NOTE: Special thanks to Ginnia for the suggestion that the team show Helia their trust through a plaque. I thought that was a great idea, so I incorporated it into this chapter. And you'll be thrilled to learn that this is the last chapter. Thanks to anyone still reading.

The Return Part 2: Favorite Son - Chapter 21

John paused as he walked by his dresser, staring down at the black box. Taking a step closer, he reached down to open the lid. Light glinted off the silver cluster of five stars, one in the middle surrounded by the other four. He let his finger glide gently over the smooth surface, its meaning filling him with a sense of pride. He'd spent a lot of the last two weeks thinking about his life and what he'd done with it. Although he still had his disappointments and failures that he'd love to be able to go back and change, he'd decided that just maybe he was more of an asset than a liability. Elizabeth and Helia had both offered him nothing but support and he respected the leadership ability of both. He may not always make the right decision, but he was always willing to do whatever it took to protect the people around him. Smiling, he closed the box and took a deep breath.

A knock at the door drew his attention and he thought it open. Rodney strode in, finishing a conversation on his radio as he waved. " . . . us know when they dial in. Hopefully we'll be done by then. Right, that will work." Rodney clicked his radio off and glanced at John. "Okay, you ready?"

John nodded. "Yeah, I'm ready and looking forward to doing something constructive. I'm sick of reading and resting and going to PT." He unconsciously flexed the fingers of his left hand and then rubbed his shoulder.

Rodney cocked his head slightly and narrowed his eyes. "You did clear this with Carson, right?"

John rolled his eyes and sighed. "Yes, I'm not a total moron. He said we needed to limit the time in the chair to two hours. If we aren't done, I can take a two hour break and then do two more hours. Until I'm released to full duty, that's all he'll allow."

Rodney nodded. "That should be fine. Two hours should be plenty. Besides, the new people are arriving about noon, so we'll need to quit then anyway."

"Good. The package should be coming with them. I hope our little idea pans out okay."

Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "Either she appreciates it or she doesn't."

"Yeah, I guess. Let's go." John followed Rodney as he led the way out of his quarters. They talked as they walked, arriving at the chair room a few minutes later. Dolon and Radek were waiting on them.

The Czech scientist pushed his glasses up as he lifted his head and watched them come into the room. "Look who decided to join us. We thought about sending search party."

Rodney just gave an irritated smirk as he went to the control panel and began checking readings. "Ha, ha, Radek, very funny. Don't quit your day job just yet. Oops, that's right, this is your day job. My bad."

Radek muttered something in Czeck, prompting a smile from John and Dolon. John coughed to cover a small chuckle and then looked at Rodney. "Hey, you want me in the chair yet?"

Rodney waved a hand dismissively at him. "Yes, yes, go ahead and connect. I'll let you know when to start doing stuff."

Dolon rolled his eyes for John's benefit and the pilot grinned as he sat in the chair, activating it as it slid back. The connection faltered for a few seconds, almost sputtering and making John reach out to seek Atlantis. He was instantly worried that something was wrong. He finally felt her and concentrated hard on making a thorough connection. Almost immediately, he felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. If he'd thought it possible, he would have thought the city was crying. He reached deeper, seeking the reason for the flood of emotions, only to encounter guilt and fear. Calling out to Atlantis, he questioned what was wrong.

A short time later, he finally understood. Atlantis was apologizing for holding him in the medical stasis pod and seemed almost fearful of his response. He sought to comfort her, in much the same way she had comforted him in the past. Doing his best to assure her that he wasn't angry, he pushed acceptance and understanding toward her. He wanted her to know he understood what she had done and why, and that he was grateful to her for listening to Rodney's explanation of why her plan wouldn't work. He stressed that she had saved his life. When he began to sense a shift in emotion, he assured her that he would stay around for as long as possible. Although he warned her that he couldn't promise her he'd keep safe, he did vow to do his best to come back to her each and every time. Just as the connection began to slide back toward the familiar, Rodney interrupted.

