Gabriel sat down, the first to arrive in the briefing room.
A week had passed since his last mission with Sheppard's team. Ford had been brought back, and was now slowly recovering in Beckett's care.
He had much to think about.
Gabriel didn't know for sure what Ford had been seeking, or how he had known where to go, in search of it; but he had his suspicions. Regardless, he had no doubt that he would have been brought to that planet sooner or later, to read what had been left for him.
All of his questions had been answered. Why the people at Atlantis seemed just so slightly different from most mortals of his acquaintance. Why he had encountered people who had been just as similarly different through his travels on Earth – those few who saw through the concealments he used, with a glimmer of understanding nestled in their souls. Now that he knew, everything made sense.
It was written into their very flesh.
It was the mark bestowed on the eldest son of Adam, and his descendants, ages ago.
The Ancient gene.
The Ancients were a people different from those on Earth, their knowledge holding them apart. It was not that they were more advanced; no, the difference was a thing of subtle signals, found in the age of their spirits.
Gabriel shook his head, wondering.
He had known that Cain's children had dispersed across the Earth, forever changed by the mark laid upon them. But they had grown too numerous for him to follow, and he had lost all knowledge of them millennia ago.
And the Mark, like his memories, had slipped to the back of his mind, waiting to be remembered.
When he had first seen the writing on the cavern wall, he had lost the veneer of humanity, for only a moment. He had not been taught to read the script, had not known that the language with which he was most familiar could even be written. It was fitting, therefore, that it could only be created by an intermingling of light and shadow.
Then he had looked past what it was, to see what it was saying. And he had found the history of the Ancients, and the descendants of Cain, laid out before him.
It meant everything.
It meant that, perhaps, they had grown enough to accept the truth.
He did not brace himself as they entered, nor did he take a deep breath, or need to calm himself in any way. The decision had been made long before he had ever come to this galaxy; he had neither doubt nor confidence, for there was no need for any such feeling. It simply was.
Sheppard sat down, eyeing the man sitting only two seats away. There was something different about him; there had been since they had discovered the strange script. He could see that McKay shared his unease about their teammate when the scientist entered, putting the Major between himself and the SF. Teyla seemed exasperated by the tension, sitting on Sheppard's other side.
When Weir entered, precisely punctual as was her habit, the briefing finally began.
Sheppard was able to relate the events of their journey up until the discovery of the writing, and Venner's strange behavior, before the questions became probing. No answers were forthcoming from the SF, who looked as if he was focused elsewhere, and giving the briefing itself the bare minimum of his attention.
The man's eyes turned to him as he finished his sentence. "Venner," he snapped, not allowing himself to be unnerved by the cool golden gaze. "Why do I get the feeling that you're not interested in this briefing?"
The man merely raised a brow at him.
Weir intervened. "Dr. McKay," she turned her attention to the scientist. "This writing that the team came across?"
Recognizing the prompt, Rodney leant forward. "It was formed from the contrast of light and shadow," he began. "I believe that it was formed by the inhabitants of the cave tunnel-system."
Before he could go on, Weir fixed intent eyes on him. "Have you seen anything like this language before?"
Rodney could only shake his head. "We should have a linguist return and study it," he admitted. "I may be good, but my field of expertise is not languages. We'd need someone from Dr. Jackson's team for that." The SGC's head linguist, denied the chance to go to Atlantis, had had a personal hand in picking the members of his staff skilled enough to qualify. But while these individuals had knowledge of languages, they had been chosen primarily for a wide range of other applicable skills. While everyone in Atlantis had undergone training in the language of the Ancients, McKay knew for a fact that it wouldn't help in this case.
"But you could read it, Private Venner," Weir turned her attention to the quietest man in the room.
"Yes," he answered baldly, unreadable as ever.
"What did it say?" Weir demanded.
"It gave the answers to several questions," Venner evaded smoothly.
Sheppard's eyes narrowed. "What I would be much more interested in knowing," he gritted out, "was how you could read it."
