A/N: Believe it or not, this is finally it. We're done. Shelly and I would like to thank everyone for reading and reviewing. We got a big kick out of all the paranoia we stirred up (LOL). We hope you had as much fun as we did. So long til next time.
FADE TO BLACK - Part 18
"Are you in the chair again? You'd better come on or we'll be late. Teyla and Ronon are already headed for the jumper."
John opened his eyes and looked up at Rodney, smiling. "Fine, I'm coming. Kalara was just reassuring me that everything was ready on their end." He stood and straightened his uniform, grabbing his cap off the console as they passed. He wasn't a big fan of dress uniforms, but Casnar and Telyn deserved the best.
They walked for a moment before Rodney glanced at the colonel. "You've spend a lot of time with Atlantis the last three weeks. What are you guys doing anyway?"
John shrugged his shoulders. "Just . . . stuff. She's been helping me with stuff from before." He hesitated, dropping his gaze to the floor before continuing. "There's still a lot of crap in my head I don't understand. Sometimes it . . . " He sighed and rubbed his temple before dropping his hand as they stepped in a transporter. "Sometimes that stuff bothers me . . . memories I still can't connect to, schematics I don't understand. She's helping me understand it all and get it filed away where it doesn't make me crazy. I don't relish the idea of being a basket case locked away in a white room again." He visibly shuddered at the thought.
Rodney was quiet a moment. "I didn't know it still bothered you. I guess I thought everything was okay."
John shrugged his shoulders again, his air of nonchalance returning. "No, but it will be, eventually. It's just going to take a while. Every day is a little better than the one before." They stepped out of the transporter and headed down the corridor. "It turns out some of the stuff those guys downloaded in my head is about Kalara or her people. She and Atlantis have been able to put some of the memories and plans in perspective for me. I think eventually it'll help us understand them both a little better."
"Wouldn't they crap down both legs if they knew you had actually made their little experiment work, but to our benefit and not theirs?" smirked Rodney.
John grinned. "Poetic justice, don't you think? Maybe the next time I'm on Earth I'll visit Purdie's prison cell and have a conversation in Ancient."
Rodney nodded enthusiastically. "I want to watch." His face sobered as the smile slowly disappeared. "They put you through hell to get here though. I can't help but think it wasn't worth it."
"ZPM, Rodney. Just think, making our own ZPMs for whenever we need them, including the base in Antarctica. This will not only save us probably, but it could save Earth some day as well. I wouldn't want to do it again, but it was worth it."
Rodney let out a puff of air. "I wouldn't want to do it again either. I'm not too good at the watch and protect thing."
John stopped and placed a strong hand on Rodney's shoulder. "I disagree. I think you made a great protector." His eyes danced as he gave Rodney a small nod and then continued into the jumper bay. "At least when you weren't whining."
Rodney opened his mouth to protest, but then closed it and shook his head as he followed John into the jumper bay. Ronon and Teyla stood behind Jumper One with Elizabeth and Lorne. Everyone was dressed up for Telyn and Casnar's joining. John and Lorne were in their dress uniform, while Rodney had on his best Atlantis science uniform. Elizabeth had on a long, green dress and Teyla wore an Athosian dress with many layers and textures. Ronon was just dressed like Ronon, but he was clean and ready for the ceremony.
Ronon let a smile turn up the corners of his mouth as Rodney and John joined them. "So, McKay, was he flirting with his girlfriend like you said he'd be?"
John's brow furrowed as he turned to Rodney. "McKay, it's not like that and you know it," he snapped.
Rodney grinned and put his hands in his pockets. "Yes, I do know it. But it's so easy to get you all in a snit about flirting with Atlantis. How can you possibly expect me to pass it up?"
John scowled and crossed his arms. "You know it's not like that and you make the jokes anyway?"
Rodney waved one hand at John, dismissing his concerns. "Of course I know, I'm a genius, not an idiot. I get the whole favorite son thing. And I guess that makes Kalara your aunt. I just say that stuff to annoy you."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and slid a pained glance at Teyla before motioning to the open jumper. "Boys, could we please be on our way to Kalara? We did promise Casnar and Telyn we'd actually be there for the ceremony."
Lorne walked in first, heading for the pilot's seat. "I've got shotgun," called Rodney, racing for the copilot's chair. John just parked himself on a bench in the back.
"I'm on light duty. I still say I could have flown the jumper," he complained.
