Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG-1
Pairing: John Sheppard/Elizabeth Weir, Laura Cadman/Evan Lorne, very mild Sam Carter/Vala Mal Doran
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Warnings: Mentions of off-screen character death.
Summary: "Tell anyone that we're on an unauthorized, totally illegal, probably going to get us killed mission to get Dr. Weir the hell off this provincial ball of rock?" interrupts Cadman. "Are you kidding me? You'd kick my ass, and once I finally got back to Atlantis, I'd get that look from Teyla."
Author's Notes: This fic splits from Atlantis and SG-1 continuity after after First Strike and Lifeline, and envisions the IOA taking a more active role in Earth politics. Why, yes, that is as bad as it sounds. Title is from Caboose Thoughts by Carl Sandburg.
There will be ac-ci-dents.
I know ac-ci-dents are coming.
Smash-ups, signals wrong, washouts, trestles rotten,
Red and yellow ac-ci-dents.
But somehow and somewhere the end of the run
The train gets put together again
And the caboose and the green tail lights
Fade down the right of way
--Carl Sandburg, Caboose Thoughts
The first person John drops in on when he gets back to Earth is Cadman. She's in Colorado, so she's nearby, and attending grad school. She's trying to get a couple of PhDs at once, instead of the traditional one at a time. So, still insane then. Just insane and bumped up a pay grade.
"Someone has to beat Rodney at his own game," she says, tossing John a beer and collapsing into the overstuffed chair across from him. The desk shoved into the corner of her living room is piled high with books, and her laptop is running so loud he's sure it's on the verge of exploding, not just overheating.
"You ever sleep?" asks John. Her eyes are rimmed with black, and he hasn't missed the fact that she's passed over alcohol in favor of something with a Starbucks logo on it, or that the garbage is full of their green and white cups. He's glad to see she's got a promotion, though. It's past time she had one. "Or do you mainline coffee?"
He's pretty sure she's been trading e-mails with Miko, Simpson, and Lorne the whole time she's been back, but, on the whole, John doesn't want to know. She's rooming with Katie Brown, who eyes John as he slouches down onto the sofa. She looks uncomfortable as she excuses herself to go to the lab.
"This an official visit?" asks Cadman, once the door shuts behind Katie. She props her feet up on her coffee table; her manicured toes shove John's boots to the side. "Because it's finals next week, and if you fuck up my last lab report, I'm going to kick your ass from here to next Tuesday."
"Didn't anyone ever tell you not to joke about time travel?" asks John. He's had enough of that shit to last the rest of his life, so instead of contemplating it, he pops the tab on his beer and knocks back a swallow.
"Like I'm going to listen to what Rodney tells me not to talk about?" asks Cadman, shrugging. She's got a good point, since McKay tends to freak out and tell Cadman to shut up when she talks about innocuous things like the weather. "Seriously, sir, what's up?"
John knows he looks as bad as Cadman. Worse, maybe, because he hasn't shaved in six weeks, but stowing away on the Daedalus meant he hadn't had a chance to bring along a razor and shaving cream. He sits up and leans forward, as intense as he's ever been. "Elizabeth's been spotted on Earth. The IOA is after her."
"What the hell?" asks Cadman. He can see the adrenaline spike through her, which is probably the last thing she needs, but John doesn't tell her to cool it. He needs help, and there aren't many people on Earth he trusts these days. "So, let's just say I'm playing devil's advocate here - because I am - but isn't the IOA supposed to be helping us Earth types? Including Dr. Weir."
"I've spent three years gathering information on Elizabeth," grinds out John. "Three years, Cadman. So has half the city, all the people that have been on Atlantis with her. Some of what we've found would make your blood run cold, and I'm not just talking about Wraith genetic experiments."
He's been chasing every scrap of a rumor since Carter came to Atlantis and told him she needs enough intel for a rescue mission. Every time the Replicators tell him Elizabeth's dead, John hunts for the truth behind the lie. Every time the IOA tells Carter what they've been doing, the two of them spend hours going over the paperwork and comparing it to news reports from Earth.
"What are you talking about, sir?" asks Cadman. She looks curious, but not shocked. Cadman's SGC through and through in some ways. She hoards information like it's going out of style. Of course, she's got that habit of disregarding the regs that's all Atlantis. It's pervasive, even with Carter trying to stamp out all the obvious instances.
"Things have been happening on Earth," says John. He's got access to personnel reports that the IOA think he's not bothering to look at. Sometimes it's nice to be underestimated. "Key personnel are getting replaced by IOA bureaucrats."
"You think that Dr. Weir is involved somehow?" asks Cadman. She takes another swig of her coffee and acts like this is the most casual conversation in the world. "Or that the IOA is involving her?"
"We know that a battleship got sent to Pegaus on missions that they didn't feel we needed to know about," says John. He's got a scar on his calf from one of the repercussions of that mission, so he's a little bitter about the idea of 'need to know' these days. "We know they went back with a stasis case."
"They put Dr. Weir in stasis?" asks Cadman. She frowns. "Why? What could they possibly worry about from someone like her? I mean, she was a POW, presumed dead, but they can't be anything but glad she's alive?"
