Season 3 between Common Ground and Irresponsible
Captain Sean Hanson stepped through the wormhole and looked around at the blue sky and the large meadow that greeted his team. He took a deep breath, trying to quell the nervous knots in his stomach, even though he knew it was probably a pointless attempt. Sidestepping the MALP, he walked away from the gate.
"Another meadow," Sergeant Dale "Rusty" Stossel drawled in his heavy southern accent. "And trees. Ancients sure did like their meadows and trees."
"Would you rather step out into three feet of snow?" Lieutenant Craig Raitano answered.
"Not really," Stossel sighed.
"Pansy-assed Mississippi boy," Raitano teased. "You'd never survive a winter in Maine."
"Who'd want to?" Sergeant Andy Markovich chimed in.
Sean sighed. He couldn't be mad at his team for the banter. It was normal for them and he knew each of them was experienced and professional when they needed to, but this mission was different. He reached up, running his hand through his short, brown hair. "Focus, guys," he lightly reprimanded. He glanced back at his team's silent companion, who ambled along with them, his gait relaxed and easy and his eyes hidden by sunglasses.
Sean returned his gaze forward, hoping his glance had gone unnoticed by the man who happened to be his commanding officer. In his six months on Atlantis, Sean had hardly spoken to Colonel Sheppard, but then again, most of the guys were like that. Sheppard made an effort to talk, at least once, with everyone under his command, but it was a large command, and he was their CO. Conversations didn't happen often, or easily, in spite of Sheppard's efforts to treat every one of them as equal as possible. At first, Sean had been caught off guard by Sheppard's unorthodox style of command, but he quickly decided he liked it. There was no doubt that Sheppard was in command and everyone followed his orders, but Sean believed it was as much out of personal loyalty as it was duty.
He glanced back at Sheppard again. He'd heard from other team leaders that Sheppard's off-world evaluations weren't a big deal, but knowing that and feeling it were two different things.
Seanstood quietly, just inside the door of Sheppard's office. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Sheppard swiveled his chair and faced him. His eyes scanned up and down Sean's body for a second before he waved dismissively. "At ease, Captain. In fact, make that a standing order. I don't need you to snap to every time you walk in here. We have enough other shit to worry about besides protocols."
Sean folded his hands behind his back and relaxed his stance just slightly. "Yes, sir."
Sheppard smiled. "Good. Your team is scheduled to do a little follow-up recon on M1C-592 tomorrow, right?"
Sean nodded. "Yes, sir. Gonna look a little closer at it for a possible Alpha site. Sergeant Stackhouse flagged it the first year here."
Sheppard nodded. "Uninhabited as far as we can tell, temperate climate, easy access to the Stargate. Yeah, I remember that report." A dark shadow crossed his expression. "Pretty cursory look. We were a little pressed for time to find an Alpha site back then," he said quietly. "Been two years. We'll send a MALP first to be sure it's still A-OK." With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair, the springs squeaking as he folded his hands in his lap. "How's the team getting on?"
Sean shrugged. "Good, sir. I think I have a good group of guys with a complementary skill set. And we get along well, too."
One side of Sheppard's mouth turned up. "Chemistry's as important as skill, especially for off-world teams." He stood up and walked a few steps closer to Hanson. "Your six-month eval is coming up, Hanson. How do you think you've done?"
Sean's brows furrowed slightly. "I've made some mistakes, sir, but overall I think I've done pretty fair." He thought Sheppard's smile looked approving, but it was hard to tell.
"I'm going to go along with you on your milk run tomorrow. It's all SOP. Just don't like writing evals without seeing my team leaders, and their teams, in action."
Sean pressed his lips together just a little and nodded. "Yes, sir," he answered trying to ignore the nervous knots that formed in his stomach.
"Came out of the gate into three feet of snow one time," Sheppard finally spoke.
"No shit, really?" Rusty answered. "Sir?" he hastily added.
"Really," Sheppard's expression was slightly amused. "Definitely did not peg my fun meter. We'd been to the planet not long before the follow-up mission, so there was no MALP recon ahead of time. Damned planet apparently had some nasty winters. Had to scratch that one off the Alpha list."
"Is that why we sent a MALP here first this time, Colonel?" Raitano asked.
"One of the reasons," Sheppard answered. "And we haven't been back in over two years. A lot can change in two years."
Sean stopped and turned towards Sheppard. "Colonel? The mission report said that Stackhouse's team initially performed a half-klick sweep around the gate. Recommend that we extend that to two klicks. If everything looks good, we can flag the planet for a science team and a jumper to do an extensive, planet-wide scan and final evaluation."
Sheppard seemed to scrutinize Hanson's expression for a moment before nodding. "It's your mission, Captain," he answered neutrally. "But I think that sounds just about right."
Sean nodded. "Yes, sir." He looked at his team. "Raitano…" His voice trailed off as the unmistakable sound of the Stargate activating interrupted him. Fifty or so yards away, the lighting of the first chevron on the gate was unmistakable. "Sir?"
A mask of seriousness fell over Sheppard's expression. "Can't be Atlantis. We just got here."
"Then who?" Raitano asked.
Sean looked over his shoulder at the tree line and guessed it to be about twenty yards away. "Sir, the trees?"
Sheppard watched the second chevron lock before he glanced at the tree line and nodded. "Yep. Hanson take point. Double time it. I got the six. Move."
Sean immediately took off, sprinting towards the trees, his team hot on his heels with Sheppard behind them. Sean ducked under a couple of low hanging branches, turned and fell to his knees, his P-90 aimed towards the gate as his team and Sheppard crossed into the trees. Sheppard settled next to him, pocketed his sunglasses, and also trained his gun on the gate as the last chevron locked and the wormhole flushed to life.
Sean watched as uniformed men crossed the event horizon in pairs and walked away from the gate. "Genii," he muttered. He'd never seen them live before but, like every serviceman and woman on Atlantis, he'd attended the orientation seminar on Pegasus natives – AKA the "Bad MFs of the Galaxy" meeting – and knew the uniforms and weapons on sight. He looked over at Sheppard, who nodded.
"Yep," Sheppard answered. "Question is, are they good Genii or bad Genii?"
"Are there good Genii, sir?" Stossel whispered.
Sheppard shrugged. "Point taken Sergeant. But there's less bad ones, like the guys loyal to Ladin Radim… oh, hell."
Sean looked back towards the gate. Several Genii were milling around the MALP and, from their gestures, talking intensely. Several others were intently examining the ground and walking in a circle around the gate. A couple even knelt, looking closer. Realization dawned on him. "The MALP is a dead giveaway of who we are and that we're still here." Sean shook his head. "Looks like they found our tracks, too."
Again, Sheppard nodded. "Since it's supposedly an uninhabited planet, it's not like we were trying to cover our trail. They don't need a tracker to find us."
"You track, sir?" Sean asked and again glanced at Sheppard.
Sheppard quirked a brow in dark amusement. "I couldn't follow a bulldozer through a forest, Captain, but Ronon and Teyla are both pretty good at it. Picked up a few things along the way."
"We still don't know if they're good or bad Genii," Raitano interjected. "Or is it bad and badder?"
"Badder?" Markovich answered. "Did you really just say that?"
"That's why we haven't moved yet, Lieutenant," Sheppard answered, ignoring Markovich. "Damn it. These guys always make me nervous. Never know where you stand with 'em."
Sean stared at the Genii, one in particular catching his eye. The tall man had a hard expression Sean could see, even from a distance, and he stood apart from the others, quietly observing their discussion. "Sir," Sean glanced at Sheppard. "Think that one's the leader?" He pointed. "The tall one at our two o'clock."
Sheppard stared for a moment, before nodding. "Likely. Good eye, Captain. They know we're here and who we are; there's no way any Genii worth his salt doesn't know our uniforms, weapons, and equipment on sight, so we'll wait to see what he does to figure out what we'll do."
Sean watched the Genii. After a moment, the apparent leader calmly walked over to three others debating near the MALP. He seemed to speak, though his voice was too quiet to hear before he turned and waved at the rest to join him.
"Yep," Sheppard whispered, "he's definitely the leader."
The Genii gathered around the leader and listened as he spoke. When he finished, they fanned out, drawing their guns almost simultaneously, as they walked slowly but directly towards Sean and his team's position.
Before Atlantis, Sean had served in the Iraqi theater, and one of many things he'd learned working with natives that could be either friend or foe was to read people quickly and listen to his instincts about them. Right now, his instincts were screaming a warning at him that he couldn't deny. He turned his head and met Sheppard's solemn gaze. "Definitely badder."
"I count twenty-five," Rusty whispered. "At least half have those funky semi-automatic rifles, the rest a split of hand and shotguns." He shook his head. "Some pretty heavy-duty ordinance."
Sheppard nodded and tensed, lifting his gun slightly. "They could just be cautious, but my instincts agree with you, Captain. These aren't nice guys. We're outgunned and out manned. The last thing we need is a firefight, so I don't want to engage them unless we have no choice. We need to move. Now. We'll circle back to the gate, but right now, we just need to keep some space between these guys and us. I'm on the six. Go. Quietly."
Sean slowly stood but paused as he looked back at the gate. "Sir."
Sheppard turned and sighed as he caught sight of the same thing Sean saw. Three Genii parted from the group and trotted back to the gate to stand guard. "We'll figure that out when we have to," Sheppard answered. He looked back at Sean. "Go."
Sean nodded and turned into the woods, trying to move quickly and quietly but the dense vegetation made that a challenge. He pushed a branch aside, and stepped over another one. So much for the milk run.
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John tagged along behind Markovich, occasionally looking over his shoulder and expecting to see their pursuers, but each time he was met with quiet, dark woods. Still, he didn't take comfort from that either. He couldn't see a damned thing beyond about a dozen yards, and after a half hour of hiking, he had no idea if the Genii were twenty or two hundred yards behind them. He looked forward again, catching a glimpse of Hanson's back as the young captain led them deeper into the woods. He had a damned impressive record, but then again, John made sure no one wet behind the ears or anything less than exceptional made it to Atlantis. He had enough to worry about with his command without dealing with inexperienced greenhorns or troublemakers to boot. Hell, Pegasus had a habit of chewing up and spitting out even the best the military had to offer. Substandard was a death warrant in this command, but for all his experience and exemplary record, Hanson had only been in Pegasus for six months and this was the first time he'd encountered any trouble off world. There's a first time for everything. John grunted quietly. The kid had done a good job, picked a good team, and with his combat experience in the Iraqi theater, John thought he'd do well in Pegasus, but the unknown always worried him.
