When Teyla went down with two stunner blasts to the chest, John knew they were in trouble. He and Ronon did the best they could, and Rodney even managed to shoot a Wraith before it grabbed Ronon from behind, but they were cornered and outnumbered. Rodney got knocked out right after that, and John tried to reach Ronon, stand back-to-back, but the bright light of a stun blast punched into him, and he was gone.
He woke up in a cell on a hive ship, probably the same one that had been parked on the planet. So much for their plan of stealthy reconnaissance. It was dark and humid, like it always was on Wraith ships, with that stale smell that reminded John, in a strange way, of hospitals. And there was a Wraith bending over him, one hand gripping his shirt, the other tracing sharp fingers over his throat.
John tensed, willing himself not to recoil, not to fight. Instead, he cocked his head and said, "Come here often?"
The Wraith snarled and dropped him. As it stalked away, he scrabbled over to the far wall of the cell and noticed the two strangers sitting on a bench next to him. They both looked human, at least. The tendrils of the cell door squelched closed behind the Wraith, who turned to glare at John.
"Leaving so soon?" John asked.
The Wraith bared its teeth and hissed at him. "As soon as we are finished with our business on this planet, I will return. For you." It turned and left with that swirl of the coat that always made John want to laugh, especially at the most inappropriate times. Like now. He settled for checking on the rest of his team. Ronon was already awake, and now that the Wraith was gone, he was bent over Teyla. Rodney stirred feebly on the floor. The two strangers, a man and a woman, sat shoulder to shoulder and watched them, though the woman looked like she was torn between terror and irritation.
"Hey," John said in their general direction. He gave it even odds they were Wraith sympathizers. Though maybe not, he thought, looking at their clothes, which looked a lot more familiar than the usual Pegasus Galaxy fashions.
"Humans!" the man chirped. "I mean, of course, there are humans in the Pegasus galaxy, all over the place, but you're from Earth, aren't you?"
John exchanged a glance with Ronon, who shrugged. "You don't look like you're from around here either," John said.
"Ah, no. We're just travelers, wrong place, wrong time."
The woman muttered to herself. "Another galaxy, he said. It'll be fun, he said."
"I didn't know the Wraith had woken up, did I?" John winced and decided not to explain exactly why the Wraith were awake.
"We've been captured again, haven't we?" Rodney mumbled, then added, "Ow." John offered him a hand and pulled him upright. Rodney dug a fist into the small of his back and stretched; mid-stretch, he noticed the strangers. "Uh, hi."
The man lifted a hand and wiggled his fingers in a little wave. "Hello!"
Rodney stared for a second, then turned to John. "Do we know who they are?"
"Yes, how rude of me. This is Martha, and I'm the Doctor."
"John, Rodney, Teyla, Ronon." John pointed to each of them in turn.
"Doctor Rodney McKay, actually. And what are you a doctor of?"
"Oh, I'm just the Doctor." The Doctor smiled in a way that made him look mentally deranged, though John figured he was probably going for 'friendly'.
"That doesn't make any sense," Rodney said, and he shook off John's cautionary hand on his arm. "You have to be a doctor of something, otherwise it's just a meaningless title."
Martha stepped over to Teyla, who was sitting up, but still groggy. "It's easier if you just call him that. Is there anything I can do to help? I actually am a medical doctor, more or less."
"I will be fine," Teyla said.
"You sure?" John said. "You got hit pretty hard."
Teyla managed to stand, leaning on Ronon. "I think we should concentrate on what to do next."
"Have the Wraith said anything to you?" John asked.
"No," the Doctor replied. "A little bit of growling when they captured us, but we were poking around their ship, to be fair."
"You were in the ship? Voluntarily?" Rodney sounded shocked that anyone could actually be that stupid, which impressed John, given how many times a day Rodney actually called someone stupid.
"We landed, and here it was," the Doctor said. "Couldn't just walk away."
Ronon tested a couple of the slimy-looking strands that criss-crossed the cell entrance, then yanked on them. They didn't give. "We need to get out of here before they figure out who we are."
