Lorne pulled the Jumper into an ascent as soon as he exited the Stargate into the bright sunshine. He sent a quick mental command and the HUD appeared across the windshield.
"Scanning for their transmitters," Major Teldy informed him from the co-pilot's seat as she tapped a couple controls. Four blips instantly appeared on the display. "That's them, Lorne. They're five miles south of here."
"What the hell are they doing way out there?" Lorne wondered as he banked towards the readings.
"We can ask them when we get there," Teldy responded. "What the…?"
Lorne squinted at the display as several dots appeared, surrounding the four transmitter signals. "Life signs."
"Looks like at least two dozen surrounding their position," Teldy added.
Lorne keyed communications. "Colonel Sheppard, this is Major Lorne, please respond." He looked up and listened for a moment, before exchanging somber looks with Teldy. "Colonel Sheppard this is Major Lorne, do you copy?"
"There's nothing out there to interfere with communications. That we can tell, anyway," Teldy voiced what Lorne was thinking.
Lorne nodded silently and kicked the Jumper into overdrive. "Be there in a few minutes."
Ronon stared hard over the top of his crossbow, his gaze narrowing on the bright stairwell. This fight had been coming for a while now, and even if they could avoid it, which he doubted, he wasn't in the mood to. From the corner of his eye, he saw Sheppard's limp form and his anger only deepened. For so many years as a Runner, he'd been a loner, never letting himself get close to anyone, because of the curse that followed him. When he came to Atlantis, he found that old habits died hard, but his team, Sheppard especially, had slowly chipped away at his protective shield. He'd resisted at first, reflexively, but Sheppard had taken it in stride. And one day, Ronon had woken up to find he was surrounded by not just a group of acquaintance but by friends, comrades… brothers and sisters in arms. Since then, Ronon had slowly come to realize that, in his life, he'd never had a better friend than Sheppard. That had sparked a very deep and very intense loyalty in him that, while it went unspoken, made itself known. Sheppard might watch all of their backs, and put his life on the line for them, but the day Ronon had realized what kind of a friend Sheppard was to him, was the day he'd sworn to himself that, while Sheppard safeguarded the team's safety, he'd always safeguard Sheppard's, whether the colonel realized and wanted it… or not.
And yet, on this planet, he'd been forced to watch as Sheppard was beaten and left for dead, all the while never being able to lift a finger to stop it. Killing the native to allow him to free Rodney and Teyla so they could all free Sheppard had, in a dark way, felt good to Ronon. He was a Satedan warrior and, within that code, safeguarding his friends, family and those he cared for justified killing.
His gaze narrowed as shadows heralded movement just beyond the stairs. "Here they come," he whispered, before leveling the crossbow at the stairwell. "I got the first one. Teyla, take the second one while I reload. We'll alternate until we're out of bolts, or we're overrun."
"What then?" McKay whispered. "Because somehow, I think both of those outcomes are inevitable."
Ronon paused and looked at McKay. "We fight."
"T…ime to use the m…moves Ronon's be..en teachin'…ya," Sheppard managed.
Ronon refocused his sights on the stairs as the first native charged down, yelling, his companions right behind him. Ronon fired, and on the heels of his shot, Teyla also fired. Each of their bolts took down a warrior, but more kept coming. Ronon got off one more shot before another native leaped over the rubble and tackled him.
The crossbow flew from Ronon's hands as he latched onto the wrist of his attacker, preventing the warrior from plunging a long, wicked knife into his chest. Ronon's other hand took him by the neck and the warrior grunted and grabbed his wrist, while still trying to push the knife blade down on him. Ronon squeezed hard and pushed the man away from him, before rolling to the side. The warrior's expression turned to one of shock as he abruptly found himself underneath Ronon's weight. Weakened by lack of air, he was no match for Ronon's size and strength. Twisting the hand that held the knife, Ronon pushed down, plunging the blade deep into the warrior's chest.
