The last few months have flown by, setting the camp up how they wanted it, preparing land for crops, gathering animals and exploring the forest around them was just the tip of the iceberg. At some point, Elizabeth had been forced to call a meeting of all the section leaders and tell them that instead of her taking reports from several people from the same department, she expected each of them to keep track of their people, and unless she was unavailable,report to her once a day on their progress. People had spread out so far that John couldn't blame her for needing to place the responsibility on someone else.
John eyed her, watching as she read the report and McKay zipped his tac vest up beside her. He had a bad feeling, a sense that something was going to happen while he was off-world. He'd tried all night to convince himself he was being too overprotective of Elizabeth, this was, after all, the first time he was going off-world since they had arrived on this planet.
"You can stop looking at me like that," she said as Captain Lorne stopped beside her. "I'm not going anywhere." Her sarcastic tone did nothing to reassure him.
"I know," he said and turned to check if everyone was ready.
Their relationship had gone slowly, though not from lack of effort on John's part. He'd started easy enough, following her to the rock she always went to in the evenings, turning some of their trips into a picnic instead of joining others for dinner - though they had to be careful not to avoid others altogether or people would start to talk. In the last week or so, John had started finding ways to meet her in her tent later in the evening, usually managing to show up in time to watch her change.
It hadn't been until a few days ago that he'd managed to slip into her tent just as she was changing and catch sight of just how much her body had changed. She'd started showing at some point and he'd missed it. Since then, his visits had consisted of him sitting on the bed with her between his legs and both hands firmly on her raised stomach. Last night had been the first time he'd put his hands under her night shirt.
In the day, Elizabeth had managed to hide the pregnancy by keeping her jacket on, but she knew that wouldn't last long. Today's trip off world had put everything to the test. They had to prove to everyone, including themselves, that they could keep a professional distance in their personal relationships.
“You’re still watching me,” Elizabeth said. Her back was to him and she was just in the way of his view of Teyla.
“You think just because I won’t be here, someone won’t be keeping an eye on you? I made sure of it, via threat of cutting eyes out at the end of my mission.”
Elizabeth gave him a sly grin. "Uh huh, and I suppose you'll be cutting Carson's ears off so you don't have to explain why you mutilated your own security personnel?"
"No," John said. "I'll make you do that bit."
"The ear cutting or the explaining?" Lieutenant Walker asked.
"Ladies choice," John replied.
"This is one side of Earth culture I will never get used to," Teyla said from behind John. He turned and smiled at her.
"Don't worry Teyla," he said with a sly grin. "I'll teach you." Elizabeth gave a bitter laugh.
John stepped out of the Stargate and felt his orientation tip. It was a strange sensation, as if he'd just stepped through a door that was in a wall and exited out the floor and had to right himself. Lieutenant Walker grabbed his arm to steady him as he stumbled forward, and he had to brace himself against the nearby wall as the room swam around him. The queasy feeling lasted a few seconds more than John would have hoped, but when it finally passed he looked around the room.
The whitewash wooden walls were oddly soothing and supported a high glass roof. All John could see through it were the tops of some nearby trees, and the world’s two, thankfully distant, suns. There was no wall in front of the gate, it just opened out into a green and sandy mixed landscape. Reaching for his sunglasses, John stepped out into the bright day and took in the odd mix of scenery.
Strange yellow-topped plants littered the dirt patches of the shore. The water to one side was like crystal and ice mixed together. A city sat in the distance surrounded by rocky mountains and just beyond them, a giant planet that reminded him of Jupiter. It was the most amazing sight he’d ever seen. He wished he had a camera so he could capture it and show Elizabeth.
He took a deep breath of the warm and soft air and let it out slowly before turning to check on his team. To his right, Walker pulled his P90 up quickly and John turned back to look at him, only to be greeted with a neat row of five or six very tall and thin men, each with a bow and arrow, knocked and ready to fly.
“Well this is a nice greeting,” he said, just a little touch of sarcasm in his voice.
“You are trespassing.” One of the men stepped forward, his eyes fixed on John.
“Sorry,” John replied shortly.
“We have just arrived,” Teyla cut in. “We are explorers looking to trade, we did not intend to cause offence or trespass.”
The man stood staring at her for a long moment before he turned away. “Bring them,” he barked at the others.
The men moved forward, but John interrupted them. “Hang on,” he started. “Let’s not turn this into a fight. Like the lady said, we’re just explorers. And we can leave if we’re not welcome here.” He nodded to the team to lower their guns in the hope to prevent a shoot out. Which, of course, they would win against the simple bow and arrows, but it would be nice to keep everyone without any extra holes in their bodies.
The leader of the welcoming party stared intensely at John, who kept his eyes on him and assumed he was obviously the one in charge. “Look, we came in the hope to make new friends. Fight against the Wraith?” John tried to ease the tension.
The leader let out a huff. “Not my choice,” he said turning away. “Follow if you wish. Or leave!” He moved off, walking away from the gate. Two of the men followed him, the others waiting a few seconds before turning away as well.
