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Title: The Secret Language of Grief, Book One
Characters: J. Sheppard, R. McKay, C. Beckett, E. Lorne, R. Woolsey, and various OCs
Pairings: None
Warnings: Violence, Mentions of Major Character Deaths
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and her characters are the property of MGM.  All I lay claim to is my passion for the show and the original characters within this work of fiction
Summary: 20 years after the Wraith decimated Earth in The Great Culling, the SGC is once again ready to resume the Atlantis Expedition. Top brass wants only one man for the job, unfortunately for them John Sheppard has been MIA since the end of the War. A slip-up reveals John's current location, but will he be able to forgive the ultimate betrayal and return?

Chapter 17 - Poisoning the Well
Part One

John Sheppard's world had been reduced to meetings, beatings, debriefings, and flights. For nearly two weeks he'd been working his ass off, so when Rodney, Carson and Lorne had suggested dinner in the mess followed by a few episodes of M*A*S*H with some of the other members of the expedition that evening, John had eagerly agreed. He was dangerously close to a burn out and hadn't been able to take a moment for himself in a good long while so a night out with the boys actually sounded like a pretty good idea. So he'd agreed... though his first instinct had been to refuse. Fitzpatrick was pushing him hard and that afternoon his knee had decided to give out on him again, and he'd been sent back to his bunk with an order to rest and give it a break. But sitting around alone in his room just didn't seem like the best use of a rare free evening. All he had in his quarters to keep himself busy were the copious amounts of USSF brochures the leaders of his classes had plied him with earlier in the day and an ancient tube TV bolted to the wall just inside the door. The set was old and only got in a few fuzzy and unreliable channels, but they had been enough to get John to swear off TV for good this time. Before the war he'd been a big fan of movies but not so much the boob tube (as an old nanny of his used to call it). There just wasn't any point in getting involved with a series he'd never be around to watch the end of and half the time the networks seemed to cancel the good ones in their prime anyway. But maybe it was the program he'd decided to sit down and try first that had ruined TV for him forever. The network showing it had called it a 'retro' reality TV show from back in the days before the war and John was pretty sorry for the people of Earth who'd had to sit through it in the first place. It was some series called Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo and John had turned it off the moment one of the characters began sneezing all over the turkey she was about to serve her family. So yeah, John would stick with his simple life of no TV except for the occasional M*A*S*H rerun with the members of his expedition.

Referring to it as 'his expedition', even when it was just some fleeting thought, still sounded weird inside his head. Joining everyone tonight was probably a good idea because John figured it was high time he started to get to know the people who would be under him and who would be traveling to Pegasus with him. Soldiers John could handle - he wasn't worried about that (especially not with the fantastic 2IC he was getting in Lorne). Scientists though... well, they were a whole different breed and one that John knew very little about. Rodney would be around to help, but John's geek speak was still a little rusty and he worried about all the trouble curious scientists could get into on the different planets the off-world teams visited. He would be responsible for their safety and that was a heavy burden, even though most of them knew and understood what they were getting themselves into. And those who didn't, well John was already making plans in his head about what he would say them all to make sure they were properly prepared. But regardless of all that, tonight was still a good opportunity to meet some of the people he'd be working with and, if he played his cards right, maybe even develop a friendly report with a few of them.

Whenever John thought about his duties on Atlantis, his thoughts always strayed over to Elizabeth Weir and Samantha Carter; two women he both admired, and missed. When Elizabeth had fallen to the replicators, John had been devastated, even if he didn't show any outward signs of it. Elizabeth had been his friend and before that day with the Wraith he'd counted his failure with her as his most grievous and to this day there was still a bit of him that was angry at how it had all ended. She deserved a better conclusion to her story then just floating in empty space for all eternity. And the same went for Samantha Carter.

That was another 'what if' moment John thought on at times. He knew if Carter had just been allowed to keep her command on Atlantis instead of being yanked from it to be replaced by Woolsey at the pinnacle of her career, things would have turned out very, very differently 20 years ago. Carter would have told the IOA and whomever had given that final order to stuff it and she would have had every member of the Atlantis Expedition backing her up. Richard Woolsey had been a fool in that one respect. A weak minded dupe to think that they all wouldn't have done everything in their power to move heaven and earth to try and find another way to save mankind from the Wraith rather than letting two billion people perish in an instant. Rodney had told John that Richard Woolsey had convinced the congressional committee that he had no knowledge of what the rouge members of the IOA had done, but John couldn't decide if he believed it or not. He figured he would never get the chance to find out though, because there was no way in hell he was ever getting near that man again. There had been enough bloodshed wrought by his cowardice and John would be damned if he'd let that bastard make a cold blooded killer out of him yet.

