water4willows: (Tea & Book)
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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 Two


When John was 9 years old, his father got him a dog. His mother had died the month before. John had begun pulling away from the world, and in one last desperate attempt to connect with this eldest son, Patrick Sheppard had bought him a dog.

Sampson, as John had named him, had been a purebred Golden Retriever and for three and a half blissful years, he was the best friend damn friend John had ever known. They spent endless summer days playing ball across the perfectly manicured lawns of the family's estate. They played hide and seek and their own unique game of tag in the waist high hay fields next to the stables. John loved Sampson more than anything, and it seemed fitting that the dog should be there with him now, seated at his side and pressed up against his arm as if the past 40 years hadn't even happened.

Sampson was panting lightly and the heat from his canine body soaked into the side of John's arm. They were seated on the very edge of one of Atlantis's piers, Sampson watching the water below and yelping helpfully every time John's line quivered, and John pretending to actually care if he caught something or not.

It was a difficult thing to do, though.

His eyes kept being drawn away from the pole in his hands and back to the face beside him that brought with it so many happy memories, John found it hard to look away. Sampson's coat was a rich golden brown and glistened in the high noon sun which sat at the apex of a cloudless sky, warming their shoulders from above. The dog looked young and spry - a far cry from the last time John had ever seen him – and the memories the canine conjured were precious to him. Smiling slightly at them, John transferred his pole to the other hand and scratched idly at the soft fur behind Sampson's ears. The dog whined lightly then turned his head to deliver a quick lick to the side of John's face.

The moment was a perfect recreation of one of those endless summer afternoons and John wondered then why it was he never got another dog when he was living at the cabin in Blue River. It would have made sense, especially in the early days before Carrie. A dog would have made those long lonely evenings a little easier to bear, especially those nights when the ghosts of the past haunted him relentlessly.

But he hadn't done it, and the reason for that choice came crashing down around him, breaking apart the happy memories he'd managed to hold on to for a moment.

Sampson, like so many other happy things in John Sheppard's life, hadn't lasted.

He got sick.

Some stupid genetic disorder had decided to rear its ugly head and in a matter of months, his condition had deteriorated so much that even a 12 year old John knew what was coming next. And so Patrick Sheppard, in his infinite wisdom, had pushed a shotgun into his eldest son's trembling hands and sent him out back behind the stables to put his own best friend out of his misery. It sounded cruel when thought about it - and maybe it was - but John doubted his father ever saw it that way. The loss of his mother had made Patrick Sheppard cold, and John never saw his father the same way again after that day. He'd done what had been expected of him, but, in the end, it had cemented a kind of bitterness around his heart. It was that bitterness that had given him the strength to buck his family's expectations for his future and send him into the arms of the United States Air Force. He'd carried it around with him all through basic and half his career, and it wasn't until he saved the life of a certain Air Force Colonel, that it had begun to break apart at all. Atlantis, the people he had met there, all of it had slowly chipped away at that mangled crust he'd managed to build up around his soul, and he'd never felt more alive than that day when he'd stepped through the Stargate and into an entirely different galaxy.

And speaking of Atlantis, she rose up behind him out of the Bay like some tall and silent sentinel and John took strength from the fact that she was still there with him. Like Sampson, Atlantis was a part of who he was and he would sit on her pier and fish over the edge of her for the rest of his days, warmed by the midday sun and the body heat coming off the canine companion at his side.

After a lifetime of battle, John figured he was owed that much at least.

"Figures you'd bring a fishing pole to a knife fight, Sheppard," a gruff voice rumbled from behind him, and John smiled in spite of his surprise at no longer being alone.

"I was wondering when you were going to show up."

If the metal beneath them had been manmade, it would have shaken and swayed beneath the massive weight that plopped itself down beside John a moment later, but Atlantis' pathways were strong and they held true as the new addition to their fishing party settled in and glanced up at the cloudless California sky.

"Nice place ya got here."

The pier they were on, it was more of a place he associated with memories of Rodney, but this slight deviation from the norm was one he could live with.

"Normally I'd offer you a beer, but looks like I'm fresh out." Truth was, John wouldn't have known where to get any beer even if he wanted some. He had a pretty good idea of where he was, only the rules were still a mystery.