"I don't know why they took her or how she got away, or what she's doing, but I need to find her." He thinks she's been sticking near the gate in hopes of getting home to him - to them. She doesn't know the new security procedures at the mountain, not since she got taken by the Replicators. Maybe she has a way around them. "I need help. I'm not supposed to be here."
There are too many questions for John to have all the answers. Hell, he's pretty sure he doesn't even have all the questions.
Cadman stares at him, giving him a thoughtful look. She takes another gulp of coffee, stands, and pitches the empty cardboard cup into a box full of recyclables, then walks over to her desk. She stands there a minute, lost in thought, then cracks her knuckles. The sound is loud in the silence of the room. "Finals are overrated anyway," she says. The sound is louder than John expects. "Let's see what we can dig up."
"On that machine?" asks John. He doesn't mean to sound worried, but it looks like a piece of crap.
"You kidding me?" asks Cadman. She picks it up with a wrinkled nose and sets it to the side, then opens up a drawer and pulls out a sleek laptop with the Atlantis logo emblazoned across it. "This baby's got as much power as we need."
"I thought you were supposed to turn that in once you got reassigned," says John. He's never been more glad for his lax attitude about the regs than now.
"Us Atlantis ex-pats need to stick together," says Cadman. She smirks up at him as she presses the power button. "We can't do that with a computer that just anyone could hack into."
"You can't--" starts John.
"Tell anyone that we're on an unauthorized, totally illegal, probably going to get us killed mission to get Dr. Weir the hell off this provincial ball of rock?" interrupts Cadman. "Are you kidding me? You'd kick my ass, and once I finally got back to Atlantis, I'd get that look from Teyla. How's the kid, anyway?"
Cadman is supposed to be officially incommunicado with the entire expedition, but whatever. "He's good. Loud. Just started laughing about a week before I left."
"Lorne owes me pictures." When John stares at her, she just shrugs. "What? You didn't seriously think I let my ass get shipped back to Earth without a line of communication, did you?"
"Your ass is too smart for that," mutters John.
"Damn straight," says Cadman, and she's smug. What the hell, she deserves it.
Ten hours later, Katie Brown has been sworn to silence and sent packing on a trip to the ends of the Earth. She tells Cadman that she's been wanting to study crop cycles in India for a while now, especially with the new data from Pegasus that she's gotten. There's some interrelatedness in wheat strains, or something like that.
John doesn't care about wheat. He just cares about getting her someplace where no one can get in touch with her to find out he's on Earth. She's got a couple of Marines with her, in case any of the wrong types show up. Cadman is, he finds out, not just getting two PhDs, but also entrenched in social network of ex-Atlantis personnel. He thinks she might be in charge of it, seeing her tell the Marines to take some leave and head out with Katie. Cadman scares him sometimes.
She's paying for a cheap motel room an hour outside of Colorado Springs, counting out each bill like it's made out of solid gold. Cadman's found a way to come up with the five grand in cash fast, and he's not asking how. The guy across the counter from her is wearing a plaid shirt, half-unbuttoned, and has a wifebeater on under it. John doesn't bother trying to meet his eyes. He's too busy staring at the green tank top Cadman has on.
"If my husband shows, you can't tell him we're here. He plays football and has half a dozen shotguns. I'm just trying to get away." Cadman drops an extra fifty on the stack and shoves it over at the guy. She leans forward, eyes wide, and he's never seen Cadman pretend to be scared in his life. She doesn't suck at it. "My brother's driving me to our parents' house."
The guy behind the counter smirks, like he's got one up on them. She and John don't look even close to siblings. "Sure," he says, leering. He hands over a key, and Cadman snatches it out of his hand. When they're out the door and unlocking their room, she's tense with irritation.
"You okay?" asks John. He's a little concerned, because Cadman's a friend, even though he knows she can damn well take care of herself.
"He was too busy staring at my tits to get a good look at either of us," says Cadman, seething. She jams the key in the lock and twists it. "Men are such fucking pigs."
"Hey!" exclaims John. A lot of men are pigs, but he tries his damnedest not to be that guy.
"Sorry," says Cadman, giving him a sidelong look that says she isn't, but that she's excluding him from the category of men to beat the shit out of if she runs into them in a dark alley in the middle of the night. Good enough.
She starts unpacking her laptop, and John pulls out one of the pay-per-minute phones they bought from the store. It only takes a minute for her to hook it up to use as a modem, and then they're online.
"You're good with computers," says John, by way of making conversation.
"Let me concentrate," says Cadman, tapping away at the keys. Her eyes don't even flicker over to him, she's concentrating that hard.
John flops onto the bed and spends his time watching old episodes of Star Trek on the motel tv. He tries to remember that asking questions every five minutes will only slow her down.
It takes a week for them to get the information out of the government computer systems. The SGC is unassailable. They're on their own network, they run their own servers, and there are no links to the outside world. Area 51 is different, and, Cadman tells him, she knows all the vulnerabilities in their systems from listening to McKay and Zelenka bitch about them.
"Score!" exclaims Cadman.
John snaps out of his half-doze into full wakefulness, reaching for the sidearm that he's not supposed to have out of the Atlantis armory, before he realizes there's no immediate threat. "What do you have?" he asks.
