Please see first chapter for disclaimer, rating, warnings, pairings, etc.
"What do you mean, they're not going away?"
Controlling an inward wince at Elizabeth's blurted comment, John managed to keep his face totally deadpan but thought, C'mon, 'Lizabeth, pull it together. You gotta at least sound awake! To give her time to recover her poise, he thrust his hands in his pockets and drawled, "Maybe you should've hung a sign saying 'Party's Over, Guys' on the Stargate before you beamed it back down."
On the control room's big main screen, Colonel Caldwell's normally hard expression took on an added edge of ice. But Major Lorne, long accustomed to his CO's sense of humor, cracked an appreciative if tired grin. "Maybe we should've, sir," he agreed, then turned sober again. "It's more or less what the Belsans are starting to say more and more openly, now that Gathos and, presumably, the reason for his army are gone. But, except for Sincha and the Satedans, nobody's budging."
Sheppard lifted his head slightly at that. "The Satedans left?"
"Yessir, just before I beamed up to the Daedalus for this call. Some of them nearly got lynched for only hinting that maybe Gathos wasn't on the up-and-up. After that, Solen got his people out as fast as he could, though he did say to tell Ronon and Teyla he's glad they're okay."
"Smart man." Caldwell spoke for the first time. "It's past the time we emulated his example. We've accomplished our objective. Now we should make our own strategic withdrawal." He leaned forward slightly in his command chair in emphasis.
Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Elizabeth's shoulders tense as she folded her arms across her midriff. Her chin went up. "Have we, Colonel? I don't see the point of putting so much effort into saving all these people from being indirectly slaughtered by Gathos if we do nothing to keep them and the Belsans from killing each other now. Major Lorne, do you have any idea at all why the gathered forces aren't dispersing as we expected?"
On the screen, the young officer rubbed tiredly at his forehead. "You're not going to like this, ma'am. . . Apparently they're waiting for Gathos to return, even though I know and you know that isn't going to happen. Still, all the talk here is of his coming back in 'triumph and glory.' That's a direct quote, by the way." He paused to make a wry face. "I'm afraid our own strategy has maybe backfired on us. There're a lot of wild stories making the rounds about how Gathos was an Ancient all along -- the guy must've had incredible charisma. Everybody is trying to top everyone else's tale of this or that he said or did which in convenient hindsight proves how he was more than human all along. Considering what nearly happened to the Satedans who tried to counter the idea, unless someone known to be close enough to him to know better comes forward and debunks the idea. . ." He shrugged his shoulders.
"Someone such as the prisoner we brought back." John nodded, holding Lorne's eyes with his own. He sensed more than saw Caldwell's glare focus on him. "Carry on, Major, and keep your men out of harm's way as much as you can. I'll get back to you with a plan as soon as possible."
"In the meantime, Colonel Caldwell," Elizabeth interjected smoothly, "please keep a lock on all our personnel on Belsa so they can be transported onto the Daedalus immediately if the situation warrants such extreme action. Thank you for the update, gentlemen. Atlantis out." As soon as the screen went dark, she turned to John, said, "My office," and briskly took off in that direction.
However, Sheppard leaned close to the com tech and whispered, "Coffee," before he followed her. Settling into his usual chair across from her desk, he stretched out his legs, folded his hands across his middle, and commented, "Caldwell really hates it when you do that, you know."
"If the two of you would act your ages, I wouldn't have to do that," Elizabeth snapped. She sighed, then, and rubbed at both eyes with her fingertips.
He let it pass. "Eyes still bothering you?"
"Not really. It's just the leftover headache, and stress, and being woken so soon after I'd finally fallen asleep--" Letting her hands drop back onto her desktop, she clasped them together and looked straight into his eyes. "I'm sorry, John. That was uncalled for."
Sheppard returned her look for a moment, feeling strangely regretful. "We -- rub each other the wrong way," he finally said quietly, without his usual flippancy. "I'm sorry you get caught in the middle, 'Lizabeth, when we do."
