The Effects of Foreign Policy on the Domestic Agenda

Sep. 10, 9:28 am

Fandom: SGA

Characters: John/Meredith

Rating: R

Warnings: Language, whump, sex, sexual abuse, dubcon

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Beta: mgbutterfly, who has the patience of a saint.

Summary: Meredith gets taken by some very unpleasant people. John tries to get her back.

Author's Note: Written for the FFFFA, sequel to Waging Romance on Meredith McKay, prompt and who it's for at the end, because it kind of spoils the story.

hr

It's been a week. The stopwatch in John's head—the one he can't ignore or push away—says one hundred and eighty-three hours, forty-six minutes, fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three seconds.

He hasn't slept. There's no way for him to make himself be still long enough to sleep. There's no time for it. Every hour has its assigned use: for piloting the Jumper, for knocking heads together looking for information, for coming back to Atlantis and looking into the expectant, wane, drawn, faces around the 'gate room and shaking his head.

Ronon and Teylan are at John's side. They have to be exhausted, because they've been going just as long as he has. The same manic energy that's driving John along seems to be propelling them as well, their expressions flat and hard, their eyes glinting when they drag their tired bodies up the stairs to the control room.

The 'gate techs are all staring, looking crushed. Zelenka and Miko are arguing by one of the long-range scanners, already processing the team's return and moving back to their own planning. John looks at them, unable to make out a damn word coming out of their mouths. He's pretty sure they're speaking English.

Elizabeth is saying, arms crossed, dark circles under her eyes, her mouth pressed down thin, "Colonel. Sheppard. John, I think we need—"

And one of the 'gate techs interrupts, as the 'gate jumps to life, "Unauthorized off-world activation!"

hr

The man on the screen is saying, "My apologies for taking such a long time to get in contact with you. We had some, hm, compliance issues when we attempted to get our communications network properly set up. As you can see, it has been taken care of now."

John is listening, but the words are going straight through his mind, stored someplace down deep where he doesn't have to process them immediately. Now, his exhausted brain is focused on the speaker himself, big, pale, bad teeth, older, wearing some kind of uniform, standing in a room with flat, gray, walls.

It could be anywhere. It could be nowhere. John squeezes the 'gate tech's shoulder, and the man nods, sharp, but doesn't say a word as his fingers fly over computer keys. Elizabeth has her hands folded over her stomach, her chin up. In any other circumstance, John might have been impressed at the way all the exhaustion and stress has been wiped off of her face. She says, calm, "I'm glad to hear that you've gotten your problems handled, but I'm not sure why you wanted to contact us in the first place."

John can guess, but he keeps his mouth shut, his jaw locked tight.

The man on the screen smiles wide, showcasing the gray, metallic, incisor shining in his mouth. He shifts, bending briefly, cursing and rising slower. He says, pale face staining red, "I believe we have found something you misplaced," and twists his fingers tightly into Meredith's hair, jerking her head back even further.

For a moment no one even breathes. Meredith is gagged, one side of her face turning green and purple with bruises, her neck streaked with dirt. Her uniform is still visible on her shoulders, but her vest is gone. She's blinking fast, breathing shallow. John grinds out, "You son of a bitch," and watches Meredith jerk, her expression tightening up with hope, with fear, with trust.

The man tsks at them, tilting his head to the side and brushing his cheek against Meredith's hair. He says, "I come to you as a neighbor, and this is how I am received? I had expected better. Perhaps the safe return of your property does not mean as—"

John takes a jerky step towards the screen, his hands balled into fists, snarling, "If you touch her again I will—" and Ronon catches John before he can do anything as stupid as punching the grinning visage on the screen. John jerks against the stronger man, adrenaline, fear, and anger mixing together in his gut.

Elizabeth interrupts before John can lunge for the screen again, her voice all icy politeness, "I assure you, the safety of our people means more than you could possibly understand."

And the man looks at her, smile gone, expression suddenly tight, when he says, "Oh, I believe you underestimate my capacity for understanding. I am transferring a list of, hm, expected rewards for the return of the woman. I am a generous man, so I give you a week to decide. Good day."

John yells, "Wait!" but the connection is already going to white noise. He shoves at Ronon, the man letting go but not stepping back, hearing the desperation in his own voice and hating it, "Tell me you got a lock on them."

The 'gate tech is already shaking his head, helpless, looking sick, his voice small, "I'm sorry, sir, I tried, but it was bounced all—"

John stops listening, cursing, and Teylan presses something hard and breakable into John's hand. He hurls it at the wall, shards of ceramic going everywhere, dark coffee staining against the pale metal. John doesn't feel better, not even a little bit.

For a beat there is silence. John can feel everyone staring down hard at their work, purposely not looking at him or his team. Elizabeth pointedly clears her throat after a moment, tone calm and controlled when she asks, "Did we get the list?"

"Yes, ma'am," the 'gate tech sounds miserable. John looks up to find the demands scrolling across the screen. He feels his stomach twist and drop, sick, furious, suddenly exhausted. John turns on his heel and leaves before he has to hear Elizabeth say no, say they can't, say they won't.

hr

Most of John's stuff is in Meredith's room. His quarters have been mostly abandoned for months; since they reestablished contact with Earth; since they lost Ford. His clothes are in her dresser, and Johnny Cash is there, though he's been relegated to above the couch, instead of over the bed.

John feels numb by the time he reaches her quarters—their quarters. The room is dark. It's night on this world, and John tries to remember when he lost track of that. He is absently aware of Teylan and Ronon following him through the door into the dark, but it seems distant, something he knows about but can't bring himself to care about.

The sheets on their bed are still messy, one of the pillows on the floor.

John can see Meredith there, for just a moment, the way she'd looked a week and a day ago. She'd been pushed up on her elbows, watching him towel his hair dry and dangling his thigh holster from one finger with a soft smirk on her reddened mouth. John had been very distracted by the line of her spine, down beneath the soft blankets, with the curve of her thigh, the sheet stretched tight across firm skin.

John blinks, and the illusion is gone. He lets out a ragged breath, struggling out of his vest, jacket, shirt, boots. It all feels so distant. Unimportant. He kicks his BDUs off, leaving the one pillow abandoned on the floor, because they hadn't slept with it anyway, Meredith's head resting on his chest instead, even though she always said it gave her a crick in her neck.

The blankets are cool against his skin, all the warmth leeched out of them days ago. John collapses facedown onto the mattress, dragging the blankets up over his body. They smell like Meredith, like him, like sex and sleep.

John squeezes his eyes shut, breath hitching in his chest, and falls asleep before all the pressure in his chest can go anywhere. He doesn't dream, which is both a relief and exceptionally cruel.

hr

Teylan and Ronon are still there in the morning. Ronon is leaning against the wall, his long legs stretched out in front of him, chin titled down against his chest, arms crossed, sleeping. Teylan has his legs folded, like maybe he fell asleep meditating.

John grabs one of the blankets from the couch, the ones that Meredith says she keeps because she gets cold sometimes when she works, but really only uses when she works way too late and doesn't want to wake him up when she finally decides to sleep. John throws it over them before dragging himself to the bathroom. He feels distant, like maybe he's not all in his head, like someone else is pulling all his strings.

He showers. He shaves. He gets dressed. He can't find his thigh holster anywhere, and for a long moment he stands in the middle of their quarters, his hands on his hips, staring at the ground. Eventually, John just leaves without it, Ronon and Teylan still sleeping. God knows they need it.

Elizabeth is in her office, her elbows on her desk, her head in her hands. John knocks, already in the room, and she jerks her head up, blinking at him in surprise. Her mascara is smeared. It makes it look like her eyes have been blackened. John feels a twist of sickness low in his gut, and pushes it down. She looks at him carefully, questioningly, when she says, "John?"

"Please," John doesn't know what else to say, the word choked off in his throat.

For a long moment Elizabeth just looks at him, and then she sighs, looking down at her hands instead, fisted on her desk. She says, "You know I can't give them what they're asking for," she sounds a little betrayed, like she can't believe he'd even ask.

John nods, because that was what he'd expected. The good of the city has to come before Meredith. For Elizabeth, anyway. He sucks in a deep breath, feeling tight and tense, his shoulders locked up on him, "Then give them something else. A counteroffer. Anything."

Elizabeth rubs at the bridge of her nose, her brow furrowing. "What do you think they'd accept that we could actually give them, John? Realistically?"

Perhaps John isn't the best person to ask, because there isn't anything they could ask for that he wouldn't give them. Not a damn thing in the galaxy—in the fucking universe—that he wouldn't find an acceptable trade. But he knows Elizabeth doesn't exactly share that viewpoint.

John shrugs, "So lie. Tell them we'll give them anything. Everything. Whatever. Just get me some more information, and I'll find her."

Elizabeth nods, tiredly, like that's the decision she's already come to. Her smile is a twisted, unhappy thing, that fits poorly on her face. She holds his gaze, tone of voice as bitterly tired as her expression, "Well, at least I've got some time to work on my poker face." And, when John nods jerkily, turning towards the door, "We're going to do everything we can to get her back, John." He doesn't pause.

hr

The next week drags.

They keep looking. Of course they do. They go to so many different worlds that John stops even attempting to keep track, leaving that to Teylan. The science team finally has a direction to pursue in trying to break the tangled signal that had brought the message to Atlantis in the first place.

It takes Zelenka all of two seconds to decide that the signal is Meredith's work, which means that, under normal circumstances, John would hold out no hope of them cracking it in the first place. Now, he consoles himself that if there was any way to do it, she'll have included some way to track her directly in the code. They just have to find it.

