THE TENDER TRAP

CHAPTER 20

Richard Woolsey fingered the collar of his uniform jacket, resisting the urge to tug. He knew it was supposed to be designed for comfort but he found the material itchy and restrictive. When he'd been approached to accept this commission he'd asked for permission to wear his cashmere wool suits. The request was declined. Then again the posting hadn't exactly been his choice either. The IOA had wanted a yes man in the job. He was the compromise. The only reason he took it was out of respect for Jack O'Neill, and gratitude to Sheppard. Both men were the only reason he was alive. Still, he'd come to Atlantis with the intention of sharpening things up. Too many rules had been fudged if not broken altogether, and without order it was a known fact that chaos would ensue. He hadn't been there a week when his good intentions had been compromised.

Since that conversation with Sheppard in the infirmary, he'd visited the colonel there far too often. Cruelty wasn't the domain of Pegasus, but this galaxy seemed to have more than the usual quota. The sight of his military commander intubated and swathed in bandages like an Egyptian mummy had nearly taken his own breath away. Sheppard was barely recognizable. His face, and skin that wasn't covered in dressings was black, blue, and covered in blisters from being exposed to the sun for too long. According to Carson many of the wounds had been caused by a whip. Others by something hard like a baton. Some with a sharp implement, possibly a knife. He'd also been stoned.

Thankfully, despite how bad the patchwork of livid bruises and heavy dressings looked, Carson assured him that most of the damage would heal relatively quickly. The broken rib would cause him a lot of pain in the weeks ahead, but luckily hadn't caused any internal bleeding. The skin on his hands, especially his left, had been badly damaged but as there was no nerve damage they too would eventually make a full recovery. That couldn't be said for the laceration in his abdomen. From the outside it didn't look too serious, but the wound had been deep and Carson had removed a piece of jagged rock along with large piece of Sheppard's spleen during surgery. The Colonel had been so weakened by blood loss his vitals started to drop before his broken arm could be set. He'd coded shortly after going into the ICU. Sheppard had defied the odds yet again however his condition was still critical, and Richard's heart was heavy as he left the badly wounded man behind.

He'd stopped by to speak to Ronon on the way out, but the Satedan had been sleeping. Or at least he'd thought he was. Richard would be interested to hear his report later, then again, maybe not. Ronon wasn't exactly a big conversationalist. At least the big man was on the mend, and he would most certainly find out more from the people piling into his office.

Richard sat back in his chair, and addressed the man in front of him. "It's good to see you looking better, Major. You did an excellent job. I'm recommending you receive a commendation for saving Colonel Sheppard's life."

Lorne looked pale when he'd walked in, but now color infused his cheeks. "Thank you, Mr Woolsey, but I can't take all the credit. Ronon did most of the hard work. We also owe a debt to Camista. Things didn't turn out the way we'd hoped, but without her input and the assistance of that healer, I'm pretty sure those guards would have killed Ronon."

Richard felt like squirming on his seat, but kept his discomfort hidden. He'd made a poor judgement call in allowing the girl to accompany the group to the planet. Then again without her plan, they might not have located Ronon in time to save him. Regardless, he'd inadvertently risked a civilian's life, something he wouldn't hide in his report.

"Noted, Major, but as you're a member of the SGC they can acknowledge your part in the rescue. I'm aware that Ronon jumped in first, but if you hadn't dived in when you did, both men might have died." Richard's glance moved to the woman sitting next to Lorne. "Major Teldy, how were things when you left the planet?"

"After Pellista was taken away, the other women left without any problems. In fact one or two of them told my team how sorry they were for what had happened. One of them even supplied the key to release Colonel Sheppard's chains." There were dark circles under her eyes but her freshly washed hair, and crisp uniform belied her exhaustion.

Richard nodded, but at the mention of restraints his face hardened. He wasn't comfortable knowing Pellista was still on the planet, and he guessed the IOA wouldn't be too thrilled about it either. However it had been Sheppard's call and given the potential fall out if they had arrested her, it was probably the right one. "Did you see the Priestess before you left?"

Teldy shook her head. "No, Mr Woolsey…but I did hear the sound of a whip striking human flesh as I was leaving. I'm pretty sure from the sound of the screams it was being used on her."

"Oh…" There was an uneasy silence as that piece of information sunk in, and Richard grimaced. While he couldn't feel sorry for the woman who'd brutalised his military commander, he wondered if it wouldn't have been better for Pellista if they had brought her into custody.

