Chapter Twenty-One

Author's Note: Chapter twenty one! I am far too excited to have this one ready to go. It took far longer than it probably should have, but I think it's here.

Only one more to go….

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"At last we part ways," Neeva tossed a lank of her own brunette tresses over her shoulder and offered a pleased smirk, "Can't say as I'm sorry to go."

A furious guttural growl resonated from a corner of the room. Another, just as angry, followed soon after it.

"As you can see, the fellas," John hiked a thumb over his shoulder at the trio gathered a yard or so to the right of the door to the gate room, "Aren't so pleased to see you go."

Kiryk and Ronon had been in staunch agreement. Jennifer could attend Neeva's infuriating exit only if she remained (far) away from the Stargate itself and under guard. Their guard; their breathe in the direction of their protectorate and be relieved of a limb or two guard. Never mind that following his surgery; Kiryk had been ordered to strict bed rest. He refused to lie back and rest while the one who had literally snatched her body skipped merrily off into the sunset. And then there was Ronon.

Ronon had been furious; a special kind of angry they had very rarely seen on him when John explained to them that the IOA wasn't going to let them keep Neeva incarcerated much longer. He'd had been prepared to negate the IOA's entire reasoning behind the resource drain; blaster in hand.

It was only Jennifer's gentle persuasion that had kept the thief alive to make it to the Gate Room that day. And if he being was honest, John was sure he really wanted to spend too much time pondering just what Little Doc had done to convince Ronon to hold off on wrecking the havoc the situation called for.

"Yes, well," Neeva leaned to one side and wriggled her fingers in a smug wave at the glowering duo and the petite woman sandwiched between them, "They have their little princess back. I'm sure they'll be happy enough with that."

"Ah," Was the only response John gave before calling up to Gate Ops, "Dial it up Chuck. Can't keep Ms. Casol waiting."

"Commencing dialing sequence," The Canadian replied promptly, and the clanking of the gate powering up echoed through the room.

"I take my leave of you and your associates," Neeva nodded to John; that same superiority returning to permeate the air around her. But when she looked past him, her brown eyes connecting with Jennifer's hazel ones, her expression changed. As the thief gazed upon the other woman tucked protectively between the two former Runners; knowing that without a moment's hesitation, either of them would do anything for the pretty doctor; a longing, rueful look flashed over the thief's face. And then, just as quickly as it appeared, the expression was shuttered and Neeva strode forward towards the shimmering portal the open gate created.

"Oh, hey Neeva—wait!" Laura called suddenly, breaking away from where she stood with Evan and the two remaining members of SGA: 1. The redhead rushed forward to push a voluminous bundle of red fabric into Neeva's arms, "You're gonna want this."

"Think of it as a going away gift," Evan added, his tone sincere and void of his usual sarcastic flair.

Though a bit wary, Neeva held onto the bundle as her lips curled upwards the slightest bits at the corners before she made her final steps through the gate.

"So," John turned on his boot heel as the wormhole began to close in on itself to glance about the room with a straight face. He moved and spoke as if nothing was amiss, likely to avoid adding to the barely restrained frustration and anger emanating from Ronon, "Lunch?"

Inclining her head, Teyla was the first to answer as she smiled serenely, "Yes." The Lieutenant Colonel returned a contented grin and the twosome exited the gate room passing companionable chatter between them. It took a bit of prodding, but Jennifer managed to herd her guards too, out of the room.

Rodney though, while he was tempted by the mention of food, only heard John and Teyla peripherally. He remained still with his eyes trained on the symbols etched on the gate as they faded from the illumination of dialing. He continued to stare until his mind landed on what he was searching for, "P4X-773. That planet is in permanent winter. Where the gate's power source is so depleted that without a supplementary power generator it can only dial out every three days," Looking to the grinning Lieutenant and her Major, Rodney commented with rare pride in others, "Not bad."

"Figured it was the least we could do," Evan unleashed a devious grin while Laura snickered,

"Hope she doesn't mind the cold."

"What'd you give her?" The scientist asked curiously, waving his hands in frenetic circles at the wrists.

"Regulation Antarctic parka and a survival kit," Evan proclaimed proudly, while Laura knitted her fingers together with a devious look on her face,

"The IOA should have been clearer when they said we had to let her go," With that the redhead casually shrugged a shoulder and headed off towards the room's exit. Clapping Rodney deftly on the bicep, Evan followed Laura from the room. Arriving in the doorway, the Major stopped and turned back to call to the astrophysicist,

"Are you comin'?"

Eventually Laura and Evan, with Rodney trailing behind, arrived at the mess hall table the others were crowded around. As they drew chairs around the table they were met with a flustered Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard explaining to a wide-eyed Jennifer Keller, "There's a cave not five miles from the gate. There are rations in the pack we gave her. It'll keep her going."