The nights are the worst, because Elizabeth has put her foot down and demanded that they sleep. Or, at least, that they get some down time. John has no idea how much sleep Ronon and Teylan are getting, but he's not managing more than an hour or two a night. The nightmares make sure of that.

John doesn't remember them when he wakes up, which is a cold comfort. He can guess what's dancing through his mind, and not knowing the exact images doesn't make the tight knot in his stomach any easier to bear, or the constant thrum of panic through his veins easier to ignore.

The week stretches out into eternity, never ending, and then they're all standing around the 'gate room, holding their collective breath, waiting.

Of course, the message doesn't come early in the day. There are way too many people in the room, crammed together tight, all of them smelling like fear and sour tension. The silence is oppressive, thick enough that not even a knife would cut through it.

John is behind one of the 'gate techs, his hands braced on the man's chair, staring hard down at the 'gate, willing the activation sequence to start. Ronon is on one side of John, big hand resting on John's shoulder, either comfort or potential restraint. Maybe both. Teylan is on John's other side, the only person besides Elizabeth managing to even remotely fake calm.

They've been here for hours, nearly motionless, silent, when the 'gate finally flares into life. John feels like someone punched him up under the ribs, his breath escaping in a rush, momentarily lightheaded. Ronon squeezes his shoulder.

The screen comes on again, the same man from before grinning out at them. John stares hard at the man's face, and hates him with a fury that's frightening, or would be, if John was capable of caring about the strength of the emotion. The man says, "Ah, I apologize for being a little bit late."

John tightens his grip on the back of the chair, struggling to keep his voice level, "Where is she?"

The man sighs, rolling his eyes, "Pleasantries are not the strength of your people. But then, I am accustomed to that by now. Never have I seen a woman that talks as this one does." There's something lightly mocking in the tone.

John makes himself ignore it, breathing deep into his gut, trying to keep himself calm, "You done stalling yet?" And Elizabeth shoots him a sharp look that John ignores. He doesn't particularly care if he's not being a diplomat. This man isn't either.

As though to prove John right, the man laughs, deep and harsh. He looks off camera, spitting words that John doesn't understand. It doesn't really matter, because then Meredith is being dragged into the frame, and John stops thinking about being calm, their plan for handling this, or anything at all.

Her hair is matted with blood at her temple, and she's still gagged. She's way too pale, her eyes not as sharp as they should be. And John hears himself breathe, "Oh God, sweetheart," the words dragged up out of his throat before he can stop them. She blinks, slowly, shaking her head a little from side to side, and there's still that flash of hope across her features that cuts John's insides to shreds.

Elizabeth cuts in, tone sharp and biting, "She's hardly unharmed."

The man shrugs, curling his hand around the back of Meredith's neck. "Did I agree that she would be? I do not recall making any such promises, but perhaps you know better than me, hm?" His tone is harshly mocking, and it makes John's knuckles itch. The man continues, in the same low gloating voice, "Have you reached your decision? She tells me that you will not trade for her. I find her lack of faith discouraging."

And that Meredith knows hurts more than John had expected it would. That she's not even trying to delude her captors about what Atlantis will give for her safe return settles in John's stomach like acid, burning up through the center of his body. He makes himself breathe, fighting down nausea.

Elizabeth starts, "We—"

The man cuts her off, "I think maybe I will let her tell you herself," still smiling smugly, like he knows something they don't, like he's already beating them and is pulling an ace out of his sleeve anyway. He reaches up, yanking the gag out of Meredith's mouth, and her lips are chapped, splitting in the corners.

Meredith leans forward, spitting on the ground, her expression twisting up in disgust. The man shakes her hard by the back of the neck, all false pleasantness, "Tell them what you have told me, please. About how they will never give me what I want."

When Meredith is silent for a moment, the man shakes her again, hard, like she's a rag-doll. John jerks forward a step, Teylan and Ronon catching at his shoulders and hauling him back. Meredith jerks, trying to pull away from the grip on her neck.

She looks up before she speaks, one of her eyes reddened with burst capillaries, black bruises surrounding it. She croaks, "I said—" and then cuts herself off, clearing her throat loudly and licking her cracked lips, "I said, you deaf fucker, that they won't give you a damn thing, because they're going to find me after I blow your little empire to pieces. John's going to find me."

There's nothing but belief in the words. She's not just saying them in a bluff. John can read the surety in her eyes. She believes he'll find her. She believes she'll escape. She believes, and it makes John squeeze his eyes closed, biting at the insides of his cheeks and his tongue.

The man sighs, and backhands her. John lunges forward again, and this time Ronon bodily grabs him, lifting him off of his feet for a moment. The man is saying, pleasant still, "You see what I must put up with? Well? Is she right? Will you give me nothing for her?"

John can't make himself look at Elizabeth. He doesn't even really want to hear her, to know if she's pulling off the bluff of not. But there's no way to avoid that. She says, "We were hoping to discuss the terms—"

The man snorts scornfully, rolling his eyes. "That means no, does it not? No matter. I believe I would not have been able to give her up, in any case. She is very useful, when given the proper motivation. And I am very motivational."

John curses, something loud that rings in his ears, though he can't hear the exact words. Elizabeth shouts back at him, but John can't make that out any better than he can his own words. There's nothing, nothing but Meredith slipping away, their chances for finding her dissolving before his eyes.

The man on screen grins, says, "Ah, and you must be her John? I will take good care of her for you. Now, I believe our business is concluded." And just like that, the line goes dead. John stares at the blank, empty, screen. His heart is pounding hard up against his ribs. His mind has gone frightfully empty.

Teylan says, "John?" soft and cautious, and John twists away from all of them, walking out of the control room, not sure where he's going except away.

hr

John finds himself down at the shooting range, blowing little paper cut outs to pieces. It's not nearly as satisfying as the real thing, and he's wondering how hard it would be to convince Teylan to take them back to the Percherions, who had been constantly at war with whoever happened to be around, and probably wouldn't even notice a couple dozen extra casualties.

He's vaguely aware that Major Lorne hustled everyone else out of the range when John showed up. John thinks maybe he should be ashamed of himself, or embarrassed, but he just can't marshal the emotion. He can't, honestly, manage anything beyond numbness, and beneath it a deep, crushing, fury.

And maybe, somewhere beneath that, at the root of it all, terror so blinding he can't even think about it.

He's only had a year with her, really, since they worked their way around their initial problems and misunderstandings. A year of falling asleep beside her, her body tangled with his, her breath warm on his chest and her hair soft against his mouth when he bent to kiss it. A year of waking up with her, of the occasional late mornings they'd managed to steal, where they were all that existed in the world. A year of smiles just for him, of mistakes, of successes, of reveling in the family, the home, that she'd given him.

John curses under his breath, slamming the gun down, the barrel hot. He yanks off the ear protection, hurling it across the room, listening to the crash it makes when it hits the floor with a tight wash of pleasure. He swallows deep breaths until he feels calmer, and then takes his finger off the trigger of the gun, and turns, and walks away.

hr

They keep looking. John doesn't see that they have another option, because the city just can't lose her. No more than he can.

Elizabeth looks increasingly tense, every time John takes his team through the 'gate. John has the distinct feeling that she's humoring him, or something close to it anyway. He thinks, sometimes, when he's feeling particularly uncharitable, that she's already given up hope and is just waiting on him to as well.

John refuses. He can't. There are too many things he has yet to do with Meredith. Too many things he never got to tell her. Too many years that he'd promised himself he was going to live out with her. There's a ring in his pocket that he never got the chance to give her, too chicken shit through the long months that they'd been back from Earth. Too afraid that she'd say no and pull away from him, the way she still did sometimes when he pushed too fast or too hard.

The first time he told her he loved her, because it was true, and because he wanted to, and because he'd thought that she wanted—or maybe needed—to hear it, she'd completely shut him out for a week. John had spent the entire time trying to figure out how exactly that went wrong, and how to fix it.

He hadn't tried to make it a grand romantic gesture of the confession, because those made Meredith uncomfortable. They'd just been drowsing, both of them exhausted, though he had still been able to hear her thinking. And he'd said it, not really expecting a response, because Meredith always needed a bit of time to process anything even remotely connected to their relationship.

Her going stiff and fleeing the room had not been the response John had been counting on. The subsequent avoidance had been an even bigger surprise. John had been sure, then, that he'd finally fucked up what they had, though he had no idea how he'd managed it. For a week she had just been no where he was, and then she'd been back, sitting on the side of the bed when he dragged himself back to their room one night.

She'd told him, "I'm not so good with love," and John hadn't grinned or laughed, even though he'd been giddily relieved that she was back.

He had just said, "Yeah?" and sat down beside her, and squeezed his eyes shut when she leaned her head against his shoulder.

But Meredith was always one surprise after another, and she'd tilted her chin up, whispered into the stillness of the room, "Say it again," and when John did, she'd shifted around, pulling him into a kiss. And that had been it, long, deep kisses until John thought he might lose his mind and she slipped a hand into his pants to jerk him off.

She'd been so stiff when he tried to touch her back, like she didn't know what to expect suddenly, just like the first several times they'd been together. And John would have thought it was a lack of trust, except that he was smart enough to realize it was just about the opposite, that even letting him try was so hard for her for reasons he wasn't sure he'd ever understand. He didn't need to understand the reasons to understand the effects.

