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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 24 - A Light at the End
Part One

"Please, don't let him die."

In the sudden deadness of the air around her, the plea left her lips easily enough, but it didn't go far, lost in the stillness as Atlantis no longer rumbed beneath her hands. A shadow seemed to pass over the moon and for one brief moment, Carrie Sinclair's heart was stuck in her throat. She wasn't ready for this, for a reality where John Sheppard didn't exist. It seemed wrong… foreign somehow, and her tired mind wanted nothing to do with the notion.

While whispered begging seemed appropriate before, now everything inside of her yearned to scream; to thrash and to wail and to demand that the universe get off its ass and fix this thing already. John was just one man - she got that - but what she couldn't quite wrap her head around was the gnawing feeling inside her gut that told her his death would have ramifications she couldn't quite understand yet. That there would be consequences. She could sense them nearby but had neither the experience nor the knowledge to understand what they were.

Those men back in the infirmary knew.

She could see it on their faces, in the way that knowledge deconstructed them from the inside out each time they looked over John's broken and battered body.

They knew what his death would mean, even if Carrie had only begun to scratch the surface.

The urge to rage suddenly so strong at her core, Carrie drew in a breath of air and got ready to release it (in what form, she couldn't be sure) but whatever it was going to be, it was cut short by a soft voice calling out to her from behind.

"You certainly picked an interesting place to hide, Carrie Sinclair."

It was a woman speaking and whatever shadow had taken up residence over the moon fled from the sound of her voice. Carrie whirled around and could just about make out the slight silhouette of a figure standing in the darkened balcony doorway. That in itself was strange, because the corridor outside had been well lit only an hour ago when Carrie had pushed herself through those exact same doors to seek out the solace of the night.

"Who are you?" She demanded, as she tensed. Her surprise and fatigue made the demand sound as rude as it was distrusting.

In the pale silver of the moonlight, she couldn't really see anything but the woman's outline. Whoever she was, she was small - compact almost - but as she stepped out onto the balcony and farther under the starlight, Carrie could see that she was made of tougher stuff than she'd realized. The light of the moon illuminated the figure's reddish brown hair and she moved with all the elevated grace of a seasoned dancer. While Carrie knew instinctively that she was no match for this woman physically, she was oddly unfazed by her sudden appearance. The woman exuded a kind of calm, something Carrie Sinclair hadn't felt in a very long time.

"My people have a legend about a medicine woman who would sit under stars like these each night," the woman mused, ignoring Carrie's demand and gesturing towards the star filled night sky and the city twinkling beyond. In the rippling surf below, the diamond reflections of the stars glinted as if gleeful she'd mentioned them by name.

"She would sit on the riverbank until dawn and make the same wish on each and every star: that her village would be cured of whatever sickness had befallen it. And in the morning, all would be well. We call the brightest star in the sky Ashtaria, in honor of her sacrifice."

"Sacrifice?" Carrie questioned, knowing she should probably be pushing the woman further for her identify but choosing at the last moment to just go with what was happening. The woman came up beside her at the rail and rested her hands on the metal.

"There are many stars in the night sky," she answered the question simply with a slight shrug of her silver painted shoulders. "That's a lot of wishing for one woman."

There was more to the story, Carrie could tell, but she didn't press.

"So, are you a member of the Atlantis expedition?"

Carrie was a little miffed that her solitude had been breached, but there was something about the woman that made the intrusion a little easier to forgive. Carrie couldn't remember seeing her in the jumper bay when they'd first arrived in Atlantis, but that didn't mean much. The ancient city spread out and away from her in all directions and Carrie knew, even if she spent a lifetime combing the halls that networked beneath her feet, she would never be able to explore it all. She would never meet all the people who called her home. Atlantis could sustain thousands - would someday if John survived – and she doubted if even the Ancient race who'd built this city knew all the secrets she held.

