THE BLACK LAKE
By TIPPER


CHAPTER SEVEN: JENNIFER AND THE GIANT SQUID

Sheppard's P90 pointed towards the water; she could see him visibly trembling from the exertion of staying focused, of keeping his weapon trained for the return of the giant squid like creature.

She could do nothing for the bruising on his throat or the pain he was in, since he'd refused the morphine. She was also concerned at how loud his wheezing was. He'd been bitten three times, and his neck had swelled where he'd been bitten by the first scorpion. He was on the verge of collapse—how he was even still standing was beyond her.

Ronon had slid down off his rock to sit on the ground, leaning his back against it now as he gamely tried to keep an eye on the wall for scorpions. They'd begun to gather again, though more slowly, as if more cautious.

Rodney was asleep again. He'd slipped under almost as soon as he'd been told Teyla was safe.

Jennifer paced, holding the 9MM close to her. Sheppard had tried to repair the jammed P90 she'd had before, but the firing mechanism inside had busted. All she had now was the Beretta. It felt too small.

Hell, who was she kidding.

If that squid came back, or if the scorpions attacked, it wouldn't matter if she had the P90 or not—they wouldn't survive another round.

She stopped next to Sheppard, glancing up at him. He didn't look back. God, he looked horrible, almost zombie-like in pallor.

"Colonel…," she began. She wanted to ask him to take a rest, to sit down and let her keep watch.

"I'm fine," he whispered. "I don't need a rest."

Damn. She hated being that obvious. "Five minutes," she suggested. "I'd feel better if you used some of the oxygen. It's not helping your concentration being like this. It'll help clear your head."

His eyes pinched.

"I can watch the water," she promised. "Go sit with Rodney."

"He needs that oxygen."

"He'll be fine for a few minutes. Plus, he's resting. You're not. You need it more right now."

He glanced at her askance.

"Besides," she said, gesturing towards the water, "it might not come back."

His eyes narrowed. "It'll come back."

She frowned. "Not necessarily. We hurt it pretty badly. Any rational creature wouldn't return for more abuse."

He snorted. "Doc, there's no life in this lake other than that thing. I don't know what it's been eating, probably dead scorpions, but I'm thinking we have to look pretty good right now compared to such mean pickings. There's no rationality when you're that hungry."

Jennifer looked down, not disagreeing. If he was right, they were screwed.

But, even so, that didn't contradict the fact that he needed rest.

"Say you're right," she said, lifting her chin, "odds are it won't come back in the next five minutes. You need a break."

He closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again. "Fine." He unhooked the P90 from his chest. "Trade."

She nodded, taking the machine gun and handing him the 9MM. He had another Beretta strapped to his thigh, but he obviously felt better with two. Jennifer clipped the P90 to her chest and rested it on her arms.

Sheppard patted her shoulder before moving to settle down next to Rodney, sharing a little of the other man's body heat to keep them both warm. Keller watched for a moment, making sure the colonel did in fact close his eyes, and then turned her gaze to the black lake.

She lost track of time a little bit then, her eyes never leaving the water, looking for anything that might signal another attack. Fairytales of kraken and giant squid monsters filled her head, despite her commanding her mind to stay on what was real.

Christ, real? She was trapped between a giant squid and a ceiling full of scorpions in another galaxy…what the hell did real even mean anymore? Homer had nothing on this Scylla and Charybdis.

Although, wasn't Scylla a kraken of some kind?

She tried to remember how Odysseus had made it through the straits. She had a terrible feeling that he did so only by losing all of his men. No, no, no-she had to be remembering it wrong. After all, she had read the Odyssey in high school, and that mostly via cliffs notes. Maybe it was only a few….

To hell with that, she wasn't losing any. This wasn't an epic. This was happening. Focus, Jennifer! It's just a big squid. And those are just bugs. They're as real as you are and they can be beaten.

Why didn't that make her feel any better?

Probably because beating them seemed impossible with just one machine gun.

She sighed. Maybe there was something useful about squids she could remember from that marine biology class she'd audited. Let's see….squids are supposed to be highly intelligent and….yeah, that's about all she could remember. Oh. And they have ink sacs. Most of them. They're also peaceful creatures…on Earth.

This wasn't Earth.

She wondered vaguely if this creature had an ink sac. Of course, it was so dark down here, it probably wouldn't do it much good if it did.

The thought of how dark it was had her considering what sort of battery life the lanterns had. They were LED flashlights that converted into lanterns, and, presumably, they had a long life—but how long was long? They were doing their part to keep the scorpions back—she didn't want to think what might happen if they went out.

They also only had one small bottle of rubbing alcohol left, to act as a bomb. It had taken two alcohol bombs to hold them off last time, and one of them had been a pretty large bottle. All they had left was the equivalent of a travel sized bottle.

