ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Fortunate Journey Season Three Part 1

Rating: T

Content Warning: Adult themes, minor language, some violence here and there, a couple of instances that might be considered graphic.

Season: 3

Summary: A new enemy emerges in the Pegasus galaxy, bringing new challenges and new discoveries for Sabina and John as they both learn that the greatest battles are those that take place inside. OC 1st person perspective story, established ShepOC relationship.

Classifications: drama, Romance

Pairings: John Sheppard & Original Character

Spoilers for: Pretty much every episode in Season 3 is mentioned in some way. BIG huge honking spoilers (i.e. more than just a few lines of dialogue included) for Irresistible, Progeny, The Real World, Common Ground, The Return Pt1 & Pt2, Tao of Rodney, Submersion, and First Strike. Also HUGE spoilers for the beginning of Season 4 – Adrift and Lifeboat. Finally minor spoilers for SG1 Season 10 – The Pegasus Project.

Acknowledgements: I used Gateworld dot com transcripts to back up my own viewing as I worked through each episode. Anything else I reference will be acknowledged at the point it’s used in the story.

Disclaimer: The Stargate characters, storylines, etc aren’t mine – I took them for a test drive and decided I liked them so much that now we’re moving in together. I am unfortunately not associated in any way with the creators, owners, or producers of Stargate or any of its media franchises. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, equipment, etc are the property of whoever owns them. The original characters and plot and anything else I made up are the property of me, the author. No copyright infringement is intended.

Copyright (c) 2008 ShaViva


Chapter 1: This is Lucius Luvin


 “I feel like crap,” I complained, watching from our bed as John got ready for his scouting mission. It had been a couple of days since we’d returned from our trip off world to celebrate John’s birthday. Our little adventure had resulted in John getting a terrible cold ... which he’d obligingly passed on to me of course.

“Just stay in bed today,” John came over and sat down beside me, stroking my hair back from my face.

“Are you sure you should be going on a mission?” I croaked.

“I’m fine,” John’s claim lacked conviction when he followed up those words by coughing harshly.

“You sound fine too,” I said sarcastically. “Just promise me you’ll take it easy ... no jumping into icy rivers or anything stupid like that.”

“I promise,” John said somewhat hoarsely. He leant down to kiss me goodbye before grabbing his jacket and heading out the door.

I felt terrible enough that I did spend the rest of that day dosing in bed. John came back briefly and checked in with me before heading out again. Rodney was really pushing for their team to find a heap of abandoned space gates as quickly as possible so that he and Colonel Carter back at the SGC could complete their intergalactic gate bridge.

“Sabina?” I came to awareness when John put a hand on my shoulder and shook me gently.

“Hey, you’re back!” I turned over and looked up at him sleepily. “Did you find any gates?”

“One,” John replied. “Rodney was disappointed but until the Daedalus is fixed we can’t do anything with any gates we find anyway.”

“How’s the cold?” I sat up and rubbed my eyes tiredly, trying to wake myself up a bit.

“It’s not worse,” John glossed over how bad I could tell he was feeling. “You?”

“I think I feel just a little bit better than this morning,” I said in surprise. “Have you had dinner?”

“No,” John admitted. While I got myself up and somewhat presentable John told me about the first planet they’d scouted that day, and how he’d met a guy called Lucius Luvin. “You should have seen Teyla’s face when Lucius told her he loved a woman with spirit and a great body,” John said with an evil grin.

“I can imagine,” I replied. “Do you think he’s really got anything Doctor Beckett will find useful?”

“Probably not,” John shrugged. “Although Carson hasn’t returned yet which is a little ... odd.”

John and I had a casual dinner in the commissary before John was called away to talk to Doctor Weir. When he returned to our quarters an hour or so later I could tell that something wasn’t right.

“What is it?” I asked in concern.

“Carson brought that ... guy back to Atlantis,” John said in irritation.

“That guy?” I raised an eyebrow.

Lucius!” John grumbled. “Carson brought him through the gate without getting approval from Elizabeth first.”

“That is odd,” I agreed. “What did Doctor Weir say?”

“She’s giving him the benefit of the doubt at this stage,” John replied. He glanced at me for a moment before continuing. “Look, it’s probably nothing but ... while I’m gone tomorrow just stay well clear of Lucius, okay?”

“I can do that,” I agreed.

oOo

John left early the next morning for another scouting mission, this time just with Rodney. Teyla and Ronon had been left behind to keep an eye on Lucius. I stuck to my agreement with John, spending the morning in my lab working with the latest Ancient artefact on Rodney’s priority list.

“Doctor Weir wants to see us,” I looked up to see Major Lorne standing in my doorway.

“What about?” I asked curiously, shutting my laptop and jumping up to follow the Major out the door.

“Don’t know,” Lorne admitted. “All I know is Weir’s been meeting with the off world teams all morning.”

We walked silently the rest of the way to Doctor Weir’s office. When we got close enough I could see that she wasn’t alone – a tall, chubby man wearing medieval garb that I could only assume was Lucius was sitting on the edge of her desk. Elizabeth was smiling up at him fondly as he talked animatedly, waving his hands around and grinning at her in return.

“Doctor Weir?” Lorne stopped just inside the doorway.

“Come in Major, Sabina,” Doctor Weir greeted us more exuberantly that was her usual practice. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet. This is Lucius Luvin,” she gestured towards him and said his name like we should be very impressed. “Lucius, this is Major Evan Lorne and Ms Sabina Scott.”

“Major, it’s a pleasure,” Lucius approached Lorne first, invading his personal space as he reached out a hand to shake in greeting.

Before Lorne could even think up a reply, Lucius turned to me and eyed me with a distinctly lascivious look that made me very uncomfortable. I glanced at Doctor Weir, expecting some kind of protest from her but instead was shocked to find her looking on approvingly.

“Sabina,” Lucius turned my name into a verbal caress, holding out his hand expectantly. When I just looked at him without expression he shrugged and smiled. “Give it time,” he said, “you’ll grow to like me ... everybody does.”

“Elizabeth tells me you pilot one of those flying ships just like Colonel Sheppard,” Lucius turned his attention back to Lorne.

“That’s right,” Lorne agreed, casting a frown Doctor Weir’s way. I too was puzzled about why Doctor Weir would have shared such critical information with someone she’d only just met. The whole situation was beginning to freak me out, and as the conversation between Lorne and Lucius continued my feeling that something was definitely wrong only got worse. I’d expected Evan to just blow this guy off as an annoying nuisance but instead it was clear he was beginning to fall under Lucius’s spell. After only five minutes of conversation the Major was wearing the same infatuated and indulgent look that Doctor Weir had been sporting since we’d first arrived at her office.

Lucius turned his attention back to me and I realised I was his next target. I had no idea what was going on but somehow this man was winning over everyone he talked to. The one thing I was sure of was that I didn’t want to be the next member of his fan club.

“I’d like to stay and chat,” I prevaricated, edging closer to the door, “but I left a critical experiment running in my lab that I need to get back to.”

“I’m sure it can wait,” Doctor Weir said, casting a glance at the two Marines stationed by the door. They stepped in to fill the only opening I’d had for escape. My heart raced with nervousness as Lucius slowly approached me.

“You know,” Lucius smiled in a manner he probably thought was seductive rather than faintly repulsive. “You’re tall for a woman. I find that very ... arousing.”

“I just bet you do,” I replied sarcastically. My brain was churning over at a rapid rate as I tried to work out what the hell was going on and what I should do about it.

“Lucius has six wives,” Doctor Weir shared that piece of disturbing news like the guy should get some kind of award.

“Aren’t you a busy boy,” I quipped, glancing from Doctor Weir back to Major Lorne and realising that no help was going to be coming from either quarter.

“You’re funny,” Lucius said almost childishly. “That’s great!” He turned to Major Lorne and asked “Isn’t that great?”

“It sure is,” Lorne replied happily. I almost shuddered at the disturbing sight of my team leader behaving in such a ... sickeningly agreeable manner.

“You know,” Lucius drew my attention back to him. He’d gotten up into my personal space and reached out to grab one of my hands. I let him get away with that familiarity as I waited to see what he’d say. “I’m always on the lookout for wife number seven.”

Before I could reply a sneeze overtook me and I turned away, holding up a hand in mock apology.

“Did you catch Colonel Sheppard’s cold?” Lorne asked in concern. Lucius turned to look at me suspiciously, paying too much attention to something that should have just been a throwaway comment.

“No,” I replied, thinking quickly. Lucius didn’t know me and so would hopefully assume that my croaky voice was normal for me – if I could come up with a way to explain the rest of my symptoms. “I’m allergic to ... dust ... that artefact Rodney gave me was really ... dusty,” I lied somewhat lamely.

“That’s too bad,” Lucius said with concern. “You know I have a potion that could clear that right up for you.”

Lucius looked at me expectantly and I realised that given how long he’d been talking to me he was expecting me to begin behaving in a similarly enamoured fashion as everyone else in the room. I didn’t really understand why I hadn’t been overcome but I wasn’t about to start complaining. Realising that the only way I was getting out of that room was to convince them that I had been won over I decided in that instant that I should just play along until I could work out what to do.

“You’re so clever,” I smiled up at Lucius with an adoring expression. “Tell me more.”

oOo

Later that night I made my way to the commissary along with everyone else Lucius had ‘influenced’. We gathered around him as though in worship – present was a large number of Atlantis personal, including everyone who should have been on duty at that time. Sitting practically at his feet were Doctor Weir, Teyla and Ronon. I stood to one side, standing behind Teyla’s chair. Everyone was listening enthralled as Lucius told a story involving swords and a beast. I watched with what I hoped was a convincing smile as everyone laughed when Lucius completed his punch line, making a lewd remark about not lacking for ‘female companionship’.

The relief I felt when I finally caught sight of John and Rodney just returned from their scouting mission was enormous. Not wanting to give myself away I watched as they looked into the room with expressions of confusion and disbelief. When John made eye contact with me I forced myself to give an airy wave before turning back avidly to gaze fondly at Lucius. Out of the corner of my eye I saw John and Rodney exchange a worried glance before they turned and walked rapidly away.

I hung around in the commissary listening to story after sickening story about Lucius’ exploits before I finally judged it safe to plead work commitments and leave the room. I had been hoping to meet up with John so we could work out what to do but it seemed that Lucius still had some suspicion about me. Two Marines detached from the group at a glance from Lucius and followed me out the door. Tamping down the frustration I felt I realised that the only place I could go was back to my lab. At that point I could only assume that Lucius was unaware of my relationship with John – a view that would change if I gave my Marine escort a reason to report that I’d gone back to our shared quarters. Hopefully they’d report that I was working and Lucius would think nothing more of it.

In the end I curled up on the couch in my lab, hoping that John would understand my subterfuge once the whole thing had been sorted out.


Chapter 2: You had me convinced


The next morning I found myself once again amidst a worshipful horde of Atlantis personal, all gathered to share breakfast with the great Lucius. Major Lorne practically insisted I sit with him and I tiredly forced myself to keep playing my part. My cold hadn’t gotten any better overnight, especially after sleeping in a chilly lab. My nose was blocked and my throat scratchy and I was finding it harder than yesterday to keep up the charade of devotion towards Lucius. I groaned internally when I spotted John striding somewhat angrily over to my table.

“Sabina,” John greeted me pointedly. “Where the hell were you last night?”

Glancing quickly in Lucius’ direction I was dismayed to see him paying John a great deal of attention. “I ah ...” I tried to think up something suitably adoring, “I was down in the lab planning ... ah planning my ... wedding to Lucius,” I said happily. “Did you know he said I had a good chance of being his seventh wife?” I asked, trying to convey I thought that to be a huge honour.

John looked at me with dawning horror, swallowing hard when I just continued to smile up at him vapidly. I tried with my eyes to send him some kind of signal that things were not as they seemed but he didn’t appear to be picking it up.

Did you forget that you live with –“ John began angrily.

“Lucius has a number of valuable potions,” I interrupted hurriedly. “And he’s explored many of the worlds in this galaxy. You should talk to him about what he knows.”

“I’m certainly going to talk to him about something,” John muttered, frowning at me in frustration. Before he could say any more Lucius finished his breakfast, prompting all of his followers to declare that they too were finished. I jumped up with the masses and hurried to Lucius’s side, completely ignoring John’s continued presence. I didn’t glance at him on the way out because I didn’t want to see the hurt and angry look I was sure would be in his eyes.

My act seemed to finally convince Lucius though ... he gazed adoringly at me and declared that if I played my cards right I would be his seventh wife. When I laughed giddily in glee he smiled benevolently at me before being drawn away by Doctor Beckett and Doctor Zelenka. This time I was able to head down the corridor without the inconvenience of a Marine escort. I went through the motions of going back to work just in case Lucius still had someone watching me. After an hour or so I decided it would be safe to make contact with John and Rodney. Hopefully they’d have some kind of plan for what to do about the situation we were now in.

As I approached Rodney’s lab I overheard a part of their conversation.

“I can’t believe he even got to Sabina,” John complained to Rodney somewhat bitterly.

“And well you shouldn’t,” I said from the doorway as I walked in hurriedly. I glanced behind me to make sure no one was following me before approaching John and throwing my arms around him.

I’m sorry,” I said, pressing my face into his shirt. “Everyone was behaving very strangely – I had no choice but to play along.”

John hesitated for a few moments before giving in and hugging me back. “You had me convinced,” he admitted reluctantly.

“I’m sorry,” I apologised again. “Doctor Weir called Major Lorne and I into her office ... Lucius got all up close and personal with the Major and after five minutes Evan started acting ... weird. Lucius tried to do the same with me but I didn’t feel any different. There was no way I was getting out of there without convincing them I was similarly affected though.”

“We think it has something to do with this,” Rodney held up an empty vial. “Security footage from his room showed him drinking from it.”

“What’s the plan?” I asked, looking hopefully from Rodney back to John.

“I’m trying to break down the contents of whatever was in the liquid,” Rodney said. “If we can prove it does have something to do with this maybe we can devise some kind of antidote.”

“I’m heading up to the Gate room to try and talk some sense into Elizabeth,” John added.

“What about me?” I looked pleadingly at John, suspecting he was going to ask me to keep playing along.

“Can you ...?” John trailed off when he saw my pained expression.

John,” I complained plaintively. “I know you said I had you convinced but I don’t think I can keep this up for another day. Lucius was practically groping me this morning not to mention the fact that he continually talks about his sexual encounters with his six wives. I don't even want to think about what that pervert's been doing with Teyla and Elizabeth. The whole thing is making me sick!”

“Look, just try to avoid him as much as possible,” John urged. “Hopefully it won’t be for much longer.”

“Fine,” I said ungraciously. “But if he gropes me I’m not going to be held responsible for my actions.”

“Understood,” John replied, hugging me again before reluctantly letting me go.

“Just be careful,” I told John as he headed for the door. “He’s got all the major players eating out of his hand ... I think it would be dangerous to antagonise him openly.”

“I’ll be careful,” John promised before heading off down the corridor.

I turned back to Rodney and asked “can I help?”

Rodney looked tempted to accept but we both knew it’d draw attention if we openly worked together on something. Reluctantly I made my way down to my lab, hoping that Lucius would be too busy to come looking for me.

oOo

I met up with John and Rodney again a few hours later in Rodney’s lab. John was visibly irritated and frustrated after his conversation with Doctor Weir and the others.

“Elizabeth wants to send a team to check out a Gate at a suspected Wraith outpost,” John said heatedly.

“What, is she nuts?” Rodney protested.

Everybody's nuts, Rodney,” John reminded him grimly. “Haven't you noticed?”