"Colonel, answer me! Are you all right or not?"

John smiled and cracked his eyes open. "Fine. I just had to clear up a bit of confusion before we started. And she says hi."

Rodney's expression immediately softened. "Oh, well, okay. She really said hi? Tell her hi back from me. And then we're ready to start making the changes to the power grid."

John nodded and closed his eyes again. "I'm ready. Just tell me what you want."


"Colonel, it's been two hours. You need to quit."

John recognized Dolon's voice, but didn't open his eyes. "Hang on just a few more seconds. Almost done."

Rodney wondered if he should make Sheppard stop or let him finish when his radio activated.

"Rodney, it's Elizabeth. Earth is dialing in."

"On our way. Thanks, Elizabeth." Rodney stood and walked over to the weapon's chair. "Okay Sheppard, the new people are arriving, so we need to go."

John opened his eyes and sat up. "We're done. You might want to double check, but I think it's good." John stood, keeping one hand on the arm to counter the expected head rush. It passed quickly and he grinned at the frowning scientist. "Come on, Rodney, we have people to greet."

"We'll check the modifications while you get the new people from Earth settled," said Dolon.

"Good," responded Rodney as they headed for the door. "I'll be back when we're finished with the meet and greet and you can fill me in on whether it worked or not."

Dolon and Radek watched the two figures disappear out the door. "Yes, Master," said Radek, bowing toward the door. Dolon nearly fell out of his chair laughing, earning a grin from Radek, who didn't remember ever seeing the man show so much emotion.

"I think we corrupt you," said the Czech scientist, before joining the Ancient with his own laughter.


John and Rodney arrived at the gateroom as the wormhole shut down. They stood to one side as Helia and Elizabeth greeted the newcomers, before calling for the two to take over. John noticed Savill, Ronon, and Teyla joining them as they walked out to the ten new people and their luggage.

"Hey guys, just in time." John gave them a nod and noticed them fall in behind him and Rodney. The ten people from Earth turned to face the group as they came to a stop and spread out in a line. Five scientists stood beside five military personnel. All had been previously stationed on Atlantis, as Helia still did not want new, untried people in the city, a point both John and Rodney understood and agreed with. They had discussed letting untested people come at a later time, when things were more settled and established.

"I'm sure you all remember, but I'm Lt. Colonel John Sheppard and this is, of course, Rodney McKay. Those of you who are scientists will be under Dr. McKay and military personnel will under my command. The two of us are still under Dr. Weir, as before, but the city is under complete control of the Ancients. Captain Helia, who you met just a moment ago, is the final authority in the city. Military will also be working with Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex, as you did before. This is Savill and he's second in command of Atlantis. If he tells you something, you'd better listen. He has final military say in the city, except of course for Captain Helia. Basically, your chain of command is to go to either Dr. McKay or myself, followed by Dr. Weir, and then Captain Helia. Is that clear?"

There was murmurs of agreement and a lot of head nodding. "Good. Just remember that we are here at the discretion of the Ancients and they can send us packing any time they like, so behave appropriately. You might find yourself having slightly less freedom than before, but they have gone out of their way to make us welcome, so play nice. We'll have a formal orientation session tomorrow morning at 0800 in the main conference room. Be there. You can check in at the conference room for your assignment to quarters and let one of us know if you have any questions. Dismissed."

The group once again began talking amongst themselves as they moved toward the stairs. "What if I'd wanted to say something? You didn't even give me a chance."

John glanced at Rodney. "Do you want to say anything to them?"

Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "Well, no, but that's beside the point. You should have at least offered."

John sighed and saw Ronon laughing as he stood behind Rodney. "I'm sorry, Rodney. I'll be sure and offer you a chance to speak next time."

Rodney nodded, seemingly placated for the moment. John turned to face Major Lorne, who had come up to stand beside him. "Welcome back, Major. Did you miss us?"