John's gaze narrowed as Hanson slowed and waved at Raitano, who followed right behind him. After brief quiet words, Raitano took point and Hanson fell in step next to John, who cocked his head in curiosity. "Captain?"
"Sir," Hanson answered. "I've been thinking about getting past the Genii at the gate."
John nodded. "And? You have an idea?"
Hanson nodded in return. "Yes, sir." He looked up at the streams of sunlight that worked their way through the dense tree branches. "I've been watching the sun and it's gotta be late afternoon, seeing how the sun is moving down towards the horizon. If we wait until dark, we'll have a better chance of getting the drop on the Genii and securing the gate."
"So, stay ahead of our pursuers until it's dark and make a break for the gate then?" John answered as he turned over the idea in his head.
"Yes, sir. If we can put enough distance between us and the pursuing Genii, we should be able to escape before they catch up."
"If not," John answered, "we'll be fighting a two front fight against greater numbers and more ordinance."
"Yes, sir." Hanson was unflinching in his answer. "But at this point, that's true regardless of what we do or when we do it."
John quirked his brows. "True." Abruptly, he froze as a sound behind him caught his attention. He raised a fist in Hanson's direction as his one-handed grip tightened on his P-90.
"Marko," Hanson hissed at Markovich, getting the sergeant's attention.
Markovich's eyes widened, before he turned back and poked Stossel in the shoulder, who then silently stopped Raitano as well.
John scanned the trees behind him. "Thought I heard…" His whispered voice was cut off by another branch cracking, not far behind them. John stared hard, his gaze piercing as he tried to make out any movement.
"Animal?" Hanson whispered.
John shook his head. "Not this close behind our tracks, unless it's hunting us, which we really don't need right now."
"It's not likely it would be making that much noise if it was," Hanson answered.
John glanced questioningly at Hanson, who shrugged.
"Grew up in the Colorado wilderness, sir."
John nodded. "Good to know. Then you can find your way around these woods."
"Yes, sir," Hanson immediately answered.
John waited a moment longer, but heard nothing more than a soft breeze in the branches and the occasional bird. "Okay, let's go. Get back on point, Captain. We'll go with your plan for now."
"Yes, sir," Hanson answered. He quickly made his way back to the front of the group and led them deeper into the woods.
John backpedaled for a few steps before thick underbrush and snags forced him to turn and face the direction he was going. He really wanted to watch their six more closely, but winced at the thought of crashing to the ground because he wasn't paying attention to where he was walking, so he settled for frequent glances over his shoulder and hoping they'd put distance between themselves and the Genii.
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Sean quietly walked along, leading the team in a large arc back towards the gate. The streams of sunlight moved lower and lower on the horizon as the shadows from tall trees grew longer. The sunlight was near his three o'clock and Sean was pretty sure that sunset was close. The dark would both help and hinder them, but he knew, and saw that Sheppard agreed, that the darkness would be their best chance to get away.
He took a deep breath, exercising iron control over his nerves and adrenaline. Both were good to have around – both helped keep you alive – but combat had taught him quickly that both had to be controlled. He slowed his pace as the woods thinned just a little, and the air around them brightened with more of the setting sunlight casting an orange glow. He did a quick calculation in his head and guessed they were pretty close to the gate meadow. Raising his hand, Sean made a fist, stopping his team before he crouched and slowly moved forward. He found the edge of the underbrush and peeked through, his eyes passing over the Genii and the Stargate. He glanced left as Sheppard silently crouched down next to him.
"Five," Sean whispered. "The leader must've sent two back when they didn't immediately catch up to us."
Sheppard nodded. "Still decent odds, especially with surprise on our side. The others can't be far behind us, though." He looked up at the sky, now darkening as the sun slipped beyond the horizon. "We'll have to move soon. We can't wait for full darkness, but the twilight will help."
Sean nodded. "Fifteen minutes?"
"Not sure we even have that much time," Sheppard answered. He looked back as Rusty edged up between them.
"Got to do something soon, sirs," Rusty whispered. "Our friends are close. Can hear them in the woods. Maybe a hundred yards off at the most."
"Damn it," Sheppard muttered. "Get Raitano and Markovich up here. We go now."
Sean quickly checked the load on his P-90 and flipped off the safety. "How do you want to play this, sir?"
Again, Sheppard looked up as the other three members of Sean's team moved up into position. "It's dark enough that they might not be able to tell who we are at first. We play that as long as we can." He looked over at Sean, the intensity of his expression still clear in spite of the waning light. "As soon as the first shot is fired, we won't have a lot of time to get outta here before our friends behind us catch up." He looked back at the other team members before looking back to Sean. "There's still a chance these aren't bad guys, so do not fire until fired upon, but then… make every shot count."
Sean's lips tightened in determination and he nodded curtly. "Yes, sir." He stood, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the woods, only a half step behind Sheppard. He lowered his gun and forced an air of casualness over his demeanor. Scattered around him, the rest of his team followed, their mannerisms similar. No one said anything as they steadily made their way out into the meadow.
"Commander Raynor?" one of the Genii called as all of them turned towards the approaching group.
Sean looked at Sheppard who glanced at him, shook his head, and remained silent. Ever so slightly, Sheppard raised his gun, just a little, but kept walking.
Sean duplicated his action and turned his attention back to the Genii, who fanned out and raised their guns in response to the silence that greeted their hail.
"Identify yourselves!" The same Genii demanded.
"Be ready," Sheppard muttered. "When this starts, hit the dirt. There's no cover out here. Take 'em down as fast as possible."
Sheppard had no sooner finished his sentence, when the silence was broken by the crack of a gunshot. Before any of them could react, Stossel cried out and crumpled to the ground.
"Hit the dirt!" Sheppard commanded as he dropped like a rock.
Sean dove to the ground and opened fire, his shots missing one Genii who also dropped to the ground. He looked over his shoulder watching as Markovich crawled over to Stossel. "Marko?" he questioned.
"He's hit in the right chest," Markovich answered as he ripped a bandage from his TAC vest pocket and looked down at Stossel. "Hang in there, Rusty. You're gonna be okay."
Sean's gaze switched from Markovich to Sheppard in time to watch the colonel quickly push himself up to a kneeling position and open fire, taking out a Genii who was unfortunate enough to be in his sights. Near as Sean could tell, Sheppard tagged the Genii with three shots to the chest, most likely killing him on the spot. Sheppard dropped back to the ground as gunfire from the other two Genii answered his shots.
Sean refocused on the Genii, and flipped on his laser sights, immediately tagging the next Genii in the chest. He opened fire, dropping the man.
"Behind us!" Raitano shouted a warning and Sean flinched as a bullet drove into the ground close to his leg, sending up a puff of dirt.
"Shit!" Sean pivoted on his hip and opened fire on the rest of the Genii who broke from the woods, shooting. Raitano's shots joined his as Markovich took down another guard near the gate. "Not good!"
"Aw, crap!" Sheppard lifted himself off the ground and took a shot at the last two Genii guarding the gate. His first shot took down one of them, but though the second shot went wide, it distracted the Genii long enough for Markovich to take him down.
"That's it!" Sheppard shouted. "Markovich, Raitano! Grab Stossel and go! Hanson! Watch their six. I'll lay down cover fire. Move it!"
Prone, Sean quickly assessed the situation and shook his head, holding his ground. He opened fire, taking down two more Genii.
"Hanson! Move it!" Sheppard commanded.
"Sir!" Sean chanced a glance at Sheppard who was prone about a dozen yards to his right. "There's too many! You can't hold them off on your own!"
"Hanson…" Sheppard started but he shook his head. "Damn it! Alright, it's your ass!"
Sean looked back at Markovich and Raitano who had a good hold on a barely conscious Stossel. "Ready?" He quickly tossed aside his spent P-90 clip and loaded another.
"Ready!" Raitano barked.
"On three!" Sean commanded. He looked over at Sheppard who nodded in agreement. "One… two… three!" He shot to his feet and opened fire, scattering automatic shots quickly from left to right. Sheppard was right with him, and between the two, they blanketed the area, forcing the Genii to hit the dirt and take cover, giving Raitano and Markovich the time to get Stossel to the gate. Behind him, Sean heard the unmistakable sound of the chevrons locking, before he heard the kawoosh of the wormhole. Over his headset, he heard Raitano's hail.
"Atlantis, this is Raitano! We're under attack and coming in hot! We need a medical team in the Gate Room immediately!"
"IDC confirmed, Lieutenant." The unmistakable and unflappable voice of Doctor Weir answered. "The shield is down and a medical team is on its way. Come home."
"That's our cue!" Sheppard shouted as he risked a glance at Sean. "Let's get the hell out of here!"
"Yes, sir!" Sean continued firing, as he started backpedaling towards the gate, noticing that Sheppard let him get a lead before he started his retreat, and in a fleeting moment, Sean realized that Sheppard had no intention of going through the gate until every one of his men had reached safety first. He'd learned early that Sheppard was a true combat CO in every sense of the word, watching out for his men whatever the situation, but the tangible evidence only strengthened his loyalty.
Sean risked a glance over his shoulder, catching a fleeting glimpse of Raitano and Markovich, practically carrying Stossel between them, disappearing into the wormhole. He looked back at the Genii, focused, and fired, taking out another one before changing tactics back to blanketing the area, trying to keep the Genii from returning fire. It mostly worked, though he tried to ignore the couple of shots that'd barely missed his head or plunked into the ground next to him. His team had made it to safety and in spite of the danger to him and Sheppard, he took a small bit of comfort from that.
Sean could hear the hum of the gate as they closed in on it, but he forced himself to keep a steady retreat and fought off the instincts to turn and make a run for it. Half dozen yards away, Sheppard did the same thing, methodically firing, alternating between blanketing the area, and firing on individual Genii when they got brave enough to stick their heads up and try to return fire.
Suddenly, Sean was propelled forward, like someone had grabbed his arm and shoved him. He staggered, crying out as pain seared through his left bicep. He fell to his knees as his mind raced. He knew he'd been shot, but the force from a gunshot fired by the Genii should have sent him backwards, not forwards….
"Hanson!" Sheppard shouted before spinning and opening fire.
Sean twisted, looking over his shoulder as at least a half dozen Genii raced across the field from behind the Stargate. "Sir!" he shouted. He lurched into a kneeling position and opened fire, covering Sheppard's six. He winged one Genii in the leg and sending him staggering to the ground. Sean held is fire as he suddenly realized he was surrounded by silence. He glanced at his CO.