"You wouldn't believe the pile of useless data this is buried in," says Cadman. She nods at her monitor, and John hauls himself off the bed to peer over her shoulder. "That's five years of World of Warcraft simulations, plus ten or so years' worth of the SGC's power consumption records that got ported over to Area 51 for study."
"Buried where?" asks John. He leans forward, his hand braced on the back of Cadman's chair, which wobbles. He notices it's been broken once before and mended. Drops of wood glue that dried long ago are still clinging to the edges. This motel room is cheaper than he thought.
"Power spikes that started happening eight months back." Cadman's the cat that ate the canary. "I don't know how it happened, but Stargate Command got their hands on Dr. Weir. I don't think most people knew about it."
"How'd it happen?" asks John, his voice dark.
"Did I or did I not just say I had no idea how it happened?" snapped Cadman.
"Fine, you don't know," said John. He sighed and slumped back at her glare. "I'm sorry. I just want answers."
"If I'd had any idea, there's no way they could've stopped me from blowing the top off the mountain and getting Dr. Weir out," says Cadman. She doesn't quite meet his eyes, and John remembers that she's been frustrated, being forced to stay on Earth, out of the action.
"You didn't know, and you're helping me now," says John. Almost no one is privy to the secret, and only one of the people with knowledge of Elizabeth's location had thought to contact him. John owes Vala a huge favor.
Cadman points to a pile of gibberish that means nothing to John. "There was a lightning storm one night. Probably sent the systems haywire. I remember there was a blackout across the entire city."
"The SGC is on its own generator," says John.
"That's the funny thing." Cadman turns to look up at him. "The mountain blacked out too. I got called in for emergency duty because there were so many people stuck in the elevator shafts. Half of us thought we were in the middle of a foothold situation."
"There was no alien trying to get to Earth," realizes John.
"I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that's when Dr. Weir broke out," said Cadman. There's more than a little pride in her voice.
"Where is she now?" asks John. Elizabeth was alone, somewhere on Earth, and he needed to find her. Now.
"Beats me." Cadman shakes her head. "For that, we've got to dig more."
"I'll order pizza," says John.
It takes another three days for them to track down Elizabeth. By that time, Cadman's getting texts telling her to pack it up and move, so they head out five minutes before the police show up, sirens blaring.
"This is going to get annoying," mutters John, slouching back in his seat. His knuckles are white on the steering wheel, and he's looking for a good exit. The sign says there's one about half a mile ahead.
"This is just the distraction," says Cadman. She grins, like this is fun and games. "What do you want to bet they're supposed to scare us into the waiting arms of the NID?"
"Did you get into covert ops when I wasn't looking?" asks John. He gives Cadman a dirty look that she cheerfully ignores.
"Katie and I marathoned the Bourne trilogy when she got back to Earth," says Cadman. While John has no problem believing that, he doubts that she's just pulling this knowledge out of movie night with the girls. She's rummaging through her purse, like she's looking for lipstick, but what she pulls out instead is a sidearm. "Are we taking chances?"
"No," says John. He sees headlights behind him, but no sirens when he studies the silhouette in the rear view mirror. He slams on the brakes and drops back, then jerks the car over to the exit.
They're in Mexico. Cadman doesn't stick out like a sore thumb any more, not now that she's dyed her hair a nondescript brown. John's got a tan and a beard, and, while he doesn't look Mexican, they look like your average American couple on their honeymoon.
Sometimes it's hard not cracking up when Cadman flutters her eyelashes at him. They manage to pull off being a fake couple well enough to get through three hotels, chasing rumors of a dark-haired, green-eyed woman who's stronger and faster than normal. Ever since they opened up the gate, urban legends about their adventures have started springing up all over the world. The only problem is sorting the ones about Elizabeth out from the ones about Athena and Baal.
John hopes he's not on Earth when the program is declassified. All hell is going to break loose when it happens, and he'd rather be ten million miles away, if not more. Maybe he can bribe Hermiod to take him a couple galaxies farther away from Earth than Pegasus.
"Why does Dr. Weir have to be so damn multilingual?" asks Cadman, collapsing back onto their bed. "If we don't find her here, she could be anywhere."
"Because she's smarter than we are." John cracks open a bottle of water. It's hot, since their room has no air conditioning, but it's better for him than the tap water would be. He wonders if Elizabeth can get sick with nanites in her system. Maybe she doesn't have to worry about what bacteria are in the water. He'll ask her when he finds her.
He'll find her. There's no other option.
They're through Mexico and into South America. John only speaks English, and Cadman's Spanish is laced with more profanities than he wants to think about. When she starts having to learn Portuguese too, she gives him dark glares. John decides that he should start learning some Portuguese. He sucks at it, but Cadman stops giving him those looks after a while.
The NID is still after them, but John and Cadman are a step ahead. Though that one time that John gets shot in the leg sucked. At least he doesn't have an infection, just a scar that pulls when he stretches too far. Sometimes they're not quite as far ahead as they'd like, but they've muddled through enough that, this time, they've rented a cheap apartment and have stayed put a couple weeks.