She turned and looked up at the cavern wall, studying the movements of the bugs. Not as many…but they were definitely preparing to try again. They'd been repairing the ladder while Ronon was watching.

Her gaze shifted to the Satedan, expecting to see him alert as ever.

She frowned when she saw his blaster loose in his hand.

"Ronon?"

When she didn't get a response, she jogged up to his little perch…

"Oh crap. Ronon?"

He was unconscious. There were several bite marks on his arms, all swollen. Oh god. Why hadn't he said anything about being bit? Stupid question, she realized, because he was Ronon. She pressed her hands to his neck, relaxing only when she felt the pulse. Weak, thready, but there. His breathing was shallow, however—like he was struggling to breathe.

"Ronon," she called, gripping his upper arm, "wake up."

He didn't respond. Her brow knitted. "Ronon!" Nothing.

"Colonel!" she called, standing up and looking back to the water's edge. "Colonel, I need…."

She trailed off, her jaw opening in shock.

The squid loomed up out of the water, staring down at her. It was absolutely enormous, more so now that she could see its massive head. Its head alone was as big as UPS truck—it could probably swallow all four of them whole without chewing.

"Shit," she whispered. How did she not hear it? Or see it?

Slowly, quietly, she stepped away from Ronon and closer to the creature, gripping the P90 tightly in her arms. Her finger ached to pull the trigger, but knowing it wouldn't be enough…she had to find another way.

The squid's eyes, if that's what you could call them, contracted and turned, following her every move.

Trying to breathe as quietly as possible, she sidled over to where the colonel and Rodney were. She frowned to find both of them asleep. Rodney she could understand, but Colonel Sheppard? He hadn't stirred at all when she'd called—something was very, very wrong.

Still watching the creature, who was still watching her, she knelt down and pressed a hand to the colonel's shoulder and shook him.

Nothing. He was out. He hadn't even managed to slip the oxygen mask on – it was loose in his hand, unused.

The scorpions venom, it must have had a soporific effect as well as paralytic. It was the only explanation. She'd only been stung once, and though it had made her tired (something she'd attributed more to the aftereffects of adrenalin shock), she'd recovered fairly quickly, being healthy. Ronon and the colonel….

She was really, really hating those bugs right now.

The squid shifted slightly, and she watched in horror as the tentacles closest to her started to snake forward. They did so slowly, as if testing her.

She couldn't fight it off on her own.

"Rodney," she called softly, reaching over to touch his shoulder as well. But he didn't answer. He'd probably wake up again once she started firing, but what could he really do? It had taken all three of them before to…

Horror filled her as a new sound grew in intensity behind her. Chittering.

She turned on her haunches and glanced over her shoulder at the wall. Little black bugs were scuttling down the ladder, more and more of them pouring out of the nest from the ceiling.

The scorpions—they knew.

She let out a trembling breath and returned her attention to the kraken. It stopped moving when it saw she was looking at it again, but the tentacles were closer, quivering with anticipation. And she knew, staring into its blank "face" that Sheppard was right: this creature was starving. It had probably been living on carcasses of dead scorpions for years, once it ate everything in this underground cavern. Before the scorpions had finished their nest, it had probably been someplace else, someplace more alive, but, for whatever reason, it had found its way in here, and it had run out of food.

Jennifer licked her lips and pulled off the small bandage she'd put on her face after the first attack.

It was up to her now. The four of them had held off these monsters before, but this time it was just her.

And she only had one idea.

She glanced at the bandage, at the blood on it, and prayed to god that this worked.

Her free hand found the oxygen canister, and she taped the bandage to it, inside out. Standing, she hugged the canister close, then bent over and rolled it towards the squid.

The chittering behind her was getting louder. She didn't dare look.

Tentacles tested the cool metal container. The kraken was clearly not pleased…until it touched the still warm bandage. She didn't know exactly how octopi and squid found food, but she hoped, prayed…that this one had never been introduced to the concept of bait.

She stood completely still, trying to blend into the rock behind her.

The squid played with the canister for about ten seconds, then, in a sudden movement that caused Jennifer to flinch, it grabbed the canister and drew it close to its head, as if to eat it.

And that's when Jennifer opened fire.

...


...

John jerked awake at the massive explosion, covering his head as chunks of something wet and heavy landed on top of him at the same time that someone threw themselves over him. Keller was using her body to protect both his and Rodney's heads, but he couldn't breathe! He pushed up.

"Doc! Doc, get off!"

She was shaking.

"Doc!" he called, pushing up at her thin frame. "Doc, enough!"

And that's when he realized that she was laughing. Hysterically. As she slid off him, bits of slimy and bloody chunks of squid falling off of her, she pressed a hand to her chest, laughing so hard she didn't look like she could even breathe.

"Keller!" Sheppard shouted, grabbing one of her wrists. "Keller, snap out of it!"

