The Wraith were coming. They always knew it was inevitable. The only difference between today and yesterday was now they had a timeline. Two weeks. Two weeks to decide if they were going to stay and fight or abandon the city. If John had his way, they'd stay and fight it out. At least the military would stay and fight, he amended with a glance at McKay standing next to him.
"I will need to go to the mainland," Teyla said into the shocked silence. "I must explain to Halling and the others in person what is happening."
Elizabeth nodded. "I agree. However, we need to have an evacuation plan in place first, I don't want to cause undue panic for the Athosians. We need to have an Alpha site arranged before we start any evacuations."
"Can my people not simply return to the city?"
"No," Rodney said flatly as he moved Zelenka out of the way and read something on the computer screen. "They can't come here."
John saw the flash of anger in Teyla's eyes as she frowned at Rodney, obviously not liking his blunt response.
"Rodney --" Elizabeth started to say.
Rodney turned around and glared at both Weir and Teyla. "They can't come here because we can't afford the additional power consumption."
"I don't understand," Elizabeth said.
Rodney sighed and clenched his hands into fists. "We didn't find the Zed-PM on Lurra and …" He swallowed and looked down at his feet. "And we lost the one on Dagan." He looked back up at Elizabeth. "We don't have the resources to support more people in the city. I'm sorry, but the Athosians can't come here."
Teyla looked ready to continue the argument, but Elizabeth held up her hands. "All right. We aren't going to find the solution in the next five minutes. You're all tired and need to be checked out by Carson." She glanced at John.
"You heard her," John said. "Get cleaned up and head for the infirmary."
"Get some food and sleep," Elizabeth added. "We'll meet tomorrow afternoon, after the memorial, to make plans and discuss our options for defending the city."
John started to follow the rest of the team out of the control room when Elizabeth stopped him with a hand on his arm and a nod toward her office.
Once they were seated, Elizabeth asked, "What happened on Dagan?" she asked. "I thought Allina and her people were helping with the recovery of the ZPM."
John scrubbed a hand over his face. "The Dagans had a change of heart once they realised we weren't actual Ancients," John replied with a crooked smile.
"Allina and some of the other Dagans founded a new Quindosim. They basically used us as a way to find the ZPM and vowed to hide it until the real Ancients came back to claim it," John told her. "They see us as squatters in the city, being descendants of the Ancients apparently isn't enough. Add the fact they had weapons given to them by the Genii --"
"What?" Elizabeth exclaimed and dropped the stylus she'd been twisting in her fingers.
John gave her a grim smile. "Yeah. Kolya showed up, too."
John didn't miss Elizabeth's clenched hands or the way she nervously tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. She took a deep breath and looked John in the eye. "Tell me," she said.
John nodded and started talking, beginning with Kolya trapping them all in the underground room and ending with the flashbangs and John sparing Kolya's life.
"I guess I'm a bit surprised you would do that," Elizabeth said once he was finished.
John shrugged. "The timing wasn't right," he said and looked down at his hands.
Elizabeth gave him a shrewd look. "Meaning Rodney was still with you, and you don't want him to know what you're really capable of."
"Something like that," John replied shortly and stood. "I should probably get down to the infirmary before Beckett sends out a search party."
"Go. I'll see you in the morning. The memorial for Markham and Smith is scheduled for ten."
John nodded and left the office, replaying the events of the afternoon in his head as he walked down to the transporter.
Neither Elizabeth nor Rodney would ever know just how close he came to shooting Kolya. He hadn't missed Rodney rubbing the scars on his arm when he figured out Kolya was the one holding Ford hostage, or the stubborn set of his chin when he decided to go with Kolya to protect the rest of them. John had a good idea of what it had cost McKay to willingly go with the man who had tortured him and John told himself he needed to check on Rodney before he had too much time to dwell on what had happened with Kolya. And Allina, he reminded himself.
"I've been on the receiving end of people wanting something from me too many times not to recognise the signs," John remembered Rodney telling him a few weeks ago. "I was trying to save you some of the pain I've felt more times than I care to count after supposed friends and colleagues got what they wanted and left me to deal with the fallout alone."
John had watched as Rodney's excitement over the newly-discovered ZPM changed to bewilderment as Allina thanked him for his help even as she took the crystal away from him. He'd seen the flash of hurt in Rodney's expression as McKay turned to him, obviously wanting John to explain what had just happened.
Before he could say anything, John saw the hurt disappear, covered by a mask of indifference as McKay hunched his shoulders and looked away. He had tried to say something on the walk back to the stargate, but Rodney had shrugged off John's hand on his shoulder and refused to look at any of them for the rest of the trip back to Atlantis.
In the space of half a day, McKay had confronted Kolya, discovered he'd been fooled by Allina and used yet again by a supposed friend, only to get back to Atlantis and find out a Wraith fleet was a few days away. How much more was he expected to take? John wondered. How much more could he take? He needed to find Rodney sooner rather than later, he decided.
He was entertaining ideas of a shower and a change of clothes before a quick stop in the infirmary when the transporter opened and Stackhouse pulled himself to attention. "Major," he greeted and stepped aside as he exited the transporter.
"Sergeant," John replied. When Stackhouse didn't keep walking, John turned back to him and asked, "Was there something you needed?"
Stackhouse glanced at the wall to the right of John's head. "You heard about Markham and Smith, sir?"
John sighed. "Elizabeth told me what happened. You saw it?"
Stackhouse swallowed and looked down at his hands. "Yes, sir. They never had a chance, sir. The Wraith opened fire just as we made visual contact. Markham was in the lead jumper."
John grimaced slightly as he watched Stackhouse. The after-action what-ifs were never fun and were even worse when the pilot shot down was a friend. John had spent many long nights in Afghanistan second-guessing decisions he'd made and what he could have done differently to keep friends alive a little bit longer.
"I assume Miller was piloting the other jumper. Not the first flight mission I would have wanted for him," John said into the silence.
Stackhouse shook his head. "Lieutenant Miller was off-world at the time, sir."
"Then who was …"
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about, sir." He gave John a fleeting look. "Sergeant Bates and Doctor Beckett were in the third jumper."
John scrubbed a hand through his hair as Stackhouse's news sank in. Beckett wasn't a pilot. Hell, he wasn't even military, John thought to himself. He hadn't had any training on how to deal with combat deaths. Rodney wasn't the only friend he needed to check on.
"Understood, Sergeant," John said. "I'll take care of it."
Stackhouse nodded and started to walk away.
"Stackhouse?" John called and waited for him to turn around. "Thanks for the heads up."
Stackhouse gave him a tight smile. "No problem, sir.
John headed for his room, showered, and found a clean uniform, then headed down to the infirmary for more than just his post-mission physical.
Beckett was waiting for him when he arrived with a pointed look at his watch and a frown on his face. "I was beginning to wonder if you got lost on the way down here, Major," Carson said impatiently and led the way over to one of the exam beds.
"Elizabeth wanted to discuss a few things," John replied easily, and watched as Carson fussed with the tray of supplies next to the bed.
"Damn and blast," Beckett muttered. "How many times do I have to tell them … David!"
John looked around but didn't see the med tech in the infirmary. Sharon, however, must have heard the yell and came over to their corner.
"Is there something I can help with, Doctor Beckett?"
"Yes, you can make sure the techs are doing their jobs," Carson growled. "This exam tray is incomplete."
John frowned at the uncharacteristic behavior and traded a quick look with Sharon. He gave her a slight nod, and she gave him a tight-lipped smile in return.
"I'll get a new set-up," she said and took the tray.
"If we were back on Earth, I'd take you to a bar and get you drunk," John said once Sharon was gone and waited to see how Carson would react.
He saw the moment Carson gave up the act as his shoulders slumped. He sank onto a nearby stool and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Yes, well, if we were back on Earth, I never would have been piloting the bloody jumper in the first place."
John sat on the edge of the bed. "No," he admitted, "you wouldn't."
Even with the gene therapy, there weren't more than thirty or forty members of the expedition with the ATA gene. Of those, no more than ten or so had even the slightest acumen for flying; Stackhouse, Miller, Carson, and Rodney being his best students. Markham had been one of the few pilots in the expedition before they'd arrived.
"If the rumors going around are true, I'm going to have to do it again, aren't I?" Carson said softly.
John could tell it wasn't really a question. "Probably, yeah. And before you ask, no, it doesn't get any easier to watch the second time."
Carson rubbed his face. "No, I don't suppose it would. I'm not really cut out for this sort of work, John. Like I told Sergeant Bates, I'm a doctor, not a fighter pilot. I took an oath to do no harm."
John ducked his head. "Yeah, I know. We've all had to take on new responsibilities since we got here." John refused to dwell on Colonel Sumner.
"I'll be sure to remind you of that statement if you ever have to perform emergency surgery," Carson replied, and John saw the glint of humor in Beckett's eyes.
"Deal," John said with a smile. "Though I suspect you've done much better as a pilot than I ever would as a surgeon."
Sharon came back with a new tray and set it on the bedside table.
"Thank you, Sharon, love," Carson said as he stood. "I'm sorry for my temper earlier."
She waved off the apology. "You should get some rest," she told him with a smile.
"Aye, so I should."
She patted his arm and left.
"I take it the others have already been here?" John asked, trying to sound casual as Carson started his exam.
"Oh, aye," Carson replied and picked up the ear thermometer. "Nothing serious, just some scrapes and bruises. Rodney cut one of his fingers on something." Carson paused and looked over at John. "Were you expecting to hear something different?" he asked as he took John's temperature.
John remembered Rodney's complaints about the flashbang and swallowed. It wasn't that long ago McKay had been blinded by the transformer explosion. Was his grumbling merely Rodney grousing or … "McKay didn't mention any problems with his vision or hearing?"
Carson shook his head with a small smile as he reached for the blood pressure cuff. "You can stop tiptoeing, Major. I heard all about the flashbangs," he said as he started inflating the cuff. "Rodney is fine. Nothing wrong with his eyes."
John shook his head and rolled his sleeve back down as Carson noted the reading. "So, you know about Kolya showing up on Dagan?"
Carson nodded. "Oh, aye. Though I heard about that from Ford and Teyla more than Rodney. All he would tell me was that Kolya didn't hurt him this time. I gather there were more than a few threats made, however." He gave John a curious look.
John grimaced and had to remind himself why he hadn't killed the Genii commander when he had the chance. If he'd known about the threats before-hand, he might not have been so forgiving.
"It wasn't my idea to send him off alone with that maniac," John pointed out.
Carson smiled. "I assumed as much. I think I mentioned to you once before that our Rodney was learning to care about others as much as himself. I think he proved that again today."
"I might have liked it better before he learnt that lesson," John mumbled.
Carson gave him a steady look. "You don't mean that."
"No. Not really." John sighed. "He scared the hell out of me when he offered to go with Kolya with nothing but the Commander's word he would be all right."
"One of the frustrations of family, Major, they tend to go to extreme measures to protect their own. Even to the detriment of their own health." Carson tapped John on the knee. "He learnt from the best, it seems."
"So you're saying this is my fault?" John protested with mock indignation.
"Absolutely, Major," Carson replied with a grin. "Now get your shirt off so we can get this exam over with. We could both do with a hot meal and a good night's rest."
John couldn't disagree with the idea in principle, but he had one more stop to make before he could think about sleeping. One friend sorted, one more to go.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
You screwed up and lost the Zed-PM, Rodney chastised himself as he closed the door to his lab. You spent the afternoon with the ever delightful Commander Kolya and his threats to kill you every other minute. And if that weren't a bad enough day, the Wraith are heading for Atlantis.
He settled at his work table and booted up his computer. What else could go wrong today? he wondered bitterly.
He traced the long, thin scars running from just behind his wrist to nearly his elbow with a finger. Kolya. The shock of having the Genii commander staring down at him and casually ask about his arm was nothing compared to his surprise at the anger he heard in John's voice when Rodney offered himself in exchange for Kolya not hurting anyone else. It had taken several moments for him to realise John wasn't mad at him, but rather at himself for not having a better solution.
John had been silent as Allina and Sanir were lifted out of the cave. The rope dropped back down, and Rodney had been about to grab it when John took his arm and pulled him aside.
"You don't do anything to piss him off. You hear me?" John had said, never taking his eyes of Rodney's face or letting go of his arm. "We will figure something out."
John had done nothing to hide his concern as he spoke and Rodney was surprised at the level of emotion in John's expression. He had swallowed and nodded once before John led him back to the dangling rope.
He'd felt John squeeze his leg as Kolya's men started to pull him out of the chamber and looked back down at Sheppard, seeing the worry plain in his eyes, before one of Kolya's men reached down, grabbed his arm, and pulled him the rest of the way out of the chamber. He'd heard the cover stone dropped back in place over the hole and had to swallow down his sense of claustrophobia knowing John and the others were now trapped.
He'd almost been able to forget about Kolya and his trapped teammates as he and Allina worked out the true meaning of the symbols and found the last puzzle stone hidden in the wall map. They'd worked well together, and Rodney had enjoyed spending time with her as they searched the Dagan countryside for the stones. She was smart, and fun to be around and, wonder of wonders, she wanted to spend time with him as well.
He'd been surprised when Ford and the others had told him Allina apparently had a crush on him. He'd been flattered at the idea even as it scared him. He wasn't a virgin, he'd had a few girlfriends, contrary to what anyone might think. The problem was none of those relationships had lasted very long.
At the time he wasn't sure he should be encouraging a relationship with Allina, 'gate travel put a whole new spin on long-distance relationships. He'd stumbled through a few conversations at the dig site the next day, his embarrassment and frustration growing as he became more and more tongue-tied. Allina, for her part, had merely smiled and encouraged him.
Now he knew he'd been nothing but a fool. Allina had been using them, him, to find the Zed-PM for her brotherhood, nothing more. He should have known better than to think there was anything real in her interest in him.
"This is what happens when you let your guard down," he muttered to himself as he remembered the moment Allina had taken the Zed-PM from him. He'd been so shocked at what she was telling him, about the new brotherhood and hiding the crystal until the Ancients returned, he hadn't fought to hold onto it.
He'd watched Allina walk away and had turned to John, the hurt evident in his expression, he knew. He'd wanted John to explain what had just happened, but all Sheppard could do was meet his gaze with one of his own. He wasn't sure what to make of the emotion he saw in John's expression and took it as pity, the last thing he wanted to see from anyone.
Rodney had curled his arms around his chest and looked away. By the time Allina and the others were gone, he was past the initial shock and ignored the looks the rest of the team gave him on the hike back to the 'gate. Whether they blamed him for the loss of the Zed-PM or not didn't matter. He blamed himself and had vowed to do whatever was necessary to find another solution to their increasing power problems.
Finding out the Wraith were practically on their doorstep only added to his sense of urgency to solve the problem once and for all.
To that end, he started writing yet another search algorithm for the Ancient database to find a source of naquadah and turned to the components scattered across the work table. If they couldn't find any Zed-PMs to power the city's defences, he'd just make something else.
The door to the lab hissed open, and Rodney looked up with a glare to find Zelenka hovering in the doorway.
"What now?" Rodney asked as Radek walked over to the work table.
"I came to see what you wanted me to do."
"The Wraith. I assume you have some ideas on how we can survive?"
"Three hive ships are heading directly toward us," Rodney said with a scowl. "What makes you think we have a chance in hell of surviving something like that?"
Zelenka sat on the stool across from Rodney. "I do not know that we can," he admitted sadly and slouched down with his arms crossed on the work table, his chin resting on his arms. "I was hoping you had some ideas."
Rodney ducked his head and picked up a screwdriver to hide the guilty look on his face. If they had the Zed-PM, the shield would work. The Wraith could do their worst, and the city would be safe. If they had the Zed-PM, they could use the control chair and shoot back, destroying the Wraith easily, assuming there were still drones in the city. If they had a Zed-PM. Which, thanks to him trusting Allina, they didn't.
He glanced over at Radek, a little unnerved to find Zelenka watching him.
"I might have one," he finally said and nodded to the parts on the table, "but it's not anything I need your help with." Rodney toyed with the screwdriver in his hand then glanced at Zelenka. "There is something else we need to consider," he said a few moments later. "For when the inevitable happens."
Radek stared across the table at him. "You mean if the Wraith succeed?"
"I'm not going to let them have my city," Rodney mumbled more to himself and tossed the screwdriver on the table.
Rodney looked over at him, his expression hard. "One of the things Elizabeth is going to want is a worst-case plan. We need a way to keep the Wraith from getting their hands on all of this Ancient technology and using it to get to the Milky Way."
Zelenka straightened on the stool. "You are talking about destroying Atlantis," he said softly.
"Completely," Rodney confirmed. "I don't want the Wraith to be able to salvage anything, up to and including the water features in the hallways."
"We have the self destruct program."
"I know that," Rodney snapped. "We need to be sure it will be enough."
Zelenka nodded but stayed seated on his stool, seemingly lost in thought.
"In your own time, of course," Rodney said sarcastically a moment later.
Zelenka shook himself and stood. "Yes, yes, I'm going."
Rodney picked up the screwdriver again and watched as Radek walked back toward the door.
The door whispered open, and Zelenka turned around. "I had hoped this expedition would have lasted longer," he said wistfully. "There is still so much to learn."
"Yeah," Rodney agreed with a tiny smile. "Me, too." He and Radek exchanged a look.
Radek glanced down at his hands a few moments later and nodded. "I will just go work on those scenarios," he said as he waved a hand toward his own lab.
Rodney waited until Zelenka was gone then made sure the door was locked before he went back to work on the generator.
Two hours later, the computer search was running, and he was elbow deep in building a new generator case when he heard a pounding on the door to the lab. He glanced at his watch and made a face as he made his way over to the door and unlocked it. He'd frankly expected this visit much sooner and had hoped to avoid it at all costs.
"Do you have any idea how predictable you are?" Rodney asked as he opened the door.
Sheppard stood in front of him, two plates and two mugs on the tray balanced in one hand, the other raised to knock on the door again.
Rodney waved him into the room, turned around, and headed back for the work table.
"If I'm so predictable, why was the door locked?" John replied as he followed Rodney and set the tray on the end of the work table.
"I wanted some peace and quiet to get work done. In case you've forgotten, we have Wraith headed our way and, since we came back empty-handed, I need to find another solution to the power issues around here." He picked up one of the generator components.
"Rodney --" John started to say, but Rodney didn't give him a chance to finish.
"I get it, all right?" Rodney dropped the component in his hand and glared at John. "Allina used me to get the Zed-PM." He looked down at the partially assembled case. "I'll figure out a way to fix it." Rodney glanced over at Sheppard and caught the frown on John's face. "What?" he asked, his tone harsh.
"None of us had any idea what Allina's true motives were," John said gently as he pulled out the stool Zelenka had used earlier and sat down opposite Rodney. "What she did wasn't your fault."
Rodney snorted his disbelief and went back to work. He saw that same expression in John's eyes that he'd noticed on Dagan once Allina left and still couldn't put a name on it. He turned back to the generator housing, something he did understand.
"If you want to blame someone, you can blame me if you want," John said a few moments later. "I encouraged you to get to know her better."
Rodney glanced up at Sheppard, and it dawned on him John was feeling guilty about what happened with Allina. He shook his head and gave John a crooked smile. "Okay, maybe it was your fault," he replied.
John grinned back. "It seems a lot of what happened today was my fault."
Rodney frowned, not bothering to hide his confusion.
"Just something Beckett said, don't worry about it," John said and handed over one of the plates of hreindyr meat and vegetables mixed with some sort of rice-looking grain. "You should probably eat something."
Rodney stared at the plate John held out to him for a moment, then sighed, pushed the generator casing off to one side, and took the offered food.
They ate in companionable silence for several minutes. Rodney was surprised the dish of grain and vegetables tasted good and quickly finished off the rest of what was on his plate.
"What is all of this?" John asked as he finished eating and set his plate back on the tray.
Rodney swallowed his last bit of coffee and said, "I told you weeks ago I could make a naquadah generator in case we ever needed it. After Lurra and," he looked down at his plate, "Dagan, I guess we're going to need it."
"There are still two more planets on the other Elizabeth's list," John said.
Rodney shook his head. "In case you've forgotten, the Wraith will be here in a matter of days. We don't have time for another wild goose chase."
"You said you needed a source of naquadah to make the generator work. Have you found one?"
Rodney glanced at the computer. "No," he admitted. "But I'm still looking, and while the computer searches the database, I can get the rest of the generator built."
John watched him work for several minutes, then stood and gathered up the dishes. "I meant what I said. What happened on Dagan wasn't anyone's fault. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Don't spend all night down here trying to make up for something no one blames you for."
Rodney glanced up and found John watching him. He saw the sincerity in John's expression and nodded.