"Nearly Carnivale," comments Cadman. Her computer is doing something, and instead of getting online while they wait, she's laying on the bed, her combat boots propped on the wall over the headboard. She's wearing a pair of denim cutoffs and a t-shirt that ends somewhere around her hips. Which is odd for Cadman when she's off-duty, but John's not asking questions.
"They're going to ask for their security deposit back," says John, deadpan.
Cadman cracks up. "They can take their security deposit and shove it up their asses."
"You're such a model of grace and decorum," says John, and he laughs when Cadman flips him off.
He doesn't laugh much these days. It feels good.
Unfortunately, he isn't able to enjoy it long. Cadman hears something. Hell, so does he. Cadman rolls off the bed. She grabs the laptop bag, then slams the computer shut and shoves it away.
John slides off the chair, keeping low. He draws his sidearm. They travel light, so he can hold onto their duffel bag with one hand. Cadman's going to be pissed if they have to buy new clothes. Their cash won't last forever.
"Why won't those assholes leave us alone?" hisses Cadman. The laptop case is slung over Cadman's back. They both have sidearms out and are crouching on the ground. "I nearly had Dr. Weir's location pegged."
"Beats me," snaps John. He channels the frustration and anger into getting ready for what's coming. "Fuck."
Cadman's laugh is hollow. "I thought you and Dr. Weir had a secret relationship going."
"I thought you and Lorne had a fuckbuddy thing going," says John. She flips him off again.
Bullets whine through the back window and crash into the walls. Bits of plaster spray out and cover them. "What's that about the security deposit?" asks Cadman.
"Fuck the security deposit," says John, seething. They kissed it goodbye when they moved in. Cadman goes through the low hole knocked out of the drywall between this apartment and the vacant one next door. John is right behind her.
They burst out where the NID least expects them, and Cadman takes the first one out with a bullet between the eyes. He's someone that's been after them for a while now.
Cadman and John started playing for keeps the first time the NID lobbed a grenade after their car. John wants to have a few words with people about how Barrett was supposed to have cleaned up that organization, because he's pretty sure they're fucking well not supposed to be lobbing grenades at decorated members of the U.S. military.
Of course, decorated members of the U.S. military are supposed to be good little boys and girls, and not question disturbing patterns that indicate the IOA is trying to pull some kind of a coup on the Stargate Program, or maybe even the whole world.
The second agent, no one John recognizes, gets a shot off. He misses, but barely. John shoots him, and he drops. That's all of them, but John and Cadman don't stop moving. There's probably another pair of agents outside the building.
John spots them on his way out the door. They've got surveillance on the clunker that he and Cadman have been driving, but since they don't bother keeping anything in the car, all they do is sneak a few parking lots down to steal an equally dilapidated looking car. Rio de Janeiro is a big damn place, and he and Cadman have been keeping to the poorer areas. It's easier to stay off the radar that way. It would be nice to see that strategy work.
"You think you know where she is?" asks John. The adrenaline hasn't flushed out of his system yet. He wants to find Elizabeth and take her home.
"Not exactly," says Cadman. "But we're close."
They drive in silence for a little while, but from the sidelong glances Cadman is giving him, she's holding something in. "What is it, Captain?" he snaps, after one too many looks.
Cadman cracks up. "We're on the run from the NID, the SGC will probably never let us within ten miles of the mountain again, we're in Brazil on an unauthorized mission to find our potentially compromised ex-leader, and you're calling me by my rank?"
She has to pull over, that's how hard she's laughing. At him. John scowls. "Oh, shut up," is all he says, which sends her into more gales of laughter. She's bent double, clutching onto the wheel of their junker for dear life.
It takes about ten minutes, but Cadman straightens up, wipes tears of laughter away, and pulls back onto the road. John doesn't say anything more, because they all need to get rid of stress somehow. Cadman uses inappropriate humor, which is better than John's usual way of coping. He's still not sure how he's managed to survive all those suicide missions.
"So, seriously, Sheppard," says Cadman, weaving her way along the road. "What the hell do they want with Dr. Weir?"
"Hell if I know," says John. He and McKay have spent hours going over the data from Elizabeth's encounters with nanites - okay, McKay mostly has - and they're both stumped.
"But whatever it is, fuck if we're going to give it to them?" asks Cadman. As if they would be here if they didn't already know the answer.
Sometimes John wonders why his initial impression of Elizabeth was so wrong. He remembers thinking that someone like her could be compelling, but that she would never have the strength of personality to command an entire expedition full of soldiers who only took orders from people who'd been through the same training as them, and scientists who only respected people who could out think them in their own fields.
He'd thought Colonel Sumner would be the expedition's real leader, that Elizabeth would be a figurehead to placate the IOA. He's learned since then that she's stronger than any of them.
"We're almost there," says Cadman, breaking John out of his reverie. "As far as I can tell, Dr. Weir is hiding out about five miles down the road. She's pretty isolated."
"Hard to blame her," says John. He's slouching behind the steering wheel, keeping their speed steady. The urge to gun the engine is almost impossible to resist.
Cadman has her laptop out. He has no idea what she's doing with it, but, whatever it is, she's tracking Elizabeth down. He's relieved that Cadman is on their side. Her competence is a little terrifying.