“Don’t think we made a good first impression,” Lieutenant Walker said.
“We do need seeds for crops,” Teyla pointed out.
“Alright,” John said mulling the information over in his head. “Let’s see if we can smooth this over and get what we need in one go.” Teyla nodded and started to follow the men who had just walked away.
Elizabeth let out a sigh and lifted her hair from the back of her neck. The temperature had climbed through the day to twice as hot as the day before. Their temperate levels of spring air were quickly vanishing into extreme heat and humidity and everyone she could see in range of the command tent had stripped down to bare minimum. The Athosian kids in the area where running around in their underwear, and at least one civilian had dropped down to vest and shorts.
Elizabeth was still in her full uniform, her jacket zipped up to her chest to keep her baby bump hidden. She kept herself behind the desk, the fan in the corner was on, but its effects were less than helpful in the current heat and only managed to circulate the hot air instead of cooling it down.
She dropped her hair back in place and picked up her tablet before getting up. Maybe the heat outside would be lesser or at least a cool breeze would cool her down.
Stepping out into the bright sun, she took a deep breath that seemed to burn at her lungs. It was no better outside than inside, and the second she stepped out of the shade she could feel the heat on her skin. Deciding against sitting outside for long, she moved to the central area and sat under the shade of the canopy that had been put up the night before. Grabbing a bottle of water from the cooler at her side, she set her tablet down next to her and looked up to find Evan Lorne stood leaning against a nearby hut.
“When he said keep an eye on me, he didn’t mean it literally,” she said, taking a large gulp of water.
“Yeah, but I get the feeling you’re hiding something that won’t be good,” he said pushing off from the building and sitting down next to her.
“Really?” She asked in disbelief.
“Why else would you still be in your uniform,” he answered then motioned at her chest. “With jacket, in this heat.”
“Well,” she started but had to stop when someone stepped into the shade.
“Doctor Weir, do you have a minute?”
“Of course, doctor…”
“Beamish,” he replied with a grin.
“Climatology,” she replied quickly adding the name to the job. So many names and faces to remember she didn’t have them in her head just yet. “I hope you’re not here to tell me how hot it is right now.”
“113 degrees Fahrenheit, but no, I’m not here to tell you that.”
“I think I was better off not knowing,” Lorne said sarcastically.
“The hottest it was ever recorded on Earth was 136, so we’re not at the highest yet, but chances are we could hit that or higher.”
“This is the punishment you get for following me around all day,” Elizabeth told Lorne, giving him a grin that said she expected this conversation to get worse.
“At a guess, we’ve just started summer,” Beamish said, “The air pressure between yesterday and today is extremely different, and the temperature will increase as the air pressure rises.” He lowered his hand in the air to simulate the drop of air pressure. “It might be a good idea to find a cave or some sort of cover that we can stay in for a while.”
“A while?” Lorne asked turning back to the conversation. “You mean this is gonna last an eternity?”
“At least a few weeks, maybe a month or more,” Beamish said confidently. “The data I have collected suggests that summer here is around four months and for one of those the temperatures can reach peaks of around 150 Fahrenheit.”
Elizabeth let out a breath, not just in frustration of what they were about to suffer, but because she was starting to feel dizzy. For a second she wondered if hiding her baby bump was important enough to risk the temperatures in her jacket. Then the idea of people staring, giving her sympathetic looks and making comments behind her back sprung to mind and she shook the thought off.
“Alright,” she swallowed and turned slowly to face Lorne. “Send out some patrols to see if there’s any cool caves in the area, and have someone contact the island crew. See if they’ve managed to get into that hatch and if so, is there space down there for all of us.”
Lorne hesitated and she knew she’d gone pale with the wave of dizziness, but he didn’t comment. He nodded sharply and disappeared. She turned back to Beamish, still standing there watching her give the orders.
“Tell me winter isn’t going to go the other way.” She said hoping he’d say no, that the temperature just goes up for a few months then settles back to a nice reasonable balance.
“I have no idea at this moment in time, I won’t be able to tell until the summer starts to wane.”
She nodded. “Thank you.” She turned away from him and headed back to the command tent, she needed to sit down. Outside it was hotter than hell, inside it was just plain hot.
John took in the buildings as they approached the village, it was odd to see that they had the ability to create metal walls and structures, but they still had such primitive weapons and technology. He wondered if there was a necessity to start building like this, creating little baking ovens to live in. Or were the houses from a previous civilization and they adopted the village.
The closer they came, the more he became confused about. It looked as they had managed to harvest and transform lead into plates they could bend around to create curved buildings but farming was still done by hand. They pulled crops and cargo by horse and carriage.
They walked through the city straight to the centre and passed the groups of staring people and cart stalls that lined the edges of an open square. A few of the arrowmen they had been following split off, but John and the team kept their course following the leader of the group towards a building just off the main square.
