Chapter 1: Past and Present
Yeah God love your soul and your aching bones
Take a breath, take a step, meet me down below
Everyone's the same
our fingers to our toes
We just can't get it right
But we're on the road
One Republic – All Fall Down
The Stargate Program was the most prestigious and secretive project that Doctor Cassandra Pierce had ever had the pleasure of been involved in. Even now as she stood in the make shift Infirmary that she and Doctor Carson Beckett had temporarily constructed she could scarcely believe that she was light years, galaxies even away from home. One step through the Stargate was literally stepping into a completely different universe and she found that despite the rumours and stories she had heard about the original Lost City of Atlantis, the real thing was far beyond the means of her imagination.
Cass had spent the past four years as a field medic working for the military in Afghanistan and for a brief period before that Iraq. She was used to travelling, hell she even enjoyed the return trips to the dusty foreign countries because of the sense of pride she felt when she stepped off that air-plane with the intention of doing some good for both her countries soldiers and the poorer people who required aid throughout the area.
Carson had allegedly selected her for her reputation of working in some of the most heinous of conditions with the bare minimum of field tools at her service. The stories associated with her were far fetched and wildly exaggerated but some of them were true and apparently those were the ones that counted. Her field experience and ability to adapt were second to none.
Doctor Carson Beckett also had reputation that preceded him. He was an excellent surgeon who worked on the cutting edge of medical technology and a brilliant geneticist. The two of them didn't run anywhere near the same circles. Yet Cass had found him remarkably welcoming when she had first accepted the job as his second in command and field medic. Realistically she had foreseen the Chief Medical Officer to be superior and aloof but Carson was anything but. His friendliness had surprised even her and she found herself being accepted onto his team without a second thought.
Cass used her slender hand to brush her dark fringe out of her sapphire coloured eyes before her nimble fingers unclipped the straps holding her empty, olive green canvas bag she had 'borrowed' after her employment had been transferred over to Stargate Command. Her sleek, straight black hair was gathered into a neat bun at the base of her neck to keep it out of her way while she packed for the off world expedition to a nearby planet called Athos.
"It's gonna take a lot of getting used to living 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea'." Carson quipped in his broad Scottish accent as his gaze strayed to the ceiling above them.
Cass wondered briefly if he was looking for cracks the same way she had when they had arrived on Atlantis four hours earlier. Despite the fact every single person involved in the expedition to the Pegasus Galaxy had been briefed and then re-briefed, the information they had been given simply didn't do the marvellous underwater city any justice.
Cass was still enough of a civilian to be unnerved by the fact they were currently living God knows how many metres under the sea. She didn't understand the science behind it but as she had been told there was a shield cloaking the city from being crushed by the gallons of water pressure pushing down upon it.
Carson was worried, she could tell by the crinkle at the edges of his eyes as he wiped his right hand over his tired features. His dark eyebrows were furrowed into a rigid crease as he sorted methodically through the boxes of supplies they had brought along with them to their new home. There had been no point in unpacking everything from the plastic containers they harboured since they'd heard the news regarding the possible relocation.
At the time they had entered the city through the Stargate, Doctor Rodney McKay, who Cass had heard deemed by himself and various others as a genius, had informed them that their contact with Earth had been completely severed upon arrival. If that wasn't potentially ominous, he had followed up with an announcement declaring that the shield that was holding back the sheer magnitude of water outside beginning to fail. Effectively they were stranded on a sinking ship.
Their options were limited at best, Doctor Elizabeth Weir and Major John Sheppard were currently gathering a contact team to venture off of their own planet, where Atlantis was currently anchored and onto Athos, a nearby planet that McKay had selected. It was hoped that the exploration of Athos may possibly lead them to either find a source of energy in order to power the once lost city or to locate an area in which they could set up a new base of operations in case Atlantis did fail.
Time was of the essence in this case and she had been instructed by Weir and Colonel Sumner to make the journey with his team in case they were in need of a medic and as Weir had more delicately put it, to make nice with the world's inhabitants. Offer them free medical care and you make a friend for life, Cass thought or rather she hoped in the direness of their current situation.
"I'd say that there's no such thing as Captain Nemo or the Nautilus but I didn't believe in intergalactic space travel up until eight months ago." Cass returned light heartedly in response to Carson's initial words.
The two of them had been trying to banter between themselves for the past ten minutes, ever since they had heard of the complex array of issues that plagued their expedition. Cass was scared, she would readily admit that if asked but fear was useless here. It wasn't proactive, it didn't help their situation and she knew that Carson felt the same way.
They were doctors and they saw the facts as if they were laid out like a list of symptoms. People depended on them and they were accustomed to that feeling but this was a completely different experience entirely in all respects. Never before had Cass been asked to venture on a mission as important as the one that stood before her. This was about survival, not just her own but of their small delegation and they were swiftly running out of time.
The mutual reliance on each other in their small dedicated team was a bond she knew would be hard to fracture in the face of adversity. The fact she was carrying a weapon of her own made her feel more confident about the fact they were stepping into uncharted territory despite the fact the Colonel didn't trust her to handle anything heavier than a Glock. She knew the militarists of the group would lay down their lives in an instant but having someone that Cass herself had a brief, fleeting connection with made what she was about to do the tiniest bit easier.
Major Sheppard was the type of guy to have your back if things got a little wild out there. She had seen the evidence of that last year when she had treated him for shrapnel injuries that he had received off duty by diving over an Afgan child when a car bomb had exploded inside the country's capital. It had been the insurgent's intention to kill and maim the crew of American soldiers who had been enjoying a rare free night amongst the people of the city they were fighting to protect. He had been the only causality of the event thankfully and even then his wounds had been superficial.
Cass had removed seventeen individual fragments of glass and metal from the Major's back that night, all of the wounds shallow since he had been just on the very cusp of the blast radius. The back of his white shirt had been shredded and charred when she'd asked him to remove it. He had complained humorously about the state of his favourite shirt as Cass carefully removed each of the shards from the firm, muscular grooves of his skin.
Cass had politely ignored the quiet, deep intakes of breath John took whenever she was forced to become a little rough, yanking out the offending, foreign objects lodged in his fine, muscular structure. He never cursed at her, not once, which was a welcome change for Cass. Usually she was on the front line of a barrage of expletives. John's rapport was jovial and flirtatious,, barely slowing as she went to work on yet another area of his back. Cass had to hand it to him, the Major had a high threshold for pain.
By the time she had finished up with the stitches, John was insisting the two of them needed to be on a first name basis just in case one of his stitches popped open and he needed to contact her again. Cass had rolled her eyes at this but she had complied. There was a mysterious twinkle in his hazel eyes and the stories he had told during their last few hours together had made her laugh so hard at one point she'd had to put the tweezers down.
"I gotta say that's the best first date I've had in a long time." he teased her with that devil may care smile.
Cass passed him the sky blue, scrub shirt admiring the view of his taunt, well sculptured chest as he pulled the material over his head and down past his waist. He raised his dark eyebrows as she met his gaze head on. She didn't look away and neither did he as his large hands untangled the dog tags from the collar. There was a connection brimming between them, one she couldn't withdraw from even if she tried.
"Was it the part where I handed the bloody shrapnel back to you in a jar or the stitches?" Cass countered, folding her arms over her chest with a tired smile.
"I admit that last one where you had wriggle it around before you got it out had it's moment." John shot back, shaking the small jar in his right hand so that the shrapnel jingled.
"I knew you were a masochist at heart." she informed him, stripping off her latex gloves and tossing them in the waste bin.
"Doesn't that make you a sadist Cassie?" he joked, that smile making her heart rate accelerate just a little at the use of a nickname that hadn't been spoken in years.
"Nobody calls me Cassie any more." she reminded him from their previous conversation.
The look in his eyes told her everything and she understood what she saw there more than he could possibly imagine. John was creating a fragment of intimacy in the vast loneliness that stretched before the two of them and for some undisclosed reason Cass let him.
For a second their defences had fallen and she was seeing his boyishly, sweet nature instead of the hardened military man who had initially stepped into her medical tent. She had no idea what he was seeing when he looked into her eyes but she could feel his acceptance there deep inside her.
"I know you." he had said, looking startled by his own confession.
"I know you too."
The words had slipped off her tongue with no control from her brain. Her emotions were overriding her mind and blurting out that knowledge from the depths of her chest. It was impossible, they hadn't laid eyes on each other before today but the compulsions she felt towards him were undeniable.
John's face changed as the walls slammed back down and they both shifted back into their natural, guarded masks. The words that had passed between them had vanished and Cass felt like she was looking into a face set in stone as John stretched out his hand to shake hers.
"It was nice to meet you Doctor." he had said.
Cass had shook it firmly as she spoke.
"You too Major."
Cass let out a deep sigh as she packed her field kit with focused precision as Carson handed her item after item that they had agreed upon for basic medical aid. In the months before their trip through the wormhole they had spent hours conferring with other teams of doctors who made haphazard trips through the Stargate in order to get a grasp with the kind of situations they were likely to be facing.
Each one of their meetings had brought something new to the table and both Carson and her had perfected procedures and drawn up lists of the possible supplies they needed. In principle Cass's field kit was practically the same as the one she had carried back in Afghanistan with a few pieces of Carson's advanced medical technology thrown in to help diagnosis anything she hadn't encountered before.
"We'll be ok lassie." Carson said into the silence between them as Cass fastened the straps and adjusted them until they were pulled tight.
