Summary: Atlantis loses one of its own, leaving Elizabeth to ponder whether the ends will ever justify the means. As leader of the expedition, what rights does she have? How will her loss affect her personally, the remainder of the mission, and hopes of humanity? W/S one-shot.

Spoilers: Some for season one, namely from episodes "38 Minutes," "Home," "Childhood's End," and "The Eye." No biggies.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I do not own Stargate Atlantis, because if I did I would be basking in the fandom glory. This story is not for profit, just for fun.

Rating: K+ for some mild language.

A/N: Hey everyone, I'm back! A couple of things to say, and then we're on our way...

Warning: character death. Of course, this would NEVER happen - knock on wood - so I guess I should slap an AU label on this baby.

This was originally intended to be a song fic, but as of a few days ago, this site decided to be all stupid and not allow those anymore. So, I reformatted this, and I think I like it better this way, lol. Also, I wanted to include this little bit in my last story, Strange Bedfellows, -cough pimp cough- but it didn't really fit. Alas, here it is.

The lines written in italics that are not characters' thoughts are from the traditional flag folding ceremony of the United States military (slightly abbreviated). As you begin to read this, you may be like 'wtf?' in the beginning, but I promise, it makes sense.

Last thing then I'll shut up. There is some amount of religious stuff from the ceremony, but this is NOT intended to be a religious piece. I wanted to put the ceremony in full because it does apply to my fic, so that included all the verses. I didn't intend to offend anyone if that's the case.

Thirteen Folds

Silently, the two lines of three Marines stepped one foot forward and the two edges of the five by nine-and-one-half foot rectangular shaped cloth met. Dark storm clouds on the horizon threatened to interrupt, by what was taking place right now outside the walls of Atlantis was far more important than any mere threat of rain could disrupt.

The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life…

She had tried so hard that day. Tried not to let it show, the emptiness she now felt inside. If there was ever a time she needed to be strong, now was it. He would have wanted her to stay strong. But as Ford reverently offered her the American flag, pristine and neatly folded into a simple triangle, she could not stop a single tear from falling down her cheek.

Elizabeth didn't want to take the flag. Doing so would be admitting that he was gone, and that was something she didn't know if she could do just yet. If she could ever do.

The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life…

The crowd that had gathered outside on the pier, his favorite pier, watched her. Scientists, Athosians, and military men alike had assembled for the ceremony, some several hundred people in all. In some way, he had meant something to all of them. Their stares turned into ones of confusion Dr. Weir continued to refuse the flag. Her eyes pleaded with the Lieutenant to take it away.

Aiden looked into her eyes, now full of tears. "Ma'am?"

Her gaze fell to the dog tags that rested atop the red, white, and blue stars and stripes. "Sheppard, John C. 306784159 AF. B Pos," they read. Once she tore her eyes from them she was met by the reassuring gaze of Lt. Ford. Gently, he pushed the flag toward her once more. Elizabeth breathed deeply and accepted.

The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave his life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world…

She didn't even know why she was being presented with it. It was customary to bestow the flag to the closest family member of a lost military serviceman, and certainly she wasn't family to John… or was she? They had been close - too close for some of the expedition members' tastes - and had always respected one another. But it went further than that. In him she had sensed something genuine, something simple and pure the other military men seemed to lack. Maybe it was his childlike, carefree nature, his loyalty to his team, or his goddamn stubborn attitude.

Elizabeth couldn't help but smile. She couldn't count the times she and John had gotten into verbal sparring matches over one thing or another. Somehow, he always had convinced her to see things his way. For some reason, when she was around him her defenses always seemed to drop. And he had been right… most of the time. Like when he wouldn't leave his people in the hands of the Wraith. There was that damn tenacity of his again, she thought with a smile.

Her smile quickly faded as she thought of what that particular trait had done to him. It had killed him this time. No more scrapes, no more near-death incidents any more. No, this was for real this time. He was really gone, and the pain was all too real.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, and to whom we turn for guidance…

From what Teyla, McKay, and Ford had told her, they had been on a simple recon mission when all hell had broken loose. The Wraith had shown up unexpectedly, laying siege to a nearby town. While Teyla and Ford had made their way back to the Jumper, John had rushed to the village to find McKay, who had insisted on taking at least a few energy readings while they were there. After locating the astrophysicist, the pair had succeeded in saving two of the locals and in taking down several of the creatures on the ground, but once the Darts had caught sight of them….

