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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 Two

The caretaker's cottage Fitzpatrick had directed him to sat fifty or so yards away from the base's perimeter fence. Flood lights affixed to the tall chain link had snapped on in the twilight a few minutes ago on the sizzle of snow damped circuits. Their pale illumination was casting strange, spiked shadows across the snow beneath John's boots. It was just the barbed wire at the top of the fences - keeping in for once what they had always meant to keep out - but John tried to ignore thoughts like that and kept moving forward.

There was no driveway up to the cottage and John trudged through a slushy mix of melting snow and suckling mud toward his destination, already sweating from the exertion. He was decked out from head to toe in gear so familiar he half wondered if perhaps the past 18 years had been nothing more than a dream. Some waking nightmare he'd been having while traversing the vast arctic terrain of some unpopulated planet in Pegasus. But Cheyenne Mountain thrusting up from between rolling foothills a few miles to his left didn't let that thought live for long.

John adjusted the tac vest secured snugly around his torso with a hand at the neck. The reassuring pressure on his ribs was helping to keep the pieces of himself from rattling apart all together as he walked. The familiar weight of his sidearm thumped reassuringly against his thigh in its holster. He had a P-90 clutched in clammy hands as well, though he highly doubted Fitzpatrick would allow him to hold onto the gun for long. In case that happened John had several other weapons strategically hidden on his person; his last resorts should all of this end badly. His last desperate attempts at exerting some kind of control over an already out of control situation.

As John walked, jumbled thoughts tumbled through his already crowded brain. Fitzpatrick was luring John out there with the promise of providing answers. That fact alone made everything about this entire operation seem off. The kid was taking a huge risk with sticking around. He was practically begging John to show up with guns blazing. But something was giving Fitzpatrick confidence that his plan was going to work, that he would be getting out of this alive, and John wasn't entirely sure holding Carrie over his head was what was giving him that confidence. There was something else, something John was continuing to miss and those thoughts sent his brain into a frenzy of conjecture.

But one thing was for certain. Sean Fitzpatrick was smart, murderously so, and John was going to have to be very, very careful.

John glanced down at his watch and picked up the pace a little. He was due at the cottage in less than five minutes and he resisted the urge to start rambling to Rodney in his anxiousness. His fingers tingled every so often, reminding him that he was far from alone and he tried to pull some comfort from that. The plan was a good one, he kept telling himself. It was going to work, and as the dilapidated shack emerged from the thickening fog in front of him, John held tight to that last glimmer of hope before the mist closed in around it completely.

The caretaker's cottage wasn't very big. Maybe 800 square feet not counting the parts of its second story that were sagging precariously in on themselves with decay. Firelight flickered out through carelessly boarded up windows he didn't dare risk looking through just yet. Smoke rose idly up from a hole in the roof where John imagined a chimney used to sit before it had collapsed. In fact, it's broken bricks lay scattered near the side of the house; a decaying skeleton of its former shape slowly being exposed by receding snow.

From a distance, John couldn't help but draw parallels between this place he approached and his own cabin sitting forgotten and empty in the Wisconsin wilderness. If he died he wondered if Eddie would take care of it at all for him. Maybe head out that way every so often or so to revisit the memories of a man that had slipped in and out of his life like a whisper. Would Carrie go back too, if he managed somehow to get her out of all of this alive?

For a moment John could almost imagine the porch he walked up onto was his own. It even had a light like his used to have. A porch light that never had been switched on because, for 20 years, John had gone to great lengths to never have to be dependent on power again. It had brought him nothing but desperate years of constantly searching for more of it. And yet here he was, about to enter into yet another race to gain the upper hand, to be the one who ran the board, and he was tired of it.

Bowed porch steps creaked beneath John's boot as if in sympathy, shattering any illusion he had of home. He mounted them carefully, aiming for stealth. As much as Fitzpatrick outmatched him in age and strength, John still had a lifetime's worth of military training to fall back on. Training that had taught him how to approach an enemy in absolute silence to slit his throat in the dark, then disappear back into the night without ever having been seen or discovered.

See, he could match Fitzpatrick in ruthlessness on the battlefield, there were just things he needed to do first.

