ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Fortunate Journey Season Three Part Two


Chapter 11: I want to see John RIGHT NOW!


It's amazing how it can seem that things are back to normal right until the second when it all goes horribly wrong. The day after our real return from Asuras Doctor Weir and I were meeting to discuss research priorities. I could tell that Elizabeth was distracted which wasn't like her.

"Doctor Weir?" I looked across at her in concern when I saw her reaching a hand up to her neck. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Doctor Weir looked up with a reassuring smile. "It's silly but I can still feel his hand around my throat."

"I know what you mean," I replied. "I could have sworn Niam's hand was holding my wrist at least twice this morning ... I don't blame you for wanting to check that it's not!"

"We're the walking wounded at the moment, aren't we?" Doctor Weir said with a laugh, gesturing to her neck and then my wrist where dark bruises were clearly evident.

"It was an ... interesting mission," I glanced at her quickly before looking away again. "Do you ... ah does it bother you ... what we did to Niam?"

"Of course," Doctor Weir acknowledged. "But you and I both know there was no other choice once the Asurans reprogrammed him."

"Yeah ... but now we have another enemy," I complained, "and really the Wraith are more than enough to be going on with!"

Doctor Weir laughed before a strange vacant expression came over her face. Without any warning she slumped down on her desk unconscious.

"Medical emergency in Doctor Weir's office," I called out over my radio as I leapt around the desk and put a hand to Elizabeth's neck. Thank God ... her pulse was strong and even. “Elizabeth ...,” I waited before trying again but Doctor Weir was completely unresponsive.

"What happened?" Doctor Beckett came running in a minute or so later.

"I have no idea," I told him in frustration. "We were talking, then she got this vacant look and then she just keeled over."

"Well don't worry lass," Doctor Beckett reassured me. "We'll get to the bottom of this."

I stood off to the side as Doctor Beckett and his staff lifted Doctor Weir onto a gurney and wheeled her out of the office. Propping myself on the edge of her desk I put a tired hand over my eyes.

"You okay?" I looked up to see John standing in the doorway.

"I am," I told him wearily. "I wish I could say the same for Doctor Weir."

"Beckett will work out what's wrong," John told me.

"I know ... I just can't shake the really bad feeling I have about this." I admitted, looking up as John walked towards me.

"Come on," he said, holding out a hand. "Let's go down to the infirmary and see what's happening."

oOo

"Ah Colonel, Sabina," Doctor Beckett greeted us soberly. Just from that alone I knew things were about to take a turn for the worst.

"What have you got Doc?" John asked.

"We did a scan and I think I know what the problem is," Carson drew us over to a screen and pushed a couple of buttons. The display changed to show a human skeleton that was probably Elizabeth’s ... the worrying thing was the series of tiny red dots all centred in Elizabeth's brain.

"What the hell are those?" John demanded in a worried tone.

"Nanites," Doctor Beckett said grimly. "Similar to the nanovirus we quarantined for a couple of years ago but obviously designed to do something quite different."

"What are we doing about this?" John asked, watching grimly as the red dots multiplied before our very eyes.

"Rodney's searching the database for more information about nanites," Doctor Beckett replied, "but to be honest at this stage I don't know what we can do. The location of the nanites makes it difficult to get a sample ... if they migrate to other areas of Elizabeth's body then we might be able to make some progress on that."

"The Asurans!" I slapped a hand to my forehead, remembering that I hadn't told the others what I'd found out about the origins of the original nanovirus.

"What?" John turned to me with a raised eyebrow.

"Get Rodney to meet us in the conference room," I said. Not waiting for a reply I ran out the room, heading for our quarters where I'd left my data pad the day before.

oOo

A few minutes later I ran up to the conference room, relieved to see Rodney, Carson and John already waiting. Plugging the data pad into the display screen I tapped a few keys and brought up a diagram of one of the Asuran nanites.

"Where'd you get that?" Rodney asked curiously, sitting forward and squinting at the screen.

"Hologram room back on Asuras," I replied distractedly. "This probably isn't one of the nanites affecting Doctor Weir but maybe you could still get something that will help work out what to do. There’s other stuff in here about nanite virus design."

"Niam gave you this?" John asked in disbelief.

"Not exactly," I admitted, moving over to sit down next to him. "He gave me access to their hologram - Regus - once he'd left to check on Rodney I asked Regus to tell me about the nanovirus found here on Atlantis."

"And what did you find out?" John looked at me curiously.

"Enough to know the Asurans were lying about their history with the Ancients," I said. "We'd supposed that the Asurans created the virus after the Ancient's tried to wipe them out but that's not true. They were working on it before the Ancients even realised their experiment had gone so wrong."

"Why would they do that?" Rodney asked.

"Because the Asurans knew the Ancients were going to abandon them as a project," I replied. "They were angry but they couldn't retaliate because of the failsafe in their base code that made it impossible for them to harm the Ancients. So they came up with a back door way of trying to change that ... this virus." I turned to look at Rodney. "You and Doctor Beckett thought the nanovirus had been designed to kill humans but when you think about it that doesn't make sense ... if you're going to design a nanovirus why make it one that causes a brain aneurysm over the visual cortex - isn't that an extremely exotic way to kill someone?"

"So you think it wasn't designed for humans?" Doctor Beckett questioned.

"The Ancients here obviously came across the nanovirus and they researched it and documented it's affect but they didn't design a cure?" I pointed out. "Why put all that time into it only to stop like that?"

"You think the Asurans designed the nanovirus to do something to the Ancients?" Rodney's face bore that look of discovery he often got. "And that the Ancients worked it out before the plan could succeed?"

"I'm guessing a little bit here," I admitted. "History is written by the victor so obviously the Asurans glossed over the details of the plan that made them look like the evil machines they are. The nanovirus incident is only in their records because they saw that project as the driving reason why the Ancients decided to wipe them out completely."

"How does that explain Elizabeth?" John asked.

"Okay, guessing again here but my suspicion is that every Asuran is like a walking nanite delivery system ... they are nanites ... connected in incredibly complex formations but nanites just the same. They have the capability to infect anyone with a nanovirus at any time - just by touching them. We know that's true because how else did Elizabeth get infected? I think the Ancients realised how dangerous that made them ... more than just the inherent aggression and the lack of success at making the Asurans a weapon against the Wraith I think the nanovirus angle was the driving reason the Ancients saw no other option but to completely destroy the Asurans."

"All of us touched an Asuran at some point," Rodney said sickly, putting a hand to his neck where Oberoth had grabbed him. He turned to Doctor Beckett with a horrified look. "We could all be infected!"

Before Carson could respond I jumped in. "I think the nanites are only passed on by a conscious effort on the part of the deliverer. Besides, if we were infected surely we'd all know it by now,” I reassured him, “assuming the incubation time is the same for everyone. I guess Doctor Beckett should scan us all just to make sure. The nanites in Doctor Weir could also be just as infectious as the ones we've had prior experience with."

"I'll get Elizabeth in an isolation tent and make sure only staff in hazmat suits treat her," Carson said, jumping up and hurrying out the door to make that happen.

"I'll take the data you have and start looking for a weakness in the nanites themselves," Rodney announced. I nodded as he unplugged my data pad and almost ran out of the room to begin.

"Are you sure you're okay?" John asked, reaching out to run a finger over the dark bruise on my arm. "Niam grabbed you there at the end too."

"He did ... and my arm felt a bit ... odd for a few hours afterwards," I admitted. "I'll get Doctor Beckett to check me out later but I -" I broke off as a sharp pain lanced across my vision.

"Sabina?" John got up and squatted down in front of my chair. I rubbed a hand across my eyes, blinking rapidly.

"Ah crap! That ... machine ... did infect me!" I tried to focus on John's concerned face but he faded out of view and I succumbed to the darkness.

oOo

I woke some time later to a familiar sight ... I was in the infirmary, looking up at the ceiling. I could hear the beeps of machines in operation and muted voices discussing patient care in the background. Expecting to see John at my bedside, I couldn't suppress the disappointment when I turned my head carefully and realised I was alone.

"Doctor Beckett?" I called out. I waited a few moments before calling a bit louder "Carson?"

"I'm here lass," Carson walked in from his office. "How're you feeling?"

"Confused," I admitted. "What happened with the nanites?"

"Nanites?" Doctor Beckett frowned in confusion. "What nanites?"

"The ones that infected Doctor Weir and me," I replied, frowning when Carson looked back at me with a blank expression. "Isn't that why I'm here?"

"You don't remember what happened?" Doctor Beckett got a pained and sympathetic look on his face when I shook my head slowly.

"Where's John?" I asked, starting to feel the panic rising inside. "I need to talk to John."

"Let me get Teyla," Doctor Beckett ignored my request, making a radio call for Teyla to come to the infirmary immediately.

"Why do I need Teyla," I demanded, starting to get angry at being kept in the dark. "Where is Colonel Sheppard?"

"Just calm down lass," Doctor Beckett put a hand on my shoulder, turning with relief when Teyla ran into the room.

"You are awake," Teyla greeted me with a gentle smile.

"Yeah, and Carson won't tell me where John is!" I complained, looking at her hopefully. Carson stood off to one side as Teyla sat down beside me.

"The Asurans attacked us," Teyla told me, her eyes tormented. "Colonel Sheppard was," she swallowed convulsively before continuing resolutely, "injured. Ronon managed to take down the Asurans but it was too late ... the Colonel did not survive."

"What?!" I looked at her angrily. "That's not true ... why would you tell me something like that?"

"Sabina," Teyla put a comforting hand on my shoulder but I shook her off angrily.

"No," I insisted, scrambling up the bed away from her. "John is fine ... tell me where he is!"

"I am sorry," Teyla's eyes glistened with unshed tears. "You were right here ... surely you remember what happened."

"I remember a vision the Asurans gave me," I denied. "It wasn't real ... none of it was real!"

"Sometimes the human brain behaves strangely when faced with a traumatic experience," Doctor Beckett stepped closer to my bed. "It was a terrible thing you had to witness Sabina ... I'm not surprised your mind is trying to shield you from the reality."

"IT WASN'T REAL!" I yelled, jumping off the bed and turning to face them. "I want to see John RIGHT NOW!"

Teyla moved towards me, holding out a hand as if she could stop the anxiety and panic that were making me pant harshly. I could feel myself getting faint with lack of oxygen as I started to hyperventilate. Looking wildly around the room I couldn’t see anything I could do to make this whole horrible thing just disappear. I looked down in confusion when I felt a faint prick at my arm - looking back up I saw Carson's concerned face and the syringe he'd just finished injecting me with. My legs were too weak to hold me up and I slumped to the floor, laying my head down on the cold tiles numbly. Within seconds the sedative carried me back to the darkness.

oOo

"Sabina ... you have ... wake ... now," John's voice penetrated my consciousness. "Sabina?"

Struggling painfully I cracked open my eyes ... my vision blurred as I glanced around expecting John to be there ... but he wasn't. Closing my eyes I let the darkness take me again.

oOo

"Wake up!"

My eyes snapped open at the command that seemed to come from the centre of my head. Glancing around I realised I was still in the infirmary. Shying away from memories I didn't want to contemplate I slumped back and rubbed a tired hand over my eyes. My impression of time passed suggested I'd been out for hours and yet I still felt incredibly tired. Frowning in confusion I looked up at the sound of footsteps approaching, my hopes dashed when Teyla appeared from around the corner.

"Sabina," she said softly, coming forward and putting a comforting hand on my arm.

"I want to see John," I said firmly, looking her calmly in the eye.

"I am sorry," Teyla looked at me sympathetically. "You must accept the truth that Colonel Sheppard is gone."

"I know," I looked down at my hands so I wouldn't have to see her expression. "I still want to see him."

"I will ask Doctor Beckett," Teyla turned and left my side.

I drifted for a time, waiting for her to reappear. When she did Doctor Beckett was in attendance.

"I'm not sure this is a good idea lass," Carson protested my request. "The colonel's injury isn't pretty - are you sure you want that image in your head?"

"How can it be any worse than the movie I've got playing in my head right now?" I asked bitterly.

"All right," Carson agreed reluctantly. Motioning for Teyla to help me up he placed a robe around my shoulders before insisting that I sit in a wheel chair. When I protested that there was nothing wrong with me he told me that until the sedative he'd given me had completely worn off he didn't want me walking around the base.

The journey to the morgue was silent and morose. Lost in my own thoughts I was startled when Carson pushed the doors open ahead of us as Teyla wheeled me in.

The room was cold ... too bright ... and heavy with the scent of chemicals and the indefinable presence of death. The figure covered in a white sheet dominated the centre of the room ... concentrating on keeping my breathing slow and even I nodded firmly when Carson asked if I was ready. He slowly pulled the sheet back to reveal the face I'd hoped against hope that I wouldn't see. My eyes swam with tears as I looked silently at John’s lifeless face, frowning at how it could look like him but at the same time be so far removed from every image I held in my head. When I reached out a shaky hand and hesitantly touched his hair my confusion grew ... it was John's hair but it didn't feel right - was it possible for hair to feel lifeless?

"We'll just ... give you a moment," Doctor Beckett said softly, urging Teyla to leave me alone for whatever private things I might want to say to John before I had to let him go.

"I'm sorry," I croaked, not sure what I was apologising for. Because I couldn't save him? Because I had nothing profound to say in farewell? Resting my forehead on the sheet beside him I closed my eyes and tried to bring a happy memory of us to the forefront of my mind.

The brush of a hand over my hair was a whisper of movement I barely felt. Snapping back up I looked at John but he was as motionless as he'd been since I'd arrived.

"Sabina ... you're almost there ... you need to come back to me ..." John's voice hung in the air, issuing from every corner at once.

"ARG!" I screamed at the sudden intense pain in my head. Stumbling up from John's side I wrapped my arms around my head, turning from side to side looking for something, anything. "John?"

The intensity of the pain increased to the point where I struggled to maintain my grasp on consciousness. Lying on the cold tiles again I looked up at John's body ... imagining as my vision faded completely that his eyes were open, pleading with me to do ... something.


Chapter 12: How come that didn't happen with me?


"Sabina ... that's it ... come back to me ..."

"John?" I whispered, afraid to open my eyes for fear he wouldn't be there.

"I'm here," John said firmly. "Open your eyes now."

Cracking one eye open I squinted at the figure sitting by my bed. When I registered that it did look like John I snapped both eyes fully open and stared numbly at the face I'd seen only moments before stretched out lifeless in the Atlantis morgue.

"You're alive!" I exclaimed, sitting up and attempting to throw myself from the bed into his arms.

"I've been here the whole time," John reassured me, pulling me the rest of the way to him and wrapping me in a strong hug.

"Oh God," I pressed myself as close as I could get, breathing in his scent and running my hands over his chest to reassure myself that he was in fact alive. "I thought ... " I broke off, pressing my face into his neck and squeezing him really, really tight. John sat silently, letting me hold on as long as I needed before finally I pulled back and looked at him. I reached out a shaky hand and ran it through his hair, smiling in delight when it felt just like it should.

"Okay now?" John asked seriously.

"Better than," I countered, letting him resettle me back in the bed but claiming a firm hold on his arm when he went to move away. "What happened?"

"You collapsed on the conference room floor," John said simply. "Doctor Beckett scanned you and discovered nanites leading from your wrist up your arm and into your brain."

"Just like Doctor Weir?" I asked, looking around the infirmary for the first time. "Where is Elizabeth?"

"She's still in danger," John admitted. "Carson's got her in an isolation tent across the hall."

"But not me?" I frowned in confusion.

"The nanites were behaving differently in your system than in Elizabeth's," John told me. "Carson can tell you more later but he was pretty confident you wouldn't be able to pass the nanites on to anyone else."

"Oh," I frowned again. "How long?"

"Three hours," John reached out a hand and stroked my hair. "Your brain activity suggested you were ... dreaming ... obviously about me being dead. What happened?"

"Only three hours," I muttered. "God it felt like much longer! It was just like that vision I had on Asuras, only it started where that one left off. Teyla and Carson were telling me you were dead but I wouldn't believe them until I'd seen the proof for myself. I was sitting in the morgue beside your lifeless body but I could hear you calling me ... even feel you stroking my hair. There was this intense pain in my head and the next thing I knew I was waking up here." I glossed over the intensity of the experience, sure that John would be able to fill in the blanks without me giving him a graphic description.

"I'm sorry," John leaned down to hug me again.