She blinked, laughing in hiccups now, and still grinning like an idiot. Tears ran down her face, and she hastily tried to wipe them away.

"Colonel?" she asked, staring at him in wonder. "Are you okay?" She sniffed as she spoke, wiping pink goo across her face. She reached a hand forward. "You were out cold."

He backed away from the slime covered appendage, nodding. He didn't deny her statement—his head felt like someone had packed it with black wool—but whatever was dripping off of her was not something he wanted to come into contact with anytime soon.

Of course, as he said that, he realized he was mostly covered with the stuff himself. Only his head was free of gook—because Keller had dived on top of him and Rodney to protect them.

Rodney…glancing to his right, he found Rodney blinking up at them both, looking thoroughly confused.

"One hell of sneeze," the scientist said cryptically, before closing his eyes again and apparently going back to sleep.

John snorted a laugh. A sneeze. He would say that. He looked again at Keller, who had managed to get to her feet, though she was swaying dangerously. She was looking up at the cavern wall.

The colonel followed her gaze, and lifted an eyebrow. Chunks of squid were dripping down the slick black rock….but there wasn't a scorpion in sight.

His brow furrowed in amazement, and he looked up at the doc. "What did you do?" he asked.

She smiled dreamily. "I blew it up," she said. "Rodney and Ronon would be so proud." She blinked slowly…drunkenly…and popped open her hands. "Boom." She grinned. "Instant calamari."

Uh oh.

Sheppard pushed his aching body to stand, just as Keller started to list strongly to the left. Catching her, he helped her sit down on a outcropping and turned to survey the area.

Sure enough, the water was filled with dead squid, a messy, smelly, floating pile of dead flesh. Lovely.

Keller didn't protest as Sheppard unclipped the P90 from her chest and then handed back the 9MM. She just blinked slowly again. How close to the explosion had she been?

"I think it's your turn to rest," he said, patting her on the shoulder. "You did good, doc."

She smiled. "I blew it up," she said again.

"Yes," he said. "Yes, you did."

Her smiled faded then, and she blinked some more as he brow knitted. "But there was something else. Something…."

"The explosion scared off the bugs as well," Sheppard said, thinking that must be what she meant. "We're good for now."

"No," she frowned. "No. You were out cold. You and…," she blinked and her eyes widened. "You and Ronon. Is he okay? Ronon!" She tried to stand, but her legs gave out, and she ended up in a heap at Sheppard's feet. Holding out a hand to stop her from trying to stand again, he sought out the Satedan.

Ronon was still sitting against the rock, facing the wall. He didn't look like he'd moved.

Frowning, Sheppard climbed up the rock to his friend's side, kneeling down when he found Ronon completely relaxed. Too relaxed. Only the weak rise and fall of Ronon's chest stopped him from freaking out.

"Ronon?"

No response.

"Ronon? Can you hear me?"

"He needs to be watched if he won't awaken," Keller said, pushing back to her feet. "He might stop breathing because of the venom."

John frowned. "Ronon," he cajoled, touching Ronon's arm. "Wake up, buddy. Come on."

Still nothing. John's frown deepened. Fine.

"Ronon!" he barked. "Wake up!"

Ronon's breathing hitched, his body flinching, and then his brow knitted in annoyance. With obvious reluctance, his eyes opened to narrow slits. "Go away, Sheppard," he muttered.

John smiled goofily. "You doing okay?"

Ronon just frowned, and gamely tried to open his eyes wider. He succeeded when he saw where they were, stiffening and bringing the blaster up. His jaw dropped much in the same way John's had when he saw the bits of squid sliding down the wall.

He turned big eyes on John. "What…?"

"Keller blew up the squid."

He absorbed this with a slow blink, and then his face screwed up in disappointment. "And I missed it?"

John just grinned.

...


...

CHAPTER EIGHT: TEYLA BRINGS THE LIGHT

John rubbed a hand down his face, trying to fight the drag of exhaustion plaguing him. Falling asleep was dangerous. If either he or Ronon fell asleep, they might not wake up again, and Keller would be alone keeping watch against whatever might still be hunting them. The lake had been quiet for the last fifteen minutes, as had the scorpions, but John never trusted anything in this galaxy. He'd bet even odds that there was more coming.

Rodney was also fighting to stay awake, propped up against a rock, trying to cobble together a radio that could penetrate whatever was blocking the signal. His color was still very gray and his coughing was painful to listen to, and the way Keller's face hardened whenever she checked his vitals, John knew he was worsening.

But what else could they do?

He headed over to Rodney's side, glancing at the radio in the scientist's hand. Rodney was piecing it back together, hands shaking as he worked the tiny parts into one whole.

"Is it going to work?" John asked.

Rodney didn't even look up. "Not enough."

John waited for more, for a patented Rodney tirade, but Rodney didn't oblige. Finally, John just nodded and turned away, to head back to his watch from the section closer to the water.

