Six

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&12

"Can you do that?" Dee bounced and pointed at the screen where two men were battling hand to hand with fast and furious blows.

"Probably."

"Can you do that?"

"Yeah, it's a good trick. Not too hard." Ronon shrugged and grinned at Dee who turned abruptly.

"No, you can't really."

"Could show you." Ronon glanced briefly at Teyla over the boy's head, grin still in place. "I could even teach you."

Dee stilled momentarily. "Really?" he asked, surprising Teyla for he had not shown any inclination for learning simple combat from her. In fact, he had run from her when she had tried.

"It's not too hard," Ronon repeated.

"Naw, I don't believe you," Dee shook his head but it was with a teasing smile, his head tilted back in the way of careless children. It was good to see. It had been two days since the revelation of his heritage and Dee had been distant since, even with Rodney. He had been quiet at meals and sullen with Teyla, casting about suspicious eyes and questioning every action. Teyla had ignored it as best she could and hoped that her example would convince him that they really would not harm him. When he had greeted Ronon at lunch, it had been like a saving grace. Dee was difficult at the best of times, but unhappy and distrustful he was like a wild animal waiting to escape. That he had escaped before was lost on no one, including the child.

"I can," Ronon insisted.

"You just talk big," said Dee. "I bet you're not really a fighter at all. I bet you're a farmer."

Ronon threw back his head and laughed, another rare sight that Teyla's heart was glad to see.

"Do I look like a farmer to you?" he asked playfully. "Willing to work long hours in the dirt grubbing for food?"

Dee scrutinized Ronon, picking over his brown patchy vest and his dreaded hair. The boy's lips quirked. "Maybe not. But Jothee's dad was a farmer and a great warrior so you could be."

"What do you think, Teyla? Would I make it as a farmer?"

Knowing her friend as she did, Teyla knew he would never survive the growing season. "I think you would make a terrible farmer."

"See?" Ronon waved a finger at the boy.

"You're just young and impatient," said Dee with the weight of often heard words beyond his years that only made Ronon laugh again. "And I bet you still can't do that flippy thing."

By the way Ronon was looking around the room, Teyla knew exactly what he was thinking and she said quickly, "Not in here." The inevitable mess would likely involve destroying the furniture. "We'll go to the gym if you are intent on making fools of yourselves."

"Don't think I can do it either?" Ronon raised a challenging brow.

Deliberately, Teyla gave him a once over. "No," she said and raised a brow of her own that led to more grinning and a silent promise for their next sparing session.

"I don't want to go to the gym," Dee interrupted them, bouncing in his seat once more. He had too much energy that hadn't been spent on exciting things with Rodney or running down the corridor and back while Teyla walked. She had learned quickly to take the longer routes between places. "This is fun. Oh drad! Can you do that?" He pointed again to the screen where a man had just jumped from one high building to another and rolled to his feet and kept running.

"Maybe. Never done anything like it before."

"Would you try it? It's a pretty big jump."

Ronon shrugged. "In the right circumstances."

"Would you jump off a cliff?"

"Depends on what's below and how far."

"A river?"

"Probably."

"A roof?"

"If it weren't too far."

"Ishen trees?"

"What are they?"

"They're neat. They're the only tall standing tree that you can make clothes out from the stuff they have instead of leaves."

"What are the branches like?"

"Long and bendy."

"Okay."

"You'd jump into Ishen trees?" Dee giggled and bounced again. "What about rocks?"

"Only if were a short distance."

"You'd jump into rocks! I bet you'd break your legs and ankles and feet," he said excitedly. "I wouldn't jump into rocks or anything except the ocean. Would you jump into the ocean?"

"If not from too far," Ronon repeated.

"Would you jump into the ocean from up here?"

"That," Ronon tilted his head seriously, "would be too far."

"What if it was the only way to save your life? What if you were running from those wraith things you all talk about?"

"Dee," Teyla said gently as he strayed into uncomfortable territory. While unashamed, it was a topic that Ronon tended to avoid and one she didn't want to have to explain.

"Do they really eat you all?" he asked abruptly, looking between them. Teyla shared a look with Ronon and watched his smile fade.