His warm, reassuring hand clasped her shoulder, squeezing in a soothing manner. They had become fond of each other in the short time they had worked together, their relationship of a sibling nature. They knew there was a possibility that this mission was dangerous, the first ever trip through a Stargate had resulted in a war with the Goa'uld and numerous deaths and causalities on their side.
"Wish me luck." Cass requested, glancing at him over her shoulder as she brought the strap of the field kit over her head so it was settled across her body, the bag resting comfortably just underneath her hip.
"Aye, you won't need it." Carson told her with a confidence that Cass herself didn't feel in the slightest.
She gave Carson her own grim smile as they heard the door to the Infirmary hiss open behind them.
"Are you ready?" Major Sheppard's husky, deep voice asked her as he stood just inside the doorway.
Cass angled her body towards him, meeting his hazel eyes with an intensity she didn't realize she was exhibiting. He still looked as good as the day he had stepped into her medical tent over a year ago. Defended though, she thought as she took in his stance. Alike her, he was always on his guard. In the precarious situation they were about to step into they needed to be.
"I'm ready." she said, striding towards him in long quick steps.
As she strode through the doorway, a footstep behind Major Sheppard she heard Carson's soft Scottish lilt echoing in the quiet behind her.
"Good luck lass."
Chapter 2: Bonding
Do you ever feel already buried deep?
6 feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you
Katy Perry - Firework
Athos wasn't much different to their own home planet, Cass thought as she lingered inside the Healing Hut, jogging the wailing infant in her arms trying to settle him to sleep. The Stargate on this planet was housed in the center of a grassy knoll with a small incline amongst a field full of wild flowers. The area they seemed to have stepped onto was extremely rural, not much different from the areas of farmland and forest back on Earth.
If she was honest Cass had been expecting something much stranger and surreal from all the Sci Fi movies she used to watch before she'd agreed to this expedition. It was her first time off world, she was a virgin compared to the experiences of Colonel Sumner and his team. Lieutenant Ford had sniggered at her comment as they'd stepped deeper into this interesting new world.
Lieutenant Aiden Ford was one of the military men that Cass had developed a brief rapport with during their short time on Atlantis. He had been one of the soldiers that had helped her and Carson carry the medical supplies through and set up the temporary infirmary. His youth was apparent from his babyfaced complexion but he made up for his lack of experience with dedication that Cass had seen in many of the more successful Marines.
After initial contact with the inhabitants of the planet, their group had been led into a small village harboured in the remoteness of the forest. It had been nightfall when they had stepped through the Stargate. At first Cass had been nervous of the darkness despite the fact she had her own weapon and set of night-vision goggles. Being apprehensive was part of her nature, she had been unnerved at the possibilities they faced.
At the crack of dawn they had sat down around the camp fire with the Athosians for their daily tea ritual and after that Cass had found herself working tirelessly on the throng of people that paraded through what the Athosians deemed the Healing Hut. She had spent the day working alongside their own Holistic Doctor Cyrus Lylimpa scribbling down notes on effective treatments and herbs that may serve some purpose in the future. In return Cass had offered the Athosians aid and her services in their Healing Hut for the day.
There had been a lot of people swarming around the Healing Hut in the early hours of the morning. Cyrus, a rotund man who reminded Cass of the traditional Budda statue, had told her the Healing Hutt was barely this busy. His suspicion was that people were really here to converse with Cass, herself as proposed to receiving treatment.
With Cyrus's permission she had indulged each member of the congregation outside, attempting to heal their ailments whilst listening closely to their stories and learning the ways of their culture. The Athosians were a proud race of people, to Cass that much was clear.
Cass was juggling a crying infant in the crook of her right arm as she rubbed the palm of her left hand across the baby boy's belly. The child was sick with colic. Cyrus had given his mother a draught to drink because she was still nursing and according to Cyrus, that and a little tummy rubbing seemed to go a long way to soothing the infant's pain.
Cyrus had been right of course, the baby was now grumbling instead of that full ear piercing shriek that had rattled through her ear drums when Nola, the mother had first entered. Cyrus had sent the other woman home in order to get some rest while the two of them cared for the little one.
"That's better isn't it little guy?" Cass murmured to the baby boy, her fingertip chucking him under the chin as he stared back at her with blinking, curious eyes. "Your a lot cuter when your not making a racket."
"I gotta tell you I never pegged you to be a dab hand with babies Doc." Major John Sheppard said from the doorway of the Healing Hut, his hazel eyes flickering to Cyrus. "May I enter?"
John's respect for these people had surprised Cass greatly. She had expected him to follow Colonel Sumner's abrupt, dismissive approach of the Athosians instead he was caring and compassionate, smoothing over the initial ripples of their gruff introductions with friendliness and humour.
Cyrus placed his hands together as if in prayer before he nodded his approval. John thanked the other man for his hospitality by mimicking the gesture before stepping inside the simple structure.
"I wanted to tell you that Colonel Sumner is taking a small crew of men out to the Ancient City." he told her in a hushed tone before lowering his gaze to the baby in her arms.
John held out his finger allowing the baby to wrap his minuscule hand around it as he waved his tiny fists. John rose his eyes to meet hers, that boyish grin breaking across his features making Cass's heart rate to pick up just a little at this relaxed version of him. She was seeing John Sheppard, the man, all over again as opposed to his counter part The Major.
"Do you really think that's a good idea?" Cass asked quietly, bending her head close so that Cyrus would not be able to hear her part of the conversation. "Considering what they told us about these things called the Wraith?"
"I'm not the one in charge." John reminded her, wiggling his finger from side to side in order to play a new type of game with the baby boy. "I'm going out of the village with Teyla, she wants to show me something. Lieutenant Ford and his team are by the Stargate, if you need anything head to them. Otherwise I'll swing by and pick you up."
"Cool, I'll probably be somewhere around here making use of myself." Cass told John glancing around the Healing Hut pointedly as she cradled the infant close.
"By making extra money babysitting?" John teased, withdrawing his finger as Cass began to wrap the infant in what looked like a home made, patchwork swaddling blanket.
"Weren't you the one that suggested making friends?" Cass retorted as he took the corner of the blanket from her busy fingertips and tucked it neatly underneath the baby's chin.
"I meant with people our own age." John said light heartedly before crossing his arms over his broad chest. "I have to admit seeing you talking to these people makes you look less uptight and serious."
"Uptight?" Cass repeated, her sapphire blue eyes narrowing at his words.
"No..." John drew out the word as he grimaced, rubbing the back of his dark head sheepishly. "I gotta go Teyla's waiting."
"I think that's for the best." Cass said, shaking her head with a small smile at his antics.
"Ah so you do smile." John remarked, raising his eyebrows.
Even just a tiny wattage of that bright smile made something inside him settle. He hadn't realized that he'd been seeking that pretty ray of sunlight and when he saw it his heart seemed to stop in his chest. It was clear what he saw when he looked at Cass and he struggled valiantly against the strange, wanting feeling. Even as he did he knew that he was failing miserably.
Cass was everything that embodied a sense of well being and homeliness for him and he had yet to understand why. It's like a piece of himself was slotting back inside him when the two of them stood together. A fun and happier version of himself. Contentment was never a word that John associated with himself. He felt foolish and undeserving of the way this woman made him feel but he couldn't help respond to the connection, he wasn't in complete control any more than she was.
"About as much as you talk about Ferris Wheels." she shot back as she set the baby down in the Moses basket which doubled as both a carrier and a bed.
If he remembered it was her banter or rather 'their' banter that he liked so much about Cass in the beginning. It was hard to find a woman who could keep up with his smart ass comments and even more difficult to keep one in regards to his job. He had been married once, secrets had rotted his relationship with Nancy from the inside out. He couldn't be there for her when she needed him, his job took him away on classified assignments way too often to maintain anything stable. In short John had learned that he had no business offering himself to anybody else, he didn't have anything to give.
Yet every time he heard Cass laugh it sounded like a classical quartet plucking at every single one of the chords deep inside him. He wished it could be different for them but there was nothing certain in his future. A relationship was out of the question but a friendship, he could deal with that. Just being near her was enough for him right now.
"I do like Ferris wheels." he confirmed as Cass twisted to face him again.
They had known each other barely twenty hour hours in total if he included Afghanistan and their brief happenings on Atlantis but somehow he felt like he knew her better than he knew anyone else back home on Earth.
The time they shared had always been fleeting but it was forging a connection so deep that he could feel it throbbing in the depths of his soul. It strengthened with every word, glance and expression they exchanged. John wanted to learn what made her tick. He pushed back the compulsion with every fibre of his being.
By now he was used to being alone and he enjoyed the freedom but there was something to be said for sharing himself with somebody else. He had bore the weight of his own burdens for far too long now, he was starting to find it exhausting.
"And anything that goes faster than two hundred miles an hour." Cass recounted, pointing at him with her forefinger as she spoke.
"And you like Chinese food and hate the snow." he reminded her with a knowing look.
The expression on Cass's face at the revelation was worth making the comment. He guessed she had suspected that her words had gone in one ear and out the other just like she must have experienced with other men. The thought of other men in Cassie's life sent a deep feral protectiveness pulsating through him and he extinguished that almost immediately.
Friends, John chided himself.
Despite the way he had left the infirmary back in Afghanistan, for weeks after he had not been able to stop thinking of the pale skinned, dark haired doctor who had treated his injuries. The crippling lonesomeness that he saw residing inside of her mirrored his own. John considered whether this was part of his attraction to her, they shared the same broken pieces he thought. To other people they both hid it well.