"Not your fault," I replied. "Those Asurans sure know where to cut the deepest, don't they?"

"Yeah," John nodded. "Look, I'll go get Doctor Beckett, see if he can explain this."

"Don't," I grabbed at John's arm frantically. "If you leave you might -" I broke off, looking away as tears welled up in my eyes.

"Not come back?" John questioned. When I looked back at him and nodded wordlessly, John put a hand over mine and squeezed firmly, before tapping at his earpiece to establish a radio connection.

"Doc this is Sheppard. Sabina's awake." He nodded when Carson said he was on the way, maintaining eye contact with me the whole time.

"Thank you," I smiled tearfully.

We waited in silence for the few minutes it took for Doctor Beckett to arrive. John filled him in on everything I'd told him while I listened, thoughts still whirling in my head.

"How's Doctor Weir doing?" I asked once John had finished.

"It's not going well," Carson admitted reluctantly. "The nanites have insinuated themselves so completely within her systems that we can't risk any radical treatment without risking Elizabeth as well."

"How come that didn't happen with me?" I looked at Carson expectantly.

"At first they tried," Carson said. "It looks like Niam was right when he said you were different from the rest of us. It took longer for the nanites to spread than in Elizabeth." Carson looked at me in concern before continuing. "You'll be pleased to know I can now tell you what that blood protein we couldn't identify is for. I watched in happen myself ... your immune system detected the foreign nanites immediately, triggering the proteins to multiply. When they'd reached sufficient numbers they surrounded each nanite and completely obliterated it. There's no trace of the nanites anywhere in your system."

"Couldn't you ... give Elizabeth some of the proteins?" I asked, completely ignoring the chilled feeling I'd gotten at his explanation. I already had the ATA gene and the Wraith gene - I mean seriously, what were the chances I had some other weird blood thing as well? And what had the Ancients been thinking, messing around with their biology like that? Assuming it actually was the Ancients who were responsible for this latest revelation ... scary panicky thoughts - don't go there Sabina!

"Unfortunately not," Carson denied that solution as a possibility. "I tried in a Petri dish but Elizabeth's blood attacked the proteins before they could destroy the nanites. Blood is a delicate balance ... we all have a combination of antigens and proteins and in general they don't mix very well."

"How much time do we have?" I looked at John, noting from his expression that things were a lot more serious even than Carson had let on.

"I don't know,' Carson admitted. "Outside the body Elizabeth's immune system did what it's supposed to - it attacked the nanites as foreign and destroyed them. Inside the body there's practically no immune response at all."

"Why would that be?" John asked.

"Maybe the nanites are doing to her what they tried to do to me," I suggested numbly. "Maybe they're showing her ... something ... making her believe something that’s affecting her physical body too."

"Aye, that would make sense," Doctor Beckett agreed.

"I want to see her," I pushed up and swung my legs over the bed, clinging to the edge when I discovered my legs were weaker than I'd expected.

"You're not going anywhere lass," Doctor Beckett protested.

"I can rest just as easily over there as I can here," I looked at John, pleading with my eyes for him to understand. He looked at me silently for a few moments before nodding imperceptibly.

"Let her do this," John urged Doctor Beckett to relent.

Grumbling the whole time Carson got me installed in a wheel chair and John wheeled me across the hall to Doctor Weir’s bedside. Rodney, Teyla and Ronon were all standing vigil beside Elizabeth and greeted my return to consciousness with a relief dimmed by the fact that Elizabeth was still in danger.

Looking through the plastic at Elizabeth lying so still I thought about what I’d experienced and what Doctor Beckett had told me. Surely there was some way to use those things to help Elizabeth.

I was still thinking about that when Carson and Rodney returned a short time later, brimming with the excitement that clearly advertised they had an idea. It sounded like a good one too - Carson would plant a Wraith 'tumour' somewhere to lure the nanites away from Elizabeth's brain, taking advantage of the fact that their original purpose had been to fight the Wraith. Once enough of them had been diverted Rodney would hit Elizabeth with the EM Pulse directed straight through the scanning machine, hopefully wiping them all out.

"That's brilliant," I smiled at Carson, relieved to see that purposeful look back on his face.

"Let's just hope it works lass," Carson replied, turning to look at John for the final go ahead.

"Okay. Let's do it," John agreed solemnly.

Rodney and Carson headed off to prepare the necessary tools to implement the plan. The Wraith tumour was planted in Doctor Weir’s leg and we all waited impatiently for the nanites to begin their attack on it. It seemed that everything was going according to plan – the nanites shifted from their key positions and concentrated on the Wraith material. When enough of them had moved away from Elizabeth's brain Rodney activated the EM pulse. My hopes surged when the nanites appeared to be defeated, only to plummet again when the nanites reappeared, more rapidly and more aggressively than before.

"A significant number of nanites have migrated into the arteries that supply blood flow to the higher functions of her brain," Doctor Beckett said, gesturing towards the screen showing the scan of Elizabeth’s body with red dots travelling everywhere.

"They're telling us they can kill her if they want to," Ronon stated grimly.

"Nurse, switch over to one hundred percent oxygen, stat, and start her on norepinephrine, five mics per minute," Carson ordered, turning to us to explain. "Reducing blood flow to those parts of her brain will put her into a state of cerebral hypoxia."

"What will that do?" Teyla asked in concern.

"Render her essentially brain dead, which makes no sense," Rodney complained.

"Unless she's fighting it now," John said thoughtfully. I nodded, thinking back to my own experience as the others all looked at him in confusion. "It's the only thing that makes sense. The Replicators see us as organic machines. They're trying to take control of the machine they're in."

"You mean replace Elizabeth's consciousness?" Doctor Beckett suggested.

"Maybe when we zapped her with the EMP, we killed enough of them to even out the odds - gave her a fighting chance to stop them," John suggested.

"Uh, reality check," Rodney protested sarcastically. "There are microscopic robots in her brain. How does she fight that?"

"Her mind is active Rodney," John reminded him. "What if this was the only way they could get to her? What if they were trying to force her to give up?"

"A battle of wills," Teyla stated.

"Exactly," John looked at Doctor Beckett expectantly.

"But ..." Rodney frowned.

"The nanites created visions in my head," I admitted. "It wasn’t exactly a battle because the nanites never gained full control but I was certainly aware of ... a version of reality the whole time I was unconscious. There was a time when I did believe what they were showing me."

"So, what, we can't do anything?" Rodney demanded impatiently.

"I can increase the oxygen levels in her blood, give her a little more time, but, yes - she's on her own." Doctor Beckett said simply.

"No. She's not," John contradicted. He turned and walked over to the isolation tent. "You're not alone, Elizabeth," he said loudly. "We're right here with you. You have to fight this."

For the next half an hour we all sat mesmerized in front of the screen showing Elizabeth’s full body scan. Even with my limited medical experience I could tell that the nanites were multiplying at an expanding rate.

"They've begun to spread faster," Doctor Beckett said sadly. "We're losing her."

John got up and I knew he was about to do something stupid. I pushed myself up and grabbed his arm, pulling him around to face me.

"Let me go in there," I told him. "I can help her," I looked at John intently, sure that if anyone was going to believe me it would be him.

"What, are you crazy? She could reinfect you!" Rodney said, talking in his ‘why is everybody too stupid to see things the way I do’ voice.

"That’s the whole idea ... the nanites won't harm me," I directed my comments mostly to John. "I could try to make contact with her wherever it is they've got her ... help her to fight. It might not work but it’s worth a shot."

"Do it," John turned away, shaking his head when Rodney made to protest again.

Motioning the others back I pulled aside the isolation tent opening and stepped inside. Not sure exactly how to accomplish what I wanted I pulled a chair up next to Elizabeth's bed and then put both my hands on her arm, squeezing resolutely.

"Elizabeth," I said firmly. "You have to fight this ... don’t believe what they show you because it’s not real."

I watched as Elizabeth frowned, pain evident on her face. Looking back through the plastic at John I was heartened by him motioning for me to keep trying.

"Elizabeth!" I almost yelled. "Don’t let the machines do this to you ... fight them!"

Elizabeth gave the appearance of struggling even harder – a grimace of distress on her face and pupils moving rapidly beneath her eyelids. I maintained my firm hold on her arm, waiting intently to see if the nanites would retaliate against me. When my hands began tingling I closed my eyes and tried to think myself into Elizabeth’s reality.

I opened my eyes and found myself in a deserted hall back at the SGC. I sprinted down the corridor, heading towards the Gateroom.

"Sabina," John's voice had me slamming the breaks on. I turned and watched as he strode towards me.

"You guys really need to learn a bit of originality," I taunted. "You've already done this and it didn't work."

"What makes you think you can help Doctor Weir?" John asked condescendingly. "You - a stowaway with no skills. You don't belong here."

"Maybe not," I raised an eyebrow mockingly, "but I've got skill enough to resist your tricks."

"Not skill," John retorted. "An accident of genetics at best ... your contaminated blood is the only thing that makes you special ... if you want to call it that. The more I learn about you the more ... repulsed I am."

I tried not to let the words affect me because I knew the real John didn't think like that. Trouble was, there was a part of me that did think like that, a part that had been given a louder voice by Carson's revelation about the blood protein. I kept my face blank as John continued to speak.

"You're okay to pass the time with now but in the long term?" John sneered as he looked me up and down with distaste evident on his face. "I can do much better than you."

"Desperate are we?" I asked lightly. "You wouldn't be stooping so low unless you were worried that I can help Elizabeth."

In theory it had seemed like a good idea to try to help Elizabeth by taking on the nanites inside whatever reality they'd created for her. In practise it was a whole different thing - the entity in front of me looked exactly like John and I found it difficult to bring myself to do what was necessary to get past him. 'He's not John,' I thought, repeating that mantra over and over as I advanced towards him.

Moving more rapidly that I ever could have in the real world I charged, slamming him back into the wall, following quickly with a series of punches to the gut.

"You cannot help her," John taunted in between grunts of pain. "In fact, you cannot help yourself ... it was foolish for you to return to us."

Ignoring that, I grabbed his arm and flipped him, flinching despite my belief that this wasn't real when his body hit the ground hard. Not waiting to see what he'd try next I turned and sprinted on down the corridor. Coming out at a t-junction I looked left and found Elizabeth standing there in hospital garb. To my right stood a US Air force officer I recognised as General O’Neill.

"Elizabeth!" I drew her attention to me.

"Sabina!" Elizabeth smiled with clear relief.

"You've been infected by nanites," I said quickly. "They're trying to take control of your mind and body. Don’t let them do it."

"How ...?" Elizabeth trailed off, looking back towards the General before looking hopefully at me.

"You have to fight the nanites ... it all comes down to you," I told her sternly.

"Elizabeth," O’Neill drew her attention away from me. Behind him two Marines with guns stood ready to apprehend her. When Elizabeth turned back to face him O’Neill said "You have to come with us. I'm sorry."

"Don’t do it," I said heatedly. "You know which way you have to go."

Elizabeth turned back to me again ... I watched as a horrified look appeared on her face. Realising the nanites had placed more Marines behind me I turned and ruthlessly disabled them, again using my belief that this wasn’t real to do so much more easily than I could have in reality. Turning back to Elizabeth I saw that finally she was beginning to believe that she could win.

"Run." I said quietly. "Do it now."

Elizabeth took off down the corridor, heading straight for the General and his two Marines. Barely pausing she careened past them and turned in the direction of the Gateroom. The Marines tried to stop me but I dispatched them as easily as the others before running after her. I arrived in the Gateroom moments later, skidding to a stop at the sight before me.

The Stargate contained an active wormhole ... Elizabeth had clearly intended to step through but an unfamiliar man was standing in front of it blocking her way.

"Elizabeth, listen to me," the man said in an ‘I’m just trying to help you’ tone.

"You see that?" Elizabeth pointed towards the event horizon. "That's the Stargate, and yes, leaving is exactly what I plan to do."

"I won't let you go," the man stood firmly, blocking her path.

"You can't stop me." Elizabeth took a small step forward. The man’s form pulsed and transformed and in his place stood Niam.

"On the contrary. I already have," Niam said in a faintly evil tone that was nothing like the Niam we had known. "Where are your friends now?"

"Don’t listen to him Elizabeth," I announced my presence, stepping up onto the ramp and walking slowly towards them. "He’s not real either ... all of this is taking place inside your mind ... you are in control."

"My nanites are in control!" Niam contradicted me, smiling in amusement. "You can't possibly get past me. So you see ... you've lost."

Elizabeth glanced back at me and I nodded. Steeling herself, Elizabeth took a deep breath and then walked forward, straight through Niam. He disintegrated into a shimmer of silvery crystals that fell in a heap on the floor. Elizabeth paused before stepping into the event horizon. I followed her a moment later.

When I opened my eyes I was greeted with a familiar scene. I was back in my infirmary bed ... glancing to my left I was relieved to see Elizabeth ensconced in the next bed, sitting patiently while Doctor Beckett took some readings. I felt the touch of a hand on mine, drawing my attention to the right.

I smiled happily at the sight of John sitting at my bedside.

"Hey," he said. "You’re awake."

"So it would seem," I replied, turning my hand so that I could grasp his firmly. "It worked?"

"Elizabeth's nanites are all dormant," John confirmed. "So yeah, it worked."

"I was worried for a bit there," I admitted reluctantly. "I was counting on the nanites not being able to project more than one reality at once to get me into Elizabeth's. It was only after I'd already committed myself that I wondered whether that was actually going to be true."

"You took a big risk," John said seriously, "one I might not have let you take if I'd known that."

"Sorry," I said meekly. "If it's any consolation it wasn't as bad as last time."

"No new visions of me dying or anything?" John looked at me questioningly.

"Nope," I said simply, not wanting to admit how the nanites had used him to try and stop me.

"Are you okay ... with everything that happened today?" I felt John fingers squeeze mine as he asked that difficult question.

"I spent the day in bed," I said firmly. "Had some really horrible nightmares ... that I never want to experience again ... but it wasn’t real, right?"

"It wasn’t real," John agreed.

"Then I’m okay," I reassured him as well as myself, knowing that it would take a while before I forgot the horror of what I’d seen.


Chapter 13: Hope is the refuge of the unintelligent


 “We’re heading out,” John’s voice drew my attention to the doorway of the lab.

“Hmm?” I mumbled, not paying attention until John crossed the room, pulling me out of my chair and into his arms.

“What’s got you so distracted?” he asked curiously, looking over my shoulder at my laptop screen.

“Just following up on what I got off that Asuran hologram,” I dismissed lightly. “You heading out?”

“Yeah, we’re following up on that Genii transmission we got yesterday,” John reminded me. “I’ll see you later.”

“Okay,” I said, pulling him down for a quick kiss goodbye. “Be careful.”

“I’m always careful,” John drawled with a smile. Squeezing me one last time he stepped back, turned and strolled casually out of the room.

It was the kind of ‘see you after the mission’ scene we’d each enacted more times than I could count. I had no sense that this time was different ... if I had I would have made what I’d said or done a hell of a lot more profound than it was.

By the time I was apprised of the situation – that John had been essentially kidnapped - a strike force had accompanied the rest of team Sheppard back through the Stargate. I ran down to the Gateroom, pacing impatiently as I waited for the team to return. The incoming wormhole alarm sounded and Doctor Weir ran down the steps to join me.

“Anything?” she asked as Teyla, Ronon and Rodney stepped through the gate.

“There was no sign of Colonel Sheppard or our attackers,” Teyla reported emotionlessly.

“And they covered their tracks well,” Ronon added in frustration.

“Why would someone want to kidnap John?” I looked from Teyla to Rodney in confusion.

“I don’t know ... but there's a good chance he was transported off world,” Rodney offered, “so I gathered the last fifty or so Gate addresses that were dialled.”

“That should be helpful,” Doctor Weir agreed. “But since the transmission which summoned us to the planet was sent using a code we gave to the Genii that will be our starting point.”

“What are you gonna do,” Rodney demanded incredulously, “ask the Genii if one of them took Sheppard?”

“Yes, I am.” Doctor Weir said matter-of-factly.

Behind her the Stargate began an incoming dialling sequence. Rodney looked at Elizabeth and pointed to the Gate.

“So this ...?” he asked in disbelief.

“Yes, it is,” Doctor Weir confirmed.

“Incoming wormhole,” the technician reported from the Control Room. I watched as the kawhoosh roared out before settling back into the event horizon. “We're receiving the new identification code.”