Woolsey the bastard notwithstanding, coming after such strong leaders on Atlantis was a daunting task to John. Both Elizabeth Weir and Samantha Carter had been so at ease with their respective roles within the city and John would be the first to admit that he lacked any of that finesses within himself. With Elizabeth it had been her natural grace with peacekeeping that had kept them out of countless scrapes and Carter, well she had been the best of both worlds: militarily and scientifically competent. Plus, she knew how to handle Rodney McKay and that was a feat within itself.

And then there was John Sheppard.

John knew how to handle himself on the battle field, sure. He could dismantle and redress any gun in the Cheyenne mountain armory faster than any other man on base even after all these years, but give him a room full of bickering diplomats, and you could kiss your sweet ass goodbye. He had a head for the tactical, not the gentle hand needed for intergalactic peace and he was worried. And not just for himself but for the people of Earth as well. He was too... uncivilized to be a good representative, too likely to commit some unforgivable cultural faux pas or say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Carter and Weir seemed to take to that aspect of the job like horses to water, but not John and he was terrified. And yet, the IOA and the SGC had still offered him the position which meant that there was someone out there who believed that he could handle this and John figured he owed it to them to at least try and make this work.

John had been training all day so when dinner time rolled around he hit the showers to wash away the grime of the day then headed down to the larger Mess located on Level 22 of the SGC. He was in desperate need of a decent meal as he'd been existing on power bars scarfed down between meetings for the better part of a week and if he landed himself in the infirmary again, Carson was going to have his ass. What he needed was a chance to refuel and recharge and the thought of doing both with men he held in high regard had John picking up his pace down the corridor a bit.

As John neared the mess hall he could already tell it was full, the sound of chinking silverware against ceramic reaching him even in the hallway, along with the low muted rumble of voices. He'd never been in the mess during the busy time. He usually took late lunches, if he got them at all, and was almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of people he saw when he finally rounded the corner and ducked inside. It was like everyone and their brother had decided to have dinner at the same time and John wondered if there was anyone else left in the mountain who wasn't in the mess. Every table was full and John spied the men he was looking for over in one far corner. Rodney raised a hand in greeting and John nodded in acknowledgement before tiling his head toward the food line letting them know he was going to grab his grub before heading over. Rodney indicated he understood and John got in line. When he accidently bumped into the person in front of him the woman ahead of him rounded on him angrily.

"Wanna watch where you're goin' pal?" She said, and John instantly recognized her. She must have realized who he was as well because her face reddened and she ducked her head in embarrassment before remembering herself a second later to stiffen into a salute.

"Ah, the girl with the crutches who didn't want help," he said with a chuckle. "At ease soldier." The young lieutenant had been down in the training facility his first day back when he'd met Carson there for his physical. He could still remember the look she'd given him when he'd tried to steady her on her crutches after she'd almost fallen.

"And you're the Brigadier General I was a complete ass to the other day," she smiled sheepishly before wincing. "Am I allowed to say 'ass' around a General?"

"Don't worry about it," John laughed again. "I'm glad to see you're off your crutches."

"Yeah, well, that Dr. Beckett, he sure knows his shit. I'm mean stuff... oh christ."

John smiled. This girl was a riot. "So are you on an SG team or are you going to be a member of the Atlantis expedition?"

The girl's eyes went wide for a moment. "Well, I was hoping to go to Atlantis, but now I'm not so sure. I guess it all depends on if I offended the expedition leader or not. Still trying to figure that part out." The line in front of them shifted and they both took a few steps forward.

"I hear he's a decent enough guy," John replied with a wink. "My guess is he's forgotten all about it by now."

His new friend smiled and held out a hand. "I'm Macy."

"I remember," he said back and she must have picked up on his bemusement because she stiffened again.

"Apologies Brigadier General Sheppard. I'm Lieutenant Macy Hayden." He knew they were a lot more lax with etiquette at the SGC but the young lieutenant standing in front of him was botching it pretty spectacularly and John wondered briefly if she was maybe the daughter of some high ranking USSF officer. Not that he really cared. He'd never been one of those people who was a stickler for protocol. Besides, he was kind of getting a kick out of her.

"I know this might sound like a stupid question," the young lieutenant said, grabbing a tray when they finally reached the start of the food line, "but don't you guys have an officer's mess on base or something? I'd of thought that you would want to eat there and not over here with us peons."

The smells coming from the kitchen finally hit John full on and his stomach rumbled greedily. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a decent meal and grabbed a tray after Macy in eager anticipation.

"If there is one, I've never found it. Besides, all my friends are peons," he teased a little and Hayden smiled at him over her shoulder as she plopped a gelatinous mound of some unidentifiable side dish into one of the squares of her tray. The mess hall food line was separated into various sections with all manner of dinner options and John skipped by that particular one trying not to pay too much attention to how very unappetizing everything looked up close. He went for the salad instead, figuring it was the safest.