"The lights," Rodney said quietly, stopping John mid-step.

"What?"

"The lanterns you have placed around us," Rodney continued, his voice still a low croak, "I assume it's to keep the scorpions at bay."

"Yes. They don't like the light. Anything we can do to hold them up."

Rodney snorted. It sounded vaguely disdainful, so John arched an eyebrow and asked, "You have a problem with our being able to see? I thought you liked seeing."

Rodney lifted a trembling hand to wipe across his forehead, and then looked up at John with sunken eyes. He shrugged and shook his head once.

"I do. Doesn't matter. Rock and a hard place. Better to have light." He looked down again at the radio.

John frowned, not understanding. "Explain that."

Rodney sighed, coughing slightly at the end. "Just…," he coughed again, "Earth squid are attracted to light, particularly flickering light—like flames. The burning nest was probably like a great big 'come and get 'em while their hot' sign." He coughed vigorously, covering his mouth with his elbow.

John huffed a disbelieving laugh. "Oh, great," he replied. "Really great. That is so information I could have used an hour ago."

Rodney snorted again, smiling faintly, and returned to fiddling with the radio. Keller chose that moment to slide down next to them, and she rested a hand on Rodney's forehead. He didn't duck away, which showed just how tired he was. John backed away before she could do the same to him—he was beginning to grow paranoid with the attention. Climbing back to Ronon's perch, he grabbed a sack and started sorting through what they had for food.

"Colonel?"

Keller's tone was scared, and John hated himself for being right about this lake not being done with them yet. Standing, he looked in her direction. She was on her feet next to Rodney, staring out across the black lake. Rodney was looking the same way, his shoulders bunched.

For a moment, all John could see floating on the lake were the dead bits of squid.

Then a piece disappeared.

He flinched. Something had sucked down a piece of dead tentacle. He tapped Ronon's leg with his foot, and his friend twisted around from his watch on the scorpions' nest, already pointing his blaster towards the water.

Another piece of squid disappeared. Hunh. Funny thing, it was nowhere near the place where the first piece had gone under.

"Hang on," Rodney croaked, obviously questioning the same thing. "Why grab a piece so far away from—"

More dead squid disappeared, sucked down in two completely separate locations simultaneously.

"Oh god," Keller muttered. "Do you think…," she paused to lick her lips nervously, "do you think this one is bigger?"

John shook his head. "No." He already knew. He'd finally caught sight of what was eating the squid.

"No?" she repeated, looking at him.

"No," John said, swallowing thickly. "There's more than one."

Keller's response to that was almost amusing—her mouth worked, but no sound came out.

"I hate this place," Ronon growled.

"Couldn't agree more," John nodded. "Any luck on that radio, Rodney?"

"Not so much," Rodney said, reaching a hand up to Keller, so she could help him stand. "I think I just made the static louder." Keller grabbed his hand and, with a grunt, helped the scientist to his feet. He still leaned against the rock, looking as weak as a kitten, but he had put the radio down and was checking the magazine in his 9MM.

Keller sniffed, holding the other 9MM tightly in a white knuckled grip. She stayed right next to Rodney, almost touching his arm with hers, and John suspected that she wouldn't leave him, or he her. As if to prove the point, Rodney bumped her arm softly and smiled faintly in encouragement, earning a sweet smile from her in return. Yeah.

Ronon breathed out heavily, coughed, and lifted his blaster to point more directly at the closest point where the water was being disturbed.

"Ready?" he asked the colonel. John shook his head, but lifted his P90 to point towards the other location.

"Let's see," he said. "We're facing certain death for the third—"

"Fourth," Ronon corrected.

"-Fourth time in a matter of hours," Sheppard continued, "and we're all dying slowly by degrees at the same time." He smirked. "Who wouldn't be ready?"

"I'm not," Rodney snorted, his voice a froggy croak. "I hate certain death. Have I ever mentioned that before?" He coughed slightly, before continuing. "I'd really like to stop facing it every day, if you don't mind. Can you do something about that, Sheppard? I'm thinking we should ask Woolsey to write a letter. Dear Pegasus, enough with the certain death already, how about a nice plate of cookies instead?"

"Chocolate chip," Ronon said.

"Peanut butter," Jennifer added.

"Molasses," Rodney whispered longingly. "Honestly, would that be so hard?"

Sheppard had to laugh, resulting in a harsh coughing fit. He was wheezing like an old bagpipe, and his throat felt like it was on fire, but he was still grinning when it was over.

He caught Rodney's eye, and gave a nod.

Rodney gave him a single nod in return, and the ghost of a sad smile.

It was a goodbye.

Suddenly, the radio next to Rodney burst into life, causing the scientist to jump. At almost the same time, a massive gray colored tentacle burst out of the water, followed swiftly by several more, all diving for John and Ronon.

