The Key

Written By Shelly and M.N. Talbert

Author's notes: This is set right after the events in The Siege part three, however it does not contain any spoilers for season two. It is set before General O'Neill leaves the SGC, and before the new character, Ronan Dex, joins Major Sheppard's team – and also, before he assumes the new rank of Lieutenant Colonel. We handled the Ford issue a slightly different way, and some small aspects diverge from spoilers given about The Siege part three, so this story should be considered alternate universe.

This story is a collaboration between Shelly and myself, and written for the sole purpose of entertainment. While we borrowed the Atlantis characters, Avitus is our own creation.

As always, this fiction was generated in our ping-pong style. We'd write a part, and send it off to the other to write the next, and so on until the story was completed. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed the writing!


"General O'Neill?"

Jack looked up from the report he was typing on his laptop; his fingers stilled on the keys, and saw Sergeant Harriman leaning in his open doorway. The gate technician's cropped white hair and eyeglass clad face stared back at him expectantly. It was one of the only constants that Jack could depend upon in his life at the SGC, Stargate Command, one of the world's greatest secrets in modern time.

"Sergeant," Jack acknowledged, signaling the subordinate that he was clear to say what he needed to say.

"All the off-world teams have checked in for the night, Sir," Harriman informed him, stepping more into the open office.

"Excellent," Jack drawled.

Harriman stood awkwardly. O'Neill stared at him, waiting. Finally, "Was there something else?" he prodded.

Harriman cleared his throat. "No, Sir."

"Then go," Jack made a sweeping motion with his hand, "diagnose, scan, watch  do whatever it is you do."

"Yes, Sir." Harriman turned self-consciously, and headed back towards his station.

Jack sighed. After all these years, Walter still had that awkward air about him. He was a good man, but sometimes you'd think he was a guilty kid, always trying to slink under the parent's radar. Radar…now there was a good nickname for Harriman. He'd have to tell that one to Daniel.

Speaking of Daniel, Jack looked at the clock on the wall, surprised to see it was after seven. Getting late - he could probably finish the report tomorrow. He should find Daniel, maybe get some dinner, and maybe find Carter and Teal'c. They hadn't had dinner together in months. Seems like something was always coming up anymore.

O'Neill wandered down to Daniel's lab, figuring if he was anywhere, it was there. Probably poring over the latest translation, or text, or artifact de jour of the week. He noticed a soft glow casting into the hall from Daniel's cracked door. That was a good sign. He pushed it open, slow in case someone was behind. He'd made that mistake once, propelling it inward, and had sent Daniel flying into a shelf of pots. It'd taken days for the dark glares to vanish. Of course, that'd been back when they had those arm bands on, and a small shove was almost incapacitating.

"Watcha doing?" he asked congenially, smiling at the figure hunched on the stool, examining some old dusty book.

Daniel Jackson, resident archeologist, descended being, and O'Neill's best friend, grinned with excitement, "Jack, you've got to read this!"

Jack regarded Daniel with a stone-faced stare.

"Right," Daniel grabbed the book, and twisted on the stool so he could show O'Neill. "It's Ancient, Dixon found it on PX7-893, and it talks about the Lost City of the Ancients."

"And  ?" Jack asked. Daniel had already solved the puzzle of Atlantis, and the expedition had gated to the Pegasus galaxy over a year ago, settling in the Lost City, and had recently fought off an enemy attack from a race of beings that made him thankful they'd only had to deal with the Goa'uld, only, that was funny. Never thought he'd say that before.

"Do you remember that head hugger thing?"

"Oh yes," Jack said. "Vividly."

"Well it says here that the city itself interfaces with the user, and if I'm reading this right, it works sort of like a mini head hugger." Daniel watched Jack expectantly.

"And your point is " Jack didn't get what Daniel was trying to say, but that wasn't anything new. Daniel had this ability to prattle on about texts and translations, and the only thing Jack ever picked up was his friend's unfounded faith in Jack's ability to follow his explanations. Of course, there were a few times where Daniel had slipped, and let Jack know that he knew O'Neill was phasing out most of what he said.