"Yes," she said softly. "They draw out a person's life force until they are too aged to survive."

"Can you kill them if they keep eating life?"

"Yes, but it is difficult," said Teyla.

Dee had stopped bouncing. "But you can kill them, I bet." His blue eyes held the question that his words did not.

Teyla met and held his gaze. "Yes."

"How?"

"Guns, bullets, stunners," said Ronon. "Knives and staves. Bare hands if you have to."

"I'll stick to jumping into the ocean," said Dee so seriously that Teyla couldn't help but smile. "Would that flippy thing work against them?" he asked Ronon who's lips twitched and nodded. "What about if you hit it with a car or a smallcraft." Dee's eyes lit up as his imagination took hold. "I bet it would go splat if you hit it with a puddlejumper."

"The wraith have their own spaceships," Ronon raised skeptical brows.

"Everyone has their own spaceships," Dee rolled his eyes. "But they'd still go splat if you hit them and they weren't in a ship."

"They would," Teyla couldn't argue with that logic. "But they rarely leave the safety of their ships."

"How would you get them out?" Ronon challenged, and to Teyla's surprise, and Ronon's if his sudden blinking and shifting out of harm's way was anything to go by, Dee started bouncing again, this time with his feet drawn up under him.

"Ooh," he glanced back and forth between them. "What do I know about them? Have I seen them before? Do I know what you know?" The movie was utterly forgotten as a dozen questions and an impatient "come on, tell me! What's the situation? How much time do I have? Where am I when they come?" came spilling forth.

Uncertain, Teyla told him what they knew about the wraith but it was Ronon who ended up setting the scene with details including numbers of hiveships and what Dee had to work with. It was enthralling to watch what Teyla could only describe as a thought game began to play out between them. Until a few minutes later when a strange sound from very close by silenced them. It didn't sound like it had come from the television.

Ronon sat up sharply. Dee stared at his wrist, barely breathing, where his necklace was now tied as a bracelet. "Dargoikfelian''hksilan''hk." The garbled sound was clearly coming from the bracelet.

"Mom!" Dee shouted, hysterical, loud, and so full of joy, Teyla could feel it in her skin. Dee was off the couch and around the room shouting, "Mom, mom, I'm here, I safe, I'm felissiha''hktalbin . . ." he broke into the strange language and a moment later they all heard the sob of relief from the woman on the other side, overlapping words over words, a man's voice that might have been English, but indistinguishable all the same.

Teyla had little time to worry about it however, as at that moment, the command radio channel burst to life asking Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay to report to the control tower immediately. "Guess they're really here," murmured Ronon. Teyla nodded and knowing they would be needed in the control tower as well, she turned back to collect Dee just in time to see him run out the door. Ronon cursed and leapt after him, Teyla quick on their heels.

"They're here! I just want to see them!" Dee protested as Ronon quickly caught and scooped him up. The boy struggled and kicked his legs, eliciting a few grunts from Ronon but no looser grip about his arms and torso.

"'You will see them. I promise. But you must stay with us." Ronon set him down gently and carefully let him stand and turn with his wrists still captured. "We can't protect you if you run off."

Before Dee could answer, however, his mother spoke again over his radio. "She wants to talk to who's in charge," Dee translated.

Teyla smiled with reassurance. "Then we best go see Dr. Weir."

&&&&&&&

When they had first brought Dee back with them, Elizabeth figured he would probably end up living with the Athosians. When he insisted that his parents were coming, she thought it would be a simple matter of reuniting a happy family. Now, after speaking with the Finna and seeing two different wanted beacons and images of an asteroid field that had once been a planet, Elizabeth was less certain. She knew that the Iyalls were trying to convince her to hand Dee over, but she couldn't doubt the veracity of the documents, on different machines and in audibly different alien languages that she doubted the Iyalls had tampered with. Even if they had, she didn't know enough to dismiss them out of hand or discern what was true. And now, she didn't know what to do about it if it was true. Would she be sending Dee back into an exploitative and potentially abusive situation? Would he be a criminal by the time he was fifteen?