John had kissed her, slow and careful and long, until she'd relaxed, sighing against his mouth, grabbing his wrist and pushing his hand down. She had come apart for him, and only then had they struggled out of their clothes, limbs heavy and thick, sleep calling them down.

And she'd whispered against his chest, when she thought he was asleep, "You too, you know?" And he had, because it was impossible not to, after all she gave him.

That had been months ago. John won't let her go. He can't.

hr

John's internal stopwatch is at eight hundred and five hours, twelve minutes, and twenty-one seconds when Heightmeyer sits down beside him in the mess hall. John nods at her, twisting his mouth up into a smile, and smashing his peas down to green paste. He says, "What's up, doc?"

Heightmeyer smiles back, soft and gentle, tilting her head just a little to the side. She has a cup of coffee cradled in her hands, light brown with all the non-dairy creamer she's put in it. It smells way too sweet, almost enough to turn John's stomach.

She says, "Teylan and Ronon have both been by to speak with me, Colonel."

John starts mixing his peas with his mashed potatoes. The peas are a weirdly yellow-green color, and the potatoes are almost gray. Together they're a color that doesn't really need any more description than: unappetizing. John shovels a huge forkful into his mouth and grins at Heightmeyer before drawing, "Is that right? Good for them. Mental health is very important."

The doctor does not look impressed. She raises one eyebrow, and asks, "Do you think she would have wanted you to do this to—"

John stands, jerking to his feet, his hands clenched into useless fists by his sides. Heightmeyer is staring up at him, expressing open and expectant. John makes himself smile again, though it feels all kinds of wrong and horrible. He manages to grit out, the forcefully easy going tone of his voice costing him more than he's comfortable thinking about, "You can ask her just as soon as we get her back."

Heightmeyer looks pitying, reaching one hand out towards him, and John steps away from her. He says, "Enjoy your coffee," and turns on his heel. The mess is suspiciously silent all around him, but John can't really bring himself to care right now.

He goes for a run.

hr

Nothing in their quarters smells like Meredith anymore. John realizes it one morning while he's drying off, water sliding down his flanks when the towel slips out of his grasp. He doesn't really remember much of the next half an hour, just that it ends with him sitting in the middle of the floor, clutching one of her shirts with his nose buried in the fabric.

It doesn't smell like her. Not even a little bit. It's just cotton.

John breathes through the empty ache in his chest. He tries to make himself care about the huge mess he just made, about the fact that he's naked, though not really very wet anymore. It's hard, but he manages, pushing to his feet, neatly refolding everything, putting it all back where it goes.

He knows it's his own fault. If he hadn't been poking at her things all the time, if he hadn't slept better with one of her shirts wrapped around the pillow, then this wouldn't have happened. John makes himself get dressed, and then takes down his Johnny Cash poster, replacing it with two of the diplomas she'd haltingly removed to make room for the poster in the first place.

It's nothing more than a stop-gap measure to make the room feel more like hers again. It's the best John can do. He goes down to the 'gate room, five minutes late for their mission to yet another world that he's hoping and praying she's on, ignoring the tiny little voice in the back of his head that insists on pointing out that they don't even know if her transmitter is still working. They don't know anything.

They have to go anyway.

Teylan and Ronon nod when John finally makes his way into the room, already locked and loaded. John nods back, shrugging his P-90 into place as Elizabeth comes down the stairs, her expression tense when she says, "John, we have to—"

And one of the techs yells, "Unauthorized off-world activation!"

hr

It's the same bastard. John isn't surprised. The man isn't quite so smug this time, and John fights down a brief surge of bitter pleasure, pacing behind Elizabeth as she crosses her arms. The man is saying, "While she is very useful, some of the things she asks for we cannot provide. She tells us there are no substitutes on our world."

John snaps, sneering, "And you expect us to just hand over some supplies?"

Elizabeth goes stiff across the shoulders, and John would feel bad about talking over her, but he just can't. Not with the man scoffing, "Yes. Unless you would prefer I...insist...that she make due with what we can provide her? I am told I am very persuasive."

John can't say anything to that, clenching his fists and his jaw, cutting a quick look across at Zelenka and Miko where they're supposed to be tracking this transmission. They aren't paying any attention to John, which he figures is probably a good thing.

Elizabeth sighs, smoothing imaginary wrinkles out of her shirt when she says, "Don't take this the wrong way, but we'd like to verify that she's still—" Elizabeth cuts herself off, swallowing and jerking her chin up, and John bites his tongue hard.

The man rolls his eyes, "So little trust between partners is unfortunate," but then it doesn't matter because he's waving impatiently.

John makes himself go completely still when Meredith is dragged into view. She's still twisting against the men holding her, but he can't tell if the struggles are weaker or not. Her hair is longer than he ever remembers it being, hanging in dirty tangles around her face. There's blood dried under her nose. She's gagged again. John wishes, desperately, that he could see below her shoulders.

The man says, impatient and scornful, "Satisfied?"

And John bites out, "Hardly," almost before the word is out of the man's mouth. Meredith blinks, attempting to focus for the first time since they dragged her forward. She winces, a flash of pain across her features, and John hears himself saying, "We're going to find you, I swear. Just hold on. Hold on for me, sweetheart, okay? I'm going to come for you and bring you home. Just hold on."

Meredith has her eyes closed, her expression intent and tense, like she's absorbing every word. It makes John's stomach twist, and he opens his mouth again. The man cuts him off, "Touching, truly. But hardly what I contacted you for. Will you provide us with the supplies she requires, or will you not?"

Elizabeth looks back over her shoulder at John, dark eyes hard, mouth pressed thin. He reaches out to grab her elbow, and she sighs, squeezing her eyes closed for just a moment.

She says, "Where would you like it delivered?" And for one long, odd, moment, John and the man are smiling at the same time.

hr

"I assure you, I'll be putting on all possible speed, but..." Caldwell trails off, wincing over the view screen. Elizabeth nods, John echoing the gesture as much as he hates to. The 'gate address that they'd been given was a space 'gate, and the Daedalus wasn't in range to reach it by the time limit. The fact that they were trying anyway isn't really comforting.

Ronon says, from across the table, "I still think we should send a Jumper through."

John bites back his first, furious, response, because there's a part of him that wants the same thing. That doesn't really think that their unnamed enemies could be watching the 'gate already. But. But if they are, it's a chance John can't take.

Teylan sighs, his hands folded on the table, "It is not worth risking Doctor McKay's life," and John balls his hands up into fists under the table, where no one can see. He hates feeling that his judgment on this one might be compromised, because he would do anything to keep Meredith safe, to make sure that he never had to see the barrel of a gun pressed against the side of her head again. But...

Caldwell nods over the view screen, leaning back in his chair and saying, "I agree, it's a risk we can't take," and John bites his bottom lip hard, holding his breath for a long moment. Caldwell continues, "I'll keep in contact when I can. Daedalus out."

hr

They push the supplies through the 'gate at the agreed upon time. John imagines the blackness of space on the other side of the 'gate, and for just a half second thinks about grabbing an EVA suit and following them through. He should have gotten Meredith to install some kind of jetpack on one of them. Some kind of weapon. A cloak. Something.

But he hadn't.

The last box goes through, and John looks up at Elizabeth, standing on the balcony. She nods, lips pressed thin, and the 'gate closes. All they can do is wait, now. John sits himself down on the steps up to the control room, fingers locked together, head bowed, because a watched 'gate never opens.

After a few minutes Teylan joins him, and John wonders if this is what the other man's felt like since Ford walked through that 'gate and out of their lives. Since they lost him to a Wraith culling beam. John doesn't know how to ask, so he doesn't, just accepting the silent comfort.

Hours later Elizabeth kneels down behind them, one thin hand resting on John's shoulder when she says, "If you want to wait in my office..." and John nods, his knees popping when he stands. It's not really any more comfortable in her office, but he can lean his head back against the wall and close his eyes.

They never get a message from the people that have Meredith. Two days later the Daedalus reports that there's no trace of anything around the space 'gate, not even a hyperspace trail. John drags himself back down to their quarters and then changes his mind. Instead he goes down to the gym, to let Teylan and Ronon beat him black and blue, until he can feel again.

hr

Time drags past, and every day without word feels like the end of the world. Elizabeth starts making tight, unhappy, faces every time they go through the 'gate, but John can't just stop, can't give up, promised that he'd find her. And he will. He has to.

Once or twice, John is sure that Elizabeth will do more than just frown, but she never does. John is certain that has something to do with the whispered conversation he walked in on between Elizabeth and Teylan, the other man gently touching Elizabeth's arm while speaking low and fast.

John doesn't know what was said. He doesn't ask.

He dreams about Meredith now. Almost every time he sleeps. The dreams are sweet, more memories than anything else, and they make it so much worse when he wakes up to find her gone every damn morning. The bed, which had always seemed far too small, now feels expansive. He gets lost in it, constantly cold without her there to warm him.

John had thought that he wasn't really going to be sleeping alone again. It hurts more that Meredith was the perfect fit for a sleeping partner. Even aside from the sex, just curling up against her to sleep had been comforting, had been everything he wanted. They fit together so easily, her complaints of a sore neck and his arm constantly falling asleep aside.

It had taken him forever just to get her to sleep the entire night with him in the first place. The first time they'd had sex she'd been so jumpy afterwards, startling when he'd slid an arm around her waist and tried to nuzzle against the back of her neck.

