John is left to recover while Ronon takes Teyla and Cassie offworld on a little trading mission that manages to go wrong and contact is made with earth.
John was a terrible patient and Cassie huffed an impatient breath as she listened to him moan about how bored he was. He had been confined to the infirmary for the past two days after his return to Atlantis, bed rest as ordered by Carson after the ordeal his body had been put through during his escape. Having played enough card games to send her cross eyed, in an attempt to keep him amused and less irritable during his incarceration, she had since resorted to reading him stories for at least he would occasionally drift off to sleep, an indication that his body did indeed, need the healing time.
Ronan had been contacted by an old trading friend on Tallus, a planet that boasted one of the larger trading markets in the galaxy. He had asked Elizabeth if she would be interested in his taking Teyla and Cassie there to trade some medical supplies for basic food supplies, such as flour, grains, dairy products and other fresh produce. Teyla knew the trading planet also, and Ronan suspected that Cassie needed a little down time, away from John's constant demands on her time. Not that she complained as he knew she would rather have him demanding and cranky, than the alternative, which was not here at all. However, perhaps it would be good for Sheppard to do a little healing on his own, Ronan thought wryly.
John was cranky when Cassie did not return after lunch to 'entertain' him. “Where's Cassie, Doc? She's not answering her comm!” John had finally been given his communication device back, but Carson was seriously considering hiding it from him when he next fell asleep.
“She's gone off world lad,a little shopping trip with Teyla and Ronan, something to do with trading possibilities...” John went to leap out of bed, but Carson was there first, forcibly detaining him. “Sit back down Colonel... right now, or I will strap you to this bed, and that's a promise!”
“I don't want her offworld without my protection! For God's sake Doc, she's a magnet for trouble. What was Elizabeth thinking?” “ELIZABETH!” he roared into his com.
Carson was attempting to restrain him when Elizabeth and Major Lorne ran in, concerned at his loud yelling. “What on earth is going on – Colonel, Carson?” Elizabeth gestured for Lorne to help Carson. “Is there a problem?”
Carson whispered to Elizabeth “... a little bird leaving her nest...” and understanding dawned in Elizabeth's eyes. “For goodness sake John, it's nothing more than a shopping trip, and she has Ronan there. What can go wrong?”
“Are you serious?” John was furious. “Do you want me to draw up a list of all the mishaps that have plagued her to date... her penchant for NOT listening, disobeying orders... oh yeah, did I mention... disobeying orders?”
“Easy Colonel, will it make you feel better if I join them and report back here as soon as I make contact?” Lorne tried not to smile.
“No, it will NOT make me feel better. Letting me out of here so that I can haul her disobedient ass back here will make me feel better. I distinctly told her, NO off world missions without me!”
“With all due respect Colonel... perhaps the lass needed a little break from your... um.. moods?” Carson tried to be delicate.
“What moods?” John roared, scaring the nurse who can come in into dropping the container she held.
“OK Colonel, calm down right now! You're scaring my nurses and if you keep this up, I will sedate you before you hurt yourself and somebody else!” Lorne and Carson held John down until he calmed slightly and Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow at him. “We could talk about light duties...” at Carson's protest she held up a finger... “there is one hell of a mission report still to write. I can have a laptop sent in here...” John cast her a scathing look, his distaste at completing mission reports well known, but that seemed to do the trick and he settled back against his pillows, suddenly much more cooperative.
Ronan, Teyla and Cassie arrived on Tallus and Cassie was thrilled to be taken to a lively village market where traders of all descriptions were gathered, marketing their wares in a cosy, noisy and very exciting trading place. Ronan grinned at the look on Cassie's face. “John warned me about you earth woman and your love of shopping – maybe it wasn't such a good idea to bring you here!” Cassie eyes gleamed longingly at the stunning hand woven fabrics, clothing, hand crafted jewellery, freshly baked wares and dried meats and spices that hung aromatic in the sun. She clapped her hands in childish delight and held out a hand to Ronan. “So, can I have some money to spend – I'm assuming they don't take credit cards here?” Ronan roared with laughter. John had also told him tales about plastic money, and Teyla smiled in her usual serene way, content to see the lively sparkle in her friend's eyes.
