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The Dark is Light Enough

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Kate is lost in the woods. This isn’t a metaphor or fairy tale or even a long lost episode of Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’. She wishes it were, because she could really use some harmless escapism about now.

She’s covered in mud that’s all freezing cold, shivering so violently she doubts she can ever get warm again. Her breath sounds loud and harsh in her own ears, and every step is a struggle. Stray brambles and low lying branches maul her face and arms as she stumbles past, jarring her upper back and shoulder where she was shot, and she’s still afraid how bad that might be.

She tries to protect her eyes as best she can but she needs her right hand to brace her left shoulder. She doesn't know how bad it is yet and she doesn't think she’ll have time to find out, but finally she compromises and elbows away the worst of the bushes. It’s a crappy compromise; she only hurts worse.

"Ow, damn." Kate's breathing is coming in such short painful gasps she needs to stop. The tree she’s leaning against is thick with deep layers of spongy fungus and moss. As she struggles to take deep, slow breaths, quietly as possible, she hopes she’s managed to evade the men who tried to hijack the Daedalus. She’s not sure she has the energy to run again.

Kate must have spaced out trying to listen for sounds in the woods, because she blinks, and finds herself dumbly staring at her hand. It’s covered in more blood than scratches can account for. Her shoulder throbs, a painful reminder she hopes won't lead to her memorial.

Right. She concentrates on listening to the darkness. Orange moonlight shines overhead through the planet’s thick atmosphere. She keeps seeing bright spots in her vision that disappear if she looks too closely. Some people might say they were ghosts, but they remind her of auras before migraines. She doesn’t need one; a migraine would destroy her right now.

A branch snaps; it’s much too close. Kate’s tense as she listens.

“She has to be here somewhere!" the angry voice bellows. He’s male, not likely from Atlantis or the Daedalus, because if he were, he’d call her by name. Her fear barely allows breath as she hears hurried beating against the bushes. The men are trying to drive her out of hiding. They're still a little ways away, but under the odd orange light of two crescent moons they'll soon find the fresh blood that she must have been trailing behind her, distinct crimson splashed atop the pine needles.

Kate bolts. The discomfort jarring her shoulder’s more acute, sharper and fresh. Jagged spiked-tipped waves of pain radiate outwards in agonizing throbs, but she knows she must push onwards – no matter what. The scenery’s beginning to look like the view from within a blurry fishbowl, worse than any bad migraine, even the kind that lays her out in the infirmary. This is nothing neurological. She shivers, feeling icy, icy cold now that the latest adrenaline rush is fading. She doesn’t slow down.

They must not catch her. She knows what anger can inspire in men and threats were already made if she didn’t come quietly right now – but that’s never been her way so she's not going to comply now. Honestly, she doubts she’d survive that kind of violence in her current condition.

The ground disappears beneath Kate’s feet and she’s sliding down a steep embankment. She’s hysterically thinking about Teyla’s early return from the first mission to this planet, and Rodney’s tumble into a ditch, which he claimed was a cliff, then an embankment – ‘a very, very steep one.’ Jesus, Rodney can really complain sometimes. This has to be a very, very steep embankment, because it’s going on forever. She tries to grab at nearby branches, but they break or momentum rips them away, not that her left hand can grab very well despite assistance from the extra adrenaline. Her foot catches on a root sticking out of the muddy soil and soon she's tumbling too fast to do anything with her flailing limbs except try to protect her head.

Kate’s come to a stop and she can barely open her eyes, much less move leaden limbs under her own power. She’s groggy and she’s almost sure that she’s lying high above a riverbank; she can hear fast flowing rapids, the water’s rushing somewhere directly below her. From her flat-on-her-back vantage point she’s watching one overhead moon lazily pass beyond the trees, setting. Blinking, she realizes they’re both gone. Her time sense is obviously shot.

Drifting on the breeze are the sad, sonorous notes of a night bird.

The stars shine brightly overhead.

She doesn’t even feel cold anymore; she’s ceased shivering long ago. A strange kind of warmth’s taken its place, a strange kind of detachment that's probably hypothermia, from exposure, or blood loss. Hopefully, someone will come soon, someone she won’t need to –

Escape. She must escape.

Oh Ancestors! She would –

What?

Kate struggles to open her eyes only to find herself blinded by brilliant luminescence. This is what she mistook as a pre-migraine aura. Perhaps, unconsciously, she hoped the bright spots were a result of some localized atmospheric disturbance because she usually only sees rapid flashes of static – like snow on a television screen. It wasn't either of these things, evidenced now by the bright glowing self-contained mass of plasma hovering above her, whose presence was triggered by the thought so obviously not her own. Kate knows the drive to escape wasn't her own – unless it wanted to warn her? Huh, Kate thinks. It really does look like a floating squid.

Intensity invades her senses, and it’s in no way comfortable; this isn’t like any accounts she's read of Ancient encounters. This pain’s vibrating her apart on a level she can’t describe – she doesn’t feel like she’s being healed. She’s struggling to hold on to her sense of self even as she feels an outwards urge to escape, to just let go.

She’s not ready to go – to let go. Instinctively, she dives inside her mind, hoping her memories will protect her, keep her intact. The brightness nudges; she retreats further. Needle-like tingling begins stabbing her extremities; she whimpers.

"No!”

The light engulfs her.

*

*

Kate debates the words she will type while absently tapping out an asynchronous rhythm with her fingertips along the top of her laptop’s keyboard. Sighing, she wonders about her procrastination. Does she not want to do the task at all or simply not right now? Does she resent the SGC for placing her in this position?

She looks out the window to the city outside. The city’s lights barely shine through the mist this afternoon. Thick fog’s rolling in from the ocean surrounding Atlantis; Kate can barely see through to the end of the piers. The sunset’s orange glow’s diffused behind the soupy fog. Kate sighs, turning back to her work; she really doesn’t want to tackle this right now.

This latest snag in her schedule's affecting her stress evaluations for crew on the Daedalus. Their resupply had been due to arrive a few days prior, but Hermiod was unexpectedly recalled to Orilla, the Asgard homeworld. The SGC wishes to know if Dr. Lindsey Novak can continue to handle her position without her alien co-worker. Kate has no doubt Lindsey’s capable, that she’d rise to any challenge with panache, but wonders why the SGC is requesting a surreptitious evaluation if Hermiod’s recall is temporary.

Dr. Novak will know something might be wrong; she had her regular stress evaluation during the last trip. Kate will think of something; she has at least ten other stress evaluations to conduct this trip alone.

The prickings of a migraine are gathering behind Kate’s eyes, making her wish she'd waited until after she'd had some sleep before reading her official SGC email. She can’t quite believe they're putting her in this position, which is right in the middle. Taking a deep breath, she opens the desk drawer to take an Imatrix, or sumatriptan. There isn’t any.

“Damn,” Kate mutters and presses on her temple. She’s been having enough trouble recently keeping her own work up to date, in addition to evaluating airman (and scientists) crewing the shuttle runs.

“Carson?” Kate calls on her earpiece. “Are you in the infirmary?”

“Aye,” Carson’s tone sounds off. “I’ll likely be here a while – now, you stay put!”

“But that hurts!” Kate hears Rodney’s voice and a thump in the background. “Don’t touch that!”

“Carson?” she asks, wondering if she lost him while he metaphorically wrestled with his patient, and his patience, and if Rodney would be claiming a case of abuse the next time she saw him.

“I was about to call you, anyway. Teyla and Rodney returned early from M8C-599; I’m sure you’ll hear soon enough. I was hoping you had some time?”

Huh. Kate wonders what might be going on. She’s shutting down her email when Elizabeth knocks. “Hey, you.” She’s dressed for off-world. “You don’t look too happy.”

“Elizabeth, please come in.” Kate motions her over to the chairs by the window. “I was just closing up. What can I do for you?”

Elizabeth motions to her outfit. “As you see, I’m headed off world. I wanted to let you know in case I had to cancel lunch tomorrow.” She smiles. “Actually, if all goes well, I will definitely miss it.”

“Oh?” Kate notices Elizabeth seems very pleased.

“Yes, I’m assisting Dr. Mags in Anthropology with a library mostly written in a dialect of Ancient on M8C-599. Apparently, the Lumen have records of people ascending, going back thousands of years.” Elizabeth is obviously excited. “This is a tremendous opportunity; not only can we access written accounts on ascension, but possibly see some people ascend as well.”

“Really?”

“Yes, did you know Teyla and Dr. McKay actually saw someone ascend while they were on Lux?”

Interesting, Kate thinks. Teyla holds deep respect for those striving to follow the Path of the Ancestors; Rodney, not so much, not after his recent incident with the machine that caused his near-ascension.

“Is that why he’s in the infirmary?”

“No,” Elizabeth snorts. “He tripped and twisted his ankle. I think the Lumen freak him out. He was whining about how ‘that floating squid' wouldn’t stop touching him.”

Kate frowns, a little disturbed. “Isn’t that unusual behavior for an Ascended? It’s not like them to focus unwanted attention on someone.” She’s also beginning to understand why Carson wanted her to come down.

“If he was newly ascended, perhaps? He could have been confused. It’s something to look into. Anyway, Major Lorne and Dr. Mags are waiting for me in the jumper bay.”

Kate walks her out. Elizabeth hasn’t been this animated in a long time. “Hopefully, John and Ronon won’t be so bored they don’t want to spend the night.”

“Ah, I see.”

“See what?”

“Is this about the library, or about John?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

Kate leans against the jumper bay door, grimacing.

“Are you all right? I thought you didn’t look happy earlier. Another migraine?”

“They’ve been really bad since the accident,” Kate confesses. She and her sister were in a car crash on the coast in Spain during the recall to Earth.

“Oh,” Elizabeth blinks. “I’m so sorry about your sister. Siobhan was a wonderful person.”

“Thank you,” Kate smiles wanly. “She really liked you, too.” Kate quickly hugs her friend. “Now, you better get. You don’t want to keep the Colonel waiting!”

*

When Kate gets to the infirmary, she can tell right away that Carson’s frazzled. Rodney’s annoyed, and demanding his notebook computer. His ankle's wrapped in an Ace bandage, and there’s a cold pack sitting on top of it. “I need to write this up immediately so I can give it to Elizabeth.”

Carson pulls her aside, and explains that he’s concerned about Rodney’s encounter with an Ascended so soon after his near miss. “He’s been more irritable than normal, as well.”

“Can you tell me what has you so worried, Rodney?” Kate asks.

“Are you –“ Rodney gapes. “Are you evaluating me? I’m not insane. Something isn’t right about that planet. It’s wrong.” Rodney glares, crossing his arms. “I already told Carson that the Ascended in the park wouldn’t take no for an answer. Jesus, and I thought Colonel Wildhair could attract them.”

Kate shares a glance with Carson. “Elizabeth postulated that this being, the Ascended, was confused. Could that have something to do with your interaction?”

“I highly doubt it. Teyla and I saw two Ascended. The first one seemed to be meeting the old geezer that was meditating in the park, before he in turn floated away in a ball of squid-like light.. I was all set to let Teyla experience her transcendental moment –“

“That’s very big of you,” Carson interjects.

“I thought psych evals were supposed to be private!”

“This isn’t a psych eval!” Carson explodes. “Did you not think maybe we might just be worried about you? You’re not… you just!” Carson walks out of the isolation room.

“What were you saying?”

“Just that everything was fine until the original Ascended turned its attentions on me. I didn’t have any plans for ascending today. Seems like just last week I got out of that. Oh wait, almost.” As Rodney spoke his eyes seemed distant. “Teyla thought, well, that it was beautiful. And it was, aesthetically, or it would be if you didn’t have to die to go through it. I kept feeling it push at me, you know? And then I fell off a cliff.”

“Do you think the Ascended was trying to harm you?”

“I don’t know. It didn’t seem happy I didn’t want to escape with it. I kept backing away, but it wouldn’t stop touching me. After I fell, Teyla helped me hike back to the gate.”

“Why didn’t Colonel Sheppard and Ronon return with you?” Kate asks, because if an Ascended was acting violently, at all, then the Colonel should know.

“Teyla said I fell and twisted my ankle. I tried to explain I'd fallen down an embankment, but she’d already told him it was a ditch so he wasn't concerned. I’m fine, Kate. Really. I just need to talk to Elizabeth, all right?”

Even though Kate thinks Rodney is underplaying how he’s feeling, Kate calls Carson back in anyway. She doesn’t think she’ll get anything more out of him tonight. Rodney snaps his fingers until Carson reluctantly hands him his notebook.

“And why hasn’t Elizabeth shown up yet?”

Kate glances uneasily at Carson, who shakes his head. “Elizabeth went off-world,” she tells him.

“What?” The blood drains from Rodney’s face and Kate doesn’t have to ask how he feels. “Sheppard’s going to kill me!”

“Why’s that, Rodney?” Carson asks, his fingers still twitching as if he wants to snatch the computer out of his patient’s hands. “I’m sure she’s perfectly safe.”

“How do you know? Planet Squid’s settlement is a good eight kilometers – five miles – from the gate, and no one in Cadman’s team is cleared for a Jumper.”

"Major Lorne flew her, actually,” Kate informs him.

Simultaneously, Rodney demands “What about Dr. Mags? Sheppard’s expecting him and Cadman’s team. I need – oh, I see, of course. Elizabeth wants to see the library.”

Kate reassures Rodney that the anthropologist still left as expected for M8C-599.

“But Major Lorne was going to accompany me to New Athos tomorrow,” Carson seems concerned.

The trip to New Athos was routine; Carson scheduled it a month ago. Kate knew that Teyla was upset not to be going with him, but she wouldn’t excuse herself from the mission to M9C-599 for what she considered purely personal reasons.

Kate doesn’t dwell on the selfish reasons that prevented her from encouraging Teyla to self-advocate. She should have told Teyla to press for what she wanted because she had the right to see whomever she wanted; Kate had left to go back to Earth, essentially abandoning Teyla when Rodney and Colonel Sheppard discovered the Tria, and its complement of living Ancients. Regardless, Teyla had returned to the city before Carson could leave.

“Who’s in charge?” Rodney demands. “Of the military, I mean. Obviously I’m in charge of you lot.”

“Of course,” Kate agrees dryly. “ But you're still in the infirmary, you know.”

“And I've not agreed to release you yet! Your synaptic activity is up one percent, Rodney. I don’t like the looks of this!”

“Oh please! It’s been up and down all the last month! How many times have I have to tell you, I can’t hear thoughts, I can’t move things with my mind! No remote viewing, no psionics of any kind. I’m fine!”

Carson’s lips twitch. “Psionics, Rodney?”

“You know, ESP, telekinesis, mental energy manipulation.” Rodney waves his hands distractedly, even worriedly. “You know – all that… stuff.”

“Aye, I know what psionics are.”

Kate, feeling somewhat queasy, can’t help but wish Rodney would lower his volume a little. He hasn’t talked about any of his synaptic activity scans in the last month, not even indirectly. She’s beginning to realize that she’s left her migraine untreated for too long; she should have asked for a prescription refill as soon as she walked in the door.

“It’s interesting that you’ve been studying the subject, Rodney, especially with all your obligations in the city.” Sometimes she can get him to talk about what's really bothering him; most of the time, though, she can’t. Just because they’re friends doesn’t mean she’ll ever stop trying to do her job, even when she’s pushing through exhaustion.

Rodney’s eyes suddenly widen in something that can only be alarm. It must be something he just read, and Kate expects him to call Radek right away to berate him about not watching his city closely enough; and oh god, oh god, how the morons are going to blow up Atlantis. Instead, she’s confused when he simply closes the lid to his laptop, several micro-expressions crossing his face. One was panic, but that passed so fast that if you weren’t trained to spot it you’d miss it, and now his expression's dead calm.

“About those . . . .”

He just lets the words hang there: no histrionics, no hyperboles, and no explanation.

Kate’s alarmed because she realizes that he’s been reading email from Earth rather than regular city communications. No news is good news, they say; but Rodney's had a lot of news. So has she, recently.

“No, absolutely not,” Carson says and snatches Rodney’s laptop away, like he can snatch away the possibility of any bad news coming his way. Kate can see what’s on his mind, that he’s worried about bad news from Earth. His mother's getting older and Carson doesn’t get to see her that often.

“Carson,” Kate tries to interrupt.

“You're not moving until I’m sure –“

“Maybe we should –“

“No, I’ll not have it. You had a harrowin’ experience. Your ankle is in terrible shape, and –“

“Carson,” Rodney interrupts, finally, thankfully, because Carson is rolling his ‘R’s and starting to drop his ‘H’s, and Kate’s beginning to worry that soon she’ll have him in therapy for PTSD like the rest of the original expedition should be, including herself. They would be, but no one wants to risk the IOA sending them back to Earth as a security risk. “I tripped and fell in a ditch. It just needed a stronger wrap.” His voice is soft. “And an icepack.”

“What happened?” Kate finally asks, because Carson's reluctant, just fussing with Rodney’s wrap, checking his blood pressure; checking and rechecking his brain scans.

“Sam Carter’s missing.” Rodney looks ten years older, delivering this news. Kate knows how much Rodney cares for Sam – part lust, part hero worship, part admiration, and . . . respect for her brain. Actually, she thinks he’s more in lust with Sam’s brain and his crush is just on her blond hair. Lord knows, Kate gets ribbing enough, enough henna cracks to last a lifetime – but she really needed a change after Earth. Kate aches for Rodney as he continues; he sounds as if none of what he says affects him personally. But she knows that it does, knows it must. “She disappeared in her lab, testing a phasing device. The rest of her team says she’s just out of phase, but it’s been over a week. She’s probably dead.” Kate knows this is a blow for them all; Colonel Carter was on the frontlines with SG-1 against the Ori.

Rodney’s looking at Carson worriedly instead of expressing any of his emotions, and Kate’s migraine steps up another notch. She feels as if she’s missing some information, something vital, that if she wasn’t feeling ill she’d pick up on it.

“What else?” she asks. She’s holding her temple, feeling the vein throb harshly beneath her fingertips.

“Daniel Jackson went missing as well.”

“Was he – was Daniel in Colonel Carter’s lab as well?” Carson’s hand stills as he asks the question, his voice thick.

“No, but – I’m sorry, Carson. I know you two became good friends in Antarctica, but… Adria… he might still turn up.”

“Perhaps we should recall Colonel Sheppard and Dr. Weir from off-world, then?” Kate asks, knowing that it’s pointless. The tension more than anything is probably what prevents Rodney from snapping at her for asking stupid questions. But to be fair she’s had a migraine for hours now, one she’s ignored much longer than she should – first to read through her email and then to ‘evaluate’ for Carson. It’s the reason she came to the Infirmary in the first place; she just keeps getting distracted from asking for a sumatriptan shot, and now she’s trying to blink back tears.

“What do I tell them, Kate?”

“What about the truth?” Carson interrupts. He sounds angry at his position; he can’t keep his friends safe, not here, and not there.

“I think Rodney’s afraid of a possible Ori connection, Carson.”

“I told you it wasn’t the same happy, glowy squid-touching that Sheppard had with Chaya the first year we were here. Something was off.”

“You said before that it didn’t want to take no for an answer, but you never mentioned the Ori,” Carson says. “Then again, you were a bit stroppy.” Carson tilts his head and Kate sees him consider, his blue eyes distant as the immediacy of his grief recedes a little. “You didn’t know for sure if the first Ascended elevated the person meditating in the park. If we could measure the synaptic activity of someone about to ascend, we’d know if they were doing it on their own or if another being was helping them.”

“What would that accomplish? Either way any Ascended on the planet might read our minds. If there’s an Ori connection we'd be totally screwed.”

“If that’s the case, wouldn’t the one you encountered have read yours?”

“No, yes, I don’t know! Look, I wasn’t thinking about the Ori or Earth, just about how I definitely didn’t want to leave. But I do want to leave here. So please give me some painkillers and let me out! I need to find out who has the strongest gene in the city and whether they can control the chair during an attack. Then I need to send a report to the SGC. Plus, I need to put someone in charge of the military until I can get Sheppard back here.”

“I still think you’re over-reacting.”

“We know Carson can control the drones.” Kate winces when Carson glares at her.

“Traitor,” Carson mutters, and excuses himself after admonishing Rodney to stay put and keep his leg elevated, unless he plans to hobble around Atlantis without any anti-inflammatory meds. Kate drops into his vacated seat and barely notices when the room dims. Someone’s lowered the lights.

“You don’t look so hot,“ Rodney says, and Kate sees his worried look directed at her.

She burst out giggling, “But – but I feel hot.” She just can’t help herself. The room’s swimming and her stomach’s lurching as if she’s been on the Around-the-World ride one too many times during carnival. She’s also praying really, really hard she doesn’t vomit. Crap.

“Carson,” Rodney calls, too loudly. “I think –“

“I see the problem. Keep your voice down. Here you go, lass.” Carson’s voice sounds soothing, but she’s anything but soothed. She wants to cry out that she knows it won’t work, that she’s too old to be shushed like a child. But she’s nauseous and queasy and so, so tired.

A cool compress slips across her eyes and the back of her neck, and distantly through the roaring cacophony in her head she feels a pinch somewhere on her inner forearm.

*

When Kate wakes she feels someone holding her hand.

“You worried me. Please do not repeat this,” Teyla smiles as she helps Kate sit up.

“How long have I been here?”

“All night and morning; It is early afternoon. Dr. Beckett is not pleased.”

Kate frowns, not looking forward to a lecture about taking care of herself.

Teyla smiles. “Dr. McKay gave him the self destruct codes to the city. I understand there is a new Earth policy?”

“There’s always a new policy, Teyla,” Kate laughs. She swings her legs off the infirmary bed, but Teyla stills her movement. “What?”

“I believe Dr. Beckett wishes to speak to you before you leave.”

“You mean lecture me?”

“If you wish.” Teyla seems somewhat amused and Kate wonders how many times she prevented her teammates escaping the infirmary. “He’s currently talking to Dr. Weir about postponing our trip to New Athos until tomorrow.” Kate’s surprised that they’re back so early; but then, Elizabeth did say she expected to be back this afternoon, if not earlier.

Teyla squeezed Kate’s hand, then let go. “I hoped that you would come with us. Think of it like a vacation?”

Teyla’s question, almost shy, catches Kate off guard.

“Won’t that be awkward for you?” Kate slips on a pair of scrub infirmary slippers. Carson was smart to abscond with her clothes.

“No, I don’t see why. Dr. Beckett is… encouraging Dr. McKay to come as well. Apparently he can’t be trusted to take it easy when told he’s restricted to light duty.

Kate laughs.

“All right,” she tentatively agrees. “I’ll clear my schedule; I haven’t seen New Athos yet. A vacation might be nice.”

Teyla smiles brilliantly.

*

The next evening on New Athos, Teyla’s leaning into Kate's personal space with the kind of intense expression most people reserve for imparting very serious news. But this just means she just wants to be clear and wants the person she’s with to know she’s sincere. The day’s been more work than expected, more tense; even though it’s a different kind of tension than what Kate’s used to.

It’s dark out, and they're sharing one of the spacious Athosian tent-dwellings with Laura Cadman, but Laura already made her excuses. Rodney and Ronon are in a tent from one of the off-world kits. Oh well. Probably no one's sleeping tonight. Laura and Carson are trying to get their act together, which is difficult when they never have quality time to themselves. Rodney’s still trying to recover from his near-ascension, which is hard when possibilities keep spinning in his mind, or so he says. He’s probably working on his computer despite hiking five klicks to the gate and back for the extra immunization supplies Carson needed today. The irony is that Carson forced him along on this trip to keep him from working and off his ankle, but Rodney said that Ronon and Laura needed to stay with Carson and Kate so if anything happened they’d be secure. Teyla couldn't go since Kanaan occupied her attention, and she had to discuss with him the situation he'd created, resulting in them suddenly needing three times as many immunizations shots. Kate wasn’t sure about the specific details, something about brokering a trade agreement on the Athosians' behalf using Atlantis’ medicines.

“Carson would help had we but asked,” Teyla had explained to him.

Ronon’s probably keeping watch. He never likes it when the Earthers are acting weird. Teyla confessed to Kate this makes him jumpy; he’s probably worried they’re going to abandon Pegasus again, leaving Ronon without a home.

Kate knows that Kanaan’s moving into the leadership role Teyla’s left vacant, and Teyla says he has much to learn; his actions often irritate her. Carson did the best that he could and worked well into the evening on what was supposed to be a light duty trip. They were all hoping for a vacation, relief from the tension growing in the city; the New Athos trip had already been postponed an extra day.

Kate feels anxious and guilty as Teyla's torn between her people and Atlantis. Kate knows it's not her fault; Teyla would stay on Colonel Sheppard's team anyway. However, when the Tria brought real live Ancients to Atlantis Kate said her goodbyes, closing that chapter on her life. She never expected to see Teyla again, and she's been tentative in seeking time with her; and maybe avoiding it.

Carson's been worried over Dr. Jackson’s fate, and for every person he knew at the SGC. Truthfully, they all were. When everyone returned to Atlantis the day before, Elizabeth and John said to go ahead and release the news; there was no telling who had found out through personal emails anyway, and people deserved to know what was going on. Colonel Sheppard wasn’t happy when he’d learned about Rodney’s report.

“Do you want me reassigned; maybe Elizabeth fired?” John exploded.

“What?” Rodney seemed shocked. “Why would you think that?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Rodney. Maybe because you wrote a mission report, decided to send it to the SGC, and all without consulting anyone! What was I supposed to think?”

Rodney’d started looking angry as soon as John talked about acting unilaterally.

“I wrote everything as an advanced science memo. They’re still expecting yours. Besides, who was I supposed to consult?”

“You were supposed to dial up the Stargate and ask.”

“No. If the planet was compromised then –“

“The Lumen aren’t Ori, Rodney.”

“They worship their ancestors! An ascended tried forcibly ascending me. If you were in enemy territory I couldn’t draw attention to you.”

Elizabeth had broken in then, claiming that Rodney was right. She’d even joked that Colonel Sheppard was just upset because now he had to write a follow-up report.

It's been a difficult two days, and now, well, Kate seems to be having this out with Teyla, even though she’s not sure it’s a good idea. She agreed to come with her to New Athos though, and there’s really no way to avoid this. She’s not sure she wants to, even though she’s sure she should. She’s tired of getting hurt.

“Kate, please.“ Teyla’s touching her cheek and caressing her neck – just lightly – below her ear and across her pulse point. Kate’s pulling breath into her lungs as deeply as she can, but it doesn’t seem deep enough; there’s simply not enough oxygen in the air and she can’t look away from Teyla’s gaze. “Let us no longer avoid each other.”

“Teyla, I haven’t been avoiding –“

“But you have.“ The hearth light casts shadows across Teyla’s brown eyes. “All you need to do is tell me what you want, unless . . . ," and she trails off. Kate hates that she put that look of hurt insecurity on Teyla’s face.

“It’s not that I don’t want,” Kate finally whispers. “I’ve always wanted, I think. I just –“ … haven’t been able to admit it until recently. Not until after the disaster called Michael and the expedition's hellish recall to Earth. They say you can never go home again; Kate found out that was true.

But Kate never gets to say these things or the many, many concerns she wants to voice because Teyla is moving her finger across Kate's lips, her hands through her hair and over skin, the side of her breast, the swell of her stomach.

“Good,” Teyla smiles into the palm of Kate’s hand. “Then it is settled.”

Kate can't help but wonder, however, as Teyla leads her behind the partition to the lushly laid out sleeping nook, just how long this can actually stay settled. At what point will the Athosian people run out of patience with Teyla for not having a child carrying a strong ‘Gift’ of Wraith DNA?

Much later she wakes up – it’s early morning and she can hear light rain patter on the ceiling. She’s incredibly languid and relaxed – until she hears Rodney’s voice close to the tent’s entrance.

“I told you already, she’s still asleep!” Rodney’s hissing, practically spitting, but Kate can tell he’s trying to keep his anger under control so she’s not too alarmed.

“I wish to speak to Teyla, Doctor,” Kanaan doesn’t sound happy.

“I don’t care what you want. In fact, you can’t always get what you want. I should know!” Rodney’s voice moves away and so do two pairs of footsteps. Kate listens to Rodney’s tense assertions that the ‘girls’ are still asleep, and that he’s not going to let any morons bother them. It's uniquely protective in true Rodney fashion. She’s also noticed Halling intercept Kanaan in the past when she’s come with Teyla to visit. Kate appreciates it, because she doesn’t want to deal with the man who placed them all in a difficult position with the immunizations the day before.

That's not the only reason, of course. Kanaan’s become more demanding about Teyla’s time and attention since Kate met him – even before the relocation from Lantea’s mainland to New Athos. She doubts Teyla sees it, and Kate won’t bring it up; Teyla has few good memories left from her childhood and she won’t take this one. Kanaan is pro-Athosian; Kate can’t deny that he cares about his people’s welfare, but she wishes that he didn’t make her feel so threatened.

She suddenly wonders what Ronon would do with Kanaan’s obstinacy. Cheered, she wraps her arms around Teyla from behind and drifts back to sleep. She allows herself to feel this small possessive satisfaction, a bright light of happiness that she’s not certain can last but plans to hang onto for as long as possible.

*

Kate's trying to dissuade Elizabeth from leaving Atlantis, or at least trying to delay it. This will be her second trip to Lux and Kate doesn’t understand why she feels she needs to return so soon. Major Lorne’s team managed to work out a minor trade arrangement last trip for tava beans (not that they needed any more), and the preliminary report from Anthropology states that the digital pictures Dr. Mags shot will keep them busy for months.

They are in her office – Elizabeth in her red-topped uniformed and Kate in her blue, brunette hair contrasting with red. Elizabeth is sorting translation books and field manuals before placing them carefully into her small pack.

“If you’re taking off without a good-bye, I really must advise you to think again, Lizzie Beth.” Kate smirks at the grimace crossing Elizabeth’s face.

“That’s awful! Who came up with that one, John?”

“Actually, it was Rodney.” He'd said other things, too, back on New Athos. He didn’t understand why John didn’t have time to hang out with him lately. Kate didn’t think he did well as the odd man out. She knew Laura kept encouraging him to take up with Katie again, but the only influence he ever wanted to be under was his own. While she felt grateful to him for running interference this morning, she was a bit at loose ends herself (new relationships could be exhilarating and nerve-wracking things) so he’d need to make an appointment if he wanted to vent.

”Are you sure you should go back right now? Things seem kind of tense in the city, and everyone feels safer when you and Colonel Sheppard are available.”

Kate’s worried about Carson. He’s stressed and worried he’ll be asked to fire the drones again. She doesn’t think he’ll be asked, but Major Lorne’s ability is still untested and Kate’s certain Carson’s gene is stronger. After Rodney’s near ascension, he gained proficiency with accessing information on the city systems, but the weapon platform still ‘hurt his brain’. Carson isn’t alone; Rodney can do it in a pinch, but a massive neurological event (hopefully only a migraine) will probably take place. Carson’s still fussing about Rodney’s synaptic activity, and doesn’t want him to do anything that might push it up.

City tension was something Kate noticed as soon as they returned from New Athos. Everyone’s nerves seemed rubbed raw, exposed, and Kate didn’t think it was just the news from the SGC about recent Ori victories. The only difference was that Carson had spent the night off-world, but Kate thinks his stress is a reaction to the IOA policies more than anything else. That, and a response to the city’s self-destruct codes Rodney promised to deliver him after the briefing.

Elizabeth isn’t tense, but she’s been busy with Dr. Mags in Anthropology, her focus on her ascension research.

Elizabeth shrugs, not noticing Kate’s concern.

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t go. It'll be fine. Dr. McKay and Major Lorne are more than capable of handling things.” Elizabeth continues to pack for the translation apocalypse. “I’m doing my job; it’s the entire reason we left Earth to begin with.”

Maybe this is true; Kate can’t really nay say, but she still feels uneasy. Maybe she’s just been influenced by worrywarts too long: first Rodney, and then Carson. Also, the recent controversy about the Ascended, good versus bad, and what makes them good or bad, has been disturbing. She’s heard mutterings in the gate room recently on how they should wipe them all out: good and bad doesn’t matter because they must all be bad.

This is not normal behavior for anyone on Atlantis, even under pressure. They’re chosen for their open-mindedness, and exhibiting xenophobic traits usually gets people sent home. Kate really wishes that Elizabeth would just stay a few days until everything calmed down, or at least until the Daedalus arrives. But she has no reason to tell her, ‘you must stay‘ , when she could be researching her life’s dream – or at least discovering the first recorded person to ascend on Lux, in moldy, mildewy scrolls. Colonel Sheppard’s report, which Kate still has to finish reading, clearly states that there’s no sign of Ori, or Ori-like activity, on Lux, not unless you counted families remembering those who ascended before them. The planet’s completely safe, excepting regular Pegasus maladies such as the Wraith. So really, why’s Kate uneasy?

Kate dislikes how sometimes with Elizabeth it's do-as-I-say and not do-as-I-do when she’s convinced she’s in the right. This morning, Major Lorne had fetched them from New Athos by jumper earlier than arranged, and had barely returned and set down in the gate room before Colonel Sheppard was trying to leave – also by jumper. She wasn’t sure what was happening, but even if there was a misunderstanding, she'd thought it would be easily solved. Then suddenly, Rodney was shouting “Are you seriously insane?” at John’s spaceship like a mad scientist.

What followed was an uncomfortable briefing with Sheppard’s team, herself, Carson, and of course, Elizabeth.

“I thought Rodney was back in the city, Kate. That’s the only reason John and I made the decision to go ahead. If I’d known he’d gone back to New Athos, we’d never have left. Chuck never informed me that Rodney left the city again.

“I know. It was a miscommunication,” Kate concedes. “You’re usually stricter about protocol, so I’m surprised that you became so immersed in your work that you forgot procedure.”

“I didn’t forget. After all, I wrote or approved most of them. Well, except the new ones the IOA implemented while I was off-world on Lux.”

Worried about the increased Ori threat, the IOA had sent through new policies which happened to arrive when Elizabeth and John were on Lux. They now require enough people to set the self-destruct and a gene carrier strong enough to operate the command chair to be in the city at all times. Colonel Sheppard might be unhappy about it, which he expressed forcibly in the briefing after New Athos, but Major Lorne’s already trying to implement the logistical nightmare. Evan also has to liaise with Carson because apparently a carrier’s gene strength is protected medical information. As for the science and support teams, they needed some reorganization. Things weren't structured the same as they had been during the first year. They weren't as simple. Carson now has to hold the city’s self-destruct codes as well. He’s not happy, and doesn’t want to ever be responsible for destroying Atlantis.

Elizabeth’s finished packing. “Sit down, Kate. You’re hovering. You look like you need a vacation.” Kate flushes. “Another vacation, that is.”

Kate smiles, thinks about woven tapestry blankets and flickering hearth light. “What, no. I’m –“ Kate’s flustered and Elizabeth grins at her.

“I think I know that smile.”

The mood now in Elizabeth's office is so different from the mood earlier on, in the briefing room. She remembers that tenseness – John’s practiced disinterest; Ronon’s irritated boredom, Carson’s open hurt, and Teyla’s confusion. The SGC may have forwarded the new IOA procedures while Colonel Sheppard’s team was initially on Lux, but they backdated them to when they defeated the Replicators and took back the city. While backdating policies was a common practice in civilian organizations, Atlantis’ military officers had no experience of this kind of bureaucratic abuse. When Rodney’d gone through all his email the first night, he'd posted the new policies on the Intranet. Major Lorne then took Elizabeth off-world, ratcheting up Rodney’s blood pressure. Usually, when they received a new policy they had a few days before they were expected to enforce it. Kate assumed that John was sent his own copy, but again, he was off-world when the databurst arrived. Radek decrypted and uncompressed it for members of the expedition.

Rodney hadn’t held back his anger in his exhaustion. “You said you’d wait! You can’t just traipse off to another planet when you feel like it, Elizabeth,” Rodney'd calmed down from when he yelled in the gate room, but not much. “You have obligations here!”

“Hey!” John had jumped in to defend her. “I wasn’t going to let her go alone.”

“Oh yes, and that’s so much better,” Rodney had laid the sarcasm on thickly. “It’s a bit like the blind leading the blind, isn’t it? Attracted to the shiny, shiny Ascended – neither one of you can help yourselves!”

“Rodney,” Elizabeth had sounded stunned. “I’m… I thought you were back.”

“Obviously not.”

“Look,” Carson had interrupted. “Has there been any news from the SGC?”

Sheppard had shaken his head. That there hadn’t been any news, not even a databurst regarding the Lumen reports, was concerning.

Rodney’d been visibly trying to calm down by this point, but Kate knew how upset he'd been. “I don’t understand your interest in this subject, what’s driving you here, or what’s pushing you –“ He'd stopped here, a disconcerted look on his face.

“This argument’s over,” commented Ronon. “Let me know when we’re leaving,” he'd said to John before he left.

“Will do, big guy.”

It was eventually agreed that John would shuttle Elizabeth back to the Lumen library, and Teyla and Ronon would go as backup. Carson had said that Rodney’d already spent too much time on his feet, so he’d have to stay in the city.

“I didn’t want to go, anyway,” Rodney had sniffed.

Teyla had said she needed to speak with Carson before leaving, so Kate thought she’d trying speaking to Elizabeth in private before it was too late to reverse the decision. So here she is, but she's not having much effect.

Elizabeth’s leaning forward in her chair. “You and Teyla?”

“Maybe, I hope so.”

“I’m glad you figured it out,” Elizabeth stands up. “Don’t worry about Rodney. He’s just… on edge about anything related to ascension.”

“Of that I’m quite aware.”

Still, keeping all Rodney’s warnings in mind, she bids Elizabeth to be safe.

*

Kate walks in on Colonel Sheppard and Rodney in the transporter. She only hears the tail end of their argument.

“– for court martial.” Rodney sounds strident. “John!“

“It’s crap,” Sheppard’s waving a printout under his nose. “Rodney –“

They break off as soon as she enters. Rodney flushes, and takes the printout, stuffing it in his pocket. John straightens.

“Hey, Kate,” he grins. “She all ready?”

“Elizabeth’s heading to the jumper bay now.”

Rodney’s apparently not done trying to change Sheppard’s mind. “This isn’t a good idea, Colonel. You can’t think letting her go back there is a good idea. What if the SGC doesn’t agree with your assessment? What if –“

“It’ll be fine, Rodney,” Sheppard reassures. “I think the locals are all very… cultish maybe, but not violent. They don’t care if anyone follows their way of life or not.”

“But –“

“I also think she’s in charge. You don’t have to like it; I’d be surprised if you did after everything that’s happened to you lately. “

“I should still be going with you,” Rodney says. “I’m still team.”

“Didn’t Carson want to see you after the briefing, Rodney?” Kate asks. She figures John’s on his way to the jumper bay; he’s still dressed in his off-world BDUs and TAC vest. She wants a chance to say goodbye to Teyla.

“Why, is something wrong?” John’s alarmed when Rodney glances sideways, pressing his lips together.

“No, just…, no, not a thing,” Rodney presses his lips tight. “Just, be careful, all right?”

John worriedly watches Rodney exit the transporter.

Kate knows that Carson probably wants to check Rodney’s synaptic activity again, and it doesn’t seem that he’s mentioned the ongoing scans to Colonel Sheppard. “I’m sure he just needs to get his ankle checked on,” she offers.

“Okay. Somehow, I thought he’d enjoy being in charge more, you know? But all he’s done since Elizabeth first went to M8C-599 is gripe.” John rubs the back of his neck. “If I didn’t know better I’d say he was jealous.”

Kate sidesteps the jealousy issue. Before the library, Rodney and John spent a lot of their free time together

“Well, I suspect Major Lorne’s going to do the ‘in-charge’ thing.”

“I don’t know; Lorne’s acting odd about these IOA changes. If he has to suffer he’ll make McKay suffer. He takes these policies seriously, so I’m sure that means Rodney won't get any lab time in.”

“John,” Kate states carefully. “Have you read Rodney’s report regarding M8C-599?”

“Yeah… that would be no,” Sheppard looks guilty. “I got to the part about the Thuggee cult and skipped to the summary.” Kate raises her eyebrow. “Come on, Kate, that report’s really long-winded. I got the gist, that Rodney thinks it’s a possible Ancient experiment gone rogue because it’s near, galactically speaking, the Replicator homeworld – Asuras. But the planet doesn’t have any cannibals, I swear!”

“I see you’ve been spending time with Elizabeth in the Anthropology labs.” Kate’s amused when John flushes. Still, she wonders if he knows the details about the Ascended Rodney interacted with, or if Rodney embedded that information in the driest section of his report to discourage commentary on his personal ascension hang-ups. Doubtful, though, because the night Rodney twisted his ankle he was very upset, and strongly felt he needed to warn the SGC. Teyla’s waiting outside the bay when they arrive. Sheppard goes inside, probably to make sure they're ready for their trip, and to find Elizabeth.

“I hoped to see you before leaving. Elizabeth said you might be coming down before departure.” Teyla pulls Kate close, resting their foreheads together.

Kate tries to relax, tries to enjoy sharing the same space as Teyla. Watching Teyla leave the city wasn’t this difficult before their time on New Athos. “I’ll see you soon,” she whispers, then lets go.

*

Kate’s on the Daedalus conducting crew stress evaluations. The ship’s orbiting Lux, a destination chosen simply because there were Atlantis personnel present. Kate needs to observe her subjects in space-flight conditions, and being docked on Atlantis doesn’t quite count. Elizabeth and Teyla are currently showing a delegation around non-restricted areas. John had flown them up in the puddlejumper, leaving Ronon behind with Dr. Mags; because for some reason, Dr. Novak couldn’t get the Asgard beam to lock.

Lindsey’s not happy. In fact, Kate’s been aware of a tight building tension for a few hours now, and she’s not sure it’s due to malfunctioning equipment. If it is, the malfunctioning Asgard tech’s making everyone Kate observes anxious, and she’s not sure they’re aware Lindsey still has the beam off-line.

Kate frowns at her tablet computer. “Lindsey, how are you feeling?”

Hiccup.

“A little warm, worried,” Lindsey hiccups again. “Feeling… pushed. If something happens while the Asgard beam is off-line, we may not be able to escape – unless of course, we’re able to land in atmosphere. Like Atlantis, but –“ Lindsey slightly emphases the words pushed, and escape; Kate finds this disconcerting.

Hiccup.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Lindsay,” Kate reassures. “If worse comes to worst, you can work on it back in the city.”

“Just great,” Lindsey rolls her eyes. “I’ll never hear the end of it on how wrong, wrong, so very wrong I am.”

Kate’s noticed that Lindsey didn’t start hiccupping until after Kate touched base with Elizabeth, Teyla, and the minister they were showing around. But then again, she might be unconsciously projecting and Lindsey’s only picking up her discomfort. After everything, she'd half expected some great disaster to occur before this point.

“Wha –“ A brilliant flash of light temporarily blinds her, and Kate’s thinking she has a new kind of migraine aura. But then she’s bewildered because she standing in a wind-blown field.

The Asgard beam somehow scooped her up and deposited her on the planet below into a semi-circle of angry looking men. She waits for Lindsey to beam her back. When that doesn’t happen, she begins to panic a little. Worse just came to worst, she thinks.

She’s completely unprepared, dressed in her Atlantis uniform with the pale blue tunic. She doesn’t even have a weapon, which now she regrets as she spies several crude guns on those same men. She gapes as she recognizes the minister from aboard the Daedalus. Well, crap. Kate remembers thinking that Rodney’s paranoia regarding this planet was just that: paranoia. No terrible event happened. This twist in events is incomprehensible; these people were supposed to be new allies, to be peaceful. The Lumen minister had seemed polite enough when she’d met him earlier.

Kate takes a step back, but they've realized they have a hostage. A desperate looking man with a swarthy beard grabs her in an iron harsh grip.

“My wife, culled. My daughter, culled. I saw them scooped up into Wraith beams, not into the Ancestors’ light. They will never know that peace now – and this ship will help prevent any others from leaving through the culling beams.”

“You’re wrong,” Kate tries to head this off at the pass, but she's getting nowhere. “Yes, it’s true we have technology, but the Wraith hunt us as well. The Daedalus can’t fight –"

“Shut up!” Swarthy Beard shakes her. Kate wishes they picked another destination for their ‘three hour tour’.

“Joran, they’ll be looking for her,” the man who was with Elizabeth – Minister Dahn? – cautions. Maybe he knows the situation’s spinning out of his grasp; maybe it already has, but Swarthy Beard – Joran – lets her go, and Kate starts to edge toward the tree line.

Another man’s leering; she can’t circumvent him. His dirty blond hair’s faded out at his temples. “That ship was supposed to save us from the Wraith.”

“You have an alliance with us!”

“But we don’t have warships,” pipes in another.

“We still have you, though.” Blondie’s still looming, his grip’s no doubt leaving painful bruises. Escape.

“If you return me we’ll still help you. Our leaders want the same things,” Kate tries to reason, focusing her gaze on Minister Dahn. The men don’t seem to think so, and one suggests that if the Daedalus used their beam to get rid of Dahn what’s to stop the ship from shooting them for holding onto her.

“But you haven’t done anything yet.” Kate’s looking for a way out of this. Blondie’s breath is rancid. Run. Kate wants to throw up. She’s disturbed how he seems to be looking at his friends to see if they're on the same page – and yep, they mostly are. Kate’s approaching hysterical, if she’s not already there. She knees Rancid Breath in the groin and runs for the trees.

Tree bark explodes in her face and she realizes they’re shooting. Something hot singes the hair above her ear. Then she’s falling to the ground as if tackled by a linebacker, and for vital seconds she can’t breathe, precious, precious air refusing to drag into her lungs. The wind’s knocked out of her. “Oh no, please,” she gasps. Excruciating pain’s radiating from her left shoulder. Oh no, no, no, no –

“There she is!”

She’s out of time and quickly rolls under the branches, escaping grasping hands and ignoring their threats. It's a powerful incentive to keep out of their reach. Eventually she’s breathing again even though each breath’s a struggle, each inhale hurts.

Kate finds some headroom and scrambles to her feet. She discovers sooner than she’d like that she can’t run without bracing her arm. She has no idea where she’s going; for all she knows she's going in circles.

Unless.

The sun is setting, and the two orange-like slivers of moon are filling the overhead sky. She picks a direction and runs, and hopes.

*

Kate’s lost in the woods.

*

*

Kate’s falling.

Escape. Let go.

She pushes back at the thought: No.

The interesting thing about an Ascended sifting through your mind is that sometimes you don’t realize when you’re awake or not.

The dance routine is one Kate developed long ago. She uses it to relieve stress, to relax, to keep in shape, and to put her thoughts in order. Over the years, she's adapted variations to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but only the third movement. While classical purists debate the meaning of the music in terms of the composer’s impending hearing loss, Kate simply loves the emotion the opening notes evoke within her. She’s adapted variations to other music as well, usually piano based, but today she’s using the symphony.

Her shoulder really, really hurts today.

It’s not too late, let go.

She must be more out of shape than she thought. Her shoulder radiates a dull, yet pervasive, throb. She feels short of breath, and her side aches. Stress. She lifts her left arm above her head to stretch backwards.

The hectic pace on Atlantis, the many medical emergencies – some almost fatal – of late must be causing more tension than Kate initially thought. The headache behind her right eye threatens to blossom into a full migraine.

Please let go; I can’t save you unless you escape.

She blinks, waiting for the telling ‘static’ indicating just how bad it’s going to be. She drinks down half her bottle of water hoping to delay the onslaught until she returns to her quarters, and her meds. She’s terribly thirsty, more thirsty than she should be.

Kate needs at least to stretch out after her routine, but –

Odd, she doesn’t feel better; she only feels worse. Maybe something else is going on with her today, because her body just does not feel right.

Let go.

One of her ears is ringing; she shakes her head to clear the noise. The room echoes with the fan’s oscillating hum.

Voices drift in from the hall.

Escape. Let go. You’re too –

She ignores them; she’s not on duty.

“...I’m telling you, there’s no reason to go back to that planet. People who worship Ancients so they can ascend are just… insane!”

“I think the SGC is concerned about the whole ‘worship’ factor, Rodney.”

“Oh, please,” Rodney replies. “It’s a completely different situation. Hey, is Kate wearing a green leotard?”

“Knock it off! She makes a pretty picture.”

Kate mentally rolls her eyes. Boys. Obnoxious when they think no one is paying attention. No, actually, obnoxious even when they know someone is paying attention. How like John to tell Rodney off for ogling, and then do the same.

Except. Rodney doesn’t ogle her, not really, and he and John have been at odds for a while now –something to do with Elizabeth’s ascension research and the fact he hasn’t had time to spend with Rodney lately. John’s behavior isn’t right either: he only sees Elizabeth these days. Their relationship's new and John, unlike Elizabeth, doesn’t make friends easily. He's not used to multi-tasking his attention yet. Rodney just needs to give him time, she thinks, before they resume their friendship on a more balanced level.

“I agree.” Teyla, Kate identifies by voice. “She makes a very pretty picture.” Kate looks up from the exercise bar where she was stretching and sees Teyla smile.

Kate flushes. She’s still extremely thirsty, and drinks the last of her water. She’s warm, and cold, and confused. Her shoulder aches, but less than it did.

“Kate?” Teyla looks concerned, and sounds loud and anxious, like the surround sound suddenly started working when it’d previously been muffled. “Kate, please…”

“I’m sorry, what was that, Teyla?” She’s extremely thirsty, and her head’s pounding.

“I wished to enquire if you were coming to the briefing?” Teyla’s muffled again. Kate crinkles her forehead, not following the conversation from one sentence to the next.

“Um, yes?” Kate tries to reply, rasps, but her mouth is too dry. She wants to say she just needs… something. Something – cold and hot and freezing and warm, and excruciatingly painful in a way she’s never experienced before – is confusing her, a discordant set of song lyrics and notes that prevent her from speaking.

“Carson, we need a med team here!” Rodney sounds panicked, sounds like he’s yelling in her ear even though Kate sees him still standing in the doorway next to John, both of them smirking at a joke she can’t remember. What she hears and what she sees just won’t synchronize.

“Teyla?” Kate gasps, and she’s falling, lurching toward Teyla who's suddenly right in front of her, catching her when she falls. “I need a sumatriptan shot, I think.”

For a time everything falls into darkness. She can still hear Teyla calling for her to wake up. She hears Rodney complain about the lack puddlejumper. And –

Wait.

Kate remembers. She hasn’t danced since before the recall to Earth. Her recovery from the accident that claimed Siobhan’s life has been tortuously slow. She was only in as good shape as she had been before the Daedalus came to M8C-599 because Colonel Samantha Carter used a Goa’uld healing device on her injuries as best she could. It didn’t bring her sister back, and it left her with extreme bouts of nausea, migraines, and sometimes neurological aura without the actual headache.

*

The world rushes back in, surrounding her in light and color. The morning sun’s too bright; everyone’s too loud.

“McKay to Daedalus.” Rodney’s panicking. “We’ve found her. Have a med team standing by!”

“Rodney?” Kate’s squinting her eyes against the morning light. It’s too bright, and the light’s hurting her eyes. She can hear the water rushing through the rapids below but the bird isn’t singing anymore. Maybe it only comes out at night. “T –Teyla?”

“I’m here, Kate,” she feels Teyla’s warm hand on her forehead. “Lie still. You will be fine.”

Kate’s flinching at the crashing sounds coming from the underbrush; she can’t help it.

“Jesus, Kate. You’re covered in blood,” John drops another foil emergency blanket over her, but she’s so out of it she doesn’t really notice.

Ronon’s pulling what’s left of her clothes aside and checking her over – to find the leak, he says. Kate’s teeth chatter violently. Rodney’s talking on his earpiece, but his eyes widen comically and he turns around. It’s a little late for modesty; the vote’s still out on whether she'll survive at all. Ronon just wraps her up in three of the foil blankets, then his coat, for good measure.

“Crap!” John sounds exasperated. “Novak, I thought you had that beam working again!” He’s murmuring out of earshot but Kate can still hear Lindsey’s anxious voice in the cold morning air. She saying that Hermiod left emergency protocols to beam away anyone not belonging to the ship to the nearest planet, and she hasn’t been able to deactivate them. The beam’s still locked off-line.

“Your sub-q’s malfunctioning,” Rodney tells her. He’s looking at his scanner. “The Asgard beam transported everyone without one off the ship – we’ll have to go through the code line by line. Novak was already having issues with that beam.”

“I don’t –don’t feel well,” she gets out. “Teyla . . .”

“Carson, where are you! We need you here, now!“ Rodney’s voice moves away and Kate can hear him berate Carson, yelling at him about how he needs to fly the jumper himself. She bets Carson loves that; she doesn’t think he’s piloted since the hurricane during their first year on Atlantis.

Kate’s just glad someone found her. She has so many questions. “H –How?”

“Ronon,” Teyla explains, hugging her close as if she’ll never let go. “He tracked your trail.”

“Took care of a few pests, too; don’t worry, they’re stunned.”

The jumper lands nearby, and Carson and Ronon lift Kate onto a stretcher. Rodney’s frowning as they load her into the puddlejumper.

Sheppard’s telling the Daedalus that they’ll meet them back at Atlantis. Rodney tosses his scanner aside in self-deprecating disgust. “This was absolutely useless,” he says. “And after Sheppard came and got me as well. I set up a receiver, but nothing. We’d probably still be looking if it wasn’t for Ronon.”

She’d also probably be dead.

“An Ascended was influencing Elizabeth’s mind,” Teyla tells Kate somberly. “It was going on right up until you were beamed off the ship, then it followed you to the surface.” She strokes Kate’s hair soothingly.

Carson’s fussing with the heating packs draped around her to treat hypothermia. He’s also started a transfusion, because although the Ascended being has healed her surface wounds she’s experienced blood loss, which confuses Carson until Kate explains that she'd had a bullet hole in her.

“Get up here and dial the gate, Rodney.” John calls. “I know you can’t wait to go back to being ‘in charge’.”

“Ha, ha, Colonel. Do you think I like being right?” Rodney snarks. “Well, do you? The new IOA rules are idiotically stupid – this is proof that the first emergency throws them out the window!”

“Well, why do you think I got Caldwell to approve removing you from the city. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so surprised, ever.”

Teyla holds Kate's hand all the way home.

*

Kate thinks sometimes that she ought to request a new psychologist from the SGC because it's becoming impossible to maintain any kind of professional distance with people she's lived and slept with, platonic or otherwise. Every therapist needs therapy, and she’s no exception.

It’s three days later and Kate once again finds herself in her office after the sun sets. This time the sunset's brilliant, orange and reds streaking across the sky before sinking into the ocean; the water below lightly cresting against the city, calmly, unlike her state of mind.

She’s finding herself in the same position she was in before the entire incident on M8C-599 even began. In the middle, between a friend and… well, she’s not even sure what’s right any more. But she knows that she wishes she never set eyes on the IOA's evaluation request on Elizabeth’s actions.

“You work more than I do,” Rodney comments from her doorway.

Kate sighs. “Therapy or gossip?” she asks, trying for some light humor.

“Actually,” Rodney comes all the way into her office, letting the door close behind him. “A bit of business.” He hands her a printout, looking sheepish. Kate unfolds the paper.

“Self destruct codes? You’ve got to be kidding!” This wasn’t funny, but Rodney was shaking his head, indicating this wasn’t a joke.

“Welcome to the command structure,” Rodney says wryly. “Congratulations, if both Elizabeth and I become incapacitated, you’re in charge.”

Kate gapes. Seriously, she's got enough responsibility, she didn’t need this as well. “But what about Carson, and Radek?” Rodney says that they both agreed. If Elizabeth and he were taken out, then Carson would be too busy in the infirmary and Radek would be trying to keep the city in one piece. She's to memorize the codes, then destroy the paper they're printed on.

“In that case, I need a therapist.”

“You need therapy?” Rodney asks, quirking the side of his mouth.

“Don’t be obtuse. I need help here.” Kate moves to the chair by the window and Rodney sits down opposite her. “I can’t continue to handle the high turnover of Pegasus Initiation Shock, Rodney. As soon as I get them adjusted, their rotation’s up and they go back to the SGC.” Kate thinks about how to say what she needs to. “Besides, I should start re referring some of you out; it’s never wise to treat close friends.” And some of the two way insights were getting uncomfortable.

“Sorry, sorry. Business, right. I did say business.”

"Besides,” Kate points out, “don’t tell me that you'd feel comfortable talking to me about certain things – especially if it meant you getting cleared to go off-world or not –“

"None of that’s likely to ever come up –"

"But it shouldn’t. We shouldn’t let it."

"Okay. Jesus, all right! No need to blackmail me!"

"I just want my patients to have the freedom to get therapy from someone they don’t have to fear judging them, as a friend, for their feelings."

“Kate, please. In my case, we’ve established long ago that I don’t have feelings.“

Kate laughs.

"But I get it. You don’t want to know all my dirty little secrets; but at the same time, you want oversight if a problem turns up. This is," Rodney snaps his fingers twice, “all about oversight. Kind of like that thing about Elizabeth. “

She's startled. “Did you hack my files?”

“Oh please, no. Sheppard got one, too. You walked in on us arguing about it.”

“That day in the transporter, with the printout you had.” Kate remembers.

“He was going to tell Elizabeth, despite instructions not to tell anyone about it. I had to convince him it wasn’t in anyone’s best interest. If he’d told, and the wrong people found out, he would have been up on charges so fast that even if the court martial found him innocent he’d have still lost Atlantis.”

Kate doesn’t ask him if he’s received a request for an evaluation on Elizabeth’s command as well, guessing that he probably has. Given the information he’s just disclosed that Kate wasn’t the only one who received one during the last databurst, Kate’s able to place Rodney’s twitchy behavior about Elizabeth going off-world into new context: she’s been leaving herself open to criticism. Kate’s suddenly glad that Rodney announced to the sciences that the problem on M8C-599 was the result of a moody Ascended who wanted communion and understanding. Rodney hadn’t been sympathetic during his own interaction, but he’d thought of Elizabeth when he was being encouraged to ‘escape’ the Lumen park and merge with the Ascended.

“We seriously got lucky this time around, Kate,” Rodney’s leaning forward in his chair, no trace of his sarcastic persona around. “When it comes right down to it, the Lux incident can be laid at my feet: the Ascended followed me home. The SGC wants the military in charge, and the IOA wants more control. They’d use this as a reason, a bad reason, but a reason to call Elizabeth back to Earth and endlessly question her.”

What Rodney doesn’t say is that John would follow Elizabeth back to Earth, should they replace her.

Interestingly, Carson was right when he suggested, that first night in the infirmary, that the Ascended read Rodney’s mind. It learned enough to find and influence Elizabeth, who studied obsessively until she found the answers. Once Elizabeth found the Ascended’s story in the Lux historical records, revealing a woman who had lived in isolation nearly until her death, her ascension witnessed by a lone hiker, the alien influence inspiring Elizabeth’s tunnel-vision dedication about her research dissipated.

That dissipation also coincided with Kate’s accidental beaming down and attack on the planet. Kate had needed a blood transfusion even though she had no open wounds. If Ronon hadn’t tracked her trail she would have still died, for the Ascended didn’t completely heal her. If it planned to, Colonel Sheppard’s team interrupted while it was trying to convince her to go with it. Also her migraines had subsequently returned to normal levels. Well, for her, anyway.

“You know, Teyla doesn’t want to, you know, marry Kahn,” Rodney says.

“Kanaan, not Kahn. And, what?” Kate’s startled by the sudden topic change.

“Jump a broom? Go with? Sign Domestic Partnership Paperwork? Cornshuck? Whatever,“ he waves a hand, “Athosians do.”

Kate feels herself go very still. She’s not ready to talk about Teyla just yet. After returning from Lux she’s distanced herself again. Teyla’s on New Athos: she promised Halling to train others, including Kanaan, in Pegasus trade negotiation.

“Not that she told me this, or anything,” Rodney continues, seemingly oblivious. “But she has been a team-mate three years now, so I’d like to think I know when something's making her miserable and not just exasperated.”

Teyla’s been on New Athos for two days now, with Kanaan. Kanaan, who Kate’s well aware has never approved of her friendship with Teyla, feeling she was drawing Teyla away from Athosian ideas, and most of all, Teyla’s "Athosian Duty".

“I don’t have any rights here, Dr. McKay.” Kate reverts to a distant, formal façade, as if that could change the situation. Any rights she might have had about what Teyla did had faded with the Tria; she wants to weep.

Rodney looks as if he wants to protest. “But it’s obvious how much you two care about each other. Even I can see it, and you know how I’m oblivious about these –“

“I let her down, Rodney. We already proved we’d go back once –“

“None of us had a choice!”

“Internal Athosian politics aren’t any of our business.” Stop it, she wants to rail. Please, just stop.

“I think that’s crap; and deep down, so do you.”

“And what happens the next time Earth recalls the expedition?” Kate asks dully. Please, please, drop it, Rodney, she thinks.

Kate’s holding his gaze, scarcely daring to breathe; and prepares to cut Rodney off should he protest again. Instead, Rodney studies her intently, his eyes darting away to the night’s cityscape of lights outside her office window. Kate abruptly realizes the furrows in his forehead match her own.

“You know,” Rodney whispers. “I think I just wanted to know that someone in this universe could be happy.”

“I know,” Kate says, making an effort to relax and lean away from her desk. Stretching and kneading her hands, she looks out past the cityscape to the rippling water, into the darkness. Starlight reflects off the ocean, creating a moving sheen of glass. Startled, she realizes Rodney’s still studying her in the reflection. She hears, more than sees, him take a deep breath, and when he exhales, he looks miserable.

“Hey, you never quite told me what’s making you so upset about John and Elizabeth as a couple.”

“I said this was business.”

“And then you turned to meddling, so now it’s therapy.” Kate rolls her eyes.

“If Colonel Wildhair breaks her heart, she’ll fire him, and then where will he be? On Earth, that’s where!”

Kate laughs at Rodney’s thin excuse at covering for missing time spent with his best friend.

“Rodney, is this about John dating Elizabeth, or about you dating Katie? Because you and I both know Elizabeth isn’t going to fire Colonel Sheppard over a lonely heart break-up. I know you and Katie had dinner before the ascension machine incident –“

Rodney cringes. The subject still makes him unhappy.

“But you haven’t taken things any further, why is that?”

Rodney looks Kate, blue eyes wide. “I’ve been worried about Sam,” he finally says.

Kate shakes her head. “No, I don’t think that’s it. I know you care greatly for Sam; but regardless of whether or not she comes back into phase, you’ll still be here in Atlantis.”

“Come on, Kate. If I take one wrong step around Katie Brown, Parrish’ll eviscerate me. He’s as protective as an older brother… bull dog… thing.”

Kate sighs, and tries again. Rodney can be… bull headed himself, when he doesn’t want to look at something.

“I think you’re looking for reasons not to be happy. Promise me this: look at the situation with Katie again, and see where you want it to go. I think it’s time for you to decide to commit to a fulfilling relationship with her, or let it fall by the wayside and remain just friends. As for the situation with Colonel Sheppard, I think you just need to give it time before your normal friendship resumes. But it will. Resume, that is.

As for her own situation with Teyla, Kate just needs to give it time before she doesn’t hurt.

Later, when Kate finishes her letter to Stargate Command regarding Elizabeth, she truly hopes the consequences won’t be disastrous for the expedition. Even though Kate can explain away the Lux incident through a series of miscommunications and an alien influence, it marks another example of Elizabeth’s growing obsession with ascension. She hesitates to word anything so strongly, however, because she’s afraid she may not be truly objective. Rodney’s right: The SGC will use anything possible to remove Elizabeth and install a military command, while the IOA will use any detrimental conclusions as a way to assert more control over Earth’s most distant outpost.

Kate’s feelings roil in turmoil as she thinks of her recent planet-side ordeal. Shuddering, she remembers the remote and distant feelings evoked by the ascended being on Lux, and wonders why anyone would want to achieve that state. It wasn’t living, and Kate wants to live. Carson theorizes that she might be able to ascend if she worked toward it, due to her interaction and healing, based on her slightly increased synaptic activity. She doesn’t plan to work toward it. Kate doesn’t want to die.

As Kate saves her files for encryption and compression, she takes comfort that she’s not alone in dealing with these clandestine paperwork games. She knows for certain that John, and most likely Rodney, received a request for a similar command effectiveness evaluation. Taking out the issue on Ascension, Kate’s friendship with Elizabeth might still make her far from ideal to write any such evaluation. She hopes any action, or inaction on her part, won’t destroy those she holds close. That time really is what the situation needs.

*

Kate’s exhausted when she finally makes it back to her room.

"I had wondered when you would return to your quarters."

She startles at the voice in the darkness. Light floods the room.

"Teyla?"

Teyla's seated at the desk, hands folded in her lap. She's dressed in her leather Athosian vest, which Kate always thought complemented Teyla’s warm skin tones with the way it bared her arms and stomach.

"I thought you were on New Athos," Kate says. She didn't expect to see Teyla this soon, or in such an intimate setting.

"I returned some time ago. You were working and I didn't want to disturb you."

Teyla's pulling Kate away from the door by her hand.

"But," Kate's still confused. "I don’t understand. I thought Kanaan-"

"Kate, I do not plan to leave you." Teyla seats them both on the bed. She sighs, fingering the woven tapestry bedspread, a gift she gave Kate when she returned from Earth, still raw and aching with grief from her sister's loss. Teyla presses her forehead to Kate's, and Kate feels a swelling of emotion. She normally pushes it down as far as she can, but this unexpected gift is undoing her thin control. “Perhaps I have neglected to explain myself?”

Teyla kisses Kate softy, then pulls back. "While it is true that my people wish for me to have a child, and yes, Kanaan has presented himself to me as a... candidate, I am not willing to give up the happiness we have found together, Kate. I am selfish. Besides, I made inquiries. Dr. Beckett explained to me that there are other ways to have children. Please have faith in us: I do."

The tension’s so tightly wound within Kate that she thinks she might break. Her arms are shaking and she’s convulsively swallowing. She can’t breathe.

“Kate?”

"Oh, Teyla!" Kate breaks apart in Teyla's arms. She cries for Siobhan, beautiful Siobhan, who had long red hair and bright green eyes that mirrored her own. And she cries for herself, because she still misses her so very much. Teyla reassures with shushing sounds as she attempts contain herself. "I thought I'd never see you again!" Yes, this hurt her both times, on Earth and on Lux, when she nearly died. She can’t rid herself of the knowledge: she nearly left Teyla behind forever. Each time Kate returned from near death she'd convinced herself that Teyla was better off with someone else. Someone here in Pegasus who wouldn't leave her behind. She thought it was better for Teyla, but she now realizes she was pushing her away in order to protect herself.

As Kate tries to explain some of this, incoherent through her tears, Teyla shakes her head. "Death can come for us at any time. I know this as much as anyone. What is important is that you did not leave, not this time. I expect no promises, Kate; only that you will allow me to love you, and be with you, as long as possible."

Now Teyla's kissing her tears away from her face, and Kate fleetingly thinks back to the Ascended on Lux, to that urge to escape she’d felt, combined with a deep sense of loneliness and loss that followed the detachment. She wonders if it healed her instead of taking her away, because of her attachment to life, and to Teyla’s life in particular. Kate will likely never know. She also thinks about her earlier conversation with Rodney, about his turmoil regarding John and why he was holding himself back from a fulfilling relationship with Katie. Give the situation time, she’d told him, but don't forget to live your life in the meantime.

She needs to start taking her own advice; it's time to live her life again.

"I can do that," Kate finally says, smiling, her tears dried up. "If you allow me the same."

The night stretches before them. Outside the window, Atlantis' light disperses the darkness.