A/N: Hello and welcome to Stargate Atlantis Season 7. If this is your first time reading this then let me be quick:

I started writing this project several years ago after the announcement that the show would not be renewed for a sixth season came out. At the time season 5 was about half-way over so if you notice some things that don't match up to the end of the series that's why. By the time season 5 was over I'd already laid so much of the groundwork for the story that changing it in order to incorporate some minor details just wasn't worth it. Therefore I guess you could call this an AU but even then, I tried very hard to keep with the continuity of the series. That being said, I'd like to state right now for the record that I only consider what actually aired on TV to be canon. I know there are books and I have read them however; upon comparing the Legacy series with the rest of it, I feel there's a rather large disconnect between the two which is why I've chosen to ignore them. And that's just my opinion. Personally I liked the books just not as a continuation of the show.

And also, as a note to first time readers, the following story is, at its heart, a love story. That's not to say that there's not a lot of action and snarky comments, there is in fact bucket loads of them and the 'M' rating is primarily for violence and adult themes. However; I've always been intrigued by the idea of a wraith falling in love with a human while maintaining all the qualities that make him/her alien and different. Too often I've read stories where in order to get such-and-such wraith to fall for such-and-such human the author humanizes the wraith to the point where the wraith is no longer, well, a wraith. Which is why I decided to write my own take on it so here it is, I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. And if when you're done, you feel so inclined, I'd love to hear from you. Reviews are the only way fanfiction authors get paid so drop a penny in my cup and make my day.

Read, Review and enjoy!

Cheers!

Returning Readers: As of 4/16/15 this chapter has been revised. The revisions were done with the express intent of enhancing story lines, flushing out plot points and providing better continuity throughout the story as a whole. That said; I'm aware that not everything is going to match up at the moment so I ask that y'all bear with me. If anyone would like to discuss the changes or make more in depth inquires as to why they were made please feel free to PM me. I welcome the discussion. As always: read, review and enjoy!


Episode I: Genesis

General Jack O'Neill had a headache.

For the past three hours he and the IOA had been arguing back and forth over what to do, if anything, about the growing number of wraith attacks against Atlantis. Nine months ago the city of the Ancients had been returned to Pegasus despite the protest of the IOA. Since then, Atlantis had experienced an almost constant onslaught of aggression from their longtime nemesis. They were running low on everything from food to men and if something weren't done, and soon, the city would either have to be abandoned or called back to Earth. And since the IOA hadn't really wanted to let the city return in the first place, the longer Jack listened to Storm and his cronies shoot down any and all suggestions for a possible relief effort, the more he wondered if their reluctance to provide aid wasn't because there wasn't any aid to be had but because letting the city bottom out was actually the plan. If at any time in the near future Atlantis could no longer do its job, the IOA would no doubt order it brought back to Earth so they could have it stripped of its technology.

And while it was a great plan so far as the people of Earth were concerned, it would completely screw over the people of Pegasus because Atlantis and her team were currently the only force capable of taking on the wraith. The way Jack saw it they didn't have much of a choice. It was through the actions of the exhibition team that all the wraith had been woken up in the first place therefore they, and Earth, had an obligation to put things back to sorts.

Simple.

Not so when arguing with the IOA. The civilian run oversight committee was notoriously xenophobic and didn't really give a damn about who they screwed over so long as, in the end, they got what they wanted. They were also short sighted as all hell. Concerned only with the here and now, Jack wondered if they'd really thought about what would happen if Atlantis was removed from Pegasus and was no longer a deterrent for the wraith in reaching the Milky Way. Earth might've been safe if the wraith were ever to gain a foothold in this galaxy but the same could not be said of everybody else. Jack had read enough of Sheppard's reports to know that the wraith were unlike any enemy they'd ever faced before. Essentially immortal, ageless, incredibly strong and resilient, alarmingly intelligent with startling mental abilities that included telepathy and mind control, feeding habits that had enslaved an entire galaxy and access to highly advanced technology; the wraith were worse than the Goa'uld and the Ori combined. Taking Atlantis out of Pegasus was basically inviting them to come take over the Milky Way and Jack was dammed if he was gonna let the IOA's shortsighted stupidly completely screw over everyone.

"Oh for crying out loud!" he cried, cutting Storm off mid excuse. Then, before the man could find a second wind, "There's got to be something we can do! We can't just do nothing. We've got -"

"The Stargate Program does not have unlimited funds General," Carl Storm, IOA committee head, said smoothly, "We can't just magically make troops and resources appear when we've no way to pay for them."

Jack glared at the man. "And the one-point-six billion dollars you all pulled out of your ass for the 'Icarus Project' was what? Chump change?" the general clasped his hands together, "Seems to me that when you guys want something we've got money coming out our wazoo but when the rest of us poor folks want just a little relief, suddenly there's none to be had. Why is that?"

Strom's eyes narrowed to slits; he hated O'Neill, he really did. "Our primary concern is the safety of this planet not outposts in other galaxies. We should be focusing our efforts on protecting Earth against domestic threats not waging war on a race three-million light years away!"

"Ha!" the General exclaimed, waving a finger, "That, that right there; that's the part you don't get! If we remove Atlantis then there'll be nothing standing between the wraith and the Milky Way. How long do you think it'd take them to wander over this way if Atlantis isn't there to stop them? Especially since they know we're here?"

"The hive that Atlantis helped destroy last year was the wraith's only means of traveling to this galaxy," Shen Xiaoyi, the representative from China, argued, "There is no more threat of them finding Earth."

Singularly amazed at the stupidity of the woman, Jack gawked at her. "And you don't think that they might, oh I don't know, try again?"

"Travel to our galaxy requires a ZMP which the wraith are not currently in possession of."

"But they could be," Jack countered, "I've got twenty-six reports in my office from Sheppard telling me that the wraith are actively searching for a means to adapt their technology with that of the Ancients. In addition to hunting all over the galaxy looking for more ZPM's, just last week Sheppard and his team ran across a bunch of wraith trying to bastardize their hyperdrive with the hyperdrive from and Aurora class ship they'd found. They are trying to get back here and right now, Atlantis is the only thing stopping them."

"And Atlantis will continue to stop them," Coolidge, the American representative, said, "General, you seem to be under the impression that we are discussing the termination of the Atlantis expedition. That is not the issue here; the issue is whether or not we can afford to send in the resources and troops that Colonel Sheppard and Director Woolsey have asked for."

"And the answer is that we cannot, not at this time," Storm said, his voice firm. They were done talking about this.

But Jack wasn't finished yet; he was determined to drive his point home. "If Atlantis doesn't get some help then it won't be able to defend itself or us against the wraith which is why, you'll excuse me Carl, if I digress. Not giving Atlantis what it's asking for is the same as saying 'to hell with it, we're just gonna let the wraith win'. We've got to send them some help otherwise we'll be back here, again, in another month having this exact same conversation and personally, I'm tired of seeing you people. So, give me something; anything! Nothing is too small at this point."

Storm looked at him, a victorious smirk twisting the corners of his mouth. "I'm sorry General, but we simply don't have the -"

"What about our existing resources?" the French representative asked casting a look over the General and Director Storm. As hesitant as he was to openly oppose the IOA's Director he feared the wraith more. Having been present at the SGC during the wraith's brief occupation of it two years ago, LaPierre was unwilling to see it happen again.

Jack turned towards the man and blinked several times. "I'm sorry, what?" he asked.

"I believe Monsieur LaPeirre misspoke General," Storm said, his voice warning caution to any that would speak out against him, "As I said, we do not currently have the means by which to supply Atlantis with -"

"Cut the crap Storm and let the man speak!" Jack snapped, shooting a glare at the Director before turning back to the Frenchmen, "You were saying?" he prompted.

Jean LaPeirre cleared his throat and sat up just a bit straighter in his chair. Looking the General dead in the eye he said, "If we cannot afford to acquire more soldiers and more weapons why not redistribute those already in our possession?"

"Go on," Jack said, barely able to keep the excitement from his voice at the thought of a possible loop hole.

"Yes please, do go on," Storm encouraged tersely. If the Frenchman ruined his plans to see Atlantis returned to Earth sooner rather than later he would personally undo him.

Undeterred by the clear warning in Storm's tone, LaPeirre continued. "Stargate Command recently incorporated new personal into their operations did they not? Personnel belonging to an experimental program that was, unfortunately, recently terminated?"

The General caught on fast. "You're talking about the NC's."

LaPeirre nodded.

And suddenly Jack was grinning. "That could work."

"I'm afraid not General," Storm said, eagerly wishing to take the smile from O'Neil's face, "According to my reports all nine of the NC26 soldiers are currently on assignment off world and therefore unavailable for transfer. A good suggestion, Monsieur, but not a viable one."

"It was my understanding that three of them are currently at Stargate Command," Jean countered, turning back to O'Neill, "Under the direction of General Samantha Carter."

"The three NC's stationed at the SGC are currently off world with SG teams One and Four assisting the Free Jaffa with a recent uprising," Storm argued quickly, before O'Neil could either confirm or deny the Frenchman's claim. He needed to stop this, now. "The Free Jaffa are some of our most valued allies, we can't simply pull back our support of -"

"Actually," Jack interrupted, attempting not to smirk at the dismayed look that appeared on the director's face, "The teams got back in this morning; got the confirmation sitting on my desk."

Anger and annoyance flashed successively over Storm's face before he forced himself back into a state of practiced neutrality. He could work with this, if General O'Neill was determined to see Atlantis gain the advantage that having the NC's would give then he could make damned sure that advantage was negligible. "Very well," he relented, "But understand; I cannot allow the SGC to be left vulnerable just to appease Atlantis."

Jack frowned. "What does that mean?" he asked.

A look of triumphant superiority split over Storm's face as he turned to regard the General. "It means that I will agree to send Atlantis one of the SGC's three NC's but only one; the rest must remain here."

"One!?" Jack exclaimed, steely eyes blazing as he glared at his adversary, "One NC is not going to make a difference. That's like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm!"

"And yet is it your only option," Storm reiterated, eyes glinting maliciously with glee, "Take it or leave it General; the choice is yours."

It was the end of the lines and Jack knew it. Atlantis was depending on him and while what was being offered wouldn't solve the problem it might stem the tide long enough for him to find another, more permanent, solution. With this in mind, Jack swallowed his pride and took the deal. "I'll make the arrangements."

"You do that," said Storm smugly, standing. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other matters to which I must attend. This meeting is concluded."

As the room slowly emptied and Jack forlornly gathered his papers he made sure to catch LaPeirre's eye and nod a silent 'thanks' for what was, by all accounts, a very valiant attempt to circumvent Storm's bullshit. It just wasn't enough this time. Resignedly Jack tucked his papers under his arm before stomping angrily back to his office. Breezing through the door, he nodded at his secretary – who took one look at his face and knew better than to ask how the meeting had gone – before collapsing wearily behind his desk. Sighing heavily the general focused on organizing his thoughts into some semblance of a workable plan. The Director had left him little to work with and Jack wasn't MacGyver; he couldn't just make something out of the steaming pile of nothing that'd been handed to him. He needed substance, something to work with.

He needed coffee.

"Tina!"

His secretary - a matronly woman who spent as much time filing his paperwork as she did reminding him to eat - appeared at his door. "Yes General?"

Wordlessly he handed her the I "Heart" the Air Force mug Daniel had given him a few years ago. "The usual," he beseeched tiredly. "I also need the SGC's files for Twelve, Ninety-One and Seventy-Four."

"Of course General," she nodded, "I'll have those right out to you," and then she was gone.

Rubbing his hands over his face, Jack sat back in his chair and began brainstorming a way to make everything work. The plain simple truth was that Storm was doing everything in his power to sabotage Atlantis without it looking like that was what he was trying to do. The Director wanted the city back on Earth; period. Jack was still a little fuzzy on the why - it couldn't be just because of the technology, there had to be more to it than that - but he did know that he wasn't about to just let Storm win. Atlantis had to stay in the Pegasus, it had to.

The survival of a hell of a lot of people depended on it.

"General O'Neil?"

Jack looked up; he'd been so lost in thought he hadn't heard Tina return. Gratefully accepting the mug she handed him, the general took a sip while nodding that she could leave the files on his desk. She did before retreating to her desk in the outer part of the office. Turning his attention downwards, Jack pulled the first of the files towards him and flipped it open. He was met with the scared face of a hard looking man under whose picture, where normally a name would be, was only the following: NC26 - 91. Jack scowled; revolted.