Ronan had procured some of the curency used by many planets in the Pegasus system and he jiggled some of this invitingly in his large hands. Whe Cassie reached laughingly for it, he placed some in her hand, closing her fingers over it to secure it, then placed a finger on her lips when she started to speak. “Spend it wisely” he said, then strode off to meet with a man that he had done business with some time ago and had arranged to meet him in a location just outside the village. He left the ladies, linking arms and heading off to do partake in some female shopping time. Ronan grinned to himself, thinking that perhaps all women from all galaxies, were in fact, just the same.
Teyla and Cassie spent a wonderful hour browsing through the active market place and bought small gifts for some of their friends back on Atlantis. For John, Cassie found a simple necklace that had been designed out of a metal she did not recognise, in the shape of one of the gate symbols and was centred on a thick leather chord. After helping Teyla chose a beautiful woven scarf for herself, they wandered back through the market to the edge of the village and their arranged meeting place with Ronan.
Sitting comfortably in the sun, Cassie enjoyed the music one of the young street musicians was playing, and unable to resist, we threw a smile at Teyla and got up to dance. Before long a small crowd had gathered, Cassie and the musician clapping and urging more of the villagers and traders to join in.
They were interupted from this simple revelry by the sound of gunfire. “Ronan!” Teyla shouted knowing instinctively he was involved, and unholstering her weapon she headed in the direction of the gunfire. Cassie immediately did the same and as they cleared the outskirts of the city a little, they could hear shouting and more shots were fired. “Ronan!” Cassie called, the twisting cobbled streets echoing her voice, “where are you?”.
They arrived breathless at the end of one alleyway and three large men appeared in front of them, weapons drawn. The one in the middle, gestured slightly with his weapon, indicating that they should not approach any further. “This is not your business ladies. Turn around now and leave, or you'll get hurt.” Both Teyla and Cassie kept their weapons drawn and trained on them, and briefly, in Cassie's mind was the thought Oh crap, guess who John's gonna blame for this one...
“We don't want any trouble.” Teyla spoke calmly and politely so as not to incite them further. “We just want our friend back and the goods that he came to trade for, that is all.”
The weapons remained trained on them unwaveringly and the man spoke again. “We have a lesson to teach your friend. He has a debt to pay from a long time ago and we are here to collect. My boss believes in sending out very clear messages to discourage people from double crossing us. Go now, you will not have another chance... I prefer not to hurt ladies...” This last was said as he leered suggestively at Cassie. “There are far more pleasurable activities I would have in mind for you.”
Cassie felt her skin crawl, but kept her voice pleasant. “If we could repay his debt, would you consider letting him go?” The spokesman had moved closer and now used the barrel of his gun to run a caress down Cassie's arm. “Perhaps I could take a part payment... but there is still the matter of the lesson he needs to be taught.”
Cassie stepped away from him, toward Teyla and one of the other men spoke up. “Leave them Charin, we have work to do. Go ladies, now.”
Teyla lowered her weapon and motioned for Cassie to do the same, backing up slowly down the alleyway. They did note that the three men remained to make sure that they did not return.
“Teyla, we can't just leave him here! Let's find another way in. They must be holding him inside that building over there.” Cassie holstered her weapon and went to turn down behind the building that she had indicated.
“No, Cassie, we need to get back to Atlantis and tell Colonel Sheppard and Elizabeth what has happened so that they can send reinforcements.”
“Are you crazy Teyla? Do you know what John is going to say, not to mention who do you think is going to get the blame? ME! No, we have to try and get to him now, and perhaps this little... aberration... can be left out of the mission report!”
Teyla appeared to give the idea some consideration. “Yes, I believe John will somehow find a way to blame you for this, although it is clearly not your fault. John does see the worst in you at times.”
Cassie gave a small laugh. “...and the best Teyla, so at least that is something!”
It took them a better part of an hour to find another entrance to the building where they were sure Ronan was being held. Knowing they could not use one of the two main doors leading inside as they were likely guarded, they had found a small window up high on one of the walls, unbarred. Cassie climbed onto Teyla's shoulder and was able to pull herself up and lean her chest on the windowsill to enable her to look inside, to make sure there were no unwanted surprises to contend with. Finding the hallway clear, she continued pulling herself until she could bring her legs through and was sitting on the other side. It was a tight fit and Cassie wondered if Teyla would be able to get through.