"Jack, with the right genetic conditions, the city could basically recreate an Ancient, it'll essentially write in the knowledge," Daniel explained in a thrilled rush. He was wired on caffeine, and the high of discovery.

Jack raised an eyebrow, but appeared unmoved by this development. "Again, I ask, your point?"

Daniel shook his head impatiently, and set the text on the countertop, sliding off the stool and reaching for his green issue jacket. "If any of the members on that expedition team has enough of the genetic requirements, they could be getting a lot more than they bargained for, and so could we, if it happens."

Now that Jack got. "I thought Thor said we weren't evolved enough."

"Yeah, he did, but there was one member of that team who used the Ancients chair without even trying," Daniel reminded him. "And Thor hasn't met him."

Jack remembered. Major John Sheppard. Flyboy, and a cocky kid, but Weir wanted him despite his own misgivings. "Will it kill him?"

Daniel sobered. "I don't know. Maybe, maybe not."

Damn. Jack knew what it felt like to have the Ancients knowledge taking over, rewriting your brain, and falling into a downward spiral, losing the ability to talk, and understand his own people. He stared at Daniel, but he wasn't seeing him. He was thinking about that young, brash, annoying officer, who might at this very moment, be falling to the insanity of the Ancients knowledge, a painful reality he'd experienced twice. "For his sake, I hope to hell not."

Chapter One

It had been a month since they had survived the Wraith attack. They had come through it, mostly intact. At least, Atlantis herself had. There had been losses, and changes, and not all of them in the expected way. Those were the thoughts on John's mind as he finished his shower, pulled on boxers and a tee shirt, then slid into bed.

Today had been one of those days when everyone seemed jumpy. He knew they were all still looking over their shoulders, waiting for a Wraith to appear in the corridor, or pop out from behind some console. Atlantis had been invaded. Their home had been infected, in a sense, and it was hard to accept that they were safe, because everyone knew that someday the Wraith would come back. John hoped it wouldn't be for another hundred years. That way, he wouldn't have to deal with them. They would be someone else's problem. Although, for now, they were still his.

Colonel Everett had died during the siege. Killed by a Wraith. John punched at his pillow, trying to make it comfortable, and as he did so he wondered, not for the first time, if Everett and Sumner had somehow hooked up in the afterlife and were comparing notes on him. The thought of that kind of creeped John out. Heaving a sigh, he thought off the lights, and closed his eyes. He was so damn tired. The kind of tired that seemed to seep into your bones, so that no matter what you did, you couldn't seem to shake it. Not that he was sleeping so great anyway. Too much too do to clean things up, and work towards trying to get back to normal. And, too many thoughts and dreams, sometimes nightmares, even when he found the time to sleep.

Shifting onto his stomach, John wrapped his arms around the pillow. He wanted to sleep. He tried to focus on the positive things, even the changes that were unsettling at times. Weir was still in charge of Atlantis, and that was a good thing. He was still ranking military officer, although sometimes John was pretty sure that wasn't a good thing. For Atlantis. But he rolled his shoulders and curled onto his side, as if trying to shrug off that particular feeling.

Sergeant Bates had survived. John almost envied him. He had been in a medically induced coma from a beating by a Wraith, and had pretty much missed the entire siege. But it was good to have him back again, although only for light duty at the moment. Good, because Ford was gone now, and that was one of the changes that was hard to get used to, as well.

Once the battle had been won, and what was left of the Wraith had turned tail and run, things had settled down a bit. News from Earth had trickled through to them, and Ford had learned that his grandfather was dying. Ford had been raised by his grandparents, and he'd asked to be allowed to return home to help his grandmother get through this rough time. Of course they had let him go. It was all about Family. Being a part of Atlantis had taught John that, if nothing else.

Rolling onto his back, John gave up on the pretense of sleeping. He knew he wouldn't be able to shut down his mind enough to drift into sleep. So he got up, got dressed and headed out. There was always work to be done. And having survived his own suicide mission, John was aware of just how precious time was. To them all. Atlantis had survived again. This time. And John was determined to make sure she would never fall. Not on his watch, anyway. So he headed out of his room to face another day. Ignoring the throbbing ache in his temples, and the feeling that something wasn't quite right.