He didn't wait to be sure the man was dead; the fighter within him just knew. Instead, he rolled sideways, taking the blood covered knife with him as he let his momentum carry him to his feet. He looked up, and clenched his teeth as more of Rali's warriors ran down the stairs. He and his team were massively outnumbered but, as his gaze narrowed, Ronon vowed they… he wouldn't go down without a fight.
"There!" Teldy exclaimed as she pointed emphatically.
Lorne stared hard, before stiffening in alarm as he watched armed men mill around and charge down a set of steps into the structure. "They really don't look friendly." He pushed the Jumper into a steep descent, rapidly eating up the distance between them and the natives.
"No, they don't." Teldy looked back into the body of the Jumper. "Mehra! Unfriendlies!"
"You heard the Major!" Sergeant Mehra snapped at the remaining men, her voice commanding. "Lock and load!"
"What the hell is going on?" Teldy reached down and grabbed her own P-90 to prep it.
"No idea," Lorne muttered, "but it doesn't matter. Those are our people in there, and we're going to get them out."
John flinched as his team, even Rodney, engaged the enemy. He struggled to sit up, but his weakened body refused to cooperate. He could hear the scuffle of feet and knew more and more of Rali's men were flooding the chamber. No matter how well they fought, his team would be overwhelmed before long, and all he could do was lie there helplessly and watch. He froze as a native ran past Rodney, locked in a struggle with another of Rali's warriors and stopped in front of him. The man slowly lifted his crossbow and aimed it at John. Spite filled John's expression as he pushed himself up on his elbows and stared back at the warrior with as much anger and defiance as he could muster. "… have a… saying," he managed. "Y…ou can kill me… but y…you can't… eat me…."
The warrior's brows furrowed for a moment, before he sighted down the crossbow, directly at John.
John mustered what strength he had and kicked out at the warrior, but his kick was weak at best and the man easily avoided it before again aiming at him.
John heard Ronon's frustrated shout and wished he could say something… anything to reassure his friend, but he realized that, even if he had the strength, no words would suffice. His world narrowed down to the crossbow and the man tightening his finger on the trigger.
Rapid movement from his right intruded on his focused sight as, in the last second before the warrior fired, something bowled into the man, knocking him to the ground.
John felt himself propelled backwards into the rubble as a fiery stab of pain pierced his shoulder. Then his head impacted hard against stone and darkness took him.
"NO!" Ronon watched as the crossbow bolt buried itself in Sheppard's shoulder and threw him back against the rubble, even as McKay went down in a tangle with the warrior he'd tacked to try to stop the shot. Pain and anger gripped Ronon, and he turned back towards the three warriors advancing on him. Holding the knife firmly, he shouted, his cry almost animalistic in its savage tone as he charged them. But, as he moved, something nagged at his instincts; in an instant, he knew that, in his anger, he hadn't seen the whole picture. Turning, Ronon tried to lunge away as a fourth native, who'd jumped up on the rubble, fired his crossbow.
Searing pain ripped through Ronon's left thigh as his leg buckled, but he stayed on his feet through sheer willpower. Distantly, he heard Teyla call his name in alarm, but he didn't have the time or the energy to spare her an answer. Shifting his weight to his good leg, he spun, blocked the blow of an attacking warrior and buried his knife in the man's chest. Grabbing the sword from the man's limp hand before letting him fall, Ronon parried the next blow aimed at his head and swung the sword around, catching his attacker in the throat. He ducked to the side, barely avoiding another blow, and took a deep slice to his bicep for his effort. Grunting, he staggered and his wounded leg betrayed him. But instead of fighting the fall, Ronon embraced it, rolling as he hit the ground and sweeping his attacker's feet out from under him. Before the man could react, Ronon had swung his sword around and delivered a killing blow.
He looked up, watching as Teyla dispatched one of the warrior attacking McKay, before standing side by side with him to face even more fighters. Ronon refocused his dark gaze on four more of Rali's men who approached him cautiously. He took a small amount of comfort in their hesitation. Even wounded, he'd still proven himself to be lethal, and they respected that. In the no win battle in which he found himself, Ronon accepted that small victory. Holding tightly to the sword, he glared back as they advanced on him.