“Right,” Rodney muttered, turning back to his analysis.

“You need to figure out why without drawing too much attention,” John urged.

“I am working on it, but there's not enough of the liquid to work with,” Rodney complained. “I need more.”

“I'll go back to Lucius' village,” John decided. “I'm sure he keeps a stash there. I'll just grab some.”

“What, you're leaving us here alone?” Rodney asked, horrified.

“Can I come with you?” I asked at the same time.

“You said you need the liquid,” John told Rodney, ignoring for the moment my question.

“Yeah, but the place is turning into a nuthouse!” Rodney pointed out in his whiney complaining voice.

“Can I come with you?” I asked again.

“I’d really like to say yes,” John replied, putting a hand on my shoulder, “but Lucius will know immediately if you volunteer to willingly leave his side. He’ll apprehend us the second we step back through the gate.”

“You’re right,” I reluctantly agreed, resting my head dejectedly on my hand.

“Just keep away from the nuts,” John instructed both of us. “And Rodney - you've gotta disable the DHD as soon as I'm gone to prevent anybody from dialling out, OK?”

Rodney sighed in resignation as John left the lab, coughing audibly from half way down the corridor.

“What are you gonna do to avoid the nuts?” Rodney asked miserably.

“I’m not,” I told him. “If I hang around right in their midst then hopefully I won’t draw any notice.”

“I wish I could do that,” Rodney muttered enviously.

oOo

Things went wrong only minutes after John departed when Rodney was cornered by Ronon and Lucius. I thought frantically for something I could do to help him but nothing came to mind and a few minutes later Rodney became Lucius’ newest fan.

All my hopes now rested on John and whatever plan he could come up with. He returned from Lucius’ home planet and I could tell from my position within the adoring horde that John was less than impressed to find that Rodney had succumbed in his absence. Lucius held court in the commissary while everyone waited to see the outcome of Teyla, Ronon and Carson’s impromptu mission through the Stargate to the reportedly Wraith infested planet, a fact that had John grinding his teeth in suppressed anger.

I took the opportunity to retire back to my lab for a break from all that vapid smiling – I was actually convinced that my facial muscles had been strained by my efforts to make sure Lucius didn’t suspect me. A short time later when the Stargate activation alarm sounded I hurried to the Control Room and positioned myself looking down on the Gateroom. John was already involved in a tense conversation by the time I got close enough to hear what was going on.

“You sent them to get an herb?” John was asking Lucius in disbelief.

“We wanted to go,” Teyla reassured him with a smile. John returned the smile but where Teyla’s was full of happiness, his was full of the fury he was struggling to contain.

“OK,” John declared angrily. “I've just about had enough.” He walked towards Teyla and Doctor Beckett but before he could get very far Ronon ripped out his blaster and aimed in straight at John.

“Don't touch it,” Ronon instructed in his no nonsense voice.

Luckily Elizabeth was there and she gestured for Ronon to lower his weapon before turning to reason with John. “What on Earth is wrong with you, John?” she said in a tone of diplomatic concern. “We were just helping a friend, and there's nothing wrong with that.”

“I think there's something wrong with him,” Lucius said quietly to Rodney.

“You know what?” John said, finally realising that confronting everyone like that had not been his best idea. “I'm just tired. It's this damned cold.” He turned to Lucius and added with as much of a smile as I think he could manage “I apologise.”

“Maybe you should get some rest,” Doctor Weir suggested, drawing a sweet smile from Lucius.

“You're probably right. I just need a good night's sleep,” John agreed, backing slowly out of the group and glancing around uneasily. Turning he walked slowly from the Gateroom while everyone stood frozen in place watching him go.

Waiting only a few minutes I headed after John, hoping that no one would notice my departure.

“John?” I called, entering our quarters in the hopes he’d be there.

“Out here,” John called from the balcony.

“That wasn’t exactly smart,” I admonished him. “Lucius himself doesn’t seem like the violent type but he’s got every Marine in this place under his influence!”

I know,” John acknowledged. “When I realised he’d risked Teyla, Ronon and Carson’s lives for a herb I just ...,“ John broke off and ran an agitated hand through his hair.

“We need to come up with a plan now that Rodney’s one of them,” I stated. “Neither of us have the skills to work out how to counteract the Lucius effect.”

“I’ve got an idea,” John admitted. “I kidnap Carson and take him over to the mainland. Hopefully with a little time away from Lucius the effect will wear off enough for Carson to be able to work something out.”

“Doctor Weir will send teams out after you,” I said worriedly.

“I know,” John agreed. “I’m gonna have to let myself get captured hopefully after Carson is himself again ... once they bring us back to Atlantis you’ll have to give Carson time to come up with a cure. When he’s done that I’ll need you to get me out of the brig so I can take Lucius away – give Carson time to inoculate everyone.”

“How are you gonna get Lucius alone?” I asked. “He’s got someone around practically every minute of the day.”

“I haven’t worked that bit out yet,” John admitted.

“The ATA gene inoculation,” I said excitedly. “Lucius is fascinated with the Jumpers – he wants to fly one more than anything. Carson could pretend to give him the inoculation with a Jumper flight as the test to see if it ‘worked’. You could grab him then!”

“That would work,” John agreed with a grin. “Okay, let’s do this!”

oOo

John’s plan went like clockwork. He kidnapped Carson and they were gone a few hours before Ronon, Teyla and Rodney found them. I made a point of welcoming Carson home as a fellow Lucius worshipper and felt relief when he nodded faintly to let me know he was himself again. He retired to the infirmary while John was carried unconscious to the brig. It was very hard for me to watch John being taken away without being able to express any concern. My heart jumped when I looked back and discovered that Lucius was watching me intently. I smiled sweetly at him, walking over and taking his arm fondly.

“Are you still interested in the Puddle Jumpers?” I asked enticingly.

“I really am,” Lucius appeared to be distracted from whatever he was thinking moments before.

“That’s good,” I smiled like I had a really good secret, “’cause I have the best idea!”

I led Lucius away as I explained how, now that Doctor Beckett was back, he could give Lucius the ATA gene therapy ... with Lucius’ luck he’d surely be one of the 47 percent of people it worked on. Lucius was very excited and allowed himself to be scheduled for a morning trip to the infirmary.

I almost gave myself away before I could get myself clear for the night. I was still struggling with John’s cold and had the worst coughing fit as I walked Lucius out of the Gateroom, Rodney and Doctor Weir following behind.

“I don’t believe that’s an allergy,” Lucius said thoughtfully.

“She’s probably got Sheppard’s cold,” Rodney jumped in, eager to please. I glared at him reproachfully and he looked at me in surprise. “What?” he demanded innocently.

“So you and the Colonel are close?” Lucius narrowed his eyes at me as if trying to see through my smiling facade.

“We were,” I admitted freely. “But that was before I met you Lucius. Really there’s no comparison. Colonel Sheppard’s so ... moody and ... angry – not like you. I’m still hoping to be your seventh wife!”

“So you say,” Lucius preened in spite of his continuing suspicions.

“Look,” I offered reasonably. “If you don’t believe me ask Doctor Beckett – he’ll be able to confirm my allergy.”

“I just might do that,” Lucius agreed, clearly having no doubts about Carson’s loyalty.

The next morning I arrived in the infirmary and watched as Doctor Beckett greeted Lucius like a long lost friend, giving a very credible performance of still being under his spell. As he distracted Lucius with medical talk he motioned for me to disappear for my part in the grand plan - releasing John.

The good thing about most of the Atlantis personnel being under the influence of Lucius’ addictive personality was that most of them were being very lax about doing their jobs. It was an easy mission for me to visit the armoury and grab myself a Wraith stunner. Hiding it in my jacket I proceeded down to the brig, giving the Marines a smile as I approached.

“I just wanted to spit in the face of the man who dared to betray Lucius,” I told them. When they looked at each other in confusion I took the opportunity to quickly stun the pair of them.

About time!” John complained, shifting impatiently as he waited for me to open the cell.

“Hey,” I protested. “You’re lucky I got here at all – Lucius got suspicious because of this damn cold you gave me!”

“That cold saved you from becoming a member of the ‘I love Lucius’ fan club,” John drawled, stepping out of the cell and grabbing my arm to pull me up next to him. “Lucius came down here for a visit a little while ago gloating about how people like ‘helping’ him – that slimy bastard deserves to have us dump him back on his planet for whatever punishment those people feel like dishing out.”

“You won’t get any argument from me,” I replied.

I accompanied John to the Jumper Bay, hiding with him in one of the other Jumpers until Carson and Lucius appeared and settled themselves in Jumper One. John ran out and quickly disarmed Lucius. Once he’d successfully cleared the Bay doors I accompanied Doctor Beckett and assisted him in inoculating everyone with the neutraliser for the pheromone.

Of course they were all sheepish at their behaviour which unfortunately for them everyone clearly remembered. Once John returned and his team escorted Lucius back to his planet things finally settled back to normal. John took delight in continually pointing out that only the two of us hadn’t succumbed to the Lucius effect.

“You guys were just lucky you had a cold,” Rodney tried to cut off another round of teasing at lunch a few days later. “Otherwise you would have been just as affected as the rest of us.”

“Who would have thought there’d be an upside to the common cold?” John smiled across at me conspiratorially.

“You still haven’t told us how you managed to catch a cold in the first place,” Rodney remarked. “Weren’t you on the Pegasus equivalent of planet Riviera?”

“That’s a story all in itself,” John replied smugly, wincing when I kicked him under the table.

“Yes John,” I said warningly. “A story we’ll save for another time.”

“See now, you gotta tell me after that!” Rodney complained, never one to handle an apparent mystery.

“No we don’t Rodney,” I said firmly. “Isn’t that right John?”

“Sorry Rodney,” John put on an apologetic look. “I’d really like to tell you but ... Sabina can make my life miserable in ways you don't want to imagine ...” he trailed off suggestively.

“Oh – too much information!” Rodney looked faintly sick. “Fine – don’t tell me.”

John and I smiled at each other, watching as Rodney gathered up his tray and practically stomped away from the table.

“It was almost worth the cold to get Rodney so riled up,” John commented. I laughed, glad to finally be able to put the whole Lucius thing behind us.


Chapter 3: At least they're not draining our souls to power their oppression of an entire galaxy


 “Hey, guess what?” John walked into the sparring room ten minutes late for our practice session with an excited bounce in his step.

“You’re late,” I told him, waiting for the explanation.

“Doctor Weir just finished the weekly check in with Earth,” John replied, starting his warm up exercises. “She wanted to let me know straight away that the Odyssey is bringing SG1 to Atlantis – they’ll be here inside of three weeks.”

“Daniel’s finally getting to come to Atlantis?” I smiled, knowing how many times he’d already tried. “What’s the big occasion?”

“Daniel needs to search the Ancient database for reference to two planets in the Milky Way,” John explained. “They’re hoping one of them is the location of an Ancient weapon that’ll help in the fight against the Ori. Elizabeth also said something about a plan to shut out the Ori Supergate.”

“I know we’ve got our own enemies here in Pegasus,” I commented, “but I’m glad to be here rather than back on Earth. Sure, the Wraith want us for food but at least they’re not draining our souls to power their oppression of an entire galaxy.”

“Never thought I’d be grateful to the Wraith for anything,” John joked. “Doctor Weir’s gonna do some preliminary searching for Daniel – she could probably use your help.”

“Cool,” I smiled, excited at the chance to help Daniel with something. “Okay – enough delaying – let’s spar.”

oOo

I’d been hoping to meet the other members of SG1 but they landed and proceeded straight to a closed meeting with Doctor Weir, John and Rodney as soon as the Odyssey arrived. I was in the control room with Doctor Zelenka when they came out, each clearly with a defined purpose. I had to laugh when I realised John was giving Colonel Mitchell tips on dealing with Rodney.

“And listen, if McKay gives you a hard time just ...” John broke off, shaping his right hand like a gun and gesturing appropriately.

“Shoot him,” Colonel Mitchell finished the sentence. John nodded in agreement.

“Also he’s mortally allergic to citrus,” John added, pulling a small lemon from the inside pocket of his jacket as he walked towards the stairs leading down to the Gateroom. “I keep one with me at all times ... just a comfort to know ...” John threw the lemon to Colonel Mitchell, “it’s there.”

“That’s good intel, thanks,” Mitchell replied, looking at the lemon quizzically.

“Yeah,” John smiled, clapped Mitchell on the shoulder, threw a half wave in my direction and then headed off down the stairs. My amusement grew when I saw that Rodney had caught the tail end of that exchange. He approached Mitchell, laughing as he said “that’s a ... that’s a good one.” He gestured in the direction John had headed and added “we’re actually ... we’re quite close.”

“Have you packed your bags?” Mitchell asked pointedly.

“Mmm?” Rodney paused, “Oh right,” he added before hurrying off.

Mitchell and Colonel Carter smiled at each other before also heading off to be beamed straight back to the Odyssey. John had said SG1 were coming here for a mission but in fact it was really two missions. Colonel Carter with the help of Rodney was attempting to dial in from the Pegasus galaxy a connection to the Ori Supergate back in the Milky Way. They’d found a black hole in Pegasus and would position another Stargate there so that when the connection was made the wormhole would be powered indefinitely through the distortion created by the black hole.

Since they couldn’t dial the Supergate directly they were attempting to dial a Milky Way gate they’d placed near the Supergate. Once the connection had been made they would set off a charge at their end, forcing the wormhole connection to jump from the Milky Way gate at the other end to the next nearest gate – the Supergate. It was going to take exactly the right amount of charge set off at exactly the right distance from the Pegasus gate to make it work - hence the need for Rodney to go along on the mission. If they couldn’t succeed then the Ori would be free to send more Ori ships to the Milky Way which was a scary thought since so far they’d had little success in destroying any of them.

The second part of the mission was Daniel’s. He and Vala Mal Doran remained behind to search the Atlantis database for two planets supposedly located in the Milky Way – Castiana and Sahal. One of them was believed to be the location of an Ancient weapon designed by Merlin to defeat Ascended beings. Doctor Weir and I had already searched the database extensively, using as many variations of both words as we could come up with, without success.

Daniel and Vala disappeared into the hologram room straight from their farewell with their teammates. It was literally hours later before they finally reappeared. Figuring my prior acquaintance with Daniel should give me at least the right to stop him and say hello I stood in the doorway of the control room and waited for them to pass.

“Daniel,” I greeted him softly.

Sabina,” Daniel replied. He had that distracted and faintly troubled look I’d sometimes seen on Rodney’s face when he had solved a puzzle but wasn’t sure he liked the solution.

“I take it you found what you needed?” I looked from him to his companion and back again.

“In a manner of speaking,” Daniel replied, tensing when an elbow in the side reminded him he wasn’t alone. “Vala, this is Sabina Scott. Sabina, this is Vala Mal Doran.”

“I’ve heard all about you,” Vala said excitedly in a voice that was exotically accented. “You’re the one attached to the yummy Colonel Sheppard!”

Vala!” Daniel protested, sending me an apologetic look.

“It’s all right,” I said cheerfully, delighted at Vala’s refreshing lack of regard for social etiquette. “Yes I am ah ... going out with Colonel Sheppard,” I grinned mischievously, “and yes he is pretty yummy.”

“I knew it!” Vala laughed, linking an arm through mine. “Tell me more.”

“Well I never kiss and tell,” I said, letting her draw me down the corridor, “but I can fill you in on lots of other juicy Atlantis gossip.” I glanced over my shoulder as Daniel trailed behind with a resigned look on his face that suggested this sort of thing happened all too often.

“Oooh,” Vala almost squealed. “Please do ... and then after perhaps you can show us the sights. Daniel insisted on going straight to the hologram room - I’ve been here the whole day and I’ve seen practically nothing!”