The NC26 Project was shrouded in mystery, more so then the Stargate Project. Jack knew very little about it, hadn't even heard of it until a year ago, but having been given charge of its leftovers he'd gone out of his way to find out as much as he could. It was all very disturbing. In a script right out of a comic book, the government had developed a serum capable of biologically enhancing whoever it was given to. The first couple of attempts went horribly wrong but once they got the kinks worked out the NC26 Project was born. Designed and operated completely off the grid, one hundred and twenty soldiers had been given the serum before undergoing a rigorous training regime designed to turn them into literal human weapons. What sickened Jack was what they did in order to accomplish this. They'd been beaten, starved and tortured; pushed to the very brink of human endurance over and over again until the end result was met. Then, in a final act of dehumanization, they'd been stripped of their names and assigned numerical designations. In the eyes of the Project they were little more than intelligent drones; capable of advanced thought and problem solving but otherwise completely controllable.

Returning to the file, Jack's eyes traveled down the page taking in the details of NC 91's life in service. Nothing, absolutely nothing stood out. Oh sure there was the usual kill list, list of targets and lists of various other natures – missions completed and what have you – but nothing that was in any way helpful. All Jack saw on the page was an extremely proficient killing machine and Atlantis needed more than just another well trained soldier. Soldiers they had; what Atlantis needed was another Sheppard. A soldier who could think outside the box.

Scowling, Jack closed the file and pushed it away, pulling another towards him. This one belonged to a woman – of the nine NC's insanity had spared there were only two women – and the only one of the three the General had actually met. Her name was Kate and Jack only knew this because about a month after getting stationed at the SGC Vala had decided she liked her and in typical Vala fashion had proceeded to needle, prod and peck the woman to the point where it was either give up her name or start contemplating murder. She'd chosen the former, obviously, but knowing her name wasn't enough to make her file even remotely interesting. As dull as her predecessors – at least so far as personality was concerned – it seemed the only thing he was bound to learn from it was how proficient a killer she was. There was no background information, no personal list of accomplishments; nothing to suggest that she was any more qualified for the job than the others. With a deep, heartfelt sigh, he gave up the matter as a hopeless and sank wearily back into his chair.

"General?" called Tina from the doorway and, thankful for the distraction, Jack looked up.

"Yes?"

Approaching his desk, she held up another stack of folders different in color and thickness to the ones she'd delivered before. "While I was down in filing, I took the liberty of requesting these for you as well," she explained, holding them out to him, "They're the official service records for NCs. I thought they might help."

Graying eyebrows threatened to disappear into an equally grey hairline. "I didn't know they had those."

His secretary gave a doleful smile. "One-hundred and twenty soldiers from four branches couldn't just vanish, Sir. If someone were to go looking, there had to be something for them to find."

Jack frowned, he should've thought of that. Data obfuscation, or data masking, was something he was intimately familiar with. The Stargate Program did it all the time: explosions in space explained away as satellites being hit by meteors and so on. He really should've known the NC26 Project would've had a front, something completely mundane and reasonable sounding that masked it's more clandestine aspects. The general felt like kicking himself for not having thought of it sooner.

"Thanks Tina," he said, waving her away. Then, taking a deep breath, he steeled himself and dove in. Flipping open the first file he immediately recognized the man on the page as NC Ninety-One - though without the distinctive scars - and read the name under the picture: Mathew MacQueen. Releasing the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, Jack sat back in his chair and began to read.

Mathew James MacQueen was a Master Chief in the US Navy and a decorated member of the Navy SEALs. He'd begun his career directly upon graduating from high school and had been born in Leavenworth Kansas. Both his father and grandfather had been in the Navy, one as a Chief Petty officer during Vietnam and the other as a Lieutenant during WWII while his mother's father had been a marine who had died on the beach at Normandy. In addition to MacQueen's impressive military background he had an equally impressive service record. As a SEAL he'd been a part of various recon missions and a couple high profile rescues and extractions before being recruited by the Project after his third tour in Iraq. And if that wasn't enough to paint a picture for Jack, the man also had over two pages of recommendations and awards.

The general grinned; now they were getting somewhere.

The next profile belonged to NC Twelve. Like MacQueen, Lafayette Raegan was a career soldier with an impressive record. The only real difference between Raegan and MacQueen was the former's lack of a military background. Raegan's mother was an English teacher and his father a football coach. He was from Louisiana and his last post had been with the Army Rangers as a sniper. His list of confirmed kills was nearly three pages long and if it was to be believed, which Jack had every indication that it was, Atlantis could make good use of someone with his abilities.

The last folder belonged to Kate and the first thing Jack noticed about her was her enlistment age. Unlike the other two, who had joined right out of high school, Kate'd waited until after college to sign up. It was also peculiar to note that she'd been grabbed by the project almost immediately upon completion of basic. At first it didn't make any sense - why would the NC26 Project be interested in a girl straight off the reservation and without any prior service history? - but then Jack saw her transcripts. Where MacQueen and Raegan were mostly brawn Kate was apparently all brain. She'd graduated at the top of her class from Stanford and had scored one-hundred percent on her ASVAB giving her her pick of career fields. And despite her background – she'd majored in international business and corporate law which to Jack seemed to point towards a job somewhere in administration – she'd chosen spec. ops instead. Her choice, while a little off kilter, did explain why she agreed to join the Project and Jack had to admit that her knowledge of world business probably came in handy during her time in service. Her records showed that she'd been especially gifted in the areas of information gathering and reconnaissance. In other words; a spy.

Having reached the end, Jack closed the folder and sat back in his chair no closer to a decision then he had been an hour ago. Problem was they were all just too damned good which was hardly surprising when one thought about it. The one hundred and twenty soldiers chosen for the Project had been the best of the best and the nine of them currently serving with the Stargate Program were the best of them. Without actually seeing them in action it was an impossible choice.

A proverbial lightbulb went off in his head as an idea suddenly came to him. He sat up, mind working furiously as he thought it through, thought about the implications and decided that this could solve everything.

He'd been going about this all wrong. It didn't matter who they were on paper because on paper meant absolutely nothing. Colonel Sheppard's records painted him as an arrogant little sod with a superiority complex and a problem following orders. No one who read them would believe him if Jack were to tell them what the Colonel was one of the best damned soldiers the world had to offer or that he'd do anything to get the job done. Hell, Jack's own records weren't really all that faltering either. Neither were Carter's. The true measure of a solider couldn't be captured in a file so, really, Jack was wasting his time. What he really needed to do was let Atlantis meet them and then decide for themselves. Sheppard and his team could then put them through their paces while getting to know them ja little before making a decision. And really, the choice needed to be made by Atlantis anyway because Atlantis was a different command then the SGC and couldn't by rights be held to the same standards.

He needed to make a phone call.

Gleefully the general reached for the phone at the corner of his desk and dialed the number for the SGC.

"Hello?" answered the person on the other end of the line.

"Carter," he exclaimed, barely able to hide his excitement, "I have an idea. You're not gonna like it at first but just hear me out…"

~xXx~

Tucked away just off Norad Road, at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, was a bar. A little hole-in-the-wall gin joint that nobody would've been able to find unless you were looking for it, O'Malley's was the go-to place to have a drink for anyone who worked at the SGC. In fact, if not for the patronage of the off-duty SG teams, O'Malley's would've closed down years ago. There was even a rumor that during the program's first year the then Colonel O'Neil had made a deal with old Mr. O'Malley to keep the bar open twenty-four seven. The request was, apparently, so that all the teams coming back at odd intervals could have a place to come and unwind. Whether the rumor was true or not was up to debate but the fact remained: the doors never closed and morning, noon or night you could walk in, slide up to the bar and order whatever you wanted.

On this particular Thursday, at exactly three-thirty in the afternoon, O'Malley's was empty except for a single woman. She had black hair, grey eyes and was sitting alone at a table in the very back. In front of her was a bottle of cheap whiskey and a half empty glass with at least two fingers left in it. She'd been drinking for about an hour but had yet to start feeling anything even remotely resembling a buzz. Apparently advanced alcohol resilience was just another perk of being a genetically altered super soldier.

Kate thought it sucked.

"You know they say you should never drink alone."

She looked up; standing above her was an older woman with black hair and blue-grey eyes. Kate sighed, "What do you want Vala?" she asked.

The only current alien member of SG-1 sat down and, reaching out, plucked the bottle away from her despondent friend.

"Hey!" Kate exclaimed, "I was drinking that!"

"And now you're not," said Vala, looking worriedly over her friend, "I know it takes quite a lot to get you even slightly tipsy but really dear, alcohol isn't the answer."

Kate scowled. "It's my answer," she pouted, "Besides, it's cheaper than therapy."

Vala sighed. "You're acting like this is the end of the world. You won't even be gone that long."

"What if I'm the one they pick?"

"Then it'll be because you're the best one to do the job and that'll be that."

Grey eyes dropped to the table. "I just don't wanna leave," said Kate, "When we got to the SGC they told us our days of being shipped off wherever were over. Now, they're going back on their word."

Vala eyed her. "What's this really about Katie? Is it really about Atlantis or is there something else?"

Kate sighed. "It's…what if while I'm gone I miss out on a lead or something -"

"You've been looking for your brother for seven years; maybe it's time to accept that he just doesn't want to be found," Kate's eyes turned cold and Vala let out another long suffering sigh. "I'll have Daniel listen for you while you're gone," she offered, "And, who knows, maybe you'll find something in Atlantis."

"I doubt I'll find John in Atlantis."

The alien woman shrugged. "Never say never Katie – Atlantis has led us to stranger things then long lost family members."

The reminder made Kate snort. Her first mission at the SGC had been an epic quest with SG-1 after Dr. Jackson had found an obscure reference in one of Atlantis' databases referencing some great "artifact". Said artifact turned out to be nothing more than an Ancient toilet with some rather remarkable plumbing issues. Apparently the data entry from which Dr. Jackson first found the reference was no more than a maintenance log kept by a particularly felicitous Lantean. Needless to say, neither SG-1 nor Dr. Jackson had been very happy.

Kate on the other hand, had found the whole situation hilarious. "Okay, yeah; I'll give you that one."

Her companion grinned. "So, how about you and me go back to your place and I'll help you pack. Then, we can order in and watch that new show that's out now that everyone's been talking about."

"The one with Zombies?" asked Kate for clarification. When Vala nodded enthusiastically the super soldier decided that it really was time to leave the bar. "Yeah okay," she agreed, "Let's go pack and then we'll order Chinese."

Hopping out of her chair, Vala followed the younger woman from the bar and through the parking lot to the very back were a red Corvette sat waiting. Kate unlocked the doors and then slid into the driver's seat while Vala got in on the passenger's side. It was a constant source of intrigue at the SGC concerning where Kate's apparent wealth had come from. The most common theory was that she'd killed some important business man back when she'd been part of the program and, as compensation; she'd gotten to keep some of his wealth. Only Vala knew the truth and it was a secret she'd not be sharing with anyone anytime soon.

Companionable silence fell around them as they raced along, going about eighty down the highway. There weren't any cops on the road, not at this time of day, and even if there were Kate was one hell of a driver; flashing lights were just motivation for her to put the pedal down and go faster. It was only after they'd taken their exit and were headed up the street to where Kate's apartment was located that Vala finally turned to her and asked, "So, while you're in Atlantis, do you think you could get a picture of that Ronon for me? I know I've got my Daniel but I do so like looking at all his rippling muscles."

Kate laughed. "I'll see what I can do," she promised.

Vala smiled.

Neither woman spoke for the rest of the ride.

~xXx~

Atlantis was in an uproar.

After receiving a message from Stargate Command regarding the latest IOA ruling, the city's director, Richard Woolsey, called a meeting for his senior staff members to deliver the news. It came as absolutely no surprise to anyone that after he was done explaining the IOA's decision, Dr. Rodney McKay had something to say about it.

It was all downhill from there.

"One person!" the scientist raged, angrily pacing back and forth the length of the room, "They can't just send us one person. One person is not going to do a damned bit of good!"

"I understand your frustration Doctor," said Woolsey attempting to pacify him, "But the IOA -"

"Can fucking bite me," Major Lorne bit out, crossing his arms angrily, "Where do they get off -"

"I do not understand," Teyla was saying, shaking her head as she spoke, "Does your IOA not understand what would happen if they should allow this city to fall? The wraith may have been quelled for now but with every day that passes their resolve only strengthens. They will make another attempt to reach your world; it is only a matter of time."

Rodney deflated, sinking wearily back down into his chair. "We keep telling them that but it just doesn't seem to take. I don't know how much more clear we can make it. We've got -"

"There's nothing we can do."

The room went quiet.

"Care to elaborate on that Colonel?" Woolsey asked, one eyebrow lifting in question.

John shrugged. "Storm wants Atlantis for her technology. He thinks that if he can hold out on us long enough we'll just pack it in and come home. That's his play and right now, there's nothing we can do about it. Eventually we're gonna have'ta call it quits."

