failegaidin: (Default)
[personal profile] failegaidin
Title: It Never Happened
Pairing: John/Elizabeth, Ronon/Teyla, Cadman/Lorne (SGA)
Warning: This is a weird one. I apologize for that. Not even sure if I'm going to post it to the Sparky comm because I'm not sure how I feel about it. And sorry for the weird spacing issues.
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me.




Rodney breathed a sigh of relief when the other jumper came up alongside him. Teyla had told him to wait thirty minutes, but as soon as she had disappeared into the forest, he had begun agonizing over the decision. Something wasn't right. Sheppard, Ronon and Lorne had been missing for almost two hours, they were far from home, and the trees that surrounded them...

They just didn't feel right.

Twenty minutes after Teyla left, he was ready to either arm up and go after her, or fly the jumper back to some place he could contact Atlantis for backup. Fortunately, he didn't have to do either.

His earpiece crackled. "Rodney?"

"Oh thank God. Elizabeth."

He left the jumper as the other one landed, shifting nervously until Elizabeth, Beckett and a host of Marines - including Laura Cadman - came spilling out.

"What's wrong?" Elizabeth asked immediately.

"They're gone," he blurted. "First, it was just Sheppard and Ronon and Lorne, but then when we couldn't find them, Teyla ran off after them and now it's just me - " He stopped, frowning. "Wait. Why are you here?"

Cadman smirked. "Dr. Weir's sixth sense when it comes to Colonel Sheppard."

Elizabeth gave her patented look to the Marine, but it didn't seem to faze her all that much.

"You were overdue," she explained.

"Only by a couple of hours," Laura qualified.

Carson rolled his eyes. "Which is more than enough time for the colonel to get himself taken hostage by crazy villagers or get embroiled in a civil war."

"Exactly," Elizabeth agreed.

Rodney waved his hands. "Whatever. We have to find them. There's something...off. Here. I don't like it. We need to find the others and go home."

One of Marines snickered. "Seeing ghosts, McKay?"

Laura usually would have been the first one on the teasing Rodney bandwagon, but she shivered instead, as though something were slithering up her spine. Looking around, she shook her head.

"He's right," she said firmly. "Let's move out."

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They came back to a bloodbath. While the Wraith had been attacking from the outside, a host of their followers had attacked from within. John didn't know how long they had been playing double agents within the castle, but it didn't really matter at that point. The royal family and their advisers had been killed. The guards, too. There was nothing left to defend against the Wraith.

It was hard enough to see the women and children strewn through the halls, their lifeless eyes following the small group. A painful and haunting silence filled the corridors and empty rooms - without needing to check, they knew that they were the only living beings inside.

They did check, though. None of them could leave until they knew for sure that all hope was gone. Room by room, floor by floor, they searched the entire palace.

Teyla and Rodney were the last ones they found.

A dozen attackers lay around them - necks broken, bullet holes showering their torsos. Their friends had fought hard until the bitter end, a gun still clutched in McKay's hand.

John thought he was going to be sick, but he couldn't make himself turn away. Cadman and Lorne both looked away, hands shaking as they struggled to keep a hold on their emotions.

Ronon was the only one to step forward. He knelt silently in front of the bodies, his shoulders sagging as though a host of chains weighed them down. For a brief second, one of his hands hovered over Teyla's swollen stomach and then he leaned forward, shutting her eyes and then doing the same for McKay.

"We can't leave them here," he said finally, pushing back to his feet.

John nodded, almost thankful for a task to focus on. "We can make stretchers," he said, his voice strained.

Ronon shook his head. "I'll carry them."

"To where?" Laura asked suddenly. "It's not like we can take them home."

"We'll bury them outside," John said. "Right next to each other. That way..." He swallowed hard. "That way they won't be alone."

Without another word, Ronon picked Teyla up gently, cradling her against his chest as he carried her out. The other three moved down into the lower part of the castle, looking for shovels to break the ground with. By the time they got back outside, Ronon had laid both of their friends out, covering them with a sheet from somewhere in the palace.

The wind picked up and they started to dig.


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The Marines were good at tracking and they didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out which way to go. They moved ahead with caution and confidence, their weapons at the ready as they scanned the trees around them. Rodney, Elizabeth and Beckett stayed in the middle, out of danger and out of the way.

The silence was becoming oppressive when Cadman and the Marine next to her froze, guns pointing straight ahead. Everyone stopped, holding their breath as each painful second ticked by.

"It is only I," Teyla's voice rang out. She stepped out from behind a tree, her hands raised. "Don't shoot."

Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief. "Thank God. Are you alright?"

The Athosian nodded. "I'm fine."

"Did you find the others?"

She hesitated. "Not quite."