"I am a part of the Atlantis Expedition," the woman was answering, pulling Carrie away from the enormity of those meandering thoughts. "Or I was, rather."

Carrie turned her head slightly to eye the woman standing beside her. The reply she'd given was saturated in grief and regret and Carrie tried to decide what the woman had meant by it.

"He's not dead yet," she finally replied, after a moment of silence. "There's still hope."

"Indeed," the figure said, the smile on her face apparent even though Carrie couldn't see it properly in the dark. Unsure of what to say next, she looked back out over the water and released a wary sigh.

"I used to search for places like this myself," the woman went on, running her hands along the balcony rail. "I was raised in a place where people lived off the land, and Atlantis was so foreign from my own home. It was as if I couldn't breathe at times, but there were always places I could go to see the stars."

"And wish on them?" Carrie asked.

"Sometimes." The smile was back in the woman's voice. "There were many reasons to wish on them all back in those early days."

"So you were around before." Carrie stated, suddenly excited to meet someone else who had been a part of John's past. "Did you know him? John, I mean?" But Carrie could tell almost immediately that she'd hit a raw nerve. She'd taken them some place the woman beside her wasn't ready to go just yet and she instantly regretted it.

Perhaps that was why Carrie hadn't seen her in the Jumper Bay the other day.

"I did know Colonel Sheppard, yes," the woman answered carefully. There was a sadness in that voice now that scared Carrie a little bit. She wasn't used to having to share a love of John, but she knew that jealousy was something she would need to get over soon, because (as she was quickly beginning to learn) John Sheppard belonged to them all. He belonged to every soldier, doctor, tech, and scientist aboard Atlantis.

"He's going to make it, you know," Carrie interjected stubbornly, as if the mere act of saying the words would make it so. She knew it was probably useless, but she wouldn't let that stop her from trying.

"And does Rodney share your optimism?" The woman asked coyly.

"Dr. McKay? He wants us to put John into some kind of suspended animation until they can find someone to come help him. But Dr. Beckett managed to convince him that it's not what John would want."

"And you agree?"

"Well, I think Dr. Becket is right…"

"But?" The woman pressed, correctly sensing that Carrie had more to say.

"… but I also don't think John would want us to just give up on him."

"I see."

Atlantis was still quiet beneath Carrie's hands and for a moment she wished the city would take back up its thrum again. She missed its constant vibration and almost sentient presence, as if the city could tell her if she was on the right track or not. But the cold metal felt like nothing more than cold metal beneath her palms now. The city nothing more than a city, its fingers stretching out beneath her and reaching for San Francisco as if in search of the earth.

"If he's going to make it through this, he's going to need all of you. If you can find it in your heart to trust me, Carrie Sinclair, I can show you what it is you need to do."

The woman's words took Carrie by surprise and she whipped her head around once more to eye her uninvited visitor skeptically. The woman turned to face her as well and Carrie finally got a glimpse at her features. She was pretty, with a kind face and sad eyes that reflected the light of the stars back out into the night. She was at the same time both beautiful and terrifying, though Carrie wasn't afraid. Those eyes were pleading with her and Carrie recognized something inside of them even as the woman reached out to take Carrie's own hands in hers.

It was a strange feeling. The woman's touch tingled slightly and her cold dry hands were a startling contrast to the heat and damp of Carrie's own.

"What could I possibly do to help John?" She asked, matching sadness for sadness in her voice. Every single thing Carrie had seen or done since arriving on Atlantis had been unusual. While it felt as though the city had welcomed her with open arms, she still felt like an unsuspecting pilgrim finding a promised land she never even knew look for. She was confused with what to do with it all and lost in a sea of sensation and unfamiliar surroundings.

What power could she possibly have here?

"There's a lab, deep in the heart of the city in a place where no one has been for many years. Atlantis will show you the way if you let her, but you mustn't tell anyone where you are going. The device you must find, they will try to keep you from using it."