"But we can't just leave!" cried Jennifer, "What about all the people here? He can't just – "

"Storm doesn't care about the people of Pegasus," the colonel argued, "Right now he sees this all as some kind of equation. We're supposed to be out here exploring and making advancements that'll give Earth a leg up on her enemies -"

"That's exactly what we're doing!" Rodney snapped, "Between my science teams and Jennifer's medical department, we've given Earth plenty of -"

"And if that was all we were doing we'd be set but it's not," John said. "Our war with the wraith is draining every last ounce of resources we have and Storm doesn't think it's worth it. That's the problem."

Jennifer still didn't see it. "But Atlantis is the only thing keeping the wraith from getting to Earth!"

"Storm doesn't think so."

"He's wrong!" the doctor yelled, voice wavering. Rodney reached out a hand and gently rubbed her back.

Woolsey sighed; the colonel was right. During their time on Earth trying to get permission to bring the city back to the Pegasus, Atlantis' Director had worked very closely with Colonel Sheppard who had proven both knowledgeable and insightful in how the political game was played. John Sheppard understood politics and he understood people; Richard had come to trust his instincts on both things greatly.

"We need leverage," said Lorne, glancing over towards Sheppard after a moment of silence had passed, "Are you sure Todd doesn't have any more ZPM's?"

The colonel shook his head. "He says he doesn't."

"And you believe him?" asked Woolsey.

"Normally I wouldn't but in this case…" John sighed, "Todd needs Atlantis to help him win his war against the other wraith. If we just up and left -"

"He'd be screwed," ground out Ronon who then asked, "Why are we helping him again?"

It was an old argument, one they had every month or so. This time it was Teyla who explained the reasoning. "Because like it or not Todd has been our most effective ally against the wraith. If not for him, we would not have lasted as long as we have since our return."

"We owe him," John said grimly. It pained him to admit it but it was true. Ever since the city had returned the wraith had been on the offensive; nonstop. Todd, in a surprising show of generosity, had agreed to have one of his hives fly circle the quadrant of space Atlantis was at all times in in order to stave off any direct attacks. John was pretty sure he'd done it just so that he could have them in his debt and they were. Todd had Atlantis by the balls and there wasn't a damned thing they could do about it.

"So if the problem is ZPM's, why can't we just go find more?" asked Jennifer, looking around the table at those gathered, "Or maybe we could find another ship?"

"If you know where to look that'd be great," quipped Ronon sarcastically.

Jennifer dropped her eyes to the table. "It was just a suggestion," she mumbled morosely.

"It was good Doc; it just doesn't help us," said Lorne, looking over her. "Unfortunately all we can do right now is wait and see who we get on the Daedalus."

"One person," Rodney started to rant again, "I can't believe -"

"We'll just have to wait and see," said Woolsey, standing, "Now if you all will excuse me; I've got a meeting with the Genii High Council."

"Tell Ladon we say 'hi'," Sheppard called after him before turning back to everyone else, "Alright, shows over," he clapped his hands together, "Who wants lunch?"

As a group the six of them collectively answered before following the colonel to the mess hall.

~xXx~

In the intervening three weeks it took for the Daedalus to arrive, Atlantis continued to limp along as best it could. Their longtime allies the Athosians kept them fed, the Travelers kept them supplied with information and Woolsey's talk with the Genii had gotten them weapons in exchange for the promise of medical equipment and continued assistance with their nuclear project. Sheppard and Lorne's teams were also attacked twice while off world - once by the wraith and once by a group of wraith worshipers – so that by the time the Daedalus was scheduled to arrive John was finally ready to admit that even if it was only one person, he'd take all the help he could get.

Rodney, however, had more still to say on the issue. As he, Sheppard, Ronon, Lorne and Woolsey stood awaiting Caldwell's arrival, the scientist was complaining loudly. "I still don't see how any of this is even gonna be remotely helpful. One more person is not gonna make that much of a difference. What we really need is -"

"Help," John snapped angrily, "And right now, we can't exactly afford to be picky so whatever we get, we're gonna take. End of story."

But Rodney wasn't quelled. "Yes but, again, one person, not gonna make that much of a dent. Not unless -"

"Can I shoot him Sir?" asked Lorne pleadingly, glancing towards the colonel, "Please?"

Blustering in indignation, Rodney puffed up like a toad.

"No one is shooting anyone Major," said Woolsey, frowning. Then, with a pointed look towards his chief scientist, "No matter how much they might deserve it."

Lorne gave a dramatic sigh before answering dutifully, "Yes, Sir."

The colonel and Ronon shared a snicker.

Flustered, Rodney scowled. "Aren't you people the least bit concerned that the IOA's setting us up to fail? We need to try and convince them -"

"I don't think there's much of a chance we can convince the IOA of anything right now," interrupted Sheppard sullenly, "And we already know they they're setting us up to fail, we've known that since we came back."

Rodney blinked. "What, we have? Since when -"

"Where've you been McKay?" asked Ronon.

"Yeah the whole city knows," Lorne agreed.

"And not just the city," the colonel added, "The damned wraith know it too, why do you think they keep hitting us so hard? They know that if they break us this time we're gone; that's it, that's all she wrote. With the city gone they're free and clear to get to Earth."

Rodney deflated. "I...oh, ummm-"

"It's all we can do just to keep treading water," John chastised, "Beggars can't be choosers so just shut up."

The Canadian swallowed, falling silent. Not two seconds after Rodney stopped talking Chuck called down to them that the Daedalus had arrived in orbit and was ready to beam. After getting the go ahead from Woolsey Atlantis' gate-room was bathed in a bright flash of white light that dissipated as suddenly as it had appeared granting the gathered men their first view of Atlantis' newest personnel.

"Whoa," whispered Lorne.

Sheppard had to agree. The three people standing in a triangle formation behind Caldwell were about the most intimidating bunch of soldiers he'd ever seen. All three of them were armed to the teeth and wearing futuristic armor that closely resembled something one might find in video game. Standing perfectly still, spines erect, they almost didn't look alive and if not for the fact that he could see them breathing Sheppard might've thought they weren't.

"Mr. Woolsey," Caldwell greeted, coming forwards, "Colonel, Major," he nodded at Sheppard and Lorne in turn, "Brought you a present."

"Thank you Colonel," said Woolsey, eyeing the individuals. They were, quite possibly, the most threatening people Richard had ever seen. He frowned, "Forgive me but I had thought we were only to have one?"

"General O'Neil thought you might like to make the selection for yourself," Caldwell explained, nodding at the soldiers, "They were part of something called the NC26 Project. Basically they've all been biologically enhanced with superior strength, speed, agility and healing abilities. Think Captain America only less…morally grounded. They're human weapons and their damned dangerous. Each one of them could kill you sixty different ways with a paperclip."

The mood in the gateroom began noticeably lighter; suddenly one person didn't seem like such a bad deal.

"They're super soldiers?" McKay exclaimed, "Like real live…"

Colonel Caldwell nodded, grinning.

"Really?" Lorne asked dubiously.

Again, Caldwell gave a nod.

"Well, how 'bout that?" John smirked, eyeing the three of them. He had to hand it to them, they certainly looked dangerous. In addition to full body armor, they were all wearing helmets which hid their faces from view. Personally, John kinda wanted to see what they looked like if only to check that they were actually humans and not robots or something. "Could we lose the helmets maybe? I kinda wanna see what we're dealing with."

"Of course," Caldwell replied and gave the order.

With practiced movements, so in sync it was scary; the soldiers removed their helmets and secured them tightly to their sides before falling into precision parade rest. Woolsey, Lorne, Sheppard, Ronon and Rodney all took curious steps forwards to better peer at the exposed faces of the supposed super humans. The one on the far right was built like a tank and had two long scars resembling claw marks running diagonally across his face, the middle one was bald and had dark skin and the last soldier, the smallest of the three, was a woman. Nobody noticed anything particularly remarkable about her or any of the others other than their obvious differentness.

Nobody except Colonel Sheppard.

While Woolsey, Lorne, Ronon and Rodney might not have been overly impressed by the three startling individuals, John was having trouble breathing. As Caldwell talked dove into a more detailed explanation of their various abilities John's gaze rested solely on the woman who, despite knowing she'd seen him, was determinedly not looking at him. It pissed him off; after seven years the least she could do was look at him.

As if sensing his anger, the woman's head turned and their eyes locked forcing John to clench his jaw in order to keep his composure. Gone was the warmth and the shyness that he remembered, in its place was a cold, glasslike splendor that betrayed nothing. If not for their color he wouldn't have known it was her.

"Thank you Colonel Caldwell," Woolsey was saying as Colonel Sheppard snapped back to the present. Blinking, he forcibly looked away and tried to focus on what was being said. He'd missed most of it but was sure he could convince Rodney to give him a recap later without raising too much suspicion. Lorne and Ronon were another story; they'd noticed.

Off to the side, the major and former runner were both eyeing him strangely. McKay had immediately started spouted off ideas about what kind of tests to put them through almost as soon as Caldwell had stopped talking. With great effort, John managed to stare straight ahead and focus on what Rodney was saying as Caldwell informed them that they had until the Daedalus left to reach a decision.

"I'm sure my team can come up with a suitable series of tests in that time," Woolsey assured before turning to address the super soldiers properly for the first time. "In the meantime, I'll have a marine escort you to your temporary quarters. Testing will begin in the morning after you've all had some time to rest."

The big one with the scars, obviously the leader, gave a curt nod. "Understood Sir," he said, "Thank you."

Woolsey turned back to Caldwell. "Will you and your crew be needing quarters as well?"

Caldwell shook his head. "Thank you, but no," he said before adding, "We will eat your food though if it's not too much trouble. We ran out of everything except turkey surprise about half way here and, after a week and a half, it's no longer a good surprise."

Woolsey smirked and motioned for the colonel to follow him. "I think we can accommodate you," he said before turning to look behind him at the NC's, "If you'll follow Sergeant Richards," indicating the marine that had just arrived, "He'll take you to your quarters."

Falling into single file, the three super soldiers each gave a salute before following Richards down the hall. As she passed him, Kate turned her head just a fraction so that she could meet John's eyes just once more as she walked by. He was glaring at her. With regret, she pulled her gaze from his and marched resolutely on.

John watched her go, eyes boring angrily into her back, until she and the others disappeared from sight.

"Hey Colonel!"

Snapping back to reality, John stammered a reply, "Huh, what?"

The major gave his commanding officer the once over. "Everything alright, Sir?" he asked, eyebrows lifting, "You seem a little out of it."

John blinked. "I'm fine," he said then, because neither Lorne nor Ronon seemed entirely convinced, "I'm fine, just…tired." He turned on his heel calling back as he strode away that he'd be in his office if anyone needed him before disappearing out of sight.

"That was weird," said Ronon, turning to Lorne, "He never goes to his office."

"I habitually think he forgets he has one," Lorne agreed. Something was off; the major wasn't sure what but he knew, just knew, that something wasn't right. "Come on," he said to Ronon deciding that whatever was going on, it was too early to worry about yet, "Let's go get some food."

With a grunt Ronon nodded and followed the major towards the mess hall.

~xXx~

The problem with highly trained, genetically enhanced super soldiers was that they were observant; too observant. They noticed everything and while that was a good trait to have out in the field or in battle, it sucked if you wanted to keep something a secret. Kate had been trained to show as little emotion as possible therefore limited the amount of information an observer could gather from her: Colonel Sheppard hadn't. He'd taken one look at her and forgotten how to breathe, something both Ninety-One and Twelve had immediately picked up on. Kate hadn't even been in her room three minutes before the two of them showed up to interrogate her.

"What the hell was that?" Ninety-One demanded.

In a last ditch attempt to keep the subject of John to herself, Kate feigned ignorance, "What was what?"

Twelve gave her a look that let her know she wasn't fooling anybody. "Come on girl," he said, "I's know yous know we's ain't dat stupid. What happened back dar, wit th' colonel? He knows you, don't he? And yous know him."

Growling at the pair of them, Kate sank down onto her bed. "I don't wanna talk about it."

Ninety-One snorted. "Well too bad," he told her, "You're gonna."

She glared at him.

"He didn' look too happy t' see yous once th' shock wore off," Twelve observed, "Yous be wantin' t' tell us why?"

One look at their faces told Kate she wasn't getting out of this. "I…you're right," she confessed, "I know him."

"And?" they prompted.

She hesitated. "He was my reason."

Twin sets of dubious eyes looked back at her. "You're reason for what?" asked Ninety-One.

"My reason for joining the marines, my reason for wanting spec. ops, my reason for saying yes, my reason for fucking everything I've done in the past seven years!" she cried, her voice was shrill and laced with exasperation although what she was exasperated about neither of them had any idea. This was the most emotion they'd seen out of her since that time on P3X – 272. It was a bit alarming.