"What does that mean?" Rodney demanded.

"It means that I have found only one thing in this jungle," Teyla replied, "that is of any interest. As far as I can tell, the Colonel, Major Lorne, and Ronon must be inside somewhere."

"Inside?" Laura asked. "A building? Out here?"

"Come. I will show you."

She led them through the trees. There was no sound of wildlife, nothing to indicate that there was anything alive for miles in any direction. And yet.

Elizabeth wasn't the only one who couldn't shake the feeling that she was being watched.

The trees didn't really open up, but a large structure rose up in front of them suddenly, its stone silent and imposing. It looked like something you would find in the jungles of Mexico, a Mayan temple perhaps. It towered above them, rising into the sky as though standing witness to something monumental.
"Not exactly inviting, is it?" Cadman noted.
"I do not believe they could be anywhere else," Teyla said. "There is a door on the southeast wall. It is unguarded."
"Let's check it out then," Elizabeth replied.
The Marines moved forward, quickly but cautiously. The entryway was less than five minutes away and they soon found themselves standing in front of a dark square cut into the stone. Cadman motioned for two of her men to move in, their guns and trigger fingers at the ready. It was a tense couple of minutes while everyone else waited outside, but eventually they heard "Clear!" and they moved in one by one.
The space inside was large and open. Elizabeth wasn't sure what she had been expecting, but surely it was more than this. The floor, walls and ceiling were all made of the same stone that made up the outside. At the far end of the room, five large steps climbed to a dais. There was no throne as one might expect, but a long table with several objects laid out across it.
"Doesn't look like they're here," one of the soldiers said.
"There's a difference between the space in here and the size of the building, though," Carson commented. "There's a good chance there are rooms or staircases in the walls.
Teyla, closer to the dais than the others, stopped suddenly.
"We are not alone," she said over her shoulder.
Elizabeth frowned. "Wraith?"
The Athosian shook her head. "Something worse."
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John wanted to say something. Watching Ronon out of the corner of his eye, he knew what his friend was going through. Teyla had always been the person closest to him, and it had been obvious - to John, at least - that Ronon had been more than a little in love with her. It didn't change when she began her relationship with Kanaan, or when she became pregnant, either. He was always there, never saying anything, simply supporting her and taking care of her.
When they had left Rodney and Teyla in the palace, the Satedan had pulled Rodney aside. The talk had been brief, but to the point - his only job was to take care of Teyla, no matter what.
Now they were both dead.
It brought John back to his own painful memories of Elizabeth. He had never told her how he'd felt - hadn't even been able to admit it to himself until after she was gone - but he had always been with her, walking half a step behind. He should have been there with her when the Replicators had attacked Atlantis. It didn't matter that he had had his own job to do. Her safety was his responsibility, and he hadn't been there when she needed him.
And then he had left her behind.
In his mind, there was no excuse for that. Every time he replayed that day in his mind, he saw somewhere else he could have made a different choice. He could have kept McKay from trying to rewrite the Replicator code. He could have run up and grabbed Elizabeth and dragged her out of there. He could have returned right away - permission be damned - and hunted for her until he had her safely back on Atlantis.
He had done none of that. He had let down the woman most important to him in his life. And he knew that Ronon was dealing with that same weight and that same guilt. John could see that a part of him was already dead, ready to be put into the ground with Rodney and Teyla. Eventually, there would be nothing left of him but a shell meant to fool everyone else.
What a pair they would make then.
Stone-faced, Ronon picked Teyla up first and set her down into the hole. His eyes were dry, but there was a shake to his hands and a raggedness to his breath. Glancing away as his own emotions tried to get the better of him, John looked over at the other two. Cadman wasn't even trying to hide the tears that streamed down her face. They had lost so much recently, and these two were almost too much. He had no idea how any of them were going to come back from this. He watched as Lorne slipped his hand into Laura's, squeezing tightly and not letting go. Comfort was almost non-existent for all of them at this point and John was glad that Cadman didn't push him away. They needed each other too much.
After Rodney was laid in the ground as well, John stepped forward. He knew that Ronon probably wanted to handle all of this himself, but he couldn't just stand by. And as much as he hated to admit it, they didn't have much time. They couldn't stay here, and they couldn't leave until this was done. Picking up a shovel, he helped his friend cover them with dirt.
When the job was almost done, Laura finally wiped at her eyes, tucking her hair behind her ear as she turned to look off into the distance. Something there must have caught her attention because she frowned, peering carefully across the dry land. Leaning on the handle of his shovel for a moment, John faced that way as well, wondering what she was seeing.
There wasn't any warning aside from that. Laura cried out a warning just as the shot cracked in the distance, and she shoved Lorne to the side and out of the shooter's line of sight. The bullet ripped through her side instead of his stomach, and she stared down at the blood seeping between her hands as everyone else pulled their weapons and searched for the source of the attack. One more shot rang out, striking her hard enough to turn her ninety degrees and then she sank to the ground, the life seeping out of her and soaking into the ground.
The air was empty except for the dust and the wind, and even as Ronon and John continued to be on the lookout, Evan crawled forward and cradled Laura against him. There was no pleading, no tearful goodbyes. She was already gone, her body heavy and empty all at the same time. Lorne just held her tightly to his chest, bowing his head.
"We can't stay here," Ronon said. "We're too exposed."
Glancing over at Lorne, John knew they also couldn't leave Cadman there. "Let's get her to those trees," he said, nodding at a small stand of twisted and rotting trunks. "We'll bury her there."
Ronon covered their movements as Evan carried her across the empty space. Dragging the shovels with him, John followed, hunched over and expecting more shots. There were none though, and the reached the relative safety of the tree line. He watched as Lorne set Cadman down on the ground gently and then wordlessly handed him a shovel.
They all had blood on their hands now.