“Security teams, stand by. Lower the shield,” Doctor Weir ordered.

The shield lowered and a few moments later Ladon Radim came through, followed by three Genii guards. I couldn’t help but feel both anger and apprehension at the site of the new leader of the Genii. The last time we’d had contact Ladon had used John as an integral part of his plan to overthrow the leadership of Commander Cowen.

“Welcome, Ladon,” Elizabeth said, one leader to another.

Doctor Weir might have been welcoming but she was the only one. Ladon was confronted by an angry Ronon and an annoyed Rodney, each blaming the Genii for John’s disappearance. Doctor Weir controlled the conversation as best she could while at the same time sending the clear message to the Genii leader that we would take action if it turned out he had had something to do with it.

I tried to be as calm as possible but when it became obvious that Doctor Weir was going to continue her conversation with Ladon in her office privately I had to speak up.

“Doctor Weir, can I ...?” my voice trailed off as she turned back to look at me.

“For the moment I think it best if Ladon and I discuss this together,” Doctor Weir said sympathetically. “I’ll make sure you’re kept informed of any progress.”

“Okay,” I nodded, knowing that was probably the best I could have hoped for. They turned to continue up the stairs to Elizabeth’s office and I didn’t miss the puzzled look Ladon gave me.

“If this results in a rescue mission,” I turned to address Ronon, “I’m going too.”

“If it were up to me, you would,” Ronon replied. I nodded, knowing that in the end it would be up to Doctor Weir. It was annoying that Major Lorne was on M5R 877 training some new arrivals – if he’d been there I was sure he would have ensured I’d be a part of the team that went to rescue John.

Of course before there could be a rescue mission we’d need somewhere to send the mission to ... and at the moment that seemed to rely solely on Ladon Radim. I kept close by in case anything happened, back to pacing around the Gateroom impatiently.

Doctor Weir and Ladon had been up in her office only a short time when the incoming wormhole alarm sounded again. I ran up the steps to the Control Room, almost colliding with them as they headed in from the other direction.

“Identification code?” Doctor Weir asked Rodney.

“None, but we're receiving an analogue video signal,” Rodney replied.

“Bring it up,” Doctor Weir ordered.

My insides clenched when I recognised the face of Acastus Kolya, former military leader of the Genii and henchman of Commander Cowen. This was bad ... this was very, very bad.

“Doctor Weir, if you're receiving this, please respond,” Kolya stood in the centre of the screens view ... behind him were two guards.

Everyone in the Control Room was almost frozen in shock, except for Ronon who’d arrived in Atlantis after the infamous storm incident.

“Who the hell is he?” Ronon demanded.

“Acastus Kolya,” Teyla said with a distasteful look. “A Genii military leader who once tried to seize Atlantis. Ladon was a member of his strike team.”

“I do know you're there, Doctor,” Kolya spoke again. “The existence of Atlantis is no secret among the Genii. It would be pointless not to answer.”

“Open a channel,” Doctor Weir requested. She waited until the technician confirmed that Kolya would now be able to hear her. “This is Doctor Weir,” she replied.

“Oh, good. I wanted to be certain you were there to see this,” Kolya said, stepping aside to reveal the space behind him.

Oh God ... he had John shackled and sitting on a chair in the middle of the room, white scarf tied around his mouth. I stepped forward intending to speak but stopped when Ronon put a warning hand on my shoulder. When I looked up at him in query he shook his head, his eyes telling me now would not be the time to let John know that I was there. Reluctantly I nodded back, letting him know that I understood.

“What have you done to him?” Rodney demanded somewhat aggressively.

“Nothing whatsoever, Doctor McKay,” Kolya said reassuringly.

“OK, let me rephrase that: what are you planning to do?” Rodney asked sarcastically.

“It's quite simple,” Kolya revealed. “I'd like to make a trade.”

“Before we continue this conversation another second, I want to speak with Sheppard,” Doctor Weir said harshly.

“Be my guest,” Kolya waved a hand behind him as if reminding us that John could hear everything we were saying.

“We'll rephrase that, too: we would like him to be able to speak to us,” Rodney clarified.

“Very well,” Kolya grinned at the camera before nodding to one of the guards. John’s gag was pulled down and before any of us could think to say anything John had launched into an obviously prepared speech.

“On my command authority, whatever he asks, don't do it, even ...” John ordered, interrupted by the guard replacing his gag before he could finish that statement. That was so typically John and yet I felt angry that he’d put everything ahead of his own safety. It would have been nice if he’d said ‘get me out of here any way you can’ but that was never gonna happen.

Kolya laughed and turned back to the camera. “Well, as you can see, he's his usual charming self,” he said mockingly.

“Explain your terms, Kolya,” Doctor Weir demanded.

“I have heard the familiar voices of yourself and Doctor McKay, but there is one person I know is there who has yet to speak,” Kolya looked into the camera as if he could see through it to the Control Room. “Ladon Radim is with you, is he not?”

“Why would Ladon be here?” Doctor Weir prevaricated.

“Well, to preserve his precious alliance with you, Doctor, so that the Genii might remain in the favour of Atlantis,” Kolya explained. “My sources have already confirmed this, so there's no point in denying the fact. Turn him over to me, and Colonel Sheppard will be released immediately.”

“I'll need time to consider your offer,” Doctor Weir said.

“Allow me to help expedite your decision,” Kolya said, giving nothing away.

He turned away from the camera and it panned across the room to show the door opening. Two Genii guards appeared, dragging in a figure I could barely comprehend – he was Wraith. This one was male with long, dishevelled hair and a stumbling gate that suggested he was weak enough to have trouble even walking across the room.

“Oh my God,” Doctor Weir exclaimed.

Ronon,” I whispered despairingly, not sure what I was asking of him.

“Be quiet,” Ronon whispered back.

I watched in disbelief as the Genii guards led the Wraith over to John ... the camera was close enough that I could see the moment when John realised what was probably about to happen.

“Sheppard could have left you to rot down in that hole when we last met, Kolya,” Rodney said bitterly. “He does not deserve this.”

“Let's be clear, Doctor McKay. No-one does.” Kolya spoke like he was discussing the weather rather than the torture of a human being.

“Don't do this,” Doctor Weir pleaded harshly.

Kolya gave no response, committed to his course of action. The Genii guards unshackled the Wraith’s right hand and took off something strapped to its lower arm that was obviously designed to prevent him from feeding.

“Don't do it,” Elizabeth pleaded again.

“The choice is yours, Doctor Weir,” Kolya said in a reasonable tone. “Do we have an arrangement?”

One of the guards pulled John’s jacket open. I turned to Elizabeth and saw her anger and horror as well as her resolution - she would not be stopping this. Turning back to the screen I watched John steel himself, giving no indication that he wanted Doctor Weir to do anything to save him.

“Very well,” Kolya said almost sadly after a significant pause. He turned and nodded to the guards. Ronon put a firm hand on my shoulder when the Wraith was released. I put a hand over my mouth to stop myself from crying out, my sight frozen on the screen as the Wraith looked at John, snarled and then slammed its hand onto John’s chest.

No,” I murmured despairingly, feeling my knees weaken as John’s face contorted in agony. The Wraith howled as it fed ... a horrible echoing sound I felt to the depths of my soul. I'd heard a Wraith feeding described but no words could adequately convey the horror of watching the life being sucked out of someone. I felt Ronon standing behind me, frustration pulsing off him at having to watch a sworn enemy feeding on his friend.

“Stop! Stop!” Doctor Weir yelled.

“Enough,” Kolya ordered his guards to finish the feeding. One of them jolted the Wraith with a shock stick as two others ripped him away from John and hurried him out of the room. I watched sickly as John gasped for breath, feeding wound clearly evident on his chest. He looked up at Kolya, weakly defiant, his face lined with the years the Wraith had stolen and the pain he'd endured. Kolya stood silent for a moment before turning back to the camera.

“You just crossed a line, Kolya,” Doctor Weir said hoarsely.

“We've found that a minimum of three hours between feeding sessions is crucial to ensure the body has sufficient time to recover from the trauma. That's the time you have to decide. Three hours.” Kolya announced impassively. The video cut off abruptly, leaving a screen of grey static behind.

“Excuse me,” I muttered, clamping a hand firmly over my mouth and leaving no one in doubt as to what I was about to do. Pushing past Ronon I ran to the nearest bathroom and proceeded to lose anything I’d put in my stomach for the day ... when that didn’t seem enough I continued to retch emptily until Doctor Beckett found me a few minutes later.

“I’m sorry lass,” Carson said softly, helping me off the floor and to the basin. He watched silently as I splashed water on my face and tried to regain my composure.

“Can he survive that?” my voice rasped sorely.

“We still know so little about the feeding process,” Carson admitted. “All I can tell you is that each time he's fed upon, his chances of survival diminish severely.”

I nodded, not surprised by what he’d said. I’d gotten into the habit of believing that there was always hope, no matter how bad a situation might seem on the surface. This time I found hope a difficult commodity to come by ... I had seen John age before my eyes ... years had been taken from him that could never be returned. Glancing at Doctor Beckett with an anguished look I pleaded for some kind of guidance. “What should I do? I don’t know what to do!”

“There’s nothing you can do,” Carson said, “except be strong and pray we can find him before its too late.”

oOo

What are you doing?” Rodney’s incredulous voice echoed within the confines of the lab an hour later.

“I need to finish reading the rest of the stuff you gave me on the nanite virus,” I said, maintaining my focus on the screen in front of me.

“Sheppard has less than two hours before the Wraith feeds again,” Rodney said like he had to remind me of that fact.

“I know Rodney,” I replied, “and if there was something I could do for him then I’d be doing it!”

“I just thought ...,“ Rodney began in confusion, “... I was expecting you to be more bothered by this.”

“What if it was a trick – like when Kolya told John he’d shot Elizabeth but he hadn’t?” I asked, looking down so I wouldn’t have to see Rodney’s expression.

“What are you, the Queen of Denial?!” Rodney asked sarcastically. “There was no trick ... this is as real as it gets!”

“There has to be hope,” I looked away when Rodney scoffed. “What else have I got?”

“Hope is the refuge of the unintelligent,” Rodney retorted. “You want something else ... come up to the Control Room and help me look through the addresses I got off the Gate. Maybe you’ll see something I’m missing.”

Putting a suddenly shaky hand to my forehead I blinked rapidly as tears welled up from that place in my heart that had been numb since I’d watched the Wraith rape the life from John’s body.

“Don’t,” Rodney backed away, looking very uncomfortable with being in the presence of a crying woman. “Look I didn’t come down here to make you cry ...” he broke off with a pained expression before stepping closer again and awkwardly patting my shoulder. “Are you okay?”

No,” I said tearfully. “I was distracted this morning ... barely even paid attention when John left for the mission. Why did I do that?”

“You couldn’t have known something like this would happen,” Rodney pointed out. “None of us could have predicted Kolya would go to such lengths to get what he wants.”

“I hate this Rodney,” I said angrily. “Being helpless ... and dependent on someone we can’t really trust to point us in the right direction.”

“That’s why you should come up to the Control Room and help out,” Rodney reiterated.

It was a struggle to pull all the emotions back inside but somehow I managed it, wiping the tears from my face defiantly. “Okay,” I said, trying to sound confident. “Let’s go.”


Chapter 14: If it saved his life? Hell yes!


I worked closely with Rodney as we cross referenced Ladon’s list with our own, focusing everything I had on the task so I wouldn’t have to think about how John was doing. Teyla and Ronon stayed close by, offering comments on any of the addresses they recognised ... I was grateful for their presence, and not just because their intimidating facades kept much of the curiosity and concern away. Every now and then snippets of the last feeding would pop into my head - the tormented expression on John’s face; that horrible Wraith howl - and I’d have to work hard to push them aside.

Even worse though was the growing anger I felt inside that had me snapping whenever someone did get close enough to ask me if I was okay. I didn’t get that - who the hell cared whether I was okay? John was the one being tortured!

I'd never known anger as I was feeling it then, complex and multifaceted. There was the obvious anger I felt towards the Wraith for daring to feed on John. That paled against the hate filled anger I felt towards Kolya, the director and producer of the drama we found ourselves trapped in. The anger that surprised me the most was the bit I was feeling towards John himself ... it wasn’t his fault and yet I couldn’t help the small part of me that was angry he’d gotten himself into another near death situation. He'd taken negotiation off the table leaving rescue as our only avenue - didn't he realise how hard that would be on me? Selfish I know but in the whole scheme of things nowhere near the ugliest emotion I’d had that day.

“Perhaps it would be wise for you to remain behind should we find the right address,” Teyla suggested softly. She’d been watching me since I’d turned up with Rodney and I knew she was worried about me.

“No,” I said heatedly. “John’s ... injured – he needs me to be there.”

“Can you control your emotions and be strong for him no matter the circumstances we find him in?” Teyla persisted.

“I don’t know,” I admitted reluctantly, “but I’ll try.”

“It may be dangerous and John would not thank us if you were to be hurt during any attempts to rescue him,” I frowned over that one, realising that Teyla had a point.

“It’s Doctor Weir’s call,” Ronon reminded me. “It won’t matter what any of us say if she doesn’t agree.”

“She won’t,” Rodney spoke up on the topic for the first time, glancing at me apologetically. “She’ll tell you you’re too close and that your vested interest could jeopardise a successful outcome. I’m not saying I agree with that necessarily but ...”

"All of you care about John too," I pointed out. "Doesn't that mean you all have a vested interest in the outcome as well?"

"Not like you," Ronon said simply. "Sheppard's our friend sure, but ... he's your future." Tears welled in my eyes as the truth of that hit me. I had no idea what shape the future would take but I couldn't imagine John not being in it.

"You don't play fair," I complained, swallowing down my tears before they could take hold. “I know what you're trying to say but I still have to ask,” I said insistently. “You have no idea how hard it is to wait around while everyone else is out there doing.”

“Well get your arguments ready,” Rodney stood up jubilantly. “I’ve got something.”

oOo

"Doctor Weir!" Rodney ran up the stairs to the Control Room to report our progress. I followed at a slower pace, careful to keep a distance between myself and Ladon as I walked past him. "We've got a match! We went through the database. Between our list and Ladon's, there's only one potential location that makes any sense." Rodney looked at Elizabeth expectantly.

"Go," Doctor Weir said with a smile.

"Right," Rodney replied, turning and heading straight back down the stairs.

"I really need to go on the mission,” I said, looking at Elizabeth hopefully.

"I don’t think that’s wise," Doctor Weir denied my request. "You’re too close to this."

“I won’t do anything to risk the success of the mission,” I persisted. “Please let me do this.”

“I’m sorry Sabina,’ Doctor Weir said regretfully. “There’s too much at stake and you’re too emotionally tied to the outcome. I won’t risk John’s safe return. I know you care about that above all else so I know you’ll listen to reason and let this one go.”

Nice way to play the guilt and responsibility cards! She'd completely cut off any other arguments I could have used and forced me to give in without a fight. Almost growling in frustration I turned without a word, bumping into Ladon who’d been standing behind me.

"Are you and Colonel Sheppard –," he began to ask with a look of concerned curiosity.

"Back off!" I said heatedly, pushing past him and continuing down to the Gateroom to see the others off.

The next hour was the epitome in frustration as I did little more than haunt the Gateroom, scowling at anyone who tried to speak to me. When the team dialled in to report that John had never been at the warehouse I felt my head filling with the anger that consumed me.

I ran up the Control Room stairs with the sole intention of blasting Ladon with that anger. He and Doctor Weir were across the hall in her office ... I made to move in that direction but was thwarted by the announcement of an unscheduled off world activation.

Elizabeth and Ladon walked in from her office as the technician reported that it was another video feed. Did I want to be there for this? Glancing from side to side at the number of people present it was a tossup but in the end I couldn’t leave ... John wouldn’t if our positions had been reversed.

I walked over and stood behind Doctor Weir in front of the display screen, feeling the most intense wave of hatred I’d ever experienced when Kolya’s face appeared on screen.

"Doctor Weir. As promised," Kolya greeted us.

"Where's Sheppard?" Doctor Weir demanded.

"I'm pleased to see you're wasting no time. So neither will I," Kolya responded. He walked across the room we’d seen previously and the camera followed him until we could see John in the same position as before. Apart from some wrinkling around the eyes and a bit more grey in his hair, John didn’t look much different than usual. I felt some relief when I realised he must have recovered somewhat during the three hours since the first feeding.