"Aye, I'm sure you could have," said Carson, coming in the back hatch. "But I didn't think it would hurt to let someone else do it this time. Just enjoy the ride, Colonel."
Elizabeth looked pleased as she sat down beside John. "Carson, I was afraid you weren't going to make it."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," said the physician.
A few moments later, the jumper began its descent to the gateroom. After a brief exchange between Lorne and the technician manning the gate, they rushed forward and through the wormhole.
John felt the change as they emerged on the other side and headed for the city. The sudden shift made him a little dizzy and he leaned his head back, letting it rest against the side of the jumper as he closed his eyes. He didn't completely understand it, but Kalara and Atlantis felt totally different. When the sensation of being tossed around in the air passed, he opened his eyes. And found two sets of worried eyes staring at him. Elizabeth had even latched onto his arm protectively, as if she thought he might pitch forward and off the bench. John smiled.
"Uh, guys . . . what's up?"
"You tell us," said Carson from the bench straight across from John. "You looked like you might pass out for a few moments."
"I'm fine," John said simply. Their expressions didn't change much, indicating they probably didn't believe him. "Really, I'm fine. It's just . . . the bond between me and Atlantis and Kalara has deepened quite a bit in the last few weeks and . . . the change from Atlantis to Kalara was a little . . . startling."
Elizabeth frowned at him and shot a quick sideways glance at Carson before returning her attention to John. "What are you saying . . . that you can feel the city from here?"
John chuckled. "I can feel her a little from Atlantis, but when we went through the gate, it went from Atlantis being the one in my head to Kalara. It's hard to explain. I usually stay connected at a level I used to get only from sitting in the chair. They're . . . like a part of me now. But they have different personalities, different programming, different abilities. Switching from one to the other . . . it's kind of disorienting for a second."
Carson's frown deepened and he leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms. "I had no idea you were that connected. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or not."
"It's a good thing, Carson, it just takes a little getting used to. They're . . . helping me."
Carson nodded that he understood, making John grateful that he wouldn't have to explain again. "Aye, I guess they are at that. You're scans have been calming down lately, getting closer to normal. You seem to be having less headaches, as well."
"We're here," called Rodney as Lorne set the jumper down.
John smiled at Carson and put one hand on Elizabeth's, which still clutched his arm. "I have been feeling better, not only because of what Atlantis and Kalara are doing, but also my team. Ronon's little schedule is getting me back in shape and Teyla and Rodney have been helping as well. Guess I'm pretty lucky."
Elizabeth squeezed his arm once before releasing her grip. "Yes, you are. And I'm glad you realize it."
John nodded as he stood up. "I do. Believe me, I do."
The back hatch dropped open and they joined the two girls waiting outside to escort them to the ceremony. By the time they arrived, it was almost time to begin, so the Lanteans were shown quickly to their seats. Strange, almost medieval music played as an old man in a long, thick blue robe slowly made his way from a side door to the center of the stage area. John sat between Rodney and Elizabeth, with Ronon and Teyla sitting beside Rodney and Lorne sitting on the other side of Elizabeth.
Rodney snickered and John elbowed him in the ribs. After a low grunt, Rodney leaned over to John. "You gotta love the cone-head hat."
John hadn't paid much attention to the elaborate hat that sat on the priest's, or whatever he was, head. It was made of the same blue material and seemed to be in the shape of a cone almost eighteen inches long. John bit down on his lip, refusing to laugh. He was thankful when Casnar and Telyn came out of a door on the opposite side of the stage area. Telyn had on a billowing peach dress with a thin, wispy layer of the same color on top. A ring of flowers crowned her head. Casnar had on what appeared to be a dress uniform, with black pants and a long, black tunic. They stopped in front of the robed old man.
"Haec caerimonaea huillic conjungere Casnar atque Telyn accedere desuper istea acetas
Rodney wrinkled his brow and leaned over John's lap, elbowing him in the gut as he did so. "Elizabeth, did you understand that?" he whispered.
Elizabeth tilted her head toward Rodney, keeping her eyes on the man in front. "Something about a ceremony, I think. It's Ancient, but an odd dialect. I'm only catching a few words."
John grunted and pulled Rodney's arm out of his stomach. "He said this ceremony to join Casnar and Telyn was from times long past," he translated in a quiet, but irritated tone. Rodney and Elizabeth stared at him.
"You understood that?" asked Rodney.
