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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 19 - We're All Mad Here
Part One

Fitzpatrick's words impacted heavily, pushing John bodily back against his chair. The force was enough to knock the air out of his lungs and he nearly shattered; realization and disbelief coming together in his brain like fire and ice. His eyes darted in the direction of the closed office door. There were two heavily armed Marines standing right outside of it - the prospect of the help they could give making him bold - but Fitzpatrick caught the look.

"I would think very carefully about what your next move is gonna be, chief," he said darkly. The smirk he had carried on his face moments ago slid away to be replaced by a cold calculating stare. John decided he preferred the smirk. There was something unhinged hiding behind those eyes now. Something the man before him had somehow managed to keep hidden all this time.

"Did you take Carrie, Fitz?" He ground out, somehow finding his voice. Rage tinted the world around him red. Betrayal sucker punched him in the gut over and over again and he dug his fingertips into the leather of the chair; knuckles white and skin stretched taught till he thought it might split.

John was fighting against a primal urge to strike, and it was strong. Strong enough to wind the muscles in his body up tight in anticipation of attack. It was taking over his entire body, but he couldn't risk it. Not after what Eddie had said.

Those words were still echoing around his skull. They knocked about inside his head along with ideas of what he could do to the man in front of him with bare hands and pure wrath, given the chance...

Fitzpatrick rose from the desk. "This is not how I intended for this to go John. It's important to me that you understand that."

"I'm having a hard time understanding any of this right now, kid." He used the word like a blade but without the desired effect.

Fitzpatrick's eyes sparked again with that wild something from before. John flinched slightly under it and the barely checked potential it held... Perhaps poking the proverbial bear in the zoo was not the best idea at the moment, though his fingers still tingled with the desire to do so. The yearning for violence was clashing viciously with his need to protect at all costs.

"No, you're right, Sheppard," Fitzpatrick said with words devoid of emotion. "You deserve an explanation and I'm going to give you one, but not here. There's a caretaker's cottage at the edge of the base near the cemetery. Are you familiar with it?" But John remained silent, analyzing the situation with the quick precision even 18 years out of uniform couldn't dull.

Battle plans formed then flopped in his mind. In such close quarters, he was at a disadvantage. Fitzpatrick had him outmatched in both speed and strength. His neck would snap like a twig beneath those big beefy paws. But maybe if he made just enough noise before he died, the Marines on guard would get wise to what was happening inside.

There was only one problem with that plan. The bastard most likely had Carrie. And that changed the rules of the game completely.

If he fought and he failed, there was a very real chance the former Seal would kill Carrie anyway. Fight wasn't an option. Flight, not much better, but apparently it was his only choice.

"This only works if you use your words, Sheppard. Do you know of the cottage or not?"

"I do." John's voice shook.

"Good. You meet me there in one hour and I'll explain everything. But, if you say anything to anyone or if anyone so much as tries to stop me from leaving this base, Carrie Sinclair dies. And just in case there's any doubt in your mind that I don't have her..." Fitzpatrick fished something white and rectangular from the back pocket of his pants and threw it into John's lap. "There's my proof."

John broke his thousand yard stare away from the former Seal to glance down at it. It was a plain white envelope, bulging slightly with its contents and he uncemented his hands from around the edges of his seat to lift it from his lap.

For a moment, John tried to hide the fact that his hands were shaking, but decided in the end that he really didn't care. Let Fitzpatrick see. Let him think that he was terrified. The fact that they shook with unbridled rage was his and his alone to know.

John fished several script covered sheets of paper from the envelope and unfolded them slowly in his lap, recognizing the handwriting immediately. It was his own looping lettering and John stared down at the goodbye letter he'd left in his cabin for Eddie and Carrie to find.

It was Fitzpatrick's proof that he had been there. That he'd been in John's home... Broken the sanctity of that place... put his damn hands on Carrie...

"If you fucking hurt her..." the pages crumpled in his grip.

"No," the Seal snapped, cutting him off before he could go on. "No talking; not here. You've got one hour, Sheppard," and Fitzpatrick turned towards the door.

John shifted forward in his chair. If he planned his attack just right he could use all the fury coercing through him to go for the jugular and end this right here.

...Or he could miscalculate and not only kill himself, but Carrie as well, in the process.