Teyla found a nearby box and using this as a ladder, managed to cling to the windowsill in the same way that Cassie had, and pull herself up. There was not room for the two of them to sit in the window area, so Cassie carefully swung her legs down, dropping lightly onto the floor below, urging Teyla to enter the window feet first, so that she could reach up to help pull her through, should she get stuck. Giving Teyla's legs a sharp tug, Teyla literally popped through the window, sprawling on top of Cassie and snapping her arm into the ground with a jarring pain.
“Oh crap!” Cassie moaned. “I think I've sprained my wrist. God damn it! Now I'm really gonna cop it from John when I get back...”
Attempting to untangle themselves, the two women heard the click of weapons and they looked up to find the three men they had met previously, pointing the same weapons at them. “Amend that...” Cassie muttered. “He is going to kill me...”
“Ladies... it appears that you would prefer to spend some time with us after all!” Sighing in frustration, Teyla and Cassie untangled themselves off the floor, Cassie favouring her injured left wrist and followed them men down the hallway.
They were taken to the room where Ronan was being held, and both Teyla and Cassie rushed to hs side. He was lying on the floor with blood seeping from a wound in his side. “God, Ronan. You've been shot!” Cassie lifted his shirt to see a nasty wound and opening up a pocket on her tactical vest, she took out a field bandage and began to immediately apply pressure to the wound. Ronan groaned, very pale, obviously having lost a lot of blood.
“Teyla, we need to get him out of here now, he's lost a lot of blood, and I'm no doctor, but this wound looks pretty bad.” She looked sharply at Teyla, and seeing a familiar look in Cassie's eyes, commented somewhat dryly “ You have that look in your eye Cassie - you have a plan, don't you – and it's one that a certain Colonel would not approve of?”
“Sort of... and John certainly wouldn't like it... no, not at all...” Teyla sighed in resignation, knowing that there would indeed, be severe repercussions when they returned to Atlantis.
Meanwhile, back on Atlantis, John having finally succumbed to ultimate boredom, agreed to complete the dreaded mission report and was told by Carson that he could leave the infirmary and take up a little light “emphasis on the 'light' Colonel!” exercise around the city, in the form of a walk. John decided to visit Rodney, then go down to the gateroom to await the arrival of his team as they were due to return at any time.
He arrived in the gate room to find Elizabeth already there. “I see your mood has improved a little John?” She smiled, to take a little of the sting out of her words. 'Hmmm...” John replied non committally. “It'll improve when that woman steps through the gate!”
At that moment, the chevrons lit up and John felt a measure of excitement at her return, feeling a little guilty that he had been moody enough to push her into an off world trip with Teyla and Ronan in an effort to distance herself from him. Mentally he planned a special evening for them in an effort to make up for it, perhaps he could get the chef to make up a small picnic for them to take out on the balcony, a nice warm blanket, some of those pretty purple flowers from the mainland that she seemed to like so much, a little champagne, moonlight... John smiled, feeling his sour mood lift and the gate technician interupted his reverie.
“Unscheduled offworld activation... it's the SGC! Sir, Madam?” he called down, seeing both Elizabeth and John in the gate room. “It's... Earth!”
Elizabeth's eyes widened and she turned to John. “My message obviously got through...” she said cryptically and to the airman she called “Open the iris!” John raised his eyebrows at her, but held out a cautionary hand to the waiting marines, standard procedure in an unscheduled gate activation and waited for the event horizon to settle. “Something you want to tell me Elizabeth?”
“When we got the additional ZPM, Rodney came up with the idea of sending an encrypted message to earth, including mission reports - we needed to warn them of an impending wraith invasion. We did this while you were 'missing' and well, given your frame of mind the last few days...”
He was not prepared for the tall imposing figure of General Jack O'Neill, attired in dress airforce blues, stepping through the gate with the ease born of many years of gate travel. “General O'Neill... good to see you sir!
Elizabeth seemed a little lost for words. “Jack... we thought we may be successful in getting a message through, but did not imagine that you would be able to open a connection at your end?”