And if it wasn't, what she read between the lines when Finna spoke of sacrifice and the greater good of the universe left her with a sinking feeling in her stomach every time she passed through the Esean village.

It was a situation that had too many solutions and none of them good. What Elizabeth did know was that Dee loved his parents and wanted to go back to them as soon as possible. They didn't have the right to take that away from him. At this moment, Dee was bouncing with so much excitement that Ronon's arm was getting a workout from reining him in.

"This is Dr. Elizabeth Weir," Elizabeth spoke into the golden brown communications device. For some reason they couldn't establish a link with either their own or Atlantis's communications array.

"Aeryn Sun," a woman's rich voice enunciated slowly. "You have my son in your care." She spoke English carefully and precisely in tones of a second language.

"Yes, that's correct. He survived a shuttle crash on another planet. We took him in and treated his wounds," Elizabeth explained. "We understand that you are from a different reality?"

"Yes. And you are humans living in a different galaxy," Dee's mother sounded a little skeptical. "We would like our son back."

"And we'd like to meet you," Elizabeth countered. "We promised Dee we would protect him and we take that very seriously."

There was a long pause during which Elizabeth exchanged a look with John. In the background she could hear Dee protesting to Ronon that this was all unnecessary. Finally, Dee's mother asked, "What are your terms?"

"We just want to verify that you are who you say you are," Elizabeth tried to soothe away the wariness. "You may land on the east pier and I'll send an escort to meet you. I have to ask that you come unarmed."

"We will land shortly. Dargoitahll''hkmayanof''hkfode?"

Dee glanced at Elizabeth then John, wary but challenging. Elizabeth returned the necklace come bracelet and he spoke rapid fire in his other language full of clicks and aspirations. Five languages and none of them the one she needed. She heard Rodney and Teyla's names mentioned, as well as her own and John's. Dee looked at her askance and she forced a smile and looked away wanting to know just what he was telling them about Atlantis and wishing she could stop him without losing whatever edge of goodwill she had.

&&&&&&&&&&

"D'argo, these people helped you? Really?"

John focused on flying. He focused on Little Dee's rush of excited babble across the comms about the humans he'd ended up with.

"She's okay. I don't see her much except when she tries to make me do stuff but they've mostly backed off when I said no."

Who were from Earth. In the Pegasus Galaxy. He hadn't noticed anything in the wormhole, but then the inside was either a rollercoaster ride or an iceberg with too many places and times and dimensions to process till you were there. He could still smell the memory of the wormhole.

"And Rodney's great. He's got all this cool stuff and lets me look at it even though he says he doesn't like me. And I stay with Teyla and she's okay."

Every time his head balked at humans on another planet in another galaxy, at least according to Dee and he was one smart kid, John kept flashing to every other reality he'd seen, how different and convoluted and holy frell, he didn't want to think about where this one had split off.

"The Colonel hasn't tried anything, and the soldiers don't act much like soldiers – they're nice to me, kinda like the Luxans except with less drinking – and did you know that they come in different colors? All the humans? There's one with red hair. And they don't have microbes. Or dentics. But they have movies."

That startled a chuckled out of John, and he felt something shake loose inside, because that was Little D'argo, his boy, chattering happy and above all safe. To him, these humans were as alien as anyone he'd ever met, and John knew that they'd be alien to him, too.

"They have a lot of them. There's a lot of them."

Different space, different timeline, anything was possible. He shared a look with Aeryn who was caught between grinning and worried as all hell. As he broke orbit and floored the engines, he saw her take a deep breath, close her eyes, and let everything go for a second before pulling it all in under control.

"And they keep telling me that I'm safe with them and won't ever hurt me, so I think . . . I think . . ."

"It's all right, D'argo," said Aeryn, all calm and confidence. "We're coming."

John found the landing pad where a bunch of men with guns were waiting for them and set the pod down, light as a feather. Aeryn was already on her feet, rocking with the landing and stripping off her obvious weapons. John joined her and unholstered Winona setting her next to the crate by the door. A few moments and a quick kiss later and they were ready.