Uncertainly froze the blood in John's veins. The viscous fluid pumped sluggishly now through his extremities, weighing them down and making him question his own abilities. The hands still shaking in his lap were old now. What power did they hold over youth and the madness of stronger men?

Fitzpatrick paused with a hand on the doorknob and turned dead eyes back towards John. "Remember what I said: tell anyone, bring anyone with you to the cottage, and I will not hesitate to slit that pretty little lady's throat. Do I make myself clear?"

John was the master of rage. He'd been immersed in its redness for 20 odd years and he put all of it behind his eyes then. He lifted those eyes to look once more at Fitzpatrick, but the kid didn't even flinch.

This was not going to end well.

"One hour, John." And he was gone.

John let the sheets of paper and their finger shaped creases fall from his hands and down onto the floor. He listened as Fitzpatrick chatted amicably with the Marines stationed just outside the door before moving off. He'd been given 60 minutes to come up with a plan that hopefully kept Carrie alive, and he spread those minutes out over his mind trying to decide how best to use them.

If this were a war and he were fighting against the enemy hordes, John would start thinking about a way to ambush them. Preemptive strikes had always been his kind of thing, but he wasn't fighting this war with a battalion of men at his side. If he went for help, if he brought Rodney and Lorne into all this, Fitzpatrick would likely kill Carrie instantly. There was no battle when innocent women and children were ducking through the crossfire. That was just massacre.

Unless, of course, those women and children had guns. They'd had guns in Afghanistan... but that was besides the point.

John drew a hesitant hand up towards his earwig, then stopped. If Fitzpatrick had a way of listening in on the comms then this would be over before it had even begun if he tried to radio for help. He dug the earwig out of his ear instead and placed it on the desk beside him. Right next to the pizza box that was still lying open on the tabletop like some sort of sad reminder that life had once been normal.

But what was normal now?

Fitzpatrick had very nearly murdered Carson. He was ready to kill Carrie next. The former Seal had all but admitted to everything, and John was wracking his brain for a reason why. But even more perplexing than all that was the fact that Fitzpatrick had allowed him to live.

"This is not how I intended for this to go John.It's important to me that you understand that."

If the former Seal's intention was to lure John out to that cottage to murder him like had all the other ATA gene carriers, why had he let such a perfect opportunity to do so a few minutes ago slip through his fingers? Fitzpatrick had him dead to rights, but instead of attacking right then and there, he'd walked out of the room with an order for John to meet him in an hour at the old abandoned house near the edge of the SGC cemetery. It just didn't make any sense. There was something more going on here. Something big he was missing, and John couldn't help but worry that he was digging into something he shouldn't.

But regardless of what might be going below the surface, Fitzpatrick had promised answers and John was going to get those answers come hell or high water. The question was, how was he supposed to defend himself against a man he was pretty sure could have put even the most seasoned of MMA fighter's to shame? The kid had bested him time and time again in the ring... but in doing so had also given John the occasional hint as to what could be used to bring the big, burly Irishman down.

What had he said in the sparring space that day? Bantos fighting was not about who was bigger?

It was about focus and discipline.

Two things that John sorely lacked at the moment but was going to need to find soon, or else in less than one hour there was going to be a massacre 100 yards away from the headstones that marked his friend's graves. All John had in his arsenal at the moment was the quicksilver anger sluicing through his veins, eradicating anything in its path. But Fitzpatrick had even made a comment about that, that day in the training rooms as well:

'Blind anger might get you back up on your feet in a firefight, Sheppard, but it sure as hell won't keep you or any of the men under you, alive.'

What John needed to do was think strategically. Needed to get inside this guy's head and see what made him tick so he could try and get a few steps ahead of him. Only that was practically impossible now because everything John thought he knew about Sean Fitzpatrick had just gone out the window.

The massive yet introspective kid that had been training him had morphed suddenly into this unhinged something right before his very eyes. He was menacing, and dangerous, and he had a sharp edge to him that John had forgotten all about. He could remember sensing it that first day they'd met in the training facility, and now it was back with a vengeance and John was finally starting to see it for what it truly was. See how it spoke of murder and madness. No, there was no doubt in John's mind that Sean Fitzpatrick wouldn't hesitate to kill Carrie if he tried to go off book. And that realization had him abandoning every pathetic plan his panicked mind tried to provide.

John formed his hands into shaking fists and brought one down hard over the earwig still sitting on the desk.

