"Your Marines are going to have to cover you for a little while, McKay," Sheppard crackles back. "We're pinned here, too."
Rodney looks around at the four Marines, returning fire at the Carolii, who had just suddenly and emphatically validated all of John's suspicions about their intentions, then down at the floor behind the console, next to him. Teyla is still conscious, but she's bleeding so much—"No, Colonel. You need to be here right now."
Concern wakens in Sheppard's voice. "What's going on?"
"Just—just get moving!" he snaps and cuts the connection. He tries to smile at Teyla. "It's going to be okay."
There's sweat all over her face, and she doesn't even try to speak, just gasps a little and nods. He can see in her eyes she doesn't believe him.
"Just hang on a little longer," he says, as reassuringly as he can manage. "Sheppard will be here any minute. We'll take care of these guys and we'll have you through the gate and into the infirmary in no time. Nothing Carson can't handle."
It's stupid to lie to her, he can't lie to anyone, much less to someone who's seen as many battles as she has, but he can't think of anything else to do. He doesn't even have a first-aid kit to stop the bleeding. He puts out a hand, then pulls it back quickly. He's afraid to touch her at all.
If she hadn't knocked him down and taken the shots herself, he'd be dead right now.
"Water," he says suddenly. "Do you want some water? I have some water, here, in my bag—"
She barely shakes her head. Her dusky skin is taking on a bluish-grey color. The corners of her mouth are streaked with drying blood.
"Teyla, you have to hold on," he tells her, pulling off his jacket and starting to wad it up, "It'll only be a minute more, I prom—"
There's a temporary lull in fire from the Carolii, and Sheppard charges around the corner, Ronon right behind him. "McKay, what's the—"
He sees Teyla and stops. Rodney had still had some crazy idea in the back of his head that Sheppard could fix this somehow—isn't that his job?—but he sees the horror flash across Sheppard's face and he knows in his gut that this is it, the last thing needed to run them off the rails completely. The unsustainable loss.
Sheppard's already on his knees in the pool of blood, cradling Teyla in his arms. "Teyla, stay with me. We're going to get you out of here."
Teyla only smiles, her strange lopsided smile. She lifts a hand and lets it fall. "John," she gets out, through a voice thick with blood, and then she arches once in pain and is still.
"Teyla. Teyla!" Sheppard hunts frantically for a pulse, and Rodney looks away. He's not a soldier, but he knows, just as surely as Sheppard does. When he looks back, Sheppard has stopped moving. His head is bent to Teyla's, and Rodney can't see his face. Ronon is standing behind him, and he's utterly still, also.
The Carolii start shooting again—probably reinforcements.
"Sir!" one of the Marines shouts to Sheppard. "What orders, sir!"
Sheppard raises his head, and his expression is perfectly and absolutely black. "Stay here." He gently slides Teyla to the floor, touches her cheek, and rises, drawing his gun.
"Colonel," Rodney says, "John, we should fall back, we can't do anything else here—"
"Rodney," Sheppard says carefully, slowly, looking down at him with wide eyes, "if you leave her here, I'll kill you myself."
Then he's gone, over the console, Ronon right at his back. The screaming starts almost immediately. The Marines glance at each other uneasily.
Rodney looks down at the jacket crumpled uselessly in his hands. He just manages to drop it over her face before flinching back.
It's the longest half-hour Rodney has ever lived through. By the end, he's shaking with chills that won't stop, no matter how hard he wraps his arms around himself.
When they come back through the gate, Elizabeth is waiting.
"Medteam to the gateroom ASAP!" she orders and runs down to them. Sheppard is in the lead, carrying Teyla, Rodney's jacket draped over the worst of the injuries. "How is she?"
She sees for herself a second after the question leaves her mouth, and glances up at John. It's one of the few times Rodney has ever witnessed her at a loss for words.
Then the medteam is there, swarming around them, lifting Teyla away from Sheppard's arms, filling the air with urgent appraisal. One of them is asking Sheppard questions, but he obviously can't register anything but the gurney they've laid Teyla's body on. The Marines head up the stairs. Elizabeth looks at Sheppard and then follows the body, conferring with one of the doctors. The rest of the gateroom staff stare down at Sheppard, Rodney, and Ronon where they stand, suddenly alone before the gate.
"Sheppard—" Rodney tries to touch his shoulder, but Sheppard jerks away.
"What happened?" he demands.
"What...?" Oh, God, he'd thought he'd be able to postpone this til the debriefing, at least. He's painfully conscious of Ronon at Sheppard's shoulder like a shadow.
"How did..." Sheppard's throat works visibly. "How did she get hurt?"
The Marines saw it, too, and he couldn't lie anyway, can't diminish what Teyla did for him. Rodney swallows. "She was—she was protecting me."
Sheppard stands there and breathes. Then he says, like he's talking to himself, "I thought that might be it."
Rodney glances nervously at Ronon, but Ronon's eyes are fixed on Sheppard.
"Sheppard, it was an ambush, they came out of nowhere—"
"Of course." The same calm voice. "There was nothing you could do."
And he turns and strides away, up the stairs, Ronon beside him.
The debriefing is a half an hour after the team returns, but Sheppard hasn't changed his uniform; he stands against the table with a bloodstain darkening half the front of his shirt. Elizabeth finds it terrifyingly easy to conduct the meeting while looking at him. The very first deaths on Atlantis had made her lock herself in her bathroom to vomit, had made her question the mission itself. The relentless series of deaths since the Genii's second assault on the city had numbed her; she'd hunkered down inside herself and wondered if the mission could survive. Now the sight of a first-team member's blood is like a rush of adrenaline, and the problem is that the mission isn't enough.
Rodney's staring at the same thing, but he's obviously more distracted by it. She repeats the question, a touch sharply.
"Rodney! Did you get any details on their energy generators?"
"Some," he says. "I haven't looked at the data yet."
She wishes she could take him off the job, but with Zelenka gone, there's no one as remotely as good as him on the science team. She can't afford to go easy on him.
"Well, you need to get on it. If they decide to retaliate, we need to know what they're bringing with them."
"That's not going to be a problem," Sheppard says, folding his arms. "Not for a while. Their local command staff is all dead."
Elizabeth stares at him. "All of them?"
Ronon says, "Everyone in the space station."
"I...I see." She had been the one who thought they could work with the Carolii. She'd been wrong. At any rate, it's done, and they can't back away from it now. In a way, that's almost a relief. She takes a deep breath and stands up straighter. "That buys us some time."
"Time Rodney needs to spend working on weaponry," Sheppard says without looking at him. "We can't do it this way, ever again."
That night, Elizabeth goes to John's room. The lights are down again, and it reminds her of the time he'd been infected with the Wraith virus and she'd had to try to talk him down. But only a little. Two years of being cut off, two years of relentless losses in personnel and bloody struggles just to defend their home, have left Elizabeth very different from that woman. That Elizabeth hadn't even carried a gun.