Sheppard was rock still, his gun still ready. He sighted down the Genii and slowly turned a half circle, assessing the situation.
Sean's gaze found the Genii commander who also stood motionless, his gun ready. His expression was hard, but he didn't open fire. Sean looked back at Sheppard, who met his gaze.
"Hold your fire, Captain," Sheppard ordered quietly, but firmly. "You okay?"
Sean glanced down at his arm, and the trail of blood that made its way down from his bicep, dripping to the ground from his elbow. "Just a graze, sir. I'll be fine."
"Colonel Sheppard, Captain Hanson, please respond." Weir's voice came across the radio. "What's your situation?"
The shake of Sheppard's head was barely perceptible, but Sean saw it and didn't answer Weir's hail. His eyes widened as Sheppard silently mouthed 'vox'. Somewhere along the way, he'd opened a channel on his headset. Now, anything Sheppard said, Weir and the rest of the crew in Ops on Atlantis, would hear. Sheppard slowly turned back, focusing his gaze on the Genii leader. Sean held his ground and his aim on the leader as well. Genii were at their back, but with Sheppard and himself training guns on their leader, Sean doubted they'd do anything rash.
"Well, this is interesting," Sheppard called out to the Genii leader, who cocked his head in return.
"I am Raynor, commander of the Genii," the leader responded. "You are surrounded and outgunned. Surrender or my men will kill both of you where you stand."
"Commander Raynor of the Genii," Sheppard answered. "Can't say I've heard of you, but I'm sure Ladon Radim won't like hearing that you've given us trouble." Sheppard's gaze hardened even more. "You seriously wounded one of my men and attacked the rest of us. I plan on making a pretty big damned stink with Ladin over this."
Raynor lowered his gun, though his men still held theirs ready. "Ladin is not the true leader of the Genii, so I care not what he thinks. Had I the chance, I would shoot him on sight."
Sheppard's aim on Raynor never wavered. "I suppose you think you're the true leader of the Genii?" he asked, sarcasm tingeing his voice.
"No," Raynor shook his head. "Commander Kolya is."
From the corner of his eye, Sean saw Sheppard stiffen. He glanced at his CO, his eyes widening at the hard and dangerous mask that fell over Sheppard's expression.
"Kolya," Sheppard's voice was dangerously low. "Figures."
Raynor cocked his head as he scrutinized Sheppard's expression. "Ah," he smiled slightly. "You must be Colonel Sheppard. Your reputation precedes you, Colonel, as does your hatred of our commander."
A dark, humorless smile turned up Sheppard's mouth just slightly as he stared, unwavering, down the sight of his P-90 and directly at Raynor. "I always wanted to be famous."
"Infamous, I would say," Raynor countered. He drew in a deep breath. "Enough of this," he waved dismissively. "Surely you realize that you and your man are both outnumbered and outgunned, Colonel. Lay down your weapons and surrender, or my men will kill you."
Sean didn't move. He had his gun trained on Raynor's head. All he needed was an order by Sheppard and the Genii commander would be dead before he hit the ground. He knew he had at least a half dozen guns aimed at him that would fire in return, but surprisingly he was calm. If he was going to die, it was going to mean something. Taking out Raynor would mean that no one else would have to face him again. Sean was good with that.
But no order came. Sheppard was motionless as he seemed to weigh his options and, apparently, Raynor's patience.
"You have ten seconds, Colonel," Raynor's gaze hardened.
Sean tensed. "Sir?" he asked quietly.
Sheppard inhaled deeply and slowly lowered his weapon, his gaze still fixed on Raynor. "Stand down, Captain."
"Colonel…" Sean started only to be cut off by Sheppard.
"Stand down." Sheppard repeated, firmly. "That's an order."
Sean slowly lowered his gun, surrendering it to a Genii who quickly disarmed him, taking his P-90, nine mil, and knife before another stripped off his TAC vest and took his radio headset. Two more Genii paid the same treatment on Sheppard before Raynor walked up to the colonel. He waved a Genii holding Sheppard's TAC vest over to him and rummaged through pockets until he found Sheppard's radio. Sean had seen Genii radios and they weren't that dissimilar, so he was unsurprised that Raynor knew how to use it.
Raynor walked away from Sheppard, turned, and faced the still open Stargate. He lifted the radio. "Atlantis, this is Commander Raynor of the Genii. We have captured your Colonel Sheppard and his companion. From this point forward, there will be men guarding the Ancestral Ring. If you attempt to send a rescue team through the ring, my men will radio me and we will kill Colonel Sheppard and his companion without hesitation. Respond, confirming this message."
"This is Doctor Weir of Atlantis." Weir's stern voice came back over the radio. "Release my people immediately."
Raynor smiled slightly and again lifted the radio. "Ah, Doctor Weir. So nice to finally meet you. You know, of course, that I cannot release your men. At least, not yet. But if you wish to have a chance to ever see them alive again, you will not attempt a rescue. Have I made myself clear, Doctor?"
"Very," Weir answered. "But I suggest that you do not harm them, or you will have to deal with us."
Raynor's brows arched slightly. "Strong words for a diplomat, Doctor Weir."
"I am the leader of my people, Commander Raynor. I will protect them, diplomatically or otherwise. Now, have I made myself clear, Commander?"
Raynor's smile widened just a little. "Very, Doctor. We have an understanding." He switched off the radio and gestured at another Genii, standing by the DHD, who quickly shut down the gate.
Raynor walked over to Sean and stood close, looking him in the eye. "I do not know you. What is your name?"
Sean stared coldly back at him for a moment before looking to Sheppard for a cue.
Sheppard met Sean's gaze and slowly shook his head.
Wordlessly, Sean looked back at Raynor, equaling the commander's piercing stare with a defiant one of his own.
After a long moment, Raynor chuckled quietly. "No matter. You'll tell me eventually." He lifted his hand, waving at the Genii standing behind him. "Bind their hands behind their backs. Let's go."
Sean looked over at Sheppard again, who greeted his gaze with a confident and determined expression. Sean took a deep breath, fortified his own strength, and nodded in return. He knew the game. Even though he'd never been in a situation like this before, he'd had enough training before Iraqi Freedom that he knew what to expect… at least he hoped he did.
Sean took a deep, quiet breath. He'd look to Sheppard to lead and to himself for strength.
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Elizabeth planted her hands on her hips and turned away from the Stargate as it went dark. Her mind raced, processing all that this Raynor had said to her, as well as what she'd heard through Sheppard's radio. She met the expectant gazes of Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla with a confident expression of her own. "What are our options?" she asked.
"Kill Raynor and his men," Ronon immediately answered, "and get Sheppard and Hanson back."
"Direct, as always," Rodney replied. "Did you not hear Raynor clearly state that he'd kill both of them if we so much as send a MALP?"
Ronon took a step closer to Weir. "They won't recognize me," he insisted. "I can get through the gate and kill the Genii guarding it before they can get a warning off to Raynor." His expression turned darkly challenging. "I'll get them out."
Elizabeth stared back at his confident expression. She had no doubt he believed his words, and there was a good chance that he'd be able to do what he said he could, but she still hesitated. "That's risky. If something unexpected happens and one of them gets a warning off to Raynor, Sheppard and Hanson are dead."
"It won't happen," Ronon insisted.
Elizabeth pressed her lips together and nodded. "We'll keep that plan in reserve, Ronon." She looked past him to the rest of her people. "I want other options."
"If we cannot get to the planet, then our options are limited, Elizabeth," Teyla answered.
"So find me a way to get to the planet undetected," Elizabeth answered. She looked to Rodney, who grimaced in return.
"Of course, look to me," he answered. "Why do these things always fall to me?" he groused as he sat down and started typing furiously on his laptop. "For that matter, why do I even need a team?"
"Rodney…," Elizabeth started by let her voice trail off at Rodney's waving hand.
"I know, I know. Just… it was rhetorical, okay?" His waving hand dropped and joined the other as he continued typing.
"Can we use a cloaked jumper?" Teyla asked.
Rodney shook his head. "No. It'll never work. Jumpers can't travel through a wormhole cloaked." Again he waved his hand though he never looked up from his laptop. "And before you ask, I don't know, okay? We've never been able to figure it out, but considering we lost one jumper on an unmanned test last year, I think it's probably a bad idea to try again, until we know why."
"So, with men guarding the gate, they'll see the jumper and be able to alert Raynor before our team would have a chance to cloak," Elizabeth sighed and turned back towards the gate.
"Exactly." Rodney's tone was unwavering.
"If we cannot get to the planet undetected," Teyla responded, "then I do not see how we can mount a rescue."
"Which brings us back to me figuring something out," Rodney muttered. "No pressure or anything."
Elizabeth turned back, her slight smile tight. "If anyone can figure this out, you can, Rodney." She stared at him a moment longer before uncrossing her arms and inhaling deeply. "Ronon, Teyla, get down to the infirmary and talk to Markovich and Raitano. See if you can get any intel that will help us once we have a way to mount a rescue." She paused. "And find out how Stossel's doing." Turning, she looked at Chuck. "When is Major Lorne's team due back from P46-822?"
"Not for another 6 hours, ma'am," Chuck answered, "but they have a scheduled check in thirty minutes from now."
Elizabeth nodded. "Recall them immediately when they make contact." She looked at Rodney. "Let me know when you have something." Maintaining an air of confidence that she didn't feel, she turned and walked to her office.
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Sean stumbled hard as the Genii behind him pushed him forward, continuing down a narrow trail through the trees. He paused long enough to glare at the offending Genii before stepping over a tree root and walking on, following closely behind Sheppard. Darkness had descended fully on them now, and only the intermittent light of a Genii-style flashlight gave him any visibility. He walked along, trying to feel his way over the path and avoid obstacles, but in the dark, it was tough. His mind turned over their recent fight, particularly how the Genii had managed to flank them, and he could only reach one, logical conclusion. "There were Genii already here," he muttered.
Sheppard turned his head just a little and ever so slightly nodded. "Yep," he whispered. As if in confirmation of his words, the trees thinned, revealing a midsized structure illuminated by fire pits forming a perimeter. Three heavily armed Genii stood guard, relaxing their stance slightly as Raynor stepped through the trees.
Raynor waved at the guards. "Be vigilant. Inform me of anything out of the ordinary."
The three Genii guards slapped the front of their weapons, almost in unison, the equivalent, Sean had been told, of a salute.
"Commander." One of them nodded curtly.