"Very well, Major Lorne, once Doctor Keller has signed you fit for active duty, I'd like you to return to the planet and speak to Daalen. Let him know what happened, and find out if he's heard anything. I'm only too aware one of the Ancestors was partly responsible for starting this chain of events, so I'd still like to help these people if we can. At best, I don't want there to be any further violence. In the meantime, the pair of you get some rest."

In response they both rose to their feet nodded, and left the room. Richard stared at his laptop. He'd only got as far as writing the title of the report, but he didn't have the stomach to do any more. The IOA could wait. Right now he needed a large brandy to get the bad taste from his mouth.

ooooOoooo

He hurt all over but it wasn't the pain that woke him up. Someone was snoring. It was grating, setting his teeth on edge. The strangled growling noise was similar to a warthog he'd seen in the zoo once. It was a struggle, too painful to turn his head round, but as the fog started to clear and he was able to focus soon the culprit came into view – Carson.

John wondered how he could grab his attention. His throat was sore so shouting was out, then he considered parting with one of his pillows, but his right arm was encased in plaster from shoulder to wrist, bent at the elbow. His left was supported by a pillow, his bicep bound in a heavy dressing. He thought about trying to sit up a little but his hands were so heavily bandaged they wouldn't offer him any support. Besides, he was hurting. While the pain in his back, chest and arms was bearable, his abdomen throbbed viciously even though the fuzzy feeling and dry mouth told him he was on the good stuff. The fact he was even aware of that was a sure sign the meds were starting to wear off. He could just about ignore the itch from cannula irritating his nose, but the pain notching up was something else altogether. John shifted uncomfortably wondering what to do next, when after one long, loud grunt Carson stirred and something that had been lying on his lap, clattered on the floor.

ooooOoooo

Carson didn't know when he'd fallen asleep, but when he woke up there was a crick in his neck, and the chart he'd been writing was lying on the floor. As he bent to retrieve it, he heard a rustle of sheets and when he looked up, John was watching him through glazed eyes.

"Colonel…I'm so sorry, I must have dozed off." Carson scrubbed a hand over his face to wipe the sleep from his eyes as he forced his stiff, weary body to his feet.

"You look like crap…you should get some rest." John mumbled in a cracked voice, and started to cough. As the motion caused his body to shake, his eyes went wide and he grimaced, cursing under his breath.

Carson took the cup off the cabinet spooned out a couple of ice chips, and put them in his mouth. Sheppard took them gratefully.

"Better?" Carson already knew the answer, but didn't wait for a reply. Despite the coughing jag having eased it was clear from the tight strained lines around his eyes, and the clenched jaw John was in pain. He would top up his meds directly, but first he needed to check his patient's vitals while he was responsive. "How are you feeling, Colonel?"

John winced as he shifted in bed. "Sore…how long have I been out?"

The man was the master of understatement. With the multitude of injuries he'd sustained he must be in bloody agony, but John Sheppard said he was sore. Carson huffed. "Aye, I would say so, and in answer to your question you've been out for a couple of days. It was touch and go for a while there, Colonel, but I think you've turned the corner. Here…this should help with the pain and allow you to get some rest." The Scot prepared a syringe, and pushed it into the IV.

"Carson…thanks for saving my arm."

Carson frowned. "What are you talking about, lad? Certainly it was a bad break, but nothing I couldn't fix. With physical therapy you should have full mobility back in three months, give or take. By the way I'm sorry, but I had to remove part of your spleen."

He'd expected more of a reaction but John wasn't fazed. Instead he looked visibly relieved as he sank further against the pillows. When he raised his left arm he grimaced, before letting it fall slowly back against the sheets. "The old woman who cleaned my wounds said…" John frowned and closed his eyes. "Forget it, Carson…I should have known better."

"Don't worry about it. I can only imagine what you've been through, son, so it's no wonder you're a wee bit strung out. Try to get some sleep. If your vitals stay stable for the rest of the day, we'll see about getting you transferred to the main ward tomorrow." Carson wrote up the chart, and patted the only area without some sort of dressing – his right lower leg.

"Thanks, Carson."

The medic smiled. "No problem, Colonel."

"Carson…" John mumbled sleepily, and his name came out garbled.

"What is it, Colonel?"

"No offense…but you need to do something about your snore…" The statement came out as a yawn but didn't finish, as John's face went slack, composed in sleep.