She gave him a wisp of a smile. "Truth be told, when Caldwell gets in one of those moods, he rubs me the wrong way, too." One of the control room techs came in at that moment, long enough to deliver two mugs of steaming coffee. Each murmured their thanks as they accepted one. Elizabeth cradled hers in both hands, raising it so she could blow gently across the surface of the hot liquid inside, and took a tiny sip. Cocking an eyebrow at him, she leaned back in her chair and said, "And thank you, too. Ah, John," she sighed again, "why can't anything in this galaxy ever be simple. . ." Her voice trailed off. She stared down into her mug, looking uncharacteristically down and disheartened.
John found those same emotions resonating within him as well. "Yeah, them believing Gathos was some kind of Ancient really complicates things." An uneasy shiver went through John as he said the name. Vivid memory flashed through his mind, of Ronon desperately gripping his wrist while mumbling almost incoherent words: "Garros -- he took Teyla -- he's gonna kill her 'cause she doesn't love him. . ." He unconsciously flexed the joint against the residual soreness left by his big teammate's bruising hold.
"John? John, what is it? Are you all right?" Elizabeth's voice pulled him back to the present. At the look of concern further clouding her expression, he wanted to kick himself for adding to her worries.
"I -- was just remembering something Ronon said in the jumper, before he passed out again. He was really intense about it, but it didn't make any sense. Maybe he was trying to give us the name of the guy who plucked Teyla out of the crowd?" But even as he voiced the idea, he automatically shook his head in rejection.
She tilted her head at him, confusion replacing some of her concern. "What are you talking about?"
"Nothing, I guess. Probably nothing," he amended, then ran a hand over his face. "I don't know. . ." He gave her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, 'Lizabeth. What were we talking about?"
"The situation on Belsa. How Gathos's army isn't leaving because they expect him to come back and reveal himself as some kind of Ancient." She took another sip of her coffee, before flickering a tentative glance at him over the rim and saying hesitantly, "Perhaps -- if a genuine Ancient were to appear -- and tell them how Gathos intended to leave them all to die--"
John's eyes locked on hers with laser intensity as his whole body went very tense and still. Drawing a deep breath through his nose, he made himself relax again, muscle by taut muscle. "You remember as well as I do what happened the last time she left Proculus," he said, a little more flatly than he intended. "She would want to help us, but she won't leave her people unprotected again to do it."
Elizabeth nodded slowly, her gaze dropping away from his. "Then," she said, her tone and expression equally bleak, "much as we may not want to accept it, we might -- to borrow a phrase from Rodney -- be screwed."
And won't Caldwell just love that, John thought grimly. A glimmer of an idea chased across the back of his mind. He sat up a little straighter. "Maybe not. Look, we have the holographic map lady. We have one of Gathos's," again that little frisson of unease coursed along his nerves, "sidekicks. And we do have images of Chaya in her real, Ascended form. So, say we get a confession out of our prisoner, get McKay to do some creative cutting and editing, then beam the results to the crowd on Belsa, they all buy it and go home-- Problem solved."
"You're optimistic all of a sudden." Elizabeth tilted her head to one side and cocked her eyebrow at him again, but she suddenly looked more hopeful than she had been. She took two large swigs of coffee, and set the mug aside with a decisive click. "So, we go to see the prisoner you brought back?"
"No. Let's let him stew a little longer." John drained his own mug, set it beside hers, and energetically got to his feet. "Besides, before I go anywhere near him, I want to debrief Ronon and Teyla. See what they can add."
Elizabeth stood more slowly and moved around her desk to look up at him, puzzled curiosity showing clearly in her green eyes. "John, it's only," she glanced at her watch, "a little after two in the morning. We'll have to get Carson's permission to wake them." And when he opened his mouth to protest, "You know we do. When it comes to the infirmary and medical situations, he outranks both of us."
Much as John hated to admit it, she was right. "Okay, then. While you go wake him up and get that permission, I'll go roust out McKay and get him started on modifying the images we already have into what we're going to need. Meet you in the infirmary."
"Here, now -- what's this, then?"
Dr. Beckett's voice, very close and very startled, jolted Teyla into semi-wakefulness. Blinking groggily, she lifted her head from Ronon's shoulder, at the same time trying to turn toward its source. Every sore muscle, every stiffened bruise protested viciously. She cringed in response and made a small, involuntary, whimpering noise in the back of her throat. Instantly, Ronon's encircling arm tightened around her, pulling her close to him once more as he mumbled a shushing sound into her hair. Snuggling into his solid warmth, she sank back towards sleep, dimly hoping she'd only dreamed Carson's outburst. . .