The cool air inside was a contrast to the temperature outside, though even that was cooler than the planet they held camp, and that wasn’t even the first thing that caught John’s attention. The shape of the building was impressive, and it was clear they had put a lot of time and effort into this structure compared to the rest around it. It started as a huge dome, circular at the base then curving up before its towers climbed out of the top. Most other buildings they had passed had been simple square boxes with occasionally a curved wall, but this was a work of art inside and out.
They passed through a grand entry of carefully carved stone floors, metal pillars holding the shape of the building and decorative tapestries around the edges of the room. The office they stepped into was no different, grand and spacious but sparsely decorated.
John passed their guide by a few steps and stopped in front of a desk made from the same metal as the building itself. A man on the other side sat solemnly looking at them, his face a picture of calm and indifferent, almost as good as Elizabeth’s poker face, but only almost.
Silence followed and John resisted the urge to look at Teyla, standing just behind him to his left. He wasn’t sure if he should speak first or wait for their host, but it was getting uncomfortable.
“You come through the circle?” the man said, a betrayal of anger tipping the edges of his face.
“Yeah,” John said with almost a touch of obviously. “We are on a peaceful mission to find trading partners and possibly allies to fight against the Wraith.”
The man scoffed lightly. “You think you can amass an army against them.”
John shifted, trying to work out why something didn’t fit, this man was clearly different, he had a better understanding, better grasp of the dangers than the group they met at the Stargate. And yet, he didn’t seem to have any concept of the damage a P90 could do in any setting.
“I think it would be worth a try to give people the opportunity to fight against the Wraith and free themselves.”
“Then you are an arrogant fool!” The man’s voice was low and darker.
“You think your tin roof will keep you safe from them?” John could have kicked himself the second he said it, but the damage was done. Behind him Walker shifted uneasily and Teyla jabbed him in the side to shut him up.
“Mighty words for someone who trespassed on our land,” the man bellowed.
“There was no sign at the door,” John said, adjusting his hold on his gun just to be on the safe side. He had dug his own hole and was just teetering on the edge of it now. To his surprise, the man let out a hearty laugh.
“I might like you. A man who is sure of himself and doesn’t easily get intimidated.” The man looked pointedly at Teyla, “Tell me your names.”
“I’m Major John Sheppard,” he said. He turned slightly to his left. “This is Teyla Emmagen, Lieutenant David Walker and Doctor Rodney McKay.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rodney stick a hand up in a short greeting.
“I am Minister Frojax. Welcome to Ganus.” He gestured to the metal chairs along their side of his desk and John moved to sit. “I believe we will be of little use against the Wraith. However, our tin roofs as you called them, do give us protection against their beams. And therefore time to escape.”
“Really?” Rodney said, a little bit too much shock in his voice. “What metal is this?” he asked, stopping near the wall and rapping at it with his knuckles.
“My knowledge is not that of metals.” Frojax offered, he reached out and snapped a finger at a man standing near the door. “I will send you to someone who knows more than I.”
Rodney let out a huff of disdain as if he didn’t believe anyone would be able to tell him what they had built their homes out of. John didn’t completely disagree with him, but if there was information they could use, it would be worth getting in any way shape or form.
“Why do you believe you will be little help against the Wraith?” John asked, trying to get more information from this man.
“We are not fighters. Our weapons are limited,” Frojax said. “They will not stop the Wraith when they enter our world.”
“There are other ways to be of help,” Teyla offered politely. “Supplying food, medical attention, a respite for people who have been fighting. Perhaps even a place for refugees to go if their homes are destroyed by the Wraith. My people have been taken in by the Major and his people. We are very grateful for this.”
The man who had led them here bristled just at the edge of John’s vision. He clearly didn’t like the idea of letting strangers in, and frankly, John didn’t blame him.
“Yes, I suppose we can talk about this someday,” Frojax said, seeming to ignore his arrowman. “Though I would have to say no to people coming here. We do not get along with many, our supplies are limited and our people are many. If we could spare food and materials to the cause, I do not foresee a problem. But we can not share space. It is limited, the planet is not forgiving when we wish to grow our crops, though they do grow quickly.” He gave John a look that made him wonder if the plants were the driving force here. It didn’t really matter, they were making headway with Frojax.
Elizabeth turned from tree at the edge of the camp to face Lorne as he jogged up to her. She’d taken to the spot along the edge where the trees were fewer and the gap that lead to her favourite spot was. It was cooler here, only because of the breeze that crept up the side of the mountain from the ocean, but a little bit of a breeze was a great thing right now.
Not twenty minutes earlier she had a report from Carson that several people, including Athosians, had taken ill from the heat. The children, still moving around in nothing more than undergarment had lost interest in games and play time in favour of sitting in shaded areas and drinking water. Before that, and shortly after Doctor Beamish had spoken to her, several people had asked if they could forgo their uniforms in an attempt to keep cool. She had agreed easily and was now questioning her own self judgement.
She felt horrible, as though her stomach would lurch if she made a slight move. She was sweating, and water was no longer helping the thirst she felt. She had no wish to eat, and the dizziness was now almost constant.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Ma’am, but you look like hell. Why won’t you take off the jacket?”