John started firing, his ears filling with the screaming of Ronon's blaster, his machine gun fire, and the loud clap of a 9MM….and Rodney's hoarse voice yelling, "Yes! Yes! GET DOWN HERE NOW!"

And then there was light.

...


...

"Get down!" Keller shouted, her voice somehow carrying over all the noise and almost blinding sunlight streaming from above. John immediately ducked, grabbing Ronon by the shoulders and pulling him down and around a rock.

The whine of a drone screamed overhead….

And the black lake exploded over them, sending water and squid bits everywhere.

John breathed hard, holding Ronon down as he waited for his ears to stop ringing.

"Colonel Sheppard!"

His head lifted at the clear transmission over the radio on his shoulder, and of the beautiful voice. He fell sideways and scrambled to grab the walkie talkie, pressing the response button almost too hard.

"Teyla?"

"Colonel!" she sounded relieved and elated. "Colonel, are you and Ronon alright?"

"I…" he looked down at the man lying next to him, and found Ronon grinning back. "Yes," he said, grinning himself as he stood on wobbly legs. "Yes, we're fine." He looked out across the black lake, which looked a lot less black now that almost a third of it was open to the blue sky above. Bits of nest and drowning scorpions floundered on the surface.

The Jumper had clearly just crashed through the nest somewhere in the middle of the lake, taking a huge chunk down with it, and it now hovered directly in front of the shelf of rock he, Ronon, Jennifer and Rodney were standing on. That, and the woman beaming at him through the front window, were two of the most beautiful things he had ever seen.

He glanced across at Rodney and Jennifer, both of whom were standing as well, though Jennifer was clearly holding Rodney up. The scientist raised a hand and waved at Telya, who waved back.

"We're going to swing around and pick you up," Teyla said then, still speaking through the radio.

"No arguments here," John said. As he watched, the Jumper pulled a one-eighty and backed up, the rear hatch lowering and hitting the rock within moments. Sheppard was about to reach down to help Ronon when a posse of marines and medics boiled out of the small ship and descended on him and the others. Before he knew it, Teyla was hugging him and helping him settle on a bench.

"You're okay, too?" he asked, noting the scratches on her face and filthy uniform. She nodded.

"I am fine."

"She's better than fine, sir," Major Lorne called back from the pilot seat, "she's a big damn hero."

John smiled, nodding at Teyla, who had blushed at the compliment. "Well, she sure saved our asses, Major."

"Oh, not just you, sir," Lorne said, "she rescued nearly fifty people off the Hive as well."

John's eyebrows lifted, not sure to be worried or impressed. Teyla shrugged.

"I will explain later," she promised, before he could ask. "But first…." She turned to look at Rodney, who was sitting opposite them, being forced to wear an oxygen mask again by Keller. "Rodney," Teyla called. "I think I found the edge of the Ancient mining facility you were looking for before, or, rather, the roof."

Rodney looked up, blinking back tears of exhaustion. He tried to pull the mask off to answer her, but Keller slapped his hand away.

"You can speak with it on," she said. He gave her a small glare, which turned to chagrin when she simply arched an eyebrow in return. He sighed.

"What do you mean, a roof?" Rodney asked Teyla.

"I fell on it," Teyla said, pointing generally upwards. "I believe the structure was overgrown and buried over time, but may have been partially above ground at one point. The roof I found was not unlike some of the larger storage facilities on Atlantis."

"It's near here?" Rodney asked.

She nodded, and gestured for him to stand and join her in the front. With Keller's help, Rodney did so, followed closely by John, who leaned heavily against the bulkhead as Rodney slipped into the front passenger seat. Ronon tried to join them as well, but was held down by the medic working on his leg.

Teyla stood between Lorne and Rodney and pointed upwards, to the small hole that John and Keller had seen Teyla create, but apparently, hadn't fallen all the way through.

Rodney followed her finger, and then leaned forward and started to key in commands on the console.

The HUD popped up, alive with color and light. Rodney grinned behind the oxygen mask, and turned to look at John.

"The entrance is down here," he said. "She's right. This cavern must have been a canyon before the scorpions hid it. The facility is right in front of us, and so is the front door."

John straightened. "Life signs?"

If possible, Rodney's grin grew even wider. "Almost 350. All human, and all still very much alive."

Teyla turned to look at John, as did Keller. Rodney lifted his eyebrows, waiting. John had to lower his head to hide the grin of relief on his face.

"So," Ronon called gruffly from the back. "What are you waiting for? Break the damn thing open already, Sheppard, and let's get the hell out of here!"

John laughed.

God, he loved his team.

...


...

