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Meredith can remember the very first time she laid eyes on one Major John Sheppard, United States Air Force. She's positive that she didn't make a good first impression, but then again, she never does. She'd worked with incompetent people for most of her adult life, and as much as she tolerated Carson Beckett, he'd proved to be just as irritating and useless as the rest of the people in that God-forsaken base, Elizabeth Weir not included.

She can remember sitting in that stupid meeting with Daniel Jackson and Elizabeth as General O'Neill, that smug bastard, mocked her nationality. Carson had come running in, demanding they get down to the chair room, and it was all Meredith could do to keep from murdering him as he explained how he'd allowed some Air Force goof ball to actually sit in the chair.

She remembers ranting and raving all the way down to the chair room, bellowing angrily about people touching things that they didn't understand, her wild hair escaping her ponytail as she gestured wildly with her hands. It wasn't until she realized that the chair was honest to God glowing that she snapped her mouth closed, forced herself to take a deep breath and spoke as calmly as possible.

"Major, think about where we are in the solar system," she prompted, a quiet gasp escaping her against her will as a map appeared in the empty space above their heads. "Oh my God."

"Did I do that?"

"Morons," she exclaimed, glaring at Elizabeth when the wiry woman elbowed her in the side, hissing her name like venom.

"We need him," Elizabeth growled, sounding as un-Elizabeth like as possible before she turned back the Major, an apologetic smile on her face. "Major, join me in my office, would you?"

Meredith can distinctly remember being irritated when she found out Elizabeth had practically begged the Major to join their expedition team, but she had been outraged to learn that it had taken a veiled order from O'Neill to get him to agree. While she hadn't been exactly thrilled at the idea of John Sheppard joining them, the thought that he was dumb enough to almost turn down such an opportunity lowered her opinion of him significantly.

Anyone would be crazy to not jump at this chance.

She cannot, however, remember the exact moment that she realized bringing him along hadn't been the awful decision that she initially dismissed it to be. Probably the moment that she realized Colonel Sumner couldn't stand him, because in her opinion, anyone that managed to annoy that old bastard as much as she did was worth reevaluating.

Unfortunately, that feeling lasted less than twelve hours. She can remember him slouching his way through the event horizon while the city's shield was on the verge of fucking collapsing with his stupid Devil-may-care attitude, ushering in a group of people who looked less civilized than the common Caveman. She hadn't had time to be properly angry at him just then, of course, what with the fear of impending death by drowning, but once the city's failsafe had kicked in, she felt herself seething.

"Meredith, what's our status?" Elizabeth called, climbing the stairs to the control room, a broad smile on her face as if she hadn't just almost died. It took Meredith a little longer to recover, and when she did, her ever present scowl was darker than ever.

"The last zero point module is depleted, but we have limited power. Turns out that our generators aren't going to hold back an ocean. Luckily, life support systems are still working, but the planet's atmosphere is breathable… well, not withstanding the inevitable allergens," she corrected, sniffing slightly for effect.

Elizabeth nodded, releasing a sigh that sounded suspiciously relieved. "So now can our naquadah supply enough power to the shield for defensive purposes?"

"Not even close," Meredith snorted.

"On the surface without a shield? We're target practice!" Sheppard announced, his eyebrows furrowing in concern as he reached up, fluffing at that ridiculous hair. Meredith felt a stab of irritation at the very sight.

"Yes, I'm acutely aware of that, Major, but thank you for reinforcing it."

Meredith hadn't missed his smirk in response to that, though it only served for annoying her even more.

"When can you tell me where the Wraith took Colonel Sumner and the others?" He asked, crossing his arms over his chest as he stared Meredith down. She didn't bother try to hide her put upon sigh or her 'I work with morons' face.

"Even with the six symbols that Lieutenant Ford over there so graciously provided, there are still hundreds of permutations and—"

"Seven hundred and twenty."

"Excuse me?"

"Seven hundred and twenty," Sheppard repeated, that smirk morphing into a smug smile.

"Yes," she snapped. "I knew that, of course. I'm just surprised that you did."

There was that stupid smirk again, Meredith thought bitterly as she focused all her energy in glaring at the man. It was a glare that could cow even the burliest of marines, but Sheppard had the nerve to just stand there and grin like a fucking idiot.

It was infuriating.

"Take away the coordinates you can't get a lock on and that's your one. When you find it, send it up."

Meredith can remember her mouth opening and closing several times, wanting nothing more than to ask this stupid flyboy just who the hell he thought he was when Elizabeth intervened, steering John outside before she had to opportunity to actually murder him.

She was still seething moments later when the sound of raised voices penetrated the control room. With a quick glare at the technicians, Peter in particular (that nosy little bastard), she made her way over to the balcony doors, barely resisting the urge to press her ear right up against the cool metal. Luckily, Sheppard and Elizabeth were going at it loud enough that she didn't have to resort to such juvenile tactics.

"He actually wants to attempt a rescue mission," she muttered, more to herself than anyone in particular. "What an idiot."

"I think it's brave," Simpson responded, her voice wavering just slightly as though she'd swoon any moment.

"And I think you're an even bigger moron than I realized," Meredith snorted, snapping her fingers at the blonde. "Aren't you supposed to be checking those gate addresses? I know most things I ask of you are too much for your stupid, underdeveloped brain to handle, but I had hoped this was one task that you and Grodin could handle without me having to hold your hand!"

Offering the pair her patented glare, Meredith returned her attention back to the door while Simpson muttered what sounded suspiciously like 'fucking bitch'. A dark frown crossed her face when she realized that the voices had returned to the normal range. A split second later, the doors slid open, a squawk of surprise escaping Meredith when she tumbled forward.

She closed her eyes, bracing herself for impact when a pair of strong hands grabbed her, squeezing lightly. "Doctor McKay?"

She winced slightly, opening one eye first and the other to realize she was essentially wrapped in the arms of her current pain in the ass. "Uhh…" She could feel a slight blush creeping onto her cheeks, her earlier irritation giving way to embarrassment.

"It's okay," he grinned. "Happens all the time."

Immediately, the irritation returned. "Pig," she spat, pulling away. Straightening up, she smoothed her shirt back into place narrowing her eyes at him as Elizabeth stepped back inside the tower, eyeing the Meredith warily.

"Did you get anything back on the 'Gate address?"

"Contrary to what you may believe, Elizabeth, I am not a miracle worker! Things like this take time and—"

"We've got it," Peter called, that smug smile on his face enough to make Meredith want to jab him with an ink pen. Or the Ancient equivalent, as she wasn't particularly picky.

Meredith could practically feel her nostrils flaring in annoyance as another worthless peon readied a MALP. Crossing her arms over her chest, she threw Sheppard another dirty look as she made her way into the control room, narrowing her eyes as she studied the gate address.

She could practically feel Elizabeth holding her breath as the MALP was sent through the event horizon.

"We're receiving visual telemetry," Peter announced, and it was all Meredith could do to keep from rolling her eyes.

"No atmospheric readings at all."

"Wait," Sheppard called, squinting his eyes as he pointed at the screen. "What was that?"

"Rotate the camera," Meredith ordered, a loud groan escaping her as the MALP floated away from the planet. "Well, there goes that MALP."

"It's in space!"

"Thank you for that, Major," Meredith retorted, rolling her eyes again. Idiots. She was surrounded by them. "It's actually in high orbit around a planet on the far side of the galaxy," she corrected.

"And you're sure this is the right address?" Elizabeth asked.

"Apparently, it's the only one they could get a lock on."

"Very well then. Shut it down," Elizabeth decided, offering Sheppard a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry."

Meredith still isn't sure exactly what it was about the situation that made her decide, but before she could stop herself, she uncrossed her arms and straightened slightly. "Come with me, Major."

If John was surprised at her request, he didn't show it. Instead, he stood dutifully and followed after her like a good little soldier, never once asking exactly where it is she was taking him.

"I'm not quite sure why you think attempting this rescue mission is a good idea, but far be it for me to stop you from trying," she said casually as she led him upstairs to the bay her minions had discovered earlier.

"Oh… wow," Sheppard breathed, his eyes wide, as he took in the rows of ships. "This is… wow."

"This way," Meredith prompted, nodding towards the opened rear hatch of one of the ships. Almost as soon as they stepped on board, the back lights flickered on as if welcoming them. "You think you can fly it?"

He was silent for a moment as he made his way towards the front, sinking down into one of the chairs. Reaching for the panel, a pleased noise escaped him when it lit up under his hand. Turning just slightly in the seat, he offered her a warm, genuine smile. "What do you say we find out?"

Shaking her head, Meredith pushes the memories from her mind as she returns her attention to the tablet in her hand. She likes to imagine that the people downstairs are wondering where she's run off to, but she's not vain enough to believe that they actually care. In fact, they probably don't even know she's disappeared.

Which is why she's surprised when she hears his voice, amusement lacing his tone. "Never figured you for the kind of girl to skip out on parties, McKay."

She rolls her eyes as the sound of his footsteps against the back ramp of the Jumper and she can practically hear the stupid smile on his face. "Some of us actually have work to do, Major," she reminds him, her back to him as she studies the Jumper's readings on her screen. "Need I remind you that it'll be my amazing work ethic and sheer genius that's going to keep you from having your ass handed to you out there?"

"Point taken," Sheppard concedes as he steps into the rear compartment, watching as she works. "What are you doing anyway?"

"It may have escaped your notice that these ships have been nothing more than dust collectors for the last ten thousand years. They've missed a few routine check-ups and I want to make sure they're functioning properly before I let any of the other morons get their hands on them."

"Aww, I didn't know you cared."

"Trust me," she snorts, "I don't. However, on the off chance that we ever make contact with Earth again, I don't want to have to write a lengthy and detailed report on how we lost half our expedition because someone forgot to change the oil in these things."

She can feel John's eyes on her as she disconnects the cables attached to the crystals, but she says no more.

"Thank you," he says, and even though she's trying to ignore him, she can feel the sincerity in his voice.

"For leaving the party?"

He laughs and despite the fact that she hadn't wanted him here in the first place, the very sound is almost enough to make her glad he is. "For helping me bring them home," he says."You know, you're not as bad as you want everyone to believe, McKay."

She stiffens slightly at his words before she turns, offering him that angry glare, and this time, she's pleased to see that he appears at least a little afraid. That is, of course, until he ruins the moment with that stupid fucking smirk.

"Don't worry," he shrugs, his stupid hazel eyes twinkling almost playfully despite the fact that he's now carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. "I won't tell anybody. It'll be between you and me."

He's gone before she has a chance to respond, and it's only once she's sure that she's truly alone that Meredith allows herself to breathe. She's spent too many years putting these defenses into place, and in less than twenty four hours, John fucking Sheppard has already seen through that outer shell she wears like a suit of armor.

She doesn't know whether she's relieved or annoyed by that revelation, but as she steps out of the Jumper, she decides the jury's still out on that. She knows she didn't make a very good first impression, but if this little moment is anything to go by, John Sheppard believes in second chances.

Maybe she does need to reevaluate him after all.

Chapter Text

John is quickly learning that the Pegasus Galaxy is not a very nice place to live. Between the life-sucking alien vampires and energy monsters moving throughout the city, he wonders briefly if he'll ever sleep manage a full night's sleep again. He seriously doubts it, especially if hard headed scientists keep pulling stupid stunts that leave his heart feeling like it's trying to pound its way out of his chest.

Privately, he's impressed. Not that he plans on ever telling McKay that, because God, the woman's head is big enough as it is, but her show of courage has helped him finally put an end to the internal debate he's been having since Elizabeth asked about his thoughts on a team.

Teyla, of course, is a given. Not only is she their very own tour guide to the galaxy, but she's smart and while he hasn't had time to put his theory to a test, he's willing to bet she knows how to handle herself in a fight.

Ford is another no-brainer. The way the kid saved his ass during their rescue mission is all the proof John needs. Aiden Ford, while young and maybe a little naive, is exactly the kind of man that John trusts to have his back.

It's the fourth piece of the puzzle that John had trouble finding.

He can hear her complaining loudly before he ever even makes it to the infirmary. He almost feels bad for Carson, but he reminds himself that an obnoxious McKay is a healthy McKay and right now, that's all that matters.

He grins sympathetically at the doctors and nurses as he passes and it's all he can do to keep from laughing when he finally spots her. Carson looks like he's less than a minute away from sedating her as she gestures wildly.

"I've told you, you stupid voodoo practitioner, that I'm fine!"

"I'll be the judge of that, thank you," Carson says politely, pinching the bridge of his nose as he inhales deeply. "And just what the hell were you thinkin', pullin' a stunt like that?"

"Please," McKay huffs, crossing her arms over her chest. "I knew I would be perfectly fine."

"And what if you'd been wrong?"

"Like that's ever going to happen," she says. "Can I go now? This is really unnecessary."

"You lost consciousness, Meredith!" Carson says incredulously and John's impressed that he's managed to keep his cool this long. He hasn't known McKay that long, but he knows she has a tendency to push people's buttons. This knowledge is what made his decision so difficult to make. "That is not a sign of someone being 'perfectly fine'!"

"Hey Doc," John grins, stifling a snort at the relieved look on the Scot's face. "McKay. Glad to see you're over your fainting spell."

"I did not faint!" She squawks, her eyes narrowing dangerously. "I told you before, I suffer from hypoglycemia and my blood sugar was too low! It could have happened to anyone!"

"Sure, sure," John concedes easily, still grinning smugly in a way that he knows pisses her off.

"Did you actually have a purpose for coming down here or was it solely to annoy me?" She asks irritably, swatting Carson's hand away when he moves in to check her blood pressure. "That is pointless! Of course it's going to be sky high with Major Pain-In-The-Ass standing right there!"

Throwing his hands up in the air, Carson curses and drops the blood pressure cuff to the tray beside her bed. "You are the worst patient I think I've ever had the misfortune of treating and I don't have time for this! When you're reading for your examination, just yell, but you're not to leave this infirmary until I've checked you out!"

And just like that, Carson's gone, leaving John alone with McKay.

"Now see what you've done?" She gripes, glaring moodily at John. "You could have at least tried to convince him that I'm fine!"

"He has a point," John responds with a shrug. "And if you're going to be on my team, you're going to have to get used to post-mission checkups. Just think of this as practice."

"I'm not on your team."

"Not yet, you're not," he grins. "That's actually why I came down here. I've already asked Ford and Teyla. Just needed a fourth."

"And you thought asking me was a good idea?" She asks, eyeing him warily.

"Listen, I'm not going to lie and say it was an easy decision, but I think it's the right one."

"Why?" She asks, and he can see the confusion on her face.

"Jesus, McKay, why do you think? You walked into a fucking energy monster and saved the whole city. I didn't exactly see a whole bunch of people lining up for that."

"Only because I had the shield. I knew it couldn't hurt me as long as it was active."

"It doesn't matter why you did it," he tells her. "The point is, you did it, and you saved a lot of people in the process. We need people we can count on to save our asses out there."

"Oh. Well, I suppose I was incredibly brave, huh? Not to mention the fact that I'm the smartest woman in two galaxies. I'd really be doing you a favor by joining you, wouldn't I?"

It's all John can do to contain his groan. This is exactly why he'd almost passed over her in favor of another scientist for his team. Her ego is easily the size of the Pegasus galaxy and the last thing they need is for it to get any bigger. He's tempted to tell her to forget the offer, but then he remembers why he chose her in the first place.

He isn't lying when he said she saved the city. Had she not gone into that energy monster, or whatever the hell it was, they never would have gotten it to go through the 'Gate. Shaking his head, he releases a quiet sigh and offers her a half smile. "Whatever you say, McKay. Listen, don't decide now, okay? Take some time to think about because you need to be sure it's what you really want."

"I want to," she says firmly.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," she decides without hesitation, and he's reminded of their first night in the Jumper bay.

"Okay then. Let Carson check you out, then get some sleep, huh? We're meeting with Elizabeth at 0900 to discuss our first mission. I expect you to be there."

"Of course," she agrees, settling back against the infirmary bed. "Send Carson in, would you?"

"Sure thing." With a wave in her direction, he retreats from the curtained area, stopping only when she calls out to him.

"Major?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you. For asking me, I mean."

He can't help but grin at that. "No problem, McKay. G'night." Waving again, he leaves her alone, pausing long enough to tell Carson that she's finally ready to cooperate before he heads out of the infirmary.

Ford won't be happy. He knows that McKay isn't exactly well liked among the Marines, but he'll cross that bridge when he gets to it because for now, he's sure he's made the right decision.

Chapter Text

Meredith is pretty sure she didn't sign up for this shit. She knew when she accepted a place on Sheppard's team that her days of sitting in her comfortable, air conditioned lab were over, but she never expected anything like this.

Her head was still pounding from the fall she'd taken when the drive pod scraped against the 'Gate and the fact that the back portion of the jumper was dark, her work space was illuminated only by the glow of her tablet and the control crystals, only served to make her headache worse. She was vaguely aware of Ford and Teyla talking to the Major, trying to gauge his current condition, but she was studiously ignoring them in favor of trying to figure out how to save their asses.

She works best under pressure, a fact that everyone back at Stargate Command is well aware of, but this is pushing it. Nowhere in her contract did it state that she was going to have to figure out a way to get a damaged Jumper through the 'Gate while her team leader's life is literally being sucked out of his neck.

She wonders briefly if she'll be able to sue the government for emotional distress if she ever returns to Earth.

Closing her eyes, she takes a moment to regroup. It isn't easy working under these conditions because she knows that right now, it's not just about her. Five other lives are dependent upon her ability to figure this out and it's not a responsibility that she's taking lightly.

"Jumper One? This is Weir," Elizabeth announces and her voice in Meredith's headset is enough to startle her. "Doctor Zelenka thinks he may have come up with something."

"Zelenka… why can't I ever remember that name?" Meredith muses, shaking the thought from her mind.

"He's positively identified the control systems on the port side of the Jumper that retracts the drive pods. I'm relaying the schematics to your data pad."

"Thank you! Now we're getting somewhere!"

"What?" Ford asks, looking up at Meredith hopefully.

"Zelenka's identified the control pathways to the engine pod, which means that's increasing my chances of fixing this from one in a million to one in a thousand. It's not much but… well, at least it's something. Elizabeth? You still there?"

"Go ahead, doctor."

She sighs, lowering her data pad to pinch the bridge of her nose. "I'll only have seven to nine seconds to warn you if I accidentally trigger a catastrophic overload, so if I tell you to raise the shields… don't hesitate."

"We're well aware of the risks, Mer. Just do your best."

Meredith nods, well aware that Elizabeth can't see her. She just hopes that this time, her best is going to be good enough.

She tries to block everything else out, knowing that she needs to focus solely on the problem at hand. Ignoring her teammates is more difficult than it used to be, and she finds herself cursing them under her breath. Things were so much easier back on Earth.

"We're starting with the iodine," Ford announces, dropping a hand to Sheppard's shoulder. "Ready sir?" He doesn't wait for a response. A moment passes and from the corner of her eye, Meredith sees Ford sag. "Scratch iodine."

"What else have you got there?" It's Beckett, his voice distorted slightly over the radio.

"Yes, what have you got there?" Meredith asks as an afterthought. "Any food?"

Ford turns, his face set in an ugly scowl as he regards her carefully. He looks at her as though she's nothing more than dog shit on the bottom of his shoe, but she doesn't care. "You're kidding, right?"

"Listen, I have less than twenty minutes to save your ass and I'm on the brink of having a hypoglycemic reaction, so no. Not kidding," she responds. Teyla and Ford share a look and it's one that she recognizes almost immediately: they can't believe that Sheppard actually picked her for the team.

Well fuck them too.

She accepts the chocolate power bar that Ford tosses her way with a grunt of appreciation before she turns her attention back to her data pad. She's vaguely aware of her teammates discussing the remaining contents of the first aid kid, but she tries to block them out.

"Did the Doctor not say to pour salt on the creature?"

Meredith actually snorts at that. "I think that was metaphor," she responds, her mouth full of chocolate. "But I guess it doesn't matter. Just try everything."

A quiet groan escapes Sheppard as Teyla hands the salt packet to Ford. Meredith doesn't even want to think about how painful this must be for him. All she knows is that she has to work harder, faster, better to get him to Carson. It's not like medicine's a real science, but it's got to be better than this. Besides, he's got all the good drugs.

Ford growls, his frown darkening when the salt has no effect on the fucking creature. "Water," he demands. "Give me some water."

Teyla hands over her own canteen quickly, squeezing Sheppard's shoulder gently as Ford uncaps it and pours a little on the creature. The effect is almost instantaneous.

Meredith is positive that she'll have nightmares for weeks. The sound that escapes Sheppard isn't entirely human and nothing she does can block it out.

"Major! Major, what's happening?" Ford tries, gripping one arm while Teyla holds the other. He's struggling beneath them, his eyes screwed shut in pain and for a fleeting moment, Meredith thinks that this is the end. "Major!"

Sheppard's only response is to shove the Lieutenant away, hard enough that the young marine hits the side of the Jumper with a ridiculous amount of force. She winces inwardly, knowing that it has to hurt.

"What's happening?" Elizabeth demands as Ford struggles to his feet.

"It reacted to either the salt or the water."

"Or the combination of both. Did it lessen its hold on Major Sheppard?"

"Negative," Ford responds, rubbing a hand over the back of his head as he drops to his knees beside Sheppard.

"If anything, it dug in more."

"Please…" Sheppard trails off, swallowing hard. "Please don't do that again."

"I won't sir. I'm sorry."

"Most likely a primitive defensive reflex to—"

"Oh no," Meredith gasps, sinking down onto the Jumper bench heavily. "Oh God."

"What now?" Ford asks angrily, narrowing his eyes at her. "Why have you stopped working?"

"We moved. When you fell, I must've… Oh shit. I must have crossed one of the circuits. I think the engine fired for a microsecond but it stopped."

"So? What's the problem?"

"The problem is that when the Stargate closes now, every molecule of air in this fucking compartment is going to rush out through there," she snaps, pointing at the sliver of blue peeking out from underneath the bulkhead doors.

"We have slid in further," Teyla says.

"And we only have fifteen minutes left."

"Ford, what can you tell me?" Elizabeth prompts, her voice strong despite the fact that her people are quite literally fucked. Up the ass. Without lube.

"The Puddle Jumper has shifted slightly and the rear compartment has now breached the event horizon. Doctor McKay…" he trails off, looking at Meredith with a mix of hope and irritation. "Doctor McKay is still hopeful that she can retract the drive pods in time."

Meredith wants to argue with him. She wants to tell him how stupid he is to think that she's actually going to be able to fix this, but something stops her. Ford may not like her very much, but he's counting on her. They all are.

"Understood," Elizabeth responds. "We haven't come up with anything on our end yet, but there's still time. How is Major Sheppard?"

"I'm… 'M still here, 'Lizabeth," Sheppard manages, a weak groan escaping him.

"Hang in there, Major. We're working on the problem."

"No, I… I know you are," he says, his eyes meeting Meredith's briefly. "Listen, uh… I'd… I'd like to say something while I still can."

"Don't!" Elizabeth orders. "You're going to get through this!"

"If I was," he pauses, a bitter laugh escaping him. "He wouldn't have let me go."

"Who wouldn't have let you go?"

"The Wraith. I guess he… I guess he saw me as good as dead, 'cause he just walked away, so…" he trails off again, clearing his throat. "What I wanted to say was—"

"Save your strength, John, and tell me in person." Meredith can't decide if Elizabeth is incredibly smart or incredibly stupid at this point.

"This is important," Sheppard insists.

"Okay," Elizabeth finally concedes. "I'm listening."

Meredith will wonder for weeks exactly what it was that Sheppard wanted to say, because they never have an opportunity to hear it. Before he can speak, Ford is spouting off some rubbish about sending him through the event horizon and then Sheppard's actually suggesting that they hit him with the defibrillator. It's the stupidest idea Meredith has ever heard, but before she has the opportunity to voice her opinion, Beckett's chiming in that it just might work.

Morons. She works with morons.

An involuntary gasp escapes her when she realizes that they're actually going through with this stupid plan, but she can't bring herself to look away. She watches as Teyla slits Major's shirt and tugs his dog tags to the side, exposing his hairy chest. Meredith feels a little perverted in realizing that she actually likes what she's seeing and then she mentally berates herself, because Jesus Christ, this is not the time.

"McKay," Ford snaps, pulling her from her thoughts. "If we can't restart his heart, I'm going to need that bulkhead door open."

Meredith fumbles with her data pad for a moment as she stumbles over to the other side of the Jumper. "Right. No problem."

Ford hesitates, looking at Teyla before Sheppard urges them into action.

Things move quickly from there. Meredith can't keep up with everything that's happening, and before she knows it, she's alone with Ford and the dead bug in the back of the Jumper.

"How are we doing, McKay?" Ford asks, wringing his hands together nervously.

"I'm only halfway through all the possible circuit pathways and time's almost up!" She practically shrieks. "We're never going to make it!"

"Just keep at it. There's still time."

"You should consider stepping into the event horizon," Meredith tells him. "I'm serious. I'll keep trying on this end, but given your choices, that's a far better way to go."

"And leave you here alone with that thing wrapped up in my jacket? Really?"

"You uh… you did check to make sure it's dead, right?"

"It's dead."

"Good, because explosive decompression and death by suffocation with that thing on my face—"

"Work!" Ford orders, startling Meredith back into action.

"Right. Sorry."

"Meredith, we're down to two minutes," Elizabeth announces, and Meredith can hear the anxiety in her voice.

"I know the time! I've still got over two dozen circuits I haven't tried!" At this point, Meredith wishes everyone would just shut the fuck up, because do they really expect her to pull a miracle out of her ass?

"Don't be so methodical! Just pick one at random!"

"If I do that, then I run the risk of attempting to activate the same circuit twice!" The unspoken you idiot hangs at the end of her sentence, but she's sure Elizabeth got the message.

"Just try!" Apparently, she gave Elizabeth more credit than she deserves.

"I'm telling you, there's no way I can… wait a minute…" She almost sobs in relief when the engine starts back up. "Oh thank God! Elizabeth, I think the engine pod's retracting!"

The moment is ruined, however, when the fucking Jumper doesn't move.

"You've got to be kidding me!" Meredith complains, barely resisting the urge to throw her data pad. "The drive shut down before we went through the Gate. We've shed all our forward momentum. We're still screwed!"

"One minute," Peter announces and Meredith swears to herself that if she makes it out of this alive, she's going to punch him right in his stupid mouth.

"The rear hatch!" It's Kavanaugh, his voice crackling over the radio. "Blow the rear hatch. It should give you just enough thrust to make it through!"

She doesn't want to admit it because hello, Kavanaugh, but it's a good idea and the only one that's going to save them. "That could work. But the only mechanism to do that is back here!"

"You go through," Ford tells her, pushing her gently in the direction of the event horizon. "I'll do it."

"No, no! You'll get blown out into space, you idiot!"

"There's no time to argue! Just go! You've done your part already, McKay," he tells her and is that admiration she sees in his eyes? "Let me do this."

She knows she shouldn't. Ford's just a stupid grunt, he doesn't understand what's going to happen the minute that hatch is blown, but before she can protest further, he's shoving her again. "Go."

"Just… make sure you hold on to something!"

"Go!"

"Thirty seconds."

"Shut the fuck up, Grodin! We know the time, thank you very much! We don't need you counting down the seconds until…" she's cut off at the last moment by Ford giving her a particularly rough shove into the event horizon and the next thing she knows, Beckett is hunched over Sheppard, trying to shock his heart into beating.

"Again!" Beckett calls as the sound of the monitor flat lining startles Meredith into the realization that at the moment, Sheppard is actually dead.

"Carson," she tries, wringing her hands nervously as the doctor lowers the paddles to Sheppard's chest once more, the Major's body jerking from the shock. This time, there are two short beeps followed by a flat line again and Meredith can feel tears beginning to sting her eyes as Carson leans over with a stethoscope, listening for a heartbeat.

"Wait a minute… yes, here we go." Beckett sounds hopeful and all of a sudden, the machine begins beeping. "We've got a pulse! He's back with us!"

Meredith wants nothing more than to drop into the nearest chair and close her eyes, because all of a sudden, she's fucking exhausted. She's earned it, of course, but decides against it because behind her, medics are easing Ford onto a gurney, shoving an oxygen mask on his face. She's sworn she doesn't care but she finds herself making her way back to him, needing to see for herself that he's okay.

"You're an idiot," she snaps, looking over him carefully before she glares at the medics. "He's going to be okay, right?"

"He'll be just fine," one of them assures her. Nodding in response, she turns, intent on going back to the Major when Ford stops her, grabbing her hand.

"Sheppard?" He asks, his voice muffled by the mask.

"He's going to be fine," she says. "You got us through just in time. Not bad for a grunt."

She thinks she sees him smile under the mask as he closes his eyes. Reaching up, he tugs at the mask, pulling it down for just a second.

"You… you didn't do too bad either," he concedes and she can't help but smile at that.

She watches as both Sheppard and Ford are wheeled out of the Jumper and it's only after she's sure that she's alone that she sinks down onto a bench, dropping her head into her hands.

The adrenaline is really beginning to wear off now and she wonders if she's even going to have the energy to make it into her quarters. It doesn't matter, really, because nobody's going to know if she lays down right here and falls asleep, but before she can contemplate it further, she feels a gentle hand resting against her shoulder.

"Doctor McKay," Teyla says, offering her a brief smile when she glances up. "Perhaps it would be best if you rested for awhile."

"Yeah," Meredith says with a slight nod. "I'm working on that."

"Come along then. I will help you to your quarters."

"I don't need help," she growls, swatting Teyla's hand away, but the Athosian ignores her and helps her to her feet.

"We are both a part of the same team, are we not?"

"I don't see what that has to do with—"

"Teammates help one another, Doctor McKay. As you certainly helped us earlier, I thought now would be a good time to repay the favor."

She wants to argue, to insist that she doesn't need anyone's help, but she knows that's not true. Before coming to Atlantis and accepting a place on Sheppard's team, she was vain enough to believe that didn't need help from anyone. She thought life was easier when she didn't have to depend on someone else to save her ass, but now…

Her teammates trusted her enough to depend on her despite their personal feelings towards her. Now, she guesses it's only fair that she trusts them enough to return the favor.

Chapter Text

Meredith hates John Sheppard.

Not really, of course, because he's actually a pretty tolerable individual, but that doesn't stop her from shooting daggers into the back of his head with her eyes. She doesn't know whose bright idea a 'team trip' to the mainland was, but if she ever finds out, they won't have hot water for a month.

It's not that she has something against her team because she doesn't. In fact, she actually likes them. It wasn't easy at first because God knows she isn't the easiest person to get along with. She's fairly certain that Ford wanted to leave her on a couple different planets before he finally warmed up to her, but now, things are good.

Or rather, they were until Sheppard announced that they were taking a 'Jumper over to the mainland for a little bit of team bonding. She's learned from years and years of working with morons that forced group outings are the quickest way to make people hate her, but Sheppard doesn't listen to her complaints. In fact, the bastard had enough nerve to laugh at her when she cornered him and tried to get out of this little excursion, so she feels justified in hating him a little.

"I just want you to know," she complains loudly, "that this is a complete waste of time. There are so many things I could be working on this afternoon, but instead you choose to drag me over to the mainland to frolic on the fucking beach? Do I look like a frolicker to you?"

"Not at all," Sheppard replies smoothly, hiding his grin as he touches the 'Jumper down gently. "But you do look like you could use a break, so how about you just shut up and enjoy the afternoon?"

"I'd enjoy my afternoon if even more if it was spent in the comfort of my nice air conditioned lab," she grumbles.

"We should have left her back at the city, Sir," Ford stage whispers and Meredith has to resist the urge to kick the back of his seat.

"Nah," Sheppard grins, glancing over his shoulder at her. "She'll be okay after she gets some fresh air. She's been cooped up in that lab too long."

"And she is sitting right here," Meredith reminds them testily, crossing her arms over her chest. "But please, by all means, continuing discussing me as though I'm not able to hear you."

The two men share a laugh as they stand up and head for the back of the 'Jumper, no doubt ready to get out and explore the little beach that Sheppard had discovered weeks ago. Meredith can remember how excited he'd been when he returned from a trip to the mainland.

"Perhaps you would rather accompany me to the settlement?" Teyla suggests, offering Meredith a serene smile.

For a half a second, Meredith considers taking her up on that, but quickly changes her mind. She likes Teyla more than she likes Ford and Sheppard on most days but hanging out at the Athosian settlement really can't be considered anybody's idea of a good time.

"Thank you for the offer, but I think I'll pass this time," she says as politely as possible while thinking there's no fucking way she wants to go hang out with those people because if she catches Halling staring at her tits one more time, she can't be held responsible for what she might do.

"Very well," Teyla says, bowing just slightly as she follows Ford and Sheppard out of the 'Jumper.

"Waste of a perfectly good day," Meredith grumbles, pushing herself to her feet with a loud sigh before she follows after her team. She doesn't know why Teyla gets to go gallivanting off to the settlement during what's supposed to be a 'team bonding' day, but she'll get to that later. Right now, she has more pressing matters to attend to, like the fact that there's no fucking shade and there's not exactly a convenience store on the corner she can stop at for sunblock. "Sheppard!"

"No complaining, McKay! That's a rule, remember? You're not allowed to complain when we're supposed to be bonding!"

"I think you mean burning! There is absolutely no cover on this God damned beach! I have sensitive skin!"

"You could use a little color, Casper," Sheppard taunts, grinning as he surveys the beach proudly. "This is perfect," he declares, hands on his hips like he owns the damn place.

"This is hell. This is my own personal hell," she gripes, shielding her eyes as she looks around the empty beach.

"Buck up, McKay," Sheppard demands. "One afternoon in the company of your teammates isn't going to kill you."

"No, but exposure to the sun might! Do you know how easily I burn, Major? This isn't my idea of fun!"

"Quit whining. I'm sure we've got something in the 'Jumper that we can use for shade. Lieutenant, see what you can find."

"Yes, Sir."

She crosses her arms over her chest again, watching as Ford trots off to the 'Jumper like a well trained puppy before she turns back to Sheppard, narrowing her eyes at him. "You'd better hope so, because I can assure you that if I have to suffer through itchy, peeling skin because you made me—"

"Meredith," he says, "relax. We're not gonna let you burn up out here."

She stops short at that. She can't remember if he's ever used her first name before and the sound of it sliding off his lips does things to her that she'd rather not think about. She opens her mouth dumbly before she snaps it closed again, offering him a curt nod in response. "Okay then. I suppose I'll just… wait over here, yes?"

"Good idea," he grins, clapping her on the shoulder before he turns and jogs back over to the 'Jumper to help Ford.

It doesn't take them long before they manage to construct a makeshift canopy for her and she grumbles her thanks. One crisis is averted but she's still pissed off that Teyla managed to get out of this stupid activity but rather than complain, she crawls into the shade and releases a relieved sigh. It's still hotter than she cares for, but at least she doesn't have to worry about burning to a crisp.

"So," she says once she's settled, ignoring the look Ford and Sheppard share with one another. "Now what are we supposed to do?"

"Now we relax."

"Oh, okay because that sounds exciting."

"It's not, but that's kind of the point. I think we've had more than enough excitement these last couple of months. We needed a break."

It makes sense, she guesses, but she's not going to tell him that.

"Whatever you say," she shrugs, watching as he tugs his shirt over his head. Her mouth goes dry at the sight of that hairy chest and this time, she doesn't have to berate herself. It's a nice vision, one that she's content to enjoy until he catches her staring. "What are you doing?" She barks, trying to look scandalized. "I didn't think this stupid field trip was clothing optional!"

"It's a beach, McKay. That's kind of the point," Ford snickers, removing his own shirt before he jogs down the beach to the water. "Don't tell me you've never been to the beach before."

"As I've said numerous times, I have better things to do with my time than hang out on the beach. Trying to remove sand from places sand was never meant to be isn't my idea of a good time, thank you very much," she says, trying really really hard to not stare at Sheppard. She's positive she's failed, however, when she catches that cocky flyboy grin on his face. Asshole.

"You comin' in?" Sheppard asks, jerking his head to the water where Ford's already in up to his chest.

"Oh yes, because swimming in the ocean on another galaxy is really such a good idea," she mutters, narrowing her eyes at him. "I'm fine right here, thanks."

"Suit yourself," he shrugs. "But you know, contrary to what everyone else may think, I don't think you'll melt if you get wet," he teases, offering her a playful wink before he heads out to join Ford.

"Yes, I see what you did there," she scowls. "Very clever, Major."

She can feel a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth at the sound of his stupid donkey laugh. It's annoying and obnoxious, just like the man himself but it never fails to make her laugh.

All in all, she guesses this isn't the worst possible way to spend a day. She really does have a lot that needs to be done in her lab, but nothing pressing for the moment. It's still better than hanging out at the settlement with Teyla. Besides, she has a pretty nice view from where she's sitting.

She's never been a big fan of the military types because in her experience, they're cocky assholes, but she can definitely appreciate the bodies most of them have.

Especially Sheppard.

Especially Sheppard, soaking wet from head to toe with that stupid black hair falling over his forehead. She doesn't know how he's lasted in the Air Force this long with that mop on his head, but privately, she kind of likes it. It makes him more approachable somehow.

She watches as he splashes at Ford and she can't help but roll her eyes. It doesn't matter how old they get, men are still just little boys in grown up bodies. Laying back against the warm sand, she props herself up on her elbows and watches as the two put their heads together, glancing in her direction.

Well shit. That can't be good.

Seconds later, Sheppard's making his way out of the water, holding his wet shorts up with one hand while he fluffs his ridiculous hair with the other. He has a dangerous grin on his face and she has to suppress the overwhelming urge to run.

"Hey, McKay," he drawls, throwing her that stupid cocky grin again.

"Whatever you're planning, I suggest you don't," she warns, because hello, genius. She knows he has something up his sleeve and she's positive she's not going to like it.

"I don't know what you're talkin' about," he says, sinking down onto the sand beside her and she can practically feel the water running off of him. "Just takin' a break."

"Uh huh." She eyes him warily.

"Relax Meredith," he grins.

She snorts at that, because she thinks it's almost impossible to relax with him sitting so close. "How long do we have to stay here? I really wasn't kidding when I said I had things to do."

"I believe you. But you need to loosen up," he tells her.

"Easier said than done," she mutters and she means it. It's not easy being the smartest woman on the expedition. She knows it sounds conceited to say that, but it's the truth. Her job may not be as physically demanding as Sheppard's, but that doesn't make what she does any less stressful. She just doesn't have the personality that allows her to relax like he does.

He grins again and this time, it's a predatory smile. She opens her mouth to protest whatever stupid thing he's about to do, but she doesn't get the chance because Jesus Christ, the man is quick.

He's on his feet in a matter of microseconds and before she can comprehend what's happening, she finds herself upside down over his shoulder with an amazing view of his ass. Unfortunately, she's too pissed off to enjoy it.

"Sheppard!" She squawks, slapping her hands against his bare back as he sets off in a jog towards the water. "I swear to God, Sheppard, I will castrate you!"

His only response is to laugh and she releases a girlish squeal when he splashes into the water. She can hear Ford laughing, encouraging Sheppard to dunk her and she makes a mental note to fuck with the temperature controls in his room. See how much he likes that. Asshole.

She screams and kicks her feet when she slides even farther down his back, her hands going to his waist in an effort to hang on tight. Some of her hair has escaped her ponytail and is tickling her nose but she doesn't dare let go to brush it away.

"Put me down!" She bellows, kicking her feet again in hopes she'll catch a vulnerable part of his anatomy, but it's to no avail. The jackass only laughs harder and she slides even farther down his back until she's face-to-ass with his backside.

The waves are lapping against his body, spraying her in the face and she decides that if he ever puts her down, he's going to pay. Possibly with a swift kick to his family jewels.

"Okay, okay," he finally concedes, still snorting as his grip on her legs tightens. "You have to let go of my waist, McKay. I'm going to pull you back over."

"No!"

"Would you rather I just let you go?"

"No!"

"Then let go. I've got you, okay?"

It says a lot about the last couple of months that she trusts him. It probably has more to do with the fact that she puts her life in his hands on almost a daily basis and to date, he hasn't gotten her killed, but she knows it's not something she'd ever be able to do had she not come to Atlantis.

Still, she's a little wary, but she lets go.

Meredith can feel him pulling her up carefully, his hands gentle yet firm against her before she finally slides down his chest, her legs sinking into the chilly ocean water. For the briefest moment, she's face to face with him, her arms wrapped around his neck. It's the first time she's noticed that his eyes are a pretty hazel color.

Before she has time to look away and come up with a biting, sarcastic remark, she feels herself falling, his hands still tight on her hips as she goes under, the force of the ocean wave slamming them both beneath the surface.

She comes up sputtering, gasping and choking on the cold water and for a moment, she's livid. In her mind, she runs through the quickest ways to murder Sheppard before his head breaks through the surface and he looks just as surprised as she does.

"You okay?" He asks, reaching up to swipe the water out of his eyes with one hand while the other settles on her arm, already leading her out of the water. "I'm really sorry. I lost my balance for a second and—"

He doesn't get a chance to finish his sentence because she pulls away, splashing him generously with a smirk on her full lips. She sees the surprise in his eyes just a second before he flashes her with that cocky grin again and bends down to splash her back.

"This is war," she warns, laughing despite herself as she tries to twist away from him when he grabs for her. She squeals loudly when he grips her arm, trying to force her under the water, but she manages to get away, biting back a girlish giggle when Ford creeps up behind Sheppard and dunks him.

When Sheppard breaks the surface again, he turns, narrowing his eyes at Ford, pointing a finger in warning. "You traitor!"

"Sorry, Sir. But you had it comin'," Ford grins, but he doesn't have time to say more before Sheppard lunges at him.

It's probably the most time Meredith's ever spent on a beach. It's certainly the most interesting time and when they finally head back to the 'Jumper, she's forgotten about her earlier complaints of work, sunblock and too much sand.

She's wet and more than a little cold as the sun begins to set over the beach but she can't find a reason to complain. It wasn't easy for her to loosen up and enjoy the time spent with her teammates but after her impromptu dip in the ocean, it certainly made things a lot easier.

"Here," Sheppard says, grabbing his previously discarded jacket from the back bench to hand to her. Meredith looks up at him dumbly for a second before she realizes what he's doing and she can't help but smile in thanks as she accepts it, sliding the warm material around her damp shoulders.

Sheppard's gaze lingers on her for a moment longer than really necessary before he slips past her to the front of the 'Jumper. She settles into her seat, pulling the jacket tight around her shoulders as she inhales the faint scent that is completely and utterly John Sheppard.

"Gonna swing by the settlement and pick Teyla up. We'll still be home in time for dinner," Sheppard grins, but Meredith doesn't respond. Instead, she offers him a tentative smile in return and closes her eyes, privately wondering if there's another scheduled "team bonding day" in the near future.

Not that she'd ever admit as much to Sheppard, but she certainly hopes so.

Chapter Text

John's tired. Exhausted, really, if he's being honest but it doesn't stop him from bypassing his own room. He'll never admit it to anyone, but he's a little worried about McKay and despite the fact that he wants nothing more than to fall into his own bed and sleep for a week, he feels like he needs to check on her.

He doesn't know where this overwhelming urge to make sure she's okay came from, but before he has time to contemplate it, he's already in front of her door, knocking loudly. He thinks he can hear her cursing inside, and half a second later, the door slides open, revealing a clearly irritated McKay.

"What the hell do you want?" She barks, crossing her arms over her chest.

He almost laughs, because really, does she know how ridiculous she looks? She's still dressed in her wet clothes, though her hair is apparently trying to escape her ever-present ponytail. She looks like a drowned rat.

He starts to tell her as much, but stops when his eyes catch the flash of white on her forearm and he's reminded of the reason he's here. "You know," he drawls, grinning as the look of annoyance on her face increases just slightly, "that bandage would probably be more effective if it was, you know, actually under your jacket?"

"I was in a hurry," she says defensively, dropping her arm back to her side.

"You were in a hurry?" He asks incredulously. "Did you even have somebody take a look at that thing? What if you needed stitches?"

"It isn't that bad. Just a scratch, I think."

"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?" He suggests, reaching for her. He's not surprised when she pulls away, cradling her arm against her chest.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't aware you actually had a medical degree," she sneers.

"I don't, but I've had enough field training to know how to properly bandage a wound," he says patiently, reaching for her arm again. "Why don't you go take a shower, get into something dry and I'll take a look at it for you?"

"I really would just rather go to bed."

"That wasn't a request."

"You don't have the authority to order me to do anything, Major."

"No, you're right. But Elizabeth does," he reminds her, offering a crooked grin. "And if you'd rather we let her deal with this, then…"

She looks like she's only seconds away from decking him, but apparently, common sense wins out because she nods curtly and steps back, allowing him into her room. "I just want you to know," she sniffs angrily as she grabs clean clothes from the Ancient equivalent of a dresser, "that this is a complete abuse of power. I am not one of your grunts to be bullied or ordered into complying with you, you know. I'll let it slide this time, but mark my words, Major, should you ever try to pull rank on me again, I can make your stay in Atlantis miserable. Have I made myself clear?"

He waves her off, sinking down onto her bed with a smirk. It's the same rant he's heard a million times over, but apparently she doesn't realize that the effectiveness of her threats wore off months ago.

"I'll be waiting right here," he says, but she only grumbles in response.

McKay doesn't keep him waiting long. He doesn't know why he's surprised because she just doesn't seem like the kind of girl to spend an eternity in the shower. When she comes back out of the bathroom, she's dressed in a pair of comfortable looking sweatpants and a t-shirt that's pulled tight across her chest. He almost stares a moment too long before he reminds himself that this is the woman who could probably boil him from the inside out and he quickly averts his eyes.

"You uh… you have a first aid kit in here?"

She frowns for a moment as if contemplating his question before she shakes her head. "No. Well, I did, actually until Carson took it away. Something about leaving the diagnosing and treating to actual medical doctors." She scoffs at that as if it's the most ridiculous thing she's ever heard.

"Yeah, well, if that bandage job was any indication, I'd say he had the right idea," John smirks, pushing himself to his feet. "C'mon, then."

She tries to protest, but he's had a lot of practice ignoring her. It's getting easier all the time.

By the time they make it to his room, she's shivering, her arms wrapped around herself and he almost feels bad because really, she's not exactly dressed for gallivanting around the city. He feels like he should offer her the shirt off his back or something equally as chivalrous but he's pretty cold too, and besides, he figures she won't accept it anyway.

His door slides open as they approach and he can practically feel McKay seething beside him. She may have the gene now, but he knows it kills her that the city doesn't respond to anyone as much as it responds to him. He wants to tease her about it, but decides to wait until later, because she really doesn't look very good.

"C'mon," he says, bumping her shoulder with his as he nudges her inside. "This won't take long."

John ushers McKay inside, motioning to his bed before he turns, rummaging through his desk drawer. It isn't long before he finds what he's looking for, and when he turns back to her, he can't help but wince at the sight of her wrapped up in his favorite blanket.

"If you bleed on that, I'm ordering seven sessions with Teyla and her sticks," he warns, but it's said without feeling.

"Wouldn't dream of it," she mumbles, holding her arm out as he approaches and John can't help but wince when he sees just how red and inflamed it is. The cut itself isn't as bad as he originally expected, but it probably could have used a couple stitches. He doesn't comment though, because it's too late for that now anyway.

"You should probably get Beckett to take a look at this in the morning, but I think I should be able to clean it up enough for now," he decides, dropping down onto the mattress beside her.

"Can you hurry this up?" She snaps, and he realizes that she's still shivering.

"Okay, okay," he grumbles, grabbing the alcohol from the kit. "This is going to sting a little," he warns, but wastes no time in drenching the wound.

She howls when it makes contact with her skin and tries to pull her arm away, but he holds onto her firmly. Leaning down, he blows gently against her skin, hoping to take some of the sting away.

"That," she gasps, "is completely unsanitary. I don't… I don't want your germs floating around in there!"

"Most women on this expedition would kill to be in your position," he teases, but he winces once he realizes that he sounds like a giant douche.

"Yes well, most women on this expedition have the IQ of a five year old, so it's to be expected I suppose."

He thinks he should be offended, but he just reminds himself that as long as she's grouchy, she's okay. It doesn't take long for him to clean her arm up and re-bandage it and by the time he's finished, he's convinced himself that she looks better already.

"See? I did good, huh?"

"I suppose it'll do for now," she sniffs, pulling his blanket around her shoulders once more. "Have you finished torturing me for the night?"

"Not hardly," he grins. "I was actually thinking about watching a movie. You interested?" He doesn't know why he's asking, because he's still pretty tired, but for some reason, he just isn't ready to say goodnight.

"Not particularly," she says with a resigned sigh. "But I don't imagine you're going to take 'no' for an answer, you fucking bully."

"You're a quick learner, McKay."

"I need to stop by my quarters and grab a sweatshirt then. I'm freezing."

He cocks an eyebrow at her, but grabs a previously discarded sweatshirt from the back of his desk chair and tosses it in her direction. "There ya go. Problem solved."

"This isn't even clean," she complains, but she drops the blanket long enough to pull it over her head. It fits her better than it fits him and that almost annoys him until he decides he likes the sight of her in his clothes.

Clearly he's more tired than he realized.

Grabbing a couple smuggled DVDs from his desk drawer, he gestures to the door, frowning when he realizes she has no intention of leaving his blanket behind. He supposes this is payback for forcing her from her room to begin with so he lets it go. For now, anyway.

They head down to the rec room in silence, but it's not uncomfortable. He likes that he can just hang out with her and not have to hold a conversation the entire time.

John watches as she walks over to the couch and sinks down into it, pulling the blanket tighter around her shoulders. She releases a deep cough and he can't help but wonder if maybe this wasn't the best idea. "You sure you're okay with this?" He asks, rolling his eyes when McKay scoffs loudly.

"No, I'm not okay with this. I told you that before you dragged me down to your room but you never listen to me anyway. Half the time, I don't know why I bother speaking with you anyway because you never hear what I have to say," she complains and without her actually saying it, he knows she's fine.

He slides a movie into the DVD player on the computer and grins when the projector screen comes to life. "I love this," he declares, joining her on the couch as the beginning credits start. "There's nothing better than your very own home theater."

She snorts at that but doesn't respond and seconds later, she's got her knees pulled up to her chest and he can still feel her shivering.

Without thinking, his arm snakes around her shoulders and he doesn't realize what he's done until she tenses against him. He wonders if she's going to castrate him as she's often threatened to do, but she surprises him by scooting closer, pressing herself against him.

"Body heat is the quickest way to warm up, after all," she says in a tone that dares him to correct her.

He doesn't, of course, but he has to work to hide the goofy grin that he knows is trying to take up residence on his face. Shifting just slightly on the couch, he slouches down into a more comfortable position and has to work even harder at not grinning when he feels her do the same.

They make it through three movies before she crashes and he's surprised that she made it that long. They'd only been halfway through the first when the coughing and sneezing started and he's positive that she has a low grade fever.

He doesn't know why he's doing it, but before he can contemplate his actions, he pulls away and stands up before he lifts her into his arms, holding her carefully against his chest.

She grumbles moodily at the disturbance but she doesn't wake and he makes a mental note to tease her about that when she's feeling better.

It doesn't take him long to reach her quarters and like every other door in Atlantis, hers slides open, granting him access. He knows she'd be furious about that if she was awake but he decides that for now, he's not going to tell her. No need to reinforce her opinion that the city is his whore.

McKay coughs again, burrowing closer into his chest as he carries her into the room, laying her down gently on her bed. He wants his blanket and sweatshirt back but right now, it doesn't look like he has a chance so instead, he just pulls it tighter around her.

"Sheppard?" She mumbles, her blue eyes opening sleepily but he just pats her shoulder gently.

"G'night, McKay."

She says something unintelligible before she rolls over and once again, she's dead to the world.

As John steps out of McKay's room, he feels a strange sense of peace. He's positive that they haven't heard the last of the Genii, but for now, all is well in his city. It's with that knowledge that he trudges down the hallway, intent on crawling into his bed and sleeping for a week.

Hey, he deserves it.

Chapter Text

John doesn't know who McKay is trying to fool. Privately, he's impressed with her ability to keep it together given the situation, but he knows better than to believe her when she says she's fine. Which is why he's standing in front of her door awkwardly, borrowed DVD in hand while he waits for her to open up.

For a brief moment, he's almost afraid she isn't going to answer, but as he raises his hand to knock again, the door slides open. She's dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt that clings tightly to her padded frame and if this was any other night, he would tease her mercilessly until she threatened him with cold showers for a week. But he doesn't because he reminds himself that she just lost two members of her team.

McKay leans heavily against the door frame, her arms crossed over her chest. "I hope you're not planning on making this a habit. What do you want, Sheppard?" She asks, her voice unnaturally rough and shaky. The light stains on her cheeks coupled with the slight redness around her eyes tells him everything he needs to know, and he knows better than to ask if she's okay.

Instead, he holds up the DVD and offers her a half smile, ignoring the ache in his severely bruised ribs. "Thought you could use a distraction."

She hesitates, her full lips set in a deep frown before she nods and steps back. "Uh… just… well, ignore the mess," she says, gesturing to the cluttered room. "I haven't really had time… I mean, we've been a little busy lately and I just—"

"McKay, relax," John smirks, sinking down onto the edge of her bed as she grabs her laptop from her desk. "We're just hanging out. This isn't a room inspection."

"Right," she mumbles, releasing a sigh as she hands him the laptop. "Make yourself comfortable. I'm just going to…" she trails off, gesturing to the bathroom before she disappears, leaving him alone.

It's not the first time he's been in her quarters, but he still can't help but feel a little nervous. He's not big into discussing feelings and he has a sneaking suspicion that before the night's over, that's exactly what they're going to do. As McKay's team leader, it's his job, after all, to reassure her that there was nothing she could have done to prevent the deaths of Abrams and Gaul.

Before he has time to think about what he's going to say, she's back, her face scrubbed clean and a look of determination in her eyes as she sinks down onto the bed, snatching the laptop from his hands.

"I thought by leaving you in here that you would have at least made yourself useful," she snaps, a huff of irritation escaping her. "What movie did you pick to bore me with tonight?"

"McKay!" John pouts, moving back against the headboard as he hands her the DVD. "You wound me. I don't bore you."

She snorts at that, rolling her eyes when she catches the title. "Spaceballs? Are you kidding?"

"This is a classic."

"A classic piece of crap maybe," she complains, though it doesn't stop her from putting the movie into the laptop and starting it up. She leans forward, positing the computer at the end of the bed before she sinks back, sitting close enough that John catches the scent of her soap. "I don't suppose you thought to bring popcorn?"

"We ate the last of that weeks ago."

"And you call yourself a distraction," she scoffs, reaching over to rummage through her nightstand.

He watches her curiously and before he can stop himself, his eyes have wandered down to the sliver of skin just visible between the top of her pants and bottom of her shirt. The skin there is smooth and white and he can't help but wonder if the rest of her body is just as pale.

The thought startles him enough that he jerks away, nearly toppling off the edge of the too small bed.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" McKay demands, tossing a peanut butter power bar in his direction as she rights herself, eyeing him warily.

"Ribs," he says weakly by way of explanation. "Moved the wrong way. They hurt like a bitch."

Her face softens for a fraction of a second as she remembers but it doesn't last long before that determined mask is back in place. "That's your own damned fault. I told you that you couldn't take on a Wraith by yourself, but no. I'm only a genius. What the hell do I know, right?"

"Sometimes I think you talk just for the sake of hearing your own voice," he grumbles.

She doesn't respond to that, settling for ripping the wrapper from the power bar and devouring half of it in one bite. He gets the message though: she's done talking for right now.

He shifts a little against the mattress, trying to make himself comfortable as the movie starts playing. It's one he's seen a million times, but it never fails to make him laugh and he hopes it has the same effect on her, because he knows better than anyone that she needs it.

They only make it halfway through the movie before she cracks. He can feel her trembling beside him but it isn't until he hears her ragged breaths that he realizes she's actually crying. The situation is even more uncomfortable than he initially thought.

"McKay," he tries, faltering when she leans forward, slamming the laptop lid shut.

"You should go," she says, her voice hoarse as she scrubs angrily at her face with the back of her hand. "Just go, okay? I'm tired."

"I'm not going anywhere," he tells her despite the fact that he'd like nothing more than to take his movie and run far, far away from this conversation.