"Better than I would'a given her," Ronon grumbled before stretching his arm across the back of Jennifer's chair. Her hand on his thigh squeezed gently and released. Across from them, Kiryk tiredly grunted his assent.

"It might not be what she deserves, given that she started the whole switcheroo," John shrugged a single shoulder, "But something had to be done."

"It's not that. I just," The MD sniffled, her hazel eyes growing watery and Ronon looked down at her, alarmed as the tears began to seep from her eyes, "I love you guys."

Startling Ronon as she suddenly jumped from her chair, Jennifer shot to her feet and displaced his arm around her back. Rounding the table she bent at the waist to wrap her arms around John's shoulders. Before he had time to react or even speak, she'd hugged him tightly, still tearing against his shoulder, the hunched MD murmured reverently, "Thank you."


Weeks later, another exit was eminent, but this one was met with less scheming and more regret. It was a true friend's turn to take his leave of Atlantis.

"Come."

Kiryk didn't turn to the door, but instead kept fitting his few belongings into his pack. There were only a handful of people who would visit him.

"You getting' ready to go?" The voice quickly narrowed down the possibilities and Kiryk nodded,

"Yes. Been cleared by your Doctor Beckett."

"What about Jennifer?" The visitor asked gruffly, and Kiryk chuckled ruefully,

"Begrudgingly. She'd still rather I take it easy. But she's given me a clean bill of health," He shrugged, throwing a glance over his shoulder, "Not really sure what that means but I'm ready. Come to say your good-byes?"

"Somethin' like that," The visitor sighed, crossing well-built arms and leaning a meaty shoulder against the doorframe, "Where're you headed?"

Shoving his spare shirt into his pack, Kiryk replied, "I thought I'd go check in on Celise first; make sure she's all right. Seeing as how I won't be leading any Wraith to her," He added in such a way that made the comment out to be an offhand mention. But his voice was tinged with regret and then the mask closed over his face again.

"It gets easier," He was assured solemnly, "Maybe not quickly, but it does get easier."

Neither had to clarify, for they both understood his meaning clearly. They both carried wounds, scars from the years that had been stolen from them. What they had seen. What they had done; what had been done to them. How they'd been forced to live. Their lives hadn't been their own, and it was a long road back from the shadows they'd been forced to lurk in for so long. The feelings of guilt, fear, sorrow and pain they carried would remain with them; possibly forever, but in time they might get easier to carry. A bond had been cemented between the two because of this understanding.

"And you," Flipping the pack closed, Kiryk finally turned to face the other former Runner, "What's next for you?"


She had absolutely had it with the way he was trying to sneak past her every time they ever came in contact. He would skulk by, hoping that by some miracle she hadn't seen him. But she had. And if she didn't spot him on her own; Ronon would, and his quickly tensing posture would alert her to his fleeting presence.

And so; his scurrying routine had lead to this rather loud display in the corridor to the Gate Room that afternoon.

"MEREDITH RODNEY MCKAY!" The pregnant CMO roared out in the middle of the corridor, populated by the usual mid-afternoon foot traffic, "YOU CAN'T AVOID ME FOREVER!"

Concerned murmurs and amused snickers fluttered through the Atlantis personnel who stopped in their tracks, stuck their heads out of doorways, or skittered past the seething CMO and the speechless scientist.

"Uh, avo-avoid you?" Rodney managed to sputter, acting as though he didn't have the slightest inclination of what she was talking about, or why she had just loudly announced it, "I-I-I'm not sure what you mean."

"I mean that ever since I got back and it was announced that I was," Jennifer removed her hands from where they'd been unconsciously laid on either side of her ever-expanding belly to make finger parenthesis in the air in front of her, "With child, you've disappeared. I thought we were friends Rodney."

She sounded wounded, and while under usual circumstances, the person posing such questions would be met with his acerbic tongue, he couldn't seem to muster it up today. And Rodney was left with an uncomfortable stuttering, "I-I-uh—I," Rodney wasn't sure what to say, but that turned out to be all right because Jennifer wasn't finished.

"You've been avoiding me."

"A-a-a-avoiding you? I had lunch with you just yesterday."

"You had lunch with the team and I happened to be there. You sat on the other end of the table and scurried away as soon as possible."

"Scurried?"

"Yes, scurried. Listen, I know that what Neeva did really weirded you out, but hello! I was the one parading around in another person's body! Not you!" Jennifer pushed her knuckles across her upper lip before she looked to Rodney with blazing eyes, "I had thought that we were friends, but it seems like you only had one thing on your mind when it came to me and now that that part of this mess has come to an end, you're doing everything possible to tell me that you don't consider me a friend. Well don't worry Rodney, I got the message. I get it, I understand. Clearly I was dense before, but now I completely understand and I won't be bothering you anymore."