"Never cared for that stuff anyway," came the lackluster reply from his visitor. "Always tasted like lukewarm piss, if you ask me. Now Satedan's, they knew how to make a good ale."

"You made me try some once, remember?" John laughed, wincing a little at the memory even as he chuckled. "That homemade shit you made nearly took my esophagus along with it."

"Not worth it if it doesn't hurt," his visitor laughed back and John shook his head with a snort.

Sampson, unfazed by this new arrival and taking his master's good mood as a sign it was time for a nap, settled himself down onto the warm metal of the pier. He rested his chin lightly on John's thigh and in a few moments, had fallen asleep. John went back to idly petting the canine's soft fur and, fishing forgotten, stared back out over the water.

"So… I guess this means I'm dead then?"

The figure beside him looked over at him sharply. "What makes you say that?"

"Well, it's why you're here, isn't it?" John forced his sightline away from the rolling surf of the bay and finally over to the figure seated beside him.

He got it then, why he'd filled his life with people like Eddie Nostrand and Sean Fitzpatrick. They'd reminded him of someone. A someone who's passing had affected him so much more than he'd ever allowed himself to admit and who was sitting beside him now looking as silent and as solemn as the last time John had ever seen him alive.

Ronon Dex was ready for battle, though his feet were bare and his weapons were missing. He was dressed in that same hastily constructed linen shirt he'd always loved, heavy dreadlocks pulled back and away from his face by a length of thin cord. He still wore his favorite leather cuffs, too. The same ones he told everyone he'd won from some tribal chieftain, but which John knew actually covered the wounds left behind by one particularly nasty run in with the Wraith. Hell, he even smelled the same, as weird as that was to admit. All that seemed to be missing were the holes the Wraith's blades would have left behind after they'd killed him, but John figured this probably wasn't the place for things like that.

Still, it didn't stop distant memories from resurfacing unexpectedly and John tried to push them back down before they could rise up and consume him.

Only it didn't work.

They came anyway, lashing at him like the straps of a whip, merciless and cutting through his skin right down to the bone.

The living walls of a Wraith ship rose up around them, conjured by his own mutinous brain, and instead of the lightly lapping water of the San Francisco bay, John's fishing line was lost in a sea of dead grey bodies; Ronon and Teyla floating at the epicenter of the colorless pool. Their hands were reaching for each other, just as they had been when John had come upon them all those years ago. They were outstretched, as if seeking one another one final time before death came, but dying just before the connection could be made. If he'd only just made it to that damn room a few minutes earlier, none of it would have happened.

But he hadn't made it, had he? He'd failed them and now that moment was threatening to become his new reality.

A hell, forged even in heaven.

"Hey!" Ronon called from beside him, one beefy hand on his shoulder all it took to dislodge John from the vision. "Sheppard!" The Sateden said again, and John shook his head to try and clear his mind.

"You keep thinking like that, and you'll never get out of here."

"You say that like I actually have a chance," John grumbled, shrugging off his friend's hand. The memories were still sharp and insistent, but John pushed them back as best he could, sobered by Ronon's words.

The Sateden refused to look away, but stayed silent for a moment. When he spoke again, there was something heated in his words.

"There was nothing you could have done for us back then, Sheppard. I would have thought you'd figured that out after 20 years."

"Yeah, well, I think you give me too much credit there buddy."

Ronon raised a brow. "Doubt it."

There was a quiet fury that had always burned hot at the center of Ronon Dex. It was a fire that had been fueled by ultimate loss and one that had been smoldering along inside of him ever since the day his entire planet had been destroyed. It had never taken much to stoke the rage of that fire. John could remember the countless times he'd watched it explode outward from within his friend when he was provoked.

When Ronon was angry, you knew it, yet there was no hint of that fire in the man who was sitting beside him now, telling John that none of what had happened was his fault.

"Look," he signed, "maybe there was nothing I could have done but I need to tell you that I'm sorry for it anyway."