"If they haven't already," John said. "You got those knives on you?"
Ronon didn't bother answering, already aiming through the door at the control panel across the hall.
"My goodness," the Doctor said admiringly.
The cell door opened after the third knife thunked into the control panel. "You've gotten really good at that," John said.
Ronon stashed a spare knife in his boot. "We keep getting captured. Plenty of practice."
John turned to the Doctor. "You guys coming?"
"Absolutely. In fact, I think we may be able to help, as long as the Wraith haven't moved my ship yet."
John checked to make sure Teyla was walking on her own. She looked solid, so he led everyone out of the cell, letting her and Ronon bring up the rear. They crept forward to the end of the corridor. John peered around the corner and held up a hand, halting the group until the two sentries at the end of the corridor moved on. "Doctor, do you know how to get to your ship from here?"
"Down a level and several rooms forward. It's in a small area that I think they use for storage. At least I hope so, because it means they're less likely to have found it. Tricky work, landing inside a hive ship. All these twisty corridors."
Rodney grabbed the Doctor's arm. "Wait, you landed *inside* a hive ship? This ship? How could you possibly do that?"
"Took a wrong turn at Themiscus Minor, I think."
"But--" Rodney spluttered.
"Rodney, shut up," John said, and took a close look at the Doctor. Maybe the guy was crazy and sending them on a wild-goose chase, but at least they'd put some distance between them and the cell. If they had to, they'd find another way out.
"You and your ship can get us out of here?"
"You have no idea," Martha said.
John took a deep breath. "Okay. You lead. I'll be right behind you."
He saw the Doctor tell Martha to stay in the middle of the group with just a tilt of his head. Whoever they were, they'd spent some time together, and this wasn't the first dangerous situation they'd been in. As soon as they got out of here, John had a few questions to ask. Like where the hell the Doctor had found red Chucks.
They crept through the corridors of the ship in silence. John figured most of the Wraith were still outside, occupied with whatever had brought them to this planet. He stayed close on the Doctor's heels, ready in case something went wrong, but the Doctor seemed to know what he was doing. They avoided two more groups of Wraith doing cursory patrols, but John could feel the itch under his skin that meant their time was running out.
"Right around that corner," the Doctor said. John looked back at Ronon, and Ronon checked out the corridor behind them, then nodded.
John readjusted his grip on his gun. "Let's go."
Of course the door refused to open. Rodney sighed and accepted the knife Ronon handed him, slit open the skin next to the door, and stuck his hand into the control panel. Teyla and Ronon arranged themselves on opposite sides of the door, several yards away, guns at the ready.
The Doctor reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some kind of tool. "This might make things easier."
"You couldn't have mentioned that earlier?" Rodney grumped. John decided to let them fight it out and stepped over to Martha.
"How'd you end up with him?" he asked in a low tone.
She smiled ruefully. "Long story. Is it that obvious that I'm just a passenger?"
"You seem pretty normal. Him, not so much."
"I'm from Earth. You are too, right?"
"Yeah, me and Rodney. Teyla and Ronon are locals."
Martha looked past John at Teyla, who showed no signs of having been unconscious twenty minutes ago. "Do they ever make you feel -- slightly incompetent?"
"All the time," John said.
"John," Teyla whispered urgently. "Three Wraith coming this way."
"McKay, what's happening with that door?"
Rodney grunted, hand shoved into the wall up to his elbow. "Almost."
John closed his eyes, just for a second. They had to get in that room, and there was no chance of distracting the Wraith or drawing them away. They'd have to fight it out and hope that no one else heard the noise before they got the door open. "Damnit. Martha, stay with Rodney and the Doctor."
The three Wraith rounded the corner, and one immediately slammed to the floor with a blast from Ronon's gun. Teyla clipped another one in the shoulder with a burst of gunfire; it staggered backward, but recovered and knocked her to the ground. John pumped a flurry of bullets into the third, which looked like the Wraith that had threatened him in the cell earlier, though he couldn't be sure.