She knows what Zelenka, Lorne, Cadman, Ford, every single marine lost meant to John, blow after blow. She's never been sure what he and Teyla were to each other. Though there have been hints in the past, she doesn't believe John would ever have compromised his command, and Teyla had always been so focused on the war with the Wraith that Elizabeth doesn't think she would have allowed herself the distraction. But Elizabeth had also seen the way John looked at Teyla sometimes—especially lately, when she was distracted or tired or injured. She had suspected that John cherished unspoken feelings for her, one of the rare comforts of his bleak existence. The war had left him, left all of them, with so little room for tenderness.
She'd never asked. Now she never could. But if it were true, it might even be worse than if they had...
John's sitting on the bed, just as he had been before. His hands are empty and his face hidden.
"How are you doing?" she asks.
"That's a stupid question."
"I know." She comes closer. "Listen, John—"
He gets up, turning to face her, and she's shocked at the venom in his eyes. "If you're going to tell me we have to negotiate with those bastards, Elizabeth, I don't want to hear it. We've lost enough people!"
"I agree," she says.
"We need to—what?" He blinks at her.
"I agree." She feels giddy, as if she can't get her breath. "We can't go on as we have been. The Wraith have been picking off the human worlds one by one for millennia now. The only hope of stopping them is to unite the galaxy against them, whether the galaxy likes it or not. We're the only ones who can do that. And we need to start with the demonstration that we have both the capacity and the will to deal with people who betray us."
"Rodney's figured out a way to disrupt their energy matrix generators. We can blow them remotely."
"Half their generators are located near major population centers," he says, as if he's not quite willing to believe her.
"Yes," she says, folding her arms. "They are."
"When can we go?"
"Three days. Rodney has to install the disruptors."
"Three days," he repeats, and sags down a little, the light going out of his eyes. Elizabeth comes to him, puts her hand on his arm. He looks at her. "You're not going to change your mind."
"No, I'm not."
"Do you promise?"
"I do," she says, and slides her hand up to the back of his neck.
"Elizabeth—" he says desperately.
He doesn't resist when she pulls his head down to kiss him, and it only takes a minute or two before his hands are moving with hers.
It's not as if she doesn't need comfort, too.
Rodney's not really avoiding Sheppard for the next two days. It's just that he's so busy he barely leaves the lab at all, and anyway it's not like every second with the data isn't a second with Teyla's voice in his ears. But he has to go to the memorial service.
At least Elizabeth had had the common sense to keep it a private affair. Atlantis has seen so many funerals over the past couple of years. The loss of a first-team member has only made morale worse, and she obviously doesn't want to make a production of it. But she was equally obviously worried about other things, too. Rodney is shocked at how Sheppard looks. No one who didn't already know him could tell—he's turned out impeccably, he behaves with perfect dignity—but Rodney can see the pallor, the way he moves like a robot.
Rodney can't stay away any longer. Three hours after the funeral, he steps into Sheppard's room. The lights are down, the air is filled with the raw stench of alcohol. Sheppard is standing motionless across the room.
He doesn't turn around. "You don't want to be here right now, Rodney," he says, his words disturbingly unslurred.
Which is maybe the truest thing Sheppard has ever said, but it doesn't matter. "Colonel, I just came to tell you that I am so sorry."
"You're sorry." Sheppard snorts a little. "That's great, Rodney. I'm sorry, too. We're all sorry."
"I can't say we were close, exactly, but she was...she was really something."
Sheppard laughs, a mirthless clotted laugh that he chokes off immediately, pressing a fist to his mouth.
It's a horrible sound. Rodney winces and says, "I'm aware I'm not usually considered the expert on this things, but I do know how hard it is. When Radek died I couldn't even eat for three days. You're the one who kept dragging me to the mess hall, remember? Please just...talk to me."
"Rodney," Sheppard says, "you don't know what the hell you're talking about."
He doesn't know—Oh, God. He never sees this kind of thing, he's never thought it really mattered how people spent their free time as long as it didn't annoy him in some way. And, honestly, he would never have figured John Sheppard, of all people, as the kind of guy who would pine. It was people like Rodney who stuttered and flushed and never said anything til it was too damn late, not Sheppard, who had women falling at his feet with a single boyish smile. But a hundred pieces of memory are fitting together for him now, and this, this is so much worse than he'd thought. What he'd planned to say next slips away from him completely.
"Sheppard—" his voice breaks, and he blurts, "I can't stand the idea that you're hating me because of this."
"So this is about you, then?" Sheppard turns and looks at him, and he looks...looks like he does facing a Genii, or a Wraith. Mean.
"No! Well, I mean to the degree that I'm involved, yes, but what I'm trying to say is that I didn't want to hurt her, or you, and if there's anything...anything..."
Sheppard looks away again. "There's nothing. Get back to work."
"For Christ's sake, Colonel, can't you at least look at me when you say that?"
His jaw moves, but his stare is fixed. "Rodney, get out of here."
"No." Rodney realizes that this is one of the dumber things he's ever done, but he can't go on like this, he can't, two days is already breaking him. He grabs Sheppard's arm. "Not until you at least stop—stop looking like you're listening to something in your head I can't hear!"
Sheppard strikes him so hard, so fast, that Rodney doesn't even realize it's happened until he's fallen to the ground halfway across the room, pain crowding into his chest. This is it, he thinks dimly, blinking past the water in his eyes, he could die right here, and maybe that's best, maybe that's how it should be.
John's there, reaching down—he's got his collar and hauls him up, only to backhand him. He lands on the narrow bed face-down, hard enough to knock the wind out of him again.
"John," he tries to say, but John's on top of him, clamping his hand over his mouth.
"Stop talking, Rodney," he says, and his eyes are wild. Rodney goes limp, swallowing back the words, but that doesn't seem to placate him at all. "Look what you did," he hisses. "Look what you keep doing—"
And now Rodney really can't move, because this is the real truth of it, whatever John and Elizabeth may say. The truth that was in John's eyes when he'd threatened him over Teyla's body, the truth in his hands now as he twists Rodney's arm behind him. It was his fault, the way Arcturus was his fault, the way Gaul was his fault, all the marines who have died in front of him, for him, the past several years, and he can't run away from it anymore.
He's seen John this angry before, but never at him, and he's never seen him so—raw, so vulnerable. That's even more frightening than the anger. And, God, he just wants to be tough enough to at least get through this, for every marine who ever took a bullet for him, for John, for Teyla, but he can't help the little sounds that John is squeezing out of him.
"Be quiet, Rodney, be quiet, be quiet!" John demands, but Rodney can't. He's already bitten his lip, there's blood in his mouth, but he can't stop. It hurts. It hurts. John is hurting him. He's not brave enough. He's never been.