Sex had always slowed John's brain down, and he'd had no time to form a protest when she squirmed away from him, out from beneath the sheets, and back into her pants. By the time John had managed to push up, she'd been tugging on her shirt, grabbing her jacket and shoving her feet into her shoes.

He'd said, "Wait, Meredith—" but she'd already been gone, out the door and down the hall. John had spent the rest of the night sure that he'd just fucked things up royally, with no clue as to what he'd done, coming up with as many options as he could to get back in her good graces, to get another shot, anything.

In the morning, she'd acted like nothing horrible had happened, which had only confused him more. They'd had sex again, and John had been so goddamn relieved, so happy, so everything, that it had taken him a moment afterward to realize she was leaving again.

Two weeks later, two weeks of her sliding out of bed every single time, and John had managed to get them in her bed, her fingers clenching against his back, one of her heels digging into the back of his thigh, moving together desperately. And afterwards, she'd gone into the bathroom, came back out, said she had to go down to the labs, and left him there, lying naked in her bed.

John had considered, briefly, tying her down, and then dismissed the idea, more than a little disgusted with himself. Meredith did trust him, something that he'd earned slowly and carefully. He'd decided to trust her back, even if that meant sleeping alone when he really wanted to wrap around her and wake up with his face buried in her hair.

He'd ended up eavesdropping on a conversation between Meredith and Miko as they worked on one of the city's constant repair problems. It had been accidental, he'd only been trying to bring Meredith lunch, but he hadn't walked away when he could have. Not when Meredith had snapped, muffled and irritated, "I don't need to be pandered to. Or coddled."

Miko's voice was clearer, and completely bemused, "You believe he is trying to coddle you?"

Meredith had snorted, and John had been able to clearly imagine her expression, scorn with a side of impatience that everyone else wasn't seeing things exactly and immediately as she did. "Of course he is." And then, softer, a half second later, "I mean, why else would he be...you know."

Miko had laughed, just a little, but her voice had been more sad than happy, "Maybe he just wants to. You could ask him?" Meredith's scornful noise of derision for the idea had followed John when he hurried away, wondering if they were ever not going to miss each other by a mile on these things.

That night, though, she hadn't gone anywhere. For a long time she hadn't moved at all, stretched out over him, her face buried against his neck, and John had been content to rub a hand up and down her back, tracing the little jumps still moving through her muscles, still inside her, soft now.

Then she'd shifted, her hand landing near the edge of the bed before she froze, fingers twisting up in the sheets. She'd stared down hard at the bed, leg still thrown across his hips when she said, "John..." making a face on the end before her expression started to close down.

John had blurted, "Stay," before he could even think, and she'd stared at him for a long, long, time. And then she'd shifted slowly back, moving ever so carefully as she settled against him, one hand cautiously splayed on his chest.

John had hummed, keeping his own touches light, and she hadn't slept at all that night. But the next night she did, relaxing against him just a little bit. John had woken up with his face buried in her hair, her soft snores brushing across his chest, and grinned stupidly up at the ceiling until she woke up.

It's been fifteen hundred and twenty-four hours, thirty-seven minutes, and forty-two seconds since the last time John woke up beside Meredith. She'd been up before him, petting his hair and staring softly down at him when he woke, and he'd said, "Hey," rubbing his palm up her spine.

She'd smiled at him, just a little awkwardly, and blurted, "Why don't you ever talk about your family?" right before Teylan radioed to tell them that they had five minutes to get to the 'gate room for their mission.

Forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven seconds. John wants to scream.

hr

It's two weeks more before they get another message from Meredith's captors. John's sleeping when it comes in, waking to Ronon pounding on his door and yelling for him. It takes precious seconds for John to get up, pull pants on, and then he's taking off for the control room.

No one there even questions his lack of shoes, or his missing shirt. It probably helps that no one is looking at him. They're all fixated on Elizabeth and the man on the screen, who is saying, "Your last delivery was very helpful, but I have been informed that she now requires more."

Elizabeth cuts a quick look towards John, the only outward sign that she's surprised by his appearance a slight lift to one of her eyebrows. Her voice is calm, level, "I think that we've proven that our word is good. We'd like to see her in person as a good faith gesture."

The man laughs, and John steps up behind Elizabeth's shoulder. Meredith is already standing beside the man this time, tangled hair and tired eyes, bruised and battered. She's lost weight, her features sharper than John remembers under the dirt. It makes his stomach twist unpleasantly.

After a moment, the man swallows down his amusement, says in a tone still tinged with humor, "What have I done to make you believe we do anything in good faith? This is not a negotiation. You will do this or you will not. It is your decision, and I see no reason to, hm, sweeten the pot for you."

Elizabeth takes a deep breath, opening her mouth, and John says before she can speak, "I want to talk to her." Because it's been so long since he heard her voice, because maybe she can tell them something they've missed, because maybe it'll keep them on the line a little bit longer.

The man raises his eyebrows, making an impatient face. Then he smirks, shoving Meredith to the side and out of the frame. He leans forward, his face disturbingly close to the camera when he says, "How does it feel to not get the things you want, John? You have the list. You have the drop coordinates. She will be waiting for you to deliver."

The line goes dead.

For a beat, there's silence. And then Elizabeth is saying, carefully, "John, we can't just—"

John snaps back, "The hell we can't," his hands balled up into fists, his jaw aching from how hard he's grinding his teeth together. Teylan puts a hand on John's chest, not pushing, just there, and John swallows down the furious words that had been building on the tip of his tongue.

Elizabeth is staring at him, her eyes soft, sad, matching her voice, "Listen to me, I wish that we—"

And from across the room, Zelenka is interrupting, waving one hand wildly and crowing, "There is the McKay we know!" before going off excitedly in his native tongue. John is to the other man in a heartbeat, reading over the information on the screen, none of it making any sense to him.

John opens his mouth to ask for an explanation, right now, goddamnit, and Zelenka cuts him off, "She is insane to be trying this, if she is doing what I think she is. With anyone else, I would say that it would never work, but—"

John cuts in, heart pounding hard, "What exactly is she doing?"

Zelenka blinks, turning to look at John, smiling wide and toothily. The man pats one of John's shoulders before twisting back around, pointing at random lines on the screen and pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "She is building bombs. Very clever, even for her. They will set them up for her, and detonate them all on their own."

For a beat, silence, and then Elizabeth is asking, "What? Are you sure?" and sliding closer, squinting at the screen like she's trying to see what Zelenka is deducing. John doesn't care how the man knows, particularly. He's willing to take this one on faith.

Zelenka is bobbing his head quickly anyway, talking fast, "Oh, yes, positive. The material she is requesting for the power sources is flawed. It will hold only under very minimal pressure, not the quality of the other parts she has asked for." The man pauses, mouth quirking up in one corner when he says, "The explosions should be very impressive." Zelenka sounds proud, and impressed, and possibly more gleeful than he should, but he always has liked bombs.

John pushes that all aside, blinking at Elizabeth, throat too tight for words. After a moment she nods, patting Zelenka's shoulder when she says, "Send it. Send all of it." And John closes his eyes, swallowing a deep breath, and hopes the fuckers all burn in the hell she sends them to.

hr

The drop point is another space 'gate, a different one, of course. The Daedalus heads there at all speed with no protests at all, and they get lucky in a big way when Teylan points out that there's a planetary 'gate very close to the delivery area.

They don't have a lot of time to get ready. They don't need it. They're in the Jumper almost without discussion, John feeling like he's burning up on the inside, the controls jerking under his hands when he takes them through the 'gate.

And straight into a nightmare.

Teylan hadn't been familiar with the world the 'gate was on. None of them had been in any state of mind to worry about it. They were going, no matter what was on the other side, in any case. And John is aware, down below the sudden rush of adrenaline and tension, that it's really not a surprise they walked into something like this.

There are Wraith Hives everywhere, settled on the planet. John wonders what they're doing, absently, cursing and throwing the Jumper into a barrel roll, Darts all over them in seconds. He has no time to grit out any kind of warnings, but Teylan and Ronon are holding on in any case, echoing his curses.

Over the radio, Elizabeth is saying, "Colonel? What's—" and John knocks it off, because he doesn't have time for the distraction right now. Somewhere behind them, the 'gate closes, and John manages to take out two Darts with one Drone, the explosion burning across his vision in spots of orange and blinding white.

In the co-pilot's seat, Teylan shouts, reaching over John and grabbing the controls, jerking them to the side as John tries to get rid of the spots smeared across his vision. They hit something, the Jumper jerking and twisting so hard that for a half-second the dampeners don't quite work.

John's shoulder slams hard into the bulkhead, and he curses, squeezing his eyes shut and then opening them wide. The world is still a bit out of focus, white splotches disrupting his vision, but it's close enough for him to fly again. He tightens his grip on the controls, twisting them away from the Hive ship that they'd clipped, weapon's fire pinging off the hull.

Teylan says, tense, "John."

John nods, gritting out, "Alpha site, on my mark," flipping the Jumper and throwing the cloak on, not that it'll do much good. They've got about as much of a sporting chance as fish in a barrel. John curses, spiraling them around a cluster of Darts, one of the drive pods almost clipping the ground, finally getting back within visual range of the 'gate.

Beside him, Teylan punches in the first six chevrons, his hand hovering over the last as they get closer and closer. A Dart streaks by in front of them, John's finger itching on the trigger. He doesn't take the shot, because, miraculously, the Wraith seem to have decided that they're still somewhere back near the Hives, and John doesn't feel like disabusing them of that notion.