But when Beckett spoke again from right beside her, she had to accept his presence as undeniably real. "Well," he sounded briskly amused now, rather than surprised, "it seems congratulations are in order. Come on, now, you two, wake up. Rise and shine, and all that."
Brighter light pressed relentlessly against Teyla's eyelids. Ronon's body shifted restlessly along hers. "Go 'way, Doc," he muttered hoarsely, "people tryin' t'sleep here."
"Aye, lad, and if it were up to me, I'd have let you sleep yourselves out. --Move over this way so I can raise you up a little now, Teyla luv." Carson gently but firmly eased Teyla fully back onto her gurney. She squinted her eyes open as he put the head up into a semi-upright position and automatically twitched her covers straight. "But Dr. Weir and Colonel Sheppard are insistin' on talkin' w'ye," he continued as he went around to do the same thing to Ronon's gurney, "and I have no medical grounds on which to refuse them--That good for ye, lad? Should I, ah, put a wee bit of space between ye?"
Instant rejection of the suggestion shivered through Teyla; she never wanted to be parted from Ronon again. "No," she said quickly, and "No!" Ronon echoed emphatically.
Beckett nodded slowly, though he still looked a little dubious. "If that's the way ye want it, then, I'll go get Elizabeth and the Colonel," he said, and left.
Teyla turned her head on her pillow to look at Ronon. Now they were about to make their new relationship known to Atlantis's leaders, she felt distinctly nervous. As if sensing it, he took hold of her left hand with his right and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
"No more hiding our feelings," he said softly, his thumb tracing across the back of her hand in delicious, soothing patterns. His lips turned up in that gentle smile only she ever saw. "No matter what."
She heard footsteps quickly approaching their screened off corner. "Together, no matter what," she agreed softly, and turned her attention to the gap between two overlapping screens. Her fingers tightened reflexively on his.
Elizabeth entered first, looking tired and worried. Teyla saw one of her eyebrows twitch up and back down, as her eyes quickly went from Teyla to Ronon, to their joined hands, and up to their faces again. Colonel Sheppard, his hands in his pockets, came in right behind Dr. Weir, his face wearing the tight expression that told her he was already totally focused in on a situation. Though he did check up slightly when he first saw them, that was his only outward reaction. Carson came in last. He took up a position to one side of their gurneys, saying quietly but firmly, "Let's keep this as short as possible, then."
"We'll do our best," Elizabeth said, inclining her head briefly in his direction without taking her eyes off them. She took a deep breath. "First of all, Teyla, Ronon, I'm very glad you're both safely back with us again. And I'm very sorry we have to disturb your recovery time." Was it only Teyla's imagination, or did the other woman hesitate ever so slightly over those last words? "But the situation on Belsa is looking -- very bad. Except for the Satedans, no one has left since the Daedalus beamed the Stargate back into place. The other half-million or so people comprising Gathos's army have no intention of dispersing to their homeworlds within the near future. And since the Belsans don't have the resources or the infrastructure to support such a massive incursion for any length of time, it won't be long until they start demanding to have their planet to themselves again. Forcefully demanding."
So attuned were they now, Ronon's inner alarm at the mention of his people echoed through Teyla as if it were her own. He sat forward slightly and said, "I don't understand. I thought the plan was for Solen and his group to stay and help Major Lorne and the Marines."
Sheppard rocked gently on his heels as he said almost offhandedly, "Yeah, Sincha and his buddies tried spreading the word, all according to plan. . . Which is how some of them nearly got themselves killed, so they pulled out. Seems like the rest of the crowd is convinced Garros was some kind of Ancient, and they're all bent on being there when he returns to Belsa in -- how did Lorne phrase it, Elizabeth? Something about in 'triumph and glory,' wasn't it?"