She turned then to walk away, and Rodney stood in shock. But before she could escape, his mind cleared to let enough words congregate to be conducive to speech and moving quicker than the scientist had in a very long time, Rodney jumped forward to catch her by the arm and bring her to a halt.

"Jennifer—wait."

"Rodney, just," Her words were cut off as McKay regained his ability to speak,

"No Jennifer. Now it's my turn," Rodney released her arm and held up both hands, "We are friends. I just—I just thought that maybe, we could be more than that. It's kind of a shock, okay? To find out that not only was that whole notion a little insane, but that you were all ready more than friends with Ronon," His brow furrowed, pinched lines appearing on his forehead, "And why didn't you two tell anyone anyway? It's not like you two were in contravention of any kind of fraternization regulations that I can think of right off, so what was with the big secret?"

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It wasn't the first time he'd heard the question, but perhaps it was the most bluntly put. Most people skirted around the actual, obvious questions. Even John had light-footed around the inevitable. Except for Kiryk. Ronon could see the unspoken words behind the other man's eyes.

"You mean about Jennifer and our baby," He quickly concluded, and Kiryk offered a single nod in response, "They're my family. I don't take that lightly."

"I know you don't," Kiryk replied, his face and tone void, "I realize what that means to you. I asked you what you were going to do next."

"You got some kind of advice you want to offer?" Ronon tried to push down the bite in his tone, but the impulse was difficult to quell.

"Jennifer thinks that she still has to prove herself, and she tries to do everything by herself. She forgets herself," Kiryk pointed out, and Ronon had to agree, "Don't let her. She's gonna try to do everything on her own, and she is going to be what ends up neglected."

"She forgets," Ronon murmured more to himself than to the other man, "She works too much and she forgets to eat. Or sleep," He snorted, a snicker of laughter escaping, "I've found her asleep in her office chair, still clutching the tablets."

"Exactly," Kiryk too, released a chuckle in remembrance at that; picturing similar times from the planet when she'd searched desperately for a cure for the infected villagers, and then his face became serious again, "Don't let her do that. Take care of her. Prove to her she is what matters. Nobody has before."

"I will," Ronon promised solemnly, extending a hand to the other former Runner. Kiryk grasped Ronon's hand tightly, exerting a severe amount of force in his grip as he shook Ronon's hand. Leaning just a little closer, Kiryk informed Ronon bluntly,

"If you hurt her, in any way, there will be nowhere you can hide from me."

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"So, are you gonna tell me what happened with you and Ronon, or am I going to have to make something up on my own?" Rodney asked as he fell into step beside her, heading for the Gate Room, "Because we all know what happens when my over-active imagination takes over."

"I'd rather keep the lock on Pandora's box sealed, thank you," Jennifer returned in jest before pausing in the corridor to press the heel of her hand to her sternum, "Ugh."

"Jennifer?" Rodney halted quick enough to cause his feet to slide underneath him, just a little, "Are you okay?" One hand holding her shoulder, the other was reaching up to tap at his earpiece when she stopped him,

"Rodney, I'm fine," Jennifer forced down a swallow, a grimace contracting her face, "I've just got wicked heartburn."

"Oh," The panic started to drain from his face, and Rodney rooted around at waist level until a moment later he extended a foil wrapped cylinder to her, "Antacid?"

"Thanks," She peeled off a couple tablets and popped them into her mouth, chewing gratefully. Swallowing heartily, she then looked back to her friend with one eye squinted, "Is that a fanny pack?"

"What? This?" Lifting his shirt a little, Rodney showed her the black polyester bag he had cinched around his waist, "I find it's much easier to carry all my supplies in this. You never know when something might come in handy, like, uh," He waved a hand between the two of them, "Like just now, for instance. I also find that it does something good for the lower lumbar region, y'know, a little extra support."

Dropping the hem of his t-shirt, the scientist let the material fall back into place, and then let his head droop to one side to ask exasperatedly of the giggling doctor, "What?"

"Nothing, nothing," Covering her giggles with a hand over her mouth, it took Jennifer a few minutes before she'd stopped laughing, "It's nothing."

Rodney scowled, then, "Come on now. Either tell me what happened, or I make something up."

"Fine," Jennifer growled, palming another antacid into her mouth. Crunching on the tablet, she began, "After the quarantine, things started progressing—"

Her narrative was cut off by Rodney's snort of, "Obviously," As his gaze travelled to her burgeoning belly. Her eyes narrowed once again, a Ronon-trained scowl set, and Rodney wisely held up both hands, palms forward, as if to surrender, "Sorry. Carry on."

Jennifer released the face and sighed instead, "I don't know. I guess I always figured that Ronon saw being—doing, y'know," She paused, unsure of her wording, and he jumped in,

"You."

"Rodney. You want to hear the story, or do you want to make bad jokes?"She growled out warningly, and the scientist sighed grumpily,

"Fine. Go on."