Carson shook his head but couldn't suppress a smile as he pulled the blankets over the sleeping man. As he walked away, he started to whistle. He was bone tired, but feeling a helluva lot better than he'd done in quite a while. As for the snoring, the cheeky bugger may be right but as far as he was concerned it was part of his charm. Everyone, including the yet unknown Mrs Beckett would just have to live with it!

ooooOoooo

"Would you watch what you're doing, McKay…I'm supposed to be eating, not wearing it."

John felt like crap. Shit that had been dumped on for a second time then trampled into small, nasty pieces by a herd of buffalos. He'd already been feeling miserable, constantly achy since the meds had been reduced, when just to put a cherry on the freaking cake he'd developed pneumonia.

Carson said he was on the mend – again – but it sure didn't feel like it. His overheated body felt like it could spontaneously combust at any minute, and he was so damn weak he didn't even have the strength to feed himself, even if he could get his mummified hands to grasp the spoon. He hated it. Hated it even more when his unwanted assistant couldn't do his job right. The oatmeal wasn't the most appetising thing on the menu to start with, but he'd rather have it in his stomach, than sticking to his face.

"Sorry, Sheppard...but did you see that?" Rodney apologized. The scientist looked shamefaced as he hastily wiped the creamy goo from his face, while continuing to stare at Jennifer Keller's retreating back as she left the ward.

John was drenched in sweat, his head a throbbing lead weight and he really wasn't in the mood for guessing games. He knew he was being a grouch but reckoned he was entitled. It took all the energy he had to raise an eyebrow and glare at his friend. "Seeing as I can't move my head, Rodney, you'll just have to enlighten me."

When Rodney flushed and looked guilty, John felt like a heel. "Sorry...I'm not feeling great. When I'm like this…well, it makes me a little grumpy."

"A little?" Ronon, huffed, his eyes dancing with amusement. John narrowed his eyes and gave him a look. It didn't faze the Satedan in the slightest.

Teyla arrived. She took one look at the film of oatmeal on John's face, smiled at him, then took the bowl off Rodney. "What did you see, Rodney?"

"I…well, I'm probably imagining it, but I thought Jennifer…uhm…sort of winked at me." He finished in one long garbled mumble.

John winked at Teyla when Rodney wasn't looking. "Maybe she had something in her eye, Rodney."

"Yeah…" Ronon grunted, frowning slightly.

Rodney looked a little disappointed. "Of course…you're right...that's probably what it was."

Teyla spooned a little of the oatmeal, and with some coaxing John reluctantly took it. "Has Camista told you her plans yet, John?"

Suddenly the oatmeal felt like it was going to choke him and he started to gag. As he coughed, the pain that lay mainly dormant when he kept still, erupted all over his body. He was shaking, clenching his jaw to hold back the cry that threatened to escape as he waited for the agony to ease. When the rest mist eventually cleared Carson was there watching him with concern.

"It's okay…I'm good." He ground out through gritted teeth, but he couldn't stop the tremors racking his body.

Carson gave him a look that brooked no argument then turned to the anxious group who had gone strangely silent. "Visiting time's over. You can see him later." When only Teyla and Ronon moved, he waved his hand. "On your way, Rodney…I'll take care of the colonel."

John was barely aware of the muttered goodbyes as the medic checked the machines. After he made a few notes on his chart, Carson pulled up the chair Rodney vacated and sat by the bed. "I know you must be scunnered, but you are getting better, John. Normally the pneumonia wouldn't have made such an impression, but your resistance is low right now and your body is weak. The blood loss and surgeries have sapped your ability to shrug things off."

John was about to shrug, but thought better of it. He hated talking about himself and wanted to deflect the conversation. In any case, something was gnawing at him. "Teyla said Camista has made plans." He licked his lips, his mouth suddenly dry again. Carson helped him take a drink. John waited until he was sure he wasn't going to have a repeat performance before he risked speaking again. "I didn't like to admit she hasn't been to see me…What's she up to, Carson?"

Carson quickly hid the sympathetic look, but not before John had seen it. "Aye…well, I expect she still feels bad about what happened to you…anyway, she's rebuilding the sanctuary. Daalen and a small group of Semalaens are helping. We've also got a group of volunteers from Atlantis who are giving up their free time to push it on."

"That's great…" John swallowed and forced a smile on his face. It was great news, but he was kinda hurt Camista hadn't dropped by to tell him herself. Then again, she hadn't been to visit at all. Part of him understood, but she had no reason to feel guilty. He wanted to tell her that to her face but to do that he needed to see her, and in his condition he wasn't going anywhere for a while.

