Title: Friend or Foe?
Category: Gen, H/C
Timeline: Set mid to late season 3. Spoilers for Common Ground.
Summary: John needs rescuing, but it comes from an unlikely source.
Note: This was posted for an LG community challenge a while ago, but I just discovered I never posted it here. I figured I might as well post it here too.
Friend or Foe?
Fingers around his ankle caught John off guard and he immediately kicked out in a futile attempt to defend himself. He'd been shackled to a wall by one leg for two days and had spent the better part of that huddled against the stone face, his knees drawn up to his chest in an effort to conserve body heat. With an almost constant cold drizzle soaking him while he sat in the mud dressed only in his boxers, he was cold and miserable and disoriented.
"Get him to his feet."
Strong arms jerked John upright, holding tightly when his shaking legs folded up, causing him to dip low before the two muscle-men hauled him back up. Blinking his eyes a few times, he managed to focus on his feet and discovered that his leg had been unshackled.
"Look at me," a now-familiar voice commanded.
When John continued to look at his feet, a hand from behind grabbed his hair and jerked his head up until he was looking into the cold, dead eyes of his captor. "I said look at me," the balding man said evenly. He was a good two inches taller than John and built large, like a house. When he hit or kicked you, you knew it, and John had the bruises to prove it, along with a couple of cracked ribs.
"Are you ready to tell me where your people are and how I can get more weapons like the ones I took from you?" Flying spittle sprayed John's face, making him appreciate the rain a little more than he had over the past two days.
"Not really," John answered, his hoarse voice barely audible.
With a sigh, the man gave a nod and the pressure holding John's head cocked at a very awkward angle was released. "You are stubborn, I will give you that."
"So I've been told," muttered John. Wait for it . . .
The blow to his stomach was so sudden and fierce that John barely had time to brace himself, even though he had been expecting it. The grip on his biceps tightened, keeping him from bending over very far and allowing the leader of the group of ruffians to get off a blow to his face. That was enough to chase away any lingering lucidity into a haze of pain and confusion.
The next thing John knew, he was being tossed back into his underground cell. The impact with the hard, dirt floor jolted him back to consciousness in time to hear the metal door slam shut. Lifting his head an inch to look at the two men staring at him through the small window, he twitched a small smile. "Thanks, guys. I'd leave you tip, but . . . " John held out his empty hands and shrugged his shoulders.
The two men laughed and joked with one another, but John didn't understand what they said. Closing his eyes, John heard them walk off. After a few moments of shivering, he opened his eyes and glanced hopefully around the cell. He was relieved to see his clothes still in a pile in the corner, where the two burly guards had stripped him down two days ago. Pretty sure he didn't have enough energy or equilibrium to stand, John crawled across the floor.
It took several moments to wrestle the clothing back on, waking up the pain in his bruises and cracked ribs, but stretching out his stiff muscles and joints a little. He hated the way his wet, muddy boxers felt against his skin, but there was no way he was stripping them off in here and he was too cold to wait for them to dry. He was shivering violently as it was, yet another strain on his already exhausted body. He really needed his team to find him, and find him soon. The problem was, he had no idea how they could possibly do that.
By his count, he'd been here ten days, although he'd freely admit that he could be off by a day or two. Several of them had been a bit rough and John hadn't exactly been lucid. Add to that the fact that he had no idea where here was. They had been on a scouting mission to P4X-337 and discovered a recently culled village being looted. The looters apparently thought the Atlantis team had come for their fair share and immediately attacked. Their primitive guns were no match for the Earth weapons, but the team was seriously outnumbered and partially surrounded. When Rodney got hit in the shoulder, John charged the others with getting the unconscious scientist back through the gate while he led their pursuers away. Getting caught hadn't been part of the plan.