Elizabeth could only shake her head slowly. Opening her mouth would give way to throwing up, and she didn’t want that. She could see the cogs in his brain working, trying to work out what she could possibly be hiding.
Taking a breath that no longer did anything to help how horrible she really felt, she pushed carefully away from the tree she was leaning against and only managed one step before the dizziness took over and she lost her balance. Lorne was quick, reaching for her and grabbed her by the waist before wrapping an arm around her shoulders to slowly lower her to the ground. The look of confusion on his face told her that his grip on her had her stomach pressed against him enough for him to feel something he didn’t expect. Down on her knees, he grabbed a bottle of water from his pocket and tried to hand it to her, but the feeling that she was going to throw up made her push it away.
Sound around her had turned fuzzy, the heat was starting to blur her vision. She was vaguely aware of someone undoing the zipper of her jacket and people shouting about doctors and help. She felt the tug of her jacket coming fully open and managed to focus enough on the crowd gathering just long enough to know that Lorne had finally got his way, and everyone standing there was staring at the clearly evident baby bump.
Giving in, she leaned against the Captain as he pulled the jacket from her shoulders. Two more sets of hands were on her and the cool feeling of water poured down her back made her shiver. Closing her eyes, she listened to the murmurs around her, the news that she was pregnant was spreading like wildfire and it was pushing people into action to do whatever they could to cool her down. It wouldn’t be soon enough, she could feel the numbness in her stomach that had been coming and going for a few hours and it was slowly turning into pain.
Carson’s scottish tones reached her ears and he began sending people away, shouting orders to get things, move things or to just go back to their duties.
“She’s pregnant,” Lorne said clearly in her ear and she knew Carson gave him a look of knowing as he pressed a cool pack to her back. Giving in to the inevitable she let the hustle around her fade away to nothingness and knew the heat was winning. Moments later, she slipping out of consciousness with the sensation of being lifted from the ground.
“These houses here are only those needed,” Frojax explained. He had told them they numbered in the thousands, but from what John could see, the buildings would only accommodate a few hundred at most. Many of the buildings were actually workplaces, town halls, kitchens and the like, homes were few and far between.
“Where do your people live?” Teyla asked, a look of confusion on her face. Frojax only smiled and beconned them to follow. Down the path from the main hall they had entered earlier, they turned a corner and a guard opened a door of a smaller building. For a moment John wondered if the man had gone crazy, they wouldn’t all fit inside, until he realised the only thing in the building was a narrow stairway down underground.
About halfway down the stairs John could hear the sounds of someone shouting to be released. He managed to pick out keywords such as “Wraith”, “tracking” and “hunting”. When they passed an open door to a stone corridor, John glanced inside and spotted the man in the dark at the far end. “They’ll kill you to find me.” The man shouted at the guard. “You have to let me go, now!” he added.
“Do not trouble yourself. He is a sick man,” Frojax said, trying to draw John’s attention back to the stairs.
John didn’t move. Instead, he tilted his head and turned to Teyla. “Anything?” he asked simply.
Teyla shook her head. There was no feeling that the Wraith were nearby, but she didn’t know how close they would have to get in order for her to pick them up. “However, I have heard old stories passing from generation to generation. Of men used for hunting games,” she said at length. “They release and chase them, culling those whose world he sets foot on. I do not know if there is any truth to these stories.”
John turned to Frojax. “He’s one of your people?”
“No, no,” Frojax answered easily. He’d gona little pale since Teyla’s story. “He came through the circle just as you did. He put up quite the fight. Three of our defenders are still recovering from injuries. And we do not dare to let our healers near him. He is a very dangerous man.”
“Then maybe for your safety and ours, let us find out if there’s any truth to these stories.” John turned from the minister and headed down the corridor to the jail.
When Elizabeth woke, she was on her back in the infirmary tent, a curtain around her bed and several fans blowing in her direction. It took a moment for her brain to focus on anything in particular and several more minutes before she realised she was in her underwear. She ran a hand over her stomach without thinking, and everything came flooding back. The look of concern on Lorne’s face, the slow-motion in which he seemed to move as she tried to step towards him and then the pressure on her stomach as he wrapped himself around her and lowered her to the ground. The blur of voices and faces that gathered, the shout for help, and the horrible realisation that everyone knew Doctor Elizabeth Weir was pregnant.
She squeezed her eyes closed, hoping she would wake up in her bed, at home, with air conditioning and PJs on. It was a narrow hope that she knew would only be a dream. Despite the fans facing her, she was still hot and sweaty. When she finally gave in and opened her eyes again, Carson was looking down at her, his face a picture of anger that she’d let her pride go this far.
“Carson,” she croaked, her throat dry and raw and the mental effort of creating the word through the haze of the fever.
“I don’t know if the baby is alright yet.” His tone made her flinch, and she closed her eyes against the sting of both what and how he spoke. “Doctor Keller is hunting for the portable ultrasound machine we brought.”