"So you aren't just a pretty face." Cass responded to his words with a bite of humour.
"I don't know whether to be honoured or offended." John informed her, putting a hand to his chest in mock modesty.
"Go." Cass gestured with her dainty hand waving him off. "Your keeping our new friend waiting."
"I'll be back." he saluted with two fingers and a wink.
"Did you really just quote Terminator Two at me?" Cass laughed, her dark fringe falling across her face as she shook her head in dismay.
There it was again, that familiar surprised giggle that haunted his nights after he'd met her in Afghanistan. It seemed ridiculous back then, thinking about a woman he had spent only a few hours in the company of but when he was standing here in front of her he understood why.
There was a calming influence to Cass, one that only true healers exhibited. He had seen it rarely within his world but he knew that she possessed the ability to sooth people. It was mesmerizing to see it in action.
The people of this village had been edgy and alarmed by their arrival. They had seen their team as intruders upon their peaceful existence and in a way he couldn't blame them for that. Slowly he hoped that they were changing the villagers minds. Teyla seemed to have a little faith in him but the others were still weary. Maybe with time that would all change, they could do with a few friends in this new universe.
"See it's much more fun when other people get what I'm saying." John told her, flashing one last glimpse of his smile before waving goodbye.
It was nighttime again when all hell had broken loose. It had been the sound of Lieutenant Ford's confused and troubled voice over the radio that had alerted Cass to the beginnings of a problem. She was on her feet in seconds leaving the shelter of the camp fire she had been sitting at with Cyrus and some of the other villagers to order to receive the transmission again.
As soon as she'd pressed the button to request a repeat, she was deafened by the roar of what she could only describe as a dart-like space ship zooming across the sky above her.
"Doctor Pierce to all units, they're flying over the village as we speak." she yelled into the radio over the chaos that was starting to break loose around her.
People were running in all directions, gathering up their children as they abandoned their homes before plunging into the deepest depths of the forest. In the uproar she could hear their screaming echoing in her ears as the word 'Wraith' was sounded like a call of alarm. It was insane to see so many people pushing and shoving each other in a bid to clear the village. She had seen instances like this before in Afghanistan and it never ended well.
Cass didn't know what the Wraith were but alike the people of the village there wasn't a chance in hell she was sticking around to find out. Something that asserted this much fear over people had to be something terrible. Her fingertips were already slipping across the holster on her hip, her finger flicking open the popper button as she pulled the Glock out from it's sheath.
There were shadows surrounding her, beings she could only catch a glimpse of out of the corner of her eye. It was like trying to grasp at smoke, it flitted away from her in an instant. Cass whirled around, her hands locked tightly around her weapon as she struggled to catch sight of the life form stalking her like prey.
A ball of flame erupted beside her, lighting up the dark night like a haze of fireworks as the hut beside her exploded. The sheer force of the searing, hot, blast knocked her off her feet. Cass hit the ground slapping out just like her Judo training had taught her.
The motion stopped the potentially crippling blow to her head and neck causing the shock to vibrate through her body. Her gun was gone, it had flew from her fingers and become lost in the sea of debris that had fallen down around her in the shell shocked seconds she'd spent writhing here on the ground.
Cass rolled onto her side, struggling to all fours, coughing as the rancid smoke filled her lungs. Her eyes were watering like crazy, blinding her as someone gripped her arm in a vice like grasp and yanked her completely to her feet.
"We need to get back to the gate, it's the best vantage point." Colonel Sumner was telling her over the ringing in her ears.
Cass allowed him to guide her until she found her footing once more. Her vision was clearing now and she could see the devastation that lay before them. The simple buildings were now smouldering hovels shrouded in thick black smoke that blocked out the stars above. Screams were echoing in her ears, shrieks of terror and torment prodding at her heart as beams of halogen swarmed the area.
A blast of light surrounded the two of them stopping them dead in their tracks. The brightness was debilitating, it tore at Cass's vision stripping it away as her limbs became limp and lifeless. Her mind was beginning to slip away, she could feel it vanishing as Colonel Sumner's gruff voice roared in her ears.
"What the hell..."
And then nothing at all.
Chapter 3: Equilibrum
Weir has to make some tough decisions regarding Atlantis's inhabitants.
I know that there's no turning back.
If we put too much light on this
We'll see through all the cracks.
David Cook - Lie
Major John Sheppard and Doctor Elizabeth Weir were standing on a balcony that neither of them had known existed until three minutes ago. It was stationed on the east side of the control room and it's entrance had been cleverly disguised as a wall. As Doctor Weir had said upon arrival, the city seemed to be anticipating their needs and accommodating for them.
Only ten minutes ago had Atlantis propelled itself upwards and out of the ocean, plunging through the freezing cold depths before breaking through the surface towards the dazzling sun. John had assumed this was one of the fail safes the Ancients had installed in case their generators depleted and he had to admit he was glad they had gotten around to that. Dying under a thousand feet's worth of water pressure had never appealed much to him.
Both of them leaned over the side of the balcony starring into the sea below them as the silence stretched between them. The waves were rippling calmly against the side of the stunning building as he began to construct his argument.
John was good at reading people. He knew what Weir was about to say before the words even exited her mouth and he was already strategically thinking up the right right road blocks to burn a hole in her logic. When taking on an opponent like Elizabeth Weir, one had to work on the same playing field that her mind did in order to gain some ground against the enemy. Shouting and screaming wasn't going to get him anywhere so he would play on her terms, challenge her intellect and valour.
He chanced a glance at her face to see her still shocked and awed at the sight before her. Adaptation was something that came easily to him. A balcony had appeared and he decided to use it, for Weir he understood it was more about the technical side of things, she questioned the reasoning behind the balcony being here.
"Let me guess, your not going to let me rescue our people." John began by breaking the silence.
Weir said nothing in return to his comment and he felt the familiar surge of anger and indignation fluctuate inside him. His emotions were running high as they always did in situations involving the lives of others. They were in the enemy's hands having god knows what done to them and that thought chewed at him. John couldn't afford to think of them as individuals, that would make the burden to bear even heavier but already his mind was throwing up images of their faces making the burning desire to rescue them even more real.
The strong, resilient Colonel Sumner, sweet demure Cassie Pierce and the quiet, reserved Sergeant Stackhouse. His new friend Teyla and some of her people were amongst the prisoners also and the urge to do something, anything was overwhelming. It was too late for John to turn back the clock but he could use all of the options viable to him at this current moment. He would never forgive himself if he didn't try.
"Major." Weir said finally, angling her body towards him as he paced with nervous energy. "You don't even know if they're alive."
"You don't leave people in the hands of the enemy." John shot back, his furious gaze fixing on Weir as he stood before her. "And the fact that we are even having this conversation in private let's me know that you know damn well that it's wrong and that it would totally undermine your leadership."
He paused for a second as Weir stared at him with dark eyes, stunned by his observation. She placed both hands behind her back and shifted her stance so that both her feet were parted. She was fortifying herself against his revelation and he was glad he'd smacked that card down on the table, appealing to her both her human nature and her role of leader of this expedition.
Clearly Weir expected to be having this conversation with a honour-toting jar head instead she was floored by his keen eye and deeper understanding of her situation. John had established his measure of her pretty quickly and now he was allowing her to do the same.
"So as ranking military officer..." he continued before she held up a hand to cut him off.
"Sorry, just shut up a moment alright?" she requested, snatching back her control of the situation.
John closed his mouth and clamped his lips together, trying to stem the rest of the argument that was on the very tip of his tongue. She was in charge here and she commanded his respect, there would be no mutual relationship between them if he didn't reward her with it.
"What do we really know about the Wraith?" she asked him with a flat, calm tone to her voice. "One of the things we do know is that their the enemy that defeated the Ancients."
John conceded to that information, drawing it in and storing it for later. He didn't know much about the civilization that pre-dated them but he gathered that they had been a powerful people, he was standing on top of the greatest evidence of that right now.
"When we first started using the Stargates on Earth, we got ourselves into serious trouble and why?" she prompted him, using a gesture he understood meant for him to continue the story.
And yet John couldn't. He didn't know anything about the history or the people she was talking about except for what the Hologram had told them, and the bits and pieces he'd picked up along the way. It frustrated him that she was using his lack of knowledge against him.
"I don't know that." he forced himself to admit.
"Because the people in charge didn't consider the ramifications before they reacted." Weir finished for him.
"But they took our people." he reminded her sharply, gesturing with his hands. "How am I supposed to react?"
"We're defenceless." Weir snapped,pointing out the obvious oversight. "You said so yourself."
That was another good point of hers. What use was a rescue mission if it put the larger volume of people at risk? From a personal stand point there was very little he could do to sooth the ferocious beast inside him, he despised being in this position even if it was his duty.
"How do you know going off on some half assed rescue mission isn't going to bring the Wraith right back here to our doorstep?" she questioned John without breaking his gaze.
"Maybe it will." he replied, his voice alarmingly level despite the vicious battle that was waging inside him. "But it's the right thing to do and why..."
He jabbed his finger at Weir pre-empting her next question.
"Because it is."
"John..." she implored, drawing out his first name in attempt to reconnect with him.
"If we're not gonna do this and I mean right now, let's just turn tail and pack up because their coming." he told Weir, pointing at the sky for empathises.