Fitzpatrick could have easily just killed him a moment ago, but he hadn't; he'd let John live. The former Seal had promised to give answers, too. So maybe what John needed to do was arm himself to the teeth and just head out to that damn cottage in - he checked his watch - fifty five minutes. Maybe bullets could end what his ageing hands could not because John didn't care who this guy was, no one was bulletproof. You could have all the anger in the world burning away inside of you, and all it would take was one careful shot to the center of the forehead, to grind it all to a halt.

Bullets to the head put periods at the ends of sentences; not ellipses. And he was done with ellipses.

John unclenched his fists from the angry balls he had formed them into and glanced down at his palms. The white skin pinked back up instantly but the little crescents left behind by his fingernails welled with blood. Two weeks ago he'd held a rifle in these very hands and stared down the barrel of that gun at a buck. Two weeks ago he had crumbled beneath the weight of remembered memories and had been unable to squeeze that trigger. Now, thanks in part to Fitzpatrick himself, John would not be running into that problem again.

The kid's own actions were about to be his own undoing. He'd helped build the defenses back up, and now he was going to crash against them... if the force of John's ferocity didn't kill him first.

John rose from his chair.

He needed a weapon. He also needed to ditch his security detail somehow and figure out a way to get out of the mountain without tipping anybody off.

Shit.

How was he supposed to manage that? Lorne had the place practically on lockdown, but if he didn't get out to that abandoned cottage near the edge of the base soon, Fitzpatrick was going to do the unthinkable.

It didn't seem fair that the woman he'd only just come to realize he loved was already in grave danger. She didn't even know how he felt about her yet and here they were, about to be separated from each other forever. Well, no, that wasn't entirely true. If Fitzpatrick killed Carrie, John would fight him to the death and either Fitzpatrick would be leaving that caretaker's cottage in a body bag, or John would be... because there was only one way that this ended. He was a cornered animal at the moment: thrashing and rabid, yet caged, and he had no idea what he would be capable of when he finally let that beast out.

John pushed out of his chair and made off down the hallway toward nowhere in particular. Indecision painted everything around him pale and he searched in agitation for inspiration in the washed out corridors around him. He needed to figure out a way to lose the two men following behind or everything was going to fall apart around him. Funny thing was, in the end, it didn't even matter. Just as John was about to round a corner, unforgiving fingers wrapped themselves around his forearm from a room off the hall. He was yanked off his feet so suddenly he nearly stumbled, but Lorne pressed him up against a wall with an arm and motioned quickly for the Marines following to continue on without stooping.

John's heart jumped up into the back of his throat. He didn't need this right now and if Fitzpatrick saw...

"Lorne, what the fuck are you doing?" He demanded, trying to push the man away roughly. But Lorne didn't let him go and John froze under the look he threw.

"Just shut up for a minute!" the Colonel hissed and put a finger to his ear.

"Roger that," Lorne said to someone John couldn't hear. His own earwig was lying in pieces back on the desk in the security office. "If anyone spots him again, let me know. And for heaven's sake, don't follow him! This guy is special forces and he'll spot a tail from a mile away. Lorne out."

John was still being pinned bodily against the wall by Lorne's arm and the Colonel finally stepped away to release him. "I'm sorry, Sheppard. I had to stop you before you went and did something stupid."

"Why did you stop me, Lorne?" He couldn't do this. If Lorne demanded answers from him, he wasn't going to be able to give them. And if he had to fight to be allowed to leave, he wasn't going to hesitate... his only hope was that his friend would forgive him someday. You know, if he even survived to someday.

"I was listening the entire time, John. Your phone call, what Fitzpatrick said; everything," Lorne admitted and John tried not to sag against the wall. This was exactly what Fitzpatrick had told him not to do. "I got back here as fast as I could. Why didn't he just kill you right then and there!?"

"You're asking me?" John exclaimed, shoving Evan Lorne back a few steps with hands he hadn't meant to raise in anger against his friend. "Why did that asshole do any of it? Why did he try to kill Carson? Why did he go to Blue River and kidnap my friggin' girlfriend? None of it makes any sense! And if I don't go meet him alone in," he checked his watch again, "forty five minutes, he's going to kill the woman I love, Lorne!"