There were hundreds of boxes still unopened and stored in random places around the camp, not to mention the possibility that the only ultrasound machine they brought had been left in Atlantis, now thousands of feet underwater. She dreaded what was to follow when he finally started telling her the extent of the damage she had or could have done to herself. Worse still, will be John’s expression when he finds out.
“What were you thinking Elizabeth?” She had no answer. She couldn’t even think of one, let alone vocalise it. “You put your own child at risk for the selfish need to be perfect and the face everyone looked to. You are human and a woman first, and you of all people should know better.” She squeezed her eyes shut, trying hard to shut out the self-loathing she suddenly felt. “What was it you said to me when I asked about family when we met? ‘I’ve probably missed the chance to have my own children, but if not, they will become my world.’”
“Doc?” Lorne’s voice was closer than Elizabeth expected, and she couldn’t bring herself to care that he might see her undressed.
“No,” Carson shot back. “She needs to understand what she came very close to losing, and possibly still might. Until I can hear the baby’s heartbeat, there’s no way of knowing if it will survive the heatstroke she’s given herself.”
“We need to move to the caves,” was all Lorne said after a moment of silence between them. Carson let out an exasperated sigh and grabbed at the sheet of the bed she was lying on. Lorne did the same on the opposite side of her, and they wrapped her in the thin material before Lorne lifted her without apology or comment.
The urge to argue that she could walk boiled to the surface and was quickly washed away with a tear that escaped down her cheek. She’d been hiding the baby for so long, attempting to prove she could be strong, giving everyone the impression she was emotionless and determined. She should have let them see her pregnancy, should have allowed herself to relax with the rules. That would have shown them that she was stronger. Instead, she had reduced herself to a weak, crying woman who wasn’t sure she could face Carson, let alone John when he returned.
Lorne lowered her onto a stretcher just beyond the compartment she had been in, letting her weight down slowly for the two men carrying it. She expected him to move away or walk off to deal with other things, so she closed her eyes. His hand on her shoulder was a shock and the smile of encouragement he gave her more so. When they started moving, he walked along with her.
The silhouette of the man in the distance grew into a tall and very strong build, with long dreadlocks for hair. His face was hidden by the dim lighting and the fact that he impatiently paced within the confined area.
“Hey there,” John said when he was close to the cell.
The man turned around and eyed John. John did the same in return, wondering what his story was. He understood why Frojax had been reluctant to let anyone near the man. He was clearly a fighter, and these people had been in hiding their entire existence. By their weapons and buildings, he could tell they did everything they could to avoid a fight.
“You’re not from here,” the man spoke, with less agitation in his voice than before.
“Neither are you,” John replied. “We heard you said something about the Wraith and…”
“You need to tell them to let me go,” the man interrupted, pushing himself at the bars of the door. “They will come for me.”
John swallowed and licked his lips. “We only arrived here a short while ago. I’m not sure we can make demands just yet, but let’s get your reasons, and we’ll do our best.”
“Hmm,” the man huffed and bowed his head. “At least make sure you leave this place soon before the Wraith gets here and find out where you came from.” His eyes glanced up at John, and he knew the man was serious.
“My name is Major John Sheppard, and my team is over there.” John nodded back to the main staircase and saw everyone waiting for him. Frojax luckily didn’t seem too impatient about the interruption. “We’re actually new in the neighbourhood, but had a few altercations with the Wraith already. It’s definitely best to avoid them.”
“Indeed,” was the only reply John got from the stranger.
“And what about you? Why did you come here?” John tried to read the man, but he showed no emotion or fear, just calmness, with a hint of frustration.
“Ronon. My home was Sateda before the Wraith attacked.”
“I guess you’re lucky to have escaped.”
“I didn’t escape,” Ronon growled. He grabs the bars of the jail and pulled his head closer, his eyes instantly filled with fury. “They killed everyone I knew and captured me for fun. I am their runner. It’s dangerous for me to stay in one place for more than a few hours. The Wraith will track me, hunt me down and cull or kill everyone along the way. I really need to leave!” Ronon emphasized the word ‘need’ very clearly, urging John to understand the importance of the story.
“I see,” John replied and went over all the things about the Wraith they had learned so far in his head. He also weighed in Teyla’s stories and now this story from Ronon. There could be truth in it, and that could pose a threat to Frojax and his people as well as them. He looked briefly over his shoulder, then returned his attention to Ronon. “Any idea how they track you?”
Ronon let go of the bars and moved his dreadlocks to the side to show John a scar starting low in his neck, running down under his shirt. “They implanted a tracker. It can’t be removed.” By the look of it, he had tried and had others try too.
“Hold on,” John said and turned back to the group waiting behind him. He beckoned Teyla closer, keeping her just out or range of Frojax. “He said the Wraith attacked, killed everyone he knew and then took him. He has scars on his back, said they put a tracker there so they could follow him…” John paused as an alarm sounded down the passageway. “What’s that?” he asked, turning his attention to Frojax.