It was a brief interlude for the two of them as I showed them what I considered to be the main highlights of Atlantis – the Jumper Bay, the view off the East Pier, the view from the top of the central tower, and of course the Ancient library. Daniel’s eyes glazed over in awe at the sight of thousands of Ancient books, an enthusiasm dimmed only slightly when he discovered that only someone with the ATA gene could look at any of them. John and I had discovered that fact when we’d tried to show Elizabeth one of the books and found that the system wouldn’t let her hands past the force field that protected the books in the viewing chamber.

“What about ... artefacts?” Vala looked at me with a faintly avaricious look. “Where do you keep those?”

“I have some Ancient devices we’re still trying to work out in my lab,” I told her. “We don’t really have one spot where we keep things – most of what we find is interesting labs or sections of the Ancient database we didn’t know were there.”

“Show me this lab then,” Vala almost commanded, looking a little disappointed at my response. I obliged her request and spent another half an hour explaining what we thought some of the devices might be.

“No souvenirs,” Vala whispered too loudly to Daniel. Daniel frowned at her but I knew exactly what she meant.

“The Ancients didn’t seem to go in for that sort of thing,” I told her, adding in a joking tone “no gift shop, no tourist information centre, nothing commercial at all really.”

“We go on these trips and it’s nothing but disappointment,” Vala complained, slapping at Daniel’s shoulder like it was his fault. I almost laughed at the long suffering look he threw my way.

I ended the tour in the commissary so Daniel and Vala could get some dinner before the Odyssey arrived to take them home. Vala was immediately drawn into conversation with Ronon and Teyla and I sat back watching in amazement.

“She’s ... unique,” I told Daniel softly, “and I mean that as a compliment.”

“Vala’s certainly that,” Daniel agreed. “Not to mention annoying and covetous and ...”

“She likes you,” I teased. When Daniel got that pained look again I raised an eyebrow at him in surprise. “You like her too!”

“Do not,” Daniel muttered.

“You do!” I persisted. “Don’t bother denying it again because I have an eye for these things.”

“An eye for what things?” I glanced up in surprise as John appeared at our table.

“Hey!” I made room so John could pull up a chair next to me. “I was just telling Daniel that I’m good at noticing things,” I explained, purposely not going into details. Both John and Daniel raised a disbelieving eyebrow to that but neither called me up on it.

“Colonel Sheppard,” Vala noticed immediately that John had arrived. I cringed internally, wondering what inappropriate thing she might be intending to say. “We’ve just spent a lovely afternoon with your girlfriend ... did you know there are no souvenirs here whatsoever?”

“Ah,” John rubbed a hand behind his neck, looking at me for help. I wasn’t sure if he was more uncomfortable with being attributed a ‘girlfriend’ which for some reason sounded far too juvenile for either of us, or with the idea of Atlantis having anything as cheap as souvenirs.

“Vala really likes souvenirs,” I offered helpfully, trying not to smirk as his expression told me that clearly hadn’t helped.

“Doctor Weir filled me in on your progress,” John chose to ignore Vala’s question entirely, directing his comment at Daniel. “Do you think we’ve been talking to this Ganos Lal the whole time we’ve been here?”

“No,” Daniel replied. “It’s more likely this is the first time she’s appeared – especially since Doctor Weir and Sabina searched the database prior to our arrival and found nothing about Castiana or Sahal.”

“But now she’s been ... recalled by the rest of the ascended Ancients?” John questioned.

“Yes,” Daniel said sadly. “I urged her to help us – she was about to tell us something about Merlin’s weapon but the others stopped her. I can’t say for sure what punishment they’ll impose ... they’ve been both uniquely cruel and varied in the past so there’s really no way to tell.”

“Yeah,” John shot a glance at me before continuing. “We came across an Ascended Ancient over a year ago who’d interfered with a planet of humans here and been made to protect them - and only them- from then on.”

“Yes, well that does sound like the Ascendeds,” Daniel admitted, quickly realising how much a punishment that actually was in the Pegasus galaxy where every human lived in fear of being culled by the Wraith.

“What I don’t understand,” Vala said, breaking into the conversation, “is how they allowed this Morgan Le Fey to speak to us through the hologram program and tell us exactly what we needed to know and not call it interference, but when we asked her to narrow it down for us she got stopped before she could.”

“Non interference with lowers, what they call less evolved species, is their driving belief,” Daniel explained to all of us. “It seems that an Ascended who walks the line on that is okay until they do something that’s seen as taking it too far.”

“Perhaps it’s not about the act itself but what they foresee as the result of that act,” I suggested. “In that context something that seems harmless could lead to far reaching consequences that wouldn’t have happened without that act. That’s assuming of course that the Ascended Ancients are as ‘all knowing’ as they like to make out.”

“Interesting perspective,” Daniel said in surprise, looking at me intently.

“See I told you,” I smiled smugly. “I notice things.” I glanced from him to Vala and back again with an expectant look.

“Ah, I better check in with Doctor Weir, see when the Odyssey’s due back,” Daniel stood up. “Vala – time to go,” he said firmly.

“But I was having a lovely conversation with Ronon here,” Vala complained. Daniel sighed impatiently before grabbing her arm and urging her up from the table.

“Say goodbye Vala,” Daniel told her.

“Goodbye,” Vala called out. “Sabina – it was lovely to meet you. Thanks for the tour and look after that yummy man.”

I flushed bright red as Teyla and Ronon burst into laughter. Shooting a quick look at John didn’t lessen my embarrassment – his face had taken on a slightly reddish hue too and he was looking at me with a raised eyebrow just waiting for my explanation. Daniel didn’t even bother with the apology this time, calling out his goodbyes before pulling Vala along behind him as he hurried out the door.

“Why are you blushing?” Ronon asked me. “Sheppard's red enough for the both of you.”

“Vala said something similar when we met and I ah ... may have encouraged her by agreeing with that description,” I mumbled, looking down at the table in embarrassment.

“I am sure Colonel Sheppard will see that as a compliment,” Teyla said graciously.

“I’m sure he can make up his mind for himself,” John reminded us to stop talking about him like he wasn’t there. “Why don’t we move on to something important ... like what we’re watching for movie night tomorrow?”

Everyone let the change of topic pass without comment. Less than an hour later Daniel and Vala had been beamed back to the Odyssey and we went back to business as usual.

Authors Note:

The concurrent timing of Atlantis Season 3 versus SG1 Season 10 isn’t exactly clear so the positioning of this episode within the whole series might be a little off. It’s pretty clear that it is definitely before McKay and Mrs Miller because they still have their ZPM and there’s no mention of replicators so I decided just before Sateda made sense. As to why I put it in? Just couldn’t resist the temptation of Vala and Sabina together!

The reference to the Ancient library comes from my story 'Christmas Cheer Sabina Style' - sharing the discovery of it and giving Sabina access was Shep's Xmas gift to her.


Chapter 4: Where's the rest of the team?


The Atlantis gossip machine was extremely effective. It took only a few minutes for anything that happened in the Gateroom to make its way through to even the lowliest expedition member. When I heard that Rodney had returned alone with an arrow in the backside I rushed straight to the infirmary to find out what was happening. Doctor Weir was just finishing a conversation with Carson. When she noticed me standing just inside the doorway she moved across to me straight away.

"Where's the rest of the team?" I cut straight to the chase.

"We don't know at this stage," Doctor Weir admitted. "Rodney thought they were right behind him when he went through the gate. Carson's got him on pretty heavy pain medication - we'll have to wait to find out anything else."

"Okay," I nodded slowly. "Will you be sending a team through?"

"We'll send through a MALP first and assess the situation," Doctor Weir prevaricated. I wanted to question her further but I could tell there was nothing more she could give me right then so I let it go.

Doctor Weir left to return to the Control Room and I hung around so I could talk with Rodney as soon as he was able. I was still there when Doctor Weir radioed that the gate had activated and that John's IDC had been received.

John was talking with Major Lorne when I ran in. The rest of my team were already there, handing out equipment in preparation for accompanying John and Teyla somewhere.

"Still back there," he said to Lorne, which explained the continued absence of Ronon. He turned to Elizabeth, taking the vest held out to him by Lieutenant Brown. "Did McKay get through OK?"

"Yeah, he's gonna be fine," Doctor Weir reassured him. "What happened?"

"Ronon bargained for our freedom," Teyla said intently.

"By sticking a knife to his own throat," John added harshly. "We're going back." He motioned for Major Lorne and the rest of my team to gear up and get ready to proceed with him and Teyla.

"I'm coming too," I announced, drawing John's attention to me for the first time.

"No you're not," John said firmly. "This is a simple military strike - there's no need for you to be there."

"Ronon is my friend too," I said harshly, glaring at John as he continued his preparations. "Plus I'm a member of Major Lorne's team!"

"Not today," John returned in a tone that let me know there was no point saying anything else. "We don't have time for me to argue about this right now ... they activated a Wraith homing device before they let us go."

Elizabeth looked up to the Control Room and called out "Dial the Gate." I stood by mutely; hardly aware of the concerned and curious looks Major Lorne and the others were giving me.

"It took us fifteen minutes to get to the Gate," John informed the others.

"The place could be crawling with Wraith by now," Teyla warned. Preparations complete they turned almost as one and looked towards the kawoosh of the wormhole opening.

"Let's go get him," Major Lorne said confidently.

They proceeded through the gate without delay - none of them pausing to even give me a second glance. I stood staring at the empty Stargate for a few moments before noticing that Doctor Weir was still beside me, looking at me with concern.

"Sabina?" she said softly.

"I guess he told me," I laughed harshly. Without another word I turned and walked from the Gateroom.

I let the Atlantis grapevine fill me in on progress in finding Ronon. John and the others returned only an hour or so after they'd left, still without Ronon. The Wraith had returned to that planet in their absence and wiped out the entire settlement. Of Ronon there was no trace. I kept deliberately out of the way as Rodney worked on Ronon's original transmitter and tracked him back to Sateda.

For the first time since we’d decided to live together I saw the disadvantages of the arrangement. I wasn’t ready to talk to John and yet I didn’t want to make things more important than they really were by choosing to stay somewhere else that night just to avoid him. In the end I feigned sleep when John finally showed up ... I knew that he knew I was awake but he let me get away with the pretence, curling up to sleep beside me as always. When I awoke the next morning he was already gone, presumably to arrange the mission to retrieve Ronon from his home planet.

"Sabina," John stood just inside my lab door an hour later, looking at me as though he still expecting me to erupt into anger.

"You're going to get Ronon?" I asked in a reasonable voice.

"Yeah," John approached me slowly, looking surprised that I wasn’t actively displaying signs of still being mad with him over what had happened in the Gateroom the day before.

"Is there any point in me asking to come with you?" I questioned sadly.

"Do you know what we found on that planet?" John put a hand on my shoulder to draw my gaze to his. "Destruction and dead bodies - the Wraith culled most of them so the only ones we saw were the few they sucked the life out of or blasted and left to smoulder."

I winced at his graphic description but held firm to my resolve. "I've been responsible for the death of more Wraith than practically anyone else," I pointed out, unable to keep the harsh tone from my voice. "I think I've proven that I can handle it!"

"From a distance!" John protested. "You haven't been confronted with the horror the Wraith can inflict up close and if it's all the same to you I'd like to keep it that way!"

"I heard that Rodney and Carson are going with you," I said abruptly. "They get to go - is that because they're men or because they're not sleeping with you?"

"For Gods Sake!" John turned away from me and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Carson's coming because we need to remove the new transmitter before we can bring Ronon home. Rodney's coming just in case we lose the signal and need him to find it again."

"So I can't go because I'd be useless on this mission," I said simply. "Thanks for clarifying that."

"You're not useless!" John turned back to me and pulled me up from my chair in an effort to get through to me. "I can't believe we're even having this conversation."

"You need to get prepared," I cut him off, knowing there was no point in trying to bring John around.

"We'll talk about this later," John pulled me into his arms and hugged me - I was angry but not petty enough to not return his hug.

"Tell Ronon that I wanted to be there," I requested softly, taking a step back from him. “And be careful.”

"I will," John promised. He squeezed my shoulder again before turning and silently leaving the room.

I sat for a time, thinking over what had happened in the Gateroom the day before and what I wanted to do about it. After a few minutes of introspection I went off in search of Major Lorne.

oOo

"Why am I on your team?" I asked Lorne abruptly. I'd found him working out in the gym and had the good fortune to discover that for the moment he was there alone.

"I'm not sure I understand the question," Lorne admitted, continuing to lift weights at a steady pace.

"Is it just because I'm John's ... whatever ...," I asked bitterly, "and you're the one who got stuck accommodating me?"

"Of course not," Lorne denied, putting the weights back on the bracket and sitting up to face me. "Where's this coming from?"

"I'm not a real member of your team," I pointed out. "Sure – most of the missions I’m there but if there's any chance of trouble I get left behind!"

"You're not a trained military team member," Lorne said reasonably.

"There are other civilians who are permanent members of off world teams,” I discounted that excuse. “I've completed all the basic training requirements, I'm as fit as anyone else on the team and I can hold my own in a fight," I said hotly. "How does that not make me qualified to be a full member of your team?"

"Look, I'm not denying you've got skills," Lorne tried to placate me, "but in a military situation we need to utilise tested resources ahead of civilians."

"Test me then!" I challenged. "If I pass I get to be a full member of your team."

"And if you don't pass?" Lorne asked quietly.

"Well," I took a deep breath before committing myself fully. "If I don't then I guess I don't belong on an off world team."

"Sabina," Lorne tried to reason with me. "This isn't necessary ... do you really want to risk losing something you worked so hard to earn?"

"I want to be treated like everyone else," I looked down at the floor so I wouldn't have to see the sympathy in his eyes. "Did you know that Daniel Jackson got to go on all of SG1's missions? In the beginning he didn't even want to hold a gun let alone shoot one!"

"Colonel Sheppard values your skills," Major Lorne stood and put a hand on my shoulder to draw my eyes to his, letting me know he was well aware of where all this was coming from.

"He does," I agreed. "But he's still putting restrictions on what I can and can't do - I need to prove to him that he doesn't have to do that anymore." I looked at Lorne openly, willing him to see how important this was to me.

"Okay," Lorne agreed reluctantly. "I'll give you a week to prepare yourself, and then I'll test you myself."

"Thank you," I smiled my gratitude. "For now, can we keep this to ourselves?"

"If the Colonel asks about it I'll have to tell him," he pointed out. I nodded reluctantly. Major Lorne patted my shoulder lightly before turning and leaving me with my troubled thoughts.

oOo

After a tense wait of many hours we finally got the news that the Daedalus was on its way back with Ronon on board. I waited until Carson had settled him in the infirmary and the others had left to debrief Doctor Weir before visiting him.

"Ronon?" I said softly, standing hesitantly by his bedside. I was dismayed to see the injuries he'd sustained while away - his visible air of strength was diminished somewhat by his ordeal but he still dwarfed the ridiculously small infirmary bed with his physical presence.

"Hey," Ronon cracked an eye open before rousing himself when he saw that it was me.

"I'm sorry," I sat down in the chair beside his bed and looked at him apologetically.

"About what?" Ronon asked me with a puzzled frown.

"I wanted to ... help bring you home," I told him softly, "but ... ah ... they wouldn't let me go on the mission." I hesitated to blame John even though we both knew the decision would have been his.

"Doesn't matter," Ronon reassured me. "It was enough with just the rest of the team and Beckett there."

"Would you be happy with that?" I asked curiously.

"Probably not," Ronon said simply. "What are you gonna do about it?"