"You told us it was a hobby," Teyla pointed out.
"I don't buy that," Sheppard decided. "Reading other languages is a hobby?" He shook his head. "As is your skill with computers, and music?"
The SF was silent, but there appeared to be a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. "People are not one-dimensional," he pointed out mildly.
"And your unusual skill at killing the wraith?" McKay interjected acerbically. "Another hobby?"
"I don't know what you are," Sheppard said firmly. "But it's not what you want us to think."
"And what's that?" Gabriel was curious as to how much the man had put together.
Weir started at the word, and McKay jumped. Teyla turned surprised eyes on each of the men in turn. Sheppard's attention was fixed on Gabriel, who had gone very still.
"Major?" Weir's voice said, Explain.
"I think that an Earth-based foothold situation got by the SGC, and managed to follow us to Pegasus," Sheppard answered tightly.
"What is your evidence for this?" Weir asked quietly. All eyes in the room were on Gabriel, and Sheppard's hand rested comfortably on the gun holstered at his side. "You don't show up on wraith life-sign scanners," he directed his words at Venner. "Or Ancient scanners; the puddlejumpers show nothing. You're completely unaffected by wraith stun weapons. I saw the wounds on you, after the wraith took over Atlantis. There was no way anyone could survive that." The implication was clear, but Sheppard wasn't done yet. "Those wraith were killed, and the wraith on the hive ships. No virus, or weapon I know of, can cause that. You can sense the wraith coming!"
Weir's face hardened, as she saw more pieces of the pattern and began to realize that it could not all be accident, or coincidence. "Who are you?" she demanded, standing.
Sheppard had his pistol in his hand, thought it was not yet pointed at the seated man. McKay was out of his seat and backing toward the others; Teyla was standing, but had not drawn a weapon.
Gabriel kept his hands in sight. "You are partially right," he responded evenly. He ignored the weapons centering on him, the noises of shocked dismay. "But whatever you think now, I have not and will not hurt anyone here."
"Really?" Sheppard was not convinced.
Teyla spoke up. "He has not harmed anyone," she reasoned aloud. "The wraith are his enemy, as they are ours. Perhaps he should be given the chance to explain."
Sheppard thought that over; but his grip on the weapon did not change. "Teyla's right," he said quietly, after a long, tense moment. "And I want to know what the hell's really going on here."
Gabriel looked at them carefully. "I believe it would be easier to show you," he answered the other man.
Sheppard's eyes narrowed.
""I give you my word that no one will be harmed," Gabriel promised. "But I need you to trust me."
He gave no reasons why; after working with the individuals in this room closely for weeks, he had faith in what he knew of them. He believed they would want to see, before judging. They had put together more than he had expected; and now, they needed to know.
He patiently bore the scrutiny leveled on him, but ultimately, it was Weir and Sheppard's decision.
The Major put the safety back on his gun with the flick of a finger. Weir nodded.
Slowly, Gabriel stood, and walked to the door.
As he reached to open it, Weir's voice sounded behind him. "Where are we going?"
Gabriel glanced over his shoulder. "The Infirmary," he answered lowly.
Tense silence wove between them as they traversed the corridors, lengthening the trip. When they reached the realm of the medics, a weary Beckett came forward to meet them.
"Gabe," he greeted the man. Then, the formation in which the remainder of the team had taken around him became clear. "What's going on?"
Gabriel shook his head, allaying the wariness in blue eyes. "How's Ford?" he asked instead.
Eyeing Weir, and Sheppard's team, Carson answered slowly, "He's nae doing well. He's crashed twice since he arrived, after we got him stabilized. He's so dependant on the wraith serum that even givin' him what we've got isnae going to relieve the symptoms. The withdrawl is more severe than any I've seen. It doesnae look good."
Gabriel gave the medic a hard look. They'd all been well aware that something like this might happen.
"There isnae much we can do for him," Beckett admitted.
Gabriel's eyes lifted to the curtained-off bed, behind which Ford was drugged into unconsciousness.