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"Rodney, STOP!"

The scientist's hands froze over the objects lying on the table. The sharpness of Teyla's voice had cut across the entire room and everyone turned to look at her in surprise.

"Something is not right," she continued, her voice quieter but no less urgent. "I would suggest not touching anything for the time being."

"Your companion is wise. I would listen to her."

The voice was new, and Rodney almost fell backwards down the stairs as he turned to see a man shimmer into sight on the other side of the table. Reaching the main floor again, he backed up until he had reached his friends, Teyla and Cadman stepping in front of him with their guns held tightly.

"Who are you?" asked Elizabeth, her voice steady despite the erratic thundering of her heart.

"I am Calgos. This is my home," he responded, spreading his hands out to signify the structure they were in. "Your friends stumbled upon it and consequently fell into a trap."

Cadman's eyes narrowed. "What did you do to them?"

His own eyes flashed and it startled them, his voice turning cold and hard. "This is my home and they were trespassing. I have a right to protect myself against trespassers."

Elizabeth held up a calming hand. "I'm sure they didn't mean to trespass, Calgos. We sincerely apologize for their mistake, but please. I have to ask that you let them go."

He turned his gaze upon her. His brown hair was combed neatly back, and the white clothing he wore - a long-sleeved tunic and comfortable-looking pants - reminded her a bit of the Ancients they had met. His stare was unsettling though and she found herself struggling to keep still beneath it. 

"They have sprung a trap," he explained. "I cannot simply pull them out of it."

"Can't, or won't?" Teyla asked.

Calgos gave a half-shrug. "Won't."

"So you would just leave them...wherever they are?"

"I would, yes. And I will. You, of course, could try to save them. I have no problem with that."

"And how exactly do we do that?" Rodney asked, obviously frustrated with the conversation. "We don't even know where they are!"

Calgos gave him a small smile. "They are not far at all. I can tell you that." He gestured to the table in front of him. "There are seven objects upon this table. You must choose one. Then your fate - and those of your friends - will be decided."

Teyla eyed the table cautiously. "Is there other information we should have?"

He nodded. "Only one will bring your friends back. They stood as you do now, looking down at the objects, each one thinking to pick a different one up. I can tell you that none of those three is the saving choice. One would have granted safe passage. One would have killed them instantly. And the other sprang the trap. Of the remaining four, there is one that will burn you from the inside out. One that will bind and blind you. One that will open doors for you even as it drains you of life. And one...one that will save yourselves and your friends. Choose correctly, and you will all leave this place in peace." He winked at them, and it sent a chill deep into Elizabeth's core. "Good luck."

Just as quickly as he had appeared, Calgos was gone, leaving them alone once again. As Elizabeth looked around at her companions though, that feeling of being watched, even being surrounded, still haunted her. Doing her best to shake it, she cleared her throat. 

"Alright. Teyla, Cadman, Rodney, Carson and I will check out the table. No one is to touch ANYTHING. Is that understood?"

She looked directly at Rodney as she asked the question, waiting until he nodded. Then she turned and mounted the steps, pausing a good six inches away from the table. 

The items were lined up across the long table, none of them touching the other. Some were beautiful - the jeweled necklace with the deep blue stones, the scarf, and the crystal - while others were more plain - a large old book, a teacup without the saucer and an unadorned wooden box. The last item made her shiver slightly. The knife's sharp blade was covered in blood, some of it looking too fresh. 

"It is a riddle," Teyla murmured. 

"Aye," Carson agreed. "Process of elimination?"

"I hate riddles," Rodney muttered.