"I don't know," I admitted, "but I've gotta do something."

Ronon winced as he shifted in the bed and I reached out to help him, feeling guilty that I'd offloaded my frustrations when I should have been showing my concern for him.

"How are you - do you need anything?" I asked solicitously.

"I'm good," Ronon replied. "It was difficult being back on Sateda ... lots of ... memories."

"Do you want to talk about her?" I offered hesitantly, knowing he'd be thinking about Melena.

"I'm not ready for that," Ronon replied simply. "But when I am ... yeah I'd like to talk about her."

"I'll look forward to it," I put a hand on Ronon's arm and smiled fondly. "I'm glad you're okay."

"Me too," Ronon agreed with a rueful smile. Before I could respond I noticed Ronon's gaze drawn to a spot behind me.

"Sheppard," Ronon greeted. I stood and turned to look at John.

"Hey buddy," John walked to the bedside and looked at Ronon with a relieved smile at seeing him doing so well.

"I'll uh ... leave you two to catch up," I mumbled, stepping around John and heading for the door. I didn't miss him instinctively almost reach out to stop me before he let me make my escape.

I knew the time for talking was fast approaching - it was late in the evening and I'd taken up residence on the chair John had installed on our balcony when he finally caught up with me.

"Sabina?" I heard him call from the main sleeping area.

"Out here," I called back.

"Hey," John walked onto the balcony and positioned himself to lean against the railing directly obstructing my view. "It's a bit cold out here."

"It's nice," I disagreed just for the sake of it. "Ronon settled for the night?"

"Yeah," John crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me intently. "Are we gonna talk now?"

"Is there any point?" I asked wearily.

"I don't know - is there?" John returned.

"You humiliated me yesterday," I told him without anger. "You might not have meant to but in the end that's how I felt."

"I'm sorry for that," John looked at me with an intense expression. "But I'm not sorry I kept you away from that planet or from Sateda for that matter!"

"It's not your job to protect me from the harsh realities of living here," I said earnestly. "I thought we'd agreed that you were going to allow me a little more freedom ... after the whole human Wraith incident."

"And I thought we'd agreed to accept the good and bad of each other," John countered. "Wanting to protect the people close to me is part of who I am ... I wouldn't change that even if I could."

"I get that," I replied, "which is why I stopped being angry hours ago. But it's important to me to feel like I'm part of something ... I can't do that if I'm forever being excluded from things."

"I ah," John rubbed a tired hand over his face before coming over and sitting down next to me. "I didn't think of it like that."

"I know," I nudged my shoulder against his companionably.

"Look, I'll try to consider the whole team thing," John offered, "but I can't promise that something like this isn't gonna happen again."

Realising that for the moment I'd have to be happy with that, I kept to myself my plan to prove through Major Lorne that I should be a full member of a team. And I acknowledged to myself that even if I did manage to convince Lorne it didn't mean that John would start behaving any differently.

"Tired?" I asked as John tried to suppress a yawn.

"Yeah," John admitted. "I did take out fifteen Wraith you know."

"Fifteen huh?" I looked at him in amusement. "I think you might need to check your maths on that because from the numbers I heard something doesn't add up."

"All lies," John glanced at me to see if I was buying his story. My grin must have been infectious because moments later we were both laughing.

"Come on Colonel Exaggeration," I stood and pulled him to his feet beside me. "I think it's bedtime for both of us."

Still grumbling about disrespectful team mates, John let me lead his tired self off to bed.


Chapter 5: Not looking forward to this one?


The next day I broached the subject of Major Lorne’s tests with Teyla during our morning workout. I was starting to feel that Teyla genuinely enjoyed my company and considered me a friend and I was hopeful she'd want to help - without feeling the need to fill John in.

"What do I need to do to pass a competency test devised by Major Lorne?" I asked her casually.

"Why would Major Lorne be testing you?" Teyla looked over at me in confusion.

"Because I asked him to," I admitted. Teyla raised an eyebrow at my answer and I caved, explaining everything that had happened between John and I the day Ronon was captured.

"Colonel Sheppard does value your skills," Teyla protested. "You do not have to prove yourself to him."

"Would you be happy if John excluded you from some missions?" I looked at her curiously. "If he only asked you to go on the ones where you were trading for supplies or visiting worlds where your contacts live?"

"I suppose not," Teyla admitted.

"He treats you as an equal, he trusts you," I said quietly. "You're a part of his team. I just want the same thing from Major Lorne."

"Major Lorne is in a difficult position," Teyla tried to help me see reason. "He is your team leader but at the same time he is under the Colonel’s command. It is a difficult position to be in ... do not make the mistake of putting the Major in the middle between you and Colonel Sheppard."

"Why do you think Doctor Weir picked Lorne’s team for me to be on?" I asked curiously.

"Because she knew the Major would be able to balance Colonel Sheppard’s need to protect with your need to be an active part of an off world team,' Teyla stated confidently. That's what I admired most about her ... everything she did or said was done with the utmost confidence in herself.

"I know it was John's decision not to let me go with you to help Ronon," I stated. "But Major Lorne didn't offer any kind of protest. If I can convince him that I have the skills then maybe next time he will."

"Are you sure this is wise?" Teyla asked in concern.

"No," I admitted. "But it's the only thing I can think of so it'll have to do."

"All right," Teyla agreed. "I will help you prepare for this test."

"Thank you," I smiled gratefully.

Over the next few days whenever time permitted Teyla put me through my paces. We covered weapons, general fitness, mission protocols and strategy, anything she could think of from her vast experience, including her time on John's team, that might help me. The biggest challenge for me was when Teyla insisted I learn sparring moves without the aid of my fighting sticks. I'd become too dependent on them she said ... in the field I might not be able to acquire an appropriate facsimile which would cripple my ability to look after myself. I soaked it all up eagerly, and went to bed each night exhausted. I still hadn't told John what I was doing and I could see him frowning at me in concern as I fell into bed each night practically asleep before my head hit the pillow.

After witnessing the fourth night of that same behaviour he'd obviously lost patience waiting for me to volunteer what was going on.

"Sabina!" he stopped me just before I was about to head out for another run by myself the next morning.

"Yeah?" I turned reluctantly and looked at him. He was standing only a few steps away and the expression on his face told me he wasn't going to be put off easily.

"What are you doing?" John asked, meaning more than just where was I going.

"I'm just trying to make sure I'm as fit as I can be," I replied innocently.

"Why?" John persisted, taking a few steps towards me as he looked at me intently. I looked away rather than risk giving him any ammunition in figuring out for himself what I was up to.

"Aren't you the one always telling me I should keep up with my training?" I deflected the question back at him.

"If it was as simple as that then you wouldn't be pushing yourself so hard," John put a hand to my face and drew my gaze back to his. "What gives?"

"Can I tell you in a couple of days?" I asked pleadingly.

"Am I gonna like the explanation?" John questioned before making a decision.

"Probably not," I admitted. Before he could say anything else I hurriedly added "I'm not doing anything stupid or dangerous ... and Teyla is keeping an eye on me ... can you just trust that?"

"Teyla's helping you?" John raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"Yes," I looked at him with a warning in my eyes, "and don't you go questioning her about it!"

"You aren't going to tell me anything more are you?" John turned away with a frustrated scowl.

"Look - I will if you really insist," I offered. "I'm just asking you ... not to."

John sighed before turning back to me. "Two days huh?" When I nodded he sighed again. "I guess I can put up with the mystery for that long."

"Thanks," I hugged him quickly before moving away. "Gotta go," I said, rushing out the door before he could change his mind.

oOo

Major Lorne had informed me that he'd set aside a number of one hour sessions over two days to conduct my tests. My heart beat nervously the next morning when I turned up in the firing range for the first challenge.

"The first thing I expect from my team members," Lorne said seriously, "is a ninety percent accuracy rating with the RCP90 and the 9mm."

Gesturing to the table where the weapons awaited my preparation and loading he ordered me to begin. Competently loading the P90 first I turned to the target and fired off short bursts on his mark, taking out the targets as he indicated them. Major Lorne switched the target boards before I could see how well I'd done, ordering me to move on to the 9mm. We went through the same process and before I knew it the test was complete.

"How'd I do?" I asked curiously.

"Shooting accurately has never been your problem," Lorne told me in a roundabout way that I'd passed. He held out my boards and I smiled at the perfect circles I'd made in the middle of the small target on the chest of my 'enemies'. I'd even hit all the head shots which was as good as any practice I'd ever completed.

"Nice," I said proudly. "Thanks for doing shooting first," I said, knowing he'd tried in a small way to help me get through this by picking the one thing he knew I'd be confident about.

"Don't thank me yet," Lorne cautioned. "I'm not going easy on you ... tomorrow we're going off world so you can take on the same physical challenge all the new Marines have to do."

I swallowed nervously, hoping that everything I'd done to prepare would see me through that. My heart lurched as his words hit me fully.

"Did you have to get permission from Colonel Sheppard for that?" I asked sickly.

"Doctor Weir gave me permission to conduct training exercises at the usual back up Alpha site," Lorne replied.

"Oh," I sighed in relief. "Okay ... what's next for today?"

"I'm glad you asked," Lorne smiled evilly. "Get geared up ... we're going for a run."

Lorne was true to his word - he pushed me almost to the limit of my endurance as he ran us in a circuit where John and I usually ran. I pushed myself hard, endeavouring to not only keep up but to give the impression that I still had more in reserve. Finally Lorne called a halt, walking us in a cool down until our breathing had returned to normal. He held up a hand for us to stop, slumping down against the wall and motioning for me to sit down too.

"You give Colonel Sheppard a run for his money don't you?" Lorne looked over at me. I have to say I was secretly delighted to see he'd pushed himself pretty hard to test me.

"Haven't beaten him yet," I admitted, "but I like to think it's only a matter of time."

"I'm sure you're right," Lorne laughed. "In any case, the fact that you ran me into the ground means you've passed this one too."

"Cool!" I smiled gleefully. "What’s next?"

"A rest!" Lorne declared. "Go get cleaned up and meet me in the conference room after lunch."

"Do you need any help?" I asked solicitously, jumping easily to my feet and holding a hand down to him.

"Get out of here," Lorne waved me away.

oOo

When I walked into the conference room and discovered that it was set up for some kind of theory test I groaned aloud.

"Not looking forward to this one?" Major Lorne said from directly behind me.

"Of course I am," I denied my lack of enthusiasm. "Let's get to it."

"Okay," Lorne moved around me and sat down, gesturing for me to sit across from him.

Over the next hour he gave me a range of mission scenarios, questioning me mercilessly about what I would do, what the protocols were, making me explain why one approach was better than another. I answered as best I could, glad Teyla had spent so much time going over similar material during our preparation. My answers were a blend of Teyla wisdom, Ronon bravado and Sheppard logic with a bit of McKay intelligence thrown in for good measure. I amazed even myself with the breadth and depth of what I'd picked up from them during my time on Atlantis. Even so, when Lorne finally called the verbal marathon to a close I was unsure of how well I'd done. For some of the scenarios he'd questioned and requestioned repeatedly making me nervous that he was looking for some kind of answer that I just wasn't giving. Taking a depth breath I looked across at him nervously, surprised to find him gazing at me intently.

"You've been like a sponge the whole time you've been here haven't you?" Lorne asked. I frowned as I tried to work out what he meant by that, smiling suddenly when I realised that I'd actually surprised him for a change.

"Hard not to pick up something with the talent we've got around here," I said easily. "Plus Teyla grilled me pretty hard over the last few days about the same sort of stuff."

"Well, apart from a slight leaning towards the hero complex side of the scale, I'm satisfied to pass you for this one too." Lorne said simply.

"I don't have a hero complex thing!" I protested.

"You kinda do," Lorne disagreed. "But since you've been fraternising with the biggest hero complex we've got on base for over a year it'd be a little unfair to hold that against you," he teased.

"I'll tell John you said that," I warned, smiling when Lorne shrugged like he knew I'd do no such thing.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Lorne said when I made a move to exit the room. “I’ve got one last test lined up for today.”

“Oh ... okay,” I agreed, following hesitantly along behind him as he led the way across the Gateroom and up the stairs to the Jumper Bay. “You’re testing me in the Puddle Jumpers?” I asked incredulously.

“Have you got a problem with that?” Lorne looked at me sternly.

“No Sir,” I snapped back, even though I had been thinking it was unfair to test me on something not every team member could even do.

“All right then, take us up and head over to the mainland,” Lorne instructed, seating himself in the co-pilots seat of Jumper Three.

I ran through the pre flight checks, including confirming our approval to head out with the Control Room, before powering up the main systems and taking the Jumper up through the roof and out into the mid afternoon sun. Setting a heading that would take us over the Athosian settlement I settled back to enjoy the flight.

Of course Lorne didn’t make it easy, getting me to explain how I’d worked out my course to the mainland and how I would lock on to Atlantis’ signal on the return journey. In fact he had me explaining pretty much what every instrument and display in the Jumper was before he seemed satisfied that I wasn’t just blindly exploiting my ATA gene to get the Jumper to do what I wanted.

“Colonel Sheppard taught you how to fly the Puddle Jumpers?” he asked curiously.

“Yeah, including everything I ever wanted to know about the theory of flight,” I smiled across at the Major, “plus a whole bunch of things I didn’t want to know.”

“Well you certainly know your stuff,” Lorne admitted.

“Hey - it helps when your instructor is super hot,” I said cheekily, laughing when Lorne grimaced in distaste.

Way too much information,” he complained. “Take us back to Atlantis now ... and I’d suggest you get a good night of sleep because we head out at 0600 hours tomorrow morning.”


Chapter 6: Man you should see him take the wall!


I snuck out of bed at 5:30am the next morning, hoping to get clear without waking John.

“Where you goin?” I groaned when John’s muffled voice issued from his pillow.

“Early morning training with Major Lorne,” I said, sitting on the bed beside him and running a hand through his hair. “Go back to sleep.”

“Be careful,” John muttered, just sleepy enough not to make the connection since he had to know of Lorne’s request for off world clearance.

“I will,” I replied, hoping that whatever Lorne had planned wouldn’t leave any ... visible injuries I'd have to explain away.

“Ready?” Lorne met me at the Gate.

“As I’ll ever be,” I replied, stepping confidently through the wormhole, and out onto M5R-877, one of three Alpha site back up planets. Lorne had roped in the other members of our team and I waved a greeting as Lieutenants Brown and Parker nodded pleasantly from their positions guarding the Gate and DHD.

We walked silently for a few minutes before coming out into a small clearing that was regularly used for Marine training. I gulped as I got a good look at the course that had been set up there. It had everything you’d expect from an obstacle course – spiky, smoky, muddy, watery, low, high, scary and dangerous were just a few words that floated through my head as I looked at each individual obstacle.

“The Marines all have to complete this course in less than seven minutes,” Lorne informed me. “You get one walk through to familiarise yourself and then two attempts to meet that time.”

Seven minutes?” I asked weakly, looking on with dismay at the size of the course.

“That’s right,” Lorne looked at me impassively. “Ready to do your walk through?”

“Yes,” I tried to put confidence into my voice as I followed the Major across the field. He explained the obstacles to me so I’d know the order and requirements for each and then let me walk through the circuit on my own. My inner nerves calmed as I followed the obstacles around ... I’d have no trouble with the crawling, hurdling, zigzagging, or running - being tall would be a definite advantage there. It was the wall that gave me pause. I spent more time considering my strategy there than at any of the other obstacles, trying to visualise in my head how I was going to get over it unaided. There was no time limit on my walk through so I made sure I’d planned out my approach for every aspect of the course before I informed Lorne that I was ready to get on with it.