"You don't know that." she shook off his warning with the dismissive tone of her voice.
John was getting to her though, he could see it in her defensive posture. It was in the way she crossed her arms tightly over her chest and darted furtive glance at the white clouds rolling in across the otherwise clear blue sky.
"Our people are in the hands of the enemy Doctor, do you know what that means?" he asked her outright.
Weir tilted her head upwards and John took that as a sign to continue as he switched gears and prodded at the principles behind why she had been selected to govern this exhibition. He knew a thing or two about leadership and why she, of all people was here. He was drawing back the curtain like a magician to revel the bigger picture at play.
"It's just a matter of time before the Wraith figure out that this is the base of all our operations." he reminded her intentionally.
If he had to put the fear of God into this woman then he would if it obtained his goal. John could see the cogs turning behind Weir's eyes and he knew that already she was changing tactics and that meant on some level he was winning. He was forcing her to review her decisions as he laid down the implications in front of her like a grotesque game of chess.
"I just need more information, I mean who knows maybe I can negotiate a peaceful..."
"Peaceful?" John exclaimed as his mind flickered back to the stench of burning flesh that had filled his mouth and nostrils back at the village, the thought of it made him gag at the wastefulness of the Wraith. "We weren't there for more than a few hours before they showed up."
Something crossed Weir's mind, he could see something lurking behind those hazel orbs as his eyebrows furrowed into a frown, his lips pursed waiting for her words.
"Is it possible they came because of you?" she asked him, slipping into a more factual tone of voice.
It lead John to consider a wealth of possibilities as he diverted his gaze in thought over the ocean. His head was already nodding his agreement as his brain fired off words and images connecting the fragments of the loose ends together.
"And that one of these people you brought back with you tipped them off?" Weir persisted, referring to the Athosians refugees John had brought back to Atlantis.
"It's possible." John confessed, sounding hostile at the fact she had began to speak to him as if he were a child.
"See that is exactly the kind of snap decision I'm referring to." Weir pointed out, shaking her head.
"They're not bad all people." John told her, his voice touching some shred of humanity deep down inside her. "And if we're gonna stick around here, we're gonna need friends."
The position Elizabeth Weir was in was not an easy one and as she accepted his words she knew that he had won. He was right on so many different levels and in the end broken down her original resistance. He had bested her at this verbal chess game, his evidence was sound as was his logic and tactical observations. She had no doubt that she had just been manipulated and that was no mean feat on Major Sheppard's part.
"Ok." she finished quietly, nodding so he could see the depths of her understanding. "I see your point. Now you see mine."
They were creating an equilibrium between the two of them, a mutual respect as it were. The dynamic between the two was changing and John thought he could live with that. Doctor Weir was an open minded woman and she was glad she had taken on board his opinion. All that was left now was this final moment of truth.
"I will not authorise a rescue mission unless I am sure there is at least a remote chance of success. I'm not sending more good people including you to their deaths." she told him, her fists clenched by her sides.
John was seeing beyond the mask she portrayed, he could see the weight of those lives upon her shoulders as her eyes blazed daring him to challenge not just her authority but her humanity once more. He had pushed enough to get what he wanted it was now his turn to stand down and acknowledge her position in the chain of command.
"Ok." he spoke softly before bowing his head in acknowledgement and exiting the balcony in order to begin making plans.
Chapter 4: Patience
The rescue mission is launched and Sheppard is forced to deal with the aftermath.
Hold on to the past tense tonight
Don't say a word,
I'm OK with the quiet.
The truth is gonna change everything.
David Cook – Lie To Me
Patience had never been Cass's strong point, even now when the chips were down and the situation dire was she still blessed with her famous inability to wait. Her hands were wrought with agony, the indentations of their organic prison cell were etched into her palms. Her forearms and shoulders ached from the strain of the yanking and pulling that had occurred when her and Sergeant Stackhouse had attempted to dismantle the webbed door to their confined space.
Their escape attempts were thwarted by the steel-like rigidity of the door, Cass had flinched originally upon touching the fleshy consistency. It felt like skin beneath her fingertips and when her she wrapped her hands around the bars they reminded her of bone. There were claw marks in the walls from where the Atlosians they were trapped with had tried to scratch their way through the vacuous surface. There had been very little success on either front and now they had resigned themselves to sitting on the floor of their cell in order to conserve energy.
The Wraith had stripped them of everything but their clothes while they were unconscious from the debilitating tractor beam that had wrenched them unwillingly on-board this ship. It made Cass feel sick at the idea of their gnarled, blue claw-like hands anywhere near her body. Vulnerability was not feeling she was accustomed to, over the years she had erected a cold, hard shell between reality and her own inner sanctum. It was what gave her the clarity and ability to work within situations that other people would have deemed hopeless. There was no time for panic here, it would solve nothing if she allowed the icy tendrils that were squirming in her gut to get a full grip on her system. She breathed out through her mouth. The sensation of entrapment was the same as last time although their holding area was nicer.
Fifty two hours and counting. Cass thought as she sat besides Private Luke Mathews, tucked in closely beside his large hulking frame for comfort and warmth. His good arm was wrapped around her shoulders drawing her even closer together as they huddled against the freezing cold air that was beginning to descent on the cave they were confined to. Jagged rocks dripping with condensation poking against her spine as she rubbed her hands together in attempt to heat them. There had been four of them originally and now there were two. Both her and Luke had heard the gunshots periodically within hours of their companions being torn from their holding space and interrogated. It didn't leave much to the imagination in terms of their fate.
Her head was aching down the left side from the skirmish almost three days ago. It had been a routine check point out in the desert and before their vehicular had even drawn to a stop it had become a complete and utter nightmare. Guns had been thrust in their faces, the doors yanked open as Cass herself was dragged from the vehicular kicking and cursing. The last thing she had remembered was a loud cracking sound as excruciating pain exploded in her temple.
"We're going to have to fight them." Cass had uttered to Luke as her head span from the untreated concussion.
"I know." Luke had told her holding up his bandaged left hand.
The last time the insurgents had come to their cell, their degradation had been the worst so far. Speaking in fluent Arabic their eyes had flickered to the lone woman of the group as they framed one word in English so she would understand.
'One without faith.' she had remembered before they had spat in her face.
Luke's roar of indignation had echoed so violently through the caves as he lashed out at the leader of the group. She had heard the sickening crunch of bone when they had stamped on three of his fingers in a bid to punish him for his insolence. They had left soon after that with sneers and promises spoken with an intention that Cass had no trouble reading.
During that time she had managed to set Luke's broken fingers with a flat stone from the harsh, solid ground they were sitting on and thready fabric torn from his ragged T-shirt. It had hurt like a bitch, she knew as she forced his broken bones into a decent healing position but Luke had clenched the remains of his shirt between his teeth to stifle the cry of agony that escaped his throat.
They could hear the key turning in the decrepit lock already and it sent a lance of terror piercing through every fibre of her being.
"Cass, you have to fight this. I know your scared but it's the only way." Luke whispered into the darkness.
She swallowed hard past the lump in her throat and the fear that was constricting her chest as she spoke.
She stripped off her jacket from her shoulders leaving it in a heap upon the floor beside Luke. She pulled her t-shirt taunt over her athletic frame. They had one thing and one thing only to barter with and in the end she knew that they would take it no matter how she fought. She would rather die than let them have her and that's what she was preparing for right now. Death.
"If this goes wrong..."
The words were left unspoken between them as Luke tilted his head away ashamed by what the two of them had become reduced to.
"I'll kill you myself." he promised.
Seduction had never been her strong point but when her life depended on it she was passable it would seem. The insurgent had never seen it coming as she slipped his hunting knife from his belt under the guise of fumbling.
Killing him was the only sure fire way of getting out of this hell hole and Cass took his life with a methodical precision. She couldn't afford to stop to think about her actions, the moment she did she would crumble and her resolve would snap.
It was the sound of a chopper that had changed the game for Cass. As soon as she'd released Luke from the cell, the hum of the engine was punctuating through the air like a mechanical angel of mercy. Cass had never felt such relief flood through her veins before. It had taken twenty minutes for US forces to storm the cave and vanquish the enemy. The moment she saw the clean, pressed uniformed of the Marines Cass realized that she had never been so relieved to see anybody in her whole entire life.
The point was back then they had only had each other to rely on and Cass was finding herself now in the same dire, stringent situation. Only this time her hope was fading, she could feel it being drained and extinguished as the minutes ticked by. Colonel Sumner had been the first amongst their group to be taken and she was sure that he wouldn't be coming back. He was a stout military man, she had no doubt that he would do what he could to survive, all except give the Wraith the information they sought.
Cass wondered if she could be that strong in the face of this adversity. There were worse things than death and Teyla had detailed with that brutal honesty of hers that the Wraith were well versed in interrogation. From the information Cass had gleamed from the village and from Teyla and the other Athosians she was locked up with there Wraith were dispassionate and merciless.
From their briefest of meetings Cass had been able to tell as much. They appeared to be skulking vicious creatures, both wordless and intimating. They herded up humans like cattle, selecting their meals with no particular configuration. Their wrathful hissing had sent a compulsive shiver chasing up her spine that she hadn't expected as she had stood in the united front beside Teyla and Colonel Sumner shielding the weaker members of their group from their hungry stares.
Sergeant Stackhouse caught her eye and shook his head sullenly. Cass let out an exasperated sigh as she banged the back of her head lightly against the wall behind her in frustration at the knowledge that passed between them. There would be no rescue.