"Weak," John says, "how can you be so—" He's pulling at Rodney's waistband, and Rodney just closes his eyes. He knows what's coming. He could stop it. John's not that far gone, it's a long way from a few bruises to...but if John lets him go now, he'll fall right out of John's world. There's no room for him there unless they're tangled up like this. John will never see him again.
So he sets his teeth and lets it happen, and the strangled cries of rage and suffering behind him are much worse than any physical pain John could possibly inflict on him, even like this. Even the humiliation of being turned on, too, barely counts. John finishes and collapses on top of him, breathing hard, and Rodney realizes that at some point along the way he did manage to be quiet.
He holds onto that thought as John gets up and walks into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
"Weapon successfully activated," is all John says over the subspace communicator.
Elizabeth shuts her eyes and makes herself imagine it. Points of light, flaring up all over a spinning globe. Like the logo of that movie company whose name she can't remember. Visible even from space. Visible to their enemies. Visible to the people who claim to be their friends but won't do what's necessary.
She hopes that's what John is seeing, too. If he falls apart on them—
When he returns, he looks better. In the same way that he had looked better on the massive dose of the retrovirus inhibitor they had given him than he had looked in the coma. If she can just keep him on task long enough, she thinks. Instincts will kick in, keep him moving. She takes him back to her room, makes sure he sleeps, listens carefully to what he mutters in his dreams.
The more immediate problem is Caldwell. The Daedalus with its damaged engine limps in from halfway across the galaxy two days later, and it's no use trying to hide what they've done.
"Elizabeth, there were civilians living near those generators!"
"Yes. It was unfortunate," she says, "but necessary."
"You deliberately targeted a noncombatant population!" He looks as if she'd punched him in the stomach. "How many people died?"
"Rodney's estimates? Thirteen thousand. It was quick. Painless."
"Thirteen thousand." His face is yellow.
"I'd think you would be pleased. The Carolii have already surrendered, and we've got the scientists working on their energy generators as we speak. You've been pushing me to take the hard line since the very beginning."
"The hard—Elizabeth, I understand what you think you're trying to accomplish, but what you've done violates international and domestic law, our own military code, SGC regs. I can't be a part of it."
"I'm sorry to hear that," she says, and John steps into the room, gun drawn.
"Hands up," he says. Caldwell freezes, then raises his hands. John relieves him of his weapon.
"What, Elizabeth, are you going to shoot me now?" Caldwell says disbelievingly, almost scoffingly.
John looks at her, and she thinks that if she asked him to do it, he probably would. But it's not necessary. Not now, hopefully not ever.
"Of course not, Colonel. Just taking you out of action for the time being." She'd always found it a little disconcerting that Atlantis had a prison. Now she's just grateful. It makes it easier.
"You really think my crew will stand for this?"
"I think your crew's as tired of losing as we are. I think that, given strong enough leadership, they'll follow."
"Colonel Sheppard." Caldwell turns his head, and Elizabeth holds her breath. "You realize what you're doing. This is gross insubordination. If you go along with this, there's no going back. The SGC—"
"If the SGC cared about us," John interrupts, "they would've found a way to reach us again. We're all alone in Pegasus, Colonel. There's no SGC here." He gestures with the gun. "After you. Take it nice and easy. We don't want any accidents."
"No," Caldwell says, looking back at her. "Everything that happens here is going to be deliberate."
The next year goes by for Rodney in a kind of fog. They're probably the most productive months he's ever had in the lab—it's amazing how much you can accomplish when you prioritize weaponry design over everything else, and when you no longer care about risk as long as you can make someone else bear it. Sometime in the second month of sleep deprivation, Rodney drops into a state of clarity and science becomes beautiful to him again. He's Rodney McKay, and he can make the universe do whatever he wants. Whatever John needs.
John doesn't trust anything he brings him, not right away, but he tries everything, and soon enough the tide of battle starts to shift. The agricultural worlds fall in line after the first time John seeds an entire harvest with a virus that leaves a continent of fields nothing but concentric rings of black. Rodney's tactical nukes devastate the leadership of a number of the closer industrialized worlds after they refuse to ally with Atlantis, and their replacements are much more cooperative. John even hands the Wraith a series of stunning defeats when Rodney figures out to collapse their hyperspace windows around them, though they eventually develop countermeasures. Rodney looks at the data John brings him and feels nothing but the urge to find new patterns.
Any other emotions that might wake him up nights are taken care of on those occasions when John turns up in the lab, prowling restlessly from device to device until Rodney can break away. Those times are terrible. Even though the scientists are on board with the new agenda (the few that aren't having been taken care of by Elizabeth, who is much more accommodating now that they're focused on the same goals), John's presence terrifies all of them. He's very, very quiet now; he moves without any wasted motion. He's the hero of Atlantis, the scourge of their enemies—and having him stand at your shoulder feels like a death sentence.
Rodney always goes with him, always. Even on John's worst days, when Elizabeth has been spending a lot of time in the prison talking to Caldwell and the latest weapon has only had a kill rate of ninety-three percent rather than the promised ninety-seven. He makes up for everything on his knees, with his face shoved into the wall, lying on the floor. He doesn't begrudge John the bruises on his collarbone and left arm that never really go away, the sharp pains in his back, the harsh words in his ear. He doesn't even begrudge John the times he isn't rough, when he lies there dark and unresponsive while Rodney tries to reach him, even though in some ways they hurt much worse. John needs to have them, and so Rodney gives them to him, just as he gives him the weaponized prions, the nanotech that disables shipboard life support, the new-generation incendiary weapons that actually seek out warmblooded targets. It would be much worse if John never came to him.
There's a project he doesn't tell John or Elizabeth about. Not because he thinks they'd stop him—if they don't object to his trying to recreate the Arcturus experiments, they wouldn't object to this. No, it's because...because it's the only idea Rodney has come up with that promises hope, not just victory. He can't even let himself plan too hard for the specific implementation, because it makes him think about how the situation doesn't have to be the way it is, and that's a thought that can only end in one thing. Rodney can bear it if he has to, can hold the queasiness inside until he can give it up under John's unkind hands, but he's not going to inflict it on John, or even Elizabeth. Not until he has more to show than a few wild theories derived from the dubious story of a very old woman.
When it's time, he'll tell them. And then, maybe, just maybe, he can be forgiven.
"You really think you can pull this off."
Elizabeth leans back in her chair and looks up at Rodney. He'd seemed to be stable for some time now—enough so that Elizabeth hasn't devoted much worry to him, except to be available with some of their dwindling supply of coffee and painkillers for unnecessary "progress reports" on certain late nights. But his suggestion is so radical that now she's worried that she's missed some signs.
"I do. The Ancients did it, after all, as you know better than anyone."
"But the Ancients obviously didn't fully master the technology, or else—"
"They would've used it themselves in the war," he says. "I know. But I think I've overcome their technical difficulties, at least for short-range use."
"Time travel," she muses. "It's certainly a tempting thought."
