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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 18 - Life and Death
Part Two

The several days following Carson's poisoning and the death of Lieutenant Hayden were chaotic; made even more so by the fact that Landry was absent from the base. Lorne and John were doing their best to try and keep the rumors flying around to a minimum but once word had gotten out that the members of the Atlantis Expedition were once again being targeted, people had started to panic. So John had spent much of the last two days sequestered in the SGC security offices trapped behind a desk pouring over mindless hours of security footage looking for that one lead that would blow the case wide open. He'd offered his help, such as it was, and while the work was tedious at best, it still beat sitting around worrying about his lack of a plan to lure the saboteur out.

John had agreed to wait to do anything until Landry had returned from his meetings in New York, but the waiting was excruciating. He didn't even have his training to keep his mind off things because Fitzpatrick, he'd learned from Lorne, had accompanied Landry to New York on some personal business. There were other trainers John could have worked with of course, but he'd grown kind of accustomed to Fitzpatrick's no nonsense approach and working with someone else just didn't hold the same appeal. Still, with the SGC security offices located on one of the more upper levels of the mountain and so close to the surface, John could swear he almost caught a whiff of fresh air every now and then, and the thought of a good long run almost had him abandoning any loyalty he had to Fitzpatrick over his fitness plan. Even his knee was looking for some action because he hadn't been able to get any real exercise in days.

Every so often in the security office someone would come across something suspicious on the feeds and the room would erupt into frenzied chaos as whatever suspect was tracked down and thoroughly interrogated. That had happened a few times since John had started helping out and he'd even sat in on one or two of them just to break up the monotony of watching the security tapes. But besides scaring the pants off a handful of poor scientists and a ruffling the feathers of a few soldiers, nothing had come of it.

In light of the complete and utter lack of any tangible evidence on who might be responsible for the poisonings, security had been heightened all over the base and John, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you asked), was the focus of most of it. Everyone had assumed that he was next on the list, and rightly so, but it had gotten to the point where he could barely even take a piss on his own anymore. While he could appreciate the precarious situation in which Evan Lorne found himself in, sooner or later that man was going to have to call off the dogs. If they wanted to draw the saboteur out, it wasn't going to happen if John was constantly surrounded by a battalion of pissed off Marines. He needed to appear vulnerable if any plan of his was going to work and he tried to think of how to best broach that particular subject with Lorne as they sat together in the security offices going through another round of tapes.

John was leaning back in a rolling chair with feet propped up on the desk in front of him, right next to the TV screen he was scrutinizing. The particular file he was working on was of a hallway just outside the kitchens where their poisoner might have gained access to the haggis Carson had dropped off there and asked one of the cooks to prepare for him. John himself had grilled (no pun intended) each and every member of the kitchen staff hoping that one of them might be their guy, but, per the usual, it just ended up being another dead end. They'd all checked out and now John was stuck watching more footage, praying for a lead and trying not to get frustrated by their lack of progress.

Even though there was a marked absence of any new evidence, some good news had managed to come out of all the long hours of waiting and worrying. Carson had finally been taken off the ventilator and while he had yet to come out of his coma, the doctors were hopeful that it would be any day now. They may not know who poisoned the physician just yet, but whomever it was had failed in their attempt and that was a win in John's book any day. Carson was going to make it, barring any lingering side effects of the poison or further attempts on his life. And if anyone was going to try and get at him again, they were going to have to get through John Sheppard, Evan Lorne, Rodney McKay and even Radek Zelenka, first.

None of them had really meant for it to happen, but a kind of continuous bedside vigil had sprung up between them and they all took shifts sitting with Carson so that the man was rarely ever alone. They didn't need to do it. There were enough trusted Marines stationed in the infirmary to protect the friggin' president of the United States, but there was so much uncertainty going around that none of them could bear the thought of Carson being alone for one moment. Plus, there was no way that man was waking up after a day's long coma, to find himself on his own. No way in hell.

So when John wasn't sitting for his shift in the infirmary he was usually in the security offices and on this particular late afternoon Lorne was in the seat beside him, feet propped up on the desk alongside John's with a half eaten pizza box lying open on the tabletop between their boots. Grease had congealed on the top of it and it was stone cold, but John grabbed a piece anyway when his stomach grumbled and munched on it irritably.

"There's nothing here, Lorne," he groused, and the Colonel sighed beside him. "We've been staring at the same hallways for days. I just don't think our guy is stupid enough to get caught on camera like this."

"What makes you so sure it's a man?" Lorne asked, not really being serious.

"Man, woman, whatever they are, they're too good for this," he gestured towards the monitors. They were old and the green footage meandered past with lines of distorted pixels rolling up and down the screen.

"I get it Sheppard," Lorne replied, stretching his arms up over his head and yawning loudly for a moment. "But if there's even the slightest chance we might find something here, we at least gotta try."

"Look, I know I said we'd wait until Landry got back from New York, but we should seriously start thinking about ways to lure this guy out using me as bait. I think the only way we're going to get him to slip up is if we dangle something big right in front of him. Something he can't refuse."