Rali felt the blood drain from his face and his vision swam as he struggled to process what he was seeing. Before him was the unmistakable form of the craft he'd only seen in drawings: the ship that carried Those That Came Before. There could be no mistake, though he could scarcely believe it.
At that moment, he drew on his training, his conditioning as an Interpreter, to support him even though he was numbed by shock. As with each Interpreter that had preceded him, he had been schooled on what to do on the day Those That Came Before returned, though never in his life had he expected to meet them. His reaction, honed by his training, was almost reflexive. He inhaled sharply and threw his hands in the air. "Stop!" he commanded.
Around him, warriors instantly froze. Rali spun, his gaze locking with the first warrior in his sight. "Stop the ones below! If the offworlders still live, Those That Came Before will decide their fate. It is no longer our place. Those That Came Before have returned to us, and we are their servants!"
The warrior nodded. From around his neck, he lifted a bone whistle which he blew sharply, signaling the retreat to the fighters below.
Rali turned back to the ship and watched it settle to the ground, before the back slowly opened. Without hesitation, he fell to his knees, spread his arms and bowed his head in unquestioned servitude while, behind him, every warrior duplicated his actions.
Teyla straightened slightly in confusion as a piercing whistle echoed through the room. Immediately, their attackers withdrew, backing cautiously towards the stairs in an apparent retreat. When the last of them had disappeared back up the stairs, she looked to her left where Ronon pushed himself to his feet, using the wall for support.
"What the hell?" he panted.
"They had us dead to rights," Rodney whispered. "Why would they stop now?"
Teyla looked down at John's motionless form. "John?" She took two quick steps and knelt next to him. The crossbow bolt was lodged in his shoulder just below his collarbone and blood streamed down his torso to drip in the dirt. She pressed her fingers into his throat, before looking up at Rodney. "He is alive. Your shirt."
Rodney swallowed hard. "Right." He quickly pulled his shirt over his head and handed it to her.
Teyla took the shirt and pressed it against the wound, careful not to disturb the bolt. She waved vaguely in Ronon's direction. "Ronon…." Her eyes widened as she watched Ronon grab onto the bolt. "Ronon, no! Leave it!"
"Can't move with this thing in my leg," Ronon protested through clenched teeth.
"So you're going to pull it out?" Rodney's voice was incredulous as he hurried towards him. "That's the most idiotic idea you've had in a long string of idiotic ideas! You could kill yourself doing that! Besides, Keller will whip Teyla and me with a cat-o'-nine-tails if we let you do it, so don't! That's an order!"
Ronon froze for a second before he looked at Rodney, his expression disbelieving. "An order?"
Rodney shrugged. "Yeah, well it sounded good at the time." He pointed at the crossbow bolt. "Leave it alone."
Teyla watched as Ronon stared hard at Rodney for a moment, before he nodded once and removed his hand. He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and ripped off a large strip, which he bound around the bolt. He met gazes with her. "Sheppard?"
Teyla sighed. "He is alive."
"For now," Rodney muttered. "Somehow, I think our friends will be back soon."
Teyla could only nod silently. She'd managed to stem the bleeding but, once Rali's men decided to attack again, she had a sinking feeling bleeding from his wound would be the least of John's worries.
Lorne grabbed his P-90 and wove through the press of bodies in the back of the Jumper until he was in the lead. Holding the gun securely, he reached out and tapped the hatch release. Behind him, he heard scattered clicks as safeties were flipped off and guns were raised.
What he saw, as the hatch settled to the ground, wasn't exactly what he'd expected. Rooted in place, he glanced to his right and exchanged a brief, confused look with Teldy, before he slowly walked down the ramp, Teldy, Mehra and the group of Marines right behind him. As his boots hit sand, he stopped and stared at the natives, all on their knees and all with their heads bowed. "Hello?" he asked, cautiously. He watched as one of the natives, positioned in front of the others, raised his hands over his head, before prostrating himself in the sand.
"Holy One," the native said, his voice muffled. "For generations we have awaited your return."