Elizabeth ignored him. "We should be able to figure the first three out - he said that each of them wanted to pick a different one. What would each of them be drawn to?"

"Is it too cliche to think that Ronon would have gone for the dagger?" Rodney asked.

Teyla shook her head. "I would have to agree with you, Rodney. He would have been intrigued by it if nothing else, and would want to know just how fresh the blood on it was."

Elizabeth's eyes scanned the table, pausing on each item. She knew John well - better, probably, than she knew anyone else in Atlantis - and she tried to look at each one through his eyes. She went all the way down the line and then traveled back, settling on the object in the middle.

"John would have gone for the box."

Cadman frowned. "You sure?"

She smiled softly. "He's like a little kid. If there's a button, he has to push it. If there's a box..."

"He has to open it," Teyla finished, nodding. "And this one is cracked just slightly. My guess is that he opened it and sprung the trap."

"What about Major Lorne?" Carson asked. 

For a minute, everyone was quiet, their eyes locked on the table. Eventually, though, Cadman cleared her throat.

"The book."

Teyla leaned forward, careful not to touch it as she inspected the cover. "There is some interesting artwork here. I believe you are right. He would have wanted to open it."

"Probably would have been the safe one, too," Laura replied. "If Ronon really went for the dagger, I think that's the one with the death sentence."

Carson took a deep breath. "Alright. So that's three down and four to go. What was the rest of the riddle?"

Elizabeth closed her eyes for a moment. "One will burn you from the inside out."

"That sounds like poison," Cadman observed. She took a step to her left. "And there's liquid in the teacup."

"One will blind you and bind you."

Rodney frowned. "You could bind someone with the necklace I suppose."

Carson shook his head. "No, Rodney. It would have to be the scarf. Bind and blind. It's the only one that makes sense."

"One will open doors even as it drains you," Elizabeth continued. "And one will save us all."

The crystal and the necklace were the only things left. Both were beautiful and eye-catching, and neither seemed particularly malevolent. But one was the correct choice, while the other would keep their friends trapped indefinitely.

"Teyla?" Elizabeth asked quietly. "What do you think?"

The Athosian was quiet for a minute. "The necklace is indeed fetching. One could get lost in those stones."

"But it can't open doors," Rodney protested. "It's not a key!"

"It would bring in a lot of money," Cadman said. "Something like that, you sell it to the right people..." She shrugged. "That's opening doors, right?"

"And the crystal?" Carson asked. "That, too, is quite pretty. And perhaps has some kind of mystical quality. There are many cultures that believe that to be the case."

"We have to make a choice," Elizabeth said firmly. "We don't know where this trap is or what condition they'll be in when we find them. We need to get them out."

Teyla looked up and met her eyes. They stared at each other for a heavy moment and then Elizabeth stepped closer to the table, one hand out. A decision had to be made and as the leader, it was her responsibility to bear the weight of that. She just prayed that she didn't condemn John and the others with her choice.

Reaching out, she picked up the crystal.

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The dirt was barely packed down when a bullet whizzed past and lodged itself in the tree next to John's head. He dropped his shovel and grabbed at Lorne's arm.
"RUN!"
He had no idea who was shooting at them. It was bullets flying at them, not the usual ammo from Wraith weapons, and there hadn't been anyone left alive in the castle. As far as he knew, the three of them were the only ones left on the planet carrying actual bullets.
John guessed it really didn't matter, though.
The tree cover lasted longer than he expected and they continued to plunge through it. Ronon occasionally turned and fired over his shoulder, but none of them saw their attackers and it was impossible to get a bead on them. Running was their best option, and tired as they were, they continued on relentlessly.
Until they stumbled into a clearing and came to a dead stop.
In front of them stood a Stargate. Normally, that would have made John incredibly happy, but this didn't make any sense. The Gate they had come through originally was at least two miles in the other direction. And they had yet to encounter a planet that had more than one gate.
But this one was active, an address already dialed into. More bullets peppered the trees around them and as their pursuers got closer, the struck the dirt at their feet as well.
"We don't really have a choice," Ronon said.
Lorne shrugged. "This world sucks anyway," he said bitterly.
John nodded, looking once more over his shoulder. "Then let's hope the next one is better, shall we?"
Gun at the ready, he led them through the gate.