"Got it!" Rodney shouted.
Teyla planted a foot in the Wraith's midsection and shoved it clear enough for Ronon to take a shot. With all three Wraith on the ground, it was time to get out of there before reinforcements showed up. "Let's go!"
Ronon offered Teyla a hand to pull her upright. John left the two of them to fend for themselves and rushed past the Doctor into the storage room. He skidded to a halt before he collided with Rodney, who had stopped dead three steps inside the door. Okay, no way the Doctor was from around Pegasus, not with a ship like that. Assuming it actually was his ship, but there was a blue phone box smack in the middle of a room no bigger than his quarters on Atlantis. What the hell else could it be?
John planted a hand in the middle of Rodney's back. "Move, Rodney!"
"That's not a ship!" Rodney was right; it was no bigger than a closet. But Martha fumbled with the door, and when it opened under her touch, she charged inside. John shoved until Rodney stumbled forward.
"Go!" Rodney turned to look at him for a second, the familiar look of huge-eyed panic on his face, and then he stumbled after Martha. The Doctor stood at the door, yelling "Come on, come on, stop being so brave!" accompanied by frantic gestures. Ronon and Teyla rushed into the room, and John stepped back and pointed at the ship. "In there!"
Neither of them gave it a second look, and their confidence reassured John. Besides, no way something the size of a closet could fit four people, so there had to be more to the ship than met the eye.
The Doctor, his long coat fluttering behind him and oddly reminding John of the Wraith, turned toward the ship. "Everyone in?"
"Yeah, come on--" In the dim light, he barely saw the Wraith come through the door, just sensed the movement. "Doctor!"
The Wraith's arm snaked around the Doctor's neck; its other hand grasped the collar of his shirt and ripped, then thudded against his chest with a slap.
John raised his gun and circled to get a good angle for a shot, tried to figure out how long he could afford to wait before the Doctor would be better off dead. He knew what the Doctor had to be feeling -- the sharp bite of teeth, the warmth that spread through your body, the pain. But in the dim light, it didn't look like the Doctor was aging. He couldn't be sure and didn't dare move any closer.
He was taken aback when the Wraith started shaking. The movement pulled both figures into the light coming from the corridor. He could see the Doctor's face, his eyes closed, his expression almost serene. The Wraith's mouth gaped, then opened wide, and it let out a shriek that reminded John of the first Wraith queen he'd ever met. The noise echoed off the walls and built to an ear-shattering pitch; John fought the urge to clap his hands over his ears.
When the shriek cut off suddenly, John gripped his gun tighter, ready to fire in self-defense or mercy, but the Wraith gave a last, strangled cry. Then there was a sickening *squish*, and John ducked instinctively as something flew past his head.
The Doctor and the Wraith -- what was left of the Wraith -- fell to the ground, the Doctor still wrapped in the grotesque embrace. The Wraith's head was gone, spattered in tiny pieces across the room's walls. John ran a hand over the side of his face, then disgustedly wiped it off on his pants.
"Sheppard!" Ronon stepped out of the ship, then stopped in his tracks when he saw the dead Wraith.
"Help me with him." John grabbed the Doctor's arms and pulled, but Ronon shouldered him out of the way and picked up the Doctor's unconscious body. He followed Ronon into the ship and slammed the door shut. The inside of the door had what looked like a typical Earth lock, so he shrugged and locked it. He turned to speak to Ronon, but flinched at the sheer size of the ship that looked like a phone box from the outside. It was giant, the ceiling so far overhead he had to squint to see it, and a circular console in the middle, with a glowing column that extended up to the distant ceiling.
Rodney gaped at them. "What the hell happened?"
"Doctor!" Martha rushed to Ronon's side, then crouched down by the Doctor's body when Ronon set him down.
John shook off his shock. "I have no idea," he said. "The Wraith tried to feed on him, and then it -- its head blew off."
Rodney stared at him like he'd lost his mind. "That's impossible! It doesn't make any sense, physiologically--"
"He's not human," Martha snapped. "And he's not breathing."
