A/N: Congratulations, you've made it to the end. We hope you enjoyed the ride, because we had a blast. We hope to see you again in the future.

WHAT'S LEFT BEHIND - Chapter 18

John sat in the chair across from Elizabeth's desk, listening to her as she responded to Rodney on her radio. She didn't take long, then her attention was fully focused on him. He resisted the urge to fidget beneath her scrutiny.

"How are you feeling today, John?" Elizabeth queried.

"I'm good." He was glad he could say that and mean it. Getting to the place he was at now hadn't been easy. It had been three long months of drastic ups and downs since he had made his turn around and started working towards recovery. Hellish months at times, for everyone. But John had stuck it out and everyone had supported him. He was grateful to them all.

Elizabeth was still studying him. "Do you feel a difference?"

John knew what she was asking. It was a week ago today that Beckett had started weaning him off the anti-depressants. Not that the good Doc had been happy about it, but John had gotten Kate to back him up. "Not really," he replied. "So far I feel pretty much the same. A little more sensitive to things, but I've been able to adjust to it easily enough."

"You're still sleeping okay?" Elizabeth prompted.

"So far." John frowned at her, wondering why she was asking so many questions when he knew she got a daily update about his condition from Beckett. "What's going on?" John sensed that something was up.

Elizabeth sighed, looking a bit uncertain, her eyes dropping to her hands which were clenched on her desk top. "I've been in discussions with Carson and Kate about you going back through the gate. A few weeks ago you asked Carson about it."

John nodded. "Yeah, and he said he didn't know when."

"He wasn't too happy about your weight gain back then," Elizabeth said, lifting her head and smiling a bit.

"He's still not happy with me," John replied, finding himself smiling back. And that was an understatement. In three months time he had only gained twelve pounds. And that was with eating six meals a day and drinking protein shakes twice a day. But he'd always had a good metabolism and two weeks ago he'd started running again with Ronon. The first few days had about killed him, but now John felt better than he could remember feeling in a long time. Exercise was good for his mind and his body, and Beckett had pretty much agreed with him on that. Although he still watched John's weight like a hawk.

Elizabeth stood up, moving around to the front of the desk and perching on it. "I think he's a bit jealous. He told me he's put on six pounds on the past three months, even though he's been dieting a bit."

John chuckled at that, remembering how he'd seen Beckett eating a salad at lunch today and grumbling about it all the while. Watching John eat a cheese burger probably hadn't helped. But he realized that Elizabeth had called him into her office for a reason and he wanted to know what it was. "Is there a punch-line to this conversation?" he prompted.

"There is," Elizabeth allowed, looking serious now. She leaned in a bit then asked, "How would you like to go through the gate with your team?"

"What?" To say that John was stunned was an understatement. This was the last thing he had expected her to say. "You're not serious, are you?" A part of him wanted her to be joking, but another part of him felt a rush of excitement. He'd been put on light duty a month ago, progressing up to an eight hour shift, with rest periods. He felt ready to get back to his job on a physical level. Nothing like heading into an out and out battle or anything, but certainly ready enough to do some exploring. Other than two trips to the mainland with Teyla, John had been stuck on Atlantis.

Elizabeth locked eyes with John. "I'm very serious. It wouldn't be an exploratory mission, mind you. I thought you might like to relieve Lorne's team and take a visit to M3M-787. It's time to meet with them to trade again."

John knew that they went to the Silian world every other month to trade candy bars for vegetables. The Silians were simple and pleasant people, and their world was pretty and serene. Going there would be a cakewalk. A chance to get his feet wet without having to worry about losing his footing and drowning. Which made John realize what Elizabeth was doing. She was giving him a chance to get back on the horse, so to speak. Which should have made him happy and eager to go, but all he felt at the moment was doubt. "Are you sure Beckett's willing to let me out of his clutches?" John countered. He wanted to give himself a moment to think about this.

"I'm sure," Elizabeth said firmly. "As I said, I've been talking with Carson and Kate. They think you're ready to take the next step. You need to ease your way back to normal, John. This would be a good start."

"Is it definite or can I think about it?" he countered. Because he really wasn't sure if he was ready. In fact, John was starting to feel panic set in. It pushed him out of the chair and onto his feet, fidgeting.