"Okay, okay," said Ninety-One, holding up his hands in surrender, "Just answer me this. Why, if he's your reason, did he look so pissed about seeing you?"

Kate sighed and looked away. "We didn't exactly part on good terms," she said.

Twelve frowned. "Wha' tha' mean?"

"It means it's none of your damned business!"

Yielding to the force of her fury, Twelve backtracked quickly. Initially he hadn't been a big fan of hers; NC26 Seven-Four was a cold, calculating individual devoid of even the smallest hint of humanity. Her ice-like veneer was as off putting as her personality or at least it had been until he'd found a crack, a chink in her armor that let him catch a glimpse of what lay hidden beneath. NC Twenty-Six Seven-four was an ice cold bitch; Kate was a fucking fire spitting volcano. Making her mad was worse than throwing water on a cat. It was obvious that this colonel was a sore subject so, as a matter of self-preservation, he let the matter go.

"So's dinner?" he asked, already hedging out the door and away from the glaring woman.

Agreeing, Kate and Ninety-One let Twelve lead the way down the hallway until they found a marine that pointed them towards the chow hall. As they walked, Ninety-One fell into step beside Kate and leaned towards her. "Are you sure you're fine?" he asked, slowing his steps so that Twelve got even further ahead of them, "This colonel isn't gonna interfere is he?"

Kate shook her head. "No."

Her fellow soldier wasn't convinced. The two of them had been partnered during the program's second year and had remained one of the most effective teams throughout the Project's lifespan. He knew her and that knowledge afforded him the ability to see through the lies she told everyone else. Even herself. By her own admission this colonel was important enough to have had a driving influence in her decisions. Kate might've said he wasn't going to affect her but Ninety-One knew he would. This, whatever this was, was far from over.

They reached the cafeteria and grabbed trays, stepping up to the queue of regular base personnel who all scrunched together upon seeing them as if afraid they might contract something if they ventured too near. Once they had their meals they departed to find a table, preferably one away from everyone else. As they walked, Ninety-One felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and, turning, found the dark haired colonel watching them or rather, watching Kate. As the three of them slid into seats at a table in the farthest corner of the dining hall, Ninety-One found himself leaning sideways in order to whisper.

"He's watching you."

Kate's spine stiffened. "Let him," she hissed back, a note of challenge lacing her tone, "I want him to see."

"See what?" he asked.

"Me."

After that, no one dared speak and the rest of their meal was taken in silence.

~xXx~

Dinner had ended six hours ago and John Sheppard had yet to go to sleep. It was just after midnight and rather than getting some much needed rest before his team's mission tomorrow, the colonel was busy pacing back and forth the length and breadth of his room. He was agitated and angry, two emotions that he generally tried not to feel at the same time. He also felt betrayed, blindsided and hurt, more hurt then he'd thought he'd be. It'd been seven years since last he saw her, seven years. Now she was here, in his city. More than anything John felt trespassed upon, like he'd been invaded. Kate was here and suddenly all of his armor was gone leaving him nothing to hide behind. He felt naked and exposed and he didn't like it.

He had to confront her. He'd tried watching her thinking that if he could convey to her how much he didn't want her here she might take pity on him and leave. It hadn't worked. Kate had always been good at ignoring things that weren't important to her and now that apparently included him. He'd known that of course but it still stung to have it confirmed. And the fact that he let himself be hurt by her rejection just made him all the more angry. This couldn't go on, if she was gonna be here for the next six days then he needed to tell her where he stood. Try as he might he just couldn't ignore her the same way she was ignoring him.

Resolved, John left his room and headed towards hers without giving so much as a second thought to the time or how it would look if someone saw him show up outside her door in the middle of the night. Instead he walked on through the twisting corridors until he arrived outside her temporary quarters. Squaring his shoulders, he raised a hand and knocked.

Only when she didn't immediately respond did the reality of what he was doing catch up to him. "Damn it," he muttered to himself, "I've really gotta start thinking these things through."

Another minute ticked by and still no answer came. He'd just about decided to just sneak away and come back in the morning when the door finally hissed open and John came face to face the woman he never thought he'd see again.

"Ah…." he said lamely, "Hi."

Grey eyes blinked at him in greeting. "Was there something you wanted, Colonel?"

Whatever he'd been expecting her to say, that wasn't it. She acted like she didn't even know him and that hurt, it hurt bad. Wounded, John struggled – stumbling over his words like he hadn't done since he was a teenager. "I, ah…I wanted to talk to you."

"So talk," she said.

That just made him mad. He tramped it down though and fought to keep a level head. "It's not exactly a hallway conversation," he explained, "How 'bout you invite me in?"

Kate frowned. "Aren't you afraid of how that'll look?"

"It's one in the morning," he said, fixing her with a look, "There's no one here. Can you please just let me -" she stepped back, allowing him entrance. Stepping past her he mumbled a quiet 'thanks' before turning to face her. The door slid closed and, belatedly, John realized that he had no idea how to start. "So…how've you been?" he asked awkwardly.

She raised an eyebrow. "Really? After seven years, that's what you say?"

His eyes narrowed and, just like that, he was on the defensive. "Oh yeah!? Well, whose fault was that!?"

"Yours!"

The accusation brought him up short. "My fault?" he echoed, growing steadily more incensed by the minute, "How is it my fault, you're the one who disappeared!"

Kate's expression turned stormy. "You wanna talk about disappearing acts?" she countered, enraged that he was blaming their estrangement on her, "I've been looking for you for seven years; years John! But no matter where I looked I could never find – "

"I've been here!"

"And how the fuck was I supposed to know that!?"

"You weren't!" he screamed and then instantly regretted it. Hurt flashed across loudly across Kate's face before settling deep in the wells of her eyes. Immediately John wanted nothing more than to be able to take it back. "Kate, I -"

"Do you know why I left?" she asked him, raw anger pulsing at him, angry and red, from behind a mask of barely bottled rage. "I left to take your advice. I joined the marines because it was what I wanted and I was only gone for the six weeks it took for basic. And I called you, every Sunday when recruits were allowed to call home to their families; my one phone call was always you. But you never answered. The only person at my graduation was David; David! And I asked him, I asked him to use his contacts to try and find you but nothing ever came up. It was like you dropped off the face of the Earth! It never occurred to me that you literally did!"

As she spoke slowly, ever so slowly, John began to suspect that he mightn't have handled things as well as he should have. That still didn't excuse her up and taking off without telling him but it did explain how things had looked from her perspective. When all of this had happened Kate had just cut her ties to the rest of the family and he had promised her that even if none of them ever talked to her again she'd always have him. He'd sworn never to leave her, never abandon her and then he'd turned around and done exactly that. He hadn't just fucked up he'd fucked up royally. Kate had every right to be angry at him and, while he also had every right to be angry at her, her grievance with him held more weight. John was amazed she hadn't given up on him.

"You've really been looking for me for seven years?"

She nodded.

"I…" he looked at her, "Kate - Katie Beth, I'm sorry! It's just…one minute you were there and the next you were gone and I…I think I thought that that meant you didn't…that you didn't need me around anymore."

A sigh wrung itself from her lips, grey eyes softening. "Of course I needed you. You're my brother; I'll always need you I just…I needed to save myself for once."

Now that, John understood. After college he'd run away and joined the Air Force in order to do the same damned thing. He's wanted his own life, separate from the expectations their father had for him so he'd done something drastic. The whole family had been furious at him, everyone except his little sister. God, he had missed her. There was a thirteen year difference between them that, because Dad was always busy, seemed much larger. John had raised her, supporting her when she needed someone because neither their parents seemed to care. Kate had been his responsibility so much so that when she'd left he'd felt like a part of him had died. His time in Atlantis had helped to dull the pain but it'd never really left and now with her standing in front of him, it was as fresh as ever. He suddenly didn't care how dangerous the galaxy was or what he'd do if Kate ever met Todd; in that moment, all he wanted to do was hold her.

"Look," Kate was saying, calling his attention back to the present, "I know it's not really my call and it's not yours either but…I want this. And what I need...I have to know if you want this too."

John sighed. She was right; the decision wasn't theirs but hell if he didn't wish it was. "I -" he wanted to tell her yes, wanted to tell her that he hoped she got to be the one to stay but, before he could speak what was in his heart, his brain caught up with him. The reality of what she'd be subjected to, what staying really meant; John realized that for however much they might want it, they could never have it.

"You can't stay.

She blinked at him. "Why the hell not!?"

"Because it's dangerous," he explained, "Too dangerous. Especially now, with the wraith attacking us every other week and their worshippers setting traps for us off world. You don't…you don't need that and I… – I can't worry about protecting you when I need to be worrying about protecting the city."

A withering scowl took her face from shocked to something dark and scathing. "And what the hell makes you think I need you to protect me?" she demanded, glaring. "Have you forgotten who you're talking to? I'm a genetically enhanced super soldier, danger is what I do."

"Yeah and I get that, I do. But whatever it is you're used to dealing with, the wraith are worse. This isn't Earth; it's just us out here and we've got literally no backup. You've got no idea how -"

"That's why we're all here," Kate interrupted him, "Why the three of us got sent here. So you can have back up."

"One of you isn't gonna do a damned bit of good."

"Oh please," Kate argued, "You have no idea how much damage one of us can do!"

"Whatever it is, it's not gonna be enough!"

"Oh really?" she countered, crossing her arms as she tossed him a look of contemptuous scorn, "I can kill you twelve different ways with a soup spoon!"

John blinked. "Wh – really? That's…never mind!" he shook his head, "You can't stay. It's not safe and if you think I'm just gonna let you -"

"I'm not a little girl anymore!" she screamed at him, "I don't need your protection, I don't need anyone's protection! I want to be here, I want to be with you. If I decide to stay you can't stop me!"

Her brother scowled. "Didn't you just finish saying that the decision's not up to you?!"

"I'll figure something out!" she insisted.

"The hell you will!"

"Watch me!"

John was so angry he shook. Fuck, his sister was stubborn! It was absolutely infuriating how obstinate she was being. He'd wonder where she learnt it but knew the answer. It was his own damned fault for teaching her to stand her ground without breaking and now he was reaping the rewards of it. Christ, he had to make her understand. The wraith were unlike anything she would've dealt with before and the thought of his baby sister anywhere near even a single one of them was enough to tie his stomach to knots. He had to make her leave. If she stayed and something happened to her John would kill himself.

"I can't let you -"

"Here's the part you're not getting," Kate cut in, before he could finish his new argument, "You seem to be under the mistaken impression that after seven years, you still get to tell me what to do. Well here's a news flash, you don't so you can just give that thought up right now and -"

"This isn't about me telling you what to do; this is about not wanting you to die! Do you have any idea the kinds of things that happen here? I can't protect you if -"

Kate was at her wit's end, unable to further abide John's continued assertions that she was still someone who needed her big brother's protection. "You don't get it do you!?" she growled, "You just…" she trailed off, frustration pounding at her temples causing her head to ache. Everything she'd done: the missions she'd completed, the lives she'd saved, the men she'd killed. It all meant nothing if her brother still looked at her and saw nothing more than a little girl with banged up knees needing to be rescued. She'd joined the military to save herself, to prove to herself that she could; it'd be a cold day in hell before she let anyone take that away from her.

Even John.

"We're done for the night," she said, voice flattening as she slipped her mask back into place, "If that's all Colonel, I'd like -"

Her brother growled. "No dammit, that's not all. You need to listen to me, you need to -"

"I'll listen to you when you start listening to me," she said grabbing his arm. John let out a yelp at her apparent strength as she clamped down which made Kate smile. Then, with a tug, she started dragging him towards the door. Waving it open, she thrust him out into the hallway. "Goodnight Colonel. Thanks for the talk."

"No, wait – Kate! We're not done! Katie Beth! Just listen please -"

But it was no use. In a matter of seconds he found himself facing a locked door alone in the deserted corridor. "God dammit!" he cried pounding his fist into the wall, not caring who heard him. Then, with a sigh, he turned and started stomping back towards his room. He'd taken maybe two steps when he looked up and nearly ran into Ronon.

"What're you doing here?" he demanded, startled.

The Setedan shrugged. "Patrol."

"Right," John muttered remembering that since Sergeant Patterson had a cold, Ronon had volunteered for night duty the next couple of days. When he'd said okay he'd thought it a blessing in disguise because it meant he didn't have to do it. Now, worry began to creep up his spine as he wondered how much his friend might've heard. It was a little known secret but the former runner had excellent hearing and was too damned observant for his own good.

"Look, Ronon -" he trailed off, not entirely sure what he wanted to say or if he even, really, wanted to try and explain this. He sighed; trying to pretend nothing had happened wasn't likely to fly so John settled for the alternative. "I don't suppose you can just…pretend you didn't see anything? I'm leaving and…can you?"