Lorne's gaze narrowed at the man's reaction. While encouraging people to worship them was the last thing he wanted to do, he'd also seen how aggressive they'd been right before they'd decided that him and his team were sacred. Colonel Sheppard's team was somewhere close; by their radio silence, and the presence of these warriors, Lorne was pretty sure they were in trouble. Playing along, at least initially, could avoid a fight and could get them to their people faster.
"Holy…?" Mehra started.
Lorne turned his head sharply and shook it, his gesture silencing her. He looked back at the bowing native. "What's going on here?"
The native slowly lifted his head, but kept his eyes averted from Lorne's. "The ones below, they desecrated your temple. The leader, he told us they had done it by mistake, but transgressions on your sacred ground must be atoned for without exception. The leader, he gave himself in sacrifice for the rest of his people, but they did not heed his orders and all escaped before the desert could take him. We pursued them, to make them pay for their offense." He drew in a shaky breath, "I only hope that we do not fall from your favor for this, Holy One. I have tried my best to lead my people in service to you."
Lorne took a deep breath and tried to process everything he'd heard as quickly as possible. If he'd doubted whether or not they should play along with these people's beliefs before, he didn't now. The situation was perilous, at best: the instant these people figured out that him and his team weren't actually Ancients, they'd be fighting for their lives. "Stand up," he said.
The man slowly stood, but still kept his eyes averted.
"What's your name?" Lorne asked.
"Rali, Holy One. I am the Interpreter for my tribe. We are your servants."
Lorne nodded slightly. "Rali, the ones below trespassed on the temple by mistake, you said?"
"Yes, Holy One. I was torn as to the punishment for them, but I feared that we would fall from your graces if we allowed the transgression to go unpunished. I feared that you would take the Shezta herds from us. Without them, my tribe would surely die."
Lorne stared at the man's averted face for a moment and shook his head slightly. He glanced at Teldy, who raised her eyebrows in equal disbelief. He turned back to Rali. "Their mistake was honest," he said quietly. "They're not to be punished any more. We'll go get them, and take them away, and you will let us."
"Holy One?" Rali's voice was slightly questioning.
"Look at me," Lorne said firmly. When Rali met his gaze, Lorne continued. "Your anger's misguided. They're part of our people and you will let them go." Lorne held Rali's gaze, and his breath. He was taking a risk, and he knew it, but short of killing all these natives, he didn't think he had another option for freeing Sheppard's team.
Rali's expression turned to one of shock before he dropped to his knees. "Then we have surely fallen from your graces, Holy One, for the leader, he is gravely injured."
Lorne's eyes widened, and he looked over his shoulder. "Mehra!" he snapped.
Mehra immediately motioned at the three Marines behind her and ran forward past the prostrate warriors and down into the structure, the Marines flanking her.
"Please, Holy One." Rali's voice held a note of desperation. "I was only trying to follow in your ways. If you must punish someone, punish me, but I beg that you spare my tribe."
Despite his concern over Colonel Sheppard, Lorne sighed. "I'm not going to punish you," he answered. "But this was an honest mistake by peaceful visitors, and you should've let them go. In the future, if you're not sure, show compassion, not violence."
Rali looked up. "Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard said something similar, but we did not listen." He nodded once. "Your words will be heeded, Holy One. Word will be sent to the Interpreters of every one of the Seven Tribes of the Shu'nat."
Anxious to find out the status of Sheppard's team, and to avoid encouraging any more mistaken beliefs among Rali's people, Lorne nodded once, curtly. "Go."
Rali waved at his men and, as one, the group took off across the sand at a brisk pace.
Lorne didn't waste any more time as he ran towards the entrance to the structure, Teldy and the remaining Marines right behind him. He quickly trotted down the stairs; at the bottom, he spied Sheppard's motionless form and headed directly for him. Teyla and Rodney stood a short distance away, while Mehra knelt next to Sheppard, hastily applying a pressure bandage around a crossbow bolt lodged in his shoulder. Lorne looked to the far side of the chamber, where another Marine was giving similar treatment to Ronon's leg. Lorne met Ronon's gaze and nodded once, a gesture the Satedan returned, before he looked back at Teyla. "You guys okay?"