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At first, nothing happened and it hit Elizabeth like a blow. She had made the wrong decision. She had killed them. She had killed him. The air rushed out of her lungs, and she almost reached out for the table to steady herself, the crystal slipping from her hands.
She stared in disbelief as it disappeared in midair instead of shattering against the stone.
The table in front of her began to shimmer as well as it faded from sight. The entire group took a few steps backwards, gasps and muttered curses peppering the air. The stone walls around them began to tremble as though an earthquake was hitting, and the sick feeling in the pit of Elizabeth's stomach grew. Had she killed them all?
Just as the tremors stopped, a harsh yell had all of them spinning around, the soldiers with their guns raised. Elizabeth's breath caught painfully in her throat for a moment and then she was moving, falling to her knees at the bottom of the stairs.
"John," she whispered.
He was kneeling in front of her, chains connecting his wrists to the floor. Tiny rivulets of blood seeped out from his eyes and he stared at her with a mix of disbelief and confusion. He was in obvious pain and it didn't take her long to find the source – a spike had somehow come up out of the stone, impaling his left leg.
There were pained moans from either side of him as well, and she turned to see Ronon to her right. He lay on his side, a spike stuck through his middle even as his own tears of blood slid down his face. Carson and Teyla were both there, the latter cradling his head and talking to him quietly as the doctor examined him. Two marines were sent back to the jumper for medical supplies and two more were tasked with making stretchers.
To Elizabeth's left was Major Lorne. He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling and breathing deeply. Chains bound him just as they did the other two, but his spike was going through his left arm. Cadman knelt over him, holding his uninjured hand as she talked to him.
"'Lizabeth."
It was barely more than a breath, but it brought her attention right back to John. Cradling his face in her hands, she wiped at the blood on his cheeks, doing her best to clear it.
"I'm right here," she said, her voice a little shaky. "You're going to be okay."
"I don't understand. You…" He swallowed hard. "You were gone."
Elizabeth frowned. "Gone?"
"The nanites. I…we lost you."
She shook her head. "John, Carson and Rodney managed to disable the nanites, remember?"
"But the Replicator attack. You got hurt. McKay reactivated them…"
She was still shaking her head. "John, the Replicators never attacked us."
He stared at her, searching her eyes. His gaze slid to his left and then to his right, taking in everyone that was around them. He lingered on Rodney and Teyla before taking in a shuddering breath.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"M-3X-495," she replied. "Rodney got some weird signals when you guys flew over, so you decided to check it out."
His brain was racing, that much she could see. "That was almost three years ago," he finally whispered. "Right before…" His eyes drifted over to Carson.
Elizabeth flashed back to when John had been trapped before, in a place where time had moved differently. They had only been gone for a few hours – had he lost another three years of his life?
"We found you as fast we could," she said, tears filling her eyes. "Something…something lives here. He called himself Calgos. He said that you triggered a trap when you opened a box…"
His mind shuffled through his memories and though it took a while, he finally found it. He remembered coming here with Lorne and Ronon. He remembered a long table with seven objects on it. He remembered a plain wooden box and the need to lift the lid and then…
Nothing had happened. Rodney hadn't gotten any more readings and they had gone back to the jumper and returned to Atlantis.

They lost Carson the next week.
His head swam. "None of it happened…" he muttered. "None of it…" He looked over at Ronon, suddenly realizing that his friend was gravely injured. "Ronon –"
"He'll be fine," Carson assured him. "But I have to get him back to Atlantis now. Laura can administer first aid to you and Major Lorne and you can come back on the second jumper." The two marines who had been sent out earlier brought in a makeshift stretcher. "Oh good. Now let's be careful as we lift him off of his spike…"
Teyla stepped out of the way, covered in blood and looking at Elizabeth with dark eyes. "I will be going with him," she said simply.
"Keys!"
They all turned at Rodney's exclamation. He was back up on the dais, holding a set of keys in his hand. Seeing that they were all looking at him, he pointed at them. "Keys!"
"Well then get down here, lad, and undo these chains!" Carson cried.
"Oh, right."
He hurried down the steps, heading straight for Ronon. The Satedan wasn't saying anything, but his eyes followed Rodney as he unlocked the chains and set him free. Carson practically pushed him out of the way so that the Marines could lift Ronon onto the stretcher.
"Rodney," Elizabeth urged.
He turned, staring at her for a moment without comprehending. Then he looked down at the keys in his hand and suddenly came to life again. Rushing over, he knelt down and began to unlock the restraints.
John's eyes were locked on Elizabeth. He stared at her face, barely able to breathe, hardly able to accept that she was really there. Part of his brain tried to tell him that this couldn't be real – he could remember her face as they left her behind on the Replicator planet and he could still feel the pain in his stomach when they had returned to Atlantis without her – but he couldn't see any other solution. The pain in his leg was certainly real – best not to dwell on that – and she was right in front of him. Her hands had touched his face and he had felt her.
As soon as one hand was free, he cupped her cheek, taking in a sharp breath as solid flesh and bone met his touch. Unable to think past the relief that she was alive, he maneuvered her mouth to his and kissed her.
She had been watching Rodney unlock the chains and was caught completely off-guard by his lips on hers. She responded automatically though, letting him take the lead as he kissed her softly and slowly. Once the other shackle was undone, he cupped her face in both hands and just continued on, never taking it any deeper but seeming to drink her in nonetheless.
"John," she breathed once he had pulled back.
He swallowed hard. "Sorry."
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, I…"
Her stomach did a little flip as his gaze flickered back down to her lips. Before she could say anything though, Rodney had freed Lorne as well and Laura turned to look at her over her shoulder.
"We need to get them out of here, ma'am."
Cadman's tone was just enough to clear her mind. She was right – they needed to get them back home and to the infirmary. Then she could deal with whatever had just happened between her and John.