For all John knew the place he was visiting was nothing more than a figment of his own imagination, a place created by his mind to help him work through his unfinished business before death. Every so often two pinpricks of pain would erupt in his shoulder and gut, reminding him of the reality he had fled. Now he was getting a chance to say all those things that had gone unsaid between him and the massive Sateden beside him, and he wasn't about to waste it.

"There's nothing you could have done, Sheppard." Ronan repeated, but John didn't believe him.

Because there was.

He'd replayed that day over and over again in his mind for the past 20 years: the constant game of cat and mouse he'd played with the patrols of Wraith searching for him; the countless bodies he'd littered the corridor floors with; the acrid smell of spent energy weapons filling the air as he neared the sounds of battle.

But he'd stopped.

God forgive him, John had stopped, and as if someone had flipped a switch, he found himself pressed against the living wall of the Super Hive, a ball of blue light careening past his face and exploding the slimy wall beside his head.

John ducked as another energy blast missed him by mere inches and let loose a barrage of bullets that crumpled his Wraith attackers to the floor one by one. The firefight was brief, but intense, and when it was all over, he eyed the pile of dead bodies warily, remembering the Wraith's affinity for reanimating at the most inopportune times to try and take him out a second time. But the bodies at the end of the hall remained still and John stood panting against the living wall, trying to get his bearings.

Atlantis and the pier were gone, replaced instead by the damp darkness of the Wraith ship he'd hoped to never see again. Pulling himself away from the wall, his body squelched, the viscous slime refusing to release him without a fight. Wraith ships had always disgusted him. He couldn't understand how a race so advanced as the Wraith could live in such conditions, their homes little more than industrial strength storage containers for fresh food. Everything was organic and pulsed around him as if he were Jonah in the belly of the whale rather than John Sheppard trying to find a way out of the nightmare he'd suddenly found himself in.

Ignoring the cool slime coating his neck and back, John stepped away from the wall and looked around. There was no sign of Sampson or of Ronon, though somewhere far off he could hear the distant sounds of battle. Judging by the direction it was coming from, John knew exactly who was fighting, and took off at a run towards the sound.

At first he tried to tell himself that he was being given a second chance. That this new element to his dream was an opportunity for him to right a wrong so long ago committed, but as he ran down the corridor, he knew that wasn't the case.

The corridor John was traveling down was changing. He'd come to one of the areas where the Wraith kept their pray and he remembered then why he'd been too late to the fight. Even as he sprinted, trying to ignore them this time, he could still make out the shadowy silhouettes of the bodies bound within their cocoons; those wretched souls lost in the emptiness of suspended animation until some Wraith decided it needed to feed.

All those years ago, John had paused before those nearly opaque barriers, his own face looking out at him from inside as he contemplated releasing every last one of them. Being captured by the Wraith, it was a fate worse than death in his eyes, but he hadn't done it. He'd left them behind to die in whatever peaceful worlds their minds had created to deal with their imprisonment because there just wasn't enough time. He'd left them there, and that betrayal had only managed to compound his later grief over what had happened later in the skies above Earth.

And now he was being given a choice. Save them this time or rush on towards Ronon and Teyla and hope that his hesitation wasn't enough to get them killed all over again.

These were the choices that had always torn John Sheppard apart. His mind reminded him of the charges set to go off at any given moment but his heart tugged him in another direction, willing him to waste this chance he'd been given to save Ronan and Teyla to free the trapped souls before him. He wasn't even sure the blast would come, reality not necessarily a sure thing wherever he was at the moment, but his subconscious seemed to be offering him some sort of closure. Something in his gut was telling him that, if he stopped... if he took the time to free these people, then everything would be okay and all of it would work out the way it should have all those years ago.

Halting his progress down the hall, John turned to the first cocoon he came to and used the still hot barrel of his gun to slice through the webbing. It was a woman bound within and as she collapsed into his arm, unconscious, John realized he knew her.

"Jeannie?" He stammered, confused. She wasn't part of this memory... but this wasn't exactly what he'd done all those years ago either, so it looked as though all bets were off.