Jack stood looking around the gate room, rubbing his hands together. “We have managed to score another ZPM also, courtesy of our little grey friends, the Asgard. Sam Carter's been working to establish a more or less permanent connection between Earth and Pegasus, so... thought I'd pay you a little visit! I also need to see Cassie, I have something important to tell her.” He was looking at Elizabeth as he said this and missed the quick flash of fear that flickered across John's face, as he felt his stomach plummet slightly at hearing this. He pushed this aside, and with a iron will, managed to step up to Jack with a smile on his face and shake his hand.
“Sheppard! Your mission reports have made for some interesting reading... not so sure how I feel about some of the situations young Cassie has been put into though... another reason why I'm here.” Jack however, gave John a friendly slap around the shoulders, missing the worried look that Elizabeth send John's way. “Come on people, why don't you give me a little tour of this wonderful city, I've been dying to see it. Now... where is my favourite girl... hmm?”
Jack's 'favourite girl' was in the process of executing her somewhat unorthodox plan, the very plan that John would certainly not approve of. Ronan's knife was appropriated yet again, but not before she shook him gently to rouse him, fearful that if he remained semi conscious and disorientated, it would be almost impossible for the two women to assist him out of captivity.
'Ronan!” Cassie spoke urgently. “You have to stay with us, stay conscious. We need you to sit up, Teyla, help me support him against the wall.” Half dragging him, Ronan did his best to assist and Cassie knelt before him to outline her plan. Hearing what she intended to do, Ronan managed to shake off some of his stupor, clamping a hand around her sprained wrist, causing Cassie to wince. “Sheppards's going to skin you alive if he finds out what you are doing” he groaned, the pain from his wound increasing as he talked. Cassie was practical. “We'll have to make sure he doesn't find out then, won't we!” She unclamped Ronan's hand and he saw that it had begun to swell and an apology rose immediately to his lips. She shook her head, and taking the knife, she removed her trousers, cutting the legs to redesign them into tiny shorts, that when she put back on, left a long delectable length of leg showing and the cheeks of her bottom peeking out suggestively. Teyla took a breath and Ronan closed his eyes, wanting no part of this plan. Cassie then shrugged off her tac vest and BDU jacket, and using the knife to cut up the centre of her tshirt, she was able to knot it under her breasts, then ripped the neckline so that it slipped off one shoulder, almost exposing one breast.
“There, a quick and easy fashion statement!” Happy with the result, she went to the door and began to bang on it to get the guards attention. She looked back at Teyla and said softly “I”ll distract him and try and get his weapon, you need to either kill him or stun him... whatever, just get him out of the picture so that we can get out of here.” Teyla readied herself near the door as one of the men arrived to see what all the noise was about. “Be quiet! Or I'll come in there and shut you up...” Cassie had back away from the door a little, one hand still holding onto the bars, striking a very provocative pose. The man's eyes gleamed with lust as he took in the swell of creamy breasts that was on view and he licked his lips. 'Maybe I'll come in there anyway...”
Cassie changed position slightly. “Why don't you let me out and perhaps you and I can have a little...fun.” Cassie pouted at him provocatively and he fumbled in his pocket for the keys, dropping them in his haste and having to bend over and pick them up. He got the door open and reached for her, pulling her out and toward him. In his eagerness he did not pull the door shut after him and Cassie pressed herself against him, physically quelling the shiver of disgust she felt and pulled his head down to hers. His hands fumbled eagerly, and while he was distracted, Cassie reached down for his weapon, carefully removing it and passing it behind her to Teyla, who had quietly emerged from the cell. Teyla jammed the weapon into his side and he jumped back in fright and she fired causing him to drop to the ground, a look of surprise on his face.
“Ughhhh...” Cassie rubbed her good hand up her arms in an attempt to get his touch off her.
“You were most convincing, I must say” complimented Teyla. They reached Ronan who had followed the action and was now struggling to get to his feet. They each got a shoulder under his arm and managed to manoever him to a standing position. Ronan commented dryly on her performance. “Sheppard needs to keep you on a leash.” Cassie chose not to comment as they exited the room and carefully made their way down a narrow corridor looking for a way out.