"And how exactly do suggest we do that?"

"Well, ease up on the security, for one. He's not going to come anywhere near me with Turner and Hootch out there on my six every second." John titled his head toward the Marines standing guard outside the security office door, not missing Lorne's smirk at the nickname he'd given them. "As for a plan, well I'm still working on that part."

"Landry is going to be back from New York tomorrow, Sheppard, and well fill him in on everything that's been going on then. Let's just wait and see what he has to say."

"You want him to talk me out of it, don't you?" John realized suddenly and Lorne shifted but didn't look over. "You're hoping he comes back and tells me to go pound sand because they're never going to let me try anything... are they? Not with me being the only one able to fly Atlantis."

Lorne remained silent, resolutely staring at the monitor in front of him.

"Evan, what if this psychopath kills someone else while we're sitting around with our thumbs up our asses staring at security footage all day? Atlantis is important, but getting her back to Pegasus isn't worth more people dying!"

"Except for you, John, is that it?" Lorne rounded on him angrily, pulling his feet from off the desk and turning to face John full on. But it wasn't the jittery energy of their fight from before that filled Lorne's eyes then. This anger came from somewhere else, a place of genuine concern, and John barely held his ground under the weight of it. "Everyone else on base we have to protect, but you we can just dangle in front of this guy, no problem? Regardless of the fact that you might get your ass killed?"

"Hey, I knew what I was signing up for from the beginning of all this, Lorne. But those scientists, those civilians? They aren't connected to all of this like I am. And I gotta do everything in my power to keep them safe otherwise what was the point of me coming back to all of this in the first place? Shit, Lorne! You guys can't just hand me the reins to the entire expedition like that and then yank them back every time something starts going sideways!" Lorne tried not to let it show on his face, but John could tell what he'd just said had struck a chord. He'd finally won a battle and he could tell that was the case just by the way Lorne sighed in resignation.

"How many times are we going to do this, Sheppard?"

"What do you mean?" John asked cautiously, wondering if he'd perhaps misread the situation and Lorne was still going to fight him.

"Us in the middle of some dire situation and you calmly walking out into the middle of it all to sacrifice yourself to get the job done." Lorne answered and John let out a relieved yet amused chuckle. Self destruct buttons, jumpers through killer plant covered towers, kamikaze missions with nuclear bombs...

"I guess that's just how I operate."

"I'm starting to remember that about you. But even so John, I'm not the one you have to convince. Landry will be back in a few hours. We'll all sit down when he gets back and discuss a plan then."

John was ready to get going now, but he could tell he wasn't going to be able to sway Lorne any further. "Alright," he agreed reluctantly and Lorne nodded as if sealing the deal.

John sat back in his chair again and rewound the footage he'd missed while talking to Lorne, trying to calm his growing frustration at the situation. Waiting around for something to happen went against every fiber of his being and he almost had to stop and chuckle at that particular realization. Hadn't he been doing just that for the past 20 years? Waiting in a holding pattern for something to happen? Well now there was righteous anger flowing through his veins and it was a welcome respite from the abject fear that had been there before.

John let it pool in the pit of his stomach and smolder there dangerously.

When he got his hands on that son of a bitch...

"Am I interrupting anything?" A low voice rumbled behind John and he looked over his shoulder to find Sean Fitzpatrick's tall figure darkening the door to the office. The former Seal's face was ruddy and his red hair windblown and disheveled and it looked like he'd just come in from cold. Some people had all the luck.

"Hey, you're back!" Lorne exclaimed like he was almost relieved to see the massive Irishman and John couldn't help but wonder if it was because that mean Landry was back as well, or if it had something to do with the fact that John had just asked that his security detail be scaled back.

"Yep, got in a few minutes ago. I just heard about Dr. Beckett. Sheppard, I'm so sorry."

Lorne, as if sensing there were things the two men needed to discuss privately, rose from his chair.

"John, I'm going to take a break for a while and maybe go sit with Carson. Rodney's shift is almost up anyways," Lorne said nonchalantly enough, but John knew what he was doing and gave the man a thankful smile.

"You still got your earwig?" Lorne asked last, pausing at the doorway to make sure and John raised a hand to his ear and nodded. "Good, if you find anything, radio me."

"You got it chief," John replied and Evan left the room, closing the door softly on his way out.

"Dr. Beckett's alive?" Fitzpatrick asked a little surprised and John swung his chair over to face him. The burly former Seal was leaning a hip on one edge of the desk with eyebrows raised.

"Yeah, the medical team was able to revive him and get him the antidote in time. In fact, they weaned him off the ventilator this morning and the prognosis is good. But didn't Landry tell you all this?"

"No, actually," Fitzpatrick mused, running a hand along the several days worth of stubble growth at his chin. "I had some... personal things to take care of once we got to New York and didn't hear that he'd pulled through."

"He's not out of the woods completely, but they're hopeful."

"I bet they've got that infirmary on lockdown then." Fitzpatrick said next, almost like he was asking and John nodded.

"You bet your ass they do. There's no way that psychopath gets anywhere near him again."

"You guys have any idea who it might be yet?"

"None," John admitted dejectedly. "Whoever they are, they're smart enough to stay off camera and never leave any evidence behind. But no one stays perfect forever. It's only a matter of time before they slip up."

"Shit, this guy's good, isn't he? Kind of makes you wonder what his motivations might be. Like maybe there's something bigger going on here than we know."

John narrowed his eyes at that. "He's murdering people, kid. He's a psychopath, pure and simple."

"Or maybe he's just misunderstood," Fitzpatrick countered and John cocked an eyebrow at the former Seal sitting beside him.

"Fitzpatrick, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were trying to defend this asshole."

"Maybe it's just the psychiatrist in me, I don't know. After what happened with the Wraith, didn't you want closure? Maybe that's what this guy is after?"

"Poisoning people seems like a pretty extreme way of getting it if you ask me," John snorted.

"Yeah, but at least he's not repressing his feelings over what happened," Fitzpatrick responded coyly and John pursed his lips.

"You..."

"Sheppard, it's Lorne, do you copy?" the coms device that had been silent in his ear for hours suddenly came to life and nearly startled John.

"Hold that thought, I'm not through with you yet." He said to Fitzpatrick, putting up a finger, and activated the earwig. "I'm hear Lorne. What's up?"

"The base switchboard has an urgent call for you from Blue River.They're forwarding it to the phone in the office now."

"Ok, thanks." Lorne clicked off the frequency and a moment later the phone on the desk came to life on a colloquy of bells. John shot Fitz a look that promised they'd get back to their conversation in a moment, and eagerly answered the phone.

"This is Sheppard," he barked.

"Brigadier General Sheppard, this is Agnes from the switchboard. I have a secure call for you from an Edward Nostrand in Blue River, Wisconsin. Are you expecting his phone call, Sir?" The curt voice on the other end of the phone asked him and John nearly cut her off.

"Hell yeah, I am!"

"A simple yes or no will suffice, Sir," Agnes said, unamused. "Hold please."

John drummed his fingertips impatiently on the table top as muzzak blared to life in his ear. He'd been waiting for this call for nearly a week and couldn't help but hope that Eddie would finally be able to dispel, once and for all, who the mystery visitor to Blue River had been. He kept telling himself that it was just Woolsey, but with the recent poisonings and the Atlantis Expedition so close to finally getting back up off the ground, his mind couldn't help but make connections. If the saboteur had visited his old home town looking for information or a way to get at him, then maybe Eddie could at least give them a description to go off of.

"Who is it?" Fitzpatrick asked impatiently, but the muzzak finally cut off and when the call connected, Eddie's frantic voice filled the receiver pressed to John's hear.

"John? John, you there?"

"Eddie? God, it's good to hear your voice man! Why'd it take you so long to call me back?"

"I didn't get your messages until today! Mom threw the answering machine out the window when people kept calling to offer their condolences, but forget all that! What the fuck is going on, John?" Eddie's voice was high and panicked, he realized with a jolt, and the blood that had just a few minutes ago been boiling away in his veins with anger, turned to ice in an instant.

"What the hell are you talking about Eddie?" He croaked back and Fitzpatrick leaned in closer to him as if concerned. John ignored him.

"What do you mean, 'what am I talking about', Evans? It's a goddamn war zone around here! The sheriff found two dead kids in a car on your property this morning and I get back into town and learn from Eileen that some army guy came and took Carrie into protective custody this morning. What the hell is happening here John! Is she safe?"

Carrie. Fuck.

John closed his eyes, trying to rein in his emotions as everything from rage to fear flitted through him in an instant.

This wasn't happening.

This couldn't be happening.

His only hope was that it was all just some big misunderstanding and John forced his next question out around the panic trying to take over him completely.

"Eddie, did you see who took Carrie?"

"No man, I didn't, but he scared Eileen something awful. You better start telling me what the hell's going on here, John. Right now." But he couldn't, not yet.

"There was a man who came asking questions about me a few days after I left town. What did he look like, Eddie?"

"I don't know... big, burly. And he had the reddest damn hair you ever saw, but what does that have to do with anything?

...John?

John?!"

He gripped the receiver held to his hear tightly, trying not to let his eyes flick over to the man sitting perched on the edge of the desk right beside him.

"Eddie, I gotta go," he tried to say as nonchalantly as possible and replaced the receiver even as his friend continued to yell his name out over the line.

But he knew Fitzpatrick had heard the entire exchange and his hand shook as he settled the handset into its cradle, plastic clacking against plastic and ringing the bells in the receiver ever so slightly.

The intensity in the room grew exponentially and John kept his eyes facing forward, unconsciously reaching for a sidearm he realized too late wouldn't be there. Fitzpatrick was silent and unmoving beside him and John made himself finally look over and meet the gaze that was boring into the side of him with enough heat to singe.

When their sightlines finally converged, that dangerous anger flared back to life with a vengeance in the pit of John's stomach.

The kid was fucking smiling at him.

"Well, I guess that changes things now, doesn't it?" Fitzpatrick said, and chuckled almost sinisterly.


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