Rodney's sister fell forward and he lowered her carefully to the floor. If Jeannie was there then there was a good chance Madison was as well and John stood up to search for her in the surrounding spaces. He looked for anything that might suggest a child, but his search was interrupted a second later by a noise from down the hall. John turned with gun raised, but the Wraith were already on top of him and two balls of blue light were headed straight for his chest. He dove, the hard floor of the corridor knocking the wind out of him, but it had been enough. The shots exploded uselessly in the space Jeannie had just been in and John jumped to his feet.

But the Wraith weren't finished. Another blast came out of nowhere and while John was able to sidestep it for the most part, the stunner still managed to clip his arm and he called out in surprise. The arm went numb almost instantly, but the hit hadn't been enough to take him out, though his P90 fell from his useless hand to dangle from its strap at his side.

"Shit!"

There was nothing to do but run. He couldn't shoot and, cradling his numb hand to his chest, he did the only thing he could do. John bolted and threw himself around the next corner just as the Wraith began shooting at him blindly. He needed to get out of there, but John found himself hesitating for a moment longer. Jeannie was still lying on the corridor floor, but John had no idea what would happen to him here if the Wraith got their hands on him. He couldn't risk going back and, sending up a silent plea for forgiveness from those he left behind, John continued on through the corridors and towards the room where he knew he'd find Ronon and Teyla.

This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. These moments before death were supposed to be about redemption and saying goodbye and making peace with what had happened in the past, not failing spectacularly at trying to change it all. His rescue attempt in the corridor had been a joke and now he knew exactly what he would find when he rounded the next corner and came upon that room.

And he'd he just been right.

"Teyla…"

The name left his parted lips on barely enough breath to give it life. It took form and substance as it spilled from his mouth, a million memories giving it a mournful shape. For twenty years he'd been recreating this moment over and over again in his mind, but this was not just some distant memory playing out in again in his thoughts. This was as real and as devastating as the day he'd lived it.

Teyla was lying on her back and the unmistakable smell of blood invaded John's nose. The unseeing pools of her eyes stared up at him from the floor and John had seen enough of war to remember what that unnatural angle to her neck meant. He'd walked past enough of his fallen brethren to understand that it was a scream her mouth was still contorted around. Blood dripped from the mangled remains of the arm twisted up behind her head, the one not reaching out for Ronon. Crimson painted rivers along her skin and the red dripped down to the floor to mingle in with the grayish blue hue of the dead Wraith beneath her.

"I'm sorry..." John choked, fighting against the urge to fall to his knees and weep. "Teyla..."

But there would be no time for that. John could already hear the advancing party of Wraith growing near. There was the group of them that had been tailing him, but there was another party approaching from a different direction. It was the one that had managed to drive him out of this room so many years ago and back to Atlantis before he could pull out the bodies of his friends and take them home with him. For a moment John toyed with the idea of just finding a place to hide to wait out the eventual destruction he knew he was coming. Maybe that would end all this. If he just let himself get blown sky high, his cells scattered across the galaxy like theirs had been, maybe then he could finally rest and forget it all. Forget hesitating in the hall, forget finding Teyla and Ronon's murdered bodies, forget destroying two billion lives.

Maybe that was the key to all this: just laying down his life and accepting his inevitable end. Whether by the Wraith, Richard Woolsey's hand or by Sean Fitzpatrick's, John Sheppard was going to die.

John flexed his numb hand, urging the feeling to return.

Would it be painful to die in a place like this? Would it even work? Could he let himself be blown up like that on the off chance that it would bring about the end to all of this?

But that was the real question, wasn't it.

...Could he?

Could he just give up like that when all his life he'd been fighting to try and make it right. Death didn't feel like the answer. It was too final, too... cowardly.

Cowardly.

The word sat heavy and bitter on his tongue. John Sheppard had been a good many things in his life, but a coward had never been one of them. Yes, he'd left after what had happened with the Wraith ships, but it hadn't been because he was afraid. He'd left because he'd had no other choice but now he did have a choice...

To live or to die.

Simple enough, right? And yet it sat before him like some impossible riddle he wasn't sure what to do with.

John's sightline dropped back down to Teyla's unseeing eyes and for a moment, he remembered...

"How long will the surgery take?"

"Doc says a few hours. I'll be off my feet for a week or so."

Teyla shook her head."I cannot believe you attempted to mount a rescue in your condition."