He pushed away from the wall, making for the doorway, but Lorne grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and pinned him back against the wall. John balled a fist, ready to strike out in his desperation to get away, but a figure running through the door and screeching to a halt beside them broke through the red haze that had descended down around him.

"What'd I miss?" Rodney panted and Lorne stepped back and away from John again.

"Christ, you told McKay!?" he groaned.

"Of course I told McKay!" Lorne shot back angrily.

"Of course he told me!" Rodney scolded at the same time. "And something tells me I showed up just in time. What appears to be the problem here, gentlemen?"

Rodney was looking back and forth between the two of them expecting explanation. With scowl and arms folded over his chest he looked a bit like some irate parent that had just had to pull two of his sons off of each other.

"Brigadier General Sheppard here was just telling me how he plans to go meet a psychopath alone at the edge of the base with no backup," Lorne spat, anger still licking up the sides of his neck, painting the skin there red.

"You guys don't seem to understand what's going on here right now!" John practically roared, reopening the wounds on his palms as he dug fingernails back into them. "He has Carrie and if I don't show up there in a little less than an hour, he's going to slit her throat. You heard him Lorne! If I tell anyone, if I bring anyone with me, she's dead!"

They weren't getting it and John didn't know how to make them see. There was no time to make them see!

"So what were you planning to do, Sheppard. Huh?" Rodney asked, choosing a side. It was apparently going to be two against one, and the odds weren't in John's favor. "Were you just going to waltz in there all by yourself without a plan? Just hope that it goes your way? Leave it to you John Sheppard to go off all half cocked; diving in head first without even stopping to think first!"

"If I don't show, she's dead, Rodney. End of story. I don't need any more reason than that to dive in head first."

"We get it, John. Sheesh. Love of your life in peril, check." Rodney practically rolled his eyes and John resisted the sudden urge to haul off and deck him. Sometimes that man just didn't know when to shut the hell up.

"That's not funny, McKay," John muttered with his words instead of his fists like he had wanted to.

"No, I know it's not, Sheppard, and I'm sorry. But you always do this! You take everything on yourself and completely ignore the fact that you have all these friends around you who would be willing to do anything for you; even die!" Rodney pointed a finger at him angrily, but dropped it a moment later as his face softened.

"Look, all I'm saying is, let's stop for a second and try to think this through rationally."

"Somehow I don't think 'rational' is a word in Fitzpatrick's vocabulary at the moment, Rodney," John bit back sarcastically, trying not to let what Rodney had said penetrate his defenses. "He tried to poison Carson. He's killed how many people? No, I need to go. Now."

"Oh my god!" Rodney bellowed, blocking John's way bodily before he could even think to make a break for it. "It's like talking to a brick wall with you! Would you please get your head out of your ass for one freakin' minute? Just stop playing Rambo long enough to listen to the plan we came up with!"

But John just shook his head. No one else was going to die because of him. No damn way.

"It's Carrie, Rodney," he croaked out, not caring how the words came out if they helped to get his point across. "If Fitzpatrick even thinks for a moment that I brought backup, she's as good as dead. I can't risk it."

"You don't have to, John." It was Lorne who spoke and John looked over at the Colonel who had otherwise been quiet through most of John and Rodney's argument. "McKay and I have an idea."

"You and McKay, huh?" He asked with an almost chuckle. A little of the bluster drained away from him. While Rodney McKay Plans did tend to lean toward the more ludicrous, even John had to admit that, every so often, the scientist managed to come up with something pretty ingenious. And if Lorne had gotten on board with it, then maybe it was worth listening to.

"...Alright," John said on a heavy sigh, hoping he wasn't about to make the biggest mistake of his life.

"You get five minutes. Make 'em count."

..

\oO0Oo/

..

Exactly twenty minutes later, armed with a new state of the art earwig Rodney promised no one could detect, John rocked the jeep he was driving down the narrow access road leading to the base cemetery.

It was dusk. The sun had begun its slow descent in the west behind him, already tucked behind the bluish-purple tip of Cheyenne Mountain growing smaller in his rearview.

The road John was traveling down was pocked with deep depressions gouged into the gravel by the constant freeze/thaw of the snow and the massive vehicle swayed as he 4-wheeled it over them faster than he probably should have. It was unseasonably warm outside as well and for several feet out from either side of the roadway the snow had receded enough to reveal muddy shoulders and brown dead grass.