Raynor opened the front door and paused. He motioned at three different Genii. "Bring the prisoners inside. The rest of you, return to your patrols and also maintain vigilance. I do not expect Doctor Weir and the Lanteans to take this without a fight, but they are not stupid enough to force me to kill these men. They're very clever. Inform me of anything suspicious."
All of the Genii, slapped their guns before breaking up into groups.
Sean drew in a deep breath through his nose as one of the three guards roughly grabbed his arm and shoved him forward. He looked to his right, noticing Sheppard receiving the same treatment. They were marched up the stairs, through the front door and into the building, right behind Raynor.
Sean blinked hard, his eyes quickly adjusting to the dark, windowless interior. A couple of lamps and several candles lit the room, but the glow was dim at best. He swallowed hard as his gaze fixed on three sets of chained handcuffs hanging from the ceiling. His eyes followed the chains upwards to where they were bolted into the crossbeams of the low ceiling. The walls were bare and the room was mostly empty save for a small, wood table at the back. The Genii holding his arm marched him over to one set of chains, while Sheppard was marched to another. Sean's Genii guard looked back at Raynor who nodded. Sean stiffened as the Genii pressed the muzzle of his handgun to his forehead. Unmoving, Sean's eyes rolled left and he watched as Sheppard tensed, anger permeating his cold expression.
"Colonel," Raynor leaned back against a small, wood table on the far side of the room. "You and your companion will be secured one at a time, you first. If you attempt any sort of escape, my man," he nodded his head at the Genii holding a weapon to Sean's head, "will kill your companion. Once you are secure, your life will be held in balance for his cooperation."
Sheppard's dark guffaw was quiet. "Pretty scared of two unarmed and tied up men, aren't you?"
Raynor didn't rise to the bait. "I know enough about you, Colonel, to be cautious. Commander Kolya may not like you, but he respects you as an adversary. That says a great deal to me." He looked over at the Genii guarding Sheppard and nodded.
Sean turned his head just a little, trying to ignore the cold bite of the gun barrel in his forehead as he watched the Genii untied Sheppard's hands. Sean immediately noted the tension in the colonel's body and his clenched fists. He knew the look. The colonel wanted nothing more than to take the fight to the Genii right now, but he was smart enough to know they had to wait for the right opportunity. Sean swallowed hard. Through this all, Sheppard had seemed to acquiesce, bowing to every order by Raynor, but Sean knew better and at this moment more so than any other. He could see it in the colonel's expression and in his body language. Sheppard was waiting for the right time, and when that time came, he'd fight without hesitation. Sean's gaze narrowed slightly and he strengthened his resolve. When that moment came, he'd be ready too.
The Genii soldier secured first Sheppard's left hand and then his right hand into the manacles, leaving him to stand with his arms stretched above him. Sheppard braced his feet, his hands still clenched in fists, as he glared at Raynor, his gaze unwavering as another Genii walked up and pressed a gun to his temple.
Sean's attention turned back to his own guard as the gun left his head and the guard untied his hands. He looked back at Sheppard, meeting the colonel's hard gaze, undaunted by the gun pressed to his forehead, for just a moment and tried to keep as much strength in himself as he saw in Sheppard's eyes. As Sean's hands were secured in the manacles, his gaze turned to Raynor. He braced his feet and pulled experimentally on the chains.
Still leaning against the table, Raynor crossed his arms and looked at Sheppard. "Very good, Colonel. I assumed you were smart enough to behave, but it's good to know that your companion is, too. You train your men well."
"Better than you think," Sheppard answered. "Unchain us and we'll show you just how good."
Raynor chuckled. "Tempting, but no." He uncrossed his arms and stood, slowly walking over to Sheppard, his boot heels echoing on the wood floor. Standing close, he looked Sheppard right in the eye. "I'm certain you have much information that would be useful to us."
Sheppard was unmoving. "Probably not," he answered. "Just ask Ladin. I'm only the errand boy."
Raynor grunted quietly. "I'm not inclined to believe you, Colonel." He sighed and stepped back. "But I also know that direct interrogation against you will probably be fruitless, so I think I'll have to take another approach." Raynor turned and slowly walked towards Sean.
Sean's mouth went dry, but he refused to show anything but strength as he met Raynor's gaze head on.
"He's just a soldier under my command," Sheppard answered. "He doesn't know a damned thing."
Sean kept his breathing even and clenched his teeth as his gaze stayed locked with Raynor's. He'd had interrogation training, parts of which he never liked to think about. Even though he understood and agreed with the reasoning for it, the training with all of its push for realism didn't compare to the threat of the real thing.
"I agree that he may not know as much as you do, Colonel. You are, after all, the commander of your base." Raynor looked Sheppard's direction. "But he still could provide something useful." Raynor looked back at Sean. "Let's start with something easy. Your name and rank."
Sean inhaled deeply and let the breath out slowly as he lifted his chin in defiance. Strangely, he felt calm. He was doing the right thing and knew it. "Doesn't matter what you do to me." His voice was clear and low. "I'm not telling you anything."
One side of Raynor's mouth turned up in a dark smile. "It is not yourself you should be worried about."
Sean's head snapped left as one of the Genii guards struck Sheppard with a vicious right cross, sending him staggering. The colonel fell back against the chains, grunting loudly, before he regained his footing. Sean reflexively took a step his direction, but the chains stopped him. "Sir!"
Sheppard shook his head hard and spit blood before taking a deep breath and looking up at Sean. This time, his head shake was slow and deliberate.
Sean looked back at Raynor. "You son of a bitch."
Raynor's gaze was calm. "That was a simple punishment for a simple question." He paused, his gaze narrowing. "It will not stay that way." He took a step closer to Sean. "Name and rank."
"Don't do it," Sheppard spit again. "He'll just ask for more."
Raynor looked to the Genii guard near Sheppard and nodded slightly. Without hesitation, the guard buried the butt of his rifle in Sheppard's gut.
Sean could hear the breath explode from Sheppard's lungs as he again staggered, falling heavily against the chains. Sheppard wheezed a couple times before coughing, swaying as he struggled to regained his balance. His breath was hoarse as he panted, trying to recover lost air.
Conflict wracked Sean. He knew what was happening and why. He knew what he should do and why, but raging against that was the sight of his commanding officer being beaten to a pulp because he was uncooperative. Words flew from his mouth, almost before he realized it. "Captain Sean Hanson, United States Army."
"Hanson… damn it," Sheppard managed.
Sean looked at Sheppard. "With all due respect, sir," his words were short, "you're not part of this conversation."
"Don't tell them anything," Sheppard insisted. "That's an order."
"How noble," Raynor interrupted, practically spitting the last word. "Both of you." He ran a hand over his chin and stepped back. "Now that we have that out of the way, Captain," he looked back at Sean, "let us proceed."
"I gave you something," Sean answered. "Leave the colonel alone."
Raynor's smile was humorless. "That is not… how this works."
Sean closed his eyes as the reality of the situation hit home with him. Sheppard had been right all along, and deep down, Sean had always known it, even when he'd given Raynor what he wanted.
Raynor's voice regained Sean's attention. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at the Genii commander.
Raynor's stare darkened. "There are many worlds that ally with you," he clasped his hands behind his back. "Some of which provide you with intelligence about the Genii and our activities, specifically those of us not loyal to Ladin's government." He again stepped closer to Sean. "Who are they?"
Sean's mind raced. He definitely didn't have a complete list, but there had been two worlds in the last six months that his team had visited who'd provided them with intelligence on rogue Genii activities. He swallowed hard. If he gave that information to Raynor, Sean had no doubt these rogue Genii would massacre all of the people, whether they had any direct involvement or not.
"He doesn't know anything about that," Sheppard interjected.
Raynor's eyes narrowed as he studied Sean's expression, never looking at Sheppard. "I think you are lying to me, Colonel."
"I'm not, damn it," Sheppard insisted.
Sean looked at his CO as Sheppard took a step towards them, pulling on his chains. "He doesn't know anything. You want that intel, you talk to me. Leave him out of it."
Raynor slowly looked over at Sheppard for a moment, before he switched his gaze to one of the guards and nodded.
"No!" Sean shouted as the guard stepped forward and struck Sheppard hard across the face. More blows to the head and midsection followed, sending Sheppard reeling and Sean pulled uselessly against his chains, powerless to stop the attack. Finally the guard stepped back, leaving Sheppard stunned, hanging heavily from his chained arms.
Raynor looked back at Sean. "Captain?" He said expectantly.
Sean stared at Sheppard as the colonel moaned quietly and shifted his weight, slowly recovering from the beating and found his footing. Sean's brows creased as he weighed the life of his CO against the lives of their allies and the innocent people that would get swept up in the Genii's revenge and suddenly his answer, the only answer he could give, was clear to him.
Sean looked back at Raynor. "I don't know anything." From the corner of his eye, he could see Sheppard nod slowly.
Raynor sighed. "Another line of questioning then." He walked over to the Genii guard. "Remove his shirt."
The guard walked up to Sheppard and ripped open his BDU shirt before pulling his knife and cutting it away. The t-shirt quickly followed before he stepped back and stood quietly.
Sean's eyes passed over Sheppard's bare torso, noting the dark markings already forming from the beating he'd taken, but Sheppard's gaze remained defiant.
"Hold your knife ready," Raynor ordered the guard.
Sean's eyes widened and he met Sheppard's gaze, who stared resolutely back at him and shook his head again. Sean drew in a deep breath and glared at Raynor. He knew his glare meant nothing to the Genii commander, but in a small way, it made him feel like he was doing something.
Raynor crossed his arms and looked back to Sean. "Each of you has a code that verifies your identity to Atlantis so that they lower their gate shield to let you in. What is your code, Captain?"
Sean physically recoiled from Raynor's question. He tensed. "Oh, hell no," his answer was immediate.
"Good answer, Captain," Sheppard immediately responded.
Sean glanced at him and nodded, suddenly realizing what Sheppard was doing. Bound and helpless, Sheppard was not only still commanding but also giving Sean strength and confidence in his decisions, where he could. Sean drew in a deep breath. "Thank you, sir. I thought it might work."
"Noble again," Raynor answered their conversation, "but ultimately stupid."
As if on cue, the Genii soldier stepped forward and slashed the knife across Sheppard's left pectoral muscle.
Sheppard couldn't quite stifle a cry of pain as blood immediately welled up along the gash. He grunted, his body tense and breaths coming at a rapid pace.