The big man nodded. "Sure, whatever."

Grateful, John stepped past him and retreated back to his room.

Ronon watched him go, eyes narrowed, until Sheppard vanished around a corner. Then and only then did he continued with his patrol. Whatever was going on, he'd find out in the morning.

~xXx~

Having gotten very little sleep after her argument with John, Kate was late in getting to the mess hall for breakfast. When she did arrive, however; she sped through the line and then promptly accosted Ninety-One and Twelve who were back at their table from the night before. "I want it to be me," she announced, lowering herself into the seat across from them, "The one who stays; I want it to be me."

Her former partner studied her, one good eyebrow raised in silent inquiry. "I see," then, "Does this have something to do with the shouting match we heard comin' from your room last night?"

She winced and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Heard that huh?"

Twelve nodded. "Loud an' fucking clear," he crooned, "Your colonel sure worked yous up int' a frenzy."

"He's not my colonel."

"Does he know that?" Ninety-One asked, scowling. "What was he even doing in your room at one in the morning?"

The unspoken accusation made Kate's eyes narrow, lips curling back into a mocking sneer. "Jealous?"

Her former partner grimaced but could not deny it. They had been lovers once, during their time in the project. Back then they'd been isolated, separated from everyone and everything; unable to relate to anyone except another NC soldier. Their work left them hollow and, in trying to fill the void, they'd turned to each other for comfort. When the project ended and they'd both been shipped to the SGC, their affair had ended. Still, Kate had been his and only his for nearly five years – the thought of someone else touching her, especially someone from her past, made his blood boil.

Kate snorted, angry that a few instances of what amounted to nothing more than comfort sex made her partner think he had any claim on her. "Don't be," she told him, dark sneer still in place, "I draw the line at incest."

"Incest?" he echoed, blinking in surprise.

Twelve made a face. "Really?"

She nodded.

The revelation that should've eased Ninety-One's conscious, didn't. If the colonel was family then it still meant he had a part of her that he didn't. "Cousin?" he guessed, trying to appear like he wasn't still envious.

"Brother," Kate confessed, "He's my brother."

Both men stared at her. "Holy shit!" they exclaimed.

Kate dropped her eyes. "I know," she sighed, "Look, I don't know if either of you were really hell bent on staying here but if you were I'm sorry. It's got to be me, I've got…I need this."

Her plea was earnest and heartfelt, two things not lost on either of them. Kate saw this as her chance at redemption, as a way to get back something she'd thought she'd lost. The Project had stolen so much from them; it was rare to be given the opportunity to gain some of it back. And family, the chance to win back a loved one was even rarer. Knowing that, knowing how much it meant to her, Ninety-One couldn't by rights deny her and neither could Twelve. If they could help her they would.

"So wha' we's gonna do?" Twelve asked, granting Kate a small smile, "No offense but we's both stron'gar an' fast'er then yous; how we's gonna get around dat?"

"We won't try as hard," Ninety-One said, "We can't throw it too much or they'll catch on but we can hold back just enough so that Kate draws level. In strength we may have her beat but you and I both know she's smarter than us. This is Atlantis, they're gonna want someone who can think."

"Shoo, tha' could work," Twelve agreed, "Sound goo' girl?"

"It's a start," she said before turning to her eggs.

An hour later they met with Major Lorne is the second largest of Atlantis' three gyms. The major greeted them, put them at ease and then told them to change into BDUs. He claimed it was so he could watch them move but the three of them all got them impression that they, in their armor, scared the shit out of him. They'd changed anyways and then promptly been told that they'd start off the day by running laps around the city. It was an easy enough thing to ask and all three of them had taken off at a dead sprint before Lorne had officially shouted "Go!"

Two laps later it'd become a game and Kate was winning. Ninety-One and Twelve might've been faster but Kate had the agility needed to constantly weave in and out of people in populated areas. The three of them ended up doing seven laps in thirty minutes before Lorne called them to a halt and had them start something else.

During the expedition's second year, Lorne and his marines had set up an obstacle course for training out on the south pier. The course record, three minutes, had been set by Ronon a little over a year ago. The slowest time for the NC's was Twelve's at one minute ten seconds. Lorne had been so shocked he'd made them do it again just to make sure he wasn't seeing things. After the second run through which produced near identical results as the first, the major was convinced he didn't imagine it.

After the obstacle course Lorne had taken a few minutes to regroup before leading the three NC's and a growing gaggle of Atlantis personnel down to the shooting range to test their marksmanship. According to the city's records the long wide room had once been a public hall of some kind, like a banquet hall, and used for public gatherings. Over the years since their initial occupation of the city, the space had been transformed and filled with a variety of weapons ranging from the standard P-90's to some more exotic firearms that belonged to various personnel's private gun cache's. They'd also accrued quite the collection of alien weaponry. They'd brokered a deal with the Travelers to give them two dozen of the guns Ronon favored and they even had Genii and wraith weapons floating around. Lorne's test for the NC's was to see how good they were on whatever was put in front of them.

They started with a semi-automatic M-16 that all three of them broke down and then reassembled faster then was humanely possible. The same went for the P-90, the M4 and the MP5. Eventually they worked through the whole arsenal excepting the non-earth issues which Lorne knew better then to mess with. When that was done the major set them up with targets and had them shoot. One by one Lorne called them up to the lane and had them empty their clips before moving on to the next weapon. By the time they were done everybody that had been watching them was convinced that their aim alone made them more than human. Twelve had done half of his with his eyes closed while Ninety-One and Seventy-four had both managed to hit their targets in near the same place every time. When their targets had been reeled in Lorne had at first been confused that the number of holes didn't match the number of shots fired. Then he'd realized that almost a third of their shots had passed through already hit marks.

If Lorne hadn't been impressed before he was now.

"How do you know that all of the bullets went through the same hole?" asked Lieutenant Stevens, peering over the major's shoulder.

"Wider holes mean more than one bullet's passed through," Lorne explained, "Remember when the Colonel trained Todd on our weapons a couple of months ago? His target only had one hole but we all heard him fire twenty rounds," he indicated the targets, "It's the same deal."

Stevens let out a whistle while Lorne called the three super soldiers over to him and announced that they were all going to the gym to do a PT test. The looks the NC's had exchanged with each other let everyone know what a joke they thought it was but they went along with it. When Lorne asked them to drop and give him sixty all three of them fell to the mat and did him one better; a hundred pushups in less than a minute.

Evan Lorne decided then and there that continuing would've been pointless which is how he arrived at the conclusion that it was high time he saw what all they could actually do. Calling for a ten minute break he radioed for Ronon and Sergeant Reyes to meet them in the gym; it was time to see who could last the longest in a fight.

An hour later, deep inside the bowels of Atlantis, a growing crowd of people were cheering loudly – whistling and screaming – while Ronon and Ninety-One went round for round. Neither seemed to be growing tired despite how long they'd been at it and Lorne was seriously contemplating just calling it a draw and moving on or else they'd be there all night.

Teyla had the same thought. "Why do we not stop them now?" she asked, speaking loudly over the din, "Neither one is tiring and we still have others to test."

"Right," Lorne nodded. He fished out the whistle Woolsey had given him and blew on it, hard. The fighting stopped and both opponents turned towards him. "'Kay, that's enough for now," he announced, "I think it's safe to say you're both good," he glanced towards the big black NC, "You're next."

But Twelve shook his head. "Naw," he said, "Why's not give missy Kate 'ere a go?" he nodded towards Teyla, "Yous can makes 'er fight 'er."

Lorne frowned. "Well that wasn't the plan…" he began.

"It is alright," Teyla countered, stepping forwards towards the ring. "I am amiable to the idea," she glanced at the woman, "That is, if you are?"

Kate nodded and stepped forwards. "I've got no problem with it."

Lorne looked at Teyla. "You sure you wanna do this?"

"I'll be fine," she bowed her head and then turned to face her opponent, "Shall we begin?"

The raven haired woman nodded and began to circle her. Teyla made the first move.

"This really wasn't part of the plan Sir," Lt. Stevens said aside to Lorne as the two women went round and round, "She was supposed to go last and she was supposed to fight Sergeant Reyes."

The major shrugged. Sergeant Jose Reyes was Atlantis' chief of security and, consequently, had the most extensive background in hand to hand combat. He and his team were the only members of the city's military contingent that could keep up with Ronon and the Sergeant had volunteered to be Kate's sparring partner so that Ronon could have a break. Teyla, however, was just as good.

"I think it'll be alright."

Steven shook his head and turned back to the fight. Teyla and the woman were pretty evenly matched and seemed to fight with a similar style. Teyla struck, Kate blocked; the two of them had yet to actually hit one another. The two women seemed to almost be anticipating each other's moves.

"Well this is going nowhere fast," Captain Jameson observed, coming over to stand by Lorne. He frowned, "Do you think she's reading Teyla's mind?"

Lorne shook his head. "Caldwell would've told us if they could read minds."

"You hope he would've told you," Jameson said. He waved his hand over the women, "This proves nothing."

The major sighed. "Yeah, I'm getting that," he looked to Ronon, "Think you're up to go again? Reyes doesn't get off rotation for at least another twenty minutes."

The Setedan nodded.

Lorne blew his whistle, Teyla and Kate both relaxed their posture. "Is something wrong" Teyla asked, chest heaving.

Lorne crossed his arms. "We're switching things up," he explained, nodding at Ronon who entered the ring to stand beside Teyla, "Ronon's gonna go for a while."

"Very well," Teyla stepped off the sparing floor.

Ronon turned to face the woman. "You ready?"

She smirked, grey eyes dancing. "When you are."

Like Teyla, Ronon struck out first only this time Kate didn't just block his blow, she caught his fist with hers, turned and used her momentum to swing Ronon around while his arm twisted backwards. He let out a groan of pain and pulled away, striking out at her again. She parried and then ducked under his arms and landed a kick directly to his sternum. Ronon landed flat on his ass, rolled over and was up again in a matter of seconds; the glint of challenge raging in his eyes.

The gym erupted with screams. "Yeah!"

"Get her!"

"Kick his ass!"

Stevens shot Lorne and Jameson a grin. "This is gonna be good."

The two seasoned officers could only nod as they watched the Pegasus native and the human weapon got at each other. Now this is a fight, Lorne thought to himself. It was now plainly obvious that Kate was able to adjust her fighting style to fit her opponent. A sound tactic, the major would bet his hidden stash of chocolate that the soldiers of the NC-26 project had been trained extensively in adaptive combat techniques. What better way to throw your opponents off guard then to, mid battle; start throwing their own moves back at them? Fleetingly he wondered what would happen if one of the NC's were put into the ring with Todd. Lorne would so love to see the wraith get his ass kicked.

"How's it going?"

The major turned. "Colonel!" he greeted, voice raised to a yell in order to be heard, "Thought you couldn't make it!?"

He shrugged. The truth of it was that after their confrontation last night, John had been hoping to avoid Kate for as long as he could. Unfortunately he couldn't skirt his duty forever though so eventually – after Woolsey had shown up and started asking questions – he'd put the mission reports aside and wandered down here to see what was going on. Walking in on Ronon wailing on his baby sister had so not been what he'd expected.

"Doesn't look like it's a very fair fight!" he commented, frowning.

"Actually," Lorne yelled back, "They're pretty evenly matched. It's just starting to get good!"

John wasn't quite sure he believed that but looked back towards the pair of them anyway. What he saw made his breath catch at the same time as his heart took a flying leap up to his throat. Ronon had Kate pinned on her back, arms held above her head while he sat astride her. He was grinning at her as he looked down a sight which made John – who knew Ronon meant no harm by it – sick to his stomach.

"Had enough?" he heard him ask.

Kate grit her teeth, baring them in a snarl. "Not nearly," then, bending her knees, she put her feet on the ground and bucked up, throwing Ronon off her. But it wasn't enough; he still had hold of her wrists and as he fell to the side, his grip on them tightened. To free them Kate sat up, twisted and planted her feet against the wall of his chest. She kicked, he let go and both her shoulders were pulled out of place. Those watching the match all hissed in sympathy but Kate paid them no mind. Instead, with a practiced roll of her shoulders and hunch of her back she felt the familiar tug as her joints settled back into their proper place. She looked up, catching her opponent's eyes.

"Tired?" she taunted.

Ronon growled and began circling her again. This time he waited for her attack. She didn't disappoint. Rushing him, she feinted left at the last minute and whirled around coming up behind him. Ronon was ready and just managed to duck her attempt to put him in a head lock. Turning he caught her around the waist, lifted her up and then carried her forwards until her back hit the wall. He pressed down and felt her squeeze her thighs together, locking her ankles behind his back so he couldn't pull away. The sudden pressure on his ribs made him drop her. She landed on her back while he backed away. She was up again in almost the blink of an eye and Ronon grinned when he saw the hard gleam in her eye; her hands up and ready.