And the colors matched his mood.

John white knuckled the steering wheel, wondering the whole time if he was being watched and if Fitzpatrick would ever suspect what they were up to.

"I don't like this," he said out loud and Rodney chortled in his ear.

"Yeah, I got that the first twenty times you mentioned it, Sheppard."

"Rodney, you do realize what's at stake for me here, right?" One of the jeep's wheels caught a particularly nasty depression in the roadway and John's stomach bottomed out for a moment as he was knocked about in the cab.

"Yes, yes, prince charming.I'm well aware of how much you love her and how you're willing to throw down your own life in exchange for hers, and blah blah blah! You need to relax.There's no way he sees this coming."

"I still don't like it. He's smart McKay, and we gotta assume smart enough to think we might try something like this."

Rodney sighed in his ear. "You know, Sheppard, there are studies out there that show increased anxiety levels can actually lead to better performance."

"Not really helping, Rodney."

"Would it work better if I told you about what your mother and I did in your bed last night?"

"Rodney McKay!" John sputtered, amazed that the scientist could make such a tasteless joke. "I cannot believe you just said that to me!" If the scientist was already resorting to crude humor... John really was screwed, wasn't he?

"Sorry, I think I've been hanging around those kids in the IT department for far too long."

John held in a nervous laugh. "Alright, enough chit chat, Rodney. If I pull up and Fitzpatrick sees me jabbering to myself, he's going to know something's up."

"You started it," Rodney answered back a little petulantly but John let it lie.

He could already see the cemetery spreading itself out at the base of the hill he crested. The little cottage sat beside it, just inside the perimeter fence for the base, looking forlorn. The warmer evening air was mixing with the cold radiating up from frozen ground and fog was starting to form again. This time around, however, it wasn't the misty fog of morning. It was more like the heavy and oppressive haze from a horror movie and it meandered down from the mountain and across the ground to curl up over the headstone dotted landscape before him. John nearly shuddered, despite the warmer temperatures. For all he knew a stone would be erected in the middle of that haze for him someday soon, if this asinine plan failed to work.

They couldn't attack this problem in a conventional way and even John had to admit the plan that Lorne and Rodney had come up with was a pretty good one. In fact, he should have thought of it himself, considering. It would certainly help them to circumvent any surveillance Fitzpatrick might have put into place. They would be fools to think that former Seal wasn't going to be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. So, if they were careful... if they played this just right, then maybe the whole thing didn't end in the way his tired mind kept trying to suggest as the cemetery loomed ever closer.

The headstones before him rose from a thin sea of undulating white like ghosts from their graves and it was almost ominous, like some kind of portent of doom. He normally didn't believe in such things (and maybe he still didn't) but the anxiety and adrenalin high of the past few days was making him loopy where he needed to be level headed. Carrie's life depended on that focus; as well as his own. Yet if things didn't go how they were supposed to, and this was truly it for him, then there were things he needed to say.

"Hey... Rodney?"

"Uh-uh, Sheppard. You can just stop it right there..."

"You don't even know what I was gonna say," he chuckled around a smothered half smile.

"Right.No idea what you could possibly be thinking driving up on that nice spooky looking cemetery right there in front of you."

"McKay..."

"Just... save it, all right?Tell me later after all this is over.Better yet, wait until Carson finally comes out of his coma, and then you can tell us both."

"Rodney, buddy, this is important." The voice on the other end of the connection stayed silent and John mustered his courage. "Remember to take care of each other."

He said it quietly and wondered for a moment if the scientist would remember and understand what he really meant by what he had just said... Rodney's continued silence was all the answer he needed.

"I'm going to go radio silent now," John finished with a hint of finality in his voice as the jeep pulled up in front of the cemetery gates on the crunch of cold gravel.

"Sheppard out."

John threw the jeep in park then sat back in the driver's seat, the enormity of what he was about to do steeling over him suddenly like the fog creeping down the mountainside to cover everything it touched in a blanket of surging white. It was like the world was as unsettled as he was but he'd run out of time to try and figure things out. The timetable couldn't be altered - not now, not ever - and he pushed the door beside him open with a shoulder. A damp wind pushed the heavy door back in on him slightly with a sudden gust and it licked up through the holes of his thin uniform almost making him shiver.

"Good luck, John." a voice said quietly in his ear, but he didn't dare risk a reply.


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