One of the guards untied the contraption from around the Wraiths arm – the Wraith snarled as though impatient to begin the feed. I almost whimpered at the sight of the dread on John's face – this time he knew what to expect. The fact that he showed those emotions so clearly said more than anything else how truly horrific the Wraith feeding experience must be.

"Will you turn Ladon Radim over to me in exchange for Colonel Sheppard?" Kolya asked.

Doctor Weir didn’t respond, looking mutely at the screen and the sight of John shaking his head.

"Doctor Weir?" Kolya demanded a response.

"No," Doctor Weir said harshly. It was no comfort to me to see John nodding approvingly at our unwillingness to give in to Kolya’s demands. I didn't want him to be stoic - I wanted him to want us to trade for him even though I knew how wrong that would be - damn it!

"I can only conclude you doubt my sincerity," Kolya turned back to the guards and nodded his head.

The Wraith was released. It seemed that for a moment he hesitated before slamming his hand down on John’s chest. John’s face contorted in agony just like before as the Wraith howled in pleasure at the feeding.

I looked down at the floor, unable to watch John's torture, the Wraith's hunger being satiated, or most disturbing of all Kolya's apparent enjoyment of what he was putting John through. I couldn't avoid the sounds though, their discordant notes echoing in my head and making my stomach clench nervously. I felt weak and shaky, desperate for it to end but at the same time equally desperate not to have to find out just how many years John had lost this time.

"Enough," Kolya ordered.

I looked back at the screen reluctantly, feeling the shock like a physical pain when I saw John’s condition. His hair was almost completely grey and his face was wrinkled and weary. He looked twenty years older than he had when he’d kissed me goodbye that morning.

"Three hours," Kolya said.

The transmission cut off, leaving me staring blankly at the static left behind.

"YOU!" I turned abruptly and slammed my hands into Ladon’s chest, pushing him forcefully against the wall. "This is your fault ... you worthless piece of –"

"Sabina!" Doctor Weir’s voice cut through my fury.

"What?" I turned to her in disbelief. "Do you honestly believe that this ... this ... person is worth the life of John Sheppard? Because if you do you’re not the leader I thought you were."

"That’s enough!" Doctor Weir’s voice rang with the power of her command. "I understand that you’re angry but this is not the way to deal with it. Colonel Sheppard ordered us not to concede to Kolya’s demands – would you have me go against that?"

"If it saved his life? Hell yes!" I said without hesitation. When Doctor Weir raised a disbelieving eyebrow at me I sighed, feeling myself deflate. Reluctantly I took my hands away from Ladon and stepped back. "Okay – No – but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!"

"There’s still time to save John," Doctor Weir urged me to retain some hope. "Let’s not give up just yet."

"I haven’t," I denied. "I’m sorry I let my anger get the better of me ... I just ... I need to do something to help him!"

"Let’s revisit those Gate addresses," Doctor Weir suggested. I nodded, hesitating before bringing up something I knew she’d struggle with.

"When ... ," that wasn't right so I started again. "If the time comes, can I speak to John next time?"

"It’s too risky," Doctor Weir frowned at my request.

"Kolya won’t know who I am so where’s the risk?" I looked at her pleadingly. "You have to give me something. I can’t let John die alone on some nameless planet ...," my voice shook with emotion and I stopped to regain control before continuing, "... when at the very least I can let him know how much he’s loved."

"All right," Doctor Weir agreed reluctantly. "If the time comes."

oOo

The three hours we had to come up with something new passed in the blink of an eye. Ronon, Teyla and Rodney returned from their failed mission and we revisited the list of planets Rodney had taken from the DHD. Nothing jumped out at us and Ladon couldn’t provide any additional intelligence to narrow down the search. Before I was ready I found myself back in the Control Room with the others, anxiously waiting for my next sight of John while at the same time dreading confirmation that his condition was beyond repair.

"He still has years ahead of him, Doctor Weir," Kolya said. "My offer stands."

"So does my answer," Doctor Weir replied in a resolute voice.

"Then you're effectively ending his life," Kolya tried to guilt Elizabeth into reconsidering.

"I'm not gonna go there," Doctor Weir shook her head at the implication.

"Is Ladon there?" Kolya asked curiously.

"I am," Ladon spoke for the first time, confirming what Kolya had always suspected.

"I can't help but wonder what you've told them so they'd choose you over one of their own," Kolya said conversationally.

"That I betrayed you," Ladon returned frankly. "That I took for myself what you believed to be yours."

"The truth? I must say I'm surprised," Kolya admitted.

"If you release him, you may return to our people with my promise of amnesty," Ladon offered.

"Please, Ladon, I trained you better than that," Kolya accused with a smile. "There are things that cannot be undone."

"That's not true. You can end this," Doctor Weir’s tone was harsh but somehow also pleading.

"Strange, Doctor, I was just about to say the same thing," Kolya returned with a bit more heat than he’d previously shown.

The camera had only been showing Kolya and one of the guards behind him but now in panned back and we all saw John strapped into the chair. The Wraith was dragged into position next to him, feeding hand already outstretched in readiness for what was to come.

"Take your fill," Kolya told the Wraith. Instantly the Wraith slammed its hand down onto John’s chest.

"John!" I cried out, hoping that he could hear me. "We’re still coming for you – no matter what!" The Wraith roared as it fed, already well past the few seconds it had been given the previous times. "I ah ... I love you ... always," my voice shook with unshed tears, "even if you come back here an old man – so don’t give up."

The feeding seemed to go on far longer than I could hope John to survive. Ronon had already retreated in fury but I held on, determined to see this through to the end - sure that it really was the end for John this time. I felt my first glimmer of hope when the Wraith broke off the feed before Kolya gave the order.

"Who told you to stop?" Kolya demanded.

"He is near death," the Wraith replied without aggression. "Shall I finish him?"

Kolya looked at John dispassionately. I slumped down in the nearest chair at the sight ... John’s hair was entirely grey now and his face was sunken and discoloured ... he looked like the old man I’d tried to joke about. Teyla put a comforting hand on my shoulder when the tears I’d been holding in finally got the better of me. I put my head down on my arms, trying to muffle my sobbing on the off chance that John might hear.

"Get it out of here," Kolya ordered. There was a short pause and then Kolya’s voice again "now its two hours," before the transmission ended.

oOo

I couldn’t bear to be surrounded by people, with their sympathetic looks and their behaviour that said louder than words they thought John was already dead. I didn’t need to hear Doctor Beckett’s lack of hope explanation about how the feeding process worked, nor Doctor Weir’s excuses as she sent Ladon Radim back through the Stargate to interrogate his traitors. I didn’t want to see Ronon’s angry frustration, Teyla’s stoic sadness, or Rodney’s visible distress. And I especially didn’t need to hear the sound of the clock ticking each second of those two hours away while I was helpless to do anything. So I ran ... following the same route I’d travelled with John nearly every day for more than two years. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore. Sinking to the ground I let the despair overtake me, graphic imagines of the Wraith feeding on John intermingled with images of his virtual death at the hands of the Asurans playing in an endless loop inside my head. Pressing my forehead to the floor I moaned at the voices and images that just wouldn’t shut up.

"Sabina?" Ronon’s voice coming through my radio cleared my head instantaneously.

"There’s news?" I asked hoarsely.

"Get down to the Gateroom as fast as you can," Ronon advised before signing off.

oOo

"I’m going on this mission," I told Doctor Weir firmly. "I’ll fly the Jumper if you need a reason to justify it."

"I’ll leave it to you to explain to John why you had to go," Doctor Weir replied, squeezing my arm in comfort. I couldn’t help but wonder at the contradiction from last time – suddenly now that we were pretty sure John was dead it was all right for me to risk myself? It wasn’t the first time Doctor Weir had done a turnaround on mission personnel and I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

"Thank you," I said, hoping she'd know I was thanking her both for not making me argue for my spot as well as for still having hope despite what we’d seen on the last transmission.

I flew the Jumper through the Gate to the coordinates Ladon had finally gotten for us. Team Sheppard, Doctor Beckett and a team of four marines were in attendance as well – thankfully none of them questioned my inclusion on the mission.

Milliseconds later we emerged to a Stargate surrounded by Genii troops – I cloaked the jumper and headed away, waiting for Rodney to scan for John’s subcutaneous transmitter.

"The facility is straight ahead," Teyla gestured through the front view screen.

"We're detecting life signs on the surface, miles from the bunker," Rodney announced a second later.

"How many?" Ronon demanded.

"When it first came up, it was eight, then four. I don't get it - now it's just the two." Rodney reported in confusion.

"What about John?" I glanced at Rodney briefly before returning my attention to piloting the Jumper.

"One of them is definitely Sheppard. His subcutaneous transmitter's still broadcasting." Rodney replied. I didn’t know whether to be happy about that or not because the transmitter couldn't tell us John’s condition, just that he was alive.

"Could the other one be Kolya?" Teyla questioned.

"Let's hope so," Ronon replied. "Land a hundred metres to the south of their position."

We made our way cautiously towards John’s location. We were still some distance away when the sounds of John’s screams echoed through the forest. Not waiting for the order I burst into a sprint, following closely behind Ronon as he crashed through the trees ahead of me.

The two life signs Rodney had detected turned out to be John and the Wraith who’d fed upon him. Ronon emerged into the clearing while the Wraith was crouched over John and wrenched him away, blaster pointed squarely in his face.

"Wait!" John ordered Ronon. He got up slowly from the ground, turning to face us. I staggered slightly as John came fully into view ... he looked the same as he had before this ordeal began! I watched, speechless, as he walked up to Ronon.

"Leave him," he said. When everyone with weapons continued to point them at the Wraith John added "That's an order!"

"You’re okay," I whispered. I felt my knees give out and I sat down abruptly on the ground right where I stood, staring up at him in mute disbelief. John walked towards me - for once he didn’t seem at all surprised to see me. Without a word he reached down and drew me up and into his side. I clung to him tightly, eyes moving rapidly from feature to feature as I confirmed for myself that on the outside at least he really was back to his young self.

"I don't understand," Doctor Beckett stared at John in confusion. "We all saw what he did to you."

"He just undid it," John replied. "Lower your weapons."

"How is this possible?" Teyla asked in confused amazement.

"Don't ask me," John retorted.

"The gift of life is reserved only for our most devout worshippers ... and our brothers," the Wraith explained. I flinched when the Wraith spoke ... memories of the sounds he'd made while feeding on John too fresh for me to be comfortable so near to the source.

"Well, I guess there's a lot about the Wraith we don't know," John replied, looking intently at the Wraith.

"Sheppard gave me back my life," the Wraith told us. "I merely repaid the debt."

"What about Kolya?" Ronon asked.

John let me go to pat down his jacket pockets, looking for something. Not finding it he turned and ran back to where he’d been lying, scanning the ground intently. He picked up a radio and activated it.

"Kolya, this is Sheppard ... Kolya? ... I figured you'd run," John said in a low threatening voice. "Next time, I kill you on sight, you hear me?"

When John didn’t get a response he threw the radio away in disgust. Turning back to Ronon he said "let's get off this rock."

"What about him?" Ronon gestured to the Wraith.

"We had a deal, right?" John said, looking at the Wraith with an unreadable expression.

"I did not truly expect you to honour it," the Wraith replied with a chuckle.

John paused, clearly thinking about what to do. Ronon offered him his blaster ... looking down at it for a moment John finally took it, walking past Ronon and firing into the Wraith’s chest without apparent hesitation. The Wraith dropped to the ground without a sound. Ronon took the blaster back from John and glanced at the setting.

"You didn't kill him," Ronon almost accused.

"No, I didn't," John replied, comfortable with his decision. Despite the anger I felt towards the Wraith for what he'd done to John I also had to feel a measure of gratitude too. The Wraith had been used as a tool by Kolya just as surely as John himself had - directing my anger at him seemed pointless now. Ultimately it was Kolya who's orchestrated this whole ordeal ... and it was Kolya who should be made to answer for that.

"Get him in the Jumper," John motioned to the team of Marines. "We're gonna drop him off somewhere."

The Marines bent to pick up the Wraith. Returning to John’s side I smiled, almost dizzy with relief as it began to sink in that he really was all right. John put an arm around me again before turning to face the others.

"Thanks for showing up!" he said with a faintly sarcastic tone. I didn’t blame him though ... it wasn’t the first time he’d had to rescue himself only to have us arrive just after like the punch line of a bad joke.

Rodney spluttered in protest as John led me past the group, heading back to where I’d parked the Jumper. He was quiet during the process of flying the Jumper back through the Stargate, locating a nearby planet with the possibility of Wraith traffic, and travelling there to drop our Wraith captive off. Once there John insisted on waiting until the Wraith had regained consciousness. I watched from inside the cloaked jumper as the Wraith stirred, filled with admiration for John's strength of character, his integrity and his determination to honour a deal no-one would have expected him to.

"Ah, Sheppard," the Wraith looked intently up at John as it put a hand to its chest where John had stunned it. "I thought you ..."

"There's a lot you don't know about humans," John replied.

"Ah, I see," the Wraith got up and looked around him, realising that John had lived up to his end of the bargain. "Next time we meet ...," he trailed off.

"All bets are off," John confirmed.

The sound of a low flying dart drew their attention towards the sky ... while the Wraith continued to look upwards, John stepped back inside the rear compartment, effectively disappearing. We watched as the Wraith turned back to where he’d stood and then John silently motioned for me to take the Jumper up and back to Atlantis.

oOo

"You know how I said, after the Asurans did the whole virtual reality murder thing, that that was the worst feeling I would ever have?" my voice sounded harsh in the silence of our quarters.

We’d been lying in the darkness for a while, my head pillowed on John’s chest as he held me close. Neither of us was sleeping but neither of us wanted to admit it. I’d stuck to John’s side like a barnacle since we’d returned to Atlantis, through his examination in the infirmary and his debriefing with Doctor Weir and the rest of his team. So I knew the full scope of the terrible ordeal he’d been through that went beyond even what we’d been forced to witness. He wasn’t showing it on the outside but he must have been feeling some of it on the inside.

"Yeah," John murmured, running an absent hand through my hair.

"You didn’t have to go to such lengths to prove me wrong," John laughed, sounding normal enough to reassure me he was doing okay.

"Thanks for sticking around," John said after a few more moments of silence.

"When?" I frowned in confusion, wondering if he meant since we’d been back or something else.

"During the last feeding," John clarified, his voice steady despite the seriousness of what he was remembering.

"You heard?" I asked in amazement.

"Every word," John confirmed, "including the bit about still wanting me even if I came back an old man."

"That was supposed to be a joke," I tried to excuse my comment. "I was trying to lighten the moment – John Sheppard style."

"You mean you won’t want to be with me when I’m an old man?" John quipped.

"That depends," I teased, realising that John had had enough of talking and thinking about the serious stuff for one day. "Are you gonna be as hot as you are now?"

"Won’t matter," John replied – I could feel him smile into my hair. "Your eyesight will have gotten all blurry but if you squint the right way you’ll be able to convince yourself I am."

"Oh that’s nice," I pinched his arm lightly. "What about you ... are you gonna be squinting to make me look better than your tired old eyes can process?"

"You’re beautiful now," John’s tone put a level of seriousness back into the conversation, "and you’ll be beautiful when you’re eighty."

"But not when I’m eighty five?" I joked.

"Stop fishing for compliments," John ordered mock sternly. I laughed, content to let things be. I wasn't naive enough to think we could put it away so easily - there'd be after effects and a lot of talking before we got to that stage. When all was said and done though, any day that ended with the two of us together was a good day.


Chapter 15: Switch off the projector


 “How’s Colonel Sheppard?” Major Lorne asked. We were on another mission to secure supplies from friends of Teyla’s and had a long walk ahead of us to get to the village. The Major had been updated on what had happened with John's kidnapping as soon as he'd returned from M5R-877. It had been a couple of weeks since then and although Lorne had been obvious in his concern for my wellbeing this was the first time he'd actually started a conversation about the incident.

“You know John,” I said lightly. “Long on being stoic, short on talking about his feelings.”

“But he did talk to you about what happened with Kolya,” Lorne persisted, “the bits you didn’t see on camera that is?”

“Yeah – the night he got back,” I kept my eyes on the ground so Major Lorne wouldn’t see that I wasn’t exactly ‘handling’ all the issues that well myself. “After that I think he’d had enough of all the tough stuff.”