"Is the food better or worse on Atlantis?" She continued, crinkling her nose up at something that looked to be some kind of chicken pot pie gone horribly wrong, trapped behind the serving line glass. "'Cause I don't think it gets any worse than this."

"Depends," John shrugged, going for a halfway decent looking piece of grilled chicken to add to his salad. "Sometimes we hit the jackpot while exploring other planets and sometimes its Tuna Surprise just like back home at the good ol' SGC."

"Well let's hope it's the former for all our sakes," she replied with a grimace at the rest of her options and turned away to pay the bored looking woman standing behind the register complete with too tight hairnet and a scowl. John set his tray down on the line to fish his wallet from out of his pocket, but the elderly woman just waved him away with a smile and a wink and Hayden looked him over incredulously when he joined her again.

"Wow," Macy said, impressed. "You must be special cause I've been here a while now and that woman never gives anyone anything for free. She charged my friend Meg for a grape once. One grape!"

John opened his mouth to reply but caught Rodney's impatient eyes from across the hall and turned to say his goodbyes.

"Well Lieutenant Hayden, I'm glad you're off your crutches and hopefully I'll see you on Atlantis."

"You got it, Sir. And thanks." She said the last bit with a flush coloring her cheeks and left him to head over to the table of her friends waiving at her to join them.

John headed over to his own table of ageing friends and tried not to trip over the chair legs congesting the paths between tables. The hall was full of people and they were all talking at the same time but no one was paying any attention to him and for the first time since arriving back at the SGC John finally felt like he was just another cog in the complex machine that made up Stargate Command; no different and no less valuable than any of the other parts around him. When he finally reached the table he clattered his tray down on the tabletop and took the empty seat with an almost smile.

"You just couldn't help yourself could you," Rodney said, shaking his head and John cocked an eyebrow in his direction.

"What are you talkin' about McKay?"

"That girl you were flirting with up in the dinner line," he responded smugly.

"Oh for the love of... For your information, Rodney" John said, pointing a finger and ignoring the fact that Lorne was hiding a laugh behind his napkin, "I was not flirting with her. I'm old enough to be her father!"

"Well, that's not what it looked like from over here!"

"Just because I..."

"Gentlemen!" Carson interrupted and John turned his head to tell the doc to stay the hell out of it but stopped midsentence when his eyes were drawn to what Carson had on his own dinner tray. It looked like some kind of cross between sausage and a meatloaf packed into some kind of casing and Carson was half way through sawing it in half.

"What the hell is that thing?" He asked with eyebrows raised and Rodney groaned beside him.

"Oh here we go," the scientist said on a sigh, but John ignored him and turned around to face Carson full on.

"That my friend," the doc smiled at him proudly, "is a haggis."

"You just had to ask, didn't you?" Lorne laughed and John looked back and forth between Rodney's disgusted face and Lorne's amused one.

"Okay, what'd I miss?"

"He won't shut up about... what did you call it, Carson? 'The virulent lack of fine Scottish cuisine in the states'?" Rodney groused. "He's been complaining about it for weeks."

John let his eyes fall back on the hideous thing now broken open and lying on full display across Carson's tray.

"Don't you turn your nose up at somethin' ye havenea even tried!" Carson snapped, shooting Rodney a scathing look for the scientist's apparent disregard for his dinner selection. "Haggis is delicious, it just gets a bad rap."

"Could have something to do with the fact that it's cooked in the animal's own stomach, Carson," Lorne pointed out and John nearly shuddered, eying the thing with trepidation as Carson continued his surgery on it.

"I just don't understand how you can eat that crap, Carson. It looks disgusting!" Rodney sniffed melodramatically over the haggis then waived a hand in front of his nose. "Smells disgusting too."

"I'm going to have to agree with Rodney for once, Carson," John said, earning a sharp look from the doctor. "I don't know whether to tell you to eat it, or kill it."

"Make all the fun ya want you three, but in Scotland this is a delicacy. I have it flown in 'specially from Edinburgh. Ya cannea seem to get a decent haggis anywhere 'round here anymore." Carson loaded a fork from within the dissected monstrosity on his tray and lifted a full bite to his mouth. "Mmmm, perfection."

John fought back against his gag reflex and looked away. He'd lost his appetite and suddenly the salad on his own tray looked completely limp and his chicken, rubbery and undercooked. He pushed the tray away with a sigh.

"Carson, you're taste in food aside, where have you been for the past few days," Rodney changed the subject. "I went to ask you a question the other day and they told me you were off base."

Carson finished chewing but paused for a moment as if the bite hadn't gone down very easily. When he choked a little on it, Lorne reached over and pounded him on the back to help. Carson shot him a thankful glance and, after a sip of water, answered.

"It's all very exciting but you must keep it between us for a while yet, alright?" Beckett spoke softly, eyeing the tables around them and leaning in closer. "I shouldnea be talking about this here at all, but I've been itchin' to tell you all about this for days. I've been off base interviewing fellows for my ATA gene research!"