&&&&&&&&&&&

Their ship was bigger than a jumper, tan and buglike. There was no windshield and no obvious door until stairs unfolded from the side. A woman descended first followed by a man, Dee's parents, neither smiling, and both dressed head to toe in black leather. Their eyes were everywhere even as they kept their hands visible, tracing over the squad of marines behind John before settling on him and Teyla. John could see in the way they moved they were soldiers, fighters, and even after hearing the reports from the Iyalls, nothing like John was expecting.

"Howdy," he said putting on his best face cheerfully and with a smile. "Welcome to Atlantis. I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and this is Teyla Emmagan."

"Captain Aeryn Sun," responded Dee's mother, stepping forward and eyeing Teyla. She nodded her head toward her companion. "This is Commander Crichton. We are unarmed as you requested." She and Crichton both kept their hands up and open and swung so their long coats revealed empty holsters strapped low to the thigh. "You can search us if you like."

John nodded for Peters to do so. "Sorry about this, but we'd rather be safe than sorry. I'm sure you understand." He smiled apologetically but neither one of them seemed to mind as they were quickly frisked. They stood still and unnervingly silent until Peters stepped back with a nod. "Right this way."

As the pair drew abreast of him and Teyla, Crichton asked, "D'argo's okay?" and it took John a moment to attach the name to Dee through the stare he was getting from the man. Sharp blue eyes, a frown that demanded answers, and tension underlying everything.

John nodded and put every note of reassurance he could into his voice. "He's just fine. Missing you."

"You said he survived a shuttle crash?" said Sun crisply with a pointed look in John's direction. Her face was more angular but just as demanding as she cut to the point.

"He was, but we got him back here and patched up. He's been running Teyla here ragged for the last week or so."

"He had a few broken ribs from the crash but is mostly recovered now," Teyla interjected, calm and serene and earning a sharp look from both Sun and Crichton.

"Broken ribs?" repeated Sun coming to a halt. They were still on the pier and her face was cast into the shadow of her hair. "Were there any complications? Can he breathe all right? No problems with circulation?"

"Our doctor's got it covered," soothed John turning to face them as they exchanged a look loaded with conversation.

"Military doctor?" asked Crichton, hands braced on his hips.

"Civilian," said Sheppard seeing where this was going. "Scottish."

"You will be able to speak with Dr. Beckett soon," Teyla added. "He is very good and you have nothing to fear."

"Forgive us if it's been a thirty eight days since he was kidnapped from us and we find out he has broken ribs," snapped Crichton. He took an angry step forward into her personal space. "I don't know you so don't tell me not to be afraid."

"I did not mean to offend you," said Teyla softly as Sun pulled Crichton back gently and eyed John whose hand had automatically gone for his sidearm. There was no gentleness in her eyes and absolutely no fear of him whatsoever. A captain and a commander. Two people used to giving the orders instead of taking them. It was little wonder that Dee was always threatening to sic his parents on them.

"Hey now, why don't we get to the control room so you can talk to the doc and Dr. Weir," said John somewhere between amused starting to worry. They were unarmed, true, but that mama bear glare from Sun left him little doubt that she would tear him to pieces in a heartbeat. "Dee's up there too, and you can see for yourself that he's okay."

Crichton took a deep breath and visibly pulled himself together. Suddenly seeing the stress and fatigue, John could only imagine what the two of them had been going through since their kid disappeared. Though thirty eight days? It hadn't nearly been that long.

"Sorry," Crichton nodded to Teyla. "It's been a rough month."

"Think nothing of it," Teyla inclined her head in turn while Sun frowned. John decided he definitely wasn't seeing things when she placed herself firmly between Crichton and his teammate as they resumed walking. Crichton didn't seem to notice and, in fact, stopped short not ten steps later.

"Did you say Atlantis?"