Teyla's whole body went rigid, rejection flushing hotly from the crown of her head down to her toes. She sat bolt upright, leaning past Ronon, and rasped harshly, "An Ancient?! He was no such thing! Garros was always an evil, manipulative man, interested only in grasping power for himself--" Cold suddenly coursed through her, as if ice water had replaced all the blood in her veins. As Ronon's hand clenched warningly on hers, she stared at Sheppard, appalled at herself. On the very fringe of her vision, she barely registered Elizabeth turning her head sharply towards the colonel. Her lips almost too stiff to move, she whispered, "How -- how do you know that name?" Sheppard just matched her stare for stare, his head tipped back slightly and his eyes narrowed. After only a few seconds, Teyla dropped her own gaze uncertainly, an unaccustomed feeling of shame sweeping over her.
"I told him -- I think," Ronon said hoarsely, breaking the intense, uncomfortable silence. He looked apologetically at Teyla. "In the jumper, I came to for a few seconds. I was so out of my head-- I wasn't sure if I'd really said anything aloud, or only thought it. Or maybe even imagined it."
Looking lost, Elizabeth demanded, "'Garros?' John, who's 'Garros'?" as she unfolded her arms. "Don't you mean Gathos?"
Teyla could still feel Sheppard's eyes boring into her as he replied, "I have a hunch they're the same person. I went fishing for a reaction. I'd say I got one. So, Teyla," a note of quiet steel entered his voice, "enlighten me."
A leader herself, Teyla knew an order when she heard it. Beside her, Ronon sucked in a breath, but she quickly shook her head to forestall whatever he meant to say. "No, Ronon," she said, inwardly a little amazed at how steady her voice sounded, considering how hard her heart was pounding. "The situation has changed, and they must know." Holding tightly to his hand so she could draw strength from him, Teyla quietly told of her long-ago betrothal to, and betrayal by, an Athosian named Garros; of the horrific shock of discovering "Gathos" to be her former nemesis in a new identity; of his obsession with still considering her to be betrothed to him.
"At first," she said, "I thought it only a petty way to torment me, to 'get under my skin,' as Rodney would say. Now, I believe it was a sign of his madness. When the bodyguard he sent told me Garros had posted a sniper with orders to shoot Ronon if I refused to go with him," her fingers tightened convulsively on Ronon's, "I believed him. Especially since one covert attempt had already been made on his life."
"Which you also neglected to mention, because you knew if I'd had a clue what was really going on, I'd've never let either one of your sorry butts anywhere near Belsa." Throughout her narrative, Colonel Sheppard's face had taken on an increasingly stern expression. Now, a sharp edge of anger sliced through his tone. Teyla saw Elizabeth, her arms folded across her midriff again, flick a sideways look at him. After that one glance, though, she returned to staring solemnly at a spot on the floor halfway between her and the foot of their gurneys. Clearly, she considered this an area where John's authority took precedence over her own.
Teyla's stomach clenched in on itself. All her injuries' throbbing soreness, which had largely receded from her awareness as she carefully told her tale, returned with a vengeance. She risked the tiniest of glances at Ronon, half-afraid she'd see him ready to erupt in an angry defense of their actions. Instead, he was sitting very, very quietly, his head bowed and a bleak expression on his face. Abruptly remembering that he'd been in Sateda's military before the Wraith made him into a Runner, it struck her that not only did he realize better than she the depth of Sheppard's anger -- but also how totally justified it was. Her stomach tightened a painful degree more, her shoulders drooping with the weight of knowing how wrong her choice of secrecy had been.
Nor was Sheppard finished. He continued in the same scathing voice, "Not only did your blatant withholding of facts I needed to know as your commanding officer almost get the two of you killed: You nearly took McKay, Zelenka, and me with you. Your being a couple wouldn't have been a problem for me if you'd kept your heads on straight. But if this is the kind of hormone-driven, irresponsible behavior I can expect from you, Teyla, and you, Ronon," he paused as if to emphasize his next words, "then you can't be on my team -- or anyone else's -- anymore." Teyla's head snapped up in shock. Her eyes, probing his face anxiously in an effort to gauge his sincerity, detected no trace of the amiable man she'd first met on Athos behind his implacable demeanor. She allowed her gaze to drop back to the sheet covering her knees, fighting back a shameful and unfamiliar urge to break down into tears.
"It seems to be my night for waking people up," he said as he started to turn away. "Now I get to go roust out the one bodyguard you left alive, convince him it's in his best interest to 'fess up to what his boss really had planned, then spend what's left of the night averting another massacre. --Sorry to have interrupted your sleep."