He walked forward, then, despite Beckett's confused questions, knowing that they would follow. Beckett's hand closed on his wrist as he reached for the curtain, and he met the Scot's worried blue eyes. "I can't let ye in there."
Hazel eyes glowed with warmth. "Carson." Gabriel used his given name for the first time; his voice was gentle, different from before. Implacable, soothing. "It will be all right."
Beckett's hand dropped away, and he swallowed. "We're going to lose him," he confessed brokenly. A man who threw his heart into every patient, his spirit felt the blows of each loss.
The smile that met his words gave him heart, though the doctor could never afterward tell why. "No, we won't."
When Gabriel drew back the curtain, the sight that greeted their eyes was not what their Ford's former teammates had imagined. It had been perhaps two hours since they had barreled through the 'gate, yet the loss of flesh and muscle was dramatic. His body was burning away under the force of his addiction. Ford had been cleaned and slipped into scrubs. Though his eyes were closed, the terrible bags and lines on his face sagged into one another in sleep. He looked to be mere steps from death's door. His skin was a pasty gray, sliding loosely over his bones. Restraints were tightly buckled and doubled up; dangling, broken leather gave the reason why.
"Dr. McKay," Gabriel beckoned the other man from where he stood, gaping, at Sheppard's shoulder.
Rodney stared at him.
Gabriel circled to the other side of the bed, as the others ringed their seriously ill friend.
"Damn," Sheppard whispered, knuckles white-clenched on the side of the bed.
"Dr. McKay," Gabriel said again, softly.
"What?" the other asked, eyes glued to his friend. The scientist swallowed, hard, his face tight. He glanced up, caught Gabriel's eye, and balked. "I'm not that kind of doctor," he protested, stepping back.
"Do you want to help him?"
Though there was no accusation, McKay started defensively. "Of course!" he snapped. "But there's nothing I can do. I'm not a doctor – Carson is."
Gabriel looked carefully at him, and extended a hand. "You don't have to be."
McKay looked at him, then at the man sweating on the bed, overridden with fever as his body tried to purge itself, and at the same time, yearned for more of the drug he was being denied. With a soft curse, he stepped forward. "This is insane."
Venner smiled, and guided McKay's hands.
"Now what?" the scientist asked nervously. Ford's heartbeat strained under one palm, fever burning under the other; Gabriel's hands a reassuring weight over his own.
But Gabriel wasn't looking at him. The man's eyes were far away, a spark of gold in their depths that flared into life. McKay gasped, feeling a strange warmth circling through him, pulled from the man whose hands lay gently over his own. It was like feeling lighting pour through your fingers, he mused, staring in surprise down at Ford. A bright white light was glowing, over and around and within, so bright that it illuminated the flesh and bone of his fingers, and that of the hands resting on his.
It was heat, and life, and warmth, soothing and healing as it comforted and purged. It was safety and at the same time frightening.
In it he could see the changes in his friend; the loss of pallor and fever, as the bags under his eyes disappeared into smooth skin. A distant beeping, once fragile in his hearing, grew steady, in time with the strong pumping of the heart beneath his fingers.
McKay blinked as the light surrounding him faded, weight lifting off his hands though the energy still surged through him. He jumped back, then, chafing flesh that should have been hot, or tingling, or . . . something.
"Holy -" Sheppard swallowed, hands slack on his pistol.
McKay took another glance, and couldn't stop staring.
Ford was . . . he looked fine. The last few weeks, overflowing with hardship and addiction, had been erased from his body. He had been rebuilt into the man who had disappeared months ago, the one they had been searching for, and until this moment, hadn't found.
Beckett took a pulse, staring at the sleeping man. He checked, in vain, for any sign of a fever. Then he took a step back, and turned his attention to the man that had been forgotten. "How?"
Gabriel raised a tired brow at the question, quiet though it was.
Beckett frowned at him, taking in a slight pallor, the casual lean against the wall that bespoke weariness.
Sheppard asked it again, this time with a little more certainty. "Are you an Ancient?"