"Attempt?! The last time I checked, I succeeded...How's the kid?"

"Doctor Keller says he's perfectly healthy... I say he's perfectly everything."

"That's great."

"John, I want to thank you."

"There's no need."

"I never gave up hope because I knew.I knew that you would come for me, John."

"You would have done the same for me."

"Yes."

"...So what are you going to name the kid?"

"Well, if it's alright with you, I was thinking of Torren John, after my father

...and after you."

John had expected the sudden memory to fill him with regret at having failed Teyla yet again, but it was her son's name that dug its claws into him and refused to let go.

Rodney had raised Torren John as his own and for a moment John let his thoughts settle on the few memories he had of the kid.

If John died here, then TJ's hopes at returning to Pegasus would be crushed. There was no one else out there who could fly Atlantis home and if John gave up now, if he let those Wraith come and mow him down, then he would not only be ruining his own life, but that of Teyla's son as well.

For a fraction of a second John had a picture in his mind of a young man leaning over a still figure in a bed, pleading desperately for a life he'd always deserved. It was intense and John stumbled under the surprise of it.

TJ... Carrie... they were his real unfinished business, and to give up on them now would be the true act of failure, not botching an imaginary 2nd attempt at stopping a tragedy that had already happened.

"Okay, Ronon!" John called out.

Sometime during his internal struggle the carnage in the room had disappeared, but John could still hear the advancing Wraith.

"I get it now, buddy, and I'm not ready to give up just yet."

He waited for the Hive to disappear around him and the sunny Atlantis pier to reappear, but nothing happened.

"Ronon?" He tried again, but the only answer he got was the swarming mass of Wraith that rounded the corner next, firing off their weapons from every direction around him and the sudden uptick of his heartbeat in his chest.

He'd waited too long.

..

\oO0Oo/

..


Rodney McKay ran his hands through his aggressively thinning hair and continued to pace the line he'd steadily been carving into the floor for the past few minutes. He wasn't used to this... being on the sidelines with nothing to contribute, while others took the lead. For ten entire minutes they'd been trying to stabilize John and now Rodney was hearing words like " surgery" and "he'd never survive another round" pop out over the din of voices.

Rodney McKay was out of options. They'd all of them sat in the infirmary pounding out ideas of what they could do for John until all of it had run together - a sorry mash up of desperation and failed ingenuity.

He'd been given a problem he couldn't solve, and it was driving him mad.

Rodney knew it wasn't logical to think that way. There were other variables at work here besides his own ineptitude. For one, he had no control over the fact that none of their off-world allies were coming to help... but those cold hard facts weren't as comforting as they usually were. Normally, he could accept a failure if there were elements of it that had been beyond his control... but he wouldn't be able to do that this time. If John died, he would shoulder that blame himself, not try to foist it off onto others like the Rodney McKay of old.

Casting his eyes to the infirmary entrance (which was now clearly visible since the curtains had been thrown back) Rodney searched for his son and for Carrie. They were running out of time. Rodney could feel the finality of that fact taking root around him, and he pleaded with them to hurry. He knew firsthand what it was like to lose someone without ever having gotten to say goodbye, and he would spare his son and John's girlfriend that misery if he could.

Watching for signs of their arrival gave him a moment to ignore what was going on mere feet from where he stood, though the noise was impossible to block out. Alarms and shouts echoed around in his brain until the cacophony was so loud, he nearly raised his palms to clamp them down over his ears.

Then finally, mercifully, TJ's form darkened the doorway a moment later, but Carrie wasn't with him.

"Where is she?" Rodney panted as he closed the gap between him and his son with a quick sprint across the empty infirmary floor.

"She wouldn't come with me," TJ replied a little manically. "She kept saying she had something else to do first."

"Something else to do?" Rodney repeated incredulously. "Did you explain to her what was happening?"

"I tried to Pops, but she just grabbed my shoulders and told me to go on without her. Told me I had to warn you not to let him die until she got back."

"Well did she say where she was headed?"

TJ shook his head. "She just took off in the other direction."

"Where'd you end up finding her?" They were walking back to the huddled mass surrounding John and Rodney had to lean in to hear TJ over the noise.