John awoke some time later to the soft beep of the infirmary and the quiet hum of familiar voices, feeling comfortable and warm and dry. He blinked his eyes open and looked to his right, where he could hear a heart monitor steadily beeping. Rodney slept in the next bed over, his head turned away from John. The colonel smiled warmly. His sense of well-being grew as he tuned in more to the soft conversation going on nearby—it was that conversation that had really woken him up.

"Seems like a good thing to me," Ronon was saying. "I think you should take it."

"I do not need it," Teyla replied. "I do not do what I do for accolades."

"So what? None of us do. Doesn't mean they're not nice to get."

Teyla sighed. "I'm not denying that it is nice of Mr. Woolsey to offer it. I just don't like to be singled out."

"You're already singled out." Ronon shifted on the bed, probably shrugging. "If it does anything, it'll help you fit in better with them."

"Fit in? But—"

"You also sort of deserve it."

Teyla sighed again. "Now, that I do not believe. Why do I deserve it?" she asked. "The people here risk themselves every day. I am no more special than anyone else."

"I think you are," Ronon replied, and John could hear the small smile in his voice. Teyla laughed softly.

"Of course you do. It's just that…oh…hang on…."

John opened his eyes more and tilted his head towards the voices. He was in time to see Teyla lift Torren up on her shoulder and burp him while Ronon watched. The baby dutifully gurgled, and, when it spotted John looking at him, smiled brightly. John smiled back and waved. Torren watched him a moment longer, then ducked his head, burying it deeper into the crook of Teyla's neck, though his eyes remained fixed on the colonel.

Ronon caught the wave and sat up more in his bed. He grinned.

"Hey, Sheppard."

John smiled. "Hey, Ronon." His throat felt like sandpaper, and his whole body ached, but he was too happy to care. "Hey, Teyla."

She turned around and faced him, still bouncing Torren on her shoulder. "Colonel." Her smile would have melted mountains. "It is good to see you finally awake. We had begun to grow worried."

He arched an eyebrow. "Have I been asleep for a while?" As he said the question, he realized it was partially answered by the fact that Ronon's face was no longer half pulverized. Just the faint edges of the bruising he'd received still remained. That meant it had to have been-

"A few days," Teyla filled in. "All three of you developed terrible fevers, which only broke last night. It was…not pleasant."

John had no real answer for that; he could hear the strain in her voice. It was the strain of someone who had been terrified, but had kept a brave face. Teyla smiled and moved closer, loosing a hand from beneath Torren to reach down and grab John's.

Then she squeezed tightly, almost painfully. "Do not do it again," she ordered in a low hiss.

"She already commanded the same of me," Ronon noted cheekily. "I think she means it."

John breathed through the pain of having his hand crushed. "Ye…ah. Okay. Got it. Ow! Hand?"

Teyla abruptly let go, and John's hand pulsed in pain as the blood rushed back into it. He breathed out heavily, shaking the hand out. In the meantime, Teyla hit the button next to his bed to call for the doctor. Her sweet smile was back as she settled down on the side of his bed, adjusting Torren again on her shoulder.

"So," John said, still flexing his hand, "what was this about an accolade? And Woolsey?"

Teyla blushed slightly. "Um…"

"Woolsey wants to give her some sort of civilian medal," Ronon supplied, "for bravery or something."

"For bravery?" John repeated, his brow lifting. "Well, if it's for what you did on Durang, Ronon's right. You deserve it." He arched an eyebrow then. "Speaking of," he began, "what exactly did you do? There was a Wraith hive. How did you get past it?"

"She didn't," Ronon said, sporting a huge grin. "Tell him, Teyla."

Teyla gave Ronon a wry look, and sighed. "It really wasn't—"

"If you don't, I will," Ronon warned. Teyla arched an eyebrow at him in annoyance, and turned back to John. When he gave her an encouraging nod, she withdrew her hand and adjusted Torren again before starting her story.

"After clearing the plain," she began, "I ran back to the gate. I used the time, well over an hour, to listen, to learn as much as I could about the Wraith in that Hive. I was lucky, in an odd way: because they were exclusively using their psychic link to communicate with each other, they were wide open to me. And I learned a great deal." She rested a hand on Torren's back, gently rubbing it for comfort. "As you know, Rodney told us when we first arrived that he was able to pick up about seventy-five life signs on the Hive, but he did not know how many were Wraith. But after listening to them talk over that hour, hearing their thoughts, I was able to determine that only about twenty-five Wraith were still alive. The remaining life signs were humans, some of them the Durang, captured, apparently, to be experimented on, sitting in cells to avoid contaminating the Hive. The Wraith, too, are seeking a cure for the Hoffan virus."

"Makes sense," John said. Teyla just nodded, looking up at Doctor Cole appeared in the doorway. The young woman silently came over to check on John as Teyla continued.