Rodney had told Elizabeth of the look on John's face, a look of pure wide-eyed dread in the last few moments. He had seen the approaching Dart. Rodney had not. In his attempt to push the both the scientist and one of the young natives out of the path of the craft's white beam, John himself had been engulfed by the light, taken. His body would never, could never be recovered.

The fifth fold is a tribute to our country…

That had been nearly two months ago. All rescue efforts had been permanently suspended as of last week. Rodney himself had taken the loss of his friend pretty hard, blaming himself for the death of the major. But it was Elizabeth who had fared the worst of all of them. She bore the brunt of the guilt, for she knew that she was the one who had ordered the superfluous mission. They weren't even supposed to be there.

Looking to her left, she caught a glimpse of a pair of humans dressed differently than both the Earthlings and Athosians. A petite girl of no more than six years huddled beneath what Elizabeth assumed to be her father, confusion clouding her face. She wouldn't understand what was happening, not now, but perhaps one day her father would tell her. He would tell her of how a man from a planet far from her own had saved her from the Wraith, from certain death, only to meet his own. John had given his life for her - a complete stranger - and for McKay.

The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie…

Aiden marched back to the line of Marines, all in formal dress uniforms, and stood at attention. In one synchronized movement, they turned their decorative swords vertical and stared at some unseen spot ahead of them.

Several beats of silence passed until a few of the expedition members raised their heads skyward. Noticing their colleagues, the remaining Marines, scientists, and Athosians followed suite, catching a glimpse of six small dots approaching the city under the cloud cover.

Elizabeth was the only one not to look. She didn't need to - hell, she was the one who had planned the ceremony - and didn't want to. A small part of her buried deep inside told her John wouldn't have wanted it, all this pageantry and show just because of him, but somehow she knew he would still have appreciated it. He was never the one to get caught up in all the formalities of military life, but this was the least she could do for him. Something to honor him, one last thing to show her appreciation… but then again it was too late after all, wasn't it? Or was this all for her, for her closure?

Squeezing her eyes shut tightly, she heard the sound of the six Puddle Jumpers fly slowly overhead in a wedge configuration, imagined the sight as the sixth one pulled up and away to complete the missing man formation.

The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic…

The sound of the Jumpers' engines died away as they flew into the distance, and soon a heavy silence descended on the pier. Aiden slowly walked to the podium and delivered a speech, followed by Teyla and Rodney, about how much the major had meant to each one of them… but Elizabeth wasn't listening. Her eyes remained closed, hoping that when she opened them the scene would just vanish. It was all a horrible nightmare, wasn't it? Yes, John was still alive, and any second now when she walked into the mess hall, he'd stop chewing on that turkey sandwich, throw her one of those trademark grins of his - damn those grins, she thought with a smile - and motion for her to come join him for lunch.

Opening her eyes, she saw that she was back on the pier and not in the mess hall as she had hoped. Her heart sank… but she hadn't really expected it to be one of those happy endings, did she? No, there were no happy endings in the real world, only in those failry tales she had been told as a child. A part of her knew it was real all along, that there was no escaping this empty actuality. There was no Fairy Godmother or Magic Genie here to grant her that one wish she wished she could make...

Elizabeth didn't know for how long she had had her head in the clouds, but she noticed Rodney had concluded his oration. Even from here, she could see his red-rimmed, sunken eyes, eyes that were now looking in her direction in expectation. It was her turn now. As head of the expedition team, she was the last to speak. But Elizabeth remained seated; she wasn't going up there. And not because she didn't know what to say. Despite staying up all night, trying to find words worthy of what she felt for John, there was nothing she could write down that was good enough, that even began to do him justice. And so she had ended up with nothing. Elizabeth had planned to go up there and speak from her heart, but now that the moment had come, she sat planted in her seat. Just sat there, staring.

Mostly, she was afraid. Afraid that once she went up there and opened her mouth she would be opening up her heart as well. They all would see right through her, see the feelings that the civilian leader had for the head of military personnel, feelings that they shared but could never act on. She knew it didn't matter now, though. He was dead, and nothing could change that, and that most of all made her a coward. She knew she should just go up there right now and scream at everyone that she had loved him, that she had brought him to Atlantis, that she was the one that had sent him on that goddamn mission, that she was the one who had killed him, and that every moment without him by her side was agonizing, every breath she took knowing that he no longer took any at all….

