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Chapter 1

2006

She only barely managed to hit the ball, almost collapsing to the hard gym floor, but hit it she did. Her forearms tingled with a short stab of pain as the ball bounced up again until it was just over the top of the net, and Evan smashed it onto the other side, making it hit the ground so fast and so hard that neither Murdoch nor Anna stood a chance of catching it.

            “That’s it!” Oliver gasped as Alex got to her feet, bumping her hip against Evan’s in triumph. It looked stupid, but she wouldn’t miss their victory dance for the world. “I’m done for today.”

            Anna stretched luxuriously, eyeing Oliver without really bothering to hide it. These two had been dancing around each other for the better part of two months. It was high time they stopped using their weekly volleyball matches as an excuse to hang out together. “Rematch the day after tomorrow?” Anna asked, adjusting her ponytail.

            “Nope,” Evan grinned. “We’re going back home for our honeymoon.”

            “Honeymoon?” Oliver asked incredulously. “You’ve been married for three years now at least!”

            “High time, Captain, wouldn’t you say?”

            Oliver huffed and moved over to the side of the gym where he reached for his water bottle. It had been three years to the day since they went to the court house in Colorado Springs to get married.

            “Where are you going?” Anna dropped on the floor and started stretching. Alex caught Oliver sneak a glance at her. These two really needed to get a room.

            “All over the place,” Alex rubbed her nose. They’d never gotten around to going on that trip to Germany. Evan and she had said they’d go, but his fighter crash and the injuries that accompanied it had prevented them first and then they’d just never made the time. But there never really had been time. “And we’ll only have two weeks.” Eighteen days travelling time between Earth and Pegasus really wasn’t a whole lot of time. It was barely worth it, but every member of the expedition had two weeks of mandatory leave, and they might just as well spend that time at home. There’d be plenty of time to catch up with paperwork. And they could call themselves lucky that Evan was second-in-command to Colonel Sheppard and couldn’t be away for too long, or they’d have to take the Daedalus to get to Earth as well.

            “Last time I went home I thought I’d go mad on that ship,” Anna said. “I only wish they’d get that Gate Bridge ready.” It was one of the highest priorities of the expedition to find enough Stargates to build the bridge which McKay and Carter had come up with in order to speed up travel time between Pegasus and the Milky Way.

            “Go out there and find another couple of unused Spacegates while we’re gone and you’ll get your wish,” Evan said, putting his radio back in his ear and freezing in place. Alex’s heart sank. He was being summoned. She could only hope it wasn’t anything serious.

            “Evan?”

            He shook his head and shrugged. “Gotta go. It’ll be fine!” He kissed her cheek, grinned at the three of them, waved a goodbye and started running down the corridor. Where he was going or when he’d be back, he didn’t even say.

            Alex bit her lip, hating herself for feeling jealous of whoever needed him now. It was their anniversary. They were supposed to be heading back to Earth. But of course this was important and she shouldn’t be jealous. She’d known what she signed up for the moment she started dating him eleven years ago. No, she’d known that even before then.

            “Hey, want to grab some lunch?” Anna asked, but Alex shook her head.

            “Not done packing. You two go ahead.” She threw her friend a meaningful look, then slipped out into the corridor to return to hers and Evans quarters. She needed a shower and pack the last few items, hoping that they’d get to go home that day.

            There was no telling what had happened or what he was needed for, and she wasn’t part of his team anymore, so there really was no way for her to find out right now. She’d been reassigned to Oliver’s team a few weeks after her arrival in Pegasus by Colonel Sheppard, and it made sense really. Being on the same team as her husband all the time would only lead to complications in the long run. She was glad Weir had taken her on at all.

            She’d only gone a few steps however, before Anna caught up with her. Oliver was already heading in the other direction. “What’s wrong with you?” Alex asked, switching to German, just in case. “You know he’s crazy about you, why are you following me?”

            “I’ll catch up with him eventually.” They’d been colleagues at the university in Germany where Alex had taken a temporary job after meeting Evan. “Listen, can you take some letters for my family?”

            Raising an eyebrow, Alex looked at her friend. “Sure. Why can’t you send them via Daedalus or send an e-mail like the rest of us?”

            Anna snorted. “I don’t want the Air Force reading all my private mail, you know?”

            “Yes, I do. We’ll be in Trier for a couple of days, so I can post them from there.”

            “Great! And bring me some chocolate? I hate the stuff they have here.”

            “You still consume massive amounts, though.”

            “Stop judging me! I know you had Doctor Zelenka smuggle in jellybeans!”

            Alex laughed and shook her head. “I’m not judging. Just drop the letters off at our quarters, and I’ll bring as much chocolate as I can carry.”

 

Two days. That’s by how much they were delayed. A group of geologists had managed to get themselves trapped in a mud-slide on the mainland and with the Daedalus on its way to Atlantis , and no beaming technology available to them, they had to organize a rescue mission. But the geologists were back on Atlantis now, and with no new catastrophe looming over their heads this very moment, they were good to go.

            Alex was only carrying a duffle bag, which held some personal items and a change of clothes for the both of them for when they left Cheyenne Mountain to get to the airport. There’d be no time to go home now. They’d kept the house, but it stood empty and if Ellen and his parents hadn’t used it as an occasional vacation home, it would’ve remained that way.

            Before stepping through the Gate, he took the bag off her and he was surprised at how light it was. Well, they couldn’t exactly bring souvenirs. Her steps on the way from their quarters to the Gate Room had become exceedingly lighter. A blind man could’ve seen how excited she was to return home, though she’d never admit how much she missed it. Not even to him. He knew it anyway.