Three miles away from where Elizabeth is, Cadman tells him to pull over. They hide the car and hike the remaining two miles, since Elizabeth's someplace that's on a back road. It gets narrower as he and Cadman shove their way through. They move with as much caution as they can, making sure they're not followed.
This part of Brazil, they're edging on the rainforest. The humidity is unbelievable, and Cadman's red-faced and sweating. She's pushing as hard as he is, but she's at the same level of physical conditioning as him. John puts it out of his mind. Elizabeth is up ahead. Somewhere.
"There's an old factory back this way," says Cadman, panting. She pushes a large bush off to the side, and reveals a small walkway. The concrete is broken in places, and vines are growing across it. John doesn't care. He'd walk down a road made out of burning coals if there was half a chance in hell that Elizabeth were at the end of it.
"Where do you find out about these things?" asks John. He grimaces at the road and starts walking.
"You really want to know?" asks Cadman, smirking. John decides that he has better things to think about.
They make their way to the factory. The windows are broken and boarded over, and there are chains on the doors that they can see. John and Cadman look at each other, shrug, and pull one of the sheets of plywood off a first floor window. They clamber through into a dusty building stripped of machinery. Light filters through two that aren't entirely covered in debris.
"You sure she's here?" asks John.
Cadman nods at a pile of blankets and a mattress. There's some packaged food nearby, and a few bottles of water. It's a cozy enough setup, with a blanket propped up as a tarp. There are stubs of taper candles shoved into empty glass bottles, and a small battery-operated lantern.
At first, he thinks it could be anyone. After all, chances are it's a Brazilian person living here, seeing as how they're in Brazil. Then he sees a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo big enough to give someone a concussion. With that much irony, it's got to be Elizabeth's book.
John catches sight of a slender figure darting back around a corner. He doesn't question it, because he'd recognize the shape of Elizabeth's body anywhere. He hopes this never comes up with either Elizabeth or Cadman, because Cadman will tease him unmercifully, and Elizabeth will take one look at him, and she'll know. She know all the things he's spent years keeping buried.
Cadman's gaze meets his. They've gotten to the point where they don't need words to work together. She heads down the hall. John runs toward the broken window. He hauls himself outside, then careens around the back of the building.
He's just in time. Elizabeth's eyes are wide with panic as she burst out the door. Cadman's two feet behind her. When Elizabeth turns to shove Cadman back, she flinches.
Cadman brings her hands up up to guard her abdomen. John will think about what that means later. He runs up the stairs, and grabs Elizabeth around the waist. He's got to get her calmed down enough that they can talk.
She's stronger than she used to be. Before he knows what's happening, she flings him down the stairs to land on his back, the breath knocked out of him. She jumps over the rails and runs. With one long, frightened look over her shoulder, Elizabeth flees into the rain forest.
"Damn it!" shouts John. Cadman helps him up, and he kicks the stair rail. "Damn it all to hell!"
"Come on," says Cadman. She's got one palm flattened on her abdomen. "Let's go after her."
"For someone so scrawny, Dr. Weir's pretty strong." It sounds like an innocuous comment from Cadman, until she gives him a significant look. Shit.
"You already know about the nanites, don't you?" asks John, grumbling.
Cadman nods. "I told you I've got sources." She stuffs a brownie in her mouth and takes a swig of tepid water. They're sitting on a tree stump, sharing an MRE.
John frowns. "Lorne finished a six week training course on Earth about three months ago." They've been chasing Elizabeth for a month and a half. Maybe two months. It just now occurs to him what Lorne had been doing on his off duty hours. Because he's just that clueless about people. He should listen when Teyla tells him these things.
When Cadman smirks at him, he's got an answer for where Lorne spent most of his time. "It occurred to me that Lorne has a hot ass, and I should haul it in bed with me," she says, cracking up when John grimaces. "His ass is important to me. The rest of him too, I guess."
"I get that." John opens another MRE and hands it over to Cadman. He feels about Elizabeth the way Cadman feels about Lorne. He knows that, because as flippant as Cadman is, he can see how much effort it's taking for her to stay this light-hearted.
Then Cadman stands up and brushes crumbs off her clothes. "Ready to get going?"
"Sure." John puts the rest of the MRE in his duffel bag as Cadman shoulders her backpack. "Think she's too far ahead of us?"
"Don't know." Cadman shrugs and pulls her phone out to make a call to their contact on Earth. "Did nanites turn Dr. Weir into The Flash?"
John chuckles. "Hard to say, but probably not."
"Hope not, anyway," says Cadman. "Be a bitch to catch up to her if she's going to make it to the South Pole after half an hour of running like hell."
"Are you ever serious, Cadman?" asks John sourly.
"The situation calls for it so rarely," she says, then sticks her tongue out at him.
He should probably appreciate that she's trying to keep his spirits up. Instead, he groans before they start walking.
They're pushing through underbrush. No machetes, of course, since they hadn't expected to need to go this far into the rainforest. It sucks. The only thing that makes it remotely passable is the fact that Elizabeth pushed her way through before them.