Their delegation of people lacked abilities to launch such an attempt on such an empowered enemy. They hadn't been on Atlantis long enough to recruit allies and the two of them knew that the focus on Doctor's Weir's mind would be of evacuating the giant underwater city. The greater good as it were.
The only slight chance they had was to rush the guards all at once but the problem with that plan was that the Wraith were not only more skilled and better equipped but they had also instilled such a sense of fear into most of the Athosians that it appeared they were willing to simply lie down and die. The only exception was Teyla making it three for three against an impossible enemy, still in Cass's mind it was better to die trying than to sit still while the Wraith sucked the life right out of her body.
"We're going to have to do this ourselves." Teyla said out loud as if reading her thoughts.
"We need to wait for Colonel Sumner to come back, then we can launch a rescue attempt. Four against three are better odds." Stackhouse recommended from his position in the corner.
"No offence Sergent but I don't think the Colonel is going to be coming back." Teyla told him sharply, before meeting Cass's eyes. "If we're going to do this we need to do it soon before they further deplete our number."
"We don't leave people behind, it's not our way, at least not without knowing for sure." Cass explained to Teyla as Stackhouse bristled beside her. "I know your the same way with your own people."
"It is true." Teyla agreed.
"So what?" Stackhouse questioned with sarcasm. "We just wait for the guards to arrive and rush them? Do you want me to detail all the flaws in that plan?"
"Or you could wait for someone with C4 to bust you out and take you back to their ship." John's husky whisper divulged through the bars of their cell as he fixed the tiny plastic explosive to the door.
Cass couldn't describe the feeling of elation she felt when she saw him standing there in his black combat gear. Lieutenant Ford was standing to the left hand side armed with his P-90 as he studied the corridor ahead. There was a hope in her heart and she knew it was akin to the other prisoners in the cell as they all rose to their feet huddling around the gate listening as he spoke in quiet, commanding tones. Teyla was answering his questions one after the other with adequate, full responses.
"Twenty minutes." John assured them before turning to Lieutenant Ford for confirmation. "If I'm not back in twenty minutes blow it up and take everybody back to the Puddle Jumper."
Cass wasn't the only one relieved by the his words, she could see the calmness descend over the cell like an invisible blanket. They weren't out of the woods yet but there was a clear sense of purpose in the air now. Freedom was barely a breath away and there was excitement in the air at the prospect.
Her sapphire eyes came to rest on the John's retreating back, watching as he flanked the left wall of the corridor that Colonel Sumner had been dragged down. She just hoped that twenty minutes was long enough for him to save the Colonel and get himself out of harms way.
The night sky over the city of Atlantis was truly sensational and John found himself trying to spot constellations he had once known the names to. The balcony was quiet and at the moment that's what he needed. His thoughts were scattered and incomprehensible as he held onto the coffee mug half full with untouched Moet champagne. It was an expensive brand back on Earth, one he would have gulped in an instant if he was in a celebrating mood but the truth was he simply wasn't. They had lost a man today, not a man really, but a hero and it had been by his own hand.
It had been Colonel Sumner's final wish that he put a bullet in his brain and John wasn't a man who could deny a dying man's order. There was an unspoken military tradition called 'The Nod' and that's what Sumner had given him as he had wavered with the indecision. A man couldn't be expected to live like that after having his life literally stolen from him. He knew if the roles would have been reversed he would have done the same thing.
Encountering the Wraith had been informative and somewhat terrifying. John would never admit it to anyone but it was the fear that had kept him sharp all of these years, it was what had kept him alive. He didn't have to turn around to know that it was Cassie stepping up beside him. His hands were still wrapped around the mug as his elbows rested on the ledge of the balcony, his hazel eyes looking out at the silver moon baring down on the waters shimmering surface.
"I gotta say, I'm a lot more relieved that now we're above the water as opposed to below it." Cass said into the empty space between them .
John dared himself to glance at her and found himself almost breathless. Her head was tilted upwards so she could see the stars hanging in the night sky above them. Her dark hair was loose and blowing lightly in the breeze, fluttering across her porcelain skin as she turned her serious gaze upon him. Her eyes were like sapphires glittering in the light from the reception hall behind them as she bowed her head a faint blush creeping across her cheeks as she fiddled with the delicate silver watch on her wrist.
"I want to say thank you for heading up the rescue mission. It was a brave, stupid thing to do but I'm glad you did it." she pursed her pert lips together as she rose her head to meet his stare.
"I don't think I've ever been complimented and insulted in the same sentence before." he told her half serious as he turned his attention back to the sea.
"I hear it's a skill." she said humorously, before clasping her hands together and leaning beside him on the railing.
His lips were twitching with the beginnings of a smile as he shook his head at her words. He filed that shred of information under the filing cabinet in his head labelled Cassie. He assumed it was a habit she exhibited when she was nervous and he wasn't offended by it. Even with his skill as a Major and a pilot pulling off that rescue had been a long shot.
Just having her here, this close had made the entire mission worth while. The thought of losing her had frightened him in a way John didn't care to admit. He wasn't good at dealing with his emotions so he kept them tucked away and hidden where no one else could see them. Out of all the people here it was Cassie who seemed to pick up on his dark mood and she accommodated for it by lingering intentionally in his presence, letting him know that she was there. To John's surprise he found that oddly comforting.
"Colonel Sumner was a good man." Cassie offered quietly. "I'm sorry."
It seemed to cliché for her to use those words but John could tell from the tone of her voice that she was entirely sincere. The survivors from the rescue had handed over a hub of information to Doctor McKay to be documented and catalogued but nobody had talked personally about those missing two days. John understood what it was like to distance yourself from an event like that and when he looked at Cassie, he was glad that she was still standing. A lesser woman may have broken under the strain and horrors of the abduction but Cassie was not that kind of person. She was happy to be alive. In her eyes, he understood that Colonel Sumner had been a saviour when he'd offered himself up to the Wraith.
John rose the mug of champagne to his lips tasting the bitterness on his tongue once more before speaking.
"Yea, I am too."
Chapter 5: Chapter Five: Chances
John Sheppard has a temperature.
It was three am, Earth time and Cass was still awake. She should be tucked up in bed asleep, instead she was standing on the Eastern Balcony listening to the roar of the waves in the distance. The stark black water was swirling against the base of the tower as Cass tilted his head up towards the crescent moon. In her hands she held a mug of delicious hot cocoa, it was soothing and warm against the chilled salty air. She needed to be here right now, the fresh breeze was clearing her head and chasing away the cobwebs left by the nightmares she had been having ever since they'd left the Wraith ship.
Over the past few nights her dreams had been filled with a twisted mixture of her past and the present. Her sleep was plagued with snarling Wraiths hissing and snapping at her, their palms outstretched towards her chest, and then she was back in The Cave, feeling the heat of the insurgents blood flooding through her hands as he rasped in Arabic.
Cass sipped from the steaming mug, feeling the liquid comfort seeping through her insides. The sugar hit was enough to calm her jingling nerves and she felt herself coming down from her constant state of hyper vigilance. Lack of sleep made her paranoid and edgy, she had been jumping at shadows too much these days. She felt her shoulders beginning to sag at the twinges of relaxation that pulsed through her nervous system.
Bad dreams came with the territory, she had learned that over the past four years as a field doctor. Before The Cave it had been the ones that she couldn't save that had haunted her dreams. She had seen the blood jetting from the holes torn in broken bodies, heard their youthful whimpers and ragged breathes as they pleaded for their mothers, wives or children. She remembered their slackening grip as the light drained out of their dying eyes.
"Couldn't sleep?" Elizabeth Weir's compassionate voice was in Cass's ears as the younger woman tilted her head towards her.
Weir came to stand alongside her, her elbows resting on the stone ledge as she looked out to sea. Cass hugged the mug closer to her chest revelling in the heat emitting from it as she snuck another glance at the leader of their expedition. Her uniform was clean and neatly pressed, there wasn't a brunette hair out of place on her head. Cass glanced down at her grey sweats and the faded, powder blue Wonderwoman T-shirt. She didn't have to look in a mirror to know that her hair was a tangled birds nest from all of her tossing and turning. Cass ran her hand through her hair discreetly trying to pat it down as she spoke.
"I'm guessing you don't sleep."
If she was honest Weir's perfection scared her a little, the woman was human enough but Cass felt like she was aloof from the rest of them. Being a leader must be like having to wear a mask over your real face all the time. She knew a thing or two about reigning in her emotions, she had to tip her hat to Weir and the ice maiden image that the other woman portrayed. Weakness was not something that either of them exposed naturally.
"It always takes me a few weeks to settle down when I'm in a new place." Weir said conversationally, crossing her arms over her chest as she looked out across the sea.
Cass bowed her head, staring into the deep recesses of her mug at the unspoken question. There were so many things bouncing around her head, words that she could never say out loud. Her guard was up protecting herself from what she knew could be perceived as failure. Cass didn't know Elizabeth Weir well enough to spill her guts. She wasn't even sure she could talk about what had happened.
In truth she'd spoken to the department psychologist and then as far as she was concerned case closed, she would never have to relive the event again. The scar still itched deep inside her, she hadn't known she was capable of surviving until she was forced to and in the end she knew that was part of the reason Carson had fought so bitterly to hire her.
"It's normal not to sleep after what you went through back on the Hive shift." Weir approached, wrapping the jacket of her uniform even tighter around herself.