"So you're going to go ahead with it then?" Rodney asked a little excitedly, leaning forward as well so that the crowd around them wouldn't overhear.

"Aye. I've given it some thought... a lot of thought actually, and I've decided I'll give it another go. This new IOA seems trustworthy enough and I can take steps to make sure tha' what happened at Area 51 doesnea get repeated. I want ta do the work m'self..." Carson had to pause a moment to cough into his hand, his last bite of the foul smelling haggis apparently still giving him trouble, "...before they start lettin' some two-bit hack have a go at my research."

"I would have respected your decision either way, Carson," John put in after the doctor finished and went for more water, "but I gotta say, I'm kind of glad you're starting it up again. This whole 'being the only one who can fly Atlantis home' thing is getting pretty old."

"Weel, I'm afraid you might be waiting for a good long while on that, laddie. Research like mine," he paused again to swallow hard and pull in a breath, "can take years to perfect and then there's a chance it might not even work a'tall." Carson let the fork he was lifting to his mouth fall back to his plate and he pounded a fist against his chest and coughed again, wincing as he did it.

"Wrong pipe Doc?" Lorne asked, and Carson took another swig of water.

"M'fine now," he promised after draining the bottle. "So that's where I've been. There are some promising kids in the genetics program at Brown that might be suitable for the work and willing to come with me to Pegasus."

"Bet that's a fun conversation to have," Rodney snorted sarcastically. "Hi kids! Wanna come to another galaxy where crazy Space Vampires might attack us all at any given moment and suck the lives right out of our chests? Yeah, bet they're just lining up for that research project."

"Space Vampires, Rodney?" John laughed. "Really?"

"Well that's what they are." The scientist responded with a nonchalant shrug and John just shook his head.

"Any reason you've not touched your food there, Sheppard?" Carson cut in before John could start in again on Rodney and he pulled his tray back in towards him, determined to get some protein into his body despite the steaming pile of disgusting looking haggis starting at him from the next tray over. Carson watched him carefully until he started attacking his salad with all the gusto he could manage after their conversation and, apparently satisfied, Carson finally looked away.

"Speakin' of research, Rodney," the doc went on, turning to McKay. "How goes the work you're doin' with the Wormhole drive?"

"It's getting there," Rodney sighed. "I've got a lot of theories, just no way of testing them. I keep trying to talk Landry into letting me use the city, but he seems to have this unfounded fear that I'm going to blow her up or something."

"Huh, I wonder what gave him that idea," Lorne said with a conspiratorial smirk and Rodney's face reddened slightly.

"That was not my fault," the scientist practically growled and Lorne laughed outright.

"What happened?" Carson and John both asked at the same time and, after a final scathing look over at the still giggling Colonel Lorne, Rodney answered. Well, kind of.

He cast his eyes around the packed room with a scowl. "Ask me some other time." There were apparently too many people gathered around them for Rodney to be comfortable sharing that particular tale.

John pulled his attention back to his tray and jabbed at a piece of chicken with his fork. It was dry and pretty tasteless, but washed down with a swig of the soda he'd grabbed from the food line along with his grub, and it was somewhat tolerable. There was a little town down at the base of the mountain with a few restaurants and John made a mental note to suggest that they all go down there one night for dinner in the coming weeks. The town was small and there weren't a lot of choices, but anything was better than the monotonous base food he was quickly growing board with.

"Well guys," Lorne said, stretching his arms and patting a full belly (at least someone had enjoyed their meal), "I promised to set up the AV equipment in the new conference room and get it ready for the M*A*S*H marathon tonight. Anyone want to join me?"

Rodney was the first to speak up. "I've actually got a few things to take care of first. How about I..."

"Oh bullshit, Rodney!" John protested, but with a smile. "You just don't want to have to help set up."

"Hardly!" Rodney snapped back just as quickly. "All you need to do is turn the console on and queue up the DVDs. A third grader could do it. Lorne will be fine on his own."

"Gee, thanks Rodney." Lorne acted affronted, but it was hard to pull off with a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. Funny thing was, Rodney probably saw his remark as a compliment.

"Well, I'm in, Lorne." John said with a nod and Carson piped in with his own agreement to help.

"Come on Rodney. You know you want to." John goaded and the scientist sighed dramatically.

"Alright fine, but if you make me sit up in the AV booth all night changing out the discs, I'm never helping you again."

"I promise not to make you sit up in the AV booth all night changing out the discs, Rodney." Lorne promised with his hand in the air as if taking oath. "And I appreciate you guys coming with me."

The three friends got up from their seats to clear away their trays and Carson, John noted, hadn't finished his haggis. When it disappeared down the hole of the trash can, John hoped he'd never have to see the likes of it ever again.

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