He waited.

Kate came at him with every last ounce of force she had. Ten minutes later, her ribs smarting from the blow Ronon had landed there, Kate realized that she was beginning to tire. As a result, she miscalculated when again she rushed forwards allowing Ronon to catch her wrist, spin and clock her in the face with his elbow.

"Shit!" blood began spurting out her nose, dripping over her mouth and down her chin, "Fuck!"

Before Ronon could respond Lorne's whistle blew. "Match over!" the major called, waving his arms in order to silence the spectators. He turned towards Kate. "Do you need to go to the infirmary?"

Kate nodded and spit out a mouthful of blood onto the floor. "That might be good."

"I'll take her," Ronon volunteered, following her out of the ring, "Sergeant Reyes is here anyway, he can test the other one."

"Right," Lorne said, turning towards the only NC left that hadn't fought, "That okay with you?"

Twelve bowed his head. "Wha'ever."

While Lorne got the last match started Ronon took Kate by the elbow and started leading her towards the infirmary. "You fought good," he told her as they exited the gym. "That thing you did with your shoulders, that was a surprise."

Kate snorted. "Yeah it gets the job done. Hurts like hell though."

"I can imagine."

They entered the transporter but rather then activate it, the Setedan turned to Kate; friendly expression gone. "So how do you know Sheppard?"

Caught completely by surprise Kate blinked. "I…I don't know what you're talking about."

"I saw you," he said, "Last night, on my patrol; heard you talking."

Her eyes narrowed to slits. "What did you hear?"

"Enough," he said stepping forwards, crowding her into a corner of the transporter. "So, you wanna…"

The question hung between them unfinished and Kate sighed. For about five seconds she considered lying but something in the way he was watching her told her that he'd know it if she did. There was nothing for it. "Kate Sheppard," she told him, "My name is Kate Sheppard."

Ronon's eyes widened; whatever he'd been expecting, this was not it. "Your name's -"

She nodded. "John's my brother."

The Setedan stared at her. In all the years he'd known Sheppard not once had he mentioned having a sister. He'd mentioned a brother, an older brother that usually only came up in some off-handed self-deprecating comments. When Sheppard's father had died Ronon had gone with him to Earth and met David at the funeral along with Sheppard's ex-wife Nancy and a lot of other relatives.

He hadn't met her. "How come you weren't at the funeral?"

"I…what?" she stammered.

Ronon looked down on her. "Your father's funeral, you weren't there."

The woman looked surprised. "You were?"

He nodded. "Sheppard asked me to come."

Kate sighed. "I…I was on a mission, didn't hear about it until a month later. By then…it was a moot point."

Regret rang heavy in her words and made Ronon truly look at her for the first time since he'd cornered her. What he saw staring back at him made his doubts fade; the woman had Sheppard's jawline and his same nose, their eyes were also the same in shape if not the same in color. It made the runner curious. "How come he's never mentioned you before?"

Shoulders slumping, Kate dropped her head and looked away, unable to meet his eyes. "I…made a mistake," she said, "Neither one of us handled it well."

Ronon raised an eyebrow.

The question was clear, what happened, but Kate wasn't really one to go around sharing her secrets just because someone asked for them. Something told her, however, that getting out of this would only happen once her opponent's curiosity was met. With this in mind, she decided to give him the abridged version. "John saved me from making a really horrible choice and I turned around and disappeared on him. I didn't tell him where I was going, I just up and left. When I got back I expected him to be there but he wasn't. He came here and I've spent the last seven years looking for him."

She glanced up, gaze locking with his. "I'm not leaving him again."

And, just like that, Ronon found himself staring into a pair of eyes reflecting the same stubborn determination Sheppard displayed on a regular basis. "So you wanna be the one that stays?" he guessed.

Kate nodded. "I just found him. I can't…I won't lose him again."

Taking a moment to carefully look at her, Ronon slowly nodded. "Okay."

Kate blinked. "Okay?" she echoed, "What do you mean okay?"

He looked at her. "You've got a plan right?" she nodded, "So, what is it?"

Hesitating for only a moment, Kate told him. "Ninety-One and Twelve said they're gonna rig the tests by not trying as hard while I give them my all."

Ronon frowned. "That's not gonna be enough."

Kate glared at him. "Well then you come up with something!"

"I'll think about it," he said, signaling one of the nurses over to them as soon as they interred the sick bay, "She broke her nose, needs it reset."

Nodding the nurse took Kate and led her over to one of the beds before instructing her to sit. Trusting that she was in good hands, Ronon looked on for a moment more before taking his leave. He had an idea about how to help Kate but first he had to talk to Sheppard. With this in mind he lengthened his stride and pointed his steps in the direction of the colonel's seldom occupied office and hoped he'd be there. If not, the people had a saying about it being better to ask for forgiveness then permission. Ronon just hoped that it was true otherwise his plan, might just get him killed.

When he arrived, it was to the sounds of Rodney and Sheppard arguing. He stopped to listen.

"No Rodney we're not gonna toss them out the back of a jumper!"

"Okay, when I said that what I really meant was - "

"What you really meant is you want them to do an air drop without a persecute."

"Well yeah, kinda, but just hear me out -"

"And since we don't have any C-130's lying about that means tossing them out the back of a jumper."

"Damn it Sheppard would you just listen!? If they really are super soldiers then it won't matter because they'll -"

"We're not doing it Rodney!"

"But what about -"

"Am I interrupting?"

Together, both Sheppard and McKay stopped their verbal battle and turned towards the door. Ronon raised one busy eyebrow at the pair of them. "So who're we throwing out the back of a jumper?"

John scowled. "Rodney here wants to see how 'super' the NC's really are by throwing them out the back of a flying jumper," he glared at his teammate, "Which we are absolutely not doing!"

The Canadian scoffed. "It wouldn't hurt them," he protested, "Not if they're really super soldiers."

"How the hell do you know!?"

Ronon looked at him. "Yeah McKay, how do you know?"

Rodney deflated but only a little bit. "Well I just…I mean…" he drove his hands into his pockets, "Captain America could've done it."

John gave him an exasperated look. "Captain…are you kidding me!? This is not a comic Rodney, they're real people!"

"Real super people," the scientist argued, "I mean couldn't we just -"

"Get out of my office!"

Rodney blinked. "I…what?"

Sheppard's face was grim. "Get…out…of…my…OFFICE!"

His teammate dithered. "Oh, but I-"

"NOW!"

Rodney quaked. Ronon glanced at him. "I'd do what the man says."

With one last squeak of protest Rodney retreated, scurrying out of the room and back towards the control tower. John sighed and sank down into his chair. Running his hands over his face he rubbed at his eyes groaning as he did so. "You just get back from the infirmary?"

Ronon nodded.

"How's Kate?"

"Your sister's fine," he said and then he waited.

John nodded. "Good, that's…" abruptly he stopped, looking up, "My what!?" he screeched.

"The girl, Seventy-Four," Ronon reiterated, "Her name's Kate Sheppard, she's your -"

"Exactly how much did you hear last night!?"

Ronon shrugged. "Not much."

John fumed. "Then how the fuck do you know Kate's my -"

"She told me."

Alarm flashed hot and loud over his face and before he could stop himself he was screaming. "Why the hell would she do that!?"

Another shrug, Ronon was being way to calm about this. "I asked her."

John fumed. "Have you told anyone?" he demanded.

Ronon shook his head.

"Are you planning on it?" another shake, "Good, then we can forget all about -"

"She wants to be the one to stay," Ronon deadpanned, watching Sheppard to see what his reaction would be.

The colonel let out a bone weary sigh and collapsed back into his chair. For a moment he didn't say anything and as the silence stretched on Ronon began to wonder if he ever would. But then, after several minutes had passed, Sheppard began to talk. He told Ronon how he was older than Kate and that he had helped raise her, he explained how their dad hadn't known what to do with a girl so Kate'd been shoved into every extracurricular and after school activity that could be managed and how he'd always been there whenever she'd needed him.

"Until she left," John was saying, the words tumbling from his mouth before he could stop them, "She says she did it because she needed to learn how to save herself but I…and now she's here and she's a God damned super soldier and I – I nearly had a heart attack when I saw her. It's been seven years. I came here thinking she didn't need me anymore and now she's here and I…I don't know what to do."

Listening to Sheppard lament, Ronon understood; all too well he understood. For seven years he'd been a runner: never in one place for long, constantly fearing for his life, fighting to survive. Then, one day, it had all stopped and he'd been free: free to start again, to go back to the person he'd been before. But it wasn't that easy, it was never easy and now Sheppard was facing the same dilemma. He'd been without Kate for as many years as Ronon had been on the run and now she was here, back in his live so very suddenly. He wasn't prepared; he wasn't ready to be a brother again or to suddenly have a sister to look after. There had been no warning. Ronon hadn't had any warning either, he'd survived. Sheppard would survive too.

"It can't be her."

Ronon looked up, surprised. "Why not?"

Sheppard was looking at him, hazel eyes pleading. "The stuff we see, the stuff we do, the wraith…she's not safe here. It can't be her. I can't…the day she was born I promised I'd protect her. I just can't do that here. If something were to happen to her I'd…I'd never forgive myself."

And while the words were real, full of real sadness, Sheppard's countenance betrayed him. He might say he didn't want her to stay but Ronon could see that his friend desperately needed her to. Sheppard had been withering for a while now, the strain of protecting the city and the war with the wraith eating away at him, wearing him down bit by bit. Cracks were starting to appear in his armor as it slowly began to tarnish. He needed a savior, he needed his sister whether he thought he did or not.

And Kate needed him; just nether of them realized it yet.

"I gotta go," he said, rising to his feet, "I'll catch you later."

John frowned. "So soon? You just got here."

He shrugged, offering the only explanation he could think of. "I'm hungry."

The colonel snickered. "Yeah alright, go," he said, waving his friend away, "Save me some though huh? I'll be down after I finish these mission reports."

Promising that he would, Ronon left Sheppard's office but, rather than head for the mess hall, took off in the direction of Woolsey's office. He hadn't been sure before talking to Sheppard that he was gonna help Kate, now he was. Knocking on the doorframe, he waited for Woolsey to see him before he entered.

"Yes Ronon?" the Director said when he saw him.

"Can I come in?"

"Of course," said Woolsey, gesturing for the Setedan to sit, "What can I do for you?"

Ronon grunted. "I had an idea, for a test."

"You mean for the NC's?"

He nodded.

Woolsey was intrigued. "Go on."

"We've got a mission tomorrow," he explained, "Gonna go check out something for Todd. They're here to deal with the wraith right? We can take them with us, see how they do."

The director considered it. "That's actually not a bad idea," he admitted, "Things always seem to go sideways when he do stuff for Todd; it might pay to have a little extra backup."

Ronon grinned. "Couldn't hurt right?"

Woolsey regarded him. "Thank you Ronon, I'll be sure to put in my report that this was your idea. Until then, is there anything else you'd like to discuss?"

He shook his head, stood and left. This time he really did head towards the mess hall.

~xXx~

Noon the next day found Ronon, Rodney, Teyla and Lorne, a squad of marines, all three NC's and one very livid Colonel John Sheppard in the gate-room waiting to depart. When Woolsey had come to him last night to inform him that the super soldiers would be accompanying him and his team on their mission, he'd objected. Loudly. His arguments had fallen on deaf ears however as the more and more he protested, the more resolute Woolsey had become. In the end Sheppard had run out of reasons why it was a bad idea long before Richard had run out of reasons why it was a good one. With a growl John had had to concede defeat and so here he stood, watching his sister talk with Ronon until Woolsey gave them the go.

"I expect you back in four hours Colonel," Woolsey called down to them, "If it takes longer than that, Todd can do it himself."

Giving the signal to move out, Sheppard called back, "No promises," before clipping his P-90 to his vest and walking through the gate. He found himself in the harsh light of a blinding desert, ankle deep in red sand.

"Okay," he called, looking around at his team, "I want you two - Twelve and Ninety-One - on point up front. Ronon, you and Kate take our six, cover our tracks. Everyone else, in the middle. Don't be afraid to spread out, I don't want any surprises."

"Fat chance of that Colonel," called Lorne, "When Todd's involved, somehow everything always goes sideways."

Ninety-One snickered. "It's like that at the SGC with Ba'al."

"You still work with him?" Stackhouse – a former member of SG-17 before coming to Atlantis – asked, surprised, "I'd've thought you'd have kicked him to the curb by now for what he did to O'Neil."

John frowned. "The general?" he asked, "What'd he do?"