Elizabeth looked surprised, then concerned. "John, are you all right? Do you want me to call Carson?"

He shook his head, trying desperately to hold onto his control. He was not going to flip out about this. What he was going to do was talk to Kate. In the past three months John had learned to trust the woman. She never once tried to patronize him, or force him into talking during their sessions. In fact she pretty much let him control what happened, and John was grateful to her for that. For the trust she showed him. But what he needed right now was her input and support. "I just...I need to think about it. I'll get back to you." With that he was out the door, practically running into the nearest transporter. When the door shut, John leaned against the wall, feeling himself trembling. He closed his hands into fists, closed his eyes and willed himself to get control back.

Teyla had been teaching John breathing techniques designed to help him find calm for both his body and his mind. He had scoffed at them at first, but after a while he had come to realize they actually worked. So John focused on breathing in deep and exhaling slowly, until his heart stopped thumping in his chest and he was able to control the tremors that shook him. To control the fear.

By then the transporter had reached it destination and was simply waiting for him to disembark. Which John did, setting a course straight for Kate's office. He needed to talk about this, to work out why he was so afraid of this. He needed to figure out what it meant. So when he reached Kate's door, he knocked on it before he could talk himself out of it.

"Come in!" Kate called out.

John entered the room, making his way over to Kate's desk. She had her lap top open, which gave him pause. "You're busy."

Kate shook her head. "Not really. Just clearing some files. What can I do for you, Colonel?"

"Do you have a minute to talk?" he asked, and he wondered if he looked as desperate as he felt. Maybe so because Kate didn't hesitate. She nodded and gestured to the chair across from her desk.

"I have all the time you need," Kate replied. "What's on your mind."

John didn't sit down because he felt too wound up. Instead he paced for a minute, deciding if he really wanted to do this or not. Then he realized he needed to do this. He needed to keep taking those tiny steps forward. Nothing about his recovery had been easy, and it wasn't over yet. Nor would he be back to what had once passed for normal for a long time. But John knew his coming here and wanting to talk was maybe a big step in that direction. "Elizabeth offered to let me go off world with my team," he blurted out.

Kate didn't look surprised. "Yes, we talked about it."

"You think I'm ready?" John had to ask, he had to know.

"She wouldn't have made the offer if I hadn't believed you were," Kate said gently. "You really weren't expecting this though. Were you?"

John shook his head. There was no reason to lie about it. "I figured it would be months before Beckett would clear me."

Kate stood up, moving to his side and easing him over towards the couch. She sat down, drawing her with him. "You've come so far in such a short time," she began.

"Three months isn't a short time," John countered. He gripped his right knee, trying to get his leg to stop bobbing up and down in a nervous reaction.

"Given how deep into depression you were, it is," Kate said gently. "Your recovery to this date has been remarkable, yet not really all that surprising."

John was surprised to hear that. "Really? And here I thought it was taking forever. I've fought against it pretty much every step of the way."

Kate shook her head, her hand coming out to cover his on his knee. "Once you decided you wanted to get better, you've thrown yourself into fighting back. You've been completely focused on doing what you've needed to do. And it's working."

"I guess." John wasn't so sure that mattered right now.

"What are you afraid of, Colonel?" Kate prompted. "Why does the thought of going through the gate scare you?"

John thought about it for a moment, sorting through his chaotic emotions. "I guess...I'm afraid I'll fail," he said at last.

Kate looked stunned at his reply. "Fail in what way?"

"Fail my team," John clarified. "What if something happens and I freeze up? They need to be able to trust me to watch their backs."

"I think they trust you," Kate said gently. "When I brought them in for the group sessions, you told me you believed them when they said they trusted you, Colonel. Were you lying about that?"

John shook his head. "No. I wasn't lying. But it was just words, you know? It's easy to say them, but hard to live up to them. My whole life is all about actions speak louder than words. It what you do, more than what you say, that matters. What if I do the wrong thing?" And John was shaking again, shaking and nauseous as a cold sweat broke out over his skin.

Kate grounded him with her hand on his arm. "I don't know what's going to happen, Colonel. No one does. But I do know you'll never find out if you don't go out there again. And, just for the record, we've talked to your team and they think you're ready. They're ready to follow wherever you lead them."