They're almost to the 'gate. Ronon sucks in a loud breath, Teylan curls his fingers up against his palm, and John manages, "Now!"

The 'gate flares to life a half-second before they break the surface of the event horizon, shooting through into the alpha site. Weapons fire follows them for the seconds until they get the 'gate closed again, shutting it down and breathing raggedly.

John lands the Jumper, hands clenched hard around the controls. Adrenaline is burning him up, setting his nerves on fire, his heart is pounding like a freight train. Beside him, Teylan shakes himself and reaches out, dialing Atlantis and bringing the radio connection back up.

Elizabeth sounds worried and tense, and all John can manage in response to her demands for an explanation is, "They set us up. The bastards set us up." He laughs, loud and inappropriate, closing his eyes against the spots still swimming across his vision.

hr

Atlantis is quiet when they get back, the supplies delivered, the Daedalus on their way but almost certainly going to be too late. Teylan and Ronon exchange a look outside of the Jumper, and then Ronon is grabbing John's arm and steering him down the hall while Teylan heads towards the control room.

John thinks maybe he should protest, but he can't bring himself to. Ronon drags John down to Meredith's quarters, manhandles him across the room, and pushes him down onto the bed. For one very strange second, John half-thinks the other man is going to try to climb in with him. That seems patently bizarre for a number of reasons, not least because John doesn't think they'd both fit.

But Ronon only pulls the covers up over John's shoulders, orders, "Sleep," and turns around to leave. John presses the heels of his hands over his eyes, a migraine crawling up the back of his neck, and wishes the blankets still smelled like Meredith, even just a little bit.

He sleeps anyway.

hr

John doesn't really expect Meredith's captors to contact them, no matter how much he's hoping for it. The Daedalus doesn't even go to check on the space 'gate, because it's so close to the planet with the Hives on it as to be unsafe. They probably wouldn't have found anything anyway.

So they keep looking. And John keeps praying for another message, for a chance to see Meredith, if only for a few moments. Even if he knows she'll be bloody and hurt. Even if it'll only make him angrier, remind him how useless he is, how long they've had her.

It would still be better than this complete nothing.

Two thousand, three hundred and eleven hours, eight minutes, nineteen seconds after the last time John saw Meredith healthy and fine, he's in their quarters again. Teylan and Ronon have been sidelining him there more and more often, dragging him into the room and leaving him. John had tried to leave immediately afterwards, once, and found them standing outside the door, arms crossed and expressions serious.

Allowing his team to bully him is probably something he should avoid, but John's lost the will to fight against it. He's saving all his anger and frustration for the people that took Meredith away from him. He doesn't have any to spare for anyone else.

John curls up on his side, making plans for all the things he wants to say when they find her, and then discarding them. Most of them would make Meredith uncomfortable, the rest just feel wrong. He moves on to things he wants to do, and then squeezes his eyes shut, biting his bottom lip, because he can't even think about that now, not with her so far away. Not with her hurt, because he failed to protect her. Because he keeps failing, every damn day, to find her.

He thinks he might be going insane, nightmares twisting through his mind before he even falls asleep. Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty—

hr

John can't control what he dreams, as much as he wishes he could. The achingly sweet dreams intersperse themselves with the nightmares, forming tangled, convoluted webs that make him never want to sleep again. That's not an option. His body is running down, driven too hard for too long, starting to collapse under the constant strain as much as he tries to resist.

Tonight they're good dreams, memories that his unconscious mind serves up like gift wrapped torture.

The first time they'd attempted sex, they'd been in his room. Him sitting on the mattress, Meredith leaning over him, her thumbs stroking across his cheeks, her breath hitching against his mouth. She'd been stiff, both of them still dressed, and John had said, lips brushing hers, "Hey, hey, let's—I got that movie you wanted, let's—"

But he should have known that there was no arguing with Meredith once she made up her mind, regardless of whether she was right or not. She'd kissed him again, harder, crawling into his lap, rubbing her body up against his. He'd tried again anyway, because while he couldn't out-stubborn her, he could come close, "Meredith, we don't have—"

She'd cut him off, pulling the back of his shirt up, her fingers warm against his skin, "Unless it's babbled compliments, you can just keep your internal monologue to yourself." She'd nipped at his bottom lip, pulling back to tug his shirt over his head, tossing it across the room and running her hands up his chest.

Her mouth on his skin had been so very, very, good, quick and clever as everything about her, wicked. John had sucked in a deep breath, running his fingers back through her hair, touching her every place he could. And she'd been so tense it had to be painful.

Grabbing her shoulders and pushing her back those crucial few inches had been one of the hardest things John ever forced himself to do. And she'd only glared at him for his trouble, skin flushed already, her mouth wet and red.

John had said, "We're not doing this right now," and she had snarled at him, jerking out of his hold and to her feet, crossing her arms, glaring belligerently. For a long moment she hadn't said anything.

And then she'd twisted on her heel, grabbing her shoes, snapping over her shoulder, "So, what? Is this the punch line then? I was wondering where it was. Hilarious, really. I'm impressed that you managed to keep it—"

By the time John managed to grab her again she'd been almost to the door, radiating fury. John had kissed her, her lips hard and unyielding under his until he pulled back and kissed her cheeks, the tip of her nose, her forehead. He'd reached for her wrist, pressing her hand against the swell of his erection and rasping into her hair, "I'm not laughing, sweetheart."

She'd been breathing hard against his shoulder, every muscle in her body knotted up tight. Her voice came out pissed off, sharp and irritated to cover the confusion beneath, "I don't—do you want to fuck me or not?" John had grimaced, glad she couldn't see his expression right now.

Everything was always logical and scientific to Meredith. John had hated, truly and deeply, whoever had given her the basis for all the assumptions she had about relationships. He'd sighed, nuzzling against her hair again, words tangling awkwardly in his throat, "Not like—I want you to want this. If you don't..." John swallowed, releasing his hold on her wrist, "then that's okay. But we're not going to do this for any other reason."

And Meredith had shoved him away, her expression so flatly blank that John knew it had to be covering something, though he had no fucking idea what. She'd bit out, "You can go to hell," and stormed out of his quarters, her shoulders squared up, her arms crossed tightly over her chest again. John had sat down on his couch, rubbed a hand up over his mouth and cursed even though it didn't do anything to make the pressure in his chest lessen.

She'd avoided him for a week, before showing up at his room in the middle of the night, grabbing him and kissing him hard. There'd been whiskey on her breath, and John had shushed her when she babbled, too fast and jumbled, "I'm relaxed now, I am, I am," and it hadn't taken much to get her to curl up beside him on the couch, her breathing going slow and deep while he stroked her hair.

John had thought she was asleep when she mumbled, "I want to. I just don't know how you—" she'd made a frustrated sound, twisting to blink up at him, tone going to accusing, "You want things to be weird."

John sighed, and tried countering with, "I want things to be right."

Meredith had only glared half-heartedly for another long moment, before blinking and looking lost. The expression had been fleeting. Then she'd curled onto her side again, closing her eyes hard and eventually falling asleep. John had watched until dawn broke.

Now John wakes up, the room still and dark around him, the bed empty. He sits up, twisting, getting his feet flat on the floor so he can stick his head between his knees, just breathing until the urge to throw up or scream or break things passes.

hr

John is making one of his daily stops by the 'gate room the next time they get an unauthorized activation. He's up the stairs in seconds, calling for Ronon and Teylan over the radio, Elizabeth jerking to her feet in her office and hurrying out.

The 'gate tech already has the feed for the screen turned on, all static and white noise for a long moment. John holds his breath, wondering what the bastard on the other end is going to ask for this time. The picture twists, flickers to black, then blue, and finally settles.

Meredith says, staring into the computer, "Hello? Is anyone there? The video—" she shakes herself, ducking when something explodes behind her, "Fuck! John! Are you getting this?"

John steps towards the screen helplessly, forming words even through the pressure on his chest, "Yeah, we're getting you." There are flames behind her, smoke filling up the top of the room. She raises her arm over her mouth, coughing, soot smeared over the sides of her bruised face, her hair dark and limp with sweat and dirt.

And then she's gasping, ducking just a little bit, doing something John can't see below the camera, her expression dazed and wondering. She says, "John," so happy that it cuts like a knife. A second later she's pressing her fingertips against the camera lens, and John mirrors the gesture on the screen, swallowing hard.

Elizabeth is there then, making a soft sound of distress at the flames, still managing to sound calm when she says, "What's the situation? What's going on?"

Meredith blinks, and then shakes her head, coughing into her arm again, "Bastards wouldn't let me go, so I had to fry them. I, uh, might have possibly gone a little bit overboard," she coughs again, wincing, sucking in slow breathes afterwards, sagging. And then she looks up, blinking at nothing in particular, her voice very quiet, "Elizabeth? I need to talk to—to you. Alone. Please."

John looks at Elizabeth, mouth tight, eyes hard. Elizabeth opens her mouth, closes it, and then nods. After a moment Elizabeth clears her throat, and then says, "Alright, Meredith, go ahead," while glaring at everyone else around the room. They all go silent.

For a moment John thinks that Meredith won't believe the other woman. But then she draws in a deep breath, looking down, taking her fingers off of the camera. Her voice is quiet, "I—the address for their 'gate is MX0-PP1. Space 'gate. They had space travel capable ships but you don't have to worry about that anymore," Meredith's mouth twists up, a shadow of a smirk as her voice gains a little volume, "The whole, look, it's all coming down. And—and I might have set off a beacon. For the Wraith. It wasn't my—"

Meredith cuts herself off, shaking her head, laughing dryly while Elizabeth shoots John a sharp look. He nods, pointing at Teylan and Ronon, jerking his chin towards the Jumper bay, making to follow them, not sure why Meredith wanted to tell this to just Elizabeth.