Carrie tensed and fought against the urge to pull her hands away. It figured there'd be a catch.

"It's not what you imagine, Carrie," the woman promised anxiously, sensing Carrie's sudden apprehension. "The device, it was made for people like you. There will be no adverse effects, but you must promise to return to it and give back what it gives you."

"Wait a second," Carrie interrupted, catching something in the woman's plea that had her instantly on high alert. "What do you mean it was made for 'People like me'?" She was wary, not sure if the idea of using some unknown device on herself was scaring her, or if it was the fact that she knew she was probably going to do whatever this stranger suggested to help John.

"Have you noticed how the city responds to you?" The woman replied, tightening her grip. "How the very lights come up in a room, even as you enter? Have you not heard the city call out to you?"

"Well yeah," Carrie admitted, suddenly uncomfortable, "but I just figured it was all part of the Atlantis experience. Like everyone felt it."

"Well they don't," the woman responded definitively. "You're special, Carrie. So much more so then you or they will ever realize, so you must not be afraid."

"But should I be?" Carrie asked, the urge to step away resurfacing. "Afraid, I mean?"

"No. Atlantis will guide you. Let the city show you the way then get back to John as fast as you can. I fear he does not have long now."

The woman let Carrie's hands go and she instantly missed the connection. Cool night air hit her skin and it still tingled where she had been touched. Carrie glanced down at her hands, half expecting to see little sparks of electricity traveling up her fingers.

"Who are you?" She finally asked again, confusion pushing the question up and out of her without warning as she dropped her hands to her sides and looked back up at her unknown visitor.

"I'm a friend," the woman answered. "Can that not be enough?"

It wasn't, not really, but Carrie got the distinct impression that it was going to have to be.

"Come with me," she suggested suddenly, not really sure where the sudden urge to keep this woman close to her came from. "You said you know John, come help me with this and we can save him together."

This time there really was no mistaking the woman's smile, even in the dark.

"I can see why he loves you so much," she said, the stars reflected in her eyes misting over as the woman turned away to look back out over the water. "When this is all over, you should tell him I told you so."

"Tell him yourself! If..." but Carrie's response was interrupted by a noise from out in the hall. Someone was approaching and the sound of their footsteps reached out even onto the balcony. Carrie turned around to check who it was, but the doorway and the corridor beyond were still dark.

"Will you do one other thing for me, Carrie Sinclair?" The woman asked so quietly Carrie nearly missed it. She flicked her eyes back over to the figure who stood under the mantle of the stars looking like something out of a dream."

"Yes," she replied, though the word came out as more of a question than an answer.

"Would you tell him I love him?"

"Who, John?" Carrie's brow furrowed, but another noise pulled her focus back to the door. Someone was fiddling with it, about to push out onto the balcony.

"No, not John," the woman said faintly.

"Then who?"

Whoever was at the door stumbled through it suddenly and yellow light flooded the small balcony where Carrie was standing. The light from the corridor was bright, brighter than she remembered, and she had to shield her eyes from it as the intensity shot daggers into the spaces behind her eyes. The light brought with it the sounds of the city again and as if it had always been there, Carrie felt the familiar rumble of Atlantis surge beneath her feet once again. It was comforting and familiar all at the same time and she turned to get a better look at her visitor.

But the space before the balcony rail was vacant, and Carrie stood staring at it for a moment, blinking stupidly into the emptiness.

"Ms. Sinclair? Carrie?" It was young TJ McKay at her elbow, and he put a hand on her arm. "Are you alright?"

"W-where did she go?" Carrie breathed, searching the small space with her eyes again even though she knew she would find nothing.

"Who ma'am?"

"The woman I was just out here with!" She exclaimed and pointed towards the rail. When she looked back over at TJ, he was eying her with concern.

"There's no one else out here, ma'am, and I didn't see anyone out in the hall."