The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death…

Rodney studied her in her trance. There was something going on within her head, heart, and soul, something that prevented her from coming to the podium and speaking. Whatever it was, he suspected none of them would fully understand. With that, he quickly called a premature end to the ceremony and watched as the people filled out, back to the city and back to their duties.

Teyla watched as the young girl and her father stood in place, not quite sure what to do. They had nowhere to go, no home to return to. And if it hadn't been for John, they wouldn't even have each other. She remembered once when she had begged the major to stay behind with her to rescue Orin and his family from a Wraith culling. There she had taught him the value of even a single human life, that saving even a few was something. If only they hadn't waited for Orin that day, would the lesson have gone unlearned and would the major still be alive? Something told Teyla that wasn't the case. She knew deep down Major Sheppard valued human life more than anything, and would do anything to save it. He had told Keras - leader of the society populated only by children - the same thing. He had also admitted he would give his life if it were necessary. Teyla frowned; it just wasn't fair.

When the pier had emptied out, save for John's teammates, Elizabeth, and the father and daughter, Teyla and Aiden approached the decidedly out of place pair. Their eyes reflected their uncertainty and wariness - something Teyla couldn't blame them for considering all they had been through. She had experienced the same feelings after her people had been uprooted from Athos. They, too, were lucky to escape with their lives… thanks once again to a certain Air Force major.

"What are we to do now?" the father asked softly of Teyla. For whatever reason, he felt as if he could trust the Athosian.

Teyla didn't know what to say and her mouth fell open slightly, searching for the right words. She looked sadly to the little girl; how much she reminded her of her younger self. Perhaps she would tell them that it would all be alright with time - but she didn't know if that was the truth. She wished she could say the same for all of them, especially Elizabeth, but doing so would just be an empty promise and nothing more. Where would these people live? How would they cope? Survive?

Looking at the tiny girl huddled protectively beneath the folds of her father's tunic, a thought occurred to her.

"Are you hungry?" she asked kindly with a smile.

The girl looked up at her with wide, doe eyes and nodded ever-so-slightly.

"Then how would you like a nice turkey sandwich?" Aiden offered. He thought it'd be fitting somehow.

"What is a… 'turkey sandwich?'" the father asked.

Teyla smiled. This is what Major Sheppard had deemed 'necessary,' and how right he had been. These two humans were the last of there people, and now they had a chance to live on, just like her people. It was something indeed.

"Come," she said, leading child and father to the mess hall. "You shall find out soon enough. What is your name?" she asked of the little girl.

The child looked to her father for permission, who nodded in kind. "Shilnya," she replied. "And I like the ocean, the forest, and creatures that fly fast through the trees of our planet," she added matter-of-factly with all the importance a six-year-old could muster.

Ford cocked an eyebrow at Teyla. "Remind you of anyone?" Turning to the girl, he politely began conversation.

"Shilnya. That's a nice name. What's it mean?"

"Innocence…"

The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood; for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded…

Elizabeth's eyes were fixed on Shilnya as she watched the group enter the city. Once they had left, she fixed her gaze upon the open sea, feeling the cool breeze brush against her face. Elizabeth was quite aware of Rodney's gaze; she could sense his eyes boring into the back of her head. He was probably just staying out of concern for her well-being, but the scientist needed to know there was nothing he would be able to do. Not now, not ever.

He approached quietly, cautiously. "If there's anything, you know… that you might need…." Rodney left the unspoken question linger in the air. When there was no response, he continued. "All right. Well, I'll be in my lab, so…." Again, she did not even acknowledge his presence. It wasn't as if she was intentionally trying to make Rodney feel bad, but she needed to make him understand she just needed some time alone right now. At least for the next few days, she thought. Or years maybe.

The tenth fold is a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were first born…

But she was alone already, and she knew that. Still, the realization hit her like the icy stab of a knife as Rodney left, leaving the pier vacant at last. John had filled some part of her, a part of her heart she didn't know could be filled. Now that he was gone, that part was empty and she knew would never again be filled. It felt as if part of her had died as well. Part of her wished she had died instead.