Lorne looked around the gateroom and control room above and smiled. "Actually, I did miss this place. It's good to be home, sir."

John grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. "I know exactly what you mean. Do you have something for me?"

Lorne nodded and handed John a rather flat box that looked almost like a medium pizza box. "Yes, sir, right here. General Landry said he checked it himself and the part he could read looked okay."

John took the box and gave a small nod. "Thanks. You'd better see to your quarters and I'll see you in the morning, unless you want to meet us for dinner in the mess hall later."

"Actually, I'd like that sir. I'm anxious to hear what you've been doing all these weeks. There's a rumor going around Earth that you got some important medal from the Ancients."

"It is true," said Teyla. "And it is quite beautiful. You should have the Colonel show it to you."

John blushed. "No one wants to see that."

"What, the medal? Then it's true?" Lt. Carmichael stopped beside Lorne, grinning widely and prompting Lorne to bite his lip to keep from laughing. "Wow, that's really cool, Colonel. Could we see it later?"

John shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Sure, later," he mumbled.

"Great, I'll tell the guys," the Lt. said as he hurried off to join the others.

John just sighed. "Kids."

Ronon clapped John on the back, knocking him off balance so that he had to take a couple of steps forward to keep from falling while clutching the box in his hands. "That's what you get for playing hero."

John regained his balance and turned back to face the others. "Could we just go do this?"

Elizabeth had walked up to join them and smiled at John. "Carson is on his way."

"I'm off to get my room. I'll try to catch you later," said Lorne as he headed up the stairs. A few seconds later, Carson hurried out to join them.

"All right, I'm here. Are we going now?"

John looked at Elizabeth and then they both nodded. "Might as well," he said. John and Elizabeth began walking up the stairs, followed by Rodney and Carson, and then Teyla and Ronon. When they reached the top, John knocked on the doorframe to Helia's office. Helia noticed the crowd around the door and stood, motioning them in.

"Colonel, Dr. Weir, what can I do for you?"

John and Elizabeth moved to stand in front of Helia's desk with the others fanning out around them. John looked at Elizabeth, who gave him a nod to begin. He cleared his throat as he turned back to the Ancient captain. "Captain Helia, we were very honored a few weeks ago when you granted us citizenship to the city of Atlantis. You took us in when you didn't have to and you let us stay. Although we didn't really trust each other at first, all of that has changed and I think we've built a good working relationship." John looked down at Elizabeth, giving her a brief nod.

Elizabeth continued. "You publicly declared your trust in us when you granted us citizenship with all its rights. We wanted a way to publicly declare our trust in you and we also wanted to thank you for everything you've done for us. We weren't sure how you'd feel about this, but on Earth it's customary to give others a plaque when honoring them. People usually display them by hanging them on a wall."

She turned to Rodney, who'd taken over the box when they'd reached the top of the stairs. He opened the box and pulled out a wooden plaque with a picture at the top and writing on a metal plate beneath. Handing it to Elizabeth, she took it around and stood beside Helia, holding the plaque so all of them could see. At the top was a picture of the six of them, with John in the weapon's chair and the others standing around it.

"Radek took the picture for us," said Rodney. "We thought the chair room was an appropriate place, since it's been kind of important since we got here."

Beneath the picture was writing in Ancient, and then an English translation below that. Elizabeth cleared her throat. "We weren't sure if should get it in English or Ancient, so we did both. It says We pledge our loyalty to the city of Atlantis and her inhabitants and we will always do our best to protect her. Thank you for letting us call Atlantis home." Each of their names appeared below the English version of the text.

Elizabeth handed Helia the plaque and she stood staring at it for a long time. John began to get nervous, fearing that they had somehow offended her. He could tell from the furtive glances of the others, they were also getting worried. Helia ran one finger along the engraved surface, studying it. She finally raised her eyes and looked at them.