After a stout beating during which his captors tried to find out where he was from to get more weapons like those of the Atlantis team, the Kerbasi, as they had called themselves, led him bound and gagged through several gates before landing on their home world. All he'd seen of it was the narrow path to their town, the underground prison where they kept him, and the wall he'd been chained to earlier that day. For the last ten days he'd been beaten and had his head dunked repeatedly until he almost drowned. They'd strapped him to a contraption that spun him around until he puked over and over again. Then they'd made him stand in the center of a room for over twenty-four hours. They let him sit for the next day and night, just not sleep. He was given water a couple of times a day, but very little food. He'd lost some serious weight, evident by the way his pants hung loose around his hips.
A low rumble, accompanied by the whole place shaking as bits of debris rained down from the ceiling had John dragging himself to his feet. An explosion. A second one shook the room again and John grinned, leaning heavily against the wall. There were here. He found himself already looking forward to clean, dry scrubs and some good drugs and a tray full of actual food.
Shouting down the hall had him moving to the front wall, trying to see out the tiny window in the door. He heard the sound of the Kerbasi guns, but the return fire sounded strange. It sounded like . . . A blood-curdling scream filled the air, one of complete agony, one that John recognized. The return fire hadn't sounded right because it wasn't P90s, it was stunners. The Wraith were here.
"Of all the luck," John mumbled as he staggered to the back corner and tried to hunch down in the shadows so he wouldn't be seen. With a little luck, the Wraith would rid him of his captors and leave. Of course, that left the matter of getting out of the cell, but he'd worry about that later. He stopped breathing when a face was pressed to the window of his cell door, the slit pupil finding him almost immediately. He could almost see the creature grin through the door. So much for staying hidden.
John pushed himself to his feet using the wall for leverage as the door clanged open. Knowing it was futile, he glanced around the small room for anything he could use as a weapon, but it was empty, a fact he was already painfully aware of. Looking up, he was surprised to see the Wraith standing in the door, staring at him through the darkness. The tiny hint of light from the hallway cast all kinds of shadows around the creature, but there was a familiarity about him.
"John Sheppard. You seem to spend a lot of time being held captive."
He wasn't sure whether to be relieved or even more afraid as he faced the Wraith he'd been held captive with by Kolya. "You know we really have to stop meeting like this."
An all too familiar chuckle filled the tiny room. "I agree, others will begin to talk." An awkward silence followed before Todd resumed speaking. "Are you injured?"
"Nothing I can't handle. I take it you and your friends stopped by for dinner."
Todd took a step forward and John tried to take a step back, but he was already pressed tightly against the wall. He could feel his heart racing in his chest, even though he was projecting nonchalance with every fiber of his being. He was probably about to die, but he was going to do his best not to show he was afraid of it. "So, what now? Am I the entrée?" He found himself wondering if that All bets are off comment had been the smartest thing to say when they last parted.
Todd chuckled again, making John even more nervous. "I do admit that you were the tastiest human I've ever fed on. The defiance and strength were exquisite." He paused a minute, staring at John as if to gauge his reaction. "However . . . you have also proven a valued ally on occasion and I may yet have need of you in the future."
John's legs almost gave out from under him. "You mean . . . you aren't . . . you aren't going to feed off me?" He could scarcely believe it. He refused to completely accept it, aware this could be some kind of weird trap.
"No." Todd glanced over his shoulder at the sound of screaming and fighting that came from the entrance to the building. "I cannot let my companions know of this, however. They would not understand."
"Yeah," John said with a weary sigh. "I know what you mean." He well remembered the silent treatment Ronon had given him for days after he'd let Todd go. After a lifetime of fearing the Wraith and seven years of running, Ronon couldn't imagine any reason to let one live.
"Hmm, I suppose you do," Todd commented with a nod. "Are you able to walk?"
With a deep breath to fortify himself, John stepped away from the wall. He wobbled a moment, but then regained his footing. "Piece of cake."
Todd shook his head and looked annoyed. "I do not know about this cake, but you will not make it far."
"Hey, I can make it," John said, jutting his chin out as he lifted his head.