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Though her attention was almost fully focused on John during the jumper ride home, Elizabeth's eyes occasionally slid over to the couple across from her. She knew that Lorne and Cadman had a snarky friendship - she could admit that she often enjoyed their banter, especially when it came to post-mission briefings.

They weren't talking at all now, though.

Lorne simply held her hand. Every couple of minutes his eyes would seek her out and he would just look at her. Then his gaze would slide away again.

John didn't let go of her either. Her mind couldn't resist going back to that kiss and playing it over and over again. Her feelings for him had been impossible for her to deny - to herself, anyway - after the ordeal with the nanites. The fact that he had been her link back to the real world, that she had him in her head even when she was questioning her own sanity...that said more than words ever could.

When he had kissed her, everything stopped. She could still feel his lips on hers, and the memory of how he had looked at her took her breath away all over again.

She'd never been in such a confined space filled with so much emotion. And still no one said anything. Even Rodney was silent, shifting uncomfortably in his seat the entire flight home.

When they finally landed back in the jumper bay, Dr. Keller was right there, ready to take John and Lorne to the infirmary. Leaning on Elizabeth, John pushed himself to his feet, wincing at the pain that coursed through his leg.

"Ronon -"

Keller stopped him right there. "Carson got the bleeding under control. He just came out of surgery and he's going to be fine."

They all breathed a sigh of relief. Keller frowned at the blood staining the two men standing in front of her.

"There are gurneys just outside. No arguments, just get on them."

John opened his mouth - probably to argue - but Elizabeth caught his eye and gave him a hard look. His mouth snapped shut and he nodded, letting her lead him down to a gurney and help him onto it. As he laid down, she took his hand and squeezed it.

"I need to go talk to Caldwell."

He nodded again, but Elizabeth saw a flash of fear in his eyes. "Yeah."

"I'll come see you as soon as I'm done."

He tried to laugh it off, but the sound was weak and strained. "Promise?"

She couldn't help it. She leaned down and kissed his forehead, running her fingers through his hair briefly.

"I promise," she whispered.

They didn't have time for any more questions or promises. Cadman followed the medical staff as they hurried toward the infirmary, and not for the first time, Elizabeth wished that she didn't have any other responsibilities and that she could just stay by John's side. Sighing, she turned and headed for her office, in the opposite direction.

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She told the entire story to Caldwell - minus the kissing, of course - but without talking to the injured men, they couldn't really get anywhere. Calgos didn't seem to be a threat to Atlantis, but he was something they needed to look into if they could. Until Carson came up with some kind of answer or diagnosis, they wouldn't be able to pinpoint what exactly had happened to them physically or if there would be any lasting effects.

Basically, they had nothing. And Elizabeth was practically itching to get down to the infirmary. Somehow she knew that he needed to see her, needed to hold onto her and convince himself that this was all real. She had seen the fear in his eyes and recognized it - something like that could tear a person apart if they let it.

She had just dismissed the Colonel and was getting ready to head out when Teyla walked into her office.

"How's Ronon?" Elizabeth asked immediately.

Teyla gave her a small smile. "He is fine. Dr. Beckett says that he was bleeding for almost two hours. Too much longer and..." The smile faded and she swallowed hard. "It is no matter," she continued. "We got to him and the others in time."

Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. "I'm surprised you're not still down there with him, quite honestly."

Something passed across the other woman's expression. "Ronon did not wish me to stay." She shook her head. "I believe there is something deeply troubling him. But I cannot find its source."

"Well I'm going down now. Maybe I can find something out." Though Elizabeth knew that if Ronon wasn't willing to talk to Teyla, he probably wasn't willing to talk to anybody. "Can you keep an eye on things while I'm down there?"

"Of course. Take your time, Elizabeth." Teyla hesitated slightly. "John has been asking for you. He seems...I think it is important that you be with him for awhile. If I didn't know any better, I would think that he is...afraid that we all might just disappear."