“On my mark,” Lorne yelled, holding up the stop watch. “Go!”

I took off in a sprint to the first set of crawls, throwing myself down and quickly manoeuvring under the low netting. Jumping up I ran on to the wooden posts sticking up at varying heights – hopping with easy balance from one to the next I cleared the obstacle and sprinted straight into the zigzag section, swaying my way through before dropping down for the next crawl, this time under spiky wire. I flinched but kept going when one of the spikes ripped a hole in the back of my shirt, digging deep into my shoulder blade. Wriggling through as quickly as I could I sprinted on to the rope. Pulling myself up the rope by hand and using my feet to assist I shimmied up and onto the platform. Grabbing the flying fox without hesitation I launched myself off to get maximum speed, fully committing myself to the downward trip. I let go of the bar when I was still a few inches from the ground, landing in a run that I continued on to the next obstacle.

The wall. I’d decided the key was speed, getting a good run up to leap high enough to reach the handholds near the top. That was partly why I’d leapt from the flying fox early, hoping to use some of the speed from that to give me the edge I needed. I hit the mark I’d decided on as fast as I thought I could conceivably go, leaping up and reaching high with both hands. I found purchase with the hand holds and held on tight as my feet hit the wall. I walked myself up until I could shift handholds to the top of the wall. Grabbing on I swung my legs up and over, letting gravity take me to the ground. Almost there ... I sprinted to the next obstacle, obscured by smoke. Getting low I took the section a little bit slower, avoiding the potholes and other hidden traps – once out I sped straight for the water trap, long jump launching myself as far out as I could go and then taking the splash. I pushed my body the rest of the way through and came out on the other side. Panting harshly I stumbled in my sodden boots towards the last obstacle, a set of low hurdles. Running as fast as I dared I kept to a step leap rhythm and cleared every one. Taking the final flat section at a sprint only slightly slower than when I’d begun I launched myself over the finish line.

Putting hands on my thighs I bent forward, sucking in air greedily, before walking around in a circle to cool down. My heart was pounding loudly in my ears and I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings as I reviewed my performance mentally, trying to decide where I might have gone faster. I looked up in startled surprise when I heard clapping just off to my right.

Lieutenants Brown and Parker had left their posts by the gate and borne witness to my efforts. They and Major Lorne approached me slowly as I looked on in confusion.

“I made it?” I said, still a bit breathless.

“You nailed it,” Brown corrected. “That flight on the flying fox? That was awesome. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone take that run so fast.”

“Yeah well I needed the speed to clear the wall,” I excused my apparent heroics.

“Five minutes 11 seconds,” Lorne looked from the stop watch to my pleased expression. “New course record for a female.”

“Really? Wow!" I said, hardly able to believe I'd done so well. "Who holds the male record?” I asked curiously.

“Ronon,” the three of them said in unison. “Man you should see him take the wall!”

oOo

We all stepped through the gate a short time later, laughing together as we walked across the Gateroom. I was muddy and sweaty and dog tired but energised by the camaraderie I was finally sharing with my team. Not that any of them had ever been excluding or impolite ... they’d each treated me with respect and courtesy. To them I was ‘the boss’s wife’ so to speak and that created distance ... with my success on the course they’d begun to see me as more than just an attachment to Colonel Sheppard. They’d begun to relax that polite and distant facade and treat me like one of the guys. It was great.

I looked up at the Control Room once we’d handed off our weapons, grimacing slightly when I realised John was up there, looking down on the Gateroom with an unreadable expression.

“Sabina?” Major Lorne drew my attention back to him. “You need to get your back tended to ... if Doctor Beckett clears you, meet me in the sparring room at 2pm for your last test.”

I nodded distractedly, having forgotten the injury I’d sustained early in the course. Shifting my shoulders I winced as the spot where dried blood had fused my shirt to my back, pulling uncomfortably. I looked up at the Control Room again but John wasn’t there.

Doctor Beckett treated my injury – two stitches and a heavy duty bandage to protect the wound were enough for him to agree to clear me. I could have delayed things, given myself time to recover fully but I just wanted the whole thing to be over. I’d enjoyed testing myself but the whole keeping it from John thing was beginning to bother me.

I showered, lingering under the hot water to soothe my aching muscles, going over in my head the various ways I could explain my motives when I talked with John later. At the designated time I made my way resolutely to the sparring room, sure that Major Lorne was going to pull out all the stops for the final test.

“Let’s warm up,” the Major instructed when I arrived. I completed my moves in silence, feeling almost detached from the proceedings. Realising that inattention would lead to failure I mentally shook myself and actively put to the back of my mind all the things I couldn’t fix for the moment.

“Ready,” Lorne looked at me expectantly.

I nodded, moving into the centre of the room to face him. Without warning he attacked, swinging a fist straight at my face. I blocked as Teyla had been training me, glad she’d helped me work out how to transition my skills with sticks to combat without weapons. Lorne was a challenging opponent. In height I had a slight advantage but he definitely had more muscle strength, a fact I fully appreciated when he landed a hit to my shoulder. We traded blows and blocks, moving around each other looking for an opening. The Major feigned to the left, moving behind me when I fell for it to wrap an arm around my upper shoulders. I used the fact that we were near one of the support pillars to my advantage, backing up rapidly and slamming us both into the pillar. Lorne’s hold loosened just enough for me to slip clear and reset myself in the middle of the room. He grinned and I realised that he was actually enjoying this. Men! The sparring match continued for what felt like a long time as we traded kicks and hits without either one of us gaining superiority. In the end it was a small mistake that cost me the match ... I spun too low trying to avoid a well aimed kick and stumbled just enough for Lorne to see the opening. He pinned me to the ground in a classic hold, ensuring that I couldn’t move.

“You win,” I conceded, breathing hard as I looked up at him. Lorne jumped up immediately and went to the benches to grab his towel. Believing that I’d blown it with the last test I still looked at him without emotion as I grabbed my own towel. “Are you done?”

“What did you have in mind?” Lorne looked at me curiously.

“Well, you’ve clearly shown that I’ve still got a lot to learn about unarmed combat,” I admitted freely. “How about you let me show you what I can do with armed combat?” I smiled wickedly. “My choice of weapons, of course.”

“You’re on,” Major Lorne agreed. We took a few minutes to recover before returning to the centre of the room, this time with fighting sticks in hand.

I felt my spirit lift at the familiar weight and feel of my sticks ... after two years of practice and training with Teyla and with John they felt like an extension of my hands. I swung them in a fluid pattern as I waited for Lorne to take his position.

“You have trained with these, right?” I asked, pretty sure I’d heard something about him training with Teyla since he’d arrived with the first group of new Atlantis personnel.

“I’ll give you a run for your money,” he promised, swinging his own sticks in a confident manner.

“Okay then, let’s do this,” I smiled innocently before moving swiftly into a rapid series of attacking moves. Lorne blocked each but had to retreat to keep clear. We ended the first skirmish with sticks locked before pushing away from each other and resetting. Lorne took the offensive this time, alternating high and low blows in an effort to put me offside. I recognised a few classic Teyla moves in there and countered them easily with a few Teyla moves of my own. My lighter weight was an advantage because I could maintain my speedy attacks and move rapidly without tiring myself. Lorne had the greater strength but this time couldn’t really put it to effect because my practiced skills allowed me to block anything that would have crippled me. I made a bit of a hypocrite of myself when I realised I was grinning at my enjoyment of the match. We’d been sparring for about ten minutes when the doors opened to reveal Colonel John Sheppard on the other side.

“Oh crap,” I muttered, trying not to let his presence distract an opening from me. By unspoken mutual agreement the Major and I halted our match momentarily.

“Sir?” Major Lorne queried John’s arrival.

“Carry on Major,” John waved a hand vaguely in my direction as he took a seat on the bench.

I looked at Lorne with a raised eyebrow before shrugging and nodding for him to continue. Knowing that John was there was enough to motivate me to take the battle to a new level. I increased the speed and complexity of my attacks, throwing in a few Ronon manoeuvres I’d learned only recently that Lorne wouldn’t be familiar with. When I landed a heavy blow to his shoulder I waited expressionlessly as he shook his arm before making himself ready to continue. My aggression was driving him back – rather than end the match I let him reset to the middle each time I landed a blow or locked sticks with him. I had him on the run but Lorne kept coming back for more.

I could feel real anger rising within me the longer the match went on ... anger at John for forcing me to take such a drastic course and anger at Major Lorne for not defending my position on his team even though I knew he was bound by the chain of command. Rather than let my anger bring me down I used it to fuel my attacks. Deciding enough was enough I lured Lorne into a series of attacks that ended with him pressed face down on the floor, my stick across his throat. Jumping up as soon as he’d conceded I stalked across the room and threw my gear angrily into my bag. Ignoring both men I turned to leave the room, pausing only when I got to the threshold, back still turned towards the room.

“Thanks for the match,” I acknowledged grudgingly, before continuing on my way.

“The pleasure was all yours,” Major Lorne called after me.

I don’t know what John said to Major Lorne, nor what the Major said in return to explain the scene John had walked in on. I felt numb once the adrenalin had worn off – stumbling off to our quarters I took my second shower of the day before falling face down on the bed to sleep.

I came back to awareness a few hours later, frowning as I registered that I was no longer alone. John was propped up on his side, reading his book.

“Hey,” I greeted him sleepily, forgetting for a moment that I was still mad at him.

“That was some display you put on,” John closed his book with a purposeful snap.

“Ah ... yeah ... about that,” I stammered, forgetting all my carefully rehearsed lines.

“I’ll save you the trouble,” John cut me off sternly. “With your return from M5R-877 this morning and the Puddle Jumper flight yesterday I already worked out what you’ve been up to.”

“You did?” I asked weakly, struggling up in the bed to sit beside him.

“Major Lorne was testing you for his team,” John stated simple. I glanced at him, frowning when I realised he didn’t seem that bothered.

“You’re not ... mad?” I asked reluctantly.

“I was,” John admitted. “But then I did a bit of digging, spoke to Lorne and to Teyla,” he smiled when I groaned at that. “You surprised Lorne,” John said, “and if I’m honest you surprised me a little bit too – and I know better than anyone what you’re capable of.”

“Doesn’t matter does it?” I mumbled. “I didn’t pass the last test so it all counts for nothing.”

“You passed the last test,” John countered. “It was never about winning a sparring match, it was about showing that you know how to fight. Besides, with the fighting sticks you totally kicked Lorne’s arse.”

“I was angry at him,” I admitted. “And you.”

“I know,” John said easily. “You’ve been angry since Sateda ... maybe I should have talked to you about it more than we did.”

“Wouldn’t have helped,” I glanced at him before looking down at my hands. “I decided on this course the same day Ronon went missing – nothing you’d have said would have swayed me.”

“I get that you were angry with me,” John reached out and put a hand over mine, “but why with Lorne?”

“I know Lorne has to follow the chain of command,” I said, “but I wanted him to stick up for me ... do something to show everyone that he actually wanted me on his team, rather than having me forced on him because I’m ‘the bosses’ girlfriend.”

“He never saw you that way,” John protested. “Maybe before the last couple of days he didn’t fully appreciate your skills and maybe it’s a good thing you came up with a way to show him ... he won’t underestimate you in the future.”

“Did it make a difference to you?” I looked at John, waiting until he was looking at me in return. “Did I prove to you that I can handle myself just as well as any other off world team member?”

“You beat my time on the obstacle course,” John replied, smiling when I looked at him in confusion. “Only by a second but still ... if you can do that then I guess you have earned a full spot on Lorne’s team.”

“Really?” I looked at him in disbelief.

“Yeah,” John replied, looking not entirely comfortable with his agreement.

“No more leaving me out of missions?” I persisted.

“I may have to work hard to curb my protective instincts,” John said reluctantly, “but yeah ... consider yourself assigned permanently to team Lorne.”

“Thank you,” I launched myself at John, hugging and kissing him ecstatically.


Chapter 7: There is something ... odd about them


 “I suppose you’ll be going back to M5R-877 at the first opportunity,” Rodney suggested somewhat smugly to John. It was pretty quiet in the commissary given team Sheppard had come in late from their last mission. I’d decided to wait and have dinner with them ... getting the gossip straight from the source was more satisfying (not to mention more accurate) than picking it up from the Atlantis grapevine. I glanced across at John, curious to see how he’d react to that comment.

“And why would I do that McKay?” John raised an eyebrow expectantly.

“Because ... ah didn’t Sabina beat your obstacle course time?” Rodney sounded a little less confident at bringing up the topic now.

“How did you find out about that?” I broke in, feeling annoyed and somewhat angry at the idea that someone on my team had leaked the information.

“New times are always listed on the noticeboard,” Teyla said simply, gesturing across the room.

“Oh,” I said in surprise, feeling even more uncomfortable now I knew that everyone was aware of the time I’d set.

“No wonder you never know about the latest rules and regs,” John shook his head at me. “You are supposed to read the notices regularly you know.”

“I’ve read them,” I insisted, honestly compelling me to add “once or twice. I don’t need to read them anyway because you always tell me the stuff I really need to know - sometimes even before I find out the hard way.”

“Your performance on the obstacle course was very impressive,” Teyla brought the conversation back to its starting point, looking across at me almost proudly.

“Yeah, well it’s one of those things where being tall is an advantage,” I excused modestly, having already thanked Teyla for the help I was convinced had made the difference between passing and failure.

“Being tall doesn’t explain beating Sheppard,” Ronon grinned across at John who’s expression was unreadable.

“Hey - I’m not that competitive!” John said dismissively, trying to head off more digs at his performance. “You beat me all the time big guy.”

“Yeah, and you keep coming back to try again,” Ronon reminded him.

“It was only a second,” I pointed out reasonably. “Hardly a convincing victory!”

“One second is still winning,” Rodney said insistently, grinning when John rolled his eyes in frustration.

“True,” I smiled at John smugly for the first time. “I guess I should enjoy it while I can ... since it’s taken over two years for me to finally beat you at something.”

“I’m gonna have to go back and set a new time,” John looked at me with mock apology, “otherwise these guys will be on at me all the time. Plus you know what the military is like ... I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I completely understand,” I pretended to fall for his story for a few seconds before the humour in the situation overcame me and I burst into laughter. “Just remember,” I warned when the laughter died down, “I can always go back and set a new time too!”

oOo

“Sabina, can you report to my office immediately?” Doctor Weir’s voice issued from my radio. It was a few weeks after the whole testing thing and I'd gone back to dividing my time between team Lorne missions and Ancient research primarily driven by which device Rodney wanted to work out first.

“I’ll be there in five minutes,” I acknowledged, quickly shutting down the experiment I'd been running.

“We’ve found an advanced society of what we think are Ancients,” Doctor Weir informed me when I arrived. “They’ve invited us to visit. You’re our resident expert on the Ancients so you should come along.”

“Okay,” I agreed readily. I grabbed the gear Doctor Weir held out to me and quickly got myself ready for the trip through the Stargate. I noticed that Doctor Weir was also kitted out for gate travel and could only assume that she intended to go on the mission as well.

As we made our way down the Gateroom stairs I noticed that all of team Sheppard were already in attendance. Rodney turned when he heard our approach and looked on in surprise as we joined them.

“You coming too?” he asked, looking from me back to Doctor Weir with a questioning look.

“These people could very well be Ancients Rodney,” Doctor Weir explained. “Sabina knows more about that than the rest of us so I thought it prudent to include her in the mission.”

“And you?” Rodney continued.

“Well, Ancients or not, they’re obviously an advanced society, and I would like to establish diplomatic relations with them immediately,” Doctor Weir said firmly.