"I hope so," Todd said as he turned around. "Stay behind me and do as I say."
You're not the boss of me flitted through John's head, but he refrained from saying anything. He reminded himself that up until now, Todd had pretty much kept his word. As long as the Wraith covered for him, he might just get out of this alive. And if he did, how was he going to explain to Ronon that Todd rescued him? How would he explain that to anyone?
When they reached the steps that led out of the building, Todd motioned for John to stay put. He crouched beside the withered body of his jailer and wondered if he should feel guilty for not feeling sorry for the guy. Three times the man had poured John's water out on the floor in front of him and then told him if he was really thirsty, he could lick it up. Nope. No sympathy for Gandor or Gordoff or whatever the heck the guy's name had been.
A hissing sound caught his attention and Todd motioned him up the stairs. John's legs were shaking and he was wheezing by the time he reached the top step. Todd looked at him uncertainly, but John just waved him on. With another head shake, the Wraith led him several steps into a cluster of trees. John managed to focus every ounce of energy and adrenalin on getting to safety, but a few steps into the stand of trees, John stumbled and went to his knees.
Todd was beside him in seconds. "Stay here," he commanded before hurrying off.
John's first instinct was to run like crazy, but he just didn't have the strength. He was gasping for breath, his muscles shaking from the small amount of exertion, and in spite of everything, he was still cold. Shifting around to sit down, he leaned against a tree, wondering if he was really getting off this planet alive. He must have zoned out for a while, because the next thing he knew, Todd was in his face with his foul breath making John want to gag.
"Wake up, John Sheppard. I have directed everyone to search through the town while I get you closer to the gate, but we do not have much time. You must get up." Without waiting on a response, Todd jerked John to his feet.
Leaning back against the tree behind him until the serious wave of dizziness passed, John pulled his arm away from Todd's grasp. "You don't have to jerk my arm out of socket," he snapped.
Todd grinned that eerie, jagged-toothed grin that gave John the creeps. "You do not want my help?"
Now there was a trick question if ever John had heard one. Even if all the Wraith left right now, he doubted he could make it to the gate by himself. He could barely stand. He looked straight at Todd, meeting his eyes. "Actually . . . I do . . . I, uh, need your help."
They stared at each other a moment before Todd slid his arm around John's waist and pulled his arm up over his shoulder. The position was awkward, partially because Todd was taller, but also because stretching out like that made John's ribs ache. The ones on that side were only bruised, but it was enough to ratchet up the pain factor.
They got a rhythm going after a few steps and the decrease in jostling allowed John think about what was actually going on. The absurdity of the situation was not lost on him, or apparently on Todd, who kept chuckling under his breath. Rather than try to make sense of it or peace with it, he decided his best course of action was to not think about it. It wasn't like he was selling out Atlantis to save his own skin. That thought brought up another, which did give him cause to worry.
"Todd . . . look, not that I don't appreciate this or anything . . . but why are you helping me?"
"Todd?" The Wraith looked confused for a second, but then moved past the name John had dubbed him with. "I have explained that. You may be of use in the future."
"Yeah, uh, about that. You realize I'm not . . . selling out Atlantis . . . or giving you weapons . . . or anything . . . right? Because if you think . . . this is making me owe you . . . you might as well stop now and have dinner on me." Just drawing in enough oxygen was difficult, but talking on top of that was proving almost more than John could handle.
Todd sighed heavily, as if disappointed. "You dismay me, Sheppard. I do not expect you to betray your people. I fed upon you . . . I have shared more of you than you want to know and that tells me you would never go against your people. I merely ask that if I require assistance in the future, you will listen and consider my position."
The knots in his shoulders loosened a bit as John let out a deep breath. "Oh. Okay . . . I can do that." John's legs momentarily gave out, but Todd was prepared and pulled John back up without losing a step.
They walked another fifteen minutes before the gate came in sight. John expected to see guards, but there were none. Todd had taken care of everything apparently, and was planning on actually letting John go. Once they reached the DHD, the Wraith let John shift his weight over to the device.
