A/N: Sorry this took so long to complete. I seem to have a knack for starting but not finishing stories. I told myself I wouldn't post another story unless it was finished...That's why I haven't posted more, I guess. I hope you enjoy this conclusion, and I hope it flows well since it's been so long between writings.
Shortly after Jumper Two docked in Atlantis, Elizabeth found herself sitting on a bed in the infirmary. John hovered close by, unwilling to let her out of his sight just yet. Teyla had volunteered to oversee the return of all other search teams, and Ronon was asleep on a nearby bed, still recovering from his earlier illness.
Elizabeth looked up as Rodney, Zelenka, and Carson all walked in at the same time, arguing as always. Suddenly, she felt oddly self-conscious with so many people in the room. She was still wearing the thin white dress now stained with dirt. The weight of the metal collar was ever-present in her mind, and she was acutely aware of the fact that she had not bathed in almost two days.
Nevertheless, she forced herself to focus on what Rodney was saying.
"Carson, it won't take long!" Apparently, the Scottish doctor was less than pleased about someone reporting anything to Elizabeth before he'd had a chance to examine her.
"It's alright, Carson. Gentlemen, what have you found?" She had asked Rodney and Zelenka to work on finding a way to remove the slave collar.
Rodney smirked briefly at Carson, then turned to begin his report. "The metal is quite fascinating, really. There don't appear to be any external locking mechanisms…which goes along with what you said about the collar being permanent. The metal is incredibly strong, possibly stronger than trinium, even though it's much lighter. Really, we should try to get our hands on some of this stuff. It could be extremely useful for all kinds of applications…"
Elizabeth closed her eyes and tried to force back her frustration. "Rodney," she interrupted sternly, "just get it off…please."
Startled, Rodney looked up. Elizabeth was calm, but her shoulders were tense, and there was a hint of something else in her eyes that Rodney couldn't quite put his finger on. Embarrassment, maybe? In any case, he belatedly realized his mistake. She didn't want a report on the metal. She wanted him to take away the last reminder of her ordeal.
Lowering his head, Rodney answered her quietly. "Elizabeth, I'm not sure I can yet. At least, not without hurting you. We'll keep working on it. I promise, we'll figure something out."
Elizabeth nodded, but didn't say anything. Carson seized the opportunity to usher the others from the room.
Turning back to Elizabeth, he said kindly, "Ok Dr. Weir. Just a few questions, a couple of quick tests, and we'll get you off to a shower and some much-needed rest. Now, I need to know anything that may have happened during your time on that planet that may have affected your health."
Elizabeth hesitated. She didn't want anyone to know about the beating she'd received from Damien, but she knew the doctor would find the wounds eventually. She might as well tell him now and get it over with.
He wasn't going to like this.
John finally found her outside on her favorite balcony later that night, staring up at the stars. She had changed back into her usual Atlantis uniform and stood leaning against a support beam, absently fingering the metal ring still around her neck.
John purposely clanked his boots against the floor as he approached, so that he wouldn't startle her. She turned her head and smiled softly at him, letting him know that he wasn't intruding on her solitude.
He leaned against the railing next to her, and they both spent a few silent moments admiring the view of the city and the ocean. Finally, without turning her head or shifting position, Elizabeth spoke. "Thank you…for coming for me."
John never moved as he replied sincerely, "I wouldn't have left you there."
"I know. Thank you for that." They settled once again into the comfortable silence.
After a moment, John turned to look at her. He studied her, seemingly deciding whether or not to ask the question that was on his mind. She caught his gaze, and he reached a decision.
"Back at the plantation, Damien said something about…discipline problems…" He trailed off, and Elizabeth sighed. She'd known this conversation would come eventually.
"My first day there, Damien ended up punishing me."
John struggled to keep his anger in check, and calmly asked, "Why?"
Elizabeth smirked slightly. "I broke his nose."
John couldn't help the grin that crept across his face. "I had a feeling that might have been your handiwork," he commented. Elizabeth merely smiled in response and returned her gaze to the stars, thankful he hadn't asked why she had broken Damien's nose.
"Elizabeth, what was the punishment? What did he do to you?"
John had spoken to Carson earlier, after his examination. While the doctor hadn't given out any confidential medical information, the anger and sadness in his eyes had been enough to tell John that it hadn't been pleasant. Part of him didn't want to know…but he'd seen Elizabeth's reactions to Damien, and he had to know.
Elizabeth hesitated once again. She really didn't want anyone to know about the beating. She wouldn't have told Carson, but he would have found the wounds eventually anyway.
John took her hesitation as a bad sign, and pushed harder. "Elizabeth, please tell me. He didn't…did he…Elizabeth, did he rape you?" The question spilled out in a rush, the tinge of desperation obvious in John's tone.