"Tower 9. I was taking us down the stairs but she went somewhere else on the top floor."

Rodney nodded absently and searched his memory banks, pulling up fully formed images of the tower to the forefront of his mind. He couldn't remember any transports up in that area of the city, but that didn't mean they weren't there. Question was, how would Carrie Sinclair know they were?

"Pops?" TJ was still at his elbow and Rodney ignored him for a moment.

"Pops!" he said a little more forcefully, and this time Rodney looked up.

TJ's face had gone white as a sheet and Rodney forced his head around to zero in on Dr. Roth, the man who had taken over John's care ever since Carson had become incapacitated. The doctor had ordered all efforts around John to cease and ten pairs of eyes were all glued to the state-of-the-art monitor broadcasting John's vitals out into the room.

The line on the screen was flat and was accompanied by a thin, mournful wail of alarm that sliced through Rodney worse than any blade ever could. He could feel the city rumble beneath his feet and the connection he shared with Atlantis crackled to life so suddenly. he nearly collapsed into TJ. His son grabbed hold of him around the middle and called out his name again.

"Pops, they can't give up yet!"

TJ was right.

Rodney could see Dr. Roth preparing to call time of death. He could sense Carson about to pass out from the realization that they'd just lost John Sheppard to something as stupid as a bullet hole. He saw it all, and he couldn't let it happen.

"Keep trying, goddamn you!" He bellowed, pushing away from TJ to stand at the rear of the group and stare Dr. Roth down before he could utter his order.

"Keep trying, or I swear to GOD, I will have your balls in a pietrie dish Roth!"

The doctor looked stunned for a moment, then as if he were about to argue, but Rodney put a finger in the air and for some reason the dumb warning worked. Resistance gave way to determination and, calling for more drugs, the medical team set back into trying to save John Sheppard's life. Rodney knew it was futile, that he was buying Carrie mere moments at best, but at least it was something.

And Roth was apparently not the only one spurred into action by Rodney's refusal to let any of them give up on John just yet. Carson, looking white as a sheet and unsteady on his feet, was shuffling over to where Rodney and TJ now stood, clutching at his IV stand for support. TJ was at his side immediately and helped the ageing physician over to where they could all see better. There was only one other person unaccounted for and Rodney put a finger to the device in his ear.

"Evan Lorne, you get your ass back in here now!"

He knew Lorne would have his earwig in. He knew the Colonel had been getting regular updates about what was going on with John and that someone would have told him what was transpiring in the infirmary right at that moment. But the interim leader of Atlantis was still MIA and Rodney thought he could understand why.

Powerlessness was not something Evan Lorne had ever been good with, and this was the most helpless situation of all. Losing John the first time had been difficult for them all, but losing him the second? That would be the most devastating of all.

Something bitter and warm flooded the back of Rodney's throat, and he reached an arm out to wrap it around TJs shoulders and capture a fistful of Carson's hospital gown in his hand. He needed purchase, something to help keep him anchored to the earth again because John's gravity was rearing its head again, pulling him in and refusing to let him go. It linked them all, inching them forward until they created a cocoon around John that not even death could possibly penetrate.

But wasn't that just the ultimate illusion? The ultimate hubris to think that their linked little lives could ever hold something so absolute as Death at bay? They'd been trying for years, ego and pride driving them forward relentlessly, but the fact of the matter remained: People died, and John Sheppard would not be excused from that, no matter how important he was or how much everyone loved him.

Rodney closed his eyes and warm moisture rolled from his lids and cascaded down the sides of his face. He couldn't remember the last time that he'd cried. He thought it might have been the day his divorce had been finalized, but he couldn't really be sure. And even then it wasn't like this. These tears were different and they burned trenches down his cheeks that stung as they went.

He pulled Carson and TJ in closer, steeling himself for what came next, and prayed he had enough strength left to get them all through it.

"ENOUGH!" A voice finally bellowed from behind them, and all the eyes that had been so intensely focused on John's vitals turned in the direction of that demand.

