Author's Note: This chapter picks up right where chapter 6 left off. To get an idea of what's going on, re-read that chapter – or at least the last few paragraphs of it. I know it's been a really long time… so you'll probably need to re-read.

I apologize for the length of time it's taken me to revisit this story. I appreciate the reviews that I've received for this story, as they compel me to keep writing. It's nice to feel that my story is being appreciated – often times I don't, and my muse tends to wander.

I appreciate the encouraging words of hifield and Kittenz714, both of whom reminded me that I left this story in the middle of nowhere – and also who made me realize that I shouldn't stop writing, no matter how busy things get. It means a lot.

All errors are proudly my own… and, of course, as per usual, feedback is appreciated.

Chapter 7

"Spill." The words came out of Laura's mouth before she could think about what she was saying. Deep down, she knew full well that this had something to do with what happened to Jen. She knew Jen very well – she could read her emotions with little effort.

Jen sat at her desk, and averted her eyes from her computer. She locked eyes with Laura, standing in the doorway. Laura saw the redness in Jen's eyes. She quickly scanned the room and saw a broken teacup and papers strewn across the floor.

"It's him, isn't it…" Laura started cautiously. She didn't know how to approach the issue. She felt strange, not knowing how to diffuse a volatile situation like this one – she was, after all, in charge of cracking codes and diffusing bombs to save lives. This was a ticking time bomb, she realized, and she needed to do something quick.

Jen nodded with a sense of defeat. "He's… He's out there, Laura." The words were soft. "He's out there, back home… at Chippewa Falls. I knew it when I had left – I had read about a rape in the paper… but… he's… killed this one. He killed a woman I went to high school with… his seventh…"

"God damn it!" Laura was enraged. She had tried to keep her emotions in check but she was finding that it was far too difficult.

"Laura, I never reported it…" Jen looked down. "I didn't want anybody to talk… it's a small town..." Laura and Jen both understood what this meant – the man had raped at least seven women. There was no telling how high the real number was.

"Jen…" Laura sighed. She had to approach this situation with a sense of caution that was relatively unknown to her. "You need to go back to Chippewa Falls and report this."

Jen shook her head – almost violently.

"You don't understand, Laura."

"Jen, we have powerful friends! You have powerful friends! We could –"

"You don't understand, god damn it!" Jen shouted, shocking Laura. "You don't get it, do you?" Jen's eyes were full of tears. Laura didn't know how to respond – she had never heard Jen raise her voice like that. It concerned her. "I see this guy in my sleep! He follows me! He haunts me, Laura, every single damned day!" Jen was shouting loudly. Her voice echoed through the halls near her office.

"I'm sorry, Jenny." Laura said quietly, after silently looking at the woman before her. "I won't even attempt to try and know what things are like, okay? I'm sorry."

Jen looked down and suddenly felt ashamed.

"I shouldn't have yelled at you." Jen sighed, trying to find the correct words to express her feelings. "People like him… they breed destruction, you know? They ruin. That's what they do. They hunt people down and leave them torn apart… so that the people around them have to scramble together to pick up the pieces. And then it eats away at them, and the people around the, until it's too much for anybody to take… It's… it's not human. It's wraith-like."

Laura nodded her head and went over to her friend. She began to pick up some of the papers from the floor – she didn't want Jen to stress out anymore over things.

Jen nodded in thanks as she saw what Laura was doing. Laura looked up at her solemnly.

"I'm just…" Laura paused for a moment, and then raised an eyebrow. "Wait. You said you see him, Jen. You see him in your sleep." Jen nodded. "You saw his face?"

"I thought I didn't remember… but I just know what he looks like. I feel like I've seen him before." Jen shuddered. "He was so… familiar."

"You would remember him if you saw him?" Laura asked, as she rose from the floor and leaned against Jen's desk with her arms across her chest.

"Yeah… I would." Jen answered, reluctantly. She didn't like where Laura's train of thought was going. She wasn't ready to face him.

"You know where I'm going with this, Jen." Jen nodded. "You know what I'm going to tell you – and damn it, I have to tell you. We have to go to Wisconsin. We have to go to your hometown. We have to get this bastard locked up once and for all. Jen… we've got powerful friends. They'll stick by you…"

"Laura." Jen shook her head slightly. "You don't know what you're asking me to do."

"I know full well what I'm asking you to do." Laura looked at Jen with a sense of defiance. "I don't want this to eat you up inside. It'll never go away. I know that. But, I don't want it to eat up anymore. If this guy isn't on the loose… if he's caught… if he's…"

"If." Jen knew that rape cases were backlogged. She had researched the reports and understood that the justice system was often lacking. She didn't want to open herself up to that.

"Jen, you know at least three or four people who are legitimately able to call in a favor with the President. At least."

"Nobody else is going to be brought into this!" Jen stated abruptly.

"I won't let this guy follow you around – into another fucking galaxy! Into your dreams! In all of those dark corners and hallways! You said he was like the wraith – and you know what I do when I see the wraith? I hunt the wraith. I call in my favors if I have to, but I seek out and destroy the enemy. That's my charge. That's what I do. But when friends – when family – are involved? You think I'm letting him to do that to you? Hell no. Not on my watch."