John frowned as the old man continued to speak in the Ancient language. "Yes, I understand it, I just can't hear it over you two. If you'll be quiet, I'll translate."
Elizabeth and Rodney sat in attentive, if slightly shocked silence as John translated the rest of the ceremony. Apparently Kalara and Atlantis had taught John a lot. At the end of the ceremony, Casnar and Telyn were asked to announce their vitaeamicae, or life-friends. They caught everyone off guard when they designated John and Rodney, waving at them to come forward. The two men stared wide-eyed at one another for a moment before getting out of their chairs and stumbling over to the nearest aisle.
Once at the front, Casnar placed a long strand of leather with a small blue crystal over John's head and Telyn did the same for Rodney. The four were given clear glass goblets more elegant than they had imagined existed in this world. John and Rodney were relieved that they recognized the juice in the glasses, happy they would not have to risk offending anyone by refusing to drink.
"Intra honoris de amicae, intra honoris de vitae," said the old man. Rodney and John followed Casnar and Telyn's lead, raising their glasses until the four met with a distinct clinking sound, and then they drained their glasses.
The room erupted in loud yells and laughter as everyone stood and began rushing forward to congratulate the new couple. John and Rodney smiled and spoke to several as they let the crowd surge around them and eased back to join the others.
Elizabeth was smiling and John thought her eyes might be a little misty. She sighed heavily. "That was a beautiful toast. In honor of friends, in honor of life. That part I understood."
Rodney was almost on tip toes as he studied the room, suddenly grinning and giving them a wave. "I'll be over there," he said just before he disappeared into the crowd. John frowned and stared after him.
"Food table," said Lorne. The rest of them relaxed and nodded their head. They milled around, talking to the people they recognized and trying to get a feel for how the new government was working out. John was standing between Elizabeth and Teyla when Adala slid through the crowd to stand before him.
"John, I am so glad you could make it. I have missed you," she said breathily. Her slender form was emphasized by the sleek and somewhat tight maroon dress she wore. "I was hoping to see you."
John pasted a smile on his face, wishing he had seen her coming so he could have hid. "Lady Adala, beautiful as ever."
She smiled and batted her eyes. John thought Elizabeth was either going to laugh out loud or belt her one, but the diplomat did neither. "Lady Adala, it's good to see you. I hope things are going well."
Adala completely ignored Elizabeth. "John, I was wondering if we could talk. I have something very important to discuss with you." Her sultry voice or the way she leaned her body into John's was not lost on the Colonel or the people with him.
"Uh, sure, we can talk." John swallowed and ignored the part of his brain commanding him to run. I could take care of her for you, said a familiar voice in his head.
Not necessary. John smiled and took Adala's arm, leading her to the side of the room under the watchful stares of Elizabeth and Teyla. "What did you want to talk about?"
Adala ran her index finger down the side of John's face, giving him the shivers. He distinctly remembered her doing that while telling him he was her slave. "I was hoping I could talk you into staying. Even though I am no longer ruler, I still have much to offer. And I have been told I am not unpleasant to look at. You are a fine man, John Sheppard and I believe we could have many strong children together."
John was thrilled he hadn't been eating or drinking when Adala made her request, because his reaction might have been insulting. He took a deep breath and smiled sweetly as he backed up a step to try and regain his personal space. "I, uh, thank you for the very generous offer, Adala, but I'm afraid I'll have to decline. I'm needed in Atlantis and I know as a leader you understand the burden of responsibility. But as beautiful and talented as you are, I'm sure you'll find someone here who could, uh, make you happy."
Adala's lower lip pressed forward into a pout, but she gave a small nod. "I understand, John. I wish it could be different. I can feel the attraction between us. But you are right, we each have our duties to fulfill and we must put that first. Remember me, John Sheppard." She leaned forward and planted her lips firmly on his, catching him totally off guard. Her tongue darted quickly into this mouth and then she pulled away and was gone, disappearing through the crowd before John even regained his balance.
"Kirk, just like I said."
John slowly rubbed his mouth and then looked around to Rodney, shoving food into his mouth as he nodded his head. Elizabeth, Teyla, and Ronon stood beside him with broad grins on their face. John felt his face flush as he diverted his eyes.
"I take it that wasn't too unpleasant," quipped Elizabeth.
John snorted lightly, rubbing his chin as he remembered Adala's touch and noticed how he could still smell her delicate scent. A touch of a smile ghosted his lips. "I think I'll live."