I glanced quickly at John to see how he’d taken the addition of two people to his usual mission line up ... on the surface he appeared comfortable with Doctor Weir’s decision, a view confirmed by his easy agreement.

“Well, you’re the boss,” he drawled to Doctor Weir. “Let’s go.”

We stepped through the Stargate and an instant later stepped out again – back into the very Gateroom we’d just left.

“What happened?” Doctor Weir looked around in confusion.

“Did we make a U-turn?” John turned to glance questioningly at Rodney who held the Ancient scanner.

“No,” Rodney denied, glancing down at his data screen. “This is the place. We’re here.”

The sound of the gate shutting down drew my attention back in that direction. Instead of the window that I would have seen back on Atlantis there was a long corridor leading off somewhere into the distance. A few of the inhabitants of this look alike Atlantis were standing fixedly looking back at us in surprise.

“Ah ... guys?” I called the attention of everyone else to the sight I beheld.

“So ... not exactly like our Gateroom,” John stated, gazing down the corridor with a wide eyed expression.

Some of the people tentatively walked closer to us, gazing at us with expressions both apprehensive and curious.

“Hello,” Doctor Weir said gently. “We’re the people who sent the machine to you earlier. We come in friendship.”

“I am Niam,” replied a tall male with blonde hair and blue eyes. “Welcome to Asuras.”

We all smiled in greeting as Doctor Weir introduced each of us in turn. Niam seemed delighted to be meeting us and keen to speak with us further.

“I would like to find out more about your people,” he said almost shyly. “But first I must take you to meet with our governing council. Will you follow me?”

Doctor Weir agreed and Niam led us down the long corridor stretching out from the Gateroom. The windows were opaque, making it difficult for us to see what lay outside that corridor. I walked along side Elizabeth, eager to hear anything from the first Ancient I’d ever met.

“Our destination is not much further,” Niam said, looking over his shoulder at John and Rodney who were trailing a few steps behind us, complaining about the walk. He turned back to Elizabeth and added “the High Council is eager to meet you.”

“How long have your people lived here?” Doctor Weir asked curiously.

“We built this city, thousands of years ago,” Niam said with a faint smile.

“What, you actually built it?” Rodney said in disbelief. “You didn’t just find it this way?”

“No,” Niam denied simply.

“Is this the only planet your people are located on?” I asked, trying to find out if they’d migrated from Atlantis without actually admitting that we’d just come from there.

“Yes,” Niam agreed.

“And you’ve had no trouble with the Wraith?” Teyla asked incredulously.

“No,” Niam answered as though it were of no great importance that a whole planet of advanced humans had avoided being culled or destroyed by the Wraith.

“Any particular reason?” Rodney asked curiously.

“The Wraith do not concern us,” Niam said piously.

“Ah, see?” Rodney turned to John and commented. “He didn’t answer my question.” He turned back to Niam and had another go. “I’m sorry. You didn’t actually answer my question.”

Before Niam could respond further we reached a window that wasn’t opaque and stopped to inspect the view.

“Oh ... my,” Doctor Weir said, almost speechless with wonder. Not surprising since we were looking at a vast array of structures spanning out from the traditional shape that was Atlantis. There were literally hundreds of towers as well as walkways similar to the one we were on connecting various parts of the city. It was an enormous metropolis far outstripping our home ... frankly the site filled me more with trepidation than amazement as the contradiction of so many being of no interest to the Wraith struck me.

“How many people live here?” Ronon was the first to recover from the shock of what we’d discovered.

“Millions,” Niam responded lightly, as though the Pegasus galaxy were full of such civilisations.

“Well, the ... the power requirements for a city this size must be enormous. Well, plus shielding from the Wraith -- we’re talking, what, three Zero Point Modules, maybe four?” Rodney tore himself away from the view to question Niam excitedly. When Niam looked at him with a distinct lack of comprehension Rodney tried to explain further. “Uh, sorry. ZedPMs ... a device that taps vast amounts of power from vacuum energy.”

“Oh, yes. We have many of those,” Niam smiled at Rodney’s excitement.

“Exactly how many is many?” John queried.

Exactly doesn’t matter,” Rodney interrupted before Niam could answer. “Many is plenty.”

“Truthfully, I do not know the exact number,” Niam admitted. “More than enough to suit our needs.”

“I assume that you, um, built them yourselves?” Rodney asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Niam agreed.

“Yes.” Rodney looked at John with a happy grin.

“Easy, Rodney, you’re slobbering,” John teased.

“Please,” Niam urged us to keep moving. “The Council is waiting.”

Niam turned and continued to lead us down the corridor. While Rodney ran after him eagerly, the rest of us paused to consider the knowledge we’d just uncovered.

“Well, we have our answer,” Teyla announced.

“To what question?” Ronon replied.

“Whether or not they’re Ancients,” Doctor Weir clarified Teyla’s comment.

“In which case, I’ve got a bone to pick with them,” John said, turning and heading off after Niam and Rodney.

I resumed walking alongside Doctor Weir, wondering whether I should express my concerns which seemed so at odds with what everyone else was feeling.

“I don’t think we can assume anything at this stage,” I finally offered. “Just because they know how to construct a ZPM doesn’t make them Ancients.”

“What would it take to convince you?” Doctor Weir looked at me curiously.

“Oh I don’t know,” I said semi sarcastically. “Maybe if an ascended Ancient did their glowy act and arrived here right now to greet these people like long lost brothers ... then I’d feel more confident.”

“Well, in the absence of ‘glowy’ Ancients,” Doctor Weir said with a smile, “we’ll have to rely on our own powers of deduction.”

“I can do that,” I quipped, increasing my pace to match Doctor Weir as she hurried to catch up with Niam.

We arrived in the council chamber, a surprisingly small room seating nine Asurans at a three sided table that dominated the room. Others stood around the edges clearly acting as guards for the council members. Seated at the middle table and obviously in charge was an older man with a stern and unwelcoming expression. Niam introduced him as Oberoth, leader of the Asurans.

I kept my own council as I listened to the conversation that unfolded. Despite Niam’s evident enthusiasm at our arrival, Oberoth and the rest of the council were less than impressed to find themselves playing host to us. Oberoth showed no remorse as he talked emotionlessly of the fall of their supposed brother Ancients to the Wraith 10,000 years ago. He also showed no inclination to explain their position on the Wraith in general, saying nothing more than a vague statement about their plan to exterminate the Wraith when the time was right.

The conversation was more interesting because of all the things that were left unexplained than by the things that were actually said. We still had no idea why such a large population of Ancients were on the planet and free from Wraith cullings, nor why the Asurans had broken away from the Atlantis Ancients so long ago. Most importantly of all we had made no progress in understanding why the Asurans had stood apart from the rest of the galaxy for so long, nor why they seemed disinclined to provide any form of assistance to a galaxy of humans who could really use their help.

By far the most interesting discovery of the day was what we found out from Niam after we were dismissed from Oberoth’s presence. Doctor Weir mentioned her curiosity about why the Asurans hadn’t ascended like the rest of the Ancients we knew of. Niam’s level of interest in us notched up immediately the word ascension was mentioned. His reaction and his responses to Elizabeth’s questions were just more arrows stabbing at my confidence that we’d found a planet full of Ancients.

The quarters Niam led us to were pleasant and familiar looking. It was a relief to finally be free of Asuran ears. I stood over by the window with John, looking out over the ocean and the view of flickering lights many times more expansive than we would have seen back on Atlantis.

”It must have been quite a serious falling-out for the Ancients to eliminate any reference to them in the entire database,” Doctor Weir commented.

“Unless they’re lying,” Teyla countered. I was relieved to realise that I wasn’t the only one who felt there was something not quite right about this whole situation. I remained at the window as John turned and walked over to join the others.

“There is something ... odd about them,” I said quietly, frowning at the evidence before me of the sheer number of Asurans living on the planet.

“Might it not be possible that these people merely discovered this city, as you discovered Atlantis?” Teyla suggested.

”Wouldn’t surprise me,” John said. “They don’t seem very ... Ancienty to me.”

Ancienty?” Rodney questioned John with a grimace.

“Yes,” John confirmed grimly. “That’s the word I was looking for.”

“You think they could be deceiving us?” Doctor Weir asked Teyla.

“Teyla’s right,” John pointed out. “They could’ve found the city the way it was and moved in years ago.”

“I feel they are hiding something,” Teyla said simply. Given her knack for sniffing out trouble, her words were met with confident belief by the rest of us.

“Other than their plan to defeat the Wraith, you mean?” Elizabeth quipped.

“There’s no plan,” Ronon stated as though speaking a proven fact.

“No ... I don’t think so either,” Doctor Weir said in support.

“Why would they say they had a plan if they don’t have a plan?” Rodney asked, clearly unwilling to give up yet on the implied hope the Asurans provided us.

“And how come they’ve remained free from Wraith culling ... from Wraith contact of any sort?” I asked seriously. “There are millions of people living here – the Wraith should be stopping by every week for a full on banquet ... or have tried to wipe their whole civilisation from existence.”

“They figured out a way to hide from the rest of the galaxy - including the Wraith - and they’re happy to go on with their lives, just minding their own business,” John explained.

“Something’s definitely not right," I agreed. "These people are not who they’re presenting themselves to be."

“Then, whoever they are ...” Ronon began ominously.

“I think that is what we need to find out,” Doctor Weir replied. “I’m going to request a private audience with Oberoth, try to convince him to offer us help.”

“He won’t listen,” I said, turning away from the window and walking over to stand beside John. “He wants to see us out of here sooner rather than later – it would be a mistake to tell them anything more about us than they already know.”

“Negotiations are about meeting somewhere in the middle,” Doctor Weir told me. “Oberoth isn’t likely to give us anything unless I can convince him we have something to offer in return. Their level of technology, their resources ... it's too good an opportunity to pass up without trying.”

I nodded at Elizabeth’s words, unable to shake the bad feeling I had about her meeting with Oberoth.


Chapter 8: You’re not worrying about the Asurans?


Authors Note:

WARNING - This chapter contains a moment or two of what could be considered by some as bordering on graphic violence ... depending on just how good your mental imagery is.

oOo

The bad feeling I’d had about Elizabeth’s private meeting with Oberoth panned out when she returned a short time later, informing us that it was time for us to leave. Niam again arrived to escort us to the Gateroom. We were almost there when a group of Asuran guards ran towards us with their weapons raised. John, Teyla and Ronon replied instantly by raising their weapons in return. We were held in a standoff situation until Oberoth walked in and came to a standstill in front of Doctor Weir. He stared at her for a moment before looking pointedly at our raised weapons.

“Lower your weapons,” he ordered, expecting immediate capitulation.

“How much lower would you like ‘em?” John returned sarcastically. I realised I was seeing 'John Sheppard - wise guy captive' for the first time and began to understand what a pain that would be for anyone daring to take him prisoner.

“Do you really wish to challenge us?” Oberoth looked at John menacingly. The guard standing directly behind John poked his weapon into John’s back, letting him know that we were surrounded and outnumbered.

John grimaced, realising there was nothing he could do for the moment. “Huh. Maybe the floor,” he said, reluctantly bending down to put his P90 on the floor. Seeing this, Ronon and Teyla did the same.

“Now, I thought you didn’t want us here, Oberoth,” Doctor Weir said with a puzzled frown.

“I don’t,” Oberoth agreed. “But you possess information that I simply must have.”

I groaned inwardly, realising that Elizabeth must have said something in her meeting that Oberoth had found unexpectedly interesting. The guards surrounding us ushered us through the corridors until we arrived at a place that was unfortunately familiar, to me at least. The brig. Motioning us forward, the guards waited until we were all standing in the one cell before they activated the force field, effectively sealing us in and cutting off any means of escape.

“I never thought I’d find myself back in one of these,” I said softly to John. He smiled at my attempted humour, both of us recalling my first week on Atlantis and how I’d forced him to put me in the brig by not telling him who I was.

“These trade negotiations can be real murder,” he quipped, turning away from where he’d been looking out of the cell.

Rodney had settled himself into a corner and closed his eyes, appearing resigned to waiting for someone to come back for us. Teyla and Doctor Weir stood together, watching as Ronon tried to put a hand through the gap in the corner of the cell. The shield flashed blue and Ronon jumped back at the electrical shock he’d sustained.

“We need to find a way out of here,” he said angrily.

“Rodney?” Elizabeth tried to rouse him.

“Hmm?” Rodney muttered with little interest.

“Well, this cell is similar to ours. Is there something in the design that could offer a possible escape?” she asked.

“Are you serious?” Rodney looked at her incredulously. “It’s a jail cell!”

“I might be able to do something,” I offered hesitantly.

“What, tap into the systems?” John looked at me hopefully.

“Maybe,” I replied. I closed my eyes and tried to connect to the Asuran systems like I could back on Atlantis. I hadn’t really experimented with other systems besides the sensors but I still felt it worth a try. My hesitant expression turned to one of dawning discovery as I realised that I could in fact access the Asuran systems, and with much more ease than I was used to.

“I’m in,” I reported softly. “What should I do?”

“Turn off the force field and open the door,” John instructed. When I complied and the door slid open John put a hand on my shoulder and said “Nice! Can you block us all off the sensors?”

“I’ll try,” I mumbled, reaching for that familiar system and spreading a blanket over our entire group. “Done,” I said, opening my eyes to find the others all looking at me in amazement. “What?” I asked reluctantly.

“Um ...” Rodney spoke for everyone, “you don’t usually find it so easy to ... ah ... do what you just did.”

“I know,” I agreed readily. “The Asurans have their systems much more heavily linked than they are in Atlantis. They must be pretty lazy with their ATA genes too because they’ve altered the systems to make them much easier to operate.”

“We need our weapons,” Ronon said.

“They’re in a room one level up from here,” I reported. “We should be able to get there without being detected.”

“Let’s go,” John ordered us all to exit the brig and follow him and Ronon out into the corridor, Teyla bringing up the rear. With my whispered instructions we made our way silently to the room I’d seen on the city schematics. John and Ronon went in and came out a few moments later, handing off weapons to Teyla and me. “Which way to the Jumper Bay?” John looked at me questioningly.

“There,” I turned and pointed back the way we’d come. Moving cautiously we made our way towards the Jumper Bay and our only means of escape. When I passed an outside window I noticed the darkness and realised that the night time hour was the reason why we’d met little resistance on our trek through Asuras. There were two guards stationed outside the Bay doors but Ronon stunned them so rapidly that they were unable to sound any kind of alarm.

“Come on,” John ran towards the nearest Jumper, throwing himself in the pilots chair and motioning for me to take the co pilot position. He started up the systems as Rodney altered the Jumper to prevent it from communicating with the Control Room. Within minutes the Bay roof door was open and we were being lowered into position in front of an open wormhole leading back to Atlantis. Guards appeared in the Gateroom and on the Control Room balcony but their shots had little impact as John drove us through the gate, sending an IDC seconds before we entered the event horizon.

“We made it,” Rodney said incredulously, looking out the front view screen at the welcome sight of familiar Atlantis staff staring in confusion at our unexpected return in a Puddle Jumper when we’d set out on foot.

“Thanks to Sabina,” John pointed out, making me squirm in embarrassment. It wasn’t that John didn’t give out praise when it was due, but it wasn’t his normal practice to do it so publicly and in such a way as to discount the efforts of the rest of the team.

“We all helped,” I replied. Before anything more could be said I vacated my seat and hurried out of the Jumper, following Elizabeth to the Conference Room for our debrief.

oOo

It was a relief to finally lay my head down on my pillow an hour later. The debrief had been unsatisfying both because more potentially strong allies had turned out to be insane and because we had no idea of the Asurans capability to retaliate against our escape. John had gone off with Rodney to search the Atlantis database for any further mention of the Asurans. By the time he got back to our quarters I must have been asleep because I didn’t register his presence in bed.