Jen looked at her and didn't know what to say. There were so many different emotions swimming through her head.

"I'm going into the cafeteria. We managed to bring ingredients for chocolate cake back with us on the Daedalus. When you're ready, I want you to join me." Laura looked at Jen with the authority of a drill sergeant. She then turned away and began to walk to the door. Jen didn't know what to say.

"You know," Laura turned around and faced Jen. "Sheppard, Evan, Teyla, McKay… and especially Ronon saw me in the cafeteria and sent me down here to check on you. They're worried. They were worried you were holed up in here like you were preparing some underground bunker for an impending apocalypse." Laura held Jen's gaze strongly as she said her final words before departing: "And you know what I think? They're right. Even McKay – with the social awareness of a wet blanket – is right. You're too good for this."

With those words, Laura walked out of Jen's office with her head held high. She worried, deep down, that she was going about everything the wrong way. Perhaps she was. She was so damn worried about Jen, though – she wanted nothing more than to help her avoid wasting away.

Ronon took a quick swig of his water as he saw Laura Cadman walk into the cafeteria… alone. He had hoped – rather, they had all hoped – that Cadman wouldn't come back solo. When they had mentioned to her that they were worried about Jen, Laura had squinted her eyes and – without a word – had marched off in the direction of Jen's office. The look on Teyla's face had done it for Laura – Teyla only gave that look when she was truly worried. Rodney had stared down at his lap, not knowing what to say.

And when Laura returned without Jen… Ronon, Sheppard, Teyla, Lorne, and McKay all exchanged quick glances with each other. As Laura neared the table, she smiled inwardly at the group of people who had cared so much about Jen. Jen had a funny way of not realizing that she was truly, deeply cared for – especially by people right in front of her, Laura realized.

Laura took a free chair and sat down at the table.

"You had no luck persuading Jennifer to accompany you?" Teyla asked with a worried face.

"She'll show up." Laura said confidently.

"You sure about that?" Sheppard inquired, taking a sip of some coffee.

"Oh, she's exhausted… but I got through to her. She needs to stop beating herself up." Laura gave a meaningful look to Ronon as she said those words. "And," Laura turned to Teyla, "She also needs to get out of her office and spend time with her friends."

"I agree wholeheartedly." Teyla commented.

"She'll come, though. I'll give her ten minutes – but she'll come." Laura added. "So. I also have some news… that I think you can all fully get behind. Some big news." Laura smiled as she said those words. She said them slowly, however, and then paused.

"Out with it! We don't have all night!" Rodney urged her to go on. Sheppard shot him a glare and Rodney made a sour face. Lorne rolled his eyes and gazed at Laura intently.

"The Daedalus crew – and by crew, I mean myself – manage to bring ingredients for chocolate cake to Atlantis." Laura said smugly. Everybody at the table broke out into smiles. "But… nobody else knows yet. The cake should be ready soon – we have first dibs."

Teyla's eyes widened. "This is great news, Laura."

"If Jen's not here in ten, I'm giving her share to Teyla," John added, laughing. Teyla playfully swatted John's arm, mock chastising him.

"Oh, she'll be here." Laura stated confidently, stretching her arms out behind her back. Ronon looked skeptical. He kept his eyes on the transporter that led to the mess hall. "Trust me." She added, rising from the table.

Moments later, the crew – Lorne, Sheppard, Teyla, Rodney, and Ronon, led by Laura – made their way to the kitchen silently. Laura had informed them that the cake would be ready – if they were to get first dibs on such a hot commodity, they had to move fast. Laura felt like the lead troublemaker who sat with the cool kids in the cafeteria.

As they entered the kitchen, Jen Keller did something remarkable. She rose from her desk, walked to the small bathroom adjacent to her office, and washed her face. She then combed out her hair, threw on some lip balm, and stretched out her arms. She reached for her jacket – as if she had been instructed to do so by some higher power – and finished putting herself together. She took a long hard look in the mirror after she finished. She was going to walk to the mess hall, she reasoned.

She was going to walk to the mess hall with her head held high. She was going to do something brave: she was going to rise up after falling down – because that's what people do, she realized. It's what people have to do.

And when Jen walked out of her office and made her way to the transporter, something changed. She was going to stand up and be a little more assertive. She wasn't ready to face this guy – no way – but she was ready to be a little more defiant. She was ready to see her friends – people who could see through her, she knew – and sit with them. She was ready to let loose… and attempt laughter.

Jen closed the transporter door and leaned against the wall, briefly collecting all of her emotions before she pressed the blip on the screen that would take the transporter to the mess hall. After deeply breathing for a moment, she touched the screen – knowing full well that she wouldn't be hiding anymore. Things were going to change.

Shortly after the crew came back to their table with their smuggled chocolate cake in tow – and an extra slice for Jennifer, which Laura had been adamant about – the transporter doors slid open. Ronon had been on alert, listening for that sound since Laura had insisted that Jennifer would make her way down to the mess hall.