"Will you be able to dial and get through the gate?" asked Todd.
"Yeah, I'll be fine from here. Uh, thanks . . . I guess." He frowned as he brought his eyes up to meet Todd's. "It's just kind of weird, you know? Being rescued by a Wraith. Never would have figured that."
"As I would not have imagined myself misdirecting my hive so that I might rescue a human. It is a strange time, is it not?" asked Todd.
"It's a strange galaxy, if you ask me," said John, leaning heavily against the DHD. "What . . . what happens if we just happen to come across each other again . . . you know . . . by accident?" He wasn't sure what he wanted the answer to be.
Todd looked at him silently for a while, giving John cause to wonder if he planned on answering, but he finally did. "I do not know, John Sheppard. What happens will happen."
John considered the response and then nodded once. "I guess that's fair."
"You should go now," said Todd firmly. "I must get back before questions are asked." Without waiting for any response, Todd turned and ran back down the path. Turning to the DHD, John considered dialing Atlantis and then decided it would be safer to go to the Alpha site first, in case Todd was tricking him. After pushing in the last symbol, he used his remaining energy to stagger through the open wormhole.
"Rodney, if you do not be quiet, I'm going to throw you out of here on your ear."
"I'm being quiet. It's not my fault Conan there tried to trip me."
"Not my fault you can't see where you're going."
"All right, the lot of you out before you wake the Colonel."
The words hadn't meant much, just some white noise that told John he was waking up, but the familiarity of the voices and the feel of the soft bed and warm blankets told him he was home and safe.
"Look, Carson, he's smiling."
"Rodney if you think . . . oh, aye, lad, he is smiling." Some shifting noises and then a slight tap to the cheek. "Colonel Sheppard . . . John . . . can you be opening your eyes for me lad?"
"Hmm?" John pulled his eyebrows up in an attempt to comply, but couldn't seem to get his lids to go along with the idea. He was just so tired.
"Come on, now, I know you can do it. Open your eyes for just a moment for me."
After several tries, John finally forced his eyelids apart enough to see a blurry Carson Beckett leaning over him. The form drifted slowly into focus, revealing a big smile on the physician's face. "Nicely done, Colonel. It's good to have you back with us."
John barely managed a grunt. His mouth tasted like sweaty gym socks and his throat was parched. He tried to ask for water, but it came out something like, "Wrrr".
"Aye, just a moment and let's sit you up a bit," responded the doctor. The bed whirred and there was motion, resulting in the room doing weird cartwheels, so John closed his eyes and moaned as his stomach lurched. Clamping his mouth shut against the foul burn of acid against the back of his throat, he became aware of something else in his throat, which set him to gagging.
"Bloody heck, Colonel. Just keep swallowing and try not to vomit, son. I've got a feeding tube in you and this will not be pleasant if you start throwing up."
Fisting the sheet and squeezing his eyes closed, it took all John's concentration to stop the gagging reflex once it had started, but he finally got things under control without actually puking. When things settled enough for him to relax and open his eyes, he found not only Carson, but his team and Elizabeth staring at him anxiously. He was saved having to say anything by Carson placing a straw at his lips.
"Drink slowly and only a few sips," directed the doctor. The water was tepid, but it was wet and just possibly sent straight from heaven. It helped clear the foul taste from his mouth and wet his dry throat. It seemed he'd barely begun drinking when Carson pulled the cup away and set it on the table.
"That's enough for now, Colonel. Do you remember what happened?" asked Carson. Everyone watched him closely, waiting to see what he remembered.
John licked his lips a couple of times, trying to gather enough moisture to talk. "Captured," he managed to mumble.
"Obviously, since you were missing for almost two weeks. We went back . . . well, not me since I was injured, but Ronon and Teyla went back with Lorne's team to look for you," said Rodney.
"Arm . . . okay?" asked John, noticing that Rodney didn't even have a sling.