With one last burst of effort, they break through. A fallen tree has created a clearing. Elizabeth is sitting on the trunk. She's waiting for them. Her legs are crossed, and, even though they're not on Atlantis and she doesn't have a laptop in front of her, she's every inch the same commanding person as before. Almost. There's tension in every inch of her body, like she's fighting the urge to get up and run away from them.
When she looks up and meets John's eyes, it's like an electric current between them. She breathes his name. Elizabeth's face is smudged with dirt. Her hair is a mess, and there's a tear in her shirt. She's never been more beautiful.
"Why'd you run, Elizabeth?" John skips the usual pleasantries as he hangs back at the edge of the clearing. Cadman stands by his side, off to his right. They're both good at looking non-threatening, and now is the best time to act harmless.
"It's the nanites," says Elizabeth. She shrugs. "They've colonized my brainstem."
"Okay, that's just creepy," says Cadman. She shudders.
"Try living with it," says Elizabeth. Her mouth quirks in a wry, self-deprecating smile.
"Pass," says Cadman. "Thanks anyway."
"Do you know how to handle any situation with tact?" asks John, turning to glare at Cadman. He's pretty sure she's just trying to get Elizabeth relaxed, but, now that they're with her, he thinks Cadman's way of easing the tension sucks.
"Tact is overrated. Kate once told me I have a confrontational personality because I had to prove myself in a traditionally male venue." Cadman sounds too cheerful. It must be forced; Lorne had to have told her the news about Kate, but she's got Elizabeth's attention. "I asked her if therapy was just stating the obvious in convoluted terms."
"What did she say?" asks Elizabeth. Her shoulders aren't as tight, so maybe what Cadman's doing is working. John could kiss her for getting Elizabeth to relax. Except then Lorne would kick his ass, or he would if Cadman left anything for him, anyway.
Plus it would piss Elizabeth off and get a reaction out of her.
"She told me I should get my own fucking PhD - and Kate said 'fucking,' Little Miss Looks Like Butter Wouldn't Melt In Her Mouth - so I can live up to my goddamn potential." Cadman grins as Elizabeth cracks up. "Then I told her she was a bitch, she shoved a grad school application at me, and, next thing you know, I'm headed back to this shithole planet to further my education."
"You're something else, you know that, Cadman?" John's through being irritated, and can't help but chuckle.
Cadman wrinkles her nose at him, and gives him a snappy salute. "You know it, I know it. Hell, the NID even knows it by now."
Since there's no good response to that, it's time to ask Elizabeth the questions she's been avoiding. "You ran because the nanites made you?"
He'd have asked it sooner, but he's been distracted.
"Dr. Lam tells me they've co-opted my fight or flight response." Elizabeth shrugs. "I've influenced them too. We're coming to some kind of an accommodation."
"That's not any less creepy than before," says Cadman. She walks forward. Elizabeth flinches, and her fingers tighten on the log. When Cadman sits down next to Elizabeth and nudges her, she starts.
"Please don't run again," says John. He can't lose her again. He's spent three years chasing her, more than that now, and she's right in front of him. He's frozen, with no clue how to approach Elizabeth. How the hell does Cadman make it look so easy?
Elizabeth meets his gaze again. Neither of them look away. He needs her. Without Elizabeth, he's lost. Without her, Atlantis has no leader that understands the people of the expedition. Without her, they get stuck with people who echo the IOA party line, and want to use the Athosians as unpaid labor.
He loves her. He's never told her that, not out loud, but she knows. She's never said the same to him, but he knows.
"I wasn't surprised this time." Elizabeth smiles. John's breath catches. Maybe he has a hope in hell of convincing her to come back with him.
"I came back here to find you and ask you to come home," asks John. He gives a diffident shrug, like this isn't the most important moment of his entire life.
He watches Elizabeth as she studies him. He wants to sweep her into his arms and promise that everything will be all right. Neither of them are the type to believe that promises can make it all better. It's going to take tears and blood, gallons already shed and more to go before they're done.
He's in if she is.
Elizabeth takes her time to weigh the risks, both to herself and Atlantis. He's sure of that. He's willing to gamble everything on her. He already has. He knows her well enough to know that.
When Elizabeth nods, it's like a dam bursts inside him. He's triumphant. Exultant. Everything he's worked for is falling into place. "We have to go," he says.
"Now?" asks Elizabeth. "I have some things back at the factory."
"We've been tracking you, but the NID has been tracking us," says Cadman. She grabs Elizabeth's hand and tugs her upright. "It's good to see you again, Elizabeth."
"Likewise," says Elizabeth, though she looks nonplussed. "Do we have a plan for getting back to Atlantis?"
"You think I'd go off half-cocked without a plan?" asks John, acting hurt. He grins at Elizabeth, happier than he's been in a few years, shoves his hand in his pocket, and thumbs a transmitter.
Elizabeth and Cadman look at each other, amusement all over their faces. "I don't know, Laura, what do you think?" asks Elizabeth.
"I think he should pull the other leg," says Cadman. She grins even more when she sees John's expression. "That one's got bells on."
"I had no idea you two knew each other that well," says John. "When the hell did you become friends?"
"Ladies poker night."
The scariest thing is that they both say it at the same time.