"Elizabeth isn't doing this to prove something to me, is she?" John countered, because the thought suddenly occurred to him that she might. Since that day he had begged her to stay on Atlantis, the day he had made a stand and turned his life around, they had talked about what happened. About her guilt towards him and what he had suffered. John had told her a million times that he no longer blamed her, that at the very least she was forgiven. But he couldn't help but wonder now if she still hadn't been able to forgive herself. Which he could understand, probably better than anyone. He had a long way to go before his own closet was empty of guilt and demons.

"She's doing this because she believes you're ready," Kate replied. "It's as simple as that, Colonel."

He believed she meant that, but at the same time he still couldn't shake his doubt or his fear. "I dreamed about Thalan last night," he blurted out. And it had been weighing on him, heavily, since he'd awakened from the dream.

Kate's expression didn't change, but her eyes did darken as she asked, "What was the dream about?"

"He was back on Atlantis and he was goading me to kill everyone. Telling me that it was there fault I was broken," John replied. And it felt good to say that outloud.

"How did it make you feel?" Kate queried.

John locked eyes with her as he replied. "PIssed off. Pissed off enough to dream I had a gun and I killed him. Nailed him right between the eyes."

Kate looked a bit shocked at that, but her tone was cool and collected as she asked, "So he died in your dream?"

"No. He just disappeared." John stood up and started pacing again. He could feel agitation creeping up on him but damn if he was going to let it beat him. He was stronger than that. He had worked too hard to fall back into those doubts and fears. "But I was glad I shot him. I woke up feeling confused, but pleased."

"That's a good sign," Kate told him.

John supposed it was. "Do I have to go on this mission?" he asked, because he still wasn't sure how he felt about it.

Kate shook her head. "No. Whether or not you go is up to you."

"Okay." Right now that was all he needed to hear. Heading for the door, John stopped as he reached it, turning back to smile at Kate. "Hey, can we count this as my last session for this week?" He was down to two a week and he had just one more for this one.

"No," Kate shot back. "You know the rules. My door is always open to you, but the mandatory sessions are just that. Mandatory. So I'll see you in two days."

John pretended to pout, then he smiled and said softly, "Thanks, doc," before striding out the door. He would go for a short run to clear his head, then he would talk to Elizabeth.

OoO

John ran into Elizabeth in the mess hall, and convinced her to eat in her office so they could talk. So now they were sitting around her desk, sandwiches in front of them. John had yet to take a bite.

Elizabeth noticed and pointed at his plate. "Eat then talk."

He was going to argue but knew it was easier to comply. Everyone in Atlantis seemed to be watching his eating habits. His own men would hand him candy bars and cookies from their own private stashes. The biggest surprise of all being Rodney giving up his favorite chocolate cake to John, every Friday night. The not so cool part of that being that Rodney sat there watching until he ate it all. But he didn't have the heart to tell McKay that he really didn't like chocolate cake. So he choked it down with a smile. Like he did now with his sandwich bite.

"What did you want to talk about, John?" Elizabeth asked, after taking a bite of her own sandwich.

"About the mission," he replied, reaching for his glass of milk. Because Beckett still had him drinking three glasses of the stuff a day.

Elizabeth laid her sandwich aside. "Are you ready to go? I can clear it for tomorrow morning."

John pushed his own plate away, his appetite gone. Not that he had had much of one anyway. He ate to get better, not because he cared about food. "I'm not sure I'm ready to do this," he said bluntly.

"Why not?" Elizabeth looked surprised by his confession. "It's not going to be dangerous for any of you, John. The Silians are peaceful and we've been trading with them for over a year. Think of it as a friendly visit and the chance to get outside and stretch your legs."

"But what if something happens?" John countered, letting his fears show. Letting her see his doubts. He wanted her to understand why he wasn't ready. Why this was a bad idea. "What if I can't handle it?"

But Elizabeth was shaking her head at him. "You can't think that way, John. You can't second guess yourself like that."

He was ready to argue that with her because, sure he could. Second guessing himself at this point was all he had left. "I just...I don't think I'm ready to go out there yet," he stated firmly, and he could see that Elizabeth already had a reply formulated, but she didn't get a chance to say anything because at that moment Rodney burst in the office.