"After that discovery, I used my connection with them to learn what I could of the ship's defenses, to understand what was intact and what was not. Many of their food storage compartments were damaged," she shuddered slightly, and Torren dug his head a little deeper into her neck, "so they had also moved many of their other prisoners to cells as well, almost cramming them in. And the location of the cells," she glanced at Ronon, "is something I am very familiar with."

John just smiled thinly. Yes. They all were by now. Cole handed him a glass of water, which he took gratefully. "Keep going," he told Teyla.

"Using the holes I knew of in their defenses, and their natural arrogance," Teyla said, "meaning I knew they had not posted guards because their main concern was repairing the ship—it was not difficult to form a plan. I went on board, convinced the prisoners in the cells to join with me, armed them with what we found in the ship's armory…" She smiled grimly. "And took the ship."

John's eyebrow lifted, impressed. He doubted it had been as easy as she had described. Convincing terrified people to even take on one Wraith was a battle, but twenty-five? He wondered how many she had taken care of before even reaching the cells. He guessed quite a few…if not all of them. This was Teyla after all.

She shifted Torren again, blushing a little as if guessing what he was thinking. "The only thing that still concerned me," she said then, "were the Darts in the sky. Several were orbiting the planet, as you know, acting as sentinels. Of course, as soon as they sensed the attack, they flew home to help. But by then, they were too late to do anything. I had already dialed the gate from the Hive and informed Atlantis of what was happening. Mr. Woolsey sent three Jumpers through, and that, combined with my controlling what was left of the Hive's weapons, allowed us to destroy all the Darts without anyone else getting hurt."

John realized he was staring slack-jawed, so he quickly closed his mouth. That had to have taken precise timing—the mark of a great general. A moment later, he cracked a crooked smile.

"You know," he said, "when you disobey orders, you make it very hard for me to come down on your for it."

She had the wherewithal to blush again, and her free hand reached down to pluck at the blanket. "I am sorry about that, John, but you had to know I could not—"

"Teyla," John said, taking her hand this time. "It's okay."

She looked down at his hand, and turned hers so she could grip it. She lifted her gaze then, to meet his.

"No, it's not. I could not stay with the Jumper, John. What I did," she gripped tighter, "I did what I had to, to save my family."

John swallowed, wanting to reply, to tell her he knew what she meant, and that he felt the same way. But, as always, he couldn't. So he just gripped her hand and nodded. "I know."

Teyla just smiled.

"So what happened to the Hive?" a new voice croaked from John's right. Teyla's smile returned to full wattage, and she bounced off of John's bed to walk around to his neighbor's. Cole was already there, offering Rodney a glass of water.

"Rodney," Teyla said, reaching now to grab his hand. "It is good to see you awake. How are you feeling?"

"Like my head's going to explode and my body doesn't have the strength to care," he replied, taking a sip of the water and watching drowsily as Cole buzzed around him, checking monitors. "Jennifer okay?" he asked the doctor. When Cole nodded, and said that Keller was just getting some lunch, Rodney relaxed slightly and refocused on Teyla. "So what happened to the Hive?" he said again. "Is it still there?"

Teyla shook her head. "No."

"No?" John said. "Why not?"

"Because she blew it up," Woolsey said, coming in from the other room. "Per my orders. I don't want any other Wraith looking for the Durangese, and if they think they all died with the Hive, all the better."

Torren took that moment to come to life, burbling loudly and twisting in Teyla's arms…and reaching for Woolsey. For a moment, the expedition leader just blinked, but when Teyla sighed and held Torren towards him, he took the baby. He cleared his throat, blinking some more as Torren latched tightly about his neck.

"Um…" he lifted his eyebrows at Teyla. She just shrugged in return.

John shifted up higher on his bed. "Hello, sir."

"Colonel," Woolsey's voice had dropped a decibel, clearly in an attempt to sound manly while bouncing a baby. "Ronon, Doctor McKay," he bobbed sideways, "I'm glad you're all up. I'd like your help."

"Our help?" Rodney moaned, his eyes already closing again. "Are you kidding? We're barely healed from our last mission. Can't someone else do it?" He yawned.

Woolsey snorted a laugh, smiling slightly. "Not that sort of help, Doctor. No, I'd like you to help me convince Teyla to accept the Civilian Medal for Valor for what she did on Durang."

"Oh." Rodney frowned then. "What did she do again? I only heard a little of it."

"Besides rescuing you and your team, Doctor," Woolsey explained, "she helped rescue Major Teldy and her team, who were being menaced by the same squid-like creatures as you, as well as over three hundred Durangese trapped underground, and everyone onboard that Hive ship."

"Oh," Rodney said again. "That." He looked up at Teyla. "Accept the medal, Teyla. It'll look good on the wall." He yawned again and closed his eyes. "Wake me for the ceremony."

John shook his head. "Hang on, McKay. Don't go back to sleep yet. I don't think it's that easy."

Rodney cracked an eyelid again, but didn't look happy. "Why not?"