At that, Gabriel snorted. "Certainly not."
Weir stepped forward, features tight and lips pursed, ready for a diplomatic battle. At her side, Sheppard was ready for a physical one. Gabriel looked ready for neither. The head of Atlantis scanned the room, and returned the force of her attention to the SF. Or whoever – whatever – he was. "What are you?"
Ask a straight question, Gabriel mused. "They once called me . . . the Left Hand of God," he answered, quiet caution in every word.
"You're kidding," McKay sputtered.
Gabriel's lips twitched, in what in anyone else would have been called a smile.
Sheppard stared. "The Left Hand of God." Undiluted disbelief, and he glanced at Beckett as if hoping there might be a more rational explanation. One that could preferably be answered by a medical affliction.
Weir looked at him carefully.
"This is a joke, right?"
It would be McKay. "I will admit," Gabriel returned mildly, "Your great-grandfather was endlessly amused by it. After he got over the shock, that is."
McKay stilled, stepping back from Ford's sickbed. "My great-grandfather."
"Carl Wheldon," Gabriel informed him.
McKay shut his mouth, glaring at the SF.
"Do you have a great-grandfather named Carl Wheldon?" Sheppard's curiosity diverted him, and he glanced at the scientist.
"He was a friar," McKay grudgingly admitted. "He was born in America, but left to spend years in Italy. He got married there, and left the clergy. He settled in Massachusetts with his wife – and their children – a few decades after that."
"He was a friar?"
"So?" McKay glared at Sheppard, unsuccessfully trying to swallow his laughter.
"He was a good man," Gabriel said softly, pushing down the loss.
McKay stared at him. "You – you knew - "
"Who are you, really?" Weir asked. "What is your real name?" She was staring intently, gathering the pieces to her, trying to figure it out.
The man sat, eyes on Ford. "I am called Gabriel. I have no other."
"Gabriel," Sheppard murmured. "Left Hand of God." He put it together, in a shining moment of knowledge and shock. "The archangel?"
At that, the man frowned. "It is only a word," he said sternly. "It does not mean what you think." He let out a frustrated noise. "Language was never intended for this."
"But it's true, then," Weir said quietly.
Gabriel hesitated. "It is not what you think," he cautioned. "But it is the closest you may come to understanding what I am. Yes, it is true."
Teyla was staring at him. "Venner," she said the word quietly. "It means something, in your tongue, does it not?"
Gabriel relaxed a little, onto the bed next to Ford's. "It means 'hunter'."
"What is it that you hunt?"
Perceptive woman. "I am not my brother," Gabriel said forthrightly. "I am the messenger, only."
"What do you hunt?" Sheppard, tense with anxiety.
Gabriel looked at him. "I seek out that which would harm the innocent," he finally replied. "I have destroyed, but I am not truly a Destroyer. I bring the message."
Sheppard sucked in a breath. All that power brought to play against the wraith – and it was only a warning?
"Your brother," McKay zeroed in on that statement with all the focus of a missile locking on target.
Gabriel looked at him, then. "You have much of your great-grandfather in you."
"How old are you?"
It was in his eyes when he turned to look at Sheppard; all the years of an eternity, wondrous and painful and clear as day. Apparent to everyone in the room, the age shining from youthful features stilled them all, if only for a moment.
"We have so many questions," Weir stepped forward, speaking for them all.
It was not what he could have anticipated from them, weeks or even days ago. Not this . . . acceptance, the willingness to learn. Ruefully, he thought that he still had much to learn about humanity.
The future was a great deal more than he had imagined it to be.
But for now, he would keep his promise.
The end sort of crept up on me, which is the main reason I haven't given any prior warnings. :) In my use of the Mark of Cain above, I would like to explicitly state that I am not making any religious or political statement. I am aware that several meanings can be extrapolated from what I wrote; I would simply like to state that I intended it to be ambiguous.
I hope you've all had as much fun with this story as I have! Maybe, sometime in the unforseen future, there will be more . . .