Teyla smiled slightly. "Rodney and I are well enough, but the Colonel…."
"He's stable," Mehra said briskly, before she added more uncertainly, "I think."
"Beware of his back," Teyla said quietly. "Rali's people beat him and left him to die in the sun. His back is cut and severely burned. He is also suffering from heatstroke and still severely dehydrated."
"Should've killed those sons of bitches, sir." Mehra looked up at Lorne, anger apparent on her face.
"Not now, Mehra," Teldy snapped. She waved at a couple of Marines. "Johnson, Simms, get the stretcher from the Jumper. Double time it."
The two Marines immediately raced up the stairs.
Lorne tore his eyes from Sheppard and looked up. "Ronon?"
"Right," Rodney muttered, "only you would be 'good' with a crossbow bolt lodged in your leg."
Lorne shifted his gaze to the Marine helping Ronon. "Hendricks?"
"I got it handled, sir," Hendricks replied.
"Rali and his people?" Teyla asked.
"They took one look at the Jumper and figured we were Ancients," Lorne answered. "Did whatever we told them to do."
"Knew we should've brought a Jumper," Rodney groused.
"N…o way… t'… know…" Sheppard muttered.
Lorne looked down at Sheppard's half-open eyes and watched as the Colonel slowly turned his head and fixed his gaze on Mehra.
"Sarge," Sheppard said quietly.
Mehra nodded once and smiled slightly. "Sir."
"Hang in there, Colonel," Lorne added. "We're gonna get you back to Atlantis."
"Others…" Sheppard tried to move, but froze with a pained grunt.
"Don't make me sit on you, sir," Mehra said, firmly but gently.
"They're fine, Colonel," Lorne reassured him, "Ronon's a little banged up, but he'll be okay."
"Rodney and I are fine as well, John," Teyla confirmed. "Just rest."
Johnson and Simms slid back down the stairs, carrying a stretcher between them, which they sat next to Sheppard.
"Alright, sir." Lorne knelt next to Mehra and Teldy as they worked with Johnson and Simms to lift Sheppard into the stretcher. "Time to blow this popsicle stand."
"P'scle…," Sheppard muttered. "Sounds… r'lly good…"
"For once, I agree with you," Rodney muttered.
Lorne slipped his hands under Sheppard's shoulder, wincing as the colonel grunted in pain. He could feel the wounds through the tattered shirt and, without seeing, could tell how badly beaten and burned the Colonel's back was just by Sheppard's reaction. For a moment, he agreed with Mehra: they should've killed the natives for this. Then he took a deep breath and pushed away the thought. Rali's people were misguided and, while it almost cost Sheppard's team their lives, he couldn't in good conscience condone wholesale slaughter in retribution. They weren't Genii, damn it. Carefully, he helped the others lower Sheppard into the stretcher.
He straightened and stepped around the stretcher. "Get the Colonel to the Jumper," he ordered, as he headed for Hendricks and Ronon.. e Stopping next to Ronon, he grabbed one of his arms and threw it over his shoulder, while Hendricks did the same on the other side. Lorne paused for a minute and met Ronon's gaze. "Yeah, I know, you're good. Humor me?"
One side of Ronon's mouth turned up slightly and he nodded.
"Keep your weight off it," Lorne insisted. "Let's move."
No more than a few minutes later, Lorne was easing the Jumper off the ground and heading for the Stargate. As the wormhole flushed into existence, he took a deep breath in relief. It was more than time for all of them to get the hell off this planet.
"See? I knew you could do it."
John's gaze fixed for a moment on the not so distant buildings of Kandahar Air Base, before he smiled slightly and looked over at Elizabeth. "You never get tired of being right, do you?"
Elizabeth grinned. "Not at all. " Her smile faded. "I wasn't always right," she added quietly.
John sighed and nodded. "None of us were… are." His gaze grew distant as he again looked towards the airbase. Wrong decisions had cost all of them dearly. Missteps, well intentioned or not, had cost them lives, people they…people he couldn't get back. That was something he carried, and would carry for the rest of his life. It was something that drove him to make the decisions about his life that he made; decisions he'd never second guess or apologize for.