John looked to Teyla to answer that question. She sighed heavily, settling on Rodney's bed this time.

"I do not believe that a medal is appropriate. What I did, I did for selfish reasons. I cared primarily about saving my team. That I was lucky enough to rescue so many was…" she frowned, "unexpected."

Rodney snorted derisively. Teyla frowned at him.

"What?" she demanded, sounding a little miffed. "You disagree?"

"Oh please," he muttered. "You've saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives since I've known you. It's about time you got recognized for it."

"But I don't need recognition, I—"

"Sure you do. Don't be stupid. A medal like this is long overdue."

"I'm not being stupid, Rodney," Teyla said, frowning. "I just do not think that I—"

"Oh, stop thinking about this in terms of you," Rodney snapped. "It's not just about you, is it? This medal? The ceremony that goes with it? It's about hope, about showing how we can beat the odds, how we can excel despite everything we face." He frowned. "Why would you deprive people of that?"

Teyla frowned. "Deprive people? I didn't think—"

"And you know what?" he said, interrupting her again. "This is kind of a big deal. You tell us over and over how we need to respect other cultures. Well, this is a big deal in ours. We don't give out this medal lightly, or often. It's an honor. You should accept it."

Teyla's eyebrows had lifted high on her head.

John was grinning, and when Teyla looked at him, he just grinned wider. McKay was probably the only person in the world who could successfully bully someone into taking an award. He was also, as usual, right.

"What?" John asked Teyla innocently. "I agree with Rodney."

She tilted her head. "Of course you do."

"He's not the only one who agrees with McKay," Ronon asserted. "Not taking the medal is stupid."

Rodney smiled at that, and John laughed. Teyla gave them all dark looks.

"Well?" Woolsey asked, still bouncing Torren. "Will you accept it?"

She sighed, and stood up to take Torren back. Woolsey looked almost reluctant to give the baby up, but did so with only a minimum of fuss from the baby, who reached for Teyla as soon as she was in his line of sight. His eyes closed sleepily as she started rocking him.

"What do you think, little one?" she asked quietly.

Torren burped.

"Sounds like a yes to me," Rodney said, yawning again. His eyes closed. "Like I said, wake me for the ceremony."

Teyla sighed, but she nodded at Woolsey. "I would be honored, Mr. Woolsey. Thank you." In return, the expedition leader straightened in his uniform and smiled.

"Wonderful. I'll just go submit the paperwork." He said the word "paperwork" almost as if relishing the prospect, which, John thought, he probably was. As Woolsey turned to leave, he almost hit Keller coming in, nearly knocking the cloth covered tray she was carrying out of her hands. He apologized quickly, tripped over a small table, and stumbled out of the room in a confusion of awkward waving and smiles.

As soon as he was gone, Keller finished coming into the room and set the laden tray between Rodney and John's beds.

"Good to see you awake, Colonel," she said, sitting on Rodney's bed.

"He's awake, too," John said, indicating Rodney with a nod. Jennifer's eyebrows lifted, and she looked down, finding Rodney's tired eyes blinking up at her. She grinned, and shifted to take his hand.

"Hi," she said happily.

"Hi." Rodney's brow knitted. "You okay?"

She rested a hand lightly on his cheek. "Yeah. We're all okay." She looked up at John then, and past him to Ronon. Teyla had moved to stand at the end of John's bed, rocking Torren again.

"Speaking of, I was hoping you would still be here," Keller said to Teyla, "and that the rest of you might all be awake by now because…." She reached over and whipped the cloth off the tray with a flourish.

Cookies. A whole bunch of different kinds, but mostly chocolate chip, peanut butter and, sure enough, molasses. John laughed.

"You may not get cookies on your next mission," Keller explained, "but cookies are really what you have at home anyway, right?" She stood and picked up the tray and held it out to John. "I couldn't remember if you said what your favorite was, Colonel, so I asked for a mix. I'd recommend small bites, since I'm sure you all still have very sore throats."

John took chocolate chip. Really, there was no contest. It was the king of cookies.

And, hell, it was still warm.

As the chocolate melted in his mouth, he considered how it was probably going to hurt like hell going down his throat, but, right now? He really didn't care.

With the smell of warm cookies drowning out the infirmary smell, John opened his eyes and looked at the people around him, at the family and home this place had given him, and smiled.

Dear Pegasus, all of Rodney's hated certain death moments aside, thank you.

...


...

The End

And thank you all for reading! I know – I apparently have a thing for the girls saving the day lately. And cookies. I was stuck at a conference for work for two days, and in the middle of the first, all I could think was, how awesome it would be if there were cookies. I whispered this to my table, and they all agreed instantly. Not that my conference and the situation I put the team in have anything in common, other than being trapped in a dark room with no light, endless speakers droning on, and the incredible need to escape. LOL! Hope you enjoyed it!