"Just think. We could stop all this"—he gestures around—"from ever even happening."
She tilts her head. "This doesn't all need to be stopped from happening. Quite the contrary. What we've done in the past year..."
"Right," he says quickly. "But that's the beauty of it. By going back, we can make sure we start winning the war before we suffer any—unacceptable casualties. All we have to do is work out a winning plan using what we know now and get them to implement it then."
"Have you told Colonel Sheppard about this?"
"No. Not yet."
They look at each other in silence for a minute. "That was wise, Rodney."
"I didn't want to get his hopes up," Rodney says softly.
Elizabeth smiles bitterly. She's watched John wake up morning after morning, and never once has she seen a sign that he might have hopes left to raise. But anything that might destabilize him is potentially problematic. "I'll think about how to discuss it with him."
Rodney looks down. "In the past—there are people he might want to see—"
"Which is exactly what it makes it complicated, Rodney." Vengeance for someone no longer dead...
"I don't understand."
"Let me worry about that," she says. "You concentrate on making the trip safe. It won't be good if all our senior staff ends up in ancient Rome."
"All our senior staff?"
"Yes." She pushes her chair back. She's no longer surprised when she discovers that she's made a decision without even thinking about it. "If anyone goes, we're all going. Ronon and Carson can hold down the fort."
"Ow," John said ruefully, looking at his arm. "You didn't have to hit me so hard."
"You were distracted," Teyla said, with a slight smile he probably wasn't supposed to recognize the meaning of. "It seemed necessary to get your attention."
Even though he knew he was busted, John opened his mouth to argue—a man had his dignity to think of—but stopped when the intercom sounded. "Colonel Sheppard, Teyla, to the gateroom immediately."
John grabbed for his comm. "Elizabeth. What's going on? Unscheduled offworld activation?"
"Not...quite," she said. She sounded dazed. "You'd better come see this for yourself."
He glanced at Teyla, who didn't even waste time on a shrug, but simply grabbed her pack. They moved rapidly through the city. Outside the gateroom, they traded glances again, and drew their sidearms. He stepped slowly into the room, but at first saw only Elizabeth, Rodney, and the gateroom staff, at their posts looking down at the gate itself.
She gestured downwards. John moved cautiously to her side.
Standing outside a jumper were...himself, Elizabeth, and Rodney. Waiting patiently, ignoring the Marines who had weapons on them from all sides.
"What the hell?" John stared. "What are they, Rodney? Illusions? Shapeshifters? Clones?"
"The other possibility," other-Elizabeth said. "We're you. From the future."
John took a few steps down the stairs, keeping his sidearm trained on the other-John. That close, he could see they looked a little different from the current Atlantis command staff. Other-Elizabeth was rail-thin and stood ramrod-straight. Other-Rodney looked even more exhausted and bedraggled than Rodney usually did, though his eyes shone with triumph. And other-John...other-John had his arms folded, clearly repressing the urge to do something about the weapons being pointed at him and his Elizabeth and Rodney. "From the future, huh? Well, nice of you to drop by. Did you bring us some winning Lotto numbers?"
"I know it's hard to believe. But you know that the Ancients had rudimentary time-travel capabilities. We developed them so we could return to this time."
"Can you prove that?" Elizabeth asked the other.
"No," she said, "but I believe your Rodney can. One of the reasons we chose to arrive here was how closely the gateroom is monitored. Your Rodney should be able to confirm from the data on the gateroom sensors that we arrived here via time travel, not some other method."
"Can you, Rodney?"
"Well, I can't prove it," Rodney said. "Since I don't know how Ancient time travel works, exactly. Yet. But from the readings, I should be able to get a pretty good idea if that's how they got here."
Behind him, Teyla had entered the room. John saw other-John's eyes shift to pick up the newcomer. When other-John recognized her, his hands fell to his sides and he stared, helplessly, flushing dark. John had never seen that expression on his own face before, and it made a strange and nameless fear flit over him.
"We're willing to wait as long as necessary," other-Elizabeth said. "It's vital that you believe we are who we say we are."
"Why?" John asked, reluctantly looking away from other-John to her. "So we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya?"
"No, Colonel. So we can help you save Atlantis."
"In six weeks," the other Weir said to the full command team in the conference room, "the Genii, aided by sympathizers and an escaped prisoner, will assault this city. They won't succeed in capturing it, but they will manage to destroy—accidentally—the stargate's capacity for intergalactic travel. And we will suffer substantial casualties, including Lieutenant Cadman."
Teyla straightened, forcing herself to pay attention to the story. It was not like her to sit dreaming during an important council of war. But she found the presence of the other Weir, Sheppard, and McKay profoundly disquieting. Simply looking at them, so much like the team of the present, but so clearly also battered and hardened by war, gave her a sharp feeling of loss. Most troubling was Sheppard, whom she caught focusing on her whenever she looked his way, though he always glanced away immediately as soon as she met his eyes. Once after this, she saw Weir's hand drop discreetly to brush his, and that sight was almost as disorienting than anything else could be.
But she was wandering again. She focused in on the other Weir. "After that, the blood will be in the water. A number of other peoples—some led by the Genii, some operating independently—will begin sustained warfare with Atlantis, hoping to gain control of its technology and its other resources. Our losses will be considerable. The Daedalus itself will only narrowly escape destruction. It will be over two years before we can begin to stem the tide, and then only at tremendous cost." She flattened her hand on the conference table. "That's why we developed the technology to come back here. It must not be allowed to happen."
"Well, we certainly agree with that," the present Weir said. "We're grateful for the warning. Now that we know the Genii are coming, we should be able to resist them effectively."
"You're missing the point. The Genii—"
"The problem isn't the attack itself," the other Sheppard interrupted, frowning impatiently. "The problem is your whole approach. The galaxy thinks you're not strong enough, and as long as they keep thinking that way, it's only a matter of time before something like the Genii attack succeeds. It's your strategy, not your tactics, that needs to change. Now."
Weir sat back. "What are you proposing?"
The other Weir and other Sheppard traded glances. "Eliminate the Genii as a threat," she said. "Rodney has developed some particularly effective weapons technology that can be used in a first strike. That should change the Pegasus galaxy's assessment of us...considerably."
Teyla felt a chill. "You are proposing that we wipe out a people with whom we are presently at peace?"
Sheppard stared at her again, brow furrowed. The other Weir said, "A people who have betrayed us time and again. A people who are even now plotting our destruction, Teyla."
"You do not think that this attack will not simply unite the galaxy against Atlantis, as a new threat?"
The other Weir smiled cynically. "I'm afraid I've learned that, in this galaxy, it's better to be feared than to be loved."
"Still," Sheppard said, "you're talking about a big change in strategy."