And then she's continuing, "You can't let John come on the rescue. I don't care what you do. He—he can't. And if—if you don't find me in time I want—" she squeezes her eyes shut, swallows a deep breath, and says fast and choppy, "I don't want him to see my body. Tell the team to vent me to space. Leave me here to burn. I don't care. If they're too late, do not let him see me, do you understand?"

John doesn't stick around to find out if Elizabeth understands or not, running up the stairs, panic beat, beat, beating through his entire body.

Teylan and Ronon are already in the Jumper. John doesn't say a word to them, throwing himself into the pilot's seat and gearing up, because they have to go, they have to go right now. By the time he lowers them into the 'gate room, the techs have the wormhole dialed out, Elizabeth giving him the coordinates for Meredith's location over the radio.

John doesn't wait for permission before punching through the event horizon.

hr

The world below the space 'gate is burning. For a half-second John just stares down at it. The scanners show lots of ship yards, most completely destroyed, what's left of them being consumed quickly by the explosions and fire. The entire world is a mess.

John grits his teeth, and pilots them down, because the scanners are also showing two Hives out on the edges of sensor range. Of course. John shakes his head, taking the Jumper down, his hands sweaty around the controls.

They had been holding Meredith in a huge complex on the planet's sole continent. It's burning. Everything is burning. John doesn't care.

They land the Jumper in a bay that apparently has nothing flammable in it, John grabbing a LSD as he rises, taking the P-90 that Teylan pushes into his grip. Outside, the air is stiflingly hot, the midday sun darkened by the thick clouds of smoke twisting and billowing through the sky.

None of them say a word when they take off.

hr

The building is mostly empty. John assumes that they must have evacuated. Maybe they're just all dead. Either way, while he regrets not finding anyone to question about Meredith's whereabouts, there are only a few life-signs for them to aim for.

They're moving fast, Ronon and Teylan doing quick checks of the immolating rooms on either side of the main hall as they move. John ignores them, because there are no life signs there, and he refuses to believe that smoke inhalation is going to kill her now, not while they're so close.

They're going to find her. They're going to take her home. Everything is going to be fine.

John doesn't realize he's actually vocalizing the thoughts, low, almost under his breath, until Teylan grabs his elbow and says, low and firm, "Yes, we are." John nods jerkily, clenching his jaw shut and moving faster. They're so close to the first of the handful of life signs, actually two dots so close they're overlapping and—

And Meredith yells, angry and loud, "Get the hell out of my way!"

hr

The last time John heard Meredith in person, the last time he got to hear her without radio interference, was the day they lost her. The mission had been ridiculously easy for once, and they'd been walking back to the 'gate, Teylan and Ronon scouting ahead, Meredith complaining about the field of flowers they were having the trek through.

John had been smiling, face tilted up to the warm sunshine, wondering if she'd take poorly to him attempting to hold her hand. Overhead, a bird was circling, so high it was nothing but a tiny speck against the brilliant blue of the sky.

Meredith had paused to take a breath, coughing a little from the pollen, and John had blinked, remembering the conversation that had been cut off earlier that morning. He'd shifted his grip on his P-90, managing to ask before she started again, "What did you want to know about my family?"

For a moment Meredith had looked deeply uncomfortable, fidgeting with her hands. And then she'd lifted her chin, staring at him hard when she said, "Anything. You never talk about them at all. Do you—how do you feel about them?"

John blinked, not truly surprised that he had no idea where she was going with this. He'd shrugged after a moment, "We don't have much to do with each other." She made a face, and John had taken his sunglasses off, reaching out to touch her arm and then stopping.

He'd said, "Hey, I kind of thought, you know, me and you. That's family too."

Meredith blinked at him, and then she'd bit at her lower lip, looking like she wasn't sure if she should be relieved or not. She'd reached out, fingers curling around his wrist, eyes locked on his when she'd said, "Look, I don't want you to think I was trying to keep it from you. I just realized—and I know I should have earlier, but, look, my stomach is always giving me problems, and in my first graduate program I was so stressed and not eating properly and I actually missed five—"

And John had smiled softly when she had to pause to suck in a breath. She'd opened her mouth, tugging on his wrist again, raising her other hand and straightening his fingers.

That had been when the hum on the edge of John's hearing had roared furiously loud, the sound splitting the sky. There'd been a wash of heat along John's back, and he'd reached for Meredith, the ground jumping beneath their feet. He'd lost his balance between one jerk and the next, going down hard, head cracking against a stone.

When John had woken up, Meredith had been gone.

hr

Now she's shouting, "Get the hell out of my way!"

And John snaps, "Go!" to Ronon and Teylan, running as fast as he can towards the sound of her voice. Ronon passes him in seconds, longer legs eating up the distance, throwing himself through a door, disappearing from view.

For a long moment Teylan keeps up with John, but he's not sure he's ever run this fast or hard in his life, and he leaves the other man behind. There's a stairwell in the room Ronon disappeared into, and John just jumps down it, landing hard on one leg and ignoring the flare of sharp pain from his hip.

John pushes himself to his feet, looking up, and freezing.

The man from the view screen is stalking forward, his head down, his big hands curled into fists. And there's Meredith, half-hidden behind a stack of boxes, one arm extended, gripping a gun so hard her knuckles have gone white.

She yells, "Don't!" and the man takes another step anyway. The gunshot seems painfully loud in the room, Meredith squeezing her eyes shut and pulling the trigger again and again and again, until she's clicking blanks and the man is lying in a spreading puddle of blood.

Ronon is a step in front of John, every bit as still as John. Teylan is running lightly down the stairs behind them. And Meredith is dropping the gun, not looking at them, not even aware that they've found her. Her expression twists into something John can't read as she braces a hand on the boxes before slowly, slowly stepping forward.

And John feels his mouth drop open, moving across the room to her immediately, his mind completely wiped clear of thought.

Meredith is staring down at the dead man, looking numb and shell shocked. John steps in a slick of blood, not even caring, grabbing her, twisting her towards him. She's still staring down, like her mind has jammed up, and John grabs her chin, tilting her face up towards him.

She blinks at him, and then breathes, "John?" soft like she doesn't believe it, reaching up to touch his face with her dirty, battered hands. And then she sucks in a sharp breath, shoulders curling over as she presses one hand to the swell of her belly, hiccupping on laughter and babbling, "Oh, thank God, thank God, John, John," grabbing his wrist and pressing his hand directly over her belly button.

From insider her, something presses back, movement against his hand, and she laughs again, words tumbling out of her mouth, "He'd been so still, so still, I thought that maybe I'd, that maybe something was wrong, I'd thought," she cuts herself off when John drops to his knees, framing the swell of her stomach with his hands, scrambling at the ragged fabric of her shirt, pressing his cheek against her skin.

John can't seem to say anything, swallowing convulsively. Meredith's hands are in his hair, not trying to push him away, not trying to make him move, holding him closer if anything. John rubs his cheeks against her warm skin, feeling it when the baby twists inside her.

John looks up at her, pressing his lips against her skin, scrambling to his feet and pulling her close, kissing her desperately. He breathes, "Meredith, you're pregnant," which is possibly the most obvious thing he's ever said in his entire life, but he's still processing it, and she laughs against his mouth, nodding as well as she can.

Then she sucks in a breath, wincing, one of her hands going to her stomach as her shoulders curl over. John feels icy cold fear shoot up through his stomach, wrapping around her, steadying her, demanding, "What? What is it? What's wrong?"

For a moment she says nothing, shaking her head, and then she gasps, "I don't—I think they're contractions. John, I'm not due yet, I'm not—"

But John is already twisting, pulling her around and unnerved by how pleading his voice comes out when he says, "Ronon," because John is a big enough man to know that he can't carry her out of here, no matter how much he wants to.

Ronon is there, just like that, picking Meredith up easily, grunting, "I've got you," and taking off up the stairs, ignoring Meredith's reflexive insistence that she can walk perfectly fine on her own, and put her down right now. Teylan is on point. John sprints after them, his heart thundering in his ears, not coming close to drowning out the roar of his thoughts.

Meredith is pregnant.

John doesn't even think about doubting the child is his. He knows it is.

hr

John has to fly the Jumper, and he's not sure how he's going to manage that. Not when all he wants to do is wrap around Meredith and hold her and press his face up against her stomach and feel their child move there. He throws himself into the pilot's seat, looking up, and Ronon is there, kneeling, holding Meredith right there.

John reaches out, and Meredith catches his hand halfway, pushing it against her stomach, her grip tightening when she winces. John strokes his thumb back and forth across her stretched skin, shushing her and heading for home.

He's only just realizing that she isn't actually coherent, babbling sentences that don't make any sense, shaking her head side to side, coughing a little against Ronon's shoulder every few seconds. John feels something sharp clench up in his stomach, jerking his chin at Teylan, who bends over Ronon to dial the 'gate.

And then Ronon is rumbling, "You carry her when we land," and when John just blinks at him, "You carry her, and they'll have to let you into the infirmary." John could hug the other man, but he resists, managing a jerky nod instead, piloting them through the 'gate.

hr

They set the Jumper down in the 'gate room, John lifting Meredith and ignoring the strain in his shoulders and back. He can carry her for a while, especially with all the adrenaline pouring through his blood. She sighs against his shoulder, one of her hands gripping at the collar of his shirt, and John almost sprints out of the rear hatch.