She was alone now, no need to put up a brave front. She buried her face in the flag and cried until one of the union's white stars was soaked in a tiny puddle of anguish. John was gone, taken from her, and what did she get in return? A stupid flag. Like she really gave a fuck about a flag right now…. What, was that supposed to be some sort of compensation? A trade-off? The life of a man for a piece of fabric?

The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…

Why did he have to do it? Why did he have to be so righteous, so self-sacrificing, so goddamn selfless all the time? If he were alive, she would pound her fists against him, to beat some sense into him for God's sake, scream at him until her lungs hurt for what he had put her through, not only this time but so many times before….

She would miss that little thing her heart did every time she laid eyes on him, that one brief millisecond where she couldn't breathe, those times when her fingertips felt electrified when she reached out to touch him, the simultaneous warmth and chill she felt when he touched her. No more lighthearted banter, none of those wicked, boyish grins, no halfhearted arguments together over one thing or another.

She would be nothing without him by her side. But how would Atlantis survive? John had been the heart and soul of this mission from the outset, somehow having the uncanny ability to balance duty with down time that she was never able to master -despite his best efforts. How would they all survive the Wraith, or whatever else the Pegasus Galaxy had to throw at them for that matter, without their best pilot, best person there to defend them? Atlantis would lose some of its happiness, that was certain. Surely there would be less laughter in the halls of the Ancient city.

The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost…

What had been her first words to him? "Who is this?" she remembered demanding as she initially laid eyes on the stranger seated on the Ancients' chair deep within the Antarctic outpost. Not exactly the warmest welcome, she thought with a grin. But she had liked to think she and John had grown to respect one another over time, and more. They had developed something… special, something pure that only they shared. It came from those stolen moments they were able to snag when either's duties were not conflicting with the other's - which, Elizabeth was forced to admit, not as often as she would have liked. All that time couldn't erase. Dammit, she should have told him how she felt.

And it wasn't as if she didn't have enough opportunities. There was that time with he Wraith-tick when she had almost lost him, and she hadn't told him then. He had saved her from certain death at the hands of the Genii, and again, she hadn't told him. Had John tried to tell her when the Jumper was lodged in the Gate? Or just before they thought they were about to return home via the mist planet, when he had said Atlantis wouldn't have been the same without her? Or when he had said it had been good to hear her voice after believing Kolya had killed her? The relief in his voice was unmistakable. God, there were so many moments like those, and she had blown them all. I'm such a coward…

The thirteenth and final fold signified the original thirteen colonies upon which this great nation was founded…

The clouds above her broke suddenly, allowing golden rays of sunshine to rain down upon the city. They kissed her face and warmed her instantly, drying the tears of grief on her cheeks. Elizabeth looked up at the alien sun peeking from behind the clouds. It was beautiful.

At that moment, a warm breeze enveloped her. It didn't come from the ocean, as the others had, but seemingly from nowhere and everywhere at once, and lacked the icy bite the others brought…. Still, a chilly shiver ran up her spine. But she felt encompassing warmth at the same time, an all too familiar feeling, the same feeling she often had with….

Standing abruptly, Elizabeth turned and half-expected to see him standing there beside her, so real was the sensation. But she knew it was wishful thinking as soon as her eyes completed the sweep of the empty pier. No, he was still gone and she was still alone.

The breeze came again as if to contradict her thoughts. Maybe she wasn't alone. Maybe his presence still lingered, in some form or another, and would always be here with her, watching over her.

Elizabeth breathed deeply and let the warmth comfort her. Tilting her head skyward, she let the sun's rays play upon her face and dared to smile a little. A real smile at last, for then and there she knew things would be alright in the end. How she knew she wasn't quite sure, but Elizabeth Weir was positive that John - wherever he was - would be okay, she would be okay, that Shilnya and her father would be okay.

They would all be okay. John had made sure of that.

John Sheppard, for unfailing and loyal service to your country and family…

Fin


Okay, so how was it? How did the representation of the thirteen folds work out? I was a little nervous writing it, so let me know what you think. Review please!

This was just a little something to hold everyone over - okay, mosly me - until I get a sequel written to Strange Bedfellows. I got some ideas floating around in my head, but I want it more concrete before I start to write. I may even wait til the next season starts and see if I want to use the new characters... damn, is it July 15th yet?

I also have an idea for a lighter, shorter fic, that I think will focus on Rodney and John... we'll see...

Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed my last story, too:)