The mission to Meenos had been a success. John and his team stepped back through the gate, onto Atlantis, bearing bins of Kello beans. Rodney was just about drooling. Kello beans were the equivalent of coffee beans on Earth, with a bigger kick. Like a quadruple espresso. The negotiations had gone smoothly, no one had gotten hurt, and they hadn't faced anything more dangerous than an over stimulated McKay staggering into Sheppard hard enough to knock them both down.

Yet for all that, John was angry. Pissed off angry. He could feel it like a burning ember sparking deep inside him. Sparking into a full blown rage. He had to bite his tongue not to snap Private Lewis's head off. And the only reason John felt like snapping at him in the first place was because the kid wasn't Ford. John missed Ford. They had never really become friends so to speak, but John had known he could trust Ford to watch his six. Lewis meant well, but he was too damn green. And he was, obviously, intimidated by John. Which was annoying as hell. If there was one thing John hated, it was hero worship. Because he was anything but a hero.

At the moment, he was nothing more than a snarly bastard in a surly mood. And fighting to keep his anger in check was giving John the mother of all headaches.

So, of course, Weir chose this moment to invite him into her office to debrief. John had hoped to make it to his room for a shower first. Hoping that some ice cold water might cool him off in more ways than one. His mood was such, that, at the moment, he couldn't even stand himself. But he followed Weir up the stairs, closing the door behind them at her request.

Elizabeth sat down behind her desk and smiled at him. "Good work, Major. Seems like you're getting the hang of negotiating."

"Guess I'm trainable after all," John snapped, and he winced the moment the words left his mouth. He knew he should apologize, but he didn't. He was afraid of opening his mouth again.

"That's not what I meant." Elizabeth was frowning at him. "John...are you all right? Did something happen?"

He shook his head, then scrubbed a hand over his face. A deep breath or two and he was able to reply, softly. "Nothing happened. We got Kello beans and we came home. Are we done?"

She narrowed her gaze as she studied him for a moment, then she nodded. "Beckett is waiting on you for your post exam."

"I know."

John headed for the door. He wanted to blow off the infirmary, but he knew that post mission exams were non negotiable. And for good reason. So he stepped into the nearest transporter, and let himself sag against the wall for a moment.

He knew what his problem was. He was so damn tired. Still. The latest dream to haunt him involved Chaya. John still missed her. Sometimes. In the dream, they were sharing again, enveloped by the soft, glowing, light that had bonded them for what seemed like eternity, and yet had only been the blink of an eye. In his dream that moment faded away, and John would find himself in the Jumper, flying towards the Wraith ship into certain death. But before they connected, a flash of light blinded him, and the next thing John knew, he was on the second Wraith ship and Teyla was there.

All of which had actually happened. He had somehow ended up on the Wraith Ship, where Teyla had been taken. They had fought a few Wraith, one of whom had been about to suck the life out of him, when he had just let John go, rising and walking away from him without looking back. Which had been freaky in itself. Then, he and Teyla had stolen a Dart and had returned to Atlantis to continue fighting.

Rodney believed a Wraith transporter beam had scooped John off the Jumper, and onto the second Wraith ship. John figured that made sense. But then his dream would shift again, leaving reality behind. And Bob would make an appearance. Bleeding from all the bullet holes John had put in him, yet very much alive and gloating. Gloating because he had John pinned, and was feeding on him. Only John never died. Instead he turned into a Wraith himself, and what woke him up in a cold sweat was the moment his Wraith self went on a killing spree, slaughtering everyone in Atlantis.

The Transporter doors slid open, and John stepped out. He headed for the infirmary more on instinct than anything else, since he was preoccupied by his thoughts. So John didn't see McKay rounding the corner until he slammed into him. Literally.

"There you are," Rodney stated. "Took you long enough to get here."

"And that's your concern, why?" John snapped. And regretted it. He watched Rodney's eyes go wide with surprise. "Sorry," John muttered.

Rodney shrugged it off. This time. "Fine. I need you stop by the lab when you're done here."