"No doubt she'll come round and tell you herself." Carson patted his shoulder, before taking a syringe from the tray on the cabinet. "Anyway…I'm going to give you something stronger to manage the pain. I know you don't like the way heavy drugs make you feel, but you need rest to let your body heal."

"I know…sleep is the best medicine." John mumbled under his breath, for once relieved as the drugs took him into oblivion.

ooooOoooo

"I appreciate the offer, but I really don't have time for this, Teyla. With the sanctuary so close to completion…"

Camista was getting frustrated trying to reason with her friend, but Teyla simply put some fruit at the top of the straw basket, closed it, and smiled. "Of course you do, Camista, and if you do not mind me saying, you look tired. As the Atlantians say, a picnic is just what the doctor ordered."

She was unconvinced. As for some of the sayings she'd heard here, they didn't make any sense. Neither Doctor Beckett, nor Doctor Keller had said anything about her needing to go on a picnic for the good of her health. However she owed Teyla a great deal. The older woman had given her a home when she'd first arrived, and had been a much needed support when everything was new and it felt like she would never fit in. Besides, she wasn't going to be on Atlantis for much longer. She decided to give in gracefully. "Very well. Are you sure Amelia doesn't mind looking after the baby? In fact why bother her at all? I think the little one would enjoy it."

A flicker of something crossed Teyla's face, but Camista thought she must have imagined it when Teyla smiled as she turned away from fastening the basket. "It is a lovely day, but a little too cold for young John after his virus. Anyway, every mother needs some time to herself."

It was on the tip of her tongue to remind Teyla that the baby had been with her nearly every day she'd gone to work at the sanctuary. In fact he was proving to be popular with the Semalaens who came to work there. Lalleen especially enjoyed spending time with his son. She liked him, more and more each time they met. Yesterday they'd shared a lunch he'd prepared himself. She'd been going to refuse when he'd smiled and told her he'd brought too much, saying it would go to waste if she didn't help him finish. It didn't escape her notice he'd brought two plates, and some of her favorite fruit. As she went to leave she'd found a handful of spring flowers in the child's basket. Every time she smelled the sweet scent of the pale-blue blooms, it made her smile.

They were nearly at the pier Teyla had chosen, when the Athosian stopped and muttered something under her breath. "Oh…I have forgotten Torren's ball. He loves that toy, and if I do not have it we are not going to get any peace to enjoy our lunch." Teyla handed over the basket. "Please, if you could lay out the picnic I will return in a few minutes." She took her son's hand and walked away without giving her a chance to refuse.

They were quite far from the main complex, and as she was unsure of her bearings Camista had no option but to open the entrance to the pier. As soon as the door opened, she stopped dead. It was a long pier that seemed to stretch out to become one with the ocean, but it was already occupied. Ronon's towering figure she recognized immediately. Without seeing his face, she already knew who the man in the wheelchair would be.

The stiff breeze that sent her curls flying, also whipped his dark hair about his head. Neither man spoke. The only sound she could hear was the waves breaking against the pier, and rolling up the side of the building. Her heart was racing, hammering against her chest. As she made to backtrack and leave, Ronon turned and spoiled her plan. She saw him saying something to the wounded man, then walk towards her. Ronon merely nodded as he strolled past and left without a word.

John turned round his wheelchair one handed. When she still didn't move, he gave her a wry smile. "Why don't you come over…I don't bite, Camista."

The guilt she'd suppressed for nearly six weeks crashed down, and she felt the sting of tears threaten to fall. She watched, unable to move as John struggled to his feet, and gingerly came towards her. She didn't resist as he wrapped his good arm around her, and gathered her against his chest. Camista didn't know how long she stood there, crying, but his loose sweat shirt was wet when she raised her face. "I'm so sorry…"

"Don't be…none of it was your fault." He gave her a gentle hug. "I'm alive, and you're still a free woman with a great kid. And…I hear you've been rebuilding the sanctuary. Good for you. I just wish I could help."

She eased back from his embrace and dried her eyes. "You have already done so much, John…none of it would have been possible without you."

When a strong gust of wind made him stagger, Camista grabbed his good arm. "I think I'd better get you back to your chair."

John winced, and glanced at the wheelchair with distaste. "Suppose so…but once I'm free of the damn thing - I'll be there with my hammer."

Camista smiled, but waited until he was safely back in the chair before telling him her news. "I'm sorry to have left it so long to come and see you…but you must know I intended to tell you myself."

"Tell me what, Camista?"