"Oh, that's just peachy," complained Rodney. "How do you do that?"
John shrugged his shoulders, trying not to smile. Rodney just sighed loudly and quirked his lips in a grimace. "Never mind, like I said before, Kirk. She makes you a slave, has you whipped, and still kisses you. Go figure."
Teyla raised one eyebrow slightly as she looked at Rodney. "Perhaps it is John's turn to have something good happen to him. He has been through many months of pain and uncertainty. You should not begrudge him any act of kindness."
John glanced at Rodney, almost enjoying the look of guilt that crossed the scientist's face. He really hated it when Rodney called him Kirk and he had told the man just that on several occasions. Revenge via Teyla was a lot more satisfying than complaining to Rodney, yet again. But it was definitely time to leave this subject and move on to something else. John straightened and pointed across the room.
"Hey, look. Casnar and Telyn aren't surrounded any more. Let's go congratulate the happy couple and find out what Rodney and I have signed up for." Without waiting, John headed across the room, certain that the others would follow.
Ronon leaned over toward Teyla and whispered, "Not a very smooth transition, but effective."
Teyla just smiled and followed him, nodding at the grin Elizabeth shot her.
John couldn't help but smile at Casnar and Telyn, their faces looking like they might explode from excitement at any minute. "I told you guys that you made a cute couple. I'm glad you finally listened."
Telyn looked up at Casnar and sighed. "I am happy as well." She shifted her gaze to John and the others coming up behind him. "I can never thank you enough for helping us get together and for enabling us to be joined."
"Hey, what is this friends for life thing?" asked Rodney, tilting his head to one side.
"Life-friends," corrected Casnar brightly. "It is a great honor, only bestowed on those we are very close to. It means that we will share our lives with one another. We will contact one another to share times of extreme happiness and for support during times of pain or grief."
Rodney's mouth dropped open for a second. "Oh . . . sounds like . . . fun."
John rolled his eyes. "Ignore him, that's what I try to do. We are very honored."
Casnar and Telyn laughed. "You and Rodney are always so amusing," said Telyn.
"You have no idea," muttered Elizabeth, putting a smile on the faces of Teyla and Ronon.
Casnar's face suddenly got serious. "John, I wanted to speak to you of Kalara. She is . . . amazing. She is always with me. I can feel her, even when I am not in the chair. If I touch a wall anywhere in the city, I can reach out to her and communicate. Is this normal?"
John smiled and took a deep breath. "It's normal. I know it's kind of freaky at first, but you'll get used to it. After a while, you'll miss it if it's not there. And if you're away from her for very long . . . it's like someone ripped out something important, something you need to survive. You'll miss her so badly it hurts, physically hurts. Just . . . just hope that never happens. Embrace her. She'll take care of you in ways humans can't." John suddenly remembered the others were there listening, and he chastised himself for not pulling Casnar aside to talk privately.
Casnar nodded, as if he understood. "I am beginning to feel comfortable with her already. She makes me feel . . . at home. I feel as though I belong here, as if I was meant to be here."
John's grin broadened. "Casnar, I know exactly what you mean."
Casnar abruptly sobered. "We kept you from Atlantis. John, I'm so sorry, I did not realize."
John waved one hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it. I know you didn't understand, and even then you were kind to us. Besides, Kalara helped me, so it wasn't as bad as when . . . as other times when I was separated from Atlantis."
Casnar gave a small nod, still looking guilty. "You are a good man, John."
John blew out a breath, wondering how many more embarrassing moments were in store for the day. "Hey, Carson said they were going to try the gene therapy on a few people so you'd have some help with the city."
"Yes, we have selected ten technicians that will be able to help with running and repairing the city. I understand it may not work on all of them, but it would still be a great help to have others that are capable of activating the equipment."
"I'm supposed to come back with Carson so I can do some training with anyone who actually ends up getting the gene," said Rodney.
Telyn stepped over to give Rodney a quick kill on the cheek. Rodney stood frozen in place until after she had moved back to Casnar and taken his arm in hers. "Uh . . . what was that for?"
"For getting Casnar some help so that he may spend more time with me," said Telyn.
John put his hands on his hips as he stared at Rodney. "Well at least the women who kiss me aren't married."
John was beginning a check of his vest for the third time when Ronon and Teyla walked into the gateroom. Teyla's eyes widened, as if she were surprised to see him. "Colonel, you are early."