Memory seized Teyla: those dreadful moments just after Garros had ordered the wounded, unconscious Ronon murdered, overlaid with a wavery image of a man sprawled in the rear aisle of a jumper. She shivered, scarcely realizing what she did when she nodded and whispered, "I saw him. . .just before I passed out. He is the one who pulled me out of the crowd and took me to Garros."
Ronon turned his head to look at her with what seemed, confusingly, to be equal parts apology and pleading. Then, leaning forward quickly, he shifted his gaze to their team leader. "Colonel Sheppard," he said; and though he sounded uncharacteristically subdued, a spark of urgency lit his tone. "I think I can help with getting him to do that-- If you'll let me-- Sir."
At first Teyla thought Sheppard so angry over their betrayal of his trust, he would ignore Ronon altogether. But then, just before he reached the gap in the screens, he paused and swung back around. His jaw visibly tight with the effort he was making to control himself, he snapped, "What do you have in mind?"
Instead of answering him directly, Ronon turned his eyes toward the leader of Atlantis, who still appeared content to be a silent observer. "Dr. Weir," he said, his deep voice intense and serious, "do you think you can pretend to be afraid of me?"
Teyla saw Elizabeth's eyebrow twitch upwards as she stepped right up to the foot of his gurney. "Perhaps. If I have a good enough reason," she replied equally gravely. "What do you have in mind?"
-To Be Continued-
A thousand apologies for taking so long to update this! I know it's been forever, but this chapter has been giving me and my beta major headaches, and has gone through a number of "tweaking sessions" to get it just right. Once more I apologize for how long it's taken, but I hope to get the next one up fairly soon! ~fyd
Hannah554: I'm glad you enjoyed the last chapter! The part where John was guiding poor Elizabeth around was one of my faves to right. I can just imagine what it would have been like, not seeing anything but still having to go about business as usual! I'm also glad you liked the scene with Ronon and Teyla at the end, too. I'm sorry it took me so long to update again, but I hope you enjoy this chapter, and thank you so much for the review!
TeylaFan: Is this a nice welcome-home present? LOL I'm sorry I confused you with the beginning of the last chapter, but it was fun to write – everyone kind of lost for a little bit, with the "supernova that came home to dinner," to borrow a phrase from Carson. The last part of the last chapter was so much fun to write, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Sorry again it's taken me so long to get this up, but I hope the wait was worth it, and you enjoy! Thank you so much for the review! -hugs-
Elfvamp1-13-97: LOL Well, I can definitely promise you a reaction from at least three people finding them like that in the infirmary together in this chapter! I very much hope you enjoy it, and apologize deeply for how long it's taken me to update. Thank you so much for the review!
SpaceMonkey0941: Thank you! No, I don't think it's hypocritical of you at all to ask me to update it soon – though I do feel so awful for taking so long to do so! I'm glad you liked the J/E stuff at the beginning, it was kind of fun to write. Though I liked the part at the end, in the infirmary, better, LOL. Once more, I'm so sorry for taking so long to update this, but I hope you enjoy it! Thank you so much for the review! -hugs-
Bunnylass: Thank you! I know, me too. I made myself close my eyes and try to navigate my way around a dark room a few times before I wrote the first part of the last chapter, where Elizabeth was blinded. I'm very glad you thought I kept her in character, it was hard to try to guess how she would react in such a situation. I'm also very glad you enjoyed the last part, with Ronon and Teyla in the infirmary. That continues on a little at the end of this chapter. . . I apologize again for taking so long to update this, but I hope you enjoy it! Thank you so much for the review! -hugs-
twogirlrevolution: Really, you do? LOL Thanks. I know I must have bounced a thousand things off you for this one, and you've probably forgotten about it by now, and you'll have to read the whole thing when you see this alert in your e-box. -feels wickedly amused- I thank you for all your patience with me, and hope you enjoy this chapter! Thank you so much for the review!
Mara-DragonMaster: Thank you! I am so glad you were never bored in this story. I tried to weave equal parts action and romance into the story to keep it interesting. I am so honored to hear that you think I kept Ronon and Teyla in character, and naturally progressed things following that thread! Thank you so much! I apologize deeply for taking so long to update this, but I honestly hope it was worth the wait! Thank you so much for the review!