Elizabeth's head shot up, and she instinctively reached for his hand. "No, John…no, he didn't rape me."
John's relief was immediately evident, but he didn't release her hand. Instead, he turned her toward him, and repeated his earlier question. "Then what happened? Please tell me, Elizabeth."
She closed her eyes, then softly stated, "He hit me several times…with a whip."
John's breath caught in his throat, and a white-hot anger threatened to overwhelm him. He should have killed the little bastard when he had the chance. In fact, he was a hairsbreadth away from dialing the gate and giving the sniveling arrogant asshole a taste of his own medicine.
Elizabeth spoke again, her voice stronger but her hand still securely clasping John's. "Thankfully, Carson says none of the wounds were infected…but they'll probably scar. That's what Damien meant when he said I'd have something to remember him by. Even if this damn collar isn't permanent, those marks are." The tears she'd been holding back threatened to flood as she heard herself actually say the words that had been in the back of her mind since her talk with Carson.
Noticing Elizabeth's unshed tears, John forcefully shoved his anger to the back burner. Elizabeth didn't need him avenge her injustices; if that were the case, she wouldn't have stopped him from punishing Damien back on his planet. What Elizabeth needed right now was someone to be there, to comfort her, to let her know that she was safe and no one could hurt her anymore.
John took hold of both of Elizabeth's hands and looked into her eyes. He tried to pour every emotion he was feeling into that stare. He opened his mouth to reassure her that everything would be fine, but the words died in his throat when Elizabeth suddenly choked out a small sob and leaned in to wrap him in a tight embrace.
Before this, John had hugged Elizabeth only twice. The first time, after the siege of the city, it had been a complete surprise. That spur-of-the-moment hug had been quick, a mark of friendship and relief that they had both made it through.
Their second hug had been on Incala, a moment to help Elizabeth pull herself together and realize that the nightmare really was over.
This time was different. Elizabeth clasped her arms around his neck as she cried softly, and he gently held her, being careful not to put too much pressure on her injured back. She didn't cling desperately to him while she sobbed herself to exhaustion, but John was amazed and touched that she trusted him enough to allow him to witness this much of a break in her normally flawless composure.
After a moment, Elizabeth pulled back. She attempted a smile, but didn't quite make it. John reached out and tenderly wiped a tear from her face with his thumb. He looked her in the eye and stated with complete confidence, "You will be alright. You're strong, and we're here to help you. You will be ok."
For the first time since her rescue, Elizabeth realized that she truly believed that. She would be much more confident in John's statement once Rodney and Radek figured out how to get rid of the collar, but she knew John was right. She had made it through, and eventually, with help from John and her friends, she would survive.
She smiled and turned back to the balcony railing. John settled in beside her, his arm brushing hers, and together they watched the sun set below the horizon.
Two days later, Elizabeth stood once again in front of the active stargate in her Atlantis uniform and civilian tactical vest. Rodney had finally been able to remove the metal slave collar after Radek discovered an Ancient laser cutter among the gadgets on Rodney's "Figure This Out Later" shelf.
Other than a mild sunburn and a ring of irritated skin where the collar once rested, there were no visible signs of Elizabeth's captivity. The wounds on her back had almost healed, although she was still keenly aware of their existence. She could only hope that ever-present awareness and self-consciousness would fade with time.
John strode into the room, checking his gear one last time as he went. He stopped next to Elizabeth and looked back and forth between her and the stargate several times. "Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked seriously.
She didn't hesitate as she nodded an affirmative. "We could use access to some of that metal. Plus, their society is changing rapidly. Phaestus made it clear that a power struggle is erupting between supporters of the new and old traditions. I think opening trade negotiations with the right side could help the others see that the change is more beneficial to everyone. And my firsthand knowledge of the system should also come in handy during the negotiations and debate."
She paused, and John noticed her hand absently rise to rub at the skin of her neck, still slightly raw from the abrasion of the collar. His instinct was to permanently lock Incala's address from the database and find the metal somewhere else. He had no desire to ever return to that planet.
As if reading his mind, Elizabeth spoke again. "I can't just leave it the way it was and move on. There are too many people there who have no one to come and rescue them. I don't know if it will make any difference, but I have to try."
Once again, John marveled at the strength of the woman standing before him. This was what she wanted to do, and he knew that she needed it to make peace with her experience.
He turned his attention to the gate technician. "Colonel Sheppard, Dr.Weir," the young man called out from the control room balcony, "Phaestus says that everything is in place. Incala is ready to welcome our trade negotiation party."
John glanced at Elizabeth, signaling that they would go as soon as she was ready. She took a deep breath, and turned decisively toward the gate. "Let's move out, then." Without hesitation, she walked purposefully through the gate, determined to make a difference on Incala this time.