“What about you?” Lorne was far too perceptive for his own good.

“I wasn’t the one who got the life sucked out of me by a Wraith,” I pointed out.

“No but you had to watch someone you love having the life sucked out of them,” Lorne returned bluntly, making me wince at the images that brought far too easily to the forefront of my mind.

“When I close my eyes I see it,” I admitted softly, “playing like a movie in my head. I don’t know how to switch it off.”

“You been sleeping?” I glanced over and just caught the faint look of concern on the Major’s face.

“Enough,” I smiled wickedly, before adding, “plus John’s pretty good at short circuiting my brain ...” I trailed off suggestively.

“If you’re trying to embarrass me out of pursuing this it won’t work,” Lorne’s smile made the dimples appear in his cheeks but didn’t disguise the fact that he was embarrassed.

“Sorry,” I said, not very apologetically. “You’ve got things in your past you’d rather forget haven’t you?” When Lorne nodded without saying more I continued. “How did you get them to the point you could just live with them?”

“The emotions I had invested in those things weren’t the same as yours,” Major Lorne replied after thinking for a few moments. “Not that I didn’t care about the people involved ... I thought through the situation, tried to see if there was another way I could have gone ... realised there was nothing that would have changed the outcome. That and a few drinks with the guys was enough for me to put it away.”

“I have thought about it,” I said in frustration. “In fact I’ve spent hours thinking about it. I know there was nothing I could have done ... I just get so angry every time I think of Kolya and how much I’d like to ...”

“Talk to Heightmeyer,” Lorne made that sound almost like an order.

“That won’t help,” I shook my head determinedly. “I’m not comfortable with the whole talking about my feelings thing – that goes for the day to day stuff so there’s no way I’m gonna be talking to Kate about something this hard.”

“Well find someone you are comfortable talking to,” Lorne said in frustration.

“You volunteering?” I looked over at him curiously.

“If you want,” Lorne looked a bit uncomfortable with that, even though he was the one who’d brought it up.

“Just tell me how you deal with the anger,” I let him off the hook somewhat, “and I think the rest will just get easier in time.”

“I usually shoot something,” Lorne admitted reluctantly. “That or lifting weights usually does the trick.” He thought for a minute. “How about a picture of Kolya on your punching bag?”

“You jest but that’s actually not a bad idea,” I laughed, not bothered that pretty much everyone knew by now that the punching bag was my preferred method for releasing frustration.

“Just don’t let anyone see you punching a picture of Kolya,” Lorne advised helpfully.

“Good tip,” I looked across at him gratefully. “Thanks Major,” I hoped he’d know I was thanking him for more than just the anger management suggestion.

“Any time,” Lorne smiled across at me. “Now pick up the pace ... we want to get to this village before nightfall.”

oOo

If I was having trouble dealing with the fall-out from the latest run in with Kolya it concerned me even more to understand how John was handling things. He’d done the mandatory session with Dr Heightmeyer only days after the event and refused to do any more sessions on a voluntary basis. On the surface he seemed okay but I didn’t want to just assume that and so I watched him closely, looking for signs that he either was or wasn’t fine.

Of course I had intimate knowledge of how John usually handled difficult situations. I’d seen him put on the easy going facade for everyone while at the same time haunting his favourite thinking spots for hours on end in solitude. I’d learned to just let him be, to give him time to consider all the angles, work out what he’d do differently, and then put it away in that place where all the horrible things he’d seen and been forced to do were kept. John wasn’t usually prone to nightmares, but sometimes after a particularly difficult time he’s suffer from troubling dreams, waking me with his restless movements and mumbled speech. I’d offer him the comfort of my presence without pressuring him to talk about it until he was ready. Things that had happened before our time together were usually just glossed over, but John did tell me what was troubling him for the events I’d been there for.

It took a few weeks before he got to that stage with the Kolya incident. I’d left him his time and space to think about what had happened, and comforted him when troubling dreams haunted him at night.

“You know what bothers me most?” John asked. We lay in the darkness together – both of us awake after disturbing thoughts of Kolya and the Wraith had invaded our dreams.

“What?” I asked softly.

“That Kolya got away again,” he admitted. “If it wasn’t for that I think I’d have put this whole thing away by now.”

“Why does that bother you?” I was surprised he hadn’t said his weird almost alliance with the Wraith.

“Because I know he’s not going away,” John said grimly. “He’ll turn up again and next time we might not be so lucky in escaping without losing anyone. He’s reckless and devious and very desperate to get what he thinks is rightfully his.”

“So the whole ‘Wraith friendship’ thing doesn’t bother you?” I asked curiously.

“I’m not sure I understand what it means in the context of our fight against the Wraith,” John replied, “but I can justify it because maybe that Wraith was unique because he’d been held a prisoner for so long. Just because I don’t understand him doesn’t mean I don’t have a handle on the collective Wraith as an enemy.”

“Have the dreams gotten better?” I looked at him in concern, my expression begging him not to just gloss over things as was his usual practice.

“Yeah - not as many and not as ... intense,” John’s agreement made something relax inside me I hadn’t been aware of holding tense. “What about you?”

“Me?” I asked in surprise. “I’m not the one who was kidnapped.”

“I’ve seen a lot of crappy stuff happen in the past,” John said softly, running a gentle hand through my hair. “I’ve had a lot of crappy stuff happen to me too. And always, the ones that were the hardest for me to put away were the ones that happened to one of my men or a civilian I was supposed to be protecting.” I’d tensed at his words but otherwise gave no reaction to what he was trying to tell me. “In my world it’s tougher watching someone you care about or feel responsible for getting whipped than it is to endure the whipping yourself. You might not have had as much experience with that but I suspect you're finding out things in your world aren't any different.”

“It bothers me,” I admitted simply. “I close my eyes and I can play each Wraith feeding in my head with full colour and sound. I thought you were as good as dead ... you know how that feels inside.”

“I do which is why I’m concerned about you,” John agreed. “Maybe you should talk to Dr Heightmeyer.”

“I don’t think there’s anything she could do to switch off the projector John,” I protested. “It’s just a time thing – I know it’ll all fade and be replaced with other, more pleasant images. I can handle it until that happens.”

“Okay,” John agreed reluctantly. “Let’s try and get some sleep – we’ve both got missions in the morning.”

Listening to his breathing slow and deepen into sleep I lay awake thinking. Maybe I should have told him about my anger issues with Kolya. Given that he was struggling with Kolya issues of his own I just didn’t want to burden him anymore. I was handling it and I had to trust that in time the anger would fade along with the after images of the Wraith feedings.


Chapter 16: Did you ask him about your alternate self?


“Where’s Rodney going?” I asked curiously, watching from the Control Room as Rodney stepped through the open wormhole alone.

“Back to Earth,” John said, “to see his sister.”

“I didn’t know he even had a sister!” I looked at John in surprise.

“Yeah, well I guess he doesn’t talk about his family much,” John excused. It was a pretty common trait on Atlantis actually ... especially with those of us who’d been here since the first mission.

“So you’re a man down for the next month?” I asked curiously.

“Yeah,” John looked over at me with a smile, “and before you ask, no you can’t take Rodney’s place – you were the one who fought so hard to get a permanent spot on Major Lorne’s team so now you’re stuck there.”

“Harsh ... but fair,” I shrugged, knowing Lorne probably wouldn’t have been impressed either - not that I'd really been thinking to switch teams.

“So why did Rodney leave without letting us all know?” I brought the conversation back to where it had started.

“He didn’t know he was going until this morning,” John admitted. “A request for help came in from Colonel Carter.”

“Well Rodney being away should let me finally catch up on the things he keeps throwing at me,” I said, thinking of the backlog of work I had waiting that only ever seemed to get bigger.

“There is that,” John agreed in amusement. “I’ll catch you later.” Nodding absently, I pondered Rodney and his sister, determined that when he returned I’d ask him about her.

oOo

“Rodney’s bringing his sister back here,” John told me a few days later. “Something about using a theoretical physics paper she wrote to create some kind of bridge between universes ... I switched off after that so I can’t tell you more.”

“You do like your lazy Sheppard act don’t you,” I shook my head when he just grinned back at me. “Well whatever it is, it’ll be nice to meet Rodney’s family.”

“If you say so,” John replied. “Personally, I can’t wait to ask her about McKay as a child – there’s sure to be some ammunition there for the next time he does his ‘I’m always right’ act.”

No major catastrophes occurred the entire three weeks that Rodney was away ... which was kind of a shame really since it didn’t give the rest of us the chance to show that we actually could function in a crisis without the presence of the great McKay.

Doctor Zelenka was apprehensively excited the day the Daedalus returned, mainly because he’d been left to make the necessary alterations to the containment chamber before Rodney got back. All the simulations gave the expected results so practically the moment Rodney and his sister set foot on Atlantis they were off to the lab to try the first power up.

“Hey,” John’s voice drew my attention to the doorway of my lab hours later. I stood quickly when I realised John wasn’t alone – standing beside him was an attractive blonde woman with familiar blue eyes. “Sabina, this is Mrs Jeanie Miller. Jeanie – this is Sabina Scott.”

“It’s really nice to meet you Mrs Miller,” I held out a hand in greeting.

“Oh Jeanie, please,” she invited, turning to look curiously at the various devices strewn around the room. “You work with my brother?”

“Sometimes,” I said easily. “It must be exciting to see where he’s been hiding the past two years?”

“Exciting, and ah ... scary,” Jeanie admitted.

“I can see the resemblance between you and Rodney,” I offered, “especially the eyes.”

“You mean Meredith,” John said with an amused grin.

“Huh?” I looked at him with a confused frown.

Meredith Rodney McKay,” John said with relish. “That’s his name.”

“I can see why he’d want to go by Rodney then,” I shook my head at how much delight John was getting out of that. “I suppose you’re planning on teasing him about it first chance you get?”

“Me?” John put a hand on his heart and an innocent expression on his face.

“That innocent act doesn’t work on me,” I glanced across at Jeanie and saw that she was amused by our antics.

“Look, I’ve been showing Jeanie around,” John said casually, “thought you might like to join us all for some dinner.”

“I’ll just finish up here and meet you in the commissary,” I offered, smiling as Jeanie waved before following John out the door.

oOo

“Mer comes home from school one day insisting that Dad buy him a pair of plain boxers,” I overheard the tail end of a story Jeanie was telling John, Ronon and Teyla. “Turns out the school bullies made him wear his underwear on his head while eating his lunch – he was wearing his ‘I love Batman’ boxers and had been ridiculed even more for that than for the whole underwear as a hat thing.”

I frowned as everyone at the table burst into delighted laughter. I stood beside John’s chair, putting a hand on his shoulder so he’d know I’d arrived and asked “What’s so funny?”

“Oh Jeanie was just telling us about Rodney’s childhood,” John admitted, still grinning.

“I heard,” I said with a straight face. “Didn’t sound that funny to me but since I don’t have any siblings maybe I’m just missing it.”

“It’s not really a sibling thing,” John pulled me into the seat next to him, “it’s more of a Rodney thing.” When I just looked at him pointedly he sighed before continuing “McKay is always so superior ... I know it’s petty but it is kinda nice hearing that he wasn’t always that way.”

“And I suppose you’re gonna make sure he knows you’ve been talking about him?” I glanced around at the others, all sitting like children with their hands caught in the cookie jar.

“Hell yeah,” Ronon replied complacently. Everyone looked at each other and then burst into laughter again. That was when I spotted Rodney heading our way. Jeanie waved at him as he walked up.

What is this?” Rodney demanded, looking mostly at Jeanie.

“Hey, Meredith!” John greeted him enthusiastically.

“Oh, wonderful,” Rodney replied, looking resigned to the teasing he knew was coming.

“John here was kind enough to show me around, offer me a warm meal, and introduce me to some of your friends,” Jeanie explained.

“What have you told them?” Rodney asked irritably.

“We weren’t talking about you,” John said with a straight face.

“Oh, you weren’t?” Rodney’s face looked hopeful that perhaps he might have avoided something unpleasant that he’d been expecting.

“Uh, no. We were discussing many things,” Teyla said easily.

“Now, when the issue of bedwetting happened to come up, Jeanie may have mentioned something about your childhood,” John said, waiting eagerly for Rodney’s reaction.

“That is not true!” Rodney protested.

“Relax,” Ronon looked at Rodney almost sympathetically. “We all have embarrassing childhood stories.”

“Of course we do,” John agreed companionably.

“There was one time the school bullies made me eat lunch with my underwear on my head,” Ronon said, like he was sharing a secret about himself.

“Oh!” Rodney exclaimed in hopeful surprise.

“Oh, wait, that was you,” Ronon joked, making John, Teyla and Jeanie crack up laughing.

“Oh, hardy har-har,” Rodney snarked. “And this is revenge for what, exactly?”

“You don’t even know, do you?” Jeanie commented in amused sadness.

Before anything more could be added Doctor Weir’s voice over the intercom interrupted. ”Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay to the Isolation Room immediately.”

“Isolation Room?” Rodney said in a puzzled voice. Gesturing to John and Jeanie he said “Come on.”

John put a hand to my shoulder before getting up and following the others out the door.

“Is that normal behaviour for siblings?” I looked at Teyla and Ronon curiously. “To tease each other like that?”

“I would not know,” Teyla replied graciously. “I believe Doctor McKay and his sister have been estranged for some time ... perhaps that explains the tension between them more than the fact that they are siblings.”

“McKay does come over a little condescending,” Ronon pointed out. “A little payback might do him good.”

“I bet neither of you have ever been teased about anything have you?” I looked at each of them and received a reluctant nod of agreement in reply. “It’s not nice ... Rodney would have been teased mercilessly as a kid just because he was smart. I can only imagine how much worse it would be coming from someone who’s supposed to love him.”

“You are right,” Teyla agreed. “It would not be nice.”

“Spoil sport,” Ronon muttered under his breath.

oOo

It was late by the time John finally made it to our quarters for the evening. I was very curious to find out what had happened and never in a million years would I have guessed how far into the bizarre we had actually travelled. Everyone involved had thought the chance of us sending the dangerous exotic particles (a by-product of trying to extract vacuum energy from subspace) to an occupied universe were astronomically small but that was in fact what we’d done. And the only reason we knew that we’d done it was because that other universe had beamed someone over to tell us. As if having one Rodney McKay wasn’t enough, it appeared that now we were stuck with two.

“It was freaking me out,” John admitted, “watching Rodney talking to himself.”

“Were they different?” I asked curiously.

“The alternate Rodney – who calls himself Rod by the way – had better dress sense,” John quipped. When I raised an eyebrow at the apparent shallowness of that remark John laughed. “He was wearing my jacket – the black leather one.”

“Well I bet he didn’t look as hot in it as you do,” I said in mock reassurance. “What else?”

“I don’t know,” John replied. “Maybe Rod was a little more ... relaxed?”

“Did you ask him about your alternate self?” I looked over a John curiously.

“Ah ... no,” John looked a little uncomfortable with the idea. “Rod mentioned that the idea to beam him into the matter stream came from my alternative self which was kinda interesting but ...” John broke off and looked at me curiously. “Would you want to know about your alternate self?”

“Since you only told me about all this a few minutes ago I haven’t had time to think about it,” I prevaricated. “In any case it’s only one in an infinite number of alternate me’s so I’m not sure if there would be any point.”

“I’m hitting some golf balls with Rod before breakfast tomorrow morning,” John said complacently. “Maybe I’ll ask him about the alternate Sabina then.”

“You go right ahead,” I replied. “Just don’t tell me if you find out anything I wouldn’t want to hear.”

oOo

 “Sabina!” I looked up from the line up for breakfast to the table where team Sheppard usually sat. John was sitting there with the team and Jeanie Miller. It was only as I got closer that I realised it was Rod, and not our Rodney, who occupied one of the chairs.

“Hey,” John got up to make room for me to sit with him, kissing me lightly in greeting since he'd left before I'd woken up that morning. “You haven’t met Rod yet.”

I turned to look at the alternate Rodney with some curiosity. Apart from a slightly messier hair style (kind of reminiscent of John’s actually except it was much shorter) and the different uniform he looked much the same.

“You don’t need any introduction,” Rod greeted me with a friendly and open smile. “Your alternate self would be glad to see you had the good sense to hook up with this guy in this reality too,” he gestured vaguely towards John.

“I guess,” I replied a bit uneasily. I glanced at John just in time to catch him shaking his head at Rod. When he caught me watching him he pasted an innocent look on his face that made me instantly suspicious.

“Okay what?” I looked at John pointedly. “And don’t tell me ‘nothing’ because I can see that it’s something.”

“I thought you weren’t sure you wanted to know anything about your alternate self,” John tried to put me off. “Trust me when I say you probably don’t want to talk about this here.”

“So this is something I wouldn’t want to hear?” I frowned down at my breakfast, wondering if something had happened to me in the other reality.

“I wouldn’t say that,” John replied uncomfortably. He looked across at Rod with an almost pleading look.

“I was just telling John it was a shame you guys couldn’t have waited like a week to power up the containment chamber,” Rod told me. “Because then I would have been there for your wedding.”


Chapter 17: So these alternate realities really are a lot different then?


The cereal I’d been about to swallow went down the wrong way, causing me to cough painfully. John smacked me a bit harder on the back than I think he needed to at my reaction. Once I’d regained the use of my windpipe I picked up my drink like nothing had happened, carefully keeping my gaze away from John.

“Our wedding huh?” I tried to feign a casual interest. “I wonder whose idea that was.”

“Oh definitely yours,” Rod replied, missing the signals that said although I was pretending to be interested I completely wasn’t. “My Sheppard isn't shy about telling people he's smart but when it comes to matters of the heart he’s a bit dense. In fact you told me that if you’d waited around for John to make the first move you’d have died of old age first.”

“He’s not that different in this reality,” Ronon teased, grinning while Teyla nodded with a laugh.

Hey – I don’t go around telling people I’m smart!” John denied. His face had such an insulted and uncomfortable look that I couldn’t help but laugh along with Ronon and Teyla.

“So these alternate realities really are a lot different then?” I asked curiously, once the laughter had died down.

“It seems so,” Rod replied. “In fact it’d be interesting to try and trace back where our paths diverged.”

Rod mentioned a few things in his life that were much different from Rodney’s – like being an active part of the Athosian community as well as being more heavily involved in the physical aspects of military life. It was hard to tell though what events had caused such a divergence in their lives – perhaps because it was something that had happened many years in the past that had shaped their obviously different personalities.

“It sounds like you and Jeanie are much closer where you’re from,” I said. “How did you manage that being so far away?”

“Being able to gate back to Earth pretty much whenever I wanted,” Rod offered, “plus Jeanie made me a part of her family when she asked me to be a godparent to her children.”

“And you probably never questioned my decision to drop out and get married,” Jeanie added with a hint of the anger she obviously still felt about that.

“No,” Rod agreed. “I was looking forward to becoming an Uncle – didn’t want to risk you cutting me out of the loop.”

“Wait,” John held up a hand in disbelief. “Are you telling me you actually like children?”

“What’s not to like?” Rod questioned, looking from John back to Jeanie with a puzzled expression.

“Let’s just say that our Rodney is not exactly fond of the little people,” John offered, causing the rest of us to chuckle fondly – Rodney’s dislike of children was well known on Atlantis.

“Tell Rod about that planet where no one was older than twenty five,” Teyla suggested.

“M7G-677?” Rod queried. “We went to that planet too – those kids were great!”

“Not to Rodney,” John admitted. “He literally had that one little girl, Cleya, hanging off a leg. She had the biggest crush on him - you should have seen him trying to walk ignoring Cleya and pretending she weren’t there. That is until he lost his balance and went arse over armpit into the dirt. Cleya thought it was the best game – she was giggling madly, not put off at all by the trademark Rodney scowl.”

“You never told me that,” I accused lightly, smiling in amusement as even those at adjacent tables laughed at the thought of Rodney taking a fall with a child attached to his leg.

“It wasn’t Rodney’s finest hour,” John pointed out. “And he wasn’t keen for anyone to find out what a child magnet he was. Or that he’d used his own personal stash of chocolate to bribe her to go away.”

John’s comments caused the laughter to escalate as each of us imagined Rodney using chocolate as a shield between him and a little girl with a crush.

“What the hell is this?” I looked up to see Rodney standing in front of the table with an annoyed expression.

“Hey, sleepyhead!” John greeted him, still grinning.

“Yeah. Hi,” Rodney responded grumpily.

“I had a breakfast date with Jeanie,” Rod said, still laughing. “I guess it kind of ballooned into a group affair. Look, sit down. We’re tracing back our lives, trying to find the little differences between our pasts.”

“Rod is an honorary member of the Athosian Council,” Teyla offered with a smile.

“And is godfather to his niece and nephews,” Jeanie added smugly.

“Yes, well, how wonderful for him,” Rodney said sarcastically. I kept quiet, suddenly realising how difficult it would be to be confronted with a seemingly more popular and easy going version of 'yourself'.

“Well, it’s easier for me,” Rod excused the differences. “Our Earth has a ZedPM too, so it makes the back and forth a lot simpler.”

“Doctors McKay, please report to the containment chamber,” Doctor Zelenka called over the main communications system. “Doctors McKay.”

“Excuse me,” both McKay’s got up simultaneously. Jeanie got up as well when Rodney motioned to her.

“Hey, Rod, are we still on to spar later?” Ronon asked.

“Absolutely,” Rod replied. They did a fist hitting finger wiggling thing at each other which was frankly a bit disturbing. The guy had been here like ten minutes and already he was golfing with John and sparring with Ronon? What was with that?

I watched as the three of them walked off, Rodney scowling, Rod still chuckling and Jeanie looking at her alternate brother with clear admiration.

“I too must take my leave,” Teyla announced, getting up with her tray in hand. Ronon, seeing the pointed look she was giving him, got up as well. John and I acknowledged their leaving, silence descending at the table once they were gone.

“I guess I should ...” I broke off, glancing at John before looking away again. “This is ... awkward.”

“Why?” John’s tone was curious.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Aren’t you the least bit uncomfortable hearing things about people who are us but at the same time so clearly not us?”

“Because they’re getting married?” my eyes shot up to Johns and were caught in his intent expression.

“That and the fact that you’re apparently some Mensa geek and I’m the bossy one forcing you to marry me,” I replied with a bit of heat.

“Didn’t sound like anyone was forcing anyone,” John said with an easy tone that gave nothing away about his opinion. Glancing at his watch he frowned in frustration. “I’m gonna be late ... we’ll have to talk about this later.” He got up, running a hand down my hair in farewell before heading towards the exit.

“Yeah ... much later,” I muttered under my breath. Resolving to put the disturbing conversation from my mind, I headed down to my lab. I’d been trying since the nanovirus incident to find more information but had so far been unsuccessful. It wasn’t high on the list of priorities except for my own personal worry and confusion. I was still troubled at having the Wraith and ATA genes as well as this “anti nanite” protein. I really wanted to find something to tell me why the ancients had messed around with not only their own DNA but also their blood - after a few weeks of searching I was coming to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to find anything in the main database. Realising I’d have to provide some kind of summary to Doctor Weir I settled in to write a report.

It was the greatest irony that the experiment Rodney and his sister had been running to create more power ended up draining our only ZPM instead. They’d had no choice, given the plan the alternate reality had been going to implement which would have rendered our universe out of existence instantaneously. It seemed that once again the dream of creating vast amounts of power in the form of vacuum energy was off the drawing board.

oOo

“How’s Rodney doing?” I asked John later that evening.

“Kicking himself he depleted the ZPM and worried Elizabeth is gonna fire him,” John replied.

“She wouldn’t do that ... would she?” I asked worriedly.

“Course not,” John said easily. “Although it will do him good to think so for a while – he might not be so keen to risk it all on extravagant plans in the future.”

“What about Jeanie?” I asked curiously. “Will she be heading straight back?”

“The Daedalus leaves tomorrow,” John replied, frowning at something. When I looked at him curiously he added “there’s some tension between her and Rodney ... Rod being here really brought it out in the open. Rodney thinks she hates him because he made no effort to speak to her for the last four years.”

“Didn’t Rodney record a message before the Wraith attacked the first time?” I asked curiously.

“He did,” John said thoughtfully. “I wonder ...,” John broke off, jumping up. “I’ll be back in a while ... don’t go anywhere!”

I laughed as John ran from the room, sure he planned to show Jeanie the message Rodney had recorded, assuming he’s said something meant for her. I just hoped it would start to mend the rift because it seemed a shame to have a family but not be close to them.

“Mission accomplished,” John said when he returned, pleased smirk firmly in place.

“Did Rodney get mad when he realised you’d shown Jeanie the message,” I asked.

“Didn’t tell him,” John admitted. “He knows I said something though ... I just hope he’s smart enough to not send his sister home without saying he’s sorry.”

We sat in silence for a time, each lost in our own thoughts.

“Were you really as taken with Rod as you seemed?” I finally broke the silence to ask.

“At first the idea of a Rodney who was polite and didn’t remind me every five seconds how smart he is was attractive,” John admitted. “But then it got a little creepy ... at least with Rodney you know exactly where you stand.”

“True,” I agreed. “I couldn’t see the attraction myself ... but then he didn’t spend any time trying to suck up to me like the rest of you!”

“Well if your alternate self really is like you then he would have known there’d be no point,” John pointed out. “Speaking of which, do you want to hear now what else Rod said about the alternate you?”

“Do I?” I looked over at John intently. “They’re not us ... and after meeting Rod I’m not sure they’re even the seeds of us.”

“What do you mean?” John frowned, throwing himself on the bed and crossing his arms under his head.

“Well think about it – are the seeds of Rod really lurking somewhere within our Rodney just waiting for the right set of circumstances to come out?” I put the question back to him.

“I can’t see Rodney ever being that relaxed or easy within himself,” John admitted, “which is kind of sad really.”

“Well, the same could be true for us.” I pointed out logically.

John looked at me intently, obviously mulling something over in his head. “Rod gave me something to show you,” John admitted, reaching under his pillow and pulling out a plain envelope. “It’s a few photos that he brought with him when he knew he was being transferred over.”

“Oh,” I looked at him in surprise. “Of the alternate us?”

“Yeah,” John said, waiting for my reaction. “Do you want to see them?”

“Maybe another time,” I turned away and went to stand by the window. The view of the city sparkled with the lights of everyone going about their evening business. It was calm and the sea was a low accompaniment to the noises of the city shifting and settling.

“It scares you, finding out this can go much further than where we are right now,” John got up and stood behind me, close but not touching.

“I don’t know why,” I admitted. “Because I like where we are right now, I suppose.”

“So do I,” John agreed, putting his hands down on my shoulders and leaning his chin on my hair.

“Things don't always have to change do they?” I asked almost plaintively. "I mean, if it's not broken, why fix it?"

“It’s the nature of all things to change and evolve and grow,” John said philosophically. “In fact if you look at history, civilisations that abandoned the quest for knowledge were doomed to failure.”

“Yeah but trying to grow too quickly is just as bad,” I countered, turning around to face him. “There’d be plenty of businesses who tried to expand too rapidly and ended up a failure because they spread themselves too thin.”

“I agree,” John smiled down at me. “And I’m not looking to change anything right now ... just to allow for the possibility sometime in the future. Kinda like that old Chinese proverb – ‘be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still’.”

“How come you can’t do your dumb soldier act with me?” I grumbled somewhat petulantly.

“You might be uncomfortable with what I’m saying,” John pointed out, “but I'd rather that then you worrying because I was preoccupied over what Rod shared about the alternate us.”

“I suppose,” I leant my forehead against his chest. “Are there any surprises in these photos?”

“Depends on how you look at it,” John said cryptically. “I’ll put them in the wall safe - when you’re ready you can look at them and answer that question for yourself.”

“You know, it was a surprise to find out about the whole wedding thing,” I said, “but it would have been a worse one if Rod had said we weren’t together. Like the fact that there’s at least one other reality out there with the two of us as a couple means this isn’t just some random occurrence – like it’s meant to be.”

“There’s nothing random about this,” John responded with words and with the intent kiss he bestowed upon me. Breaking off to look down at me he added “Enough talking ... let’s go to bed.”

“Works for me,” I smiled as John lifted me off the floor and walked us both over to the bed. “You don’t have to go all macho on me to prove you’re not a geek you know,” I teased with a laugh.

“You’re gonna pay for that,” John growled, making me laugh even more.

oOo

The next morning we all gathered in front of the Stargate to say goodbye to Jeanie. It only took seconds to realise that Rodney had taken the opening John had given him and made some progress in re-establishing his relationship with his sister.

“I like your sister,” I told him softly, watching as she turned to each of the others in turn.

“Mmm,” Rodney gave a small grin. “I suppose you liked Rod too.”

“Not really,” I admitted. When Rodney raised an eyebrow at me in surprise I added “I know he’s supposed to be a version of you but he was too ... polished ... I couldn’t tell what he really thought about anything.”

“Oh,” Rodney said, looking almost pleased. Jeanie arrived in front of us, interrupting our little conversation. I wished her a safe journey home and then watched with curious pleasure as Rodney stepped up and gave her a warm hug.

The bright lights of the Asgard beam lit up the Gateroom, taking Jeanie with them as they disappeared. With little conversation we all turned and went back to our usual business.

Authors Note:

“A study of history shows that civilizations that abandon the quest for knowledge are doomed to disintegration” Bernard Lovell (British astronomer). “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still” Chinese proverb, anonymous. The usual source - thinkexist dot com


Chapter 18: There was a situation but it’s fully under control


One day about a month after Rodney’s sister had returned to Earth I headed out on a routine trading mission with team Lorne. Teyla had received some information to suggest there might have been an Ancient outpost on the outskirts of the village so I was especially keen to take a look.

The mission turned out to be as routine as predicted. The outpost was nothing more than another set of Ancient columns and stones not dissimilar to hundreds of others scattered throughout the Pegasus galaxy. Interesting but nothing of significant tactical value. We headed back through the gate as scheduled, stepping out moments later in Atlantis to the unusual sight of Doctor Weir waiting for us at the bottom of the Gateroom stairs.

“Doctor Weir,” I greeted her, handing off my weapon to one of the Marines stationed in the Gateroom.

“Sabina, Major Lorne,” Doctor Weir said, looking more at me than at Lorne. He acknowledged her unspoken request and joined the rest of the team heading for the infirmary.

“Okay, that look has me a little worried,” I said. “What’s John done this time?”

“There was a situation but it’s fully under control,” Doctor Weir reassured me. “Come up to my office when you get done in the infirmary and I’ll fill you in.”

“So John’s okay?” I asked, hesitating to leave until she’d confirmed it.

“He’s fine,” Doctor Weir replied.

“And Rodney and the others?” I persisted.

“They’re injured, but it's nothing serious,” Doctor Weir said patiently before motioning for me to go do the usual post mission stuff.

Half an hour later I was changed and checked and seated across from Doctor Weir in her office.

“So the device was making them hallucinate?” I asked, hardly believing what Doctor Weir had told me.

John’s team had gone to M1B-129 with Doctor Beckett and another team of Marines to follow up on Major Leonard’s team who were late for a check in. Apparently there was some kind of Wraith experiment on the planet to do with enhancing the Wraith ability to make their targets see things that weren’t there. The Genii had stumbled across the device and decided to ramp it up to full power. They’d starting killing each other but when they tried to turn off the machine they couldn’t – even after shooting the crap out of it. Major Leonard had been affected so badly that he’d taken out his whole team before killing himself with a grenade. Everyone except Teyla were affected by the machine too, such that John and Ronon almost succeeded in killing each other before Teyla finally managed to trick John into pulling the main power cable and killing the machine. Luckily as soon as the device was shut off the hallucinations disappeared immediately.

“That’s right,” Doctor Weir confirmed. “I can’t tell you much more than that as they were all a little sketchy on the details. The Daedalus will be there by nightfall and will have them back here an hour or so after that.”

“Okay,” I stood, wondering what it was John had seen and if he’d be willing to admit it to me. “Thanks Doctor Weir.”

“You know, you can call me Elizabeth,” Doctor Weir invited.

“You’re the leader of this expedition,” I pointed out the obvious. “When it’s an off duty thing or we’re in a nanite induced reality together I’ll call you Elizabeth. Otherwise it’s only appropriate for me to call you by your full title.”

“Fair enough,” Doctor Weir smiled at my poort attempt at humour. “Make sure you get John to tell you what happened on that planet.”

“I’ll try,” I said, heading out the door. “But you know how stubborn he is!”

oOo

As promised, by mid evening team Sheppard, Doctor Beckett and the only surviving member of the second Marine team were beamed back to Atlantis from the Daedalus. Waiting in the Gateroom for them to beam down I saw immediately that John was seriously bothered by what had happened on the planet. He greeted me as usual, patiently giving me the few seconds it took to do a visual and see for myself that he wasn’t injured. In fact, he and Doctor Beckett seemed to be the only ones who weren’t injured. Medical staff was on hand to assist in transferring everyone and within a few minutes Doctor Beckett had them all checked out and installed in the infirmary.

I stood with John as he kind of hovered between the beds where Ronon, Teyla and Rodney were all being treated.

“I still can’t believe you shot me,” Rodney complained.

“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry Rodney?” John asked in a voice that told me he’d already heard that comment more times than he could handle.

“I don’t know,” Rodney said sarcastically. ‘Just keep going and I’ll let you know when you’re there.”

“Is he going to be okay?” I asked Doctor Beckett.

“Aye lass,” Carson replied. “In fact they’re all going to be up and about in no time.”

“So you shot Rodney,” I turned back to John with a questioning look. “Who shot Teyla and Ronon?”

“Major Leonard shot Teyla,” John admitted, glancing at me quickly before looking away.

“And Sheppard shot me,” Ronon said with an amused look, like the very idea delighted him.

“This is going to be an interesting story isn’t it?” I looked at each of them in turn. “I’m glad you’re okay,” I turned and put a hand on John’s arm, “and really sorry to hear about Leonard and the others.”

“We’ll chalk this one up to the Genii as well,” John said in a grim voice, like he was keeping a tally of all the wrongs he owed the Genii for. “Can I get out of here?” he asked Carson hopefully.

“You mean you’re not gonna stick around?” Rodney asked, insulted.

“You can keep each other company Rodney,” John pointed out.

“Oh that’s just great,” Rodney muttered. “First he shoots us and then he abandons us in the infirmary –“

“That’s enough Rodney,” Teyla’s voice held a steely reprimand that shut Rodney up mid sentence. “Go Colonel,” she said graciously. “We will be fine.”

“Thanks Teyla,” John replied gratefully, grabbing my hand and quickly leading me from the room.

I followed John in silence as he walked at an unusually brisk pace from the infirmary to our quarters. Once the door had closed behind us he let out a relieved sigh, sitting on the bed and putting his head in his hands tiredly.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” I asked hesitantly, sitting beside him and putting a hand on his arm.

“Carson had it right when he said it was the most unsettling thing he’d ever experienced,” John replied. “It was as if a switch got tripped in my head. I was in the forest finding a spot for Teyla to rest and then I was in Afghanistan trying to save Captain Holland.”

“The mission that got you sent to Antarctica?” I asked in surprise. John had mentioned it briefly but never the full details.

“That’d be the one,” John replied. He was silent for a moment before the words seemed to come to him. He explained how he’d decided to take the helicopter in to rescue Holland when it looked like the powers that be weren’t going to authorise anything in time. John’s own helicopter tail rotor took a lucky hit and he went down as well. He managed to find Holland who was badly wounded - even though John tried to walk them both out of there, the mission ended with him as a POW and Holland dead from injuries sustained in the original crash.

“You felt like you were living it all again?” my question drew John’s eyes to mine for the first time since he’d started speaking.

“Hell yeah,” John admitted. “I was there ... it’s only luck and Ronon’s skill that I didn’t kill him and Rodney. Rodney’s complaining that I shot him – he hasn’t worked out yet how close I came to killing him.”

“Well don’t let him make you feel too guilty,” I said. “He was under the influence of the machine too – if he hadn’t succumbed he’d have switched it off long before you got to the stage of shooting at anyone.”

“Maybe,” John replied, unwilling to let himself off the hook that easily.

“And Teyla wasn’t affected?” I looked at him curiously.

“Wraith gene,” John said by way of explanation. “Wouldn’t do to have their little experiment affect them too.”

“So I probably would have been fine,” I speculated. “I wish I’d been there – maybe I could have helped you somehow.”

“I’m glad you weren’t there,” John replied firmly. “I had Teyla cast as Holland, because of her injury. I hate to think what role I’d have cast you in.”

“Well, like you said,” I remarked, “this is another one to put against the slate for the Genii. I really hate those guys.”

“Yeah, me too,” John rubbed a tired hand across his eyes.

“Come on,” I said, standing and holding out a hand to help him up. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

I knew it had been a bad day when John let me help him with even the basics ... he was tired and it wasn’t just a physical thing. It upset me to know that John had relived such a difficult event that hadn’t ended well. Long after John had fallen asleep that night I lay awake thinking about another close call ... and about how the mind could sometimes be the greatest enemy of all.


Chapter 19: Just wait until you meet them before you form an opinion


“Are you sure there’s no way I can come with you instead?” I asked the question hopefully, watching as John checked the Puddle Jumper systems to make sure he could access the necessary macros and that the upload program was functioning. Once the Daedalus left John would be on his own in preparing for the test of the new gate system.

“Isn’t it enough that you’re going on the Daedalus?” John asked irritably, swivelling around from the control panel to look up at me. I knew he was annoyed that it’d take a week and a half for us to get to the midway station – time that he’d be stuck on Atlantis alone twiddling his thumbs waiting for the test to begin.

“Come on – first trip through the intergalactic gate bridge?” I pointed out excitedly. “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

“Well the SGC only authorised one person for this part of the mission,” John smiled slightly as my face fell. “That would be me.”

“Fine,” I replied grumpily. “Just don’t let them convince you to stay too long back on Earth.”

“It’ll be a quick trip in and out,” John promised, glancing down at his watch. “You better get to the Daedalus – aren't they beaming you up in five minutes?”

“Yeah,” I replied, standing in front of him with an expectant look.

“What?” John asked innocently.

“Don’t I at least get a kiss goodbye?” I looked at him pointedly. John laughed, pulling me into his lap and kissing me affectionately.

“Have a safe trip,” John said seriously a few moments later. “Don’t let Rodney run you ragged.”

“I won’t,” I replied, stepping back reluctantly. “I’ll see you in three weeks.” John turned back to the console while I stood there, contemplating how long three weeks actually was and wondering if it was too late for me to change my mind.

“You okay?” John glanced over his shoulder at me with a puzzled frown when he realised I hadn’t left.

“Good luck,” I said solemnly, leaning down to wrap my arms around him from behind.

“Piece of cake,” John replied, putting his arms over mine and squeezing confidently.

Letting him go reluctantly I hurried off to the Gateroom for the beam up of the last remaining personnel who were going on the Daedalus. Rodney had been up there for hours already, making sure all systems were in the green.

The Daedalus made the trip to the midway space station without incident. We exited hyperspace in the void between galaxies to the site of the midway station framework floating unfinished in space. At each end resided a Stargate, one from the Pegasus galaxy and one from the Milky Way. I stood on the Bridge, feeling equal parts excitement and nervousness as the time for the test approached. Even though I wouldn’t get to actually see John I was still as excited as if I were.

“All systems seem to be ... ,” Rodney spoke while looking at his data pad. He paused to look at something on one of the Bridge consoles, finishing his sentence with a puzzled “huh?”.

“What?” Colonel Caldwell demanded.

“Oh, there’s a ... odd echo on the proximity sensors,” Rodney replied distractedly, still looking at the same console. “Won’t affect the test but, uh ... yeah, we’re ready to go.”

The test began, after a few seconds we saw the Pegasus midway gate activate moments before John’s Jumper burst through.

“We have a contact,” Rodney reported.

“Colonel Sheppard, right on time. What’s your status?” Colonel Caldwell asked.

“Felt a little weird, but everything seems to be in one piece,” I smiled at hearing John’s voice and at his usual irreverence for the task at hand. “Ready to proceed to next phase. Uploading macro and initiating dialling sequence.” The Milky Way Stargate kawhooshed, establishing the first link from the midway station.

“Oh, no-no-no-no, this is weird,” Rodney muttered.

“Shall I tell him to stand down?” Caldwell looked at Rodney expectantly.

“No-no-no, it’s nothing to do with the test,” Rodney replied, still clearly distracted. “It’s just our sensors aren’t working properly.”

“Daedalus, ready to proceed,” John reported, waiting for confirmation to complete the test.

“Do I clear him?” Caldwell leaned around in his chair to stare pointedly at Rodney.

“Mmm. Mmm, yeah-yeah-yeah, I’m sure he’s fine,” Rodney replied, hardly paying attention as he tapped away at his data pad. Finally noticing the lack of response to that Rodney looked up to see Caldwell staring at him. ”Uh, he’s good to go, yes. Go ahead.”

“Colonel Sheppard, you have a go,” Caldwell gave the all clear.

John’s Puddle Jumper shot through the wormhole and disappeared.

“Jumper is away,” Rodney confirmed.

“Colonel, we’re receiving a data burst. Jumper Three has arrived at Stargate Command,” Captain Kleinman reported a few minutes later.

“Mission accomplished,” Caldwell announced.

“Yes, of course it worked,” Rodney said condescendingly. “I’m already onto the next problem.”

“Which is?” Caldwell asked irritably.

“Well, the sensors are having a hard time determining what it is, probably due to the Doppler effect,” Rodney admitted.

“What what is?” Caldwell looked impatiently at Rodney, waiting for him to get to the point.

“I’m detecting a foreign object travelling at point nine nine nine the speed of light ... and it’s coming this way,” Rodney reported.

oOo

It was about an hour later when Jumper Three came back through the Milky Way Stargate, slamming to a halt inside the midway station structure.

“We have a contact, sir,” Captain Kleinman reported. “Its Colonel Sheppard back from Earth.” The military way of stating the obvious had always amused me, especially this time. I mean who else was it gonna be?

“Colonel Sheppard, welcome back to the middle of nowhere,” Caldwell greeted him.

“Thank you, Colonel. I’ve got a take-out pizza for everyone back at Atlantis. With your permission, I’d like to upload the macro and dial out before it gets cold,” I smiled at that, sure that only John would have thought to bring a bit of Earth back to everyone waiting on Atlantis.

“Negative,” Caldwell denied John’s request. “We’re putting that leg of the trip on hold for now. Seems like we’re expecting company.”

Even though the object Rodney was tracking could turn out to be bad I couldn’t help feeling pleased he’d found it because I got to see John a whole week and a half ahead of schedule. Knowing he’d be called into meetings as soon as he reported on board I went to the F302 Bay to meet him.

“Hey,” I called, smiling in welcome as John exited the Jumper and walked purposefully towards me.

“Hey yourself,’ John replied, not stopping until we were toe to toe. The hug he gave me said everything that was needed – that he’d missed me and was glad to see me. I held on just as tight, trying to convey the same message. After a few moments John sighed before releasing me.

“So what’s with this object Rodney found?” John asked curiously, keeping his arm around me and steering us towards the exit.

“Hopefully nothing bad because then I’ll have to start feeling guilty for being so happy about it,” I replied, pleased when that comment earned a laugh from John.

oOo

John was called to a meeting as soon as he checked in with Colonel Caldwell. I wasn’t invited and I didn’t make an issue of it because I was lucky the Colonel had agreed to let me travel on the Daedalus in the first place - seeing as I had no real role in the Gatebridge test. The meeting broke up and Rodney hurried onto the Bridge with a clear purpose, followed closely by John and Colonel Caldwell.

“What’s happening?” I asked Rodney quietly.

“We’re gonna overtake the object using the hyperdrive and then use the sublight engines to get as close to their speed as we can,” Rodney replied, tapping away at his data pad. “When they pass us hopefully we’ll have enough time to get sensor readings, find out who or what they are.”

The Bridge hummed with activity as Rodney gave the coordinates for the hyperdrive jump. We burst out into space and sublight engines were engaged. We’d almost maxed them to full capacity before the object appeared, flashed by us in a blur of distorted motion, and disappeared again.

“Interesting,” Rodney muttered, looking intently at the ever present data tablet.

“What?” Caldwell demanded impatiently.

“If these readings are correct -- and to be perfectly fair, they may not be ...,” Rodney over explained.

“Rodney,” John said in his ‘just get to the point’ tone.

“It’s an Ancient warship. It’s possibly Aurora class.” Rodney announced simply.

“Who’s flying it?” Caldwell asked.

“I ... would imagine Ancients,” Rodney replied in a voice that said he thought that would have been obvious.

“But there hasn’t been any of them around for over ten thousand years,” Caldwell protested.

“Relativity?!” Rodney said with an impatient sigh. “Look, remember, for them only a handful of years have passed.”

“Would they know how much real time that equates to?” I asked curiously.

“They’d have a rough idea,” Rodney replied. “Plus they’d have scanned us when we made that pass which would give them a few clues too.”

“Don’t those ships have hyperdrives?” John asked with a confused frown.

“Well, maybe their hyperdrive was damaged in a battle with the Wraith,” Rodney suggested. “It happened to us all the time. Maybe it conked out on the way and they were forced to continue at as close to light speed as possible. That would explain how they got a million light years away from Pegasus without having to leave a million years ago.”

“You know the subspace drive specs better than I do, Doctor, but I’m not sure an Aurora class ship has the power to do what you’re suggesting,” Caldwell looked towards Rodney, waiting for some kind of reaction.

“Well, maybe they have a ZedPM,” Rodney suggested, indicating that Caldwell was probably right about their ships power.

“That would be worth finding out,” John said, visibly more interested in where this was going.

“OK, we need to send them a message before they get out of range and we have to jump ahead,” Rodney said purposefully. “Uh, something like, you know, ‘We are humans from Earth currently occupying Atlantis, uh, yada, yada, yada’ ...”

“Why don’t we just ask ‘em to slow down?” John looked over at Rodney with a quizzical expression.

There was a beep and then Captain Kleinman reported “Colonel Caldwell. The unidentified vessel is slowing down.”

“Maybe they heard me,” John suggested uncomfortably.

“No, they saw us,” Rodney replied, looking at John in amazement. “They’re not just slowing down -- they’re slamming on the brakes something like twenty-seven gees.”

“So now what?” Caldwell looked to Rodney for some kind of explanation.

Before Rodney could respond bright light flashed in front of the view screen, shimmering to form the hologram of a blonde woman in clothing similar to what we’d seen in the files from the Aurora.

“Unknown vessel, I’m Captain Helia of the Lantean warship Tria. Our ship has suffered damage. We’ve scanned your vessel and determined that it is capable of hyperspace travel. We’ve begun deceleration manoeuvres. Will you render assistance in the form of hyperspace transport?”

“Well, yes! Yes, of course we will,” Rodney exclaimed with a dazed smile.

The hologram rippled and resettled but gave no response.

“I don’t think she can hear you,” John told Rodney, bringing a disappointed look to Rodney’s face. I didn’t blame him – it would have been cool being the first to speak to an actual Ancient.

“Open a channel,” Caldwell told Captain Kleinman. “This is Colonel Steven Caldwell of the Earth ship Daedalus. It would be an honour to render assistance in any way we possibly can.”

That did garner a response – a pleased smile – before the holographic image disappeared.

“We’re gonna meet Ancients!” Rodney said excitedly. “I mean, flesh and blood Ancients who know what everything is and how everything works! I mean, I don’t even know what to ask first!”

“Well, it’s gonna be a couple of hours before we can match velocities for transport,” Caldwell reminded him.

“That should give you enough time to write out that list!” John told Rodney, smiling when Rodney nodded excitedly.

“Right, right!” Rodney hurried off presumably to do just that.

John looked visibly excited too, something I didn’t see too often. Usually his facade of military imperturbability was more firmly held. That alone gave me the sense of the magnitude of what had just occurred. For myself I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive. Everything we’d learned about the Ancients through experience with their city and their technology didn’t inspire me with confidence that they’d see us as equals.

“Is this a good thing?” I asked John quietly.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” John asked, looking at me in surprise. “I thought you of all people would be glad for the chance to talk to a real Ancient.”

“Yeah well, after the last time we thought we’d found Ancients and ended up with Replicator hands in our heads instead I’m not so easy to please.” I replied sarcastically.

“Just wait until you meet them before you form an opinion,” John counselled. I nodded reluctantly, knowing he was right.

“Can we even fit a hundred Ancients on the Daedalus?” I wondered aloud. “It’ll take over a week to get back to Atlantis.”

“It’ll be tight but Rodney will work something out,” John replied. “You might as well head up to your quarters for some rest ... I have to start organising for the beam over.”

Nodding reluctantly I watched as John hurried off in the same direction as Rodney. Walking slowly back to my quarters I pondered on my own mood. Was I so jaded by the Pegasus galaxy that even something as miraculous as actual Ancient survivors couldn’t make me excited about our future? I spent the remainder of the two hours needed to match velocities working out what I might say when introduced to the Ancients in person. I needn't have bothered though because when they beamed aboard they were escorted straight to the section of the ship John had seen vacated for them. There was a brief meeting between leaders when John was introduced to the key players before the Ancients pleaded tiredness and retired for the night.

The only spot of good news in the huge reorganisation of the ship was that everyone was sharing quarters so no one raised an eyebrow when John allocated himself to share mine.

“Do I get to meet some of these Ancients?” I asked John later that night. “Before we get to Atlantis I mean?”

“I don’t know,” John replied, pacing in the small space available. “They were gracious about our helping them but ...” he trailed off with a troubled look.

“Not quite what you expected?” I asked, reaching up and pulling him down to sit beside me.

“Not really,” John admitted, “although I’d definitely describe then as Ancienty so that’s a positive.”

“Well if there is a chance while they’re on the ship I wouldn’t mind meeting one of them," I reiterated hopefully. "Just to satisfy my curiosity about what ‘Ancienty’ looks like.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” John promised with a smile. “So you missed me?”

“Usually I’d do the whole ‘did you go somewhere?’ thing,” I said, nudging my shoulder companionably against his, “but after a week and a half with pretty much just Rodney to talk to I’m just gonna go with hell yes!”

“Well that level of honesty definitely deserves a reward,” I could hear the pleased tone in John’s voice.

“What did you have in mind?” I glanced at him with feigned confusion. Barely a second later I found myself stretched out on the bed with John looming above me. “Not bad,” I complimented teasingly. “What else you got?”

Our reunion proceeded as you'd imagine before once again I found myself lying in the dark unable to sleep for the thoughts running through my head. I'd been worried about the Puddle Jumper test, because despite Rodney's assurances that it was a piece of cake John had been doing something for the first time with all the associated risks. My relief that it had gone well was being dampened by my anxiety over the presence of the Ancients on board ... please just once let something be as good as it seemed!


Chapter 20: I know what this place means to you


I did get the chance to meet Captain Helia the following day, along with a number of the senior staff stationed on the Daedalus. The Ancient Captain walked down the line of us like the Queen walking a receiving line at a royal function, with Colonel Caldwell walking beside her making the introductions.

“This is Sabina Scott,” Caldwell said when it was my turn. “She’s one of the members of the expedition residing in Atlantis.”

“Sabina,” Helia greeted me in a voice with a strange inflection I hadn’t heard before. “How long have you lived in Atlantis?”

“Almost two and a half years,” I replied simply, “since the first day of the expedition.”

“And how do you find the city?” Helia looked at me with a kind of removed curiosity.

“Beautiful and baffling,” I replied as honestly as I could.

“Baffling how?” Helia questioned, ignoring the Colonels clear desire to keep her moving down the line.

“Baffling as in lacking explanation ... motivation ... justification,” I offered, “maybe all three.” I could see Caldwell frowning in disapproval at my response, an expression that turned to surprise when Helia laughed in delight.

“Yes I can see why you would think so,” she replied. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she held out a hand for me to shake ... I just barely contained the flinching instinct I got at the surge I felt from her, the biggest I’d ever experienced. Of course that made sense since she’d be brimming with ATA genes so I should have expected it. What I didn’t expect was her sudden keen interest as she looked at me as though she’d like nothing better than to get a microscope on to me. “You have some of our genetic material?” she asked in amazement.

“Ah ... yes,” I replied in confusion. “So does Colonel Sheppard. Is that a surprise?”

“I am pleased that our brothers and sisters were able to pass some of themselves down to their descendants,” Helia said simply.

I nodded, wondering if there was more to it than that. I was glad that I hadn’t mentioned Rodney as an ATA gene carrier. She didn’t seem the type to be impressed that we could give the gene to almost half the population without any real connection to the Ancients. Realising I’d taken up more time than any of the other introductions I stepped back and allowed Helia to continue on her way. Rubbing my hand discretely down the side of my pants I couldn’t shake the slight tingling I could still feel.

John was just as puzzled by Helia’s reaction to me as I’d been. Since we couldn’t call her up on it we decided there was no point in worrying about it unless it became an issue in the future.

oOo

“You ready to beam down?” John asked.

“I am so ready you have no idea,” I replied intently. Having the Ancients on the ship had been uncomfortable because they were clearly not interested in fraternising with any of us. If we hadn’t been responsible for their rescue and return to Atlantis I don’t think they’d have wanted to talk to us at all. Their very manner concerned me deeply but John just told me not to worry and that it was probably just that they'd been confined on that ship together for so long. Since the leading members of their crew, especially Captain Helia, had been friendly enough, there wasn’t really anything I could point to that supported my feelings.

Despite my misgivings it was kind of exciting to be a part of the group beaming down with the first Ancients to return to Atlantis in 10,000 years. I stood with John, Rodney, Captain Helia and several of her senior staff ready to be beamed home. The bright lights engulfed me and when my vision cleared I was greeted with the sight of Elizabeth and the other half of team Sheppard waiting to welcome us.

“Doctor Weir, Ronon, Teyla,” John stepped forward to make the introductions, “this is Helia, captain of the Ancient ship Tria.”

“It’s an honour to meet you,” Doctor Weir said sincerely.

“Thank you,” Helia said with a smile. “And from what I’m told, you’ve done a remarkable job preserving our city.”

“We did what we could with what we had,” Doctor Weir said self depreciatingly.

“I need to speak to the leader of your people,” Helia said with a suddenly serious expression.

“I’m in charge of the Atlantis expedition,” Doctor Weir replied with equal seriousness.

“You misunderstand me, Doctor Weir,” Helia’s tone was just shy of condescending. “I need to talk to the one who can speak for all the people of Earth.”

“That can certainly be arranged, but may I ask why?” Doctor Weir asked curiously.

I watched in amazement as a console arose from the floor directly in front of Doctor Weir. Ronon’s blaster was in his hand before I could blink – he took aim but the console didn’t appear on the surface to be anything harmful.

“What is that?” Rodney asked in confusion. “How come I’ve never seen that?”

Helia had been silent during our reaction – now she walked confidently to the console and placed her palm down on it. The result was instantaneous – every screen I could see from my position went blank.

“Excuse me, what’s going on?” Doctor Weir demanded.

“Thank you for all that you’ve done, Doctor Weir, but your guardianship of this city is no longer necessary. The city is now under my control.” Helia said in an ominous tone.

“What the hell does that mean?” John asked angrily.

“We have returned to a home we thought we would never see again,” Helia intoned. “We appreciate your help in making our return possible but ... there is much healing my people must do. We cannot progress in this endeavour while others occupy our home. Perhaps in the future there will be a place for both our peoples on Atlantis.”

“But,” Rodney spoke up for the first time, “you can teach us so much about your technology, help us to understand some of the things we’ve only been guessing at up till now.”

“Perhaps in the future Dr McKay,” Helia reiterated. “For now we would appreciate speaking with your leaders about reclaiming our home.”

“Oh ... no wonder you were so ... so ... elusive on the Daedalus,” Rodney said in a sick enlightened voice. “This is what you intended the whole time isn’t it?”

“Rodney,” Doctor Weir reprimanded.

“We rescued them!” Rodney turned to her pleadingly.

“I know,” Doctor Weir replied, putting a hand on his arm. “For now I think it best we contact the SGC and get General O’Neill to come and talk to Captain Helia personally.”

“We don’t have the power, remember?” Rodney pointed out the obvious.

We will power the city,” Helia broke in, motioning for one of her staff to go and take care of it.

“They have a ZedPM,” Rodney told Elizabeth sadly. You knew it was a bad day when the prospect of a ZPM didn't have Rodney jumping in excitement.

There was no point in talking with Captain Helia further ... John and Rodney retired to Doctor Weir’s office to discuss the situation. I stayed close to Ronon and Teyla, eager to share my impressions of the Ancients and get their take on what it might mean.

oOo

“What’s gonna happen now?” I asked John once I’d seated myself at the team Sheppard table for dinner. The mood in the commissary was subdued, which made me angry because the return of the Ancients should have been a cause for celebration.

“General O’Neill and Richard Woolsey will be using the intergalactic gate bridge to get a ride in tomorrow morning,” John told everyone. “They’ll try to negotiate some kind of agreement to let us stay in the city.”

“They’re not gonna go for that,” I muttered half under my breath. John frowned at my lack of optimism but he didn’t disagree with what I’d said.

“My people believe the return of the Ancients signals a turn in the tide of the war against the Wraith,” Teyla offered solemnly.

“There’re only a hundred of them,” Rodney said sarcastically. “Unless it’s a very small tide I don’t think they’re gonna make much impact.”

“There’s that McKay confidence we know and love,” John drawled mockingly.

“Oh like you’re not thinking the same thing!” Rodney protested. When John said nothing to deny that Rodney grinned triumphantly. “See – you agree!”

“I just think they’d be stupid not to take our help when it’s offered so willingly,” John admitted.

“Whatever,” Ronon’s voice rumbled deeply. “They’ll be a target once the Wraith hear there are Ancients back on Atlantis.”

“Not to mention the Asurans,” I reminded everyone of their deep seated hatred for the Lanteans.

“Let’s not assume anything until General O’Neill has spoken to Captain Helia,” John requested, glancing at each of us and waiting to get our reluctant nods in return.

“So how was the trip?” Ronon asked John, changing the subject.

“The gate ride was a little strange,” John replied. “Only took half an hour to get to Earth though so the intergalactic gate bridge is a complete success.”

“And I’m sure the Ancients will be very happy to use it if they ever want to visit Earth,” Rodney said snidely.

“Rodney,” John said warningly.

“I’m just saying,” Rodney complained, “I wouldn’t have put so much effort into the bridge if I knew we weren’t gonna get to use it ourselves.”

McKay,” John glared at Rodney until he looked away mutely. “What’s been happening here?” John turned back to Teyla and Ronon expectantly.

oOo

I tried not to let John see how worried I was about the likely outcome of General O’Neill’s talks with Captain Helia. We went through our usual nightly routine before settling down to sleep. I listened to the sounds of John breathing beside me as I stared up at the ceiling, wondering if this would be one of the last nights I’d been doing that here.

Things happened very quickly once the talking began ... I say talking but apparently it was mostly listening on our side. The news spread like wildfire throughout the city within seconds ... the Ancients wanted us out of Atlantis and General O’Neill had agreed that we would be - within 48 hours.

My emotions swayed between upset and angry as I tried to process what that meant for John and I. When anger seemed to be winning out I took myself to the gym to do what I always did – beat the crap out of the punching bag until I felt better or ran out of steam. I was still half heartedly hitting the bag when John found me.

“Feel better?” he asked casually, leaning against the door frame with a hand in one pocket.

“No,” I replied, turning away from him to grab my towel, “but I don't think even this is gonna improve my mood today so there’s no point in continuing.”

“You wanna talk about it?” John offered, stepping fully into the room.

“Do you?” I put the question back on him somewhat belligerently.

“Do you think I’m not angry that things have turned out this way?” John walked to me and took both my shoulders into his hands to bring me around to face him. “I am – because I don’t want to leave here and I know you don’t either. I know what this place means to you.”

“Don’t go there,” I almost begged, feeling the scales tip on the side of tearful emotions. I wasn’t ready to think about leaving the only place I’d ever felt like I belonged. Dropping my forehead onto John’s chest I was helpless to stop the tears once he’d let them free. John rubbed a comforting hand over my back as he let me cry in silence.

“This isn’t helping,” I pulled away, swiping my hands across my face impatiently. “We have no choice so I just have to accept what it means for us.”

“The SGC will find places for everyone,” John tried to reassure me, watching in concern as I started pacing in agitation.

“Will they?” I said sarcastically. “For you probably ... but I’m pretty sure they won’t have a place for someone with Wraith DNA and no real qualifications.”

“Sabina,” John reprimanded softly. “Look - I don’t know what’s gonna happen now,” he admitted, pulling me back into his arms. “What I do know is that I’ll be there with you ... I’ll ah ... I’ll look after you.” John looked down at me, obviously wondering if I was going to make an issue of that last part. I was feeling unstable enough that rather than be insulted he thought I needed looking after I was grateful because deep down I was worried I did.

“I know you will,” I held on to him tightly for a few more moments before stepping back. “So I guess I should start packing?”

“Yeah,” John said sadly. “Start with your lab ... we can do the rest this evening.”

“Okay,” I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the day ahead. “Let’s get it done.”

oOo

Teyla and Ronon stopped by our quarters later that night. John still had some things scattered around the room but I had managed to pack most of my stuff earlier in the afternoon.

“Hey,” John greeted them, clearly glad of the interruption. “You guys all packed up?”

“I really don’t have that much stuff,” Ronon admitted with a shrug.

“And most of my belongings are already with my people,” Teyla added.

“How’s that going, by the way?” John asked Teyla. “Are the Ancients allowing the Athosians to stay on the mainland?”

“They have found a suitable planet for us to relocate to - one with our own Stargate,” Teyla offered ruefully.

“How’d that go down?” John looked at Teyla expectantly.

“It was not the homecoming of the Ancestors my people envisioned,” Teyla said simply.

“I’m sorry,” I looked at Teyla sympathetically. “Things haven’t gone the way any of us would have hoped.”

Silence descended as we all thought things that were hard to put into words. John threw a few more things into boxes, looking at others as if wondering what to do with them.

“You guys want any of this stuff?” John gestured around the room awkwardly. “Johnny Cash poster? Skateboard? Sudoku books?”

“Why would they want Johnny Cash,” I teased. “They don’t even know who he is!”

Teyla smiled over at Ronon in amusement as he casually picked up a Sudoku book, flicking through it idly before throwing it back down. John looked at the two of them awkwardly before going over and sitting on the bed.

“You know you guys are welcome to come back with us, right?” he glanced from one to the other looking for a reaction.

“My place is with my people,” Teyla said gently.

“And I can’t leave this galaxy until every last Wraith is dead,” Ronon added with a half smile.

“Well, I just had to say it out loud,” John replied disappointedly.

“You too should know that we would be honoured if you both decided to stay with us,” Teyla looked from John to me intently.

“Yeah, well, I think the Air Force has other plans for me,” John replied, getting up and throwing a few more items in one of the packing boxes.

“I’d stay if it wasn’t for that,” I offered quietly. John looked over at me in surprise.

“You would?” he asked incredulously. “Even knowing you couldn’t go back to Earth.”

“Only if you were here too,” I admitted freely. “Don’t worry – I understand why we can’t do that.”

“Oh,” John looked almost uncomfortable with that. He looked around and realised that there was nothing left for him to pack. “Well ... this sucks,” he said eloquently.

“Yeah,” Ronon agreed.

“I’m not, I’m not ... I’m not good at ... goodbyes,” John stumbled through that one.

“What he means to say is that we’ll miss you both,” I told them, shaking my head as John nodded an agreement.

“Our paths will cross again,” Teyla promised. “Of that I am sure.”

“Well, before our paths uncross, would you give us a hand with these boxes? I’ll throw in pizza and some beer and ...” John looked at them winningly.

“Popcorn?” Teyla asked hopefully.

“And popcorn!” John and I chorused together.

Teyla laughed, even more so when Ronon wrapped his arms around John’s waist in a bear hug, lifting him clear off the floor.

“Oh, my God!” John groaned. Ronon swung him around and dumped him back down. He looked over at me and then wordlessly opened his arms for a proper hug.

“I hate this,” I whispered miserably.

“You’ll be fine,” Ronon squeezed me tight before letting me go and looking over at John. “Now where’s this pizza?”

While John spent the remainder of the evening checking in with everyone to make sure they’d be ready to head out at 0800 the next morning, I wandered through the halls, meandering from place to place remembering all the remarkable things that had happened there. It hardly seemed real that I wouldn’t be living there anymore ... I wasn’t looking forward to the time when it did seem real.

Doctor Weir, Carson, Rodney, John and I were the last the step through the gate. Teyla and Ronon were there for the final farewells which were almost too emotional for me to handle without crying. I was determined the Ancients wouldn’t see any of us cry though, so I held it all together as best I could. When it was time I took John's hand and walked with him through the gate ... I didn’t look back.

 On to Part Three