the DHD being dialed had never sounded quite so beautiful. Three steps into the gateroom, John's body decided it was time for a break.

oOo

When John opened his eyes, Jennifer Keller was smiling down at him. "I thought you might be waking up. How do you feel?"

John considered the question as he blinked his eyes to rid them of the pasty film that blurred his vision. He noticed the head of his bed began rising, but it quickly set off a bout of vertigo, so he squeezed his eyes shut and clutched the covers in an effort to ground himself. He must have zoned out for a few moments, because the next thing he knew the edge of a straw was poking him in the lip.

"Drink, Colonel."

Following the command, John swallowed several small sips before the supply was taken away. The water was cool and seemed to clear his head a bit, if not completely relieving the ache. Glancing down at himself, he noticed a clean bandage around his left forearm and his right knee was raised a bit due to the pillow underneath. He was sporting an IV in the back of his right hand, but no monitoring equipment and no catheter, thank goodness.

"So, you wanna answer that question now . . . the one about how you feel?" asked Jennifer.

John let his head rest back against the pillow. "Not bad, considering. My whole body aches and some guy with a pick-hammer is trying to break out of my head, but all in all, not as bad as I was expecting." Flexing his hand for a moment, he thought he felt the pull of stitches under the bandage. "What's the official verdict?"

Jennifer checked his IV line and then leaned her hip against the bed, crossing her arms. "Well, you have a mild concussion, thirteen stitches in your arm, another six in your head, and an absolute myriad of smaller cuts and bruises. Twisted your knee pretty good, as I'm sure you're aware. There was a little swelling, so we iced it earlier and I'm keeping it elevated for a bit longer. There's no sign of anything being torn or broken, so I'm thinking you overextended some tendons or ligaments. If you stay off it for a couple of days, it should heal quickly. And you will be staying off it," she added sternly.

"Nothing too bad, though, right?" he asked, ignoring the warning.

"No, nothing too bad this time. How about the head injury? Have you had any nausea or dizziness?"

John sighed, trying to decide how much to say. He wanted to get back to his quarters, but he knew head injuries weren't anything to mess around with. "Some nausea off and on, but not too bad. I had some dizzy spells, mostly when I stand up or turn around too fast or shake my head."

"Blackouts?" she asked, watching him closely. The way she was studying him, it was almost like she already knew the answer and was waiting to see if he would fess up. "I . . .uh, passed out a couple of times."

The doctor nodded, seemingly satisfied her patient was telling the truth. "You were pretty exhausted and a little dehydrated, so I'm sure that didn't help. You have a couple of bruised ribs as well."

"Yeah, got those right before my team found me. I had a little run in with a group of raiders and they didn't play nice."

"So I understand. I also hear you've been making some odd friends . . . like maybe a couple of dragons?"

John sank a bit lower in the bed, realizing that by now, everyone on base probably knew about the dragons. He hadn't anticipated the amount of attention such a thing would garner and one thing he really didn't like was being the center of attention. He was a lot more comfortable fading into the woodwork. "Uh, yeah, so it seems."

Jennifer chuckled, obviously enjoying his discomfort at the subject matter. "Don't worry, Colonel. The excitement will fade soon enough. In the Pegasus Galaxy, something new comes along almost every week."

Well, that was true. "I guess, doc, if you say so. Hey, how long have I been here and where is my team?"

Twisting her wrist, Jennifer looked at her watch. "They brought you in almost five hours ago. As to your team, they gave Mr. Woolsey a brief summary of what happened and have been here with you until a few minutes ago. I sent them to fetch supper before they finish serving. Are you hungry?"

Aware of the rumbling in his very empty stomach, John patted the region. "Actually, yeah. I haven't eaten since breakfast this morning."

"How's the nausea right now?"

John grimaced, considering the conflicting messages being sent by his stomach. "Well, I'm hungry . . . but things are a little unsettled right now. I'm not sure if it's the concussion or the fact that my stomach is so empty that it's threatening to digest itself."

Jennifer nodded, as if she had anticipated his answer. "One is about as likely as the other. I told them to bring you back something simple in case you were hungry." She smiled briefly. "All I can suggest is to eat slowly so if things start to go downhill, maybe you can keep from throwing it all back up."

"Gee . . . thanks," John said dully.

The physician shrugged her shoulders. "Sorry, Colonel, best I can do. Although if things do take a turn for the worse, I can give you something to help." They both turned at the sound of approaching people to find John's team entering the infirmary armed with trays of food. "Looks like your team is here. Remember, take it slow and easy until you see if things are going to stay down. You'll be due for more pain meds in a while, so I'll be back."

"I can do that," John said, grinning at his team as Keller nodded to them and left.