Sean froze, unable to do anything, not even tear his eyes away from Sheppard. His mind was reeling and he swallowed hard against bile in his throat.
Raynor seemed undisturbed. "As I told you," his voice even and devoid of emotion, "the more serious the questions, the more serious the punishment."
"Don't back down… Captain," Sheppard managed. "That's an… order."
Sean tore his eyes from Sheppard, his own breaths coming fast and his own version of pain clenching his chest. "Shit!" he pulled hard against the chains, ignoring the bite of the manacles in his wrists.
"Captain?" Raynor pressed him for an answer.
Sean's head whipped back towards Raynor. "No! No, goddamnit!" He turned his head away, squeezing his eyes shut, but not before he saw the Genii bury his knife to the hilt in Sheppard's right thigh.
Sheppard's cry of pain pierced Sean's ears. "Leave him alone, you asshole!"
"Tell me your code, and I will," Raynor immediately answered.
"No!" Sheppard's voice was strangled but still held a note of command, and somehow, Sean gained strength from it.
Sean pinned Raynor with a glare. "No!"
Raynor sighed heavily. "This is getting nowhere. Perhaps you need some time to watch your colonel bleed and suffer, and to think about your decision, before we talk again." Raynor walked over to Sheppard and, without hesitation, grabbed the knife, pulling it roughly from Sheppard's leg.
Sheppard screamed in pain, his legs all but giving out and leaving him hanging by his arms.
Raynor looked at one of the Genii guards. "Watch them." Without another word, Raynor and the other two guards left the room, slamming the door behind them.
Sean's eyes quickly passed up and down Sheppard's body. Blood seeped from his wounds, but the bleeding was worst from his leg. Sheppard somehow managed to stay on his feet, but he hung heavily on the chains, swaying just slightly. His head was down and his eyes were closed as he breathed heavily.
"Sir?" Sean asked quietly.
Sheppard lifted his head. "I'm… okay."
"The hell you are, sir," Sean answered, unable to keep the anger from his voice.
Sheppard panted hard a couple times before responding. "Not your… fault, Captain."
Sean looked away. "Yes, sir." His voice was quiet and unconvinced, so he wasn't surprised that Sheppard seemed to pick up on it.
Sheppard's quiet voice compelled Sean to look back at him. In Sheppard's expression, Sean saw confidence and a deep, resounding strength. "Sir?"
"You had no… choice," Sheppard insisted. "If this comes down… to my life or the lives of everyone… on Atlantis, or innocents on… other worlds, make… the right decision."
Sean blinked hard and looked away. He knew what Sheppard was saying, and knew the colonel was right. "Yes, sir."
"You'll have to… live with that decision, Hanson," Sheppard continued, "but trust me… you can."
Sean slowly looked back at Sheppard and in his gaze, saw a quiet confidence, paired with a haunting pain that only someone who knew what he was saying, first hand, could have. Quietly, Sean nodded as he shored up his inner strength. "Yes, sir."
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Elizabeth stared at her tablet, the words meaning little or nothing to her. She wondered why she was trying to distract her attention in the first place, when all along she'd known it would never work. She tapped the screen and flipped pages, her gaze settling on the medical report on Sergeant Stossel. The surgery had been successful, if a little dicey in places. She sighed. At least they had that one piece of good news. Stossel would be okay, just out of service for a long time.
Pushing back from her desk, Elizabeth stood and walked to the large window overlooking the Gate Room. The Stargate was silent and dark, illuminated only by the orange and yellow rays of the setting sun streaming through the large stained glass window behind it. Her mind turned over their problem, but she saw no answer and that did nothing to help her mood. She hated being helpless, but until Rodney or any of them thought of something, she was. Her gaze narrowed in anger. Who did this Raynor think he was dealing with? Her reputation as a diplomat had spread across Pegasus, but since coming to Atlantis, she'd become much more than that. Two years ago, she would've sworn that any situation could be resolved diplomatically, if the right common ground was found, but that was until she met the Wraith.
And the Genii apparently.
Her thoughts settled on Ladin Radim and she had to question his dedication to their somewhat shaky treaty. She sighed and rubbed her forehead. Ladin seemed sincere and he could very well want peace between them, but it was times like this when she questioned his motives more than ever.
Her hand reflexively clenched her headset as Rodney's voice came over the radio.
"McKay to Weir. Come to Ops immediately. I think I have a solution."
A small smile briefly graced her mouth as she tapped the call button. "On my way. Get Lorne and the rest of Sheppard's team up here, too."
"Already here, ma'am," Lorne answered.
Elizabeth quickly crossed the bridge from her office to Ops and stopped a short distance from Rodney's workstation. She rested her hands on a nearby panel. "What have you got, Rodney?"
Rodney stood up and walked over to the hanging display screen behind the operational control panels. "An alternative," he answered.
"Let's hear it," Elizabeth insisted. Her gaze settled on the display, scanning a map of a large section of the galaxy.
"As we know," Rodney started, "we can't gate directly to M1C-592, without being detected."
"We know this part, McKay," Ronon answered.
"Yes, yes." Rodney shot a glare his direction. "I'm just setting things up."
"Rodney, please come to the point," Elizabeth answered.
"Fine." Rodney tapped the display screen and paused as it focused in on a specific quadrant. "According to the Ancient database, and as we've noted before, this particular sector of the galaxy was heavily populated during the Ancient's time in Pegasus. As a result, the concentration of gates is significantly higher than other, more remote sectors of the galaxy."
"Okay," Elizabeth nodded.
"So," Rodney continued, "since we can't gate directly to M1C-592, I searched for something close." He tapped the screen and it focused in even more, showing five different planets, two with gate designations.
Elizabeth's eyes widened. One of the designations was M1C-592. The other she didn't recognize, but it was in close proximity. She looked up at Rodney as he tapped the planet in question.
"M1C-505," he smiled. "Four hours away by puddle jumper."
"We gate to 505 and fly to 592?" Elizabeth asked, knowing already that's where Rodney was going.
Rodney beamed. "Yep! We can cloak in plenty of time to get in undetected. Once we're there, we'll easily be able to locate Sheppard and Hanson by their subcutaneous transmitters."
Elizabeth's smile matched his. "Excellent." She turned. "Major Lorne, assemble your team."
"I'm going," Ronon cut in.
"As am I," Teyla immediately answered.
Elizabeth smiled at both of them. "Of course." She looked at Rodney who stared blankly back at her for a moment.
"What?" Rodney asked. "Oh! Of course I'm going. I would've thought that was a given."
"Ma'am," Lorne's voice was quiet, "I have requests from Lieutenant Raitano and Sergeant Markovich to be on the rescue team as well."
Elizabeth nodded. "As long as they're cleared by medical, absolutely." She drew in a deep breath. "You have a go. Good luck."
"Ma'am," Lorne nodded once, curtly before heading for the back stairs, the others right behind him.
She watched them go. Another four hours before they'd know something, but at least they were able to act now instead of being helpless. She turned and looked at the gate. Coming, guys.
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Sean had no idea how long he'd been standing there, he just knew his legs were shaking from fatigue and muscle cramps sent pain up through his body. He looked over at Sheppard, wondering how the colonel was still on his feet. Blood pooled beneath his leg, but as near as Sean could tell, the bleeding had slowed. Still, judging by the amount on the floor, he'd lost quite a bit in the process. Though he had his feet under him, Sheppard still leaned heavily on his shackled arms and around the edges of the manacles, Sean could see blood where the metal cut into his wrists. The colonel's head was down, but from the occasional movement, Sean knew Sheppard was still somewhat coherent. "Sir?" he asked quietly.
Sheppard lifted his head, and it bobbed just a little. "Captain?" he managed.
"Sir," Sean repeated, "how are you doing?"
Sheppard's head bobbed again and he chuckled weakly. "I think it's safe to say… I've been better."
Sean took a moment to shoot a glare at the guard standing by the door before he softened his expression and looked back to Sheppard. "Sir, I'm sor…."
"Don't say it, Captain," Sheppard interrupted. He looked up, meeting Sean's gaze. "None of this is your… fault, clear? I don't want… to hear any more about… it. That's an… order."
Sean swallowed and nodded. "Yes, sir." He looked away, the opening door grabbing his attention. Another Genii soldier walked in, closing the door behind him. He stopped, taking a moment to look at first Sheppard and then Sean, before he turned towards the guard. Without hesitation, he swiftly pulled a knife and slashed it across the guard's throat.
Sean tensed, adrenaline surging. "What the hell?"
The Genii soldier caught the guard and eased him silently to the floor. He grabbed the keys off the guard's belt and turned away, ignoring the gurgling of the dying man. He swiftly walked up to Sheppard.
"Who the hell… are you?" Sheppard stared hard at the man.
The soldier nodded. "Colonel. My name is Maxus." He looked back and forth between Sheppard and Sean. "I work for Ladin Radim, gathering intelligence on Kolya's activities. Commander Raynor is otherwise occupied at the moment. I believe I can assist you in escaping but we must act now."
Sheppard's gaze narrowed. "You're a spy."
Maxus nodded. "Yes, among other things," his voice was unapologetic.
"How do we know… we can… trust you?" Sheppard insisted.
Maxus shrugged. "You don't. But you also have no choice if you wish to escape."
"He has a point, sir," Sean answered.
Sheppard looked at Sean for a moment before nodding. "Point taken. Get us… outta here."
Maxus quickly unlocked Sheppard's manacles and caught the colonel as he collapsed, slowly lowering him to his knees. Sheppard stifled a grunt as his wounded leg was jostled. "You're very weak," he observed.
Sheppard leaned forward, resting on his hands and his good knee, taking some weight off his wounded leg. "Just give me a… minute."
Sean rattled his chains restlessly and Maxus took the hint. He unlocked the manacles and Sean quickly went to Sheppard's side. He knelt and put his hand on the colonel's shoulder, immediately feeling his CO's shaking muscles. Sean bit back his concern. "Sir?"
Sheppard straightened and sat back on one knee, trying to keep the weight off his wounded one. "Help me up, Captain."
"Yes, sir," Sean slipped under one of Sheppard's arms and slung it over his shoulder. Grabbing the colonel's belt, he helped him to his feet, taking a lot of his weight. Blood soaked the torn pant leg on Sheppard's right leg and he staggered as he put weight on the injured limb. "Easy, sir," Sean reassured, "I got ya."
"We must hurry." Maxus' voice was urgent. He slowly opened the door a crack and looked out for a moment before nodding. "The way is clear."
"We're not going to get past the guards at the front door," Sean answered. "What's your plan?"