She moves away, shifting to the edge of the bed, her back to him as she cries. He knows she's angry with herself for this show of emotion because he can see it in the way she holds herself, her back and shoulders tense as though she's just seconds away from bolting.

"McKay—"

"Why would he do that?" She interrupts angrily. "I… Carson could have fixed him! I told him we would fix him and he didn't… he just…"

"McKay." John leans forward, resting a tentative hand against her shoulder. "McKay, look at me."

"We shouldn't have left them, Sheppard," she says, turning to face him with that fucking haunted look in her eyes.

"It was my call," he reminds her gently. "Not yours. There was nothing you could have done."

"I shouldn't have given him the gun! I wanted… listening to you on that fucking radio… you were having your ass handed to you and I wanted…" she trails off, swallowing hard as fat tears slide down her cheeks. "I wanted to leave him. I wanted to come help you because I knew you couldn't take him on your own so I gave him the gun. I mean, I know how ridiculous that sounds because really, there wasn't much I could do anyway, but I wanted to try and…" she trails off, inhaling harshly. "Why did I give him the gun?"

John watches as she turns away, wrapping her arms around her body as though she's physically trying to hold herself together. One thing is certain: if Gaul wasn't dead, John would have killed him for this.

"It wasn't your fault," he says and he means it. "Meredith… are you listening to me? This was not your fault."

The only response he receives is the sound of her gut-wrenching sobs and finally, he's had enough. Leaning forward, he grabs her again, tugging her back against his chest despite the way she struggles.

"Let me go," she cries, her hands clawing at his as she tries to pull away, but it's to no avail. John Sheppard, even on his worst day, is too strong for her. "Let me go!"

"No," he stubbornly replies, breathing in the scent of her shampoo as her wild, curly hair tickles his nose.

She stops struggling and collapses against him, her long fingers gripping the front of his shirt. He tightens his arms around her, ignoring the stab of protest in his ribs as he rests his chin against the top of her head. He knows that this isn't exactly the kind of comfort that he should be offering, but he doesn't know what else to do.

It isn't long before she pulls away, swiping at her eyes again. Glancing down, she wipes awkwardly at the wet spot on his shirt, studiously avoiding his gaze.

"Sorry," she mutters, sniffling as she attempts to get herself under control. "You uh… you won't… tell anybody about this, will you?"

"Why? Afraid your minions will realize you're actually human?" John teases, reaching out to cup her face gently. Lifting her chin, he forces her to meet his eyes. "I meant what I said. There was nothing you could have done. He was determined that it was the end and when someone gives up like that, you can't help them."

She snorts, shaking her head angrily. "I'm the smartest woman in two fucking galaxies! I should have realized what he was going to do! I could have stopped him! I could have… I could…"

He doesn't know why he does it, but before he can stop himself, his lips are on hers, silencing her immediately. McKay stills against him, and when he pulls away, he's almost afraid she's going to deck him. It would certainly serve him right.

"I… don't know why I just did that," he admits sheepishly, but before he can say any more, she's crushing herself against him, bruised ribs be damned. Her full lips are soft against his, her fingers threading through his shaggy hair as she kisses him.

It takes a moment for his brain to get with the program, and then he realizes that this is wrong. He shouldn't be taking advantage of the situation like this. Resting his hands against her shoulders, he pushes her away gently, involuntarily moaning at the loss of contact. "We can't… we shouldn't…"

"Please," she says, swallowing hard as she chews nervously on her lower lip. "Please."

"You don't know what you're asking."

"Yes I do," she replies, leaning forward to capture his lips again. He can feel her hands pushing him back against the mattress, her lips never breaking contact and there's another fleeting moment where he knows he should stop her. When he came by to offer a distraction, this was not what he had in mind.

"McKay," he tries one last time, the word muffled by her lips.

"Meredith," she corrects, her voice husky as she pulls away, tugging the t-shirt over her head. "Tonight, I think you can call me Meredith."

He moans again, moving his hands to rest against her generous hips as she unclasps her bra. She tosses it to the floor and leans over, pressing another kiss to his lips. He can feel her breasts pressing against his chest and without his consent, his half-hard cock hardens even more.

Fucking traitor, he thinks bitterly, groaning when her mouth moves down to his neck, nipping and sucking at the sensitive skin there. He closes his eyes, basking in the sensation until she bites down, an angry growl escaping her.

"What the fuck?" He demands, shoving her away roughly as he reaches up, rubbing at the sore spot on his neck.

"You call yourself a fucking distraction?" She scoffs, rolling her eyes. "For fuck's sake, Sheppard. I can distract myself better with my hand."

He knows what she's doing, of course. Challenging him, baiting him into giving her what she wants, and even with the knowledge that he shouldn't, he can't stop himself. Ignoring his bruised ribs and injured arm, he grips her hips roughly, fingers digging in to her soft flesh before he flips her over, scowling down at her.

"You're a real pain in the ass, McKay."

She says nothing as she grabs the hem of his shirt, already pushing it up over his chest. He bats her hands away as he pulls the shirt over his head, tossing the fabric to the floor before he leans down, claiming her lips with his.

McKay lifts her hips, pressing herself against his cock as she reaches down, fumbling with the button on his BDUs. "You're entirely too over dressed," she complains.

"So are you," John reminds her, tugging her sweatpants and panties down in one swift motion. It's not long before she's naked beneath him, her skin just as pale as he imagined it would be and it takes every ounce of self control he possesses to keep from shoving his pants down and ramming his cock into her.

Instead, he pushes McKay's hands away from his pants and focuses on undressing himself.

He can feel her eyes on him as he unbuttons them slowly. Seconds later, her fingers are on him, tracing the white bandage on his arm gently before she reaches up, tugging at the coarse hair on his chest.

"Sometime today."

He growls in response and kicks his legs free from his pants before he rams into her. In the back of his mind, he's concerned that maybe he was too rough, but it's only a second before she shifts beneath him, wrapping her legs around his waist.

"More," is all she says, her eyes glazed over as her blunt nails rake down his back. She lifts her hips, urging him to continue and it's all he can do to keep from losing it right there.

"Jesus Christ, McKay," he groans, savoring the feeling of her wrapped around him. He's completely buried inside of her and it feels so good, he almost doesn't want to move.

Her hands have moved higher, her fingers tugging on his shaggy hair, silently urging him to fuck her. Beneath him, she moves desperately before she reaches up, clamping down on his shoulder with her teeth.

"John."

It's the first time she's said his name like that and the sound goes straight to his cock. Before he can stop himself, he pulls almost all the way out and slides back into her, gasping at just how fucking tight she is around him.

His brain isn't cooperating, he can't think clearly. All he knows is that right now, he's fucking Meredith McKay and he doesn't want to stop.

She's every bit as violent in bed as he's imagined; not that he's going to tell her that he's imagined her in bed before because he likes his balls attached to his body. But he is a male and she does have a nice rack, no matter how many times he's convinced himself that he's not staring at her tits.

Later on, when he's in the privacy of his own room and not balls deep in Atlantis' resident pain in the ass, he'll realize just how wrong this entire situation is. Unfortunately, right now, his entire thought process is being governed by his dick and all he can manage to think about is more, more, more.

"Harder," McKay commands, clenching herself around him. "Jesus Christ, harder, Sheppard."

He knows she has to be getting close because her hands have finally fallen away from his hair and back to clench the sheets on her stupid prescription mattress. Her eyes are screwed shut and the only noises she's capable of making are pathetic little moans.

John's vaguely aware that he isn't faring much better as he gasps and pants his way closer to what he's sure is going to be an explosive orgasm.

The sound that escapes McKay just seconds later can't be entirely human, but John can't bring himself to care as he throws his head back and explodes inside of her.

Beneath him, McKay's whimpering almost pitifully, and for one horrifying second, he's afraid she's crying again. Pulling out carefully, he groans at the loss of contact before lowering himself onto the mattress beside her, propping himself up on his elbow.

"McKay? You alright?"

"I'm fine," she responds, making no attempt to move. "Just… That was better than I expected, actually. Just give me a moment."

"I don't know if I should be offended or—"

"Shut up," she commands. "It was a compliment. Take it as such."

"If you say so," he responds, reaching over to trace idle patterns against her soft hip.

"You made a nice distraction," she murmurs, swatting his hand away before she pushes herself up from the bed with a quiet groan. "Thank you for that. I would appreciate it, of course, if you didn't tell anybody what happened here tonight."

"Jesus, McKay. What kind of guy do you think I am?"

"The kind with a penis," she sneers, though there's no venom in her voice. "I think I'm going to take a shower and maybe head down to the lab for a bit. There are a couple simulations I left running and I…" she trails off uncomfortably, avoiding his gaze.

"You're kicking me out?"

"You're welcome to stay here, of course," she shrugs, reaching for her bra and underwear.

He frowns, reaching for her when she tries to move. "Stay. C'mon, you've had a rough day. Those simulations can wait until morning."

"I didn't figure you for the type to want to cuddle after sex."

"Who said anything about cuddling?" He snorts, but he knows if that's what she wants, then that's what he'll do. "I'm just talkin' about you getting some sleep."

"And you're going to stay?"

"If you want me to. If not, I'll leave."

She frowns at that, and offers him a slight nod. "You should go."

He's not sure why that bothers him, but it does. Still, he offers her a curt nod and sits up, grabbing for his discarded clothes.

"Sheppard… Uh, sorry. John, listen… I hope that things won't be weird between us, you know, on missions and such."

"'Course not," he responds, turning to offer her a half smile. "Business as usual, huh?"

"Right. I just… I know this may have been weird, but I think… I just…"

"Don't mention it, McKay," he says, standing to pull his pants up. It isn't easy getting his shirt over his head because his ribs hurt more now than they did earlier, but he manages. She's still sitting on the bed, completely naked as she stares up at him, chewing on her bottom lip.

He waves awkwardly as he makes his way to the door, but she calls out to him, her voice quiet.

"Thank you, John."

He stiffens at her words before he turns back, fighting the urge to crawl back in that bed. He stops though, because he can see that she's barely holding herself together and by staying, he's only going to make it worse. So instead, he offers what he hopes appears to be a genuine smile.

"Goodnight, Meredith."

"Goodnight," she says quietly, her voice wavering.

Swallowing hard, he waves his hand in front of the control panel, slipping through the doors when they open with a loud woosh. Behind him, he hears the quiet sob that escapes her, but he doesn't stop.

He knows, probably better than anyone, exactly what she's going through. He knows he made a mistake in giving in to her, but at the same time, he knows that it's exactly what she needed. Nothing will be able to erase the guilt she feels for not being able to save Gaul or Abrams, but hopefully, he's given her enough of a distraction that when she closes her eyes, she'll see something other than her own failures.

Chapter Text

"You're avoiding me."

John freezes at the sound of McKay's voice. She sounds pissed, and really, she has every right to be.

"I'm not avoiding you," he says, his back still to her as he sits hunched over his bowl of not-quite-chicken soup, trying to appear cool, calm and collected. He knows he's probably failed, but it's the thought that counts.

Right?

"Yes you are," she declares, stomping into his line of vision, hands on her generous hips as she glares down at him. He can feel her gaze on him as she shoots daggers into his skull and at that moment, he's really glad that looks can't kill. He still can't bring himself to look her in the face though. "I've allowed this to go on for a week, Major, but it can't continue any longer. Quit being so fucking weird."

He thinks that's really rich, coming from her, but he says nothing because he really doesn't want to have this conversation ever, if at all humanly possible.

"We're having this conversation," she says and he can practically feel her smug smirk as she sinks down into the chair across from him. "Why are you avoiding me?"

"I'm not avoiding you, McKay," he says, releasing a sigh as he stirs the remnants of his soup. "I've just… been busy."

"Bullshit. I know I'm not the foremost expert on people or anything, but I've been avoided enough in my life to know when I'm actually being avoided and right now," she pauses to take a breath. "I'm being avoided."

"You're being paranoid," he complains, finally lifting his eyes to meet hers.

"And you're being stupid," she counters, sitting back in the chair to cross his arms over the chest he studiously avoids looking at. "If this is about what happened last week—"

"Shh!" He hisses, glancing around to see if anyone's heard. Nobody seems to be paying any attention to them and for that, he's grateful. The last thing he needs is for the whole fucking expedition to know that he took advantage of her while she was… emotionally delicate.

He almost snorts to himself at that, because this is Meredith McKay and he doesn't know anyone who would ever describe her as delicate, but then he remembers the sound of her harsh sobs and suddenly, it's not so funny anymore.

"Oh," she says, and he watches as she actually fucking wilts in front of him. "I see."

"What? You see what?"

"I'm… I understand."

He doesn't know exactly what she thinks she sees or understands, but if the horrified look on her face is anything to go by, she's got it all wrong."McKay," he tries, faltering when she stands up from the table.

"No, it's okay," she says, and she sounds oddly professional in a way that actually hurts John's heart. Not that he'd ever admit that to anyone, of course.

He wants to stop her, wants to call out to her as she backs away from the table slowly, but the words catch in his throat and he finds he can't do anything other than just watch her go.

"Way to go, John," he growls, slouching down in his chair dejectedly.

Nobody would ever call him a dummy (other than McKay, but compared to her, he supposes he is), but he's not exactly a genius when it comes to dealing with people. That's why it takes him another four hours before he finally grows the pair of balls he needs to seek her out and set her straight.

She's not difficult to find, a fact that works in his favor because he's sure if he had to search too long, he'd lose his nerve. Best to get this over and done with before he has an opportunity to think too much about what he's going to say.

The doors to the lab open up as soon as he approaches and even from the hallway, he can see her slumped over at her usual work space, glaring at the computer while she barks orders at Zelenka. John can't help but feel bad for Zelenka because while it's not unusual for McKay to yell at her minions, he can't shake the sneaking suspicion that today, it's his fault.

Oops.

"Hey, Radek," John greets him pleasantly as he steps into the lab, slouching lazily against the doorframe. "McKay."

"Major," she responds stiffly, though she doesn't turn away from her monitor.

He can practically feel the anger radiating off of her and it's almost enough to make him turn and run but he reminds himself that he came here for a reason and he's not leaving until he's set things right.

"Hey, McKay, can I see you for a minute?"

"Not now, Major. I'm in the middle of some time-sensitive research here."

"This is kind of important."

"I'm sure it is," she says, still refusing to look at him. "Unfortunately, everything I'm working on is also "kind of" important and as the head of the science department, it's my job to decide what's most important and right now, my work is more important. Speak to Zelenka on your way out; perhaps he can schedule you for a meeting later this week."

"Are you kidding me?"

She releases an agitated sigh and turns to face him, her blue eyes flashing angrily as she crosses her arms over her chest in a pose of pure defiance. "What do you want? I'm a very busy woman and I don't have time for these stupid games! You've made it very clear that you want nothing more to do with me now that you've gotten exactly what you want so I'd appreciate it if you'd just stop, okay? Just stop. I get it, really I do. Probably better than you think."

"Uh…" Zelenka's already on his way to the door, pushing his glasses up on his nose nervously. "Perhaps it's best if I come back later, no?"

John doesn't respond, but he waits until he hears the telltale swish of the doors before he speaks. "Is that really what you think?"

"What else am I supposed to think, John?" She explodes, pushing herself to her feet so quickly that her stool clatters to the floor loudly. "I mean, Jesus Christ! You haven't talked to me for a fucking week!"

"McKay…"

"Meredith," she says, venom lacing her voice. "Seeing as we've fucked, I think you can call me Meredith."

"God," John groans, for lack of anything better to say. He's really fucked this one up. "Listen, just let me… let me try to explain, okay?"

"You don't have to explain anything. I told you already. I get it. I'm finishing up my resignation from the team now and I think we can probably save this from being any more awkward than it has to be if you limit your time in the lab. There are plenty of others with the natural gene that I can have test new equipment and I—"

"Shut up, Meredith."

"Excuse me?"

"Just shut up! I… I messed up, okay? I'm sorry if I made you think that I didn't… you know, that I just… God, I'm not that much of a pig!"

"Then why have you been avoiding me?"

"Because I took advantage of you!" He doesn't know what kind of a reaction that's going to get him. He's hoping she'll just let the situation drop and things can go back to the way they were before he screwed up, but he doubts that.

"You didn't take advantage of anything," she says, her voice softer than he thinks he's ever heard it. "At least not anything that I wasn't willing to give."

"It still shouldn't have happened." Not like that, he thinks, but he can't bring himself to say it and he hates himself a little for that. They're both quiet for a moment, but it's not the comfortable silence he's used to. "I don't want you to quit the team, Meredith. I don't… I don't want this to ruin that."

"And I don't want you to avoid me anymore," she counters, meeting his eyes briefly.

He nods because really, that's the best he can do right now.

"Okay then," she concedes, releasing a quiet sigh. "Are we… are we okay now?"

"I think so," he says and what he means is that he hopes so. He doesn't know what it is about her but he doesn't like the idea of not being okay with her. He's not going to admit it to her, or anyone else for that matter, but he doesn't want to have to face this shitty galaxy without her friendship to make things a little more bearable. "I should… I should let you get back to work."

"That would probably be wise," she agrees and she's gone back to staring at her monitor. "Dinner tonight?"

"Sounds good."

He backs out of the lab slowly, pausing at the door to glance back at her. She appears to be immersed in her work once more but he thinks he can feel her watching him from the corner of her eye.

He holds his hand up in an awkward wave just in case before he retreats from the lab, his shoulders sagging. Things were most definitely going to be weird now; for awhile, anyway. He just hopes that whatever it is they have here isn't damaged beyond repair.

Running a hand through his shaggy hair, he feels the tension leaving his body for the first time in over a week. Not damaged, he thinks. Just a little out of whack, but it's nothing that can't be fixed.

Well, he's glad for that clarification.

Chapter Text

Meredith should have known better than to hope that things could ever go back to normal between her and Sheppard. Sure, he wasn't avoiding her anymore and for that, she was grateful because other than Elizabeth, she considered him to be a real friend, but he was still weird around her. Well, she knew that was coming anyway.

Apparently, being a genius doesn't mean she isn't a fucking idiot when it comes to people.

She doesn't know why she's even letting it bother her. It's not the first time this has happened and as much as she wishes it would be, she knows it won't be the last. But still, that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.

It was bad enough watching Sheppard falling all over himself for that fucking alien harlot on Proculus, but watching him do it in their city was torture, plain and simple and it has to stop.

She needs to talk to him. She needs to find out exactly what the hell this… this thing is between them because she deserves to know.

"Meredith?"

The sound of Elizabeth's voice startles her from her thoughts. "What?"

"What are you doing out here all alone?" She asks, joining Meredith at the edge of the balcony. "I thought we were supposed to meet for dinner?"

"Sorry," Meredith mumbles and she means it. "Guess I lost track of time."

"What's going on?" Elizabeth asks, nudging her gently.

"Would you let it drop if I told you I didn't want to talk about it?"

"Probably not, so why don't you save us both a lot of time and just tell me?"

Meredith hesitates. She's never been good at this kind of girl talk, which is probably why things with her sister are so fucked up, but that's a story for another time. She knows she can trust Elizabeth and she wants to be able to tell her about all of these stupid feelings, but she hates talking about feelings, not to mention that she doesn't even know where to begin.

Luckily, Elizabeth is much better with people than she is.

"I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you aren't happy with our guest. Am I warm? Cold?"

"Burning in the fires of hell," Meredith sighs, unable to bring herself to meet Elizabeth's gaze. "And you can save your speech on being hospitable to guests because we need friends blah, blah, blah. I've already gotten that once today from Sheppard and I'm not interested in hearing it again."

"I wasn't going to say anything," Elizabeth says, holding her hands up defensively and Meredith can't help but snort. "Okay, well maybe I was, but I won't. You want to tell me why her presence bothers you so much?"

"Because there's something wrong about her! She's lying about something and I… We never should have brought her here in the first place! Maybe if the leader of our God damned military had been thinking with his head rather than his penis, it wouldn't be an issue, but such is life I suppose."

"Meredith—"

"He's being reckless, Elizabeth. We don't know a thing about this stupid woman but just because she bats her eyelashes at him, he brings her into the damn city! He could be endangering everyone on this fucking expedition and I'm the bad guy because I'm the only one who sees that!"

"Okay, I'm not saying you're wrong, and trust me, I've spoken to the Major about bringing guests without clearing it through me first, but I have to ask..." She trails off, and Meredith can hear the hesitation. She braces herself for what she knows is coming. "Is this really about safety protocols or maybe something… a little more personal?"

Meredith's first reaction is outraged, because really, who the fuck does Elizabeth think she is? But then she remembers that this is Elizabeth, the only fucking friend she has in two galaxies and the anger is gone just as quickly as it came.

"I don't know," she admits.

"You care for him," Elizabeth says and Meredith realizes it's a statement, not a question.

"I thought he cared for me," she corrects, dropping her gaze to the ocean below. "He... some things happened and I just… I thought they meant one thing, but you know how fucking bad I am when it comes to reading people and I just… why does this keep happening?" She hates the way her voice cracks on that last word. She doesn't like the way this whole fucking thing makes her feel and if she didn't like Sheppard so God damned much, it might be easier to just murder him.

Of course, if this Chaya thing doesn't go away, she might consider that anyway.

"Oh Meredith," Elizabeth sighs and just like that, she finds herself angry again.

"I don't want your God damned pity, Elizabeth," she says, venom lacing her voice. "I know what you're thinking and I… Don't you dare feel sorry for me!"

"It's not pity, Mer. It's anger at myself for not understanding what was happening from the beginning. Fury at him, maybe, for making you feel like this again."

"It's not his fault," Meredith whispers and she knows she sounds as miserable as she feels. "I mean, look at her and look at me. There's no contest." She can feel her eyes starting to sting and suddenly, she needs to get away. "I'm just going to…" she trails off, gesturing awkwardly to the doorway before she flees.

She doesn't know where she's going but she just knows she can't have this conversation any longer. She doesn't want to talk or think about her feelings concerning Major Sheppard, but unfortunately, she's forgotten that this fucking galaxy hates her because she only makes it down three corridors before she spots him slinking out of one of the rooms and for a second, she forgets how to breathe.

He stops when he sees her, his mouth falling open dumbly and she can see him struggling for words. She refuses, however, to give him the satisfaction of breaking down like a fucking psycho in front of him, so instead, she stands just a little straighter and forces a crooked smile to her face.

"Major."

"Hey, McKay," he drawls and the sound of her last name spilling from his lips kills her. "What are you doing up so late?"

"I was just… you know, I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd go back up to the control room to do a little research. What about you?"

"Oh, no thanks."

"No, I just… I meant what were you doing up so late?"

"I'm always up late, McKay," he says and he has enough nerve to stand there and smile at her despite the fact that he's breaking her heart. Suddenly, the situation has become too much and before she can run far, far away, she's speaking again.

"Just… a word of caution? The whole… Captain Kirk routine is problematic to say the least, let alone morally dubious."

"What routine?" He asks and is that her imagination or does he look a little pale?

"The romancing of the alien priestess? It's very 1967 of you. Actually, I'm surprised—"

She watches as stiffens, his face contorting into a look of anger. "If and when anything I do becomes your business—"

Meredith actually laughs at that, which only serves to piss him off even more. "It became my business, Major, when an alien woman who is clearly not who she claims to be has the ranking military officer wrapped around her stupid little finger!"

"Don't go there, Meredith," he says threateningly, anger flashing in his hazel eyes.

"I'm sorry," she snorts, but she doesn't mean it. "I know I'm not normally Miss Sensitive, but you've gotta believe me when I say there is something wrong about her! I know it's intangible but I can feel it!"

"I said don't go there!"

She wants to slap him. She wants to slap him and tell him how much of a dick he is because does she really mean absolutely nothing to him? But she stops herself because she finally has the answers she was looking for.

He's no different than any of the others, no matter how many times she's tried to convince herself otherwise. He's nice to her because she's a member of his team and a little less geeky than the rest of the female scientists, but that's about it. He doesn't want her; he never has and now that that his curiosity about fucking her has been sated, he never will.

She opens her mouth dumbly because there's so much she wants to say and she doesn't even know where to begin, but she never gets the chance. The sound of a door opening catches their attention and Meredith has to keep herself from screaming when Chaya steps out of the room that Sheppard just left.

She offers John a hurt look before scowling at Meredith and turning back into her room.

Sheppard falters for a moment, looking torn. His body is poised and ready to follow after his latest conquest, but his eyes…

"Go," Meredith says and she's surprised at how strong her voice is considering how broken she actually feels.

"Meredith…"

"Just go, Sheppard. You wouldn't want to keep her waiting."

She holds her breath, wanting him to choose her, but at this point, she knows better. When it comes down to a choice between someone like Chaya and someone like her…

Well, it's like she told Elizabeth: there's no contest.

John doesn't know where this is coming from. He knows McKay's pissed off with him for bringing Chaya back, but at first, he'd managed to fool himself into thinking that it was because he broke protocol to do it. Now, however, it's obvious to someone even as fucking oblivious as him that there's more to it to that and he feels like the world's biggest asshole.

Boy, when he screws something up, he sure does a thorough job of it.

"Meredith…"

"Just go, Sheppard. You wouldn't want to keep her waiting," McKay says and he hates himself for being so fucking blind.

Things with Chaya would be easy. He's spent less than twenty four hours in her company, and already, he knows that they could be good together. She's kind and gentle as opposed to McKay's often harsh demeanor and she has no problem talking about her feelings.

He wonders briefly if he can swipe a page out of her book for McKay because then they wouldn't be having this God damned problem.

Lifting a hand, he runs it through his hair absently as he stares at McKay, willing her to tell him what she wants him to do. If this were anyone else, the choice would be clear and Chaya would win, no contest. But this is McKay and as much as he hates to admit it, he doesn't know if he wants to give… this, whatever it is, up in favor of easy.

She's become an integral part of his everyday life. Without his consent, she's become one of the only fucking people in the expedition that he can really and truly be himself around and he isn't ready to give that up. He wants to choose her, but how can he when things are still so fucking complicated and unclear?

If she could just…

"Give me a reason," he finds himself saying before he can stop the words from spilling over. He should be embarrassed because here he is, standing in the fucking hallway begging this woman to give him a reason to choose her over Chaya.

Her eyes widen momentarily and he knows he's caught her off guard. She wasn't expecting this, but then again, neither was he. He often finds himself looking into her eyes, because they're expressive in a way she isn't. She guards herself so fucking closely, wearing her angry exterior like a God damned suit of armor, daring anyone to get close.

But her eyes can't lie no matter how much her words do.

He sees the exact moment that she's made her choice and before she even speaks, he knows.

"Go, John," she says and then she's gone before he can tell her that he doesn't want to.

John's going to try to convince himself that he was wrong; it'll be easier to believe that she's not interested than to think that she expected him to choose someone that wasn't her.

He should go after her and try to set her straight but he doesn't because he knows that words just aren't going to cut it with her. No, if he wants to prove that there's no contest between her and anyone else, he's going to have to show her. It's going to be hard and it's probably going to take forever, but he decides that he can wait because in the end, it's going to be worth it.

He just has to show her.

He starts by going to his own room rather than back to Chaya's.

Chapter Text

This shit has to stop.

Meredith doesn't know exactly what's gotten into John Sheppard, but she's beginning to wonder if she should start checking for the presence of pod people.

It's not that Sheppard was ever really not nice, because even when he was breaking her heart, he had the decency to look upset about it. It's just that at some point during the last two weeks, nice has changed into stalker and it's really starting to freak her the fuck out.

Which is why she's taken to hiding in her room rather than her lab and really, that pisses her off. She doesn't like the idea that she has to hide from Sheppard in order to get some work done and she can't help but wonder if this is all some giant joke meant to humiliate her further.

Whatever. He can try all he wants, but she knows better now and she's not going to make the same mistake twice. Genius, remember?

Leaning back in her desk chair with a quiet groan, she swipes a hand over her face and wonders if it's safe to take a trip down to the mess hall. She's surprised he hasn't tried to bring her dinner, but then she's hoping that he's finally gotten the fucking hint. She doesn't want, nor does she need his pity and she isn't going to stand for him skulking around like a puppy whose guilty of chewing his master's favorite pair of shoes.

That act was endearing for the first thirty minutes of the first day, but Jesus Christ, he has no business looking so wounded.

The sound of a knock on her door pulls her from her thoughts and as she groans loudly, she wonders if Elizabeth will hold her accountable if she actually murders him. With the way he's carrying on, she thinks she should at least be able to plead insanity.

"Go away, Sheppard!" She yells because she has no intention of opening the door. She's starting to get a little hungry, but she has enough power bars to last for another hour or so and hopefully by then, someone will try to overtake the city or something and divert his attention.

"Doctor McKay?" It's Teyla's voice and she actually sounds amused, which only serves to piss Meredith off even more. She's positive that Teyla can kick her ass with both arms tied behind her back and her eyes closed, but if she's here on a mission from Sheppard, Meredith can't be held responsible for how she might react.

But still, this is Teyla and as much as she might like to leave her standing out in the hall, she can't. So instead, she pushes herself up from the chair and makes her way over to the door, hesitantly waving her hand in front of the control panel.

When the doors swish open, she pokes her head out tentatively, checking the hallway to make sure Teyla is, in fact, alone.

"Doctor McKay?"

"Did you come alone?" Meredith asks, unable to believe her good fortune.

"Of course," she says and she almost sounds offended. "I wanted to see how you were doing."

"Me? Why?"

"You have seemed… a little out of sorts these last few weeks and I have found myself growing quite concerned. I know we are not as close as you and Doctor Weir, but I wanted to make it clear that I was here, should you wish to talk."

Meredith is genuinely taken aback by that. She's a suspicious person by nature and a small part of her wonders if John put Teyla up to this just because he's a pain in the ass, but again, she reminds herself this is Teyla. Meredith doesn't believe that she'd go for something like that and she finds herself relaxing just a bit.

"I'm fine, thank you. I've been a little busy and you know… Just… fine but busy."

"Very well," Teyla says, bowing just slightly as she offers Meredith a small smile. "Should you change your mind, you know where to find me."

"Of course… and Teyla?"

"Yes, Doctor McKay?"

"Thank you." She watches as Teyla retreats and wonders if maybe she isn't alone out here as she originally thought.

The thought brings a crooked smile to her face because really, it's not every day that she realizes she actually has more than one friend. She's positive that she'll never be as close to Teyla as she is to Elizabeth, but right now, she'll take what she can get.

Her encounter with Teyla is almost enough to make her forget about Sheppard until he comes barreling around the corner, a hopeful smile on his stupid face when he spots her standing in the doorway.

"McKay!" He calls out, jogging over to her room before her doors have an opportunity to shut. "Hey, have you eaten yet?"

"Not hungry," she responds. "And actually, I'm quite busy so if you'll excuse me—"

"—I have it on good authority that they're having not-meatloaf tonight. I know it's your favorite, and I told Ford to go on and save us a seat, so c'mon."

"What part of 'not hungry' did you not understand, Major?"

"I know that's what you said, but c'mon! Meatloaf! We should probably hurry up, because you know that never lasts very long and—"

"For fuck's sake John, what are you doing?" She asks because she's had enough. She doesn't like this overexcited puppy act and she wants him to stop.

"I'm… inviting you to dinner?"

"Why?"

"Because everyone needs to eat and I just thought… well, you know, I'm going that way anyway so I thought we could eat together."

"No."

"What?"

"I don't want to eat dinner with you tonight, just like I didn't want to eat dinner with you last night. In fact, if you keep up with this shit, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I'll never want to eat dinner with you again because you're really starting to piss me off!"

He swallows hard at that and for a second, she thinks she's been too harsh with him.

But then she remembers that he chose a fucking Ancient-turned-Pretend Alien Priestess over her and she feels more than just a little justified in losing her temper. She doesn't know what game he's trying to play here, but she isn't interested.

"Meredith, listen—"

"No, you listen to me: I appreciate what you're doing here, okay? I know I was a little psycho over the whole… Chaya thing and you feel like you have to make it up to me somehow, but you don't owe me anything so stop trying."

"But I—"

"I'm going to go down to my lab and work for awhile and I swear to God if you come by with a plate of not-meatloaf, not only are you going to be wearing it, but there will no hot water for you to wash it off with. Have I made myself clear?"

"It's… just a team dinner, McKay," he said, and he looks thoroughly embarrassed. "We haven't… really done anything as a team in a couple days and we're heading out on a mission tomorrow so I thought…"

"Oh," she says, and she can't help but frown at that.

"I don't want things to be weird between us. I mean, I know it's more than a little late for that but I'm… I'm trying here, okay?"

"I'm not ready."

He looks a little crushed at that, but she convinces herself she doesn't care. Sure, it's been two weeks, but she thinks he deserves to suffer for a little longer.

"Are you going to hate me forever?" He asks and wow, he really has the wounded puppy look down. She doesn't know how to answer him.

She doesn't hate him; not by any stretch of the imagination, but she's still hurt, she's still mad and she isn't sure how long she's going to feel this way. She wants to forgive him and make things between them all better, but she just isn't ready to do that yet.

So instead, she offers him a tentative smile. "Not forever," she says "But at least until tomorrow."

He still doesn't look happy about that, but he offers her a slight nod and half a smile. "Okay then. I guess I can deal with that. You're still… you're still coming with us though… right?"

"Gate room at 1400? I'll be there."

"Good," he says and she can see that he means it. "I'm just gonna…" he gestures to the empty hallway and steps away from her door, offering an awkward wave. "See you later, McKay."

"Goodnight, Sheppard."

She watches as he turns and walks away, his shoulders hunched slightly as though he's trying to disappear into himself and she almost feels bad; just not bad enough to run after him and make things right. Maybe tomorrow or the day after that.

But at least maybe he'll stop stalking her now.

Chapter Text

John doesn't know why Elizabeth insisted they come. Really. This is a colossal waste of time and pretty boring, if he's being honest. Not even the delicious food can make up for the dancing around the fire and grown men running around in loin cloths. One thing's for certain: if he never sees another Athosian cock for as long as he lives, it's way too soon.

He's going to blame Halling for this one. It's no secret that the creepy bastard has the hots for McKay and apparently, he's been bugging Teyla for weeks to make sure she's at their harvest festival. He was hoping that McKay would have thrown a fit about coming and maybe if she yelled loud enough, Elizabeth would rethink her decision to send them.

Unfortunately, because the universe hates him and because McKay and Teyla have some sort of weird female bonding thing going on between them, she was surprisingly agreeable.

Traitor.

"Major," Teyla greets, a serene smile on her face as she sinks down beside him, offering him a cup of Athosian wine.

"Thanks," he mutters, but he doesn't drink. "Where's McKay?" He asks, he's going for casual, but if the amused look on Teyla's face is anything to go by, he's failed miserably.

"She is enjoying herself, as you should be."

"I'm… enjoying myself," he says and he wonders if it's obvious that he's lying. Probably. That's probably why she's here now instead of dancing around the fire with the rest of her people. "Ford?"

"He is in the company of Rielle," she says, pointing to the couple on the far side of the settlement. "She is enjoying his company almost as much as Jai is enjoying Doctor McKay's."

John scowls at that, because of course everyone is having a good time and… wait a minute. Jai? Who the hell is Jai?

"Who the hell is Jai?"

"He is Halling's nephew," Teyla says, like that should make all the difference in the world to John. Well it does, because he's sure that the apple didn't fall too far from that tree; he's probably just as creepy as his uncle.

"Maybe I should go check on her," he says, and Jesus Christ, could he be any more obvious?

"John," Teyla says and he hates that she still sounds so amused. She has no business sounding amused when he's clearly brooding. "She is fine. I have known Jai since we were children. He is a good man."

"Right, but you know, she's part of my team and she's not exactly, you know, good with people so I should just make sure she's—"

"She is fine," Teyla repeats and her tone indicates that he should let it go, but he has no intention of doing that.

He doesn't know why this is bothering him so much. It's not like he's been on the best terms with McKay lately, but he doesn't like that she's hanging out with someone other than him.

"Are you feeling left out?" Teyla asks and he wonders if he's really that transparent.

"No," he lies, taking a sip of his wine. He winces at the taste and the way it burns his throat on the way down.

"It may help if you just spoke with her about how you are feeling."

"I don't know what you're talking about," he mumbles and he can feel the tips of his ears turning pink.

She nods and reaches out, gripping his hand. "I apologize if I crossed a line," she says, offering him a sincere smile. She stands, smoothing her skirt out. "I must go speak with Halling for a moment but should you decide that you are ready to join the festivities, I would be honored for you to join me."

"Thanks," he says but he has no intention of doing that. "Hey Teyla?"

"Yes, Major?"

"Just… where is she?"

Teyla's smile softens and she nods to the small cluster of the trees at the edge of the settlement. Even from here, he can see McKay perched on what appears to be a log, her legs stretched out in front of her as she sips from a cup of wine. Her wild, curly hair has escaped from her ponytail and she looks out of place in her civilian clothes. There's a tall man at her side, leaning in close as McKay gestures wildly with her hands.

He's so focused on watching her that he doesn't even notice when Teyla leaves.

John takes another sip of his wine, hoping that it's strong enough to dull the ache settling in the pit of his stomach. He hates this. He knows he screwed up with McKay, but damnit, he's been trying! He really, really has but it seems like nothing he does is good enough for her!

Granted, she's not quite as mean to him as she is to her scientists, but she's more comfortable around Ford than she is around him and it's driving him nuts!

The thing that pisses him off the most is that he can't figure out why it bothers him so much! He has no reason to feel jealous of the fact that she's talking to another man while he's skulking at the edge of the settlement all by himself, but he does! And he shouldn't. Especially after the thing with Chaya, because really, he deserves worse than this. But it hurts.

And that feels wrong.

He wonders if she would take pleasure in his misery over this. Probably not, because while she pretends to be a raging bitch most of the time, he knows better than to take her at face value.

"This really blows," he says out loud because it makes him feel better to actually acknowledge it. He's worked so hard these last couple of weeks, trying to convince himself that everything is fine when clearly, it's not.

But he wants it to be and that should count for something.

Right?

Thinking about his feelings is giving him a headache, so he drains his wine and stands up, wondering how much more of this boring festival he's going to be forced to endure before they can go back home. He thinks about sneaking back to the city and sending another 'Jumper back for his team, but he's sure that Elizabeth won't go for that and it probably breaks his 'leave no man behind' policy.

He might have to review that when he gets back to Atlantis. Surely he can add a clause for boring native festivals.

John decides that he's going to go wait in the 'Jumper. At least it'll be more comfortable than these damn logs that everyone's sitting around on and hey, maybe if his team spots him, they'll get the hint. He's not going to hold his breath on that, but it could happen.

He's halfway to the 'Jumper when the sound of McKay's voice catches his attention.

"Oh for fuck's sake. I'm sorry, I don't have time for this. It looks like we're leaving."

He turns, surprised to see her hurrying towards him, a look of pure relief on her face. "You okay, McKay?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," she says but he can hear the irritation in her voice. "Please tell me we're leaving?"

"Nope," he says, crossing his arms over his chest as he glares over her shoulder at Jai, mentally daring the man to come closer. He looks like he wants to, of course, but apparently he thinks better of it because he backs off, slinking back into the crowd. "You looked like you were having fun to me. What's the problem?" He asks and he knows he sounds bitter. He just hopes she doesn't pick up on that.

"Are you kidding me?" She asks, swiping a stray curl from her forehead.

"You made a new friend at least."

"Please. He's dumber than that uncomfortable log I was sitting on. Besides, I'm not sure if the family resemblance was visible from where you were lurking but he's Halling's nephew," she says as if that explains everything.

It does.

They share a look before he sets off for the 'Jumper again with her trailing close behind him.

"Y'know, is it just me or was this a giant waste of time?" McKay asks once she sinks down into the co-pilot's seat, brushing her hair back behind her ears.

"I was thinkin' the same thing," John says, offering a slight grin.

"I mean, we are the A-Team, aren't we? There should be privileges involved in that. Like making the peons have to suffer through these things," she huffs, crossing her arms over her chest as she glances towards the back of the 'Jumper. "Did you see the woman Ford was talking to? We'll never be able to pull him away from her."

He laughs at that because she's right and because it feels good. He's missed this more than he cares to admit and he's so God damned glad that she's not avoiding him anymore. It's not much, but it's progress and he's going to take what he can get.

Even if that includes awkward conversations about anything and everything other than the actual issues at hand.

"You owe Teyla, you know," John smirks, leaning back in his seat, linking his fingers behind his head as he studies her.

"Yeah? How do you figure?"

"She saw Halling making a bee-line towards you and intercepted. Ten bucks says he's checking out her rack right now."

"No way," McKay declares, shaking her head. "He knows Teyla would kick his ass. I think all the Athosians are secretly afraid of her and her damn sticks."

"You're probably right," he concedes with half a shrug.

"You wanna play Prime/Not Prime?"

John Sheppard hates Prime/Not Prime. With a passion, actually, but he's never going to tell her that because he's just glad that she's finally talking to him. So instead, he offers her a genuine grin and slouches just a little further into his seat.

This is definitely a start.

Chapter Text

Meredith can't remember the last time she slept. She's been so doped up on stimulants over the course of the last couple days that it feels like her whole body is vibrating and that's a scary thing.

She really, really wants to sleep and she knows she should but she can't because every time she closes her eyes, she's hit with two memories: the memory of John Sheppard flying that fucking Puddle Jumper into the Hive ship on a God damned suicide mission and the memory of Ford, all cracked out on the Wraith enzyme, flying through the Stargate in a stolen 'Jumper.

All in all, it hasn't been the best week.

Her fingers are twitching at her sides as she makes her way through the empty hallways of the city, intent on finding Sheppard. She doesn't know why, but she has an overwhelming urge to see him. It's obnoxious and annoying because she misses the days before Atlantis when she didn't give two shits about what happened to other people. It was a lonely existence, but it suited her.

She reaches Sheppard's room in record time and as she raises her hand to activate his chime, she notices that the tremors have gotten worse. She doesn't know if it's from the stimulants working their way out of her body or because she's nervous about standing here in front of Sheppard's door, but she's going to go with the former.

There's no way in hell she'll ever admit that she's nervous.

She's beginning to think that she has nothing to be nervous about because it doesn't look like he's going to open the door, but before she can turn away, the swishing sound catches her attention and there he is.

He's slouched against the door frame, arms crossed lazily over his chest. His hair is even more ridiculous looking than usual and it looks as though he's been running his hands through it for hours. That shouldn't be endearing but it is and that only serves to annoy her even more.

"McKay," he drawls lazily, releasing a quiet sigh. "I thought you were going back to your room to sleep for a week."

"Tried that, didn't work out so well," she says.

He just stares at her and seems to be waiting for her to say more, but for fuck's sake, she's really not so good at this.

"Listen, I just… I wanted to make sure you were still here."

"Where else would I be?"

"I was concerned that perhaps you'd thought up a new way of killing yourself that didn't involve a Puddle Jumper and a God damn nuke that I finished building," she says and she doesn't mean to be so harsh but he winces anyway. She draws in a deep breath and sags just a little as some of the tension leaves her shoulders.

"You should really get some sleep, McKay."

"I can't," she tells him and she means it. She wants to sleep; oh God how she wants to sleep but she can't and it's his fault. Well, his and Ford's anyway.

He's silent for a moment, his hazel eyes looking over her carefully before he straightens up and steps back from the door. "You wanna come in then?"

She shouldn't. She hasn't been alone with him like this since before the stupid Chaya thing but right now, she doesn't want to be alone and if the look in his eyes is any indication, neither does he.

"Okay," she says for lack of a better response and she slips past him into the room. She stands with her back to him for a moment as she looks around the room curiously. It looks the same as it did the last time she was here and it's comforting to know that while some things have gotten so fucked up, some things never change.

"You uh… you can sit down," he says but she ignores him.

"What are we going to do about Ford?" She asks, turning to face him, her fingers still twitching anxiously.

He isn't expecting that and she hates the way he sags heavily under the question. She should have known better than to ask but subtlety was never her strong suit.

He's quiet for a moment, but when he speaks, she hates herself for bringing the Lieutenant up. "I don't know," he admits, a frown darkening his face as he reaches up to rub at the back of his neck. "But I will find him."

"I believe you," she says and she does.

Meredith sits down on the edge of his bed, glancing up at him. Her leg is bouncing almost uncontrollably and she hates how fucking twitchy she feels. She wonders if John notices, but if he does, he doesn't say anything. Instead, he just sinks down beside her and releases a world weary sigh.

"How long have you been up?" He asks, glancing over at her with a slight smirk.

"I don't know. I lost track awhile ago," she says, rubbing her eyes tiredly. "I want to sleep, but I can't."

"You need to relax, McKay."

"Easier said than done," she scoffs, but she sags just a little and glances at him from the corner of her eye. "I'm glad you didn't die today."

"I feel the same way," he smirks, bumping his shoulder with hers. "You wanna watch a movie or something?"

"Not really," she says, but she kicks her shoes off and shifts on the bed to lean against his headboard. He looks just as tired as she feels but she's still not convinced that this isn't just a crazy dream. For all she knows she's passed out somewhere in the lab or chair room and Sheppard never made it off the Hive ship.

She has no intentions of going anywhere until she's convinced that he's not going anywhere because they already lost Ford and she doesn't want to lose him too.

Sheppard moves like an old, tired man as he stands and grabs the laptop. He's even slouchier than usual but she's not so annoyed this time; she's just glad he's here to slouch.

"You want to watch anything in particular?"

"Anything other than that stupid Spaceball's movie," she snorts, pulling his blanket up over her legs. She doesn't miss the annoyed look on his face, but she knows he really doesn't mind.

Or if he does, she really doesn't care.

It doesn't take long to set the movie up and then he's beside her on the bed, sitting so close that she can feel the heat from his body. Her fingers are still twitching in her lap and it's driving her crazy but before she can contemplate it too much, he's reaching for her hand, linking his fingers through her.

"That was starting to get annoying," he says by way of explanation and he looks as though he's bracing for a punch, but instead, she offers him what she's sure is a confused frown.

"Sheppard… what are we doing?"

He looks startled at the question, but he relaxes, offering her that cocky, crooked smile that infuriates her on most days. "Watching a movie."

It wasn't the answer she was looking for but she knows what he's doing; he's almost as bad at this whole having feelings things as she is.

She wants to question him further, wants to demand a real answer but she doesn't because she's afraid to know the truth. She likes him; a lot more than she should given her experience with military men in the past, but then again, she's always wanted what she can't have.

She closes her eyes and inhales deeply, breathing in his scent as she settles against him. It feels so right that she never wants to move and she's found that she's finally stopped trembling.

"You okay, McKay?"

"Tired," she mutters, leaning her head back against the headboard as her eyes begin to droop heavily. She's finally coming down and she's crashing fast.

"Me too," he says quietly, shifting on the bed so that he's laying beside her and good God, looking that good should be illegal. "C'mon."

Wait a minute… what?

"I'm sorry?"

He pats his chest in response and her first instinct is to flee. This isn't a good idea and she knows that in the end, he's only going to hurt her. Right now though, that doesn't matter. They lost Ford already and it hurt more than she could have ever anticipated; they tolerated one another on most days but it wasn't like they were the shining example of best friends or anything.

But Sheppard…

She's going to lose him too one day and it won't be in a battle or because of a stupid suicide mission in a fucking Puddle Jumper. It'll be because he sees her for what she really is and decides that she's not what he wants.

She knows this but it doesn't stop her from laying down beside him, pillowing her head against his strong chest. It feels better than she could have ever imagined and for the first time in days, she feels like she can really sleep. She stifles a yawn and closes her eyes, his black t-shirt fisted in her hand.

Meredith is positive that it won't be long before Sheppard comes to his senses, but right now, she's going to take what she can get.

Even if that only consists of "watching a movie".

Chapter Text

John likes the warm weight against his side.

He's never been much of a cuddler, but the feeling of McKay pressed up against him as she sleeps is a nice sensation; one he wouldn't mind getting used to.

He doesn't know why it's taken him this long to actually make a move. Probably because he's just lost Ford and it made him realize that if he kept waiting for the right moment, it might never happen. He'd actually been sitting in his room, debating on what to do when she showed up and while he didn't exactly believe in God, he was sure that it had to be some kind of divine intervention.

A sign that he needed to pull his head out of his ass before it's too late.

He almost snorts at that because he realizes how corny it sounds, but it doesn't mean that it isn't true. He's made a lot of mistakes in the time he's known Meredith McKay and while he's sure that he's never going to be able to do anything completely right when it comes to her, he needs to stop getting things so spectacularly wrong.

John still isn't sure that he's gone about this the right way; she questioned him twice on his motives, and as per usual, he offered bullshit answers, but he's hoping that he gets points for actually making a move.

He should, but this is McKay so she may not feel so generous. However, she is still curled up in his bed so maybe there's hope after all.

"Morons…" McKay mumbles, burrowing her nose closer to his neck as she breathes deeply, the air tickling his skin. "Tur'nit off. Wai' for Sheppar'."

He has to stifle a laugh at that; he should have known McKay would be a sleep talker. He shifts his hand so that it's resting against her soft hip and pinches her gently. "Shhh."

"Don't shhh me, Ra'ek," she snipes and John loves how pissy she manages to sound even when she's asleep. "Morons."

She snuggles a little closer and just like that, she's quiet again, her nose pressed against him. She's so close that he can feel her eyelashes fluttering against his chin and he realizes that right now, there's nowhere else in this galaxy that he'd rather be.

He rubs his hand over hip and shifts a bit on the bed. He's exhausted and wishes that he could sleep but he can't because every time he closes his eyes, his mind replays the exact moment that he realizes that they lost Ford.

"You're thinkin' t'loud," McKay mutters, her eyes fluttering open tiredly. "Sleep, Sheppard."

"I can't," he says.

"Stop thinkin' s'much," she whispers, nuzzling her nose against his neck.

"This coming from the woman who's brain never shuts down."

"S'because I'm a genius."

He rolls his eyes at that but he can't help but grin. "Yeah, I know. You keep reminding me."

"Jus' don't want you t'forget."

"Never gonna happen. Go to sleep, McKay."

"You first," she says, rubbing her hand down his chest gently.

He closes his eyes at her touch and releases a content sigh before he brings his free hand up to rest against hers. He's surprised when she links her fingers through his, squeezing gently before she closes her eyes again.

"Sleep," she says, barely stifling a yawn.

"Okay," he agrees because he really, really wants to. He may have lost Ford, but he found McKay and that should be enough to keep those bad memories at bay at least for awhile.

John is actually mildly surprised when he wakes up to the early morning sunlight streaming in through the windows. He's even more surprised when he realizes that McKay is still draped over him, tracing idle circles on his chest.

"'Mornin'," he greets, his voice still rough with sleep and he has to stifle a laugh when she jerks away in surprise.

"Jesus Christ!" She scowls, sitting up and socking him in the arm. "You should announce yourself or something! Don't just… you shouldn't scare people like that!"

He laughs quietly, the sound rumbling deep in his chest as he stretches out against the mattress, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "Sleep well?"

"Yes, yes," she says and she sounds irritated, but he knows she's not because there's no trace of her trademark scowl. He watches as she sags slightly and stifles a yawn. "I didn't mean to wake you up."

"You didn't," he tells her as he pushes himself up, running his hands through his hair absently as he squints at the face on his watch. "You're up early."

"Yes well, I'm an important woman, you know. I have a lot of things I need to accomplish this morning so I don't have the time to lounge around lazily while there are so many things that need to be done," she says with an air of self importance and John can't help but laugh at her.

"Does the important woman have time for breakfast before she scurries off down to the labs for the day?"

"Okay, first of all, that's a stupid question because when do I not make time for breakfast? That's most important meal of the day, and two, I do not scurry!"

"Whatever you say," he says, flashing her a grin as he pushes himself up off the bed. He's still tired, but he slept better last night than he has in weeks and he wonders if it's because the threat of impending death and destruction from the Wraith was over for right now or because she was sleeping with him.

He's going to go ahead and assume it's the latter and he wonders what that means for them.

McKay's still perched on the bed, running her fingers through her ridiculously curly hair. She looks deep in thought, her full lips set in a crooked frown and he wonders what she's thinking about. So he asks.

"Everything okay, McKay?"

"Is this going to become an all the time thing or were there special circumstances contributing to this little sleepover? I just ask because if you are planning on happening on this more than once—"

"Do we have to define this right now?" He asks because he doesn't want to. He kind of likes the way things are going and he doesn't want to ruin it by screwing it up by trying to explain it.

"I just… I want to know where we stand, you know?"

"I like you," he tells her and he suddenly feels like a sixth grader, but he hates talking about his feelings. "I can't tell you what that means because I haven't exactly figured it out yet, but I do." She looks genuinely surprised by that and it kind of makes his chest ache. "How uh… how do you feel about that?"

"I…" she's speechless for once and he wonders if he's able to get this on tape but before he can contemplate it further, he's decided he needs to kiss her, the right way this time.

John sinks down onto the edge of the bed beside her and reaches for her, cupping her soft cheeks in his hands as he pulls her closer. Her eyes are wide and for a brief second, she looks as though she wants to bolt but before he has a chance, he leans in and closes the gap between them.

Her lips are as soft as he remembers and they feel so good pressed against his. She's stiff, her entire body tense, but it doesn't take long before she seemingly melts into his touch, and he can feel her fingers carding through his messy hair.

When he finally pulls away, she looks just as breathless as he feels and he hopes that it means it was as good for her as it was for him.

"Meredith…" he's panting slightly and he licks his lips as he rubs the back of his neck. "Was that… was that okay?"

"I'm… I think I'm going to need to try that again. As a scientist, it's best to have more than one trial so in the name science, of course, we should…" she gestures between them.

He doesn't need any further prompting, so he leans forward and kisses her again, smiling against her lips. This feels so fucking right and he decides that he never wants to stop.

Unfortunately, her stomach apparently has other ideas because it chooses that moment to growl threateningly and when he pulls away, he's laughing.

McKay—no, Meredith, he reminds himself—looks embarrassed so he leans forward and pecks her lips once last time. "C'mon. Let's get you some food."

"Should I… go back to my own room and then meet you there?"

"Why would you do that?"

"Well, someone might see me leaving from here and—"

"I don't care," he says and he means it.

She looks surprised at that too and he hates that the world has made her so unsure of herself like this. He hopes he hasn't had anything to do with it and he vows that even if he hasn't, he's going to fix it.

Standing up again, he reaches for her hand and tugs her to her feet.

"Are we… are we really doing this then?" She asks and he wants to groan, because she's questioning it again.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I think we are. Is that okay with you?"

She seems to contemplate it for a moment before she offers him a slight nod. "Yes."

He can't help but grinning at that and he drops an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close before he presses a gentle kiss to her mop of curly hair. He knows that this isn't going to be easy, because when has anything involving Meredith McKay ever been easy?

But he knows it's going to be so, so worth it.

"Quit being such a girl, Sheppard," Meredith says, bumping him with her shoulder. "I don't have time for you to stand there and internalize your feelings. I'm starving."

He laughs at that and shakes his head before he gestures to the door. "After you then."

She cocks an eyebrow at him as she makes her way to the door and he follows after her, still grinning like an idiot.

So worth it.

Chapter Text

Even when she was a little girl, Meredith never believed in fairytales. She always thought her sister was an idiot for subscribing to such silly beliefs, but right now, she wouldn't say no to the idea of a dashing prince rushing to her rescue.

She's certainly got the whole 'damsel in distress' thing down.

It's an embarrassing situation that she's found herself in and unfortunately, it's also hurting more than just her pride. Her leg's been aching for what feels like ages and it doesn't look like anyone's going to come cut her down anytime soon. As a genius, she should be able to figure out a way down from this tree, but sadly, she doesn't possess the super powers necessary to stretch her arms so that she can reach the knotted rope around her ankle and her attempts at struggling are only making things worse.

Simply put: she's fucked.

"Well, look at you!"

She startles at the sound of Ford's voice. She's been so focused on her own dire situation that she never even heard him approach. It hits her then that she's really fucked, but Ford isn't normal anymore. He tried to shoot her and while she managed to escape that first time, she has nowhere to go now. She's a sitting target.

"Yes… look at me. It's funny huh?" Ford laughs at that and she wonders if maybe she's going to be okay after all. He doesn't seem as crazy right now, so maybe he can be reasoned with. "You set this up? It's clever."

"It wasn't me," he says.

"No, huh? Well, I'm glad we could both uh, still laugh about this together," she says and offers him a nervous giggle. "How about… how about cutting me down now?"

"Nah," Ford says and suddenly, the amusement on his face is gone. "I think I'm still gonna kill you."