She stilled her nerves and counted inwardly to ten. "I'm leaving Atlantis. My father has helped me build a house within the sanctuary." When his face fell, and he began looking anxious she continued before he could object. "I've loved my time here, but Raedelous is my home. And before you say anything, I know the risks. While I don't expect to be welcomed by everyone, Kalenn's assassination attempt has rallied father's men around him. There are those who are still unhappy about the sanctuary, but neither of us believes they would hurt me."

John frowned as he chewed his lip. "What about Pellista?"

"My mother is still alive. She was brutally whipped, then shackled…but the elders spared her life. She has been taken in by Darena, the old woman who took care of you. When she recovers, her penance is to spend the rest of her days in servitude to the sisters. Mother is forbidden to ever leave the compound again." Camista had been expecting the question, but it still made her feel uneasy. There was no question what Pellista did was very wrong, but it pained her knowing it was her actions that had caused her mother to act the way she did.

"So who's in charge now?"

"Falensta is Priestess now. She was a good friend once, and I believe the tribe will do well under her guidance." Camista paused for a moment before continuing. "It was her that sent me the message about my mother. She also assured that provided I don't enter Vergonan territory, no one will seek retribution. I believe…I hope…that in time she will enter into fresh negotiations with Daalen."

"Did I meet her?" John brow creased, trying to remember.

Camista nodded. "Falensta is the one who refused to throw the rock…If my mother had still been in charge she would have suffered for that. I am hopeful she will not stop my sisters from visiting the sanctuary. At the very least, I pray she will not severely punish those who do. Nevertheless as we both know, achieving something worthwhile is never without risk."

John scanned her face, and his lips curved into a smile. "When did you get to be so wise?"

She returned his smile with one of her own. "I think you may be in part to blame for that."

"I hope you know I'll be checking in on you – a lot. For starters someone has to teach the little guy how to play ball."

John was still smiling, but Camista could see the anxiety hidden behind the hazel eyes. She bent down and kissed his cheek. "I'm going to miss you too, John."

The sound of approaching footsteps made them turn round.

"Where's the food?" Rodney's eyes darted over the pier, and rested on the basket still unpacked lying on the ground. "What! You're not ready? C'mon…I'm starving here!"

Camista rolled her eyes, and John just laughed. "Will you miss him too?" He whispered.

"Yes…even Rodney."

Within moments Teyla, Torren, and Ronon arrived to join them. Shortly afterwards Carson and Jennifer completed the small party. Camista's gaze drifted over the faces of her friends, then swept up to the towering city behind them. She was going to miss them, and the beautiful city that had become her second home. These wonderful people had become her extended family but a new life and a new challenge awaited her, and Camista was anxious to start.

ooooOoooo

EPILOGE

"Are you sure about this, Colonel?" Carson asked, watching him with concern. "It's easy enough for me to take a jumper."

John wasn't sure about it, and it was nothing to do with Carson's dubious piloting skills. Normally they used the space gate, but today John wanted to go via the library. He needed to make peace with the room. On the two previous occasions he'd gone through the void, it hadn't ended well.

The first time he'd been chewed on by a giant snakelike creature, and had been left to die by a reptilian alien. His latest FUBAR mission had left him fighting for his life all because he arrived at the wrong place at the wrong time. But he was a military commander for Pete's sake. How would it look to his men, if he allowed his fear to overrun his common sense? More important, how could he live with himself? He needed to get past this feeling of foreboding every time he entered the damn place.

John tried to convince himself he'd just been unlucky. It was just an old book. A bundle of dusty yellowed papers bound together by an Ancient. A selfish SOB who'd screwed up the lives of a planet, just because he couldn't control himself when he'd fallen for one of the locals. Sure, the woman concerned hadn't been blameless either, but the bastard had left her to face the music on her own. She'd literally been left holding the baby.

What happened couldn't be undone, but despite the loss of life and not forgetting - as if he could - the pain to himself, John knew that if the mission had gone as planned the deep rooted problems of the planet would never have come to light. Now, with the information Carson had given them, not forgetting the sanctuary, at least the people on Raedelous stood a chance.

Sweat was already pooling at the small of his back, and his stomach was churning as he forced his hand to keep still. He felt the thrum vibrate through his fingers as he made contact with the book's leather backed cover. What he wanted was to rip off the bracelet, and head for the hills. Instead he took point as they walked through the now invisible wall and out into the leafy Raedelous woodland.

John stopped just shy of the sanctuary. "Thanks, Carson…I appreciate this. I know you went out on a limb to convince Woolsey to allow me to come."

"Aye…well...I wouldn't normally. Anyway, I don't want you out of my sight. That arm is still healing, so I don't want you lifting a finger. Now, do we understand each other?"