"Watch out for them, John." Elizabeth squeezed his upper arm. "Your dedication to life makes you the man you are… the commanding officer you are, but don't ever forget that the people you that you trust also share your values. When you need help, let them help you, just as you'd help them." She smiled. "Just as you helped me."
John smiled a little and nodded. "Point taken." He looked back to the base for a moment, before glancing her direction, only to find that she'd disappeared. With a deep breath he started down the last sand dune towards the airbase….
Groaning quietly, John arched his brows and peeled his gritty eyelids open. It took a moment for him to register the face smiling down at him, but when he did, he attempted a half smile of his own. "Doc," he whispered, before coughing weakly against a dry throat.
Keller's smile deepened. "Welcome back." She held a cup out to him and helped him take a few ice chips. "These should help."
John sucked on the ice, relishing their cold as the chips melted in his mouth. "Good." A flash of pain made him grunt, and his reaction wasn't lost on Keller.
"Take it easy," she whispered. "You're pretty banged up, but you're going to be okay."
John nodded slightly. "Team?"
"Banged up too, but not as bad as you are. They're fine, Colonel, don't worry. Just get some rest, okay?"
"…kay…" John's eyelids felt heavy. The last thing he saw, before he surrendered to the darkness, was Keller's reassuring gaze.
Through the multicolored stained-glass window, John could just make out the shadow of a form leaning on the railing of the Deck just outside of Ops.
"Good to see you up and about, Colonel."
John stopped in his route across the command center and turned and smiled at Amelia. "Good to be out of that damned infirmary. Don't have much time though. If I'm not back in thirty minutes, Keller'll hunt me down. At that point, I'm not sure I'll want to be found." He grimaced slightly, and lifted his left arm, bound in a sling, a little.
Amelia chuckled quietly. "Yes, sir."
John gestured with his right hand towards the exterior balcony door. "Woolsey?"
"Yes, sir," Amelia repeated.
John nodded once. "Thanks." He crossed Ops and waved his hand over the door crystal, stepping out into the fresh ocean air when the door opened.
Woolsey straightened and turned to face him. "Colonel. Didn't expect to see you here." He pointed at John's sling. "How's the shoulder?"
John looked down at the bandage. "Stiff, sore and annoying. Start PT next week. Right now, I'm on parole," he explained, with a quick smile. "For thirty minutes at least. Keller said something about needing a half hour of peace…." His voice trailed off into a mischievous smile.
Woolsey chuckled. "I don't envy Dr. Keller with both you and Ronon in the infirmary."
John arched his brows. "Us? We're angels. Besides, both of us get released in a couple days, as soon as the Ancient scanner shows Keller whatever it is she wants to see of how much we're healing."
Woolsey's gaze narrowed. "Hmm…." He took a deep breath. "I was just thinking about your natives on M5Y-962."
John furrowed his brows. "What about them?"
Woolsey ran one hand along the railing. "I'm not sure how I feel about our people impersonating deities off world, Colonel."
John sighed. "Lorne did what he had to do to keep his team alive, and to get mine out alive as well. I'm not going to stand here and second-guess what he did, and I'm not going to ask him to apologize for it either." He stared hard at Woolsey, who looked down at his hand and idly brushed a patch of dirt off the railing. Unapologetic, John let the silence linger.
Abruptly, Woolsey withdrew his hand, turned and faced John. His half smile was slightly mocking and a bit cynical. It caught John by surprise, but he kept his peace, and his confident expression.
"When I was an IOA advisor, senior staff reports from Atlantis crossed my desk frequently, Colonel." Woolsey's smile faded as his expression turned as unapologetic as John's.
John continued holding his tongue. Here it comes….
"Your… actions usually left me annoyed, irritated and, frankly, skeptical of your ability, decisions and effectiveness as the military commander of Atlantis, in spite of glowing reports by Dr. Weir and Colonel Carter." Woolsey's gaze narrowed. "And you didn't exactly instill any confidence in me on those rare occasions I had to deal directly with you, Colonel. In fact, you did your best to be a royal pain in the ass."