Maxus looked at him. "To use the back door. Come."
"Back door," Sheppard answered. "Of course." He chuckled weakly.
Sean started walking and Sheppard stayed with him, quietly taking as much of his own weight as he could. Sean appreciated the effort, but could feel just how weak the colonel was and how much of his weight he was unwillingly passing off. But Sean didn't say a word, just supported his CO as he followed Maxus out of the room.
Maxus led them into a room adjacent to the one they'd been in. He closed the door behind them and quickly crossed the room to the far wall. He reached behind the bookcase and his actions were followed by a click in the wall on the other side of the bookcase.
Sean's gaze narrowed as part of the wall opened, just a little, revealing a door that had been seamlessly built into the surrounding walls. "Nice," he commented.
"From the Genii?" Sheppard answered. "It doesn't… surprise me."
Maxus stared hard at him and Sheppard waved weakly. "Compliment," he answered.
Maxus headed for the opening. He grabbed the edges and pulled the door open wider before peeking outside. He looked back at them. "Clear. There is no way to close the door behind us, so as soon as they discover our escape, they will know which way we went."
"Can't be helped," Sheppard answered as Sean helped him across the room. "Just need to… put some distance between us and this place."
"If we can make it to the gate, we can escape to the Genii homeworld," Maxus waited just through the door. "Ladin can then contact Atlantis."
"Sounds like a… plan," Sheppard answered.
Sean held tightly to Sheppard and dodged around the open wall, following Maxus out of the building and into the dark. Curbing the adrenaline flowing through him, Sean looked around, peering through the dark and trying to spot any Genii who could be lurking as they quickly made their way across the short open space to the tree line. Crossing into the trees, Sheppard stumbled heavily but managed to muffle a broken cry of pain as he fell hard against Sean.
Sean reached out with his other arm and steadied Sheppard. "Sir?" He could feel the sweat on Sheppard's torso and hear the colonel's loud breathing.
"Keep… going," Sheppard answered as he surged forward, forcing Sean to stay with him.
"The nights on this planet are short," Maxus whispered as he led them through the trees. "It will not be long until we have light to see by."
"And for them to track us," Sean answered.
"True," Maxus replied. "We must keep moving."
Sheppard staggered again, but kept his footing. "Then, stop slowing us… down," he quipped.
In spite of the situation, Sean smiled and he could hear what sounded like a chuckle from Maxus, who said nothing as he led them deeper into the woods.
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Rodney had just enough time to look at the green grass and large meadow surrounding the Stargate, before Lorne pulled the jumper into a steep ascent, rapidly heading for orbit. Clouds and mist rolled over the jumper's windshield and Rodney wondered about the Gs he shouldn't but could still barely feel through the seat. He looked over at Lorne. "Inertial dampeners need calibrating."
Lorne's intense look was broken slightly by a small smile. "They're fine, doc. Just want to feel some Gs that's all." He shook his head. "Don't feel like I'm flying if I don't."
Rodney's gaze narrowed in irritation. "You've been hanging around Sheppard too long. I thought he was the only one moronic enough to reset the dampeners."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Lorne answered. "What's our time?"
Rodney tapped a few keys on his control panel. "Four hours, fifteen minutes orbit to orbit."
"Go faster," Ronon insisted.
Rodney turned in his chair and glared at Ronon, a look that was returned. "Oh yes, thank you for that helpful input! I actually thought we'd land and, you know, have a picnic… take a nap. That kind of thing."
"Rodney," Teyla's voice was quiet and tolerant.
Rodney turned back around in his seat, frowning as the jumper surged in a new burst of speed, and he could again feel Gs pulling on him, even if only a little. He glared sideways at Lorne. "This is a highly tuned, highly complicated machine, but you couldn't just leave well enough alone, could you?" To his irritation, Lorne only smiled and kept flying.
Rodney looked out the windshield as atmosphere gave way to the darkness of space. Sheppard was always messing with the jumpers, disrupting the fine-tuning Rodney and his team painstakingly put into place. It irritated Rodney to no end, but in that moment, he realized that now, he just hoped he'd have to endure that irritation again. His thoughts settled on Sheppard and the Genii, and he took confidence in the fact that if anyone could survive Genii terrorists, his money was on Sheppard.
Without the drag of atmosphere, the jumper surged ahead through the dark void between planets.
"Step on it," Rodney muttered. He met concerned gazes with Lorne for just a moment, before the major returned his attention out the windshield.
"Consider it stepped on," Lorne answered.
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Sean held tightly to Sheppard and lurched to a stop as Maxus froze, raising his hand in warning. Sheppard's hand tightened on Sean's shoulder as he pulled himself straighter and looked around. Sean took that moment to study the colonel's expression.
Sheppard's face was white, pasty looking in the dawn light, and sweat streamed down his cheeks, but his eyes, though underlined with dark circles, were clear and sharp. He panted hard, but Sean could tell without a doubt that his keen gaze took in everything around them.
Sean tore his eyes from Sheppard and looked around, his head instinctively snapping towards a rustling noise in the trees, not far from their position. On the heels of the rustling, Sean heard distinct voices.
"… have to be around here somewhere. The colonel is injured. They couldn't have gone far."
"Raynor's gonna kill us if we don't find them."
"Then shut up and keep looking for tracks!"
Sean stiffened, adrenaline surging as the branches parted and three Genii stepped through the trees and froze.
"Shit!" Sheppard pushed himself away from Sean, his exclamation prompting Sean to move, but he only got a couple steps, before he was facing the business end of three Genii handguns. Sean stopped in his tracks, raising his hands in submission and his heart sank. They'd been so close to winning freedom only to have their one chance slip through their fingers.
"Do not move!" one of the Genii insisted, his gun trained right on Sean. The other two stepped closer and aimed their weapons at Sheppard and Maxus.
The one guarding Maxus scowled. "Gotta be a spy of Radim."
Maxus just shrugged indifferently.
"Raynor's going to love interrogating you, traitor," the second Genii chimed in.
A twitch raced up Maxus cheek. "Ladon Radim is the true leader of the Genii. You are the traitor."
Sean glanced at Sheppard and was grabbed by the intensity of his CO's gaze. Sean's eyes narrowed as Sheppard's gaze darkened even more. The shake of his head was barely noticeable, but it shouted a message, loud and clear, to Sean.
Sean silently drew in a deep breath and tensed, waiting for the right opportunity.
"Bind their hands," the first Genii, guarding Maxus, ordered the other two.
Completely still, Sean's eyes never left the soldier that approached him. Closer… closer…. It'd been drilled into him that every fight had its opportunity for victory. Usually only one, and the chance to seize it was quick. Miss it, and you missed your only chance to win. He watched, intently, looking for that moment; the one chance he had to take the element of surprise and run with it.
The soldier stopped right in front of him, his gun wavering slightly as he prepared to holster it and in that fleeting moment of distraction, Sean acted. His hand shot out, grabbing the soldier's wrist and he twisted hard, breaking it in one swift move. The Genii screamed in pain and from the corner of Sean's eye, he saw Maxus leap forward, tackling his guard. Sheppard landed a vicious punch to his guard's midsection, crippling him. Where the colonel got the strength to throw even one effective punch, Sean had no idea, but also no time to think about it.
The Genii soldier at Sean's mercy, looked up and in a cold moment of clarity, Sean didn't hesitate. With his right hand, he ripped the knife from the Genii's belt holster and plunged it deep into the man's chest. Ignoring the hot blood on his hand, he let go, leaving the knife where it was and tore the gun from the dying Genii's hand before letting him fall heavily to the ground.
Sean twisted and fired, winging in the arm the Genii who was descending on a weakened Sheppard. The shot sent him reeling backwards with a cry. Another gunshot echoed in Sean's ears and he looked towards Maxus in time to see the Genii push Maxus' body off his and lurch to his knees.
Sean felt like the world was moving in slow motion. He dropped to one knee and fired, taking the Genii who'd shot Maxus square in the chest before he could get a shot off. Sean twisted just in time to see Sheppard, wielding a large stick, strike the Genii that he'd been fighting across the shoulder. Sean pivoted on his knee, waited for the Genii to straighten, and put a bullet in the center of his chest. The man fell soundlessly to the ground.
Sean's head whipped around, his breaths coming fast, as he looked for any other targets, but he found none. He relaxed just slightly, his gun shaking just a little with his surging adrenaline. "All clear."
Leaning heavily on his stick, Sheppard unceremoniously collapsed to the ground next to him. "Nice moves… Captain."
Sean lowered the gun. "Thank you, sir." His gaze fixed on Maxus' unmoving body and he quickly walked over and knelt next to the face down Genii spy. Carefully, he turned Maxus over, grimacing as he was greeted with the man's dead gaze. "Damn." He quickly stripped the other Genii of guns. From the supply belt of one of the Genii, Sean found a bandage, and he grabbed it and walked back to Sheppard, feeling slightly better now that he was armed.
The colonel was flat on his back, his eyes glassy and his breathing shallow. It was clear to Sean that the fight, however brief, had taken a lot out of Sheppard.
Sean knelt next to Sheppard's wounded leg. "Sir, I'm going to bandage your leg. Hopefully it'll help with the bleeding, but this will probably hurt."
"No 'probably' about… it, Captain," Sheppard managed. "Tie it.. tight. It's gonna hurt… like hell." He took a deep breath. "Maxus?"
"Dead," Sean answered as he peeled back the sticky edges of Sheppard's ripped pant leg, fully exposing the wound. Blood slowly seeped from the wound. Not immediately life threatening, but the steady creep of blood from the wound and down his leg was still killing Sheppard; it was just doing it slowly.
Shaking open the bandage, Sean laid it over the wound. The Genii field dressing was similar in design, with long strips designed to tie and bind the wound. Sean carefully worked them under Sheppard's leg, crossed them, and slowly pulled them tight.
Sheppard grunted as the bandage tightened around his wound. "You're going… to have to do better… than that, Captain," he insisted.
Sean nodded. "Yes, sir." He crossed the ties over the top of the bandage and pulled hard, roughly, but quickly, tightening them over the wound.
This time, Sheppard's grunt was more punctuated. "Gah damn!" He breathed hard. "That's… more like it," he added with a weak smile.
Sean knotted the bandage and crawled up by Sheppard's head. "Sir, those gunshots are going to bring every Genii in the area down on us pretty fast. We gotta move."
Sheppard struggled up onto his elbows and then, with Sean's help, into a sitting position. "Yep." He took a deep breath. "Gonna need… your help on… that."