Rodney lifted his arm slowly and rubbed at his shoulder as he lowered it. "Still stiff and sore, but it's healing. Like I said, two weeks."
Teyla stepped up and placed her hand on his, careful of the IV. "Radek returned with us to the planet and was able to get the last few gate addresses, but we could find you on none of the planets."
John gave a tiny nod. "Went through . . . several gates."
"Who were they?" asked Elizabeth, standing at the foot of the bed.
Feeling like he was choking, John tried clearing his throat, which set him to gagging again. He swallowed several times, fighting the spasms building in his stomach and making his ribs flare in pain. A firm hand on his shoulder gave him something to focus on.
"Easy, lad, just ride it out." When the sensation finally passed, John wiped away the tears that had leaked from his eyes.
"Doc . . . need to get rid of this," he pleaded, brushing his fingers across the tube entering his nose.
"Aye, I think that may be best," Carson agreed, much to John's relief. "I'll ask the lot of you to step out a moment while I make the Colonel a bit more comfortable." Carson pulled the privacy curtain as everyone stepped out and a nurse came in to help. A few moments and another gagging fit later, John was rid of the plastic tube. Carson let him have a few more sips of water.
"Thanks," he croaked out, not sure if the word had emerged in recognizable form or not.
"You're welcome lad," Carson said, removing his gloves.
"How long?" John asked.
Carson frowned down at him, making John nervous. "You were missing for twelve days. You showed up two days ago at the Alpha site. Sgt. Myers and his team were there restocking supplies when the gate activated. They said you stepped through and just crumpled to the ground. When they figured out it was you, they dialed Atlantis straightway. You've been in and out since then."
"Don't remember that part . . . just dialing the Alpha site," John said.
The nurse picked up the apparatus they'd just removed and opened the curtain, allowing John's team back in. Carson looked around at the group. "I was just filling the Colonel in about him showing up at the Alpha site. He remembers dialing, but not actually arriving."
"John, do you remember anything about the people that took you?" asked Elizabeth.
"Called themselves the Kerbasi. Scavengers mostly. Wanted to know where I came from . . . wanted weapons like ours."
"They must have wanted it bad, based on the condition you were in," commented Ronon, his dark eyes flashing. "They tortured you."
"Let's just say . . . weren't afraid to play rough."
An uncomfortable silence descended as they thought about twelve days of torture and the fact that they hadn't been able to find John. He could see the hurt and sympathy and guilt in their faces. "Look, guys . . . you were looking . . . you did what you could. I knew that."
"Doesn't change the fact that we were just sitting here spinning our wheels while you were tortured. It doesn't change the fact that we never came for you," said Rodney bitterly. He suddenly looked up at John and frowned. "How did you get away?"
Shifting in the bed, John averted his eyes to his feet. "Not important . . . just did."
He was aware of Elizabeth crossing her arms and chewing her lip a second. "John . . . how did you get away?"
John sighed and looked up at his boss. "I had help."
Rodney snapped his fingers in the air. "I know! You flashed that cocky grin of yours at some pretty young thing and she slipped you the keys and helped you escape."
John groaned and shivered with the thought of leaning heavily against Todd, the smell of death seeming to permeate his clothing and the air around him. "Not exactly, Rodney."
Ronon somehow must have picked up on something, because he stiffened. "Sheppard?"
When John didn't answer, Elizabeth began to look worried. "John?"
Teyla stepped forward and once again took his hand. "Just tell us John. We are grateful to whoever helped you escape such treatment."
With a deep breath followed by a swallow, John leaned his head back against the pillow. "You may not think so for long. The Wraith . . . the Wraith came to cull the planet."
A sharp intake of breath almost made him stop, but he pushed through, refusing to look at anyone. "I was trapped . . . locked in a cell . . . when one opened the door." Taking in a deep breath to fortify his resolve, he made himself look up at his team. "It turned out to be Todd." Then he laughed, knowing he sounded a little crazy, but unable to stop himself when he saw the look of shock that seemed to cross everyone's face. "He, uh . . . helped me escape."