He was trying to take John Sheppard, the man into a firefight where he needed John Sheppard, the soldier: that unforgiving Air Force Colonel that lay curled and unused at the base of his spine just waiting to be revived. Twenty years ago it would have been like flipping a switch, but today it was harder than he expected, especially with the woman he loved thrust into the middle of it all. That made it personal and he struggled to find his balance in all the madness. Knowing all along that if he failed, the cost would be as terrible to him as that day in the sky with the Wraith.

John approached the swollen 2x4s nailed crudely together, making up the cottage's temporary front door, and wondered absently where the original might have gotten to. A padlock used to hold the door shut at one time but its thick metal had been shorn through crudely with bolt cutters and its mangled remains dangled from a rusty hook beside the door. The wind had picked up again, gathering speed as it whipped down from the mountains to lift the hair at the back of John's neck and rattle the twisted metal against the doorframe.

Taking a breath and closing his eyes for the briefest of moments to center himself one final time, John put a steady hand out and slowly pulled the door back to enter the cottage, gun muzzle first.

The light in the decaying shack was smoky and it took John's eyes several seconds to grow accustomed to the low, murky light. The house was one massive great room with a loft that disappeared into darkness above the weak firelight that lit the place from within a huge stone fireplace at the far end of the room. There were two chairs sitting in front of the fire, too close to the flames to be comfortable for their occupants, both of whom were hooded and bound. John could tell immediately that one of the figures was Carrie - he could tell just by her frame - but the other one was male and his brain offered no hint of recognition.

Not that it mattered. As soon as his eyes zeroed in on Carrie, the rest of the world practically fell away.

John took a lurching step forward then made himself stop mid-stride. He could feel eyes on him, watching him from above, and if Fitzpatrick was on the upper level waiting to take him out, John would be making himself too easy of a target. He couldn't risk just striding across the open room, bold as brass. And yet... he kept having to remind himself that the former Seal had promised to explain everything, and that remembered oath had John throwing caution to the wind. He raised his P-90 up closer to his face, trained it at the dark spaces disappearing above, and made a mad dash across the wooden floor of the cottage to crouch beside Carrie's trembling form. This close to the wall, he was no longer visible to anyone lurking above.

Carrie was shaking uncontrollably as he drew near, but trembling was good. The fact that she was quaking beneath the reassuring hands he put on either one of her arms meant that she was still very much alive.

"I'm here, Car," he whispered and lifted the hood carefully away from her face.

Carrie was pale, but her eyes were bright.

Sweat from the heat of the fire had plastered her blond hair against the sides of her face and neck, but it was those eyes that drew John in immediately. They filled first with utter relief as their gazes finally met against the flickering backdrop of the firelight behind her, then filled a moment later with tears as John held her sweat dampened face between trembling palms and put the promise of rescue there behind his own eyes.

"I got you."

Carrie was gagged and, bending forward, John began fumbling earnestly with the complicated knot at the base of her skull, listening all the while for any signs of an approaching Fitzpatrick.

The injustice of their reunion after so long apart was infuriating. It should have been tender and sweet, not terror laced and outlined in fire.

Carrie let her forehead rest against John's shoulder as he worked. Relieved breath spilled over the flesh of his neck and he let his cheek fall against the side of her face as he struggled with the unyielding knot. There was something wet splashing against his skin and he urged his fingers to work faster to free her, eventually giving up to go for the small pocket knife in the breast pocket of his vest.

But a deep voice rumbling to his left froze John mid reach.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

The voice washed over John in an icy wave, bringing with it remembered snippets of nearly forgotten conversation; secrets he'd spilled to a traitor. The heavy footsteps on unstable boards cut through the sudden silence in the cottage. Not even the crackling fire or John's own heartbeat in his ears could breach the sudden stillness that descended over everything as time held its breath.

Rising from his crouch on the floor, John brushed lips lightly against Carrie's dampened brow, slipping something small into one of her bound hands discretely and searching her eyes to make sure she understood. Those eyes filled with fear and for a moment John wanted to reassure her that he would do everything in his power to get her out of this alive. Only that wasn't the kind of fear he was witnessing. She was telling him to be careful; more concerned with his safety then her own.

John gave her his best impression of a reassuring smile, then slowly turned around to face the man picking his way cautiously down the rickety stairs that were little more than a glorified ladder, disappearing up into he darkness of the loft above.