That was until the very early hours of the morning when I awoke suddenly to see him looming above me.

“John?” I queried sleepily.

“This isn’t right,” John said in a voice of dawning worry.

“What’s not right?” John’s behaviour succeeded in bringing me to full wakefulness. I thought quickly and brought the lights on to dim so I could see his expression.

“Being back here, escaping so easily,” John muttered, staring at me fixedly.

“The Asurans haven’t had visitors for thousands of years,” I pointed out. “They probably aren’t used to anyone defying their will.”

“Maybe that’s it,” John flopped back onto the bed, gazing up at the ceiling as he rubbed a tired hand over his face.

“You look tired still,” I said. “Get some more sleep ... you’ll feel better in the morning.”

“You’re right,” John thought the lights off and pulled me into him in the darkness. His breathing quickly returned to a steady rhythm and I let myself relax in the knowledge that he was back to sleep.

The next morning John and I went to the commissary for breakfast. John was unusually quiet and I left him in silence to finish eating before I called him up on it.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “You’re not still worrying about the Asurans?”

“This isn’t real,” John looked at me with a vacant expression. “None of this is real.”

“Don’t be silly,” I replied. “Of course this is real ... if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be able to do this,” I reached over and pinched his hand lightly.

“It’s not and I can prove it,” John said firmly, jumping up and leaping over the table towards me. I froze in dumbfounded amazement as he pulled me up into his arms and kissed me passionately. Before I could even think of protesting at his very public display he’d lifted me up onto the commissary table and positioned himself to stand intimately against me. I have no idea how far he would have taken things because we were interrupted before I could find out.

Colonel Sheppard!” Doctor Weir’s shocked voice came from behind me.

WHAT?” John broke our kiss to turn and glare at Elizabeth.

“What’s gotten into you?” Doctor Weir demanded, looking towards me for an explanation of John’s out of character behaviour.

“He said this wasn’t real,” I told her, holding on to John as he tried to break away from me. “Do you think the Asurans could have done something to him?”

“Doctor Beckett will know,” Doctor Weir replied almost casually. “Take him down there now.”

I pulled out of John’s embrace and put an arm around him to guide him from the commissary, aware of the shocked faces watching our departure. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “Carson will know what’s wrong – he’ll fix this.”

“He can’t,” John said simply. When Ronon got up to escort us John spun away from me suddenly, attacking Ronon in vicious anger. Even more surprising than that was the fact that he bested Ronon with apparent ease. Marines ran down the corridor towards us and I hurriedly dragged John away, hoping to avoid more violence.

John let me lead him all the way to the infirmary with no further protest. The list of unusual behaviours I was compiling was growing by the second. Dishing out unnecessary public praise. Practically groping me publicly. Being disrespectful with Doctor Weir. Beating Ronon so convincingly. Not protesting at an unplanned visit to the infirmary. I didn’t say it, but deep inside I was beginning to worry that there was something seriously wrong with John.

“What’s this?” Carson greeted us worriedly. I explained John’s recent behaviour and Carson quickly moved into doctor mode, setting John up for a series of tests. The waiting was painful but finally Carson returned to give us the verdict.

“He’s perfectly fine,” Carson reported happily. “Couldn’t find a thing wrong with him.”

“There must be something,” I muttered, watching as John seemed to drift off in his own little world. “Look at him!

“I am lass,” Carson replied. “And I can’t see anything to worry about.”

“See,” John turned suddenly and speared me with an intent look. “Would the real Carson be that lax?”

Looking from John back to the smiling face of Doctor Beckett I felt my insides clench horribly at the realisation that perhaps John wasn’t completely off base. Carson was behaving strangely! And Doctor Weir hadn’t exactly behaved as I would have expected given what she’d walked in on at the commissary.

“What are you saying?” I almost whispered. “That everyone here is ... not who they’re supposed to be?”

“No,” John got off the infirmary bed and took my shoulders into his hands. Pulling me close he said grimly “I’m saying that nothing about this ... reality is real. You’re not even really here!”

No,” I pulled away in denial. “That can’t be ... John, just listen to yourself for a moment – listen to what you’re saying!”

“I’m not real either,” John looked at me sadly. “I can prove that too.” Before I could stop him he pulled the knife he carried at the back of his belt out and slashed it across his right wrist. I watched in horror as blood quickly pooled and began dripping to the floor.

Carson!” I yelled, turning towards him expecting that he'd already be moving to treat John’s wound. Instead he was gazing at the flowing blood like it was the most mesmerising thing he’d ever seen. Realising I’d get no help from him I ran and grabbed a bandage from a nearby tray, rushing back to press down hard on John’s wrist.

“Don’t worry,” John said weakly, sinking down onto the bed again. “The real me is ... safe ... in a manner of speaking. You just need to wake up and you’ll see him.”

“John,” I pleaded, watching as he closed his eyes wearily and submitted passively to my medical ministrations. Seeing that, Carson finally sprang into action and began to treat John properly. Within minutes he had sutured the wound and applied a proper bandage. I sat beside John’s bed, brain ticking over madly as I tried to work out what was going on.

John began to stir just as I came to the sickening realisation that he was in fact right. None of this was real ... in fact I was pretty sure that I myself was just as unreal as everything else. Was I trapped in some kind of dream? I stood up and backed slowly away from John's bed, struggling to wake myself up.

“That’s it,” John coached me. ‘Fight this ... you can do it.”

I held eye contact as John rose from the bed and came to stand in front of me. The space behind him seemed to pulse and shimmer before three Asurans pushed themselves through. I just stood there, rooted to the spot as one of them grabbed the knife John had abandoned on his bedside table. Before I could even think to protest the Asuran grabbed John’s hair from behind, pulled his head back and sliced the blade cleanly across his throat, pushing him callously away. John instinctively clasped a hand across the wound as he slumped to his knees, tipping sideways slowly and falling to the ground.

NO!” I screamed, throwing myself to my knees at John’s side. A sickening gurgling sound came from his mouth as he tried unsuccessfully to speak to me. “Oh God ... don’t do this John, please don’t leave me ...” I began to cry as blood pooled on the floor around his head. John kept his eyes firmly fixed on mine, trying to convey something in his last moments. My tears flowed even harder as I watched the light slowly fade from his eyes. Weeping uncontrollably I pulled him into my lap, rocking us both as if to convince myself that everything would be okay.

I was still crying when my head exploded with intense pain. Forcing my eyes open I stared in disbelief at the Asuran removing his hand from my forehead. My gaze darted quickly from side to side and I registered that I was still in the Asuran Brig and that I wasn’t alone in being stretched out on the floor from an Asuran hand just removed the forehead. I cringed as John yelled in agony but the knowledge that somehow he was still alive didn’t penetrate my conscious mind. What I’d left still seemed more real than where I was. The Asurans stood up and waited for one of us to gain back a little control. I watched blankly as John seemed to pull himself together enough to look around him. Oberoth was standing in front of him, looking impassively at John’s expression of confusion.

“What the hell just happened?” John demanded weakly.

Instead of answering, Oberoth turned and walked away, avoiding the bodies of the other four inhabitants of our little cell. Five other Asurans fell in behind him as he swept from the room. John propped himself up on one elbow and stared at Oberoth’s departing back.

“Who the hell are you people?” he called after them.

“They’re not people,” Rodney said with dawning horror. “They’re machines ... they’re Replicators.”

I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded pretty bad. I curled up on the floor, shaking in reaction to what I’d seen, silent tears still running down my face. I flinched as John crawled his way over to me and laid a hand on my shoulder.

“Sabina?” John asked hesitantly. “You okay?”

I gazed at him intently, scanning every inch of his face looking for something that would convince me this was real - that he was really there and perfectly healthy.

Before I could say anything a rumbling sound began issuing from all around us. John struggled to his feet, reaching down a hand to help me up. We looked around in apprehension as the cell bars themselves seemed to shake and groan.

“What’s happening?” Doctor Weir asked of the room in general.

“I don’t know,” Rodney muttered, “but I can guarantee that it won’t be good.”


Chapter 9: Why? What did you see?


The shaking of the city ceased and when nothing further happened we all tried to find somewhere comfortable to rest and recover from our ordeal.

"My head is killing me," Doctor Weir admitted weakly, leaning her head back against one of the columns running down the middle of each cell wall.

John was sitting next to me in one corner of the cell, one arm around me in concern as I continued to shudder periodically at memories that seemed too real to contemplate.

"How’d we get back here?" John looked around at the others.

"What do you mean, 'back here'?" Teyla asked with a confused frown.

"Well, we broke out and got to the Jumper, gated back to Atlantis," John said hesitantly. When everyone looked at him in puzzlement, John added "At least I thought we did."

"That is not what I remember," Teyla said, shaking her head gingerly.

"The only thing I remember was being in a dark room, fighting hand to hand for hours," Ronon said from his position in the opposite corner.

Rodney had been pacing back and forth in agitation, clearly troubled by what he'd seen. "Well, they obviously created different scenarios for each of us during the mind probe - no doubt looking to gather information from our responses," he said sickly.

"I thought our escape seemed too easy," John admitted, putting a hand to his head with a frown.

"At least you escaped," Rodney muttered.

"What’d they do to you?" John looked up at Rodney in concern.

"Uh, torture," Rodney admitted uncomfortably, "in ways too hideous and, um ... intimate to recount."

"Like what?" Ronon asked curiously.

"I said too hideous to recount," Rodney pointed out sarcastically.

"Did uh ...” I spoke for the first time since the Asurans had left the cell. "Did any of you see anything that made you doubt it was real?"

"No," John admitted, looking around at the others and getting a similar response from them. "Why? What did you see?"

"We escaped just like you said, made it back to Atlantis in a Puddle Jumper," I began, looking down at my hands. "Then uh ... you," I shot a look at John before looking down again, "the you in my reality started telling me it wasn't real ... you acted ... completely out of character to try and prove it to me." I trailed off, not wanting to relive how my experience had ended but knowing he would want to know.

"Then what happened?" John asked softly.

"Three Asurans appeared behind you," I almost whispered, "and ah ... one of them ... slit your throat with your own knife ... I was screaming and then ... I was back here."

"God," John muttered in shock, tightening his arm around me in reaction. "Sabina ..."

"It was so ... real," I watched as a tear dropped onto my hand, "but at the same time you were telling me it wasn't."

"Well, subconsciously at least, something about what they showed you must have made you suspicious," Rodney said thoughtfully. I nodded and swiped a hand discretely across my eyes to wipe away my tears.

"I just had a horrible thought," Doctor Weir said suddenly.

"What if it is still happening?" Teyla said what we were all thinking.

"Yes," Doctor Weir admitted.

"There’s gotta be a way to know for sure," Rodney complained. He walked over to John, and after hesitating for a moment poked him hard on the side of the head. John frowned and then slapped Rodney's leg sharply.

"Doesn’t really prove anything," Rodney turned away dispiritedly.

"It’s real, Doctor McKay," Niam’s voice came from the corridor leading into the Brig. He walked in, accompanied by three guards. We all stood and steeled ourselves for the next ordeal.

"Your minds are no longer being probed," Niam reassured us.

"It’s good to know it was just our minds," John quipped sarcastically.

"Oh, please don’t make me sick," Rodney grimaced.

"Please, come with me," Niam said, gesturing for us to follow him from the Brig.

I was happy to get out of there but inside I still felt unsettled in a way I couldn't begin to explain. While I was now one hundred percent sure that this was real, my experience with the mind probe had left some kind of lingering effect behind.

Niam led us through the city to one of the external balconies. The sight that greeted us was disturbing on a different level - we were in space - the rumbling we'd heard in our cell was the star drive activating. Niam told us that we were heading for Atlantis with the sole purpose of destroying it because of their feud with the Ancients.

When Niam offered to show Doctor Weir their history, she agreed, doing the whole mind probe thing with Niam willingly. When she came back to herself and Niam had settled us in some guest quarters Doctor Weir told us what she had seen. The Ancients had created the Asurans, initially as nanites designed specifically to be a weapon against the Wraith. They'd programmed an intense aggression into the nanite base code and pursued their research until the Asurans had begun multiplying and taking on enough complexity to become the version we saw before us now. When it became clear that the Asurans would not be the weapon the Ancients had hoped for they'd blasted the Asuran planet in an attempt to wipe their creation from existence.

"Obviously the Ancients didn’t do a thorough enough job wiping them out," John pointed out.

"No,” Doctor Weir agreed. "A few of the nanites managed to survive."

"Which is all they needed to begin replicating again," Rodney added sickly.

"Replicating?" Teyla frowned in confusion at the unfamiliar term.

"This is bad," Rodney said in his doom and gloom voice. "They’re very similar to an artificial intelligence that SG-1 encountered several years ago that evolved from a tiny block-Replicator into human form. They may even be related somehow."

"I read those reports," John said in surprise. "Stargate Command could barely defeat the human-form Replicators."

"Which is why I said this is bad," Rodney said sarcastically.

"The difference here is they’re emulating the Ancients," Doctor Weir pointed out. "They’ve even built themselves a version of Atlantis."

"And then some," Ronon commented.

"Why would they do this?" Teyla asked, looking at Doctor Weir for her opinion.

"I think they look at the Ancients like parents who betrayed them, and now they see humans as the favoured siblings who receive all the parents’ love. They’ve been seeking revenge ever since." Doctor Weir explained.

"Just what we need,” John complained. "More bad guys."

"Which means we’ve probably just identified the race that created the nanovirus that nearly killed me a couple of years ago," Rodney commented.

"It almost killed a lot of people," John looked at Rodney pointedly.

"Yeah," Rodney agreed unrepentantly.

"But you found that nanite virus on Atlantis," I said in confusion. "How could the Asurans have created it here but it turned up light years away?"

"It's a good bet the Asurans were trying to affect the Ancients somehow," Rodney replied.

"Yeah but the virus was ineffective on people with the ATA gene," I persisted. "Why would they bother creating a virus that couldn't kill the very people they were trying to get back at?"

"I don't know," Rodney said in irritation. "I'm sure they had some reason though ... which hopefully we don't have cause to find out any time soon!"

"Were you not able to defeat that nanovirus with an electromagnetic pulse?" Teyla asked.

"That was different," Rodney explained. "Those were individual nanites, easy to disrupt with a simple EM pulse. These ... these things have evolved way beyond that, with interdependent organic constituents of a far greater complexity."

Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of one of Niam's female companions. She walked to Doctor Weir and looked down at her with some concern. "Are you feeling better?" she asked quietly.

"Yes," Doctor Weir replied with a slight smile.

"Follow me," the Asuran female looked at us all. Not waiting for our agreement she turned and walked out of the room. There was nothing else for us to do but get up and follow her.

Niam and another Asuran female were waiting for us in one of the conference rooms. I sat beside John and listened incredulously as Niam revealed that a small number of Asurans held ascension as the ultimate goal in proving they were equal to their creators. Niam believed that the aggression programmed into them was holding them back from attaining that goal, something they were bound from changing when the Ancients programmed in failsafes to prevent them from altering their own base code. He offered us a deal ... in exchange for Rodney making the necessary changes to their base code Niam and the others would stop Oberoth from destroying Atlantis and provide us with assistance in fighting the Wraith.

"Perhaps you can assist Doctor McKay?" Niam turned to me once the deal had been struck.

"Me?" I asked with a frown.

"Our probe showed that you are unusually observant for one of your race,' Niam said simply. "Doctor McKay's work may proceed faster if you can assist him in looking for the relevant parts of our base code."

"Ah ..." I looked across at John with a raised eyebrow. When he nodded silently I turned back to Niam. "I'll do what I can," I agreed reluctantly.

Niam took Rodney and me to an isolated lab so that he could give Rodney access to their base code. Rodney immediately began scrolling through screens and screens of frankly incomprehensible chemical sequence code. To me anyway. It took me only seconds to work out that there was no way I'd be of any assistance. Stepping away from the console I walked over to where Niam was standing guard.

"So what's the real reason you wanted me separated from the others?" I asked him casually.

"You are not like the rest of your people," Niam looked at me with a puzzled frown. "We have periodically gathered information from across the galaxy, probing many humans. After repeated probes your race can build up some resistance but we have never had anyone know at the first probe that what we showed them was not real."

"Well you must have made a mistake somewhere," I told him, "because there's nothing different about me."

"Perhaps if you would allow me to conduct another probe," Niam looked at me hopefully.

"I don't think so!" I took a step back from him in protest. "What I saw last time is still freaking me out. There's no way I'd sign up for another round voluntarily."

"I am sorry for what the others did to you," Niam apologised. "Even if they had been aware before they began of the special connection between you and Colonel Sheppard they would still have proceeded in the same fashion."

"I'm confused," I turned to look intently at Niam. "You say that you're inherently aggressive and yet you seem quite reasonable to me, gentle even. How is that possible?"

"As a collective we are aggressive," Niam told me. "Oberoth allows a certain level of individual freedom, so long as we take care to not step outside of the bounds he has set for us. He is ... amused by my goal of ascension and so he lets me be."

"What happens if you do overstep the bounds?" I asked curiously.

"Oberoth will reprogram us," Niam admitted. "Outwardly I would appear unaffected but this body would house an entirely different awareness than it does now ... I would cease to exist as you know me."

"And yet you're risking everything to help us," I commented. "Is ascension really that important?"

"The Ancients created us as a weapon and then callously destroyed us when we were not what they had hoped for," Niam said with more emotion than I'd previously heard from him. "The only way we can prove them wrong about us is to ascend - to become one with them on the same plane of existence."

I nodded without commenting further, realising that although his methods were much different from Oberoth's, in the end he was just as driven by the need for retribution against the Ancients.

"I can show you more about our history, how we have evolved since the Ancients abandoned this planet believing us destroyed," Niam offered.

Glancing across at Rodney, I realised that he was still some time away from completing his work, despite the impatience I'd heard in John's voice when he'd checked in earlier.

"I am interested," I turned back to Niam expectantly.

"This way," Niam said, taking my hand to draw me out of the lab and across the hall to another room. It was a hologram room similar to the one back on Atlantis. Once inside he released me and I rubbed my hand surreptitiously down the side of my pants. Niam didn't have the ATA gene - which kind of made sense since he was a machine and presumably didn't have genes as we knew them. If I'd just touched him at the very beginning I would have been able to work that out and possibly saved us all a lot of trouble. Why hadn’t I thought of that?!

"Step up onto the dais," Niam instructed me. “Regus will tell you anything you wish to know."

I did as he instructed, surprised when the dais activated as soon as I put one foot on the sensor tiles. "You made your technology to recognise the Ancient gene?" I asked in surprise.

"We wished to fashion a city surpassing Atlantis itself in greatness," Niam excused. "All of our knowledge has it's basis in the Ancient technology ... we were unable to move away from this despite there being no Ancients present to make use of what we built."

I stepped up fully and waited for the appearance of the usual glowing figure dressed in white. "I am Regus ... please state your information requirements."

"Tell me about the evolution of the Asurans," I began.


Chapter 10: Are you sure this is real?


Niam eventually left me to check on Rodney. Once he'd gone I stopped Regus mid sentence and replaced my previous request with what I really wanted to find out about.

"Tell me about the nanovirus the Asurans created," I requested. I listened intently as Regus told me about the origin and purpose of that project as well as how it had ended up back on Atlantis. Pulling my data pad from my pocket I quickly connected it to the hologram control console and copied over the information Regus had given me verbally. The conclusions that could be drawn from what I’d found cast doubt on a lot of what Oberoth had told us – no real surprise there. I resolved that as soon as possible I'd have to fill in the others on what I'd learned.

I was exploring Asuran history again by the time Niam returned to tell me that Rodney had succeeded and was already back in the guest quarters with the others.

"It's about time!" John pulled me into the room as soon as Niam escorted me to the door. Teyla and Doctor Weir looked up from their seats when my arrival interrupted their conversation - Ronon had clearly been pacing impatiently and he continued without pause.

"Thank you for showing me your history," I turned to Niam in gratitude.

"You are most welcome Sabina," Niam bowed slightly before turning and leaving us.

"What was that all about?" John drew me over to the couch and waited for me to sit down tiredly before taking a seat beside me.

"It was a ruse - saying Rodney needed my help," I said simply. "Niam took me to the hologram room when I called him up on it."

"Why did he want to talk to you alone?" John asked with a frown.

"I still don't know," I admitted. "He said something about me being different and wanting to probe me again to find out how. When I refused he offered to let me learn more about their history."

"Different?" John glanced at me worriedly.

"That's what he said," I said airily, like the very thought wasn't worrying me. "But only because he said it wasn't the usual thing for someone to know the probe wasn't real the first time like I did. It's probably just because of all the work I've done with mind control - with the Wraith technology and also with the TED."

"That makes sense," John nodded, letting the subject drop. He quickly filled me in on what had happened in my absence, including Rodney’s plan to destroy the city with an overloading ZPM.

"What about Niam?" I asked quickly.

"We'll offer him the chance to come with us if he wants," Doctor Weir reassured me.

"That's good," I agreed. "Because I truly believe Niam is different from the others, even without the changes to his base code ... Oberoth keeps him around because it amuses him to ridicule Niam's beliefs."

"Yeah - nice fellow that Oberoth," John quipped.

During the whole conversation Rodney had been in a world of his own, using his data pad to set up the glitch he'd discovered to freeze all the Replicators.

"Okay, I'm almost ready to set this thing off," Rodney announced.

John got up impatiently and went to peer over Rodney's right shoulder. "Are you sure this’ll work?" he asked.

"Please," Rodney said in that 'I am the great McKay and all my plans work' voice. "Of course it will work."

"Why’s it taking so long?" John persisted.

"Why do you always have to ...?," Rodney looked up at John in irritation. "Look, I need to properly calibrate the frequencies. I wanna make sure that when I freeze them, I freeze them all, OK?"

"All would be good," John agreed, still leaning over Rodney's shoulder.

"OK, will you just let me finish?" Rodney requested, glancing over at me as if silently asking me to control John somehow.

"John," I said in a serious tone. "Stop bothering Rodney."

"Thank you," Rodney said, as John straightened up and took a step away from him. Rodney turned back to the data pad. I shook my head as John immediately zeroed in on Rodney again, this time leaning over his other shoulder to peer at the small screen.

"Okay," Rodney began, "here we go in five, four, three, two, one."

John and Rodney got up and cautiously peeked out as the door opened.

"Hey, it worked!" Rodney exclaimed.

"Interesting," John said, looking at our two frozen Asuran guards. He grabbed a weapon from one while Ronon helped himself to the other.

"OK. We should move to the ZPM Room," John announced, motioning for us to start moving.

Ronon stopped suddenly and aimed his weapon down the corridor. Turning we all saw Niam walking down the steps, moving gingerly around his immobilised colleagues.

"Why isn’t he frozen?" John demanded to Rodney.

"His code’s changed," Rodney said it like it should have been obvious to the rest of us. "Until he’s distributed it to the others in the next merge, he’ll be different than the rest of them."

"What happened?" Niam asked in confusion. Doctor Weir explained and Niam nodded, content to follow along with the plan.

The feeling of motion altered subtlety, causing all of us to pause.

"What was that?" Teyla asked in concern.

"I think we just dropped out of hyperspace," John looked around as if to reassure himself that the frozen Asurans had not been affected by that.

"We need to move," Ronon urged impatiently. He led the way as we hurried down the corridor towards the ZPM Room.

We hurried through the corridors to the ZPM room and waited impatiently as Rodney rigged the overload complaining the whole time about not being able to take at least one ZPM with us. Once done we headed for the Jumper Bay, stopping along the way to collect our weapons. John and I had both made the same journey in our heads ... I don't know about him but it was freaking me out to be familiar with a place I'd never actually been. Things started to go pear shaped when we came across Oberoth. Believing him frozen Rodney couldn't resist getting up close and personal for a bit of taunting ... an action he regretted when Oberoth grabbed him around the neck. A few well placed bullets later and we were once again running hectically through the corridors, with Ronon and John shooting strategically behind us. John stopped at a door and peered cautiously around the corner.

"OK, start the overload," he told Rodney.

"What?" Rodney demanded. "No-no-no-no. Not yet. We need to be in a Jumper or clear of the city, or ..."

"The Jumper Bay’s not far. We’re almost there," John said.

"No-no, you don’t understand," Rodney protested. "Look, I didn’t want them to be able to stop it. As soon as I trigger the overload, there’ll be practically zero lag time before it blows."

“Practically?" John demanded.

"OK, fine, so like a few seconds for it to build up power, but not nearly enough ..." Rodney said.

"How many seconds?" John asked heatedly.

"I don’t know," Rodney agitatedly peered around as Ronon checked the corridor we'd just run down.

"Well, five, ten?" John kept at Rodney.

"Again with the arbitrary numbers!" Rodney said irritably.

"We need to move," Ronon told John.

"Okay," John acknowledged. "Start the overload. Now!" he growled at Rodney.

Not waiting to see whether Rodney obeyed, John took off running again, followed closely by Teyla, Elizabeth and Niam. I held back waiting for Rodney to catch up and Ronon brought up the rear.

"This way!" John urged us all past him in the right direction. A familiar sounding alarm began ringing out all around us.

"Is that what I think it is?" I looked at Rodney in concern.

"If you think it's the sound of the city about to blow, then yes!" Rodney yelled, rushing past me. "Move!"

We kept running as John and Ronon covered our backs. Finally we reached the Jumper Bay and raced to the nearest Jumper.

"Get the roof open, Rodney, or this is gonna be a short trip," John ordered grimly.

"Don’t wait for me!" Rodney protested, pressing buttons on the co-pilots console. The rest of us huddled in the back section as John activated the controls.

"I’m just saying, if we can’t get out of the Jumper Bay ..." John's voice trailed off.

"It doesn’t matter. The overload’s happening now. We’re about to explode." Rodney reported weakly.

"Is the roof open?" John demanded.

"Yes. Go." Rodney urged impatiently.

The city had already started to explode around us and the jumper shot out the roof and headed away at full speed. The flames roared out behind us as if trying to drag us back within their grasp.

"Come on," John urged, finally breaking us clear of the massive explosion that completely obliterated the Asuran city ship. He sighed in relief as Rodney peered out the front view screen, watching the bright light of the explosion fading behind us. They both turned to face the inside of the Puddle Jumper. Ronon and Teyla had taken their customary seats behind the pilot and co-pilot chairs. Doctor Weir, Niam and I were all standing just in front of the bulkhead doors.

"Nice work ... all of you," Doctor Weir congratulated us. "Thank you," she said gratefully, turning to look at Niam. At first Niam smiled in response but then his smile faded and he stared distractedly at the floor, angling his head as though listening to something only he could hear.

"What’s wrong?" I asked, watching as a look of dawning horror came over him.

"Something is happening," Niam said reluctantly. "The others on my planet ... they know what I’ve done. I’m being re-set."

"Rodney, do something!" Doctor Weir ordered.

"It’s too late. They’re ..." Niam said before Rodney could do more than pull out his data pad.

Niam stood in front of Elizabeth for a moment as though fighting with himself ... losing the battle he reached out and grabbed her around the throat with both hands. Being the closest I immediately reached for one of his arms to try and pull him away. Niam glanced sideways at me with a frown, releasing the hold of one hand to fasten it harshly around my wrist to hold me off. Ronon and Teyla had jumped into the fray and were attempting to pull Niam’s arm away from Elizabeth's throat while I clawed at his fingers, trying to release the grip he was tightening almost beyond my power to endure. All of this had only taken seconds - in that time John jumped up from the front section and charged at Niam, somehow getting him to release his grip on Elizabeth and me as he fell to the floor in the rear compartment. Ronon drew his blaster and aimed it at Niam, ready to fire in the second it took for John to punch the button to close the bulkhead door.

"That’s not gonna hold him," Rodney warned sickly.

John looked around, thought for a second and then raced for the controls, slapping a button hard. We all heard the sound of the rear hatch blowing out, taking Niam out into space with it.

Doctor Weir sat down in relief, still coughing as she put a hand to her throat. Teyla moved to tend to her, as the rest of us looked on in concern. I glanced discretely down at my wrist, pulling my sleeve down over the harsh red mark Niam had left on me. Rodney sat down in the co-pilot's seat, putting a hand on Elizabeth’s arm.

"I’m so sorry. I had ... I didn’t ..." he muttered numbly.

"You okay?" John turned from the pilot's seat to look at Doctor Weir.

"Yeah,” Doctor Weir said breathlessly, still holding a hand to her throat.

"Sabina?" John looked next at me.

"I'm fine,' I said lightly, glossing over the pain in my wrist and the faintly weird sensation that was travelling up my arm.

oOo

"Are you sure this is real?" I asked John hesitantly later that night as we finally settled into bed together.

"Yes," John smoothed a hand down my hair. "But I can’t prove it to you."

"I know you can’t," I said sadly.

“This will feel real," John promised, leaning down to kiss me gently. Everything he did as we shared ourselves was gentle; as though he were afraid I would break if he pushed me too hard. When the release came it brought with it a storm of tears I was powerless to tamp down.

"Shh," John comforted me, pulling me in close and rubbing circles on my back.

"I saw you die," I said tearfully. "I close my eyes and I can see the knife slicing you." I put a shaky hand over his neck, caressing a line from one side to the other. "God John ... I swear my heart stopped beating ... everything clenched inside me ... it was the worst feeling I've ever had." I put my hands over my face as more tears escaped.

"Now you know how I felt when I arrived in that room the day you activated the Wraith weapon," John said simply, pulling my hands down and wiping the tears away. "Except in that case it was real ... what you saw was just a tool forced on you by a bunch of insane machines." I folded myself back into his side and put my head down on his chest, trying to put the images to the back of my mind. He was right - they weren't real and I shouldn't be making them so by focusing too much on them.

"They'll be building a new city," I said after a few minutes of silence.

"Probably already started," John agreed. "They know where we are ... what we are. There's nothing we can do except count on ourselves to be able to beat them again if they do come back."

"It just never ends does it?" I frowned at my troubling thoughts. "We start to get a handle on one enemy and then an even scarier one makes an appearance."

"Yeah, they didn't put that in the brochure did they?" John quipped. I laughed before another thought struck me.

"He's still up there and he'd be conscious of everything wouldn't he?" I glanced at John with a tormented expression.

"Yeah," John admitted. "And we had no choice but to leave him there."

"He's not the Niam we knew anymore," I told John. After a pause I added "I liked him."

"So did I," John admitted.

"Maybe there's hope for the Asurans then," I said tiredly.

"Maybe," John's tone said he thought it very unlikely but he was willing to humour me.

"Thanks for warning me about the visions not being real ... and for not being dead," I acknowledged simply.

"Well technically it wasn't me,” John pointed out, "but I'll take credit for it just the same."

"I thought you might," I smiled, feeling easier within myself for the first time since we'd gotten back. We drifted into silence and from there into sleep.

 On to Part Two