"Todd? Isn't that what you decided to call that Wraith that . . . " Rodney hesitated, as if he was having trouble saying the next part.
"The one that Kolya had feed on me. Yeah, Rodney, that one," said John.
"I thought you said all bets were off when you saw him next," said Ronon, his brow furrowed in anger.
"I did," said John softly, exhaustion beginning to catch up to him. "He said . . . had made a good ally . . . maybe again in future." John could feel his eyes beginning to slip closed and his words sounded slightly slurred.
"All right, that's enough for now," Carson said firmly. "Everyone needs to go about their business now and let the Colonel get some rest. You can come back and join him for supper." John was aware of the bed lowering, but his eyes were already closed. "Sleep, John. When you wake up, we'll see about getting some broth into you."
John wanted to tell Carson that sounded good and thank him for running everyone off so he could sleep, but he drifted off before the thought even finished forming.
John was aware someone was sitting with him almost as soon as he was aware that he was awake. It wasn't Rodney because there were no clacking sounds of fingers on computer keys or muttering under his breath. It wasn't Ronon – Ronon was large enough you could feel his presence in a looming way. This was delicate, feminine. Teyla maybe? John was almost enjoying the game of figuring out who it was before opening his eyes.
Not Teyla. He wasn't sure why, completely. It just didn't feel like Teyla, didn't smell like Teyla. But definitely a woman. That left . . .
"John, are you playing possum with me?"
He smiled at the teasing sound of Elizabeth's voice before opening his eyes to confirm what he'd already ascertained. He was lying partially on his side, facing Elizabeth as she sat in a chair beside his bed. "Maybe a little," he said, his throat and voice scratchy.
"Water?" she asked, one eyebrow slightly higher than the other. At his nod, she poured some water from a waiting pitcher into a cup, added the ever-present bendy straw, and then held it up to his lips. Without moving much, he was able to take the straw and pull off several sips before she took the cup away. He was tired and sore and bruised and the less movement, the better.
"Thanks," he said. They continued to look at each other for a few moments, during which he noticed she looked troubled. "What?" he finally said.
Elizabeth sighed and leaned forward, resting her elbows near her knees. "I really wish you would stop doing this," she said in a quiet voice.
Wincing, John pushed his hand against the mattress to lift himself up a bit on the slightly elevated head of the bed. "Look, I didn't give anything away or make promises I couldn't keep. That's why I dialed the Alpha site instead of Atlantis, in case he was checking. I didn't have any choices, not if I wanted to survive. And in spite of what Rodney always says, I do want to survive."
Elizabeth cocked her head a moment before shaking her head and waving one hand at him. "No, I don't mean working with that Wraith. I mean you have to stop making me think you're dead."
"Oh." John had been certain he was getting chewed out for forming alliances with a Wraith in order to escape. Although considering what they'd been through, her actual meaning made a lot of sense as well. "Yeah, sorry about that. I'd have been back earlier if I could have figured out how."
Her expression solemn, Elizabeth took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "We never stopped looking but . . . " Her eyes drifted to the floor and she wrapped her arms around her middle as she leaned back in the chair. "I thought you were dead this time, John. There was no trace of you . . . Radek and Rodney were at a dead end on how to look for you. None of our contacts knew anything." She shuddered and then brought her eyes back up to meet his. "I honestly thought you weren't coming back this time and I . . . hadn't figured out what I was going to do."
John lay quietly, realizing for the first time what it must have been like for his friends in Atlantis, wanting to rescue him and not knowing how. He thought maybe it was easier being the one that was tortured. "I . . . I knew you would try . . . I also knew there was no way to follow us through the gate . . . not that many times. I didn't blame you for not coming." He had no idea what to say to ease the pain and guilt he knew she was feeling. It had taken a long time for her to be able to look him in the eye after his first adventure with Todd at the hands of Kolya.