"Killed him," Stackhouse explained, glancing over at Sheppard as they walked, "You know what the sarcophagus' do right?" his CO nodded, "Every time he killed him, Ba'al stuck him in one and brought him back to life. Then he did it all over again."

John winced. "Bet that wasn't fun."

"Not particularly," Kate spoke up from the rear, "Daniel keeps trying to get him to talk about it but so far; no dice."

"Spend a lot of time rubbing elbows with the General do you?" one of the marines, a Lt. Williams, asked. He gave her a once over, "You some type of big wig back at the SGC?"

Kate's eyes narrowed. "No."

He leered at her. "Then how do you know anything about the General and Dr. Jackson?"

Before Kate could rise to her down defense, Ninety-One did it for her. "When we first got sent to the SGC Vala took a shine to her," he explained, nodding at Kate, "It was Vala that got her to give up her name. Said she wasn't gonna keep calling her Seventy-Four all the time."

Teyla turned to her. "What is your name?" she asked, "I had thought I heard your peers call you something yesterday. Kat or something similar?"

"Kate," she corrected the Athosian, "My name's Kate."

"Kate what?" asked Williams. The question earned him a glare, "What's the big deal anyway?"

"When we joined the Project they took our names and gave us numbers, like serial numbers on a rifle. We were things to them, not people. Advanced weapons that walked and talked. Our names remind us of who we used to be before the government bought and sold us; we don't just give them away."

Sobered by Kate's explanation, Williams turned away and the group fell silent. The terrain was becoming less sandy the further they got from the gate. Eventually the sand disappeared altogether and gave way to scorched earth and rocks for them to stumble over. Another couple minutes and they started trudging uphill.

"Dis here place reminds me of PX9 – 254," Twelve grumbled from up front, calling back to Kate as he climbed, "Yous know, dat planet yous and Vala started a war's on."

"A war?" screeched Rodney turning to the woman, "You started a war?"

"It wasn't a war, more like a skirmish," protested Kate, "Nobody died."

"Bitch it was a mother-fucking war," insisted Twelve loudly, "I's know because I's had to come rescue your ass."

Kate scowled.

"How did that happen?" Teyla wanted to know, curious.

Rolling her eyes, Kate opened her mouth to explain.

"I don't think we have time to go over it," called back Ninety-One from the top of a ridge, "Colonel, I think you're gonna want to see this."

Unclipping his P-90 from his vest, Sheppard took it in hand and moved to the head of the line, stopping once he'd reached the NC. His eyes widened. Below them, perched on the rocky bottom of a huge ravine, was a hive. And since it didn't seem to have any trees growing on it, John would hazard a guess at it not having been there long.

"'Oly fuck," exclaimed Twelve coming up on the two of them, "Dat a big ship."

"Yeah, they're pretty big," John agreed, frowning, "Question is, what's it doing here?"

"What do you mean?" asked Ninety-One.

"He means that landing a hive is difficult even in the best of circumstances," said Rodney, joining them, "If it's here then it's probably because they don't want the other wraith to know what they're doing."

"Then how'd Todd find out?" asked Stackhouse.

John rolled his eyes. "You kidding? Todd's got his hands in more pies then a damned octopus. He's got more contacts then the CIA."

"So what's the plan?" Kate asked from behind John, "We gotta go down there right?"

The colonel winced. "Unfortunately," he sighed, "Okay, we should -" a hand clamped down on his arm, silencing him. Startled by the contact he turned only to find Kate looking behind her. "What is it?" he asked.

She frowned. "I thought I heard -"

"That is because you did, human."

Weapons drawn, the twelve of them spun around to face three wraith commanders and an entire squad of drones coming towards them from over the ridge to their right.

"Ah hell."

"Indeed," hissed the lead wraith, eyes roving the gathered humans. They landed on the male standing behind a black-haired female. "Colonel Sheppard," the commander greeted, growling, "No doubt you are here at the behest of your traitorous ally?"

The human gave a flippant shrug of his shoulders. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, "We were just out for a stroll. It's a nice day and -"

"Silence!" the wraith hissed, turning to give instructions to the drones, "Take the others to the cells, I will take this one to see the Queen."

A look from Sheppard told the NC's not to try and fight as the wraith separated them and marched them to separate areas of the hive. The colonel was taken presumably to the throne room while the others were led down to the cells and left. As soon as they were gone, Ninety-One stepped forwards and tested the strength of the bars.

"Yes, don't you think we've tried that?" asked Rodney condescendingly while the super solider frowned.

"You mean to tell me that after all the times you've been captured by the wraith you don't know how to get out of their cells?"

Rodney glared at him. "It's not that simple."

Ninety-One snorted. "I think it is," he turned to Kate then nodded towards the largest of openings in the web like bars, "Think you can get through them?"

After studying the hole a moment, Kate nodded. With Rodney scoffing in the background she stuck her head and one shoulder through, popped her other shoulder out of place and then wriggled through. It was only after she was standing in the corridor between the two cells that the Canadian physicist paused long enough to realize she'd gotten out.

"How'd you do that?" he demanded.

Rather than answer, Kate began searching the wall for some type of release mechanism.

"There," said Teyla, pointing to the part of the wall where Kate needed to look, "You need only touch it and it shall release us."

Following the Athosian's instructions, Kate located the panel and placed her hand on it. Immediately the web like bars retracted into the wall and those held captive were set free.

Instantly Rodney had turned to her. "Now what?"

"Now we complete the mission," she said, glancing around at the others, "Colonel Sheppard's right, this hive wouldn't be here unless it was up to something; it's imperative that we find out what."

"So what's the plan?" asked Ronon.

"We split up," said Ninety-One, "Kate'll take McKay and see if you can find a data terminal or something. Williams and Roads, you'll go with. The rest of us are going after the Colonel."

Nodding in agreement with the plan, Kate grabbed Rodney and motioned for Williams and Roads to fall in behind her while everyone else took off down the corridor towards the throne room. Time was on their side since it'd taken less than usual to get out of their cell. As long as the wraith didn't discover them missing they were golden.

"Which way?" asked Kate once they could no longer hear the other's footsteps.

Rodney pulled out his life-signs-detector and pulled up a schematic of the hive. "This way."

Ten minutes later, the marines were posed at the door of a small lab while Rodney expertly albeit with slight difficulty, plugged himself into the data terminal in the center of the room and started scanning files.

"Find anything?" Kate asked.

He shook his head. "Nothing yet, this could take a while."

"We don't have a while."

He glared at her. "Well unless you happen to speak wraith I suggest you stop asking stupid questions and let me do my job!"

Resisting the urge to beat the obnoxious, overinflated doctor senseless, Kate left him where he stood and wondered over to a secondary terminal in the very back of the lab. Experimentally she touched the membrane like interface and was surprised to find it readily responsive. She began selecting files and searching the contents for while none of the writing made any sense, she figured that anything truly important would be encrypted. A minute later she found a folder that wouldn't open.

"McKay!"

Annoyed by the interruption, Rodney nonetheless left his terminal and came to her side. "Yes, what?" he snapped.

She pointed at the file on screen. "This one won't open."

His eyes narrowed. "What, you want a metal? Congratulations you found a file that doesn't open. Seriously you called me away for -"

"You have two seconds to shut up or I will shove my foot up your ass!"

McKay's mouth clamped shut. From the door, Kate thought she heard Williams snicker. She turned back to McKay. "Now, tell me doctor, why do people normally encrypt files?"

He scoffed. "To hide something important."

Kate gave him a look; almost immediately she saw the proverbial lightbulb go off in his head. Within seconds she'd been shoved unceremoniously out of the way by the over eager scientist. "You're welcome," she grumbled under her breath, watching as McKay began quickly hacking away at the encryption.

"Yes, yes, very good," said Rodney sounding dismissive when, in reality, he was actually rather impressed. How had she known to look for a file that couldn't be opened? The question was filed away for later as, with another two strokes, his algorithm cracked the encryption and suddenly the file's contents was displayed on the screen. His eyes widened, "Whoa."

Standing on her tip toes, Kate peered over his shoulder. "They're equations," she noted, "It looks like calculus on steroids."

"Calculus on steroids, I like that," he mumbled, a nagging in the back of his brain told him he'd seen something like this before. "I think I've seen…oh no."

Kate looked at him. "What?"

He paled. "I've seen these equations before," he said, panic beginning to set it, "When I got hit with Atlantis' ascension machine and it turned on the inactive parts of my brain. I studied this; these are the equations for how to make ZedPM's."

"And that's bad?" Kate guessed.

"Yes, of course it's bad!" Rodney wailed, "Insufficient power generation is the one downside to wraith technology. If they figure out how to overcome that then that's it, we're done."

An idea began to form in the back of Kate's mind. "What if we did it?"

He looked at her, frowning. "What do you mean?"

She pointed at the screen. "Could we use these?"

Rodney shook his head. "I see where you're going with this and the answer's no, not as they are. I mean these equations are advanced, even for me. There's no way I could -"

"What if you had some help?" she asked, "That wraith Todd or whatever the hell his name is, he's supposed to be brilliant right? Smarter then you?"

"Well I don't think he's smarter than me, he just knows more -"

"McKay!"

He deflated. "Yes okay! With Todd's help I might be able to figure these out but I don't see why we'd want to. Our understanding of sub-space time is nowhere near good enough to try and make one. We'd probably be at it for years before we ever made any type of -"

"We don't need to make one we just need to be able to tell the IOA we're working on it," she studied him, "You've been trying to convince them that they need to keep Atlantis in Pegasus for a while now right? What better way than with the promise of figuring out how to make our own ZPM's?"

Rodney stared at her. "That's the most….that might actually work."

"Thanks, I do try."

With a snap of his fingers, Rodney took out his tablet and plugged it into the wraith terminal. Immediately he began copying files. "Done," he announced triumphantly, "Now we can -"

Shots erupted behind caused both Rodney and Kate to look up and turn towards the door where a squad of drones was attempting to enter the lab. Williams and Roads fought valiantly but ultimately succumbed. They fell and Rodney soon found himself face to face with one of the hive's commanders.

"Dr. McKay," the wraith hissed, "You have something that belongs to us."

Rodney squeaked and clutched to tablet to his chest. Kate stepped in front of him.

"You want him; you're going to have to go through me."

Grinning evilly the wraith lunged for her, feeding hand outstretched. Rather than dodge it, Kate caught it and turned, twisting the commander's arm back behind him. A sift kick landed him on his knees and while he was otherwise distracted, stunned by her show of strength, Kate reached out and with a quick twist snapped his neck. Letting the body fall to the floor she turned and immediately went after the drones blocking their escape. They took longer and unlike her fight with the commander, Kate did not escape this one unscathed. A gash above her eye and another across her cheek were her badges as the drones fell dead around her until none were left.

Breathing heavily, she turned to Rodney. He was staring at her.

"How…you -"

"We need to go," he didn't move, "Now, McKay!"

Snapping out of his stupor, Rodney took one last look at the bodies around her before nodding and following her from the room.

~xXx~

On the other side of the hive Ronon, Teyla, Ninety-One and the others were nearly halfway to the throne room when their group was set upon by two separate squads of drones coming at them from both ends of the corridor. On Ninety-One's order, they had opened fire but were quickly overcome. The drones outnumbered them nearly three to one and Porter and James, the two remaining marines, went down quick. Rather than continue to fight, the five remaining humans allowed themselves to be taken captive and marched along the corridors to the throne room.

The Queen turned towards them upon their arrival. "What is this?" she demanded, "Why have you brought them here?"

"My Queen," a commander greeted, stepping forwards to indicate the humans following him, "The humans escaped their cells. We found them just outside."

"Very well then," the female hissed, returning her gaze to the prone form of the human at her feet. Below her, Sheppard gazed up at her defiantly. She growled, "If you will not tell me what I want to know then I shall try obtaining it from one of your friends."

Forced to kneel, held tight within the thrall of the queen, John could only struggle weakly as the wraith turned and made her way over towards the others. Stalking down the line, she seemed to be considering her options. With a hiss she stopped in front of Twelve.

"This one."

The NC gulped. "Ah man, dis is gonna -"

The Queen's hand slamming down on his chest cut off the rest of his sentence. In its place, Twelve let out only a grunt of pain.

"Tell me what I want to know!" the Queen commanded, feeling the rush of euphoric strength flood through her as she fed. "You are strong," she hissed, pleasure washing through her. "Tell me what I want to know human and I shall spare you your life."

"Go…t'…hell..bitch!"

Angry, the feeding wraith pushed forwards, intend on syphoning every last drop of defiance from her victim. He was just beginning to weaken when a sound – a shot – split the air. A moment later a sharp, hot pain pierced her shoulder and she screamed. Golden eyes, amber in fury, looked around wildly until they found the attacker: a single human female who stood above them, weapon primed and pointed directly at her.