Carrie Sinclair, looking wild eyed and disheveled, stood on the periphery of the group, panting slightly. She moved forward, clearing a path with the force of the shockwave she sent out ahead of her. Everyone was quick to back away and Rodney realized with astonishment that the woman's skin had begun to glow. She walked forward with purpose and didn't stop until she was standing just beside John's bed, the weak beats of his barely sustained heartbeat pulsing the air around them all.

"Not yet, Johnny boy," Rodney thought he heard her whisper. "Come back to me now, love."

Rodney didn't know what he'd been expecting to see, but it certainly wasn't to watch the bedrails lower of their own volition or to witness that glow to Carrie Sinclair's skin intensify. But both happened and he watched as she extended her hands out over John and placed them firmly on either side of his heart.

At first all remained silent, everyone in the room either too stunned or too scared to do anything, and it was in that frozen silence that Rodney began to feel the pull.

It was small at first, barely there and merely a tugging at his middle. It was the same feeling he got when he sat down to do work at one of Atlantis' terminals. The same one that overcame him when he prepared a jumper for flight. It was the call of the city to the ATA gene in his blood, and knew in a moment what he needed to do.

...What Carrie and Atlantis were asking of him.

Without thought or sound, both Rodney and Carson stepped forward at the same time, leaving a bewildered TJ behind as they joined Carrie near the edge of John's bed. Rodney reached for an ankle, Carson took hold of one of John's hands, and in an instant they were joined by three other people from the crowd: an orderly and two nurses. They were three people Rodney would never have guessed carried the gene and, judging by the shoced look on their faces, neither did they, but there was no denying that they were being called as well.

Something immense was happening, and it was only getting bigger. Rodney could feel Atlantis' call go out to the entire city and could sense as each ATA gene carrier heard the call and began to head in their direction. It was good that they were coming, too because Rodney could also sense that the six of them were not yet enough to do what was required to save John. There was a piece missing and until that void was filled, the process would never be complete. His own gene was too weak, too manmade, to give them boost they needed and he despaired that weakness for a moment. That was until someone else arrived and a final hand clamped down over one of John's knees, completing the circuit.

Even though there were others helping, Rodney could sense the connection that formed at once between himself, Carson, Carrie and the recently arrived Evan Lorne. He could feel something being drawn out of each of them and he looked down at his arm, convinced he could see little bands of white light cascading down his skin to disappear into the still figure beneath their hands.

There was some kind of transfer going on and Rodney closed his eyes as it happened, willingly offering up what Atlantis might need to make this all right and bring John back from the dead.

Immeasurable moments passed, but time had no meaning in the tight bond their joined forces has created. For the first time in 20 years, Rodney McKay felt something like hope wrap itself around his frame and actually stay for once. They'd been fighting so hard and for so long against dark forces that had always managed to win, but in that moment, Rodney was convinced that for once the light would prevail. It was white and intense and it ignited behind his still closed eyes, promising not to fail him again. It grew and it sparked between them all until the place where Rodney's hand touched John burned hot and a massive surge of energy sent him backpedaling a few steps in shock.

And it wasn't just him. When Rodney opened his eyes again, everyone had stepped back a few feet and several wisps of smoke dissolving into the air were all that remained of the energy that had passed through them all.

Something was altered inside of him - Rodney could tell almost instantly - and it took him a moment to realize what it was.

Atlantis was quiet around him.

The connections and rumbles he'd felt for years were no longer there, and he understood it then. The city of the Ancients would no longer light up for him as it once had. He would no longer be able to sit in the cockpit of a puddle jumper and make it fly. Atlantis had demanded something from him after all, and he would gladly give it a hundred times over, if it meant his friend would live.

But Rodney couldn't bring himself to check if that had, in fact, happened.

He cast his eyes around the stunned group gathered around John's bed instead, looking for some sign of success in their eyes. Carson's face was blank and he was staring down at John with something unreadable behind his eyes. Lorne looked just as stunned, but it was Carrie he worried for next. She swooned unexpectedly, letting out a small gasp that finally broke the spell holding them all in place, and Lorne managed to catch in his arms before she fell. He carried her away quickly and Rodney knew he could no longer stave off the inevitable.

He forced his sightline back down to the man on the bed before him and tried not to cry out over what he saw there.


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