In the control room, people are shouting. John ignores them. Teylan will deal with it. John just turns towards the hall to the infirmary, barely feeling the ground under his feet, terrified that he's going to jostle her too much, and he'll hurt her, that he'll hurt the baby.

Carson is coming out of the infirmary, when John runs up, and John's not even sure when he started running, but he definitely is. The doctor goes wide-eyed, and John manages, "Help me!" pushing past the other man, into the infirmary, then realizing he has no idea where to go next. No idea at all.

Carson is saying, all strained calm, "What's her status? Colonel! I need to know what I'm dealing with—"

And that's when Meredith whimpers, body tensing up, and John pleads, "Help her," because he has no idea what else he's supposed to tell the other man. For a half-second Carson just stares, and then he visibly draws himself up, snapping orders and shoving John towards one of the infirmary beds.

John tries to put Meredith down, but she clings to him when he starts to draw back, her eyes reflecting fear, her breathing coming fast and shallow. Carson is saying, "We need to—Colonel, what are you doing?" and John ignores him, managing to get them both in the bed, Meredith leaning back against his chest, his legs on either side of her hips, his hands going to her stomach automatically. She makes a choking sound, smaller hands sliding over his, pressing down. She says, tiny, "John?"

John rocks her as best he can, ignoring the doctors that are swarming around them, pulling at her clothes, getting I.V.s started in her arms, taking her blood pressure, a thousand other things. He kisses the side of her head, her cheek, her temple, and promises, "You're okay now, sweetheart, you're just fine, I've got you."

She nods, grabbing his hands and squeezing, babbling, "What if he's breach? I couldn't—I couldn't tell. And he's early, oh, God, John, I can't have him yet, it's too soon, it's too soon, he'll—"

John grabs her chin, tilts her face up and kisses her while Carson wheels over some kind of machine John doesn't even want to think about. John promises, "He's going to be fine. You're both going to be fine," and believes it, because he has to. He has to. He forgets to ask why she thinks the baby is going to be a boy.

Carson starts to say, "How far apart are—" and then cuts himself off with a curse, looking up at John with huge eyes. The doctor swallows, focuses on Meredith, and says, more calmly than he looks, "I need you to push now, love, as hard as you can."

Meredith sobs, "I can't, I'm so tired," her eyes squeezed shut, her body trembling.

Carson opens his mouth, and John talks over him, right against Meredith's ear, "You can. I know you can, please. And then you can sleep, you can sleep and I'll be right here with you," and she makes a wailing sound, squeezing his hands hard, shaking.

Carson makes a sound, eyes going wide, and Meredith sucks in sharp, shallow breaths, her head lolling back on John's shoulder. And then there's a wail, sharp and loud as a siren, and Carson is straightening, something red and tiny and squirming and screaming in his arms.

The doctor looks up at John, wide-eyed, and blurts over the screaming, "It's a boy."

And Meredith demands, voice tired and weak and pushy, "Give me my baby right now."

hr

Pure stubborn bullheadedness keeps Meredith awake while Carson cleans their son up and runs the requisite scans, John watching him like a hawk the entire time. Other doctors and nurses keep swarming around Meredith, starting more I.V. feeds, cutting away her clothes and cleaning her up. They move her to another bed halfway through, the other soiled badly, and one of them suggests that John leave to get cleaned up and let them get her settled.

John looks up, scowling, feeling his hands fist up, but Meredith beats him to words, snapping, "No, he's staying with me," and pulling John down. She's bruised and battered, but seems to want nothing more than to cuddle up against him, so John does the best he can to give her that, trying to avoid the spots that make her flinch.

He ends up behind her again, her face turned against his neck. It feels good, comforting, to be able to hold her, and John can't stop pressing kisses to her hair, his arms holding her as tightly as he dares. She grumbles, after a long moment, words slightly slurred from exhaustion and pain, "Where'd that quack take our baby?"

John smiles, watching as across the room Carson carefully swaddles the baby. The other man walks slowly with the baby, like he's afraid he might drop the child, hesitating at the side of the bed. Meredith blinks up at them slowly, and then reaches up, making insistent grabbing motions with her hands.

Carson shakes his head, half-smiling as he hands over the baby, John's arms beneath Meredith's, extra support with her so tired. Meredith hums in the back of her throat, tugging at her scrubs until John reaches up to help her open them.

She mumbles, barely audible, "Better not bite me," and their son makes no sign of paying attention, zeroing in on her breast with single-minded focus. John grins, leaning his cheek against Meredith's head. Like he needed any more assurance the kid was his. The mess of dark hair on his son's head is already going about three thousand different directions.

After a moment Carson clears his throat, and John risks a quick look up, nodding for the doctor to continue. Carson's voice is soft, low, which amuses John more than it should with the loud, sucking, sounds his baby is making, "He's healthy. A little early and small, but he's breathing just fine on his own. He's—"

John hums, "Healthy?" and looks up. Carson nods, looking a little confused, and John smiles at him, because he feels like smiling at the whole world. "That's enough for now." After a pause, Carson nods again, quickly, smiling himself and stepping away from the bed.

John holds Meredith tighter, watching her stroke her thumb back and forth against the baby's blankets. She says, when their son finally blows tiny little bubbles in the corners of his mouth and sighs, "'m really tired," and John strokes her hair.

He says, "Get some sleep, sweetheart, I'm not going anywhere." She hums, and he can almost feel her fall asleep between one breath and the next.

hr

John expects his own exhaustion to catch up with him at some point, the sleep debt he's been garnering for the last three months to finally come crashing down. But now that he has Meredith back, asleep against him, their son cradled close, he can't sleep. He can barely shut his eyes long enough to blink.

The machines around the bed make soft little beeping and hissing sounds that float on the edges of John's hearing. Meredith smells like smoke and fire and blood, still, even after the nurse's attempts to clean her up some. She's smaller than he remembers, pale skin all covered in bruises and scrapes.

For a moment John wishes there was still someone back on that planet to kill.

Above him, Carson adjusts one of the I.V.s running into Meredith's arm, and John asks, without looking up, "How close were we?"

For a moment Carson is silent, though John can hear him fidgeting with Meredith's chart. Then the doctor sighs, leaning one hip against the side of the bed, his voice very soft, "Close enough." Carson reaches out, absently smoothing his thumb across the medical tape on the back of Meredith's hand. John fingers jump automatically, and he reaches out, covering Meredith's hand with his own.

John says, still avoiding looking up at Carson, "But she's..." and he can't make himself finish the thought.

Carson doesn't make him, "She'll be fine, John. She's exhausted, and dehydrated, and undernourished for her condition, but she's gotten through the hardest part already." Carson almost makes a move to brush his fingers across the top of John's son's head, but catches himself at the last moment.

The relief John feels, because he doesn't want anyone to touch Meredith or his baby ever again, briefly fills him with shame. He pushes that aside, because once Meredith wakes up he won't be able to ask these questions, not without her getting them thoroughly off-tangent and distracted.

John asks, concentrating to keep his hands from balling into fists, "And did they—they beat her."

It's not a question, not really, but Carson says anyway, "Not severely. It's all surface damage. No broken bones, no internal bleeding." And the soothing tone of Carson's voice should probably annoy John, but right now all he can do is suck in a deep breath and exhale it slowly in relief.

Which is stupid, because he hasn't asked the worst of his questions yet. John sucks in a deep breath, closing his eyes, "Did they—did they—" John's never counted himself a coward, particularly, but he can't make himself finish the question, his gut clenching up hard.

Carson takes pity on him, curling his fingers around the railing on the bed, "There's no way for me to tell. The birth..." he trails off, and John nods jerkily, because he can understand that. Carson says into the thick silence, "With her history, I'm sure Doctor Heightmeyer will be prepared to deal with either eventuality."

The words take a moment to settle into John's mind, and he finally makes himself look up. His voice comes out flat, "Her history?" And Carson goes wide-eyed, color climbing up his neck, taking a step back. John grits his teeth, no way to get out of the bed to go after the doctor with Meredith held so close.

Carson opens his mouth, and Meredith stirs, arms jerking momentarily when she slurs, "John?"

John shoots Carson a sharp look, and the doctor ignores it to start talking softly to Meredith, asking questions John barely hears. Their son wakes up then, either from Meredith moving or the sound of her voice, and John is momentarily distracted from his line of questioning.

Meredith falls back asleep within a few minutes, and John jerks his hand out, catching Carson's arm when the man tries to step back. John sucks in a breath, and Carson talks over him, low and intense, "Do you really think now is the time for this? For God's sake, it's the last thing she needs." And John draws his hand back, stung.

Carson leaves him there. John tightens his hold on Meredith, and doesn't sleep.

hr

Meredith sleeps for a long time, waking up sometimes, but never for more than a few minutes at a time. John doesn't mind. There's something almost absurdly comforting about watching her sleep, some of the lines around her eyes and mouth easing, some of the color coming back into her skin, some of the bruises fading.

John stays by her, lurking in the infirmary, spending most of his time curled up beside her on the narrow bed. Carson tells him that Teylan and Ronon desperately want to see the baby, and Meredith, but John thinks it would be best to wait for Meredith to actually wake up, and be coherent, before they do that.