"Loud and clear, Carson." John nearly saluted, but thought better of it. Nearly three months on the cast was gone, but Beckett still made him wear the sling. He did, but only when the doc might be watching. Still, he did appreciate the concession. He'd only just returned to light duty which would normally rule out off-world visits, but the doc was doing him a favour by letting him tag along on his surgery. John was desperate to see how the sanctuary had turned out. More than that, he wanted to touch base with Camista and the kid.

"Do not worry, Carson," Teyla assured with a reassuring smile, "we will make sure he does not come to any harm."

Ronon tightened the hand over his blaster, and his face darkened. "Yeah…no one gets the jump on me twice."

Carson winced as he tried to adjust the heavy medical kit on his shoulder, while keeping hold of his box of medical supplies. Wordlessly Ronon took the box off him. "Thanks..." The Scot nodded, then returned to the subject. "I've been here twice already, and haven't had any problems. I wouldn't have suggested the Colonel come along if I thought they'd be trouble."

"How's that going, Carson? Do you get many takers?" John asked.

"Most of the men have brought their boys to be vaccinated, but only a few women have brought their kids along." The Scot covered his frustration well, but John could tell he was disappointed.

John patted him on the shoulder. "Hey, you know what they say - Rome wasn't built in a day."

"That's why I come every couple of weeks." Carson told him. "I'm hoping if I become a familiar figure in the clearing, the women will start to feel more comfortable in my presence. I'd send Jennifer along, but I feel we have a point to make here. If this plan is to succeed they need to stop seeing men as their enemy, besides, I always come with a nurse or a helper." Carson smiled at Teyla. "If possible I'd like to get all the wee lassies vaccinated before the end of the year, but we'll see how it goes."

John nodded. If anyone could manage to break down the walls of prejudice and fear, it was Carson. Doctors always managed to dismantle barriers and open doors where no one else could, but Carson Beckett was a cut above that. The Scot oozed a gentle charm that disarmed the most wary of parents, plus he was probably the nicest guy he knew. Carson was also stubborn as hell. He would make this work, or bust his gut in the attempt.

"What about the sanctuary?"

Carson sighed. "A few women have ventured in, but I think Camista is hoping the regular surgeries will encourage more to take the next step."

The sanctuary had been painted green to merge into the leafy back ground, but when he approached he was nearly pushed to his feet as Camista ran up and gave him a hug.

"Welcome! It is so good to see you, John, please come in to my home - I want you to see everything."

The sanctuary was so much better than its predecessor. So much more than he'd expected. Her small log cottage looked idyllic. There were brightly colored curtains behind the latticed windows, and without even going inside John could see Camista had made it a home. Lalleen was on his knees planting shrubs at the side of the fence but looked round at the sound of Camista's voice. John caught the warm glance that passed between them. It passed in an instant, and Lalleen waved over at him before getting back to work. Camista had gone a pretty shade of pink, and kept stealing glances in the young Semalans direction. John was glad. Lalleen was one of the good guys, and she deserved to be happy.

As he went further inside he could see the planned covered gazebos had become a reality. There were voices coming from a few of them, both male and female. One he recognised. John wondered who Daalen was laughing with. Camista was already here, their relationship on a firm footing. He wondered if it could be Pellista, but quickly dismissed it. Then again, who Daalen met with wasn't any of his business.

John went to help Carson set up, but the medic shooed him away. "Go and see the wee boy. He's growing like a weed."

He didn't need telling twice. When he came into the small cosy room his namesake smiled and held out his arms. John took a quick look behind him and when he was sure Carson wasn't watching, he shucked off his sling and picked the kid up. The ache was worth it.

Just as he was getting reacquainted with the little guy, the door opened and Daalen walked in. The Semalaen grinned. "It's good to see you, Colonel…John. This is a good day for you to visit as there is someone I would like you to meet." He held the door open a little wider and the old woman who'd helped him came in. "Mother…this is my good friend Colonel John Sheppard…"

The End.

Well, that's the end of the story and I hope you enjoyed it. Sorry about the cliffy at the end of the last chapter, but I hope this longer one made up for the wait!

Many thanks again to everyone who has followed the story, and to all the wonderful folks who've reviewed. You guys really rock! It's your support and kind words that give me the encouragement I need to keep writing.

And a special thanks to my beta and good pal Sterenyk Strey. You are the best pet. Thanks for all your suggestions, and for saving the readers from most of my mistakes. The ones that sneaked through are all mine!