She nodded. "I got the same feeling. I'm hoping he'll tell me what happened out there."

"He will talk to you," Teyla assured her. "You are the person is most comfortable with." She smiled. "Now go. No more work for you tonight."

"Thank you," she said warmly.

Teyla just nodded her head and Elizabeth left the office, for once not caring about the paperwork on her desk or the million little things that needed to be done in the city.

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Two of the beds down in the infirmary had their curtains closed tightly around them, but John was sitting up, and he smiled brightly when he saw her. The relief in his eyes didn't go unnoticed by Elizabeth. Returning the smile, she walked right over to him, holding up a tray.

"Thought you might be hungry."

"Turkey sandwiches?" he asked hopefully.

"Is there anything else?"

"Not in my book."

She set the tray down on the table next and unwrapped their sandwiches. She could feel his eyes on her as she went about her task and when she finally turned to face him, he didn't look away. What she saw almost took her breath away. For once, his walls were down and he was looking at her. The weight of his gaze was staggering and yet she still couldn't look away. She didn't want to go anywhere at all.

John unconsciously licked his lips and then pushed his body up slightly. He winced when his leg protested but he didn't stop, and then he was reaching a hand behind her head and pulling her too him. Elizabeth didn't put up any resistance - she didn't want to, truth be told - and she let him kiss her. It was soft and slow like it had been before, but this time John wasn't satisfied to keep it chaste. She opened her mouth to him and he slid his tongue in, taking his time as he tasted her. One of her hands came up to rest on his arm, tightening around the muscle she found there.

He pulled back eventually so that they could breathe, but he couldn't help himself from stealing a few more quick kisses. He wasn't the only one leaning in, though, and the last one was all Elizabeth.

"Hi," he murmured.

She smiled and stood back up. "Hi."

"Is there any chance we could keep doing that?"

Something warm coiled in the pit of her stomach, but she just smirked at him and sat on the edge of the bed, pulling the table over so that they could both reach it. "You should probably eat first. Build up your strength."

His eyes widened a little at that, but then he was smirking right back, and the feeling in her stomach tightened. "Yes, ma'am."

She let them both start on their sandwiches in peace. John and his team had only been gone for a couple of hours, but it was obvious that whatever they had gone through had felt like a lot longer. That and the blood loss meant that he really should eat something - and she couldn't remember the last substantive meal that she had had, either. Something she was sure John would rag on her for if he knew.

Once he was finished and had really started in on his chocolate milk, though, she knew that they had to talk.

"How are the others?" she asked, deciding to start with something easier.

"Physically? They'll be alright."

"And otherwise?"

His eyes drifted over to the closed curtains. "They're gonna need some time."

"You seem to be doing okay."

John shrugged. "I had more time to get used to it."

Elizabeth frowned. "Get used to what?"

"It's...well, it's complicated."

"You know I have to ask, John. We need to know what happened."

His eyes moved back to the curtains that hid Ronon and Lorne. "If I tell you...does that mean you can let them be?"

She looked over her shoulder in the direction he was and understood. He didn't want his friends to have to relive the pain. He was willing to do it for them.

"Of course," she promised.

He finished his drink and leaned back against the pillows, letting out a deep breath. Elizabeth got the idea that he was steadying himself, preparing his mind to go back to a dark place he'd rather avoid.

And then he started to talk. He explained about losing Carson and the arrival of Ellis. He explained the Replicator attack and Rodney's decision to reactivate the nanites in her body in order to save her life. His voice got quiet and hoarse as he retold how they went to the Replicator planet to steal a ZPM and how they left her behind. He explained the changes that happened on Atlantis after she was gone and how he hated himself for not going back after her.

Elizabeth was already holding onto his hand as tightly as he could when he reached the part about going to the aid of a planet being attacked by the Wraith. But there had been a double cross and everyone had died - including Teyla, pregnant with her child, and Rodney, who had done everything he could to protect her. Cadman dying simply took everything else they had out of them, and the men had decided to jump through the gate in front of them even though they had no reason to trust it.

Her eyes had filled with tears along the way and when his story was done, she found that she didn't know what to say.

"Elizabeth?"

His gaze wasn't quite as open anymore and she could tell that fear was creeping into him. Giving him a watery smile, she raised his hand and kissed his knuckles.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered, "that you had to go through all of that."

The breath seemed to catch in his throat and he tried to shrug it off. "Well, Beckett says our bodies didn't actually age at all, so we didn't lose three years. We just...it was kinda like when the Replicators enter your mind."

"So it sucked," Elizabeth said blandly.

John laughed out loud at that, the sound catching both of them off-guard.

He nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, it sucked."

"It makes sense now, though."

"What does?"