So he stays, and eventually sleep beats out his need to watch over her. He snags a few hours here and there, his chin on her shoulder, always with one hand on her, one hand on their son. The hours pass into days pass into a blur. John doesn't care.

And then Meredith wakes up and mumbles, "God, my head is killing me. Why are the lights so bright in here?" and John grins, bending to kiss her forehead. She hums, pushing up against the touch, and it makes John squeeze his eyes shut and linger over it.

In John's arms, their son squirms, suddenly impatient now that his mother is awake. John bounces him, because Meredith is rubbing at her eyes and wincing just a little bit when she manages to half sit up. For the moment there are no wails, so John bounces some more, keeping his voice whisper soft when he says, without meaning to at all, "Look what you did."

Meredith goes a little still, her hands braced on the mattress where she's trying to sit straighter. John turns to look at her, feeling all his emotions bleeding up to the surface, reflecting off of his face. He tries to push them down again, but can't. Not that it matters.

She's staring down hard at the blankets around her hips, her hands twisting up into fists, words pouring out of her mouth, flat and tired, "I—I'm not sorry. I tried to tell you, when I found out. It wasn't a trick. I'm not trying to capture you. If you don't want—you can sign over parental responsibility. I won't ask for—"

John jerks, twisting around on the bed, cradling their son with one arm. He grabs her with his other hand, squeezing her wrist, shoulder, tilting her chin up and kissing her hard, trying to swallow the words down, trying to wipe them away from ever being spoken.

He says, feeling suddenly off balance, thrown so violently he can't find steady ground, "Mer. Meredith. Sweetheart. That's not—I—look what you did," he doesn't know how to say it, how to put into words the miracle that she's pulled off. He kisses her again instead, his hand curled around her neck, pulling back to rest his forehead against hers and breathing, "Look what you made. You—a baby. A son. You gave me a son."

The words catch in his throat, come out hitching. Between them, their son squirms around, making little sounds that might be indignation or might be pleasure. John doesn't know him well enough yet. And the thought makes him huff out a laugh, leaning closer, kissing Meredith again.

Meredith starts, "John—"

And John feels like maybe something inside him is broken now, all these words tumbling loose whether he wills it or no, "I don't know how you made it. I don't know—I'm so glad you did. I'm so glad. I—we have a baby. We have, you made us a baby." And this, he thinks, somewhere distant in the back of his head, is why people need to sleep regularly.

But Meredith is laughing softly against his mouth, one of her arms coming up, curling around his neck, thank God. She says, the words just a little bit hesitant, "Well, you helped a little bit." And John nods, kissing her cheek, her jaw, her forehead, her mouth again.

He says, raggedly, "Not nearly as much as I should have."

And she says, "John," sharp and chiding, tightening her grip on him, kissing him hard and deep.

hr

When Teylan and Ronon finally get to see Meredith and the baby, John is briefly worried that maybe they won't give his son back. Ronon sits on the foot of the bed, arms wrapped around the tiny buddle, Teylan leaning over him, pushing the blanket away from the baby's face, both of their expressions rapt and fascinated.

John keeps twitching towards them, and Meredith drops a hand down onto his thigh, squeezing hard. John looks at her and she rolls her eyes at him, the last dark bruise around her left eye finally fading. John opens his mouth to defend himself, and Teylan says, "I wish you many blessings on your child," and when they nod at her, "What have you named him?"

John blinks, and then blinks again. He hadn't really thought about it, at all. It had been more than enough to have Meredith back and safe, to have their child alive and healthy. Everything else had slipped completely out his concern, pushed aside and ignored.

Meredith says, without hesitating, "John. Junior. I—" she cuts a quick look towards John, who finds himself staring, his mouth hanging a little bit open. Meredith's chin goes up, "I thought I might not—look, do you have any idea what a pain he was? The only person I could think of that was suitably annoying was you. And I—well. Anyway. That's what I've been calling him. He probably knows it already. They can hear things in the womb, you know. I'm not going to give him an identity crisis this early in his life, so you're just going to have to deal with—"

John makes a hoarse sound, suddenly grateful that Ronon and Teylan have his son. Junior, God. He grabs both sides of Meredith's face, pulling her against him, kissing her until she finally stops trying to talk against his mouth, tangling her hands in his hair and holding on.

hr

Carson finally lets Meredith out of the infirmary. John doesn't even ask where the crib in their quarters came from, or any of the other baby care products that have suddenly appeared there. Meredith just blinks when she sees them, and then says they deserve all of it and more and that's that.

She goes back to work almost immediately, the labs clamoring for her attention, and John has to stop by and watch her constantly, Junior held in a sling across her back. Elizabeth had asked if Meredith was sure she didn't want them to set up some kind of baby care area in the labs so Junior didn't have to be carried around all the time and Meredith had snapped that she'd been carrying her son around for the last nine months, she'd gotten kind of used to it.

Meredith also goes to Heightmeyer, but no more regularly than she had before. John thinks about asking, but he thinks that maybe Carson is right. If she hadn't wanted to talk to him about it before, then he doubts she wants to talk about it now. Not with everything else she's dealing with.

John lets any history lay, with the condition of someday.

For now, it's more than enough to shadow her during the day, to come back to their quarters and sit on the bed with her and their son, talking softly, planning, just holding on. John has his family back, and that's all he wanted, all he wants, all he needs.

hr

It's been one thousand, one hundred and seventy-eight hours, fifty-seven minutes, and three seconds since they brought Meredith back when John steps into their quarters to find her sitting on the edge of the bed. She stands when the door slides closed behind him, wearing one of his shirts and nothing else.

John feels his breath catch somewhere in his chest, looking towards Junior's crib and thinking that probably explains why Ronon and Teylan disappeared about an hour ago. John jerks his attention back forward when Meredith steps up to him, hesitating right outside of his space. She's fidgeting with the hem of the shirt, looking up at him through her eyelashes, the toes on her right foot curling up against the floor.

Then her chin comes up, and she says, "I don't know if you still want—"

And because John just knows it's going to be a stupid question, he steps towards her, fingers sliding back into her hair, his other hand sliding down her back, pulling her close. She groans into his mouth, hands fisting into his shirt, her skin warm and soft when John tugs the shirt up.

She takes a step back, holding onto him, pulling him towards their bed.

The first time they had sex she'd taken the condom out of his fumbling fingers, her tone breathy and annoyed at the same time when she said, "And you can just forget about not using one of these." She'd rolled her eyes before John even opened his mouth, her hand moving, clever fingers rolling the latex down over his aching cock, "Yes, you're clean, very special. Just as soon as they come up with birth control I can use, we can go without."

And John had nodded, because God, he'd wear two condoms if she asked him to. He'd arched up off the bed, drawing her down into a kiss, her hand flattening on his stomach for balance. She'd made a soft sound, rubbing against him, all naked skin rising in gooseflesh when he'd stroked his knuckles up the underside of her breast.

They'd been slow and careful and a little clumsy with each other, that first time. The first couple of times. It had still been so good, watching her move over him, her skin going red, her mouth falling open, the soft sounds that she'd made when he touched her in the right places.

Now, they're tumbling down, John twisting, taking the impact with the mattress on his shoulder and hip, her body sprawled over his. She groans, kisses getting messy and hungry, his hands sliding up her sides, the soft cotton of the shirt bunching around his wrists.

John pants, "God, Meredith," pulling, pulling, pulling on the shirt until she shifts back enough for him to drag it off. And she's naked under it, all pale skin flushing red. John groans, rolling her, nuzzling against her neck and trying to touch everywhere at the same time.

She grabs the collar of his shirt, yanking it up over his head, and he struggles out of it. And that's better, that's so much better, her skin pressing against his. John kisses at her shoulders, her arms, her hands, the busted nail on her right hand, her breasts, her stomach.

There are stretch marks there, from the child she carried. John slides an arm under her back, hitching her closer, licking across all the soft skin, sucking lightly, until she's groaning and writhing in his hold, her hands in his hair, tugging and pushing.

When John pulls back, her skin is reddened from his mouth and the five o'clock shadow that she hadn't given him the chance to shave. He drops feather light kisses all across her abdomen, before she gasps, "Please, John, in me, don't tease," and he can deny her nothing.

He still fumbles with the condom packet. Some things don't change, he supposes. She still reaches out and takes it away from him, leaving him to fumble with getting out of his pants, instead. He finally manages to kick them off, and she grins at him, pulling him into a kiss, long, clever, fingers sliding down over his dick.

And John breathes, gasping against her mouth, the words going directly from his gut to his mouth, skipping his brain altogether, "God, I want, I want more babies. Wanna see you pregnant." His hand is on her stomach, he doesn't remember putting it there, "I wanna feel our babies growing in you, I want—" and he finally manages to stop the words, biting his tongue hard, shaking his head, jerking his hand over to the mattress.

Meredith sounds wrecked, his name twisting out of her lips, her back curling up, one of her arms wrapped tight around his shoulders. And she grabs his wrist, putting his hand back on her stomach, one of her legs hooking around his hips. She pulls at the condom, breathing, "Yeah, yes, okay," and John makes a wild sound, needing, getting, lost.

Afterwards, when he can move again, he scoots down, pillowing his head on her stomach. She hums, petting at his hair, and John wraps his arms around her, holds her and listens to her heart beat. They fall asleep like that.

A/N The Quickening: Written for lallybroch for her prompt #4, which was John/Meredith, babies. It, uh, kind of got away from me, I suppose.

::go to snippet —>::

hr

::back to index::


Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional