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Learning The Hard Way

Chapter Text

Elizabeth stood on the balcony outside of her office, her arms braced on the railing in front of her, a mug of cooling coffee on the table beside her as she watched the rising sun play across the water. If anyone asked, she would have said she was taking a quick break from the paperwork piled on her desk. One of the drawbacks of regular contact with Earth, she thought to herself with a tiny smile, the SGC wanted weekly reports and updates on what was happening in the Pegasus galaxy.

The smile disappeared when she remembered the real reason she had retreated from her office. She was worried, more than worried, about what was happening on Mendar. Sheppard's team had missed their check-in, not really a surprise after what Dex had told her about the people on the planet, but she hadn't heard anything from Major Lorne since his team had arrived on the planet several hours ago. Now she was wondering if she had sentenced more of her people to a terrible death as a result.

She watched the waves lap against the edge of the city far below and let the regular action of the water soothe her nerves. John was more than capable of taking care of himself and his team, she told herself. Of course, that team was a man down, and Rodney wasn't really one hundred percent healthy, she reminded herself bitterly. If they had been attacked by the local population, what chance did they have?

She picked up her cup and swallowed the now-cold coffee along with her self-recrimination. She couldn't afford to second guess her decisions. She had to trust that Sheppard and Lorne would somehow manage to get everyone home in one piece.

"Doctor Weir? We have an incoming wormhole," Chuck said over the radio.

"Understood. I'll be right there." Elizabeth took one last deep breath of sea air and steeled herself for whatever happened next.

"It's Major Lorne's IDC," Chuck told her as she came out of her office and stopped behind his chair.

"Lower the shield," Elizabeth replied, and headed down the steps to the gateroom. "Major Lorne," she greeted as Lorne and his team came through the 'gate. She glanced behind him as the 'gate shut down without any sign of John, his team, or Ronon. "Where is Colonel Sheppard?"

Lorne glanced at his team, then turned to Elizabeth. "We ran into a few problems, ma'am."

Elizabeth clasped her hands in front of her. "I see. Conference room, gentlemen."

Elizabeth led the way back up the stairs and across to the conference room. She sat at one end of the table and motioned Lorne's team to take the other chairs. "All right, Major, what happened? Where is Colonel Sheppard's team, and where is Ronon Dex?"

It didn't take Lorne long to explain about finding the archive building empty, following Rodney's trail, finding the village, and rescuing John and Teyla.

"The last communication I had with Colonel Sheppard, he said they were going to make for the archive building and wait for us to come back with reinforcements."

Elizabeth steepled her fingers on the table in front of her as she considered their options. "You said Doctor McKay was limping, what about Colonel Sheppard and Teyla? Do we know if they were injured as well?"

"Dex said he found blood that he thought belonged to Colonel Sheppard on the trail leading back to the village, ma'am. Based on the amount of blood we found, we have to assume Colonel Sheppard's injuries are serious."

"Which is why they couldn't make it back to the stargate after escaping from the villagers." Elizabeth nodded. "So what's your plan, Major?"

"The building isn't more than a few miles from the 'gate. Colonel Sheppard's orders were to bring a jumper and an assault team back through the 'gate. The increased firepower should be more than enough to scare off any villagers still in the area, giving Colonel Sheppard and his people time to get to the ship. "

"According to the initial report from the MALP, there's no place to land the jumper near the building. If Colonel Sheppard is seriously hurt, how do you plan to get them back to the ship?"

Lorne looked down at his hands. "The plan right now is to fly the jumper close to the cliff and use the rear hatch as a bridge of sorts. Worst case," Lorne leant forward and braced his arms on the table, "the jumpers have drones, ma'am. We can blast a space big enough to land the jumper, pick up our people, and get them home."

"Maybe save that as a last resort, Major." Elizabeth placed her hands flat on the table. "All right, you have a go to return to the planet." She tapped her earpiece. "Weir to Sergeant Thompson."

"Thompson here, ma'am."

"Sergeant, Major Lorne needs you and your team for a mission to P9X-291."

"Yes, ma'am. What's the nature of the mission?"

"It's a rescue operation. Colonel Sheppard's team ran into trouble with the native population."

"Understood. We can be geared up and ready to go in fifteen."

"Thank you, Sergeant. Major Lorne will fill you in on the details."

"Roger that. Thompson out."

Elizabeth turned back to Lorne. "I'm sending a medical team back with you as well, Major."

Lorne shook his head. "I'd rather not risk any more civilians on that planet, if possible, ma'am."

"This is not open to negotiation, Major. You said yourself Colonel Sheppard may be seriously hurt. Time may be a factor."

Lorne ducked his head. "Yes, ma'am."

"I'll call Doctor Beckett and have him put together a team to meet you in the jumper bay."

Elizabeth stood, and Lorne followed suit. "Good luck, Major. Bring our people home."

"Yes ma'am," Lorne said with a nod and motioned his team out of the conference room.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Teyla stood at the window, watching the villagers pace near the edge of the trees by the light of a few torches. A few smaller bodies moved around the clearing in front of the archive, and Teyla realised with a start the shapes were boys retrieving spent arrows. The men had stopped shooting at the building once she and the others were inside, but as far as she could tell, no one had left. Instead, the men stood near the edge of the clearing, shouting and waving their arms. She couldn't make out what they were saying but assumed it was threats of some kind.

She frowned when she saw more of the men lighting torches and sinking the poles into the ground, bathing the area in front of the building with a red glow. She had hoped once it was dark, the villagers would leave; torches meant they planned to stay. There would be no chance of the team sneaking back to the stargate during the night.

Teyla heard Ronon growl low in his throat, and assumed he'd come to the same conclusion. She glanced over at him in time to see him kick the table beside him.

The table screeched as it moved a few inches, startling a dozing John into action. His eyes shot open, and he tried to stand, but his leg buckled under him and he sank back down onto the floor with a groan. His movements jostled Rodney, who was asleep next to him. Rodney muttered something unintelligible, and his head rolled against John's arm.

"Ronon," Teyla admonished softly as she knelt next to John and gently moved his hand away from the bloody pressure bandage.

"What?" he growled back. "I knew this was a bad idea."

"What is done, is done. You must have faith that Major Lorne will return."

Ronon glowered at her. "Easy for you to say," he muttered and went back to staring out the window.

"John?" Teyla said and waited for him to focus on her.

"Teyla?" John asked, his voice tight with pain. He glanced over at Rodney leaning against him, then around the rest of the room.

"We made it back to the archive. We are waiting for Major Lorne to return with a jumper," she told him.

John nodded and closed his eyes.

Teyla checked under the bandage and frowned when she saw the blood on the dressing and found dirt in the wound. "I will see what medical supplies I can find," she told him and stood.

Her pack and the Colonel's had been taken by the villagers, but she found Rodney's backpack where he had left it on the desk. She rummaged through it until she found his stash of medical supplies.

"What are they doing?" she asked Ronon as she went back to Sheppard.

"Most of them are still yelling." Ronon paused. "A few of them have started cutting down trees."

"I need a knife," Teyla muttered and looked around. "Why would they be cutting down trees?" she asked.

"Don't know," Ronon replied. He pulled a knife out of the sheath on his belt and handed it to her. "Whatever it is, it won't be good."

Teyla sighed. She knew Ronon was not used to patiently waiting or accepting help from others, but they'd had little choice about coming back to the archive. Neither Colonel Sheppard nor Rodney would have made it back to the stargate. At least now they had a chance against the villagers.

Teyla removed the dirty pressure bandage, slit Sheppard's trouser leg from cuff to knee, and had her first good look at the damage done to John's leg by the arrow and their escape through the woods. The wounds were an angry red, and the jagged tear on the back of John's leg still slowly oozed blood.

Ronon glanced down at her as she worked. "How bad is it?"

Teyla looked up. "The wounds are becoming infected. We need to get him back to Atlantis."

She found an antiseptic wipe and did her best to clean the gashes.

John groaned as soon as she touched him. "Stop," he mumbled, and tried to move his leg.

"J'n?" Rodney muttered as he was bumped again. He sat up with a groan and Teyla saw the pain lines creasing his forehead.

Teyla paused and waited for John to look at her. "Your leg is getting worse," she said to Sheppard in a low voice, "and we do not know how long it will be before Major Lorne returns. It needs tending. I will be as gentle as possible."

John nodded, closed his eyes, and clenched his hands as Teyla quickly finished cleaning the wounds and tied a fresh pressure bandage around his leg.

"I need to remove your tactical vest," she said to Sheppard. "The injury to your shoulder was not as serious, but I should still check it as well."

Sheppard nodded and sat forward long enough to get the vest off, then leant back against the wall again. She slit the sleeve of his shirt, cleaned out the smaller wound, and wrapped his shoulder in a clean bandage.

"I have done what I can." Teyla squeezed his fingers. John let out the breath he'd been holding and nodded. "Pain medication," she added as she passed over a couple of ibuprofen and a bottle of water.

John swallowed the pills and water. "Thanks," he said in a whisper and closed his eyes again.

"Rodney?" Teyla asked as she moved around to his side. "How are you doing?"

Rodney rubbed a hand over his face. "Head aches, leg aches, and the tingling is still there." He glanced at Sheppard and gave Teyla a questioning look.

"I have done what I can," she reassured him. "The rest will have to wait until we are home."

Ronon looked down at them again when Rodney mentioned the tingling sensation. Teyla wondered how much Ronon suspected and how long he would wait before he started asking questions.

"Here, this will help." She handed him two pills and another bottle of water from the backpack.

Rodney took the pills and water without comment.

Teyla saw the slight tremble in Rodney's hands as he took the pills and bottle from her and frowned, memories of when she and Rodney had been kidnapped by Rasha assaulted her. She wasn't sure if the shaking was from exhaustion, pain, or the hypoglycaemia, but she wasn't going to wait to find out. She dug through the pack looking for the power bars she knew Rodney would have stashed inside before they left the city.

She found the foil-wrapped bars in one of the front pockets and handed one to Rodney.

"Thanks," Rodney said as he opened the wrapper.

Teyla nodded to him with a smile as she nudged John awake and gave him another of the energy bars. She held out another to Ronon, who shook his head.

"You should eat something," Teyla admonished softly, still holding out the food.

"I'm fine," Ronon replied.

Teyla studied his face and noted the pursed lips and the way he wouldn't look at the energy bar. It seemed they had finally found an Atlantean food Ronon didn't like, she thought with a tiny smile. She let the matter drop and ate the bar herself.

Once she finished eating, she turned back to Rodney. "You were limping badly by the time we arrived here, perhaps I should look at your foot," she said, and reached for Rodney's boot.

Rodney shook his head. "You take my boot off, I won't be able to get it on again. It's waited this long, I'll be fine until the jumper gets here."

He looked around the room with a tired sigh. "Speaking of which …"

Rodney pushed against the wall and stood, hopping on one foot as he braced himself first on the wall and then on the desk as he made his way across the short distance from the door to the console. He fell more than sat on the stool in front of the console and checked the computer still attached to the Ancestor's system.

"Hopefully, the computer managed to download the database while we were off getting chased through the woods." Rodney glanced first at the computer and then at the screen for the console.

"Rodney," Sheppard said and opened his eyes. "What did you do to that leg?"

Rodney ducked his head and typed something on the computer keyboard. "Not sure," he admitted softly. "I felt my ankle give earlier this afternoon while I was following you. It's ached ever since."

Ronon turned away from the window and crossed his arms over his chest. "That's not what you were doing."

"What?" Rodney looked up from the console, confusion evident in his expression. "Of course, I was following them."

"I was tracking you," Ronon told him. "You weren't following Sheppard or the villagers. You kept wandering away from their trail."

"I was, umm …" Rodney glanced at Sheppard.

Ronon dropped his arms and paced away from the window with his head down. He stopped a minute later, stared first at Rodney then down at John, and Teyla saw the moment he put all of the pieces together.

"It's more than just words," he said. "There's something else tying you two together."

John gave Rodney a quick look. "You could say that," he admitted after a few seconds.

"Ronon, this may not be the best time," Teyla added, hoping to delay the inevitable.

"Teyla, it's okay," John said, rubbing his forehead. He looked over at Rodney then up at Ronon.

Rodney frowned and shook his head. "You're sure?"

"If he's going to stay, he needs to know," Sheppard replied.

"Fine, I guess." Rodney stared down at his hands resting on the computer keyboard. He met Ronon's eye and continued, "You're right. I didn't follow the trail. Well, not the one you mean, anyway. I followed … the tingling feeling."

"The what?" Ronon asked with a frown.

"The tingling feeling, at the back of my head," Rodney explained with a tired sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose.

When he didn't continue, Teyla quirked an eyebrow, and John nodded.

Teyla stood in front of Ronon, her expression serious. "Do you remember what I told you about chaguo ndugu?"

Ronon shrugged. "Brothers by choice. We had a similar idea on Sateda. Not that uncommon."

"In the case of John and Rodney, it is more … complicated." Teyla smiled slightly and patiently told Ronon about the waypost and what they knew about the mental link.

By the time she was done, Ronon had leant with his back against the wall next to Sheppard, who was still sitting on the floor, his expression unreadable. "This was something common to the Ancestors?"

Rodney shook his head. "According to," he gave John a wary glance, "a source we discovered several months ago, linked pairs were pretty rare even for the Ancients."

Ronon grunted. "And this link does what? Tells you when the other is injured?"

John nodded.

"Among other things," Rodney said.

"And it's not always subtle about the pain thing," John added.

Rodney snorted. "That might be the biggest understatement I've ever heard."

Ronon looked over at Rodney. "That's what you were following? A feeling?"

Rodney nodded and looked at John again. "I figured as long as I could still feel the tingling from the link, I was going in the right direction."

"Does everyone know about this link?" Ronon asked as he glanced out the window.

John shook his head. "Only Teyla, Doctor Weir, and Doctor Beckett." He looked up at Ronon, his expression serious. "And now you."

"And Ford," Rodney added with a glance at Sheppard before he went back to work on the computer. "He knew before …"

"Yeah," John whispered. "Ford, too."

"Colonel," Teyla started to say but stopped when Ronon growled. He stalked from the window over to the door, pulling his weapon out of its holster as he moved. "What is the matter?" she asked.

"I know what the cut-down trees are for," he told her. He cracked the door open, fired off a few shots, and quickly closed the door again when arrows landed in the dirt in front of the building.

Teyla went to the window and hissed in a breath when she saw the pile of tree branches a few feet from the front of the building. There was a body on the ground near the pile of wood, and a burning torch on the ground next to it. Teyla suddenly understood what Ronon had been shooting at.

As she watched, another man ran forward, grabbed the torch, and threw it onto the pile of wood. The flame sputtered for several moments, then the fire caught and started to spread. She looked over at Ronon with a stunned expression.

"They're going to burn us out," Ronon said, his expression hard. "If the smoke doesn't kill us, the flames will."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Evan heard the clatter of running feet in the jumper bay, finished the last of his preflight checks, and looked back into the rear section of the jumper.

"Sergeant Thompson is here with the rest of the gear, sir," Reed reported as Thompson as his team entered the jumper.

Lorne watched as Thompson and his people stowed the last of the extra weapons under the bench seats. "Doctor Beckett is right behind us, sir," Thompson said as he came forward.

"Beckett? I thought Doctor Weir was just going to ask for a medical tech."

"When it comes to Rodney and Colonel Sheppard, Major, it's just easier for everyone if I come with you," Beckett said as he dropped his medical pack behind him and took one of the rear seats in the cockpit.

"Okay," Evan drawled as he closed the rear hatch. "More the merrier, I guess."

The docking system dropped the jumper down into the gateroom where Evan saw Doctor Weir standing in front of the control console, her hands gripping the railing in front of her.

"Major. Good luck," she said over the radio.

Evan nodded and waved as the jumper slowly rotated to face the stargate and the shimmering event horizon. The ship hung in place for a moment, then launched through the 'gate.

Full night had descended on the planet while they were gone, and Lorne pulled back on the control sticks, gaining altitude as the gate shut down behind them. He didn't think the local weapons could damage the ship if anyone was nearby, but he didn't plan on taking any chances.

"We'll head for the Ancient building, first. With any luck, we'll be able to pick up Colonel Sheppard and the others and be back through the 'gate before … " Lorne stopped speaking as the HUD lit up in front of him. The building was marked on the map along with several dozen life signs. "That's not good," he muttered.

"Major?" Beckett asked.

"I guess we really made those villagers mad," Lorne replied as the jumper rose above the trees and headed for the building in the near distance. "Looks like about forty of them are camped out around the building where Colonel Sheppard and the others went to ground."

"They made it back to the building, at least," Beckett said as he studied the heads-up display. "There are four life signs inside."

"Damn," Evan muttered as a red line suddenly appeared in front of the building. He looked out the windscreen and saw an orange glow below and slightly ahead of them.


Lorne glanced back at Beckett. "The villagers have started a fire. Looks like it's right in front of the building. We aren't going to get anyone out that way."

"What about another exit?" Beckett asked.

Evan shook his head. "The building backs up to a cliff. It's the front door or nothing."

He made sure the ship was cloaked, hovered over the clearing where the building sat, and pressed the tile for the jumper's radio. "Colonel Sheppard, this is Major Lorne. Come in."

"Sheppard here." Evan heard the tension and fatigue in Sheppard's voice. "Good to hear from you, Major."

Evan heard Beckett hiss softly behind him. He must have heard the exhaustion as well, he thought with a glance at Beckett's worried expression. "Got here as fast as we could. Looks like the neighbors don't want to go home, sir."

"What can I say, Major. We throw a hell of a party."

"Colonel Sheppard," Beckett cut in. "How badly are you and Rodney injured?"

"We've been better. I took an arrow to the leg, but the bleeding seems to have stopped. McKay thinks he twisted his left ankle, but he won't let any of us take his boot off and check it."

Evan saw Beckett's worry increase at Sheppard's news. "Leave Rodney alone for now, Colonel. The boot is actually helping him."

"Roger that."

"Anything else?" Beckett asked.

"Teyla's got some cuts on her arms and hand. We found some medical supplies, and except for Rodney's foot, we've done what we can."

"All right, Colonel," Beckett replied. "It sounds like you're all stable for now. Hopefully, we'll have you out of there soon."

"Soon works for us," Sheppard replied.

"Colonel, it looks like you've got forty men on your doorstep and they've started a fire," Evan reported. "We're working on a way to get you out of there."

"Understood. Don't take too long, Major. The wind picks up, and we're going to have a problem getting out of here."

Evan tapped off the radio and looked at Beckett, Thompson, and Reed. "Anyone have any bright ideas?"

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Rodney sat in front of the console studying the data as it flowed across the computer screen. It gave him something to think about other than his throbbing leg, not to mention the fire only a few meters away from the building. He saw a few wisps of smoke trickle through the chinks in the stone and swallowed.

He checked the hard drive and compared the amount of data already downloaded to the database and shook his head. Best case, he might be able to get a quarter of the database downloaded before the hard drive was completely full.

"Understood," he heard John say and glanced up from the computer. "Don't take too long, Major. The wind picks up, and we're going to have a problem getting out of here."

John tapped off his radio and held out an arm to Dex. "Help me up. I need to see what's going on out there."

"Are you sure that is wise?" Teyla asked as Dex pulled Sheppard to his feet at the same time. "The bleeding has finally stopped."

Sheppard hopped on one leg as Dex guided him over to the window and kept one hand on his back. John stared out the window for a few moments then sat heavily on the stool Teyla pushed over for him.

John hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Anyone have any ideas on how to get past that?"

Ronon grunted and checked his weapon. "I can think of one."

John grimaced. "There are thirty or forty people out there. Let's hold off on the kamikaze runs for the time being, okay, big guy?"

"What's a kamikaze?"

"Never mind," Sheppard replied, and looked around. "Rodney, I thought you said there were weapons in here."

"I said there were probably weapons in here," Rodney retorted. He watched as more smoke curled into the room and started to cough. "It's not like I've had time to do an inventory." He tapped a series of tiles on the console, and read the resulting scroll of information on the computer.

"Well?" Sheppard pressed when Rodney didn't answer right away.

"I don't know. There's no manifest or log of what Kadmos stored in here." Rodney stood, braced himself against the desk, and started to hop toward the shelves.

"McKay, sit down," Sheppard ordered. "You fall, and you'll make that leg worse."

Dex walked over, took Rodney by the arm, and set him back on the stool. "Tell me where to look," he said.

Rodney pointed toward the row of shelves farthest from the console. "Try down there. The row closest to us is just books. I don't remember seeing anything like a weapon down the next two when we were here before. The last row is our best shot."

Dex nodded and started down the last row of artefacts. Rodney heard John coughing and said, "We have another problem."

"Oh?" John asked once he had his breath back. "On top of the people that want to smoke us out of here just to kill us?"

Rodney grimaced at the reminder. "We need to save as much of this as we can." He waved a hand around, indicating the console and the shelves. "I'm not even going to get half of the information in the database saved." He stared longingly at the shelves of artefacts, then shook himself and picked up the large book he'd left on the desk earlier that afternoon. "The books would probably be the most useful."

"Rodney," Sheppard started to say, but Rodney talked over him.

"You and I both know Elizabeth is not going to authorise another trip back here. We have to get what we can now. Otherwise, what was the point of coming here and nearly getting killed?"

"We're going to be lucky to get out of here with our lives," Sheppard countered, and coughed again as more smoke drifted into the room through the cracks in the walls.

Rodney scowled. "This archive was built for a reason, Colonel. We need to preserve what we can. Who knows what could save us in the future." He snapped his fingers a few times and pointed to his backpack sitting on the floor near the door.

Teyla picked it up and handed it to him. "Thank you," he muttered around another cough and proceeded to dump everything out of the pack. "I can get several books in this and still have room for the computer," he said and shoved the large Ancient text from the desk into the pack.

"Rodney has a point, Colonel. We should try to save as much as possible."

John scrubbed a hand over his face. "Fine. Grab what you can."

Rodney started to stand again.

"Not you," Sheppard admonished. "Stay there."

Rodney pursed his lips but sat back down.

"Teyla, start bringing McKay books." John turned to Rodney as Teyla started down the nearest row of shelves. "We can't take everything. Choose wisely. We're going to need to move fast once Lorne has a way to get rid of the villagers. We can't be weighed down no matter how important you think the books might be."

Rodney nodded as Teyla dropped several books on the desk, coughing as she went back for more.

Dex came back from his search of the last row of artefacts a few minutes later. "This is all I could find," he said and dropped two devices on the desk. Each one had a narrow, metal handle at one end and a tapered glass housing at the other.