"Right." Sean shifted around so he was right next to Sheppard and wrapped an arm around the colonel's back. He ducked under Sheppard's other arm, letting it rest on his shoulders. "Ready, sir?"
"As I'll ever… be," Sheppard grunted and pushed himself upwards while Sean lifted, slowly pulling the colonel up onto his feet.
Sean held tightly to Sheppard and was motionless for a moment as the colonel swayed some on his feet before steadying. "Which way?"
Sheppard closed his eyes for a moment and swallowed hard before replying. "Towards the… gate."
"Yes, sir." Sean started off through the thin trees, again taking a lot of Sheppard's weight onto himself. He knew the colonel was still trying not to lean too heavily on him, but he also knew that Sheppard didn't have much control over that anymore.
"Elizabeth's not gonna… take this lying…down," Sheppard panted. "Nearer we are… to the gate, the faster… they'll find us. They'll start… there."
"We have our sub-q transmitters, too," Sean added and Sheppard nodded.
"We do. That'll… help." He chuckled. "Who knows? Maybe Raynor was bluffing and they're… not watching the gate and… we can… get away."
Sean arched his brows and looked over at Sheppard incredulously.
Sheppard chuckled again. "Yeah… no way." What could've passed for a shrug rippled through Sheppard's body. "Nice thought… though."
In spite of the gravity of their situation, Sean chuckled. "So is a beach full of nude swimsuit models, sir. Doesn't mean it's gonna happen."
Sheppard's bark of laughter was abrupt and sharp. "Speak for… yourself. I plan on finding one… as soon as this is… over."
Sean kept smiling as he helped Sheppard along. He knew the colonel was doing his letter best to keep both their spirits up, and Sean was content to go along with it. Whatever Sheppard needed to do to stay on his feet, Sean was good with. His smile faded at a snap in the tree branches not far from their position. "Sir?" he whispered and staggered to a stop.
Sheppard's face was a mask of intensity, mixed with pain and weariness, all humor gone. He nodded slightly. "Head slightly… south. We might be… able to avoid them."
Sean headed the designated direction. "If they come through this spot, they'll pick up our tracks," he answered.
"We'll have to hope… they don't."
Sean heard about as much confidence in Sheppard's voice as the scant amount he felt in his gut. In Sheppard's state, if the Genii got on their tracks, there was no way he and the colonel would be able to stay ahead of them. "Yes, sir," he answered, uncertainty finding its way into his voice in spite of his best efforts to keep it out.
Sheppard glanced at him and nodded once, but said nothing.
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John couldn't remember a time where he'd felt more miserable. Okay, he admitted to himself, not recently. That thought alone spooked him. The day he started comparing all of his miserable life-and-death situations against each other was the day he needed to find another line of work.
He stifled a grunt as pain shot up from his wounded leg, and he shook his head at it. Stabbed in the leg just for spite. Sometimes he wondered if he walked around Pegasus with a big sign on his back saying 'aim your random acts of violence here.'
He tightened his fingers into Hanson's shirt, holding tightly to the captain's shoulder, and glanced at Hanson. The captain had really shown his mettle through all of this, weathering the torture and interrogation as well as anyone could. Hanson carried a guilt John was all too familiar with, and he knew that no matter how many times he told Hanson it wasn't his fault, deep down he'd still feel some guilt over the incident. In fact, John would've been worried if Hanson reacted any way other than being disturbed and pushed almost to the brink of cracking by the torture of another human being, CO or not. What mattered was that in the end, Hanson hadn't given up anything vital. No IDCs, no allied worlds, nothing. Just his name and rank.
As they entered a small clearing, John stumbled hard. He felt Hanson's grip on him tighten in spite of the almost overwhelming pain that coursed through his body. "Damn it," he managed, right before his legs collapsed. He expected to fall hard to the ground but Hanson held fast, slowly lowering him down.
John refused to lie down farther than to settle on shaking elbows. "Help me… up," he insisted, trying to ignore the weakness and pain that flooded him, peppered with bouts of nausea. He watched Hanson kneel and look him over.
"You need to rest, sir," Hanson answered.
John struggled onto his side and pushed himself up on one hand. "The hell with… that," he answered. "Genii are… too close." His arm gave way and he fell to the ground panting.
"With all due respect, sir," Hanson answered, his voice even, "you're not getting up without my help, and I'm not helping you until you rest a bit."
John lifted his head and tried to glare at the captain, but he had a feeling his look didn't pack too much punch for the simple reason he knew Hanson was right. John figured he might get to his feet through a sheer act of willpower, but nothing would be left in him to walk. He sighed and nodded. "Point taken, Captain."
"Yes, sir," Hanson answered simply.
John let his head fall back to the ground and he stared up at the rapidly brightening sky. His eyelids drooped and he blinked hard, forcing them to stay open. "You said you… grew up in… Colorado?"
"Yes, sir," Hanson smiled slightly. "Wellington. Just north of Fort Collins. Family cattle ranch."
John smiled just a little. "Pretty country."
"Prettiest country in two galaxies," Hanson's voice was full of confidence and pride. "You, sir?"
"Maryland and… Nevada, depending on the… time of year," John answered.
"Quite a contrast, sir," Hanson arched his brows a little.
"Yeah," John answered, "in more… ways than one." His thoughts touched briefly on his aloof father and the culture of money, contrasted with his grandparents' grounded, hard-working life on their modest family farm. He smiled just a little. "Grandparents had… some Herford cattle in Nevada."
"Good breed," Hanson nodded. "My parents raise polled Saleres."
John abruptly lifted his head at a snap in the underbrush close by. Hanson quickly got to his feet and pulled a gun.
"Don't fire unless you have to," John whispered, pushing himself up on his elbows. Even if the shot disposed of whoever found them, it'd be heard for miles.
Hanson nodded and set the weapon down close to John, keeping another one for himself, but he left it tucked in his belt. "Yes, sir," he answered quietly. He quietly crossed the clearing towards the sound and stopped, his stance tense but ready.
Another snap echoed through the trees, this time much closer. John struggled to push himself up off the ground, but his strength failed him. Frustrated, he settled for leaning on one arm, and he looked around, trying to find a rock or a stick or something besides the gun that he could use as a weapon. Finding nothing close, he grabbed the handgun and lifted it, ready to cover Hanson's back if it came down to it. He forced his shaking hand to steady as the underbrush rustled and then parted, revealing two Genii soldiers. They froze, their gazes fixed on John.
Hanson immediately leapt into action, landing a vicious right cross on one Genii, and a backwards kick into the gut of the second one. The first Genii moved to draw his gun but Hanson was faster. Lashing out, he landed a focused blow on the Genii's throat, crushing his windpipe. Choking, the Genii staggered and fell, but Hanson had already turned back to the second Genii, still struggling to catch his breath. Hanson leapt at him from behind and grabbed the Genii's head. With a swift twist, he broke the soldier's neck in one move and let him drop to the ground.
Hanson stood between the two bodies, breathing heavily before he looked back at John and nodded once, curtly.
"You're one… tough son of a… bitch, Captain," John slowly lowered the gun.
"MAC Level 4, sir." Hanson responded.
"Level 4?" Sheppard answered. "Remind me to never piss you off," he managed a small, dark smile and Hanson only quirked his brows in return.
John lifted his hand. "Help me…up. Gotta get moving."
The dark expression on Hanson's face melted away, replaced with conflict as he stared hard at John.
John waved the hand weakly. "No room for… argument, Captain," he tried to add a hard note of command to his voice but wasn't sure it came across. "Help me…up."
Hanson inhaled deeply and nodded before walking over to John. He ducked under John's raised arm and grabbed his belt. "Easy, sir."
John forced his good leg under himself and stood, irritated by how much he had to rely on the captain to even get that far. He felt Hanson reach up and hold onto his wrist as his grip on John's belt tightened. John drew in a strengthening breath and lunged forward, Hanson right in step with him. Passing the two dead Genii, they moved into the trees.
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"Engaging cloak," Lorne announced.
Rodney looked up from his instrument panel, watching mist pass by the jumper's windshield as Lorne piloted her down through the atmosphere. "Bring up the HUD." He looked up as the HUD flicked on, its colors contrasting with the gray and whites of clouds beyond the windshield. Abruptly, the mist parted and bright sunshine streamed in.
Rodney tapped a couple of keys on his panel and two blinking dots appeared on the HUD. "That's Sheppard and Hanson's transmitters." He looked at Lorne who nodded. Abruptly, Rodney felt the jumper change course. He tapped another button and two more signals superimposed themselves over the first set. "Life signs. They're alive," he smiled, but his smile faded as at least a dozen more life signals appeared around Sheppard and Hanson at varying distances. "Genii," he pointed.
"They're both alive?"
Rodney's head turned towards the voice and his gaze fixed on Raitano, who stood between Teyla and Ronon. "Yes," he snapped. "Hence the life signs."
"They're moving," Ronon observed. "They must've escaped and the Genii are after them."
Rodney looked back at the display and nodded. "Logical." He scanned the various readings on the HUD. They're in a heavily forested area and definitely not staying in one place like they would be, if they were imprisoned. They're being chased."
"They may not realize it," Teyla interjected and pointed at the HUD, "but they are surrounded. It is only a matter of time before they are captured again."
"Then we'll have to get to them before that happens," Lorne answered. "Scan shows a clearing about two klicks from their current position. We'll land there." He glanced at Rodney. "Can we use the life signs detector to track them by their transmitters?"
Rodney's mind raced, quickly finding a solution. He nodded and pulled the LSD from his vest pocket. "I can recalibrate it, yes." He immediately started tapping keys and making configuration changes.
"Good," Lorne answered. "We'll use the LSD to find them." He glanced back at Raitano. "Lock and load, Lieutenant. We'll be on the ground in five minutes."
Rodney's hands flew through the configurations, the distinct sounds of weapons being loaded and checked fueling his urgency. He rebooted the LSD and looked back and forth between its display and the HUD. They matched. "Got it." He refocused his eyes, looking past the HUD at the clearing Lorne aimed for.
The jumper settled to the ground and Lorne looked up at the HUD. "Still two klicks to the south." He jumped out of his seat and strode to the back, Teyla and Ronon right behind him. Rodney followed, letting Markovich, Raitano, and the rest of Lorne's team go before him. He met gazes with Lorne who stood next to the hatch release and looked at him expectantly.
Rodney looked down at the LSD and shook his head. "The immediate area is clear. You're good to go."
Lorne punched the hatch release and raised his P-90 as the ramp slowly lowered. Without another word, he led the team out of the jumper and into the woods.
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Fatigue burned through Sean's legs, but he doggedly continued, knowing the strain on his body was nothing compared to Sheppard's. Sean risked a glance at his CO. Sheppard's head was down, his gaze distant. He seemed almost in a trance. What concentration he had left must've been focused on the singular task of staying on his feet.
Sean returned his attention forward as he ducked under a branch, the underbrush thinning. He took that as a good sign that they were close to the edge of the woods and, given the direction they were headed, he fully expected to see the Stargate when they reached the tree line.
He staggered as Sheppard abruptly collapsed, turning into dead weight on Sean's arm. "Sir?" He reached out with his other arm and held fast to the colonel as he lowered him to the ground, propping him against a tree. "Sir?" he repeated as he knelt next to him.
Sheppard's eyes were closed and he moaned softly in reply. Sean sat back on his heel and sighed. He looked down at the blood soaked bandage still firmly wrapped around Sheppard's leg. He'd lost a lot of blood and Sean knew Sheppard wasn't going any farther, but still, he was amazed the colonel had lasted this long. "Speaking of tough sons of bitches," he muttered.
Sheppard moaned again, his lips twitching slightly. "Ro…non," he slurred. "theresss a… tough… guy…."
Sean smiled just a little at Sheppard's reply. He'd seen the big Satedan in action in the gym and had the unpleasant privilege of getting his ass kicked by him as well. Sean nodded. "Yes, sir. Definitely. Biggest badass I've ever met."
Sheppard's weak chuckle turned into a feeble cough. He swallowed hard, his eyelids cracking open just a little. "Don't th…think 'm… movin… any… soon," he admitted.
Sean nodded in agreement. "No sir, I'd say you're not."
Sean cocked his head slightly. He wasn't sure what Sheppard had to be sorry about, except that maybe his strength had finally given out. At the same time, Sean figured he'd be saying the same thing if their positions were reversed. He looked away. He had said the same thing earlier that day, even if it was different circumstances. "Nothing to be sorry for, sir," he answered quietly.
This time Sheppard's eyes opened completely. His gaze was clouded with pain and weakness but still held a spark of intensity. "Exactly… Captain," he answered.
Sean stared hard at him for a minute before he sighed and nodded. Sometimes things just happened that were out of your control and you had to do your best and go on. Sheppard had made that point with him, and Sean accepted it.
"Do not move."
Sean tensed in surprise at the voice behind him, immediately followed by the distinct sound of several guns cocking. Sean cursed himself for letting them get the drop on him. His gaze never left Sheppard as he slowly raised his hands.
"Inform Commander Raynor that we have them," another voice ordered and Sean heard yet a third voice relay the message through a radio.
"Is Sheppard alive?"
Even over the radio, Sean recognized the voice of Raynor.
"He's pretty bad off, Commander, but yes, he's alive," the Genii answered.
"Bring them back to base," Raynor ordered.
Sheppard's eyes moved as he looked past Sean for a moment, then back at him. "Six." His whisper was barely audible.
Sean closed his eyes for a moment, his nod barely perceptible. Six were too many. He couldn't fight them all on his own. Resigned, he opened his eyes and saw the same look in Sheppard's expression.
More rustling in the trees, this time from behind and to the left of Sheppard, grabbed Sean's attention. His heart sank even further. Even more Genii meant their prospects of escape went from desperately slim to none. Then his heart leapt in surprise as several figures burst from the trees, the sound of gunfire deafening. It took Sean a moment to process what he was seeing but when he did, he drew his gun, twisted, and fired as Ronon charged up next to him, red bolts almost continuously springing from his gun.
Sean hardly got a shot off before all six Genii were dead, easily defeated by the overwhelming gunfire from the rescue party. Panting, Sean lowered the gun, letting it slip from his fingers as he sat down hard, the adrenaline draining from his body.
"Area's clear," McKay's voice grabbed Sean's attention. He glanced at the doctor who stared at a life signs detector.
"John?" Teyla's voice sounded concerned and Sean looked over to where she knelt next to Sheppard, who'd finally lost his battle to stay conscious. She briefly met gazes with him and nodded once, her expression grateful.
Sean looked over at Raitano, who knelt next to him. Markovich stood close by, his gun trained on the Genii bodies.
Sean smiled. "Lieutenant." He was surprised at the hoarse tone of his voice, but Raitano just flashed him a brief smile.
"The Colonel?" Lorne looked over Teyla's shoulder.
"We must get him back to Atlantis quickly," Teyla answered as she took Sheppard's pulse.
"I got him," Ronon holstered his gun and squatted in the spot Teyla vacated. Slipping his arms under Sheppard, the big man easily lifted his team leader off the ground.
Lorne looked at Sean. "Captain? You okay?"
Sean knew he looked like hell, the drying blood on his arm probably adding to his haggard appearance, but he pushed himself off the ground. "Yes, sir," he answered. "More or less," he added.
Lorne nodded in acknowledgement. "Jumper's not far. Let's move," he ordered. "Raitano take the six."
Sean forced his leaden legs to move and he stood. "Rusty?" he asked as Raitano turned to move away.
Raitano paused and smiled. "Gonna be okay," he answered.
Sean sighed deeply, relief flooding him for the first time that day. Taking his place in the middle of the group, he fixed his gaze on Ronon's wide back as they hastily moved through the trees.
Growing up in Colorado, Sean had seen some beautiful sights in his time, but as the jumper came into view, he decided he'd never seen anything more beautiful in his life.
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Showered, fed and rested, Sean felt like a new man as the doors to the infirmary parted before him. He paused just inside the doors, his gaze fixing on Sheppard's bed on the other side of the infirmary. The colonel was propped up by pillows, his leg elevated by yet another stack of cushions, and Sean could see the thickness of heavy bandages under his scrub bottoms. Ronon, Teyla, and McKay all stood close by and seemed relaxed as they chatted with their team leader.
Looking to his left, Sean walked towards another bed, smiling at its occupant. "Rusty," he said as he stopped next to the bed. "How ya feelin'?"
Stossel smiled back weakly, his gaze clouded by medication. "Cloud nine, sir," he answered hoarsely.
Sean's smile widened just a little. "I bet. Good drugs. Doc says it'll take a while, but you're gonna be fine."
"Yes, sir," Stossel answered, "No doubt there as far as I'm concerned." He paused before continuing. "Congrats on saving the colonel's life."
Sean cocked his head in confusion, but Stossel just shrugged, wincing as he jostled his wound. "Overheard it."
Sean felt a little uncomfortable at the thought and tried to shrug it off. "Just doin' my job." He backed away from Stossel's bed. "Get some rest."
Stossel's eyelids drooped. "Yes, sir," he whispered.
Sean turned away, his mind dwelling on Stossel's comment and the attention he didn't want but would probably get for his actions. He'd done what he had to do, what any of them would've done, and the only thing that he could've done. Getting praised over it felt weird to him.
Sean pulled himself from his thoughts and looked up, meeting gazes with a smiling Teyla. He smiled back.
"Hanson," Sheppard waved him over.
Sean walked up to the foot of Sheppard's bed and stood next to Ronon. Teyla went back to the left side of the bed, and McKay stood on the right. "Sir," he answered.
Sheppard looked past him for a moment, before meeting his gaze again. "How's Stossel?"
Sean's lips twitched in mirth. "Happy. Good drugs."
Sheppard's brows arched in amusement. "Been there, done that. He'll feel it later."
Sean nodded. Given Sheppard's colorful command history, he didn't doubt his CO's words for a second. "He's gonna be out of action for a long time, sir, but doc says he'll be fine."
Sheppard's amused look turned to a satisfied one. "Good to hear."
Sean's gaze turned to Sheppard's leg. "You, sir?" He looked back at the colonel's face.
Sheppard frowned. "Stuck in this damned bed for a while," he grumbled.
"But he will be fine," Teyla smoothly finished. "He is lucky."
Sheppard flashed her a mock, irritated look before he shrugged, apparently conceding the point.
"Seriously?" McKay interjected in his normal, irritated tone. "Do you carry a rabbit's foot in your pocket or something? You have to be the luckiest man in two galaxies."
"Nope," Sheppard shrugged, his amused look returning. "Only carry a lemon to fend you off, Rodney."
"Oh, ha ha," McKay snapped.
Sean pulled in a silent, deep breath, suddenly feeling like an outsider with Sheppard and his team. He backed up a step, only to be halted by Sheppard's voice.
Sean froze. "Sir?"
Amusement melted from Sheppard's expression, only to be replaced with gratitude. "Thanks for savin' my ass back there."
"Yeah," Ronon elbowed him. "Good one."
Sean could feel all their eyes on him. Teyla and Ronon were openly smiling and even McKay's expression softened some. Sean's discomfort over what felt like a fuss being made over his actions, returned. "Sir, it really wasn't… that is…" his voice trailed off and he sighed.
Sheppard chuckled quietly and shook his head. "Just say 'you're welcome', Captain, and leave it at that."
"Voice of experience talking there," McKay chimed in, ignoring a glare from Sheppard.
In spite of himself, Sean smiled, his discomfort ebbing a little. He nodded. "You're welcome, sir." He backed up a step. "I really should get back on duty."
Sheppard nodded. "Back to it then, Captain."
Remembering Sheppard's style, Sean passed on the salute. "Yes, sir. Get better fast, sir."
Sheppard grimaced. "Trust me. I'll be doing that as fast as I can."
Sean turned away, only to be halted after a couple steps by Sheppard's hail.
Sean turned back. "Sir?"
"I'll be writing reviews while I'm stuck in bed." His gaze narrowed while Sean's widened. In the rush to survive and escape, and everything since he'd been back on Atlantis, he'd forgotten all about his review. Instantly, the knots returned to his gut. "Yes, sir," he answered.
Sheppard must've seen the tension in his face because his smile returned yet again. "I don't think you have to worry too much about yours," he answered.
Sean's brows furrowed. "Sir?"
"Keeping your CO alive generally gets you a good review, Captain." Sheppard's expression was bemused.
This time, it was Sean's turn to smile, the nervousness in his gut disappearing. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Sheppard nodded once. "As you were."
Sean turned away, his stride easy and relaxed as he exited the infirmary. He looked around, taking in the graceful architecture around him as he made his way through the city. His smile lingered as a feeling of belonging settled over him. There was no other post like this one, and as long as he served, he'd do his best to stay here.