“Wraith,” Ronon called down the passage. John barely turned to look at him before Frojax nodded in confirmation.
With nothing but her underwear and a sheet around her, Elizabeth was given no choice but to let herself be carried to the caves. Her legs were like jelly, and it took all her focus to keep upright, even with Lorne and Carson’s hands under her arms helping her. She tried hard not to look around her as the group made their way to the shelter of the caves. Far too aware that people now knew she was pregnant, she couldn’t face the stares and gossip that was bound to have started.
The difference as she entered the cave was shocking. The cool air hit instantly, and the atmosphere around her was more relaxed than it had been since they arrived. They moved her further in, to a secluded area along one side where they had set up a bed. Large sheets had been put up around the whole area, blocking out the rest of the colony for the people who were too ill to be left alone. Lorne dropped himself on a rock next to her, peeking out between the gap in the sheet to watch as medics moved around checking on everyone.
“Limestone caves,” he said, not bothering to turn away from his observation. Nice and cool in the summer, just warm enough for the winter. So I’m told.”
“Let’s hope we don’t need to come back in the winter,” Elizabeth offered as a slight joke. She watched the shadows of people for a while, thankful the Captain had chosen to stay nearby and even more thankful that she was mostly blocked from view. Sound in the caves echoed around, and she caught snippets of words here and there. Conversations about the cave, the heat and dinner seemed to be at the top of the list. She caught the word ‘pregnant’ once from nearby but couldn’t tell if it was medical personnel or other people.
She drifted off to sleep at some point, letting the cool air wash over her and not caring about the sheet staying over her. Lorne had already seen her in her underwear, and the medical staff would see it more often than she liked. She was vaguely aware of Doctor Keller coming in and dropping off the ultrasound machine, and Carson’s quick check-up seemed to be a foggy haze of memory.
When she woke, Lorne was gone, and it took a while for her ears to pick up his voice as he talked to Carson just outside the closed-off area. The fog of her brain took its time to clear until she could pick out enough of the whispered chatter to determine that people wanted to see her with ideas to make things easier in the cave.
Her dry throat stopped her from calling out to them to let people in, so she had to wait for one of them to come into the area. When Lorne finally entered, Elizabeth had pulled herself up enough to sit against her pillow and the cool wall behind her.
“What did you tell people?” she asked croakily. Lorne reached for the water bottle he had stashed away beside her and unscrewed the cap before handing it to her.
“Thought you needed a few hours rest before you would be up to visitors.” Lorne dropped back into his seat and leaned against the wall again. “Pretty much told them to come back tomorrow and see if they could have an appointment with you.” He paused as Doctor Keller poked her head through the material and said she’d be back soon to do a check-up on Elizabeth. “I have shifts of people going to man the gate. Four guards and a civilian for no more than 2 hours. Then the next team goes out and sends them back. Ten teams means everyone gets plenty of time before their next shift out there.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “If this lasts too long, we’re gonna have a lot of bored and frustrated people on our hands.”
“Then we better start thinking of ways to keep them occupied.”
Doctor Keller returned at that moment, and without thinking twice, Captain Lorne got up and left. Her checkup was short and sweet. Her fever had broken, and her temperature was starting to drop down to normal levels. She didn’t realise until Keller asked that her headache had gone, and being told that her skin colour had returned to normal made her feel less like a sun-ripened tomato.
She bit her bottom lip as Keller set up the ultrasound machine, finally realising just how tense she was despite being more relaxed than ever before. Fear that the baby was already lost flitted through her head and tears started to fall when the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat for the first few minutes of the scan. The sound of her baby’s heart hit her like a train, the realisation that it was real, that she would be a mother at last and that she had almost killed it by being so proud she’d become stupid. The tears fell and Keller moved away, switching off the machine as Elizabeth curled up onto her side, wishing for the first time that she was home and John was there beside her. It was a bitter thought that he wouldn’t be there if they were back on Earth, and that hurt more. She didn’t fight the tears, letting out all the emotion that had been building for the last few days.
“Let him out,” John all but shouted at Frojax. He didn’t turn to see if the man was doing as told, he simply turned to Teyla and Walker. “Make sure we have a way out of here and people have a way of getting to safety quickly.” They nodded and vanished back the way they had come.
He rounded on Frojax who stood watching him give orders to everyone. McKay had been ahead of them in the corridor and was probably in a lab somewhere in the rest of the city.
“If the Wraith are here because of him, the best thing you can do is let him out. He can fight, and if he leaves, they can follow him somewhere else.”
Frojax moved quickly, stepping up to the door and unlocking it. He’d barely managed to remove the key before Ronon pushed his way out and pinned the older man to the wall by the throat.
“Hey,” John shouted grabbing hold of Ronon’s arm. “You wanna kill him for protecting his people, or you wanna kill Wraith?”