"Thank you. I did not expect you to do anything, but I appreciate this honor. The fact that you feel so strongly makes me even more committed to my decision to make you part of Atlantis. I have to admit, I find myself more and more excited about the possibilities for the city." She looked back down at the plaque. "You say I should hang this on the wall?"

John nodded, relief filling him. "Yeah. I can help you with that, if you like."

Helia smiled and nodded. "Yes, I would like that very much. Thank you, all of you, for this gift. I believe I would like to hang it in the control room instead of my office, however, so more people may see it."

Elizabeth let out a deep breath and grinned. "Yes, that would be fine. I'm glad you like it. We weren't sure of the best way to show our appreciation, but we wanted to do something."

"You have done well."

John clapped his hands together. "Well, I'll go get a couple of things and then you can show me where you want to hang it. Be back in a jiffy." They all filed out of the office, grinning and nodding to one another at the success of their little project. Helia watched them go.

A few moments later, Savill stepped in and walked over to her desk, looking down at the plaque. He read it and grinned.

"You knew about this?" asked Helia.

Savill shrugged his shoulders. "Sort of. I knew they were up to something, I just wasn't sure what. That's really nice."

Helia looked at it and nodded. "Yes, it is. I must admit, they caught me off guard. These humans are full of surprises."

Savill watched her for a moment, a tiny smile turning up the corner of his mouth. "So, what do you think?"

Helia gave a small snort. "I think we made a very wise decision letting them stay and I think, with their help, Atlantis may actually be restored to a lot of her former glory. They have proven to be much greater allies and help than I would have imagined." Helia smiled and nodded her head. "The future doesn't look quite so bleak as I first feared."


John stepped through the gate and into the gateroom of Atlantis. He immediately felt a rush of emotion that left him a little light headed. Staggering a step before getting his legs working again, he grinned. Yes, I'm home and I'm safe. He almost felt Atlantis giggle.

"John, are you all right?"

Taking a deep breath, he looked up to see Elizabeth walking toward him. "Fine, just a . . . interesting welcome home. She gets a little more nervous when I go off world these days." He'd been back on full duty for several weeks now with no mishaps, but Atlantis apparently "worried" about him when he was off world. He'd begun to realize that he'd felt the worry and the relieved welcome back before the return of the Ancients, but it had been much more subtle and easy to ignore. His return to the city to fight the Asurans had awakened a much deeper connection that he was still exploring and getting used to.

"Oh, brother," muttered Rodney from behind him. "He even has Ancient cities swooning over him."

John spun around, a frown on his face. "It's not like that, Rodney, and you know it."

Rodney rolled his eyes and tilted his head. "Yeah, okay, so it's not really like that. But my version is certainly more interesting."

John stared at Rodney for a few seconds before letting his head drop forward. "I have no idea why I keep trying."

Ronon snickered, but Teyla stepped forward to take John by the arm. "Rodney is an acquired taste and we have merely been exposed to him enough to accept him."

Rodney grinned and nodded once before stopping and sobering. "Wait, what do you mean by that?"

"She just means that we all have our peculiarities and we've been together long enough to accept each other the way we are," said Elizabeth, tapping into her diplomatic experience.

"Yes, that is what I mean," agreed Teyla.

"Oh, okay. I guess."

John felt one side of his mouth twitch upward in a crooked grin. "She's right, you know. When you think about it, we're kind of an odd group."

Ronon snorted loudly. "You people, maybe. I'm perfectly normal."

They looked at him silently for about three seconds before bursting out in laughter that drew the attention of the Ancients in the control room. About the time they calmed down, they looked up to see Helia coming down the steps. "Dr. Weir, Colonel Sheppard, may I see you and the others?" She immediately turned and went quickly back up the steps.

John looked at Elizabeth. "What's going on?"

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. "I have no idea, but I think we'd better go find out."

They entered the conference room a minute later to find Helia talking to Savill and a technician, Dolon working on a computer at the far end of the table. As they spread out to take seats, the technician left and Helia turned to them. "We have a problem."