He looked surprised to see John sitting there, but recovered swiftly and asked, "Ready for the mission? Not that it's really a mission mission. But it'll be nice to get out through the gate, won't it?" Rodney was babbling on without bother to take a breath.

"I'm not going," John interjected, watching all the wind go out of McKay's sails.

"What?" Rodney looked stunned as he faced John. "Are you kidding? Why not?" Before John could reply, Rodney was turning to Elizabeth. "I thought you said he could go through the gate? The Silians aren't dangerous!" Rodney's voice was getting louder and sharper.

Elizabeth raised her hands in an appeasing gesture. "He can go as far as I'm concerned. But, apparently, he doesn't want too."

John was becoming disgruntled being talked about. "HE is right HERE!" he snapped.

"Why don't you want to go through the gate?" Rodney asked, looking like someone had slapped him. His eyes were wide with disbelief and he looked pale with splotches of color high on his cheeks. "You love going through the gate. It's all you've been talking about. Getting better so you can go back through the gate. Well here's your chance!"

"I don't think I'm ready yet," John shot back, feeling suddenly on the defense and not liking it one bit.

Rodney's eyes went wider, his mouth opened and closed a few times like a fish out of water, then he was stabbing a finger in John's direction. "Don't be stupid!" he hissed. "You're ready! We're all ready! Get with the program, Colonel!"

John had his mouth open to deny it when suddenly something clicked into place. Rodney meant what he said. He thought John was ready for this. And Rodney was seldom wrong about anything and John wanted him to be right about this. So instead of arguing, he slumped back in his chair, feeling the tension draining out of him, and nodded. "Okay. I'm ready."

"Are you sure?" It was Elizabeth asking. She looked a little shell shocked.

"He's sure," Rodney replied for him.

John simply smiled and nodded.

OoO

John didn't sleep that night. Hadn't expected too. They were leaving for Silia in the morning. So his night was plagued with dreams of Thalan on a killing spree in Atlantis. Only this time he killed himself, which meant he killed John, which was when he woke up in bed, shaking, chilled by a cold sweat with his stomach twisting into knots. He puked twice before finding the will to shower and get dressed. He didn't even attempt breakfast.

Beckett gave him the once over, it was the final check he had to pass to get through the gate. John didn't lie about breakfast. He even offered up the fact he hadn't slept much because of nightmares. Which made Beckett question whether or not he should go through the gate. A question he asked of John just as Ronon appeared to check on him.

"You can do this, Sheppard," the Satedan stated, from his position of leaning in the doorway.

"I'm not so sure about that," John replied. He was honest enough to admit he was something of a mess right now. Then Ronon had to go and say the magic words.

"I trust you."

Which had John sliding off the bed and patting Beckett on the shoulder. "I'm going. I'll eat a couple of powerbars along the way."

Carson nodded. "Be sure you do." And as he sent John off he looked somewhat like a proud father.

So John gathered with his team before the gate, smiled like he meant it as he said goodbye to Elizabeth, then he stepped through the puddle with her words echoing in his ears.

"Good luck and come back safe."

He intended to do just that.

OoO

John should have known it wouldn't be that easy for them. It never was. The Silians had greeted them with smiles and warm affection, drawing them into their fold and holding a feast in their honor. John even managed to eat fairly well, under Teyla's watchful eye. By mid-afternoon he was finding himself able to relax and enjoy the company. Although he had a lingering buzz of unease. Like something was raising the hairs on the back of his neck. Something bad was going to happen.

It was Teyla who shouted the warning. "WRAITH!"

And in that moment the first of the Darts appeared and all hell broke loose. It was total chaos and John knew he couldn't save everyone. But he felt himself slipping back into soldier-mode with ease as Wraith were beamed down and started attacking. The Silian's had a hiding place and John and his team did their best to lay cover for them to escape before making their own way towards the gate. John had to get his team back to Atlantis. He reloaded his P90 and fired on two more Wraith.

Rodney was at the DHD, getting ready to dial.

"NOW!" John shouted at him. Then he gestured for Ronon and Teyla to head for the gate, all of them still firing. And that's when it happened. John turned to get Rodney and he froze at the sight before him. A Wraith had Rodney on the ground and was looming over him, ready to feed. Having been in that position before, John knew how it felt. He had been stunned at the time and helpless. But he wasn't helpless now and Rodney needed him. That spurred John into action.

"HEY UGLY!" He shouted, as he ran towards the Wraith. The creature froze then turned to face him, abandoning Rodney for the moment.

John waited for him to approach, almost too close, before filling his body with lead. The bastard was damn hard to kill, but he finally lay still on the ground and John ran to Rodney's side. "You okay?"

Rodney was shaking and pale, but he looked otherwise unharmed. "No! I'm not okay!" he snapped. "Can we go now?"

"Sure thing." The gate was open and waiting for them. John hauled Rodney to his feet and helped him run."

"Thanks, for the saving me thing," Rodney gasped out as they reached Ronon and Teyla.

John grinned. "Just doing my job," he stated, then he pushed Rodney through, gestured for Ronon and Teyla to follow, then he stepped into the puddle, anxious to get home.

The debrief was brief, then Elizabeth sent them off to the infirmary for post checks. They were all saddened by the culling and Elizabeth was already getting Lorne's team assembled to return in the morning to check on the Silian's. John straggled behind the others, needing a moment to himself. Needing a moment of silence. They had come so close to losing Rodney. John shuddered at the thought then told himself to pull it together. They had survived just like always and it had felt good being out there.

So he shook off the gloom and doom feeling, like he had always done in the past and made his way to the infirmary. Everyone else had come and gone and Beckett was waiting for him. He sat down on the gurney only to realize he was trembling, hard enough that his teeth just about clacked together.

"Colonel, are you all right?" Carson's voice betrayed his concern. "Are you hurt?"

"N-no...I'm...I'm f-fine." John couldn't stop himself from stuttering. Then he felt an acid burn in the back of his throat and he gagged. Luckily Beckett got the message and grabbed a basin, holding it for him as John heaved his guts up. Then he felt himself tipping over until strong hands eased him back against the pillows. He was still shaking but not as hard. A damp towel wiped his face then a cool cup of water was pressed to his lips and John sipped, spit, then drank a bit.

Carson eyed him with concern. "Feeling better now?"

John nodded, lifting one hand to scrub over his face. He was still shaking but it was easing up little by little. "What the hell is wrong with me?"

"I think it's a delayed reaction to everything that happened," Carson replied. "To the Wraith attack that you weren't expecting, and to the adrenaline rush your body hasn't experienced in quite a while."

"Yeah, guess it has been awhile." John clasped his hands together then asked, "How's my team? They okay? Rodney?"

Carson smiled warmly. "They're all fine. I sent them off to eat and sleep. You need to do the same."

John grimaced. "I'm not all that hungry at the moment," he protested. His stomach was empty but he still felt a bit nauseous.

"I suppose the food can wait," Carson allowed. "I want you to know something though. Actually I'm rather just passing along a message from your team. You did good out there, John. You did your job and you brought them home. Like we all knew you would."

"I didn't have time to be scared," he confessed. But hearing Carson's words sent a rush of warmth through John. He felt at peace with himself for the first time in a long time. He could feel some of his doubts and guilt melting away.

Carson patted his shoulder. "I want you to get some sleep, then when you wake up you eat then go talk to Kate. You've passed a milestone, Colonel, but the road ahead is still going to be rocky."

John knew that and he was able to accept it now. "I'm ready for whatever comes my way," he said firmly. And he meant it.

"Would you like to sleep here or in your room?" Carson asked.

"My room," John replied, without hesitation. He wanted a shower and his own clothes. And some time alone to reflect on things. He slid off the bed and clapped Beckett on the shoulder. "Thanks, Doc. For everything." John knew that Beckett had his own guilt and that the things John had forced him to do to help him hadn't been easy for him.

Carson grinned then waved him off.

John walked back to his room, feeling the weight of exhaustion creeping over him. But it was a good kind of tired for once. He entered his room, stripped and took a quick shower. After drying off he pulled on sweats and a t-shirt and crawled into bed. There were images dancing in his head. Ford and the Wraith, Sumner and the Genii. All of his demons dancing in the shadows of his mind. But he didn't fear them any more.

Settling into his pillow he closed his eyes. He was ready for whatever the future would bring. Because whatever happened he knew he wouldn't face it alone. He knew his friends had his six, just like he had theirs.

Drifting into sleep, John slept without dreaming.

THE END