"I didn't go through anything." Cass returned quietly, sipping from her mug of cocoa.
Colonel Sumner was the one that had been tortured and fed upon. She felt some guilt over that but she knew it was pointless, she couldn't change things no matter how much she wanted to. In the same instance Colonel Sumner would have still offered himself up to protect them again, there was no real way around that. He had died a noble and brave man in her eyes and that would be the way she chose to remember him.
"Yes you did." Weir commented forcefully into the thoughtful quietness between them. "You were taken by the Wraith and held captive for a little under two days. I want to know how your doing."
"So you can evaluate my usefulness?" Cass questioned with more hostility than she intended.
"On one level yes, but on another I'm concerned about your well-being the same way I would be about any of the other people on this base." Weir informed her, her voice indignant at the disposition of the other woman. "Now you can talk to me one on one or I can relieve you of duty until I see fit, which do you prefer Doctor?"
The stark reality of the situation was hitting Cass straight in the face, she was being unreasonable and she hated it. She lashed out when she felt cornered or threatened, it had never been her intention to aggravate Weir, she was simply defensive.
You have to stop, she told herself. You have to let your guard down sometime.
Weir had been polite from the beginning and now she had forced the older woman to reassert her authority. Weir was looking out for the expedition's best interests, the two of them had had minimal contact throughout their time on Atlantis and it had taken Cass a few moments to understand that Weir was trying to get a measure of her character, she was trying to see the reasons behind Carson's decision.
"I'm sorry." Cass said, setting her mug down on the thick ledge of the balcony before raising her eyes skywards. "I'm not good at stuff like this."
Talking, Weir thought. She was admitting she wasn't very good at opening up.
Doctor Cass Pierce was excellent in the field but she had had her reservations on the younger woman when she had looked deeper into her background. Carson had argued she was young and resilient, someone with a heart and steely resolve. In the end it was medical credentials and her history of keeping a cool head in the most dire of situations that had swung her vote.
"You took a chance on me." Cass recounted into the air.
"I don't regret it." the other woman informed her. "Sergeant Stackhouse tells me you kept your wits about you in that situation, you didn't let it get the best of you despite your past. You should be proud of that, conquering your fear is an achievement."
"Courage is not the absence of fear, it's being the only one that knows that your scared." Cass quoted off hand as her fingertip circled the rim of the mug.
Weir found a small smile crossing her features at the words. They were strangely apt in this situation. They were the words of someone who knew themselves better than anyone else and Weir found herself wondering what it was like to confront the darkness inside of yourself. The evidence of what it did to a person was standing right in front of her.
"I think that's fitting." Weir told her, watching from the corner of her eye as Cass wrapped her hands around the mug once more and stared out across the skyline.
"To tell you the truth Doctor Weir, I was as scared as hell." Cass admitted.
The words left her mouth like a terrible truth hanging in the air above them. Weir had never forgotten what it was like being a woman amongst a crowd of powerful men. She had fought wars of her own and had won the majority but she never neglected to remind herself of the terrible cost there was to bear.
"It's natural." Weir assured Cass honestly.
"I know." Cass responded with a shrug of her shoulders. "And so are the nightmares. It's all about settling again. I know myself well enough to know that soon there won't be any bad dreams until then this is all I can do for now."
She indicated to the mug between them as she spoke before propping her chin up on her elbow and focusing on the flecks of orange patterning the dark sky ahead of them.
"Next time make me a cup and I'll join you." Weir told the younger woman. "See if your cocoa has the ability to ease my mind in the same way."
"I will do that." Cass promised as the two women watched the sunrise creeping over their city for the very first time.
Cass was smiling and John found himself enduring the rare moment of contentment as he watched her discreetly from the doorway of the quiet Infirmary. Her expressive features were tilted down towards the small Athosian girl as she murmured sweet words of reassurance to the child whilst cleaning the graze on her knee with an antibacterial wipe.
This was a softer edge to her, one that she rarely exhibited these days and John found he liked it. The time he viewed her unobserved was precious and fleeting, he knew at any moment his cover would be blown and he'd be forced to create a reason for lurking in the Infirmary but for these brief seconds he would enjoy it.
Cass held out a choice of band aids to the pigtailed girl as the mother hovered anxiously nearby.
"Blue or pink?" he heard that soft tone utter before the child pointed to the vibrant blue.
Cass stripped the protective plastic away from the small bandage before fixing it firmly to the child's knee.
"Well thank you for being so brave. You should see the Major when he gets a boo boo." Cass told the little girl glancing over her shoulder at John's startled expression.
Busted, he thought rubbing the back of his head sheepishly as he stepped up to the bed that Cass was helping the Athosian child down from.
"If it flares up or anything feel free to come back and I'll take another look at it." Cass relayed to the mother before bidding them both goodbye with a small finger wave.
"Now Major, what can I do for you?" she asked him, hands on her hips as she stood before him.
John allowed himself to be seated on the edge of the treatment bed, shifting until he was sitting comfortably. Her smile was back and he found himself dazzled by the energy that was emitting from her. He could feel his heart beginning to beat a little faster as he met her curious sapphire gaze.
"I seem to be suffering from an accelerated heart rate." he found himself muttering.
"Hm." Cass made the noise low in that perfect, slender throat as she removed her stereoscope from around her neck.
John wondered what her skin would taste like underneath his tongue as his lips caressed down that beautiful, soft curve. His body tightened in response to her fingers drawing the zipper of his black fleece down to the space where his heart lay beating underneath the planes of his firm, muscular chest.
"Relax." Cass murmured as she leaned in close.
John inhaled deeply as her intoxicating floral scent invaded his nostrils as she lingered in his proximity. He could feel the heat between them brimming up in his veins as his skin flushed and prickled with anticipation as she placed the cold, metal disk on his chest. John closed his eyes as he flinched against the sensation.
God he had never felt as out of control as he did in this moment. It was taking every inch of his rigid self control not to reach out and touch Cass right now, he knew the instant he did it was over and he would have succumbed to the intense, burning desire that was stirring up an inferno low down inside him.
He clenched his jaw, stifling the moan that was building deep in his throat as the pads of her cooling fingertips replaced her stethoscope. It was a simple action but he found himself responding to her touch in exactly the way he had been trying to resist.
"Your heart rate is pretty fast, and your skin is feverishly hot." she told him quietly, her dark eyebrows furrowing in concern. "Were there any symptoms before this?"
"I've felt it coming on for a while." he admitted, trying to clear his throat against the huskiness he could hear lacing in his voice.
"Any dizzy spells?" she requested. "Headaches?"
"No." John said gruffly.
Cass turned around for a second in search of a thermometer, John found his hazel eyes taking in her slim athletic shape from behind as she bent over to reach the bottom drawer. He could imagine the glorious feel of that supple shape pressed up against every inch of his body as he whispered all the naughty things that had been crossing his mind into her ear. He could imagine Cass's whimpers and pleas ringing in his ears like a mantra as he teased her until she at the point of oblivion, coming undone in his strong skilled hands...
"John." she said his name for a third time before his hazel eyes came to focus on her once more before poking the thermometer in between his parted lips.
He scowled at her like a petulant child at the invasive movement she asserted. She sensed his defiance and pointed her finger directly at him as he moved his hand up to remove the offending item.
"Don't you dare." she said sternly.
John's eyes narrowed at the tone of her voice, their eyes met for a second and she could feel herself being drawn in all over again. There was a security that radiated from this man that she associated with no one else in the world that she had ever met. He made her feel safe and that astounded her. There hadn't been a person able to do that since her parents had died over a decade ago. When she looked at him, she could see his cautious nature coming into play masking something else behind his eyes. Something she recognized in herself whenever John was in the same room as her.
"Your not sick." she blurted out suddenly as John reached out and took the thermometer out of his mouth.
"No I'm not." John told her taking her delicate hand in his larger one before slapping the thermometer into it.
"Then why on Earth..." Cass trailed off as John rose to his feet in front of her.
He was tall and she found she liked that. It fit well with his strong, broad shoulders and his long, powerful legs. His body was toned and trained for the field, she was aware of the damage that he could do but she was never afraid of it. John didn't have the capacity to instil a sense of fear inside her, instead she felt protected. She felt all of her defences lower as she rose her eyes up slowly to venture into his gaze.
Cass couldn't take her eyes off of his face as they stood barely inches apart, the material of their clothing rustling as it brushed.
His large hands encompassed her dainty features, his calloused thumbs smoothing over the apples of her cheeks as he pressed his finely sculptured lips to hers. The moment they touched Cass was lost, she had been fighting this ever since the two of them had met and now she was surrendering everything she had to John and more. His tongue was gentle and exploratory as he delved into the confines of her hot, seeking mouth. His hands raked through her loose dark hair, dragging her under as she clutched onto his fleece for support, balling the fabric in her tight fists.
"Major Sheppard, report to the Control Room." the tinny echo of Weir's voice resounded in both of their ears causing them to draw apart unanimously.
Words were on the tip of their tongues, a flurry of explanations, questions and answers as their foreheads came to rest together in mutual understanding. Duty was important, not only to him but for her as well.
"Go." Cass said with a small smile spreading across her swollen lips.
John found himself stealing another breathtaking kiss before obeying her command.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six: Handle With Care
One kiss just wasn't enough...