Rodney studied the devices for a moment, then typed a query into the computer looking for any information on what he hoped were weapons. To him, they looked like --

"Looks like a flashlight," John said.

Dex went back to the window. "Better hope it's more than that," he grunted with a cough.

"They're personal defence weapons," Rodney said a moment later as he read the computer screen. "According to this, they were standard issue for anyone assigned to one of the Ancient fleet ships. Hang on." He picked up one of the devices, studied it for a moment, and pressed a button inset under the handle.

The chamber at the front of the device glowed, and a thin beam of energy shot out the tip, hitting the wall just to the left of Dex's shoulder.

Dex ducked and turned on Rodney with a growl as more smoke poured into the room from the newly-made hole.

"Oops," Rodney muttered as he turned the weapon over in his hands.

"Gimme that," Dex growled, stalked over to Rodney, and snatched the device out of his hand.

"Sorry," Rodney said. "I don't think it would have really hurt you, though. According to this, it was only supposed to stun the target."

"Stun weapons don't leave holes in the walls," Dex said with a glare. He quickly checked the weapon, then tucked it in a pocket of his duster.

Rodney reached out for the other weapon, but Dex got there first. He grabbed the energy weapon and handed it to Teyla as she dropped another stack of books on the desk.

"What is this?" she asked as she took the offered device.

"A weapon," Dex replied with one last glower at Rodney before he walked back over to Sheppard.

"All right, we at least have something we can use to fight back," John said as Dex handed him the other Ancient weapon.

Teyla studied the weapon for a moment, then nodded at the books. "These are all of the books I could find that would fit in your backpack."

Rodney looked down the aisle at the thick-bound books still on the shelf. "You're sure?"

"Yes, Rodney," she replied. She turned back and picked up a sort of rectangular reinforced rucksack from the floor near the shelves. "I did find this, as well, so we will be able to take a few more of the books with us."

"Good, good," Rodney said. He coughed again and rubbed his eyes. The air in the room was getting hazy, and Rodney could taste the wood smoke as well as smell it. He glanced at the door and saw thick smoke coming from under the door lintel. More smoke came in through the gaps in the stone walls.

"Sheppard?" Rodney pointed at the door as he coughed again.

"Yeah, I know," John replied, his voice rough as the smoke caught in his throat.

"The villagers are fanning the fire," Dex reported from the window. "We need to get out of here."

Rodney didn't wait to hear the rest of the conversation. He turned back to the console, covered his nose and mouth with his shirt, and stopped the database download. When the computer beeped, he checked the information was intact on the hard drive, unhooked it from the console and stuffed it into the backpack along with the cables.

Once the computer was secured, he pulled himself to his feet and quickly scanned the titles on the books. He couldn't translate much, but picked out a familiar word here or there and added another half dozen books to his pack. He quickly sorted through the remaining books and gave eight more to Teyla to put in the other bag.

The air in the room was getting worse by the second. Rodney started coughing again, and it was several long seconds before the fit passed.

John tapped his radio. "Sheppard to Lorne," he said as he coughed. "We're out of time, Major, it's now or never."

With the computer and all of the books, Rodney could barely get the backpack to zip closed and settled the pack on his shoulders. He tried to hide the pain in his leg as the weight pulled him off balance. He didn't want to give Sheppard an excuse to force him to leave the precious books behind.

"Get to the back of the building!" John ordered, his voice hoarse as he fought a coughing fit of his own. "Lorne has a plan."

Teyla picked up the other pack, slung it over her shoulder, and took Rodney's arm. He limped down the nearest aisle, bracing one hand on the shelves, and carrying two smaller books in his other hand.

The smoke coming through the gaps in the walls increased and all of them were coughing now as the smoke filled the front of the building.

Rodney was about to ask what was taking Lorne so long when he saw a bright flash through the window and heard several loud bangs announcing the arrival of the Marines.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Evan watched the flames inch closer to the building. As the fire grew and the smoke spread, he had to fly the jumper higher and higher to keep the villagers from noticing it was there.

"We could try the flashbangs again, sir," Reed suggested. "If we drop them between the fire and the tree line, it might scare them off long enough for us to get Colonel Sheppard and the others out of the building."

"From the way Colonel Sheppard described their injuries, neither he nor Doctor McKay is going to be able to run very far or very fast," Beckett said.

"Shouldn't be a problem, Doc," Evan said, and pointed to an open area next to the building. "It looks like the people down there cut down enough of the trees I should be able to get the jumper to fit."

"Sheppard to Lorne," Sheppard's voice crackled over the radio. "We're out of time, Major, it's now or never."

Evan pressed the tile for the jumper's radio. "We think we have a plan, sir. Get as far from the front of the building as you can, and don't look outside."

Lorne tabbed off the radio. "Coughlin, Walker," he called into the back of the jumper. "Get ready with the rest of the flashbangs." He glanced over at Thompson.

"My team can provide cover fire, sir," Thompson said.

"Good," Evan replied.

"Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay are going to need help getting out of the building," Beckett reminded from his seat behind Evan. "I need to go with whoever you send inside."

Lorne frowned. "That's not a good idea, Doc. It's not safe down there."

"Safe or not, Major, I'm going," Beckett told him. "Medical needs aside, if the building was an archive like Rodney suspects, chances are it has standard Ancient security, which means the door is most likely sealed. Only someone with the Ancient gene will be able to get it open."

Evan grimaced. He should have thought of that, he realised. No one else on his team had the gene.

"Sergeant?" he asked hopefully.

Thompson shook his head. "No one in my group has the ATA gene, sir."


"If you want to get that door open, I'm the only one who can do it," Beckett said and stood from his chair.

Lorne grimaced. "Thompson, get ready and go with him," he finally said. He hoped Sheppard and Weir wouldn't flay him too much when they found out he'd sent a civilian into a dangerous situation.

"Yes, sir," Thompson replied.

"Everyone ready back there?" Evan called a few seconds later. "We're only going to get one shot at this."

"Ready, sir," Reed replied.

"All right, here we go!"

Evan dropped the ship down until it hovered above the open area between the fire and the edge of the trees.

"Hang on back there," Lorne called as he opened the rear hatch.

"Flashbangs!" Reed shouted in warning.

A few seconds later, the clearing lit up for a brief moment. Evan had an impression of dozens of angry faces before they scattered back into the trees.

"They're running!" Evan reported, watching the life signs scatter on the HUD. "Going in to land."

He pulled the ship around and dropped it behind the fire line. Evan cringed as several trees snapped under them as the jumper landed next to the building. He angled the ship so the rear hatch was close to the building, giving Sheppard and his team some cover as well as keeping some of the smoke out of the jumper.

He heard the clatter of running feet on the ramp, then the crack of gunfire from the P-90s as arrows hit the windscreen of the jumper. Evan had to give these people credit, they were persistent. He understood a little better now how they had managed to capture and kill a Wraith.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Carson followed Sergeant Thompson out of the jumper and into the smoky area near the building.

"Need to hurry, Doc," Thompson said. "Those people aren't going to stay away for very long."

Carson ducked as gunfire erupted behind them and hurried over to the door. He found the sensor and waved his hand over it, thankful the door obeyed and slid open with ease.

Smoke hung in the air as he moved through the building, and both he and Thompson started to cough.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Beckett called.

"Back here," Sheppard's voice croaked.

Carson followed the sound of hacking down one of the aisles until he found Sheppard's team huddled on the floor near the back of the building. John and Ronon sat with their backs against opposite shelves, Rodney and Teyla were behind them against the back wall. All of them were pale with streaming eyes, and when they weren't coughing, Carson could hear them wheezing.

"Colonel?" Carson said and knelt down next to Sheppard.

"Hey, Carson," John said with a weak grin as he coughed again. "Glad you made it."

"I'm sure. Can you walk?" Carson didn't bother to hide his worry.

John nodded and slowly stood, balancing his weight on one leg while his left hand clutched the nearest shelf.

"I've got him," Ronon said as he took John's weight.

Carson gave him a quick appraising glance and nodded. Beckett had a good idea of how much Sheppard was hurting when John accepted the help without comment.

Carson looked behind them and found Teyla doing her best to help Rodney, who was bent nearly double as he struggled to catch his breath, stagger to his feet.

"Derek, help Teyla with Rodney, please," Carson ordered, rubbing his eyes.

"You got it, Doc," Thompson replied.

Carson watched as Thompson helped Rodney stand. He took the two books Rodney held, stuffed them inside his tac-vest, and wrapped an arm around McKay's waist.

"I will take the lead," Teyla offered as she scooted past John, Ronon, and Carson carrying a bulbous device in her hand.

"Major, we're heading out, now," Carson said into his radio.

"Copy that, Doc," Lorne replied. "Those men are coming back, we need to get out of here."

Carson looked behind him. "Stay as low as you can," he said as more smoke swirled into the room. He noticed hot embers floating in the air as they neared the console and the door. Several lit on the console or desk and glowed for a few seconds before dying.

Carson heard more gunfire as he followed Teyla to the door. "The jumper is just outside to your left," he told her around a cough.