Sean Fitzpatrick was moving carefully and leveling such a gaze at John that he instinctually moved forward to put himself between Carrie and the man that had finally reached the main level.

Fitzpatrick had on a Kevlar vest. Where John's was pocketed with compartments for all manner of gear needed for off-world missions, Fitzpatrick's was simple and plain and he held a berretta loosely in one hand at his side. His trigger finger was idly tapping the side of the gun, not curled around the trigger like it could have been, but John still secured his own P-90 closer to his chest.

Fitzpatrick had that look in his eye again. That one that made John want to mow the bastard down right then and there with automatic weapons fire until he was as dead and as cold as Carson could have been. But it was what the man had clutched in his other hand that had John rethinking that particular plan.

"You've had enough experience with these to know what this is, I presume?" Fitzpatrick inquired coldly and John stared at the device the former Seal held out for him to see. The light was impossibly low, but there was no mistaking what it was.

"It's a dead man's switch," he said back, just as coldly, trying to hide his worry behind a false front of faked bravado. This was going to complicate things...

"We heard, John.Get him talking.Find out what it does.We read three distinct energy sources in there with you," Rodney's worried voice came through on the earwig.

John pulled in a breath and tried to wipe everything going through his mind away from his features lest he give something away.

"What's the switch for, kid?"

"Not what you think," Fitzpatrick said coyly with a glint in his eye, "Well, that's not entirely true. I've wired the place and she's sitting on enough C4 to successfully relocate that chair to Timbuktu. So I would seriously reconsider any ideas your getting in that head of yours, about trying to overpower me for this." Fitzpatrick held up the switch again.

"Alright buddy. You've got my attention now. What the hell's going on here?"

"What's going on here John, is that your buddy Eddie in Blue River seriously screwed things up for me and now I've gotta move up my timetable. It's sloppy now, and I don't like sloppy."

"Timetable for what, Fitz?" He questioned, but the former Seal either didn't hear the question, or ignored it.

"Fuck, John! This wasn't how any of it was supposed to go down!" The man standing before John seemed to collapse in on himself suddenly.

Shoulders slumping, he let his head fall forward to shake it sadly and if John had thought for one moment that he might be able to secure the switch in time, he would have taken his shot right then and there. But when Fitzpatrick looked back up at him again, John stopped short and was glad he hadn't made his move.

Fitzpatrick looked... unhinged, and the frantic firelight licking up around them wasn't helping matters much. It gave the illusion of something sinister boiling just below his surface and John had the funny feeling that if that kid's exterior began to crack, there was no stopping the madness just waiting to claw itself up and out into the open.

John tensed at that thought, and Fitzpatrick saw.

"But you don't believe me, do you?." The firelight glinted dangerously on the blackness that had taken over his eyes.

"Then why don't you try explaining some of it to me, Fitz? Because right now all I see is a guy who kidnapped my girlfriend, tried to murder my best friend last night, and who has been poisoning anyone with the ATA gene. Maybe after that we can get back to whether or not I'm going to believe one single thing that comes out of your mouth."

Fitzpatrick stumbled forward, looking as though he was desperate to start defending his actions to John, but stopped short. Something like uncertainly flashed across his face. It clashed with the madness still clinging there from before and he flicked suspicious eyes over to the twin windows on either side of the front door. He was weary of snipers, John realized, and if fate had any love left for him at all, one was in position already.

"Loose the P-90," Fitzpatrick said, raising his own gun to train it at John's chest. "Now! I'm not having this fucking conversation with you with a gun pointed at my head."

Irony not lost on John, he clenched his jaw to keep from commenting. "How about we both lose the guns?" He tried instead, but Fitzpatrick just shook his head.

"I don't think so Sheppard." Fitzpatrick nearly laughed at John's transparent attempt at leveling the playing field. "Now drop it or I put a bullet through your skull and then one through your whore."

That wild something was back in Fitzpatrick's eyes and John shot his hands up quickly in surrender. The former Seal was a time bomb just waiting to go off, and John was going to have to be very careful not to detonate him too soon.

"Okay, okay! Just relax, kid." He leaned over to carefully place the P-90 on the ground near his feet.