John arched his brows. In the months Woolsey had been here, John had learned the man was straight forward and to the point, something John could respect, but he was still taken by surprise at the outright bluntness of Woolsey's comment. "Yes, I did," he answered, not bothering to hide his cynical tone. "Bureaucrats get in the way, and are a distraction, usually at a time we don't need to be distracted. In fact…."
"Let me finish," Woolsey interrupted.
John snapped his mouth shut, surprise at Woolsey's strong tone silencing him. After a moment, he nodded, pressing his lips together and bracing himself for the coming criticism. It was always the same: administrators second-guessing every step made. He'd watched the IOA tear Weir apart on a routine basis and, after her, Carter. He knew, without asking, that both of them had shielded him from most of the comments made about his actions, though some did get through. Now, he had no barrier between him and the bureaucracy and, frankly, he wasn't in the mood for one either. Bring it on….
"I may have been mistaken," Woolsey said quietly, all the hardness of command gone from his voice. He took a deep breath. "Colonel, you are rebellious, unorthodox and really are an occasional pain in the ass, but Weir and Carter were both right: you are the best man for the job."
John blinked, and then blinked again, all the anger dissolving into disbelief. His gaze narrowed for a second as he tried to judge the level of sincerity in Woolsey's words, an action not lost on the base commander.
"Yes, Colonel, I mean it," Woolsey answered. When John's expression turned even more surprised, Woolsey actually chuckled. "I used to be a lawyer and IOA bureaucrat. I've gotten very good at reading people."
John cleared his throat. "Well, um… uh… thanks." He cocked his head slightly. "What brought this on? Not that I'm not glad that I'm not going to be sent packing back to Earth in the immediate future…."
Woolsey held onto a small smile. "I just thought that it was time that the point was made perfectly clear. And… recent events have really driven the point home with me." He turned and leaned both elbows on the Deck railing as he again looked out over the ocean
"Oh?" John walked over and joined him. Mindful of his injured shoulder, he rested his good elbow carefully on the railing.
"Your team's loyalty, Colonel," Woolsey answered, "and I don't just mean your immediate team, though it's most prominent in them, but also the entire military contingent and most of the senior ranking civilians." He looked sideways at John. "I've found that sort of cohesiveness is more a product of the leader than anything else." He smiled slightly. "It speaks highly of your ability, John."
John flushed slightly and looked away as he scratched his head in embarrassment. He never liked to be in the spotlight, whether it was in front of one person or one hundred. "They're good people," he answered, before looking out over the ocean, not willing to make eye contact with Woolsey.
"Yes, they are," Woolsey agreed.
John could feel Woolsey' still looking sideways at him, but he didn't meet his gaze and, after a moment, Woolsey looked away.
"You all are," he added.
A smile pulled at John's mouth and he couldn't resist it. Only a couple of months ago, he'd doubted Woolsey's ability to command, but now he felt comfortable laying those doubts to rest. Not just because the two of them had found common ground, but because he felt the man had a good grasp on what it was like to live on Atlantis, and what it sometimes took to survive here. Both of which were, more often than not, a long walk from what the IOA believed should be the case.
His thoughts turned to Woolsey's words, and recent events. His team had taught him something that, while he suspected he'd known it deep down, he'd never really acknowledged. When he'd formed his team, he'd picked the people he thought were best for the job. They were all individuals, but by default it meant they shared a lot of his values. He'd just never recognized the willingness to give their lives for each other was one of those values. Hell, he'd seen Ronon flat out do it a couple years ago. Would he give his life for his team again? Absolutely and without hesitation. But, somewhere inside, he drew comfort from the fact that his team would do the same for him. Whether he'd let them was another story, but to know they'd do it was all the comfort he needed.
He glanced at Woolsey for a minute and smiled to himself, before looking back out over the ocean. He had ten minutes before he had to report back to the infirmary, and he intended on taking every second of that to enjoy the moment of peace he'd been given.