Ronan tried his best to ease the burden on the girls by supporting as much of his weight as he could, but his wound was serious and the pain was getting worse. They managed to find their way out of the building undetected, but it was now long past the due time for their arrival back on Atlantis with no way to contact the city until they got to the stargate. Cassie became more agitated, knowing that John would be getting worried and concentrated her energy on making slow and careful progress. They avoided the more crowded areas of the village, taking the darkened alleys. They had to stop several times to rest, Cassie and Teyla collapsing exhausted against the wall of a building and giving Ronan small sips of water. He was barely conscious now and they knew that time was running out.
The finally cleared the village and were on the path that led back to the stargate when they heard shouting and pounding footsteps behind them. “Hurry Teyla, they've found us. I”ll wait here with Ronan and give you some cover, you dial the gate!” Cassie pulled the guard's weapon out of her shorts, carelessly stashed there before they left the cell, and lay down covering fire, feeling the sting of recoil into her shoulder, each time she fired. “Hurry Teyla, I can't hold them – we're going in now!”
Having given General O'Neill a rather whirlwind tour of the city, they were almost back at the gate room when he asked again “... so, you didn't exactly answer my question, where's Cassie?”
“Just offworld on a trading mission, General, due back any minute now... in fact, they're just a tad overdue...” Elizabeth volunteered.
“Overdue? Shouldn't you be going after them? I can't help thinking that it was a mistake to send her here, would have been better to keep her home under lock and key.” The General looked sternly at John who muttered “wouldn't have made a lot of difference...” but to Jack he replied “I think it was the best thing you could have done General. She has been put into situations that previously she could not have dealt with, shown bravery and skills beyond compare and grown into an amazing young woman, in such a short time.” Jack's eyebrows snapped together in surprise. “So, what happened to the .. and I quote... 'spoiled rock star'.?”
John had the good grace to hang his head slightly. “She takes a little getting used to... sir.”
To save John further embarassment, the stargate conveniently activated and the gate technician called “offworld activation, and it's Teyla's IDC!” Elizabeth gave him the go ahead to raise the shield and Teyla's voice came through in obvious distress. “We're coming in hot Dr Weir and we need medical assistance”. They heard the sound of gunfire and John promptly secured a weapon from one of the nearby marines murmuring “what trouble has she caused this time..?”
The three of them collapsed through the ring together, Teyla shouting “close the shield” and closing her eyes in relief when she heard it close behind them, blocking out the sound of gunfire. Cassie rolled straight over, wincing as she rolled over her injured wrist and pulled up Ronan's shirt to place pressure on his wound yelling “where's that medical team – hurry Carson!” John dropped his weapon, seeing that Ronan was the injured one and not her, and was immediately at his friend's side, pushing away her hands to place his own on the wound.
Carson ran into the gate room with a gurney and seeing the tableau in front of him, shook his head slightly, immediately noting that Cassie was at the forefront of it. “Bloody hell Cassie, what have you done this time?”
“Not me!” Cassie puffed out, sitting back now that John had taken over holding pressure on his wound. “Ronan, he's been shot!” In relief she let Carson take over, two marines helping him onto the gurney and whisking him away to the infirmary. She leaned over huffing out an exhausted breath and when she had managed to settle her racing heart sufficiently to look up, it was into a pair of neatly pressed dress blue pants that covered the long lanky frame of General Jack O'Neill.
He placed himself directly in front of her, an eyebrow quirked upward in disbelief. Extending a hand to her, he gripped her wrist and pulled her up, evoking a sob of pain as he aggravated the injured wrist. Pushing aside the pain, she leapt into his arms. “Jack!” she cried. “Oh my God Jack, you're here... how?.. when... oh Jack, it's so good to see you.” She buried her face into his shoulder and after returning her hug, gently set her back down and held her at arms length. He carefully picked up her wrist and used his long agile fingers to carefully probe it.
“I left behind a sulky, immaculately groomed New York princess, and what do I find here...” he indicated the cut off shorts, ripped shirt, wildly curling hair, dirt smeared face. “I don't know that I would have recognised you... and you let her go out dressed like that?” this last query directed at John.