John grinned and dropped his hands. "I know. Guess I'm a little antsy this morning. I couldn't sit around my quarters any more."
Teyla exchanged a smile with Ronon before looking back to John. "I understand. This is your first mission in a long time."
"A very long time," added John. The trip to turn himself over to Kolya didn't count as a mission in John's book. He took a deep breath and looked up at the gate. "For a while . . . I didn't think this would ever happen again. For a long time . . . " He shook his head and dropped his gaze to the floor. He'd been completely lost with no way to get home and no hope he'd ever get there again. How do you tell that to the people who were trying to get you back?
"John." He looked up into Teyla's face as she stood in front of him. "It was a long hard battle, a difficult trip for all of us. But we stood together and we are all here now. That is what is important."
John nodded, trying to swallow around the constriction in his throat. How could he ever thank these people for all they had done for him? If not for their strength, their tenacity, he'd be dead or worse. The thought of life in that chaos of tangled memories and information and without his friends or Atlantis was a fate worse than death. It had almost been his fate.
"What's everyone already doing here? I'm early for once and everyone is standing here like I'm late."
John and Teyla grinned at one another as Rodney stormed across the room. John turned to face Rodney. "It's okay. We were just talking."
Rodney looked at him with a frown for a few moments, and then his expression softened. "First actual scheduled mission in a while. Are you ready?"
"He's ready," said Ronon with a smile. "I made sure of that."
John returned the grin. "I'll vouch for that." He shuffled his feet for a moment before making himself look at his teammates. "Look, guys . . . you know I'm no good at this. But I really need to tell you, uh, thanks for everything. You guys gave up your time and . . . well, you gave up your life for a while to take care of me. I just want you to know . . . well, I just need to say . . . uh . . . "
"Oh, for heaven's sake, we get it already," said Rodney impatiently. "Even I'm not that inarticulate."
Teyla continued to look at John with a smile, giving him a small, understanding nod. "You are welcome, John."
John let out a nervous breath and returned her nod. Ronon also gave a small nod of his head, letting John know he knew what his friend was trying to say, even if he couldn't seem to say it. John breathed out a long sigh of relief and looked around at a smiling Elizabeth, watching from the balcony above. "Dial us up," he said.
Elizabeth stood and stretched, walking out to look at the gateroom below. She glanced down at Chuck. "How long has it been?"
Chuck looked at a reading on one of the consoles. "Seven hours and fifty-nine minutes. They're due in –"
The alarm sounded loudly, making Elizabeth jump just before she broke out in a smile. "They're on time," she said with relief.
Chuck smiled and nodded. "I'm getting the Colonel's IDC. And we are now eight hours on the nose. They are exactly on time."
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. "Right on time. Has that ever happened before?"
Chuck grinned. "Not for Colonel Sheppard's team."
Elizabeth gave a small nod. "Hopefully that's a good sign." She stepped forward and headed down the stairs as the team of four walked through the gate. They were all upright and walking, with no sign of blood and no sounds of weapon fire. Could it be? As she reached the bottom step, John walked up to her.
"We met the Terrathians, an agricultural people with good crops and an abundance of a mineral Rodney thinks might be important in making the ZPMs," he reported. John waved to a sack Ronon was carrying. "They even sent samples for us to try."
"Tasty, too," said Rodney with a big smile.
"The mineral?" asked Elizabeth, furrowing her brow.
"No, the fruit and vegetables," said Ronon. "McKay has the mineral samples."
"Oh," she said, feeling silly at the mistake. She looked them over, letting it sink in that they were really okay. "It looks like you had a peaceful mission. You even came back on time."
Rodney rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. "We were done fifteen minutes ago, but Sheppard made us wait to dial in so that we would be exactly on time."
John grinned and nodded enthusiastically. "I thought you might appreciate a calm appearance at the prearranged time for a change."
Elizabeth held back the chuckle she felt forming. "Yes, well, I do appreciate the thought. It was much nicer than early with wounded or late with missing people or under fire. Think we could make a habit of this?"
John turned and exchanged looks with his team before turning back to Elizabeth. "Probably not, so enjoy it while it lasts."
Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. "Well, can't blame me for trying. Why don't you let Carson do his thing and we'll debrief in an hour. And John." She waited until he turned back to face her. "It's good to have you back."
John's face lit up with a smile she hadn't seen in a long time. "It's good to be back."