"I know. And I know you'll want to discuss this amongst yourselves. But remember: we're not just strangers offering advice. We are you. I sit here telling you, as Elizabeth Weir, that if I had known what was coming, I would have taken these steps. And so would John Sheppard and Rodney McKay. You have a unique chance at getting the benefit of your own hindsight."
Sheppard cocked his head. "What does Teyla, your Teyla, say about all this?"
"She supports it. The Genii sympathizers were Athosians who murdered a number of their own people who tried to stop them. Her own people." She looked at Teyla, who swallowed a gasp. "She stayed behind with Ronon and Dr. Beckett to run the city until our return, but she fully concurs with our plan."
"All right," Weir said. "Will you excuse us while we discuss this?" She glanced at the guards. "Take them to their temporary quarters." She looked back. "I trust you understand why we can't give you the freedom of the city."
"Of course." The other three rose.
"It's good—good to see you all," the other McKay said, the first words he had uttered in the meeting. He smiled nervously, and met the present McKay's eyes. "The weapons technology is amazing. Wait til you see it. You'll have a field—"
"Rodney," the other Sheppard said quietly, and the other McKay's expression went blank.
Teyla barely repressed a shiver as they left.
John leaned back, rubbing his eyes. Forty-five minutes, and they were still circling around the same issues. "I'm not saying that their idea is completely insane, if they're telling the truth. It's just that I don't trust them."
He was more relieved that he had that to grab onto than he wanted to think about, especially because it meant that he was accusing his own future self of some pretty serious shenanigans, but since he did, he didn't have to think about it.
"Well"—Rodney spread his hands—"I still think their idea is nuts, but the sensors don't lie. They're us, from the future. Why would we lie to ourselves? Maybe you have unexplored issues, Colonel, but I wouldn't want to screw myself over."
Elizabeth sighed. "I don't know. They could be telling the truth about history as they perceive it, without necessarily being right about the way to change its course. I mean, obviously we'll need to take steps to prevent this Genii attack, but the rest of it..."
She trailed off. John glanced at Teyla. "You've been awfully quiet."
"I thought it was clear: I do not think we should follow the course they propose," she said.
"Is that because you don't trust them, or because you think it's wrong?"
"The latter," she said. "As for trusting them..." She hesitated.
"It is nothing."
John frowned. "If you suspect something, you should say it, Teyla."
Elizabeth put in, "I think we can manage not to be offended on behalf of our future selves."
"It is not that I distrust them. It is that they do not seem..." The corner of her mouth twisted. "Sheppard, the future Sheppard—he looks at me, and I..."
So she had seen it, too. He had really been hoping she hadn't. "And...?"
"It is like he is seeing a ghost. I fear—"
A rattle of gunfire cut her off. John jumped to his feet. "What the hell?" He ran to the door, but it didn't open. "Rodney!"
Rodney was already typing at his laptop. "I can't open it! I'm locked out!"
Stupid, John thought, how could he have been so stupid? Either he couldn't guess what his own self would do, or he didn't want to, and either way—He backed up to get a run at the door. Teyla stood behind him, ready to lay down covering fire. But his foot smashed uselessly into the Ancient alloy, leaving him hopping and swearing.
"Is it them?" Elizabeth said to Rodney.
"Considering we seem to be locked out with your code, Doctor Weir, I'd call that a good guess. Dammit! After what happened last time—"
"Recriminations aren't going to do any good right now. How long until you can get us out of here?"
"You were conscious the whole time, weren't you? It'll take hours!"
"I doubt we have hours," John said.
"As do I," Teyla said, looking around the room. "Although if it is only the three of them, surely they cannot overpower our entire force? The entire base knows of their arrival, and they should be able to tell the difference between you and them."
"Lorne!" Elizabeth said into her comm. "Lorne, report!"
There was no answer.
Rodney said dryly, "You're a little too good at this stuff, John."
"Or they had some help," John snapped. "Listen, we need to—"
The door opened. He and Teyla immediately dove behind the table, each of them dragging one of the others with them. He edged his face around a table leg, only to see a detachment of unfamiliar—and too familiar—Marines training their sidearms on them.
Behind them, future-Elizabeth said, "Come on, John. Don't do anything stupid."
"No," he said, "looks like you've got the market cornered on that."
"I know this is a little disconcerting for you," she said, "but we really don't want to hurt you. After all, you're us."
"You've got a funny way of showing it."
"Look, we can't have a discussion like this. Toss out your weapons and come out with your hands up." She paused. "Or I throw in tear gas, and you come out vomiting. Your choice."
John glanced at Teyla. She shook her head. He knew what she was thinking: they had no real cover and were vastly outgunned. Elizabeth looked at him uncertainly. Disgusted, he slid his sidearm across the room, and Teyla followed suit. They all rose, hands in the air.
"That's better," future-Elizabeth said.
"All right, we've shown good faith. Now why don't you tell us what's going on?" Elizabeth said.
"Simple. We're implementing our plan."
"So you were lying to us the whole time," John said through his teeth.
"Not at all. Everything we told you was true—more or less. It's just that it quickly became obvious to us that you would never act on it anyway." She made a little sound of disdain, shaking her head as she looked at them. "It was foolish of us even to try to persuade you. I guess we didn't want to remember how soft we once were."
"And the three of you managed to beat our entire force?" If Elizabeth and Rodney, even this Elizabeth and Rodney, had defeated his whole expedition, he was really going to have to step up training. If they got through this.
"No, we had arranged for a detachment of our own Marines to travel back. No one was expecting the arrival of additional forces. Our soldiers know how to take advantage of the element of surprise."
John grimaced. Great. Just his own tactical fuckup to blame, then.
"So you're just going to destroy the Genii now?" Elizabeth asked.
"Exactly. It will shock the Pegasus galaxy, and after that, you'll be committed to a more aggressive course of action. With the enemies you'll make, you won't have a choice. I doubt you'll enjoy it, but it will be for the best in the end."
"You'll be killing thousands of people. I can't believe you want that kind of blood on your hands."
Future-Elizabeth smiled tightly. "Believe it. It's theirs or ours."
"Let me guess," John said, sick with the idea of it, and angry. "This isn't the first time you've used these kinds of weapons on your enemies."
"No. It's not. And if we had started earlier, we would have had to use them a lot less frequently. Lieutenant Chang, take them—"
"Elizabeth," he appealed urgently. "You don't have to do this. There's got to be another way."
Future-Elizabeth looked at him, and, to his surprise, her face softened. "I know you won't understand this, John, but I'm doing it for you most of all." She closed her eyes for a moment, until her expression went stern again. "Lieutenant Chang, take them to the cells. Report anything that happens. Anything."
"Yes, ma'am," one of the Marines said, and jerked his weapon. "C'mon, people. Move out."
John did as he was told, too disgusted to even get off a parting shot.
The last of the Marines in John's cell was stupid enough to turn his back on him while the door was still open, and John decided there was no time like the present. He punched the Marine in the kidney, and when the man staggered, trying to turn to face him, he jabbed him in the solar plexus. The Marine fell, and John scrambled over him. He didn't have much time, maybe minutes before the others realized—
His vision suddenly swarmed with stars; his whole head rang like he'd been stuck inside a bell, and he tasted blood. The blow was so unexpected he hadn't even really gotten what was happening before something hit him again in the stomach, hard, and he went down only a few feet from the Marine. For a minute, he could do nothing but groan. When he managed to blink up, he saw himself standing over him, looking casual.
He must've set himself up. Fantastic. Talk about unexplored issues.
"Want to go another round?"
"Man, I've put on some muscle," he muttered.
He tried to lunge to his knees, but future-John snap-kicked him. He felt ribs crunch and went down again.
"You're thinking I'm not going to kill you," future-John said conversationally. "That's right. But there's a whole lot I can do that stops just a little short of that—more than you know right now. Go on, give me a reason."
"Jesus," John ground out, "how many of my people died?"
The other guy's expression went from flat to feral and then back again in a matter of seconds. John tried not to breathe too hard against the pain, tried not to puke. "More than enough. But that's not even why this is happening."
"Oh, really? Then why—"
Son of a bitch—peroneal strike, and he damn near bit through his tongue. "Because you're a fucking coward, John. I've been wanting to do this for so long, you have no idea."
"You really ought to see Heightmeyer about that. Or did you have to kill her, too?"
Another strike, and how was he bleeding from his nose, too? "Not everyone's as weak as you are, John." The other Marine was up again, and future-John looked to him. "Get him secure."
None too gentle hands dragged him back into the cage and dropped him roughly on the floor. John blacked out for a few seconds, and when he woke, both of them were gone.
Teyla did not pace her cell. Pacing was a waste of energy. She would need it later, she was sure. She lay on the single bench with her arms folded and tried not to worry too much about what the invaders were doing.
In this, she was less successful. It had already been about eight hours. She did not know how much time they would need to carry out their plan—if Atlantis's name had already been spattered with blood. She did not know if they had plans to deal with the Athosian sympathizers (if, indeed, there had been any). She did not know if they had executed whichever prisoner had assisted in the assault. Would she find Sora's corpse later?
And then there was Sheppard. She had heard the scuffle from the next cell over, though she could not see it. It had clearly not ended well, but she did not know just how badly.
Too many thoughts, and even though it was very late and very quiet, she could not sleep. She set the heels of her palms against her eyes and sighed. She would not escape this night; it would be well to get some rest. She had slept on far less comfortable surfaces, though never with so much trouble in her heart.
She started to roll over, but the sound of footsteps along the hallway brought her to her feet. Three of the Marines entered her room. One of them opened the door and gestured to her to come out. She obeyed him cautiously. His face was blank, but he did not seem to be up to mischief. Even his brief patdown was entirely professional.
"Where are you taking me?"
"Colonel Sheppard wants to see you."
"It is very late," she said. "Surely Colonel Sheppard is not still awake?"
"Colonel Sheppard doesn't sleep much. Let's go."
The other Sheppard had taken over the real Sheppard's quarters. When the door slid open, he was standing across the room; he turned quickly at the sound.
"Teyla," he said, and fell to gazing again.
She folded her arms. "You wished to see me?"
He shook himself. "Come in."
She stepped inside, and the door slid shut behind her.
"Did you eat?" He tried to smile at her, and on the shadowed, stubbled face of the other Sheppard, the effect was terrible. "I've got dinner. And some clean clothes for you." He jerked his head towards the desk.
"Thank you," she said, enunciating carefully. "I am not hungry."
"You should get something to eat," he said abruptly. "Please. Or at least—sit down, okay? I just want to talk to you."
His manner was very strange, as if he were afraid any roughness on his part would frighten her away but he had forgotten how to be gentle. He was breathing much too quickly, and still staring at her, and a sick feeling was twisting in her gut.
She remained standing. "Why are you doing this, Colonel? While I and my friends are your prisoners, I can have nothing to say to you."
"Look, I'm sorry about that, but we had to."
She raised an eyebrow. "Had to?"
He moved closer. "It's a little hard to explain, Teyla, but if you could just—"
"No, I think I understand." She had to swallow.
"You...do?" he said, with a cautious hope.
She tried to be steady as she brought it out. "I am dead in your future, am I not? This is all because of me."
Of course, she knew she was making it too simple. If the history the future-Elizabeth had related was true in its essentials, Atlantis had seen much tragedy that had nothing to do with her and which would have eaten away at this man. But...Sheppard's pleasant mask, such as it was, had fallen away at once.
"Teyla," he said, and then he stepped forward, seized her head, and tried to kiss her. The full horror of the situation swept over her, freezing her for a second, but she stiffened and pulled away. He drew back his hands as if he had been shocked, but his eyes burned at her.
"Perhaps you have forgotten," she said. "We are not this to each other."
"Don't lie to me the way you lie to him," Sheppard said. "I know what I feel, and I know what you felt. We were stupid, we never—and then you were gone. But now I have you back, and things are going to be different."
"How could you do such things?" she said, and if she had eaten, she probably would have been sick. "I put my trust in you!"
"You don't understand," he said, low with anger, and it mattered little that the anger was not really for her. "You died in my arms! It was the middle of a firefight, but I heard your heart stop."
"I saw my father taken to a horrible death right in front of me. I did not do as you have done!"
"I did, I am doing, what I have to do to save Atlantis, and you. You may not like it, but at least you'll still be here, with me. If I have to force you to go along in order to save you, well, I'm willing to live with that!"
She stared at him, appalled. How could she have so misjudged?
"You—" He pressed his fingers over his eyes, took a deep breath, and his voice softened. "Teyla, you have to understand. You have to. You left me. I had to get you back."
He took her in his arms, more gently this time, and kissed her, a kiss full of desperate warmth. She let him do it, for the count of three slow breaths. Then she hit him, as hard as she could. He recoiled, clutching his stomach.
"I cannot even look at you," she told him. "I cannot believe that you would disgrace yourself, and me, in this manner. If you truly cared for me, you would know that I would never want such things done in my name!"
She waited, face turned away and heart pounding, praying that at least her very darkest fears would not come to pass. He only said, very softly, "Teyla..."
"No. Take me back to my cell."
"Take me back to my cell!"
She kept her composure as the Marines marched her back, even when she passed the cell next to hers, where the real Sheppard, bruised and bloody, sat up as she went by, calling "Teyla!" She waited til the guards were gone and the hall had grown deathly quiet again. Then she fell before the bench, buried her face in her arms, and gave herself up to grief.
Rodney's worked all night installing the subatomic oscillators. They have plenty of time, but he'd rather work than wait. His research isn't comforting the way it used to be, his escape from forty-four years of incompetents and jerks, but it's consuming. That's almost good enough.