Teyla nodded, readied the device in her hand, ducked low, and ran out the door.

The device in Teyla's hand glowed as she fired it toward the other side of the fire. Carson saw arrows littering the ground between the building and the jumper as he followed her outside. There was the whine of another weapon, and Carson glanced back to see Ronon firing as he half-carried Sheppard across the short distance to the jumper. Thompson followed with Rodney, shooting at anything that got too close with his Beretta.

Arrows landed in the ground around them, and all of them were so busy dodging the missiles, none of them noticed a few of the arrows landed around the entryway for the archive, keeping the door wedged open. More embers floated through the opening, into the room; a few landed on the books left on the desk. It wasn't long before a small flame flared to life against the edge of one of the books, licking hungrily at the old paper.

Carson followed Teyla up the ramp and into the rear section of the jumper. He directed Ronon and Thompson to set their charges on the nearest bench and frowned when he had his first good look at Sheppard and his team. All four of them were streaked with soot and coughing, even in the cleaner air of the jumper. Sheppard and Rodney both had their eyes closed, and Carson could see the pain lines around their eyes and creasing their foreheads. The pressure bandage around the Colonel's leg was dirty and spotted with blood.

Teyla shrugged out of the pack on her back, stuffed the bulbous weapon inside, then turned to Rodney beside her and tried to remove his pack.

"Let me help, lass," Carson said as he pulled Rodney forward against his chest enough for Teyla to wrestle the pack off his shoulders. Rodney grunted at the treatment and tried to say something, but all that came out was more coughing.

Carson heard the heavy thump of the pack as it hit the floor, and gave Teyla a questioning look as he settled Rodney back on the bench.

"Books," Teyla told him, her voice rough. "It was all we could save."

"At least something came out of all of this," he muttered, and frowned when Ronon and John started coughing again.

"Sergeant, see if you can find the portable oxygen," Carson ordered with a glance behind him at Thompson sitting on the other bench.

"Yes, sir."

Thompson took a couple of deeper breaths, then stood and pulled the medical kit from the rack above him. Carson felt a slight tightness in his own chest and made a mental note to have all of the Marines checked for smoke inhalation once they were back in Atlantis.

There was more gunfire outside, then a few seconds later, the last of the Marines were aboard, the rear hatch closed, and Lorne lifted off. Carson gulped as the jumper barely missed some of the trees as Lorne skimmed over the clearing. He also heard a clatter as arrows hit the bottom and sides of the jumper for a few moments, then they were clear. As the ship headed back to the 'gate, Carson turned back to his patients.

"Here you go, Doc," Thompson said. "There's only two masks," he added as he passed over the oxygen masks.

"Thank you, Derek, lad," Carson replied with a slight frown. He made another mental note to inventory the medical stores on all of the jumpers. Now that they had regular contact with Earth, there was no excuse for the lack of adequate supplies.

Carson eyed each of his patients, quickly assessed the worst cases, and settled one of the oxygen masks over John's nose and mouth. He gave the other one to Ronon, who was still having the most trouble catching his breath.

Ronon started to hand the mask to Teyla, but Carson stopped him. "You've inhaled a fair amount of smoke," he said. "I expect you will all be spending the night in the infirmary." He looked Ronon in the eye. "No arguments."

Ronon tried to glare back, but the effect was ruined by another coughing fit. When it passed, he took the plastic mask and held it over his nose and mouth.

Carson watched him for a moment longer then knelt in front of Sheppard and carefully checked the bandage wrapped around his leg.

John frowned and twitched his leg, but didn't open his eyes.

"It was some time before I could get the bleeding to stop," Teyla said in a low, hoarse voice.

Carson nodded and resettled the bandage. The wound looked serious, but the bleeding had stopped. He'd worry about the rest once he had the Colonel in the infirmary.

"Dial the 'gate," Lorne said from the front of the jumper. "Doc, we're almost there."

"Ask Elizabeth to tell Doctor Cortes to have more oxygen waiting as well as two gurneys and a couple of wheelchairs," Carson replied as he turned to check Rodney.

He grimaced when he saw the bruising on Rodney's leg and how tight the boot fit around his ankle. He hoped all Rodney had done was give himself a nasty sprain. None of them wanted to deal with more broken bones.

The light from the stargate blossomed in front of them, and Carson glanced at the front of the jumper. Lorne slowed the ship as they approached, and Carson felt the automatic systems engage as the jumper slid through the wormhole and returned to Atlantis.

John stirred, opened his eyes, and looked around as the jumper stopped in the gateroom before it slowly rose up into the bay.

"You are all right, John," Teyla said softly, and reached over Rodney to lay a hand on his arm. "We are home."