&&&&&&&&&&

Aeryn ignored the blather around her. John's rapid questions about an Earth story and the Colonel's responses faded to background noise as they continued inside toward D'argo. They were so close. Close and in circumstances Aeryn could never have predicted, but didn't bother thinking about because it was irrelevant. D'argo was here and he was safe and for all that he was young, she trusted his judgment. It was the humans all about that she didn't trust, and in John's friendly conversation, Aeryn could hear the undercurrent of manic energy in his voice that betrayed his nervousness. It was all happening too easily and too quickly and she just wanted her son back. When they entered the transporter thing that would take them to D'argo, she only had to move her hand a dench behind the folds of their coats before it was safely clasped in John's.

The transporter doors opened without her having felt a thing, but the hallway had more people who stared curiously as they exited. There were more soldiers as well, but their weapons were held loosely and they were merely watchful. Sheppard nodded to one as they passed into a large hall with a vaulted ceiling and a grand staircase to the second level. There were soldiers on the ground floor, relaxed at their posts, and a host of others in uniform on the upper level. All eyes were on them and then there was a shriek of joy that could only come from one boy.

"Mom! Dad!" D'argo shook off the tall man beside him and raced around a corner and down the steps, stumbling over his own feet as she and John ran to greet him. Aeryn didn't quite believe it until he was in her arms, small and slender and smelling of soap and boyness. D'argo's arms latched around her neck and he kept repeating "I knew you'd come I knew you'd come I knew you'd come," into her shoulder. John wrapped himself around them both, touching D'argo's hair, her own, and she let him do the talking for the both of them, reassuring and relieved.

"Look at you," Aeryn finally pulled back and let go enough for D'argo to hug his father properly. She ran a hand through his unkempt hair brushing down over the baggy brown clothing. She couldn't stop the smile on her face or the tears that sprang up at seeing him safe and whole.

"You all right, Little Dee?" asked John, his voice rough. "We heard you were in a shuttle crash." He gave D'argo some space and started running his hands over his chest checking his ribs. Aeryn's hands mirrored his on D'argo's head.

"I'm mostly fine now," D'argo said but didn't push their hands away as he normally might. Instead he held onto them, one hand one each of their arms. Aeryn pulled him in again, careful of his ribs, and never wanted to let go.

"We were so worried," she said, her voice soft and breaking into his ear.

"I tried to take care of myself," D'argo whispered. "But I think I was lucky."

"Luck'll only get you so far. Gotta get yourself the rest of the way" replied John. "We're so proud of you."

They stay in the cocoon of their own soft voices for another minute before movement on the stairs above interrupted. A woman in red and the man who'd been with D'argo earlier both stood on the landing watching their reunion. They looked friendly enough, smiling and with empty hands, but Aeryn knew better than to take anything at face value. She rose to her feet as she met the woman's eyes, feeling more than seeing her son sink into John's embrace.

"Welcome to Atlantis. I'm Doctor Elizabeth Weir," said the woman. She stood tall and confident, and Aeryn recognized her voice from earlier. "Perhaps we should continue in the conference room?"

There were three tables in the conference room set in a rough circle. Sheppard, Emmagen, the man Dex, and two newcomers, McKay and Beckett, joined them. From their short conversation she knew D'argo liked and trusted the first and feared the second. Beckett didn't look like much, but Aeryn knew what nightmares her son could conjure without anyone to turn up the lights. She also knew how true those nightmares could become.

"Thank you for taking care of D'argo," she said when everyone was settled. The three of them were seated behind the table closest to the door, D'argo in John's lap despite his mild protests. "Can you tell us what happened?" It was Aeryn's turn to be in charge as much as she'd rather be holding her boy right now. She and John tried to play to their strengths, by turns Good Cop/Bad Cop or Bad Cop/Crazy Cop as the situation demanded. Aeryn was always the Bad Cop, and as Moya's captain these days, the one to usually greet strangers first to give them time to figure out what role John would play.

As Weir explained D'argo's discovery on another planet and Beckett his injuries, Aeryn tried not to think about how close they had come to losing him forever. They still lived on the edge with half of each cycle spent on Moya, but it was a sheltered edge that didn't often result in kidnapping or shooting or shuttle crashes. That much anyaway.

"But they're healing clean?" she asked after Beckett finished his summary.

"Yes, quite well all things considered. I was more worried about the internal bleeding given the differences in anatomy, but that has cleared up as well." He didn't quite meet her eyes and she didn't need D'argo's whisper to John in sebacean about scanners to tell her what they knew. Remembering their trip to Earth, she fixed Weir with a hard stare.

"Yes, I am an alien," she said conscious of her empty thigh holster. "Considering D'argo is still alive and I am not a prisoner, I expect I will remain unharmed."

"What!" Her words made a stir as all the humans protested at once until Weir settled them. "We would never do any such thing," she said stridently. "You are not the first alien we have ever met and if you were I would never allow such an action. I don't know where you come from but you do not have to fear that from us."

"Just fear regular kinds of things?" asked John, speaking for the first time.

Sheppard gave them a smile that wasn't really a smile. "Well, as long as you don't threaten us, we won't threaten you. That way everyone's happy."

"They've been talking to the people who took me," said D'argo in sebacean. All eyes turned to him but he ignored them for hers. "They believe the stories about the war and they think you made me into the weapon."

Aeryn closed her eyes. "Frell."

"Okay, we've officially stayed here too long. Let's wrap this up," said John, false cheer propelling him and D'argo to their feet. "It's been fun. Ancient myths come to life and all that."

"I'm sorry, did we miss something?" asked Weir raising an eyebrow.

"Thank you for taking care of our son," Aeryn ignored the question and stood as well. "We'll go now and get out of your way."

"Why the sudden rush?" asked McKay in clear confusion. "You just got here."

"And we got what we came for," said John. "We don't want any trouble, hypothetical or otherwise."

"Dr. Weir, Dr. McKay" a uniformed man leaned into the conference room. "We just picked up another wave and another ship. Appeared just like theirs." There was a collective breath and then the humans jumped to their feet and moved into the other room. It only took a moment for Aeryn and John to follow, Aeryn glaring at both the guard and her husband.

"Did you have to say that?" she asked.

"Me and Murphy's Law," he sighed. "I knew I shouldn't have opened my big mouth."

"You should have let me find you," said D'argo. "I could have snuck out."

That would have been a very good idea if her son didn't happen to be surrounded by a keeper and armed soldiers. "Too much of a risk."

The officers were gathered around a radar screen to the side of the control center. McKay sat at a terminal, two dimensions of flickering lines and unreadable script before him. "Its energy signature matches that of the Iyall ship," he said. "Only it's much bigger."

"Who are the Iyalls?" Aeryn earned herself six stares.

"I thought you knew," said Weir. "They're the aliens that took Dee."

"And they came through another wormhole?" demanded John abruptly. Aeryn knew that tone and it only meant bad things.

"If that's what you're calling the electromagnetic distortion field that preceded your arrival," said McKay.

John ignored him and asked Weir. "Have they been here before? Lil' Dee said you were talking with them."

"No, they haven't," replied Weir. "We've been speaking to them on another planet."

"John? Could they have followed us?" Aeryn was unsure what to make of the stargate looming below. The humans had explained that they used it to get to the planet where D'argo had been found but little else.

"With what?" asked John. "They sure as hell weren't in Gopherspace when we got there and there's no way they cracked Lady Marmalade on Toast."

At least no one had yet broken the scrambled Leviathan mating call they used in the children's homing beacons. "What if they were invisible?"

"Captain Sun?" said Weir when John went quiet. The others were staring waiting for an explanation. John, however, frowned and instead leaned over McKay's shoulder to look at the readings. "Are you sure they haven't opened a wormhole here before?" he asked.

"Yes, we're sure," snapped McKay. "I think we would have noticed if a distortion showed up above our planet. Oh, wait. We did."

"Frell!" John looked up, grim. "They must have been waiting for us. Somewhere."

Aeryn felt the blood drain from her face like the shock of water. Frell was right, and they should have realized it from the beginning. It was one thing to have D'argo kidnapped, another to have been traced here. They had found them once, found them here again within an arn of their arrival.

"You were followed?" asked McKay.

"Yes," John's voice bit out in anger she knew was not directed at her. "Closely. Or they were waiting in the wormhole. There's no way they could have punched through without us going first. No one gets the timing that right, I don't care what kind of machines they have." He spun away, hand going to his head. "Twelve frelling cycles."