John was not happy to hear that. He wanted to shower and sleep, not hang around with Rodney. John wanted to be alone with his miserable self. So he glared at Rodney and demanded, "Why?"

"I have a theory on why you ended up on the second Wraith ship," Rodney announced, and he practically bounced with excitement. "It hit me while Beckett was doing his thing. I can't remember what he said, he was rambling on, and I seldom actually listen to him. But something he said reminded me of something, and I'm sure I'm on the right track."

"You told me it was a Wraith beam," John reminded him.

Rodney frowned at him. "I know what I said. Now I'm saying it was something else. I'm going to run it by Zalenka. So, come by when you're done." Rodney finished in a rush then he was almost running off down the hallway.

John watched him go then heaved a sigh. He was intrigued enough to know he would do as Rodney said and stop by the lab. But right now he had to get through his exam. So, John continued on his way, walking into the infirmary just a few minutes later to find Beckett waiting for him.

"Sit right here, major," Beckett invited, patting the exam table he was standing by.

"This won't take long, right?" John prompted, as he hopped up as ordered.

Beckett smiled at him. "Just a few minutes. As always. Unless something's wrong?" He made it a question.

John shook his head, which made his temples throb harder, but he sucked it up. "I'm good." He fell silent as Beckett listened to his heart and lungs. He remained quiet when his pulse and blood pressure were taken, but when Beckett made to shine the light in his eyes, instinct made John slap the hand away.

"Light sensitive," Beckett muttered. "Headache?"

"Just a little one." John knew he was caught, so lying outright wasn't an option. But half-truths usually worked pretty well.

Beckett studied him, a thoughtful expression on his face. "You look tired."

John arched an eyebrow at him then patiently replied, "It's been a long day." Keeping his voice soft and low wasn't easy. And it made his head hurt more.

"You're a bit pale too. And probably dehydrated. And, you're definitely still losing weight." Beckett was scribbling on his clipboard. Without looking up he said, "Why don't you lie back, major, and I'll run fluids into you. You'll feel much better."

"No." The word was sharp, and John had to force himself not to say more as he slid off the table.

Carson looked surprised.

John cut off whatever he was about to say with the wave of one hand. "Quit fussing! I'm fine!" That said, he turned smartly on his heel and strode off. He was relieved when no one followed him. He headed for his room and took his shower, a nice, long, hot shower. After which, John got dressed. He was tired, but he knew he wasn't ready to sleep. Besides, Rodney would be waiting for him. After tying on his boots, John left his room and made his way to McKay's lab.

He hadn't gone far when he ran into Teyla.

She smiled at him. "I was coming to find you, Major," she said softly. "I wanted to ask if you would like to work out tomorrow morning?"

"Very much," John replied. And he meant it. He enjoyed his practice sessions with Teyla. She could still kick his ass, but he was getting better. And they had moved from stick fighting to staff fighting, which John found to be even more challenging. "What time?"


He smiled and felt a bit less tense. "I'll be there."

Teyla nodded. "Have you eaten yet?"

"No…but I promised McKay I'd meet him in his lab." John was half tempted to blow Rodney off, but his curiosity was piqued.

"Perhaps another time," Teyla stated. Then she nodded to him and continued on her way.

John made himself proceed to the lab. When he got there, Rodney was deep in conversation with Zalenka. John had to clear his throat, loudly, before they noticed him.

Rodney jumped up and was smiling. "It was the jumper. Well…you and the jumper. Or, mostly you. Whatever. We'll have to test the theory anyway."

"Whoa…what are you talking about?" John frowned at Rodney as his curiosity turned to confusion.

"I vill try to explain," Zalenka interjected.

Rodney cut him off. "It's my theory, so I'll explain it." He shouldered Zalenka behind him. "Remember when the other Weir told the story of how you, her, and Zalenka tried to escape the flooding in one of the jumpers?"

John nodded. "I remember."

"And the bay doors weren't open yet, with time running out, and you thought about getting out of there, then boom, you were suddenly out in space?"

"Yeees," John drawled. "So?"