Down deep, he'd always known they'd have to resort to Plan B, whatever Elizabeth had said to placate him beforehand. He's never had much use for scientific ethics—an oxymoron, when most of the people talking about them had never set foot in a lab—but he'd known that even the promise of this technology wouldn't have been enough to buy himself off in the days of his clueless arrogance. Still, it's disconcerting how much it hurts to see them, in all their stupid hope and faith in the universe. Elizabeth with a kindness that goes to the bone. John, shadowed but with room for something besides death in his eyes. Himself, sputtering over with confidence and—and love for his little world. Reading over his own notes, cranky and determined and giddy, is breaking his heart now. That's what he wants back, at least as much as he wants the dead to return, and that's exactly what he's ensuring will disappear forever.
The dead. They're what's at stake here. He has to keep focus. There's an easy way to achieve that. He lays down his wrench.
John's in his quarters, of course. When Rodney comes in, he's sitting on the bed, watching something on a monitor. It's grainy surveillance footage, and it takes Rodney a minute to figure out what it is: Teyla on her knees in her cell, crying. John's staring at it, transfixed, and the expression on his face reminds Rodney of the split-second when he'd first seen their Teyla's injuries, before the anger had wiped out everything else. There's a bottle on the floor by his feet. Rodney doesn't think he's touched alcohol since the day of their Teyla's funeral. Elizabeth had found subtler drugs for him.
The footage ends and loops back. John keeps his eyes fixed on the screen. Rodney wonders how long he's been watching it. "She's crying," he mutters, baffled, mostly to himself. "She didn't even cry when she was dying."
A chill sinks Rodney's stomach. Not that, too, that's a cost he hadn't bargained for, and he says without thinking, "John—you didn't—"
"I didn't hurt her!" John protests hotly, whipping his head around. "I just...needed to talk to her."
"Jesus, what did you say?"
John's attention had already gone back to the monitor. "She didn't have to hide this from me. If she wanted to cry, I could've...Dammit!"
He throws the remote convulsively into a corner of the room. It shatters and sparkles.
Rodney thinks it would be a very good idea to get out of there, but he doesn't go. He never does. "Maybe...maybe you should stop watching that."
John slowly turns his gaze to him, and Rodney takes a step back. "Don't tell me you're going soft on me now, Rodney. This was your idea."
Rodney swallows. "No."
John stands and advances on him. "You said this was going to fix things, Rodney." He catches Rodney's wrist and slowly forces him to his knees. "Did you screw this up, too?"
"Not—not if we stick to the plan, John." His wrist screeches at him. He feels shocky, distant, the way he hasn't since they started. "We can still—"
"Fuck the plan!" John snarls, and draws his hand back to strike Rodney. Rodney shuts up instantly, and the silence is broken by Teyla's almost inaudible sobs.
John freezes, and then his head turns unwillingly back to the screen. "This isn't what I wanted—" he says, voice full of confusion and desperation, "—oh, Christ." He lets Rodney go and reels backward across the room, dropping back onto the bed, where he stares blankly at the images again. "This is all wrong," he says, dazed. "Everything."
Rodney rubs his wrist. He can't talk.
"All the casualties, hundreds, thousands of people, the worlds gone, and Caldwell, and..." He blinks back at Rodney, as if he's just recognized him. "Rodney, I—you—"
Rodney looks at John, the horror splashed over John's face. It's as if a hundred cold dead useless layers of guilt slough off Rodney at once and he's exposed to the world again. For a minute, he's dazed and terrified, but then, impossibly, what he feels most is compassion. For John, for Teyla, for himself, all the deaths and lies and mistakes and things that should never have happened. He finds himself on the bed next to John. His old self would probably have just run away at this point, but he's been buried alive with John for the past year at least, and he just wants to touch him, to drag him up after him. All those deaths are on his head, too.
"John," he puts his arms around him, holds him up. "It's not too late."
John stares at him, bleary-eyed and deathly pale, a look that makes Rodney wish he could get his gun away from him. "All that killing, Rodney. I can't just take it all back."
"We're in the past, John," Rodney says, and he could laugh hysterically at the fact that his impatience is coming back, too, "we can fix anything."
John closes his eyes, shakes his head with physical pain. "But the plan—"
"Since when have you ever stuck to a plan?"
"Elizabeth will see it through, no matter what I do," he whispers. "She'll never change her mind. She won't stop."
Rodney smiles grimly. "Leave that to me."
He's the genius, after all, and he sees the solution now.
Elizabeth looks over at her team. John is slouched in the pilot's seat, absorbed in flight tasks. The naturalness of his posture makes her think of older times, and she hopes he's thinking of them, too. Rodney, meanwhile, is bent over the machinery in the back of the jumper, muttering to himself. There's more life in him than usual, too. She'd wondered if it was wise to bring the entire command team on this mission, but now she knows it was a good idea. They deserve to experience this together.
Maybe she's being a little greedy, but this plan itself has been insanely ambitious from the very beginning. They could've gone on as they were; they hadn't won the war, but they had come closer to uniting the galaxy against the Wraith than any planet had done in two millennia. This is a roll of the dice—they couldn't be certain, despite all Rodney's calculations, that they would return to a better future. But, despite what is whispered about her on a hundred worlds, she is not made out of stone. And a year of John's rapid pulse against her arm, John's damp brow resting on her cheek, would have worn away even stone.
She used to be so conservative, so afraid. She's not anymore. Timidity is of no use to anyone.
They drop out of the gate and hastily ascend into orbit around the Genii planet. John glances at the heads-up display. "They haven't spotted us. We'll be in position in...one minute forty-six seconds."
"Good. Then we can go home."
John nods, but doesn't take his eyes off the display. He's focused. That's good.
"Rodney," she calls back. "You should be up front to see this. This is your handiwork."
There's a little pause. "Yes, I guess you're right." He comes forward, wiping his hands on a rag, and stands behind John's chair.
"Twenty-eight seconds," John says.
"You should do it, John," Elizabeth says, nodding towards the controls Rodney's installed.
"I thought you wanted to."
"I do, but I think you deserve it more."
"All right. I will." He takes a deep breath. "And...we're in position."
She gestures to the console. "Gentlemen," she smiles, "this is what will change everything."
To her mild surprise, Rodney puts a hand on John's shoulder. John looks at her, and his expression is suddenly so gentle, so sweet, so like the John she once knew in his best moments that fear strikes through her. She grabs at his hand, but it's too late; he's shifted up the guard and touched the button.
The silent surge of energy feels like peace until she stops feeling altogether.
"Please, Doctor Weir," Ladon said over the communicator with smarmy sincerity, "you can't possibly believe that we would attack you, after all you've done for our people, and for my family personally."
"We know about your alliance with the Radixians, the Ebeni, and the Lumosh, Ladon," Elizabeth said calmly. "We know about the weapons you stockpiled on MX3-851 and we know the instructions you smuggled in to Sora. So, yes, in fact, we can believe it. Quite easily."