"All right. The memorial for Markham and Smith is at ten. I'll see you there." John picked up the tray and headed for the door. "Get some sleep," John added with a last look behind him.
Rodney nodded again and waited for John to leave before he turned back to the half-assembled housing and went back to the work table. He'd get a little more work done on the generator casing and then go back to his quarters and try to sleep.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Teyla took a deep breath and slowly let it out as she moved from one position in the meditative form to the next, the ancient movements helping to center her mind. Attacks by the Wraith were a way of life for her people and everyone else in the Pegasus galaxy. The difference this time was she knew the Wraith had no intention of merely culling and moving on. They were determined to not only destroy Atlantis, but find a way to invade another galaxy.
She felt her fear and anger growing and forced herself to focus on her breathing. She spread her arms above her head, then brought her hands together, palm-to-palm, and pulled her hands down in front of her.
Doctor Weir had mentioned an evacuation to another planet, but Teyla knew that would only delay the inevitable. The Wraith would find them eventually. Stay and fight or run and hope to survive another day? She did not envy the decisions Doctor Weir would need to make in the coming days.
She would need to make enough hard choices of her own, starting with the mentioned trip to the mainland. Her people would need to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice once a suitable planet was found.
Another upheaval, she thought to herself. Less than a year since they'd fled Athos to the supposed safety of Atlantis and they were forced to move again. However, three hive ships, bent on destruction, was not something to brush aside.
Her anger turned inward despite her attempts to remain calm. She should have known better than to think any place was completely safe from the Wraith. A lifetime spent with the constant threat hovering just out of sight, taking in refugees from other planets decimated by cullings, and losing countless friends, not to mention her parents, should have kept the real threat at the forefront of her mind.
A lifetime of experience was no match against hope, she reminded herself and slowed her breathing and heart rate again. John had saved her from a Wraith hive ship within days of meeting her. Elizabeth had welcomed her and her people to Atlantis after the destruction of Athos. As a result, both the Earth people and her own had thrived the last few months.
Most amazing of all, she lived in the city of the Ancestors, a beacon of hope for the entire galaxy. She realised she had seen and done so many wondrous things in the past few months, she had let her guard down. She had started to believe the Wraith could be defeated once and for all.
She heard the door to the workout room open behind her as she stretched her right arm out to her side and the left straight out in front of her and stepped forward with her left leg bent slightly in front of her. She finished the movement, stood straight, and turned to see Ford standing just inside the door.
"I didn't mean to interrupt," he said, "I can go if you want me to."
Teyla shook her head and walked over to the bench where a towel and small workout bag sat.
"You have done nothing wrong," she told him as she sat on the bench and patted her face with the towel. She watched as Ford wandered around the room then sat beside her on the bench.
She noticed the bruising on his knuckles and frowned. "You should have worn gloves," she said, knowing he'd been using the punching bag in the gym to vent his own feelings.
Ford glanced down at his hands. "Didn't think of it at the time," he admitted and flexed his hands a few times.
Teyla rummaged through her bag and found a chemical ice pack. She shook the pack and handed it to him. "Was there something you wished to talk about?"
Ford adjusted the pack on his knuckles and shrugged. "How did your people live like this for so long?" he finally asked.
She gave him a puzzled look. "I do not understand."
He leant back against the wall. "Knowing the Wraith are coming. Knowing there's nothing you could do to stop them."
She ducked her head so Ford couldn't see her face. A lifetime of experience, she thought to herself as she faced him. "We try not to dwell on the possibility," she told him. "We know the Wraith could come at any time and we strive to live in the moment, enjoying the company of friends and family, going about our lives the best way we can."
Ford sighed. "When I was stationed in Iraq, we had to worry about roadside bombs and snipers any time we left the safe zone. This is nothing like that. Aliens that see us as nothing but food with ships that can attack us from space and we have no way to fight back." He shook his head as he shifted the ice pack to his other hand.
Comprehension dawned as his last words sank in, and she glanced at his bruised and scraped knuckles. It wasn't fear of being culled, or even of dying, she realised. Ford, and she suspected many of the other Marines, was angry they could do little more than sit and wait for the inevitable.
She laid a hand on his arm and waited for him to look at her. "We make what defensive stand we can," she told him and tightened the hold in his arm. "And, if necessary, we die protecting those we care about."