Kissing Cassie had been like seeing the sunshine for the first time after a long weathering storm. John could still taste her on his lips as he licked them lightly. She had felt better than he could have imagined pressed up against him like that. Her mouth had been delicious, hot and welcoming. He adored her floral fragrance of her as his fingers raked through her silky, black hair. Jesus he wanted to kiss her all over again until she purred underneath his touch, begging and whimpering for him to go further, to complete her as she completed him.
John needed her in every which way possible, he craved her subtle soothing undertones as she spoke softly. He wanted to listen to her murmur in the night beside him as his fingertips caressed the blush of her cheek. The depth of his feelings frightened him, never before had he felt like he was falling so foolishly.
There had been no time to talk in the hours after their kiss in the Infirmary. John wasn't even sure he wanted to talk about it, he'd been running on pure instinct when he'd kissed her and hell if he was honest he would give almost anything to do it again. It had been a long time since he'd experienced physical intimacy even longer since he had developed a stable emotional connection with anyone. The fragility of such a bond was at the forefront of his mind. It was so easy to destroy something like that and John was so very good at breaking things.
"Your thinking too much." Cassie submitted from the doorway of the Rec Room.
She could see the profile of his handsome features as he angled his head towards her, his arm resting along the back of the couch as he paused the football game. He was worried what she could see etched into his expression as he regarded her wearily.
"Gotta say noone's ever accused me of that before." he told her with a forced smile as Cassie sat down on the opposite side of the couch.
John turned his attention back to the frozen screen, his fingertips tapping out a tune upon the frame of the remote as he debated the wistfulness of saying any of the words that were rattling through his mind.
It was awkward between them and Cass hated it, she had come here to set things straight and now her defences were back blocking all comprehensive means of verbal communication. She wanted John, she wanted to learn about who he was and experience things with him. She cared for him, more than she had ever intended to. She couldn't play it off as something casual any more. Her heart responded to him almost unwillingly whenever he stepped into a room. She was connected to him just as he was connected to her. Two very lost and broken people forging together to make one whole entity she thought.
"I know you." she whispered.
Her fingertips ghosted along the back of his hand before coming to rest in the grooves of his knuckles. John watched her motions in fascination as she crept in closer. Cass's eyes were locked on his face as John pursed his lips together. Restraint, she recognized it and she herself had battled against it.
Cassie reached out, her dainty hand cupping his stubbly cheek as her thumb smoothed over his dark five o'clock shadow. There was softness in her touch that matched no other. John found himself reacting by kissing that delicate pulse point on the underside of her wrist. His hand came to rest over hers as she sighed at the peacefulness that washed over her troubled soul.
Here with him, she didn't have to fight any more. She was tired of being so selfish, she wanted to love without consequence and to be with someone who knew what it was like to be lonely the way she was. Already as Cass looked into those sincere hazel eyes she knew that he was her one and only chance at happiness.
"Cassie..." he began.
Already she knew it was protest, she could see the anxiety in John's features at the situation they had landed themselves in. He hid the fear well, but she could see it still lurking there in the background like a spectre haunting his heart. She wanted to ask him who it was that had made him doubt his ability to love and be loved in return.
They were wrong, she communicated silently to him, you deserve to be happy.
Before he could speak again her lips were on his, tentative and chaste. Her arms looping around his neck in order to draw him closer. Whatever reservations he may have had were out of the window as he returned that kiss with vigour and acceptance. His fingers were in her hair crushing her mouth against his in a possessive gesture. All bets were off when Cass kissed him, he couldn't contain the raging impulses that ravaged through his body.
Mine, he growled low in his throat at the idea of claiming her as his mate.
Cass was already climbing into his lap seeking out more of him. Her thighs came to rest on either side of his hips as his fingers trailed down her spine causing her to groan. He was ferociously intoxicating, his strength and his passion devastated all of her senses leaving her trembling with desire and need.
"Cassie." he murmured against the corner of her mouth as he used his fingertips to brush the silky strands of hair back behind her ear.
A distinct throat clearing brought them back to their senses as it reverberated through the room around them.
"Tell me that's not Weir." John muttered before daring to glance over his shoulder at the person standing in the doorway behind him.
"Sorry sir, I was bringing you my mission report. I didn't mean to interrupt your private time." Lieutenant Ford apologized, diverting his gaze from the couple on the couch.
"That's alright Lieutenant, just leave it on the table there and I'll get around to it in the morning." John said authoritatively.
Cassie slid subtly from John's lap, raising her eyes skyward as her cheeks flushed bright red with humiliation. Every ounce of her professionalism had just gone out of the window and she was embarrassed to be caught in this situation. She didn't know how John had the nerve to keep a straight face in front of his colleague
"Just to warn you sir, Doctor Weir is heading in this direction." Ford supplied as he set his file down on the table several of the other Marines used to play Poker.
"Appreciated." John uttered, pursing his lips together grimly. "Good night Lieutenant."
The dismissal was evident in John's voice as he reviewed the other man with an intense expression. It was never his intention to get caught up in Cass again but he had and now he was paying the price. Over the past few weeks him and Lieutenant Aiden Ford had developed an easy kinship. The other man looked up to him implicitly, John thought that's what happened when you were away from your close family like Ford was.
Bonds were forged to fill in the gaps that were absent. He had taken on the role of commanding officer and an older brother. He couldn't help but think that his one and only indiscretion would effect that and yet in a way he was glad that they had been discovered.
If Cass and him pursued a relationship casual or otherwise John didn't want the taboo of it hanging over his head. They deserved better than to be a secret. Yet the military had clear rules on fraternization. He wasn't sure that counted since Cass was technically medical personal, on the other hand there wasn't much Weir could do besides tell them that they couldn't be together. Even then he doubted Elizabeth would be so callous if they kept it below the radar and made sure it didn't interfere with their work.
"Goodnight sir, Doctor." Ford said nodding at both of them before removing himself from the room.
There was a moment of silence as they both listened to the sound of Ford's footsteps echoing down the hall. Cass bit her lower lip raising her eyes skyward. She hadn't foreseen this and wavered between the same indecision, there was no name for what the two of them were experiencing. Calling it 'love' was too soon, the four letter word was too much to comprehend for either of them.
"You are a bad influence." Cass accused John, poking him in the ribs with her finger dispelling the tension between them.
"Ow." John yelped, capturing her hand in his own.
"What are we going to say if he tells Weir?" Cass approached tentatively. "We don't even know what this is."
John entwined his fingers in Cass's before their unified hands came to rest upon his knee.
"If it comes down to it, we'll tell her the truth." John said quietly. "We'll tell her that we care about each other."
"I can live with that." she told him, her cheek coming to rest upon his shoulder.
John's lips brushed Cass's hairline as he spoke.
"Yea me too."
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven: Talk
Cass and Ford discuss what it means to do your duty.
It was the knocking on her door the next morning that awoke Cass from her deep, wholesome sleep. It was the first time in the past few weeks she had actually been able to sleep through the night and she relished that. Her mind was far from the torrid mess she had been sporting over the past few days, her thoughts felt ordered and precise once more. There was confidence flushing through her system, a sense of self worth that put a smile on her face and she couldn't help but think John was responsible for that.
Safe, Cass thought as she rose from her bed, rubbing at her exhausted features with both hands. Stability and refuge were important in her world and she needed them to help maintain her precarious balance.
"I'm up." she snapped at the persistent knocking at her door, swiping her hand over the locking motion in a bid to open it.
Cass found herself greeted by the scent of instant coffee as she laid her sapphire eyes on Lieutenant Aiden Ford standing before her in the doorway. He was clad in his grey military combats and a black T-shirt.
"Uh hi." Cass said, running a hand through her ruffled dark hair.
"Coffee." Ford told her, forcing the mug into her hand. "Doctor Beckett said you like it sweet."
"I do." Cass said apprehensively as Ford shifted from foot to foot.
It was a sign of anxiety and agitation. It took a second for the memories of last night to filter through to Cass's sleep fogged brain as she stared at the young Lieutenant perplexed. He wanted to talk, that much was clear and she didn't want him to feel uncomfortable with the situation that had presented itself last night. The fact that Ford was here so early in the morning was a concession that he was making to both her and John.
"Do you want to come in?" she ventured.
"Yea." Ford said rubbing his hands together with nervous energy.
Cass moved out of the way of the door to allow him entry to her quarters hearing the door hiss shut behind her as she turned to face him. Ford leaned against the wall, his arms folded over his chest as his foot came to rest on her wall. Cass wrapped her hands around her mug before sitting on the edge of her bed drawing her feet up underneath her.
"I want you to know that your secrets safe with me." Ford started, his gaze fixing firmly on hers. "I won't be telling Weir or anyone else about you and the Major."
"I appreciate that." Cass said quietly, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment as she remembered her actions from the previous evening. "I'm sorry you had to see the two of us like that."
"So long as the two of you keep it to your quarters nobody else has to know." Ford replied with a shrug of his shoulders.
It was that word 'secret' again echoing through her head. She didn't want it to be so sordid but that's what it was becoming. Nobody believed that a relationship could flourish or function in this environment, certainly not between people like them. They were honour bound, their lives and loyalties sworn to their country and to their jobs. Commitment was something they only had for their work and for the sturdy oaths they stood by.
Cass did not want their relationship to become a 'secret', she wanted to lay claim to John as her own. Possessiveness was never in her nature but the urge was resolute and pressing. She wanted him to depend on her if he had to instead of being so painstakingly self reliant. It was eating him up from the inside shouldering all the burdens that were set upon his shoulders, not once did he complain but she saw the strain bearing down on him.