"I never thought Ronon was looking for anything serious with me. I thought he'd want someone who could kick ass and grunt, and scratch themselves in public, but I was wrong. And he was thinking the same thing about me," A smile pulled at the corners of the doctor's lips, "Except backwards."

"Ah, the classic miscommunication," Rodney easily summarized as they closed in on the door to the Gate Room.

"Shut-up smartass," Jennifer groaned, rolling her eyes as Rodney boiled the past tumultuous weeks to a one-sentence cliché.

"The whole thing is just," Rodney paused, searching for the appropriate sentiment, but instead, Jennifer finished for him in a flat voice,

"Weird."

The scientist grimaced, "Seriously? Remind me to requisition you a thesaurus, because that is getting kind of old."

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"I guess this is it huh?" Jennifer wobbled back and forth on her heels a bit, her arms swinging at her sides before coming to rest on her bulging belly, "You're on your way."

They stood a few meters from the gate; separate from the rest as they said their good-byes. The others were gathered off to the side in a pod of their own; averting their eyes and offering the two of them what privacy they could while standing in the same room.

"And completely free of the Wraith," Kiryk returned, smiling down at her, "Thanks to you."

"I assisted," She disputed, rubbing her fingertips surreptitiously under her eye.

"You gave me my life back," Kiryk insisted, his tone informing her he would hear no arguments.

"And now you've got your own one of these handy-dandy little devices," Jennifer extended a small, slim, remote-like device, with rounded edges and nylon straps to attach the device to one's forearm, to him, "All you have to do is punch in your code, like they showed you, and we'll be here to open the door."

"Thank you," He accepted the GDO from her and tucked it into a pocket of his pack, "But don't be worrying about me now little one," The formidable ex-Runner gave a soft smile, and placed a large hand on her swollen belly, "You have this one to worry about now."

"Yeah," She agreed; smiling and tearing, "I have to thank you."

"For what?" His eyes widened, puzzled.

"If I hadn't of run into you, I never would have this amazing miracle. I would still be stuck back in those caves, with Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumb," The tears were spilling unchecked from her eyes as she spoke, and the blonde MD had to laugh lightly at herself, "I'm okay. Wave hi to the hormones again."

Kiryk was smiling at her again, reaching down to brush away a few tears with his thumb, "You are going to be an amazing mother little one. You've got the strength and the patience, and most important, the love that's needed to raise a child."

That brought even more tears to her eyes, and she stretched out her arms to draw the imposing man into a hug. His arms went around her carefully, one arm bracing her waist, the other hand eagle-spread and gently patting her back.

"I want my baby to know you," She said sniffling, her face against his bicep, "So you have to come back. Promise."

"Of course I will," Tightening his hug around her, Kiryk assured, "I'll be back. I promise little one."

"Just be careful out there," She pulled away, holding him by the forearms at arm's length as she inspected his face, "Okay?"

"I will," Kiryk leaned his head down so that his forehead met hers.

"This is I'll see you later," Jennifer intoned seriously, and he agreed just as seriously,

"I'll see you later," He nodded as the two stepped apart, and Kiryk shouldered his pack. Giving her arm a final, gentle squeeze, Kiryk ascended the ramp towards the gate.

She still stood apart from the others, watching as he headed for the gate. But, at the shimmering, blue ripples of the event horizon; Kiryk stopped. His eyes met Jennifer's across the gate room, and then the former Runner looked away from her to Ronon. The two exchanged a curt nod, the meaning of the silent conversation budding in their seemingly closed expressions.

John's eyes darted from one former Runner to the other, deciding again, not to try deciphering the code that passed in silence between them. There were a lot of those things lately; things he was probably better off not getting.

And then, with a wink and a lopsided smile, Kiryk backed through the gate.

As the gate closed in on itself, and Ronon slipped from the group to stand beside Jennifer, Rodney turned to John and Teyla.

"Wha-what was that?" The scientist waggled a finger between Ronon and the now closed gate, "The whole look into my eyes thing? Who do they think they are? Kaa?"

"What?" John exclaimed, utter confusion painting his face while Teyla watched with a wide-eyed fascination.

"Kaa, the snake? The one wh-who was always trying to hypnotize the other animals with his eyes," Rodney gestured with two jumpy fingers in front of his own eyes, "Y'know, from The Jungle Book?" He then heaved an impressive sigh as John snickered, "Its Jeannie's kid's favorite movie."

"I believe, Rodney, that the child has a name of her own," Teyla observed dryly as she herded the scientist and the Lieutenant Colonel from the Gate Room.

"I know that," Rodney muttered, "It's—uh," He paused, snapped his fingers just below his chin, "It's."

John snorted, rolling his eyes as he clapped his friend heavily on the shoulder, "And you were doing so well too."