The NID is waiting at the car when John, Elizabeth, and Cadman get back. Agent Barrett is standing in front of the hood, looking dour.
"Seriously, did you wait until you saw us coming and pose like that for effect?" asks John. He stops ten feet away and scrubs his hand through his hair.
"They probably get Charlie's Angels training in whatever kind of Basic they do for secret agents," says Cadman, crossing her arms.
"Dr. Weir is a danger to herself and the people of this world," says Agent Barrett. He's not going to compromise. It's in his stance, not to mention the half-dozen agents in black suits aiming firearms at the three Lanteans.
"They're no longer a threat. I've told you that," says Elizabeth, stepping forward. At least one of the agents backs up. Elizabeth's face is strained. She's fighting an internal battle, maybe against the nanites. "Dr. Lam has confirmed it on multiple occasions, and the IOA and Pentagon refuse to believe us. This is unnecessary persecution."
It's frustrating that the IOA has gotten to the Pentagon. If they get caught, the courts martial will throw him and Cadman into holes so deep they'll never be found. If they survive.
"Even if there were a threat, we can neutralize it," says John. He's got one hand on his hip, ready to draw if he needs to.
"We've had our own people working on it. They tell us there's no way to shut them down," says Agent Barrett. He's so motherfucking stoic, and convinced he's right. John hates him.
"We've been working on this for three goddamned years," says John, spitting out the words. "We've been searching for Elizabeth on every mission, with every team. We've been following up on rumors. How do you think I felt when I found out 'our own people' had Elizabeth on Earth? We're supposed to be on the same side!"
His voice gets louder on each word. By the end, he's shouting.
Blue electricity crackles in the air. The NID agents fall down stunned, and smoke rises from their car's engine. A cargo ship decloaks and lands. Vala pops out of the hatch and grins at them. "I have excellent timing, wouldn't you say?" Her voice is loud enough to be heard a mile off.
"Yeah, you're the cavalry all right," says Cadman, grinning.
"Hello to you too, Laura," calls Vala cheerfully.
Elizabeth breaks into a smile. She reaches over and takes John's hand, squeezing it once before letting go. "We've got a lot to do when we get home," she says.
This is the way it's meant to be. This is the first thing they need to make the world right again.
"Let's go already, then," says Vala, meeting Cadman's eyes and then grinning.
The trip back to Atlantis takes just as long as the trip to Earth, but it's less lonely. Elizabeth relaxes with every light year closer to Pegasus they get. Cadman and Vala manage to entertain everyone, trading stories of off-planet adventures that may or may not be real.
After Cadman tells the one about being forced to have ritual sex, John starts hoping they're not true.
"That never made it into your mission report!" Elizabeth's laughing, honest to God laughing.
"Right, because I'm going to put in there that I had to have public sex with Lorne, or it would never rain again on Elarin." Cadman rolls her eyes at John's disbelieving look. "No, seriously. It's Ancient tech, not just superstition."
"How long have you and Lorne been--" John trails off. He's not sure he wants to know.
"Since about five minutes after he apologized for shooting down the Wraith dart holding me and McKay." Cadman smirks. "What can I say? He's hot."
"I've seen pictures" says Vala, giving Cadman a speculative look. "Do you think you could introduce us?"
John and Elizabeth share a relieved look when Atlantis hails them.
They land in the jumper bay. John thinks that half of Atlantis must've shown up to welcome Elizabeth back. When the door opens, and he and Elizabeth walk down the ramp, John notices a visible lift in everyone's mood. It ripples around the room. Shoulders straighten, faces brighten, and a quiet murmur fills the room.
Lorne's face brightens even more when Cadman emerges from the ship. She shoves her way past Vala, steps around Elizabeth with a muttered "excuse me," and stops in front of Lorne with an expectant look.
"Hey, Cadman," he says, with a grin that's going to split his face.
"I think you can call me Laura in public now, Evan," says Cadman. She scowls at him.
"What'd I do?" asks Lorne, confused.
"He's in for it now," murmurs Elizabeth. John looks at her, as confused as Lorne is.
"You knocked me up, you idiot!" snaps Cadman.
Oh. Oh, shit. John realizes that's why Cadman's been wearing extra long shirts, and why she guarded her stomach when Elizabeth ran from them.
"What?" Lorne's jaw drops. "I think you're at least half responsible for this, Laura."
"I've been sick to my goddamn stomach for three months straight!" says Cadman. She smacks him on the shoulder, probably harder than is called for.
"Are you keeping it?" asks Lorne. He shakes his head, like he knows he just said the stupidest thing ever. "I mean, what do you want to do?"
Cadman hits his shoulder again, and Lorne flinches. Cadman rolls her eyes at him. "If I was going to get an abortion, I'd have done it back on Earth," she says, then sighs. "Am I in this on my own, or are you in it with me?"
Lorne stares at her. "You idiot, of course I'm in," he says. He leans forward, brushes Cadman's hair back from her face and kisses her.
McKay's standing off to the side. If his jaw could hit the ground, it would. John knows how he feels.
"Why didn't anyone tell me she was pregnant?" asks John, giving Elizabeth another confused look.
"We thought you knew," says Elizabeth, shaking her head at him.