Ronon pushed away quickly and moved back to the door and along the corridor at a run. John was hot on his heels, following him up and out into the open of the small village. The Wraith were everywhere, on the ground trying to reach people firing arrows at them as well as darts zipping through the air above them. Ronon grabbed his gun from out of his jacket, took aim and fired at a dart before spinning to take out a Wraith who was quickly approaching a man with a bow and arrows.
“You had that the whole time and didn’t just shoot your way out?” John asked. He hadn’t expected him to be armed at all.
“That door was tough,” Ronon replied before moving off. John turned, sprinting in the opposite direction and catching up to Teyla and Walker.
“We need to get Ronon to the gate, get him off this planet and see if we can get that tracker out of his back,” John spat, turning slightly to unload part of his clip into the approaching Wraith. He frowned at the dead creature that looked as if he was only a kid, just barely an adult. “Teyla, see if you can get ahead of us. Dial your homeworld if the Wraith aren’t holding the gate.”
She nodded and took off.
John watched her for a moment as Walker took out another Wraith and was surprised when Ronon suddenly appeared and knocked them both to the ground as a dart swept too low for comfort. John barely spared a thought for the sting on his cheek as Ronon flipped over onto his back and fired once and the dart crashed not far from them.
“Can I get one of those?” Walker asked, eyeing Ronon’s weapon.
“No,” Ronon said and pushed up before pulling John up. “Gate?” he asked and barely saw John nod before they were running for it.
John skidded to a halt as he remembered McKay was still down in the city. He turned back to see Rodney McKay with both hands over his head, running at full pelt towards them with both eyes squeezed shut. Ronon fired past the scientist as a Wraith appeared from behind one of the buildings. John managed to reach Rodney before he ran into something or someone and pulled him to a stop.
“Eyes open, McKay,” he shouted before shoving the man off towards the gate. John turned back to see if everyone from the city was safe and spotted the last of the arrowmen pulling the door shut as a Wraith reached him. He was too late, and there was no way into the building. They were safe.
They had to dodge and kill several Wraith as they headed for the gate, and John had to thank Teyla for her speed and their luck as she motioned them through the open gate to Athos.
John dropped down onto his back on the fresh grass of Athos, his breathing laboured and his legs aching from the excess and sudden workout. McKay was to his right, leaning heavily against the DHD and gripping at a stitch in his side. Ronon and Teyla on his other side had barely leaned forward, hands on their knees regaining their breath as if they’d just finished a short sprint.
Walker was laying flat out on the stairs for a moment before he pulled himself up. “What now, sir?” he asked.
“Dial Atlantis,” John said reaching up to wipe away the blood on his face and pausing to take a few extra breaths before pushing himself to sit up. “Let’s get Beckett to take that tracker out of Ronon’s back before the Wraith make it here.
“Okay, there’s a group mapping out this cave, three teams heading to the east to check out more caves that way and two more headed to the ones west of here. If we can split into two or three with a commanding officer in each, it won’t be so horrible when people are bored,” Lorne read out, going over all the things that they’d been discussing for the last few hours.
Elizabeth had cried herself to sleep, waking only to eat a dinner that was handed to her by Carson and then slept the night. She’d woken that morning feeling so much better, mentally and physically. Breakfast hadn’t brought the normal nausea back, and she felt more or less normal. Something she hadn’t felt since leaving Earth.
“Doctor Demir and Doctor Solberg have teams working to collect rock, plant and soil samples for study,” Elizabeth put in, her tablet resting just above her stomach, one hand on her belly only left when needing to type something. “That should keep half the science teams happy for a while.”
“Yep,” Lorne shifted, now uncomfortable on the rock he’d sat on all evening and most of the night, almost refusing to leave her alone. Carson had eventually ordered him to sleep finally promising someone would check in on her every half hour. He’d returned in the early hours with breakfast. “Doctor Branton and his team are focused on trying to work out how long we have to deal with cramped living conditions, lack of work or boiling in our skin if we go outside.”
“There’s an image,” Elizabeth interjected.
“Military are either doing shifts by the gate, shifts at the cave entrance, maybe more soon, or keeping the peace inside. Medical staff are still treating people with heat stroke, sunburn and a few injured kids who got sloppy with their games. Everyone else is keeping busy however they can or starting pools as to when the first baby,” he indicated her stomach, “will be born, and if it’ll be a boy or a girl.”
“They didn’t waste time on that one did they?” Elizabeth joked.
Lorne just shook his head and grinned.“Not much else they can do really,” he added, turning to peek through a gap in the sheet. Something outside had caught his attention, and he was attempting to see what it was. “Major Sheppard's back,” he said, turning back to her.
He was about to say something else when the sheet parted and John appeared. It took a long moment for her to compose herself, the tears and thought of what she had done returning. Carson appeared behind him a moment later, his hand going straight to a cut on John's face.
“What happened?” she managed.
“Wraith,” John breathed. “Made a new friend, just one problem.” She waited, a brow raised in curiosity. “He has a tracker in his back. Gonna take a good surgeon to get it out.” He turned to look at Carson for a moment faking interest before adding. “You’ll do.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Carson deadpanned as John’s brow creased in confusion.