Ronon's eyes darted to the transporter door. Jennifer stepped out and immediately saw her table of… friends. Yes, she realized – friends. She had friends.

Her eyes locked within Ronon and she flashed him a slight smile. He nodded at her and nudged Laura. Laura put her spoon down and looked at the transporter door. She smiled smugly and rose quickly, pulling up an extra chair for Jen. Jen closed the distance between the transporter and the table.

As Jennifer sat down, Laura slid a plate of chocolate cake and a spoon in front of her.

"Thanks." Jen said with a grateful smile.

"We had been very worried about you, Jennifer." Teyla said, giving her a meaningful look. "It's great to see you out of your office." Teyla reached over and squeezed Jennifer's hand, not holding back on any emotion. Jennifer looked into her eyes and nodded. The group at the table knew that something had been wrong – and Laura, of course, had mentioned nothing. It had been obvious to the group that Jennifer was running from something.

Ronon, perhaps, had known that all too well. Having run from his past for over seven years, he knew what it looked like – he knew what that desperate sense of longing was like – and he hated to see it played out on Jennifer's face.

In truth, everyone from the group was running from something. Rodney was running from a world where he could not work on anything exceptional – he was running away from lesser thans, those with no visions – and no dreams for making things better. Sure, he was full of himself and wanted the glory – but in doing that, he was selfless, as the glory he desired would by no means be made public to the people in his field back on Earth.

And John Sheppard – John Sheppard, if anything, was running from too much to even be described. It was evident in his strut – the way he walked down the halls – the way he wore his sunglasses – and the way he ran his right hand through his hair when he had nothing else to say. He was running from gunfire – burning gasoline in Afghanistan; he was running from loss – he still did not feel he was fit to live among people and love with them; and he was running from the bittersweet taste of memory.

Teyla ran from the decimation and partial destruction of her people, right into the arms of another group – a group that, if anything, would have described itself as a gang of misfits with no other place to call home. Home was out there – out beyond everything they knew – with a whole new set of stars and charts and languages and smells.

Laura Cadman looked over the table and smiled inwardly. She eyed Evan – in all of his stoic moments, he was quite vulnerable, just as everyone else was. And herself? Hell, she had been running for a damned long time. Women who diffuse bombs and know exactly which wires not to cut sure as hell aren't the women who are complacently sitting still, perfectly happy with the world around them.

In time, Laura realized, Jen would come to accept that everybody here was similar in the same way – everybody had something that ate at they and attempted to take control of them. And everybody fought in their own way – some in the darkness, some while looking over the sunset on the Lantean piers, others while making bantos rods come alive in dimly lit training halls. Everybody was fighting – everybody was running – and everybody had those desperate moments where words would not suffice and the people around them were all they had.

And as Ronon – a man who had most literally run for his life for seven years – smiled at Jennifer, he knew that he would have to let her fight on her own. He could help, he knew, but when a person runs – they have to run part of the distance alone, if only to prove to themselves that they can survive, flourish, and endure. It was painful to watch, but he knew he had to give her space and let her claim her voice. It would happen, he knew, because she was strong – but he frowned inwardly as he knew how painful that would truly be.

More than anything, he wanted to know what plagued her – and how he could help fix the mess she was in – but he knew that he had to back off. When people ran from affection like that? Something definitely had happened. He pushed the thoughts out of his mind as he took in the woman that sat in front of him.

Jennifer saw Ronon look at her and she smiled. She hadn't smiled like that in a long time.

"Did I miss anything?" Jennifer asked, savoring her chocolate cake. It was a taste that she had not tasted in a very long time.

"Some of us," Teyla started, eyeing Ronon, Rodney, and John, "were discussing the most accurate way of destroying a Wraith hive." Laura and Jennifer laughed while Teyla shook her head with a smile.

"And some of us were more accurate than others!" John started.

"Not this again, Sheppard! You can't fly another Jumper –" Rodney countered, all the while cut off by Teyla.

"You are going to send Jennifer back into her office." Teyla said pointedly. She took a spoonful of chocolate cake and put it in her mouth, taking in the delicious flavors. Everybody else seemed to be enjoying themselves and laughing.

Before the men could jump into the conversation once again, however, Teyla smirked.

"I need to retreat to my room for meditation." She said, rising from the table with her plate. "But, I'll have you all know – my method was by far the most efficient." Smirking, Teyla walked away from the table and quickly went into the transporter.

Jennifer burst out into laughter, followed by Laura.

"Teyla has a method for blowing up a Wraith hive?" Rodney questioned.

"You're looking at the only woman who could kick my ass." John said with a grin. "I wouldn't put it past her."

As Jennifer sank into her bed that night, she realized that she was among friends. She had known it all along, but had been too scared to seem vulnerable. To avoid this, she buried herself in work – only to realize that it made her seem more vulnerable than she had truly been. She wasn't weak, she realized – she would fight this.

Pushing the thoughts out of her head and satisfied with her evening, Jennifer retreated into a state of calm sleep – a sleep that, for the first time in ages, did not contain visions of the man who had nearly destroyed her.

To be continued…