"What?" Meredith squawks and Jesus Christ, her heart is trying to beat right out of her chest. "What do you mean 'still'? When did this escalate to killing?"

"When you shot me," he growls and boy, he really looks pissed.

"It's a flesh wound! I knew I wasn't gonna hurt you—you're… you're SuperFord, remember?" Super crazy, she thinks and oh God she's going to die. He's going to kill her and leave her strung up in this God damned tree for the marines to find. She wonders how many of them are going to laugh when they find her. Will they even cut her down and take her back to Atlantis for a proper send off?

Probably not, unless Sheppard finds her first. Of course, if Ford tells Sheppard how she shot at him, he may not be so kind. He's really, really missed Ford.

"You tried to kill me!" Ford bellows and he points his gun at Meredith. Yep. She's going to die.

"Wait a minute!" She shrieks, struggling against the rope. It's useless and ow, it really hurts but she hopes if she puts enough strain on it that it'll snap.

Of course, that would send her head first onto the ground but a head injury would be better than a gunshot wound.

She's getting off topic, but she blames that on the fact that she's been hanging upside down for God knows how long. "You… you can't kill an unarmed upside down woman! Doesn't that… doesn't that go against everything they taught you in the Military?"

Ford shows no signs that he heard her and Meredith flinches in anticipation of her untimely death when he raises the gun just a little higher.

The sound of bullets firing explode in Meredith's ears and she shrieks, waiting for the moment when everything fades to black, but then it never comes. It would be just her luck that he hits her and doesn't kill her immediately. She supposes he's going to just let her bleed to death until she realizes that other than her leg, there's no pain and oh my God, Ford's fighting with a giant.

Her first instinct is fear that the giant caveman is going to kill Ford until she reminds herself that this is the guy who's been trying to kill her, so she doesn't feel very sympathetic. She flinches when Ford's thrown to ground because she imagines that it probably has to hurt like a bitch, but then he's on his feet again and the psycho is grinning like this is the most fun he's had in years.

She recognizes a similar look on the unfamiliar man's face and really, she doesn't know what's worse: a crazy Ford or a crazy stranger.

She's going to go with the crazy stranger because at least maybe, if she begs enough, she can appeal to the side of the Ford that used to be her teammate. She struggles against the rope some more for lack of anything better to do, but it's still to no avail. Her vision is beginning to go hazy and she wonders how much longer she's going to last while hanging upside down. It's actually starting to make her a little dizzy and she wonders if she throws up if that'll convince someone to let her down.

She thinks she sees Ford lunge for his Wraith stunner and she wonders if she should warn that barbarian to watch out.

Before she gets an opportunity to open her mouth, she hears footsteps followed by Sheppard's voice.

"Lieutenant! Don't!"

She feels like maybe fairytales aren't total bullshit after all because Sheppard came for her, didn't he? She's so relieved that she thinks she could cry because her leg really hurts but before she gets an opportunity to shed even one tear in relief, Sheppard takes off after Ford into forest.

"Sheppard!" Meredith screams and she's really pissed off right now! "Sheppard! Get back here and cut me down!"

She understand that this is Ford, and that he fells all responsible and shit, but she was hoping that at least she ranked high enough with Sheppard to warrant him cutting her down. They're definitely going to have to discuss this later, but she doesn't get a chance to plan out exactly what she's going to yell at him for before the giant is approaching her, an amused grin on his dirty face.

She starts to back away before she remembers she's strung up in a God damned tree so she settles for whimpering pathetically instead. "Hi there! I'm uh… I'm Doctor Meredith McKay. Do you… do you think you could um… get me down? Please?"

He looks at her like he's going to eat her and she wonders if she should be truly terrified. She doesn't get an opportunity to contemplate it though because suddenly, he's right there, one of his arms wrapped around her as he reaches up and cut the rope. There's a terrifying sensation of falling but as she braces herself for impact, she realizes that he's holding onto her, his arms tight around her waist and it would feel good if it wasn't for the fact that he's kind of scary.

"Thanks uh… you know, for not… murdering me while I was hanging helplessly from the tree?"

Caveman still hasn't said anything and Meredith realizes that he hasn't exactly let her go yet either.

"Okay… so I'm just gonna…" she gestures to the forest before she doesn't even manage a half a step when she's back in the air, upside down again. She squeals angrily when she feels his hard shoulder digging into her stomach and a quick glance downward confirms that she's face-to-ass with him. It isn't a bad view—not as nice as Sheppard's, maybe, but not bad—but this is completely undignified and she's furious.

He's jogging now and each step jars her stomach a little more until she's almost positive that she's going to throw up on him. "You're… you're not taking me back to your cave, are you? I don't… I'm not the best choice for a wife, you know? Plus, I'm… I'm prone to headaches so the whole hitting me over the head with a club thing isn't a good idea and…"

"Do you ever stop talkin'?" He asks and Meredith is surprised at how growly his voice is.

John Sheppard who?

But then Meredith decides that he just said she talks too much and while that's probably true, she doesn't think he has the right to judge. Sure, he cut her down from a tree, but that doesn't make them friends or anything.

"You should… you should put me down now. When my friends find out what you've done, they're going to be seriously pissed. I'm invaluable to my expedition and this is… this is completely undignified!"

"They're busy," he grumbles and his grip tightens around her as she tries to wiggle off of him.

"Put me down!"

He jostles her unnecessarily and she's positive that he's done it on purpose which only serves to piss her off more. She balls her hands into fists and pounds them against his back, but he's unfazed until she reaches his shoulder.

He releases a roar and for a second, she's afraid he's going to drop her on her head. She screams in anticipation of the fall, but then he's grabbing her again, his fingers digging into her skin.

"Don't… do that again," he says and he's panting just slightly. She almost decides to use that spot to her advantage, but she decides against it because he can clearly murder her if he wants to.

"Put me down!"

He doesn't answer her and if she didn't know for a fact that he could speak English, she'd just assume he was too dumb to understand her. She lets out a frustrated cry because this is so undignified but he ignores that too. She's about to start screaming because it seems like a good idea and maybe one of the Marines will hear her.

She doesn't get a chance though, because right as she opens her mouth, she's pretty sure she hears Sheppard's voice and suddenly, she's pissed off again. She's about to let him have it, because really, he left her in a fucking tree but she never gets a chance because the caveman has stopped, his grip around her waist tightening.

"Put her down," she hears. She's pretty sure it's Sheppard and Jesus Christ, she hasn't heard him sound that mad since the whole Kolya thing. She shivers a little at the memory because she loves when he goes all growly like that and before she can think on that further, she's falling.

She hits the ground hard, her eyes wide in surprise. She doesn't notice the stinging of her ass at first but once the surprise wears off, she realizes that it really fucking hurts. He actually dropped her!

Meredith wants to berate him about being a more careful next time but she doesn't get a chance because suddenly Teyla is there, pulling her to her feet and she realizes that the marines all have their guns pointed at the giant and… oh.

"Put them away you idiots," she snaps because even though he hauled her around and dropped her like a sack of potatoes, he saved her from crazy Ford and cut her down from that tree, which is more than Sheppard can say.

"Get in the 'Jumper, McKay," Sheppard orders and while her knees go slightly weak at the growly thing, she ignores him.

"Not until you call these morons off. He wasn't hurting me, Sheppard! He was helping me!"

"Just get in the damn 'Jumper! We'll talk about this there!"

"Call them off," she says and while she wants nothing more than to sit down because her leg really hurts, she's not going anywhere. "Now, John!"

Sheppard glares at her for a moment but she doesn't look away and seconds later, he lowers his P-90. "Lower your weapons."

"Colonel?" Lorne asks.

"You heard me. Teyla and I know him; he's fine."

"You do?" Meredith asks and she's confused because why would he pull his gun on the man if he already knew him? "Then what the hell—"

"Later," Sheppard growls. "Get in the 'Jumper."

She narrows her eyes at him but she doesn't argue because Teyla's tugging on her arm, pulling her into the 'Jumper. Meredith limps after her, easing down onto the seat with a wince.

"Are you alright, Doctor McKay?"

"I'm fine," Meredith huffs, crossing her arms over her chest. "Where the hell have you guys been?"

"We ran into some… problems," Teyla says diplomatically and Meredith's even more annoyed than before.

"Whatever," she says, wincing as she shifts the wrong way on the bench. "I'm going to bruise," she complains, frowning when the marines start to file into the 'Jumper.

She's surprised when the giant follows after Lorne but she keeps her mouth shut because she did just yell at a bunch of soldiers over him so she figures it's probably counterproductive to protest him being here.

Meredith watches as Sheppard all but stomps onto the 'Jumper but she ignores him pointedly, because she's still angry. He did leave her in a tree, after all.

She doesn't miss the way Teyla doesn't take her eyes off of the caveman and when they make it back through the Gate, the marines are already on their feet, ready to escort him out of the 'Jumper. She doesn't know what Sheppard's planning on doing with him, but she doesn't like the way one of those morons is fingering his P-90 almost obscenely.

She'll never understand their fascination with their guns. She thinks it probably correlates to their penis size because from what she can remember, Sheppard doesn't play with his gun.

Meredith pushes herself to her feet, wincing when she jars her sore leg and she's surprised that Sheppard even notices.

"You alright, McKay?" He asks, unhooking his P-90 from his vest.

"Just fine," she sniffs angrily. "What are you going to do with him?"

"What?"

She gestures towards the 'Jumper ramp. "Him! What are you going to do with him?"

"Ronon?"

"What the hell kind of name is Ronon?"

Sheppard sighs and runs his hands through his hair. "We're going to see if we can make contact with his home world and then… then I guess we'll go from there. Are you sure you're okay?"

"No, I'm not okay!" She bellows, because she's really, really not. "I was strung up in a tree for God knows how long and then carried like a sack of God damned potatoes and dropped on my ass! You could have cut me down," she says and she hopes she doesn't sound as hurt as she actually feels.

"It was Ford," Sheppard says and he sounds so miserable that she suddenly feels like an ass. "I… I was going to come right back for you, but I had to try Mer."

Meredith sighs and she doesn't feel quite so angry anymore. "I know," she says, and she does. She knows how much he blames himself about what happened to Ford and she knows how much he wants to bring him back. If she had been in his position, she might have done the same.

"I'm sorry I left you in the tree."

"I'm not saying I forgive you, because you left me in a God damned tree and I think I'm entitled to be a little pissed about that. But I understand," she says and she means it.

He offers her a slight half smile and reaches up to brush a stray curl from her face. "I'm sorry. I've got a couple of things to take care of but… would you wait for me in my room?"

She swallows hard at that. "Uh… why?"

"I wanna take a look at that leg… unless you'd rather let Carson look you over?"

"No, no. But I'm sure I'm fine," she says, waving his concern away.

"But still…" he trails off, offering her another lopsided grin. "Just wait for me, huh?"

Meredith nods dumbly, because really, how can she say no to that? She watches as he walks off of the 'Jumper and releases a sigh. She's tired and after the day from hell she's had, what with being strung up in a tree, she feels like she should probably go back to her own room and get some sleep.

But then she reminds herself that despite how much he's trying to hide it, Sheppard's hurting. While she doesn't debate the fact that he's concerned about her, she knows that this is for him as much as it's for her, so with that thought in mind, she steps out of the 'Jumper and sets off for his room.

Her leg really does hurt and by the time she's made it to Sheppard's quarters, her hip is practically screaming. Waving her hand in front of the crystal control, she groans in relief when the door slides open before she limps over to his bed, sinking down onto it.

Meredith doesn't know how long she lays there and she's just about to drift off to sleep when the sound of the doors sliding open catches her attention.

"Now that's a sight I could get used to," Sheppard grins from his place at the door where he's slouched against the frame, arms crossed over his chest.

She pushes herself up so that she's leaning against the headboard, eyeing him carefully. "What did you decide to do with Ronald?"

"Ronon?"

"Ronald sounds better," she says, shrugging unapologetically.

"I'll be sure to tell him that," Sheppard laughs, pushing away from the door frame. "He's going to stay for awhile. I don't know for how long, but he doesn't have anywhere else to go, so…" he trails off, shrugging. "How's the leg?"

"Sore," she complains. She wants to reach for him, but she's still unsure of exactly where they are, so she doesn't.

"How the hell did you end up in a tree anyway?" Sheppard asks and she can tell he's stifling a laugh. She thinks she should be mad over that, but it was a pretty ridiculous situation so instead, she just rolls her eyes.

Sheppard scoots back on the bed, pulling her against his side. "I really am sorry I left you there, you know," he says, and he presses a kiss to the side of her head. "I just… I saw him and I had to try."

"I'm a little annoyed that you had to go and apologize before I had the opportunity to be mad about this," she complains, slouching against him as he rubs his hand over her side gently.

He rolls his eyes and laughs, kissing her head again. "C'mon, lay back and let me take a look at your leg."

"I'm fine," she says dismissively, waving him away. "Right now, I'm just tired."

"Sleep then?"

"Only if I can stay here," she says and she hates how shy she sounds. He doesn't call her on it though; instead, he just pecks her lips and offers her a grin.

"I'd be disappointed if you didn't want to."

She rolls her eyes at that and elbows him because she doesn't know when he became so corny but she can't help but snort in amusement as he pushes her down against the mattress. "You're an idiot."

"Yeah, but I'm your idiot," he reminds her, shifting beside her on the mattress before draping his arm around her waist.

She releases a girlish giggle at the feeling of his nose against her neck and she rolls her eyes. "For now. Until you leave me in another tree, and then you're on your own."

Sheppard groans loudly and nips her neck playfully. "I said I was sorry, McKay!"

Pushing his face away, she snorts and closes her eyes. "Yeah, yeah. I heard you," she mutters, snuggling closer. "Goodnight, Sheppard."

"Goodnight, Meredith," he says and she can practically feel his stupid grin when he thinks the lights off.

Idiot.

Chapter Text

John thinks somebody should write a pamphlet on the dangers of the Pegasus galaxy. When he agreed to tag along with the Atlantis expedition, he wasn't anticipating alien vampires, giant leech-like creatures or, and this is a new one, body swapping.

Not that there was actual swapping involved, of course, because Meredith was still Meredith. It's just that Meredith was also Cadman now and that was just plain weird.

When it first happened, it was almost funny because watching Meredith seemingly argue with herself gave a new meaning to "mad scientist", but now it was just borderline ridiculous. He didn't like the idea of his explosives expert sauntering around in his girlfriend's—he can't remember the exact moment he started referring to her as his girlfriend and that's kind of scary—body. Especially if she has access to Meredith's thoughts and feelings because wouldn't that be embarrassing.

The last thing he needs is for Cadman to know he's a cuddler and then he'll never be able to look his marines in the eye again.

That's why he's been avoiding Meredith. It's probably counterproductive because he's sure that by avoiding her, it's only causing her to think about him more but it makes him feel better. Plus, she's probably too busy thinking about how much an asshole he is to think about the way he likes to kiss her awake or the fact that he can't seem to keep his hands off of her when they're alone.

He's going to have to grovel at her feet once this whole ordeal is over, but surprisingly, he's okay with that.

It's not that he doesn't like Cadman, because he does. She's probably one of the most efficient marines that came over out of the last batch, but Jesus Christ the woman can't keep anything to herself. She doesn't know the meaning of the word discreet and he doesn't want to give her any extra ammunition for taunting Meredith because God knows, after spending a couple days trapped in Meredith's body, she's going to have enough of that to last her for the next ten years.

He wants to contemplate the weirdness further, but he doesn't get the opportunity because he remembers that he's supposed to relieve Lorne from 'Gate room duty at 2400 hours. He's not a fan of the night shift and he doesn't do it often, but every now and then, he likes to give his men a break.

Plus, it's not like he's going to be sleeping with Meredith any time soon so what better time to do it?

He sighs at the idea and grabs his jacket from the desk chair before he starts out of his room. This whole Cadman thing is more than just a little inconvenient.

Running a hand through his stupid hair, he glances around to makes sure he's not forgetting anything before he steps out of the room, frowning when the door swishes shut behind him. This is going to be a long night.

He's halfway to the 'Gate room when his radio crackles to life. It's Lewis, one of the marines tasked with keeping an eye on Ronon, and he doesn't sound happy.

"Sir, we might need you down here."

"What's going on?" John asks as he pinches the bridge of his nose, because he doesn't want to deal with this tonight.

"Ronon's trying to leave his room, Sir. We've explained that he's to stay in his quarters but…" Lewis' voice becomes unreadable as Ronon growls angrily in the background.

"Do not engage. Just let him go, but I'm on my way to head him off. I'll take care of it. Sheppard out." John taps his radio to end the transmission and releases a frustrated sigh.

There's something about Ronon that he likes, but he knows that he makes other people in the city uncomfortable. He's huge and intimidating and he doesn't have the warm personality that Teyla possesses. The soldiers are impressed by his strength and combat skills, but their terror trumps their awe.

John breaks into a light jog, hoping that the marines haven't pissed Ronon off too much. He doesn't like that they have to keep him under guard, but until he makes his decision on joining the Expedition, they have to take precautions.

Or at least that's what Elizabeth keeps telling him. He shakes his head and vows to talk to Elizabeth about that tomorrow.

He's halfway down the hall when Meredith comes jogging around the corner and he has to stop himself. Meredith? Jogging? What the hell?

"Uh… Meredith?" He calls out, his eyes wide when she skids to a stop and snaps to attention, raising her hand in a perfect salute. It shouldn't be so hot, but it is and he decides he wouldn't mind seeing her salute him more often. Especially in the tight white t-shirt and shorts ensemble she's squeezed herself in to.

"Sir," Cadman says in Meredith's voice and John has to shake himself out of his stupor. Right. Not Meredith. Cadman.

"At ease, Lieutenant," John says and he's sure that he's staring inappropriately, but in his defense, it is Meredith's body. "Where uh… Where's McKay?" He asks and he knows that's a stupid question.

"She's asleep," Cadman says and she's grinning broadly as if that's the best thing since Christmas.

He's a little offended on Meredith's behalf but he figures it's probably exhausting sharing a body with someone like Meredith McKay, so he cuts Cadman a little slack. Just a little though.

"And you are…?"

"Exercising," Cadman informs him, sticking her chest out proudly and John remembers she's a marine. They don't stop for anything, those masochistic fucks.

"Are you sure that's a good idea? McKay's not exactly a track star."

"It'll be good for her. She'll thank me in the morning."

He privately disagrees but he'll let Cadman figure that one out on her own. "Alright then. As you were," he says, waving her off because he remembers that he's supposed to be reigning Ronon in. He pauses for a moment though and watches as she jogs away, because even though it's Cadman, it's Meredith's body and he's allowed to appreciate it.

Once she's gone, he's hit with just how fucking weird this situation is. Shaking his head, he releases another frustrated sigh and returns to his search for Ronon.

They're definitely going to have to send a pamphlet out.

It doesn't take him long to locate Ronon and for that, he's eternally grateful. His head's already hurting from trying to understand the MerMan—he congratulates himself on the merger of names; it's like Brangelina—situation and he still has to sit through his shift of 'Gate room duty.

When did this become his life?

"There you are," he announces as he steps out onto the balcony. Ronon is hunched over the railing, and he gives no indication that he's heard John. Great. "Is everything okay?"

"It's fine," Ronon says. "Just wanted some air."

"You kind of terrorized my soldiers."

"They shouldn't have been in my way," he says unapologetically, and John guesses he has a point.

"We could probably work something out, you know? I just need an answer."

"I said I'd think about it."

"Yeah… yeah, I guess you did." John joins Ronon at the balcony, gazing down into the ocean. "Listen, I should… I should probably apologize for pulling a gun on you."

"I knew you weren't going to shoot," Ronon says and John's surprised that he sounds slightly amused.

"You did?"

"Do you really think you'd still be alive otherwise?"

"Good point," John says and he can't help but grin at that.

"I knew she was one of yours," Ronon explains, his eyes never leaving the ocean. "Your friend was going to shoot her."

John's jaw tightens at that little piece of information and he has to work at not clenching his fists.

"She doesn't look like she has a very good sense of direction. She could have gotten lost in the woods; it's easy to do."

"So you brought her back to us."

"She's important to you." John realizes it's a statement, not a question and he wonders how Ronon knows so much in such a little time. "I knew when you pulled your gun. You were afraid I was gonna hurt her. I would have done the same."

"She is important," John says and he's surprised to realize just how true that is.

Ronon finally pulls his eyes away from the water and glances over at John. "Would you do that for all your people?"

"I'd like to think so."

Ronon nods, and John can see the tension leaving his body. "If I join your team… you'll call the guards off?"

"Uh huh."

"Okay then. When do I start?"

John can't help but grin broadly at that. Pushing himself away from the railing, he claps Ronon heartily on the shoulder. "Right now. I'll start you off with somethin' easy; you can help me with 'Gate room duty."

"Sounds boring."

"You have no idea," John says and he snorts when Ronon grins back. Together, they make their way back inside, but John pauses, grabbing Ronon's arm. "Listen… about what was said out here… about McKay?"

"The others would take it as a sign of weakness in a military commander. On Sateda, it would have been seen as a sign of great strength. But don't worry; your secret's safe with me."

"Ronon… I think we're gonna get along just fine."

'Gate room duty proved to be just as boring as John anticipated for the most part. He doesn't know how some of these guys manage it night after night because by the time 0600 rolls around, he can't wait to go crawl in his bed and die for a week.

"Do we have to this all the time?" Ronon asks, slouching further down into his chair and John's glad that he's not the only one bored out of his mind.

"I think this is gonna be the last time for awhile," John assures him, shuffling the deck of cards he's been attempting to teach Ronon to play poker with.

He starts to ask Ronon if he wants to go for another game, but he doesn't have the opportunity because before he can start dealing, the sound of Kate Heightmeyer's voice screeches over his radio.

"This is Heightmeyer! Get Beckett in here stat!"

John's on his feet before she has a chance to finish, and he's yelling at Chuck to call for Beckett. He doesn't wait to see if Ronon is following as he sprints out of the control room, but he's pleased when he realizes that he's right behind him.

"What's going on?" Ronon asks. John's a little annoyed that he doesn't sound even a little winded, but he doesn't have time to dwell on that right now.

There's only one person who would ambush Kate Heightmeyer this early in the morning, but he's praying to a God that he doesn't believe in that he's wrong. Both men skid to a stop in front of her office and John realizes that this galaxy really does hate him when he spots Meredith on the floor.

"What the hell happened?" He bellows, ignoring Kate's doe-eyed look as he hurries over to Meredith, dropping to his knees beside her. He wants to move her, to pull her into his arms and fix her but he knows better than to move an unconscious person without knowing the extent of the injuries.

"She collapsed," Kate says dumbly, like John can't fucking see that but he doesn't get an opportunity to reply because suddenly, a medical team is flooding the room and Ronon is pulling him away from Meredith's limp body.

He struggles against Ronon, because he doesn't like the way that she doesn't even move when they lift her, but it's to no avail. He's not strong enough and it wouldn't matter anyway, because they waste no time in whisking her out of Heighmeyer's office while Carson is shouting orders at them.

He's vaguely aware of Heightmeyer on the radio relaying the situation to Elizabeth, but he doesn't stick around to find out what she has to say because as soon as Ronon releases him, he's out of the office and on his way down the hall.

He still has 'Gate room duty until 0730 hours, but Lorne's already on the radio, assuring him that he's on his way now. While nobody really paid attention to his relationship with McKay—if they even noticed—everyone knows that she's his geek so nobody questions it when he bullies his way into the infirmary.

He's not allowed to see her right away, but as soon as Carson's finished examining her, he steps out of the curtained area, his face set in a frown.

"What the hell happened?"

"She's suffered a seizure. From what we can tell, she's been fighting with Cadman over the dominance of her brain and it's having a deleterious effect on its lower functions—"

"Enough with the medical babble, doc. What the hell does that mean?"

"It means that we aren't sure how much longer she can go on like this, Colonel. One of them is going to have to let go or these misfires will only increase in frequency and severity."

John sinks down into the chair because he doesn't know what else to do.

"If we can't get Cadman out of there, it's possible that we're going to lose them both."

This shouldn't hurt so much, John decides as he runs his hand through his hair. "Okay… Okay, I'm going to go talk to Zelenka, find out where the hell we're at on this. You just… I don't know what you should be doing but do it!" He says because it makes him feel better to issue orders.

He's on his feet in a second and he nearly jumps in surprise when he steps out of the infirmary and spots Ronon leaning against the wall waiting for him.

"I need to go talk to Zelenka."

"I'll come with you," Ronon says, dropping a hand to John's shoulder before they set off for the labs.

John is concerned as Meredith steps away from the dematerializer, her face set in a look of grim determination. According to Zelenka, while they think they may have finally fixed the problem using portions of the 'Gate, they haven't had time to properly test it.

He wants to argue, to beg Meredith to wait, but it wouldn't do any good. If this doesn't work, he's lost her anyway so really, they have nothing to lose.

"Are you sure about this?" Elizabeth asks and John realizes she's just as worried as he is.

"Absolutely, yes."

"Okay then.

"Just… give me a second," Meredith says, stepping into the marked off area, releasing a quiet sigh. "Well, Laura, it's been um… unique?" She cocks her head, a slight grin forming on her lips. "Good luck to us both."

"Alright," Zelenka frowns. "It's ready."

Meredith closes her eyes, and John can see her fingers twitching nervously at her sides, but as Zelenka moves to press the control, she jerks slightly and lifts a hand.

John shares a confused look with Elizabeth as Meredith steps out of the box and makes her way towards them. For a second, he's terrified that she's coming to say goodbye because he doesn't know if he can deal with that and… what the fuck?

He watches, growing increasingly angry as she approaches Carson and grabs him by his lab coat. He wants to intervene because what the fuck but before his body catches up with his brain, Meredith pulls him in and kisses him passionately.

What the fuck?

When Meredith pulls away, she's slightly breathless and grinning like an idiot. "Just in case this doesn't work," she says, winking at Carson.

"What the—" John starts, but stops when Meredith jerks again and suddenly, she looks as though she's about to puke.

"Oh!" She stumbles backwards, her eyes wide in horror and John decides that if Cadman makes it out of this alive, she's on sanitation detail for a month."Just… just hit it," she says, covering her face with her hand.

John holds his breath as Radek hits the button and Meredith disappears.

"Okay… It is reading as two life signs. Power levels are steady…"

"Get 'em out of there!" John orders and without needing further prompting, Radek hits the button again and rematerializes both Meredith and Cadman. "Oh thank God," he mutters, but his relief is short lived because they both collapse to the floor motionless.

"Let's get them to the infirmary," Beckett calls as he rushes over to Cadman while Elizabeth and John both hurry to Meredith.

John presses his fingers against Meredith's neck and releases a sigh of relief when he feels her pulse steady and strong under his fingers because he knows that she's going to be alright.

Meredith's stay in the infirmary is, thankfully, short lived. Once she wakes up and starts complaining, Carson declares her okay and releases her to her room to rest.

She's pretty quiet on the way back to her quarters and there's so many things that John wants to say, but he doesn't even know where to begin. This whole ordeal has left him incredibly drained and he wants nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep with her for a week.

"You want some company?" He asks hopefully as they approach her door and he offers her a half-smile when she turns to face him. She doesn't answer, but when the door slides open, she reaches for his hand and tugs him inside.

He guides her to the bed and sits down, pulling her into his lap, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist.

"That really sucked," she says, closing her eyes as he holds her against his chest and John can feel her trembling slightly.

"For me too," he tells her and he means it. "How are you feeling?"

"Headache," she mumbles, releasing an irritated sigh. "And because that idiot decided it would be a good idea to play track star, my entire body is screaming in protest. Seriously, she'd better never hope I get the opportunity to invade her body, because trust me, payback is a bitch."

John laughs at that and presses a gentle kiss to the top of her head. "You need some sleep."

"No, what I need is a massage," she says and she pulls away to stretch out on the bed. "You think I could talk Ronon into providing me with one?"

He growls at that as he moves to straddle her generous hips. "I think you'd better stop ogling Ronon before I really do have to shoot him. He's on the team now, you know."

"First of all, I do not ogle Ronon. I just have an appreciation for a fine male body," she says as her eyes flutter closed. "And second, I never figured you for a jealous type."

"Only when it comes to you," he tells her, leaning down to kiss her shoulder.

"When did you become such a twelve year old girl?"

"Do you want this massage or not, McKay?" He teases, digging his fingers into her shoulders. She releases an almost obscene moan and if she hadn't almost died today, he'd be tempted to fuck her because the sound of it goes straight to his cock.

"Mmm… " she mumbles as she reaches up and grabs for him, pulling him down beside her. "Can I get a rain check for later? I'm tired and I'd like to actually be awake enough to enjoy it."

He wraps an arm around her waist and tugs her close, breathing in the scent of her hair as they fall silent.

It doesn't last for very long, however, because he snorts loudly and props himself up on an elbow to look down at her. "Wanna hear somethin' funny?"

"Our definitions of "funny" are vastly different and I'm positive that whatever you're going to say will be mildly amusing at best, but sure. Go ahead."

"MerMan."

"Excuse me?"

"MerMan! You know, when you and Cadman were you and Cadman. Get it? Like Brangelina!"

"You're not allowed to read tabloids anymore," she snorts, but John can see the smirk on her face as she buries her head into the pillow. "Go to sleep."

"It's like 0700."

"And I've been ordered to rest," she reminds him. "So shut up and go to sleep."

"Sure thing…MerMan."

She snorts again and swats at him with her hand as she turns away.

"Hey… we should really make a pamphlet."

Chapter Text

John really hates paperwork. He's pretty sure that the only purpose it serves is to waste time that could be better spent doing something more amusing, but such is life as the ranking military officer on Atlantis.

Boring.

The plus side is that he's almost finished; he's been getting his paperwork done a lot quicker than usual now that he has an actual second-in-command to pass it off to. He's pretty sure that Major Lorne doesn't like paperwork any more than he does, but that's one of the perks of being in charge.

"Colonel Sheppard?"

Speak of the devil, John thinks, grinning broadly.

"Go ahead, Major."

"Sir, I think you're gonna want to get down to the labs immediately. We uh… have a situation."

John can't help but snicker at that. He can hear the raised voices in the background and can only imagine the kind of situation that Lorne's found himself in down there. He'd sent the Major, along with three other marines down to keep an eye on the geeks while they explored one of the old abandoned labs; it was only a matter of time before they started butting heads with McKay.

"On my way," John says and he's thankful for the interruption. "Fill me in and give me your exact twenty."

"We're on the third floor right outside of the east pier. You uh… you may wanna bring Doctor Beckett with you, Sir."

"Now, Major. I know McKay's a little abrasive, but her bark is way worse than her bite. I think you boys will be safe. Just give me a minute to get down there—"

"Uh, Sir, you misunderstand me. We've had a bit of an incident."

"What the hell happened?"

"One of those idiots touched something!" Meredith's voice is screeching over the radio and holy hell, she sounds pissed. "After I expressly told them not to and now he's gone and burnt Miko's hand!"

John can vaguely hear Miko assuring Meredith that she's fine, but she wasn't having it.

"I swear to God, Sheppard, as if I didn't have enough idiots in my own department to deal with, you have to send me your misfits too? I am not running a God damned babysitting service down here! I do not have the time to make sure they sit in the corner like good little boys! I don't know why you have to insist on these stupid protocols anyway!"

"First of all, you need to calm down. I will—"

"No, I will not calm down! If you don't get down here and remove these idiots from my lab right now, I will not be held accountable for my actions!"

"Sir," Lorne says and John can just imagine the grimace on his face. "You might wanna hurry."

"Understood, Major."

John doesn't click his radio off because while he'll never admit it to anyone, it's kind of amusing to hear Meredith bitching the marines out. At least, it's kind of funny until one of them starts mouthing off right back and then the situation has escalated.

It's always best to stand there and take it like a man while being flayed by McKay; arguing only serves to piss her off more.

It takes him less than five minutes to round up Beckett and then they're both on their way down to the lab. At this point, he can hear Lorne trying to diffuse the situation, but by the sounds of it, he's not having much luck.

"Good Lord, man. Don't they know you've got to cut her off before she's hit her stride or else you'll never stand a chance?" Carson mutters and John snickers at that.

"Obviously not. You'll have to hold a class if they make it out of this alive."

"I think you'd be better suited to teach that class, Colonel," Carson says and John doesn't like his tone.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you're the one tamin' the shrew, aren't you?"

"You'd better hope she never finds out you go around calling her that," John warns, but he doesn't get a chance to say much else because the sound of shouting voices have reached their ears.

"…Just because you don't have half a brain…"

"…Nasty, hateful bitch…"

"ENOUGH!"

John practically sprints into the room at that and he's surprised to find Zelenka holding Meredith back while Lorne shoves one of the marines back towards the doorway. Neither Meredith nor the marine have stopped shouting at each other though and John can't believe that things have gotten this out of hand.

"What the hell is goin' on in here?" He bellows, hands on his hips as he stares at the room angrily.

They fall silent almost immediately and Meredith stops struggling against Zelenka as she glares at John.

"Major, you want to fill me in on what the hell happened?"

"Johnson accidentally activated one of the ancient artifacts, Sir. It was—"

"After I told him not to touch anything!" Meredith interrupts, swatting Zelenka's hand away from her arm.

"Quiet McKay," John warns, narrowing his eyes at her. "Major?"

"Yes sir. Anyway, after he touched it, it started to glow and kind of… started melting the table? It wasn't noticeable at first until Miko went to grab her scanner from the work space and burnt her hand."

"It was an accident," Johnson spits, his eyes narrowed angrily at Meredith. "I brushed up against it! I didn't know that anything was going to happen!"

"Which is why I told you to stand by the door, you stupid—"

"Enough! Doc, you wanna come take a look at Miko's hand?" John calls, gesturing Carson into the room. "Major, I'd like for the four of you to head back upstairs. I'll deal with this situation here, but I think we're done for the day."

"We haven't finished cataloguing the room yet!" Meredith protests , but when John glares at her, she wisely closes her mouth.

"Sir," Johnson says, ignoring Lorne's attempt to usher him out of the room. "I'd like an official report filed about this."

"You've gotta be kidding me!" Meredith growls, but John shoots her another warning look and turns to Johnson.

"I said I'd take care of it. You're dismissed, marine."

"Sir, with all due respect, I don't have to take this kind of abuse from a scientist! I did not join this expedition to be berated by this bitch and I—"

"Okay, you're clearly not hearing me," John says and suddenly, he's furious. He doesn't like the idea that McKay let this situation get so out of control, because as a senior member of the expedition, she knows better. But he's not going to stand for this asshole to stand here and call her a bitch.

Nope, not happening.

"You have three seconds to get out here before I write you up for disobeying your commanding officer and you can believe me when I tell you that you don't want that mark on your record! You. Are. Dismissed!"

Johnson eyes him for a moment like he wants to argue some more, but one of his friends grabs his arm and tugs him from the room before he has an opportunity.

At least they aren't all idiots.

John turns back to Meredith and finds that she's hovering over Carson and Miko, her eyes narrowed as she inspects the injury on her hand.

"Well, it doesn't look too bad," she sniffs.

"Aye, I think we can have this fixed up in no time," Carson says and he offers Miko a kind smile as he gestures to the door. "Come along, my dear."

John waits until they've left the room before he turns to the remaining scientists. "I want this packed up and the rest of you ready to move out in ten."

"You're really making us leave?" Meredith asks, and she looks annoyed but right now, John doesn't care. He doesn't like having to be called to referee a shouting match between the head of science and one of his men, but he'd be willing to bet that Meredith isn't solely to blame for this one. Still, he's pissed and he's not going to reward her by allowing her to get what she wants right now.

"Pack it up," he growls.

He moves to the doorway and slouches against the frame, arms crossed over his chest as he watches the scientists move quickly. Of course, Meredith pushes it until the last second—literally—and nine minutes and fifty nine seconds later, they're ready to go.

He walks the scientists back to their usual lab, but he stops Meredith before she stomps inside. He knows she's pissed at him, but right now, he's okay with that.

"What?" She sulks, crossing her arms over her ample chest and she refuses to meet his eyes.

"I want you to stay away from them," he says and she actually snorts at that.

"Yeah, because that's going to be such a problem. Just don't assign them to accompany my team next time and we'll be fine!"

"You can't go around berating everybody because they accidentally brush up against something, Mer. It's going to happen. How many times have you done it?"

"That's different because I'm me and I can fix my mistakes! I don't have the time to have to fix theirs too! And I don't care what Lorne says, I'm not convinced that it was an accident! That idiot had an attitude from the moment he showed up here! I knew it was only a matter of time before he did something!"

Privately, John thinks that she's probably not wrong. While he hasn't had any issues with Johnson and the other marines that came in with Everett a couple months back, he knows that a couple of the scientists have complained about them. He knows that they don't particularly care for him as a commander and today probably hasn't endeared him to them, but that's tough shit.

They're the ones who have to get over that, not him.

"Even so, you let me handle them from now on, okay? It's kind of my job."

She rolls her eyes and releases a sigh. "Fine. Whatever. Can I go back to work now or are you going to continue to counsel me and waste more of my precious time?"

"Go," he responds, waving her off but he grabs her hand before she gets away. Pulling her back, he pecks her lips quickly and offers her a half smile. "See you at dinner?"

She's still scowling but she doesn't look quite so pissed off anymore. "Yes. But I don't want to be late tonight. Meet me here promptly at six, or you're eating by yourself."

He offers her a mock salute and snickers when she swats his arm and hurries back into the lab. He's still a little annoyed with her with but he makes a mental note to keep an eye on Johnson anyway. Just in case.

John is expecting issues with Johnson. Call it a gut feeling, but the more he thinks about the issue down in the lab, the more positive he is that he hasn't heard the last of him. Even so, as he makes his way to the lab with Ronon and Teyla, he isn't quite expecting what he overhears as he passes by the rec room.

"I bet McKay sucks cock like a pro. Have you seen that mouth?" Lewis snickers, slouching farther into his chair as he flips another card in Johnson's direction.

"Doesn't matter. As nasty as that bitch is, she'd probably bite it off just as soon as she'd suck it," Johnson sneers and John's blood is already beginning to boil.

"Well I've got it on good authority from a couple people at the SGC that she's a born cock sucker. Just the right amount of teeth and she swallows, too," Williams chimes in.

"Yeah?" Johnson asks and John can just imagine a broad grin on that idiot's face. "You hear that from Carter?"

Yeah, he's heard enough.

He's vaguely aware of Teyla's hand gripping his arm but he brushes her off. He shouldn't engage. He knows better than to engage, but he's not going to stand by and let those fucking idiots talk about her like that.

"You think Sheppard's hit it?" Williams asks.

"He's a fucking idiot if he has. All those dumb sluts falling all over him and he chooses the ugliest fucking one on the expedition?"

"You're just pissed because she put you in your place today," Lewis laughs. "I told you not to touch that God damned table."

"John!" Teyla hisses, but he doesn't hear anything else because before she can tighten his grip on his arms, he's pulling away from her and rushing into the room.

Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he knows this is wrong, that he can't do this but right now, he doesn't care.

"You don't talk about her like that," he growls, hauling Johnson out of his chair before he slams him against the wall. "I don't know how the fuck things are done where you're from, but here, in my fucking city, you don't talk about my people like that!"

He's pressing his arm against Johnnson's throat and he can feel the marine clawing at his arm, but it only serves to piss him off more.

"John, you must stop this now!" He registers Teyla's voice and feels her hands on his shoulders, trying to pull him away. "Doctor McKay would not want you to do this!"

He can feel Ronon behind him and without seeing him, he knows that he's the only thing standing between John and two pissed off marines, but his money's on Ronon.

"It would probably be easier to just shoot them," Ronon says. "I can do it if you want."

John holds his position for a moment longer before he releases Johnson and he feels no remorse when the marine slides down the wall, gasping for air.

"I'm… I'm going to report you for this! I'll have you brought up on charges!" Johnson gasps, but John merely shrugs.

"Go ahead. It'll be worth it," he says.

"You're worthless. Never in a million years did I think you'd take the side of a stupid science geek over one of your own! If Colonel Everett was here—"

"Well he's not!" John spits angrily. "And you'll do well to learn that I'll always take their side, every time! We're here to work with them, not against them and the sooner you learn that, the better! It'll certainly save McKay from having to rip you a new asshole again!"

Teyla's grabbing him again, and this time, he lets her pull him to the doorway. He knows he's going to have to answer to Elizabeth over this and he's probably going to have his ass reamed by the men back home, but he doesn't care.

"You can tell whoever you need to tell about this, marine, but I can guarantee you one thing: if you ever let me hear you talking about one of my people, science geek or otherwise—"

"—You'll have me to answer to," Ronon says, twirling his gun lazily in his hand before he slips it back into his holster. John has to suppress a bitter laugh at the feral grin he shoots at the marines before Teyla hauls them away.

"You should not have done that, John," Teyla says once they're out of earshot.

"They should have kept their mouths shut!"

"I think I can speak on the behalf of most of the women on this expedition, Doctor McKay included, when I say that it was not necessary! We are more than capable of handling our own battles and by intervening, you may have just made it worse."

"Well, I'm sorry and you can feel free to call me a chauvinistic pig, but I'm not going to just stand by and let them talk about Meredith or any other woman on my expedition like that! That's not how we do things where I come from."

"I would have done the same thing," Ronon offers fiercely and once again, John knows he made the right decision in choosing him for his team.

Teyla rolls her eyes again. "I do not suppose it will do any good to try and convince you that it was not necessary."

"No, not really," he says. "Listen, you guys go on ahead to the mess. I'm gonna swing by and get Mer and we'll meet you down there."

"Very well," Teyla says and it's clear that she's still not happy with him, but she's just going to have to get over it.

He claps Ronon on the shoulder before he takes off for the direction of the lab, his blood still boiling. There are going to be some repercussions from that little stunt, but nobody's going to convince him that he did the wrong thing. Sure, he probably should have gone about making his point a different way, but maybe next time those douchebags want to sit around and trash the women in the city, they'll think twice.

And then it'll all have been worth it.

By the time he makes it down to the lab, the anger is gone and replaced with a sulky feeling. Though he knows they were just talking out of their asses, something they said is sticking with him.

Who the hell is Carter?

He's positive that he's heard Meredith talk about a 'Carter' once or twice, but before now, he's never thought to ask about him. Maybe he should.

Heaving a loud sigh to announce his presence, he slinks into the lab and slouches against the doorframe, his eyes finding her immediately.

Meredith glances up at the interruption and she looks less red-faced that she did earlier so he assumes that she's done being pissed.

"Hi," she says, tucking her escaped curls behind her ears. "I'm just finishing up here. Gimme another five minutes."

"You told me not to be late and then you're not even ready," he says and he's afraid that he may be pouting. That's not going to go over so well.

"Don't whine; it's not very becoming," she tells him and he thinks that's pretty rich coming from her, but whatever. "Have a good afternoon?"

"I've had better," he mumbles and steps further into the room to lean casually against her work table. "Hey, who's Carter?"

"Hmm?"

"I uh… heard someone mention a 'Carter' today and I thought I've heard you talk about him before."

"He's a member of the SG-1 team. I'm sure you've read a couple of his reports," she says dismissively.

"Oh… that guy? He seems like a douche."

"And you can tell that from his mission reports?" She asks, looking up to snort unattractively at him. "He's not bad. Smart; not as smart as me, of course, but he's at least a Zelenka." She presses a couple more buttons on her laptop before she powers it down and stretches. "There. All done. Ready to go?"

"I've been ready for the last five minutes."

"Listen, if you're still mad about earlier, it's time to let go of that. I don't have the time or the energy to devote to your pouting today, so let's get over it, preferably before dinner, okay?"

"I'm not pouting," he says, but he might be.

"Whatever you say," she snorts, cocking an eyebrow at him."Radek! I'm going for dinner. Try not to blow anything up in my absence, hmm?"

He mutters something in Czech and waves them off and then they're on their way to the mess hall.

John is silent throughout dinner but Meredith doesn't even seem to notice as she chatters on about something or another that happened three weeks ago. John doesn't know how Teyla is still pretending to follow her, but like him, Ronon gave up minutes ago.

He's just about to finish up his fruit cup when Lorne makes his way over to the table, looking incredibly uncomfortable.

"Uh… Sir? Could I speak with you for a minute?"

And here it is. He still doesn't regret what he did though, so he stands without hesitation, intent on following the Major into the hallway. This isn't a conversation he wants to have in the middle of the mess, but Meredith apparently doesn't get the hint because she's standing up, following after them.

"What's going on?" She asks, arms crossed over her chest. "Is this about today? Because I know you don't believe me, Major, but that idiot touched it on purpose and because of him, Miko's out for a week!"

"Actually, Doctor McKay, I should probably speak to Colonel Sheppard alone."

"No," John says, heaving a sigh. "She should probably be here for this too. I'm assuming this is about Johnson?" He asks meaningfully.

"Yes sir. He uh… well, he wanted to make a complaint about you. Said you attacked him in the rec room."

"You did what?" Meredith screeches, but John ignores her.

"I know this puts you in an uncomfortable position, Major and I apologize for that but I'm not disputing it. Once you've typed up the incident, I'll sign it and take it to Elizabeth."

"Actually, Sir… I'm not going to be typing up the incident. You see… right after he came to me, Sergeant Lewis came to me and explained what exactly what happened. He's uh… going to be typing up a formal apology to Doctor McKay for his participation in the… discussion that led to the incident. After Johnson realized that Lewis was going to go to Doctor McKay about it, he said he'd drop it as long as she didn't pursue sexual harassment charges."

"Sexual harassment charges? What the hell is he talking about, John?"

"Why would he agree to that?" John asks, and he's still ignoring Meredith which he knows he's going to pay for later.

"Apparently, he has a prior on the sexual harassment front. It wasn't an official reprimand so it isn't in his file, but he doesn't want to take a chance with this one."

"Hey!" Meredith bellows, socking John hard in the arm. "Would you tell me what the hell is going on? Jesus Christ!"

"I kind of… had a run in with Johnson… right before I came to get you from the lab."

"Yeah, I gathered that, you idiot. The question is why?"

"I overheard him, Lewis and Williams saying… some stuff and it pissed me off."

"Oh my God, what did you do?"

Lorne is smirking because apparently, he knows that John is in for it now. "I'll just uh… leave you to it then, Colonel. Have a nice evening."

John scowls at Lorne's retreating back and he really thinks that as his second-in-command, he should have stayed to offer some back-up.

Traitor.

"You have two seconds to answer me, John Sheppard, or so help me God—"

"I might have pushed him into a wall," he says.

"What? Why would you do that?"

"Because I told you! He was saying some shit about you and I didn't like it! I wasn't just going to stand there and let him do it!"

"Oh for God's sakes, you silly idiot! Do you have any idea how much trouble you could get in for something like that?"

"I don't care! I'll tell you like I told Teyla: I'm not going to let these men sit around and talk trash about you or any other woman here! What kind of example would that set for the rest of the expedition?"

"I can assure you that I don't need you to protect me from the big bad marines! I'm sure whatever they said, it isn't anything that I haven't heard before!'

"Is that supposed to make me feel better? Because if it is, I'm tellin' you that it's not working."

She rolls her eyes at him and heaves a put-upon sigh. "I appreciate what you were trying to do, but really, it isn't necessary. I'm quite capable of fighting my own battles," she says, but she doesn't sound as mad as he expected. "But thank you anyway," she says after a moment before she leans in and pecks his lips gently.

"So you're… you're not mad? Because I'm pretty sure that Teyla isn't going to talk to me for a week."

"That's because Teyla's too cool to be flattered," she tells him. "She'd lose her street cred if everyone knew that she went all warm and fuzzy over somebody protecting her honor when she's more than capable of doing it herself," she snickers and he can't help but laugh at that because really?

Street cred?

"You're an idiot," she finally declares but she's grinning at him so he'll take for what it's worth.

He might be an idiot, but he's her idiot. Which is why he still doesn't regret what he did.

Chapter Text

John isn't sure when everything went to hell. He guesses it's probably the minute they discovered that stupid Ancient outpost on Doranda, even if he didn't know it at the time.

When he thinks about how excited Meredith was when she realized what they'd found, he realizes that he probably should have known it was too good to be true; this universe hates them, after all.

His insides are clenching uncomfortably and he slouches down in the chair just a little further. He'd like to disappear right now, preferably before Elizabeth returns because he's sure he's in for the ass chewing of his life. He knows he screwed up and doesn't need Elizabeth to tell him just how much but he doesn't think he's going to get lucky enough for her to decide to skip the lecture.

His first mistake was not following his gut after Collins' death. He knew then that they should have shut the fucking thing and left it alone, but she made a good argument. When he thinks of how she came to him, wringing her hands and chewing her lip nervously, asking him to trust her…

Anyone else would have said no, that the risks were too high. He should have said no but he didn't and he's going to be lucky if Elizabeth doesn't ask him to step down as commander because really, it was three quarters of a God damned solar system. He doesn't think it can get much worse than that.

Closing his eyes, he inhales deeply. This situation is more fucked up than he ever could have imagined and he has no idea what he's supposed to do here. It's uncharted territory for him and he thinks that no matter what happens, it's not going to be pretty.

John thinks he should probably try to come up with some sort of game plan, but he doesn't get an opportunity, because he hears footsteps on the catwalk outside of Elizabeth's office and suddenly, there's not enough air in the room.

He feels his body tensing as she shuts the door behind her and then before he can blink, there she is in front of him, her face set in an ugly scowl that he's not used to seeing there.

"I messed up," he says, because he has and he hopes that by acknowledging it, this won't be as bad as he's expecting. "We shouldn't have gone back… I shouldn't have agreed to go back."

Elizabeth sits down in her chair and he really wishes she hadn't because now, he can clearly see the disappointment in her eyes. That's worse than the anger.

"Elizabeth—"

"Save it," she says and John realizes that this may be worse than he anticipated. Apparently, she's not even going to let him apologize. "What the hell were you thinking?"

He wants to look away from her intense gaze because he doesn't like the way she's looking at him, but he doesn't. "I said I messed up, okay? I'm sorry. What else do you want me to say?"

"I want you to tell me that it's not going to happen again! I want you to promise me that it won't happen again!"

"I—"

"But you shouldn't make promises you can't keep, John," she says and he wants to know what the hell she's talking about. "Given your current relationship with Meredith—"

"Hey," he says and he's a little pissed. He doesn't like the idea of her bringing that into this, because like this situation isn't fucked up enough as it is? "Don't start with that. That has nothing to do with this!"

"Doesn't it?" She asks and she laughs bitterly. "Your relationship has everything to do with this!"

"Listen, I made a mistake, okay? It happens!"

"And it's happening all too frequently for my taste!"

"I hardly think one incident—"

"What about the incident with Johnson last week? You can't tell me you were thinking clearly then!"

"Did you hear what they were saying about her?" He asks angrily. "Because I can tell you if you had, you would have reacted the same!"

"I'm not saying that they didn't deserve it, but Jesus, John! You're the military commander of this city! You can't haul off and choke people because they're talking about your girlfriend!"

John can feel his face going red at that. "I didn't do it just because she's my… just because we're seeing each other! I would have done it for anyone on this expedition!"

"Do you really think anyone else is going to see it like that?" She asks. "Do you think General Landry would have seen it like that had Johnson decided to press charges?"

"So this is about appearances?"

"No, this is about you thinking like someone's boyfriend rather than the ranking military officer! I don't pretend that I understand exactly what's going on between you and Meredith and I'm well aware that it's none of my business, but John… when you start putting lives in danger because you aren't thinking clearly—"

"I didn't put anyone's—"

"You and Meredith could have died today!"

Her words hit him like a punch to the gut and for a moment, he's breathless. He's spent the better part of the afternoon convincing himself that his relationship with Meredith had no bearing on his decision today, but he knows it's a lie. And what's worse is that Elizabeth knows it a lie.

"You're good at what you do, John," she says and the anger in her eyes is gone and replaced by the disappointment again. "I don't think there's anybody on this expedition whose respect and loyalty you haven't earned—"

"—you mean other than Johnson—"

"—but you've messed up," she finishes. "People are talking and if you continue carrying on like this…"

"What are you saying?" He asks, crossing his arms over his chest in a way that he's sure looks like defiance. "Are you ordering me to break up with her?"

"I'm not ordering you to do anything," she tells him firmly. "And I won't. But perhaps you need to take a step back and reevaluate what you're doing because right now, you're not doing a very good job of balancing your job and your relationship."

John's jaw is clenching because he's angry, but worse than that, he's afraid she's right. He's never doubted this thing he has with Meredith until now and he doesn't know what he's supposed to do.

Pushing himself to his feet, he shoves his hands into his pockets and avoids her gaze. "Are we done here?"

She says nothing, but she nods her consent and then just like that, he's out of her office.

His first instinct is to find Ronon because right now, he really wants to beat the shit out of something. Unfortunately, sparring with him will only end up with him getting his ass kicked and he doesn't need that because it's only bound to make things worse.

He's angry with Elizabeth, he's angry with Meredith for putting him in this God damned situation and he's furious with himself for allowing it to happen. He wants to forget the whole fucking thing ever happened, but he knows that's not going to happen anytime soon because he keeps replaying it over and over in his head.

She almost killed herself today; she would have, had he not been there to pull her out at the last second.

He resists the urge to hit the wall, because it's not the city's fault that he's in this predicament, and then he stomps off out of the Gate room. He can feel all eyes on him but he can't bring himself to care.

John manages to avoid nearly everyone in the hallway but because the galaxy hates him, he's less than four feet away from the nearest transporter when he hears her voice.

"Colonel?" She calls, in that stupid timid voice she always uses when they're in public. "Uh… John? I've been… I've been looking all over for you."

"Yeah? I heard," he says, turning back to face her with his arms crossed over his chest. He hates the way her face falls at that and he hates himself even more because he's the reason for it.

"I um… I suppose I deserve that," she says, reaching up to brush her hair back out of her face. "Listen, I just… I wanted to apologize about what happened today. I was wrong and I'm… I'm sorry." He knows it isn't easy for her to say that. "And I wanted to assure you that I uh… I intend on not being wrong again… about everything, effective immediately," she tells him, her mouth quirking into that crooked smile that he loves so much, but right now, it has no effect on him. "That was… that was a joke."

"Good one," he says before he rolls his eyes and turns away from her. He doesn't want to do this, but he knows he has to. He just… well, he needs to think of a better way to do it, because doing it in the middle of the hallway? She deserves better than that.

John starts for the transporter again when she hurries around him, blocking his path. Her hands are gripping his upper arms and he can feel her trembling slightly.

"Wait… please?"

"What McKay?"

"I've… I've already apologized to Elizabeth. And Radek," she says, and she's looking at him hopefully. "And I uh… thanked Colonel Caldwell for um… caring enough to spy on the experiment from orbit. I sent him a nice little email, actually. But I saved you 'til last 'cause um…" She trails off, biting her lip and before she looks away, John thinks he might see tears in her eyes.

"Meredith…"

"I would… I hate to think that recent events might have permanently dimmed your faith in my abilities… or your faith in me."

"Don't… don't do this, okay?"

"I'm sorry, John," she says and she's pleading with him. "I just… I wanted it to work so bad and I… I'm sorry, but I—"

"We can't do this anymore, Mer."

"What?" She asks, and it's barely more than a whisper. "Is this… is this because of today?"

"It's… it's shifting my focus. I knew better than to let you go back to that God damned outpost, but I didn't listen because you were… you were so excited and… you could have died today."

"But I didn't!" She says and oh God, she's actually crying. She reaches up to swipe angrily at her face. "Please don't do this. P… Please don't do this."

"Don't make this harder than it has to be," he begs her, because doesn't she know that it's hurting him too? "This… this is for your own good."

"Oh please!" She spits. "Spare me the fucking bullshit! You… you're no better than the others! One mistake and I'm… I'm suddenly not good enough for you anymore!"

He swallows hard at that. While they don't talk about previous relationships on either end, he's always been under the impression that she's been fucked over one too many times and he hates that she's comparing him to the others.

"It's not about you not being good enough, Meredith, it's—"

"Just… just don't okay? I'm…" she gestures vaguely to the hallway behind her, but she says nothing else before she turns and bolts, the sound of her muffled sob reaching his ears as she literally runs away from him.

He hates himself for this, but he knows that in the end, it's going to be for the best. He promised Elizabeth that he would protect Meredith from herself, but because of his feelings for her, he almost failed. Because her happiness was more important to him than anything at the time she asked, she could have been killed because of his bad decision.