Refusing to believe that none of it had been real, Carrie walked back over to the balcony rail and peered out over the edge. She had chosen the highest floor of a very tall tower and there was no way off that balcony except for the way they'd come in.

Carrie stood staring down at the star speckled surf for an immeasurable moment, contemplating what had just happened. Perhaps it had all been a dream. Atlantis was insistent beneath her feet again, that strange circuit of energy connecting her to all facets of the city back and as strong as ever. Before, when the woman had come, all had been quiet and still and Carrie couldn't help the faint theories that began to take shape in her brain.

It was the city (it had to have been) showing her the path in the only way it could come up with to get her to listen.

Another woman who loved John.

As if to give her a sign that she'd lingered too long already, a cold wind rushed up the grey side of the tower and struck her in the face.

"I fear he does not have long now."

They were running out of time.

"Carrie, are you sure you're ok?" TJ was at her side again and concern colored his voice.

"I'm fine," she replied shortly, even though she didn't mean it, and stepped away from the rail. "What's going on?"

"It's Uncle John. Pops says you need to come now."

Carrie had never heard TJ refer to John as 'uncle' before and the word punched into her like something hard. She thought about her own Aunt Eileen then. The poor woman was probably sick with worry back home and wondering if Carrie were lying dead in a ditch somewhere. In all the craziness of the past several days she hadn't even thought to check in with her elderly aunt and she hoped Landry had had the good sense to at least send word to her last remaining relative that Carrie was okay. He might have - he seemed like the kind of person who would remember to do things like that - and she took some comfort in the thought.

Family was important, and as she looked into TJ's desperate and sleep deprived eyes, she knew she was catching a glimpse of one of those unforeseen consequences of John's demise. Carrie almost wanted to pull the young man into a hug - nearly did for that matter. He was just 19 years old and already so road weary and it didn't seem fair that he'd been made to endure so much. Carrie had only been given the Reader's Digest version of it all, snippets from various people over the past few days, but it was enough for her to understand that TJ McKay had already learned enough about loss to last a lifetime.

And there was still so much left for him to lose, especially if Carrie just stood there.

"Carrie, please, you need to come with me now," TJ was pleading.

He tugged at her elbow and Carrie allowed him to pull her back into Atlantis and down the corridor towards a set of steep stairs that would take them back to reality. But while TJ pulled at her arm, a second force, seemingly coming from within her own body, was willing her back the other way and down a different hall. It beckoned her towards a hidden transport TJ wouldn't even know was there. Hell, she shouldn't even know it was there, but the woman on the balcony had been right.

Atlantis was showing her the way.

"I can't go with you, kid," a voice that didn't sound much like her own replied, and TJ turned around quickly.

"Whaddya mean you can't go with me?" The question came out almost petulant, but Carrie forgave it.

"There's something I gotta do first."

Carrie grabbed the bewildered young man at the shoulders. "Can you do me a favor, TJ? Can you go back down there and make sure they don't let him die until I get back? Could you do that for me?"

Carrie figured if TJ had been anymore rested and alert he probably would have resisted, called the plan crazy even and tried to pull her away, but thankfully he just nodded his head slowly and she squeezed his shoulders again gently.

"Don't let them give up." And turning on her heels, she left a bewildered TJ standing at the top of the stairs.

There was no question in Carrie's mind now of what she needed to do. That woman, whether real or an apparition conjured by Atlantis, was giving her a chance. She might not understand it (or even trust it entirely at the moment) but there was no denying that something big was happening here. She was connected to an ancient city she had no business being connected to. She'd seen and heard things she never should have been able to, and all of it was leading her to a moment. It pulled her past rooms that lit up even as she ran. It lead her beneath corridor lights that pulsed in time with her own heartbeat, and as Atlantis lead her into the very center of the city's ancient heart, she prayed that whatever she found there would be enough to save John Sheppard's life.

"Hold on, John." She whispered as the transport doors rolled closed.

"I'm on my way."

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