Ladon paused, then had the gall to smile. John folded his arms and tried to look menacing, not just annoyed. "Well-done, Doctor Weir. So, you've finally stopped believing everything we say just because we say it. I knew that couldn't go on forever."
Elizabeth didn't rise to the bait. "You've violated our truce, Ladon. Now, my military commander here—"
John gave a short, deeply insincere wave. "Hi."
"—was in favor of engaging in the full range of reprisals that this would justify, but I've decided to give you the chance not to be stupid." She cocked her head. "Out of the goodness of my heart."
He raised his hands. "Fair enough. Obviously, we're calling off the attack."
"That's not enough," she said, flinty. "You'd have to do that anyway. We need a more substantial guarantee. Let's say...your nuclear arsenal."
"That's ridiculous. We're not giving you our nuclear weapons."
"You may not be aware of this, Ladon, but we've recently replenished our stocks of drones. We could take out your defenses in a heartbeat, and we wouldn't even need to invade. Your other enemies—including, I imagine, some of those allies of yours—would finish the job. But we'd rather have the nuclear weapons in our hands rather than theirs." She smiled. "It's up to you, of course."
Ladon grimaced. "We'll discuss it."
"You have two hours. Weir out."
She cut the connection. "What do you think, John?"
"I hope so. I'd rather not waste the drones." She started to head for her office.
He hesitated, then said, "I still think they could use a little more dramatic of a lesson."
She stopped and said quietly, "Just how dramatic did you have in mind?"
There was a flash of something in her eyes he really didn't like. "Well, there are options short of wiping them out."
"Let's err on the side of caution here."
"Look, I don't want us to turn into military dictators, Elizabeth, but one of the reasons things went wrong was that—"
"I know. But if we grow too aggressive, we'll only take ourselves right down that path again."
He shook his head. He'd do anything not to end up like the John Sheppard who had come back to them, but he'd do almost anything for all the people who had died not to end up dead, too. His instincts kept nagging at him that there had to be a way. "I hope you're right."
"I do, too, John," she said, very seriously.
He still didn't like the way she was looking at him. Time to get away from this conversation. "By the way, have you seen Teyla?"
"I asked her to see Doctor Heightmeyer. You should go, too."
He just managed to keep what he thought about that from showing on his face. "Yeah, maybe later."
He leaned against the wall, trying to look like it was totally natural for him to just be standing there doing nothing.
He couldn't exactly say for sure that she had been avoiding him. They'd all been incredibly busy since the second their cages had mysteriously opened. They'd had to take out the future Marines and regain control of the city. Fortunately, Lorne and most of the rest of his forces weren't seriously hurt and were eager to get their own back. Unfortunately, the future Marines had refused to surrender, and so the battle had to be won ugly firefight after ugly firefight, which his injuries hadn't made any more fun. John had barely put them all down before he started a hunt for the future team that didn't end until Rodney had handed them, stunned, some telemetry their missing jumper had sent back. That really hadn't left much time for the team to hang out, especially since Teyla had had to deal with clearing the Athosians.
But he couldn't stop thinking about what had happened when they were imprisoned. Teyla being taken from her cell late at night to see his future self, Teyla brought back and crying, not answering his call. John had thought he had spent rough nights before, but that one was really the worst. He had fought alongside Teyla in some grim situations in the past couple years, and he had never seen her so much as blink tears away. He didn't want to believe he could hurt her, but then he hadn't wanted to believe he could be a mass-murderer in defense of Atlantis, and that had obviously come true. He spent most of his spare moments after their liberation poking at himself, his feelings, his desires, all the things that he usually left in a heap on the floor of his mind, trusting that they would sort themselves out. In the end, all he did was make himself afraid. He didn't know himself that well. He hadn't wanted to for years, and maybe this was why.
And Teyla was...well...twitchy around him, which wasn't like her at all, and somehow she never ended up alone in the same room with him, and that only made him more worried. So there he was, waiting outside Heightmeyer's office like he just couldn't wait to get his head shrunk.
Sure enough, she emerged from the office a few minutes later. She looked perfectly composed, but that could mean anything. She started down the hallway, and he jogged after her.
Her shoulders stiffened, and then she turned and faced him, smiling graciously. "Colonel Sheppard. Have you arranged for the repatriation of Sora?"
Another one of the messes to clean up. "Yeah. She'll be going back tomorrow."
"Good." She turned and started walking again. He kept pace.
"Hey," he said casually, "I haven't really had a chance to talk to you since all the excitement started. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"I am fine," she said.
Which, again, didn't mean a damn thing. She'd say that if she was bleeding out inside, if she didn't think he could help. "Look, Teyla. That night. I didn't do—"
"You did not do anything, Colonel Sheppard. You were locked in your cell."
Which was much too far from a no. John's stomach lurched and he swallowed. "But the future me. Did he hurt you?"
She looked at him, totally unreadable. "Do not trouble yourself over it."
"Teyla—" Without thinking about it, he reached for her shoulder, and she flinched away reflexively before visibly steeling herself to keep still. He stared at his hand, an inch from her arm, and didn't touch her.
Rodney thought that the future John might have blown up their puddlejumper on purpose. John thought now that he knew why.
After a minute, she said, "I have many duties to attend to, Colonel. If you will excuse me?"
"Sure," he said helplessly. "I've...got stuff to do, too."
She started off down the hall again. He watched her go for a few seconds, then hastily turned and went the opposite direction.
...And almost collided with Rodney.
"Rodney. Sorry. Were you looking for me?"
"Actually, I was...ah..." He lowered his voice, twisting his fingers together. "Coming to see Kate." He raised it again. "But I did want to talk to you—I've finally cleared the system for use. They didn't boobytrap it."
Rodney frowned. "Are you okay, Colonel? You seem a little...tense."
He made himself smile. "I'm fine, Rodney. There's just been a lot to deal with."
"I know!" Rodney waved his hands. "You should see what I—well, future-me—did to my lab! It's going to take me a week to restore my preferences. Not to mention how embarrassing it was to see that my future self has unaccountably started letting you boss him around."
John sighed. "I don't think my future self...was a very nice guy."
"Clearly not! Which means that every time you start to give me a hard time in the future, you should remember: the first step towards fascism is the oppression of Rodney McKay."
"I'll try to keep that in mind."
"Good." Rodney frowned at him. "Are you sure you're okay, Sheppard?"
Teyla, Rodney, Elizabeth, Atlantis...they were all still here. The rest, he'd just have to find a way to live with. Hopefully, a better way this time around. "You're late for your appointment, Rodney."
"Oh! Yes!" Rodney jumped for the door. John shook his head, then turned away.
And paused. For a second, he thought he'd caught, just on the edge of his vision, a flash of someone standing at the far end of the corridor, watching them. But when he looked back over his shoulder, there was no one there.