"You're an asshole, John Sheppard," he says to the empty hallway, and he thinks Atlantis is in agreement as she surges under his feet. Stepping into the transporter, he hits the button harder than necessary. This hurts as much as he knew it was going to, but if being without her means that he'll be able to keep to keep her safe, then he'll just have to live with it.

Even if he really doesn't want to.

--

Meredith almost wishes that she had pictures to rip up. Or at the very least to draw unflattering images on, but she doesn't, so she settles on kicking her boots off and throwing them against the wall before she sinks down onto her bed, swiping angrily at the tears that refuse to stop falling.

She is not weak and anybody who says she is… well, they're a God damned liar, but she's not as coldhearted as people like to believe either.

She made a mistake; a giant one, but it wasn't intentional and isn't it enough that she lost one of her scientists? She shouldn't have to suffer the loss of whatever it was that she had with Sheppard as well.

She should have known better than to think it would last. She wasn't lying when she said that he was just like the others, because once they realize she wasn't infallible, they kicked her to the curb just as quickly as he had. She had been hoping against hope that he was different and she'd been trying so hard to let down those barriers for him, but he'd proved her right in the end.

At least there are some things she's never wrong about.

She leans forward, pressing her palms against her eyes as she tries to stop the stinging. There's work that needs to be done in the lab despite Elizabeth's "suggestion" that she stay away for tonight and it won't do for her to show up with tearstained cheeks.

She'll never be able to cow Simpson and Miko if she looks like she's been crying, and berating her scientists has always been a favorite pastime. It'll be nice to throw herself into her work and not have to worry about Sheppard dragging her out before she's ready to go. Or at least, that's what she's going to tell herself anyway, because if she doesn't, she might start crying again and she hates doing that more than she hates Kavanaugh.

It isn't easy to push herself up from her bed, especially because her stupid sheets smell like Sheppard, but she knows she has to because if she doesn't, she's going to be stuck in this rut all night. She's never been one to spend days sobbing hopelessly over lost loves, but she thinks if she doesn't distract herself, it's a good possibility that she might this time and she doesn't like the idea of being that pathetic.

Swiping at her face one last time, she pushes herself to her feet and pulls the blankets from her bed. Tossing them into the corner, she makes a mental note to deal with them later before she grabs her boots and slides her feet into them. It isn't going to be easy acting like she didn't just blow up five sixths of a solar system and lose John Sheppard all in the span of one afternoon, but she's going to view it as a mental challenge and she is a genius

She gives herself a moment to make sure she isn't going to burst into tears and once she's satisfied that she's gotten her stupid emotions under control, she starts for the door, holding her head high.

Meredith was expecting this; from the very beginning, she knew it was too good to be true and yet she allowed herself to give in anyway. It hurts worse than she thought it would, but she's been hurt before and she's always bounced back. This time may take a little longer, especially considering that not only has she lost John, but possibly Elizabeth as well, but she's sure that she can do it.

One painful step at a time.

And hey, if she cries a little when she's alone in her room, wrapped up in sheets that smell like a lost love, then that's probably okay too.

She is still human, faults and all. No matter what everyone else thinks.

Chapter Text

All in all, Meredith thinks she's been avoiding John like a pro. Not that she necessary wants to avoid him, because she doesn't. She misses what they had, misses sharing funny stories about the lab and she certainly misses the way he would slink in and slouch against her work space until she noticed him. Unfortunately, she still hasn't mastered those stupid emotions and until she does, staying away from Sheppard is a necessary evil.

Or at least it was until he started to turn into a bug.

She didn't know anything was seriously wrong at first. Of course, the disappearing wound on his arm gave her some cause for concern, but after hacking into the infirmary records and seeing where Carson had released him with an order to check in every six hours, she figured that he was okay as he ever was and was content to let the matter drop.

Really, she was.

But then she saw him in the hallway looking a little like a deranged serial killer and thought that perhaps they were missing something. It was none of her business, of course, because he dumped her, but she's not as heartless as people like to make her out to be so out of the goodness of her heart, she approached cautiously.

She doesn't remember what she had intended on saying to him, because she never got a chance to say anything. One second he was standing there eyeing her intensely and the next, he'd backed her up against the wall, long fingers fisting through her curly hair, crushing his lips to hers.

"Surprised" didn't even begin to cover what she was feeling.

It took a moment for her to recover, and once she had, she was more than a little furious. Pressing her hands against his chest, she shoved him hard, her mouth turning down in an angry scowl. She can remember shouting obscenities at him, because really, that was so not fair! In her opinion, it isn't decent to break a person's heart and then run around kissing them less than three weeks later!

It sends the wrong message.

She'd literally run out of the stupid hallway after that and almost knocked Simpson over on her way to the nearest transporter, but she didn't even stop to offer an apology. She remembers cursing whatever crackerjack box Carson got his medical degree out of because clearly, John Sheppard was not well enough to be released. Or he was fucking with her, but it was less painful at the time to go with the first thought.

But now, she's sitting at his bedside as he literally transforms into a God damn bug and the worst part is this isn't even the strangest thing she's seen since coming to the Pegasus Galaxy. Slouching down in the chair, she decides if she makes it through this year without a psychotic break, she should probably reevaluate her life because really, the fact that this doesn't surprise her speaks volumes about her mental state.

She doesn't know why she's here. She certainly doesn't owe it to him to keep watch while he lazes about in a medically induced coma, but part of her feels like she needs to be here. She doesn't know if they've finished the gene therapy for this yet, or even if they'll finish it in time, and she feels like being here for him as he slips away is the right thing to do.

Because even though she'll never admit it to anyone—especially him—she thinks she probably loves him.

Leaning forward in the chair, she grabs a deformed hand and fights back a rising feeling of repulsion at the feel of his scaly blue skin. It isn't what she's used to, but she reminds herself that John's still there somewhere so she doesn't pull away.

"I still don't forgive you, you know," she says quietly, reaching up to brush his stupid hair off of his ugly forehead. "I know I made a mistake, but it was a forgivable one, I think. You're just too stupid to realize that, but whatever. The point is…" She hesitates. "I don't really know what the point is, but I just don't want you to think that when you come out of this that everything's going to be just peachy again. Because it's not."

She sighs, because she realizes that this is pointless.

"It's easy to talk to you like this. That says a lot about your people skills… or maybe mine," she says and winces at that. "I think… I think I should probably come off your team for awhile, you know? At least until I hate you a little less. I shouldn't even be here now because you're going to get the wrong message, but you are the idiot who kissed me in the hallway, so if this confuses you, then you deserve it."

She drops her head against the bed rail and sighs again. She's not so good at these bedside vigils but she thinks that maybe it's the thought that counts; that even if he wakes up and never remembers that she's here, she'll always know that she was there for him when she was needed.

"You're going to wake up though," she tells him, but she doesn't know who she's trying to convince. "Most of the time, I think what Carson does is complete and utter horseshit, but saving you from this is going to take actual science and for the most part, science hasn't let me down. I mean, except for that whole… blowing up a solar system thing, but I'm still going to blame that one on the Ancients."

Meredith doesn't like this feeling of helplessness and she's horrified when she realizes that her cheeks are wet.

"I only seem to do this around you," she says, reaching up to swipe at her face. "Just another reason to hate you, I guess."

"You don't mean that."

Meredith jumps, pulling her hand away from John's at the sound of Carson's voice. Turning to him, she offers him an angry scowl, as she rubs her face again.

"It isn't nice to sneak up on people," she snaps. "Or eavesdrop. How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough to know that you, young lady, don't hate the Colonel at all."

She can feel her cheeks reddening at that, but she just fixes Carson with her angriest glare. "If you… if you breathe a word of this to anyone… I'm not… I'm not some stupid, pining idiot and I don't… you'd better not…Carson, I swear if you—"

"Relax, Meredith," Carson says gently, dropping a hand to her shoulder. "Your secret's safe with me."

She's embarrassed by this whole fucking situation because really, this isn't her. She doesn't know when she turned into this sniveling, sentimental head case and the last thing she needs is for her subordinates to think she's weak, but something about Carson's expression is oddly reassuring so she nods curtly and crosses her arms over her chest.

"Have you finished the gene therapy?"

"Aye," he says with a nod. "We'll be administering it within the hour."

"When will he wake up?"

"When he's good and ready, I suppose. We'll be weanin' him off the medication by this evenin', but I can't say for sure."

There are a million questions she wants to ask, but she isn't sure she really wants the answers to any of them, so she turns back to John and reaches for his hand again.

"Everything will work out," Carson says gently and Meredith really, really wants to believe him, but she honestly can't remember the last time anything 'worked out'.

"Of course," she says, just in case John can hear them. "Of course it will. He's going to be just fine and then you'll have saved the day."

She can feel Carson's eyes on the back of her head, but she doesn't turn to look at him.

"Aye, but that wasn't exactly what I was referrin' to."

She closes her eyes as the sound of his retreating footsteps reach her ears and she's ashamed to realize she's crying again. Leaning forward, she squeezes his blue hand, dropping her head to the railing again.

"Please let him be right."

It's almost twenty four hours later when John finally climbs from his deep sleep. Meredith has moved from beside his bed to the hallway, because she doesn't want him to know she was there. The last thing she wants is to see the look of pity of his face when he realizes that she's still hanging on to something that's no longer there.

She won't give him the satisfaction of knowing.

She's sworn Carson to secrecy about her visits and she's made Teyla, Ronon and Lorne all swear that they won't tell him she tagged along on the missions to collect the Iratus bug eggs. She doesn't know why it's so important that John doesn't know, but it is.

She's standing in the hallway, arms wrapped around her middle as his hazel eyes flutter open slowly. The restraints had been removed earlier that morning and for that, Meredith was grateful. She didn't think she could handle seeing him struggle against them when he finally rejoined the land of the living.

"How's he doing?"

She jumps at the sound of the voice, cursing the day when she became distracted enough for people to actually sneak up on her. She turns, scowling at Elizabeth.

"Go see for yourself," she says dryly. "I'm sure he'll be thrilled to see you."

Elizabeth frowns and reaches for Meredith, but she pulls away. She doesn't need, nor does she want the comfort. She doesn't deserve it.

"You should go see him," Elizabeth prompts, dropping her hand back to her side. "I think he would like that."

"I doubt it," she says. "It would be… inappropriate."

"He's your teammate, Meredith. There's nothing inappropriate about it."

"It would be if I smothered him with his pillow," she says, scowling. "I'm avoiding him right now. It's for the best thing for both of us so going in there would be counterproductive."

Elizabeth is still frowning and Meredith thinks she looks like she wants to say something, but mercifully, she doesn't.

Meredith swallows hard, and closes her eyes. "I should… I have a lot of work to catch up on in the lab, but I would… appreciate it if you wouldn't tell him I was here?"

"Meredith…"

"It's for the best," she says again, nodding. "Really, it's for the best." She forces a crooked smile to her face before she turns and glances into the infirmary once more. He looks better; the blue of his skin is receding slowly and from what she can tell, his hand isn't so deformed looking anymore.

Not that it matters, because it isn't like she's going to get to touch him again.

She lingers for another moment, though she realizes it's a mistake when he turns his head, his eyes locking on hers. A loud gasp escapes her as she backs away from the window, tears stinging her eyes once more as he lifts hand, though whether it's in greeting or in thanks, she doesn't know.

"I'm…" she gestures wildly before she turns and practically runs from the hallway, ignoring the sound of Elizabeth calling her name. She should have known better than to stick around because now he's seen her and he'll know just how God damned pathetic she is.

She slows to a walk once she's made it out of the infirmary, because the last thing she needs is for people to realize she's running away.

It isn't easy to pretend that she's okay when it's so clear that she isn't, but she'll keep up appearances because she's Meredith McKay and that's what she does. No matter how small or broken she feels on the inside.

Time to go find some scientists to berate.

Chapter Text

John doesn't like being shuffled around and told where to go. As the military leader of Atlantis, it's a little embarrassing, which is why he's pissed when, as soon as they beam down into the 'Gate room, he's being shuffled to the infirmary along with Ronon and Teyla.

While he agrees that they probably need to be looked at—because hello, they were drugged—he doesn't think it's necessary that he has to be subjected to any more of Carson's large needles because he just got over the bug thing. He's had enough for the infirmary to last him for the rest of the year, thank you very much.

Elizabeth doesn't listen to his protests though, and he's surprised to see the lines of concern etched in her face. He's been explaining that they need to beam back onto the Daedalus and return to Ford's planet because he promised McKay he'd come back for her, but Elizabeth is ignoring him.

"Would you just stop shoving me and listen for a minute?" He bellows, completely losing his temper as he pulls his arm out of her grasp. He kind of feels bad at the look on her face at his outburst, but Jesus Christ, this is undignified! "We need to go back to that planet. McKay is still—"

"No she's not," Elizabeth says and she looks distinctly uncomfortable.

"Excuse me?"

"She's here, John. In the infirmary. She's… she's not doing very well."

That feels like a punch to the gut because he left her on that God damned planet. "What…" he trails off, swallowing hard. "What happened?"

"She wasn't making a lot of sense when she came through the 'Gate, but what we've managed to put together… she took some of the enzyme."

"Ford drugged her. Teyla and Ronon too, but she didn't take that much. I made sure of that. I made him dial back her doses."

"From what we understand… she took it on her own. To get away from the guards."

"What?"

"Like I said, she wasn't making a lot of sense and right now, she's in no condition to answer any questions, but it's… it's not good."

John doesn't wait to hear any more. Turning away from Elizabeth, he starts back for the infirmary, unaware that he's running. He doesn't want to her see her, not like that, but he needs to. Even if he can't bring himself to stay, he needs to see her.

He doesn't even make it into the infirmary when he hears her hoarse voice as she shouts at Carson.

"D-don't just stand there! G-get me more of the enzyme!"

"Meredith," Carson says and John can't believe how exhausted he sounds. "I've already told you. I don't have any."

"It's, it's, it's a cave. Ford's cave! He's got a, a whole c-cabinet of it! There's… there's dozens of vials!"

"And do you know the address?"

"What?" She asks. John hears the rising hysteria in her voice and he hates that there's nothing he can do to comfort her. "No!"

"I'm sorry."

"You don't have to scream at me!" Meredith sobs and when John steps into the room, he's horrified to see her struggling against restraints on her hands and feet.

He wants to turn and run from the room, because he doesn't want to see her like this. God, he doesn't want this image of her burned into his brain, but it's already too late for that so instead of making a hasty retreat, he steps forward, making his presence known.

Meredith's blue eyes are unfocused when she turns to look at him, but apparently she recognizes him, because seconds later, she's screeching at him.

"G-g-get out of here! You… This is fun for you, isn't it? Watching me like this? You're enjoying it!"

"No," John says, because it's not. "I promise you, this isn't fun for anybody, Mer."

"You… you go. Go away, Sheppard! Carson, make him go!"

"I'm not going anywhere," he tells her, pulling a chair close to her bed and dropping into it. "You're gonna get through this and everything's going to be okay."

"Just go," she moans, pulling against her arm restraints. "Why, why, why are you here? Is this… is this payback for blowing up a fucking solar system?" She cries. "You just… you just want to watch me suffer!"

John's kind of ashamed to admit that he feels tears stinging eyes, but he can't help it. "I don't want you to suffer," he tells her, reaching for her hand. "That's the last thing I want."

She's sobbing pitifully, her blunt nails digging into his skin as she squeezes his hand. "Carson's killing me," she cries. "I just… I just need a little enzyme. Just to take the edge off. Make him give me some, John. Please!"

"Major Lorne is on his way back to the cave now," John lies. "He's going to bring some enzyme back for you and you'll feel all better, but you have to hang in there a little longer," he says, reaching up to brush her sweaty curls back from her forehead.

"You, you, you're lying! You don't think I don't know you're lying?" She screams, writhing against the bed. "I know you're lying! I'm a genius! Genius, genius, genius and you're a dirty lying liar! You lie about everything!"

On the other side of the bed, Carson grips her shoulder, squeezing gently. "Easy, Meredith. Come on now. You're going to hyperventilate if you keep this up."

"I hate you all!" she cries. "I want to go home! You don't want me here anyway! Nobody trusts me and you're trying to kill me so you don't have to deal with me anymore, but I'm on to you! I'm on to you and I'm going to go home before you have the chance to do it!"

"That's not true," John says and he's embarrassed when he realizes that his stupid voice is cracking. Clearing his throat, he tries again. "That's not true. God, Mer, that's not true."

"I hate you," she sobs. "Just go away because I hate you. Worse than the others and I wish I never met you! You, you, you were going to leave me in that cave! You went away and left me and they wouldn't let me come help you but I wanted to so I had to take the enzyme because they were huge but you left me."

John kind of feels like he's going to throw up, because that's true. He did leave her, but he never imagined that she'd actually believe he wasn't coming back for her.

"I'm sorry," he tells her, squeezing her hand again. "I'm sorry."

"You th-think you're so much better than me because you've never blown, blown up a solar system. Well guess what, asshole?" She bellows, trying to pull her hand from his. She falls silent, still struggling against the restraints.

"What, Mer?"

She looks at him and he can see the confusion in her eyes. "What? What, what? Why are you here? I just want you to go away! Carson, why am I tied down? I don't want to, to, to be tied down! Let me up so I can hurt him. I want to hurt him. I want to hurt you, John, until you can't even breathe because it hurts so bad. And then you can cry and see what it's like!"

John wants to tell her that she is hurting him because God knows, he certainly doesn't want to hear this. He never imagined… He never meant to hurt her this bad and he hates himself for doing it. That's why he's still sitting here. He needs to hear this.

"Go away now John, okay? Just go. I don't want you here. I want you to go away and don't come back. Unless you get some more enzyme. Then you can come back, okay? But not until then."

"Perhaps it would be best if you'd go, lad," Carson says quietly, reaching up to mop the sweat from Meredith's forehead. "I'll call you, should there be any change in her condition."

John nods even though he doesn't want to leave her. "I'm going to go away, Meredith," he says quietly. "But I'll be back. If you want me to come back, you just tell Carson and I'll be right here. I promise."

"You're a dirty lying liar," she says again. "Dirty, dirty liar and I hate you. Go away."

John swallows hard as he pulls his hand away. For a brief second, she squeezes and he thinks that maybe she doesn't want to let him go, but then she's crying and screaming at him again so he pushes himself to his feet and flees the infirmary.

He barely makes it back to his quarters before he loses the battle with his nausea. Sprinting into his bathroom, he falls to his knees in front of his toilet and expels the contents of his stomach into the bowl.

He doesn't know how long it continues, but once he's finished, he feels completely and utterly spent.

He doesn't know how, but he'd foolishly managed to convince himself that Meredith was handling their breakup just fine. She'd been avoiding him in the month and a half since Doranda, but when their paths did cross, she was always civil. He doesn't know how the fuck he missed this.

Dropping his head to his hands, he fists his fingers through his hair, wondering how in the hell he was going to fix this one. He's positive that once Meredith is through the worst of the withdrawal, that she's never going to mention this again, but he doesn't think that it's something he's ever going to forget.

And he doesn't want to because he knows he deserved it.

He doesn't know why he ends up back at the infirmary, because Carson hasn't called him, but he wants to be nearby. He has a vague memory of seeing Meredith through the infirmary doors during the whole bug fiasco and while he doesn't remember much more than that, he's sure that she was there with him during the whole terrifying ordeal.

Returning the favor is the least he can do.

She's finally resting, and even from this distance, he can see her long lashes fluttering gently against her flushed cheeks. Closing his eyes, he inhales deeply, resisting the urge to go in there and sit with her again. It's not that he doesn't want to, because he does, but he knows that if she remembers anything about this situation, she's not going to be happy to know he's seen her at her worst like that.

He doesn't want to make it worse by hovering.

"Are you okay?"

He's startled at the sound of the gravelly voice, but he forces a smile when he turns to greet Ronon.

"Hey, Big Guy. I think I should probably be asking you that. How are you feeling?"

"Better," Ronon says, joining John at the window. "Doc released me and Teyla an hour ago."

"And yet here you are."

"Wanted to see how McKay was doin'. She was yelling a lot earlier."

"You heard that too, huh?"

Ronon nods, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "You were wrong, you know."

"I'm wrong about a lot of stuff, but do you wanna clue me in on what you're talking about this time?"

"The way you handled her. Your people put too much faith in McKay sometimes."

John can't argue with that. "Yeah, I know."

"So what are you gonna do about it?"

"What do you mean? There's nothing I can do about it. What's done is done and nothing's gonna change that."

"Might help if you start with an apology."

"Have you been watching Lorne's collection of Doctor Phil shows again?" He asks, cocking an eyebrow at Ronon.

"He's a smart guy," Ronon says, shrugging unapologetically.

"He's a fraud, but we'll debate that later. Besides, Doctor Phil doesn't know Meredith like I do. She's never gonna accept an apology from me."

"She might not accept it, but you should at least offer it," Ronon says, clapping him gently on the shoulder. "Think about it. Until then, you should sit with her."

"She doesn't want me there."

"Might not want you, but she needs you, I think. And you owe it to her. She didn't leave your side when you turned into a bug."

"When did you turn into such a chatty guy?" John asks, a little annoyed.

"When there's something important that I have to say. This is pretty important. Think about it, Sheppard," Ronon says, but John doesn't get an opportunity to reply because Ronon's turning away, leaving him standing there alone.

He's almost afraid to go back in there, but he thinks that Ronon is probably right, so he sucks it up and pushes the door open slowly.

"Colonel," Carson says by way of greeting, his eyes wide in surprise. "I wasn't expectin' to see you this evenin'."

"How's she doin', Doc?"

"Resting comfortably, finally. The worst of it seems to have finally passed and I think she's gonna be just fine."

John releases a breath he didn't even know he was holding as he nods. "Think I can sit with her for a bit?"

"Aye," he says, nodding towards Meredith's bed. "Go on, then. But not too long, you hear?"

"Got it," John agrees, waving dismissively as he makes his way over to her and sinks down into the chair he'd vacated earlier. He can see the bruises from the soft restraints on her wrists and her face is still slightly flushed, but she looks more peaceful now than she has in awhile.

Reaching out, he slips his hand through the bedrails and takes her hand gently, savoring the feeling of her soft skin against his. Closing his eyes, he leans forward and rests his chin against the top of the rail.

"I'm here, Meredith," he says quietly.

He thinks he feels her squeeze his hand in response and at that moment, he knows that he's going to have to do whatever it takes to fix this thing between them.

Because Ronon was wrong; it's not her that needs him. It's the other way around.

Chapter Text

It's nearly midnight when Carson finally releases Meredith from the infirmary. He wants to keep her an extra night, but she's had about all she can take of all the hovering and she really just wants to go back to her own room.

She knows she surprised him by asking rather than demanding and when he agrees, she thinks there might be some merit to that whole flies and honey thing.

She's quiet as she dresses; she doesn't even complain about the bruises on her wrists and ankles from the restraints but she really just doesn't have it in her to berate the medical staff tonight. Carson instructs her gently to check back in first thing in the morning and she doesn't protest.

Meredith has been through a lot in the last week. The enzyme is finally out of her system, but she doesn't feel like herself. Carson assures her that it's completely normal to feel that way and urges her to talk to Heightmeyer about that, but she's still holding grudges from the Cadman debacle so she tells him to shove that suggestion up his ass.

She's feeling better already.

The hallways are nearly deserted save for the odd Marine on patrol, but she ignores them easily. Since the whole Doranda incident, she's had plenty of practice ignoring those of the military persuasion. She isn't really hungry, but she's feeling a little dizzy so she stops in the mess hall to grab something to eat. The last thing she wants is for her blood sugar to plummet and land her back in the infirmary in a hypoglycemic coma.

"Hey McKay."

The sound of the gravelly voice startles her and she nearly drops her jello. Clutching it to her chest, she turns, intent on bellowing something about sneaking up on people when she realizes that it's Ronon.

"Oh," she says. "It's you. Hello then."

"They finally untied you, huh?"

She can feel her face beginning to flush at that and she wonders just how many people saw her in that condition. Hasn't Carson ever heard of privacy?

"They finally untied me," she confirms, tugging the sleeves of her shirt down just a little more to cover the bruises on her wrists.

"Good," Ronon says and he actually sounds sincere, which surprises her. "For someone so smart, you were kind of dumb though."

"Excuse me?"

"For taking all that enzyme. We would have come back for you. Sheppard tried before they told him you were already here."

"Did he send you here?" She asks. "Did he send you to talk him up so that he could get back in my good graces? Because I can assure you, it isn't going to work."

"Nope," Ronon responds, reaching past for her some jello. "Just came here for this," he says, grinning in a way that makes him look twelve rather than… well, however old he is.

She eyes him skeptically for a moment before she decides he's telling the truth.

His grin just widens before he turns away from her, heading for one of the tables. She doesn't know if she's expected to follow, but she's not really tired and he's not the hovering type so she figures she won't mind his company. Grabbing a spoon and another thing of jello, she sets off after him, sinking down into the chair across from him.

"Thanks," he says, snatching the extra jello from her hand despite her loud protests.

"I did not get that for you!"

He just shrugs, but he makes no move to give it back. "So… are you going to be weird forever?"

"I'm sorry?"

"You and Sheppard," he says, mouth full of gelatin. "Me and Teyla are kind of tired of it."

"Well I'm sorry if it makes you uncomfortable," she mutters, but she doesn't sound the least bit sorry. "Unfortunately, it's complicated."

"You messed up. He messed up. Say you're sorry. Not so complicated."

"I don't think you're qualified to dispense this kind of advice, Doctor Dex," she sniffs. "Are you sure he didn't send you here?"

"Yup."

"Then why are you here?"

"A lot of people don't like you—"

"—that's not true! I'm an invaluable part of this mission…" she trailed off. "At least, I used to be."

"Didn't say they didn't need you. But they don't know you like we do."

"So you came here to insult me then?"

"Nope. Just wanted to remind you that some people do like you. Don't push them away. Especially when they wanna help," he says, pushing him to his feet. "Talk to Sheppard."

Meredith watches him go and wonders if maybe he has a better grasp on things than she wants to give him credit for.

Despite her conversation with Ronon, Meredith still decides she's going to avoid Sheppard. She doesn't remember most of her stay in the infirmary, but she has a vague memory of Sheppard being there, seeing her in that state. She has no idea what she may have said to him and that alone is enough to make her hope she never sees him again.

Unfortunately, because the galaxy hates her, she runs into him first thing in the morning when she's on her way to the infirmary to meet with Carson.

"Mer?" He calls out and the sound of his voice literally stops her in her tracks. She can feel her body tensing as her fingers twitch at her sides. "I didn't… I didn't know you were out."

"I was released last night," she says, but she doesn't turn to look at him because she's not sure she can stand to look at his face. She hears the sound of his footsteps and a second later, he's standing in front of her. She can see the concern in his eyes even as he offers her a half smile.

"How are you… how are you feeling?"

"I don't have the overwhelming urge to claw my own eyes out anymore so, you know, I'd say I'm feeling a little better."

"Good," he says, nodding. "That's… that's good."

The silence that settles between them is awkward, to say the least.

"Are you hungry, maybe?" He asks and she hates how God damned hopeful he looks. "I was heading down to the mess and you know, if you're going that way—"

"I have to go see Carson," she says because she isn't ready for this. "Thank you though," she says and moves to push past him.

He stops her, his hand gripping hers and she's forgotten how good his touch makes her feel. She pulls away though because she feels like she should.

"John—"

"—I would have come back for you, Mer," he says and he looks so earnest that it actually hurts her heart. "I never… I never would have left you. I need you to know that. No matter what happens between us, I'll always come for you."

"I know," she says, even if she doesn't. His eyes are searching hers and even though she wants to look away, she can't.

"No you don't." His voice is quiet and she may be imagining it, but he sounds so sad. "But you will," he tells her. "I don't… I don't know how I can prove it to you, but I'll do whatever I have to until you believe me."

She swallows hard, because God dammit, she wants to believe him but she's a scientist and her science won't let her ignore the facts. So instead, she backs away from him, barely resisting the urge to bolt.

"Just… I just need some time," she tells him. "Just give me some time."

He nods and he looks like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders. "Okay," he says. "Okay, I can do that."

He gives her another half smile and an awkward wave before he turns and leaves her standing in the hallway, feeling completely winded.

Being so close and yet so fucking far away might hurt worse than the enzyme withdrawal.

And that was pretty God damned painful.

Chapter Text

The idea that his team wasn't coming for him isn't something that even crossed John's mind at first. He knew, without a shadow of a doubt that they were doing everything in their power to find him and bring him back. Really, he did. Even as the hours turned into days, days into weeks, John didn't want to give up that hope because really, it was all that kept him sane in the cave.

Even now, six months later, he doesn't like to think about the fact that they didn't come because it only serves to depress him more. There's nothing in this galaxy or the next that would have kept him from coming to them and the idea that they don't feel the same is like a swift kick to the balls.

Simply put: it hurts.

"You are distracted."

The sound of Teer's voice pulls him from his thoughts and for that, he's grateful.

"Yeah, sorry about that. Just uh… you know, just…" he trails off, offering her a shrug instead. It's easier that way, because he knows she doesn't understand.

"I understand better than you think, John," she says, smiling kindly at him. "Your eyes… they're very expressive, even when you don't mean for them to be."

He says nothing, because how can he even respond to that? "It's not… it's not that I don't appreciate everything you guys have done for me, because I do. I really do, I just…"

"You left people behind. People that you miss very much."

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, even if they don't feel the same."

Teer is silent as she reaches over, cupping his face gently in her hands. Her touch is soft, yet there's a confidence there that he hasn't experienced with anyone in awhile.

"It is their loss, John," she says softly, leaning forward to press her lips to his. He freezes for a moment, jaw clenched before he relaxes against her touch, reaching out to run his fingers through her soft hair.

Teer is everything that a guy could ever want. If he was normal—meaning, not so completely fucked up—he thinks he could probably learn to love this. But despite how gorgeous and amazing she is, she's just not Meredith.

There's probably something to be said about the way his heart drops in his chest at the very thought of her name and the way that he pulls back, feeling ashamed of himself.

"What's wrong?" Teer asks quietly, licking her lips as she runs her fingers through his hair.

"I'm sorry. I just… I can't do this."

"This isn't wrong, John," Teer says, but he disagrees because it is. It's all wrong. And maybe he's a little stupid for thinking it because hasn't Meredith already made it pretty clear that he screwed up and he's not going to get another chance?

"I can't," he replies and he's really sorry about it too, because six months is a long God damned time. But it wouldn't be fair to Teer to do this while thinking about Meredith the whole time.

She drops her gaze to her hands and he hates himself because he knows he's hurt her and maybe embarrassed her a little, even if that wasn't his intention. "I'm sorry," he says and he means it.

"You've left someone important behind," she guesses. "But John, if she hasn't come for you by now, what makes you think she will?"

John wishes he had an answer to that question.

There's still a small part of him that's holding out hope that they're going to find him, but it doesn't stop him from being surprised when Teer goes still at meal time, her eyes gazing unseeingly into the distance while he's in the middle of arguing with the other villagers over the beast.

"You're not alone," she says softly.

"No, I know that," John says, pulling his bread apart viciously as he glares at the others. "You were there too."

"No. I mean your friends have come." Her eyes look suspiciously watery as she turns to him. "They've come for you."

He's on his feet in an instant, his heart hammering wildly in his chest. "You're sure? Oh God, that's the best news I've heard in—"

"No, John. I… I sense something more."

He frowns, resisting the urge to shake her when she goes quiet. "Well? What is it?"

"The beast is nearly upon them."

John doesn't think, he just runs. His lungs are burning in chest and he feels a bit like he's going to throw up, but he doesn't stop because they're here.

In the distance, the beast is roaring. He can hear them screaming and yelling at one another along with the sound of shots being fired, but he just pushes himself harder.

His heart stops in his chest as he watches the beast send Teyla flying through the air as Meredith and Carson step in front of Elizabeth, weapons drawn.

A loud cry tears from his throat and he's vaguely aware of how stupid he sounds before he launches himself at the beast's back. He never makes contact though, because that sneaky fucker disappears and John crashes to the ground.

"Smooth, John," he mutters, pushing himself up slowly with a loud groan. "What the hell took you so long?"

He tries to glare because really, six months, but he's just so God damned happy to see them that he thinks he's probably smiling like an idiot. Especially when Meredith lunges forward and plows into him like a fucking freight train, nearly knocking him off of his feet.

"Believe it or not, John," Elizabeth says diplomatically while brushing her hair out of her face. "You were only gone for a couple of hours."

"Try six months!"

"No," Meredith says when she finally disengages herself from him. "You don't understand… you've been trapped in a time dilation field."

"What?"

"I'm not saying it again, you idiot!" She snipes, but he thinks she looks a little happy to see him.

"What in the bloody hell was that thing?" Carson asks, his hand still trembling slightly.

"I don't know," John shrugs.

"It is still close," Teyla frowns, pointing her P-90 in the direction of its roar.

Swallowing hard, John pulls his knife from its sheath as Ronon yanks his sword out of the ground effortlessly.

"You've fought this thing before?"

"Twice."

"How did you beat it?"

John grimaces at that. "Uh… still trying to figure that out."

"Now would be a good time," Ronon smirks.

"Yeah well, what do you say we just fight it and see what happens?"

"John?" Elizabeth calls carefully as the villagers step out of the woods. "Friends of yours?"

"We've come to fight," Teer says softly as the beast rematerializes in front of them. "We are not afraid of him any longer. The beast is of our own creation and it is long past time that we sent it away."

John watches, somewhat annoyed as the villagers walk forward, encircling the beast as it growls are roars at them. He thinks that maybe they're crazier than he thought they were but before he has an opportunity to suggest as such, the beast screams and disappears.

"You've got to be kidding me! That's it? That's all it took?" He asks incredulously.

"You were right, John," Teer says. "We were afraid. The beast was the final burden we had to shed, manifested from our fears. You gave us the courage to face it." Behind her, the other villagers are beginning to glow. "Come with us."

"I'm not… I'm not ready for that yet," he says and he thinks he can feel a pair of blue eyes on him. "To be honest, I'm not sure I'll ever be."

"One day, perhaps?" Teer asks hopefully.

"Yeah, maybe," he shrugs but when he feels Meredith move closer, he knows that's never going to happen.

"I'll look forward to it," she smiles before turning to Meredith. "There'll be no need to destroy the sanctuary, Doctor McKay."

"What? No, no, no, no, no! I wasn't thinking that. I was just—"

"We will keep the portal open for you until you are gone. Take care, John," she says softly before she disappears.

"What is it with you and ascended women?" Meredith asks, but John just laughs and reaches for her, pulling her close.

"They've got nothin' on you," he whispers, pressing a kiss to her cheek before he releases her.

"The beard is certainly interesting," Elizabeth smirks, her arms folded over her chest.

"First thing to go when we get back. Never uh… never thought I would see you guys again. I might have even missed you a little," he says, which in Sheppardese means "I've missed the fuck out of you guys."

"Yeah well, it was only a couple hours for us, so…"

"Ronon!" Teyla hisses, elbowing him fiercely before she turns back to John. "We were all quite worried about you."

"We're just sorry we didn't get here sooner."

John grins broadly at that. It was a long six months full of anger and heartache at the idea of them not coming, but suddenly, it doesn't matter anymore because they're here and he's going home.

"Let's get outta here, huh?"

It doesn't hurt that on the way back, Meredith slips her hand into his.

"I'm sorry it took me so long to figure out," she says quietly, squeezing his fingers gently. "It was complicated and I had to run back to the 'Jumper and get back to Atlantis to get Beckett and Elizabeth and I—"

"—Relax," he says. "I knew you would come."

"Always," she tells him and even though they've had their fair share of problems, he thinks she probably means it.

Chapter Text

It isn't easy for Meredith to force her eyes open because it feels like she's been hit in the head with a baseball bat. For a brief moment, while she's laying on the floor of the 'Jumper, bleeding from a head wound, she wonders if she's back on P34-M19 or The Planet with the Batshit Crazy Natives as she likes to call it.

When she does get around to opening her eyes, she's sprawled out on the floor of the 'Jumper and it takes every ounce of energy she has to push herself up onto her knees. Her head is spinning and she feels more than a little nauseous, but Radek's voice in her ear is prompting her into motion.

"Griffin. McKay. Come in please."

She groans quietly.

"Jumper Six, come in please," he says and Meredith thinks he sounds a little stressed out. Well, fuck him. He's not the one who's just taken a header into the ridiculously hard floor of the 'Jumper. Meredith wonders if she can convince Elizabeth that they need carpet. "Griffin! McKay! Come in please!"

Oh. Right.

"Yeah," Meredith manages. "We're here."

"Meredith! Thank God! We thought you…" Radek trails off and clears his throat uncomfortably. "Anyway, I've been trying to get in touch with you for over an hour!"

Meredith groans at that because really, does he have to talk so God damned loud? She wants to berate him for being so inconsiderate, but then she remembers that she's not alone so she struggles to her feet and stumbles over to the pilot's chair.

"Hey," she grumbles, poking Griffin in the shoulder. "Hey! Are you okay?"

"Not… not so good," Griffin mutters.

"Are you alright, Meredith?" Radek asks and he has the nerve to sound a little exasperated.

"I think we could both use an extended stay in the infirmary," she sniffs irritably. "What the hell happened?"

"The 'Jumper you were flying dropped off our screens. It crashed into the ocean."

"Yes, yes, yes, we…" She trails off, and swallows back a hysterical sob as she looks out of the windshield. "We're… we're under water."

"Yes, you are," Radek says.

"Then how the hell are you gonna find us, Radek?" She asks and at this point, she feels like she's holding on to her sanity by a threat.

"We have determined the direction of your radio signal, but not the range."

"How deep are we?"

Griffin shifts just a little in the pilot's seat and squints at the HUD. "One two zero zero and falling."

"Oh God. Zelenka, you're gonna have to hurry it up! We're already twelve hundred feet deep and sinking at a rate of about uh… twenty feet a minute!"

"Very impressive," Radek mumbles and Meredith wishes he was here so she could throttle him.

"Excuse me?" She screeches.

"Well, we already theorized that the 'Jumpers could be—"

"Yes, yes, yes, yes! I theorized it!"

"But twelve hundred feet!" Radek says, sounded completely fucked awed. "It's almost the maximum depth of a nuclear powered submarine!"

"We are not so keen on setting any records right now, so just-!"

Meredith trails off, her eyes widening in horror at the crackling sound that seems to reverberate throughout the 'Jumper.

"Oh, God."

"That's a problem!" Griffin hisses.

Meredith leaps into motion, pulling Griffin up roughly. "Are you okay to move?"

"Yeah, go! Go!"

"Meredith? What is happening?"

"The windshield's giving way under the pressure of the ocean!"

"Move into the rear compartment," Radek says, and he sounds like he's trying to remain calm. "The seal should be able to hold."

"Already one step ahead of you." She doesn't add the like always that's on the tip of her tongue, but she figures he probably already got that.

Meredith pulls Griffin into the back compartment before she reaches out and smacks the control for the bulkhead doors, but it's to no avail. The gears on the doors screech loudly, but the doors don't close.

"No," Meredith whispers. "No, no, no, no, no!"

"The crash… it probably damaged all sorts of systems," Griffin says, leaning heavily against the wall.

"Maybe if you were more focused on flying than enlightening me on the history of tomatoes—"

"Well, your focus didn't get the drive pod to shut off and I'm still not blaming you," Griffin frowns.

"Yeah, because it's not my fault!"

"I've got an idea," Griffin says, swallowing hard as he limps into the forward section of the 'Jumper.

"What… what are you doing?" Meredith asks, and she knows she sounds more than just a little hysterical but she thinks she's probably entitled.

"Good luck Meredith," he says, sinking down into the pilot's seat before activating the door controls.

"No," Meredith protests. "No, what are you doing?" The doors slide to a close, sealing her into the back. "Griffin! Griffin!" She stumbles backwards at the sound of the windshield giving away and for a moment, she feels like she's going to be sick. "Why would he do that?" She asks, completely horrified. "Why would you do that?"

Her heart is thumping wildly in her chest as she turns around, a quiet moan escaping her when she realizes just how fucked she is. "Oh my God," she whispers, squeezing her eyes shut. "It's okay Meredith. Just… wide open fields. Wide open fields. You are not stuck in a metal casket under thousands of feet of water. You're in a wide open field."

She swallows hard as she opens her eyes and while she's still completely fucked, she thinks she might have staved off a panic attack.

For now, anyway.

Reaching up, she taps her radio and tries to contact Radek, and it's all she can do to keep from sobbing out loud when she realizes that they cannot hear her. "Of course they can't hear you, you idiot," she says, her voice cracking. "All communications are in the forward section, which is flooded. Simply put: you're fucked. Fucked, fucked, fucked," she says and gives a hysterical little giggle.

Part of her wants to crawl up on the bench and go to sleep. She's sure that she's probably got a hell of a concussion, if the stabbing pain in her head is anything to go by, and with a little luck, maybe she can drift off to sleep and then just not wake up.

Except this is Pegasus, the galaxy that hates her and she refuses to just lay down and die. If she's going to go down with the fucking 'Jumper, she's going to go down fighting.

"Wouldn't John just be so proud of you? You're like a little soldier now, Mer," she says, giggling again despite the tears blurring her vision. "Okay solider. Quit stalling. Gotta figure out a way to get outta here. Can't sit around and just wait for someone to rescue you, because they won't."

Reaching for her tablet, she sinks down onto the floor of the 'Jumper, taking a deep breath.

It isn't easy to work with the tablet. She's always thought that the tablets were ridiculously tiny anyway and entirely inconvenient for anyone over the age of twelve, but now, with her fingers freezing, they're even more impossible to navigate.

"Worthless piece of shit computer equipment!" She scowls, resisting the urge to throw the tablet. Right now, it's the only thing she has to possibly send a signal out, so she talks herself down and takes a deep breath.

"Focus, McKay," she says, blinking rapidly in an effort to clear her vision. Reaching up, she presses a hand against the wound on her head and winces. It really fucking hurts.

It doesn't take long for her to manage a signal.

"Okay," she says, relaxing just a little. "Okay good. Now, maybe they can, you know, find out where the fuck you are. Doesn't mean they're gonna come get you, but they're… they're… well, I don't know. But at least they'll know where to spread flower petals or something. Come pay their respects," she says and she snorts at that because she knows that no matter how many times she's saved their collective asses, they don't respect her.

Bastards.

She wants to wallow in depression over that, but with the threat of impending death and all, there's really no time. She makes a mental note to come back to it later. If she makes it out alive, that is.

She's still fiddling around with the tablet, trying to figure out a way to boost her signal when the 'Jumper creaks ominously followed by the sound of something she can't quite place. It kind of sounds like—

-but no, it couldn't be. Could it?

"Of course," she groans, dropping her head back against the bench. "Of course there's fucking sea monsters. Pegasus, remember?" Pushing herself to her feet, she inhales deeply, praying what whatever the hell it is will just swim on by.

Swim on by.

Swim…

"Swim," she says, snapping her fingers. "Maybe the 'Jumper can swim!" She rushes to the bulkhead doors, pressing against the cold metal as she closes her eyes, envisioning the forward section. "Okay. Okay, okay. Cockpit is inaccessible, but that's okay. Most of the control conduits run back here so if you were really meant to be submersible, your drive pods should function under water too, hmm?"

She snatches her tablet up from the bench, her fingers flying over the screen.

"I can fly you from back here. Okay, well maybe 'fly' isn't the right word, but I can surface. And if I can get close to the surface…"

She exhales loudly. "Okay! Now we're getting somewhere! Never let it be said that you're not a genius, McKay," she says and maybe she's congratulating herself a little early, but it's better than wallowing.

She does not wallow.

Except that one time, but that's Sheppard's fault so it clearly doesn't count and it doesn't matter any more anyway because she's over that and if she ever gets out of this, she thinks she's probably going to tell him that.

Nothing like your own imminent devise to really make shit clear.

"Prioritize," she says, snapping herself from her thoughts. "You can focus on your sad love life later. First, let's work on getting you out of here and then you can fantasize about your reunion with Sheppard."

It isn't easy to focus. She thinks that's probably due to the head injury more than anything else, but everything is blurry and her God damned fingers just aren't functioning like she wants them to. "This little keyboard is killing me," she whimpers, opening the panel to the control crystals. "Mother of God, I could really use a new set of eyes."

"Let me take a look."

Meredith freezes, her fingers paused mid-air as she swallows hard. "Uh…. did I just…?"

"Yeah, you did."

She's pretty sure that's gone off the deep-end. Really, it's bad enough talking to herself but now she's hearing voices and she just can't…

Oh God.

She turns around slowly, tablet clutched to her chest. She has a hard time believing what she's seeing. He's leaning casually against the bulkhead door, arms crossed against her chest as he offers her a stupid grin.

"Sam?"

Carter grins broadly at her. "Don't worry, Mer. We're gonna get you outta here."

"How did you… Oh God, how… how are you…?"

"Good to see you too, McKay," he responds and he sounds a little hurt which is just so, so wrong.

What the fuck?

"Oh God. I've… I've lost it. Completely lost it!"

"No you haven't," Carter says, grinning at her.

Meredith drops onto the bench, lowering her head to her hands as she tries not to hyperventilate. "You're not real. You are not real. You are so not real."

"Of course I'm not real," he says in that voice that means he thinks she's an idiot.

She thinks she should probably be offended, but… wait a minute. "Excuse me?"

"I'm three million light years away with problems of my own," he reminds her as he slinks over to the bench, dropping down across from her.

"Okay. Fair enough," she says. "S o uh… what are you doing here?"

"You're hallucinating."

"Oh? And how am I doing that?"

Carter winces slightly and points to the wound that's still oozing on Meredith's forehead.

"Oh. Right. Is it that bad?"

He shrugs, leaning back against the bench. "The way I see it, you're scared. You're a little panicked, you're a lot lonely. You knew you could use some help, so your subconscious is manifesting the one person you know is smarter than you."

"Yeah, I don't think so," Meredith snorts.

"Oh, don't start with me, McKay!"

"You are very clever," she conceded. "I will even give you brilliant! But there is brilliant, and then there's me."

"Except every time we've worked together, you've been wrong and I've been right."

Meredith doesn't really think it's time to bring that up and she's a little indignant that a God damned hallucination is arguing with her, but whatever.

"Even if that were true—and no one is saying it is—the fact that you could assert that—"

"Why else would I be here?" Carter asks reasonably.

Bastard!

"I don't know! Maybe one last romp before I die!"

"One last romp?" Carter snickers. "Please, we never—"

"Okay, one first romp, but it's romping that comes to mind, not your brains, Carter! Now, you've gotta admit… I'm a gorgeous woman standing—"

"You're arguing with yourself," Carter says smugly. "You do realize that, right? Your mind is creating me and you're actually arguing with me."

Meredith stops, swallowing hard at that. If Carter is nothing more than a figment of her fucked up imagination, then what else is she imagining?

"Mer?" He asks, stepping forward, frowning. "What's wrong?"

"What… what else am I hallucinating?"

"What do you mean?"

"If you're… God, I thought you were supposed to be the smart one?" She snorts. "If you're not real, then what is? I mean… how, how, how do I tell the difference? How do I know that any of these readings I've been taking are correct?"

"Relax, McKay," Carter says and he sounds like he's going for soothing but she's a little too freaked out for that. "You're not that far gone. It's just… your readings are correct and you knew you could use some help. That's all. You've got a bad concussion, so—"

"—so here you are."

"Here I am," he says, and he gives her a genuine smile.

Well, as genuine as possible for a figment of her imagination.

--

Meredith doesn't know how much time passes. All she knows is that she's very cold and very tired, but she refuses to give up.

"Talk to me, McKay," Carter prompts from his place by the bulkhead door. He's slouching in a way that's startlingly reminiscent of John Sheppard and she has to work at ignoring the ache in her chest at that.

She wonders if she's ever going to see him again.

"What's the plan?"

"Well…" she breathes deeply, shaking her head slightly to clear her vision. "Okay. It's not, you know, the most brilliant plan in the world because I have a limited amount of time to execute it before the power levels drop to low, but provided that the uh… uh…" she trails off.

"Concentrate."

"Right. Okay. Providing that the coding is correct, we should surface and at that point, they should be able to pick up the signal and come get me."

"And… how much power is that going to kill?" Carter asks, crossing the small space of the 'Jumper to peer over her shoulder.

"Uh, I dunno. Most of it, I think."

"Then it's a bad plan."

"What? No it's not, you moron. Why would you say that?"

"Think about this logically, Mer. What happens if it doesn't work?"

"Well then… then I'm dead!"

"See? Bad plan," Carter shrugs.

"Oh yes, you're right! I should proceed with one of the other hundreds of possible options available to me because there are so many! Jesus Christ! Ronon would be better at this than you are, you know. And he's practically a God damned modern caveman!"

"Listen, I'm not saying that I have a better idea—"

"—So then what are you saying, Sam? That I should, should, should just sit here and do nothing?"

"Yes."

"Oh, brilliant. Abso-fucking-lutely brilliant."

"Stay warm, stay breathing, stay alive as long as you can," he says gently. "Give your team the biggest window of opportunity possible."

"Window of opportunity for what?"

"For rescuing you," he says and he sounds so sure that they're going to that it almost makes her want to cry.

"Even if they could find me," she starts, trailing off as her voice cracks. "Even if they wanted to find me, how are they going to get me out of here?"

"They'll find a way and listen to me, Meredith. If your plan fails—and it probably will—you could jeopardize their plans. Now, that being said, I'm going to help you stay alive as long as possible, but I'm not going to help you with your stupid idea."

"This is… God, I can't even hallucinate right today!"

Carter opens his mouth and she assumes he's going to spout more ridiculous bullshit that she's really not interested in when the 'Jumper jerks violently, sending her to the floor. She feels like it would be best to just stay there and cry because really, that's all she wants to do right about now.

"Can this day possibly get any worse?" She sniffles.

"I'd say it just has," Carter says almost apologetically. "We must… we must have hit the bottom."

"That's… that's a good thing. It, it, it means we're not falling anymore and, and—"

"No, Mer. Look," he says, nodding to the bulkhead doors where water is beginning to pool on the floor.

Meredith scrambles to her feet, ignoring the pounding in her head as she drops down onto one of the benches. "We're… we're taking on water. Oh God, this isn't good."

"Just… calm down," Carter says , sinking down onto the bench beside her. "This isn't good, but it's still okay. You've just got to focus on staying warm until they get here. Maybe you should heat the 'Jumper."

"N-no," she says, reaching for her tablet again. "I need… I need to conserve my power. Just… stop talking, okay? I need to get this done."

"Please don't tell me you're still going to work on that stupid plan?"

"Yes, yes, yes I am! And I have to do it before my power levels drop to fifty percent, so I'd really appreciate it if you'd just shut the hell up and let me work!"

"You see?" Sam groans, pushing himself up as he stalks away from her. "This is exactly why we didn't work out, McKay! You don't listen to people! You won't let yourself trust them!"

"I have every reason not to!" She screeches, her chest heaving angrily as she whirls around to glare him. "You, of all people, should know that! And, and, and this… this whole thing is Zelenka's fault anyway! He was the one responsible for the 'Jumper repairs! He told me she was ready to fly! He's the one who begged me to to take her out because he's too God damned afraid to fly! I should have just told him to suck it up and, and, and he'd be the one stuck down here with a poor excuse for a hallucination!" Her voice is hoarse and her face is just a little wet from tears she didn't realize she'd shed."I'm stuck down here paying for his mistakes," she whispers. "You'll excuse me if my trust in the God damned human race is at an all-time low."

She tries, in vain, to stop herself from crying but it's to no avail. Carter at least has the decency to pretend he doesn't notice when she swipes angrily at her face and sniffles pitifully, trying to get herself together.

"You can't get by in life with that mindset, Meredith," Carter says quietly. "You've been hurt; so what? You move on and you deal with it. You don't just push everyone away because it's the easy thing to do."

"I don't have a choice," she says, still sniffling.

"You always have a choice," he tells her. "So right now, choose them. Have faith that they're coming. They're not going to let you down."

"You don't know that."

"But you do," he says. "You just need a little help remembering that sometimes."

--

The water is rising faster than Meredith anticipated. Her fingers are even more stubborn than before and she's doing her best to ignore Carter. She wonders what it says about her mental state that she's actively trying to ignore an hallucination, but she doesn't have time to think on that right now because she's kind of busy trying to save her own ass.

"That's my job."

The sound of his voice startles her, and when she turns back to where she thought she left Carter, she nearly sobs in relief when she sees John standing there, thigh deep in water.

"How did you-?"

He just grins at her as he makes his way closer, pulling her into his arms. "Hi."

"What, what, what are you—"

"For warmth," he says casually, ducking his head to press his lips to hers.

She absolutely melts at the touch, the tablet sliding out of her hand slowly. It lands in the water with a quiet splash that pulls Meredith back to reality.

"You're… you're not really here. You can't transfer any heat."

"Doesn't mean I can't get you hot."

Well, that's embarrassingly true enough but she's certainly not going to tell him that.

"Stop it," she says, swallowing hard as she scrubs a hand over her face. "Stop it. I don't… I don't want you here."

"Yeah you do," he says and the sad thing is that he's right. "Clearly you want me here more than Carter. Guy's a total douchebag, by the way."

"You can't be jealous of Carter. You're both figments of my imagination. The idea that you're jealous of him when you're both really me…" she trails off because she doesn't have the energy to attempt a self psychoanalysis. "Whatever. The point is, I know what the hell you're doing."

"I would hope so," he grins, taking another step closer as he reaches for her. "C'mere," he says. "I've missed you so much, Mer."

"Stop it," she says again and she knows she sounds a little hysterical now. "You're just… you're trying to slow me down!"

"I'm pretty sure I'm trying to do the opposite."

"No you aren't," she frowns, shaking her head. "You're distracting me! You know I only have a few minutes to execute my plan and you're doing the one thing you know that could possibly slow me down! Jesus, I am one sick bitch."

"No you aren't," John says, reaching for her again. "Just… you're thinking too much. That's all. Just come here, okay? Come here and let me help keep you warm."

"I'm not going to fall for it," she growls, slapping his hand away. "This program is going to work, I know it."

"Don't do it," John begs. "I'm begging you here, Meredith. Give me a chance to get to you. You know I'm coming for you, right? You remember what we talked about? It doesn't matter where the hell you go, in this galaxy or the next, I'll always come for you. Always."

Meredith wants to believe him. It sounds so convincing and she wants to be able to trust him so bad but she can't because he's not real.

"Please just give me a chance," he says again, but Meredith ignores him and grabs her tablet out of the water, pressing the screen fiercely.

The 'Jumper shudders to life and Meredith nearly squeals in excitement. She can feel it moving under her feet and she thinks that she might actually get out of this one alive until the lights flicker and the drive pods shut down again.

It's all Meredith can do to keep from sobbing as Carter returns, his face set in a dark frown.

"How much power did you waste?"

Meredith shuts her eyes, willing her tears away before she inhales deeply and looks down at her tablet. "Twenty minutes."

"Okay, we're still okay then. Twenty minutes isn't bad at all."

"No, you misunderstand," she says and she doesn't know if she's laughing or crying at this point. "We've got a half an hour until I'm completely out of power. Half an hour until I'm dead."

"That's not going to happen," Carter says fiercely, even as the water continues to rise. Meredith is nearly waist deep in it now and her entire body is shivering, though whether it's from fear or from the cold, she'll never know. "Hey," Carter says again, and he sounds a little pissed. "You're going to get out of this."

"I wish I could believe you," she sniffles. "I just… it's been a really bad day, you know?" She asks, laughing sadly as she reaches up to swipe at her tears.

"You're going to be okay. Sheppard isn't going to let you down."

"I'm just… I'm glad there won't be a chance for it to be the other way around, you know? I think I've let him down more than enough. I don't want to be a disappointment to him again."

"What makes you think you would be?" He asks.

"I'm a screw-up Sam," she says, and there's that half-laugh, half-sob thing again.

"No you aren't. You're a genius, remember?"

"I think that… I think that's part of the problem. It's like… it's like I honestly don't think you're smarter than I am. On your best day, we're like, maybe a tie? But intelligence aside, you're so much wiser than I am. I just… sometimes, I think I'd take that over being a genius any day. At least then, maybe I wouldn't be so God damned bad with people."

"You're not that bad with people," he says, but she levels him with a glare. "Okay, so maybe your people skills could use some work, but regardless of that, you have people who really care about you. You know that, deep down or else I couldn't say it. Just have some faith."

"I'll… I'll try."

"Good. That's a start," he grins.

She falls silent, for a moment, and when she speaks again, her voice cracks. "John's a good guy. I'd like to think that you guys would get along, you know? Maybe you'll get to meet him some day."

"I'd like that."

"You've taken good care of me. Not just today because y'know, the whole not really being here thing, but before. I just… I don't think I've ever gotten to thank you for that, but if—"

"—when—"

"—when I make it out of here, I'm going to tell you," she says. "I promise."

"Just hold on a little longer," Carter says.

"I will," Meredith promises, offering him a crooked smile. "I promise."

And then, she closes her eyes.

Chapter Text

As far as John is concerned, there was never any question about whether or not he was going after Meredith. It was more a matter when rather than if and a small part of him almost hoped that Elizabeth, or anyone else for that matter, tried to stop him.

That would have been fun times.

Of course, sometimes he forgets that he's not the only one who cares about Meredith, and he was a little surprised when Elizabeth gave the go ahead almost as soon as he'd asked.

Radek wasn't happy about tagging along. John might have been more sympathetic if, you know, Meredith wasn't sinking rapidly under an alien ocean in a sinking space ship, but as it were, she was so he wasn't.

Tough shit, Radek.

Almost as if on cue, Zelenka starts muttering something angry in Czech and it should be funny. John's always thought it's kind of hysterical when he goes off on a rant that nobody can understand, but right now, not a God damn thing is funny.

"I think my Czech is getting better, 'cause I know what you mean," John says and he's clenching his jaw so tight that his teeth are really starting to hurt.

Radek throws his hands up with a grunt and then shoves them through his hair, making it stand up even more than usual. "It could be the shields, or it could be the depth, but I'm having trouble detecting the 'Jumper!"

Sonofabitch.

"Only…"

"Only what?"

Radek shoves his glasses up his nose viciously. "Could you bring up the H.U.D. please?"

John doesn't know what the point is, but thinks 'on' at the 'Jumper and the display lights up like a Christmas tree. He frowns though, when he sees a large blip moving around on the screen. "What's that?"

"Your sea monster," Radek says dryly. "It's at least six to eight times as large as the 'Jumper, so let's not venture too closely, okay?"

"How are the shields doing?"

Radek frowns, checking his tablet. "Twelve minutes."

"Alright," John says. "Let's check it out."

"What? Why would you want to do that?"

"Because it's still swimming around in circles in the same spot, which means it might have found something interesting," he says and without giving Radek a chance to complain any more, he leans on the controls and sends them deeper.

Radek is up from the co-pilot's seat, on his way to the back when his tablet chirps in what John thinks is an almost pleasant way. He hopes that means something good and not something like they're seconds away from a horrible death.

"'Jumper! I have the 'Jumper! The animal is circling around it!"

John thinks he could kiss Radek right about now, but he doesn't, because that's not quite his thing. Instead, reaches over and activates the communications systems.

"'Jumper Six, this is Sheppard. Come in please."

Radek is muttering in Czech again, shaking his head as he joins John up front. "According to my readings, it's dead. There is no power."

"Dammit," John curses because it seems like the right thing to do. "Alright, we'll get a grapple on it and then get the hell out of here."

"That isn't going to work."

John's heart is sinking in his chest and that urge he just had to kiss Radek has turned into the urge to punch him. "What? Why the hell not?"

"It… it has taken on too much water. Sensors indicate that even the rear compartment is partially full. The cable cannot take the strain."

"But we can—"

"No, listen to me Colonel. It is a matter of simple physics."

"I don't care about God damned physics!" John bellows. "I did not come this far to just sit here and do nothing! She—they—might still be alive in there and I'm not leaving without them! So do your little science thing and—"

"The shield. We can bridge the shield between the two 'Jumpers!"

"Are you sure that's gonna work?"

"Yes, yes. We can touch down on the ocean floor to help conserve power. It will just be a matter of walking between the two 'Jumpers!"

"Now you're talkin', Doc," John says. His heart is thumping wildly in his chest as he maneuvers the 'Jumper closer to the ocean floor. It isn't easy to back it up to the other 'Jumper's hatch, but he manages and a second later, Zelenka's tapping away on his tablet, extending the shield. "Meredith? Griffin? Do you copy?"

Silence. For one horrifying moment, John's afraid that they're too late, but a second later, the radio crackles to life and it's the sweetest sound he's ever heard.

"J-John?"

It's a good thing he's sitting down because he's pretty sure his legs would have given out at the sudden flood of relief. "Hi," he says and he wonders if he sounds as breathless as he feels. "What say you lower your door?"

"That's… not such a good idea," she says and Jesus Christ, she sounds like she's barely there.

"Listen, Mer, long story short, we've converted the cloak to a shield," he says and he's already on his feet, racing to the back of the 'Jumper. Punching the button for the back door, he barely waits until it's hit the ocean floor before he's out, racing between the two. "We've got it extended around your 'Jumper and I'm standing outside right now," he tells her, pounding on the door to prove it. "You hear that? All you've gotta do is open your door and walk to my 'Jumper."

Silence again.

"Meredith," he says and by now, he's sure he sounds a little desperate. "What's the hold up? We need to do this okay? I know it's hard to believe, but I need you to trust me and open this door. The shield isn't going to hold forever."

The radio crackles again and he can swear he hears her talking, but he can't quite make out what she's saying.

"Okay," she says after a moment. "Okay, but you need to stand back. We uh… we've taken on a lot of water."

John steps back away from the back of the 'Jumper as instructed and waits. A minute passes, then another and still, the back hatch hasn't opened. He's beginning to panic now, because she's gone quiet again, but before he can bark at her and order her to do something, the back hatch begins to lower and there's a rush of water.

It nearly knocks him off his feet, but he manages to remain upright and as soon as the door is all the way down, he's running inside.

His heart stops in his chest for a moment when he spots her, face down on the floor. She's soaked from head to toe and her entire body is trembling.

"Meredith," he says and his voice catches in his throat as he hurries over to her.

Her fingers are there, clutching clumsily at his jacket and she chokes and coughs up water. Reaching out, he brushes her wet hair back off of her face and helps her onto her knees.

"You're… you're really here?" She asks.

"I'm here," he tells her. "Griffin?"

"He was… he was in there," she says, nodding to the forward compartment. "I'm sorry, John. I… he didn't…"

"Hey, it's okay," he whispers, pulling her into his arms. "Let's just… let's get you home, huh?"

She nods weakly, and it's a testament to just how much she's been through that she doesn't protest when he scoops her up into his arms, cradling her to his chest. She's still shivering and he thinks there may be tears mixing in with the water on her face, but he doesn't comment as he carries her out of her 'Jumper and back to his.

"Sam," she mutters. "We've gotta wait for Sam."

"Who?" John asks, sitting her down gently on the back bench as Radek throws a blanket around her shoulders.

"He's still there. Get him, John."

"Meredith—"

John frowns at the way her eyes go a little unfocused and he looks over his shoulder to see just what the hell she's staring at.

"Are you sure?" She asks and as John reaches out to brush her hair back again, he finally spots the wound on her forehead.

Well, that clarifies things.

"Carter says it's okay," she tells him. "He says we can go."

Something angry clenches in the pit of John's belly at the mention of Carter. He wants to ask what the fuck she's hallucinating him for but really, this isn't the time or the place he swallows down the insane wave of jealousy and forces a smile.

"That's awfully nice of him," he says and if it's a little sarcastic, she doesn't catch it. "Are you ready?"

She just nods, but when John moves to stand up, she reaches for him, her fingers clutching his jacket again. "He said you would come," she says. "Maybe… maybe he is smarter than I am."

John doesn't know what to say to that, so instead, he leans down and presses a kiss to the top of her head.

It's a long way back to the surface. John wishes he'd thought to bring another pilot with him—maybe Lorne—because really, he wants to be in the back with Meredith. Unfortunately, someone's gotta fly the God damned 'Jumper so he's stuck up front while Radek does his best to keep Meredith calm.

Not that it's hard to do, because she's practically comatose back there but still. It should be him back there comforting her.

And what the hell is this Carter thing anyway? He knows it's probably a little ridiculous to be jealous over something like that, but really? She couldn't have at least picked Elizabeth or Teyla? Whatever. He's trying to tell himself that it doesn't matter because really, the thing that gets his goat more than anything else is that she still apparently didn't believe he would come for her.

For a genius, she's really dumb sometimes.

--

 

When they finally break the surface, John feels like he can breathe again. He knows the 'Jumper has been under a lot of strain, but he pushes just a little harder because Meredith's been quiet for far too long. He's kicking himself for not bringing Beckett along.

"Radek?" John calls as Atlantis comes into his view. "Talk to me. How's she doing?"

"It might be best to have a medical team on standby," Radek says. "John, I cannot wake her up."

John curses before he keys up the communications system.

"Atlantis, this is Sheppard. Come in."

Silence for a moment and then Elizabeth speaks. "John, it's good to hear your voice."

"Yeah, you too," he says and he means it. "We're about six minutes out, Elizabeth, but I need Carson in the 'Jumper bay with a medical team."

"Status?"

"We got Meredith out. She was awake at first, but she's unconscious and Radek isn't able to wake her up. Tell Beckett she's got a pretty nasty head wound."

"Will do. They'll be ready and waiting as soon as you return." She's quiet for a moment. "What about Griffin?"

"He… he didn't make it."

"Understood," Elizabeth says. "You three just make it back in one piece, hmm?"

"Plannin' on it," John says. "See you in a few. Sheppard out."

The next six minutes seem to drag on forever, and by the time they reach the 'Jumper Bay, John's having a hard time keeping it together. As soon as he touches down, he jumps out of the pilot seat and rushes into the back as Radek hits the button for the hatch.

There's a flurry of activity as the medical team boards and loads Meredith onto a gurney, but John just trails after them because he just got her back; he's not going to let her out of his sight now.

When they make it to the infirmary, he's pushed to the side as Beckett and his team of nurses try to assess the situation. Her body temperature is still lower than it should be, but she's starting to come around again. John breathes a sigh of relief when she starts batting weakly at Carson's hand.

"Relax, love," Carson says gently as he lifts her eyelids to check her pupils. "You're safe now. Just need to get you warmed up a bit."

"John?" She croaks, and it's so quiet that for a moment, John isn't even sure he heard her right.

"He's right here," Carson tells her and that's all the confirmation John needs before he's nudging nurses out of his way.

"Hey Mer," he says quietly, grabbing her hand gently to stop her from swatting at Carson. "Just relax, okay? Let the Doc take a look at you. You banged your head up pretty bad."

"Tired," she mumbles. "Cold."

"They're gonna fix you right up," John promises.

"Stay?"

"You got it," he says and he means it. He's not going anywhere.

 

--

 

The infirmary is nearly silent, save for the quiet beeping of machines. It should be annoying, but it's not and in some weird way, it soothes John. It's a reminder that Meredith is still here and that she's really okay.

She's got a pretty bad concussion and Carson's concerned about possible illnesses because she was in the water for quite awhile, but she's still alive and that's what's important.

He shifts slightly in the hard plastic chair. It's painful because his ass fell asleep hours ago, but he promised he wasn't going to leave and he had every intention of keeping it.

He closes his eyes, thinking that maybe he can catch a little sleep when the sound of rustling sheets catches his attention. His eyes fly back open and he's leaning forward in the chair, squeezing her hand gently.

"Mmm," she moans quietly, her blue eyes fluttering open sleepily. "Hi."

"Hi," he says, offering her a slight smile. "How ya feeling?"

"Um," she blinks slowly, trying to clear her vision. "Terrible?"

"A concussion will do that to ya," he says. "Beckett says you're going to be okay though." It isn't necessarily the full truth but he thinks it's probably what she needs to hear.

"Certainly don't feel like it," she mutters, pushing herself up just a bit against the pillows. He doesn't miss the wince that crosses her face, but she bats his hands away when he tries to help. "Can't… can't believe you actually stayed."

"Told you I would. One of these days, McKay, you might actually stop doubting me."

There's a ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth as she blinks sleepily at him. "Knew you would come," she says quietly, and she looks like she's already on the brink of sleep again. "Maybe not consciously, because it's easier to doubt everyone," she says, trailing off to stifle a yawn. "But deep down, I knew you would."

"Always," he reminds her and he squeezes her hand again.

"Thank you," she says, her eyes fluttering closed again.

John slouches down a little in the chair, but he doesn't pull his hand away because he thinks he needs the contact as much as she does.

"John?" She whispers after a moment.

"You need to rest, Mer. I'm not going anywhere."

"I know," she says. "But I think… I think I might sleep better if you kissed me first."

John's face brightens at that and he's on his feet in a second. "Are you sure?" He asks, brushing the hair off of her forehead gently.

"Never been more sure of anything," she tells him. "Nothing like your impending death to help you see things in a new light."

John laughs at that as he leans down, pressing his lips to hers. "Sleep, McKay," he says quietly when he finally pulls away.

"I will," she promises. "You think maybe we could um… try that again later though? When I'm not delirious from a head injury? I'd really like to make sure I'm not hallucinating this too."

"Absolutely," John tells her, sinking back into his chair.

He slouches back down in his chair as her eyes flutter shut and a second later, she's fast asleep.

"Almost lost you," he whispers to the empty infirmary. "But in some ways, I think maybe it helped me find you again too."

He's not going to mess up again.

Chapter Text

John feels strangely overwhelmed from the moment he steps through the wormhole.

He doesn't even get an opportunity to hand Meredith her bag back before she's being whisked in one direction and he's being pulled in another. He wants to protest, because really, they have three God damned days back on Earth. Five minutes to make sure they made it through in one piece isn't going to kill anybody.

He's not given the opportunity to protest, however, and even if he was, he knew he wouldn't take it. While he may be ranking officer on Atlantis, that doesn't mean shit here so he sucks it up and follows after Harriman like a good little boy.

The morning is full of meetings about stuff he couldn't care less about. Why they insist he sit in on these things will always remain a mystery because really, he lives in another God damned galaxy. Earth politics aren't exactly high on "John Sheppard's List of Important Shit".

Just when he starts to wonder if they'd take Atlantis away for poking his own eye with a pen in an attempt to get out of another mind-numbingly boring meeting, Landry calls for a lunch break and John thinks he could probably kiss him.

He starts to head down to the labs, because he knows that's most likely where Meredith is hiding out, but as he's passing the mess, he hears her voice carrying over the rest of the noise and he can't help but grin. It sounds like she's giving someone an ear full and he can't help but laugh.

Everyone on Atlantis knows you have to head her off before she really hits her stride and he thought it was mostly common knowledge at the SGC too.

Apparently not.

He schools his face into a look of sheer boredom as he strolls on into the mess hall. He spots the top of her curly hair tucked back in the far corner and she's clearly arguing with her companion. He thinks he should probably go over and save the poor schmuck from suffering from her wrath, but it's nice that she's yelling at someone other than him for a change so he moseys over to grab himself something to eat.

He'll deal with her in a minute.

"Is that your nerd?"

John turns at the sound of the voice and he can't help but grin. "She sure is. She's a handful, huh?"

"Doesn't even begin to describe that," the other guy snorts, rolling his eyes. "Cam Mitchell."

"Ah, of the Stargate-1 fame."

"You must be Sheppard from the Atlantis expedition then. I'm a fan."

"Good to know somebody is," John grins. "Have you met McKay yet?"

"God no," Mitchell shudders. "How do you cope?"

"Easy," John smirks, reaching over to pluck a lemon from the basket, tossing it over his shoulder to Mitchell. "Never leave home without one."

"Really?"

"Oh yeah. They're great for taming irascible scientists with citrus allergies," he says, his grin widening when he catches Meredith waving him over.

"Don't know if mine is allergic to citrus, but it's worth a try," Mitchell says dryly. "Thanks for the tip."

"My pleasure," John shrugs, grabbing a bottle of water before he turns towards Meredith. "See you around."

"Uh huh. Good luck with that one," Mitchell calls, waving the lemon and John can't help but laugh.

Like he needs luck.

"Where the hell have you been?" Meredith demands. "Over there talking to your new flyboy buddy, I see. I've been waiting for you!"

Okay, so maybe he does. A little.

"Sorry," he says automatically, sinking down into the chair across from her. "Boring meetings about stuff that has nothing to do with me. You know how it is," he says and offers her an apologetic shrug along with a grin he knows she can't resist.

She rolls her eyes, but stops ranting long enough at him to shove a spork full of mashed potatoes in her mouth.

"Who were you over here berating?" John asks because he's curious. "And where's this Carter guy you keeping going on about?" He's secretly hoping, of course, that Carter was the guy she was berating.

"I couldn't be bothered to ask his name. He's an idiot though, I know that much," she says, snorting. "You just missed Carter, actually. General Landry asked to speak with him for a moment. I expect you'll meet him later this afternoon."

"Great," John says and he wonders if she catches his sarcasm. "Can't wait."

"He can't either," Meredith says and she's actually beaming at him in a way that's almost scary. He wonders if this is the equivalent of meeting the parents, because if it is, he's pretty much fucked.

Things have turned around for them in the last month and for that, he's insanely grateful. He's not stupid enough to think that they're not going to have their issues or disagreements or whatever, but ever since the Puddle Jumper accident, it seems like they're both more committed to actually making this relationship work.

He just hopes fucking Carter isn't going to screw this up for him.

She shoves the rest of her potatoes in her mouth before she stands up, her chair scraping loudly against the floor. "Gotta go," she says, or at least he thinks that's what she's trying to say. When she comes over and gives him a gooey kiss to cheek, he realizes he was right.

Huh.

Well okay then.

By the time the end of the day rolls around, 'pissy' doesn't even begin to describe how John's feeling. He's been stuck in boring, pointless meetings all day and he didn't even have Meredith to help keep his mind off of whatever useless information was being shared.

Simply put: his day sucked.

He practically sprints from the meeting room almost as soon as he's dismissed, desperate to find Meredith and get the hell away from the mountain.

He slows to a controlled amble by the time he reaches the science hallway, hands shoved in his pockets casually. He can hear the sound of her voice spilling out into the hallway and he can't help the grin that forms on his face.

"I don't understand how you get any work done around here with all these idiots," Meredith complains loudly and John's grin widens just a fraction as he pushes the door open and slips into the room.

It lasts for all of five seconds.

"Oh, John!" Meredith greets, shoving the loose curls that have escaped her ponytail behind her ears. The tall blonde man standing beside her turns and offers John a genuine fucking smile and it's all John can do to keep from waltzing over and punching it off.

This must be the elusive Carter.

He forces what he's sure looks like a pained smile to his face as he slouches against the doorframe. He lifts a bored hand in greeting and tries not to be too obvious while he sizes Carter up.

"Hi," Carter says. "You must be Colonel Sheppard."

"I must be," John drawls.

"This is Sam," Meredith says and John has to work at not rolling his eyes. Yeah, like he couldn't have figured that one out.

"Nice to meet you," John mutters, even though it's not.

Meredith, luckily hasn't picked up on his sulkiness, or John's sure that he'd catch a foot to crotch for it.

"We uh… just finished up for the day, so if you're ready, I thought we could um… get outta here," John says.

"In a minute," Meredith responds. "Sam and I are just finishing up these last few calculations."

"Maybe I could help," John offers, because he knows that Meredith is always impressed by his mathiness and right now, he feels like he needs a leg up over Carter.

"I think we've got it," Meredith says dismissively and while it shouldn't piss him off, it does because she has that same haughty tone she gets when she's dealing with Zelenka.

John is less than three seconds away from going all Caveman when Carter clears his throat and nudges Meredith in the side.

"It's okay," he says and he's so fucking agreeable that it pisses John off even more. "We can finish this up tomorrow. Been a long day."

Meredith rolls her eyes and waves him off dismissively. "Five more minutes won't hurt anybody, so shut up and concentrate," she says and her back is still to John.

"Mer," he sighs and he thinks he might be whining just a little, but it has been a long day.

"Oh, for the love of God," she growls, turning around to face him, hands on her soft hips. "What in the world is wrong with you? Last time I checked, I hadn't inherited a five year old."

"I'm just tired," he says defensively. And sulky and jealous, but he keeps that to himself. "He just said you could finish up tomorrow."

"Yes, fine," she grumbles and while she sounds pissed, she's not making her pissed face so he thinks he's probably going to be okay. "I'm getting hungry anyway," she says, brushing her hair out of her face when she turns back to Carter. "Did you wanna come with?"

Carter actually snorts at that, and John thinks that maybe, just maybe, he's being had. Is he really that transparent?

"I think I'll uh… pass this time. Maybe later though, huh?"

"Sure," Meredith says with a shrug as she turns back to John, her face set in a scowl. "Let's go."

He waves half-heartedly to Carter because he's pretty sure he's expected to before he trots out after her, scowling at her back the entire way.

"You're being ridiculous," Meredith announces as they step outside into the chilly evening air. He can't help but roll his eyes because yeah, maybe he is, but so what? He's entitled.

Carter's nowhere near as geeky as John hoped he would be and he's smart.

How the hell is John ever supposed to compete with that?

John doesn't realize Meredith has stopped walking until he literally runs into her. He stops, eyes wide as she stares up at him with her hands on her hips.

"Stop it," she orders. "It's not like that."

"I know," he mutters and really, deep down he does. It's just that he's screwed up so much lately and she genuinely seems to like Carter which scares the fuck out of him because she likes to pretend she doesn't like anybody.

"I'm not going to justify my friendships to you," she says and it's creepy because it's like she's reading his mind. He doesn't know when she became so well versed in reading him. "We're friends. Plain and simple."

"I know," he says again and he feels like an idiot.

Meredith rolls her eyes and sighs before she pulls him into a slightly awkward hug. While they've mastered the art of kissing, they haven't had much time to work on those reassuring touches, but she's trying and it's the thought that counts.

"We're just friends," she says again when she pulls away. "So I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop puffing your chest out and fluffing your ridiculous hair the next time you see him."

"There was no hair fluffing this time," he protests.

"Just in case," she smirks. "Now, are we done being all stupid or can we go get something to eat?"

"Pushy," he mutters, but he slips his hand into hers as he leads her to their Government issued car.

It doesn't take them long to find a good pizza place and a convenience store, and once they've stocked up on good food and better beer, they head for her apartment. John thinks it's a little weird that she kept the place knowing it was a good chance she'd never make it back, but tonight, he doesn't care. He's just grateful that they have some place to go other than the SGC barracks.

Sleeping alone in a bunk smaller than those sardine cans he ancients tried to pass off as beds wasn't exactly on his agenda for this trip.

"It's a little messy inside," Meredith mumbles as he pulls up in front of her building, but he only snorts at that. Really. He's seen her room more than once. Cleanliness is not a trait he expects from her.

"It's fine," he says, grabbing the case of beer from the back seat as she climbs from the car, pizza box balanced on one hip as she digs through her bag for her keys.

It doesn't take them long to get up the stairs to her apartment. She shoves the door open, wincing slightly at the stale smell before she gestures him in, waving in the general direction of the kitchen as she shoves the pizza box into his hand.

"Make yourself at home," she says. "I'm just gonna open up some windows, let some fresh air in."

"Mer, it's fine. Really."

"Shut up and go eat. Plates are in the cabinet above the sink. I'll be right in."

And with that, she hurries off into the direction of the bedroom and John can only shake his head. He doesn't know what she's complaining about. The apartment is much cleaner than her quarters can ever hope to be.

He deposits the pizza onto the counter and slides the beer into the refrigerator before he grabs a couple plates. True to her word, she's only gone for a couple minutes before she returns, shoving her wild hair behind her ears.

They're both quiet and maybe a little tired as they grab their dinner and head into the living room. Meredith's couch is comfortable and in just seconds, John can feel himself melting into the plush cushions with a content sigh.

"We need to see if we can smuggle this through the 'Gate," he groans, taking a bite of his pizza.

"It is quite comfortable, isn't it?" Meredith asks, scooting a little closer so that their thighs are touching. "Maybe Elizabeth would let us requisition one on the next Daedalus run. It would definitely make movie night more pleasant."

"Movie night is 'pleasant' enough as it is," he says, bumping her knee with his.

"Oh yes. I just love being smooshed between you and Chewbacca on those uncomfortable pleather-like couches. You know, those Ancients may have been smart, but they had crap for taste!"

John laughs and takes a drink of his beer, nearly draining the bottle in a single gulp.

They fall silent again after that and after another bottle of beer, John's already starting to feel the effects of the alcohol coursing through his system. It's a testament to just how long it's been since he's had a drink, but he's not complaining.

This is the most relaxed he's felt since they stepped through the 'Gate.

Meredith is slumped next to him, her body warm pressing against his and he lifts his arm up to urge her closer. She leans forward briefly to drop her empty plate onto the table before she snuggles back against him, tucking her head under his chin.

"Don't get too comfortable," she mutters, and he can see her eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks as she closes her eyes. "Didn't change the sheets for nothing."

"Told you not to bother."

"I thought we've established that I generally don't listen to you."

He growls at that and leans over to press a kiss to the top of her head. "You're a pain in the ass, you know that?"

"And you're a jealous idiot so I think we're fairly even."

"Point," he concedes. "Bed?"

"Never thought you'd ask."

When she pulls away, she pushes herself to her feet and stretches a little and he has to stop himself from reaching out and touching that little sliver of skin that's just visible between the top of her pants and the bottom of her shirt.

That little bit of skin is what got him into trouble the first time and he's not looking to repeat that mistake.

They both stumble into the bedroom, full of pizza and beer and John's actually looking forward to crawling into bed with Meredith and sleeping for an entire night without any interruptions from Chuck or Lorne or anybody else for that matter.

"Bed," she says, shoving him in the general direction as she pauses at the dresser. "Gonna change. Make yourself comfortable though," she tells him, giving him one of those rare, genuine smiles that he absolutely loves.

"Hurry up," he urges before he sinks down onto the edge of the mattress and groans at how comfortable it is. He takes his time kicking his boots off and he almost hates to stand up again to get rid of his pants, but he manages and shucks them into a corner. He makes quick work of his shirt and once he's stripped down to his boxers, he lays back against the pillows and sighs.

His eyes flutter closed for a minute but when he opens them up again, he nearly chokes on his God damned tongue.

The bathroom door is slightly ajar, giving him the perfect view to watch as Meredith changes. She starts with her shirt, tugging it up over her head and he almost gasps at the sight of the fingers fumbling with her bra clasp. A second later, it falls away, leaving her pale back completely bare.

He thinks he should probably look away because watching her like this…

He swallows hard as she reaches up to pull out her hair tie and his cock twitches uncomfortably as that wild, messy hair falls down over her bare shoulders.

"Oh sweet Jesus," he mutters when she pushes her pants down her legs and kicks them to the side, leaving her standing there in just her underwear. He wonders briefly how the hell he's supposed to make it through the night after seeing something like that, but he doesn't have a chance to think on it anymore because she tugs a t-shirt over her head and slips back into the bedroom, giving him a sly grin.

She slides into the bed beside him, pressing her tits right up against his side and it's all he can do to swallow back a moan.

"Good night, John," she says and wiggles just a little closer.

His cock is standing at full attention now and it's hard enough that he figures it could probably cut glass. It isn't helping that she just can't seem to get 'comfortable' and keeps brushing herself against him.

"You're a little tease," he finally growls and he's a little pissed off because he's trying to not screw this up! He doesn't want to do anything that could make her think he just wants to fuck her, but God damn it, she's not making this easy!

He figures he'll probably be better off on the couch, so he pushes himself up and starts to climb out of the bed when she grabs him, tugging him back.

"Stay," she says.

He freezes for a moment, because oh God, he wants to so bad. She reaches around, stroking his chest gently and he really can't take any more.

He turns on her quickly and pushes her back against the mattress, leaning down to press his lips to hers. She's so soft beneath him and Jesus God, he's forgotten how good this feels.

"Mer," he sighs quietly, fingers fisting through her hair as he presses himself against her.

"Yes," she says, lifting her hips up slightly. He can feel her fingers at the waistband of his boxers, tugging the elastic away from his body and it's all he can do to suppress another moan when she slides them down slowly.

"Jesus."

She reaches up, threading her fingers through his hair before she tugs him down for another kiss as he grinds himself against her. She opens her mouth just a bit and bites down on his lower lip gently as her blunt nails rake down his back.

"Now," she manages, arching her back just slightly to press herself against him again. "You… you don't need a written fucking invitation, John. I need you."

He wants to protest, because really, their first time was fast and desperate and he really wants to take his time with her, but he just can't. Not when she's like this: needy and begging for him to fuck her.

He starts to tug her shirt up, but she pulls her hands away from his back and slaps at his fingers away from the hem.

"C'mon, Mer. I want to see you," he groans, leaning down kiss her neck, nosing her collarbone gently.

"No," she whispers. "Not tonight. Just…" she whimpers, lifting her hips again. "Now, John. Or I'll take care of it myself," she threatens and he can feel her hands inching their way down their bodies slowly.

He grabs her wrist roughly and pins it above her head before he bites down on the gentle flesh of her neck.

"No," he growls. "Mine!"

She gasps at that, arching into him again and he releases her hand long enough to push her panties over roughly and slide into her.

She cries out and he nearly pulls away because Jesus Christ, the last thing he wanted to do was to hurt her! But then, she clenches around him and sighs his name it a way that almost makes him come right then and there.

"I'm okay," she moans, rocking against him just slightly. "I'm… oh God, John. I'm good. I'm good. Just please, I… oh."

She closes her eyes, lifting her hips against his when he moves and he completely fucking knows how she feels.

"Jesus, Mer," he moans and he wonders when he became so fucking religious, but whatever. Feels too God damned good not to praise something.

"Oh God," she sigh, drawing her nails down his back again. "Right there," she hisses. "Jesus."

He shifts just slightly, hooking his shoulder under her leg to get an even better angle and seconds later, she's practically screaming his name as he pounds into her. He wants to make this last for as long as humanly possible, but she keeps clenching around him, making herself even tighter and holy fuck he isn't going to last much longer.

His cock is throbbing inside of her and he's right on the fucking verge of losing it. Her nails are digging into his skin hard enough to draw blood and she's practically vibrating around him.

"John!" She cries, and she opens her mouth to babble some more, but he crushes his lips to hers as she explodes around him. He follows a second later and it's all he can do to keep collapsing on top of her once he's completely spent.

He rolls off of her slowly, hissing as his sensitive cock slips out of her. Collapsing onto his back, he's panting like a dehydrated fucking dog and it's all he can do to try to catch his breath.

At his side, Meredith scoots closer, tucking her head under his chin as she splays her fingers across his chest. Reaching up, he slips his hand into hers, linking their fingers together before he brings her knuckles up to his lips to press a gentle kiss to them.

"G'night, Mer."

"'Night John," she says sleepily, releasing a quiet content sigh as she relaxes against him.

John should have known that after such an amazing night, things were going to go to hell.

It was another long, boring day of meetings made worse by the fact that he didn't get to see Meredith at lunch. He figured she was probably holed up in her lab with Carter—a thought that only made his attitude worse—and he didn't know if he could stomach seeing them together so after grabbing an apple and a bottle of water, he hightailed it out of the mess.

The rest of the afternoon didn't get any better and once again, as soon as he was dismissed from stupid meetings, he sprinted for the science labs. Maybe if he was lucky, he'd get a repeat of the previous evening.

It certainly started out similarly enough, what with the yelling that could be heard in the hallway, but as he drew closer, he realized that this was different.

In a bad way.

Part of him wants to turn tail and run because really, Meredith isn't the easiest person to deal with on a good day. She's downright impossible when she was like this, but as her on again-off again- on again—thank Jesus for that—boyfriend, it's his duty to step in and try to make things right.

He slips into the lab quietly, and immediately feels a stab of jealousy in the pit of his belly. Meredith is hunched over at her desk and Carter is crouched down in front of her, hands resting casually on her knees in a way that really fucking pisses John off.

"What the hell is going on in here?" He asks, arms crossed over her chest, but he doesn't even get an opportunity to slouch against the door frame because as soon as he speaks, Meredith is on her feet.

He holds his arms out expectantly because really, she looks like she could use a hug but she just screws her face up in a way that lets him know she's really angry and whacks him hard in the chest.

"What the hell, Mer?" He asks, rubbing at the spot for good measure.

"You… you… I can't believe…" She's shaking now, literally shaking and she looks like she wants nothing more than to murder him.

Oh, fuck.

"What did I do now?" He asks, because he thinks that's probably the right response.

"She's been crappy all afternoon," Carter says and that just pisses John off even more because really, didn't anybody think to come get him? Personal relationship aside, she's still his head scientist and he thinks he's earned the right to know when she's seconds away from a mental breakdown. "She was managing it pretty well though, until Cam stopped by."

Her face goes white at the mention of Mitchell's name and John decides right then and there that if he so much as breathed on her wrong, he's going to murder to guy.

"What happened?" John asks, hands gripping her shoulders, because this important. "Mer, what happened?"

She pulls away from him, batting his hands away. "Don't… don't touch me! Did you really… I can't believe… I'm allergic, Sheppard!"

"What?"

"I know… I know it's probably just some big stupid laugh amongst you and your stupid flyboy cronies, but I'm allergic! I don't know if you've ever seen someone go into anaphylactic shock—"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down! What are you talking about?"

"The lemon!"

"The-?"

Oh.

Oh, he is so fucked.

He swallows hard, trying to come up with a way to explain that without seeming like a giant douchebag, but there is none. He doubts she'll believe him when he tells her that he wasn't even thinking and…

Oh shit.

"It was just a joke, Meredith," Carter says, biting the bullet on that one before John has the chance to. "Cam didn't mean anything by it."

"He threatened my water with lemon juice!" She shrieks, and John can't help but wince slightly. "You know, I tolerated the stupid lemon waving he was doing earlier, because fine. It was fine. Touching me with a lemon can't kill me. Ingesting it can!"

"I'm sorry," Carter says and he really does look pretty sorry which only makes John feel like an even bigger asshole.

"What the hell are you sorry for?"

"It was just a joke," Carter says again and John really can't believe he's doing this.

"You… you told him about my allergy?"

"I didn't mean anything by it. It just… you know, kind of happened."

"You're an insensitive prick, Sam," she says and while it's obvious she's pissed, it's pretty clear to John that she's hurt too. "You know, I expected it from one of these stupid…" she trails off, taking a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, Mer."

She responds by smacking his cheek before she stalks out of the lab, the door banging shut behind her.

John thinks he should go after her. He tries to go after her, but unfortunately, Carter the God damned saint grabs him by his jacket and stops him in his tracks.

"Yeah, that's not gonna happen," Carter says, nodding to a chair in the far corner of the lab. "Sit."

"What the hell did you do that for? You didn't tell Mitchell."

"Nope. You did."

"Then why the hell did you lie?" It would be a lot easier to hate the guy if he was more of a dick.

"Because that? She'll get over it because it was me. If it had been you? Not so much."

John crosses his arms over his chest. He knows he should be grateful for what Carter just did, but mostly he's just pissed. He really hadn't meant anything by it and he certainly wasn't trying to belittle her allergy! For God's sake, she complains about it enough that nobody back home takes it lightly.

"Listen," Carter says and now he sounds a little annoyed. "I'm sure underneath all that hair, you're a great guy. Really. And if you're what makes her happy, then I'm all for it. But I don't know if you've realized she's got some… issues, especially when it comes to trusting people and what you did with Cam completely broke that trust."

"I didn't do anything!"

"You gave him a weakness to exploit. I know Mitchell well enough to know he'd never actually follow through with his threat. She doesn't."

Sometimes, John wonders what the hell he's gotten himself into.

"Jesus Christ," he says because now, he really feels like an ass. "It was harmless. I didn't know he was gonna carry it around for two days… waving it at her," and he almost snorts at the mental picture.

Lemon of Doom.

But then he reminds himself that this isn't funny because Meredith's really upset and the guy that he's wanted to murder for weeks has just saved his ass.

He needs a drink.

Apparently, Carter and Meredith attended the same Mind Reading 101 class, because he just claps John on the shoulder and laughs.

"It gets better," he says. "It takes forever to win her trust, but when you do, things will be easy."

"We're talking about the same person, right? Easy? McKay?"

"You'll see," Carter says, grinning at John.

John really, really wishes he was an asshole.

"Listen, while I've got you here, I just wanted to make something clear," Carter says, and he's still grinning but John can hear the threat in his tone. "You're gonna screw up. There's no way around that. Like you said, this is McKay. But if you ever do anything to intentionally hurt her…" he trails off, clapping John on the shoulder again. "Let's just say I won't hesitate to break both your legs. Clear?"

"Crystal," John says and this time, he grins back, because really, if this guy is this loyal to someone like Meredith, he can't be that bad.

Besides, that was totally a big brother speech. Big brothers, he can deal with.

Big brothers are not a romantic threat.

But while he's got Carter here, he just can't help himself.

"Can I uh… ask you a question?"

"Go for it," Carter says, as he turns to a laptop on the workbench, his fingers moving just as quickly as Meredith's.

"What happened to her? I mean… she's, like you said, she's got issues and I just… I'm curious."

John watches as Carter's broad back tenses. On the keyboard, his hand clenches into fist, but he doesn't turn to face him.

"Not my place to go there," he says. "She'll tell you when she's good and ready. Just… do yourself a favor and don't push."

John thinks that's probably a dismissal. "Right. Uh… thanks. You know, for the chat. It was good. We should do it again some time."

"You'd better believe it," Carter says. "And soon."

Carter isn't as bad as he thought, but still, he hopes not too soon.

It doesn't take John long to track Meredith down.

There are really only so many places a person can go inside the SGC and luckily for him, he knows all her usual hangouts.

Stepping into the mess, he makes a beeline for the Jello and grabs two cups, hoping that by bearing gifts, she's not going to completely castrate him. He grabs two spoons and then makes his way over toward the back table, offering what he hopes is a genuine smile.

"So," she says, her full lips set in a frown in as he approaches. "It's been brought to my attention that I may have overreacted in the lab."

"No you didn't," John says, sinking down into the chair across from her. "You have every right to be pissed off about something like that."

"I just… It's not as easy for me as it is for someone like you or Sam, you know?" She says, shoving her hair behind her ears furiously. "I don't… I mean, back home, it's imperative that everyone knows about my allergy because we're in such close quarters, but it's not something I generally like to broadcast to the rest of the world."

"Having an allergy isn't a big deal, Mer."

"It is when people only want to use it against you."

"Do you really think he would have done anything to hurt you? I mean, seriously. All anger aside."

"I don't know what he would or wouldn't have done! I don't know him! That's the point! It's… it's hard enough trusting people who I interact with on a day to day basis on a… on a personal level, let alone a complete fucking stranger!" She takes a deep breath and a bite of her Jello. "But still. I overreacted."

"It was me who told Cam," John blurts out because really, he doesn't think it's fair for Carter to take the blame for it. "It was… something I said without thinking and I'm really sorry, I just didn't know it was a big deal, you know?"

"Wait… what?"

"I told Cam. Yesterday in the mess."

"You… you told that idiot about my allergy?"

"Yes?" John says and he can't help but wince.

"And you stood there and let Sam take the blame for it?"

"Well, you know, he seemed really determined to do it," John says and he slouches a little in his chair.

"John," Meredith groans, but she doesn't really sound mad anymore, so he thinks he's probably okay. "Jesus, you must think I'm a complete nut job."

"Not really," John says because it's true.

She sighs and cocks an eyebrow at him. "I wonder if this means we're maturing."

"What?"

"You know, the fact that we can actually discuss these things without tears and your slouchy brooding."

He straightens up a little at that. "Does this mean I'm not in trouble?"

"For now," she decides, finishing her Jello cup off in one more bite. "But if you ever pull that shit again, especially the part about letting Carter take the blame, then I promise I will castrate you."

"Deal," he grins, leaning over the table to press a kiss to her blue lips. "Does this mean I still get to come home with you?"

"I suppose," she says, but she smiles back. "Looking for a repeat of last night?"

"Actually, I'm looking for some more time on that comfortable couch of yours," he smirks, laughing when she throws the empty container at him. "Kidding. I'm kidding! But seriously. We should smuggle it back to Atlantis."

"Only if we can smuggle Sam back too."

John decides that the couch isn't that comfortable.

Chapter Text

Meredith is really tired of working with morons; especially morons who are only present in Atlantis for one week out of six and think that entitles them to pull rank, which, by the way, it doesn't.

She's never been a huge fan of Caldwell. Sure, she's grateful that he's pulled their asses out of the fire a time or two but really, gratitude means nothing in the long run. She doesn't respect him—that whole issue of him trying to take John's job while John was slowly turning into a bug has made sure of that—and truth be told, she doesn't trust him completely.

Not that she thinks he's a bad guy, because really, if he wanted to, he could have been the commander of Atlantis at least seven times by now if he'd just showed up a minute too late when they were having their asses handed to them, but whatever.

The point, if you want to get right down to it, is that he's a dick. Plain and simple.

She doesn't know that she could have handled this situation any better though, if she's being honest. She isn't Military and dealing with something like her boyfriend and best friend being taken over by alien consciousnesses isn't exactly within her realm of expertise, but it's the thought that counts.

He could have at least pretended to defer to her, or to Lorne for that matter. Sure, Lorne isn't exactly her favorite person either, but he's John's second-in-command. Stomping around the 'Gate room, pulling rank without so much as a second thought was a dick move and Meredith's not sure she'll ever be able to take Caldwell seriously again.

Even if everything did turn out alright in the end.

Well, mostly right, considering John has disappeared from the infirmary. She hates that she couldn't be there when they were finally brought in, but unfortunately, the psychopathic alien that took over Elizabeth's body did a number on one of the labs and it took her and Zelenka most of the evening to clean it up.

When she did finally manage to get away, she stopped in the mess for a quick bite to eat and then headed to the infirmary only to find that John had already been released.

"He's back to himself now, Meredith," Carson sighed when she berated him loudly for letting him go.

"And you just took his word on that?"

"He's fine other than a wee headache but I've got four guards stationed in front of his door just to be on the safe side."

"Isn't four a little excessive?"

"Caldwell's orders and weren't you just the one screeching at me for lettin' him go?"

"Okay, one: I do not screech."

"You do."

"Do not."

"You do," Carson said with a huff before he cocked an eyebrow at her. "I don't have time for this. I need to be seein' to Elizabeth."

"How is she?"

"Unfortunately, Phebus seems to be hangin' in there but I'm confident that she'll be just fine. Now please, if you'll excuse me…"

Meredith had been dismissed rather rudely, but she'd been anxious to find John anyway so after checking in on Ronon, she'd set off for John's quarters.

"The Colonel's asleep, ma'am," one of the marines greets as she approaches, but Meredith just rolls her eyes. "He's made it clear that he doesn't want to be disturbed tonight."

"By anyone but me, he meant," she says confidently. "Now move out of the way."

"Ma'am, I really have to insist that you go back to your own quarters. Colonel Sheppard said no exceptions."

"Oh he did, did he? Well, we'll just see about that. Move. Now."

"Ma'am—"

"If you ma'am me one more time, I can assure you it'll be quite awhile before you know what hot water feels like. You have three point six seconds to move out of my way or your stay on Atlantis is going to get excruciatingly uncomfortable."

Hands finding her hips, she offers him an irritable glare when he finally steps to the side, swiping his hand over the control crystal.

"Suit yourself," he mumbles as Meredith slips inside the darkened room.

"Well this is foreboding," she huffs, arms crossed over her chest as the door slides shut behind her, sinking her into almost total darkness. "John?" She squints, hoping her eyes will adjust soon when a quiet groan catches her attention. "John?"

"Go 'way, Mer," he says, or at least she thinks that's what he's saying. He's incredibly muffled.

"Why the hell is it so dark in here?" She demands, moving closer to the bed when he whimpers almost pitifully. "John? What's wrong?"

"Shut the hell up, McKay," he says and she's about to get pissed off because really, what the fuck? However, she realizes he's almost pleading with her so rather than thinking the lights on and marching over there to slap the hell out of him, she lowers her voice slightly.

"Are you okay?"

"Migraine," he manages and as her eyes have finally adjusted to the dark, she can just make out the Sheppard-shaped lump huddled in the middle of the bed.

"Ohhh." Huh. Well, the darkness makes a lot of sense now. "You should be in the infirmary then. Carson can give you something to help with the pain and—"

"Please, Meredith," he says, his voice strained and strangely watery. "Please stop talking."

She'll be offended about that later, she decides. For now, she just makes her way over to the bed, careful not to trip over his stupid skateboard or discarded boots.

Sinking down onto the edge of the bed, she cringes when he whimpers again as the mattress dips under her weight.

"Sorry," she whispers. "Sorry."

"Jus' go. Please."

"No. I'm not leaving you alone like this. Just um… I'll just sit here quietly, okay? In case you need anything. You just uh… go back to sleep," she says, shifting slightly on the bed to lean her back against the headboard. "This is courtesy of your alien guest, I take it? Weird, because I never suffered from a migraine after Cadman's brief stay in my head, but then again—"

"Meredith!"

"I'm talking quietly!" She hisses, cringing when that comes out louder than she intended. "I'm sorry!"

He shifts on the bed, hands pressed against his ears and she thinks maybe, just maybe, she should have listened to the marine outside and stayed away.

She doesn't deal with sick very well, but for him, she wants to try.

Reaching out, she rests a tentative hand against his stupid hair, threading her fingers through it gently. She has no idea if it'll help, but she has a vague memory of her sister doing the same for her years ago when they still liked each other.

"Is this… is this okay?" She asks, whispering quietly.

"Yeah," he manages, moving just enough to rest his cheek against her thigh. "This is… this is good."

"Sleep then," she tells him.

"You should… you should go. I'm…" he trailed off and she could feel him swallowing hard against her. "I'm not gonna be much fun for the next couple hours."

"Not going anywhere, you idiot. I'm where I need to be. Now shut up and go to sleep. I've got you."

It doesn't take long before he goes completely still against her, but she doesn't pull her hand from his hair. It's meant to comfort him, of course, but in a way, it's making her feel better too.

It wasn't easy watching as an alien took control of his body and she thought she would throw up when she fired a shot at him without thinking. It was even harder though, listening to the comm channels as he worked at evading Elizabeth and vice versa, knowing there was nothing she could do to fix the situation.

"Stop thinkin' so loud," John whines, burrowing his face into her pants.

"Sleep," Meredith hisses.

"Can't. Shut up first."

She rolls her eyes and drops her head back against the headboard as he rubs her thigh gently.

"Thanks for ignorin' the marines," he says, his voice barely above a whisper. "I r'lly am glad you're here."

"Please," she snorts quietly. "Like a couple marines are really gonna keep me outta here," she says.

"My brave li'l scientist."

"My silly, sick flyboy. Sleep now."

"M'kay," he says, sighing quietly.

She waits for awhile until his breathing evens out and the hand gripping her pants falls away limply before she leans down, nosing his soft hair.

"Feel better soon, John," she whispers, settling back against the headboard once more. Closing her eyes, she threads her fingers through his hair again, missing the content little grin that he saves just for her. It's going to be a long night and her back will definitely pay for it in the morning, but right now, she doesn't care.

Right now, she's right where she wants to be.

Chapter Text

John wants to be annoyed.

Really, he does. He's still recovering from a cold so he doesn't feel well and all he wants to do is sleep, thank you very much. He thinks he probably should have told her to go back to her own room because she's a bear when she's sick and she'll most likely murder him if she catches this—even if she did insist on sleeping here—but after the whole Lucius bullshit, he's not going to let her out of his God damned sight for at least a month.

Maybe more.

Probably more.

Still, the whole twisting and turning thing on a bed not meant for two people has to stop.

"Meredith," he hisses, clearing his throat when it comes out as barely above a whisper. "Hey, knock it off."

He's rewarded with an elbow to the gut and a whimper. An actual whimper. Most days, he forgets that she's even capable of making those noises, so stuffy nose and sore throat forgotten, he pushes himself up on an arm and looks down at her.

She's still fast asleep but her face is contorted into a deep, crooked frown, lines etched across her pale forehead. Her wild, curly hair is matted to her cheeks and just as he reaches out to smooth it away, she startles, hands flailing wildly as she bolts upright.

Her chest is heaving and any other night, he would probably tease the shit out of her because hello, no bra, but tonight's not the night. Instead, he scoots over, wrapping an arm around her shoulder to draw her closer when she gasps and then the tremors start.

"Hey," he soothes, pressing his lips to her hair. "Hey, it's okay."

She's quiet, save for the short little gasps that escape her and her fingers are clutching his chest hair in a way that's actually kind of painful. He doesn't brush her away though. He just pulls her closer.

Her face is pressed against his neck and he can feel the warmth of her breath tickling his skin.

"Easy," he says, running his hand down the length of her back. His neck feels suspiciously wet and he's really starting to get freaked out now. "Talk to me, Mer," he whispers, pulling away just enough to brush his lips over her cheek. "Bad dream?"

She nods but doesn't speak.

John sighs. This isn't exactly his forte because a bad dream isn't an enemy he can shoot. There's nothing he can do to make it go away, but he tightens his arms around her and hopes that maybe it'll help. "Might help if you tell me about it," he says.

"It won't," she says, her voice a little wavery and weak.

"Try anyway."

She shakes her head and presses her face harder against his neck, her breathing hitching just a little. "Just um… hold me? For a minute?"

He thinks about calling her an idiot for sounding so unsure of herself when she asks but he doesn't. Instead, he pulls her so she's practically sitting on his lap, head tucked under his chin.

She'll hate herself in the morning for this.

They sit like that for awhile, Meredith tucked safely in John's arms. John's legs have fallen asleep but he doesn't complain and he doesn't try to move her because she needs this. He thinks she's close to falling asleep again because her body has started to relax, the tension leaving her back and shoulders but before he can move to a position more conducive to sleeping while she's still attached, she jerks awake again, the top of her head cracking against his jaw.

"Sonofabitch!" He curses. Jesus Christ, she has a hard head.

"Sorry!" She shrieks, pulling away to rub at the sore spot. He gets a good look at her tearstained face and suddenly, the possibility of a God damned broken jaw is forgotten.

"Hey," he says again. "Talk to me, Mer."

"No," she says stubbornly, shaking her head for emphasis as she moves to climb from the bed. He reaches for her, fingers encircling her wrist as he pulls her back. "Stop it!" She orders, smacking at him with her free hand, struggling against him. "Stop it, John!"

"No," he says, and this time, he's being the stubborn ass. "Not until you tell me what the hell's going on!"

She's been wound up before, but not like this. Nothing other than the threat of his impending death has had her looking this terrified.

He tugs her back again because this is getting a little ridiculous but the look of sheer panic on her face stops him and without thinking of the consequences, he drops her hand.

She stumbles backwards, landing hard on her ass. He's on his feet in a minute, thinking the lights on as he leaps off the bed, pulling her into his arms.

The little gasping breaths that might be sobs have started again and she wraps her arms around his neck, breathing harshly in his ear.

"I was scared," she whispers, and just like that, he's feeling a little homicidal.

"When? What happened?"

"It's just… it's just he's so big, and I swear to God John, I'm not normally afraid of him because I know he won't hurt me but he wasn't himself and you weren't here and, and, and…" she trails off, shaking against him.

"Did he hurt you?" John asks because he has to. "Meredith? Baby, look at me," he says and he tries to pull away enough to meet her eyes, but she wraps her arms tighter around him. "Did he hurt you?"

"No," she says, and he can feel her shaking her head against him. "God, no, he didn't hurt me but he wasn't himself and I didn't know… God, I didn't know!"

John sags against the wall, hands tracing soothing patterns on her back as he holds her. While she hasn't said exactly what she's talking about, he thinks he already knows. He certainly remembers that kick-to-the-crotch feeling when she'd babbled on about Ronon holding her to a wall while Lucius "talked" to her like it was the greatest God damned thing in the world.

"You're safe now," he says, because he thinks she needs to hear it.

She nods against him and pulls away, swiping discreetly at her face. "Of course I am," she says. "I… I'm sorry I woke you up. We should… uh, which is to say you should go back to bed. You still sound awful."

He knows what she's doing, of course. She's embarrassed. "I'm fine," he tells her and it's mostly the truth. His head is starting to ache again, but he thinks that's probably more from her skull cracking against his jaw than anything.

"You're sick," she frowns, pushing at his chest when he tries to hug him to her again. "And if you get me sick, I might have to castrate you."

He hates when she gets like this, all huffy and angry to cover what she thinks is a weakness but it's so totally her and he knows that even if he could, he'll never try to change her.

"Bed," he says then because it's what she's expecting.

Nudging her off his lap, he pushes himself to his feet and holds a hand out for her, surprised when she actually takes it. Pulling her up, he crushes her against his chest, nuzzling the soft skin on her neck as he breathes in the scent that is 100% Meredith McKay.

"You okay now?" He asks.

"Of course," she says, tilting that stubborn chin up just a notch. "Of course. Bed."

"Bed," he agrees, nudging her towards it as she tugs him along.

They collapse in a heap, John on bottom with Meredith pressed against his side, her face hidden against his shoulder. He thinks he can feel her heart hammering against his side and once again, he's cursing Lucius under his breath.

Meredith swears nothing happened, that John got there just in time, but never in a million years will he be able to forget what it felt like to walk in on that perverted fuck, his hand gripping her shoulder as he leered at her.

It took every ounce of willpower John had to keep from murdering him right then and there.

"You're okay," John whispers, but this time, it's meant for him than her. "You're okay."

He just wonders how many other times something like this happened and nobody got there in time.

He wonders if something like this was what Carter was talking about.

"Meredith…" he says, sounding distinctly horrified because he has to know. He doesn't want to know, but he has to.

She tenses against him, fingers gripping his chest hair as she presses her face even harder against his neck. "Stop," she whispers. "Stop, okay?"

The way she responds tells him everything he needs to know and he just pulls her tighter, nosing her hair as he closes his eyes. There's no way he's going to sleep tonight; not with this new information he has to process.

This isn't about Lucius or Ronon anymore. It's not even about John leaving her in a city full of fucking whack jobs. It's about something that happened a long time ago in another God damned galaxy and suddenly…

Well, suddenly everything makes a whole lot of sense.

He just kind of wishes it didn't.

Chapter Text

Despite the fact that she's a genius, there are a few things Meredith's not so good at. For example, she's pretty bad with people. She thinks the only reason her and John haven't murdered each other yet is because John's so damned laid back and agreeable anyway that he can head off most fights before they even begin. It took nearly a year for her and Carter to stop hating one another and most of the people on Atlantis still can't stand her despite the fact she saves their asses at least once a week.

Another thing she's bad at is family. Kind of goes along with 'people', but on a deeper level which just means she's capable of screwing up even more with the people she shares her genes with. Like her sister, Jeannie.

Especially her sister Jeannie, which is why it's been for years since they've spoken.

When she was told she was being recalled to Earth briefly to speak with her sister, she'd started compiling a list of all the things she wanted to say. Of course now, standing on her front porch, she's at a complete loss for words.

Meredith can hear footsteps from within and it takes every ounce of strength she possesses to keep from diving off the porch into the wilted looking rosebushes. Before she can contemplate her escape any further, the door opens and she finds herself standing face to face with her twin.

"Jeannie," she says stupidly for lack of anything better to say. "Um… long time no see."

"To say the least," Jeannie responds, swallowing hard as she crosses her arms over her chest in a pose that Meredith's struck a million times before. "What are you doing here, Mer?"

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" Meredith asks because this isn't exactly the kind of conversation they can have standing on the front porch in the middle of fucking suburban hell.

"Why are you here?" Jeannie asks again and Meredith recognizes that stubborn tilt of her chin.

"I um… can't just stop by? Say hello to my sister?"

Even to her own ears, Meredith realizes how ridiculous this sounds because when was the last time she's ever done something like this?

"We haven't spoken in over four years," Jeannie says, shoving her curly hair behind her ears. "Why are you here?"

"I… well, I happened to be in town on business and I know it's been awhile since we've see once another so I figured… well, I figured I'd stop by—"

"Meredith," Jeannie interrupts and she just sounds really tired. "Last time I'm asking and I want a real answer. Why are you here?"

Meredith feels like she should probably be trying harder, but she's never been very good at this so she drops the attempt at making pleasantries. "I'm here because of the proof."

"Of course you are," Jeannie sighs, stepping back to allow Meredith into the house. "I should have known, but I'm going to tell you the same thing I told that Colonel person: I don't want anything to do with any of you."

"Do you even have any idea what you've written?" Meredith asks and she drops the long-lost sister act completely because really, this is just like Jeannie! "I mean really. Do you have any idea?"

"A math proof," Jeannie scoffs. "Some theoretical physics which I'm willing to wager has no practical application at all."

"You really have no clue."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Just sign the damn agreement, Jeannie!"

"No! I'm not… you can't just waltz in here after four years and try to order me around, Mer. I don't know what the big deal is about the silly proof, but whatever it is, I'm not interested. I should have known you would have never shown your face around here unless you wanted something and—"

"Here we go," Meredith snipes, rolling her eyes. "Yes, yes, go ahead. Put this all on me."

"You should just go, Mer. I'm not interested, okay? Seriously. If there was any benefit, any at all, to what I wrote, it's that it'll spark an idea in someone else, but I'm not… I'm not just going to sign my rights away, least of all the U.S. Military just because they sent you. Maybe especially because they sent you."

That hurts in a way that Meredith refuses to acknowledge, so instead, she pushes that thought aside and crosses her arms over her chest, mimicking Jeannie's stance.

"It has sparked an idea in someone! A big one!"

"Like what?"

"I can't tell you until you sign the agreement."

"I'm not signing the agreement until you tell me."

Meredith thinks she's probably seconds away from stomping her feet and screeching when the sound of footsteps catch her attention.

"Everything okay in here?"

"Look who showed up," Jeannie scoffs, turning to face her husband. He looks confused which just cements Meredith's idea that marrying an English major was a bad idea. They're identical, for Christ's sake. Even if he can't remember her, how hard is it to put two and two together? "My sister? Meredith?"

"Oh. Right. Hey, how's it going?" Kaleb asks, offering her a bright smile as he lowers their kid to the floor. Almost immediately, she practically sprints across the floor and latches on to Meredith's legs and it's all Meredith can do to keep from kicking her off.

"Um… hello, little one."

"Did you bring me a present?" She asks, looking up at Meredith with a big, toothy grin.

"Madison," Jeannie scolds lightly, but she's smiling fondly at the child as she reaches out, pulling her away from Meredith.

"I um… didn't know I was supposed to bring presents. Is that a rule?"

"Yes," Madison assures her, bobbing her head as Jeannie lifts her into her arms.

"Right… well, I guess I'll know for next time then."

Jeannie scoffs at that. Her sister knows her well enough to know there probably won't be a next time.

"Would you uh… like to stay for dinner?" Kaleb asks, rather awkwardly from the doorway. Jeannie answers before Meredith ever gets a chance.

"She can't. She just stopped by to say hi."

"Jeannie…"

"Kaleb, take Maddie please."

Her husband complies without question, lifting the little blonde into his arms before he leaves them alone.

"You should go," Jeannie says quietly. "I don't want any part of whatever this whole thing is."

"Then you leave me no choice," Meredith frowns, reaching for her sister's hand.

"What… what are you…"

Meredith pulls the transportation device—thank you, Carter—from her pocket and presses the button.

When they arrive on the Daedalus, Jeannie stumbles slightly, her eyes wide as she regains her balance.

"Okay… okay, what the hell just happened?" She snaps.

"Wow," Carter comments, and Meredith's annoyed to see that stupid little smirk on his face.

"What?" She growls, hands going to her hips.

"Uh, nothing. Nothing. It's just… I mean, there are two of you," he says and he laughs a little. "It's weird."

"You're weird," Meredith snipes, turning back to Jeannie. "And stop with the whole freak out thing, okay? You're perfectly safe."

"I don't feel perfectly safe, Mer!"

"Just… just listen, okay? You've just been teleported to an interstellar vessel in orbit around the planet—"

"—Please," Jeannie snorts, rolling her eyes. "Teleportation is as likely as time travel."

"Okay, we could stand here all day and discuss all the things that 'don't really exist', but as you haven't signed the confidentiality agreement and I don't have all day to go through the entire list, so I'll just…" Meredith trails off and grabs Jeannie by the shoulders before pushing her bodily towards the large window.

"Ohh… is that…?"

Meredith almost feels bad for just springing this on her, except it's her fault anyway. If she'd just signed the damned agreement, they wouldn't have this problem, but Jeannie's a stubborn bitch so Meredith really doesn't feel bad at all.

"I know this is a lot for you to take in, Mrs. Miller and I'm sorry that we had to resort to getting you here like this, but we really do need your help," Carter says gently.

"I work for something called the Stargate Program. It… well, it creates artificial wormholes that allows us to travel back and forth between other planets… other galaxies even."

"I always knew you'd end up getting yourself involved in some freaky science fiction shit, Mer." Jeannie swallows hard and forces her gaze away from the window. "So I'm on… a space ship."

"A U.S. Air Force vessel actually. Called the Daedalus," Carter supplies.

"Your equation has real-world applications. Things you've probably never even considered. The work that we could do is important, Jeannie. Not just to you or to me, but to every living being down there," Meredith says, gesturing to the window. "That includes Madison and uh…" Meredith winces. What the hell is the English major's name?

"Kaleb."

"Right. Kaleb."

"We can't do this without you, Mrs. Miller," Carter says and Meredith has to work at not rolling her eyes, but she realizes that Jeannie is close to agreeing so for once, she keeps her mouth shut.

Sure enough, Jeannie signs the agreement. She's always been the predictable twin.

.::.

It's a long three weeks on the Daedalus, made longer by the fact that Sam hadn't come along to run interference. The only plus is that between trying to perfect Jeannie's equation and come up with the correct application, it didn't leave the twins much time to discuss their personal problems.

When Caldwell announces they're within beaming range of the city, Meredith is suddenly nervous. She doesn't know how Jeannie's going to react to John or how John's going to react to Jeannie and years of insecurities that she's worked so hard at burying are starting to surface.

They're standing on the bridge, side-by-side and Meredith's mouth is dry but she still can't help swallowing convulsively. Before she has time to think on how this is going to go down, she's surrounded by a beam of light and a second later, she's in the 'Gate room.

"Holy cow! That can't be good for you!" Jeannie winces, stumbling slightly as she glances around the large room.

"No worries," John says, a broad grin on his face. "I've done it dozens of times." He holds his hand out and Meredith has an almost violent urge to slap it away before Jeannie slips her hand into his. "John Sheppard."

"Nice to meet you," Jeannie greets, offering him a slight smile. "I've heard a lot about you on the trip here. Is it true that you've managed to tame my sister?"

"Okay, first of all: hello, I'm standing right here! And second—"

"—I think it's probably the other way around, Mrs. Miller," Elizabeth says with a teasing smile. Good old Elizabeth, always trying to diffuse a situation. "I'm Elizabeth Weir. It's nice to finally meet you."

"Please, call me Jeannie," she insists and Meredith rolls her eyes.

"Okay, if we're done with social hour, we have a lot of work that needs to be done, so perhaps we could get on with it? Radek! Where are we?"

"Simulations are all in the green. We are ready to try a power-up," Radek announces from where he's been lurking near the doorway.

"Really?" Jeannie asks. "So soon? That's amazing! Excellent work!"

"Well… thank you," Radek says, blushing all the way to the tips of his stupid ears.

"Don't encourage him," Meredith snipes.

She's on her way out the door when John grabs her hand, stopping her in her tracks. Zelenka, Jeannie and Elizabeth have all stopped too, but John just waves them on and turns back to Meredith.

"Hi," he says, offering her that stupid boyish grin that she loves so much.

She just crosses her arms over her chest.

His smile falters a little. "I've missed you."

"Yes, I'm sure you have," she sniffs. "Why were you flirting with my sister?"

"What?"

"Oh please," she snorts. "I know your stupid Kirk routine by now, Sheppard. I don't—"

He leans in and cuts her off with a kiss and for a second, Meredith thinks about slapping him before she melts against him. She wraps her arms around his neck and reaches up to thread her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck. When he finally pulls away, she's a little breathless.

"Let's try this again. Hi."

"Hi back," she says. "I'm sorry."

"I'll forgive you," he says. "I really did miss you."

"I missed you too. When I agreed to this whole thing, I'd forgotten how much she hates me. The trip back was nearly unbearable and—"

"She doesn't hate you, Mer. She's your sister."

"That means absolutely nothing," Meredith says. "And you've known her for all of five seconds, so let's not pretend you're an expert on what she is or isn't feeling, hmm?"

"Fair enough," John agrees before he pulls Meredith in for a hug, squeezing just a little. "I know you've got a lot of work to do, so I'll let you get to it but just… look at this as an opportunity to maybe fix some things, huh?"

"John Sheppard, eternal optimist. Perhaps I should start referring to you as Doctor Phil."

"That's Ronon's job," he grins, kissing her once more. "Alright. Go on. Get out of here. Dinner later?"

"Of course."

"Good. Just think about what I said."

Meredith just waves him off.

.::.

Meredith's head hurts. It probably has something to do with the fact that she's skipped dinner in favor of catching up on some much needed rest but she's beginning to realize that was a bad idea as she stumbles through the hallways towards the mess.

Her sleep schedule has always been out of whack, but it's been worse since Carter conned her into getting in touch with Jeannie.

She's missed her sister more than she's going to admit to anyone. In the last three weeks, she's replayed their relationship over in her mind a million times and she wishes that things had worked out differently. She can remember when they were kids, how Jeannie had been her best—and only, if she's being honest—friend and she finds that she misses those days.

Unfortunately, too much has happened and Meredith's not sure if they'll ever be able to fix what she's broken.

Rubbing her forehead in an attempt to ease the ache, Meredith stumbles into the mess hall, but stops short at the sound of John's obnoxious laugh. Eyes narrowed angrily, she spots him at their usual table, laughing loudly with Ronon, Teyla and Jeannie.

She can feel the stab of jealousy in the pit of her belly and before she can stop herself, she's marching over to the table, her face set in an angry scowl.

"What's going on here?" She demands, hands on her hips as she glares at John.

"Oh, hey. Feeling better?" John asks, giving her a genuine fucking smile as he slouches comfortably in his chair.

"No. What are you doing?"

"Jeannie was just telling us stories about when you guys were kids," he grins. "I always knew you were a little trouble maker."

"Relax, Meredith," Jeannie says, rolling her eyes. "I'm not telling them anything too embarrassing. Like the time you—"

"Doctor McKay to the isolation room immediately!"

Elizabeth to the rescue, Meredith thinks bitterly as she grabs Jeannie's arm and hauls her out of the chair.

"Let's go, blondie."

By the time they've made it to the containment room, Meredith's head feels like it's going to split wide open and it only gets worse when she looks at the stupid screen and spots the back of a mop of curly brown hair.

"What the hell is that?"

"It's you…" Jeannie says, her eyes wide.

"No," Elizabeth says, her lips set in a tight frown. "That is a live closed-circuit feed of a woman we have in the isolation room. She appeared in the containment chamber in some sort of force field."

"What do you mean 'she appeared'?" John asks, hands on his hips.

"Out of thin air. I have Zelenka working on it, but of course we've shut down the experiment."

"How'd she get in there?"

Meredith feels like she should be doing a better job at keeping up with the conversation, but her head is hurting too bad to concentrate.

"She claims to be from a parallel universe."

Jeannie reaches over and punches Meredith in the arm, her face set in an ugly scowl. "You said the odds of this happening were astronomical!"

"You saw the math!" Meredith screeches, rubbing her arm. "Jesus!"

"Well, we got it wrong!"

"Yeah well, she's here now," Meredith snarls before she turns back to Elizabeth. "So the question is: what does she want?"

"To talk to you," Elizabeth says.

Meredith glances back at the TV for a moment before she frowns and grabs Jeannie's arm again. "Alright, Miss Prim and Proper. You wanted shared credit? You've got it," she says unkindly as she pulls her out of the room, despite her quiet protests.

Meredith ignores her all the way down to the isolation room and she's still ignoring her when she pushes the door open. She swallows hard, unsure of what to expect, but even in her wildest dreams, she'd never imagine this.

When the Alternate Meredith turns to face them, the first thing Meredith notices is the belly. While she has no delusions about the state of her own waistline, she's concerned about what she's been eating in alternate universes until she realizes that this isn't the normal 'too many donuts, not enough running' belly.

She doesn't get an opportunity to ask though, because before she can open her mouth, the other version of her is already tearing up and reaching for her sister.

"Jeannie?" She gasps, her mouth slanted down in a frown as she grips her arms. "Oh my God, Jeannie!"

"I'm sorry," Meredith sneers, crossing her arms over her chest. "Should I give you two a minute, or…?"

The other Meredith ignores her as she pulls Jeannie into her arms, an embarrassing sob escaping her. "Oh God. I just… I can't believe this!"

Jeannie is completely bewildered, but she just pats the sobbing Meredith on her back awkwardly. "It's um… it's okay."

When the Alternate Meredith pulls away, she swipes at her tears and has the decency to look ashamed. "I'm sorry," she says, gesturing vaguely to her rounded midsection. "Hormones."

Meredith is annoyed. She has never—and will never—used such a ridiculous excuse like 'hormones'. Frankly, she finds it offensive and she's pissed off that another version of her would even go there.

"I just… never expected to see you again."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Meredith asks. Is she on the outs with Jeannie in every God damned universe or is she the only screw up out of the bunch?

The Alternate Meredith clears her throat and shakes her head. "Later, I think," she says, swiping her eyes once more. "Before we get into all that, I think we need to discuss your little project."

"We've already shut it down," Jeannie assures her and she's leading her over to one of the chairs. "Here… you should probably sit down. How far along are you?"

"Twenty four weeks," she says fondly, and Meredith wants to gag. She supposes they're going to start bonding over parasitic fetuses at any moment.

"Right. Anyway. Back to business."

"Of course," Alternate Meredith agrees and while her cheeks are still wet and a little pink, she's tilting her chin in that stubborn way that Meredith would recognize from a million miles away. "So, I'm just going to make a few assumptions based on what little I've seen here and from what readings we've taken in my own space time. Feel free to stop me if I'm wrong," she says and she gives a little snort at that.

Alternate Meredith is a cocky bitch.

"One: I presume you're running some sort of experiment that's designed to bridge between parallel universes. And two: it has something to do with power generation. How am I doing so far?"

Meredith rolls her eyes and apparently, Alternate Meredith takes that as her cue to keep going.

"Right. Well, I'm sure it's been a success on this side, but it's having some pretty serious repercussions in my universe."

"I told you," Jeannie hisses, reaching over to swat Meredith's arm.

"Hey! Not now!" She snarls because she's really not in the mood for playing "You suck and this is all your fault".

Maybe later, Jeannie.

Jeannie just scowls and turns back to Alternate Meredith. "Dangerous exotic particles that don't belong in either of our universes are being created on your side of the bridge."

Alternate Meredith looks like she's going to cry again but before Meredith can stop that in its tracks, she's steeling herself again and nodding. "You knew this could happen?"

"We knew there was a slight risk, yes."

Alternate Meredith gives her an irritated look before turning back to their—her—sister.

"You're quite correct, Jeannie. They don't belong on either side and they're creating a tear in the fabric of our universe."

"Huh!" Jeannie sneers, glaring at Meredith. "First a solar system, now a universe. You must be so proud."

Meredith wonders if they're really going to do this the entire time Jeannie's here because she really doesn't know if she has the energy to keep it up.

Rather than engaging her, she turns back to Alternate Meredith. "Well, like we said: the project has already been shut down. How did you get here?"

"That's an interesting story actually," she says, and Meredith really doubts that, but whatever. "We detected the anomaly about twenty hours ago. We maneuvered one of the 'Jumpers in close and tried to broadcast a signal to whoever was on the other side, but—"

"—we wouldn't be able to detect that signal from within the chamber!"

"Exactly. So Radek and I came up with a plan to beam a person into the anomaly."

"Was that really wise? In your… condition?" Meredith asks, wrinkling her noise in distaste.

"Personal shield," Alternate Meredith says.

"I depleted ours," Meredith says mournfully.

"Imagine that," Jeannie scoffs before she turns back to Alternate Meredith. "Still, even with the shield, it was an incredible risk. We're really sorry that you had to go through all of this."

Alternate Meredith waves her hand dismissively and sinks back against the chair comfortably. "So now… the question is… how am I going to get back?"

"You… you came through the bridge with no idea how you were going to return to your own space time?"

"I knew you'd be here," Alternate Meredith says. "If anybody can figure it out, it's us and with Jeannie's help… Well, three McKays are better than one."

Meredith thinks she preferred when there was just one.

.::.

Meredith is lingering outside of Alternate Meredith's room, listening as she talks quietly to Jeannie. It's probably creepy that she's lurking, but she can't quite help it.

"Why did you cry earlier?" Jeannie asks and Meredith watches as she perches on the edge of the bed. "When you saw me? Do we… do we not get along in your universe either?"

"It's more complicated than that," Alternate Meredith says quietly and even from where she's standing, Meredith can hear the way her voice thickens with emotion.

"Did something else happen?"

"You died," Alternate Meredith blurts out. "I didn't… When I first found out about… alternate dimensions and all the other sci-fi bullshit I never believed in, I'd always hoped that I'd get the opportunity to meet you. To see what you'd be like. That's… part of the reason why I volunteered myself for this. I needed… I needed to know that you were still alive… somewhere."

By now, Meredith can feel the tears stinging her own eyes.

"How… how did it happen?"

"Your allergy. You never…. never made a big deal out of it like I did, which was silly and stupid because really, nuts are more prevalent in foods than citrus but you just…" Alternate Meredith trails off, swiping at her tears. "We were seven. No epi pens in the house and we had a babysitter who was too busy talking dirty to her boyfriend on the phone to realize what she was giving you."

"Oh God."

"We'd just had a fight, so of course, I'd stormed off upstairs and she didn't… she didn't realize what was wrong until it was already too late."

"That's not what happened," Meredith interrupts, storming back into the room, all pretenses lost. "That's not what happened! Stupid Marcia Andrews caught the flu that day; she wasn't there to watch us! Mom had to stay home and—"

"Little differences, Meredith," Alternate Meredith says quietly. "It's the little things that make our universes so different. Every imaginable outcome played out in an almost infinite number of realities."

"We got to you in time," Meredith says, ignoring Alternate Meredith. "Mom got to you in time."

Jeannie's crying now, swiping at the as they're quite literally pouring down her cheeks. Meredith's chest is aching in a way that she's never experienced. One version of her lost Jeannie in an awful and final way whereas she just threw her relationship away over stupid, petty differences.

"I should…" Jeannie gestures vaguely to the doorway before she leans forward, wrapping Alternate Meredith in what looks like a bone-crushing hug before she pulls away. "Thank you for telling me," Meredith hears her whisper and then she's on her feet and out the door without a single glance back.

"What's happened to you, Meredith?" Alternate Meredith asks.

Meredith just storms out of the room.

.::.

Meredith feels like she's being punished for something. There are a million things she should probably be punished for—fucking things up with Jeannie and Doranda, just to name a few—so it's kind of difficult to pinpoint exactly what this retribution is for, but it's definitely a punishment.

In the twenty-four hours since Alternate Meredith showed up, everything's going to hell. It started when Meredith realized that Jeannie preferred Alternate Meredith's company to hers and just snowballed when she realized that was essentially the general consensus of Atlantis as a whole.

John included, apparently, if catching him huddled around their usual table with everyone except Meredith was any indication. They'd had a very loud, very public fight over that before Meredith had stormed off.

This was just like her God damned childhood.

When Meredith and Jeannie were just kids, they were the best of friends. Everything they did, they did it together because they were all each other had. Born to inattentive parents, they took care of each other up until the time Meredith was pushed ahead in school, leaving Jeannie behind with their peers.

Now, looking back, Meredith realizes that's when everything started to fall apart.

"Hey."

The sound of John's voice pulls her from her thoughts. Reaching up, she swipes at her wet eyes and offers him a shaky smile. "Hi yourself."

"Are you okay?" He asks, sliding down onto the floor beside her.

She's hiding in her lab because she knows if she returns to her quarters, the temptation of sleep is going to be too much and she's not quite ready to face the nightmares she knows are waiting for her.

"This really sucks, John," she says quietly, resting her head against his shoulder.

He responds with a kiss to the top of her curly hair.

"It's just…" Her breathing hitches just slightly. "It's just like being a kid again, you know? I'm not good enough for Jeannie anymore so she runs out and finds someone else to play with. And I mean… who could… who could blame her, you know? This other version of me is a better model."

"Hey, Mer," John frowns, wrapping an arm around her shoulder to pull her close. "That's not true. She's different, sure, but that's not necessarily a good thing."

"You can't deny that the majority of the idiots around here would rather have her around. Even you, Teyla, Ronon and Elizabeth for God's sakes are falling all over her. I never… deluded myself with the idea that I was well liked in Atlantis, but I never realized I was so disliked either."

"You aren't—"

"I am," she says, swiping at her tears. "But I don't… I don't know how to be any different." She closes her eyes, breathing in his scent before she speaks again. "I never meant to screw things up with Jeannie so bad."

"What happened between the two of you?"

"She gave up everything because she got pregnant. Madison was a total accident but she just… she quit school, quit science, married that idiot and moved into the God damned suburbs and I was angry. I thought…" she laughs, but it's really more of a sob. "We had something in common again for awhile, when she was still in school. I wasn't ready to give that up so I tried… I tried to talk her out of quitting and it ended in a horrible argument where we both said some… not so nice things."

She's clinging to John now.

"I miss her but it was easier when she wasn't here. Now that she is, I don't… I don't know what to do or say and I'm not used to feeling this out of control of a situation," she sniffles. "I don't… I don't know what to do."

"You could start by trying to talk to her," John suggests. "Tell her what you've just told me."

"What if it's too late for that?"

"Then at least you'll know you've tried."

.::.

John's uncomfortable around Meredith 2.0. It's silly, really, because she's a nice enough woman but the way she looks at him really creeps him out. The belly does too, if he's being honest. He's never once imagined Meredith pregnant because he's pretty sure he's not ready for that, but seeing it is just…

Well, there are no words.

Especially when he finds out that this is her second pregnancy.

"It's weird," Jeannie says, sipping her Athosian tea slowly. "I never imagined Meredith as the mothering type. She hates kids."

"It's different when they're your own," Meredith 2.0 says with a casual shrug.

"But still. I just… how in the world can you two be so different?"

John's kind of curious about this too so he takes his time eating his Jello.

"Different circumstances," 2.0 says. "After we lost you, mom and dad finally pulled their heads out of their asses and started being real parents. It shifted my view on what families should be, I suppose."

"You're lucky," Jeannie snorts in a way that reminds John so much of Meredith that it's creepy. "Ours were jerks all the way up until they passed, but I still managed to turn out okay."

John doesn't necessarily think so, but he keeps that tidbit to himself. He likes his girl's sister, but something about her treatment of Meredith has rubbed him the wrong way from day one. Sure, Meredith has made mistakes but it doesn't necessarily mean Jeannie should rub it in.

Being a genius doesn't mean she isn't human.

"I need some more tea," Jeannie decides, pushing herself to her feet. "Can I get you anything else, Mer? John?"

"No, no. I'm good, thanks," John says, leaning back in his chair as 2.0 shakes her head. Once Jeannie's gone, John feel's 2.0's eyes on him.

"John," she says hesitantly. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," he responds with a causal shrug.

"Where's Sam? I've been… well, I've been wanting to ask but I didn't want to bring it up to Meredith because it's obvious that things didn't quite work out there in this universe."

"Sam? You mean Carter?" He asks, and it's all he can do to keep from clenching his teeth angrily. "I take it he's the uh…?" He gestures to her stomach.

"Yes," 2.0 responds. "We were married shortly after we established contact with Earth again."

"He's not… he's still back on Earth. He's not a part of this expedition," John says.

"Oh," she sighs and there's a hint of relief in her tone.

"Why haven't you mentioned the Alternate me yet?" John asks because he's curious. All week, he's been regaled with stories about what the alternate versions of themselves have been up to, but never once has she mentioned him.

"I wasn't… sure if you wanted to know."

"Know what?"

"You were killed in my universe. During the siege," she says quietly. "You always did have that stupid suicidal streak in you," she says and for a minute, she sounds exactly like his Mer. "You saved us all, John. You bought us enough time to get the shield up but the Daedalus didn't get to you in time."

John swallows hard at that and nods. "Do me a favor," he says quietly. "Don't… tell Meredith that, okay? She's having a hard enough time with the Jeannie thing and the last thing I need is for her to be upset over that too."

"She loves you, you know," 2.0 says sagely. "I can tell. You're very important to her."

"She's a good person."

"Just different circumstances," 2.0 agrees.

John wants to say more, but he doesn't get a chance because Jeannie is returning, cup of tea in hand.

"So… have you picked out any names for this little one?"

.::.

Sending Meredith 2.0 back home was more difficult than Meredith had anticipated. She'd nearly depleted the entire ZPM in doing do, but while Elizabeth was angry with her for it, it just confirmed to John what he already knew.

His girlfriend is, at times, obnoxious, overbearing and a downright pain in the ass, but she's a good person. He just hopes that this has convinced Jeannie of that. If not, he's going to try to move things along a little bit.

Stopping outside her door, he raises his hand and knocks, laptop tucked firmly under his arm. He knows Meredith will kill him if she ever finds out he's doing this, but if he can help mend the rift between her and her sister, it'll be worth it.

When Jeannie opens the door, she's clearly surprised to see him, but he offers her a smile and holds up the laptop. "I have something I thought you should see."

She waves him in and in no time at all, he's got the laptop set up and ready to go.

"I don't know if she'd want you to see this, but I think it's important that you do," John says before he leans forward and pushes play.

Almost immediately, Meredith's face comes on the screen, her crooked mouth set down in a slight frown.

"Jeannie? It's um… it's your sister, Meredith. Obviously," she says, a quiet laugh escaping her. "I just… I wanted to say… family is important. I, I've come to realize that because the people here… well, they've become a sort of surrogate family to me. Now, I know what you're thinking: I've never really been the poster child for that kind of sentiment but um…," she trails off, blinking back tears. "When one's contemplating one's own demise, one tends to see things a little more clearly. I really do wish you the best, you know? I'm sorry… for everything that's happened and that we couldn't be closer, but perhaps… well, maybe if I make it out of this alive, we can be. I know… I know that I would like that very much."

When the recording stops, Jeannie's eyes are filled with tears. "When… when did she record this?"

"A couple years back. Like I said, I don't know if she intended to ever let you see this, but I thought it was important that you did before you went back."

"In light of everything that's happened, I'm really glad you showed me. Thank you." She looks down at her hands and it's clear to John that she wants to say more, but then the doors open and Meredith steps inside, narrowing her eyes suspiciously at John.

"What are you two doing?"

"Nothing at all," John says with an innocent smile as he grabs his laptop and stands, crossing the room to peck her on the lips. "Just saying goodbye to your sister."

"You better not have been in here Kirking it up."

"Of course not, dear," he says playfully. "I'll just uh… leave you two alone, huh?"

"Yes, yes. Get out of here," she says, waving him off. He leans over to peck her lips once more before he heads out of the room, pausing just outside the door.

"Hi," Meredith says quietly. "I know… I'm probably the last person you wanted to see, but—"

"I'm glad you stopped by," Jeannie says.

They're both quiet for a moment, and when Jeannie speaks again, her voice cracks just slightly.

"Did you really mean what you said in that video you made a few years ago? About… wishing we were closer?"

John curses under his breath. Those two are more alike than they realize; neither can keep a God damned secret.

"I should have known he was up to something," Meredith says, but she doesn't sound mad. "I did mean it. I know… that I haven't been the best sister, Jeannie, but I'd… I'd like to try. I mean, obviously it won't be easy until we get our hands on another ZedPM, but, I really would like to try."

"I'd like that," Jeannie says quietly.

John smiles to himself and tucks his laptop a little more securely under his arm. Having her sister and another version of herself running around Atlantis had been hard for Meredith but he thinks that she's going to be just fine.

.::.

John watches as Meredith slips out of the bathroom, her crazy hair thrown up in a sloppy bun.

"You're a jerk," she announces as she prances over to the bed, clad in only one of his long uniform shirts and panties.

"Uh huh," he says, because right about now, he'd agree to just about anything.

She rolls her eyes and socks him in the shoulder. "I mean it! I can't believe you showed her that video."

"Hey," he protests, rubbing his arm before he narrows his eyes at her. "It helped you patch things up, didn't it?"

"Yes," she admits grudgingly, settling herself down beside him as she stifles a yawn. "But still."

"Just shut up and thank me."

"Thank you," she deadpans, leaning up to press a kiss to his lips. "Even if you are still a jerk."

"Your jerk."

"My jerk," she confirms, reaching up to tug on his chest hair playfully. She rests her head against his shoulder and falls silent for awhile. He's just beginning to wonder if she's fallen asleep when she speaks again. "It's weird how little things can change the course of an entire lifetime," she says quietly. "Like the thing with Jeannie and her allergy. Had stupid Marcia Andrews not gotten the flu…" she trails off, swallowing hard.

"Do you think you would have gotten together with Carter?"

"Yes," she says quietly and while he appreciates her honesty, he feels that familiar stab of jealousy. "But it goes back to that whole thing about how some events can change everything, you know? In this universe, it never would have worked out for me and Carter."

"You gonna tell me why?"

"Maybe one day," she says. "I think I've shared more of my past this week than I have in my entire life and it's exhausting. I'm not quite ready to go there now."

He nods and leans down to peck her lips. "Okay."

He sighs quietly and gets comfortable. He's just on the verge of drifting off when she speaks again.

"I'm glad it's not Carter," she says quietly. "Don't want anyone other than you."

He grins at that. "I'm glad at least one of you has some sense," he teases.

"Well, we can't all be geniuses, now can we?"

He laughs and squeezes her against his side. "Go to sleep, Mer."

"Already… on my way," she says around a yawn as she burrows closer, tucking her head under his chin.

Yeah, she's going to be okay.

It's with that final thought that he follows her into sleep.

Chapter Text

When Meredith comes back through the 'Gate without John, she thinks she's probably about fifty four seconds away from a panic attack. Behind her, she's vaguely aware of Ronon cursing loudly as Teyla grips her arm, pulling her towards the control room. She's surrounded by people and yet she feels totally and completely alone.

"Anything?" Elizabeth asks, hurrying down the stairs to meet them.

Meredith shakes her head dumbly and it's Teyla who finds her voice first. "There was no sign of Colonel Sheppard or our attackers."

"Covered their tracks well," Ronon grunts.

"He was… he was probably taken off world," Meredith says, swallowing hard around the lump in her throat. "I collected the last fifty or so 'Gate addresses that were dialed."

"Good," Elizabeth says, gripping Meredith's wrist in a way that she probably thinks is reassuring. "That's good, but since the transmission calling us to the planet was sent using a code we gave to the Genii, I think that's going to be our starting point."

"You're just going to ask the Genii if they took him?" Meredith asks incredulously. She never liked to lump Elizabeth in with all the idiots, but right about now, she's willing to make an exception.

"That's exactly what I intend to do," she responds and Meredith wonders if she knows that she thinks she's an idiot. If that eyebrow is any indication, it's a good possibility.

Meredith thinks she might just have to give in to the urge to tell Elizabeth just how stupid that idea is when the 'Gate activates.

"Incoming wormhole!" Chuck announces and for a second, Meredith can't breathe. She knows better than to hope it's John, but when it's not him, it takes every ounce of strength—and a little help from Ronon by way of his hand on her elbow—to keep herself upright.

She's never been one of these overly emotional women before, but this is John and while they haven't exactly said it before, she's fairly certainly that she's in love with him.

Scary fucking thought.

Even more so when she realizes she may never see him again.

Meredith shares a look with Teyla and Ronon when Ladon steps through the 'Gate and she wonders if she can grab Ronon's blaster and get a shot off before somebody stops her.

Ronon must know what she's thinking, because he gives her a feral grin before he turns on Ladon, snarling like a freaking bear or something. It would be frightening if it wasn't on John's behalf.

"What have you done with Sheppard?"

"Ronon," Elizabeth snaps. "He's here as our guest. Stand down."

Ronon narrows his eyes at Elizabeth and for a moment, he looks as though he'd like to punch her but instead, he gives a curt nod and steps back.

For the most part, Meredith blocks out whatever bullshit Ladon is spewing. She's never trusted him and she sure as hell doesn't trust him now.

"Just because you've decided you're going to play nice with him doesn't mean we have to," Meredith says and she's pretty sure that Elizabeth knows she's seething at this point. "He knows something about where they've taken him!"

"I assure you, Doctor McKay—"

"Save it! I'm not interested in anything you have to say, unless it's John's location," she snaps, her hands clenching into fists at her sides.

Screw the blaster, she thinks. It'll be more satisfying to feel her fists shattering his nose.

Smug fucker.

"While it's true that the codes were stolen from me, something I take full responsibility for, I assure you that we had nothing to do with Colonel Sheppard's disappearance. You have my full cooperation as well as that of my people."

Meredith snorts because this isn't the first time she's heard this bullshit.

"Perhaps this is just a part of your plan," Teyla says sagely and Meredith thinks she could probably kiss her for calling him out on that.

"Excuse me?"

"It would not be the first time," she reminds him. Meredith thinks she catches just the slightest hint of a smile when Teyla catches her eye.

Ladon's getting pissed now; that much is obvious but Meredith couldn't care less. She wants John and she wants him now.

"I say this rhetorically—since I should think that it's obvious—but if I were involved in this in any way, or if my intentions were anything less than honorable, would I have come to Atlantis at all?"

It's a good point but Meredith's not buying. Apparently, if the grunt is any indication, Ronon isn't either.

"Yeah, who knows? All I know is my friend has gone missing, and you had something to do with it," he says, and before Elizabeth can protest, Ronon's blaster is out again. "This time, it's not set to stun."

"Ronon!"

"This is—"

"—My call," Elizabeth interrupts, glaring at him in a way that, under normal circumstances, would make Meredith proud. Now, it only serves to piss her off more.

"Elizabeth!" Meredith screeches because she's had enough. John is missing and every fucking second they waste with this piece of scum is another minute without him.

"We'll handle this my way," Elizabeth says, turning to Ladon. "Come. We'll discuss this in my office… privately."

A large hand drops onto Meredith's shoulder and it's the only thing keeping her from flying apart completely. "This is…"

"Yup," Ronon says, squeezing gently. "We'll find him."

"Ladon had better fucking hope so," Meredith says through clenched teeth before she pulls away from Ronon and stalks out of the control room.

.::.

It's nearly an hour and a half before Meredith returns and when she does, she ignores the sympathetic stares she gets from nearly everyone in the control room. She has no clue when she became that girl, but it's really fucking irritating, so to rectify the situation, she barks angrily at Simpson and Zelenka.

"Don't you have better things to do than sitting on your asses up here? I can think of twenty five different simulations I expressly told you I wanted before tomorrow, so rather than wasting time, I suggest you scurry down to the labs and get on it!"

Almost immediately, Simpson is on her feet and running out of the control room, but Radek passes at a slower pace and pats her shoulder lightly. "Do not worry," he says, just loud enough for her to hear. "The Colonel will be fine."

At her side, Meredith's hand clenches into a fist but before she can follow through with her violent thoughts, Zelenka's already on his way out of the control room, muttering to himself in Czech.

"Obnoxious little man," she mutters angrily before she storms into Elizabeth's office. "Where do we stand?"

"Meredith—"

"—Where do we stand, Elizabeth? Are we just wasting time here, or what? It doesn't really look like you've accomplished much with him," she sneers, glaring at Ladon. "For all we know, his sole purpose is to keep you distracted long enough to—"

"Unscheduled off-world activation!" Chuck booms, startling Meredith from her rant. She doesn't wait for Elizabeth and Ladon as she sprints out of the office. "We're receiving a transmission."

"Bring it up," Elizabeth orders, crossing her arms over her chest in a stance that almost mirrors Meredith's.

Meredith is vaguely aware of Ronon and Teyla taking up positions behind her. She's grateful for their presence because she knows that out of everyone in the God damned city, they understand the best.

It makes her feel a little less alone.

Chuck isn't moving fast enough and Meredith is about two seconds away from shoving him out of the way and pulling up the transmission herself but before she gets a chance, a familiar face shows up on the screen and it's all she can do to keep from throwing up at the sight of it.

"Doctor Weir," Kolya greets, a smarmy smile on his scarred face. "If you're receiving this transmission, please respond."

"Who the hell is he?" Ronon growls, fingering his blaster.

"Acastus Kolya," Teyla says and Meredith can hear the dislike in her voice. "A Genii military leader who once tried to seize Atlantis. Ladon was a member of his strike team."

"I know you're there, Doctor. It would be pointless not to answer."

Elizabeth is struggling with herself. For a moment, it looks as though she's not going to answer, but then she frowns, her mind made up. "Open a channel."

Chuck nods and fumbles with the panel on his console before nodding.

"This is Doctor Weir," she says, her voice strong despite the hunch of her shoulders.

"Oh good," Kolya says, his ugly smile widening. "I'm glad you're there. I wanted to be certain you were there to see this."

Meredith's stomach is flipflopping almost violently and when Kolya steps aside to reveal a gagged John, bound to a chair, it's all she can do to keep from losing her breakfast. Behind her, Ronon growls again and his hand finds her wrist, steadying her slightly.

She wants to be offended, but she's just grateful.

"What have you done to him?" She asks, her voice stronger than she feels.

"Nothing whatsoever, Doctor McKay," Kolya responds.

"Let me rephrase: What are you planning to do?"

"It's simple, really," Kolya says. "I want to make a trade."

Meredith opens her mouth to respond, but she doesn't get a chance because Elizabeth cuts her off. "Before we continue this conversation another second, I want to speak with Sheppard."

"Be my guest."

"I'll rephrase that too," Meredith spits, when Kolya makes no move to remove the gag. "We want him to be able to speak with us too."

Kolya shrugs and offers the camera a grin. "Very well." Meredith watches, not breathing, as Kolya makes his way over to John and pulls the gag from his mouth.

"On my command authority, whatever he asks, don't do it, even—!"

John's voice cracks just slightly and before he can even finish, one of the guards is shoving the gag back into his mouth. Meredith is seething.

"Well, as you can see, he's his usual charming self," Kolya laughs, as though he's sharing in a private joke.

"Explain your terms, Kolya," Elizabeth orders and Meredith hates her for sounding so calm about all this.

"Fair enough. I've heard the familiar voices of yourself and Doctor McKay, though there is one person I know is there who has yet to speak. Ladon?"

"Why would Ladon be here?" Elizabeth asks, glaring at the man in question.

"To preserve his alliance with you. My sources have already confirmed he's there, so there's no point in denying the fact. Turn him over to me and Colonel Sheppard will be released immediately."

Elizabeth hesitates and inside, Meredith's screaming. In her mind, there is no question. Ladon for Sheppard? That's easy. Turn him over. "Elizabeth," she hisses.

"I'll… need time to consider your offer," Elizabeth says.

"Then please, allow me to expedite your decision."

"Elizabeth!" Meredith hisses again, though the blood in her face drains as movement on the screen catches her attention. Immediately, she realizes what Kolya intends to do and before she can stop herself, she's screeching at him. "Sheppard could have left you to rot down in that hole when we last met, Kolya! He doesn't deserve this!"

"Let's be clear, Doctor McKay: no one does."

Tears have filled Meredith's eyes without her consent and right then, she knows if Elizabeth doesn't give in, that their friendship will never be the same again. If she doesn't give in, there will be no friendship.

"Don't do this, Kolya," Elizabeth says. "Don't do it."

"The choice is yours, Doctor Weir," Kolya says, as a guard rips John's jacket open. "Do we have an agreement?"

"Elizabeth!" Meredith bellows, rushing forward. Ronon and Teyla grab her arms, pulling her back. "You can't do this! You can't, you can't, you…"

"Very well," Kolya says gravely before he turns and nods at the guards.

Meredith doesn't want to watch. She wants to turn away and hide her face, but she can't. It's like a horrific trainwreck that she can't look away from and she wants nothing more than to cry and beat the shit out of something as she watches the Wraith lower its feeding hand to John's chest and literally suck the life out of him.

In the back of her mind, she thinks she hears someone screaming. It's probably her, if the way Ronon and Teyla are squeezing her is any indication, but she can't stop.

"Stop!" Elizabeth shouts, and even in her haze, Meredith is surprised to see her crying. "Stop it!"

"Enough," Kolya says, swallowing hard.

On the screen, John is gasping for air around the gag, his bloody chest heaving and Meredith knows right then and there that if she ever meets Acastus Kolya again, she will kill him in the slowest, most painful way humanly possible.

"You just crossed a line," Elizabeth says, her voice dangerously low and while Meredith can hear the anger in it, it's just not enough.

"You are mine, Kolya," Meredith says, her voice cracking. "Do you hear me? You had better pray to the fucking Ancients that our paths never cross because I will kill you. You understand that?"

"I believe you, Doctor McKay," Kolya says. "But you have no one to blame for this but your dear Doctor Weir. We've found that a minimum of three hours between feeding sessions is crucial to ensure the body has sufficient time to recover from the trauma. That's how long you have to decide. Three hours. Turn Ladon over to me, and I'll return Sheppard to you."

Meredith's making plans before the transmission ever goes blank. There's got to be some way to find John without Ladon's help. For all they know, he's steering them intentionally in the wrong direction. She has three hours to find him, and that's exactly what she intends on doing.

.::.

In the end, John's rescue is incredibly anticlimactic. For the most part, he ends up rescuing himself with the help of the Wraith who'd very nearly killed him before restoring his life. Meredith doesn't even get to come face-to-face with Kolya because the fucker fled the planet before they'd ever even arrived, but that doesn't matter.

Meredith is, by nature, an incredibly impatient woman but for the things that matter, she's more than willing to wait. Just means his death will be that much sweeter when it finally happens.

As it is, Meredith's pretty certain that she's never letting John out of her sight again.

"You're an idiot," she says affectionately from where they'd huddled together on the 'Jumper, arms encircling him as he leans tiredly against him. Though the Wraith had restored his life—and then some, Meredith thinks, though John vehemently denies it—he's exhausted and he's feeling a little shaky and nauseous.

Side effect from the Wraith Enzyme, Carson says.

"I didn't exactly, you know, plan on getting captured, Mer," John says, sounding a little annoyed.

"Doesn't matter. You're still an idiot. That Wraith could have killed you."

"But he didn't," he says tiredly, and he lets himself relax just a little against her, despite the slight trembles coursing through his body.

Meredith says nothing, because he's right. The Wraith didn't kill him, a fact that she's sure will surprise her for years to come. Closing her eyes, she presses her nose to his hair, breathing in his scent.

She didn't used to be so God damned emotional.

The rest of the ride back to Atlantis is quiet, save for Ronon and Lorne up front snickering like two little boys. It's obnoxious and she's tempted to bellow at them to knock it off, but it isn't disturbing John and she knows they were as worked up about this whole fucking situation as she was, so for now, she'll let them have their fun.

For now.

Or at least until John makes a pitiful whining sound in the back of his throat and screws his eyes shut.

"Hey!" She growls, snapping her fingers in their general direction. "Shut the fuck up, huh?"

Ronon turns in the seat and growls at Meredith, though he stops when he sees just how pale John is. Of course, seconds later, John jerks forward and empties the meager contents of his stomach onto the floor—and Meredith's shoe.

She wants to be mad, because hello, that's really fucking gross but she's just glad he's actually still alive to be gross, so rather than bitch, she snaps her fingers at Carson while rubbing John's back gently.

"What the hell?" She snaps, glaring at the doctor. "I knew this shit was all voodoo! You said he'd be fine!"

"Aye, and he will be, Meredith," Carson says and she knows he's exasperated. Too fucking bad.

"'m okay," John mutters and it would be so much more convincing if he wasn't white in the face and shaking like a leaf. Quite literally.

It would have been funny except it wasn't.

"It's the Wraith Enzyme. Not enough to do any real harm, but we'll get you back to the infirmary and you'll be just fine."

John doesn't even protest.

By time they make it back to Atlantis and get John squared away in the infirmary, Meredith feels like a little like the one wound up on Wraith Enzyme rather than him. She's irritable, snapping at the nurses for no apparent reason—like that's anything new—and she's feeling a bit shaky herself.

She's not allowed back just yet—Carson's orders, the bastard—so instead, she's pacing the area outside the infirmary, cracking her fingers almost compulsively. Ronon and Teyla have both gone for the mess hall with orders to bring back food but now, Meredith almost wishes they hadn't gone. She isn't in the mood to be alone.

"Meredith?"

She turns at the sound of her friend's voice, and almost immediately, her eyes narrow in anger. While being alone isn't ideal right now, it's better than seeing Elizabeth.

She adopts her confrontational stance: arms crossed, chin tilted defiantly, eyes blazing. She can tell that it immediately makes Elizabeth uncomfortable, but right now, that's kind of the point.

"What?"

"How is he?" Elizabeth asks and Meredith has to give her credit for not wavering.

"He's been better," she responds curtly. "But Carson says he'll be fine, no thanks to you."

Elizabeth flinches a little at that. "I know that my decision, in your eyes, was the wrong one, but I feel it's what John wanted me to do. You heard him, Mer. As clearly as I did."

"That was before he realized he was going to be fed on by a Wraith! He almost died, Elizabeth! And all I could do was stand by and watch and you wouldn't… you didn't even…"

"He's safe now," Elizabeth reminds her as she moves closer, resting a hand on Meredith's arm. "He's okay."

"Luckily for you," Meredith says. "Because I can assure you, Elizabeth, had we not found him…" she trails off, the threat hanging in the air and she almost feels bad for it.

"But we did," Elizabeth reminds her. "I'm not asking you to forget what happened today, I'm just asking that you try to understand why I did it."

Elizabeth squeezes her arm gently and Meredith doesn't pull away.

"Please tell him I was asking for him," she requests quietly and before Meredith can say anything, she walks away.

"Meredith?"

"Jesus Christ, can't I have a minute without…" she trails off when she realizes it's Carson. "Oh. How is he? Finally tired of keeping me out?"

Carson rolls his eyes at that. "He's fine. Just like I told you he would be. We've got him on some medication to help ease the nausea and he's resting now. He's been askin' for you."

Meredith starts through the doors before she stops and turns back to him. "It's not as bad as…" she trails off, her back still to him.

"Heavens no. Nowhere near as bad," he assures her. "The dose required to return life is minimal compared to that. He's just experiencing a bit of discomfort, but he'll be right as rain by mornin', I'm sure of it."

Meredith nods stiffly before she hurries into the infirmary.

John is sprawled out on the bed, eyes closed and for a moment, Meredith hates the idea of waking him. Unfortunately for him, her desire to make sure he's actually okay outweighs her guilt over not letting him rest and she reaches out, gripping his hand gently.

"John?"

His eyelids flutter open a second later and he offers her a goofy, sleepy smile. "Hi."

"Idiot," she complains, sinking down into a chair beside the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"I'd be better if I could go back to my room. Don't s'pose you can convince the Doc of that, huh?"

"Don't be stupid. You're staying put until you're better and I won't hear any arguments."

"But Meeer," he whines in that nasally way that's so endearing.

"No."

"C'mooon."

"Uh-uh."

"Gonna at least lay with me then?" He asks, barely stifling a yawn as he uses his free hand to pat the space on the bed beside him. "Sleep better with you."

Meredith rolls her eyes at that, but she rounds the bed and kicks her shoes off before she climbs in beside him, careful not to tug any of the wires attached to his body.

"Better already," he mutters, resting his cheek on top of her head.

"You scared the shit out of me today," she confesses, shifting just slightly.

"Scared the shit out of me too," he says, stifling another yawn as he presses a kiss to the top of her curly hair. "But s'okay now."

"Until the next time you're taken hostage."

"Better me than you."

Meredith snorts at that. "Sexist."

"Jus' a little."

She rolls her eyes and cranes her head to press a kiss to the underside of his jaw. "Go to sleep, John."

"Plannin' on it."

"Idiot," she whispers, lacing her fingers through his as she rests their hands on his chest. She hesitates just slightly. She's never been very good at expressing her feelings but after everything that's happened in the last few weeks with Jeannie and the Alternate version of herself and then almost losing John today…

Well, she feels a little justified in feeling sappy.

Closing her eyes, she tucks her head under his chin, listening to the sound of his heart beating steadily in his chest. His breathing hitches just slightly, signaling that he's fallen back asleep and she thinks she's probably safe now.

"I love you, John," she says quietly, closing her eyes.

It might just be her imagination, but she swears she feels his heart speed up just a bit seconds before his lips brush the top of her hair.

"Love you too."

Chapter Text

John always knew that the galaxy had it out for them. From the very beginning, there seemed to be sinister forces at work, hellbent on getting them out and keeping them out of the city.

Okay, it's possible that's an exaggeration because with the exception of the Genii who really did try to take the city, for the most part it's just been bad luck; getting stuck in the 'Gate with an Iratus bug attached to his neck, 'Gate malfunctions, being taken captive…

All bad luck but still, sometimes it felt like maybe the universe was conspiring against them. Especially when the last of the Ancients returned and booted them out of the city. Seriously… Ancients? Never in a million years would John have ever believed that they would be the ones responsible for forcing them out.

"I think that's the last of it," Meredith says moodily, pulling John from his thoughts as she crosses her arms over her chest. Zelenka and Gibbs are loading up the last of her equipment into one of the crates and she looks just as upset about all this as John feels. "You just make sure your grunts are careful with this. These microscopes and computers cost more than they'll make in five years," she warns, jabbing her finger into John's chest.

"Yeah," John responds. "I got it the first seven times."

Meredith goes a little red at that and for a moment, John braces himself for the onslaught he knows is coming. She surprises him though; instead of yelling and berating him for being an insensitive prick, she just slumps her shoulders a little and shoves her hand through her hair.

"I'm sorry," she mutters. "I just… I don't deal with change very well."

No shit, he thinks, but he doesn't say it. Instead, he drops an arm around her shoulder and pulls her against his side. "It'll be okay," he says because he thinks it's what she wants to hear. He's wrong though, because she snorts and pulls away so she can look up at him.

"Do you really believe that?" She asks.

"No."

"Didn't think so," she sighs, settling back against him as one of the Marines wheels the crate of out of the room. "Do you think we'll ever get back here?"

"I don't know, Mer," he says quietly. "I just don't know."

But he hopes so and while he doesn't buy into the whole religion thing, he thinks maybe now would be a good time to start praying.

.::.

In the end, the whole thing is really anticlimactic.

They don't go out in a blaze of glory like John thinks maybe they should. Instead, everyone just rolls over and complies with the Ancients' wishes. John wonders when the idea of returning to Earth became so horrific to him and he thinks probably around the first time he realized Meredith was more to him than just an obnoxious, irascible scientist.

Returning to Earth meant another assignment. Returning to Earth meant that things with Meredith very well could be over.

"Don't be stupid," she says when he receives his orders. He's staying at the SGC and she's being shipped back to Area 51. He never really pegged her for the 'long distance relationship' type girl and he says at much.

"I'm not," she says, her arms tightening around his neck. "Usually. But circumstances change, so…" she trails off and he wraps his arms tighter around her, pulling her close. "Stay away from Daniel Jackson, okay? I know you have a thing for ascended harlots and—"

"Mer," he says.

"I'm serious," she responds. "And leave the female marines alone too. They might be hot, but most of them look like they could kick your ass Teyla style and I'd hate to have to murder you for cheating on me."

"Mer," he says again, pulling away to cup her face. "I love you," he tells her and he means it. "I love you."

She doesn't respond quite like he hopes. Rather than swooning into his arms or something like they do in the movies, she fucking wilts, dropping her head against his shoulder.

"Don't do that," she says, her voice muffled by his shirt. "Don't say that, okay? Just because—"

"I said it because I mean it," he tells her, squeezing her against him.

"You're saying it because you think it's what I want to hear and just, just, just… don't do that because you feel obligated! That's not how it's supposed…" she trails off, pulling away to look up at him. "You mean it?"

"I do," he says, ducking his head to catch her lips with his.

And this time, she melts against him.

.::.

After the first week, John's ready to kill someone.

And unfortunately, that first ridiculous week just sets the tone for the next fucking month.

Seriously.

Back on Atlantis, he took a lot of crap from the Marines who didn't really know Meredith because they couldn't understand why he'd want someone as obnoxious and whiney as her on his team. Well, after dealing with his SGC team, he's decided that he'll take a whole team full of Merediths.

He was barely getting by with their phone calls, but it's been two days since he's heard from her and he's ready to commandeer the fucking 'Jumper that came in on the Daedalus and mount a rescue mission.

John knows he's being ridiculous. Really, he does. Meredith warned him before she ever set off that there were times when she'd be scarce, but up until now, she'd been pretty good about keeping in contact at least once every two days.

It's been a week since he's last heard from her and he's going a little crazy.

"You're being a girl," he growls at himself. "She's busy. Get over it."

He slouches just a little in his chair and shoves his fingers through his hair as he reaches for one of the model Blackhawks on his desk. Most days, they're the only thing that gets him through the day.

How fucking pathetic is that?

He's about to start making plans for taking the 'Gate room hostage when his desk phone rings. He lunges, cursing under his breath when he fumbles for the receiver before he clears his throat.

"Yeah, Sheppard."

"You were waiting by the phone again, weren't you?" Meredith asks and John can hear the smirk in her voice.

He rolls his eyes at that. "No."

"Liar." He hears some shuffling in the background and he wonders what kind of ridiculously top secret stuff she's working on now. "Listen, I'm being called in for a consult—"

"—You're coming back?" He interrupts.

"—For a couple days, yes," she responds and he thinks he can hear the smile in her voice. "Just for a couple days. Carter's having some trouble with a couple of things and of course, as per usual, I've been called in to straighten out his mess, so—"

"When?" John asks. The rest isn't important and while he knows he should at least pretend to care, he can't. He's just glad she's coming.

"I should be there tonight."

This is the best news he's heard in over a month. Saying goodbye to Meredith when she got on that plane was harder than stepping through the 'Gate after being kicked out of the city and that's saying something because that was awful.

"John? Did you hear what I said?"

"Uh…"

He can practically hear her rolling her eyes.

"Of course you didn't," she mutters. "I said that it might be nice if we saw Carson and Elizabeth when I was in town."

"I see Carson every day."

"Yes well, we all don't have the luxury of being stationed so close, now do we?" She snaps and for the first time since they were split up, he hears the bitterness in her voice. She must have realized how she sounded though, because after a moment, she clears her throat. "Anyway, I just thought—"

"—Dinner sounds nice," he says. "I haven't seen much of Elizabeth anyway. It'll be good."

She gives what he thinks is a relieved sigh. This is harder on her than she's led him to believe.

"I'll have to check in with Carter as soon as I arrive, but then I'll be free until morning…" she says, trailing off and he already knows where she's going with that.

"I'll be here, Mer."

"Good," she says and the sound of her smile is back in her voice. "Well, I'll see you then, hmm?"

"Absolutely. I love you."

She hesitates just slightly, like she always does before she speaks. "Love you too, John."

John can't wait to see her again.

.::.

It's a little after eight when the quiet knock on his door startles John from his thoughts.

"Yeah, come in," he calls, hoping that it's not Carter. His stint at the SGC has given him an opportunity to get to know Carter better but he still isn't a huge fan. Something about knowing that the alternate version of his girl is married to Carter really just rubs him the wrong way and unfortunately, he's taken to showing up at random times to try and socialize.

"Not exactly the 'welcome home' I expected."

He jumps at the sound of her voice and he's on his feet in seconds, rounding the desk. A moment later, she's in his arms, solid and warm like he remembers and he decides that he never wants to let her go again.

"I thought you weren't getting in until later," he says into her hair.

"Change of plans," she responds, her voice muffled by his shoulder. "God, it's so good to see you again."

John can't even speak. Instead, he closes his eyes and memorizes how good this feels. He doesn't even realize he's squeezing until she reaches up and smacks his shoulder.

"I need to breathe," she complains, pulling away from him, though she's still grinning that crooked grin he loves so much.

"Jesus, I've missed you," he says.

She smiles and stands on her toes to press a kiss to his lips before she pulls away. "Let me just check in with Carter and then we can go," she says. "Meet you at your car in ten?"

He wants to tell her 'no' and follow her down to the labs but he's never been this clingy so instead, he straightens just a little and nods. "See you in a few," he says, pecking her lips before he lets her go.

John gives her a few minutes before he grabs his bag from behind his desk and practically sprints out of the office.

.::.

"This couch is just as comfortable as I remember," John groans, sinking down onto the comfortable cushions before handing her another beer. "I need this for my office."

"You can stay here, you know," she says, leaning against his side. "If you wanted to, I mean. No reason is should go uninhabited if you're in town anyway and you've gotta be tired of living in those disgusting barracks.

"They're not so bad," he lies. The truth is that they're awful but he's been holding out hope on going back to Atlantis so he hasn't exactly started looking for an apartment.

"You're a liar," she snorts, taking a drink of her beer before she peers up at him. "I'm serious though. If it's not too weird for you, I mean."

He does think it might be weird, but not for the same reasons she may be thinking. He just doesn't know if he can live in a place that's totally Meredith without her.

"I don't know," he says and immediately, she tenses up beside him.

"Right," she agrees. "Right, of course. That's weird and I'm sorry for suggesting it. That's an assumption I shouldn't have made but I just thought—"

"Hey," he says, leaning over to silence her for a kiss. "That's not what I meant. I just meant that it wouldn't feel right here without you."

"Oh."

"But," he tells her, kissing her again, "when we get back, I thought that maybe we could see about grabbing up one of those double rooms out near the East pier."

Meredith's eyes widen almost comically. "But, but, but… you don't want to live with me. I'm sloppy and I keep weird hours and, and, and—"

"And none of that matters," he says with a casual shrug. "And trust me, Mer, after all this time apart, when we get back, I'm not letting you out of my fucking sight."

He almost expects Meredith to lose it and give him the speech about how she's not a piece of property that he can just stake a claim in but she surprises him. Instead of yelling and possibly slapping him, she just offers him a small smile and settles against his side.

"Same goes for you. But John?"

"Yeah?" He asks, grinning despite himself.

"If you ever say that again where there's a possibility of being overheard, I will castrate you."

"Got it Mer," he says, giving her a bright smile before he kisses the top of her head.

Now they just have to worry about getting back home.

Chapter Text

Ronon's first impression of McKay wasn't a good one. She was hanging upside down in a tree, squawking like one of those Earth chickens. When he'd finally cut her down, she'd complained the entire way back to her people and more than once, he'd been tempted to drop her off the nearest cliff.

But he hadn't and then she'd surprised him.

He'd never expected her to be the type to step in front of a gun for anyone, let alone someone like him, but she had, warning Sheppard's trigger happy Marines away. While he didn't realize believe any of them had the guts to actually pull it, he doubts she knew that and yet she'd done it anyway.

During his time as a runner, he'd been totally alone. His Satedan brothers had been killed in the culling that had made him a runner and Melena…

It wasn't easy for him at first to trust the Lanteans, Sheppard especially, but there was something about McKay that he'd liked from the beginning even though she made him want to shoot her most of the time.

Kind of like now.

He doesn't know what made him offer to follow her around because most of the tine, he can only deal with her for a little bit at a time. His patience is thin anyway when it comes to people, but she's annoying enough that she manages to wear that out pretty quickly and after twenty minutes of listening to her talk as far as she does, he's completely lost and fingering his blaster.

She must notice though, because she stops short and shoves a hand through her hair before she crosses her arms over her chest.

"You know," she says in that loud way that he's used to. "You don't have to babysit me all day."

"Doctor Weir said to," Ronon says as he slouches against the wall in a way that probably reminds her of Sheppard. "It was an order."

"More like a suggestion," McKay responds. "Listen, I'm fine. You're just going to be bored all day anyway and I'm not planning on leaving the lab so go, shoot things or whatever it is you do."

It's tempting. He doesn't understand how all those little science guys—and women—spend all day cramped up in a tiny little room staring at their Earth gadgets.

"You sure?" He asks and he thinks he probably sounds a little hopeful but McKay just smirks at him and waves him off.

As he turns to leave, she calls out.

"Ronon?"

He stops and turns back to her, eyebrow cocked in her direction. "Yeah?"

"You're not so bad either," she says. "And for the record, they're called computers."

He forgot about the mind reading thing. Oh well.

.::.

The next time he sees McKay, she doesn't look so good. She hunched in on herself in a way that reminds him of himself as a runner. It's almost as if she's trying to disappear into herself and yet she doesn't exactly manage. She looks tired, too. He wonders when she last slept. He guesses it was probably before her scientist friend was almost fried.

"Thirty-six hours ago?" She mutters, shoving her fingers through her hair again. "Give or take. Don't really remember. So many ideas, so many things to do, so much, so much, oh right. The mind reading thing. Supposed to block you out. Right, okay, doing that now."

She stops and takes a deep breath but when she releases it, she looks even more exhausted than she did a minute ago.

"You look like shit."

"And you need to stop hanging around the marines," she growls. "Since when do Pegasus natives know what 'shit' looks like?"

He wonders if she really thinks they don't shi—

"No, no. Nevermind," she says, cringing just a little. "Not what I meant. Anyway, listen. I'm glad I caught up with you. There's, there's something I've been wanting to ask you but up until now, I've kind of been afraid you'd punch me in the face if I brought it up, but hey, dead woman walking so the idea of you breaking my face isn't so scary anymore so—"

"Breathe, McKay," he says.

"Right. Right, okay." She nods and claps her fingers together before she swallows hard. "Here goes then, hmm?"

A minute later, he's still waiting, so he growls her name again.

"Right, sorry. I just… I wanted to know… Those… those scars on your back from your encounters with the Wraith… you know, the tracking device?"

Ronon shifts a little uncomfortably; his time spent as a runner isn't something he likes to talk about, but McKay either doesn't notice or doesn't care because she keeps going.

"Are those… are those like a badge of honor for you?" She asks and she looks almost as uncomfortable as he feels. "Or are they just a constant reminder of something you'd rather forget?"

Ronon swallows hard at that and he figures he's probably scowling at her if the way she backs up is any indication.

"I mean, I know it's none of my business," she says hurriedly. "I just—"

"I try not to let the things I can't change bother me," he says.

For a moment, McKay looks like she's going to cry and he kind of hopes she doesn't. She's hard enough to deal with when she's just being her usual self; he has no clue what to do if she cries.

But thankfully, she doesn't. "That's very healthy," she says and he thinks he sees a bit of admiration and maybe a little jealousy in her eyes.

Ronon just shrugs because he figures there's nothing left to say. He's expecting McKay to go back to her labs now but instead, she glances around their empty hallway before she steps forward, wrapping her arms around him.

He cringes because this isn't what he was expecting. He's not used to this kind of behavior from anyone, let alone somebody like McKay and for the first time since Weir figured out what that machine was going to do to her, the reality of it sinks in: it's really going to kill her.

His instincts tell him to back away but since coming to Atlantis, something inside him has changed. He's not the runner who couldn't afford to get close to anyone. It was never his intention to find another family, but somewhere along the line, it happened and now, they were going to lose her.

He doesn't hug back, for fear of breaking her, so instead, he pats her back awkwardly until she pulls away. She looks embarrassed, but she offers him one of those half smiles she usually saves for Sheppard.

"I hope you don't mind."

Ronon frowns. "Huh?"

"I just healed them."

She brushes past him and practically sprints out of the hallway before he can even move. When he finally remembers how to, he reaches around, fingertips grazing the previously scarred skin only to find it perfectly smooth.

.::.

Ronon's never been good with the science stuff like McKay and Zelenka, but for her, he knows he needs to try. He's spent the last day and a half in that stupid Ancient lab with Zelenka holding tools and other useless Earth gadgets while he tinkers around with the console, trying to figure out how to fix what McKay broke.

It's not easy for him and after the twentieth time Zelenka throws something and curses in a language that Ronon doesn't understand, he bolts because he can't do it anymore.

He means to end up in the gym because he needs to hit something, but instead, as he's passing the east pier, he stops because he sees Sheppard leaning against the railing. He's put off talking to him these last few days because he doesn't know what he should say to him. The Earth people had a stupid habit of apologizing for things that were out of their control. He's heard Beckett and Zelenka both apologize to Sheppard for McKay killing herself.

Still, Sheppard's a brother now and he figures he should probably say something.

"Thought you were with Zelenka," Sheppard mutters almost as soon as Ronon steps out onto the balcony.

"For awhile. Couldn't shoot anything though."

John snorts a little at that. "Yeah, I know how you feel, buddy," he says before he takes a long drink of that Earth beer he likes so much.

"You should be with her," Ronon tells him after a moment because he thinks John probably needs to hear it.

"I can't. I can't just… sit there and watch her die."

"You love her."

"Of course I do," John growls, turning on Ronon. "What the hell kind of question is that?"

"Wasn't a question. I know you do, but you should be with her. She needs you."

"She wants to be alone," he says.

"She's lying."

"She's not—"

"She thinks it'll be easier for you this way. She doesn't really want to be alone though. No one does," Ronon says and he thinks he probably knows that better than anybody.

"When did you become such an expert on women?" John snorts and Ronon just shrugs.

"You won't forgive yourself if you're not there. That is the only comfort that I had with…" he trails off, because it still hurts to say her name. "I was there when she died. Until the end."

When John looks at him again, Ronon sees a pain in his eyes that's almost too much to bear, but he doesn't look away.

"Go be with her, John," Ronon says. "You'll regret it forever if you don't."

Ronon hesitates for a fraction of a second before he reaches out, clapping Sheppard on the shoulder. He squeezes just a bit before he lets go and then he turns and leaves John alone on the balcony.

He knows John will go to McKay.

.::.

In the end, they're all there when it happens. McKay had collapsed in Sheppard's room while working on the meditation crap that Weir had suggested. When he heard Sheppard's call to the infirmary, there was no question about whether or not he was going. Teyla apparently had the same idea, because they'd arrived fifteen seconds before Sheppard and the team of doctors working on keeping McKay.

They were able to bring her back, which Ronon thought was cruel. However, it did give her a chance to know that she wasn't alone.

"You were so close, Mer," John says, leaning over the edge of the bed as he brushes her sweaty hair out of her face. "So, so close."

"'M… 'm sorry," she responds, her voice weaker that Ronon's ever heard it. "When I'm… make sure nobody else…"

"We've already got it covered," Weir says in an oddly calm voice.

"Jeannie…"

"We've got the letter. There's a dial-in tomorrow."

Meredith nods weakly and reaches for Elizabeth's hand, squeezing a little. This is the first time in awhile that Ronon remembers just how close they actually are.

"You know," Weir says quietly, offering McKay a slight smile, "maybe now would be a good time to try again. You've got nothing to lose."

Meredith looks to John and whatever she sees in his face makes her nod.

"Right. Carson… hook me up?"

"Of course, love," he says, squeezing her shoulder.

Once she's hooked up, she relaxes just a little against the bed and closes her eyes. "Wide… open… spaces."

"Just relax, Mer," John says. "We're all right here with you."

"Meredith, you're a good person," Weir reminds her. "You just remember we love you."

"You… you do? All… all of you?"

Her eyes linger on Ronon and Teyla for just a moment and Ronon nods.

"'Course," he says and he really means it.

There's just a hint of a crooked smile on her face as she closes her eyes. Seconds later, the machine she's hooked up to beeps and they watch as the numbers drop lower and lower.

"She did it," John says quietly.

They're all holding their breath, waiting for the end when she suddenly jerks, her eyes flying open as she reaches for Carson's lab coat. She says nothing, but they can see her hands trembling as she holds onto it and then she slumps back against the bed as one of the machines beeps loudly.

"She's not breathing!" Beckett shouts to one of the nurses. "Bag her! We need to get her on a ventilator!"

John's still grasping her hand and he looks seconds away from losing it as Weir speaks. "Carson, she gave us strict orders…"

"You don't understand! She just told me how to save her!"

There's a lot of activity in the infirmary as everyone's shoved out of the way. Nurses hook her up to what seem like a hundred more machines and then they're on their way out of the infirmary.

Ronon and Teyla are trailing behind and Ronon can't help but wonder if they're going to be too late. There's machines breathing for McKay and even from this far away, he can see how pale she looks.

When they make it to the ancient console room, Ronon doesn't even think, he just moves. He pushes the nurses out of the way and lifts McKay off the gurney before he lays her down on the platform.

"Hurry up," he bellows, because it doesn't seem like anybody's moving fast enough. "She can't breathe!"

"Stand back," Beckett barks and Ronon does. John's just about to lunge forward for her when a bright light covers her completely.

They all watch, holding their breath as the light disappears. McKay doesn't move and Ronon thinks maybe they were too late.

Just as John rushes forward again, McKay gasps and her eyes open. She's reaching for Sheppard, her fingers gripping his shirt as he pulls her into his arms. Ronon is grinning despite himself and when Sheppard pulls her to her feet, he steps forward and wraps his arms around her.

"Glad to have you back, McKay," he says sincerely.

And he really does mean it because no matter how annoying she is or how much she talks, she's family.

Which is why next time she touches a piece of ancient equipment, he's going to kick her ass.

.::.

Ronon can feel a pair of eyes on his back as his fists connect with the punching bag over and over. His knuckles hurt and he can feel the warmth of his blood seeping down his forearms, but he doesn't stop at first.

"Well, that's completely barbaric," McKay huffs as she steps into his line of vision, her face wrinkled into a look of disgust.

Ronon says nothing, he just cocks an eyebrow at her.

"Right," she says, straightening just a bit as she clears her throat. "Listen, I just…" she trails off, her eyes never leaving his hands and seconds later, she reaches out to stop him. "Just… stop for a second, okay? That's incredibly distracting."

Ronon shrugs and crosses his arms over his chest as he stares at her. It always makes her uncomfortable in a way that's hilarious to him. Sure enough, after a second, she starts to fidget.

"Stop doing that," she snaps, her hands going to her hips.

He doesn't.

"Fine," she huffs, crossing her arms again. "I just… it's come to my attention that perhaps you helped John when I was… you know… and I just…"

"Don't McKay," Ronon says because this is venturing into uncomfortable territory. It's been a couple of days since she almost died and he wants to put that behind him. Thinking about it brings back too many painful memories of his own lost love.

"I just wanted to thank you," she says anyway, ignoring him. "I know things like this aren't exactly—"

"Don't," he says again, and this time, something in his face must stop her because she finally shuts up. She also kind of looks like she's just been hit in the face so he knows that maybe he was a little too gruff. "Don't have to thank me," he says. "We're family now. It's what we do."

From what he's gotten from McKay, she's never really had much of a family before either.

"Right… well, I just… right."

He stares at her a little more before she fidgets again and starts for the door. She stops though and turns back, face set in a determined frown.

"You know, if we're family, that means you don't have to deal with all your shit on your own either," she announces and then, before he has a chance to respond, she's gone.

He flexes his sore knuckles for a moment, before he returns to his punching bag. She's right, he thinks. Maybe it is time to share with them about Melena. He thinks she's probably like McKay.

And with that, he grins and hits the bag.

Chapter Text

John still can't believe he shot Meredith. He's made a joke out of it, of course, because he's John fucking Sheppard and that's what he does, but he's sure that he'll never forget the sight of her splayed out on the ground, clutching the bleeding wound in her side.

Just like he's positive he'll never forget the way she flinched away from him in that split second when he dropped to his knees beside her, reaching for the field dressing from her vest.

She played it off when she realized he was back to normal and let him press the bandage against her while Ronon ran off in search of Carson, but even now when she's in the infirmary back in Atlantis, he thinks he sees a bit of uncertainty in her eyes and he hates himself for it.

When did he become such a girl?

"Stop," Meredith says and when he looks back at her, he realizes her eyes are narrowed and that she looks thoroughly pissed off.

Well, pissed off is better than wounded puppy or whatever the hell she was going for earlier. He doesn't know when she started Mind Reading 101—probably the same time he lost his dick—but it's a little unnerving. Still, he just shrugs and slouches a little further down into the uncomfortable infirmary chair.

"I shot you," he says, echoing her statement from earlier but she just rolls her eyes.

"Yes, you did, and don't think you won't be paying for that for the next five years, but seriously, get over it. I'm fine."

He narrows his eyes at her. "Since when do you downplay your injuries? You haven't tried to convince seven nurses you're dying today. Maybe we should be worried."

"Ha. Make yourself useful and find me some Jello. I'm hungry."

He grumbles a little, mostly for some semblance of normalcy, but he's on his feet in seconds, leaning down to press his lips to forehead. Before he can pull away, she grabs his shirt.

"Don't, okay?"

"You just said you wanted Jello," he says, misunderstanding her on purpose. "I'll be right back," he promises, ducking his head to kiss her lips, effectively silencing her. When he pulls away again, he untangles his shirt from her hand and throws her a lazy smile before he practically sprints from the infirmary.

It's late and the hallways of Atlantis are empty; something John is incredibly grateful for. He doesn't think he can handle the stares and whispers tonight.

He's just rounded the corner to the mess hall when he runs—literally—into Ronon and Teyla.

"About time McKay kicked you out," Ronon says, arms crossed over his chest. The bandage on his bicep stands out almost blindingly against his tan skin.

"Glad to see you're up and around," John says casually and Ronon just shrugs.

"This little thing? Just a scratch." He eyes John pointedly and it's all John can do to keep from rolling his eyes at that.

"How is Meredith?" Teyla asks, balancing herself on the crutches provided by Carson. He's pretty sure she shouldn't be up, traipsing through the city on that leg, but Teyla's almost as bad as the rest of them when it comes to taking it easy after an injury.

"She's… okay," John says. The considering I shot her part remains unspoken but he knows that Teyla and Ronon know he was thinking it. Teyla scrunches her face up in a way that tells John what she's about to say is probably going to annoy him, so rather than deal with it, he forces a smile and slips around them. "Gotta get back to her though. Any blue Jello left?" He calls over his shoulder, but he doesn't even wait for a response.

He can practically feel them shaking their heads at him.

.::.

When John returns to the infirmary, Jello in hand, he's a little surprised to find Meredith still awake. While she usually has no trouble pulling all nighters in the lab or in their room, he knows that the medication Carson's given her has a tendency to make her tired, but apparently she's annoyed enough to stay awake.

"You've got to stop this… this thing you're doing, John. It's really annoying and I can't take much more of it."

"What?" He asks, a little defensively.

"This… this… sulky thing you're doing!"

"Meredith…" he says incredulously. "I shot you! I was shooting to kill! It's just a good thing that you moved when you did or… or…"

"You weren't in your right mind, okay? That machine completely fucked you up. It fucked all of us up."

"Not Teyla."

"That's because Teyla's part Wraith," Meredith snorts dismissively, though she immediately regrets that action if the wince is any indication. "Ronon nearly killed you. Does that mean you're going to be all weird around him now?"

"That's not the same, McKay," John says, glaring at her just a little. "I'm not sleeping with Ronon."

"I should hope not," she sneers, though pauses and regards John carefully. "But that would be pretty hot."

John shudders at that before he realizes she's just teasing him. "I'm not being weird around you," he says after a moment.

"You're pouting, Sheppard. Even your slouch looks a little more slouchier than usual."

"I shot you, Mer," he says again.

"Yes, I know. I'm the one who reminded you of that."

"Several times," John retorts.

"Exactly. But the point is: I'm here to remind you of it and berate you if I think it's necessary. You don't need to do it to yourself."

"Thanks. That's comforting."

"I thought it would be," she says, offering him a sleepy smirk. "Now why don't you shut up so I can eat my Jello in peace, and then maybe, if you're a good boy, I'll let you climb up here to sleep with me."

John promptly shuts up at that because he is tired and he knows if he goes back to his own quarters, he'll never get to sleep.

.::.

Faces and names. Friends and men he didn't even know. Holland. Abrams. Gaul. Ford. Meredith…

John bolts upright in the infirmary bed, gasping for air. His chest is clenching almost painfully and for a second, no matter how much he tries to swallow it down, he just can't get enough air. Fingers are clawing at his throat and in the distance, he thinks he hears somebody calling his name.

"John!"

Meredith. Meredith. Meredith. Meredith. Mer…

"John!" He jerks almost violently as her blunt nails dig into his skin and as the nightmare fades, he finds himself face-to-face with Meredith. She looks paler than usual, her crooked lips slanted downward in a concerned frown. She reaches up, shoving her unruly curls behind her ear before she reaches out, touching his face with her hand.

"I shot you."

She heaves an almost irritated sigh as she settles back against the pillows, pulling him down against her chest, mindful of the wound in her side.

"I could shoot you if you think it would make you feel better," she says after a moment, her fingers threading through his hair.

"Yeah, I've seen your aim. As close as you'd have to be to actually hit me, you'd kill me."

Her elbow connects with his stomach and he grunts, mostly because it's expected of him. It does the trick though, because they both begin to relax just a bit, John falls silent, listening to the sound of Meredith's heart thudding under his head and for the first time since they got back to Atlantis, he lets himself believe that she's really here, that this isn't just another fucking hallucination.

"What did you see?" She asks after awhile.

John stiffens at that. It was bad enough giving the bare bones version to Teyla, but he's not sure he's ready to get into this with Meredith. What happened in Afghanistan is something that until today, he'd thought he'd put behind him.

"I don't want to talk about it," he says after a minute. He almost expects her to argue but surprisingly, she doesn't.

"I'm not… the best when it comes to this sort of thing and I probably won't understand but if you uh… which is to say, if you need to talk about it with someone…"

"I'll go to Ronon."

John grins in the dark at the sound of her relieved sigh.

.::.

Meredith is released the next morning and John finds himself thanking a God he doesn't believe in. She's probably worse than even Ronon when it comes to an enforced infirmary stay. He was pretty sure she was just seconds away from creating a God damned bomb with Jello when Carson came in and declared her fit enough to be released back to her quarters.

"Finally," she groans, sinking down onto the bed with a sigh. "You know, if they're going to force me to stick around in that stupid voodoo hut, they could at least have one of my prescription mattresses on hand. Those ridiculous infirmary beds kill my back," she complains, dropping her head against the pillows.

John grins just a little at that, because a whiny McKay is a healthy McKay as far as he's concerned.

"You," she says, snapping her fingers at him without even looking up. "Make yourself useful and run down to the lab. I need my two laptops from my office and see if you can get Radek to roll a whiteboard in here. I've got a couple equations I want to get down before I forget them."

"Nope," John smirks, dropping down onto the edge of the bed. "You heard the Doc. You're supposed to be resting."

Meredith rolls her eyes and reaches over, grabbing the back of John's shirt to pull him closer. "If you're going to make me suffer, then you're going to suffer right along with me. Hope you don't have any plans for today."

He's got a shit load of paperwork to get caught up on, but he figures that can wait. Besides, that's what Lorne is for.

John shifts around on the bed, trying to get comfortable and a second later, Meredith is cuddled up against his side, her head pillowed on his shoulder. Though she's put up a big fuss about the whole "resting" thing, John knows she's grateful for the permission to do nothing more than relax.

Apparently, getting shot takes a lot out of a person.

Reaching over, he tangles his fingers through her hair, breathing in the scent that's one hundred percent McKay.

"Are you done being all pouty and emo now?" She asks and he doesn't miss the hopefulness in her voice. He thinks he should be a little offended over that because one, he does not pout and two, he's not emo.

Most of the time.

He decides he's not going to dignify that with a response, so instead, he leans down, pressing his lips to the top of her head.

"Good. I'm glad," she says and he can hear the smirk in her voice as she shifts just a little on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position. "I love you, you know,"

"I know," he responds, squeezing her carefully against him. "I love you too."

"Even if you did shoot me."

John just rolls his eyes. Knowing that he could have killed Meredith wasn't an easy pill to swallow, but at the same time, he knows that he can't let it consume him. She's moved on and doesn't hate him, so maybe it's time for him to move on too.

Yeah, he's done being emo.

Chapter Text

Meredith's arm hurts. To be fair, her entire body hurts, but it's her arm that's throbbing in a way that brings tears to her eyes. Rather than dwell on it though, she swallows back a hysterical sob when she realizes it's bent in a way that an arm shouldn't bend and climbs to her feet, choking and coughing against the heavy smoke.

There's crying. Not much, because her people are the toughest in two galaxies, but she's vaguely aware of the stifled hiccups in the wake of all the destruction.

Cradling her broken arm to her chest as best she can, Meredith staggers to her feet and sways just slightly as she takes in the state of the control room. There are bodies sprawled all over the floor, some barely moving and some not moving at all. She doesn't allow herself to look for too long; there will be time for grieving later, but for now, she won't allow herself to feel.

The first thing she needs to do is assess the situation, find out what's been damaged and what's still working. She squints slightly at the control panel, flinching away when it sparks.

"Fuck," she hisses, reaching for the cracked tablet she'd been working on when everything went to hell.

"McKay?"

Glancing up at the sound of the scratchy voice, Meredith swallows back a gasp at the sight of Ronon's slouched from. He's hunched over, leaning against one of the damaged consoles. It isn't until he sits up that she sees the jagged piece of glass protruding through his chest.

It's almost enough to make her sick. She gags just a little before she gets herself under control and approaches him slowly.

"That… doesn't look very good," she says dumbly.

"S'nothin'," he assures her, though she can see him gritting his teeth against the pain. "You okay?"

"No," she says and she thinks she probably sounds a little hysterical. "No, I am so fucking far from okay right now."

"Your arm is broken."

"Thank you for that, Captain Obvious," she snaps. "Unfortunately, I don't have time to worry about that right now—"

"Stop," he says, reaching out to steady her. He grips her good arm for a moment before he pulls away and tears a long strip of fabric from the bottom of his shirt. It's on the tip of her tongue to remind that they don't exactly have time for this little game of strip tease he's going for when he grabs the front of her shirt and pulls her closer.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Fixing you," he replies. Before she has a chance to respond, he's attempting to the tie the makeshift sling off around her neck, jostling her broken arm in the process. She yelps, tears filling her vision before she reaches up to help. "There," he says, panting just a little from the exertion as he slumps back against the console, cradling his own arm against his chest. "Should help until you can see the Doc."

She nods numbly, before she manages to climb to her feet. "Just… hang in there, huh? Someone will be here soon to look at that uh…" she gestures wildly to his chest but he just waves her off.

"Go do your thing," he says. "I'm fine."

She doesn't really believe him, but she knows that unless she checks everything to make sure it's working they're all going to be a little less than fine soon.

.::.

By the time John makes it into the control room, Meredith has most of the systems back up and running. Her arm is throbbing though and she wants nothing more than to lock herself in her room with John and sleep for a month, aided by prescription narcotics.

Unfortunately though, just because the systems are working doesn't mean that everything is moving smoothly.

"We've dropped out of hyperspace," she announces when she spots John. He says nothing and she finds herself getting agitated. "Which means, in case you're wondering, that we're screwed."

"You need to go to the infirmary," he says, reaching for her. "That arm doesn't—"

"I don't have time for the infirmary right now," she barks. "I've got to try to figure out a way to increase power to our Zed PM without killing us, and I'll have you know that isn't exactly an easy task!"

"Meredith." He's using what she likes to call his Colonel voice. "Is the shield still up and running?"

"Yes."

"Are we likely to die within the next hour or two?"

"Not likely, but in this fucking galaxy, anything is possible so I really think it would be best if—"

"Doctor Zelenka!" John calls, ignoring Meredith's huff of indignation. When Radek trots over, swiping his glasses on his shirt, John claps him on the shoulder. "Mer, you have three minutes to fill him in what's going on and what needs to be done."

She scowls at him for a second before she turns to Radek. "The Zed PM isn't functioning at maximum capacity. I would say there's a leak somewhere, something's drawing more energy than it should but without finding and shutting it down—"

"Yes, yes," Radek says, sidestepping her in an attempt to get at the control system. "Go. I will find and take care of it."

John wraps an arm around Meredith's waist, steadying her before he begins to lead her out of the control room.

"Ronon?" She asks, almost as an afterthought.

"Already in the infirmary," John says.

"And Teyla?"

"She's fine. Just a couple scrapes. What the hell happened up there?"

"Beam hit the tower," she says, gasping as she jostles her broken arm. "Sonofabitch that hurts."

"Should have had someone look at you straight away," John scolds.

"More… important things to do and there… were people worse off than I am."

"Yeah, but you're no good to anyone when you're like this," he says and while Meredith wants to protest, she's pretty sure he's right. It's getting harder and harder to concentrate by the minute and while Ronon's version of a sling initially stopped some of the excruciating pain, it's beginning to come back full force.

"Wait, wait, wait," Meredith protests. "Elizabeth. I need to speak to Elizabeth."

John falters just slightly at that and while he's doing his best as pretending he didn't, Meredith stops, grabbing his hand.

"Why didn't I see Elizabeth in the control tower?"

"Meredith… let's just get that arm fixed up, huh?"

"John."

"I don't know anything," he says regretfully. "She's hurt, but I don't have specifics. Keller is in with her now."

"Hurt… hurt. How do you mean she's hurt? Are we talking… broken bone hurt or Ronon, piece of glass protruding from a vital part of the body hurt or… or…"

"Meredith, I don't know," he says again, cupping her face gently. "I don't know. We'll get you fixed up and then hopefully Keller will have some answers."

"But, but, but…"

She's having a hard time concentrating now. Her head is pounding and she feels a bit like she's going to throw up but before she can warn John, he's scooping her up into his arms like she's nothing more than a child.

Meredith's grateful though, because seconds later, everything goes black.

.::.

When Meredith wakes up again, she feels a little floaty. Her arm still hurts, but it's more of a dull ache than the stabbing pain it was before. She moves to sit up just a little in the bed and is surprised to find Teyla in the chair beside her rather than John.

"Where is she?" She asks, frowning at how scratchy her voice is. "How long have I been out?"

"A little under an hour," Teyla says, and Meredith doesn't miss the slight crack in her voice. "John is speaking with Doctor Keller at the moment. He asked me to tell you that he will return shortly."

"What's going on?" Meredith asks, clearing her throat. "How's Elizabeth?"

"I do not understand everything Doctor Keller says, but from what I have managed to put together, she is not doing very well."

"That's not helpful," Meredith says, throwing the thin hospital blanket back from her legs.

"Meredith, please stay in the bed."

"No, I have a lot to do and I need to know what's going on," she growls, swaying slightly as she climbs from the bed. Teyla reaches out, grabbing her good arm to steady her.

"Meredith, I really think it would be best if you waited here."

"I can't just wait around! I need to know what's…" she trails off at the sound of the curtain being pulled back. When John steps into the small space, she can read his face clearly: Elizabeth isn't doing well. "John."

"Sit down," he says, grabbing her hand. "Sit before you fall."

"I'm fine. What's going on?"

John opens and closes his mouth a few times. He's never a man of many words, but this speechless crap is really unnerving and before she can stop herself, Meredith is pushing past him. She doesn't make it too far before he grabs her around the waist and bodily hauls her back to the bed.

"I said sit," he snaps and she's so unused to hearing that tone directed at her, she complies automatically. He runs a hand through his ridiculous hair as if to calm himself.

"What's going on?"

Meredith can't remember when her parents were killed; she doesn't know if she's blocked it from her memory or if she was just too stunned at the news to process it, but any time she's tried to recall it, she can't. Until now. This feels a lot like when Aunt Barb sat her and Jeannie down to tell them that her piece of crap parents were dead.

Except this wasn't about her parents. This was about Elizabeth, the woman who had been her only friend for years before coming to Atlantis. While she won't pretend that their relationship was always the best, for awhile, Elizabeth was all she had.

"Keller's doing everything she can," John is saying. "Radek is close to getting the hyperdrive back online, so I need you to just... hang out here for awhile, okay? That was a pretty bad break and the Doc is afraid you hit your head when the beam hit, so just…"

She's tuning him out. Keller is doing everything she can. That sentence replays in her mind over and over again. Keller is doing every fucking thing she can, but unfortunately, Keller's 'science' is all voodoo. Keller's best is shit.

"Mer?"

John's voice is filtering through her thoughts again. Meeting his eyes, she frowns at the concern she sees in his eyes. "What?"

"Stay put, okay? I'll be back as soon as I can." He leans forward and presses a kiss to her forehead and then just like that, he's gone.

.::.

No matter how much Meredith yells, the nurses just aren't falling for it. It doesn't help that Teyla's still perched at her bedside, watching her with narrowed eyes. John has pulled out all the stops to keep her in bed and it's really God damned frustrating.

Luckily, however, it isn't long before Keller pokes her head in through the curtains, dismissing Teyla with her eyes. Meredith figures that this probably isn't good, especially since Keller has that kicked puppy look about her so she steels herself for the bad news.

"She's really bad," Keller says and truth be told, Meredith is a little shocked at just how blunt she is. It was always a big lead-in with Carson; precious minutes wasted just to get to the point. "I've exhausted every medical possibility I can think of and none of it has worked."

"She's going to die." It's not a question, but a statement. She's expecting Keller to nod, pat her on the shoulder and say she's sorry.

Instead, Keller just frowns. "I… I actually have one more idea, but I need your help."

"Me? What the hell could you possibly need me for?"

"Come with me," she says, holding a hand out to help Meredith out of the bed.

Meredith scowls down at her for a second before Teyla stands, helping her up as well.

"Oh sure, now you're Little Miss Helpful," she growls, swatting her hand away as she climbs out of the uncomfortable infirmary bed. "Where are we going?"

"There's something I need to show you," Keller says. "We're not going far."

By the time they reach Keller's work station, Meredith's vision is a little black around the edges and she wonders if she did hit her head harder than she realized.

"What am I supposed to be looking at?" She asks, frowning at her voice is wavering.

"These are Doctor Weir's scans. You see those?"

Meredith squints at the laptop screen. "What are those?"

"Remember when she was attacked by that Replicator and he infected her—"

"With nanites! But we were able to render them inert using an electro-magnetic pulse!"

"But they're still in her system. I know this is risky, but if we could—"

"You are a genius," Meredith says and for once, she means it.

.::.

When John returns to the infirmary, Meredith knows he's pissed to find her out of bed. He's used to her ignoring his orders, but not the ones that are really important.

And if being out of bed wasn't so important, Meredith would feel bad and would probably take him back to their room to grovel for his forgiveness, but right now, there's no time for that. Instead, she explains briefly what it is she's trying to do without ever looking away from her computer screen.

"You want to what?"

"I want to active the nanites."

"That…" John laughs incredulously and shakes his head. "That is a terrible, terrible idea."

"No it's not. I've reprogrammed them."

"No, Meredith. The answer is no."

"John," Meredith says and she's a little embarrassed when her voice cracks. "We're losing her. Keller and her team have done everything they can. If I can reprogram them to help repair her body without trying to take over her brain, then—"

"That's a big 'if', isn't it?"

"I'm fairly confident that—"

"Fairly confident, Mer? What if they come back online and start communicating with the others? The last God damned thing we need is a bunch of robot warships showing up."

"Are you even listening to me?" She snaps. "I said I can reprogram them to be completely harmless!"

"I am not having this conversation with you," he says. "I'm not, Meredith. Do you really think that's what Elizabeth would want? To have a bunch of tiny robots—"

"I would think given the option between death and a few little harmless nanites, the choice is clear! We're doing this!"

"No we're not. No. Keller, you will not let her do this, do you understand?"

"But Colonel Sheppard—"

"No. As the ranking military officer, this is my call. No."

"She's dying, John! You're killing her!" Meredith shouts. "You're killing her!"

John falters slightly, and Meredith thinks she sees him swallow hard. "I'm sorry, Mer. But the answer is still no."

"John!" Meredith screeches, stomping her foot when he turns to walk away. "Don't you do this, Sheppard!"

"I want to save Elizabeth as much as anyone else," he says. "But you know as well as I do, she wouldn't want us risking this city. Not even for her. Shut it down, Keller."

Meredith can only watch as he leaves.

.::.

It's hours later when Keller reappears at Meredith's side. There are a million things that she knows she should be doing, but she can't bring herself to leave the infirmary just in case.

Besides, Zelenka deserves a lot more credit than she usually gives him. Hyperdrive is back online and they're already on their way to their destination. She has nowhere pressing to be and at least here, she knows she isn't going to run into John.

"Here," Keller says kindly, pressing a small tablet into her hand. "It's time for another round of that, and if you're feeling up to it, you can head back to your room."

"I'm not going anywhere," Meredith responds stubbornly. She dry swallows the pill and glances up at Keller. "Any change?" She doesn't need to hear what Keller has to say to know the answer; the slight squeeze to her shoulder tells her all she needs to know.

"You… should probably start thinking about saying your goodbyes."

Tears are burning Meredith's eyes, blurring her vision. She bites down hard on her lower lip, refusing to cry out. "We're really there?"

"We're really there," Keller says quietly. "I'm sorry, Meredith. Really, if there was any other way…"

"No," Meredith says, swallowing hard. "No, I know. You… you…" she trails off. "You did everything you could… you did… you did a good job."

"Thank you," Keller responds and her voice cracks slightly. "I'll… give you a moment, okay? But I need to call the Colonel in, so if you… wanted a moment alone with her, now would be the time."

"Yes, yes, I…" she falters, pushing herself out of the chair slowly. "I'll do that. Thank you, Jennifer," she says absently.

Meredith doesn't want to see Elizabeth like this. She doesn't. She doesn't want to remember her friend as nothing more than a shell of the woman she'd once been, but she knows if she doesn't say goodbye, she'll regret it forever.

So she draws in a deep breath and steps into the room.

What she sees is almost enough to make her throw up.

Elizabeth is lying motionless on the infirmary bed. There's a large bandage covering her head, but Meredith can see where they've shaved her beautiful hair and that alone is enough to make her want to cry.

She lingers by the door for a moment, taking in her friend's still form.

"Jesus Christ," she breathes, swallowing hard against the lump in her throat. It isn't easy to move closer, but when she does, she reaches out tentatively and grabs Elizabeth's hand. It feels cold against her own skin. "I don't… I don't even know if you can hear me, but I just… what the fuck, this is stupid."

She turns back, glancing at the doorway to make sure she's alone before she leans down, close to Elizabeth's ear. "Other than Sam and John, you're the best friend I've ever had, Elizabeth," she says and she can feel the tears already beginning to streak her cheeks. "Perhaps I should have told you that more often, but it's not… I'm not very good with words, as you know. But I've always… loved you like a sister and in many ways, you've been more of a sister to me than Jeannie has."

She shakes her head, reaching up with her good arm to swipe at her tears.

"I feel like an idiot, but I want you to know… I wanted to fix you. I probably could have, but John… John's right. Living like that isn't what you'd have wanted so I'll… we'll let you go, but just know that… you're going to be missed. Not just by me, but…"

Meredith sniffles quietly.

"Goodbye, Elizabeth," she says, reaching over to rest her hand against her forehead. She never gets a chance though, because before she does one of the machines starts beeping like crazy. She jumps back, eyes wide before she rushes to the door, shouting for Keller.

It takes only seconds before the room is swarming with nurses and doctors, all pushing her towards the door despite her loud protests.

"What… what's happening?" She demands as Marie gives her a particularly hard shove out the door and closes it behind her.

A loud sob escapes her and she moves to shove her way back into the room again when a strong pair of arms wraps around her waist, holding her in place.

"Let me go!"

"Meredith."

It's John. He tugs her back against his chest, refuses to release her, even when she turns and starts beating against him, cast and all.

"Let me go," she shrieks. "Let me go!"

He doesn't. He just holds her tighter, accepting the barrage of fists until she slumps against him, sobbing loudly.

"I could have saved her," she cries. "I could have fixed her and you wouldn't let me! She's dying, John! She's dying, and… and… and…"

John never lets go.

.::.

When John slips into their room later that night, Meredith is finally asleep. He says a prayer of thanks to a God he doesn't believe in before Teyla turns, offering him a sad smile.

"You should rest," she says simply as she rises off the bed. "You look as exhausted as Doctor McKay did."

"How long has she been out?"

"About an hour. She would not eat much of her dinner, but I did convince her to take Ronon's dessert so she could have a pill."

"Thanks for keeping an eye on her Teyla," John says, running his fingers through his hair. "What a day huh?"

"What a year," she corrects, gripping his shoulders before she leans forward, touching her forehead to his. "She will be greatly missed."

John closes his eyes, gripping Teyla's shoulders a little harder than necessary before he pulls away. "Yeah… she will."

"I will leave you now. I should go see to Ronon, but please John, try to get some rest. It will no doubt be a long week."

John privately agrees as Teyla slips from the room almost silently.

He takes his time heading to the bathroom to clean up. It has been a long day but he doesn't bother to shower because he just wants to climb into bed with Meredith and hold her in case she wakes up. Which she will.

Nobody would ever say that Meredith McKay isn't an emotional person anyway. Anger, irritation, sadness, whatever, she wears her emotions openly. There's never any doubt as to what she's feeling and right now, she's shattered at the loss of her friend.

When he does finally return to the bedroom, he climbs into the small bed behind her and pulls her back against his chest, careful of her broken arm. Almost immediately, she turns, pressing her face against his chest.

It isn't long before the hot tears start. He can feel them splattering against his bare chest and the feeling of her body shaking with silent sobs kills him.

"I'm sorry, Meredith," he whispers into her hair. "I'm sorry."

"We could have saved her," she says. "Why didn't you let me save her?"

"It isn't what she would have wanted," he reminds her. "You know that. You know she wouldn't."

"I know," she cries, her voice breaking. "But we could have saved her."

John can't help but wonder if he made the right decision or if Meredith will ever forgive him for it.

Or if he'll ever be able to forgive himself.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, Meredith thinks this would have been ideal. Not that she ever wanted to see Elizabeth lose her position as leader of Atlantis but because she's always been the type to want to have her cake and eat it too.

That's a stupid expression, she thinks. What's the fucking point of having cake if you can't eat it? Especially yellow cake with…

Right. She's getting off topic. She thinks she should probably be happy that Sam is coming. She is, in a way, even though she's sure that it's going to mean trouble for her and John. She loves Carter in a way that's completely separate from the way she loves John, but sometimes, she thinks he forgets that.

Like right now, probably. They're standing in the 'Gate room, shoulder to shoulder and she can feel how tense he is. His shoulders are squared and his jaw is set in a way that's completely un-John-like in nature. Whether he'll admit it or not, he's feeling threatened.

At John's other side, Ronon is there and Meredith can see him fingering his blaster. There's a feral grin on his face and if this was anyone else taking command of Atlantis, Meredith would be right there with him, arms crossed and chin tilted in that defiant way that clearly tells the newcomer that they are not welcome.

But this is Carter.

A wave of guilt washes over her because she realizes she's torn. This is her team, her family. Atlantis is her home and Elizabeth was her friend but before there was this, there was him. Sam was there for her when she was alone. He was the first person in two galaxies to ever get a shit about her so it's only natural that she feels a sense of loyalty to him as well.

She just has no fucking clue how to balance that.

Before she can think on it anymore, the 'Gate comes to life, almost deafening her as it begins to dial on its own. Chuck announces Sam's imminent arrival up in the control room, but Meredith ignores him as she stands just a little straighter. Teyla is beside her, face relaxed in a look of welcoming but Meredith knows better. She's just as nervous as John and Ronon.

When the worm hole opens, Meredith realizes she's holding her breath. It takes less than three seconds before Sam appears in the 'Gateroom. All in all, incredibly anticlimactic. It feels like nobody is breathing, Sam included as he steps forward, handing his bags to the two marines who moved to take them. He offers them a boyish grin, but they don't stick around to grin back. The expedition may not have always been loyal to Elizabeth, but they are to John and Meredith knows that bringing a new Military man in is a slap in the face.

"Colonel Carter," John says stiffly. "Welcome to Atlantis."

"Thank you," he says, and Meredith has to give him credit because his smile never falters despite the almost suffocating tension in the room. "Right, well, I just wanted to say that I'm honored to be here. I've come here fully committed to this expedition, to Atlantis, and to all of you. I look forward to working with all of you."

It's all the dismissal that they need because without a second's hesitation, the room begins clearing out. It isn't long before it's just Meredith, Sam, John, Teyla and Ronon.

"Nice speech," Meredith says and her voice sounds stronger than she feels right now.

"Thanks," Sam responds, breathing a loud sigh. "I also do weddings and awards shows. Book early to avoid disappointment." He pauses and runs a hand through his short hair before he offers Meredith a bright smile. "Good to see you, McKay."

"You too, Sam," she says and even though it feels disloyal to Elizabeth and John, she means it. "Um… you remember John?"

"Of course," Sam says, eyeing John carefully. "How could I forget?"

John flinches just a little at that, but his steady gaze never wavers.

"Right… well uh… okay, so you know John. This is uh… this is Ronon and Teyla. They're the aliens. I mean… not aliens, but you know what I mean, they're…" she trails off and Carter just laughs.

"Right. I've read the reports. It's nice to finally meet you. I look forward to getting to know you both."

Ronon scoffs at that, but Teyla—lovely Teyla—steps forward and grips Carter's shoulders before touching her forehead to his. "It is nice to meet you, Colonel Carter. Doctor McKay speaks of you often."

"I do not," Meredith protests, shooting a worried glance in John's direction, but he's too busy glaring daggers into Carter's head to notice.

"Maybe we should show you to your room now," John says and Meredith is almost shocked at how gruff he sounds. It's a voice usually only saved for Kolya and Caldwell on occasion.

"That would be great," Carter says evenly.

"Wonderful. Right this way, Colonel."

.::.

Meredith has just settled into bed, science journal open on her lap when John storms in, sweaty and a little bloody from his workout session with Ronon.

"What the fuck, John?" Meredith screeches, throwing the covers back as she climbs out of bed, crossing the room the cup his chin in her hand, taking in the large gash on his forehead. "Have you seen Keller? You probably need stitches in this thing!"

He's staring at her intensely, his hazel eyes burning into hers just seconds before he crushes himself against her, ignoring the way she squirms in his arms.

She presses against his chest, trying to push him away as he kisses her fiercely. On any other night, it would have been hot, but right now, it's just really fucking irritating. When he finally breaks away, he's breathing raggedly but she doesn't get a chance to ask what the hell his problem is before he's pushing her back towards to the bed.

Her legs buckle when she hits the bed and he's on her in a second, clawing at her shirt. While she's never been afraid of him before, this is crossing into territory she's not okay with, so she brings her knee up, catching him between the legs.

"What the fuck, McKay?" He practically howls, pulling away to hold himself, cursing loudly.

"That's what I'd like to know, you dick. What the fuck do you think you're doing?" She spits, swiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

"What does it look like?"

"Looks a bit like you're trying to mark your God damned territory. Jesus Christ, John. What's next? Pissing on my leg in front of Sam?" She practically leaps off the bed, grabbing her discarded cargo pants from earlier before she pulls them up over her hips quickly. Her back is to him, and for right now, she's grateful because she doesn't want him to see the way her hands are shaking.

"Meredith—"

"Fuck off, Sheppard," she says angrily. "When you decide to act like a God damned human and stop treating me like a piece of property you need to stake claim in, you can come find me."

Her first instinct when she flees the room is to find Sam. He's protected her once and she's pretty sure if it came down to it, he would do it again but she knows that would send the wrong message to both parties. She's not afraid of John and she doesn't need to be protected from him so instead, she heads down to the lab to clear her head.

She doesn't know how long it takes before her hands stop shaking or before her heart stops trying to pound out of her chest. She has so many things she could be working on, but she can't stop thinking about the way his hands felt on her, gripping her arms roughly. She knows John; knows that he would never in a million years hurt her on purpose but he was not himself tonight and she would be lying to say she wasn't a little frightened for a moment.

It's been about an hour since she's left their room and while she's feeling a little calmer, the sound of footsteps outside of her lab is enough to set her on edge. She grips the corner of the table as John slips inside.

His hair is even more of a mess than usual and he looks more upset than he did when they lost Ford.

"Meredith," he says a little raggedly. "Jesus Christ, Mer."

"You're an idiot, Sheppard," she says, but now, there's no venom behind her words.

"I know," he says as he steps closer. He crushes himself against her again, but it's different this time. There's no wildness in his embrace, just barely controlled desperation. "I'm sorry," he says, his voice muffled by her hair. "Fuck, Mer. I'm so sorry."

"If you ever—"

"I won't," he tells her. "I won't, I swear it. Jesus fucking Christ."

She's hugging him back, her nails digging into his flesh in a way that she's positive is painful but he never flinches. He just holds her, his body trembling ever-so-slightly against her. He knows he's fucked up.

They stay like that for awhile but when they finally pull apart, he looks completely and utterly ashamed of himself.

"I'm not a piece of property, John," she says quietly, as a reminder.

"I know. God, I know."

Meredith releases a shaky breath and nods. "Good. And you… you need to figure something out with Carter because as much as you don't want him to be here, he is so… so you need to just deal with it and stop all this macho crap. This isn't you."

"I know," he says again.

"Everyone else is going to take their cue from you. We all know what it's like to feel like we aren't wanted somewhere, so let's… you know, not do that to him. He's a good person. He's not going to try to take over or anything. He's just trying to make the best of the situation too."

She wonders when she became the voice of reason in the relationship. Probably four hours ago, when Carter made it into the city, but whatever. She just knows she doesn't want to spend the rest of her time in Atlantis torn between John and Sam because she loves them both, just in different ways.

"I'll talk to him in the morning," John promises. Meredith just nods.

"Okay then."

She takes her time shutting down her equipment before she joins him in the hallway, reaching for his hand. He looks at her tentatively and in that moment, she knows that he understands just how close he was to fucking things up with her for good.

But he didn't, so instead, she just offers him a half smile.

"Come on," she says. "Bed."

"Okay."

"You really should have gotten Keller to look at your head. It'll probably get infected and scar and we wouldn't want to mess up that pretty face."

"Uh huh."

Things are tense right now. Will be for awhile, most likely, but she knows it's going to work out. It always does, in the end.

Chapter Text

The sun is just beginning to set and already, John is exhausted. It's been a long day filled with pages upon pages of paperwork. Requisition forms, leave approvals, mission reports. He slacks off for a day or two and suddenly, his inbox is overrun with paperwork and Carter is breathing down his neck to get it finished.

Annoying.

His eyes feel like they're going crossed as he makes his way down to the lab and while he's surprised that he doesn't hear Meredith's screeching from out in the hallway, he chalks it up to paperwork on her end too. While he's bad, she's worse and he knows for a fact that between the two of them, they're driving Carter a little crazy.

Yeah, he feels a little smug about that.

"Hey Doc," he greets, waving across the room to Zelenka while heading for Meredith's office. "Quiet day today, huh?"

"Just a little," Zelenka says, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "What are you doing?"

"Huh?" John asks, pausing outside Meredith's door.

Zelenka just points at her office like John is supposed to know what the hell he's talking about so he shrugs and asks. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"She is not here, Colonel," he says. "She has been gone for some time now."

"McKay?"

Zelenka shrugs. "I learned a long time ago not to ask."

"Smart man," John grins before he backtracks to the doorway, waving at Zelenka again. "Catch ya later, Doc. Don't work too hard."

"I never do, according to your manželka," Zelenka mutters, and John is a equal parts afraid and curious to know what he just called Meredith, but he doesn't stick around to find out.

When John makes it back to their room, he pauses outside the door, listening for any signs of life from within. There's nothing, which is horrifying because the last time she was this quiet in their room, she'd dismantled his laptop and refused to put it back together unless he talked Simpson into parting with some of her chocolate.

Shuddering at the memory, he swipes his hand over the control crystals and winces in anticipation when the door slides open.

Huh. Nothing except a Meredith-shaped lump in the middle of the bed.

"Mer?" He calls tentatively, thinking the lights'on' as he makes his way over to the bed. She doesn't even flinch.

Frowning just a little, he sinks down onto the edge of the bed and reaches out, resting a gentle hand against what he hopes is her shoulder. The last thing he needs is for her to take a crotch shot because she thinks he's trying to feel her up in her sleep.

A quiet groan escapes her as she shifts just enough to pull the covers down so she can peek out.

"Wha' time z'it?" She asks, her voice thick with sleep.

"Almost eighteen hundred," he says, reaching out to smooth her curly hair back from her forehead. "What are you doing?"

"Nap," she responds, barely stifling a yawn as she stretches out on the bed. "Ugh."

"What's wrong?"

"Stomach," she mutters, curling back in on herself.

"You're sick?"

"No. I feel just peachy," she says sarcastically. "What the hell do you think? I'm too busy to just lay around for the hell of it."

It's a fight to keep from his rolling his eyes, but in the end, John is victorious. Instead, he leans over, kisses her cheek and pushes himself to his feet. "I'm going to grab something to eat then. Do you want me to bring you anything back?"

She groans at the mention of food and waves him off.

Okay then. She's definitely sick.

It doesn't take John long to make it down to the mess. He grabs a not-quite-turkey sandwich for himself and some of that beetroot soup that Meredith pretends to hate for her before he makes the short trek back to their room. When the door slides open, she's still in the same place he left her.

"Mer?"

The covers come down about a fraction of an inch, just enough for one annoyed blue eye to peek out. "What?" She asks and there's a distinct hint of a whine in her voice.

"C'mon, sit up here. I brought you some of that soup that you like."

"John, I don't want anything," she says and yeah, she's definitely whining.

"You need to eat. Your sugar is going to drop and the last thing I need is for you to slip into hypoglycemic shock and end up in the infirmary, so yeah. No arguments, just eat."

She huffs angrily as she throws the covers away from her body and he really doesn't like how pale she looks. Well, paler.

"When's the last time you ate?"

"I had a power bar this morning," she grumbles as John crosses the room and drops down onto the edge of the mattress beside her. "I don't want to eat."

"Just a little," he coaxes, pressing the bowl into her hands before he unwraps his not-really turkey.

She huffs again and John can feel her glaring daggers as he takes a bite of his sandwich, but it tastes heavenly enough that it offsets the anger he can feel radiating off of her. He's just about to offer her a bite of his sandwich when she dumps the bowl of soup and practically leaps off the bed, catching more air than he ever thought was possible.

He's impressed.

He's pulled out of his stupor seconds later when the feeling of hot soup begins to creep up his thigh and the sound of the bathroom door clicking closed catches his attention.

"Sonofabitch," he hisses, jumping up off the bed, glaring down at his wet leg. He curses a little more, torn between going right to the bathroom to check on Meredith and changing his pants because Jesus Christ, that soup was hotter than it looked. He starts towards to the closet because he knows that Meredith isn't going to let him in anyway, but he doesn't get very far before the door chimes.

"Shit," he huffs under his breath, limping his way over to the door. Waving his hand in front of the control panel, the door hisses open, revealing Carter.

Right. Like his night couldn't get any worse?

"Colonel," he greets brusquely. While he's managed to put most of his issues with Carter aside, he isn't going to lie and say that the man's presence doesn't bother him because it does. Especially now as his pants are melting to the skin of his thigh. "What can I do for you?"

"Do you have a minute?"

John frowns and tugs a little against his pant leg. "Yeah, sure," he says, hoping to God that it takes less than that because this really does hurt.

Carter hesitates and reaches around to rub the back of his neck. "I received a message from Stargate Command last night," he says hesitantly. "I'm afraid… I have some bad news."

John just stares. "Okay."

"Your father suffered a heart attack last night. I'm sorry, John, but he passed away."

In that moment, it felt like everything screeched to a halt; from the scalding soup seeping in through the pores on his leg to the sound of the bathroom door sliding open again. Nothing mattered.

"If you ever bring a God damned turkey sandwich in here again," Meredith starts, but miraculously she stops when she spots Carter. "John? What's going on?"

Carter glances over at her before he reaches out and claps John on the shoulder gently. "I'm sorry," he says again and John knows that he means it.

Seconds later, Carter is backing out of the room, John feels a little like he's going to throw up and Meredith is there at his side, hand on his arm, guiding him back towards the bed.

"John?" She's saying in a voice softer than he's used to hearing from her. He's vaguely aware of his ass hitting the mattress and when he finally looks up at her, he can see the concern written all over her face. "John, you're freaking me the fuck out. What's going on?"

He opens his mouth but nothing comes out. Instead, he reaches for her and pulls her down onto his lap, burying his face in her hair.

She's silent as she turns, wrapping her arms around him and John realizes he's trembling.

They sit like that for what feels like an eternity. When he finally pulls away, the moon is shining brightly into the room and even though he hasn't done anything, he feels exhausted.

"My dad died," he says, his voice steadier than he imagined it would be. He never thought that the death of the man who had made the majority of his teenage years a living hell would impact him so hard but right now, he feels like someone's simultaneously punched him in the gut and kicked him in the crotch. Not a good feeling.

"I'm sorry," Meredith says solemnly. This isn't something they've ever really talked about before so he's not surprised when she asks, "were you two close?"

"Not at all. Hated him, actually. Pretty sure he hated me too," John says with a hollow laugh that sounds fake even to his own ears. He's quiet for a moment before he speaks again. "I guess I have to go back."

"I'll go with you," she offers and John just nods because really, he has no idea how he's going to face the life he left behind without her.

.::.

"You can't come back with me," John says dully. He's just left Carter's office and he's angry that he didn't get the answer he was looking for.

Deep down, John knows he's right. Meredith hasn't been feeling well for nearly a week now. She insists it's nothing, but they have no clue if it's the regular Milky Way flu or some random Pegasus strain and they can't risk her exposing anyone to something from this galaxy. It's the right call, even if John is a little pissed off.

"This is horse shit," Meredith practically screeches. John's positive she would be on her feet, pacing angrily and waving her hands if she still wasn't still so dizzy. Privately, John agrees with her assessment but then the greenish tint to her face reminds him why they have rules like this set in place.

"Yeah," he agrees, sinking down onto the bed with a sigh. His bag is all packed and ready to go. He's scheduled to dial out in less than thirty minutes and he still has no clue how he's going to deal with the funeral on his own.

It's moments like these that he has to remind himself he's a grown ass man and he doesn't need her to hold his hand, no matter how much he may want her to.

"I'll go deal with him," she grumbles, throwing the covers back. She's on her feet when another wave of dizziness hits and it's only his hand on her elbow that stops her from face-planting.

"He's right, Mer," John says, standing to help her back into bed. "You can hardly stand without wanting to topple over. 'Gate travel and a funeral? You don't need to deal with that. I'll be fine."

"But John—"

"It's okay," he says. "Really."

"I want to be there for you," she says assertively and John's reminded of just how much she's changed since they first met.

"And I want you to focus on getting better," he says, using his stern 'Colonel' voice. "Which means hanging out in here and getting lots of rest. You are not, under any circumstance, to try and take the 'Gate room by force."

"But I could come up with a diversion and—"

"No, McKay. I'm serious. It's forty-eight hours. No big deal."

She looks like she wants to argue, but she also looks like she wants to puke so rather than take a chance, she closes her mouth and crosses her arms over her chest.

He leans over to peck her lips but instead, she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him close, her fingers playing with the hair at the nape of his neck.

"I'm sorry, John," she says. "I really wanted to be there for you. You know that, don't you? If Carter would pull his head out of his ass—"

"I would have made the same decision if I was in Carter's position," he says firmly, pecking her lips before he pulls away. "I should head down there," he says, jerking his finger at the door and she nods.

"I'll walk you down."

"No way. You stay put," he says.

She huffs a little but rather than argue, she just nods. "Okay," she agrees. "But take care of yourself, huh? Don't… ummm… well, don't let anyone get you down and whatnot," she tries and while it falls a little short of a pep talk, John appreciates the effort. "I love you," she adds and he nods.

"I love you too."

John grabs his bag off the bed and hurries out of the room, ready to get this over with. It's a short walk to the 'Gate room and by the time he arrives, he's feeling a little nauseous but he's positive it has more to do with nerves than whatever stupid bug Meredith has come down with.

He can feel eyes on him as he makes his way over to the 'Gate, but he ignores it until he hears someone call his name. Turning, he's surprised to see Ronon jogging over to him, knapsack slung over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?" John asks.

"I heard what happened and I'm sorry about your father."

"Thanks, buddy. I'll see you in a few days."

Ronon snorts. "You think I'm letting you do this by yourself?"

John just smiles.

.::.

The first thought that crosses Meredith's mind when she finally stops throwing up is that this is all John fault. Really, she's quite happy to assign the blame to him because she's too fucking smart to allow this to happen.

He is, after all, the one that he broke the condom. If he'd just keep his God damned fingernails clipped like she asks, he never would have torn it.

She thinks it's probably a good thing that he's in another galaxy right now because she's pretty sure there's nowhere in this fucking galaxy that he could hide and be safe from a kick to the crotch. They're too old for these kinds of mishaps.

Of course, he'd better hope it is just a harmless mishap, or she thinks she'll probably dial the 'Gate at random and shove him through so he can't come back.

She swallows hard at the thought and closes her eyes, praying to the Ancients that she's just turned into a paranoid bitch. It's quite possible, after all, that her mind started manifesting all these stupid symptoms after Teyla announced her pregnancy earlier the previous week. She knows it's easy enough to find out; a simple trip down to the infirmary to pee on a stick and it'll all be over, but truthfully, she's terrified of doing that.

"Stupid," she mutters angrily to herself, wincing at the way her stomach turns. "Maybe I should just throw myself through the 'Gate," she huffs, pushing herself to her feet. Regardless of whether or not she's chicken shit, John is scheduled to be back in thirty-six hours and she knows she needs to figure this fucking thing out before he gets back.

She stumbles out into the bedroom and is just about to crawl underneath the covers and go to sleep in hopes that the problem will solve itself when the sound of the door chime reaches her ears. She glares moodily at it before she stomps over, waving her hands in front of the crystal.

"What?" She barks as soon as the door slides open.

"Hello to you too," Carter greets cheerfully. "You look like shit, McKay."

"Fuck off," she grumbles, stepping back to allow him into the room. "What do you want?"

"Just stopped by to make sure you hadn't died in here. Doctor Zelenka said he hasn't seen you today and that's not normal."

"I've earned a little time off," she says defensively, crossing her arms over her chest.

"No one said you haven't," Carter says, holding his hands up in surrender. "We were just worried."

"Oh," she responds sullenly. "Well, I'm fine, I'm alive, whatever. You can go now."

He narrows his eyes at her, catching her wrist when she moves to shove him towards the door. "Hey… What's going on?"

"I'm sick, Sam! I just finished puking my guts up and now I have to stand here and answer your stupid questions, and, and, and…" she runs out of steam halfway through her rant and reaches up to shove her fingers through the hair that's escaped her ponytail. "I'm fine."

He looks like he doesn't believes her, but mercifully, he just nods. "Okay," he says. "Okay… but you know, if something's going on or you want to talk…"

"Yeah, I know where to find you. Now get the hell out," she says, shooing him towards the door. He goes, thankfully without protest and once she's alone, she sinks down onto the bed, dropping her head into her hands.

She'll give it until tomorrow, she decides. She won't officially be late until then anyway. There's still plenty of time for this situation to work itself out.

.::.

In the end, Meredith decided to put her big girl panties on and go see Keller, but that plan went all to hell when John got back earlier than expected, Ronon trailing along behind him. They both looked a little worse for wear in a way that she was sure had nothing to do with the funeral.

She really didn't want to see Keller anyway, so Meredith had tagged along with them to Carter's office to find out what the hell had happened on Earth and by the time John finished the story about the replicator chick, her situation was temporarily forgotten.

For awhile, anyway, until she ends up in the bathroom again later that night all because John decided it was a good idea to bring out the real turkey sandwich he'd brought back from Earth.

She's really starting to get acquainted with the tiles in the bathroom, she thinks as she dry heaves for the millionth time. John is outside of the bathroom, knocking impatiently, calling into her but she remembers this is all his fault anyway, so out of spite, she chooses not to answer.

"Meredith," he calls in his nasally voice that he knows annoys her. "C'mon. Open up."

"Dying," she croaks. "Let me die in peace."

She wishes it was that simple. Death would be preferable to this, she thinks. She drops her head into her hands and contemplates which is worse: a possible pregnancy or an all-out war with the Wraith. She thinks the pregnancy might possibly be worse because while she knows it's her duty to pass along her genius genes, she always thought it would be in form of an egg donation or something.

She's not cut out to be a parental figure.

When she finally gets herself under control, she pushes herself to her feet, grimacing at the ungodly taste in her mouth. She takes her time washing her hands and brushing her teeth before she finally slips out of the bathroom, glaring angrily at John as she passes.

"Have you been to see Keller yet?" He asks and she's a little annoyed that he sounds annoyed.

"No," she responds shortly, climbing into the bed under the covers.

"Well, don't you think you should? This is getting a little ridiculous now, Mer."

"I'll go see her tomorrow," she grumbles. "Right now, I want to sleep."

The look on his face is a cross between annoyance and concern and for a moment, she feels bad. He's just returned from his father's funeral and she knows that he deserves better than her attitude, but she's still too pissed to really care.

Instead, she pulls the covers up, closes her eyes and prays that things will be better in the morning.

.::.

Things are absolutely no better in the morning, Meredith decides as she storms out of her lab, hands shaking. From the time she started getting her period at the embarrassingly late age of fifteen, she'd always had an abnormally regular schedule. There isn't one instance she can remember where she was late and yet here she is, a day overdue.

She doesn't know where she's going, she realizes as she stalks through the hallways. At least she doesn't until she ends up standing outside the training room, wringing her hands together nervously. She feels like she's going to throw up again, but that's a sensation she's used to so she swallows it back and pushes the door open a little, peeking her head inside.

She's always gotten a little thrill sneaking down here on the days that her morons really start to get to her to watch John train with the marines.

Especially on days like today when he's all hot and sweaty.

Yum.

She pushes the door open just a little more and slips into the room, unnoticed thanks to all the grunts and groans from the marines having their asses handed to them by Ronon.

"Has she gone to see Keller yet?" Ronon asks, sounding obnoxiously pleased about sending another marine to the ground.

"No," John responds in a huff, blocking a hit from Lorne. "But if she doesn't go soon, I think I might tie her up and drag her down there."

"Can I help?"

John snorts and then grunts when Lorne catches him in the stomach. "I'd be disappointed if you didn't ask, buddy," he says. "It's one of those things where I'm worried, but she's driving me nuts. She's grouchy when she's sick."

"Only when she's sick, Sir?" Lorne asks with a smirk and Meredith thinks very seriously about kicking him in the nuts. Dick.

Her blood is already beginning to boil and she's pretty sure steam is coming out of her ears when John just laughs and makes no attempt to defend her from that.

See if I show you my tits anytime soon, asshole, Meredith thinks angrily.

"Does that mean you're going to divorce her too?" Ronon asks and Meredith stops suddenly at that. What the hell?

"Meredith and I aren't married," John explains, reaching up to wipe the sweat from his forehead. "But no. People only get divorced when things are beyond repair."

"Like you and Nancy."

"Exactly," John says and at this point, Meredith has heard enough.

Her heart is hammering wildly in her chest and she can feel her face reddening in anger as she clenches her hands into fists at her side.

"Who the fuck is Nancy?" She bellows loudly and she's too pissed off to enjoy the way all sixteen of the men in the room jump like little girls.

John turns, his face paling faster than she thought possible. "Meredith."

"Some woman John divorced," Ronon supplies helpfully and she thinks that she'll spare him. "She's really nice."

Maybe not.

"Not helping, buddy," John says quickly before he turns back to Meredith. "I can explain, Mer."

"Don't you fucking think this is something you should have 'explained' a long time ago?" She asks, her voice cracking slightly as she pushes through the throng of marines. John backs up, holding his hands up in surrender.

"Meredith—"

"You were married?"

"It… it was a long time ago," he says in a voice that Meredith thinks is supposed to make her feel better but it doesn't. If anything, it only serves to piss her off more.

She punches him hard in the shoulder, ignoring his growl of warning.

"You are such an asshole," she says and she's surprised to find that tears have blurred her vision. "You're such an asshole! You should have told me! This isn't something you can just keep from me!" She reaches out to hit him again, but before her hand connects, he's grabbing her wrist, drawing himself up to his full height.

"That's enough," he hisses. "I'm not doing this here with you, McKay," he warns.

"Clearly, you aren't doing it at all! How could you keep this from me?" Somewhere, in the back of her mind, there's a voice warning her that she's overreacting. Unfortunately, there's a louder voice that reminds her that the man who's possibly impregnated her kept something as big as a marriage a secret and she's fucking furious.

"Uh… Sir," Lorne says uncomfortably. "Maybe… um… Ronon and I can finish up here," he says and that's all that John needs before he's pulling Meredith bodily out of the room.

She fights against him the whole way, shrieking and cursing while trying to claw at him with her fingernails.

"Get your stupid, idiotic, moronic hands off of me!" She bellows when he pulls her into the hallway. "I don't want you to touch me! You've done enough!"

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" He asks, backing her up to the wall. "Jesus Christ, Meredith. I didn't think it was a big deal! I haven't even thought about her in Christ knows how long until she showed up at my father's funeral!"

"It is a big deal!" She says and she's a little embarrassed to realize she's crying. "It's a huge deal!" She reaches out to try to hit him and he catches her wrist once more, stopping her.

"I swear to Christ, Meredith, if you try to hit me one more time…"

"Oh, what? Are you gonna divorce me?" She spits, trying to wrench her wrist out of his grip.

He drops her hand almost like he's been burned, his eyes blazing angrily. "I am so fucking sick of this. I don't know what the hell has gotten into you, but you've turned into some psycho, raging…" he trails off, stopping himself. "You know, maybe before you start pointing God damned fingers at people keeping secrets, you should take a good look at yourself!"

"I don't—"

"Right, okay. And this whole… secret thing you've got going on with Carter? I guess that doesn't count, right? Because it's your secret? Whatever, McKay," he says. "I can't do this right now."

She doesn't know how the hell this got turned around on her, but it has and now, he's walking away from her. She feels a bit like she's being ripped apart from the inside out so she wraps her arms around herself in an attempt to hold it together and she calls out to him.

"I think I might be pregnant."

John stops in his tracks and turns back to her. "What?"

.::.

For a moment, John can't breathe. He feels a little like someone's sucked all the air out of the hallway and he's just standing there, reeling.

"I, I, I…"

Meredith is standing where he left her, floundering for words and even though he's fucking furious with her for causing a scene like that, he crosses the distance between them and pulls her into his arms.

She goes limp almost at once and he finds himself supporting her completely. Her body is shaking as she sobs loudly and he can already feel her tears staining his shirt. Suddenly, the last couple of days make a lot more sense and he thinks he could kick himself for not seeing this sooner.

"Shh," he says. "C'mon, let's get back to our room and we'll talk about it," he tells her because this isn't a conversation he wants to have in the hallway.

It takes nearly twice as long as usual to get back to their room and when they finally make it, Meredith looks like she's seconds away from hyperventilating.

"Hey, c'mon. Calm down, Mer," he tells her, leading her over to the bed. He eases her down onto the mattress gently before he drops down in front of her, clasping her hands with his. "Take nice, slow breaths," he coaches expertly, rubbing his thumb along the back of her hand. "It's okay."

"This, this, this is so fucking far from okay, John," she says shakily. "I don't want to have kids. I'm, I'm not a kid person. I hate children. They're noisy and messy and, and, and they crap on themselves and they can't tell you what they want and, and, and…"

"Easy," he tells her. "I think before we freak out anymore, we should probably go see Keller, huh? For all you know, you've worked yourself up over nothing."

"I'm never ever late and I haven't gotten my period yet and I can't stop throwing up-!" She starts to cry again at this point, so John leans forward and wraps her in his arms, holding her against his chest.

"It's going to be okay, Mer," he whispers into her hair. "I promise you. I know it doesn't seem like it right now, but it's all going to be okay."

"I'm sorry," she cries, fisting her hands in the front of his shirt. "I, I should have told you sooner but I couldn't, John. I didn't want to say it out loud and I really hoped it would just go away!"

"I know baby," he says, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "We'll talk about all of that later, but for now, let's get you down to the Doc and checked out, huh? We have to know either way."

It isn't easy, but John manages to maneuver her into the bathroom to wash the tearstains from her cheeks before he wraps an arm around her waist, steadying her.

The walk down to the infirmary feels excruciatingly long and by the time Keller gets her to pee into a cup, John feels close to hyperventilating himself.

The idea of having kids has always been horrific to him. His father was never an inspiring role model when it came to parenting and he was always afraid he would make the same mistakes with his own kids.

The whole kids debate was one of the reasons why he didn't work out with Nancy. She was ready to settle down, have a family and John wasn't.

But now?

Now, he's torn between hoping that Meredith is pregnant and horrified at the idea that she might be.

Right now, Meredith is huddled on the bed, looking more than a little lost so he sinks down onto the hard infirmary bed beside her and wraps an arm around her shoulders.

"Hey," he says, nudging her side gently. "I meant it when I said that everything would be okay."

"You were going to walk away from me today," she says quietly and she sounds so fucking afraid that he wants to kick his own ass.

"Yeah," he says, pulling her even closer. "But I would have come back."

"I'm sorry," she tells him and her voice cracks just a little. "I don't know what the hell… I just lost it when I overheard you and Ronon and I'm sorry for going so crazy, but I can't, can't…"

"Shhh," he whispers, kissing the top of her head again. "It's okay, Mer. I'm not going anywhere."

"Even when I'm a psycho, raging bitch?"

"Especially then, because that's when I know you need me the most."

"Okay," she says, swallowing hard.

She still looks like she needs some reassurance, but before he gets the opportunity, Keller is back and Meredith is squeezing his hand hard enough that he feels like he can hear the bones creaking.

"What's the verdict, Doc?" John asks.

"The test was negative, Meredith," she tells them. "You're not pregnant."

"Oh thank God," she breathes, collapsing against John. He knows he should be as happy about this as she is because really, Pegasus isn't the ideal place to raise a kid but it doesn't stop that little sinking, disappointed feeling inside.

"See?" He asks. "I told you everything would work out like you wanted it to."

He just doesn't know if that's a good thing or not.

.::.

John watches from the bed as Meredith slips out of the bathroom, dressed in only one of his black t-shirts and her panties. While she's still feeling a little nauseous from the plain ol' Milky Way flu, she looks much better than she had earlier that day and for that, he's grateful. He hates seeing her so miserable.

She's quiet as she crosses the room and climbs into bed with him and it isn't until she's pressed up against his side that she speaks.

"I know I overreacted about the whole… being divorced thing," she begins, "but I'm still not… you know, very happy that you didn't tell me about it."

"I know," he says. "I don't think I'd be too happy if you kept something like that from me, but I swear, Meredith, it's not something I even think about anymore. We were young when we got married and it only lasted a couple of years before we figured out that we just weren't right together." He laughs humorlessly. "I guess I know how she feels now."

"What are you talking about?"

"Nancy always wanted kids. It wasn't something I could ever see for myself, but now…"

"John."

"Would it have been so bad?" He asks, turning on his side to look down at her. His hand is resting on her hip and he's tracing light patterns against the bare skin there.

"Right now? Yes."

"You've never thought about having kids?"

"I don't think I would make a very good mother," she confesses. "My own parents were complete shit and I just know that I would expect too much from a child. I don't have that whole… nurturing thing. I yell, I curse… Can you honestly say you would ever want me for the mother of your children?"

"Yeah," he says. "I can."

She looks genuinely surprised by that and he wants to beat the shit out of everyone who ever made her feel like she wouldn't be good enough.

"I know this isn't the best time to talk about something like this, given everything you've been through this week," he says, hesitating slightly. "But I think you're the only one I could ever see being the mother of my children. I don't think it was that I didn't want kids… I think I just didn't want them with her."

"John…"

"I'm not pressuring here, Mer," he tells her, leaning down to kiss her lips. "Just… you know, if you ever decide… well…"

She's quiet for awhile and he can't help but wonder if he's screwed things up. She's never struck him as the married with two point five kids and a white picket fence kind of woman anyway and he wonders if maybe this is too much for her.

"I'm not saying no," she says after what feels like an eternity. "I'm just saying not right now."

John nods and pulls her close. He can live with that.

Chapter Text

Meredith closes her eyes, savoring the feeling of John's long fingers tracing lazy patterns against her hip.

This has been an emotional week for her and that isn't something that's easy for her to admit. She's always prided herself on being a person who rules with her brain rather than her feelings but it seems like ever since John came into her life, her wires have gotten crossed.

It's hard to be with him and not feel.

She shifts a little against him and threads her fingers through the coarse hair on his chest. Their argument from earlier is replaying loudly in her mind and try as she might, she can't seem to get John's angry words out of her head.

"Right, okay," he'd spat angrily, eyes narrowed at her. "And this whole… secret thing you've got going on with Carter? I guess that doesn't count, right?"

She shakes her head in an attempt to clear the scene from her mind before she reaches for his hand, lacing their fingers together. To be completely honest, this is the last conversation she ever wanted to have to have with him but she knows that she has to.

Today's argument was enough proof that no matter how okay he pretended to be with the relationship between her and Carter, there was always going to be that small inkling of doubt in the back of his mind and she hates that she was the one who put it there.

"John?" She says quietly, turning his palm over to run her nails gently over his skin. She traces his long fingers, biting nervously on her lower lip. "I think… I probably owe you an explanation."

"What are you talking about?"

"Today. In the hallway. When you, uh… mentioned Sam?"

"Meredith, I was just angry. I didn't mean anything by that."

"But I think you did. I mean, I don't think it's something you would have brought up if you weren't seriously pissed but I don't believe that it's something you're ever really going to be okay with unless I…" she hesitates, swallowing hard. "Unless I explain it."

He turns onto his side, propping himself up on his arm to look down at her. "Okay," he says. "Okay, I'm listening."

"I just…this isn't exactly… easy to talk about so I need you to promise that you'll… keep an open mind or whatever and not get angry with me."

He looks mildly horrified and she can already see a million different scenarios running through his head. "Okay but just… before you start, you aren't going to tell me you were secretly married to him for awhile, are you? Because if you are, I really think I would prefer not knowing."

Meredith rolls her eyes and elbows him gently. "No, I was not ever secretly married to Sam."

"Okay. Good," he says, settling back down beside her. She can feel him pressed up against her side when he reaches for her hand. He links their fingers together once more, running the pad of his thumb over the top of her hand in a way that's incredibly reassuring. "Whenever you're ready, Mer."

She's quiet for awhile, trying to figure out the best way to explain. "I met Sam back in… I guess it was probably '96, but it wasn't until I was working as a consult for the SGC in '97 that I really got to know him. We couldn't stand each other at first, you know? For the first time, I felt a little threatened because while he may not be as smart as I am, he's pretty damn close and that's kind of scary. Anyway, I was uh… working at the lab late one night and…"

--

"You're doing it wrong."

Glancing up at the sound of the voice, Meredith can't help but groan and roll her eyes. "I thought they sent you packing already. I've already told the General more times than I can count that he's wasting everyone's time and money by keeping you around."

"Funny," Captain Carter smirks, slouching against the doorframe. "I keep telling him the same about you."

"What do you want, Carter?"

"Just came to see how my favorite scientist is doing. Anyone ever tell you that you keep stupid hours?"

"Anyone ever tell you that the bowl cut thing you've got going on is not really working for you?"

"Says the woman who looks a little like a chia pet," he grins, pushing himself off from the doorframe. "I meant what I said though. You're doing it wrong."

"Go away, Captain."

"Your equations just aren't adding up. Even from over there, I could spot the glaring mistake. You're slipping, McKay."

"It's nice to see you're as obnoxious as always."

"Picked that up from you." He leans against the work table, chin propped in his hand as he watches her work. "Need some help?"

"If I wanted help, I have a dozen minions who are at my beck and call. I don't need help from a grunt."

"You wound me, McKay."

"Unfortunately, not fatally," she responds. It isn't easy to look at him and not grin. She hates him, of course, but he's always been easy on the eyes. "What are you doing here so late?"

He shrugs. "Just finished up a few things with Daniel for tomorrow's mission. That guy really needs to get out more. He reminds me a lot of you."

"You say the sweetest things," she deadpans. "I'm surprised you don't have women lining up at your door."

"Nah, I'm still holding out for you."

"Well, don't hold your breath," she responds, cocking an eyebrow at him. "Now get the hell out. You're distracting me."

Carter ignores her order, grabbing another stool and pulling it up next to her. "What are you working on, exactly?"

"Something that's far too complicated for you to understand," she snorts, even though it's not true.

"I get it. You just don't want to tell me, because you know whatever it is, I'll find a flaw in your plan, correct it and then take all the credit for myself. Did I get that right?"

"Mostly… except it's really just because I prefer to think of you as a mindless grunt rather than a scientist."

"Captain Grunt to you," Carter grins. "How am I ever supposed to ask you out for a drink if you're always working so late?"

"Maybe that's why I always work so late," she retorts. "Contrary to popular belief, not every woman falls all over herself for a man in uniform. In fact, I can't stand most military idiots. You should feel honored that I even associate with you."

"Oh trust me, McKay, I am."

She rolls her eyes again and they fall into a comfortable silence while she continues her work. She meant it when she said that she couldn't stand most of the military personnel. She's had a couple run ins with one of the thick-headed Marines and while she enjoys what she's doing, part of her can't wait until she's reassigned just to get the hell away from him, even if she will miss Carter just a little.

"How much longer are you going to be here?" Carter asks, almost as if reading her thoughts.

"My contract isn't up for another three weeks, but it looks like I'm ahead of schedule with my work, so who knows. I guess it depends on if anyone else needs me before then."

"Plenty of time for me to convince you to go out with me then," he grins.

"I don't know if you've noticed or not, Captain, but I'm an incredibly stubborn woman who can't be swayed."

"You? Stubborn? No way," he snorts. "But I don't believe that you can't be convinced. Maybe I just need to change my tactics."

"Well, this should be good."

"Definitely something you won't wanna miss," he teases with a playful wink. "But seriously, are you planning on finishing up here anytime soon? I can hang around and wait, if you want. Walk you to your car."

"I'm going to be awhile, actually," she tells him. "I've got a little more work to do on these equations and then I'd like to get a head start on the next set before I have to meet with Hammond in the morning."

"You sure you don't want some help?"

"Positive."

"Okay then. I guess I'll see you tomorrow."

She waves him off casually, though she can't help but sneak a peek at his backside as he makes his way to the doorway.

"Like what you see?" He calls over his shoulder.

"It's mildly acceptable," she retorts. "Goodnight, Sam."

"'Night, McKay."

Minutes tick by, slowly turning to hours as she loses herself in her work. It's always been easy for her to do; science was there when she had nobody else. She learned a long time ago that her science wouldn't let her down.

She's so focused on what she's doing that she barely notices the sound of the lab door creaking open. She can't help but roll her eyes because Sam just never gives up.

"What the hell are you doing?" She groans. "I told you that I wasn't—!" She shrieks loudly at the feeling of an arm wrapping around her upper body. She can feel it tightening around her neck as she topples backwards off the stool and a second later, she hits the ground hard.

Gasping for air, Meredith rolls onto her side, attempting to push herself to her feet. It's to no avail, however, as a large, military issue boot connects with her stomach, sending her onto her back again.

"You're such a little whore."

She recognizes the voice immediately. She always thought he was harmless in the beginning. Incredibly dumb, which is why she stopped seeing him after those first few dates, but nice enough to look at and harmless.

Until the angry messages started.

She thinks it has to do with her friendship with Sam. He's the only one in the whole fucking SGC that she can tolerate but apparently, Corporal Andrew Martin misconstrued that horribly.

"What's so great about him, anyway?" Martin asks, reaching down to grab Meredith by her hair. Her fingers are clawing desperately at his hands as he pulls her to her feet, but that's the wrong move because it only serves to piss him off more.

He backhands her angrily, sending her stumbling into the wall and she can already feel the metallic taste of blood seeping into her mouth.

"I was doing you a favor," he shouts, pinning her to the wall by her throat. "Do you really think anyone else here would wanna touch you?"

"Andrew—"

"Shut your nasty whore mouth," he bellows, slapping her hard. She can feel the wetness of her tears on her cheeks and in that moment, she knows if she doesn't get the hell out of here, it's very likely that this unbalanced man is going to kill her.

Later on, she'll realize that kneeing him in the crotch in an attempt to get away wasn't her smartest move. It does give her an opportunity to get away, but before she reaches the door, he's shoving her hard from behind and she loses her balance.

She smacks her head hard against the fallen stool and it takes every ounce of willpower she has to keep from losing consciousness. His hands are rough as he turns her over onto her back and even though her vision is darkening, she struggles against him, trying desperately to push him off.

While she'd never be considered a small woman, he outweighs her by at least a hundred pounds and her attempts at escape are futile.

She doesn't realize she's screaming at first until he hits her again, yelling for her to shut up. He's pinning her down easily as his hands fumble with the front of her pants. Her heart is pounding wildly in her chest as she sobs, begging for him to release her, but he ignores her, shoving her pants down.

She can feel him all over her, touching her roughly, growling that this is all her fault. "You're nothing but a whore," he says. "Stop crying! You've been asking for this!"

"Stop," she shrieks, managing to get a single hit in before he restrains her hands above her head. "Stop!"

She doesn't realize they're no longer alone until Andrew is lifted bodily off of her. She sees nothing more than a broad back and a ridiculous blonde haircut before her savior turns, crouching down in front her.

"Meredith," Sam says. "Jesus fucking Christ, McKay."

She can hardly catch her breath as she sobs. "S-S-Sam."

"Shh," he whispers, pulling her into his arms. "I've got you."

She can't tell if it's her that's trembling or if it's him, but they sit together like that for what seems like an eternity, her bruised and bloody face pressed against his shoulder.

"We… we need to get you up and to a hospital," he says finally. "Jesus Christ, your face is a mess. I need… I should probably call Jack. Fuck!"

"N-no," she manages, pulling away. "No hospital. No O'Neill."

"Meredith—"

"No!" She cries. "I need… I need you to promise me, okay?"

"I can't—"

"I know how you people are! As soon… as soon as word of this gets around, you think I don't know what the fuck will happen? One of his buddies will try to… to…"

"I won't let that happen!" He says fiercely. "You know I won't!"

"Please, Sam," she sobs. "I don't… I need you to swear that you're not going to tell anyone!"

He's angry. She's never seen him like this before and if it wasn't for the fact that he'd just quite literally saved her life, she thinks she'd be kind of scared.

Instead, he helps her to her feet before lifting her into his arms and carrying her out of the damaged lab to the bathroom. She's still crying when he sets her down on the counter.

"Hey," he tells her, one hand resting gently on her leg. "You're okay now."

She can only nod.

He cleans up her face carefully, taking his time in an attempt to keep from hurting her any more. Her lip is split, her cheek is already bruising, and she's got a huge gash on her forehead from where she cracked it on the stool.

"I don't think you're going to need stitches," he says softly. "And I'm pretty sure your nose isn't broken, but I really wish you would let me—"

"—No," she responds, sniffling quietly.

He nods, his lips set in a thin line before he finishes wiping all the blood away.

"Okay," he says finally, tossing the blood-soaked paper towels into the trash. "Let's get you out of here then."

.::.

When Meredith wakes in the morning, the first thing she's aware of is how bad she hurts all over. Her entire body aches, her face is throbbing and memories of the night before come rushing back.

She's crying again before she realizes it and when she sits up in an unfamiliar bed, she starts to panic.

It isn't until Sam comes into the bedroom, plastic bag in hand that she remembers she's safe.

"Where… where am I?"

"You didn't want to go back to your place alone, remember? I brought you here."

"Must… must have hit my head harder than… than I thought."

"The good news is, I think it'll probably take a lot more to cause any lasting damage to that hard old thing," he tells her, his tone light and teasing despite the concern can still read on his face. "How are you feeling today?"

"Like I was attacked by a two hundred and fifty pound marine," she says and Sam just nods grimly.

"Listen… Mission has been canceled today, but I still have to head in to the SGC for a meeting with Jack. You're welcome to stay here if you want."

"N-no… I think… I think I should probably go in. The lab is a mess and—"

"Fuck the lab, McKay."

"But if Hammond sees it-"

"I'm serious. I'll make up some bullshit about a temper tantrum over screwed up equations or something. That's been known to happen a time or two, right? He won't care."

Truthfully, she really just doesn't want to be alone and apparently, Sam sees that on her face because he sighs and runs his fingers through his hair.

"Okay," he concedes. "Okay. But we have to do something with your face. I think it looks even worse today."

Meredith reaches up, running a finger lightly over her bruised cheek and winces at just how much it hurts. "That bad, huh?"

"That bad," he confirms. "I know you don't really… wear make-up or anything, but I slipped down to the drugstore this morning and picked some up. I don't think it's going to cover them completely, but it'll definitely help."

He's quiet as he rummages through the bag, pulling out a thick, goopy foundation. He takes his time applying it to her face, careful around the more bruised areas. He's just about finished when Meredith reaches over, covering his hand with hers.

"Thank you, Sam," she says, barely above a whisper.

"You're welcome, Meredith."

--

By the time Meredith finishes talking, John is more than just a little horrified. She's crying now, thick tears rolling silently down her cheeks as she reaches up to scrub them away roughly. Rage is bubbling inside him, threatening to surface and it takes every ounce of strength he possesses to keep from hitting something.

"I can't… I can't believe you never told anybody about that. That dick should be locked up somewhere for what he did to you."

"He got his in the end," she says, swiping the back of her hand across her runny nose. "Ended up with some shit assignment down in Central America. Sam swears he didn't, but I'm not entirely convinced that he didn't talk to O'Neill and have a few strings pulled."

"A 'shit assignment in Central America' doesn't make up for what he fucking did to you."

"Sam took care of him before he left. Beat the fuck out of him. Nearly killed him, from what I'm told before they pulled him off."

"Carter?"

"I know. It's hard to believe but Sam was furious. He got in big trouble for that, you know. 'Unprovoked attack', I think Hammond called it. Huge, huge black mark on his record. He was almost discharged because of it."

"I never heard about that."

"That's because the American Military's files are surprisingly easy to hack. I went in and deleted it a few years after it happened, once everyone forgot about it. It would have kept him from getting promoted and since it was all my fault—"

"Hey," John says sternly, cupping her face in his hand. "I don't ever want to hear you say that again. That wasn't your fault."

"But it was," she says, sniffling just a little. "I… you know what kind of person I am, John. I wanted to tell you about this for the longest time, but I… I guess for awhile, I'd convinced myself that I deserved what happened and I didn't… I was afraid that you… that you might take his side."

John feels a little sick. He wants to shout that he can't believe she'd ever think that, but he doesn't, because he understands her ideas about the military mindset.

"I'm… wow. I'm so sorry you had to go through something like that."

She shrugs, looking down at her hands. "I don't… I don't want you to treat me any differently now that I've told you. That was… that was part of the problem with Sam, after it happened. I mean, I appreciated how much he wanted to take care of me after the fact, but it's… not something I want to dwell on. I just… I've never felt like this with anyone else, you know? It's always been easier to close myself off than have to risk feeling like this and getting hurt but I just… I know it wasn't fair to keep you in the dark any longer. Especially since Sam is here to stay."

John nods, because he's really at a loss for what to say. He's always suspected something like this had happened. Especially after the whole Lucius thing went down but he'd been hoping against hope that maybe he was just reading the situation wrong.

Having all of this confirmed is like a swift kick to the crotch and he hates that there's nothing he can do to change what happened to her.

Everything makes so much more sense now.

She closes her eyes, pressing herself up against his side, and he can do little more than just lay there and hold her in his arms. There are no words he can say to express his feelings on this subject, so he doesn't try. He just tries to convey with his actions that no matter what, he'll do whatever it takes to protect her.

"I'm glad you finally decided to tell me," he says quietly, after what feels like an eternity.

"I knew it wasn't fair to keep it from you, especially after the way I flipped out on you. I really am sorry it took me so long, but I don't… I just hope you understand why I didn't."

"I do," he tells her, leaning down to press a gentle kiss to the top of her head.

She falls silent again, her fingers playing with the hair on his chest as she slowly drifts off to sleep. All the tension is gone from her body and for the first time since he's known her, he feels like she's finally completely relaxed in his arms.

He knows it couldn't have been easy to keep a secret like that for all these years and while he hates the idea that he made her feel like she had to tell him, he's kind of glad because now he thinks she can probably finally work on putting it behind her.

"I love you, Mer," he whispers to the quiet room. It's been a long week, he thinks, between his dad, the possible baby and the secrets, but he really thinks they're going to be okay.

And maybe it's finally time to move forward with their relationship.

Chapter Text

Meredith doesn’t know how she ends up in these situations. After everything she’s had to survive in the Pegasus galaxy, she made it home to Earth for her mandatory ‘rest week’ only to die of asphyxiation in Jeannie’s bathroom.

“You’re killing valuable brain cells,” she complains, waving her hand in front of her face in an attempt to chase away the fumes from the hairspray.

“You have more than enough to go around,” Jeannie says. “And how are you still grouchy? This is exciting!”

“No, this is torture. First, you make me squeeze into this ridiculously tiny dress—”

“—Which looks great on you—”

“—And then you force me into heels. Heels! I’ll probably fall and break my neck before we even get out the door, and—”

“—They help with your stumpy legs—”

“—And then… wait a minute. I do not have stumpy legs.”

“You do. We both do. We inherited mom’s legs.”

“That’s a horrifying thought,” Meredith says, shuddering. “But anyway, you’re killing me with the fucking hairspray. Open a window or something.”

“I’m almost finished,” Jeannie says, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. “If you would stop fidgeting and just stay still, I would have been finished by now.”

“This is ridiculous,” Meredith says, crossing her bare arms over her chest. She’s refusing to look at herself in the mirror, so really, she has no clue if Jeannie’s really close to being done or if she’s just saying that in an attempt to appease Meredith. “We live together, for Christ’s sake. He’s already seen me in my underwear. I don’t need to impress him.”

“But this is big,” Jeannie says. “This is your first actual date.”

“Which is ridiculous, because we’ve together for how long now?”

“I think it’s romantic. He wants to take you out and show you off so stop being a bitch and smile.”

Meredith rolls her eyes and forces what probably looks more like a grimace to her face.

“Pucker,” Jeannie says, grabbing a tube of lipstick from the counter. “You know, should dress up more. I’m not talking ball gowns and tiaras or anything, but some nicely tailored clothes would be good. You have a great shape.”

“Sure, if you’re counting ‘round’ as a shape,” Meredith replies dismissively.

“Oh stop,” Jeannie says, rolling her eyes. “You have a better figure than I do now and you were always the fat one in school.”

“Was not.”

“You were.”

“Whatever. Are you finished yet?”

“One second,” Jeannie says, stepping back to look her over carefully while Meredith rolls her eyes. She doesn’t know when their relationship changed from ‘complete fucking strangers that happen to be related by blood’ to an actual sisterly thing, but surprisingly enough, she doesn’t really mind. “I think… it just needs one more thing.”

“Jesus Christ, Jeannie. I’m just going to dinner!”

“This isn’t just any old dinner!” Jeannie says, turning back to the bathroom counter. Meredith has no idea what she’s doing, but right now, she doesn’t care. She just wants to go. “This is an actual, honest-to-God date and it’s special so just shut up and let me finish!”

“You do realize you have your own child to torture, right?”

“That’s years down the road, honey. Why wait when I can torture you instead?” She asks. “Ah ha. I knew they were in here.”

When she turns, Meredith frowns. “Where did you get that?” She asks. It’s the necklace John gave her for Christmas. “I thought I left that home.”

“Your man is clearly sneakier than you realized.”

“I can’t wear that, Jeannie. It’s too nice and, and, and what if I ruin it or something?”

“It’s meant to be worn,” Jeannie says. “You’re not going to ruin it. Now stop.”

“But… it doesn’t go with this dress!”

Jeannie rolls her eyes. “Your neck is bare. You have gorgeous collarbones, Meredith. Accentuate them.”

“When did you become such a fashion guru?”

Jeannie ignores her and fastens the necklace around her neck, grinning as she steps back to survey the work. “There. You clean up pretty well.”

“Good to know. Can I go now?”

“You don’t even want to see?” Meredith barely resists the urge to stomp her foot in protest when Jeannie grabs her by the shoulders and whirls her around to face the mirror. “Look.”

Meredith can’t quite believe how nice she looks. The dress is tighter and shorter than she’s comfortable with, but surprisingly enough, the black fabric is really quite flattering to her full figure. Her long, curly hair has been left down and for once, it doesn’t look frizzy or ridiculous. The make-up is light and barely noticeable, save for the liner around her eyes. Simply put: she looks prettier than she ever thought possible.

“See?” Jeannie prods, nudging Meredith’s shoulder with her own. “Okay, okay. Give me five minutes to get downstairs. I want to get a look at his face when he sees you.”

“You are such a sap.”

“Hey,” Jeannie says with a shrug. “I never thought this day would come, you know? Us doing sisterly things? Let me enjoy it.”

“If you say so,” Meredith says as she turns back to the mirror, smoothing her hands down the front of her dress.

“Okay. Five minutes!”

Meredith waves her off.

John is fidgeting nervously. He can’t help it. This is a big night and he’s just praying that it goes off without a hitch.

“Do you know what you’re going to say?” Meredith’s brother-in-law Kaleb asks from the doorway.

“What?”

“When you ask her. Do you know what you’re going to say?”

“Eh, I thought I would just… wing it,” John says with one of those “gosh-darn-what-are-you-gonna-do” type of smiles that always seems to annoy Meredith. Kaleb just cocks an eyebrow at him.

“You’ve been practicing for weeks, haven’t you?”

“Every chance I get,” John says, releasing a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “I sound like an asshole in every single version. I’ll be lucky if she doesn’t laugh at me or throw her drink in my face.”

“The important part is the ring. You do have that, don’t you?”

John nods and pats his jacket pocket.

“The rest will come naturally. Don’t stress about it.”

“We are talking about the same person, aren’t we? This is Meredith. How the hell am I supposed to not stress?”

“Point taken,” Kaleb says with a shrug.

“Okay,” Jeannie announces, hurrying into the room. “She’s ready. She’s coming down in a minute.”

John pushes himself to his feet, doing his best to straighten his tie. It clearly wasn’t straight enough for Jeannie though, because she came over and started tugging on it before she shoved her fingers into his hair.

“Doesn’t this ever lay flat?”

John just stares.

“Right, of course not because you’re dating my sister. That means you can’t possibly do things the easy way.”

John bats her hand away when she licks her palm and tries to touch his hair again. “Uh… ew.”

“Right, right. Sorry. Okay.”

“You sure you know what you’re getting into? These McKay women—” Jeannie silences Kaleb with an elbow to the gut and John’s never realized just how much she’s like her sister until that very moment.

He hears the sound of heels clicking against the stairwell and suddenly, the nervous flutters in the pit of his stomach are almost too much to handle. Jeannie must sense his nervousness though, because she drops a hand onto his shoulder and squeezes gently.

“Breathe,” she reminds him.

He forgets how a minute later when she rounds the landing, brushing her hair back behind her ears.

He’s always thought Meredith was gorgeous anyway, but now, ‘gorgeous’ doesn’t even come close to describing her.

“You…” he clears his throat, his eyes raking over her slowly. “You look…”

She shifts uncomfortably, smoothing her hands down the front of her dress and John hates the look of apprehension in her eyes.

“Maybe… maybe I should change,” she says but John holds his hand out for her. She takes it almost shyly and she’s worrying her lower lip with her teeth as he helps her down the stairs.

“You look beautiful,” he tells her. For once, she doesn’t argue and she doesn’t question it. She just smiles and tucks her hair behind her ear.

“Thank you.”

“Awww,” Jeannie practically squeals. “You guys are way too cute. Kaleb, aren’t they just so cute?”

“So cute,” Kaleb echos dryly. “Hey, you two kids have fun tonight.”

Meredith rolls her eyes and tugs John toward the door. He laughs a little and allows her to pull him along, “Thanks again for letting me borrow your car,” he calls over his shoulder, but he doesn’t hear Jeannie’s response because Meredith has pulled him out onto the porch. She pulls the door shut behind her harder than necessary.

“Hi,” she says a little breathlessly once they’re alone.

“Hi,” John responds with a grin.

She smiles back, shyly this time, before she ducks her head. “Okay, can we go?” She asks. “I feel like an idiot standing out here on the porch like this.

John nods and guides her down the steps with a gentle hand on her back. The fabric of the dress is smooth against his hand and he wonders if he can convince her to take it back to Atlantis with her. He certainly hopes so.

He opens the passenger door for her, willing the nervous flutters away. Once she’s situated and the door his closed, he pats his pocket again and takes a deep breath.

He can do this.

The restaurant is everything Jeannie and Kaleb promised. John’s never been the type to really plan these things out, but he decides as he pulls Meredith’s chair out for her, that this is the perfect place.

“You really went all out, Sheppard,” Meredith comments. She picks up the cloth napkin on the table and cocks an eye at him. “Fancy.”

“You deserve only the best,” he says and to his ears, it sounds cheesy but she just smiles fondly.

“You know you’re getting some tonight, right?” She asks in a stage whisper. “All of this wasn’t necessary.”

John rolls his eyes. “Contrary to popular belief, Doctor McKay, not everything I do is an elaborate scheme to get in your panties.”

She snorts in an unladylike fashion and he laughs with her. The tension is broken but those flutters in the pit of his stomach are still there.

He thinks very seriously about asking now because he knows there’s no way he’ll get through dinner like this, but he doesn’t get a chance because suddenly the waiter is there, bottle of wine in hand.

That’s probably Jeannie’s doing, so he makes a mental note to thank her in the morning.

“Jeannie, huh?” Meredith asks when the waiter retreats after pouring them each a glass.

“How’d you know?”

“You don’t strike me as a wine drinker,” Meredith says. “In fact, this whole evening reeks of Jeannie. I think she’s trying to relive her dating days.”

John laughs and picks up the menu. “Yeah, she recommended the restaurant.”

“You know,” Meredith says and John thinks she sounds a little hesitant. “You didn’t have to do this. I mean, don’t get me wrong… I appreciate the fact that you wanted to take me out, but our movies nights on…” she trails off for a moment, “I mean, at home—”

“—Stop,” John says, reaching across the table to clasp her hand in his. “I wanted to do this,” he tells her.

She smiles again. “Okay,” she says. “Okay, I’ll stop.” She squeezes his hand before she releases him and slides back. “I’m going to slip to the bathroom for a minute. Order for me?”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. I’ll be back in a minute,” she says.

He watches her go, appreciating the view as she walks away.

He doesn’t get an opportunity to watch for long though, because the waiter appears out of nowhere. John skims the menu quickly and orders for himself and Meredith before he takes a long drink of his wine, nearly draining it.

When Meredith returns, she sinks down into her chair and offers him another smile. There’s something different about her tonight; she looks more relaxed than she has in all the time he’s known her. She’s certainly more smiley than he’s ever seen her.

They chat about inconsequential things as they wait for their dinner. It’s a nice change of pace from what they’re used to. She sips her wine slowly and laughs at his horrible jokes. It’s the most relaxing night he’s had in years, all nerves aside.

“Dinner is served,” the waiter announces as he approaches the table. It looks and smells delicious and John just hopes that Meredith is pleased with his choice.

“This looks amazing,” she says. “You did good tonight, John,” she praises.

They fall silent again as they start in on their meals and Meredith surprises John once again. Gone is the woman who shovels food into her mouth like she’s starving on Atlantis. She’s taking her time, eating almost as daintily as Teyla. If only Ronon could see her now, he thinks.

They’re just about through with their plates when John figures there’s no time like the present. The ring box feels like a weight in his pocket.

“Mer,” he says, “I um… there was actually a reason I wanted to bring you out tonight.” She looks confused and she clears her throat a couple of times. “Mer?”

“L-lemon,” she says, clearing her throat again. “Lemon.”

“What?” Meredith looks frantic and all of a sudden, it clicks. “Mother fucker!” His hand goes for his jacket, searching his pockets for the epi-pen that he’s taken to carrying with him on off-world missions, but it’s not there. Of course it’s not there because he hadn’t brought one back through the ‘gate with him.

“Sir?” There’s someone tapping him on the shoulder, but he brushes them away and stands up quickly, tipping the chair backward. “Sir? Is she okay?”

“She’s having an allergic reaction,” John bellows. “Someone call an ambulance.”

He’s at her side and he drops to a knee beside her. She’s wheezing and she reaches out, digging her nails into his shoulder as tries to catch her breath.

“Just… just… stay calm, baby,” John says. “An ambulance is on the way.”

She nearly topples out of the chair, so rather than take a chance, he eases her out. She looks like she’s not getting any air at this point and it makes it hard for John to breathe too.

“Here,” someone says, thrusting a familiar looking object into his face. He’s just about to smack it away when he recognizes it as an epi-pen, so he snatches it away and uncaps it. He shoves Meredith’s dress up around her thighs and jams it into her leg.

For a moment, he’s afraid that he was too late but it doesn’t matter because paramedics have swarmed the building. Someone’s pulling him away from her and he’s vaguely aware of trying to pull away and get to her.

He doesn’t know how he ends up in the back of the ambulance beside her because everything is a blur, but he’s there, clasping her finger in hers.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “Jesus fucking Christ, I am so sorry.”

She’s pale and shaky but she still gathers enough strength to squeeze his hand as if she’s trying to reassure him.

So much for things going smoothly.

Meredith doesn’t know if she fell asleep or lost consciousness, but when she wakes up, John is at her side, head bowed. Her limbs feel like lead weights but she reaches out, threading her fingers through his hair.

“Hey,” she says. Her voice is hoarse and scratchy, but it still manages to startle him. He sits upright and he looks so relieved that it actually makes her chest hurt.

“Jesus,” he says. He’s on his feet and he leans over, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “How are you feeling?”

Truthfully, she feels like shit. The worst part about an allergic reaction is usually the after effects from the epi-pen because they leave her feeling weak and nauseous. Normally, she would have no problem telling him just that, but right now, she thinks it’s probably best if she lies a little.

“I’m okay,” she says weakly. “How long was I out?”

“Awhile,” he says, releasing a sigh and sinking back down into the chair, scooting closer to the bedside. “You scared the shit out of me. I am so, so sorry. I didn’t… I should have checked. Jesus fucking Christ, I didn’t even tell them—”

“John,” Meredith interrupts. “Stop.”

“—But—”

“—Stop. It’s over, I’m okay. Just… stop, okay?”

John nods. “Okay.”

They both fall silent, but a second later, the sound of footsteps in the hall catches Meredith’s attention. When the doctor steps into the room, she’s immediately annoyed at the perky smile on his face.

“How are we feeling, Miss McKay?”

She wonders if she beckons him close enough, if she’ll be able to kick him in the balls. “Doctor,” she corrects. “And I’m fine. Ready to get the hell out of here.”

“You had a pretty bad reaction,” the doctor says. “I think we’re going to keep you over night, just to make sure there are no adverse reactions to the medication you were administered.”

“There won’t be,” she says.

“Meredith, maybe you should—”

“I just want to go home,” she says firmly. “Please,” she adds as an afterthought. “I’ll sign whatever form I need to sign. I just want to go home.”

“Miss McKay, it’s not uncommon for a second reaction to occur. It would really be best—”

“—You heard her,” John says. “Go get the forms.”

“Very well,” the doctor says, though he looks annoyed. “I’ll have a nurse come in to help you change and to remove the IV.”

Meredith waits impatiently as the doctor retreats from the room, but it’s not long before a pleasant enough looking nurse comes in. “Feeling better, honey?”

Meredith despises the little pet names but this woman is helping her get the hell out of here, so she ignores it. The nurse removes the IV quickly and with John helping her get dressed, it doesn’t take long before she’s back into the tight black dress.

The doctor still looks annoyed when he returns, but Meredith snatches the pen from his hand, scrawls her signature on the bottom of the form and then lowers herself into the mandatory wheelchair, high heels in hand, for a ride out to the lobby. Luckily, John takes the handles from the nurse and once they make it into the elevator, they ditch the chair.

“You sure you’re okay to walk?”

“I took an arrow to the ass and still managed to get back through the ‘gate.”

“Yeah, with my help.”

“So help me,” she says. He slides his arm around her waist protectively and guides her off of the elevator. They move slowly through the lobby, with Meredith leaning heavily against John and as soon they make it out front, she frowns when she doesn’t see their car.

“Uh… John?”

“Fuck,” he curses. “I… may have forgotten to call your sister.”

Meredith rolls her eyes. “Well, while you do that, I’m going to sit over there,” she says because she still feels dizzy as hell. It’s a chore to make it over to the sidewalk out front and when she drops down onto it, she groans at how cold the cement is against her ass. “This has turned out to be a lovely fucking evening,” she mutters.

It’s not long before John joins her, shrugging his jacket off. He drops it around her shoulders and sighs. “Jeannie and Kaleb are on their way. I’m pretty sure she’s going to castrate me for not calling her sooner, but…” he trails off and shrugs. “This was not how I planned tonight turning out.”

They fall silent again and out of the corner of her eye, Meredith catches John turning something over in his hand nervously. “What is that?” She asks.

“This?”

“No,” she says, rolling her eyes. “The other thing you’ve got in your hand. Yes, that.”

He opens it up and immediately, she feels like she can’t breathe in a way that has nothing to do with a fucking allergic reaction. “John…”

“I had this all planned out,” he says. “I had an entire speech prepared, actually. Which is really stupid, right? Especially in a public place like that pretentious fucking restaurant. That is so not you and it’s not me either.”

“John.”

“I love you. I never put much stock in the whole ‘meant to be’ bullshit… until I met you. And I know how stupid and cheesy that sounds, but, but it’s true. I love you. I never thought that getting married was something I would ever want to do again, but I do, Mer, because I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life without you.”

She’s crying now. She can feel the tears on her cheeks and her hand is shaking as he takes it, sliding the ring onto her finger.

“Marry me, Meredith,” he says. His hazel eyes are searching hers and he’s never looked more afraid than he does in this very moment. “Marry me.”

“Okay,” she says. Her voice is trembling just as bad as the rest of her, but it doesn’t matter because suddenly, John is there, wrapping her up in his arms. Her arms snake around his neck as pulls her closer. “Yes… Yes… You’re supposed to say ‘yes’, not okay and, and… yes.” Her voice is muffled by his shoulder, but she doesn’t care because he squeezes her and she knows he heard her.

When they pull apart, Meredith reaches up to swipe the tears from her cheeks before she leans forward, pressing her lips to his. He reaches around, threading his fingers through her messy hair before he pulls away.

“I love you, Mer.”

“I love you too, John.”

The headlights pulling into the parking lot catch their attention, so John stands and then pulls Meredith to her feet. He leans in for another kiss before he turns, crouching down just a little. “Want a ride?” He asks.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Shoes. This parking lot is disgusting. Besides, you look like you’re about to fall over. Just hop on.”

She rolls her eyes, though she’s still grinning when she wraps her arms around his neck, her shoes still clasped in her hand. He stands upright, lifting her feet off the ground and a second later, his hands are gripping her legs, holding her up.

“I’m too heavy for you,” she complains.

“No,” he says as he starts across the parking lot. “You’re perfect.”

“And you,” she says, leaning forward to press a kiss to his cheek, “are a dork.”

“Maybe,” he agrees. “But I’m your dork and there’s no getting rid of me now.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Jeannie’s out of the car as soon as Kaleb pulls to a stop and she looks like she’s been crying.

“I’m fine, Jeannie,” Meredith says with a sigh. “Stop with the—”

“She said yes?” Jeannie asks, ignoring Meredith.

Meredith can feel John laughing and even though she still feels like shit, it’s infectious and soon, she’s laughing right around with him. She slides down his back, straightening her dress before she thrusts her hand out to her sister, showing off her ring.

“She said yes,” John says.

When Meredith steps out of the bathroom, dressed in one of John’s t-shirts, she’s ready to climb into bed and sleep for a week. John is already sprawled out under the covers, waiting patiently for her. She crosses the room and slides in next to him, tucking herself against his side. She rests her hand against his chest, admiring the way her ring sparkles in the moonlight.

“John,” she says quietly.

“Hmm?”

“Are you… are you sure?” She asks. Her voice cracks just a little and she has to press her face against him in an effort to keep her eyes from stinging with unshed tears. “Are you really, really sure that this is what you want?”

“Meredith…” He shifts against her. “Hey, look at me.”

She pulls away to look up at him and she’s embarrassed to realize her cheeks are wet. “I just… I was pretty that no one would ever want to marry me. And I don’t mean that in the ‘oh, pity me’ way because frankly, I never wanted to married anyway, but, but, but—”

“Hey,” John says. “Trust me, Mer. I’ve never wanted anything in my life more than I want this.”

“I’m a bitch, John. I put my work before everything else. I forget birthdays and anniversaries and I don’t know how to cook or clean and even if I did, I wouldn’t do it. I can’t sew to save my life—”

“I know all of this,” he tells her. “I know, but you know what? None of that matters. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that I love you and I don’t want to do this, any of this without you. You’re it for me, McKay. I told you in the parking lot that you’re stuck with me, so don’t try to get out of it now.”

She nods. “Okay… Okay. I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting yourself in to because it’s not going to be as easy with me as it would be something else. You know what, don’t you?”

“I’m not looking for easy,” John says. “I’ve found what I’m looking for.”

“If… if you’re sure.” She lets him pull her close and press a kiss to her lips before she settles back against him. “John?”

“Yeah?”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything else either,” she tells him, and with that, she closes her eyes. Getting engaged and almost dying all in the same night is tiring. “Goodnight.”

“’Night, Mer.”