"Captain Sun," Weir's voice crackled, snapping Aeryn back to the humans in this far different reality. "What exactly is going on?"

"D'argo, go with John," she pushed her son toward his father who needed something to hold on to at the moment. D'argo nodded and ducked under John's arm pulling it around himself. John dropped a kiss to his head and held him close. She knew exactly what he was feeling because it was in the pit of her stomach as well. Twelve cycles and the Pathfinders, or whatever they called themselves, had still come after them. Lain in wait for them to come after D'argo. Aeryn had the sudden urge to run, familiar and sickening after so many years of relative peace. Her thoughts went to Moya where Zhannah was alone save for Pilot and Norianti. If they had been followed from their home reality . . .

"Captain?"

"Dr. Weir, message coming through."

Weir gave Aeryn a lingering look before tearing her gaze away. "Put it through."

"Humans of Atlantis, you harbor known criminals. We request return."

Aeryn inhaled sharply, waiting for the axe to fall as John would say. But it didn't. It fell on Weir and stopped short.

"To harbor criminals is acceptance of same crime. Is punished with death. Return or be guilty."

Weir turned to her with an inquiring tilt of her head. The other officers stared as well and Aeryn was very conscious of the soldiers all around. They were trapped on this island with nowhere to run.

&&&&&&&&&&&&

"All right, start explaining." Elizabeth was seated behind her desk with John standing to the left arms crossed on his chest. Across from them sat Captain Sun looking back and forth between them not at all at ease.

"Look, I appreciate that you don't know us, but they're lying."

The past twenty minutes had consisted of some of the fastest talking Elizabeth had done since negotiating two nukes from the Genii. The situation was simple: the Iyalls wanted Sun and Crichton for murder or they would destroy the civilian populations on the mainland and on Esea. She had talked them down to letting her mediate a discussion which ended up sounding more like a trial. Tomorrow. On Atlantis. She couldn't wait. Which left her with one pair of anxious and possibly homicidal guests and a boy she promised to protect caught in the middle.

"Forgive me for not knowing who to trust here, Captain." The whole situation had left the realm of frustrating for truly pissed off. "While I won't hesitate to question their motives especially now that they've threatened my people and our allies, the Iyalls have shown me some pretty convincing evidence that your not just harmless travelers either."

Sun's lips twisted into a mockery of a smile. "Considering that they were trying to kill us the first time we met them, you frelling right we fought back."

"They claim you attacked a science vessel, murdered the crew, and stole their data," said Elizabeth.

"Of course they did," muttered Sun. "They're lying."

"So what did happen?"

"Their ship crashed into Moya on the edge of a wormhole, did something that made them fuse. We all got thrown into the wall of a wormhole. They tried to kill Moya, then us, to save their ship. We won. They died. And Zhaan . . . sacrificed herself to separate the ships so we wouldn't all die."

"And the stolen data?" asked John.

"They think it's on Moya."

"That's your ship." John frowned.

"Yes."

"You said they tried to kill . . . your ship?"

Sun, to Elizabeth's surprise, rolled her eyes. "Moya's a Leviathan, alive, biomechanoid. So yes, they were trying to murder her."

Elizabeth sat back in her chair to absorb this side of the argumennt. An accident and two groups vying for their own version of survival. A living ship was hardly surprising at this point. "And the terrorism?"

"Terrorism?" The Captain frowned, confused.

"You blew up a planet," Elizabeth clarified. "Allegedly."

"You're in no position to judge us," said Sun harshly. "Did the Pathfinders mention there was a war going on then? Are you going to condemn us for every person we killed in battle?" Elizabeth sat forward again but the Captain cut her off before she could respond. "You're scared of us. You think we have this planet exploding weapon, or that D'argo's it or something equally stupid." She stood up and encompassed John in her hard gaze as well. "As long as you leave me, my husband, and my son alone, you have nothing to fear from us. Harm them, and I will kill you."