"Well it's not like they can send one of us back home." Cass pointed out dryly in response to Ford's words.
"But they can make your life a hell if they want to." Ford commented as he caught a glimpse at Cass's thoughtful features. "Your wondering why I'm not reporting you to Weir?"
"It's a difficult position to be in." Cass responded wearily. "John's your commanding officer."
"Major Sheppard would never order me to keep quiet about the two of you and the fact that he respects me like that makes me respect him even more." Ford explained simply.
"He's not the kind of person to abuse his power like that." Cass agreed, clasping the coffee to her Wonderwoman T-shirt allowing it to heat her chest.
"No he's not." Ford said into the air between them before he looked pointedly at Cass. "Which makes me question the type of person you are Doc?"
"Are you asking about my intentions?" Cass asked him out loud with the glimmer of a smile.
Ford's eyebrows furrowed into a defined crease as his jaw jutted out and his dark eyes narrowed. It took Cass a second to realize that he took his responsibility to John very seriously and this was for all intents and purposes 'The Conversation'. She had never been privy to it before now and it startled her to find herself in this position. She had never been questioned about her romantic entanglements before and she wasn't sure of the adequate responses.
"Do you care about him?" Ford asked out right, his analytical gaze intent on her features studying her face for tell tale signs of lies.
"Yes." she answered with an honesty that resounded through her heart and soul.
"The Major has a devout sense of duty to this city and it's people, do you think your the kind of person who can take a back seat to that?" Ford requested as Cass took a deep breath to fortify herself.
Lieutenant Ford was pulling out all the stops, he wasn't afraid to jump to the hard questions. He was investigating her long term capability, trying to gauge what her stake was in all of this. If this had been a bit of fun between her and John the two of them wouldn't even be having this conversation but Ford had seen something different last night, something that had made his hackles rise at the possibilities.
Ford viewed Doctor Cass Pierce as a distraction for the most part and he knew that now was a crucial turning point for the Major. He had been deemed the Security Officer of Atlantis and Ford wanted to make sure that there was nothing in the way to jeopardise the future of this city. Job aside, Ford liked John Sheppard, he was funny, smart and loyal, all qualities that he himself revered. Alike many of his friends in and out of the military he simply wanted the other man to be happy.
He had heard the tenderness the Major's voice as he spoke to this woman and it had surprised him greatly. Of all the words he would have used to describe the Major 'loving' was not one of them. It had been a stark contrast to the skilled militarist that Ford was used to seeing and it made him question the doctor's motives. He had no doubt that there was a base attraction between the two of them, he had seen it the minute the two of them had bumped into each other briefly at the research facility in Antarctica before they began this expedition. It was like a current charging in the air when the Major had reached out to steady the doctor. Their initial joy as they greeted each other had come off them both in waves before they recovered their composure.
"I know a thing or two about duty Lieutenant." Cass told him evenly keeping the sting of irritation to a bare minimum. "I won't stand in the way of what needs to be done if that's what your asking."
He took her words with a pinch of salt as he studied her words from every angle before he issued her a warning .
"There's no room to be selfish here." he told her flatly, making the implications clear.
Cass looked Lieutenant Ford dead in the eyes before she spoke, her brain flicking back to that moment over two years ago when she finally understood what the word sacrifice truly meant.
Chapter 8: Genes
What happens when you get three doctors in a room...
Doctor Rodney McKay was in their Infirmary and in turn that made Cass a little nervous. She found herself seated at her desk, watching from the pile of paperwork as he spoke to the white mice running around in the plastic container. Not long ago both her and Carson had decided to name each of the rodents after people they had left back home on Earth. Carson had named his mice Mary and Owen after two of his siblings and Cass had labelled hers Annabel and Nicky after her young niece and nephew. It made her anxious to have Rodney in the Infirmary, he was a self certified genius and Chief Scientific Officer of their expedition. Cass found him condescending and impatient the majority of the time and that irked her. She didn't like being made to feel inferior and Rodney McKay boasted of his intellect and of other people's inability to comprehend the same things as he did.
Cass had been brought up to see the good in people and if she was honest Rodney's prickly nature made it hard to see past all of his gaping faults.
"Got your eye on anyone?" he asked the mouse they had deemed as Owen.
"Not really." Carson muttered as he filled the syringe in his hand from the glass vile in his hand.
"Actually, I was talking to the mouse." Rodney informed the other man straightening up as he turned to face Carson. "But now that you mention it some of those Athosian women are pretty hot and we did just save them from the Wraith so we need to trade on that before they discover we're not actually that cool."
Cass snorted in response to that comment as Rodney tossed a small inanimate object between his hands. He turned to glare at her as she tilted her head towards him, a small pout forming on her lips.
"You have something to add Doctor Pierce?" he asked her pointedly.
Cass shook her head before her gaze strayed down to the offworld reports in front of her.
"Nothing at all Doctor McKay." Cass said politely, toying the the biro between her fingers.
Carson tapped the treatment table loudly drawing both of their attention back to him as he spoke.
"Sit down here Rodney."
It was like watching a kid at Christmas rushing down to open his presents. Already Rodney was jumping up upon the table with excitement, his fingers rolling up the blue sleeves of his uniform to allow Carson access to his veins.
"I'm surprised your so eager to volunteer for this Rodney." Carson told the other man stretching out his arm.
"Well you know me." Rodney dismissed as Carson grasped his wrist and reached for the syringe. "Always happy to help."
"Right..." Carson drawled out the word, his gaze meeting Cass's as she set down her pen in order to watch the proceedings.
"I'm surprised you didn't put yourself down for this Cassandra, you could have been the first human to receive the ATA gene now I guess the credits all mine." Rodney said offhandedly as he glanced at the young woman.
Cass's brows arched at Rodney's proclamation as she leaned forward, placing her chin on her hand to review the procedure.
"I like my genes the way they are." Cass informed Rodney before continuing. "As much as I trust Carson I don't want anyone messing with my physiology unless it's a dire circumstance and besides I wouldn't want to be at your beck and call every hour of the day when you decide it's time to 'test' something."
"I resent that." Rodney retorted.
"The only reason you considered getting the Ancient gene in the first place is because your getting sick of people bitching at you about the more important things they have to do with their time." Cass pointed out.
"My work is important." Rodney protested shrilly as Carson tied the tourniquet his bicept.
"Yes it is." Cass agreed. "But maybe people would be more willing to work with you if you were nicer to them."
"Carson are you going to let her talk to me like that?" Rodney bristled, offended by the younger woman's assault on his character.
"The lass got a point." Carson said as he hovered the needle above the most predominant of Rodney's veins. "Any questions before we begin?"
"I'm sorry, medicine is as much of a science as voodoo." Rodney retorted as Cass rolled her eyes at his words. "All I need to know is that this will enable me to use Ancient Technology like Major Sheppard or yourself."
"Yes, hopefully." Carson uttered as Cass rose from her desk and moved so she could monitor the effects of the ATA gene more closely when it was administered. "You are the first human trial."
"Well why now?" Rodney asked as the words filtered through to his brain. "I mean if it's possible we need as many people with the gene as we can get."
"Well actually without proper FDA approval it was virtually impossible on Earth..." Carson glanced up, catching the expression of disbelief on Rodney's face before continuing. "Let's just say it's legal here in the Pegasus Galaxy."
"And completely safe?" Rodney persisted as Carson gripped the other man's arm firmly underneath the elbow.
"As far as experimental gene therapy goes." Carson shrugged as Rodney stared directly at him speechless.
"He is manipulating your DNA." Cass reminded Rodney, gesturing with her hands.
"Maybe I need to hear more." Rodney said withdrawing his arm from Carson's grasp as Cass crossed her arms over her chest.
"We believe Ancient Technology Activation is caused by a single gene that is always on instructing various cells in the body to induce a series of proteins and enzymes that interact with the skin and the nervous system an the brain. In this case we're using a mouse retrovirus to deliver the missing gene to your cells." Carson explained as simply as he could.
"A mouse retrovirus?" Rodney repeated.
"It's been deactivated." Carson reassured the other man.
"If that's the case then why isn't she trying it?" Rodney requested, tilting his head towards Cass.
"I told you, I really don't like the idea of someone messing with with my genes." Cass reminded Rodney. "It's one thing doing it to save somebody's life, it's another doing it as an experiment."
"Can't you order her to do it first?" Rodney asked Carson who frowned at the other man.
"That would hardly be ethical now would it?" Carson said, shaking his head as he jabbed the needle into Rodney's arm, dispelling the liquid gene into his blood stream.
"Any side effects I should know about?" Rodney queried, his gaze darting between the two of them as he toyed with the oval object in his hand.
"Dry mouth, headache. The irresistible urge to run on a small wheel." Carson said with a lilt of humour in his voice.
Cass couldn't disguise the snigger that emitted from her mouth. Rodney scowled at her as he twirled the object in his hand even faster.
"What is that?" Cass asked, stepping closer to catch a glimpse of the item.
"Oh, it's something I found in one of the research labs." Rodney said holding it out for Cass to see. "Something that the Anchients were experimenting with."
"Do you know what it is?" she asked quizzically, looking down at what appeared to be an amulet.
"I'm pretty sure." Rodney answered with uncertainty.
"Which means he doesn't have a bloody clue." Carson informed Cass with a wry smile before stripping off his latex gloves signalling the end to the procedure.