Elizabeth glanced at John and then back to Helia. "What is it? Can we help?"

Helia nodded. "I'm counting on it. We brought up some of our long range sensors we have planted around the galaxy and we've received information indicating the Asurans are planning another attack. They are still constructing their attack ships. We cannot allow them to reach Atlantis again, so I plan on taking the Tria to launch an attack on them."

John sat up ramrod straight, confusion on his face. "Wait a minute, the Tria? I thought that was destroyed in the last fight with the Replicators."

Helia shook her head. "No, the Tria was in dry dock for repairs when they attacked. We have since repaired her and added some modifications, thanks to the help of Dr. McKay. He and Dolon have modified the weapon systems so that they can send out a pulse we hope will work similar to the weapons you brought from Earth."

John's mind was whirring so fast it almost made him dizzy. "Wait a minute. You worked on the Tria and didn't say anything? When was this?"

Rodney sighed and looked as if he was trying to be patient. "Hello, five weeks in a stasis pod. What did you think I did all that time, sat and held your hand? Sorry, but no. I was helping develop and install a weapon system to fight the Asurans. We had to alter the pulse frequency from what we used when we took back Atlantis and change the delivery system enough they wouldn't anticipate it. And it's quite ingenious, if I do say so myself." Rodney crossed his arms and grinned proudly.

John rubbed the side of his head. "You'd think someone would have mentioned that to me by now. I can't believe you missed the opportunity to brag."

Rodney grunted. "Too much time had passed by the time you were coherent. I had moved on to other projects and forgot you didn't know."

John turned back to Helia. "That still seems awfully risky. Are you sure you want to go after them on their home turf?"

"They can't be allowed to reach Atlantis again," said Savill. "They almost destroyed the city the last time." His eyes were dark, his jaw clenched in anger.

"What about Atlantis?" asked Elizabeth.

Helia let out a deep breath. "That is why I need you. Savill and I will take most of our people on the Tria. We will only leave a small group of scientists that we do not need and are presently engaged in important research here. I am asking that you take over Atlantis in our absence. I have talked with you both and you have allowed me to read many of your reports. I believe the structure you had in place before worked well, so I would like for that to be reestablished. Dr. Weir, you will be in charge of the city with all military matters going to Colonel Sheppard. I get the impression that you made many joint decisions and sometimes worked as a group to determine the best course of action and I think that a wise arrangement. I will make it clear to your government that Atlantis remains ours and that you are the only ones I will accept as caretakers."

"I am also aware that, even with the personnel added recently, you will need more to effectively run and protect the city, so I am authorizing you to bring in additional people. I will leave the numbers and choices to you, but everyone must be approved by you. I'm sure Dr. McKay can help select scientists and Dr. Beckett the medical personnel. I need it to be clear to your government that if we return and they have usurped your authority and sent in others of their choosing to run our city, all connections and negotiations with Earth will be immediately and permanently terminated. I will not tolerate any variation in my conditions."

They sat in silence for a moment, letting the news sink in. Elizabeth finally snapped out of her haze. "Of course, we'll be happy to help. Is there anything else we can do?"

Helia smiled and shook her head. "I do not believe so. The knowledge that you will care for our city and protect it, if the need arises, is help enough. I am hopeful that your assistance with the new weapons will allow us to have a final victory over the Asurans. Now, with your agreement, I will need to contact General Landry so he can get the information to your President. If they agree, and I believe that they will, we will need to meet again to make the final arrangements." With a small nod, she hurried out of the room, Savill right behind her.

John sat staring into space for a few moments. "Wow. I didn't see that one coming."


John, Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon took one last look at the Tria before leaving the large docking station and entering the hallway. It had been four days since Helia had called them in to announce she was leaving Atlantis in their care so the Ancients could go after the Asurans. John had been amazed at the preparations that had taken place in the relatively short space of time.