            The Gate Room at the SGC looked exactly like it had last time. What had he expected? It’d only been about a year. What should have changed? Harriman was there looking down at them just like he always had, the soldiers’ faces guarding the Gate had remained the same. The one thing that had changed was the uniform they were wearing. The dark grey concrete walls were as indestructible and as dull as ever. Really, nothing had changed here. Except for the man in charge.

            General Landry was waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp. Evan had seen him in one of the transmissions exchanged between Atlantis and Earth, but they’d never met in person.

            “Major, Doctor, welcome home.” He nodded at them as the Gate shut down behind them. The usual data transmission must be completed already.

            “Sir, I wasn’t expecting you to wait for us,” Evan said, shaking the General’s hand.

            “Nah, I wasn’t going to, but you dialled in just after SG-3 left, so I thought I might just as well wait. Good to see you two.”

            “Thanks, General,” Alex said, sounding relieved, “May I ask-“

            “The new shipment of archaeological equipment will travel back with you on the Daedalus, yes. Doctor Jackson added a few items.” Landry shook his head with a grin. “But there’ll be time for that when you’re back from your trip.”

            Evan raised his brows. “Sir? Our orders were to be back here in two weeks and then go back to Atlantis on the Daedalus straight away.”

            “And you will, just that the Daedalus appears to have run into some problems on their way to Atlantis and it looks she’ll need to undergo some repairs before she can ship out again.”

            “How long?” That wasn’t exactly good news, yes, they desperately needed a break from daily routine on Atlantis, but he was second-in-command. He couldn’t be gone indefinitely.

            “Just about a week. So, take a few extra days and return here on the eighth.”

 

Alex swallowed her anger. It wouldn’t be fair. It wasn’t Landry’s fault, and it wasn’t Evan’s fault and it wasn’t the fault of the geologists who got themselves trapped. But that slow, burning sensation in the pit of her stomach remained. They’d lost two days and now they had to hurry to catch their plane from Denver to San Francisco, their first stop. Despite the Daedalus’ delay, they still needed to be back in Colorado Springs and resume work, after having lost two days. She took a deep breath. She wasn’t being fair, she told herself. She was being a brat. A thirty-five year old brat.

            She didn’t turn the rental car towards the highway. She barely paid attention to the familiar houses or the streets as she drove. Getting back behind the steering wheel should have felt stranger after about a year, but it was alright. The first few kilometres she’d had to pay extra attention, but she’d learned to appreciate automatic cars long ago.

            Evan didn’t say a thing as they drove past their house. They wouldn’t have the time to stop there. He just reached over and touched her knee, his thumb gently tracing the side of her leg. “Slow down, hm?”

            Letting out a long-held breath, she eased up on the gas. He was right. No use getting a ticket or dying just because she couldn’t wait to go to the graveyard. Her heart was so heavy and beating so fast at the same time, she could barely breathe when she finally stopped the car on that long, unpaved road lined by ancient trees. All she felt was his hand on her skin. His warmth.

            Giving his hand a quick squeeze, she opened the car door, stepped out and stared out over the sea of headstones, right at the one they’d come here to see. Evan was by her side, his hand in hers. Right now she needed his encouragement more than ever. Neither of them had been here in twelve whole months, and Alex couldn’t shake that feeling of guilt. Nora couldn’t feel lonely or abandoned. Not anymore. Not for a long time.

            Three years ago they’d been parents. For a while. After losing, then finding their daughter. For a few months they’d had a daughter. She still couldn’t believe that it had been that long She still felt that numbness occasionally, but most days she could live as though it had never happened, and if that wasn’t something to feel guilty about, then what was? Pulling at Evan’s hand, she started towards the headstone. It was eight rows away from them, dark grey in the bright July sun. Eight rows of carefully counted steps.

            It was as though nothing had changed. The dark stone, the silver star, the simple writing without the dates. And why wasn’t she sad now? Why wasn’t she bursting into tears? All of a sudden, this place felt empty, even though the flowers lying in front of the head stone showed her that somebody had been here recently, though she couldn’t say who.

            Nobody on her archaeological team on Atlantis knew about Nora, or if they did, they never talked about it. Not even Anna. There were quite a few people in Atlantis, who’d been involved in the search for her. Alex hadn’t counted them, and really, it was only Doctor Beckett who talked of her occasionally. Just a brief mention, really. No personal questions and she was grateful for it.

            “It’s so weird, being here,” Evan said, letting go of her hand and kneeling in front of the headstone. He cleared his throat and brushed over the top of it, as though he had to remove the dust of over a year. This grave had seen four whole seasons without them ever coming here. “It almost-“ he sighed and shook his head. Did he feel as detached as she did? Like that stone, that grave should be a slap in the face, when it just felt alien?

            “I just don’t feel her here anymore,” Alex said and Evan nodded thoughtfully.

He reached into his pocket, then started pulling out the grass right underneath the headstone and started digging with his fingers until a small patch of earth was laid bare. “Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

            “Don’t tell anyone what?”

            Shaking his head, he sprinkled something over the soil and covered it again with a thin layer.

“What is that?”

            “A plant that apparently looks like a daisy and doesn’t need a whole lot of tending to.”

            Alex stared at him, at the rule-abiding Major who’d always been commended by his superior for following orders to the letter. The one with the impeccable record. “Did you just plant an alien flower on our daughter’s grave?” She laughed despite herself.

            With a shrug, Evan got up again and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. The dirt-stained fingers resting on her arm. “Nobody will know, but there’ll be something from us here when we have to leave again. I snuck them out of the botany lab before we left.”

            “You know you might be damning the whole eco system right now?”

            Evan shrugged and grinned softly. “Not with just those few seeds.”