"Ronon and Lorne. They feel guilty."

"Wouldn't you?"

Elizabeth nodded. "Yeah, I guess I would." She looked at him closely. "I'm a little surprised that you're not doing the same."

He shrugged, looking away. "I...I lost you first. Which meant I had a lot of time to think about things. And the thing I regretted the most was...well, it was wasting time." His eyes slid back to hers, and he gave her a playful look. "Besides, you kissed me back in the temple, so..."

They shouldn't have been doing this. A voice in the back of her head seemed hell bent on reminding her of that. But so much had happened in the past few months and the one thing Elizabeth had really learned was that they were all on borrowed time. Her feelings for John were already there - not being with him wasn't going to change that fact. She was already making decisions because of and in spite of them. It wasn't worth denying herself.

That one realization was the most freeing thing she'd ever thought.

Carefully, she moved the table out from between them and rolled it to the side. Then she leaned forward and kissed him softly again, just enough to reassure him.

"Can you stay?" he asked, the question seeming to startle him when it fell out of his mouth.

Elizabeth nodded. "I can."

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"Is he asleep?"

Carson looked up to see Laura standing a few feet away. Her voice was hushed and her eyes locked on the curtain that hid the second bed on the right.

"Aye," he said softly.

"Do you know what happened to them yet?"

"The colonel explained it to Elizabeth. Apparently that thing - Calgos - trapped them in their minds with an alternate reality. I'm not really sure I understand it myself."

"But they're gonna be okay?"

He knew who she was really asking about and he patted her arm. "Aye, they'll be okay, Laura." He nodded toward the curtain. "You can go sit with him if you like."

He left her with that, heading back towards his office. Laura just stood there for a few minutes, unsure of what to do. She wanted to sit with him - a part of her needed to. But he had asked her to leave. The request had caught her off-guard, but he had been adamant.

Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and walked to the bed, quietly sliding the curtain aside so that she could slip in.

Lorne slept, looking more peaceful than he had the last time she saw him awake. Of course, he had been ordering her to leave then, his voice hard and pained. Laura had stood her ground for awhile until she realized that her presence was actually hurting him. Then she had turned and left, tears burning the back of her eyes.

She wasn't going away this time, though. She had badgered Colonel Sheppard for almost an hour trying to get the story out of him and he hadn't given her a damn thing. Dr. Weir had been more sympathetic, though and she had laid the whole story out for her and Teyla. There hadn't been a single part that hadn't hurt and now she understood the haunted look in the major's eyes.

Laura sat down in the chair next to his bed , unsure of what to do now that she was there. She looked around at the machines around him before her eyes rested on the bed again. Reaching out slowly, pulling back slightly once or twice, she eventually took his hand in hers, running her thumb along his knuckles. The contact was just enough to stir him, and he blinked sleepily at her.

“Laura...”

“Go back to sleep.”

“You're not supposed to be here,” he murmured.

“Shut up, flyboy,” she said, squeezing his hand tightly. “You're not getting rid of me this time.”

He was either too tired to argue or he simply gave up. Either way, he squeezed back as his eyes slid shut once again. Laura smiled and leaned back in the chair, still holding his hand.

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John and Lorne had already been released from the infirmary by the time Teyla went to visit Ronon again. The story she had heard from Elizabeth broke her heart, but it also explained why Ronon didn't want her there. She wanted to respect his wishes, his pain, but she could only take so much. He was good at burying things deeper than most other people and she didn't want him to bury this so far that he burned him from the inside out.

"You do realize that if Colonel Sheppard were behaving in this manner, you would tease him relentlessly, correct?"

Ronon stared past her at the curtain that cut his bed off from the rest of the infirmary. "You should go."

It was the same thing he'd been saying for the past hour and it was beginning to wear thin on Teyla's patience. Reaching out for his hand, she held onto it tightly.

"I am not going anywhere, Ronon. You are not obligated to tell me what happened, but I will not let you bear this burden of guilt for something that only happened in a fabricated reality."

His eyes finally met hers, the sadness in them breaking her heart.

"I couldn't keep you safe."

"You keep me safe all the time," she said, gentling her voice. "Now hush and let me take care of you."

She ran her fingers down the side of his face and he shuddered. But instead of telling her to go this time, he squeezed her hand and looked her in the eye. He wasn't healed, but Teyla knew that he at least wouldn't insist on walking his path alone. Sitting on the edge of his bed, she smiled down at him.

“I am glad you are home.”

“Me too. This reality is way better.” He paused. “I hear Sheppard finally manned up with Weir.”

Teyla nodded. “I guess he just needed some perspective.”

Ronon looked down at where their hands were joined before raising his eyes to hers again. “It helps.”
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December 2011

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