"It's going to be weird around here," said Rodney.

John nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I've gotten pretty used to the Ancients being here. I guess you'll miss Dolon. You two seem to have really hit it off."

"McKay argues with and insults Dolon almost as much as much as he does with you, Sheppard," remarked Ronon.

Rodney scowled at Ronon before turning back to John. "He's okay. At least he's relatively intelligent, a quality sadly lacking in most of my staff. He usually manages to know what he's talking about. I guess the warrior set will miss Savill. I've seen you four hanging around like some kind of gang, usually sweaty and dirty and disgusting."

"Savill is remarkable soldier," said Teyla. "I will miss sparring with him."

John smirked and nudged Ronon in the ribs lightly with his elbow. "Yeah, I bet you will. And the after workout dinners as well."

"Rodney's eyes widened and he turned to the blushing woman. "You had after workout dinners with Savill? Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"There was nothing to tell," said Teyla firmly, creasing her brow into a dark frown. "Savill and I merely shared a meal or two."

Ronon chuckled. "Yeah, just a meal." He returned the nudge to Sheppard's ribs, but did so forcefully enough to make John stagger. John quickly got his balance back and shot a dark look at Ronon, who completely ignored him.

The lights flickered a little, then blazed brightly. Rodney snorted and looked back to John. "I thought you said you talked to her."

John shrugged his shoulders. "I did. She knows we aren't abandoning her again, but all this loading-up-to-leave activity makes her nervous."

"I don't remember Atlantis being this sensitive before the Ancients came," said Ronon. "It seems like she reacts to things more than she used to."

"Hello. Three charged ZedPMs versus one partially charged one. She was barely awake enough to function," said Rodney.

"And I'm sure the Ancients initiated some functions that we didn't even know were there," added John.

Rodney waved one hand dismissively. "I'd have figured it out. The main problem was the power, or rather the lack of power."

They reached the corridor with their quarters and stopped, forming a circle in the middle of the hall. "Okay, let's get cleaned up and then we'll go to dinner. I think Elizabeth is meeting us there about 1800," said John.

"What about Dr. Beckett?" asked Teyla.

Rodney snickered and looked at John. "I think he has other plans."


Carson finished stacking bandages on the shelf and then looked down into the empty box on the floor. "That's the last of it. Your infirmary is now fully stocked with supplies."

Emira finished entering information on her data pad. "All right, we're also fully inventoried. Carson, I can't thank you enough for your help. I could never have gotten this place ready this quickly without you."

Carson walked up to stand in front of her. "Nonsense, you'd have done fine. But I was happy to help. Now, since we've barely slept in four days, I think it's time for a break. How about dinner?"

Emira set the data pad down on the table and looked directly at Carson, smiling. "Sounds good."

Carson locked eyes with her, never moving his gaze as he slipped his left hand through her hair and behind her head, gently pulling her forward as he leaned over and kissed her. As soon their lips touched, she leaned forward against him, pushing her body and her lips against his. She placed her arms around his neck as he put his other hand against the small of her back, pressing her body up against his and eliciting a small moan from her.

The sound of a throat clearing interrupted their moment. Carson pressed her even more tightly against him for a second before releasing her. They separated like an opening book, his right arm not leaving its place at her waist while his left side backed away until he could see an uncomfortable Helia and Elizabeth standing in the doorway.

"Hello Elizabeth, Captain Helia," he said calmly, trying his best to act like this was perfectly normal.

Helia finally looked up to make eye contact. "Emira, I just wanted to see how things were going here."

Emira coughed and cleared her throat, trembling slightly against Carson's grip. "Good. We just finished stocking and inventorying. The infirmary is ready to go, ma'am."

Helia gave a short nod. "Good work. Everything seems to be on schedule, so we'll depart at 0800 tomorrow as planned."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll be ready."

"Final debriefing for all section leaders will be at 1930 hours."