"I appreciate that," she acknowledged, her eyes telling him she knew what he was trying to do. "I just don't want to lose you. I think we make a good team . . . offset each other's weaknesses and blind spots. Steven is a good commander, but I know from experience that we would not mesh nearly as well as you and I do."
Grinning impishly, John said, "So basically I'm a pushover."
Elizabeth immediately smacked him the bicep with the back of her hand. "Oh, shut up, you. You know perfectly well what I mean."
After a brief chuckle, John gave her a quick nod and a smile. "I know. I think we make a good team too. And I hope we continue to do so for a while."
Elizabeth's expression sobered. "You do realize that if that had been any other Wraith in the galaxy except Todd that you'd be dead right now."
"Yeah," John said with a tired sigh. "That thought has actually occurred to me several times."
Her expression softening, Elizabeth leaned forward again. "Rodney says you're the luckiest unlucky man alive."
"Okay," John drawled. "That's different."
"In a way he's right," she said. Scooting her chair a little closer, Elizabeth reached out and clasped her hand around his. He resisted the urge to pull it away, the intimacy making him uncomfortable since he was not sure where this was leading. "Just . . . try to stay out of trouble for a few days so I can catch up on my sleep, okay?" she asked with a smile.
Relaxing, John found himself now enjoying the warmth of her skin against his. "Yeah, I think I can do that. It's not likely I'll be out of here for a few days, so I think you can relax."
"Good," she said. He was surprised at how genuinely relieved she seemed and he wondered just how intense things had gotten on Atlantis during his absence. A commotion at the doorway gathered both of their attention and he looked up to find his team pouring through the doorway carrying trays of food.
"Is he awake, because there's a mug of broth with his name on it and no one else wants it," spouted Rodney as he lowered his tray to an empty bed.
As John squirmed to get on his back, Elizabeth began raising the bed up for him. "I'm up," he said as he worked. By the time he was settled again, his bed was almost surrounded by a ring of chairs. Teyla pushed the rolling table over his lap and adjusted the height as Elizabeth set a mug of broth on it, along with a spoon and bottle of water.
"Oh, good. Liquid for supper," John deadpanned.
"Carson said it's that or risk you puking everything back up," said Rodney as he got settled.
"Rodney," Elizabeth warned. "We're trying to eat here."
"Hey, just passing on what the witch doctor said. How are you, by the way? You look good for a man who was almost Wraith chow for the second time."
"I'm good," John said as he sniffed the broth. It was liquid, but the mug was warm in his hands and it smelled good. He found his stomach rumbling in anticipation. With a grin, he looked up at Rodney. "I'm just lucky Todd prefers not to eat his allies."
Rodney rolled his eyes and dipped his fork into what looked like meatloaf. "You're just lucky period. Anyone else in that position would be a husk about now."
John sipped the broth and silently admitted that Rodney was right. He was incredibly lucky for an unlucky guy. Looking around at his team, his family, he realized he was lucky in more than one way. Lucky to have found this city, these people, this life. He needed to get the conversation moving before his emotions got the better of him. "So, anything interesting happen while I was gone?"
Rodney's eyes lit up as he sat straighter in his chair, pointing his fork at John. "Oh, you missed it. Radek insulted one of the new marines and she kicked his ass."
Teyla sighed and gave the scientist her you're such a child look. "I do not believe it was Radek's intention to insult the lieutenant," she said.
"I don't think Lt. Fletcher cared what Radek's intentions were," said Rodney smugly.
"I know she didn't," chimed in Ronon with an evil grin. Teyla and Elizabeth exchanged pained looks of overtaxed patience.
John felt any remaining tension drain away as he listened to his teammates talk. It had been a rough two weeks, knowing that rescue probably wasn't coming. When it finally had come, it had been one of the weirdest rescues he'd ever been a part of. But he was home. For now, that was all that mattered.