“Why are you in a medical area?” John asked.
Elizabeth dropped her head in shame while Lorne quickly got up and made a hasty retreat.
Carson let out a little frustrated sigh before he turned and vanished from the curtained area. John glanced over his shoulder before he turned back, expecting to meet her eye, but she still had her head down.
“What’s going on?” he asked, watching as she fiddled with the sheet that was covering her.
“It got a little too hot outside,” she said, still not making eye contact. She was finding it hard not to just scream that she’d very nearly killed their baby. “I…” she swallowed back the tears.
John let out a sigh, and moved to sit down on the rock Lorne had vacated. “You haven’t taken your jacket off since you started showing.” he offered.
“Lorne tried. Several times actually, before I finally passed out and he got his way.” A tear slipped free and she brushed it away quickly.
“The baby?” John asked, moving to the bed and resting his hand over the bump of her stomach. She dropped her tablet computer to the side and finally looked up at him.
“It was weak,” she admitted, “but it’s getting stronger now.” She swallowed, fighting off the weakness she still felt inside. She hated herself at that moment in time. Her choices had nearly cost her everything, nearly cost them their child’s life. “You need to go back with Carson,” she took up, avoiding the subject.
“Lorne could go,” John tried, shifting to sit on the edge of the bed and watching as Elizabeth shook her head. “Gonna see if he wants to come back here. He’s a good fighter, been fighting off the Wraith for years apparently.”
“If you want him to come back here, you better go and keep the peace. Where is he now?”
“Athos,” John said, noting the look she gave him in question. “The Wraith attacked where we were, so we got out quick.” She glared at him for abandoning a people to the Wraith’s lunch. “The people were safe, they live and hide underground.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” she said, wondering if they could just surface during the more comfortable months.
“And your team?” She asked.
“McKay came back with me. He didn’t want to stay on Athos, and he was complaining about a stitch in his side he wanted the doctors to look at.” They exchanged a look, knowing that Carson would brush the scientist off because there was nothing he could do. “Walker and Teyla are still on Athos with Ronon.”
“Ah, so there is a name to the fighter.”
“Yeah, and a history,” he said catching the brow she quirked in question. “I’ll let you know when I work out what it is.”
Elizabeth smiled at him and shook her head. She should have known that was coming.
“Go help Carson,” she said and watched him hesitate before getting up and heading out.
John passed the clearing from end to end, waiting almost impatiently as Carson meticulously removed the tracker from Ronon. He’d been happy to sit and wait in the beginning, but his brain kept flicking to Elizabeth, in a bed in a cool cave on their current home world. She’d pushed herself too far, attempting to hide that she was pregnant and almost lost the baby. In the last hour, he’d gone through a range of emotions, starting with anger about how stupid she was to let her pride take precidence over the baby’s life. Now he just wanted to see her, touch her, feel that the baby was still there. He hadn’t yet felt it move, but he wanted to now more than ever.
He paused every now and again to stare in the direction of the village, wondering if he had time to go and explore it. Then he’d brush off the idea in favour of getting back to Elizabeth quickly.
“If you pace any more, you will wear tracks in the grass,” Teyla said watching him pass the gate once more. She pushed off the steps and moved to join him as he turned at the tree line and started back across the open plains. “What happened when you returned?” she questioned, matching his pace easily.
“Elizabeth was in medical. Well, medical that they’d set up in a cave to keep cool. She’d passed out trying to keep her jacket on for too long.”
“Why would she keep her jacket on if it was too hot?” John paused, looking back to the setup beside the gate where Carson and the nurses started to clear up.
“Trying to hide the fact that she’s pregnant.” Teyla didn’t so much as flinch at the comment and John quirked a brow at her. “You knew?” he asked. Wondering just when she’d been told or worked it out.
“I met with her by the wash lake a few weeks ago, she was unable to hide it before I could notice.” Teyla paused as they turned and headed back along their pacing path. “She told me she was uncomfortable with the idea that people would talk about her being trapped here while her fiancé was back on Earth.”
“Stubborn,” John breathed.
“I got the impression that the child was not his,” Teyla said carefully. “It felt as though she wanted to hide it more because the baby did not belong to the man in question and she felt guilty for it.”
John paused at the tree line and studied her. “It’s mine,” he said quietly. “I went to her hotel room to sign up for the mission out here, and things just… happened.”
Silence fell as John started off pacing back across the front of the gate. He glanced over at the medical crew as they moved about cleaning up and spotted Ronon trying to sit up. Teyla moved over to help Ronon, and John turned towards Carson. He was about to ask if everything went okay when Ronon passed out. He would have hit the ground hard if Teyla hadn’t attempted to support him.
“I’ve removed the tracker,” Carson said with a sigh. “It’s been disabled so we can take it back with us for the science team to study it.”
“Good,” John said. “Get your things ready and let’s get home.” He turned and moved over to join Teyla and the others. Ronon back on the stretcher, John helped gather up their things before giving Carson a hand with the stretcher.