John, anger at Cassie's dishevelled, overly sexy and injured state, warred with respect for his superior officer and anger won out and he marched over to Cassie. “What the hell just happened Cassie and where the HELL are the rest of your clothes. Ronan shot? So who the HELL did you piss off to cause this?” He had started to pick up her injured wrist and she snatched it out of his grip, causing another cry of pain. Blinking back her quick tears, she yelled back at him. “I am getting sick of this crap “colonel”, sick of getting the blame for EVERYTHING that goes wrong on a mission. For your information...” she began. John grabbed her upper arm tightly. “We'll not have a domestic here “sweetheart” he said mocking the endearment as she had mocked his title before and marched her briskly out of the room.
“Now see here...” Jack began, a little puzzled at what had just happened, but was stopped by a look from Elizabeth.
John dragged her forcibly up the stairs and into the conference room, which while soundproofed, offered a full view of it's occupants by those in the gate room, should they choose to look up. Teyla, after being introduced to Jack, left to freshen up before debriefing. Jack stood with Elizabeth, his hands in his pockets, a little disconcerted by what was happening up in the conference room. He could see John and Cassie, obviously deep in argument if their body language was any indication. He winced inwardly as he saw John roughly grab her arm, her injured one, and watched as Cassie pushed hard against his chest with her good hand. Agitated, he turned to Elizabeth.
“So... do they do that often?” Elizabeth gave a non commital smile and feeling just as awkward as Jack answered “Oh... now and again...”
Jack bit back a smile as he saw Cassie's hand rise swiftly to slap John, and saw John promptly catch her small hand in his own and give her a brusque shake.
“So... what about that?” A little anxious now, Jack was contemplating charging up the stairs to interfere. Elizabeth did not get a chance to answer as just then, John fisted his hands in Cassie's ripped tshirt and pulled her hard against him, dropping his head for a fierce kiss and watching her hands gather in his hair and return the kiss, Jack turned yet again to Elizabeth.
“So... they do THAT a lot too?” Elizabeth, feeling very much a voyeur by this stage answered “they're usually a little more discreet about that one... and on that note, can I interest you in sitting in on our debriefing?”
“Can't wait!” came Jack's sarcastic reply.
Jack and Elizabeth joined John in the conference room. Cassie had left by the time they arrived, ostensibly to get changed into something more appropriate, but also to give herself time to gather her thoughts together. Jack smiled as Cassie returned, wearing jeans , a pretty jumper with her hair tamed into a more manageable style. “Now you look more like the princess I remember...”
“Oh Jack, that princess grew up I'm afraid. A lot has changed since I last saw you.” Cassie said lightly.
“Yeah, I saw that!” he said, quirking an eyebrow. “So... you and Sheppard eh?”
Cassie flicked her eyes towards John and carelessly shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe...”
“Looked like a little more than 'maybe' from where I was standing... anyway, good news angel! They caught him!” Cassie's breath hitched and she did not need to ask who, but that was a lifetime ago,a life ago – did it matter anymore? “They want you to testify at the trial, next week. I've come to take you home.”
Cassie dropped into the nearest chair, suddenly pale. Home? To earth? To the life she had before? Three months in this world, she was no longer that person, and John...? How would she ever leave him? As questions flew through her mind, her eyes held his and she saw the same answering fear, but he shuttered it quickly, and in that instant, she knew. “John...?” Her voice was soft and he met her eyes reluctantly. “Do you want me to stay?”
“It's not up to me Cass. You need to do what makes you happy. I only want your happiness.”
Cassie sighed. “You know what makes me happy John. You need to tell me...”
John couldn't take his eyes off her, her anguish tangible and he ground the words out. 'I can't...!”
“You need to ask me to stay!”
“Damn it Cassie, I can't do that!” In pain now, she looked at Jack with such sorrow that he had to resist the urge to take the younger man outside and shake some sense into him. “Let me know when you're ready to leave Jack.” and with as much dignity as she could muster, she left the control room.
Cassie did not see John that night and the next morning at Jack's insistence, she met him in the gateroom with all personal items packed and ready to go. Unknown to Cassie, he had spent a good hour talking to John the previous night, man to man and while he listened, he did not offer advice. John and Cassie needed to come to their own decisions without outside influence and perhaps the distance of having a galaxy between them, would give them the space to do that.
After an emotional goodbye to her Atlantis friends, Cassie and Jack left for earth and as she stepped through the gate she felt an emotional door close hard behind her, leaving her alone in a dark and empty hallway. She hoped that she would have the strength to open that door again.