"Hey, the dragon master is awake," quipped Rodney.

"Funny," John responded. "What'd you bring me?"

"And hungry," said Teyla with a smile. "Does that mean you are well?"

John shrugged his shoulders. "Mostly. Kind of sore and I've got a wall banger of a headache, but I figure it could be a lot worse."

Rodney snorted. "Yeah, at least you still have your head."

"True," John replied, watching Ronon set a tray on the rolling bed table and slid it over his lap.

"Turkey sandwich, some potato casserole, and orange jello," the Satedan reported.

John frowned. "Orange jello? Who eats orange jello?" he asked, noticing no one else had any on their tray. "What happened to the chocolate cake?"

"All gone, Mister Always-a-crisis who makes us miss chocolate cake to rescue him," complained Rodney.

"That's Colonel Always-a-crisis to you, McKay."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. All I know is we missed dessert," muttered Rodney. Looking up, he pointed his fork at John. "And for that, I want to know all about the dragon. Were you actually talking to that thing, because it looked like the two of you were old friends from high school comparing notes at a ten-year reunion or something? Why didn't that thing eat you like it did that raider guy . . . well, at least his head."

"Rodney!" Teyla snapped. "We are trying to eat. Could we not talk about people getting eaten right now?"

John almost choked on his sandwich and had to swig water in order to wash down the offending bite.

"Fine, I'm sorry," Rodney said. "I never figured you for the squeamish type." He dropped the bite that was halfway to his mouth with a jerk when Teyla kicked him in the side of the ankle. "Ow!"

Keller appeared quickly with her hands on her hips. "What is going on in here? I'm beginning to feel like a kindergarten teacher. Can you people behave or do I need to kick you out?"

"We will behave," said Teyla, sliding her eyes over to Rodney. "Right, Rodney?"

"Yes, we'll be good, okay? You people are dangerous." He quickly stuffed a bite in his mouth and began chewing furiously, refusing to look up or make eye contact with anyone. Jennifer sighed, threw up her arms, and went back to her office.

"Have you noticed we seem to have that affect on people?" asked John, remembering all the times Carson had done much the same thing.

"No idea what you mean," Ronon said between bites.

"Me either," said Rodney. Cautiously looking up to make sure Jennifer was gone, he glanced back to John. "So, are you going to tell us about the dragons?"

"I would like to hear about the creatures as well, John, but you may eat first," said Teyla.

John set his sandwich down. He was about three bites in and his stomach was beginning to sway a bit. He didn't really feel nauseous, but he thought maybe he needed to stop for a few minutes and let things settle before he ate any more. After a drink of water, he capped the bottle and looked around at his team. He almost laughed at their curious expressions and he wondered how he would explain something he didn't really understand himself.

But then he realized that it didn't matter. He could tell them what had happened without analyzing how much communication had actually taken place between him and Ivy. When Rodney started asking the hard questions, he could just honestly reply that he didn't know. What he did know was that he wanted to go back one day to check on Emma and Ivy.

"You have this really silly grin on your face," said Rodney with a knowing smile. "You want to ride her, don't you? Like in that book that came out not long ago . . . what was that . . . Eragon?"

John poked his potato casserole with his fork, trying to hide the smile that was forming. He had wanted to ride her, to feel the wind on his face instead of just imagining what it would be like. He wanted to touch the clouds. He wanted to fly without being surrounded by metal and glass, buffering him from the real sensations of flight. Imagining it, he couldn't help but wonder if it was possible. "Maybe."

They ate quietly for a few more moments before Teyla broke the silence. "Do you think that is possible?"

"I have no idea," John said, but he was already making plans to try.

"We could, um, go back . . . you know . . . to the planet. Check things out," offered Rodney.

"Really?" John asked.

"Would Woolsey allow that?" asked Ronon. "There weren't any power sources or weapons or anything your IOA would want."

"Who says?" asked Rodney with a waggle of his eyebrows. "The Ancients were obviously interested in dragons, so there must be some value. I think we might need to go back for another look."

"You'd do that?" John asked, staring at Rodney. He knew the man hadn't been fond of the planet. And Rodney generally wasn't fond of going anywhere that didn't hold the promise of technology or a power source.

"Sure," Rodney said, waving his fork through the air as if it was no big deal. "But only if you tell us everything that happened from the time we left the research station."

John grinned, already excited by the prospect of seeing Emma and Ivy again, as well as the hope of getting to fly with them. "I can do that, but you probably aren't going to believe half of it. I'm not sure I do."

"Try us," Ronon said between bites.

So John proceeded to tell his team the tale of how he came to be friends with a pair of dragons.

THE END