The Queen hissed while the eyes of all present followed hers. Collective gasps rippled through the Atlantians at the look of cold malice inscribed across their savior's face, grey eyes turned to glass.

"How dare you!" growled the Queen, turning to face the female human head on, "I will destroy you for th -"

Another shot echoed throughout the chamber as Kate fired off another round this one directly to the Queen's head; a perfect kill shot.

No longer enthralled, John surged to his feet. "Kate, run!"

His sister needed no further prompting. Abandoning her perch, she disappeared into the darkness leaving the wraith, baying for the blood of their queen's slayer, to give chase. Only a single wraith remained behind to stand guard over the prisoners and, under a volley of poorly aimed but effective gun fire, he was quickly dispatched; Rodney stepping out of the darkness.

"Nice shooting Doc," quipped Lorne.

The scientist flustered. "Yes, well, at least I hit him."

The major snickered and looked down at the dead wraith. "Yeah, you hit him. He looks like Swiss cheese."

Rodney opened his mouth to defend himself; Sheppard cut him off.

"We don't have time for this!" he barked, turning to Ninety-One, "You, help Twelve up and focus on getting everybody back to the gate."

"Where are you going?" Ronon asked, while Sheppard had been speaking he'd started edging towards the door.

John looked at him, for a moment their eyes locked. "I'm going to help Kate."

Nodding, Ronon let him, turning back to the others while John, like Kate, disappeared into the darkness.

~xXx~

Kate ran.

Pumping arms and legs, she weaved a twisted path through the hive taking her pursuers on a merry chase that, hopefully, would give the others ample time to make their escape. As she ran she thought about the ramifications of her and McKay's discovery. If what he said was true and power generation was the Achilles' heel of the wraith then they needed to make sure no other wraith found out about it. With this in mind she changed course. No longer running mindlessly through the corridors she instead headed towards the main engine room. She'd nearly reached it when she turned a corner and almost ran into a commander.

"Shit!" she cursed, coming up short as the angry wraith stalked towards her, "This is gonna -"

But before the wraith could come closer, two shots ringing from the darkness dropped him dead. Spinning around, Kate came face to face with her brother.

"John."

He looked at her, eyes drinking in her face. "Come on," he said, "Exit's this w -"

"We can't leave yet."

John stared at her. "Why the hell not!?"

His sister sighed. "Rodney and I found an encrypted file in one of their data bases. It contained the equations for a ZPM – seems the wraith are trying to make their own. I don't know where they got the info but we can't leave unless we're sure -"

"…someone else can't just waltz in here and take it," John groaned, "Okay, right; so, what's the plan?"

Kate started walking, trusting her brother to follow. He did. "I memorized the layout of the hive when I first started scanning through the ship's files -"

"You can do that? Memorize something that fast?"

She nodded. "My body isn't the only thing they enhanced; my mind got an upgrade too."

"The hell does that mean?" John wanted to know, "Are you trying to tell me you're as smart as Rodney because that's -"

"Fuck no," Kate shook her head emphatically, "I can memorize information and regurgitate it but it's not like I could fix a hyper-drive or calculate how to blow up a sun."

As they entered the engine room and started to look around for the best place to lay a charge, John offhandedly commented, "I could you know," then, "Fix a hyper-drive not blow up a sun."

His sister snorted. "Yeah and I bet nobody knows that either," she shot him a look, "Play dumb a lot don't you?"

"I've got a base to run; I don't have time to solve math problems. That's what Rodney's for."

Kate chuckled before stopping in front of what she was pretty sure was a type of generator. A quick scan proved her theory to be correct and, with a wave, she called her brother over. "Here," she said, pointing at the terminal's data output, "This is the main power generator for the hyper-drive. If we jam it and then activate it the power buildup -"

" – Should overload the conduits and the ship'll blow," he leaned over her, "Do you wanna do the honors or can I?"

"You're the engineer," she quipped, reminding him that she knew what he'd studied in college.

John scowled but stooped down, prying a panel on the generator's base loose so he could begin crossing wires. "Don't tell Rodney."

Kate snickered, holding the flashlight he handed her above her head so that John could see what he was doing. Within minutes John had sufficiently fucked up the generator enough to cause a cataclysmic explosion. Then he activated the hyper-drive, setting a delay so that he and his sister would have enough time to escape.

Then they ran.

Since Kate had the place memorized, John followed her. She was taking the long way, probably trying to keep from running into anybody which as far as he was concerned, was fine by him. Their luck ran out, however, when they neared the bridge. Careening around a corner, they nearly ran into a squad of drones and what looked like half the hive's commanders. John came up short, reaching for his gun as he expected Kate to reach for hers.

She didn't.

Instead, John watched in awe as his baby sister plowed through the wraith; ducking and weaving and killing as though mass slaughter were something she did every day. That's because it is, his thoughts whispered, mocking him and his desire to keep her safe; to shelter her like he had when she'd been a little girl. But Kate wasn't a little girl, not anymore. She was a woman: a wonderful, capable woman who fought with the all the fury of a raging storm.

He was so proud of her, so fiercely proud and as the last wraith fell, John could not help but look at her in awe.

"Let's go."

Nodding, John stepped over the bodies of the wraith his sister had killed and silently followed her down the hall.

~xXx~

"What the hell was he thinking, running off after her!? She's a damned super soldier; she can take care of herself!"

Ronon grunted, pushing McKay to walk faster. They'd run into minimal resistance during their escape and were now more than halfway up the side of the ravine. About ten minutes ago, McKay had started complaining about Sheppard and, personally, Ronon was tired of it. "Sheppard doesn't leave people behind," he reminded the scientist, hoping to shut him up, "Keep walking."

But Rodney wasn't quelled. "But what if -"

Lorne growled. "If it bothers you so much we'll wait for them as soon as we get to the top of this damned hill. If they're not out in ten minutes then me and Ronon'll go back."

Satisfied, Rodney let the matter drop. When they reached the top, Lorne told Teyla and Ninety-One to keep going towards the gate. After promising to tell Woolsey what had happened and send aid if necessary, the Teyla and the only remaining super solider walked on; Twelve hanging limp and unresponsive on his comrade's back.

Turning back to the hive, the three men strained their eyes for any signs of either Sheppard or Kate. They didn't have to wait long. Not two minutes later the colonel and Kate came racing out of the hive both of them at a dead sprint. Immediately Lorne and Ronon went on the defensive, prepared to lay down cover fire if necessary but when nothing came out after, them all three of them started to frown.

"Huh," said Rodney, "I wonder what they're running fr -"

The hive started to hum, its engines and hyper-drive activating despite the fact that it was still bound to the planet. Immediately Rodney knew what they'd done. His eyes widened as he calculated how much time they had before the power build up caused an explosion. It wasn't enough, there was no way they could outrun it.

And neither could they.

"Everybody down!" he shouted, taking cover. Lorne and Ronon followed suit just as, down below, Kate tackled Sheppard and covered his body with hers.

BOOOOMMMM!

The explosion ripped apart the hive, instantly shattering it into million pieces while simultaneously kicking up a storm of dust that obscured everything. The earth rumbled and screamed before, suddenly, all was still. From their perch above the blast crater Lorne, Ronon and Rodney stood cautiously. Their ears were ringing and, in Rodney's case, bleeding from the concussive force of the blast. Desperately worried, all three of them took off down the steep side of the gorge which was now much more a canyon then a gully.

They hit the bottom at a run and began shouting, calling their commander's name even though they could barely hear their own voices.

"Sheppard!"

"Colonel!"

"John!"

There was no answer. It was Ronon who regained his hearing first and the former runner strained his ears for any sign that his friend and his sister had survived the blast. It wasn't until McKay had started to panic and even Lorne was getting ready to give up hope that Ronon saw something moving towards them through the haze. The something got closer and then Rodney and Lorne saw it. Together the three of them stopped and waited for it to materialize and, when it did, they all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Ronon thanked the stars. "Sheppard!"

The colonel walked towards them supporting Kate whose arm was wound around her brother's shoulder. She was pale, covered in blood and looked barely able to stand. Even her eyes were glazed and, as the two of them joined the others, Lorne found himself looking her over and wondering what the hell happened.

"She used herself as a shield, to protect me," John supplied, answering the unspoken question on the major's face. "She…she ah…"

"She saved your life."

John looked at Ronon and nodded, hazel eyes screaming at his friend all the things he wanted to say but couldn't. Not with Lorne and Rodney standing so close.

Kate, meanwhile, could feel the last of her strength leaving her. With a grunt she felt her knees give out causing her to buckle under the force of her own weight. Instantly she felt her brother's arms around her, holding her up. A voice from her childhood began to whisper into her ear, telling her to take her time and to lean on him, promising her that she was safe. Wearily she let her head fall onto John's shoulder, giving herself a moment to gather the last reserves of her strength before pushing herself away and telling him that she was fine.

"You sure?" John asked worry digging deeper into his tone. He felt Lorne give him a look but felt confident he could explain it all away as nothing more than concern for the woman who had just saved his life.

Kate nodded. "Yeah, I'm good Sir," then, "Sorry."

"Got nothing to be sorry for," said Ronon, taking her from Sheppard before her brother could completely blow their cover. "Come on, Teyla and the other two are waiting for us at the gate."

Wordlessly, Kate allowed herself to be transferred out of her brother's custody and into the only other person who'd earned her trust. Then, with Lorne helping John and McKay trailing along behind, they started limping back towards the gate.

~xXx~

Hours later – while Kate and Twelve convalesced in the infirmary under the careful care of Dr. Keller – Sheppard, Ronon, Lorne, Teyla and Rodney all met in Woolsey's office. It was decision time and, given everything that'd just happened and the outcome thereof, the decision was pretty straight forwards.

"So we're in agreement then?" Atlantis' director asked, looking around the room at everyone in turn, "You're sure you want her?"

Ronon nodded. "She saved our asses."

"She saved the colonel's life!" added Lorne, "That's gotta count for something!"

"And it was her idea to take the file," exclaimed Rodney. Everyone looked at him, surprised by his enthusiasm. He stammered, "Well I…it's just…a really big deal. Kate said that we don't even have to actually make one; all we've got to do is tell the IOA we're working on it and that's it. We'll have them -"

"We've got it," snapped the colonel, still just a tad on edge, "Thanks Rodney."

The scientist swallowed nervously. "Ah, n-no problem, here to help."

Woolsey sighed. "Then it's settled then," he said, "I'll go tell our newest member the good news."

As Woolsey rose and swept from the office, the others filed out and went on their merry ways. John lingered and because he was the only one that knew the whole story, Ronon lingered too.

"You wanted this right?" he asked, needing to hear Sheppard confirm it.

John nodded.

"Then what's the problem?"

Sheppard shook his head. "It's supposed to be the other way around," he tried to explain, "She's not supposed to protect me, I'm supposed to protect her."

Ronon grunted. "Maybe you can protect each other."

The idea wasn't half bad and made John smile. Leaving Ronon in Woolsey's office, the colonel walked down to his quarters, entered and then shut the door behind him. Looking around at the Spartan room he crossed over to his nightstand where the novel War and Peace sat gathering dust. The book was one of the only two personal items he'd originally brought with him to Atlantis and, taking up the old, leather bound copy, John flipped it open revealing the picture that had long since been stuck in its pages; hidden away from the rest of the world.

It was an old Polaroid taken years ago just after he'd graduated from basic. There he stood proud and tall in his dress blues, gold butter bars gleaming from his chest. But what struck him most about the picture was not how young he looked or how proud or how eager. No, what struck him most was the person at his side: a little eight year old girl with black hair and grey eyes who loved her brother so much she'd cried when he'd told her he had to go away. She stood next to him clutching his hand while looking at him with such worshipful admiration you'd think he was something holy. It brought a smile to his face as his fingers traced the image, determination strengthening an already strong resolve. He'd lost her once, the little girl in the picture, but now she was back and John knew he's never let her go again.

Never.


A/N: So that's it. Readers, if you've made it this far I hope you enjoyed it and if it's not too much trouble I'd love to get a review from you. Constructive criticism is welcomed, flames and/or abuse is not. Also, please remember that all of this is meant to be for fun so if you hated it fine, tell me, but try to do it respectfully. No cursing!

Also, as I believe I mentioned up at the top, the whole season is going through a revision so if you're headed over to the next chapter – or any of the successive ones – and something in it doesn't quite match up with what you just read never fear, I'm working on it. Just keep checking back to see if the chapter's got a "as of such-and-such date this chapter has been revised" tag at the top under the Author's note.

There, that's all I've got. I look forwards to hearing from all of you so, until next time; cheer!

Lady M