"Is he dead?" John asked. Trapped in a Wraith cell was bad enough, but trapped in an impossible ship surrounded by a bunch of pissed-off Wraith was probably worse.
"It's not really that simple." She lowered her head to his chest, but the ship rocked around them and sent her sprawling.
John grabbed onto a nearby railing, part of a ramp that led up to the ship's center. "Shit. Is that the Wraith trying to knock us over?"
Teyla had ended up nearest the door. "I cannot see outside, but I think so," she said. The ship shuddered again, and she added, "And they're trying to break down the door."
"Martha, can you fly this thing?"
"No, only the Doctor -- wait!" Martha ran up the ramp and around to the other side of the circular console, scanned it, then pressed a button. The glowing column brightened, and the ship emitted a grinding noise that John felt in his teeth. After a few seconds, both the light and the noise lessened, then stopped. John held his breath and listened, but there was no more noise, no more shaking, nothing.
"What was that?" Rodney asked, staring down at the console and looking like he wanted to start taking things apart to see what made them tick. "What just happened?"
"He calls it the hop-skip-and-a-jump button. He said if we were ever in trouble and he wasn't able to fly, to hit the button, and the TARDIS would take us out of range."
"Rodney, can they track us?"
Rodney huffed, halfway between a laugh and a sigh. "I have no idea! I don't even know how this ship works. There's no sign of anything that looks like engines or navigational controls or sensors, and oh, have you noticed, the *inside* is bigger than the *outside*."
"Figure it out."
John ignored Rodney's indignant squawk and joined Martha back at the Doctor's side. "Still not breathing?"
She shook her head and wiped Wraith slime from his face. "I don't know how your Wraith work, but you said they feed on people?"
"They drain the life out of you," Ronon said. "Make you old, and then you die."
Martha sighed. "His life isn't quite like anyone else's."
"So he'll wake up?" John asked. They needed him to fly the ship. God knew where Martha's jump had taken them. Maybe they were still in range of the Wraith, or maybe it had dropped them somewhere else even worse.
"I don't know!" she snapped, and then muttered, "He doesn't tell me anything." She scrubbed at the Doctor's mouth with her sleeve and tilted his head back. "I'll try artificial respiration."
John, Teyla, and Ronon stood over her as she breathed into the Doctor's mouth. John could hear the thin stream of Rodney's voice and the clang of his footsteps on the metal floor as he tried to pull yet another miracle out of thin air. The Doctor's chest rose and fell with each puff of Martha's breath; he looked absurdly small on the floor. Don't be dead, John thought. You crazy bastard, don't be dead.
He crouched down by Martha. "Anything?"
Martha shook her head, then placed her ear over his chest again. "He's got two hearts, but I can't hear--Christ!" The Doctor heaved underneath her . She rocked backwards and planted her hands on the floor to save herself from falling.
The Doctor sat up, clutching onto the arm Ronon lowered help him. "Where are we? And what is this disgusting goo I'm covered in?"
"Wraith brains," John said, grinning with relief.
"Really? Oh, dear. Rodney, I wouldn't touch that if I were you." He pulled himself upright and bounded over to the control panel. John thought he was pretty cheerful for a guy who'd maybe been almost dead thirty seconds ago.
Martha followed him up the ramp. "I used the hop-skip-and-a-jump button, but we don't know where it took us."
"If we're still in range of the Wraith--" Rodney said, peering over the Doctor's shoulder as he flipped switches and spun some kind of wheel.
"It's only been what, ten minutes? The TARDIS took us to the furthest planet in the system, out of range of any ship without a faster-than-light drive."
Rodney's shoulders sagged as he let out a sigh. "We're safe, then. Even if they can track us, it would take much longer than that to launch the hive ship, and that's assuming we're important enough for them to chase."
"Oh, I like to think we're that important," John said.
"Of course, we've lost the jumper," Rodney continued. John looked over at Teyla; she frowned a little and shook her head. Yeah, the Doctor had helped them escape, but it was a big step from a joint jailbreak to telling the Doctor about Atlantis.