"We won't. I give you my word." Elizabeth stood as well. Sun was utterly still, tense and serious. She meant every word she said and had none of the cockiness Elizabeth was used to seeing when she was threatened. She found herself respecting Sun for that.

The Captain glanced at John who also nodded. "We'll stay through the meeting. See what they want and be on our way. We can stay in the pod if it will make you more comfortable."

"We have more than enough room to spare. I'll arrange for someone to show you around."

"You'll have an escort assigned to you as well," added John. "They'll be with you at all times."

"Right. Because we'd blow up your planet with us still on it, wouldn't we?"

Caught off guard, Elizabeth hid her amusement at the look the other woman gave John that could have come from Rodney. "We give all our guests an escort," she said.

"As a captain, I'm sure you understand," smiled John just shy of patronizing.

Sun snorted. "Don't worry. I wouldn't trust me either." With a final nod, she left. John radioed Lorne about getting a couple marines on duty as they watched Sun join Crichton and Dee on the bottom step to the gate level. Father and son both looked up and listened as she spoke.

"Well?" she asked.

"Well, they're either lying and we're stuck guarding essentially two terrorists who will do whatever it takes to protect their family, or they're telling the truth and we're stuck guarding two soldiers who will do whatever it takes to protect their family." John raised his eyebrows pointedly. "I'm not sure which is worse."

Elizabeth smiled humorlessly. She'd seen it in Sun's eyes too, that spark of honest and deadly determination. Her fears from first impressions had nothing on that gaze. It reminded her of every fairy tale and news story where love came out the stronger force, a force of nature that swept away anything that got in its way, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&

"We really can't go home?" D'argo asked when Mom was done explaining that they would stay through the meeting with his kidnappers. He wished they weren't, he wished that they were in the pod and already going home where he could see Zhaanah and Granny and Pilot and sleep in his own bed and not be in this cold place anymore.

"They'll keep coming after us if we don't solve this now," said Dad. "Besides, you can show us all the cool stuff you've been doing."

"I don't want to," D'argo twisted to face him but got caught as Dad pulled him close. He was warm and smelled of leather and a little like Moya and Mom and chakken oil and it all made everything inside him clench up. "I wanna go home."

"I know, Lil' Dee, I know," Dad kissed the top of his head. "But we don't always get what we want."

D'argo hated it when he said that. "Why do they care about us? Why does everyone always want something from us?" It wasn't fair and it was always something. "Why don't people leave us alone?"

"They do," said Mom. At D'argo's look she grinned. "It used to be much worse."

"Before the war?"

"And after it for a while, when you were a baby," Mom replied. "But we got through it, and we'll get through this."

"It's not fair. And don't say 'life isn't fair,'" he added as he felt Dad chuckle behind him and Mom smile again. "I hate it when you say that because it should be."

"All right, we won't," said Dad, ruffling his hair this time. "But there's no use fretting over it 'cause –"

"That's the way it is, I know," D'argo sighed.

"Come on." Mom grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet, extending a hand to Dad, too. "Let's grab our guards and find something to eat. Norianti's been making nothing but soup since you went missing."

"Aww, sorry," said D'argo because while Granny was a good cook, everyone knew she spit in the soup no matter how many times Dad yelled at her not to. Consequently, it was a meal often avoided and often turned into a base for medicines or drugs.

"They have anything good here?" asked Dad.

"Yeah," said D'argo wondering where to start. He liked most of their food and he began listing his favorites as they headed for the door. Two soldiers smiled at him and nodded when Mom mentioned going to the mess, one led and one followed them to the transporter. It was kind of weird, but D'argo recognized them and since he didn't have to worry about them with his parents there he ended up asking them for names of things he'd forgotten or never learned. Dad, surprisingly, actually knew what a lot of the food was, and Mom knew some of it, and soon it was just like at home, with Dad saying "potatoes and curry are like chocolate and peanut butter," and Mom saying she liked them with mustard and both of them arguing and asking him which he liked better. Like Dad's arms around him, it was warm and familiar, like a blanket he could burrow beneath to keep out the dreams of monsters at night. With them, where he belonged, everything finally felt right.

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