"And lose the vest while you're at it," Fitzpatrick ordered acidly and John complied, laying it on top of the P-90 hoping Fitzpatrick would just let it stay there, or better yet, come an collect it himself. But that plan fell apart a moment later when Fitzpatrick ordered him to kick the semi automatic weapon over to where he still stood in the shadows.

John did so, albeit dejectedly, and kept himself between Fitzpatrick and the two bound figures behind him.

"Alright, chief. You've got me here and I'm unarmed, now. What's next, bullet between the eyes?"

"It all wasn't supposed to happen this way, Sheppard," Fitzpatrick said again and John had to fight against the urge to roll his eyes as the former Seal repeated that fact for the umpteenth time.

"Yeah, you keep saying that! Just tell me what the hell is going on here, cheif!" If he got Fitzpatrick talking, maybe he could get him out into the open... Grab the switch before the former Seal hit the ground...

"Did you ever stop to wonder about who it was that pulled you out of that hospital in San Francisco, Sheppard?" Fitzpatrick asked out of the blue and John's thoughts halted.

Whatever he had been expecting the former Seal to say, that certainly hadn't been it.

"Excuse me?"

"Just answer the damn question, John," Fitzpatrick said a little more forcefully and raised the berretta up again to aim it squarely at the center of his chest once more.

"Yes! Okay?" He admitted, spreading his arms to cover more of Carrie when Fitzpatrick's eyes flashed again. "All the time! Just... point that damn thing somewhere else, would ya?"

But Fitzpatrick ignored him.

"It was me, John," the former Seal said plainly, like he was crossing something off a grocery list. The hand holding the berretta fell back down to his side. "Well, not me personally, but a cousin of mine who worked in the ER they brought you to."

John's brow creased. "You?" It didn't make any sense. "But... why?"

"Because of what they did to us that day, John! I got away. But I had to make sure they couldn't get to you anymore."

John felt the color drain from his face.

It couldn't be.

"They came after me, too. Did you know that?"

John shook his head, more out of shock than to really answer Fitzpatrick's question.

Comprehension ran through his brain with all the grace of a steamroller, obliterating everything in its path as it flattened things he had held true for so many years and any preconceived notions it came across.

"I always wanted to ask Dr. McKay if he ever figured that out during his investigation. I couldn't, of course. He's a pretty smart guy and I knew it would be a bad idea to tip him off about who I was. At least not before I finally stopped the Atlantis Expedition for good. Guess now we'll never know though, will we?"

Fitzpatrick's offhanded comment cut through the din in John's head. "What do you mean by that, Fitzpatrick?"

"Gas, John! Isn't it great? Canisters of cyanide gas hooked up to the mountain's main ventilation system just waiting for me to let go of this switch." He held it aloft in the air. "And you know what's funny? Once you understand what I've done for you, you're going to be begging me to let you set them off yourself!"

John was floored by what he was hearing coming from the former Seal's mouth. Where was the level headed psychologist who had helped him? The man standing before John now was manic and seriously just suggested that John would be on board with mass murder.

"Who the hell are you, Fitzpatrick?" He ground out, realizing immediately that getting angry might not be the best idea. The fire beside them flared higher as if feeding off the rage that ignited behind Fitzpatrick's eyes next.

"You tell me John. I gave you all the clues you need to figure it out."

But his theory just couldn't be true.

"Come on, Sheppard. Don't make me regret letting you live." Fitzpatrick moved further into the room, propelled forward on his own madness.

John coiled in anticipation of moving forward to grab at the switch. He held his breath waiting to see if anyone had the kill shot, but nothing happened. His fingers twitched with the urge to raise his hand to his ear, pissed beyond measure that Rodney's voice had remained resolutely silent in his head. He needed to know what the plan was so he could go after that switch if anything happened. The lives of everyone in that mountain depended on it now.

"We're searching the base, John.Just keep him talking," a frantic voice finally rang out and John tried not to react to it.

"Not even a guess, John?" Fitzpatrick said darkly, and raised the pistol to finally point it at John's head.

He froze, unwilling to put into words what his brain had been suggesting for the past few minutes.

"Time's up, Sheppard. Now or never."

"You were the kid in the chair at Area 51," he choked. "The one who destroyed all the Hive ships with me."

"That's right, John!" Fitzpatrick sneered with a vicious upward twist of the corners of his mouth. "See, I told you there was hope for you yet."

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