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The Long Way Home

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Chapter One

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.

"I know."

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."