Rodney rocked back and forth on his heels, excitement practically glowing in his eyes. "The jumper back then read your...thoughts…and transported you out of Atlantis. I believe that's exactly what happened when you were making your…uh...suicide run." Rodney stumbled over the word suicide.

John felt as if Rodney had sucker punched him in the gut. The weird thing being, he couldn't explain why. But he felt his headache returning full force. Even so, he shook his head. "No. You're wrong."

"I'm not wrong!" Rodney looked offended.

"Yes…you are!" John was shouting now. And he was leaving. Or trying. Rodney was suddenly in front of him, looking pissed. "Move!" John growled the word, and added a threatening glare for good measure.

Rodney didn't budge. "What the hell is your problem, Major?"

John smirked. "You are." He knew the barb hit home when Rodney flinched. John felt a twinge of guilt, but squashed it. He stepped around Rodney, and almost made it to the door when McKay called after him.

"I need you to touch a few things!"

"You have the goddamn gene!" John snarled. "Touch them yourself." And with that, he stormed out. He didn't break stride until he reached his room, and by then he was no longer pissed at Rodney. He was pissed at himself for being pissed at Rodney.

"You're such an asshole, John," he muttered to himself, as he dropped down onto his bed. He knew if he got a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, he would feel better. Much better. So John closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep. But he should have known he would regret it.

This time he dreamed about Chaya. About sharing each other. She let him see who she really was and she asked him to come with her. To join with her for all eternity. And John was tempted to go, only a voice in his head gave him pause when it whispered,

"Don't go into the light...don't go into the light...don't go into the light..."

Choking on a cry, John came awake abruptly, body shuddering, skin slicked in a cold sweat. "Stupid fucking movie!" he hissed, as he scrubbed a hand over his face. The other night they had introduced Teyla to Poltergeist. She had found it amusing. But even as John slid off the bed and headed for the bathroom, he knew it wasn't the movie that was haunting him. It was what he saw when he had connected with Chaya. Or Athar. The name really didn't matter to him. But the memory of what they had shared lingered with John.

It didn't wash away with the soap he lathered up with, and it didn't fade as he got dressed. What shook him the most was the fact that he didn't remember anything specific. What he remembered was how he had felt at the time. It wasn't anything definitive. He couldn't give it a name. But it lingered with him, like a cold chill he couldn't shake. Not even after he settled back on the bed with a blanket, War and Peace in hand. It was only two am. John figured he would read until it was time to meet with Teyla. But three hours later he was still on the same page.


He couldn't focus and it showed as he hit the mat for the fourth time in a row. John cursed, then ignored the hand that Teyla held out to him. He got to his feet on his own, raised his staff, then snarled, "Again!"

But Teyla shook her head at him. "I think not, Major. You are not...on your game." She moved to the window seat and set aside her staff. "You are tired, did you not sleep well?"

"I slept fine." It was a blatant lie and John winced as he told it. He avoided Teyla's gaze. She was too good at seeing right through him. John dropped his staff then rummaged in his gym bag for his water bottle. He felt hot and thirsty and worn out.

"You are troubled," Teyla countered, softly.

John drained the water bottle, recapped it, then tossed it in his bag before grabbing his towel and wiping his face. He was still thirsty and he felt a little shaky. He hoped it didn't show. So he forced a smile as he turned to face Teyla. "I'm fine." Wow, he was really wracking up the lies today. And it was still early.

Teyla was not fooled by his words. She moved to Sheppard's side and touched his arm. "Perhaps you should talk to Heightmeyer," she suggested.

"I don't need a shrink!" John snapped, and he hadn't meant it to come out that sharp. "Sorry."

"You suggested the same thing for me when I could not sleep," Teyla gently reminded him. And it was clear she did not take offense at his anger.

John sighed and bit his tongue. He was tired and on edge and he did not want to take it out on Teyla. He knew she was only trying to help him. "Look...that was different," John countered.

Teyla frowned at him. "Why?"

"It just was!" John was snapping again and this time he didn't care. He grabbed his gear and shouldered past Teyla, heading for the door. But he hadn't gone three steps when everything faded to black.