"I told you that men are idiots," says Vala, leaning past him to talk to Elizabeth, who just smiles.
Vala saunters across the room and wraps her arm around Colonel Carter's waist. "Hello, Sam," she says, bumping Colonel Carter's hip with her own. "Did the boys get here yet?"
John isn't going there at all. If he were going to admit it - which he isn't - he's a little afraid of what Colonel Carter and Vala would do if he went there. Not to mention Elizabeth, Cadman, and Teyla.
Colonel Carter is torn between bemusement and annoyance. "Couldn't any of you have told me what you were doing?"
"It's all about the plausible deniability," says Vala. She gives Colonel Carter a wide-eyed look that Colonel Carter clearly doesn't fall for. "You know you're a stickler for procedures. Did you really want to have to lie if the IOA decided to audit?"
"She would not." Teal'c walks into the room. "After General Landry was replaced at the SGC by Mr. Woolsey, I became concerned with the direction in which Stargate Command was taking the war against the Ori."
"The revolution is starting on Atlantis." Elizabeth steps forward. Her voice is clear and strong. John remembers the first speech he ever heard her give. Her experiences have changed her. There's an undercurrent of anger in her voice that he's never heard before, and never would have expected to hear it directed at Earth.
"I have spent the past year as a prisoner at the behest of the IOA. I have seen key personnel at Stargate Command transferred out, and replaced with IOA yes-men. I've seen policies put in place that are detrimental to the people of this galaxy and of the Milky Way."
John can't stop staring at Elizabeth. For that matter, no one in the room can. She fuels all of her passion with a simmering fury that makes her the focus of every person in the room.
"The IOA stole three years of my life." She moves to the center of the room. She's amazing. "The IOA is making plans to colonize this galaxy, a galaxy already populated by our trusted allies and friends."
Teyla's in the room, Torren propped on her hip. Ronon is standing next to her, and John thinks he catches sight of Halling nearby. From their expressions, John's not going to place any bets on the survival of IOA personnel that come to Atlantis to take the city. They won't last more than, say, thirty seconds. Or less.
"We have a mission. We have an obligation, both to the people of this galaxy, and to the people of the Milky Way. When the governments of Earth decided to interfere in interplanetary politics, we took it upon ourselves to work with the people of these galaxies, not to place ourselves above them, or to impose our cultural values on their people.
She's spent the past three years imprisoned, but they couldn't keep her there. No one can stop Elizabeth when she's got her heart set on a course of action she believes in.
"We're drawing our own line in the sand. We will approach the people of our galaxies as equals, not as colonizers or conquerors." There's a light in her eyes that wasn't there when he and Cadman found her in the factor. Elizabeth was born for this kind of work.
"We will see that justice is done."
The room erupts with noise. There are shouts and debates taking place between small groups. McKay is babbling at Elizabeth, who cries tears of joy when she sees Carson. Teyla and Ronon come to greet her with wide smiles. John starts down the ramp, but stops at the foot of it and does a double-take as Kate Heightmeyer takes a hesitant step forward.
"They've been busy while we've been off the grid," says John. He nudges Cadman and nods toward Kate. Cadman screams in delight and launches herself at Kate, hugging her and demanding an explanation. John shakes himself and goes to stand next to Elizabeth.
Throughout all of it, Colonel Carter stands silent. Teal'c is on one side of her. Vala's arm is still wrapped around her waist. As the room quiets down, Colonel Carter says something to Vala and Teal'c, then pulls away and walks over to him and Elizabeth.
"On an ordinary day, you'd be looking at a court martial, Colonel Sheppard," says Colonel Carter.
John shoves his hands into his pockets, rocks back on his heels, and shrugs. "It was worth it."
"Dr. Weir." Colonel Carter gives Elizabeth an admiring look. He can see the appraisal that goes along with it, though.
"Colonel Carter." John can see in Elizabeth's expression that she respects Colonel Carter.
"Atlantis is your city again." Colonel Carter looks almost rueful, but relieved too. "Daniel and Cameron are getting settled into their quarters, but they're talking about going on missions already. Truth be told, I'm glad they're your problem, not mine."
"You're still in command of the military," points out John. Thank goodness. Colonel Carter is a different type of commanding officer than John is, or than Colonel Sumner would've been. He thinks she'll do more for Atlantis as its military commander. John can do more in the field.
"Are you with us, Colonel?" asks Elizabeth.
"They sent General O'Neill into negotiations they knew would go sour. The IOA sent him to his death." Colonel Carter's voice hardens. "Someone has to stop them. I guess that someone has to be us."
"I'm sorry." Elizabeth bows her head for a long moment, before looking up once again to meet Colonel Carter's eyes. "He was a good man."
Colonel Carter clasps Elizabeth's arm. "We'll make it right. He would have wanted us to."
"Yes," agrees Elizabeth. She puts her hand over Colonel Carter's in a gesture of solidarity. "We will."
John stares at Elizabeth, and she meets his eyes. What he sees in there takes his breath away. He's spent three years without her, and, now that they're finally together again, nothing is going to tear them apart. Not the Wraith, or the Replicators, not even the IOA and their own damn people.
They're home. They're together. They can do anything.