Emira nodded. "I will be there."

Helia smiled and twitched one eye slightly. "Carry on."

Carson thought he saw Elizabeth stifling a laugh as she followed Helia out the door. The two doctors stood stiffly for several moments until they were sure the two leaders were well down the hall. As they relaxed, breathing out a long sigh, Emira began to giggle.

"Emira, that was not funny. That was bloody embarrassing," Carson said sharply. He watched Emira try to straighten her face and be more serious, only to start laughing again. Tears streamed down her face and she finally just sat in the floor, doubled over. After a few moments, Carson joined her, the giggles hitting first as he remembered the look on Elizabeth and Helia's face. They had been even more uncomfortable than the two doctors they caught kissing. And then he thought of the absurdity of two consenting adults being embarrassed about kissing. Pretty soon, Carson was sitting on the floor beside Emira. Every time one of them began to sober up, the other would get them laughing again.

One of the ship techs stepped into the infirmary and stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of the two doctors having a giggling fit in the floor. He paused with his mouth open a second and then lifted one finger. "I can come back."

As he left, silence filled the room. Emira and Carson looked at the empty doorway for a second before looking at each other. "I think we scared him," said Emira.

Carson looked at her a few seconds and then they both began to laugh again.


"I'll take good care of her for you," said John.

"I know you will." Savill looked longingly at the city he was leaving behind.

"I wish we'd gotten a chance to train more together. You guys have some pretty cool moves."

Savill gave a small nod. "As do I. I was also looking forward to traveling through the gate on more missions together. Your methods are somewhat unconventional, and yet they often seem to work."

"Yeah, well, when you get back." John swallowed hard, knowing full well he might never see Savill or anyone else on the Tria again. They all had high hopes for success, but the Pegasus Galaxy had a way of knocking you on your butt when you least expected it. He scanned the faces before him, trying to memorize every one. Many of the crew had already boarded the large ship on the hanger deck, but several still stood outside, saying their goodbyes. The Ancients and humans had formed a strong bond in the short time they had lived and worked together.

As Savill talked to Ronon and Teyla, John glanced around to see Dolon saying his farewells to Rodney and Radek, all three men looking decidedly sad. He smiled when he noticed Emira and Carson kissing, locked in a tight embrace at the edge of the crowd. He wanted to drift over and kid them with a worn out phrase like "Get a room," but he couldn't bear to ruin what might be their last moment together. He took a deep breath, telling himself not to think like that. John had seen too much death and despair in his lifetime and it was hard not to lean that way.

"Don't worry, we will be back before you've had time to miss us," Savill said to Teyla. "And then you must show me more of your stick fighting." It was hard to miss the emotion in his eyes as he tried to look stiff and formal.

"I will look forward to it," she said, her voice quivering just a little. She leaned forward and Savill followed, their foreheads touching for several seconds. When they leaned back, Teyla looked up at the man. "Be safe."

Savill smiled. "I will." He looked up at Ronon and John. "And I expect the three of you to watch each other's back and be here when I return."

Ronon nodded. "It's what we do." He held his hand out and they grabbed each other by the forearm in friendship. After a few seconds, Savill moved down to John to repeat the maneuver. When they released their grip, John saluted Savill and waited until the action was returned.

"I have to go now," Savill said roughly, turning to walk quickly up the ramp to the ship, never slowing or looking back.

John stood with his friends, feeling a little lost. He saw Helia and Elizabeth coming toward them and took a few steps to meet them. "I guess you're almost ready."

Helia nodded as they came to a stop. "Yes, we are. I'm just about to board and give the final call for everyone else to make ready. I just wanted to thank you again for taking charge of the city. We'll contact you as soon as we know anything. We have relay stations along the way and we'll be able to get messages through to let you know if it seems the Asurans might get past us."

John grimaced, rolling his upper lip in for a second. "We'll be ready for them. If they get this far, they'll wish they hadn't. Rodney's got some ideas on ways to fortify the defenses."

"That's why I will not worry about Atlantis. I know she is in good hands." Helia gave a short bow. "And now, it is time."

"Break a leg," said Elizabeth.

Helia frowned and tilted her head. "You want me to break my leg?"

Elizabeth flushed and stuttered as she tried to explain. "No! No, of course not. It's an old saying, from the theatre. It means . . . oh, never mind. Just . . . keep safe and come back."

Helia shook her head in confusion and then smiled. "We will do our best." She turned and motioned to some of the others who were watching before heading up the ramp. As some of the Ancients began walking up the ramp, the other Ancients took notice and slowly began to join them.

"Break a leg?" John asked with a grimace.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders, he face flushing warm with embarrassment. "I know, it goes along with my bedside manner."

John nodded, watching Dolon make his way into the ship. He saw Carson walk Emira to the end of the ramp. She was the last one to break away and enter the Tria, the door closing moments after she boarded. The humans and the handful of Ancients remaining behind made their way off the dock and into the hallway, lining up at the windows to watch the departure. Several minutes later, the floor rumbled with the start of the engines and they watched the ship shudder and slowly make its way out of the open canopy above. Once it cleared Atlantis and gained some altitude, there was bright flash and it was gone.

John watched in silence, Elizabeth and Teyla on one side of him, Rodney and Ronon on the other. They stood looking at the sky until the overhead canopy closed. People around them began talking again, wandering off in small groups. Carson came up to join them, his expression pained.

"You gonna be okay, Doc?" John asked.

Carson sighed. "Aye, I'll be fine. I'll really miss her though."

Rodney studied Carson for a moment. "You two spent a lot of time together the last few days. So, did you ever . . . you know?"

"Rodney!" chorused John and Elizabeth. John frowned and shook his head.

Carson stared at Rodney silently for several seconds and then smiled, smacking Rodney firmly on the back. "Son, that is something you will never know." Then he walked down the corridor.

"Rodney, it was not your place to ask such a question," scolded Teyla.

"What? I was just interested . . . you know, as a friend," Rodney defended.

Elizabeth shook her head and pressed her thumb and finger against the bridge of her nose. "Oh, Rodney," she mumbled.

John turned and looked out the window at the empty place that had been occupied by the Tria and a hundred people just minutes before. It fit with the empty spot that seemed to exist in Atlantis now. "Let's go," he said, not wanting to dwell on the people that were gone or the likelihood of their return. He began walking down the hall and felt comfort in the sound of the footsteps behind him.


John felt the connection slide into place. It was the middle of the night, but he hadn't been able to sleep. After talking with his team until almost midnight, he'd been too wound up to drift off. He felt a similar sense of unease with Atlantis, bringing him to the chair room for a little meeting. The city was unsettled, with flickering lights and sputtering control panels. John reached out to Atlantis, seeking to comfort her as much as to be comforted. He smiled as they eased each other's tension, remembering how they had been able to keep Atlantis going with only one ZPM and a whisper of the connection they possessed now. This should be a cake walk, John reasoned.

An hour later, John returned to his room. The lights were no longer flickering and they were both more relaxed. He knew they could make it work, with or without the Ancients. And he felt a renewed sense of confidence in the mission of the Tria, thinking in terms of when they returned instead of if. He climbed into bed, exhausted, but feeling like maybe everything would be okay. As he snuggled himself into a comfortable position, he found himself smiling.

Tomorrow would be a busy day. They had to wade through a bunch of folders choosing which personnel to ask back to Atlantis. New schedules had to be arranged to cover all vital posts until the new people arrived. Quarters would have to be arranged. Rodney had to reassign research priorities. Missions had to be prioritized and set up. They needed to reexamine the food situation and see if they needed to start runs from the Daedalus again. Yeah, a very busy day and on almost no sleep. Feeling the touch of the city, John couldn't help but think about how much he loved his job.