"Doctor, can you display a map of our present location?" Teyla stepped up and pointed at the holographic map that appeared over a section of the control panel. "The fifth planet of this system has a stargate. If you can bring us there, we can use it to return home."
"You travel by stargate?"
"The gate system is used by many of this galaxy's civilizations."
"Yes," the Doctor said, wagging a finger in John's general direction, "but not all of you are from this galaxy."
"Look, Doctor," John said, "the Wraith aren't the only enemy we've made here. If you could just drop us off on that planet, we'll be out of your hair."
The Doctor shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat. "Descendants of the Ancients, using Ancient technology? Yes, I imagine you aren't getting on with the Wraith."
"You know about the Ancients?"
"Oh, yeah, very serious bunch. No fun at all, unless you managed to catch them on a feast day, which only happened every few years or so. The rest of the time it was all 'ascension this' and 'meditation that.'"
"Wait, wait, how could you have known the Ancients? They left this galaxy ten thousand years ago," Rodney said.
"Did they? You said the fifth planet, Teyla?" He flipped more switches and propped a foot up on the panel, and the glowing column whirred into life again. John could see Rodney trying to protest, but he couldn't hear him over the noise.
The Doctor continued ignoring Rodney after they'd landed, or arrived, or whatever it was this ship did, and strode over to throw open the door. Teyla and Ronon shouldered their guns and followed him and Martha out, though John didn't think any of them doubted that the Doctor had brought them where he said he would.
John nudged Rodney with an elbow. "Let it go."
"But it doesn't make any sense! And the ship..." He trailed off, and the light from the heart of the ship shone on his face. It had to be driving Rodney nuts, technology he didn't understand and couldn't explain.
"I know," John said. "But let it go." He motioned toward the door, and with a last longing look around the room, Rodney shuffled outside.
Teyla greeted them as soon as they emerged. "This is the correct planet. I believe the stargate is a few miles to the west."
The Doctor rocked back on his heels. "Right on target."
"More or less," Martha added. "Mind you, it could have been a lot worse, so consider yourselves lucky."
They did the awkward shuffle of a group goodbye, everyone trying to make sure they'd shaken everyone else's hand. Teyla said something quiet to Martha that made her laugh, but John was too busy to eavesdrop, making sure that Rodney didn't take one last chance to harass the Doctor. It was easier to piggyback on Rodney's goodbye anyway, since John didn't really know what to say to a guy who'd just made a Wraith's head explode. But then Rodney snuck off to stare at the ship, leaving John with the Doctor.
"Thanks," John said. "For helping us escape, and the rest of it."
The Doctor inclined his head. "And to you." He pushed open the ship's door for Martha, who gave John a little wave before she stepped inside.
"Maybe we'll see you around?" John tried to convince himself it was for tactical reasons. If they could figure out what the Doctor had done to kill the Wraith, it would be valuable information. Plus, they could use a ship like that, even in the hands of an ally. But really, they didn't know anything about this guy -- an alien who traveled with a human, who had a magic ship, who came back from the dead and smiled.
The Doctor met his gaze for a long moment. "Maybe," he said. "You never know."
"Okay," John said. "Stay safe." He held out his hand, and the Doctor took it in a strong grasp.
"You too, John."
John and his team stood and watched the ship disappear, with that same noise they'd heard from inside. It didn't take off or power up; it simply faded into nothing and was gone.
Rodney rubbed at his head like it was hurting him. "Did we just get rescued by a time-traveling two-hearted alien who kills Wraith with the power of his mind?"
"It would seem so," Teyla said. "What a strange man."
"I liked him," Ronon offered.
"Of course you did." Rodney tugged his tac vest down and rolled his shoulders. "He made a Wraith's head explode. I'm surprised he's not your new best friend."
John stared at the place where the ship had been and wished, just for a second, that they could have trusted the Doctor enough to tell him about Atlantis. John would have to settle for hoping they did see him again someday. "Come on," he said, pulling his sunglasses from a pocket and slipping them on. "Let's go home."